Podcast: Jesus Makes It Rain

The Boston Celtics bounced back in Game 2, and defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, 103-94.

It can be argued that Rajon Rondo was the player of the game after his 19 point, 12 rebound, 10 assist performance.  But the player who set the tone for the Celtics last night, and kept them in the game in the first half when no one else was playing particularly well was Ray “Jesus Shuttlesworth” Allen.

Allen hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in the first half and finished with an NBA record eight 3-pointers, en route to 32 points.

In this version of the Hoops Addict Podcast, Rashad and Ryan discussed Allen’s record-setting performance, the great play of Rondo, where the Lakers lost the game.

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Will The Real Kevin Garnett Please Stand Up?

Back in February of this year, when the Boston Celtics defeated the Washington Wizards 99-88 in Washington D.C., I got an up close and personal look at Kevin Garnett and his game.  He led the team in scoring that night with 19 points, and the vintage Garnett intimidation tactics made their usual appearances.

But there were also some noticeable chinks in his armor.

Garnett, who has averaged nearly 11 rebounds per game during his career, only grabbed six and none of them were on the offensive end of the floor.  When the Wizards took shots in the paint, he had neither the lift nor the desire to challenge the shot–something that had been a staple in his game, particularly during the Celtics’ 2008 championship run.

But there was something even more disturbing I noticed that gave me considerable pause, despite how well he played that night. Each time Garnett would shoot an outside jumper, or jump for one of his six rebounds, he would come down on his left knee first, then slowly bring down the surgically repaired right knee.  The move itself seemed very subtle and harmless initially, but when Garnett was constantly behind the fast break on offense, and late getting back on defense, it became more noticeable.  I remember telling my editor a couple days later that the explosive Garnett we knew and loved at one point was gone.

Then in April, shortly before the playoffs began, Hall of Fame writer Jackie MacMullan wrote a brilliant piece on Garnett and his injury struggles.  In the article, Garnett spoke on how the recovery from knee surgery was a frustrating process.  He talked about how frustrated he was with so-called experts saying he was finished, and that people (including himself) needed to understand that it takes a year after surgery to truly recover and regain that explosiveness.

When I read the article, it reminded me of so many athletes in basketball and all sports, who dwell in the river of denial towards the end of their career.  From Jermaine O’Neal to Chris Webber to LaDaninan Tomlinson, you constantly hear of athletes convincing themselves and others, that redemption and recovery is just around the corner.  They use the cliched “me against the world” adage to get them pumped, but in the end father time seems to reign supreme.

Then the playoffs began and disavowed me of that notion.

In the first two playoff series with Miami and Cleveland, Garnett averaged 17 points and eight rebounds, but more importantly, his fire seemed to return.  He was animated, he was an agitator, he took shots out of the air during stoppages of play, and it seemed to be 2008 all over again.

As I watched that version of Garnett, I remember thinking that he was right when he told Jackie MacMullan that he just needed time to regain that confidence in his game.

In the Eastern Conference finals match up with the Orlando Magic, Garnett seemed to regress a bit.  He still managed to average eight rebounds per game, but his scoring average dipped to just 10 points.  I could not decide whether his right knee or Dwight Howard was bothering him more, so I decided to blame it on Howard.  Plus Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were playing lights out, so I rationalized his drop off in performance by telling myself Garnett was just going with the flow.  Besides, with there being a week before the NBA Finals began, he would regain that nimble movement and return to dominance.

But the active Garnett did not show up during the Celtics 102-89 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He had 16 points (on 7-of-16 shooting) and just four rebounds, and he did not look confident in his shot or his ability to elevate.  I counted at least three instances where he reverted to landing on his healthy left knee first, before slowly bringing the other one down.  And sadly, there was a point in the fourth quarter, when Garnett missed two point blank layups.

