Requiem and Terra Pax

Well, shoot.

It was probably clear from my earlier thoughts on the series that wasn’t a series but then became one but actually wasn’t; I was far from wholly optimistic. Game four went as I expected the close out game in the series to go, even if it took Detroit a couple of tries to get it right. Now I get to “enjoy” the spectacle of the Pistons beating the holy heck out of the Cavaliers. And I’m not being sarcastic with those quotes. I will enjoy watching Lebron and his gutless charges slowly ground down by the Pistons machine. Except for Zydrunas Ilgauskas. (Or, as his wikipedia page helpfully points out, the Lethal Lithuanian.) I’ve always liked him. There is something tragic about the talented big man with foot troubles. It gives his stony demeanor and slow paced movements a certain nobility. Nobody hears the clock ticking on their career like a big man with bad feet. History has shown time and time again that those feet will win. Not that I’m saying the Cavs are rallying around a ‘Win one for Big Z’ cry, they’re not. But for Zydrunas, his time is running down. After spending his second through fourth years in the league battling those feet, he’s been reasonably healthy since the start of the ’02 season. He made a couple of All Star games and has been paid an astounding 91.5 million over the course of his career. He’s been a member of the Cavaliers for longer than anyone on the team. Look at the roster from his rookie year! Their leading scorer was Shawn freaking Kemp! The team’s current GM was getting 15 minutes a night! Now, almost a decade later, his numbers are mostly unchanged and he’s gone from Shawn Kemp to a frightened 22 year old who chews his fingernails trying to be the future of the league. He’s a battleship, a relic of a different era in the NBA. Equipped with a great touch for a man his size, he’s comfortable both in the low post and spotted up at the top of the key. I enjoy watching the man play, because he’s one of the few that play that way anymore. But what can he do against the mighty Pistons?

But enough about the Pistons march to the Finals and their inevitable matchup with the Spurs, whose series with Utah will surely feature all the delicate subtlety of prison rape. I come not to enervate Lebron, but to celebrate the Bulls. I have long since left behind the pathetic fallacy of the close out loss as microcosm for the problem’s of a season on the whole. But in losing the series, lessons can be learned. I suppose any post-season assessments would be premature without knowing the lottery position they are set to inherit from the Knicks. Anyway, onto the notes:

– Loved the turn back the clock game from PJ Brown. 20 points in the first half! He made the Pistons pay attention to him, which is all you can ask from him. He gave the UC faithful some hope. I was never fond of him, going back to his days on the Riley Heat (Mark one, with Alonzo and Tim Hardaway), but this season gave me some grudging respect for the old guy. He seemed like he cared and played hard down the stretch. Maybe you want more for 8 million a year, but what can you do?

– The Bulls survived the season with a deficit of rebounders by subscribing to the concept of ‘team rebounding’. Everyone chips in and such. But when a team that’s bigger than you decides it wants those rebounds, they become a lot harder to get. It’s just easier to have a big guy to go down there and get them for you. The Pistons rebound well all around; it’s part of what makes them a good team. The Bulls are wise to emulate this, they just don’t have the stock of PF/C’s like the Pistons.

– Gordon was getting crushed. Everytime down the court, whoever he was guarding got first crack. I don’t know what can be done about this, but Ben’s got to do something to be able to handle big minutes on both ends of the court. Focus! Focus!

– I remember when Deng was a rookie. He looked like a skinny kid, but he played surprisingly well. In these playoffs I was struck by how much he’s matured. He’s really on top of his game. I adore the way he’s constantly moving, cutting to open spaces, looking for the ball. Sadly, this is likely related to the fact that he’s slow with the ball and isn’t the sort of player you can isolate on the wing and ask him to create. But you don’t average 19.5 and 8.5 in the playoffs against a team as good as the Pistons through sheer luck and hustle. He’s doing the right things and I can only hope his improvement continues.

My impressions of game six are somewhat hampered by the fact that I had a fever of 102 or so around game time and the fact that I spent the next three days asleep recovering. I’ll be back to posting my usual hilarious off the cuff remarks and whatnot this week. But now, without the Bulls, I’ll have to do without my favorite topic. The horror. Maybe another hot 18 year old pole vaulter will be discovered by the internet soon. That’d help.

