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LeBron goes cold, KG gets hot and the Celts win game one

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The game could be summarized in the final minute of the fourth quarter, if one was so inclined. Garnett, carrying the team on his back. Both sides trading blows, never taking a commanding lead until the final seconds.

And LeBron James going cold, missing his final four shots, as the Cleveland Cavaliers losing to the Boston Celtics 76-72.

In an arena that was hazy from the opening fireworks, it seemed as if some the starters were lost in the fog. Celtics guard Ray Allen finished the night without a single point, despite playing 37 minutes. Forward Paul Pierce only had four, shooting a dismal 2-14 from the field.

But the big surprise was LeBron, who was missing shots from all over. He only hit two of 18, both of them in the paint, and finished with 12 points. Instead, the onus fell to Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Wally Szczerbiak, both of whom played great.

Playing the low post, Ilgauskas grabbed 12 rebounds and helped keep the game with team-high 22 points. Wally World, scored 13, hitting some late shots that kept the Cavs in it.

But it was Kevin Garnett who dominated this game. When the other starters couldn’t get anything going, KG exploded out of the gate, hitting his first four of five shots. Coupled with another great night from Rajon Rondo, the Celtics were able to take a 10 point lead after the first quarter.

But Cleveland clawed it’s way back into the game with a 22-point second quarter, thanks to a 13-3 run, but couldn’t quite take the lead. Instead, Boston went into halftime leading by 41-37.

The third quarter was all Cleveland. Ilgauskas had eight points, all in the first five minutes of the half, as the Cavs took the lead. But the Celts were far from done. Down by six with midway through the third, they went on an 8-1 run and tied the game to end the quarter.

The fourth opened with both teams trading both shots and the lead for the first four minutes, but Boston eventually pulled to a four-point lead on a 25-foot three by Sam Cassell. Neither team scored a basket for nearly two minutes until Cassell drained another shot, this time from 22 feet out.

Cleveland answered with a quick two baskets, a Szczerbiak three and a LeBron layup – his only basket of the second half –but still couldn’t close the gap.

The Cavs would finally take the lead again late – with 90 seconds to play – on an Ilgauskas jumper, but KG and Cassell closed the door, giving the Celts a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

All in all, Garnett finished with 28 points and eight rebounds; Rondo with 15 points, six assists and 5 rebounds; Cassell with 13 points, 10 of them in the final quarter. Remember, Ray Allen and Pierce only had four points combined.

But it wasn’t just them. It was a sloppy game all around, with neither team hitting 50 per cent of their shots. Cleveland, in fact, hit just under 31 per cent of theirs. The Celtics turned the ball over 19 times, three more then the Cavs did. And neither team could hand onto a lead.

But, if anything, this game will be remembered for LeBron’s worst shooting night in recent memory and perhaps in his career.

To put all the blame for this loss on LeBron would be far from fair, but his poor shooting night was a major factor in the Cavs loss. Up until this game, he had scored at least 30 points in nine of his last ten games against the Celtics – and in that lone exception, he scored 26.

Although he only hit two baskets, he managed to contribute in other ways. He led the team in assists with nine, had nine boards in the loss and was 80% from the charity stripe.

But, just in the MVP voting, LeBron was outdone by Garnett.

Written by M.

May 7, 2008 at 4:26 am

Posted in basketball, NBA, playoffs

LeBron goes cold, KG gets hot and the Celts win game one

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The game could be summarized in the final minute of the fourth quarter, if one was so inclined. Garnett, carrying the team on his back. Both sides trading blows, never taking a commanding lead until the final seconds.

And LeBron James going cold, missing his final four shots, as the Cleveland Cavaliers losing to the Boston Celtics 76-72.

In an arena that was hazy from the opening fireworks, it seemed as if some the starters were lost in the fog. Celtics guard Ray Allen finished the night without a single point, despite playing 37 minutes. Forward Paul Pierce only had four, shooting a dismal 2-14 from the field.

But the big surprise was LeBron, who was missing shots from all over. He only hit two of 18, both of them in the paint, and finished with 12 points. Instead, the onus fell to Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Wally Szczerbiak, both of whom played great.

Playing the low post, Ilgauskas grabbed 12 rebounds and helped keep the game with team-high 22 points. Wally World, scored 13, hitting some late shots that kept the Cavs in it.

But it was Kevin Garnett who dominated this game. When the other starters couldn’t get anything going, KG exploded out of the gate, hitting his first four of five shots. Coupled with another great night from Rajon Rondo, the Celtics were able to take a 10 point lead after the first quarter.

