I tend to think she's saying "I'm more of a woman than you!"
but feel free to add your own caption in the comments.
The Orlando Magic: First, the Magic went down 0-3 in their best of seven series with the Celtics and everybody was talking sweep. Then Orlando won the next two games and suddenly Boston was old again and in real danger of becoming the first team to ever lose a playoff series after building a 3-0 lead.
Look, here's the deal. In Game 4, the Celts were a little too full of themselves and the Magic were able to play free and loose because they had absolutely nothing to lose. In Game 5, the officials basically put away the whistles and instituted martial law...which is something that typically benefits the home team facing elimination. Over my 25+ years watching NBA playoff basketball, I've seen this scenario play out many times.
That's not to say I wasn't nervous, but I could kind of see what was coming in Game 6. After all, the Celts were easily the better team in Games 1-3 and came within a terrible possession of winning Game 4 despite playing like shit. In all honestly, I figured they'd come home for Game 6 and take care of business.
And they did.
This game did have a little of the unexpected, tho'. Near the end of the first quarter, the Magic were already down 28-19 when Rajon Rondo -- the dude who was killing them early -- was on the receiving end of a little boom boom pow from (you guessed it!) Dwight Howard.
With Rondo out, it should have been advantage Orlando, right? Wrong. That's when U-Dub alum Nate Robsinson -- the teeniest man on the floor -- took the fuck over.
During and after the game, a lot was made out of the fact that Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers kept insisting that Nate Robinson was going to win a playoff game this year. I can only assume they originally meant "for the other team." But Nate -- with help from the Magic -- made Danny and Doc look like junior Nostradamuses. And that spark pushed momentum irrevocably in Boston's favor.
Orlando would end up shooting 43 percent for the game, missing 16 of their 22 treys, shanking 11 freebies and falling behind by 24 before exiting the playoffs with a whimper. But what can you say? The Boston Stranglers put on a defensive exhibition during the last two rounds of the playoffs.
Said Stan Van Gundy: "They beat two very good teams, and made us look like we weren't very good teams. When you go through two series like that, I think you have to be fair and say a lot has to do with them."
Rashard Lewis: The 118 Million Dollar Man sucked all series long. He played so poorly through the first three games that someone finally leaked that he was suffering a viral infection, that he had been "feeling weak" and "tired" during games and hadn't been able to hold food down.
It's possible, I guess. Far be it from me to question how a professional athlete feels. I can only comment on what I saw, and what I saw was this: The Celtics shut Lewis down by...putting a hand in his face.
And really, that's all you have to do to stop Rashard Lewis. My buddy Statbuster referred to Lewis as "a 6'10" Steve Kerr," and he was right. Rashard spots up and shoots. That's pretty much his skill set. When the Celtics opted to stay at home on Dwight Howard, that meant they could minimize Lewis' open looks. After his 3-for-11 stink bomb in Game 6, Rashard's series shooting stats were 19-for-56 from the field (33 percent) and 4-for-23 from downtown (17 percent). And he certainly didn't offset his shooting by taking it strong to the hole: Lewis earned only 10 foul shots all series long, which includes his single trip to the line in Game 6.
His series average for PPG was 8.2.
Vince Carter: His Game 6 was classic Vince Carter. The stats -- 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists -- were good enough that you can't accuse him of flat out quitting. But his shooting (6-for-15 from the field, 1-for-4 from beyond the arc) and his inability to swing a single game in Orlando's favor highlight the fact that Vag is only difference maker for the opposing team. Remember: Carter was supposed to push the Magic over the hump. Instead, he helped push them into an early playoff grave.
I mean, it says something that his two worst games of the series -- 3 points on 1-for-9 shooting in Game 4 and 8 points on 3-for-10 shooting in Game 5 -- were the only two games the Magic actually won.
Look, on paper, Carter is better than Hedo Turkoglu. Much better, even. But Turk worked for the Magic in ways Vinsanity could not and will not. For instance, during last season's run to the NBA Finals, Orlando's money play was Hedo's pick-and-roll with Howard. That was the play that Orlando went to when nothing else was working. Guess what? Carter can't run that play...it was effectively replaced by Vag isolating and pulling up for a long, contested jumper.