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Published in: on May 21, 2007 at 6:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Flagrant Foul

bowen

I can’t believe that I keep on delaying my musings on Marvel’s upcoming World War Hulk event to watch basketball clips. Fucking basketball, 82 games of boredom and they still sucker me in at the playoffs. That said, Bruce Bowen is a dirty player, who doesn’t hesitate to injure other players if he thinks he can get away with it. I feel a heady joy at seeing an underhanded player revealed as such. This joy is akin to the exquisite pleasure of watching skeptics disproving scam faith healers or the Daily Show mocking the hypocrisy of politicians. Justice may not be served, but at least you get rid of the wool over your eyes.

While this post probably isn’t news to people who care, it’s been coming up a lot recently, especially with similarities to the Horry/Nash incident. I don’t think that Horry is nearly as bad as Bowen. Horry committed a hard foul and Nash is a little guy so it looked even worse. Horry was probably frustrated and he sees the end of his career looming. I don’t know if Horry has a history of this or not, but he wasn’t trying to mask the foul and the scandal was really the NBA’s suspensions. (In defense of the NBA, the Suns’ suspensions were automatic and it was bound to be a no win situation.)

Contrastingly, Bowen is tripping people, stepping on their ankles, making low kicks, and acting as innocent as an Italian soccer player. Thankfully, someone has compiled a list of Bowen incidents with videos from YouTube. All praise to RyanUnderdown.com. You can look at all of the videos on one page or if the site goes down (it’s getting heavy traffic), I’ll post individual links.

Published in: on May 16, 2007 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

what now?

It feels like weeks ago that I had given up on this series. I even went so far as to start planning an end of the season evaluation of the team, but it turns out they’re still playing. The fact that it was a blowout was even more curious. I realize the Pistons are prone to well, not laziness, but complacency when spotted an advantage. It happened last year against the Cavs and it’s happening again this year. I really wouldn’t put too much stock in one blowout, though I am quite surprised the Bulls brought it like that at the Palace. Game 5 was not the first blowout of the series, however; every game thus far has had a margin of at least 19 one way or the other. Aside from the second half of game 3, the teams have spent very little time battling back and forth. One team is usually kicking the crap out of the other. Which makes me wonder, why? Such wild shifts in execution, in effectiveness have to be due to something. I set my fevered mind upon this question last night and, right now, still have nothing to show for it. Clearly starting Hinrich on Billups was important, as was getting Billups out of the game.

Notes:

– I swear, Ben Gordon falls down at least three times a game. Someone tell him to step on the Stickum pads before he checks in. Is there something I’m missing? He turns corners too quick, he goes down. He tries to stop himself too quickly, he goes down. He’s one unguarded midcourt collapse away from me assuming he has an inner ear disorder resulting in serious vertigo. Nice to see him finally get it going, even if it did take four games to do so.

– Great games from Hinrich and Deng. Luol has been the most consistent of the big three and continues his stellar play in this postseason. Kirk got his shot going tonight, made good decisions, the whole nine. Not much you can say about the two of them that isn’t obvious after a game like this.

– Nocioni has started to reveal himself in this series. While as little as two years ago he was my favorite player on the Bulls I’ve come to appreciate his deficiencies during this playoff run. Part of it is no doubt to his foot slowing him down, but he really tries to do too much. He freelances all the time on defense and makes far too many ill advised charges into the heart of the opponents defense. While I understand that this can be useful and indeed necessary at times, I’ve started to wish he would just cool it sometimes. I’m still happy he’s a Bull, but as the level of competition rises his shortcomings become more noticeable.

– I thought the rookies played well too. Thabo still strikes me as kind of lost out there on offense, but he’s a big body and a willing defender. If he can learn to run the offense as well as Duhon, we’d really have something. To be clear, I am not a Duhon fan, but at the risk of hurting grammar, he’s good at what he’s good at. Meaning, if all you need from Duhon is to handle the ball, avoid turnovers and hit the odd three, you’re fine. Chris Duhon can handle that. But when you ask him to guard Billups and make plays on offense on the road during the playoffs, you’re less likely to see him succeed. Thabo can’t be trusted with the ball in his hands, at least for an extended period. During the playoffs I’ve noticed several possessions where he gets the ball then starts visibly thinking about what he should do with it. Pass? Dribble? Shoot? The result of this is usually a thrown up shot less than two feet from where he started. But on defense, he’s ready. He played some good minutes on Rip, which is crucial because it saves one of the more offensively savvy players from having to do it. Tyrus did his usual jump out of the gym, ‘how the hell did he block that?’ routine. He also showed a little maturity when he decided to lay in the ball when completely unguarded in the waning seconds of the game. He blew the layup, but it’s nice to see something like that.