Unlike during the Orlando Magic series, when the rest of his teammates were hitting on all cylinders, Garnett did not get a whole lot of help in Game 1–which only magnified his shortcomings.  To make matters worse, Pau Gasol, who Garnett pushed around with ease during the 2008 NBA Finals, had 23 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocked shots–the kind of numbers Garnett used to produce with relative ease.

Gasol went on to say this during his post game press conference that, “On Kevin’s part, he’s also lost some explosiveness. He’s more of a jump shooter now you could say, comes off the lane. Before he had a really, really quick first step and was getting to the lane and he was more aggressive then. Time passes and we all suffer it one way or another..”

Even though Gasol backed off his comments a bit on Saturday by saying Garnett was “still a terrific player”, it was still shocking to me that a player notoriously labeled as soft like Gasol, would be so bold as to hint that Garnett was done.  But given that I have been going back and forth with those same thoughts, Gasol’s comments were also telling.

Maybe Garnett peaked in the first two rounds of the playoffs; maybe that knee has withstood more punishment than it can stand; maybe old age is a larger factor than anyone initially thought.

Game 2 of the NBA Finals tonight, and even though the Celtics as a whole to play much better in order to tie the series, the focus and much of the pressure will be on the one they call the Big Ticket.  Will he somehow be able to summon that spry player that was so dominant in 2008 and in the first two rounds of the 2010 playoffs?  Or will his knees and energy level betray him and force him to be an on-the-court spectator?

Pau Gasol, along with rest of us, will find out at tip-off tonight.

Podcast: This Isn’t 2008

After the Los Angeles Lakers were defeated in the NBA Finals by the Boston Celtics in 2008, Kobe Bryant made a point to tell the media that his team had been thoroughly beaten up physically and mentally.   The week leading up to Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals, Bryant reiterated that 2008 had left a bad taste in the his team’s mouth, and he vowed that things would be different this time around.  And he was right on the money.

From the mini-tussle in the opening minute between Ron Artest and Paul Pierce, to the 42-31 rebound advantage, the Lakers manhandled the Celtics in their 102-89 Game 1 victory.

In this post-game edition of the podcast, Rashad and Ryan break down what the Lakers did right, what the Celtics did wrong, and everything in between.

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Podcast: NBA Finals Preview

When the Eastern Conference playoffs began, all the talk centered around Orlando and Cleveland.  LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were the favorite to represent the East, and Dwight Howard and Orlando were seen as the major obstacles.

The Boston Celtics were simply viewed as an obstacles.

Boston, however, beat both teams in six games to advance to the NBA Finals.

When the Western Conference playoffs began, there were serious questions about the Lakers.  Bynum was hurt, Fisher was old, cohesiveness was lacking and Kobe seemed to be laboring.  They faced stiff tests from Oklahoma City and Phoenix, but they came together as a team at the right time, and they too were able to advance to the NBA Finals.

During this special NBA finals edition of the Hoops Addict podcast, Rashad and Ryan break down the coaching job of Doc Rivers leading up to the finals, they discuss the key matchups in this  Celtics-Lakers final, how injuries may affect the outcome, and they make predictions on who will ultimately be victorious.

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The Meaner Side Of Dwight Howard

It was halftime of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference  Finals, and the Boston Celtics were beating the Orlando Magic, 41-32.  I knew I had at least 10-15 minutes to kill before the second half, so I decided to call my father to get his take on what had transpired during the first two quarters.

I placed the television on mute, and we both proceeded to channel our inner Hubie Brown, and get knee deep in basketball talk.

Halfway through our conversation, I noticed a segment on ESPN, where Dwight Howard as Clark Kent, was interviewing Dwight Howard as Superman.  It is the kind of fluff piece that one would expect to see early in the season, when the games mean much less,   rather than  in May or June during the Eastern Conference Finals.  It was also the type of segment that was ill-timed, considering the player in question had just seven points at the half, and was clearly getting bullied in the paint by Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace.

