Wake-up call

The NBA playoffs are heating up, finally. They may get so hot that we actually get to see a sixth game.

Topics: Basketball,

I’m paying attention to the NBA playoffs now, are you? You should be. They’re getting good, finally.

It always takes me a while to get involved because the early rounds have about as much suspense as an episode of “Columbo.” We know who’s going to win. The entertainment value is supposed to be in watching how it plays out. Complaining about this is one of the things that keeps me going, so once more for this year:

There have been 12 playoff series so far, and one minuscule upset. Eleven times out of 12, the team with the better regular-season record has won. (The Los Angeles Lakers were seeded below the San Antonio Spurs, who had a worse record, because the Spurs won a division.) Only the Boston Celtics, all of one game behind the Detroit Pistons in the regular season, beat their betters.

Just four of the 12 series so far went to a deciding game, and all four were in the first round, which is best three of five. We have yet to see a seventh game. In fact, thanks to the one-sided nature of the best-of-seven second round, we have yet to see a sixth game.

But things are looking up now. The Lakers lost Game 2 of the Western Conference finals in Sacramento Monday night, so they’re human, beatable. They’re probably not going to be beaten, but it’s looking like the Kings are going to make a series of it. We may even see a sixth game. It remains to be seen if the Celtics are going to do the same thing in their Eastern Conference final against the New Jersey Nets. Game 2 of that series is Tuesday night in the swamplands. The series winner earns the chance to lose to the Lakers-Kings winner.

The Lakers-Kings second game turned on a little un-Laker-like sequence just before the middle of the fourth quarter. Devean George hit a free throw to bring Los Angeles to within eight at 82-74. When George missed the second free throw, the Kings didn’t box out and Robert Horry got the rebound. The ball came to George, who launched a three. It was the kind of play the Lakers make in fourth quarters. It would have brought them to within five, deflated the raucous crowd, made it look a lot like the Lakers were going to win their 13th straight road playoff game, a streak that was already an American pro sports record.



But George’s shot missed. The Kings went down and scored for a 10-point lead. On the next trip the Lakers went back to George, who was posting up on Mike Bibby. Not Shaquille O’Neal, a Laker you might be familiar with, but Devean George. He missed a turnaround jumper. The Kings scored, then scored again after Shaq made one of two free throws. When Doug Christie made a free throw, the Kings were on a 7-1 run and had built an 89-74 lead with 6:46 to go.

Good thing, too, because they needed all of that lead. From that moment on, the Kings fell apart. Their next six possessions went: turnover, miss, miss, miss, miss, miss. Over the following six minutes and 34 seconds, the Kings were outscored 16-4 as they went 1-for-9 from the field and 1-for-4 from the line with two turnovers and no offensive rebounds. They finally sealed the win by hitting three of four free throws in the final 12 seconds.

Now the series goes to Los Angeles for two games. It’s hard to picture the Kings playing defense well enough to beat L.A. The Lakers have too many weapons, most of whom — Rick Fox, Derek Fisher and Horry especially, but also Kobe Bryant, wan with the effects of food poisoning — had subpar offensive games Monday. But Sacramento’s offense, especially in the unlikely event they can get injured scorer Peja Stojakovic back in time to make a difference, is wild enough when it really clicks to give the Kings a chance.

Meanwhile, the Celtics are talking like a fighter who’s just been beaten and talks about how he just, for some reason, couldn’t get his punches off. Strangest thing, he’ll say, but I just couldn’t get myself started, couldn’t do the things I usually do. It’s less mysterious to those who watched the fight, who listen to the fighter and think to themselves: Yeah, well, the reason for that is that the other guy wouldn’t let you do them.

“That game was strange,” Boston point guard Kenny Anderson said after the Nets’ 104-97 win Sunday. “The whole thing wasn’t our m.o. I give New Jersey credit. They played well. But I don’t know what team that was out there for us tonight. I sure as hell didn’t recognize anybody out there.”

Well, I recognized the Celtics. They’re the team that got smoked by the Nets. They’re not a bad team, and they did beat the Nets three out of four in the regular season, but the Nets are surging now. And they have Jason Kidd, which means that everybody on the team seems to be better than he really is. Even you, with your flat feet and your double vision, would look pretty good if Jason Kidd were on your team.

“We let them cut backdoor on us a lot because we were so concerned about Kidd,” said Celtics star Paul Pierce. Uh, well, yeah. Isn’t that strange? And if you stop worrying about Kidd and guard the backdoor cuts, he scorches you some other way.

The Celtics have Pierce and Antoine Walker, who are better than anybody New Jersey has, Kidd excepted, but who don’t make their teammates any better than they already are. If Pierce and Walker are on, the Celtics are pretty good. If one or both has an off night, the Celtics are cooked. That’s what happened Sunday, when Pierce wasn’t quite himself.

Kidd doesn’t really have off nights. Even if he’s not scoring, his passing, his quarterbacking of the offense, his defense and his leadership are always a factor. And in this postseason, he’s scoring, averaging 20 points a game, more than five above his season average.

The Celtics thought it was weird that they just couldn’t seem to play defense in Game 1. It wasn’t weird. It was the Nets beating them with their speed and their passing. As Bob Ryan pointed out in Monday’s Boston Globe, passing is contagious. It’s not just Kidd’s passing that’s so deadly. His teammates have caught the bug. Did you see Kenyon Martin make a one-touch pass to Kerry Kittles on a fast break Sunday? Kenyon? Martin? One-touch pass?

I think the Celtics will make some adjustments defensively and Pierce will have some big games and they’ll make this enough of a series that we get one of those elusive sixth games, though I don’t think the Celtics will win it. But they won’t even make it a series if they convince themselves that Game 1 was an anomaly of some sort. It wasn’t. That’s how good the Nets are.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>