Catchy title, huh?
Ugly game with a capital UGH. Still, the right team won, and I won my bet with Roh, so I'm happy. Anyway, here's some notes. While Simmons is busy complaining about the refs and making stupid lame jokes about Mike Brown and Stan Van Gundy, I, the unemployed broke fatty who DOESN'T have a 720-page basketball book coming out and ISN'T campaigning like a nitwit for a GM job, am actually offering you sound basketball analysis.
Honestly, I don't know where you people would be without me.
1. I felt all along that Orlando had a great chance to win this series, or at least be competitive in it (that's why I made the bet) because I felt that the Magic have the second, third, and fourth best players between the two teams. Nothing has happened thus far to sway my opinion in the least. In fact, when you factor in Mickael Pietrus and Rafer Alston, one could argue that five of the best six players in this series are on Orlando.
2. I also felt all along that Alston is more of a versatile, useful player at this stage than Williams. Historically Williams has had the better career, but Cleveland isn't using him in the fashion Milwaukee did and it's hurting both him and the team. With Milwaukee he was a scoring point guard, but he still initiated the offense and was used to controlling the play and making the decisions. Under Mike Brown he's been reduced to a catch-and-shoot guy, and that's not his game. Sure, he had a career high in PER, but that'll happen when all you do is get wide open jumpers against crappy teams. Playoff teams play better D and close out better, don't give you as many easy things and consequently, he's struggled.
Alston has far more experience than Williams playing off the ball and not being the focal point of the offense. He played for years with T-Mac and Yao, so he's used to either dumping it in the post and playing off the big man (like he does with Howard) or letting a swingman initiate the offense (like the Magic do with Hedo). Alston can run an offense, but he's equally comfortable both ways.
3. All that being said, imagine if Jameer Nelson were healthy. This series wouldn't even be competitive.
4. 86 free throws seems like a lot, and it is, and the refs probably erred on the side of caution a few too many times, but I don't think they were that horrible. The Cavs were being very physical and fouling a lot. They really had no choice. No one on their front court can guard anyone on Orlando's front court. It's either foul or give up easy shots. When you're on the wrong end of athletic mismatches everywhere and you don't foul, you know what happens? You give up 53% shooting nights like the Spurs often did all year. By fouling, being physical and trying to get into the Magic's fragile heads, the Cavs at least gave themselves a chance. And fouling Howard is always a smart play.
5. However, the previous comment doesn't mean the refs were completely innocent. They did EVERYTHING they could to keep Cleveland in the game. They gave LeBron 24 free throw attempts when he probably deserved 14 or 16, and they fouled out Howard in 28 minutes on some real ticky tack fouls. The way Cleveland was shooting, this game should've been a blowout for Orlando. I can't stress enough how poorly the Cavs played offensively.
6. Either Orlando made more of an effort to pound the ball inside with Howard or Cleveland altered their defensive strategy to stay home on shooters and make Howard beat them at the line. Orlando wasn't getting the same looks tonight that they got in Games 1 and 2. They won, because of their defense, but it will be interesting to see how, or if, they adjust in Game 4. Both Turkoglu and Lewis had relative off nights and Orlando still won easily, and I doubt that'll happen again.
7. Where Cleveland is really losing this series is on the bench. Mike Brown is desperately, futilely, trying to find a combination that works and none of his reserves can score consistently at all. He gave up on Boobie Gibson long ago and now it looks like Wally World is closed for the summer. Neither of them play because they suck defensively. Pavlovic, Big Ben and Joe Smith are okay in their own end, but they can't score. 20-8 bench points today and again, Pietrus is the difference.
8. The secret goat of Game 3? LeBron James. I know it sounds crazy to call a guy with 41-7-9 a goat, but James was a complete nightmare from the perimeter tonight. 1-8 from threes and was 1-7 from mid-range Js as well. Nine of his eleven field goals were lay-ups and dunks. The way everyone else on the team is struggling, LeBron's gotta shoot better than 2-15 on jumpers to open up the game for everyone else.
9. Of course, he's already doing everything he possibly can. The rest of his team just isn't all that good, and it's the major reason I've never been sold on Cleveland's championship mettle. Jordan had Pippen. Mo Williams is no Pippen. In fact, I can't think of a single NBA champion who's second best player was worse than Williams. For years Williams was the second best player on Milwaukee, and that team went nowhere.
10. Whoever wins Game 4 wins the series. As it stands, because of the adjustments they've made, I think Cleveland is in better position to win Game 4, in a close, low-scoring game. LeBron will shoot better from the field and Howard will be worse from the line. For Orlando to go up 3-1, they'll have to figure out a new way to get Hedo and Rashard going.