So, do I think the Bulls can complete the Greatest Comeback in NBA Playoff History? Well, yes and no. I’m still kind of shocked they went into the Palace and demolished the Pistons. That proved to me that they don’t think the series is over and that they’re not afraid of Detroit. The Pistons, however, have proved earlier in the series that they aren’t exactly afraid of the Bulls or playing on the road either. It’s a tempting trap for me, as a fan, to fall into. Game six at the friendly confines of the United Center seems like a win, right? And then it’s game seven and anything can happen in one game. I don’t know. I’m very conflicted. Do I think that the Bulls CAN pull this off? Yes, I do. They have the talent and the mental fortitude to win the next two games. Will they? That is what I’m not so sure about. I doubt Billups is going to stay in foul trouble for the next two. Still, I remain cautiously optimistic.

I’ll leave you with this parting “shot”….

Published in: on May 16, 2007 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

viral infections

I meant to do a whole bunch of posting during the weekend, but I’ve become quite ill and haven’t been on the ball. It was nice to watch the Bulls win on Sunday, but my optimism regarding the rest of the series remains low. Nevertheless, I’ll be watching tonight as they attempt chapter two of ‘The Greatest Comeback in NBA Playoff History’.

Anyway, in lieu of my hilarious and poignant commentary I’ve included a slew of links:

Celebrity DJ’s? Socialite DJ’s? Whatever the hell you call them they’re officially a trend.

Village Voice profile on Lil Mama. She’s the coolest.

Clublife blog. One angry bouncer in Chelsea.

Ever wanted to listen to really obscure 78’s, but didn’t have the equipment to take them with you on the subway? Put your fears to rest.

When you play a practical joke, you first must consider the physical and emotional fallout of said joke to the victims before you proceed. Especially when the victims are a vast swath of the midwest and you’re Rick Ankiel.

I’ve watched literally hundreds of NBA games and managed to keep my composure throughout the balance of them, but Davis’ dunk made me jump up and scream ‘oh, baby!’ The video replay of the dunk will be a shining beacon to all those who accept its healing power. Much like the Human Highlight Reel’s, uh, highlight reel.

A talk with M.O.P.’s Billy Danze. Beware the rap/metal hybrid.

More to come tomorrow….

Published in: on May 15, 2007 at 9:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

I believe

Now, I admit that I’m hardly the most loyal fan of the Warriors. My favorite pieces of sports memorabilia growing up was my Eckersley rookie card and my dad’s basketball signed by all of the ’84 Lakers. (note: my allegiance to said team and the nba ended with Magic’s departure. on the other hand, my allegiance to dennis eckersley will never fade.) In my life, I’ve been to around twelve Warriors games, probably only three in the last ten years. So, I’m not claiming anything in regard to the current awesomeness springing forth from the Oracle nee Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena. However, living in the bay area it’s hard not to get behind them at a time like this and with Nellie back at the helm. Especially with Baron Davis pulling shit like this…

Published in: on May 13, 2007 at 7:11 pm  Comments (1)  

Well hell

Son of a gun. For better or worse, game three proved what I was worried about. Namely, that the Bulls just can’t hang with a motivated, elite NBA team. The Pistons took the best shot that the Bulls had and weathered the storm. When the third started the Bulls merely had to play even with Detroit, but as their veterans got them back into the game the Bulls noticeably tightened up. The fourth quarter was mostly Nocioni forcing shots (which I’m not going to criticize him for because everyone else looked terrified of shooting) and sending the ball down to PJ. In most instances it was the “correct” play, as the Pistons were leaving him more open than anyone else of the floor, but come on. Deng took a three in the final seconds, which I can’t remember seeing him do all year. Matt from Blogabull seems to advocate a harsh evaluation of what the Bulls have in their core, but I’m feeling a little more forgiving. I do, however, think that the odd man out right now is Ben Gordon. His skill set is the most easily replaced, and he has yet to find the sort of consistency that an elite scorer in the NBA needs. But I’ll save this line of thinking for when the offseason officially begins for the Bulls.

