Sunday, June 20, 2010

Finals wrap: no more ball until ... um, next week (warning: long post about pro basketball)

At 12 minutes past 6 p.m. last Thursday, my wife (@staceyheath13) tweeted the following:
NBA finals tonight... Lakers or Celtics? Whatever! Basketball season ends- I WIN!!! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

It's good to know one of us went to bed happy.

Actually, that's not fair: I barely slept at all after the Celtics — my favorite team for most of my life — squandered Game 7 in Los Angeles. I made the cardinal mistake of attempting to go straight to bed as soon as the game ended, and was unable to turn off my brain (note: never attempt to do this unless you're drunk, in which case it's still probably a bad idea). The text message battle with my friend Zach — someone who would absolutely bear Kobe Bryant's children given the opportunity — probably didn't help (I suggested Pau Gasol receive the series MVP trophy; he suggested I was a hater; it got ugly from there).
Anyway, here are some other (admittedly quite late) thoughts on the series, from my perspective:
• Most important, at least to me: this series absolutely ruined my ability to watch any other sporting event, because of the power of TiVo. Through a little self-discipline and planning ahead, I was able to wait until 9 p.m. to start each broadcast, zoom through the commercials and be in bed by 11:30 (except Game 7 because, I mean, come on). It remains to be seen if this will work during football season.
• My case for Gasol as MVP: I'm a racist and I hate KobeI didn't think the Lakers would've won without him (and still don't). To be fair, Game 7 was an ugly and disjointed representation of American basketball; both sides seemed nervous and keyed up on defense (personified by Kobe and Ray Allen, who hounded one another into awful shooting nights). And Gasol made two of the biggest baskets down the stretch, controlled the boards and even stopped Kevin Garnett on a big drive. Without him, the Lakers would've absolutely lost. Just saying.
Delving a little deeper, it's worth mentioning that Gasol has absolutely been the key to this Lakers run the last three seasons, because of his big body and — and this is huge — his willingness to take a complete backseat to Kobe Bryant. Don't forget: Gasol was considered the best player on that putrid Memphis Grizzlies team and most people thought of him as either the best or second-best foreign player in the league (along with Dirk Nowitzki). In L.A., he's basically faded into the background without complaint because of No. 24. Here's what Simmons wrote about him after last year's title victory over Orlando:
Gasol ... shot 62 percent from the field in the last two rounds. You know how many shots he attempted in those 11 games? 120. You know how many big guys would have been happy with a situation in which their coach said, "I know you score six out of every 10 times we get you the ball, but you're going to have to live with 11 shots a game because we can't win a title unless Kobe's happy?" Not many. Shaq didn't like the arrangement and got shipped out of town. Gasol came from NBA Hell (Memphis), and he was willing to sacrifice to make the Lakers better. He's a big reason they won. He crashed the boards, killed himself on defense and reinvented himself as a complementary sidekick of the highest order.

It was the same Thursday night. Gasol played over 41 minutes, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out 9 assists and scored 17 points. Not huge numbers ... except he took only 14 shots. His counterpart who finished 6-of-24 in just over 39 minutes won the MVP award.
I'll bet Gasol didn't complain a bit.
• It would, naturally, be criminal to ignore Kobe's greatness as a player. From an endurance standpoint, he's utterly amazing: in the last three seasons, he's played all the way into June, incredible considering he's spent the last 2 offseasons playing for the U.S. on an international level. This season he played with a broken finger and legs that — despite his relatively young age — simply don't have the hops they used to (Kobe rarely drives to the basket and has virtually no explosion). And yet he perseveres. HIs performance in a Game 5 loss was one of the best I've ever seen: he very nearly willed the Lakers to a win despite a Boston's defense running him ragged and zero help from anyone in purple (to the point that he was visibly angry on the court and lit into his teammates in the locker room). If the MVP award goes to the best player on the team that wins the title ... OK, sure. I'd give it to No. 24. Fine.
• Dealing with the Celtics, in perspective, is difficult. On the one hand, they played so poorly in the regular season, it seemed like a longshot they'd even get out of the first round, much less be one quarter away from a championship. In the playoffs, Rajon Rondo established himself as a legitimate star, Ray Allen proved his Hall of Fame credentials yet again (though he disappeared in the Finals after Game 2) and Paul Pierce and Garnett proved they still have something in the tank. So from that standpoint, it was a positive for Boston.
• The Celtics' offense is a curious thing. At one point in the second half, it became obvious that a) Garnett was blowing by Gasol on the block and b) Rondo needed to trigger the offense. And yet, on multiple occasions the Celtics cleared out for Paul Pierce, even though Pierce was under lockdown from Ron Artest (most of Boston's success vs. Artest had come in screen-and-roll plays). And why did Pierce insist that he take every last shot for the Celtics at the end of every period, sometimes waiting until there were fewer than 5 seconds on the clock before even making a move? Boston's offense seemed to have been coordinated by Dave Rader.
• The performance of each team's bench away from home is so hilariously bad, I'm not even certain it deserves mention. Big Baby, Nate Robinson and Tony Allen were all ineffective in L.A., and the Jordan Farmer/Sasha Vujacic combo was so bad in Boston that more than one person joked they should've just stayed home. Maybe that was the real key to L.A. having homecourt advantage in Game 7: their bench guys showed up because it was at their place.
• Since I'm out of other things to say about this series, I'll leave you with my enduring image for the 2010 NBA playoffs: Glen Davis drooling.

Back to regular programming tomorrow.

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