- The Season's Over -

Welcome to the Big Stage Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, and the Chicago Bulls

April 30, 2009

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah

Derrick Rose Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Ray Allen hitting a triple with a hand in his face from the corner. John Salmons slashing to the rim for a tough make and a foul. Paul Pierce from the top of the key on an isolation jumper. Derrick Rose with a running layup off a high pick from Brad Miller.

Those seemed like the most likely game-winning scenarios in the latest epic battle between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, one which somehow upped the previous five games by going three overtime periods. (Seriously, can you recall a more entertaining NBA playoff game in recent history? I can’t.)

But of all the potential ways the Bulls’ could have turned the tide on this crucial, season-saving Game 6 win, this was one most would never have envisioned:

6-11 Joakim Noah, trapping All-Star and future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce at the top of the key and forcing a steal. 6-11 Noah picking up the loose ball and lumbering down the court with Pierce trailing about a half step behind. And then, incredibly, unpredictably, majestically and with a high degree of filth, the 6-11 Noah rose for a running one-handed jam. Count it. Foul Paul Pierce, his sixth. Count the free throw. And count ETB as Chicago Bulls converts, at least for this round.

My colleague Mr. Thell’s reaction over chat to Noah’s dunk: “I nearly choked on my cracker and salmon dip. Regardless of what happens here, Chicago is winning fans right now.”

There was a lot more basketball to be played after Noah’s disgusting heroics, but that’s the play that’ll stand out in the minds of Bulls and Celtics fans alike this evening. Scratch that, of general NBA basketball fans, the group that’s enjoying this series just as much as those watchers out there with personal attachments to one of the teams.

Seven overtime periods. Countless ties. Nail-biting finishes. Major momentum swings. Star power. Underdogs rising up. Champions fighting back. Clutch shots, crucial mental mistakes, personal atonement. Game 7.

There’s nothing this series hasn’t given fans of professional basketball. This is what it’s all about. As Mr. Thell so aptly put it after Derrick Rose’s huge Game 1 effort, greatness is why we watch. And greatness is exactly what we’ve gotten in this first-round series.

There was so much to admire in Game 6 alone: Ray Allen’s 51 points, including a record-tying 9 triples and a slew of huge shots down the stretch that kept his team in the game. John Salmons’ 35 huge points for the Bulls that made up for a lackluster effort from Ben Gordon. Glen “Big Fatty” Davis’ head-scratching repertoire of offensive moves and jumpers that totaled 23 big points. Brad Miller’s 23 points, 10 boards, and 5 free-throw makes out of 5 free-throw attempts off the bench.

And, of course, the 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year, Derrick Rose, making up for his tepid, balls-in-his-stomach play for much of the fourth quarter and overtime stanzas with The Block Heard Around the World on Rajon Rondo’s potential game-winning shot in the waning moments of the third overtime. Rose finished with 28 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and that 1 block (along with 5 turnovers).

What else can be said? We’re floored. Game 7 is Saturday night in Boston. Let’s go Bulls.

Related Reading:
- Derrick Rose – The Start of Something Special
- Boston Celtics’ Advantage: Paul Pierce
- The Class of 2008 in Their First NBA Playoffs: Showing Up or Slowing Down?
- Amped-Up KG on Potential Return This Season: “Anything is Possible!”

4 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Apr. 30, 2009 at 11:52pm in NBA

Memo to Western Conference: Chauncey Billups is a Very Dangerous Man

April 30, 2009

Denver Nuggets PG Chauncey BillupsSix straight Eastern Conference Finals. Two NBA Finals. One NBA Championship. One NBA Finals MVP Award.

Chauncey Billups has been around the postseason block a time or two, a fact which Chris Paul, the league’s premier player at the point guard position, was made painfully aware of during the Denver Nuggets’ lopsided whipping of his New Orleans Hornets in Round 1.

Billups outsmarted, outplayed, outbullied, out-everything’ed Paul from start to finish; some might think that says more about where Paul is at his postseason career, but the somewhat surprising beatdown imparted by Billups actually says a lot more about where he’s at: that swagger is back.