The Bulls just aren’t on the same level as the Pistons, which is in some ways more comforting than other memorable Bulls playoff flameouts. The ’94 team should have advanced, but didn’t. The ’95 team could have advanced, but was in too much disarray. This year is different. They’re good enough to crush Miami, but it’s all they can do to avoid a sweep on Sunday.

Anyway, I’d like to spend a little time on this painfully stupid revisionist history of the rivalry between the Bad Boys and the young Jordan Bulls. And for the record, I do think they’re an overlooked group. What would Amare say if instead of Bruce Bowen he was dealing with Laimbeer, Rodman and Rick Mahorn? He’d probably be crying. I also think that the Bulls did their share of whining about the tough guy stuff the Pistons would pull. But the statements that”the Bad Boys are bad for basketball” was eventually shown to be true. The push and grab style of defense became so prevalent in the NBA that by the end of the 90’s it had turned the NBA into a league where you’d see scores of 76-73 on the regular. Part of this was due to the fact that the Bad Boys had as much success as anyone at slowing down Jordan and, in the East, if you wanted to get to the finals you’d have to go through Chicago at some point. Riley set up his defensive system twice, in New York and Miami and Jeff Van Gundy made the slow it down game into an artform after Riley had left New York. Larry Brown got two teams to the finals based on these principles. It took years and rule changes for the running game to come back into vogue. Ugly basketball, based on restricting movement and treating every possession like the last. I’d much rather watch Golden State score 120, thanks.

Another hilarious part is when it’s claimed that the Pistons didn’t take things personally, keeping everything on the court. Bullshit. Cheapshots are personal. You’re not trying to help your team when you try to hurt someone. Ending someone’s livelihood is personal. And being incited by some offhand trash talking? That kind of response isn’t ever acceptable. It’s as if Rodman never had anyone talk shit to him on the court.

Most of the article is devoted to complaining that the Pistons never got the sort of respect that the Celtics got, an issue I don’t know about and don’t care about. Apparently the Celtics (McHale excepted) staged a walkoff when the Pistons finally got their number. I’ve never heard this before and, again, have no idea if it’s true. But it doesn’t excuse the Pistons walkoff. That was a classless act by a classless group.

That’s all in the past, however. Twenty years later and the Bulls are once again a young team trying to find themselves and the Pistons are once again the elder champs. I really do hope that they keep up this intensity for the rest of the playoffs because they’re a fun team to watch. If I coached a PeeWee league team I would make them watch footage of Billups closing out and playing tough, physical defense without fouling. At the very least I hope the Bulls can keep them from closing out the sweep at the United Center but, everyone being aware that 3-0 is a death sentence, I imagine the teams will only play hard enough to make it appear hard fought. They’re on the right path. This series has made it obvious for the need to improve. Hopefully it lights a fire under them.

Published in: on May 11, 2007 at 6:18 pm  Comments (1)  

con sarn it!

That didn’t go well. There’s not even a whole lot to say. The Pistons are taking the Bulls seriously and are kicking some ass. More glibly I’d say that the Pistons know what the fuck they’re doing. But that’s not entirely true. The Bulls looked less lost out on the court last night, but the end result was the same. You know things are bad when Sweetney gets off the bench in the first quarter. The teams matchup horribly and Flip Saunders has a plan (make people other than Deng, Gordon and Hinrich score) and a crew of versatile, willing defenders to make it work.

During the regular season Bulls blowout losses were usually indicative of a lack of effort or sloppy execution.  That wasn’t the case last night. The real problem was that they couldn’t stop the Pistons from being rediculously efficient on the offensive end. You can’t let a team get 15 offensive rebounds and shoot almost 53% from long distance. A few notes:

– I actually thought Hinrich played okay, all things considered. The Bulls match up so terribly with the Pistons because there’s honestly no one else who can guard Billups or Rip. The Captain made Billups work getting into the offense. The ease with which Billups was running things when Duhon or Gordon was on him was startling. Not that Hinrich or anyone else in the league is really bothering him into ineffectiveness, but with a team like the Pistons to have a chance you have to make them work. Despite the 0-7, Kirk still had seven assists and six rebounds, with only one turnover in 34 minutes.