But Cleveland clawed it’s way back into the game with a 22-point second quarter, thanks to a 13-3 run, but couldn’t quite take the lead. Instead, Boston went into halftime leading by 41-37.

The third quarter was all Cleveland. Ilgauskas had eight points, all in the first five minutes of the half, as the Cavs took the lead. But the Celts were far from done. Down by six with midway through the third, they went on an 8-1 run and tied the game to end the quarter.

The fourth opened with both teams trading both shots and the lead for the first four minutes, but Boston eventually pulled to a four-point lead on a 25-foot three by Sam Cassell. Neither team scored a basket for nearly two minutes until Cassell drained another shot, this time from 22 feet out.

Cleveland answered with a quick two baskets, a Szczerbiak three and a LeBron layup – his only basket of the second half –but still couldn’t close the gap.

The Cavs would finally take the lead again late – with 90 seconds to play – on an Ilgauskas jumper, but KG and Cassell closed the door, giving the Celts a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

All in all, Garnett finished with 28 points and eight rebounds; Rondo with 15 points, six assists and 5 rebounds; Cassell with 13 points, 10 of them in the final quarter. Remember, Ray Allen and Pierce only had four points combined.

But it wasn’t just them. It was a sloppy game all around, with neither team hitting 50 per cent of their shots. Cleveland, in fact, hit just under 31 per cent of theirs. The Celtics turned the ball over 19 times, three more then the Cavs did. And neither team could hand onto a lead.

But, if anything, this game will be remembered for LeBron’s worst shooting night in recent memory and perhaps in his career.

To put all the blame for this loss on LeBron would be far from fair, but his poor shooting night was a major factor in the Cavs loss. Up until this game, he had scored at least 30 points in nine of his last ten games against the Celtics – and in that lone exception, he scored 26.

Although he only hit two baskets, he managed to contribute in other ways. He led the team in assists with nine, had nine boards in the loss and was 80% from the charity stripe.

But, just in the MVP voting, LeBron was outdone by Garnett.

Written by M.

May 7, 2008 at 12:26 am

Manu carries the load as Spurs hang on

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It was the most quiet of the big three, the man who had been so unassuming all game, that came through in the clutch.

All game, he looked lost, getting in foul trouble and barely registered on the score sheet at the half. But by games end, the Spurs made sure it was in his hands, and he came through.

If anything, Manu Ginobili earned his sixth man award tonight in San Antonio in a series-clinching 92-87 win over the Phoenix Suns.

At halftime, he had scored just two points and three fouls in 11 minutes of play. By games end, he would have only eight, four of those from the charity stripe.

But it was a big eight.

After Boris Diaw cut the Spurs lead to one, Ginobili came up strong. First, after a risky inbounds pass up the middle, he was fouled going for a lay up and hit one of two, giving the Spurs a two-point lead.

Phoenix called a twenty second timeout, advancing the ball to half court – but turned it over on the inbounds pass. Ginobili was fouled and went to the line with the chance to ice it.

He did, hitting both and giving the Spurs a commanding lead of four points and that was the ball game.

But it was far from just him tonight – he got a ton of help from a Phoenix team that collapsed down the stretch and a stellar night from both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.

The Suns turned the ball over seven times in the fourth quarter and looked panicky down the stretch, forcing shots against a San Antonio defence that kept them outside.

And their big acquisition – Shaquille O’Neal – was a problem all game for the Suns, too. As early as the second quarter, San Antonio went into hack mode, fouling him away from the ball and sending him to the line, where he was far from effective.

He would miss 11 free throws in the game, more then the difference in the outcome. In the second quarter, he missed nine free throws, while San Antonio took a 54-45 lead at the half.

“We wanted to make Shaq work,” said Kurt Thomas at the half.

However, when Shaq sat for most of the third, Phoenix roared back, going on a 13-4 run that gave then a lead of five late in the third.

But this was a strategy that almost backfired for the Spurs. Going into the fourth quarter, they had three players with four fouls, and another two with three. And when Shaq entered the game again in the fourth, their strategy was much less effective, as he started hitting more of his free throws. Soon, he showed glimpses of his old self, driving to the basket over Duncan and getting the foul.

However, a glimpse was all the Suns would get.

As effective as Ginobili was late, it was Tony Parker, the point guard who had been taking flak all season, who exploded for the Spurs. In the first half, he had 20 points, five assists and was a perfect 8/8 from the line.

He finished with 31 points and eight assists and a number of clutch shots, including two late daggers that kept San Antonio in front late.

