I could not, in good conscience, refer to myself as an NBA fan if I didn’t say something about the remarkable set of Conference Finals going on right now.
I don’t know what to say, honestly. I can’t remember a set of series where it would be trivially easy to see both series be 2-0, in favor of either team. Nuggets make free throws in Game 1, it’s 2-0 Nugs. Gasol makes them in Game 2, it’s 2-0 Lakers. Lewis misses the GW three, or Williams’ desperation heave bounces in, 2-0 Cavs.
And, of course, LeBron misses The Shot, it’s 2-0 Magic.
My favorite subplots from the series so far:
#1) Despite my occasional Nuggets fandom, this has to be LeBron. His performance in the Game 1 loss was amazing, shooting 20-for-30, getting 49 points, and putting the final tip in position to give Mo Williams an excellent look at the iron. Then he outdoes himself by a factor of approximately 47.3 bajillion with a new The Shot (the old one was MJ over Ehlo in ’89), a catch-and-turn-and-fire 3 to win an absolute must-win home playoff game. The only downside is that what he did afterwards, raising a fist to the sky while facing away from the main camera to catch the full flight of the ball, is not nearly as memorable as Michael’s turning flying fist-pumping motion after draining the fallaway over Ehlo, so the reaction is less likely to become an eternal class Youtube moment.
#2) The maturation of Carmelo Anthony. He still jacks bad threes every once in a while, but I think that all players who find themselves to be the best player on their team do that on occasion. But having watched him play from a young age, and seeing him squander a remarkable talent in the interest of simply scoring points has been one of the greatest NBA frustrations I have. To see him finally learn to get down and dirty, willing to beat the living shit out of Kobe on the defensive end, so long as the refs let him get away with it, then grab rebounds and get easy putbacks to save a bad possession, time and again, has been enlightening. The two he got last game, one over Kobe, and the other one over Ariza, have been quite a sight. Once that boy gets rooted, there ain’t no moving his ass out of the way. On Bill Simons’ podcast yesterday, J.A. Adande reported that, over the summer, Kobe told him that ‘Melo is stronger, just straight-up stronger, than LeBron. I don’t know about that, but I know that to see the way he simply stood there, grabbed the rebound, and went straight up to lay it in, all with Ariza commititting 3rd-degree assault on him, was something else altogether.
#3) The wacky matchup problems created by Rashard Lewis. Matt Yglesias has often stated that he thinks Lewis, as a 4 who has bullseye 3-point range, is underrated. Even though he is not as good a pure shooter as most shooters, and not as polished down low as a Duncan or a KG, the way he is impossible to match up against makes him quite valuable. The fact that anyone who can hope to keep with him off the dribble is bound to be so small that he can simply shoot right over, as he did at the end of Game 1, makes him quite the conundrum.
#4) Will the Lakers rise up and show some cojones? The Nuggets are pounding them to smithereens down low, and in the fourth of both games, Kobe was the only one who still had the moxie to get into the paint and make a play. Bynum pulled off a complete disappearing act in the second half of Game 2, and Gasol went all kinds of pantywaist, missing two free throws near the end of a tight game. The general consensus still seems to be Lakers in 7, but I have to be convinced that the Lakers have it in them to win one in Denver. Kobe is still the greatest player in the game, but even he cannot single-handedly win, and I am not at all sure that the combination of mile-high altitude and the physical beating that ‘Melo, Chauncey, K-Mart, and Nene hand out all game will leave anyone else on the Lakers’ roster able to put up a worthy shot down the stretch in the games in Denver.
I’m heading over to my esteemed cobloggers house to watch tonight’s show in 61 inches of high-definition glory. Perhaps a liveblog is called for? We will see…