– In an effort to remain positive, I must say I found it heartening that the Bulls kept attacking the rim, shooting 52 (!) free throws. Many of these resulted from fouls on Big Ben and Ty Thomas in lieu of uncontested dunks. They both shot a not entirely terribly 13 for 20 combined, but the game plan is essentially sound. The Pistons were forcing the ball to the bigs and fouling when they had anything resembling a good look. Thomas really flies around out there, but you can tell mentally he’s still unsure of himself and skillwise you don’t want him making decisions with the ball other than ‘reverse or tomahawk?’. But damn, that kid can climb the ladder when the ball goes up.

– I really like this Pistons team. I just wish they hadn’t gotten their heads together against the Bulls. Actually, there is an exception. I really don’t like Chris Webber. Never have. Never will. He’s the kind of guy that keeps me rooting against a team because I don’t think he deserves a ring. For past precedent I can recall bitter rants directed at the ’04 Lakers (Karl Malone), the ’06 Heat (Alonzo Mourning) and any playoff team Vince Carter’s ever been on. Webber is soft, terrified of the spotlight. In addition now he can barely move around out there. I feel obligated to say that my problem isn’t with his game, eroded as his skills might be. He still has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen on a big guy, he can still pass great and he can nail a midrange jumper. My problem with him was his ‘I’m a superstar’ act when he has clearly and demonstrably been terrified by real pressure. He’s toned that down now that his knees are betraying him, but I still find the idea of watching him celebrating a title abhorrent. But then again, we live in a day and age where Antoine Walker and Jason Williams both have rings. Maybe I should just calm down. But the rest of the core (Prince, Billups, Hamilton, and especially Sheed) are some of my favorite NBA players.

– Things will probably be better at home on Thursday, but this one looks like it’s just about decided. Unless someone pulls a JoJo English, there’s not much the Bulls can do. Ugh. I’ll be hoping for the best.

Coverage from around the web:

Charley Rosen

Sam Smith

Thank You Isiah

Published in: on May 8, 2007 at 5:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bulls Weekend Wrapup

That was fun. I honestly haven’t felt like this about the Bulls since, gasp, the dynasty days. The last couple playoffs run were fun, especially the ’05 run that featured an unexpected 47 wins in the regular season, but nonetheless I was fraught by a nagging sense that the Bulls weren’t talented enough to make much noise in the second season. This year is different. The Bulls really took it to the Heat; they played confidently and expected to win. I’ve got a lot to talk about, so I’m going to split this up into games three and four.

Game 3: Chicago 104, Miami 96

Right after the game I was ready to hand this effort four Skiles and be done with it. As I’ve had a couple of days (and another game) to reflect on it, I’m not sure it quite deserves that. I understand the reasons why such superlatives could be used to describe game three. Most importantly, the Bulls did something that teams with championship aspirations have to do; they won when they weren’t at their best. The first half of this game was awful, awful basketball by the Bulls. In the past that kind of start would ensure that the Bulls would stay down around ten the entire game, they would hustle enough to make it close but never put together an extended comeback. That this didn’t happen, on the road, against a veteran team fighting for survival, marks the continuing development of the core of this team into one of the elite groups in the NBA. When the fourth quarter rolled around, despite the dreaded three guard small lineup, the Bulls were simply too fast for the Heat. I’m never a fan of seeing Chris Duhon out on the floor during the fourth quarter, but Skiles was looking for a reduced workload from him, something that Du could handle. He didn’t need to guard Wade, he just needed to distribute the ball to Gordon, Hinrich and Deng. The “big three” ended shooting 23 of 47 from the field (48.9%). More importantly, they shot 29 free throws and hit 24. They won while losing the turnover battle 18 to 9, which is a generally solid indicator of playoff success. During the frantic fourth quarter, the Bulls showed all the hallmarks of superiority, such as being “in the right place at the right time”. Every bounce was going their way, which to me was encapsulated by the Miami possession where Wallace timed a Shaq hook perfectly, fell down after blocking it and calmly gathered the rebound from a missed Shaq putback while still lying on the ground.

