As each playoff series shifts venues, I thought it would be a good time to look back on what transpired in the first two games and to look forward to what to expect in the lower seeds' home arenas. For those of you wondering when I'm going to get back to my Season In Review series, I can only say in good time. With the playoffs starting and the NFL draft going down, I felt there were more pressing issues at hand. Also, I'm growing a playoff beard for the Cavs, but it's not quite ready to be revealed to the world. Maybe it will be after they finish off the Bulls, so look forward to that!
1. Joakim Noah is right, but he's still an asshole.
"What's so good about Cleveland? You like it? You think Cleveland is cool? I've never heard anyone say, 'I'm going to Cleveland on vacation.'"**Liz Lemon, for one, would love to flee to the Cleve.
Those were Noah's words after the Bulls lost Game 2 in Cleveland, and anyone who lives in or has spent more than a few days there has to admit, deep in their hearts, that he's pretty much right. It still doesn't mean it's cool that he said it. We may not like Cleveland anymore than Noah does, but it's still home, and it still hurts to have some outsider making fun of it. Therefore, I've mapped out a scenario that would make me feel a lot better about Mr. Noah, his god-awful hair, and his comments.
JOAKIM NOAH DREAM SCENARIO
1. During the 2010 free agency season, LeBron James--following his first NBA championship--is doing his due diligence and visiting any and all interested teams (this is just lip service, of course, as he wisely sees no reason to leave Northeast Ohio). Being the prankster that he is, LeBron convinces Chicago that if there is one team he would leave the Cavs for, it is the Bulls. He lets this info leak out, and everyone in the world is convinced it's a done deal. Just before the deal is to be finalized, however, LeBron calls a press conference to announce that even though the Bulls have everything he is looking for in an organization, he simply cannot sign with a team that would employ an asshole such as Joakim Noah, and pulls a signed contract with the Cavs out of the breast pocket of his jacket. Because he strung them along for so long, the Bulls are left with no choice but to give Rudy Gay all of their cap space, and Noah is blamed for costing the Bulls LeBron.
2. During the 2010-11 season, Noah is hounded by Chicago fans still bitter about the previous summer. He develops a coke problem, and eventually blows out his knee performing a bizarre sex act involving 3 underage girls, a 8-inch dildo lined with coke, a ladder, a cut extension cord, raspberry jam, and Brad Miller. After learning the cause of his injury, the league and player's union agree that Noah breached his contract, and he is released.
3. Ever the hard-worker, Noah uses his release as a wake-up call, cleaning up his life, and getting back into playing shape by the start of the next season. Unfortunately, due to his injury risk and his sex/coke/Brad Miller habit, he is black-listed, and no team is willing to even give him a tryout. No team, that is, except the Cavaliers. Fresh off their second straight title, the Cavs can afford the risk Noah represents, and like what they see in his workout. Noah is nearly in tears when LeBron shows up at the end of his tryout, hugs the beleaguered young man, and apologizes for the free agency prank.
4. Despite a guaranteed offer for more money from a team in Europe, Noah accepts an invitation to the Cavs training camp. After the first play on the first day of practice, however, Noah is called over by Mike Brown and told he is cut. As he makes the slow walk out of the gym, he sees LeBron and Mo Williams dancing and laughing. He then shoots himself in his car. Oh, and the Browns win the Super Bowl.
2. The Cavs should sweep the Bulls.
I know that seems obvious, but some people may be leaning towards Chicago stealing one on their home floor following how gamely they hung in there in Game 2. Unfortunately for the Bulls, they played about as well as they're going to play and still lost. I know LeBron had to put up some ridiculous numbers, and that Jamario Moon had to catch fire in the fourth quarter, but whose to say LeBron couldn't put up those ridiculous numbers anytime the Cavs need him to? If anything, Game 2 was a wake-up call for the Cavs who didn't show up (Mo Williams, especially) to focus and play hard for the entire game.
3. Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant can't do it alone.
Both Wade and Durant are far superior talents that their teammates, and both are relied upon as the primary scoring options for their teams, but the first two games of their respective series are bordering on the absurd. While Durant does have some help in the form of Russell Westbrook, Wade truly is taking the Celtics on 1-vs.-5. He leads the Heat in scoring at 27.5 PPG; Miami's second-leading scorer is Quentin Richardson at 10.0 PPG. Jermaine O'Neal and Michael Beasley--the 2nd- and 3rd-leading scorers on the Heat during the regular season--are averaging a combined 14.5 PPG on a combined 29% shooting. In fact, minus Wade (who's shooting 61% in the series), Miami is shooting 32% as a team. If someone else doesn't step up, what should have been a good, long series will be ending in a Boston sweep.
As for Oklahoma City, Durant (28.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG) and Westbrook (21.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.5 APG) have been putting up their expected numbers (although Durant seems to be bothered by Ron Artest and/or the playoff spotlight, as he is only shooting a paltry 38%). The rest of the team, however, has disappeared. Jeff Green has seen his scoring drop from 15 PPG during the regular season to 11 PPG in the playoffs, and his shooting has been horrific (28%). Sixth man James Harden, who showed few signs of being a rookie all year, has shot the ball only 5 times (missing all 5 attempts) and has yet to shoot a free throw. Nenad Krstic is actually leads the team with 58% field goal percentage, but he has only shot the ball 12 times in the entire series. The specter of playing the defending champion Lakers in the playoffs seems to have rattled the young Thunder, as most of them seem afraid to shoot. Perhaps playing in front of the home crowd will rouse them from that spell.*
*This got me to wondering if the amazing collection of young talent the Thunder have collected have a history of choking in the clutch. Since this is the first time all of the major players (Durant, Westbrook, Green, Harden) have made the playoffs, I had to look back at their performances in the NCAA tournament. Durant had nothing to be ashamed of, averaging a 28.5-8.5 points-rebounds line in his two tourney games. Russell Westbrook also stepped up his game, averaging a 13.4-4.8-5.0 points-rebounds-assists line for a Final Four team in 2008, while increasing his scoring the deeper the Bruins got into the tournament (UCLA also made the Final Four in Westbrook's freshman season, but he only averaged 6 minutes a game for that team, so I didn't include those stats). Jeff Green, who I thought I remembered struggling come tourney time and was really my impetus for doing this, actually performed pretty well for Georgetown teams that went to the Sweet Sixteen and Final Four during his sophomore and junior seasons. Green averaged 13.3-7.5-3.3, including a game-winner versus Vanderbilt in the 2007 Sweet Sixteen (although he did only shoot the ball 5 times [making 4] in the Hoyas' Final Four loss to Ohio State later in that same tournament, which may be what I was remembering). James Harden, in his only two tourney games in 2009, floundered, averaging 9.5-6.5-4.0 on 33% shooting, which may have been a harbinger to his terrible postseason performance thus far. So all-in-all, Harden has always sucked in the postseason, while Wesbrook, Green, and Durant have performed in line with their regular season performances.
I'll be back with more thoughts later...