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2012 NBA Playoffs Recap, Day 20

It took until day 20 of the NBA Playoffs for someone to jump in and offer their own analysis of the previous night’s action. After I ridicule the Heat for an ugly loss, my brother will cover the Spurs victory over the Clippers. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Heat gets beat down
I should spend time congratulating the Pacers and acknowledging how well they battled to win Game 3. But that’s not as fun as railing on the struggling Heat.

To be honest, I feel a little bad for Miami. It’s never fun to watch a team compete without one of its important pieces. While it’s fun to make fun of Chris Bosh and discuss how little he’s done in Miami, it’s impossible to argue the Heat don’t miss him. Without Bosh, Miami has only three to four reliable players. Last night, the Heat had just three; LeBron James, Mario Chalmers, and Ronny Turiaf/Mike Miller who combined to equal one decent player. Notice Dwyane Wade missing from that list?

That’s right, DWade, one of the gutsiest competitors in the NBA, has apparently stooped to an agitated grump as his athleticism declines. If you’ve watched Wade at all this season, it’s clear the wear and tear of his Allen Iverson-esque reckless abandon has started to catch up with his body. While he’s still one of the NBA’s best players, he can’t take over a game whenever he wants and single-handedly decimate a defense by attacking the rim anymore. What’s worse, he’s compensated for his declining athleticism by becoming a bully and quite frankly, a word that rhymes with bassmole.

In early April, Wade gave Rip Hamilton an intentional forearm shiver that sent Hamilton to the floor. It was an ejection worthy offense but Wade only got a technical foul. In Game 2, Wade lazily threw a shoulder into Darren Collison as Collison drove to the rim for a breakaway lay up. Wade should’ve been ejected. It was a dirtier play than Jason Smith’s body check on Blake Griffin earlier in the year. Of course, Wade was not ejected.

In Game 3, Wade had perhaps his worst postseason performance; 5 points on 2/13 shooting and 5 turnovers. Miami head coach Eric Spoelstra at one point was unimpressed with Wade’s shot selection and let Wade know about it. Wade responded by trying to get at Spoelstra as if he was an opposing power forward that tried to decapitate Wade in the paint. It was pathetic.

I understand emotions are high in the playoffs, but Wade is a Finals MVP. He’s supposedly the leader of the Miami Heat. Leaders rally their teams. They don’t attack coaches. Leader’s put forth effort on the floor, regardless of the score. Wade quit early in the 4th quarter Thursday night. He lingered on the offensive end to complain about non-calls. He closed out on shooters with the urgency of an offensive lineman at a vegan buffet. He didn’t talk to his teammates. He kept to himself and pouted.

I love Wade, but I can’t remember a more appalling performance from an NBA superstar. Yes, they all have awful games, but when they do, the great ones find other ways to contribute. Two years ago, Tim Duncan scored only 8 points on 4/23 shooting against the Pacers but grabbed 26 rebounds. Even when Kobe Bryant struggles offensively, he asserts himself defensively. Wade simply gave up.

If the Heat hopes to even advance to the conference finals, they’ll need their leader to get his head right. Or, they could simply find a new leader. Perhaps the other Miami superstar who, despite an off night, was still hustling, grabbing rebounds, and attacking the Pacer defense long after the game was decided is an option? If ever the time was right, it’s now. LeBron James must take over this team.

Spurs win big, again (As seen by my brother, Derek)
The Spurs came flying out of the gates in Game 2. They moved the ball as well as they had in the Utah series and quickly built a 15 point lead. However, the Spurs starters watched as their 2nd unit let that lead slide all the way down to 4 by the end of the half. As a Spurs fan, the question was why?

1. Were they showing a Celtic-like response of growing complacent with a big lead? No. Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan never let this happen.  [Editor’s Note: Duncan admitted post-game the Spurs lost focus a bit. This is why Pop admitted earlier in the spring that he thinks big leads early in the 1st half are a problem because the team tends to lose its aggressiveness and there’s too much time for the opponent to bounce back.]