That chip on his shoulder is back. That drive to prove himself, the same drive which fueled his career resurgence in Detroit and enabled him to be the point man for one of the league’s most successful teams of the past decade, is back.

Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks better be ready.

Cast off by the Pistons in the name of starting over and wiping their books clean of his contract, Billups has undoubtedly relished his new responsibility of turning a ragtag, but talented, group of freestylers into a cohesive unit that’s truly in it to win it. And these Nuggets are indeed dangerous right now. They’re certainly no shoo-in to oust the suddenly hot Mavericks, and eliminating the Lakers would obviously be no small task. They are, however, at least capable of running the Western Conference table, and if they do it’ll be because of their 32-year-old point guard.

Hey, very few expected his Detroit Pistons to stampede their way to that NBA Finals win over Kobe, Shaq, Karl Malone, Gary Payton & Co… but these things happen (however, admittedly, unlikely).

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves and is a discredit to Billups’ magnificent series against the Hornets. Carmelo Anthony was (very) good, but Billups, floor general, was the difference-maker. Over five games, he averaged 22.6 points on 48% FG, made 19-29 triple tries (an insane 65%), shot 36-38 from the free-throw line (95%), and posted pers of 7.4 assists, 4 boards, 1 steal, and just 1.2 turnovers.

We’re fans of Chris Paul here at ETB, so I’ll do him the solid of not bothering to contrast his stats with Billups’. You know what happened.

Pistons fans saw the playoff assassin they’d come to know Billups as fade in recent seasons. He was embarassed two years ago by then-Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Daniel Gibson in the Eastern Conference Finals, which should not have happened under any circumstances, and was outplayed last year against the Celtics by a Rajon Rondo who was not the same kind of impact player he is now.

The clutch three-pointers weren’t falling as frequently, he’d looked like he’d lost a step next to the younger, quicker Rondo and Gibson, and to some, it looked like he’d maybe lost his edge. And maybe he had grown too comfortable playing alongside his Piston teammates.

No such problem anymore. Chauncey Billups has his playoff mojo back, and something tells me he’ll be exercising it to its fullest extent in Round 2 on yet another All-Star point guard in Jason Kidd. In other words, bet on Billups.

Chauncey Billups Photo Credit: Icon SMI

3 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Apr. 30, 2009 at 11:45am in NBA

The Class of 2008 in Their First NBA Playoffs: Showing Up or Slowing Down?

April 30, 2009

Chicago Bulls PG Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Zachariah Blott

Although this year’s crop of rookies was arguably forgettable during much of the regular season, Day 1 of the 2009 NBA Playoffs served as a launching pad for the best of the bunch, Chicago Bulls PG Derrick Rose. His historic afternoon sent shockwaves through Celtic Nation as the youngster carved up the vaulted Boston defense for 36 points, 11 assists, and a perfect 12-for-12 from the charity stripe. Most importantly, the 41-41 Bulls pulled out an improbable overtime victory on the road.

Rose is just one of five first-year players averaging at least 20 minutes a game so far in the postseason. Was Rose’s big Game 1 the beginning of a rookie revolution, or would they wilt under the pressure?

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

Season Improvement: The Chi-town native had virtually identical statistics before and after the All-Star game, but he did post season-high averages of 19.2 points and 7.5 assists (against a season-low 2.2 turnovers) in April’s regular season games.

Playoff Performance: After his huge Game 1, the Celtics’ defense clamped down on Rose and cooled him down to the tune of 14 points and 6 assists per game over the next four contests. Additionally, Rose has been forced into coughing up 5.4 turnovers each time out. Don’t believe any hype about a point guard battle: Rajon Rondo is owning this series with 24.2 points, 10.2 assists, and 10.2 rebounds (FYI: 6-foot-1, 171 pounds). It also should be noted that Ben Gordon is part of the reason Rose’s stats have dropped: he’s averaged 26.3 points and .407 from deep while Boston has focused on his point guard.

