VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Some MAS musings on the disappointing-turned-exhilarating first two rounds of the NBA playoffs.
(This, from a guy whose hoops career peaked when he was a starting guard on his junior high team and then went precipitously downhill thereafter.)
■ Gregg Popovich’s double-edged sword — Yes, the unpopular decision by the curmudgeonly San Antonio coach to NOT play his aging stars in numerous regular-season games paid off in one sense: Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were fresh for the opening playoff round and performed well versus the Los Angeles Clippers.
Alas, the Spurs were ousted in seven tough games.
In hindsight, then, Pop’s resting tactics probably cost San Antonio some regular season wins that would have earned them a higher seed and a less difficult first-round foe (New Orleans, Dallas, Portland?).
Talk about something coming back to bite you in the butt.
It’s called karma, Pop.
■ Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry — Three of the eight opening-round series ended quickly in sweeps. And another concluded after just five contests.
The whitewashing suffered by the Toronto Raptors (broomed by Washington) was a bit of a surprise. Entering the playoffs, Canada’s team seemed positioned for its firstever deep postseason run.
The Raptors should have borrowed an enforcer from the NHL playoff absentee Toronto Maple Leafs to shut up yapping Washington needler Paul Pierce, who clearly got under Raptor hide.
Meanwhile, Atlanta blanked Boston and Golden State took four straight from New Orleans.
And Houston needed only five games to bounce Dallas.
Fortunately, the scintillating LA. Clippers-San Antonio series saved the first round.
The second round was a different story — four compelling series fraught with exciting finishes.
■ Clippers’ Colossal Collapse — In Game 6 of their second-round series with Houston, the Clips appeared headed for their first conference finals in franchise history.
They held a 3-2 series edge and led the Rockets by 19 late in the third period.
And then the wheels fell off, err, their sails ripped.
Houston outscored the suddenly brick-heaving Clippers 40-15 down the stretch to win by 12.
MAS had even switched over to a “Mad Men” marathon but during a commercial went back to check on the game early in the fourth . . . just in case.
Like everyone else, he couldn’t believe what he then saw.
At that point, you just knew Houston would win Game 7 at home to advance to its first Western Finals since the Hakeem Olajuwon Era.
■ Dribble drive, you complete me — Despite the Clippers elimination, Blake Griffin arrived as the total package by ceasing to be a two-trick pony.
Griffin, after years of scoring mostly on soaring alley-oop dunks or pretty 4.5-meter (15-foot) jump shots, finally shed his “soft” image by putting the ball on the floor and driving hard to the basket, giving as much as he gets.
■ Sharmanesque Splash Bro — Golden State’s Steph Curry nailed eight 3-pointers in the Game 6 clincher as the Warriors ousted gritty Memphis.
MAS hasn’t seen an outside sniper as deadly as Curry since Hall of Famer Bullseye Bill Sharman was tickling the twine for the Boston Celtic title teams of the late 1950s and early ’60s.
These two are in a class by themselves — sorry, Reggie Miller and Ray Allen.
■ Die, Hack-a-Shaq, die —The NBA must — and reportedly will — do something about the strategy of deliberately fouling poor foul shooters, the Shaquille O’Neals of today.
Guys like Houston’s Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers.
This practice is smart but drags games out more than they already are — especially at contest’s end.
Give the foul shooter’s team possession if he misses either of his two free throws.
■ Quick, name Atlanta’s two best players — Don’t feel bad if you can’t. The Hawks, who eliminated Washington in six games in round two, are the ultimate balanced, no-name bunch; every night it’s a different hero for Atlanta.
For MAS’s money, Atlanta’s Jeff Teague is the slickest passing guard since Magic Johnson.
■ Ouch, our playoff chances have been hurt — An inordinate number of key performers suffered playoff injuries that put their ball club’s title hopes in jeopardy.
The most crippling may have been to Cleveland’s Kevin Love (dislocated shoulder in the first round). He’s out for the duration of the playoffs.
How much farther the gutty Cavs (they sent offensively challenged Chicago packing in six) can go in the playoffs minus Love’s front-court presence is anyone’s guess.
■ Lifestyles of the rich and doofus-y — And you thought it was safe to watch an NBA game without annoying TV shots of owner antics like the hideous hug-it-outs involving Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, his silver spoon-fed sons and super-sized New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
We now have to put up with courtside cameos of over-zealous new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer a red-faced, spittle-flying, neck vein-popping sight that MAS would rather not behold 20 times a contest.
■ Buzzer Bomber Behavior — The weekend before last, for three straight days, a 3-pointer launched as time expired won a key second-round game.
Washington’s Paul Pierce, Chicago’s Derrick Rose and LeBron James of Cleveland all delivered from downtown.
And MAS noted there was no emotion shown by any of the shooters afterward.
Instead, while teammates joyfully mobbed them, each hero went into stoic, penitentiary-face mode like he had just been sentenced to a 10-15 stretch in the Big House.
MAS surmises this is the new “countenance cool.”
■ Strangers in the night —Or, at least, strangers to the conference finals, anyway.
Atlanta is making its first final four appearance since 1970. Houston’s last appearance was 20 years ago, when their Olajuwon-led outfit won the second of back-to-back NBA titles.
Golden State is back in the West after a 39-season absence. And Cleveland hasn’t even been to the playoffs since prodigal son LeBron left five years ago.
Doobie doobie do . . . do do dee dah dah . . .
Bet Sinatra never matched MAS’ two points per contest for Ridley when Ol’ Blues Eyes was at Hoboken Junior High.
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