My father made the keen observation that Howard seemed hell-bent on becoming a basketball celebrity, and not a better basketball player.  I half-heartedly tried to defend Howard, by telling my father how Howard’s numbers were excellent and he was a fresh off his second defensive player of the year award in a row.

My father’s retort was: “Could you see Kareem[Abdul-Jabbar] doing an interview like this with himself?”

That shut down my argument.

Howard went on to finish with 13 points and 12 rebounds in a loss, but he was completely flummoxed by the strong play of Perkins and Wallace.

In Game 2 he came back with a strong 30-point performance, but his team still lost.  And in Game 3, Howard put up an embarrassing stat line of seven points and seven rebounds in yet another loss.

Critics of Howard wondered–much like my father had at halftime of Game 1- if Howard was serious about taking his attitude and his game to that proverbial next level.

Howard’s behavior in all three of Orlando’s losses was predictable.  He was indecisive with his moves on the offensive end of the floor, and he was a bit too overzealous on defense.  When a foul was called him on him, he would make exaggerated hand gestures and facial expressions to show his disgust.  At one point even Vince Carter, a virtual no-show in this series thus far, was giving Howard pep talks on how to turn things around after Game 3.

As much as I criticize Carter and his inability to make a mark with his game on the court, I must give him full credit  in the motivational speaker department.

In Game 4 on Monday night, Howard played like an angry man with something to prove to himself, his teammates and most importantly the Celtics.  When he got the ball in the post, he quickly made his moves without hesitation.  He used hooks, up and under moves, and his patented power dunks to score 32 points.

On the defensive end of the floor, he played smarter, he didn’t get frustrated or whine to the refs, and he grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked four shots.

At one point, he and Kevin Garnett got tangled up, and instead of walking away, Howard walked towards him as if he was ready for a confrontation.  Although he was quickly whisked away by his teammates, Howard, who has never been known as an enforcer or an intimidating figure, was clearly trying to stand up to Garnett and send a message.

Howard and the Magic won a hard fought game in overtime, 96-92, but Howard wasn’t done flexing his muscle.

With three minutes and change elapsed in the first quarter of Game 5, Howard took a pass from Jameer Nelson off a pick and roll.  He took one dribble, knocked over Paul Pierce (a good no-call from the refs), and dunked the ball with authority.  Instead of just running up the court the way he usually does after a dunk, Howard lingered for a bit and glared at Pierce (who was still on the ground) and Garnett (who was helping him up).

That dunk tied the game at 8-8, and it certainly did not seem like a big deal at first glance.  But the Magic seemed to feed off the aggressive tone Howard had set early on, and that had been lacking in the first three games of the series.

But to me, it became clear that Howard was intent on playing aggressive and with attitude, with two minutes left in the third quarter.  Howard went up for a routine post move, but an over matched Paul Pierce was forced to grab and foul him.  Toward the tail end of the play, Garnett added in a hard foul for good measure.

The old Dwight Howard would have put his hands straight up, complained to the refeeres, and walked to the foul line, sans any semblance of confrontation.  On this night, an ornery Howard walked right up to Garnett’s face, looked him right in the eye and said something–presumably about Garnett’s unnecessary actions–and then walked to the foul line and hit one of two free throws.

Garnett is usually giving out, not receiving that type of treatment, but on this night Howard played that role and played it well.  Howard finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and two steals, and the Magic won in a blowout 113-92.

After trailing in this series 3-0, the Magic  cut it to 3-2, and the meaner, more focused Howard, has played a significant role in that reversal of fortune.

When Game 6 of the series resumes tomorrow night in Boston, and the Magic will almost surely face a hostile environment, as the crowd tries to cheer on their stumbling team.  Nelson will need to continue to penetrate, Rashard Lewis aggressiveness will be key, and even Brandon Bass will need another strong performance off the bench.

But ultimately,  a meaner, more focused Dwight Howard is a must for the Magic to be victorious and force a Game 7.

Not even my father can refute that.