Editor's note: The top pic was created by The Big Nowitzki and sent to me by Shayan Mannan of Sports Haze. Evil Ted will be writing about the Celtics game.
The Los Angeles Lakers: You know what? In hindsight, the most shocking part about what just happened to the Lakers is how not shocking it should have been. L.A.'s season was a mishmash of up-and-down play. At times, they looked unstoppable. Other times, they looked helpless and lost. But their fans never quite lost that air of cocky arrogance and the non-fans never felt totally comfortable predicting the collapse that seemed inevitable. The Lakers had, after all, turned it on before.
But not this time.
The talent was there. No question about it. But something vital was missing and we may never know exactly what it was. Chemistry? That seems impossible given that the core group of back-to-back championship teams remained intact. Motivation? That doesn't feel quite right. The Lakers wanted to win.
I guess maybe it was desire. I can't presume to know what was going on inside their hearts, but this Lakers team felt different than the squads who won the last two league titles. Two seasons ago, they played pissed off after the way the Celtics had manhandled them in the 2008 NBA Finals. Last year, they played with a chip on their shoulder, because they still seemed to feel they had something to prove.
I never felt that this season. They played well in stretches but never inspired. At least, that's what it looked like from the outside. I think Kobe sensed it. I think that's why, after the Lakers lost to the Heat in Miami, he pulled that crazy "I'm going to shoot around until they kick me out of the arena" stunt. Kobe's a control freak. That's a large part of what's made him great. He could see the Lakers weren't competing the way they needed to if they wanted to defend their title. So Kobe controlled what he could control: His own maniacal effort.
Only that never inspired his teammates. No amount of ribbing in practice or public, no black swan / white swan comparisons, nothing lit a fire under the other Lakers. Basically, they lost the eye of the tiger.
Man, did they lose it.
I've always been a card carrying Lakers Hater. I wanted them to lose. I didn't want them to match the Celtics championship total. I didn't want Kobe to get his sixth ring or Phil Jackson to close out his career with a fourth three-peat. I wanted the Lakers to fail.
But like this? Swept. Demolished in Game 4. Meeting defeat in shame -- with cheap shots and elbows -- rather than facing it with dignity.
Look, I hate the Lakers, but I also respected them. They were champions. But, when the walls came tumbling down, they stopped acting like champions. They gave up in Game 4. They quit. They abandoned all the principles that won them back-to-back titles and started acting like a bunch of common thugs. For example:
And, not long after, this happened:
This fall from grace was about as graceless as it gets. It got to the point where Pau Gasol had to address Internet rumors about his personal life, while Jackson was forced to explain why he was smacking Pau in the chest during timeouts and had to resort to bitching about the officials. Kobe wondered out loud whether he was sick in the head for thinking his team could still win the series. Turns out, his teammates were just sick in the heart.
I mean, Andrew Bynum's post-ejection tearing off of his jersey while being escorted by the locker room by Ron Artest -- who himself had been suspended for Game 3 because he pulled a cheap shot on the same guy Bynum whacked -- was the lowest of the low moments of this series.
Championships are won. They aren't handed out because you're the best team on paper. The Lakers learned that lesson in 2008 and went on to win two titles in a row. I'm not sure what happened. Maybe Men in Black showed up and gave them a group mind wipe. "What you experienced wasn't back-to-back championships. It was swamp gas."
Bad form, Lakers. Bad form.
But you know what? A low moment for the Lakers was a high point for the Mavericks. Faily or unfairly, they have spent the past several seasons fighting a quiet war against accusations of being soft and mentally fragile. Well, they blew all those accusations to smithereens during this series. Sweet redemption after years of bitter torment. It kind of reminds me of when Phoenix swept the Spurs in the second round last year. Of course, we know how that turned out. Hopefully, the Mavs will have a better fate.
Possibly the strangest facepalm ever...
...but this is more like it.
Ron Artest, Dunk Master: Oh. My.
Kobe Byrant, quote machine: From Basketbawful reader Charles Y:
Experts: More fail from stephanie g:
The Chicago Bulls: The Bullies won Game 3 thanks to an all-out attack by Derrick Rose: 44 points (a career-high), 16-for-27 from the field, 4-for-7 from downtown, 8-for-9 at the line, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, a steal and a block. And as ESPN Stats and Information noted: "One of the more impressive aspects of Rose's performance was that he was scoring from everywhere. He scored 12 points in the paint, 12 from three-point range, and 12 from mid-range, adding eight points at the free throw line."
Rose was undeniably awesome in nearly every sense of the word. But the Bulls also dominated the glass, pulling down 18 offensive rebounds, and got great production out of their bench. And blowing out the Hawks in Atlanta just felt right.
But the performance was not repeated in Game 4. So...what happened?
For starters, Chicago's interior defense was poor. The Hawks went 22-for-34 (64.8 percent) at the rim and outscored the Bulls 56-40 in the paint. Horford was 6-for-6 at the rim. Joe Johnson was 3-for-3. Jason Collins was 2-for-2. Crawford 1-for-1. Teague was 4-for-6. Smith was 6-for-11.
