The Fundamentals

» May 27, 2009 11:55 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Chris Sheridan of  “Superstar calls? Dwight Howard didn’t get ‘em. Superstar plays? Superman made ‘em when he needed to. If there was a superstar call in this game — and it’s arguable whether there was one despite the way the fans here reacted in disbelief — LeBron James was on the receiving end of it when he initiated contact with Mickael Pietrus while going to the hole and was tripped with a half-second left in regulation, then knocked down both free throws to send the game to overtime. After that? Didn’t matter who had gotten the calls or who was going to get them. Because only one player on the court performed like a world-class tail-kicker throughout the final five minutes of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, and it wasn’t the guy with the MVP trophy who keeps showing up in all those TV commercials. The King? On this night, His Majesty was the guy nicknamed Superman — a moniker that seemed to fit more than ever after what Howard accomplished in overtime, especially after the way things had ended during regulation.”

Ben Q. Rock of Third Quarter Collapse:  “Orlando trailed by 8 at halftime, yet Alston’s 15-point third quarter helped Orlando draw to within 1 heading into the final period of regulation. The Magic weathered another onslaught by LeBron James, who led his team with 44 points, 12 boards, and 7 assists. His pair of free throws with 0.5 seconds remaining sent the game to overtime knotted at 100. I know the Cavaliers are upset to be down 3-1, but they should at least take solace in the fact that they forced the Magic to overtime, on the road, despite yielding a whopping 17 made three-pointers. On the other hand, there’s really no excusing how wide-open they left the Magic on a lot of those threes. I suppose they can live with some of Alston’s looks because he is the Magic’s poorest outside shooter in the rotation, historically speaking, but they consistently left Mickael Pietrus open in the corners, his favorite places to shoot. Cleveland dared Alston to win the game for Orlando, and he delivered more often than not. 26 points on 10-of-17 from the field and 6-of-12 from three-point range. Taking what the defense gave him, which is to say taking a lot.”

Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports:  “Cleveland didn’t exactly hand the Magic the contest, but it could have been theirs. Smarter fourth quarter play, smarter coaching, and better leadership from LeBron James makes this a best of three series with two to play in Ohio. The Magic’s missteps weren’t as obvious, but iffy play and offensive decision-making to end both halves made left this game closer than it should have been. Even with the nail-biting, the Magic pulled out a deserved win. This team clearly has matchup advantages in every nook and cranny that count, something that we saw in the regular season, and it has carried over into the postseason. Lots of role players, ‘ere. Dwight Howard’s role is that of the superstar-in-training. He’s still training, because your all-timers don’t make a choice to wheel back and taunt their defeated opponent after using their skills to top them with a superior move. Especially when you’ve accrued five technical fouls in only 15 playoff games prior to this one, and two will knock you out for an entire contest.”

Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer:  “The Orlando Magic, who seem be to relentless in their playmaking and talent pool, are now just one victory away from representing the East in the NBA Finals and ruining the most promising Cavs season in history. ‘I was hoping I could make one more, it felt good leaving my hand but it didn’t look good at all,’ James said. ‘We all know we haven’t got the breaks in this series.’ If the Magic keep playing this way, they are going to be one deserving representative. Their role players are destroying the Cavs’ calculated game plan and then when needed their stars are emerging to make giant plays. In all, they certainly are looking like a championship team. ‘Our guys laid it out there and executed the game plan,’ Cavs coach Mike Brown said. ‘You have to give the Orlando Magic credit.’ Most of the time that is rhetoric from Brown, now it sounds like an admission of defeat.”

Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer:  “You can talk about how these teams are so-so close, despite Orlando’s 3-1 advantage. This game came down to a last shot — again. It was the third time in four games as James missed a 40-footer at the buzzer. In Game 2, he made a 26-footer to win it. In Game 1, Mo Williams missed a desperate jumper at the buzzer. All that matters is now the Cavs are down, 3-1, in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Finals. Can the team that won an NBA-best 66 games mount one more push, one more barrel of sheer will that made them capable of reeling off three wins in a row in any week — any month? Coach Mike Brown is back to selling his mantra of “One day, one game at a time.” They need to win Game 5 in Cleveland, or the season is over. They also know the odds are against them, even if they don’t know the exact math. The numbers are awful for a team that deep in the playoff hole: Since 1947, the team with the 3-1 advantage has won 96 percent of the time. Or to be exact, the team in such a commanding position had an 182-8 record in terms of taking the series. Here’s how you win one game — play defense.”

David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout:  “There is so much talk about Orlando’s matchup advantages–generally referring to forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis–but the matchup that is killing Cleveland should be heavily in their favor, at least on paper: All-Star Mo Williams versus midseason acquisition Rafer Alston, who has taken the place of injured All-Star Jameer Nelson. Although they are often crossmatched as opposed to going one on one, there is no way around the fact that the Cavs need for Williams to outperform Alston and that simply is not happening. Alston scored a playoff career-high 26 points–including 15 in the third quarter as the Magic erased Cleveland’s eight point halftime lead–and he shot 10-17 from the field and 6-12 from three point range. Alston is averaging 14.8 ppg in this series while shooting .447 from the field and .435 from three point range. Williams scored 18 points but shot just 5-15 from the field and he is averaging 17.3 ppg on .324 field goal shooting (including a paltry .222 from three point range) versus Orlando. ”

Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post:  “It used to be, the Nuggets would go to Los Angeles and see stars. We’re not talking about the ones in the expensive clothes and courtside seats. L.A. was a big and bad place. The Nuggets couldn’t beat the Lakers there, and both teams knew it. But something funny has happened in this series: The Nuggets are no longer in awe of the venue or the players. Los Angeles now is just another town. The Staples Center is just another arena. The Lakers have become just another team. The Nuggets won Game 2 in Los Angeles. It was their first postseason win over the Lakers in 11 games, which spanned 24 years. The Nuggets believe they also would have won Game 1 if not for miscues down the stretch. So as the Nuggets await Game 5 in L.A. tonight, they do so without fear. ‘Our confidence is sky-high on the road,’ Carmelo Anthony said. ‘We feel that we can go in and get Game 5. But we (have to) play the way we know how to play.’ For the Nuggets to win this series, they must win in Los Angeles again. But there is no shortage of confidence in the Nuggets’ locker room.”

Dave Krieger of The Denver Post:  “Everybody scores. Everybody rebounds. Everybody passes. It’s like a lab experiment or something. ‘Everybody’s excited,’ Chris Ander- sen said. ‘Everybody’s stepping up to the challenge and performing at their best levels.’ In fact, rather than resent the marketing focus on a potential Kobe-LeBron matchup in the Finals, the Nuggets seem amused by it. ‘After everything is said and done, after the series is said and done, we’ll see what happened,’ Carmelo Anthony said. ‘I’m not really too concerned about seeing the commercials of Kobe and LeBron. It’s fun. It’s getting the ratings. It’s helping our ratings, too, us against the Lakers. So they can keep on bringing commercials out about that.’ It is always hard to recognize magic before the trick is over, but the Nuggets have a chance to do something magical here. Their team-first ethic is such an obvious contrast to the individual star syndrome of the Kobe-LeBron spots that the game itself might reward them. ‘I think the respect in the sport comes from your team first,’ Karl said. ‘And I think what is transpiring in that locker room right now is pretty special. It’s a pretty special period of time for a lot of people, a lot of players, and also some coaches.’”

