Thursday Recap (May 4)
HEAT/BULLS (Game 6): Heat 113- Bulls 96
- Game 6 was the type of performance from Shaq & the Heat most people expected at the start of the series. This was by far the best overall effort given by the Heat in the series. Miami came out from the opening tap determined to dump the ball into Shaq often and he responded with his most impressive outing with 30 points, 20 rebounds (8 off. rbs.) & 5 assists. The Heat got off to a hot start from the field and rode that early momentum throughout the game, specifically drilling long-range jumpers.
- The Bulls were extremely unlucky in the 1st half with having a multitude of shots rim in & out. They could not build any sort of rhythm offensively the whole game. They were getting good looks, the shots were just not falling. You were waiting for Gordon to get hot but he, like the rest of the Bulls, could not piece any consistency together on offense like they were doing early in the series.
- The Heat defense had something to do with the Bulls' frustration (Bulls shot 41.3%). The Heat defense was not great, but was solid for the second game in a row. I thought they did another good job defending Hinrich on high screen/rolls, not letting him turn the corner easily. Hinrich was very effective early in the series probing the defense with dribble, a la Steve Nash, creating great looks for himself and his teammates. The last two games Miami made a concerted effort to impede dribble penetration that was killing them in prior games.
- This game was the sharpest the Heat has looked offensively for the entire 1st round. They pound Shaq early, he starts to go off--now the Bulls have to start collapsing on him with more vigor. When the Bulls began to do this in the 2nd quarter, Shaq started to find the shooters and they responded with 11 for 25 shooting from 3pt. land, especially James Posey (5/7). If the Miami perimeter players can hit their long-range shots consistently, this can make the Heat the dangerous team everyone feared at the start of the year.
- The Bulls should feel rather satisfied with the way they competed & performed for six games vs. the 2-seed Heat. Skiles maximized his talent better than any coach in the league for the second year in a row. The Bulls are in great shape for the future with a young core of talented perimeter players (Hinrich, Gordon, & Nocioni) to build around. Chicago also goes into the off-season as one of the major players in free agency with roughly about $16-18 million to throw around. As well, the Bulls are awarded the Knicks' 1st round pick this year by way of the Eddy Curry trade (Thank you once again, Isiah). This pick is assured of not being any lower than #5 overall and has the second best odds of winning the lottery.
NETS/PACERS (Game 6): Nets 96- Pacers 90
- The Pacers put up another valiant effort while being mighty shorthanded but it was all for naught. New Jersey got great contributions from their Big 3 (which should probably be changed to Big 3 + 1 now that Krstic has emerged this year) that were just too much for the hamstrung Pacers to overcome.
- The Nets somewhat surpringly shot the ball from deep well (10-22 from 3pt) and pounded the Pacers on the glass by +13. Nenad kept up his super-efficient production from the field once again (7/11) which needs to continue into the next series to keep pressure on the Heat's defensive gameplan.
- Anthony Johnson--40 points. Wow, where did that come from? This guy has always been nothing more than a career back-up type talent. But he really took it at Jason Kidd & the rest of his old team the entire series. Johnson's play of late definitely makes Tinsley expendable, especially with Jamal's snakebitten injury history.
- Rick Carlisle did another superb job by having his patchwork team compete in every game right to the end. There seems to be a lot of chatter that there needs to be a major overhaul of the Pacers' roster and even the coaching staff. Not so fast my friend (Sorry, Lee Corso). If the Pacers did not have the myriad of injuries (mental ones as well), this could have been one of the best teams in the East. If O'Neal & Tinsley stay healthy, if they make the Peja-Artest trade during the summer or Ron does not go AWOL--this could have been a team that can compete neck-in-neck with the Pistons (a team that cruised this year cause of the lack of any injuries). A lot of people gloss over the injury problems, in the same way the Rockets are getting raked over the coals for a "disappointing" season--some people even calling for Van Gundy's head. Huh? Both Carlisle & Van Gundy put two of the best defensive units on the floor this year, it's not their fault that their respective teams could not consistently get on the same page offensively; injuries do that to a team.
SUNS/LAKERS (Game 6): Suns 126- Lakers 118
- I think ESPN Classic has some programming shuffling to do to get this series on their Instant Classic docket. Another super showdown for two of the leading MVP candidates, Nash & Kobe. Back-in-forth high-octane offensive battle with an extreme prejudice of the idea of defense. One of the most anticipated Game 7s of all-time coming on Saturday night.
- If the Lakers go on to lose this series, they can point to one major shortcoming: not pounding the ball into the low post anywhere near enough. 90% of the time they run their offense thru the low block area, great things happen for them vs. the Suns. The Suns have absolutely gotten abused in the post nearly every time-- they are just giving up too much size. I have been pleading for more Odom on the block in every game (even in their victories), he either scores almost every time or finds the open man when doubled. Odom had only 14 shot attempts for the second game in a row, he was 1/5 from 3pt., which meant he was 7/9 inside the arc. Kwame was 8/9 last night. He was 6/6 in Game 5. Walton was having his way down low before he got into foul trouble as well. The Lakers let the Suns back into the game in the 2nd quarter by abandoning their post play that was so successful in the 1st quarter.
- For the second straight game, the Suns looked to be more aggressive by not settling for perimeter jumpers as much. Nash, Diaw, & Barbosa (22 pts.) did some damage in-between and helped Phoenix get to the foul line 7 more times than the Lakers. The Lakers defense had something to do with the Suns' success in Game 6--Suns shot 56.8% & 50 points in the paint. The Lakers were having a real rough time all game on the screen/rolls. When Kwame would get switched onto Nash, it would usually lead to precarious situations that left the rest of the Lakers' defense scrambling, often leaving wide open threes more than usual.
- I thought the Suns did another solid job of defending Kobe on the perimeter. They kept multiple men around him and forced him into tough looks. Kobe was just vintage Kobe, not much you can do about it. It's their interior defense that is a major sorespot--58 points in the paint for the Lakers, 12 offensive rebs. for LA.
- Kobe has to take the ball to the basket on the last play. I know it's really hard to be critical of Kobe in this particular game but he has to put the ball on the deck & take the ball at the rim just like Lebron did the other night. Kobe's got to try to get the highest percentage shot he can get and he has to realize that there is a good chance he will get the foul call at the basket, simply cause he's Kobe. Contrast it to Lebron's play where Lebron could have easily settled for the jumper in the short corner over Jamison. But Lebron knew he had to get to the rim at all costs for the easiet shot even though he knew he was risking an out-of-bounds call with very little wiggle room on the baseline. Kobe had room to go by Marion on the left, much more room than Lebron had to squeeze by Jamison.
- In Game 7, the Lakers have to do what? Yep, you know--POUND THE POST. All day. As good as Kobe as been, I think the Lakers' offense is even more unstoppable thru the post in the series. The Suns can't matchup at all one-on-one down low. If they do decide to double, Odom & Walton has picked them apart with their passing. The Lakers have to take better care of the ball--20 turnovers in Game 6--something they did too much in Game 5 as well. The Suns have to keep putting the Lakers in screen/roll situations and keep attacking the paint. The Suns also have to try to keep LA off the offensive boards something they did pretty well in Game 4 & 5.