It didn’t take long for the big red balloon of optimism to pop over the city of Chicago and rain down tears in the shapes of dripping red-hued question marks. All the finger pointing in the world (at Thibodeau, at the shortened season, at Derrick’s delicate 2012 body) won’t put Derrick’s ACL back together again, so let’s march on for a quick review of Saturday’s agonies and ecstasies:
Philly at Chicago, game one: The Bulls were their controlled, dominant selves with Rip Hamilton flashing and dashing off baseline screens and running Philly defenders ragged like it was 2004 all over again. If the Bulls, sans Rose, can somehow continue to score close to 100 points, this series won’t last long. They know how to behave with C.J. Watson at the helm and will continue to execute Thibodeau’s air tight game plans, but can Doug Collins’s squad find a way to step up their defense and put points on the board against a stubborn Bulls team? I don’t know, but I’m guessing Lavoy Allen is not the answer.
Random fact: Chicago was 22-0 when scoring 100 points or more this season.
New York at Miami, game one: 100 to 67? So much for the hype machine, Melo vs. Bron, Amar’e vs. Bosh, Shumpert vs. Wade (?) and New York’s three-point bombing bench. This was supposed to be the matchup we were all slobbering over, but instead game one had that dreamlike falling feeling, but we never woke up; or at least the Knicks didn’t wake up. Since no one really knows who the Knicks are (Knicks included), it’s impossible to imagine what we’ll get in the next three to six games, but my buddy Bug made a great, although mostly unrelated, point: Miami with Tyson Chandler instead of Chris Bosh would be a nightmare.
Random fact: Miami finished the regular season 18-0 when shooting over 50% as a team. Translation: LeBron and Dwyane: Don’t give into temptation, avoid the three.
Tragic ending: To Iman Shumpert’s season. Like Rose an hour or so before, the rookie who’d been somewhat prematurely anointed as one of the league’s top perimeter defenders (already?) tore his ACL as well.
Orlando at Indiana, game one: Here’s another one I caught on the highlight reel. The stories of this game: Danny Granger wet the bed, Roy Hibbert blocked nine shots (life’s a lot simpler when you get Big Baby instead of Dwight Howard) and Stan Van Gundy continues to build support in the ongoing Dwight vs. Stan feud.
Random fact: The Magic is 10-1 all-time when winning game one of a series.
Dallas at OKC, game one: The legend of Kevin Durant continues to grow. He got a true shooter’s bounce to win the game for OKC and send the bench and hometown fans in euphoria. Even though some of the names and faces have changed and James Harden’s beard takes up a little more mass, it felt like carryover from last year’s Western Conference Finals—minus Dirk being perpetually en fuego.
Rejected!: OKC led the league in blocks per game and their 8.2bpg is the fifth most per-game total in league history. They tallied eleven blocks on Saturday.
Sunday’s games added more piss and vinegar to the mix (we see you, Rajon). I’ll be back here tomorrow with another recap. And in the meantime, leave us all to ponder if anyone plays with a Marc Gasolian zeal for the game. It’s like he took all that energy his brother has channeled into primordial roars and re-directed it to positivity and an acknowledgement that he’s paid to play basketball for a living.
I watched game three of the Eastern Conference Finals last night from the comforts and smoky hospitality of the Mandalay Bay Sports Book. Most games I watch are from the quiet and familiarity of my apartment and couch. Being surrounded by a hundred or so obnoxious gamblers watching a basketball game was refreshing. I’m usually chided for screaming at the TV, but here I was among the likeminded; united by a mix of basketball and money.
It was in that setting that I took in the gritty play of celebrities in South Beach. At a first thought, it’s not natural to associate defense and battling with the quartet of LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Derrick Rose. You see Bron and Wade specifically with their little cardigans and v-necks in the post-game press conferences, but fortunately fashion tastes don’t preclude on-court efforts. We knew it would be a defensive series so it’s no shock to see the 48-minute grind bleeding into every half court possession and leading to momentum-driving Miami fast breaks that cracked the Bulls backs just like they did Boston’s.
For a game and series that leans closer to the ethos of Joakim Noah, it was a surprise to see Chris Bosh spit in the collective faces of his critics. Noah was frustrated and out of rhythm. He committed fouls (questionable or not), stewed on the bench and failed to provide the right kind of energy that the Bulls expect and need from him. Bosh, by contrast, delivered on fades, jumpers, spins and dunks and while his Gasolian screams after fouls or dunks continue to feel artificial or at least misplaced (the screams are aimed more at the critics than his opponents), he was the Heat’s most productive and consistent player in game three. With Bosh as the go-to, any questions about the mythic tug of war between Bron and Wade are questions that didn’t exist on this Sunday.
Lost in Bosh’s Raptor throwback was the one of the better statistical games we’ve seen from Boozer in these playoffs. He went for 27 and 17, but failed to hit any field goals in a fourth quarter where the Bulls were outscored by eight.
The common theme this season between Bosh and Boozer has been their inabilities to fit in to which I can only imagine must be confusing. They’ve both been criticized for failing to replicate their previous successes which is unfair and rarely possible given the current circumstances. When they both arrived in full on Sunday night, it was Bosh who received the greater support while Boozer was left trying to carry Chicago in a role all-too-familiar to Rose.
For Bosh to make 34 points against the league’s best defense look so easy reconfirms the potential of this Miami team. His identity isn’t the same as it was in Toronto and it never will be again, but games like tonight are reminders of the versatility of his game and the value of a skilled seven footer—even if he is a little on the soft side. Boozer’s productivity opposite of Rose’s struggles last night reinforced a suspicion I have that Boozer and Rose suffer from compatibility issues. The injuries and lack of on-court time between the two (or three if you consider Noah’s injuries earlier this year) are well known, but until Rose and Boozer are able to co-exist as scorers, the Bulls will have trouble scoring enough points to win in this series.
The Heat, with its three elite scorers combined with Bron’s and Wade’s versatility, doesn’t share these same problems. Their problems consist of things like who stole Mike Miller’s basketball soul, how can they get his soul back and how can they keep Jamaal Magloire out of the arena.