Teams don't earn many wins by giving up that many good looks around the basket.
They also got shot down by Johnson (24 points, 9-for-14, 3-for-5 on threes) and picked apart by Smith (23 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists). Smith didn’t shoot well (8-for-22), but he got to the line (7-for-9) and created extra offense though his passing and work on the offensive glass (5 offensive boards).
Overall, Chicago's defense simply wasn't that good. Atlanta finished with an Offensive Efficiency of 108.7. That’s too high for a team that relies on defense to win. Speaking of which...let's talk about their offense.
Rose finished with game highs in points (34), assists (10), free throw attempts (11) and shot attempts (32). It's that last stat that worries me. Especially considering the rest of the starting unit combined for two fewer shots than Rose took.
It's tempting to think the shot distribution wouldn't have been a big of a deal if Derrick had converted more than 12 of his attempts. But it was a big deal. And not because Rose's shot selection was terrible. After all, 22 of his 32 attempts came inside 10 feet. But he went only 6-for-14 at the rim and 2-for-8 from 3-9 feet.
To be completely honest, I thought there was a significant amount of uncalled contact on several of Rose's drives. Which isn't all that surprising, considering Hawks coach Larry Drew talked publically about his team getting more physical with Rose after Game 3. That's what happened. The Hawks forced Rose into several misses and got away with bumping him off a handful of shots that might have otherwise gone in or resulted in free throw attempts.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: "He kept driving the ball. I'm anxious to see the replays. From my perspective, I thought he was getting fouled. Maybe he wasn't going hard enough."
But here's the thing: Even if Rose hit more shots and earned more trips to the lines, and even if the Bulls had pulled this one out, I would still have a problem with the offense. Or, at least, what it devolved into.
Here's what the Bulls offense looked like in the fourth quarter:
Carlos Boozer missed layup; Rose made 10-footer; Rose made 14-footer + 1 free throw; Rose made layup; Rose missed layup (blocked by Teague); offensive rebound; Rose missed 14-footer; offensive rebound; Rose missed 8-footer; Rose missed layup; Kyle Korver made 17-footer (Rose assists); C.J. Watson turnover; Taj Gibson 2-for-2 at the line; shot clock violation; Rose turnover; Luol Deng missed three-pointer; offensive rebound; Rose made 7-footer and the foul; Rose misses free throw; Rose made layup; Rose missed layup; Rose missed 6-footer; Rose turnover; Salvatore’s blown call; Korver missed three-pointer; Deng made layup (Rose assists); Korver turnover; Rose made layup.
In summary: The Bulls' fourth quarter offense consisted of only 2 assists (both by Rose), 4 free throw attempts, 5 turnovers and 17 field goal attempts...12 by Rose.
Said Thibodeau: "You know, when he's making the plays and he's scoring, everyone's saying how great he is. So tonight, he was aggressive. I didn't have any problem with the way he played. ... It's a make or miss league. If they go down, we're talking about the great plays and how unselfish he is."
Countered Kyle Korver: "I think when Derrick gets it going, he should shoot every time. But when it's not there, we got to work it as a team. We got to do a better job of getting open so he can see us, and he probably needs to do a better job sometimes of finding us, but it's a team thing. You can't out it on one person. Obviously, when he has it going, he is the best basketball player in the world, and we want him to take every shot that he feels like he's going to make."
Korver's right. The offense cannot become "Rose dribbles and drives while everybody else stands around watching." That's what happened in the fourth quarter of last night’s game, and it’s no wonder the Bulls scored only 19 points over those final 12 minutes. Look, Derrick has become a tremendous closer, one of the best in the game. But no matter how good he is, Most Valuable Player or not, the Bulls still need to execute an actual offense down the stretch.
That didn't happen last night. And it was costly. More so even than Bennet Salvatore's "inadvertent whistle" (see below). Much more so because officiating is out of a team's control. The way an offense runs is.
Take Boozer’s night. Carlos finally broke out of his offensive slump -- 18 points, 7-for-10 from the field, 4-for-4 from the line -- but attempted one shot in the fourth quarter. The first one, as it turned out, and he never shot again. That's ridiculous. Boozer is supposed to be the team's second offensive option. If the team isn’t going to go to him when he’s hot, when are they going to go to him? This is just a for instance. Deng is the team's third option and he took only two shots in the fourth.
Good offense requires ball movement and total involvement from all five guys on the floor. I'm perfectly okay with Rose taking 30+ shots as long as they come within the flow of the offense. When there’s no flow to the offense...that's when the problems crop up.
Everybody is at fault. Thibs is at fault for not running more plays that get players other than Rose good looks. Rose's teammates are at fault for not being more aggressive, getting open, and calling for the ball. And Rose is at fault for not generating more offense for the other guys wearing red jerseys.
It'll be interesting to see if they get it cleaned up in Game 5.