2. Did the Clippers finally figure out how to beat the Spurs? No. The Spurs began losing the lead when their jumpers stopped falling. They moved the ball just as well as they did when they built the lead, but this time the shots didn’t stick. And in non-Spurs fashion, the 2nd unit panicked. Manu started driving uncontrollably and either turning the ball over or putting up bad shots. The other guys started forcing the issue instead of continuing to work the ball around in order to find the open shot. Even when the starters came back, this theme continued for the rest of the half. The Spurs were lucky to hold a four point advantage at the break.

3. Did the Clippers do anything well? Yes. Just like Game 1, the Clippers 2nd unit outplayed and outworked the Spurs’ 2nd unit. This is one area of concern for the Spurs moving forward. The likes of Eric Bledsoe, Nick Young, Kenyon Martin, and Mo Williams play a more physical style than the Spurs would prefer. Additionally, this unit can score in bunches if they get hot from three. Throw in the Spurs lack of shots in the second quarter, and the Clippers bench suddenly became a problem.

What was most encouraging was the Spurs response in the 2nd half. Going into the locker room, the Spurs players were mad. They didn’t need Pop to yell at them (though he probably did) because they were mad at themselves. Look back at Manu’s halftime interview and you will see what the team’s mentality was. They were disappointed with their level of play and vowed to do something about it. This is what makes the Spurs great. They inspire and hold one another accountable. They point the finger of blame where it belongs and are not afraid to respond.

And respond is probably the best description for the Spurs second half. The ball started swinging once again and the shots started falling. Before the Clippers knew what hit them, they were already down double digits with no hope of recovery. This time, the Spurs 2nd unit maintained a double digit lead until the starters returned to finish off the discouraged Clippers.

What can we take away from this game?

1. Tony looked the same as he did in Game 1 until the forth quarter. He was clearly angry and began playing as he had all season. Hopefully this carries into Game 3.

2. Danny Green is becoming one of the Spurs most reliable shooters. He is consistently hitting 3’s at the most opportune times. He is fearless and showing championship mettle.

3. Kawhi Leonard, while not as offensively significant, is playing great defense all around. He is swarming Chris Paul and anyone else in front of him.

4. Gary Neal found his stroke in the 3rd quarter. He is going to be key whenever that 2nd unit comes in because he can create his own shot and facilitate for others.

5. Blake Griffin is improving as the games go on. He is hitting more jumpers and sinking his shots from the stripe. Unfortunately, he is still in over his head. He can’t keep Duncan or Boris Diaw out of the lane, and doesn’t have the skill set to get past the Spurs solid defense. Having said that, I think this series will go a long way in Griffin becoming a better all-around player.

6. Vinny Del Negro is a decent coach, but trying to go against Pop is really making him look bad. Hopefully he doesn’t get fired because of this series.

7. Chris Paul must be really injured. Yes, the Spurs are playing good defense, but his play is very uncharacteristic right now. He doesn’t have that killer attitude and he is turning the ball over way too much. It will be interesting to see if some home cooking will get him going once again.

[My thoughts: The Spurs need their bench to play at a high level to succeed as the playoffs continue. It may not be an issue against the Clippers, but it’ll certainly matter if the Spurs move on to face the Thunder. Yes, the Thunder bench is nothing spectacular. However, the Thunder big three are all under 25 years of age. The Spurs big three are all 30+ now. The Thunder can and will throw their stars on the floor for 40-45 minutes a night in big games. The Spurs can do this too, but the toll on the older bodies would limit the Spurs over the long haul. Therefore, it’s imperative the bench extends or at the very least, maintains leads when on the floor to allow Pop to continue to use his aging stars sparingly and to keep them fresh as they make their title run. The first six quarters of this series were a disappointment for the Spurs bench. Thankfully, the last two look to have changed that trend. Hopefully that continues.]

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