And we see how that worked out.
Jameer Nelson: The line: 32 minutes, 5-for-14 from the field, 1-for-5 from three-point range, 11 points, 4 assists, 5 turnovers, 5 fouls, and a game-worst plus-minus score of -23. More than anybody else, even Dwight, Nelson was the motor for the Magic's boat, and he didn't have it in Game 6. Hell, he couldn't even take advantage of Nate Robinson. In fact, Kryto-Nate basically shut Nelson down while Rondo was massaging his back on the sideline.
Kevin Garnett: You know, in an alternate universe, KG could have been one of my favorite players of all time. I love so many facets of his game: His desire, his intensity, his defense, the way he used to attack the boards like a hungry dog during his days with the Timberpoops. Garnett is also a willing passer, a reluctant scorer who can drop 25 points a game on 52 percent shooting but has always seemed more interested in setting up his teammates.
How many 20+/10+/4+ seasons did he have? Nine straight, baby.
And yet...during his Minnesota days stories kept surfacing. Stories about how he used to pick fights with teammates, how he once sucker-punched Wally Szczerbiak after practice. Nothing was ever totally concrete, but it sure seemed strange how these little tidbits kept coming up. Kind of like how Dwight Howard's elbows keep "accidentally" taking people out. Things that happen once or twice are accidents. Things that happen repeatedly are trends.
Then KG came to Boston and his habits were put on a more public display. Turns out all the ugliness that was hidden by the fact that the T-Wolves aren't on national TV was suddenly being broadcast two or three times a week. KG talking smack, KG popping his jersey, KG going after guards and whistling elbows past faces.
The thing is, despite what his critics will tell you, this stuff doesn't happen all the time. There are long stretches of games where Garnett will be silent as the grave, when he lets his game do the talking. But then...SNAP. See, Ron Artest, he's like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. He's always crazy and it's obvious. KG is more like Hannibal Lecter. He's intelligent and articulate most of the time, which makes it that much more shocking when he starts eating faces.
Which is what happened in Game 6:
I mean...who does that? Not one but two close-fisted punches to an opponent's arm. NBA players dole out plenty of karate chops when guys are grabbing and holding onto them. But what Garnett did was more like something you see in a street fight.
Sadly, that crazy, cruel streak is probably what makes Garnett the competitor he is. It's also why I can't count him among my all-time faves.
The sad bench plus double facepalm equals painful playoff elimination.
The Phoenix Suns: You know how I said I've seen what happened to the Magic happen many times before? Same can be said of the Suns. They played pretty free and loose in Game 5. After all, they had nothing to lose, right? They were guaranteed another home game and even if they didn't win Game 5, they'd still get another shot to steal one in L.A. in Game 7. Of course, the presumes they would win Game 6.
Which didn't seem like a huge leap, right? After all, conventional wisdom says that if the Suns played the way they did in Game 5, only they were at home, then assuming a Phoenix victory was entirely reasonable.
Here's the rub: The Suns were now facing an elimination game. There came a point in the second quarter when Phoenix players seemed to get a case of the yips. Several of their misses were of the in-and-out or roll-off-the-rim variety. Suddenly, guys were hesitating ever so slightly or trying to guide the ball into the rim instead of using their standard follow through. It was as if once the Lakers showed they could break the zone, the Suns felt like they had to score on every possession.
Next thing you know, L.A. was up by 10. Then 15. Then 20.
Let me make one thing clear. This situation isn't the same as a team's will being broken. That's what some Lakers fans thought was going on entering the game. The Suns believed they could win. But when the Lakers withstood their initial offensive onslaught and infact maintained a small lead, nerves kicked in and things snowballed. The game might have ended in a blowout if not for...
Sasha Vujacic: When you're on the road and have the home team on the ropes, the one thing you cannot do is give that team and their home crowd a rallying point. But...that's exactly what Sasha did.
Did Dragic sell that foul to the point of ridiculousness? Hell yeah, he did...just as he should have. If your opponent is going to be that stupid in that big of a situation, it's your right and civil duty to use his stupidity against him.
Unfortunately, that wasn't quite enough...