“We just treated it like a game seven,” he said after the game.

Indeed they did, with a defence that kept Phoenix away from the basket and ran down the clock. On the offensive boards, they were stellar too: three-time MVP Tim Duncan was a monster throughout, finishing with 29 points and17 rebounds in 41 minutes of play.

On the other side, two-time MVP Steve Nash was ineffective at best. He shot a dismal four of 16 and didn’t register an assist until late in the third quarter. He finished with just 11 points, three assists and turnovers, hardly his kind of stat line.

Even before this game, but especially as it finished, rumours were flying about the Suns. Is this the last game for head coach Mike D’Antoni? Are the missed free throws and riding the bench the last memory we will have of the force formerly known as the Diesel? And what of Nash? He looked ineffective all game and was completely outplayed by Parker.

Perhaps the only bright spot for the Suns here was the play of Boris Diaw. He finished with 22, eight rebounds and eight assists. Where Nash faltered, Diaw shined. He was the driving force that kept the Suns in the game early on.

On a night where two series ended – Dallas also fell, to New Orleans – it seemed a sober reminder of last year. The Suns, collapsing down the stretch. San Antonio, getting baskets when it counted. And a semi-final matchup that everybody’s set for: San Antonio vs New Orleans.

“It’s going to be a great series,” said Parker. “I can’t wait.”

Neither can anybody else.

Written by M.

April 30, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Posted in basketball, NBA, playoffs

Manu carries the load as Spurs hang on

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It was the most quiet of the big three, the man who had been so unassuming all game, that came through in the clutch.

All game, he looked lost, getting in foul trouble and barely registered on the score sheet at the half. But by games end, the Spurs made sure it was in his hands, and he came through.

If anything, Manu Ginobili earned his sixth man award tonight in San Antonio in a series-clinching 92-87 win over the Phoenix Suns.

At halftime, he had scored just two points and three fouls in 11 minutes of play. By games end, he would have only eight, four of those from the charity stripe.

But it was a big eight.

After Boris Diaw cut the Spurs lead to one, Ginobili came up strong. First, after a risky inbounds pass up the middle, he was fouled going for a lay up and hit one of two, giving the Spurs a two-point lead.

Phoenix called a twenty second timeout, advancing the ball to half court – but turned it over on the inbounds pass. Ginobili was fouled and went to the line with the chance to ice it.

He did, hitting both and giving the Spurs a commanding lead of four points and that was the ball game.

But it was far from just him tonight – he got a ton of help from a Phoenix team that collapsed down the stretch and a stellar night from both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.

The Suns turned the ball over seven times in the fourth quarter and looked panicky down the stretch, forcing shots against a San Antonio defence that kept them outside.

And their big acquisition – Shaquille O’Neal – was a problem all game for the Suns, too. As early as the second quarter, San Antonio went into hack mode, fouling him away from the ball and sending him to the line, where he was far from effective.

He would miss 11 free throws in the game, more then the difference in the outcome. In the second quarter, he missed nine free throws, while San Antonio took a 54-45 lead at the half.

“We wanted to make Shaq work,” said Kurt Thomas at the half.

However, when Shaq sat for most of the third, Phoenix roared back, going on a 13-4 run that gave then a lead of five late in the third.

But this was a strategy that almost backfired for the Spurs. Going into the fourth quarter, they had three players with four fouls, and another two with three. And when Shaq entered the game again in the fourth, their strategy was much less effective, as he started hitting more of his free throws. Soon, he showed glimpses of his old self, driving to the basket over Duncan and getting the foul.

However, a glimpse was all the Suns would get.

As effective as Ginobili was late, it was Tony Parker, the point guard who had been taking flak all season, who exploded for the Spurs. In the first half, he had 20 points, five assists and was a perfect 8/8 from the line.

He finished with 31 points and eight assists and a number of clutch shots, including two late daggers that kept San Antonio in front late.

“We just treated it like a game seven,” he said after the game.

Indeed they did, with a defence that kept Phoenix away from the basket and ran down the clock. On the offensive boards, they were stellar too: three-time MVP Tim Duncan was a monster throughout, finishing with 29 points and17 rebounds in 41 minutes of play.

On the other side, two-time MVP Steve Nash was ineffective at best. He shot a dismal four of 16 and didn’t register an assist until late in the third quarter. He finished with just 11 points, three assists and turnovers, hardly his kind of stat line.

