There have been plenty of enjoyable games throughout the 2010 NBA Playoffs. However, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night was one of my favorites. It was a physical, suspenseful playoff basketball game with a touch of hockey testiness. My thoughts…
The Magic need a backbone. When the toughest, grittiest, most competitive players on your squad are Matt Barnes and JJ Redick, you’re going to struggle in tightly contested playoff contests. I’m not sure who’s responsible for building a championship contender around key players without that intangible fire, but he/she should take a loooonngg look at previous NBA champions.
2009: Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe Bryant is the league’s fiercest competitor.
2008: Boston Celtics – Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen all were proven competitors and elevated their games at different times throughout the playoffs to bring home the title.
2007: San Antonio Spurs – Tim Duncan epitomizes a competitor. Manu Ginobili is a cold-blooded assassin that thrives in the 4th quarter of tight games.
The list goes on and on. Without that burning desire to win, the Magic look lost. Not quite as lost as the moron on The Bachelorette who thought it’d be a good idea to share that his nickname, “Shooter” was the result of premature reaction to a sexual encounter, but they’re pretty close. The point is, the Magic lack that competitive edge-both as individuals and as a team. While Redick and Barnes bring that competitiveness, it just isn’t enough if it’s not coming from one of your team’s premier players.
To be blunt; it has to be Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, he has yet to demonstrate that competitive grit and toughness. Yes, he gets mugged and abused more than any other player, but he also whines more than almost any other player too. I’m not talking about physical toughness though, that’s easy. Mental fortitude is what makes a champion. Howard needs to accept his fate as the paint’s punching bag and simply overpower and outhustle his opponents. He’s big enough, strong enough, and absolutely athletic enough to do so.
Take the 3rd quarter from Monday night’s game as an example. Garnett pushed Howard after a basket and looked to get in Howard’s face. Howard backed off, started clapping and coolly watched as Garnett received a technical. It was a savvy move by Howard not to retaliate, but he needs to establish himself there and send a message. Get in Garnett’s mug. Tell him his time has come and gone. If the TD Garden court were an African jungle, Garnett would have essentially been peeing all over Howard’s paint… and Howard allowed it to happen. Unacceptable. Howard should own that area of the court. No exceptions. If he wants to become a great player, he needs to change his mind set. Putting Garnett on his rear and getting in his face to remind about it would be a great start.
I really like Matt Barnes and …(big breath)… JJ Redick. In fact, they’re my favorite players on the Magic. Barnes is a little bit of a loose cannon who can get out of control on the offensive end, but he competes. Jeff Van Gundy said it best when he offered that Barnes is the only player on Orlando’s roster that he trusts as a true competitor. To fight their way back into this series, Orlando needs Barnes to continue to frustrate Boston with his length and feistiness while also setting the competitive tone for his team.
As for Redick, who knew a Duke alumni would develop into such a hard-nosed player? Of all ten players on the court, Redick fights the hardest to get through screens, lays out for more loose balls, and makes the most of his normally limited minutes. He’s not the greatest defender but he tries, and he will hit some huge threes as he did on Monday evening. On two specific occasions Boston rallied to either tie or move within one point. Redick responded with a three both times and deflated Boston’s run. Because he’s phenomenal from the charity stripe, Redick will be on the floor in crunch time too. This is a good thing. If you need a loose ball, maximum effort on defense, and a dead-eye shooter, Redick is your man.
I’m about to jump off the Celtics Bandwagon. After game two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Cleveland, I hitched my wagon to Boston’s. I loved their intensity. You can say a lot of negative things about the Celtics, but no one matches their collective will to win. However, I’ve had all I can handle of Kendrick Perkins’, “I should be getting Hakeem Olajuwon treatment from the officials” routine, Rajon Rondo’s inability to hit any shot outside of three feet, and Kevin Garnett’s “soccer flop” in the 4th quarter of game four.
Seriously though, is there anyone in the entire universe other Kendrick Perkins’ mom that really believes he’s any good? Perkins struts around the court like he’s the re-incarnation of Bill Russell. It kills me. I want nothing more than for Dwight Howard to thoroughly abuse him for 48 minutes.
I know Rondo has been a stud this postseason. I won’t deny that or his rise into the league’s top five point guards. However, it’s a struggle to truly appreciate his talents when the defense dares him to knock down 12 footers. In game four Orlando was finally able to clog the lane and limit Rondo’s effectiveness. If Rondo can’t knock down some of those open looks, he will continue to struggle as he did on Monday night. I like his style and enjoy watching him play, but it’s tough to see a guard shoot that poorly.
As annoying and theatrical as Garnett is, I never would have expected him to embellish an unintentional elbow, especially during the playoffs. Flailing isn’t normally part of Garnett’s repertoire. This was just one of the reasons I thought game four was peculiar. Despite having a 3-0 lead in the series, the Celtics played like the team under pressure. They looked tight and out of sync. Garnett especially looked flustered by the physical contact on numerous occasions. I know it’s not his style to back down, but he appeared more concerned with starting a melee than closing out the series
The Magic still have a long way to go to make this a real series. Obviously, winning game four was a step in the right direction. Dragging themselves off the mat and delivering a blow to Boston has earned Orlando some much needed momentum. To maintain that momentum they’ll need toughness, leadership, and a competitive edge. In other words, it’s time for Dwight Howard to start doing some hypothetical peeing of his own.