Jeff Eisenberg of The Press-Enterprise:  “Pau Gasol wants the ball more often on the low block. Kobe Bryant wants his teammate not to be so patient once he gets it. ‘They’re double-teaming on catch, so he’s got to go a little quicker when he catches it,’ Bryant said. ‘That’s something I’ve always told him is when you’ve got shots, you’ve got to take them. This late in the postseason, teams aren’t going to let you back guys down and spin and do some of those things that he likes to do in the post. He’s got to go and go quickly.’ Gasol has been the Lakers’ most efficient scorer in their series against the Nuggets, shooting 62.5 percent from the field on 25-for-40 shooting. Nonetheless, he hasn’t attempted more than 12 shots in any game this series, a product of both Gasol’s pass-first instincts and the Lakers’ inability to stay committed to getting the ball inside. The problem was especially glaring during Monday night’s Game 4 loss, when Gasol shot 8 for 11, Andrew Bynum went 6 for 7 and the rest of the Lakers made only 20 of 64 shots. … As for Bryant’s suggestion of shooting before the double team can arrive, Gasol seemed lukewarm on the idea.”

Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register:  “In Game 4, the Nuggets played like a team that could not lose; the Lakers played like a team that, well, you know, could pretty much go either way with it, whatever. So that sets the mood for tonight and a game that everything — from the oddsmakers to the Lakers’ tendencies to the Lakers’ best player — says they will win. ‘No,’ Bryant offered on the question of self-doubt entering Game 5. ‘We’ll be ready to go.’ Just suppose though, just for fun, what would happen if the Lakers aren’t ready enough to go. Imagine if Carmelo Anthony can’t miss (already happened in Game 1) or J.R. Smith goes pyrotechnic (already happened in Game 4). Think about the Lakers losing Game 5, falling behind in the series and going to Denver facing their first must-win since June 17, 2008, also remembered as the night they lost to Boston by 39 points. Think we’d learn something about this team then? Just for starters, we’d learn which of the Lakers has the Spaldings to actually pull off this championship stuff. ‘Right now, it’s all about mind strength,’ Pau Gasol said. ‘The physical things aren’t as important. We have to be strong with our minds.’”

John Ryan of the San Jose Mercury News:  “If the We Believe guy no longer believes, why should anyone? ‘We’ve had worse teams than what we have on the floor now. It’s not even the product anymore,’ Wong said. ‘Existing season-ticket holders, it’s almost like we’re labeled sucker because we’re an automatic renewal.’ You remember. In March 2007, with the Warriors all but eliminated from playoff contention, Wong began displaying a ‘We Believe’ sign. The sign grew to placards, the placards grew to shirts, the team made the playoffs and sent the Bay Area into a frenzy with its upset of the Dallas Mavericks. Good times. Wong says he barely broke even on We Believe, and the Warriors had no interest in teaming up for 2007-08. He also says, though, that the Warriors promised not to use the slogan but went ahead anyway. He asked for some reimbursement; failing that, he wanted a thank-you from team president Robert Rowell, who sat a few feet away from where Wong paid $5,800 for two season tickets. No thank-you came.”

John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News:  “Now, we are about to find out a lot more about LeBron James. Greatness, at least greatness to the level that James aspires, cannot be bestowed. It cannot be granted through the words of enamored fans, pundits and advertisers. It cannot be guaranteed by potential and deeds that have been speculated about, but not yet performed. Greatness, the kind that Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird achieved, must be earned through actual accomplishments, not words or glitzy commercials. James faces such a task, after last night’s 116-114 overtime loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final. His Cleveland Cavaliers are now down, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series to the Orlando Magic, even though he scored 44 points last night, including hitting two free throws to send the game into overtime. It is now time for James to take a huge step toward validation, or he faces serious questions about his much-hyped legend.”

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler NBAE/Getty Images)

17 Responses to “The Fundamentals”

  1. mookie Says:

    Dwight Howard has definitely had some reason to feel hard-done-by in the last couple of games… calls have gone against him that really shouldn’t have.

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    I know it cracks me up .working a 9-5 J.O.B. is a heck of alot eeiasrBUT I would never trade my freedom of being my own boss .therewards and benefits are so much more bountiful than any job couldever give me !Diane`

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