Even before this game, but especially as it finished, rumours were flying about the Suns. Is this the last game for head coach Mike D’Antoni? Are the missed free throws and riding the bench the last memory we will have of the force formerly known as the Diesel? And what of Nash? He looked ineffective all game and was completely outplayed by Parker.

Perhaps the only bright spot for the Suns here was the play of Boris Diaw. He finished with 22, eight rebounds and eight assists. Where Nash faltered, Diaw shined. He was the driving force that kept the Suns in the game early on.

On a night where two series ended – Dallas also fell, to New Orleans – it seemed a sober reminder of last year. The Suns, collapsing down the stretch. San Antonio, getting baskets when it counted. And a semi-final matchup that everybody’s set for: San Antonio vs New Orleans.

“It’s going to be a great series,” said Parker. “I can’t wait.”

Neither can anybody else.

Written by M.

April 30, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Suns vs Spurs an OT Classic

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It was a game that had everything: a comeback, a duel, buzzer-beaters and huge shots. It was a game you could write a thesis on.

And it was only the first game of the series.

For four quarters and two heart-stopping overtimes, the Suns and the Spurs faced each other once again, in what is maybe the most heated – and most hotly anticipated – series in recent memory. It didn’t disappoint.

Leading by as many as 19 in the first half, and by as many as nine in the fourth, the Suns struggled late, under the oppressive settings of San Antonio’s AT&T Center.

But this wasn’t another Phoenix playoff collapse. They battled in OT and it came down to San Antonio taking the final shot, twice. Problem was, they hit it twice.

No, this was a duel. Steve Nash and Tim Duncan, battling again. Duncan would finish with 40, 15 rebounds and five assists. Nash finished with 25 and 13 assists. But the numbers almost don’t matter; it’s their shots that will be remembered.

Duncan, nails his first and only three of the game, tying it at the end of the first OT.

Nash, hitting a three while falling sideways, ties the game with 15 to play in the second OT.

It’s a cliché to say it’s a shame one team had to lose, that they both played so well nobody deserved to lose. And it’s surely a cliché that could be applied here.

But it’s another that fits a lot better: the team that wanted it more, won. It. The win.

Item: Late in the second OT, there was a struggle under the phoenix basket. One missed layup, then another. Bodies flying all over the place. Duncan reaches up and stuffs it in on the Spurs third chance.

Item: With 15 to play in the second overtime, San Antonio rolls the dice, taking the ball upcourt and went for the win. No timeout, no set plays. No waiting it out, going for a third OT. End it now.

Manu Ginobili hits a layup with 1.8 to play. Nash takes a half-court shot that sails wide as the final buzzer sounds.

It’s scenarios like that, where they had to grind it out, that showed how determined, how dedicated, how good San Antonio is. They played hard, they didn’t let up and they kept the pressure going, attacking the basket and Shaquille O’Neal, who with five fouls, often shied away from drawing contact under his own basket.

Yet it was O’Neal who tied the game in the second overtime, stuffing a rebound to make it 112 all.

About halfway through the game, ESPN flashed a little statistic. Over 80 per cent of the teams that win game one win the series.

But here’s something else. Last year, San Antonio won game one, 111-106, and won the series in six. In 2005, they won game one 121-114, and the series in five.

If this series goes to form, it should go to seven.

And if it goes that far, all bets are off. Especially if it’s as tense as game one.

Written by M.

April 19, 2008 at 11:23 pm

Suns vs Spurs an OT Classic

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It was a game that had everything: a comeback, a duel, buzzer-beaters and huge shots. It was a game you could write a thesis on.

And it was only the first game of the series.

For four quarters and two heart-stopping overtimes, the Suns and the Spurs faced each other once again, in what is maybe the most heated – and most hotly anticipated – series in recent memory. It didn’t disappoint.

Leading by as many as 19 in the first half, and by as many as nine in the fourth, the Suns struggled late, under the oppressive settings of San Antonio’s AT&T Center.

But this wasn’t another Phoenix playoff collapse. They battled in OT and it came down to San Antonio taking the final shot, twice. Problem was, they hit it twice.

No, this was a duel. Steve Nash and Tim Duncan, battling again. Duncan would finish with 40, 15 rebounds and five assists. Nash finished with 25 and 13 assists. But the numbers almost don’t matter; it’s their shots that will be remembered.

Duncan, nails his first and only three of the game, tying it at the end of the first OT.

Nash, hitting a three while falling sideways, ties the game with 15 to play in the second OT.

It’s a cliché to say it’s a shame one team had to lose, that they both played so well nobody deserved to lose. And it’s surely a cliché that could be applied here.