[Stampler's note: 4Him brought up something in his comment after I made a prediction on Game 4 of Lakers-Nuggets on the first comment, and I realized I haven't been clear enough about a few things. So I'm attaching it all on the bottom and just making it one super long post. Sorry for the confusion.]
The Nuggets will beat the hell out of LA today and it’ll be over by half time. An exhausted Kobe will be more than happy to leave Denver with the split and won’t put up much of a fight and Phil Jax will smartly wave the towel early, give Bryant and Gasol some rest and play his scrubs 20+ minutes each.
He might even use the game as an excuse to play Bynum major minutes to try and salvage their relationship and see whether he can get anything useful from him the rest of the way.
[This is me responding to 4Him]
1. Despite it certainly looking like they're the better, deeper team, I still think it'd be extremely unlikely for the Magic to win a Game 7 in Cleveland. IMHO the only way they win this series is by winning all their home games.
2. Like I said in point # 10, right now, with the adjustments by both teams being what they are, while my heart is rooting for Orlando, my brain tells me Cleveland is better positioned to win Game 4. Their defense has become much more vigilant in taking away the threes and is forcing Orlando to throw it into the post with Howard, where he's then immediately fouled. They're making Howard beat them at the line and it's a smart move. I think Orlando's counter-adjustment would have to be for Hedo and Lewis to pump-fake and drive aggressively to the basket. I don't know if either have the will to do this consistently or the handle to do it without having a bunch of turnovers and charges. Lewis, in particular, does not like getting banged around.
I think Cleveland is trying to make Orlando play like Denver, where all their forwards go hard to the basket and get a bunch of free throws. I don't know if the Magic are up to it. They're going to need a tremendous amount of heart and desire to beat the Cavs in an elimination type of situation. They're not going to win this series raining open threes. Mike Brown will make sure of it.
If Orlando doesn't win it won't be because of talent or skill. It will be because Van Gundy wasn't smart enough to make these adjustments and because his players weren't tough enough to do what needed to be done. Period.
3. As for the Lakers-Nuggets series, please don't misconstrue my Game 4 prediction of a Nuggets blowout as an endorsement for them winning the series. Far from it. As is the case with the Magic against the Cavs, the Nuggets are the deeper, more talented team top to bottom. However, while they're not lacking heart and toughness like Orlando may be, Denver's problem is worse: They're lacking brains.
Apologies for the Wizard of Oz reference, but whatever nagging doubts I had about the Nuggets were confirmed once and for all with their despicable Game 3 showing at home. They will not beat LA four of out of seven times because two critical members of their rotation are complete morons.
J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin absolutely killed them. They have rubber-stamped the series to the Lakers.
Smith, who just might be the most overrated player in the NBA, is what we in the scientific community call "a fucking dumbass." Carmelo Anthony was red-hot in the first quarter of Game 3, and he played the first 5:07 of the second quarter.
Unfortunately for he and his teammates and all of Denver's fans, he happened to share that 5:07 of floor time with Smith. The same Smith who willfully and inexcusably ignored Anthony (one shot attempt in that 5:07) so that he could indulge himself with four heinous bricks, three from deep. Anthony lost his rhythm and was a non-factor the rest of the game, and Smith finished with a Finleyesque statline of 10 points on 15 shots. The one time he hit a big shot, a three at the third quarter buzzer, he called Sasha Vujacic a "motherfucker" right in front of the refs and got T'd up.
Now I have no doubt whatsoever that Mr. Vujacic does in fact engage in sexual congress with his own mother. Still, you don't say that with a zebra right next to you. That's just stupid.
And Martin... well as Spurs fans we're well versed with his buffoonery by now. This guy has like 48 I don't know, THOUSAND tattoos and struts around like he's the toughest man who ever walked God's Earth, and then, when it matters most instead of taking the ball to the basket strong he jumps parallel to the basket and throws up (literally, it looks like he's vomiting the basketball) this no chance double pump weak ass SHIT that's just a scud missile off the backboard; the kind of shot that would make you cringe and think to yourself, "Who let this clown play with us?" if it happened in your weekend pickup game.
Mark Cuban was absolutely right in asserting that Martin is a punk and a thug. He should've added "idiot" and "bitch" while he was at it. But still, you don't say that to the guy's mom. That shit ain't right.
Anyway, my point is that because of Martin and Smith, the Lakers will find a way to win this series, most likely in seven games. Anthony and Billups (and definitely my boy Andersen) deserve better.
4. Finally, I might as well get it out of the way now - I don't know who's going to win the Eastern Conference Finals, but I still think the Lakers will win the whole thing regardless. I like their one-two combination better than anyone else's, and even if he's only half as interested and alert as he once was, Phil Jax is still a better coach than the other three guys.
5. But yeah, because of Turkoglu, and because I hate the other three teams, go Magic.