Thursday, June 11, 2009

Where We Stand in the NBA Finals

Tonight will be Game 4 of the NBA Finals and since this is the most pivotal game in any NBA Finals, due to the 2-3-2 format, I figured this is the perfect time to write an NBA Finals review. This series has given us a little bit of everything thus far, including a scowl that can wreck a screen in HD, and no I'm not talking about Hedo Turkoglu.

It looks like we can say Game 1 was a throwaway game in accessing the series. Of course, my overreaction made me claim my Finals preview article was a fake column. However, how can you win when you shoot 28% when you're chances of winning depend on you shooting well, and that above all else? Game 3, it was the opposite for Orlando as they shot a Finals-record 63% from the field. The Lakers were close because of the hot start by Kobe who seemed to make every shot in the 1st quarter. Unfortunately for the Lakers, he tired down the stretch for the second game in a row as he couldn't make the shots you expect him to make. It didn't help that the Lakers played poor defense in allowing a record shooting performance.

Game 2 could prove to be the difference in the series as that was the game the Lakers begged to lose. Unfortunately, the Magic wanted the loss more, but it wasn't just them. Watching it live, I thought the calls the Magic were getting called were iffy; watching on NBA TV and following along Bill Simmons retro-diary, they were downright atrocious. Every call went against Orlando, as Dwight Howard got called with a couple weak loose-ball fouls, Turkoglu was being mauled by Trevor Ariza whenever he had the ball, the last two Mickael Pietrus fouls on Kobe and the Derek Fisher travel where he took FIVE steps before passing to Lamar Odom when he made the final free throws.

Despite that, the Magic had their chance to win, but lost for a few reasons: 1) Too much J.J. Redick. He shouldn't even be playing, let alone having him play crunchtime minutes in the 4th and OT. He apparently forgot how to shoot once he left Duke, which is pretty common for Duke grads. 2) Dwight Howard, though better than Game 1, still had trouble with the defense the Lakers were showing him and was again ineffective. And 3) Lamar Odom was great that night, all over the court, making plays on offense and letting Jeff Van Gundy suggest it's better to get Andrew Bynum fouled out, which is true when Odom is on. Still, the Magic came one difficult Courtney Lee layup away from stealing the game, which shouldn't be pinned on him, anyone who plays basketball knows that a layup right under the rim is very difficult.

The player I barely touched on in Game 2 was Kobe since I thought he was ordinary and in Game 3 he finished poorly going 4-15 from the field after the 1st quarter and was 5-10 from the FT line. He was a detriment to their game Tuesday night and the Lakers paid in the loss. Plus, his new scowl is fooling no one and should get rid of it.

So now we head to Game 4, a game the Magic absolutely must-win because they won't win three in a row. The fact that the last two are on the road hurt more than if Game 5 was in L.A., since if that game is stolen, Game 6 is home and Game 7 could go either way. Since the 2-3-2 format came out, the series that most often is the case is the home team wins 1 and 2, take one on the road (usually Game 4), and wins Game 6 at home. Now the Magic have finally started to shoot well and both Pietrus and Rafer Alston regained their confidence that was lost in the first two games. Meanwhile, Kobe looks tired and his play has dropped since Game 1, and the one day off won't help much. The Lakers need to treat this game as a must-win as well because this is their second chance to put the series out of reach, if they don't then you can argue that they should be down 3-1 and it's a best-of-3.

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