The Suns' end-of-game defense: Let me start off by saying this: Kobe Bryant hit three of the most amazing, crazy-ass crap shots I've ever seen in an NBA playoff game: A 21-footer with 4:33 left to put L.A. up 97-90; a 21-footer with 1:59 remaining to bump the Laker lead to 101-96; and a 23-footer with 35 seconds to go to make it 107-100 bad guys. Make no mistake: Incredible though they were, those are the shots the Suns wanted Mamba to take: long two-point jumpers that were hotly contested.
But let's face it: Nobody has made -- or, for that matter, even attempted -- more crap shots in league history than Kobe Bryant. In fact, one could make the argument that taking crap shots is his favorite thing in the world next to winning and anal rampage (although not necessarily in that order). You could even say that a lifetime of taking crap shots led to this moment, the single greatest crap shot sequence in living memory. Predictably, those three shots had Alvin Gentry and Steve Nash gushing over Kobe after the game, using all sorts of "best player" hyperbole.
Here's my take. They were tough shots and it was astounding that he hit them. However, as noted, Kobe takes those shots, and he's made an awful lot of them. And he had been zeroing in all series. How many clean looks had Kobe gotten against the Suns' zone? Lots. In the NBA, made shots beget more made shots. Some people don't believe in the "hot hand," but I'm here to tell you it exists. When a player, especially a great one like Bryant, keeps getting clean looks, he gets a "feel" for where the bucket is. Kobe got into a zone against the zone.
As ESPN's John Hollinger noted: "Bryant just kept facing up and shooting contested long J's off the dribble. Normally, forcing such a shot is a huge victory for the defense, but Bryant made a mind-blowing 58.0 percent of his long 2-pointers against Phoenix (hat tip to TrueHoop Network's painted area for that one); usually players shoot in the high 30s from this range. Additionally, the threat of his J was strong enough that he drew several fouls on shot fakes."
In Game 6, Bryant hit on 6-11 "long 2-pointers" (shots from 16-23 feet, inside the 3pt line) along with 3-8 three-pointers, continuing a series-long trend of excellent outside shooting by Kobe.
The Suns actually executed their game plan of forcing Kobe to shoot contested long 2's, but Bryant vastly outshot his normal numbers on long 2's in the series.
In the regular season, Kobe shot .415 on long 2's, and in the first two playoff series, he was down to just .353 from 16-23 feet. However, against Phoenix, Bryant was a remarkable .580 on long 2's, connecting on 29-50.
On top of that, Bryant also made 19-44 (.432) threes for the series, dwarfing his regular-season numbers not only in percentage (.329), but also in makes (3.2 per game, vs. 1.2 in the season).
Whether Kobe can keep his hot shooting going could be a key to The Finals. A linchpin of Boston's defensive strategy is to force Bryant into long 2's, and Kobe hit on just 14-39 (.358) of long 2's in the 2008 Finals.
But again, the Suns' D against those three big shots was solid, and that's the shot you want Kobe taking. No, here's where defense failed Phoenix. First, at the 3:27 mark, Derek Fisher got loose for a tough jumper (99-92). On L.A.'s next possession, Pau Gasol missed a short jumper, but Lamar Odom grabbed the offensive board. Odom missed the layup, got the ball back and missed again before Grant Hill snared the board. An "empty" possession for the Lakers? Not really, because it highlighted the fact that they could own the boards down the stretch...
...sure enough, with 1:14 left and the Suns trailing 103-98, Gasol swooped in for an offensive board and put back off another missed layup by Odom.
Kobe's shots were daggers. But that Fisher shot and the put back by Gasol were the backbreakers. Which brings me to this point: The Lakers outrebounded the Suns 41-31, including 14-8 on the offensive glass. They also dominated in second-chance points. Clutch shots get all the attention, but dirty work wins games. The Lakers won the battle in the trenches and slowed the game down, holding the Suns to a measley two fast break points. Mamba's jumpers make great fodder for Sports Center, but rebounding and transition defense won the day for the Lakers.
Which brings me to...
Amar''''''e Stoudemire: STATUE was the Suns' offensive "leader" during the Western Confernece Finals. He scored 25.0 PPG on 52 percent shooting while earning almost 12 free throw attempts per game. Phoenix would not have been in this series without his ability to put the ball in the basket.