Moving Forward: There is no question that Rose has the ability pull the Bulls through to the second round IF he decreases the turnovers. If they make it to the Eastern semis, Rose’s chances of dominating the series don’t look good. They’ll either face Dwight Howard, the human lay-up eraser, or Philadelphia, who are more than athletic enough to pester the rookie into uncharacteristically high turnover totals.

Michael Beasley, Miami Heat

Season Improvement: Over the latter part of the season, Beasley improved his FG% (.497 post All-Star game), 3-point FG% (.462), rebounds (5.7), passing (1.2-1.0 assists-turnovers), and defensive awareness (only 2.0 fouls). He started the last four games of the year and showed why the Heat made him the #2 pick in 2008’s draft, putting up 24.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, and making 56.2% of his shots, including 6-for-10 from deep.

Playoff Performance: Beasley has come off the bench in all five contests, and he saw decreased minutes in each of the first four games of the series (32, 22, 19, and 11 minutes, in order). His production was spotty, but he was snaring 6.0 rebounds and blocking 1.3 shots each outing. In a Game 5 loss, the young forward played a bench-high 24 minutes and recorded 18 points, mainly because of his ability to get to the free throw line and convert (7-for-7).

Moving Forward: Coach Erik Spoelstra is sticking with his veteran forwards in the playoffs. Much like the regular season, Beasley has some great moments before fading into the background for stretches. A big game for him would do a lot for the Heat since Dwayne Wade (who is really hurting) and Jermaine O’Neal are the only Miami players scoring consistently.

Progress reports on three more rookies in the playoffs after the break…

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2 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Apr. 30, 2009 at 3:42am in ETB Articles

Amped-Up KG on Potential Return This Season: “Anything is Possible!”

April 29, 2009

(From our friends at Global Sports Fraternity)

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Apr. 29, 2009 at 11:29pm in NBA

Boston Celtics’ Advantage: Paul Pierce

April 29, 2009

Paul PierceUnattached basketball fans watching these playoffs for the pure majesty of its memorable moments love this classic first-round series pitting defending champion versus precocious underdog.

If it’s just a good game you’re after, each of these five contests between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls have delivered. A Game 1 upset on the road, in overtime, spearheaded by Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose. Four overtime periods total, in fact, by far the most in any series thus far in these intriguing 2009 playoffs.

It’s an old-school Eastern Conference bang-em-and-bruise-em matchup in which, at this point, little separates the two opponents save for battle-tested experience in the kind of heated, postseason slugfest this one has most certainly become.

Battle-tested experience, that is, and a guy named Paul Pierce.

These playoffs are littered with players who are often at their best under pressure, who relish the chance to deliver the knockout punch with a hand in their face, sweat pouring down their brow, and 20,000+ fans screaming bloody murder in their ear. Seemingly impossible shots are like uncontested layups for these guys. There’s Kobe and there’s Dirk and there’s the Bulls’ own Ben Gordon, but right now, Paul Pierce is the money player of the moment and the guy I want taking the big shot when it’s needed most.

I’m no Paul Pierce fan. I’m not a Celtics fan. And let’s be honest: outside of the greater Celtics Nation area, there are few NBA fans out there rooting for the champs to advance. Everyone loves an upset, everyone can find something to like in the overachieving underdog. Fattened cows backed into a corner? Not so much.

There’s no question, however, that Pierce’s game-saving effort on Tuesday night, those counter-punches he repeatedly delivered square to the jaw of the Chicago Bulls, were special. He’d had a solid but not particularly heroic series through four games—43% FG, 23.5 points, 5.7 boards, 1.7 assists, 3.7 turnovers per—but Game 5 was a gem that could prove to ultimately be the series’ tipping point.

With only 7 points at halftime, Pierce and the Celtics looked to be on their way to possible elimination on Thursday in Chicago; the second half was another story, particularly the fourth quarter. It started with Pierce’s isolation bucket from 15-feet with 10.5 seconds remaining in regulation that tied the game and gave his team 5 more minutes of life in overtime. And it ended with Pierce nailing his final five shots, the last of which stood as the game-winner after Chicago’s Brad Miller failed to convert his freebies with 2 seconds left.