Officiating: With 2:27 left in the fourth quarter and the Bulls trailing 90-84, Derrick Rose made a nice ball fake, got Jamal Crawford into the air, and then drew obvious contact on a three-point attempt. Official Bennett Salvatore blew the whistle...
...then said it was inadvertent and ruled a jump ball. Josh Smith won the tip, Jeff Teague gained possession, and Atlanta’s possession ended with a dunk by Al Horford that increased Atlanta's lead to eight points.
Said Salvatore: "An inadvertent whistle is when a referee blows his whistle and didn’t mean to. That's exactly what happened. I blew my whistle and didn't mean to, I didn't think it was a foul. Having watched the replay after the game, it was a foul and I should have called it. I made a mistake."
He blew his whistle. But he didn’t think it was a foul. Okay.
Salvatore continued: "I blew my whistle. I was positive it was not a foul. I blew my whistle by accident. Which is an inadvertent whistle. That's why I disallowed it ... Having watched replay. It was a foul. I made a mistake. I was wrong."
Said Rose: "It's basketball. Hopefully next time they call it."
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: "At that time of the game, I've never seen that. But look, Bennett's a good official. He said he made a mistake. He's human. So that's what he did. He's a good official. He got him in the air, he came down on him. I thought it was a foul. But you know, sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.
You don't have to be a math major to realize how costly Salvatore’s mistake was for the Bulls. Assuming Rose hit all three of the free throws he should have gotten, the Bulls would have been down only three points with two and a half minutes remaining. Instead, after it was all said and done, they were down eight with two minutes to go.
And, watching the game, you could tell the sequence demoralized them.
If that call had been made correctly, the Bulls could have won this game. But it's not why they lost the game. They lost because they played poorly.
The Oklahoma City Thunder: If the Thunder could have scored 11 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3, they would have won and reclaimed homecourt advantage.
Instead, OKC got outscored 23-10 in the fourth and ended up losing in overtime.
The Grizzlies are brutal savages. They're a scary team, man. Never thought I'd say it, but it's true. But still...the idea that a team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook got held to 10 fourth quarter points after beginning the period with a 13-point lead is stunning.
Said Mike Conley: "I think once we looked up at the clock and saw how many points we were down, a little bit of desperation hit. We were like, 'Man, we cannot lose this game.' And guys amped up their game, made some changes here and there, and we were able to just be scrappy and play our game, and fortunately we got the win."
Countered Durant: "This is a tough loss. I'm trying to stay positive, but it was tough. This was tough. We were up 13 going into the fourth, had a good roll going. It was tough."
Added Thunder coach Scott Brooks: "We stopped doing [what they did for the first three quarters]. The last seven or eight minutes, we just stopped doing it, and we gave into their play. I give them credit. They really stepped up and got into us and made us take tough shots."
No kidding. From ESPN Stats and Information: "The end-of-game dynamic between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant reared its ugly head again on Saturday. Entering Game 3, Durant had been tremendous in the final 5 minutes of regulation and OT, shooting over 50 percent from the floor compared to just 26 percent for Westbrook. Both struggled down the stretch on Saturday, combining to go 0-10 with the lone points coming on a pair of Russell Westbrook free throws."
As a team, the Thunder shot 36 percent, with Durant (10-for-24) and Westbrook (7-for-22) shitting bricks. Westbrook has 12 assists...but he also committed 5 of his 7 turnovers in the fourth quarter and overtime before fouling out of the game.
By the way, according to ESPN Stats and Information, that 10 points is tied for the fourth-lowest fourth-quarter playoff point total since 2005. I'm just sayin'.
Panathinaikos basketball fans: Nobody should get shot by an AK-47 over basketball. But it happened.
Chris' Playoff Lacktion Report:
Bulls-Hawks: Omer acquired a board in 14:12, but buried it in three fouls for a 3:1 Voskuhl. Rasual Butler had 121 seconds of prime rib pricing for a 2 trillion.
Meanwhile, Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia countered a free throw and board in 9:03 with a turnover and four fouls for a 5:2 Voskuhl, and both Jason Collins (in 1:45 via two fouls) and Josh Powell (in 4:07 via brick and turnover) got +2 suck differentials, with Collins getting a 2:0 Voskuhl and Powell earning a Madsen-level 1:0 ratio.
Lakers-Mavs: Joe Smith unmightily fouled in 3:23 for a +1 and a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl, while Corey Brewer matched that suck differential for Dallas in 68 seconds via brick from the Stemmons Freeway.
Thunder-Grizzlies: Daequan Cook fried up three bricks from the Sterick Building, along with two fouls, to earn a +5 in 8:15!
El (Oh El) Heat-Celtics: Von Wafer plugged in his Super Nintendo for a mere four seconds, earning a celebratory Super Mario!!!!
Bulls-Hawks: Damien Wilkins bricked once in 58 seconds for a +1 and a Mario! And as commenter Batmanu notes...
Should we make mention in the Lacktion Report that Damien Wilkins' missed FGA was on a blown dunk at the end of the first half?