That said, his efforts were as one-dimensional as the characters in a Michael Bay movie.
Amar''''''e is the biggest, strongest, most athletic member of the Suns, but he averaged only 6.0 RPG versus L.A. In the Suns' four losses, he grabbed 3, 6, 4 and 4 rebounds. In Game 6, at home, facing postseason elimination and possibly the end of his career in Phoenix, Stoudemire finished with 2 defensive rebounds. Mind you, this was the biggest game in the biggest series of his life.
What's more, Stoudemire dished out only 3 assists (versus 16 turnovers) in the series, including zero assists over the final four games. The only thing he had eyes for was the rim. To a certain extent, that's understandable. After all, scoring is his primary duty. But Stoudemire faced or dribbled into an awful lot of double and triple coverage over those six games. When that happened, he was thinking "MUST SHOOT" and not "Hey, maybe one of my teammates is open now."
And so my love-hate with STATUE ended in just hate.
The tears of Steve Nash: And there you have it:
Watching this -- what probably should have been a private moment -- hurt me more than anything else, even more than seeing a team I hate beat a team I love. Nash finished with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting to go along with 5 defensive rebounds -- 3 more than Stoudemire! -- and 9 assists (with only 2 turnovers). Once again, he gave his all. Once again, it wasn't enough. He is still the person who has appeared in the most playoff games in NBA history without making the NBA Finals.
Ignorant, petty people will continue to use this as a slight against him, even now, after a season in which he led the Suns much, much farther than anybody thought he could...perhaps farther than they ever should have gotten. I mean, really, who thought the Suns could replace Shaq with Channing Frye and lean so heavily on guys like Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic and Louis Amundson and still come within a crazy offensive rebound by Ron Artest from maybe taking this series.
Don't laugh. It could have happened.
But it didn't. Early in the season, there was a great post on ESPN's Daily Dime that dissected Nash's decision to re-sign with the Suns rather than chase a championship elsewhere. His response to questions was that, for him, the journey is more important than the destination. That the chance to lead and teach young players is more important than chasing around a championship.
Someone related this to Kobe and his response was "Fuck that. Better him than me." No, really. That's what he said. Because chasing a championship is the only thing that matters to Kobe.
This might lead you to think that a title means nothing to Nash. Well, those tears say differently. It matters. Nash has sacrificed an awful lot. I always bring up the fact that he plays -- and in fact has played well enough to take his place among history's great point guards -- despite a chronic, incurable back ailment. He's had teeth knocked out, his face mangled on multiple occasions, and yet he never complains, goes out, gives his all, plays great against whatever odds...with relatively little fanfare. (I say "relatively" because, if Kobe or LeBron broke and reset their nose mid-game, minstrels would be singing about it for the next hundred years.)
There are people who are going to dis and mock him because he's never won a championship, never made the Finals. Those people are ignorant. How far do you suppose Kobe would have made with this year's Suns team? Do you think he would have inspired guys like Frye, Dudley and Amundson, or do you think he would have threatened and intimidated him, maybe even demanded a trade? Would LeBron have led this squad to a title?
Heck, even Nash's talented teams had flaws. Bad coaching (D'Antoni not trusting his bench comes to mind). Teammates who looked a helluva lot better alongside Nash than they do on their own (look at what guys like Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson have "accomplished" on their own, and that's what Amar''''''e is in store for if and when he leaves Phoenix). Remember back when the Lakers pushed the Suns to seven games in 2006 and everybody was freaking out about how Kobe led a squad of scrubs against this amazingly talented Suns team that featured a starting lineup of Nash, Marion, Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and James Jones? When STATUE wasn't even playing and Tim Thomas was one of their most important bench players?
How that those players have migrated elsewhere and we've gotten additional evidence, tell me again how "talented" that team was. Go on. Tell me. Nash turns shit into salsa...but will probably forever be the whipping boy of people who can't see beyond titles even though those are team and organizational accomplishments.
But whatever. Am I disappointed the Suns lost? Yep. Am I bitter? Nope. A year ago, I might have been. But, like Nash says, the journey is more important than the destination. Heck, the dude is even teaching me.