Pierce finished with 26 points (50% FG), 7 boards, 2 steals, 1 assist, 1 block, and 2 turnovers. More importantly, the Celtics finished 106-104 and take a 3-2 lead back to Chicago. The Bulls would do well to take care of business on Thursday, and to not leave the outcome of Game 6 in doubt as the clock ticks towards zero, like they did in Game 5. They do have a Ben Gordon to call upon in such moments, but they don’t have a Paul Pierce.

Related Reading:
- Derrick Rose – The Start of Something Special

Paul Pierce Photo Credit: Icon SMI

2 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Apr. 29, 2009 at 12:07am in NBA

Reading is Great! The Latest NBA Playoff Updates, Rants, and Speculation

April 28, 2009

kidsreading1

- ESPN – In case you missed it, the Nuggets absolutely pounded the Hornets last night.
- Five Tool Tool – With that in mind, is Game 5 in that series even necessary?
- TrueHoop – As the Spurs prep for elimination, Tony Parker is running on fumes.
- The Sporting Truth – No lack of R&R for the Cleveland Cavaliers, though.
- Grand Rapids Press – Speaking of Detroit, nothing left but to remember the good times.
- The Cowhide Globe – The end could finally be nigh for Jerry Sloan in Utah.
- Ridiculous Upside – Totally agree that the D-League uniforms are a bit bland.
- Full Court Press – Did ‘Sheed ask the Pistons to buy out his contract?
- Slam! Sports – And just when you thought Jermaine O’Neal had little left to offer…
- Dime Magazine – Nothing worse than a NBA coach who has a brain fart at crunch time.
- Red’s Army – On the Celtics squandering away a fine night from Kendrick Perkins.
- The Hoop Doctors – Derek Fisher is apparently the object of a psycho’s affection.
- this is the city line. – Mark Eaton does his best Stuart Smalley impression.
- HOOPSWORLD – The top five free agents this July are…
- Indy Cornrows – Marquis Daniels = somewhat of a dilemma for the Pacers.
- WSJ.com – Not NBA-related, but this is a must-read column about John Madden’s legacy.

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Apr. 28, 2009 at 3:37am in NBA

Insular Spirit of the Detroit Pistons Core Finally Caught Up with Them

April 27, 2009

Fair Thee Well Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons Photos Credit: Icon SMI

Over the next few weeks and months, you’re going to read a number of epitaphs about the Detroit Pistons as we’ve come to know them for the better part of the last decade. About how a core that led them to the top of the NBA will be nothing more than a fond memory in the history books by the time camp breaks on the 2009-10 season and the soon-to-be retooled roster makes its debut.

There will be fingers pointed, there will be players blamed, there will be possible solutions floated. Rasheed Wallace phoned it in. Allen Iverson quit on his teammates (again). Fire Michael Curry. Trade Rip Hamilton. Bring back Chauncey! All choruses of criticism we’ve already heard and will likely continue to hear.

GM Joe Dumars, who sits at the head of the franchise table and has had the luxury of feasting on winning seasons, a championship, and six consecutive runs to the Eastern Conference Finals, now finds his plate empty earlier than it has been in a long time. His team was the only team to be swept in the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a proud franchise that’s now faced with another superstar, Mr. LeBron James, dominating its division like Michael Jordan did with the Chicago Bulls in the ’90s. (At this point, I’m putting the odds of LeBron bolting Cleveland at just 25% or less.)

But this column isn’t about LeBron or the severe hurting he and his Cavalier teammates put on the Pistons last week. Said hurting was, however, an emphatic slamming of the book shut on the Motown legacy that was in large part authored by Dumars, Wallace, Hamilton, Billups, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace. There were many actions and decisions that set the wheels in motion towards this day of reckoning for the Pistons, but the one thing that sticks out as I look back on the one-time success and current failure of this squad is how much the uniquely insular mindset of its core players impacted both the positives and negatives.