Still, it wasn’t a perfect effort from Chicago. The Heat didn’t exactly play great either, and if Shaq and Wade could have hit 70% of their free throws, it would have been a much different game. But this game was certainly not about domination. It was about winning and, through that act, proving themselves the better team.

Game 4: Chicago 92, Miami 79

Before the weekend started I predicted that if the Bulls won game three they’d also take game four. I thought this because the Heat were a veteran team and they knew the score. A year removed from a title is a long time for a team built on aging veterans and a young superstar. Honestly, if they had Shaq from a couple years ago it would have gone six or seven. But the Heat just didn’t have the horses to keep pace with a much younger and hungrier opponent. The Bulls kept their composure when the Heat went on a run, and didn’t bat an eye when Shaq came out like a one man wrecking crew at the start of the game. Shaq has basically done the same thing all four games. He comes out scores three or four baskets, then starts tiring. I was almost positive, from the tenor of the series, that the Heat would come on strong, but not have enough to put the Bulls away. Then when the Bulls run came in the fourth, the Heat wouldn’t be able to stop it. This is exactly what happened and as the game wound up everyone, fans and players, wanted to flee the court. The postgame comments from Riley and crew underscored the theme ‘Hey, those guys are good”. The Heat and Riley did everything they could but they didn’t have an answer. Not that I think the Heat didn’t try or that they gave up on the series. They went down fighting (even I must grudgingly acknowledge Posey’s 18 rebounds in 44 minutes) and Riley let Wade stay out there for 45 minutes, knowing their only hope was for Dwyane to take over. There’s not much to talk about the game itself, the Bulls did the same thing they’ve done all series.

So, for the weekend, I’ll give the Bulls three Skiles, though this is partially due to the obstacles ahead. After game three, it was clear Chicago was the better team. Now comes a slugfest with Detroit which my early prediction has the Bulls in six.

SkilesSkilesSkiles

What I spent some time thinking about yesterday is, if this Bulls team ends up coming out of the East, how will their narrative arc be constructed? The loss to the Wizards two years ago was a reinforcement of the Great Man Theory of professional basketball. In the penultimate game five, the Wizards won because they had Arenas, and he could score on the last possession even when defended perfectly. Last year the Bulls matched up against a team perfectly equipped to exploit their lack of quality big men. So what now? The management line after last year was that, the Wallace signing notwithstanding, the biggest improvement would come from within, from the core. It turns out this was mostly true, though the Bulls halfcourt defense benefits greatly from having some defensively savvy players on the frontcourt. Deng in particular has raised his game on both ends of the court; as he, Gordon and Hinrich continue to play as effectively it’s going to be harder and harder for teams to play them “by the book”. The Pistons are more well equipped to deal with the Bulls, but I’m not going to start talking about that conflagration quite yet.

As a quick aside, I’m joining the chorus line of praise for the Nellieball Warriors. I’m also keenly aware that there might not be a better reason for why exactly this is happening outside of “Baron is balling out of his mind”. But then again, might that be enough? He’s clearly a great talent out there, and he’s never lacked swag. Nellie is putting him, and the other Warriors, in positions to succeed on the basketball court, and they’ve grabbed the opportunity by the throat. So maybe this is all you need to know about the Warriors:

Baron Davis

Golden State in six.

Published in: on April 30, 2007 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bulls 107, Heat 89

Good game. The Bulls took care of business at home, now they have to withstand the Heat push in Miami. Honestly, I think Miami will go pretty quietly if the Bulls jump all over them from the tip of game three. Anyway, some observations from game 2.

– What I found most confidence inspiring about this game was the way Deng picked his play up as the game went on. Miami certainly paid more attention to Luol wherever he was on the court, but when the Bulls needed scores at the end Deng was getting them. Part of this is undoubtedly due to being guarded by Kapono for stretches, but it was nice to see Deng take the action to the opposition.

– BG started off the game hot, which led to the adjustment that eventually got Deng going. In the second half Miami started having their bigs show real aggressively on the screen/rolls the Bulls were running with Ben. This was working too, partially because of Wallace’s inability to be a scoring threat more than five feet away from the basket and partially because Gordon made it easier for the Heat by picking his dribble up outside the three point line and trying to make crazy passes. Eventually they got the kinks worked out and Luol started hitting baskets.