But it’s another that fits a lot better: the team that wanted it more, won. It. The win.

Item: Late in the second OT, there was a struggle under the phoenix basket. One missed layup, then another. Bodies flying all over the place. Duncan reaches up and stuffs it in on the Spurs third chance.

Item: With 15 to play in the second overtime, San Antonio rolls the dice, taking the ball upcourt and went for the win. No timeout, no set plays. No waiting it out, going for a third OT. End it now.

Manu Ginobili hits a layup with 1.8 to play. Nash takes a half-court shot that sails wide as the final buzzer sounds.

It’s scenarios like that, where they had to grind it out, that showed how determined, how dedicated, how good San Antonio is. They played hard, they didn’t let up and they kept the pressure going, attacking the basket and Shaquille O’Neal, who with five fouls, often shied away from drawing contact under his own basket.

Yet it was O’Neal who tied the game in the second overtime, stuffing a rebound to make it 112 all.

About halfway through the game, ESPN flashed a little statistic. Over 80 per cent of the teams that win game one win the series.

But here’s something else. Last year, San Antonio won game one, 111-106, and won the series in six. In 2005, they won game one 121-114, and the series in five.

If this series goes to form, it should go to seven.

And if it goes that far, all bets are off. Especially if it’s as tense as game one.

Written by M.

April 19, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Is Marty Turco the new Rogie Vachon?

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Is Marty Turco the new Rogie Vachon?

Think about it. They’re both great goalies that play in smaller hockey markets. They put up similar numbers. They’re both carbon-based life forms.

One other thing, too. They’ve both never backstopped their way to a Stanley Cup.

Sure, Vachon won two Cups early in his career with the Montreal Canadiens, but that was as a backup. In those two playoff runs, he only started 10 playoff games, playing behind Gump Worsley.

But Vachon took over as a starter he couldn’t produce. In 1970, his first season as a starter, the Canadiens failed to make the playoffs. The next spring, Montreal coach Al MacNeil went with rookie Ken Dryden over Vachon for the playoffs, which all but ended his career in Montreal.

So it was off to Los Angeles with Vachon. Despite posting some strong statistics for the Kings, Vachon did not see the playoffs until 1974, when they lost to Chicago in five games.

Twice the Kings finished second in their division, and three times they finished third. Under Vachon, they made five straight playoff appearances, although they never made it past the second round. In his five years with the Kings, Vachon would record 171 wins, 32 shutouts and was named a second-team all-star twice, in 1975 and 1977.

In August of 1978, Vachon signed with the Detroit Red Wings, a team that had gone 32-34-14 the season before. He did not meet much success with the team, winning just 30 games, and posting a GAA above 3.60 in his two seasons with the club. His finished his career with Boston, splitting starts with Marco Baron.

By career’s end, Vachon had won 355 games, a career GAA of 2.99 and recorded 51 shutouts. His postseason numbers weren’t too shabby, either: 23 wins, two shutouts and a GAA of 2.77. Vachon had his number retired by the Kings, played in three all-star games and a Canada Cup, winning six of his seven starts.

Yet, in the decade dominated by his Montreal replacement of Dryden, Vachon was often overlooked. Throughout the 70s, he never won a Vezina, never made it past the second round, which perhaps explains why he has yet to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Which brings us to Marty Turco.

Since starting his career in 2000-01, two seasons after the Stars won the Stanley Cup, Turco has won 207 games for the Stars and his GAA is 2.15. In 2005-06, he won 41 games for the Stars. In 2002-03, he posted a league-leading GAA of 1.72.

But, like Vachon, Turco has never had success in the postseason. Only once has he made it deep into the playoffs, when he went to the second round in 2002-03. Since then, he has yet to make it out of the first round. Last year, for example, Turco posted a GAA of 1.30 in Dallas’ first-round loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Twice he has played in the All-Star game, but he has never won any awards for his play. In an era dominated by better-known goalies – Marty Brodeur, Dominic Hasek, Mikka Kiprusoff – Turco has gone under-valued.

Perhaps, like Vachon, it is because he plays in a market that is easily overlooked by most fans or because of his lack of success in the post-season.

However, unlike Vachon, he still has a chance to turn it around. However, at the age of 32, these playoffs could be that chance. However, their first-round series against the Ducks will be a tough match.

But unless Turco wants to be remembered as his generations Vachon, this is a series he has to win.

Written by M.

April 11, 2008 at 8:43 pm

Posted in nhl, playoffs