More on the end of the Detroit Pistons after the break…

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1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Apr. 27, 2009 at 7:31am in NBA, NBA Fantasy News

What We Have Learned (or Had Reinforced) in Four NBA Playoff Series So Far

April 27, 2009

Tony Parker

Tony Parker Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Zachariah Blott

Dallas Mavericks – San Antonio Spurs

1) Jason Kidd knows how to make a team work under pressure. He doesn’t turn the ball over (3 turnovers in first 4 games), finds the right player to pass to (23 assists), hits the boards (27 rebounds), and has clearly been here before.

2) The Spurs terribly miss Manu Ginobili’s offensive spark. Only once in this series has a San Antonio player not named Parker or Duncan scored more than 13 points in a contest (Michael Finley had 19 in Game 1).

3) Again, fans have to wonder how long the Spurs can ride their Big 3 for championship runs. Next season, Duncan will be 33, Ginobili will be 32, and Parker—who relies on his outstanding athleticism—will be 27. These three will earn $45 million in 2009-10; can the Spurs afford any more offensive help to insure against injuries? [Ed Note: Detroit Pistons redux?]

Dallas currently leads the series 3-1.

Denver Nuggets – New Orleans Hornets

1) The Nuggets have a slew of aggressive big men to throw at you, quite literally. Nene gets after the ball (30 rebounds in first 3 games). Kenyon Martin continues to bring an attack-first-count-the-bodies-later mentality to the paint. And Chris “Birdman” Andersen can do a lot of things right (+39 in 49 minutes of court time in Denver’s 2 wins). They also have some guy named Carmelo Anthony.

2) Chris Paul is great, but he better be taking notes from Chauncey Billups. Billups doesn’t always get the Wow numbers, but he only has 2 turnovers to Paul’s 15 in the first 3 contests, the same 3 steals as the NBA’s regular-season leader, and only 5 fouls.

3) When you have a stable of big men bullying visitors to the paint and a headstrong veteran at the point, outside shots will become very easy. Denver is 29 of 58 from behind the arc.

Denver currently leads the series 2-1.

Thoughts on the Cleveland-Detroit and Philadelphia-Orlando series’ after the jump…

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1 CommentPosted by ETB Contributor on Apr. 27, 2009 at 4:32am in NBA

NBA Photo Friday – Well Kobe, Do You?

April 24, 2009

does-kobe-have-the-magic


See More NBA Photo Fridays

No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Apr. 24, 2009 at 2:41pm in NBA

Postcards From LA, Vol. 2: One Fan Tracks His Lakers Through the 2009 NBA Playoffs

April 24, 2009

The Last Postcard From LA

By: Christopher Thell

Like watching a sinking ship, as frenzied passengers attempt to flee in life boats and rescue crews rush in too late, the Lakers 88-86 loss to the Utah Jazz last night was disturbing to watch, provoking feelings of disgust and disillusionment.

Pau Gasol is a wimp.

Andrew Bynum is a foul-plagued bust who will always be injury prone.

Derek Fisher is old.

Trevor Ariza can’t make the jumper when it counts.

And…

Gasp!

Kobe is past his prime. Put Dwayne Wade on this team in exchange for Bryant and they win the title for sure this year – but with Kobe, after having to endure this disgusting display of basketball that was Game 3, I’m not so sure.

My Dad texted me when the Lakers took a 64-51 lead in the third quarter after trailing by as many as ten in the first half: “Championship balls.”

And I agreed. To fight back from a horseshit first half in which The Purple and Gold shot 30% from the field and looked grossly out of synch all night (Kobe one of the chief conspirators, going 1-10 in the first half), the Lakers had fought back to climb into a comfortable 13-point lead.

But, after valiantly fighting back on the road in an arduous environment, the Lakers once again blew the big lead.

Disgusting.

Think about it – do Jordan’s Bulls blow a 13 point second half lead?

More Lakers Fan soul searching, after the jump…

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4 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Apr. 24, 2009 at 9:55am in NBA

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