– Between the two of them they combined for 53 points on 22 of 38 (57.9%) shooting. I’ll take that.

– Hinrich bounced back from a terrible game one with 14 and 8 assists, despite more foul trouble. I also started to wonder if he’s pressing himself, because he looks real exasperated on the court. Calm down Kirk! It looked like he was really letting the refs have it after calls. This is going to be a problem at some point.

– The Nocioni/Thomas debate was mostly moot, as neither of them played conspicuously well. Noc was pretty quiet, aside from the 7 points in 11.6 seconds explosion at the end of the half, punctuated by a classic Nocioni howl. Intensity, thy name is Andres. (If you don’t believe me look at the picture on his nba.com player profile. You don’t want none of that.) But with the big three playing well, the Bulls don’t need a ton from either of them.

– Duhon! You’re killing me. I understand why Skiles keeps playing him, I just wish there was a better alternative. Thabo didn’t look nearly as good as he did during game one. He was lost out there on offense. A couple of possessions ended with him not knowing what to do with his dribble and throwing up a wild shot. A couple of them went in, but that’s besides the point. He was definitely better on Wade than Duhon was, but with Hinrich on the bench, they need someone who can handle the ball and initiate the offense. Gordon was doing a poor job of it and Duhon’s basically the only other guy with the necessary skill set to do it. But watching him try to guard Wade made me feel like I was being punched in the testicles repeatedly.

– Ben Wallace had, statistically, a quiet game but what’s most important about his box score is the following: 38:20 minutes, 2 personal fouls. This is the biggest difference between him and Chandler last year. You can call the regular season between the two a wash this year and the future is bright for Tyson, but Chandler was out of his league against Shaq in the playoffs. Wallace staying on the court like that means less time for Shaq to beat up on our second line. It’s the little differences that matter here. Last year Shaq when Shaq would get posted deep Tyson would pick up a cheap foul trying to block his shot, which is just a waste of a foul. When Shaq is in that deep he’s dunking the ball; he’s too big and too strong for basically anyone in the league that close. Wallace plays Shaq hard, but when Shaq makes a good move and gets to the rim Ben doesn’t compound things by tacking a foul onto the end of it. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention PJ Brown as well; he played some quality minutes down low.

– Good to see the Bulls shut the door with Adrian Griffin, just when Wade was getting ready to do his Superman routine. Wait, the Bulls were up 20 when he came in? Even better.

So overall, I was happy with the way the Bulls executed. While Wade would periodically go on runs and Shaq was obviously a handful down low, none of the supporting cast really got going. It looked to me like Riley was forced to choose between his defense unit and his offense unit, both with glaring deficiencies on the other end. The Heat hung around for longer than I would have liked, but they never threatened as seriously as they did in game one. The Bulls defense was all over the Heat (14 turnovers from Shaq/Wade) and the shooters started hitting from beyond the arc. Now we take it to Miami and try to win a playoff game on the road for the first time since the dynasty years.

A couple of notes on the Heat:

– Poor Shaq. He’s working his ass off, but he just doesn’t have the skills he did five years ago. When was the last time you saw him bust ass on a screen/roll like last night? While he’s still arguably the best player on either team, he can’t bring it like he used to. I don’t want him to shoot it. I don’t want him pass it. I want him to slam! I’d be rooting for him if the Heat weren’t, you know, playing the Bulls. (It’s weird watching young Shaq fly around. I remember that guy. Oh, and Skiles with alley oop.)

– When Antoine Walker retires he will be sorely missed. By me, at least. Who else pump fakes from forty feet out? (And makes you close out on him while doing it? You know he’s thinking ‘If they don’t bite on this next time I’m letting it go!’) Who else shuffles into the lane with those little strides, like a man twice his age? Who will captain the NBA’s All-Looks-Like-A-Turtle team? (It’s like the All Defense team, except with turtle resemblance as the criterium for inclusion.) His postgame press conference attire will certainly not be forgotten soon by anyone lucky enough to witness it.

I’m ready for Friday. Bring it on. Game Two was fun, but I want more. I give it three and a half Skiles!

Game Two:

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Published in: on April 25, 2007 at 4:22 pm  Leave a Comment