NEW YORK — How frequently do coaches warn defenders not to leave their feet, to “stay down” on jump shooters?
It’s the profession’s most oft-repeated mantra; that and “no middle” and “block out” and “don’t touch the stove.”
Do players ever listen?
How many times have John Salmons, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose fallen for fakes in the recent Celtics-Bulls series?
Throughout the series, and again last night, at the worst possible times, they were repeatedly burned by Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, who went straight to the front of the welfare line.
Then again, when Rose went airborne and changed the course of Rajon Rondo’s would-be series-winner with three seconds on the Game 6 third OT clock, nobody expressed a pessimistic peep . . . naturally.
But imagine the widespread condemnation had a foul been called.
Lost in the afterglow of a Rose suddenly sprouting into Michael Jordan-breathed air, was Noah’s stunning steal on Pierce, mad dash and Dr. J-like extension jamboree (Paul pulled the game plug on himself by fouling in the act of not thinking) and put the Bulls in front by three.
Three months ago, Noah was one of my least favorite players. I couldn’t stand his look-at-me routine and failed to appreciate his vitally reliable abilities. Now, I’m one of his biggest boosters; me and John Wooden.
What I love most about Noah is his awareness of his limitations. Never does he exceed them. Well, almost never.
With Saturday night’s score tied 36-36, he decided to put the ball on the floor 6 meters from the hoop and dribble away (turnover) the possession.
Still, no matter how free Noah may be, 3-5 meters from the hoop, and no matter how much the Celtics beg him to become a shooter, he’s not the least bit tempted to comply.
He’s not interested in scoring unless he can dunk or lay it in off the backboard. For the most part, if a teammate isn’t open, he’ll turn his back to the basket and set a screen for a cutter and get him the ball.
Aside from a contagious enthusiasm and a willingness to work till he drops, Noah exhibits spotless rebounding (15 in Game 7) and shot-blocking skills.
Somehow all of the above escaped me during Florida’s two-year NCAA championship reign, but I’ve finally caught up to speed.
Noah’s pursuit and retrieving habits, arms held high looking for an outlet, is like watching film of Bill Walton . . . Kareem Abdul-Jabbar . . . Swen Nater . . . and Steve Patterson . . . just the way they were taught by the Wizard of Westwood.
NBA fans won’t have to wait 10 years to see a replay of the landmark Celtics-Bulls showdown that ended Saturday with an anti-climatic thud following five of six unforgettable finishes, a playoff record four in overtime totaling seven extra stanzas.
Despite the relatively dull 109-99 finale in Boston’s favor, I’ve got to believe the league will begin airing the classic series as soon as it rewinds.
Other than an astonishing 16-point contribution (5-for-5 FG, including 4-for-4 from downtown) from nuclear sub Eddie House, nobody’s performance approached the staggering standards set previously.
Who said the Bulls owned a large bench advantage?
Oh, that’s right, it was Doug Collins . . . until Brian Scalabrine stroked a couple long jumpers and House’s first mortar round zeroed in on the basket.
If it seems as if I’m picking on Collins, it’s only because I am. His bosses don’t know enough basketball to comprehend they’ve being stiffed of real info or genuine insight — it’s what you would expect from a guy always auditioning for his next big payday on the sidelines or the front office — but, judging by my e-mails, there are many of us who aren’t fooled.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBAfor the New York Post.
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