Commentary

NBA playoffs are 'Wired': Part 2

Originally Published: May 3, 2011
By Bill Simmons | ESPN.com

If you missed Part One, CLICK HERE. Here's Part Two.

30. "I treated you like a son."
31. "I wasn't made to play the son."

To Rajon Rondo, if only because this sounds like something he'd say to Doc Rivers. I have spent as much time trying to figure out Rondo these last few years as either of my kids. He's like a cat: Sometimes he jumps on your lap, sometimes you don't see him for days, sometimes he goes down in the basement and kills mice for you, sometimes he's kicking over his own kitty litter box, sometimes he's inexplicably beating up a poodle, sometimes he's hissing at your children … you just never know. The good thing about him: You always know in the first quarter. Did we get Good Rondo today? YES! We got Good Rondo! And lemme tell you something: Boston isn't beating Miami unless Good Rondo shows up four times. At least.

32. "Mr. Little, how does a man rob drug dealers for 8 or 9 years and live to tell about it?"
33. "Day at a time, I suppose."

To Carlos Boozer, Chicago's big free-agent catch who seems to be gaining "Carlos Boozer's 2015 Expiring Contract" potential as the postseason drags along. I don't want to overreact except to say that we're going to need more rebounding, more 15-footers and more chest hair … and soon. Besides, this isn't the Summer of 2010 mistake that's haunting the Bulls.

34. ''I admire a man with confidence."
35. "I don't see no sweat in your brow either, bro."

To Ray Allen, who nailed so many big shots for Boston in four years that it's reached "even if you know we're running this double-screen for him, we're doing it anyway," status and he's still as reliable as anyone. If Chicago doesn't win the 2011 title, it will be because they didn't overwhelm Allen with a three-year, $40 million offer last summer. In their defense, I think they thought they were a year away -- they never expected Rose to make The Leap that soon. But why pursue a J.J. Redick/Kyle Korver tandem for the same money that it would have taken to get Ray?

Clearly, they read the tea leaves: Barring injury, Ray should remain at this level until he's 38 or 39. One of my favorite parts of this year's "The Association" was learning more about Ray's preparation -- how early he gets to the arena, where he shoots on the floor, how much thought he puts into everything -- and coming away thinking, "Wait, this guy is kind of a lunatic!" And I mean that in the nicest way possible -- he wouldn't waver from his routine for anything, not even if it meant shooting 3s at 4:00 while they were still putting down the floor, or trying to get his drills done as a cheerleading squad practiced 20 feet away. He did everything short of shooting jumpers while muttering "15 minutes until Wapner, 15 minutes until Wapner" or counting 250 toothpicks that just dropped on the floor. As recently as last year, arguing "Reggie Miller versus Ray Allen" was as fun as arguing "The Sopranos" versus "The Wire" -- you could make compelling cases for each side, even if the Reggie/Sopranos backers were arguing with their hearts and not their heads (and romanticizing certain things about the player/show that became distorted narratives over time). After Allen's 2010-11 season? There is no more debate.

36. "All Perk can do is foul me. … He's too slow. I don't think nobody in the league can stop me. Not only Perk. I tell Perk to his face. I already told him before.''

Whoops, that wasn't from "The Wire" -- that's what Z-Bo said after Game 1 against Oklahoma City. As if we didn't have enough of a reason to be excited about that series -- now here's Z-Bo trying to make Kendrick Perkins' scowl actually explode like a grenade.

36. "You are a parasite who leeches off the culture of drugs."
37. "Just like you, man."
38. "Excuse me, what?"
39. "I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It's all in the game though, right?"

One of the best chess moves of the series (Omar turning the tables on a lawyer in court) goes to the best chess move of Round 1: Atlanta's Larry Drew adopting Boston's defensive tactic of "Knock yourself out, Dwight, score as many points as you want, we're singling you and making sure nobody else gets an open jump shot" and daring Howard to put up 50-20s to beat them. It threw Orlando off its game and exposed how pedestrian their 2-through-12 guys are … and by the way, had anyone tried this with Shaq from 2000 to 2002, he would have averaged 50 a game, so Howard's legacy took a small hit even as he was throwing up 35-15s. If the other team's game plan is "Get yours, knock yourself out," that has to mean something. Right?

40. "I'm Proposition Joe. You f**k with me, I'll kill your whole family."

To David Stern, who might have to work all his magic to prevent the following ABC commercial: "Randolph! Horford!!!!!! It's the Grizzlies and the Hawks, Game 1 of the 2011 Finals, June 2 on ABC!"

(And you know what? Even though it's totally far-fetched, it's not that far-fetched: The Grizzlies are playing better than anyone in the West; the Hawks are threatening to become the first team that ever quit on its coach in the regular season, then forgot they quit once the playoffs started; and if the Bulls continue to look like a regular-season mirage, and Miami and Boston wear each other out, who the heck knows what will happen? For the record, I'm not willing to give up on the Bulls -- they remind me of the 2008 Celtics in that they played the regular season in fifth gear, now they're trying to find that Fast and Furious NOS button for an extra burst. If you remember, it took the 2008 Celts two and a half rounds to find the NOS. I bet the Bulls find it. You wait. And yes, I'm making that prediction while being fully aware that their only crunch-time play right now is "Get out of Derrick's way.")

41. "My name was on the street? When we bounce from this sh*t here, y'all going to go down on them corners and let the people know: Word did not get back to me. Let them know Marlo step to any motherf**ker. Omar, Barksdale, whoever. My name is my name!!!"

To Dwyane Wade, who obviously got tired of hearing how well Boston played him and submitted a pantheon performance in Game 1: scoring at will and ending up with 38 points, chasing Ray Allen around dozens of screens, finding time to goad Paul Pierce into getting thrown out, even carrying himself with the same defiance that Marlo had after finding out that his name was on the street. Command of the room. That was Wade in Game 1. I continue to be most frightened of Miami when Wade is Michael Eisner and LeBron is Frank Wells.

42. "We gonna see who got the bigger war chest."

To our first Dirk/Kobe playoff series ever. I have no idea how this never happened before -- it's like Rick Fox never having sex with one of the Kardashian sisters, it's practically a statistical impossibility.

43. "You think I'm going down dontcha? You-you-you think I'm done. All you ungrateful bitches think you can throw me out of the boat."

To the great Chris Paul, who left his knee brace behind, shifted from third to fifth gear and played two of the best games in the history of the point guard position (Game 1 and Game 4) against a superior Lakers team. I tweeted this before, I'll say it again: We should be burning DVDs of those games and making them mandatory viewing for every aspiring point guard at every basketball camp. This is how you play the position: create good shots for other guys, keep them involved, keep them playing hard, keep motivating them, take care of the ball, make the right decision on every fast break, and when things break down, you need to take over and score yourself. He's the evolutionary Isiah Thomas, the best pure point guard who ever played, and if you had to pick ONE special subplot of Round 1, it has to be this: Because of his knee issues, we didn't know if Paul could get to this level anymore. Wrong.

44. "That's my money."
45. "Man, money ain't got no owners. Only spenders."

Another classic Omar quote (from when he robbed Marlo during a poker game) goes to Orlando GM Otis Smith. Hey Otis, do you realize you have $57 million committed to seven guys for the 2012-13 season, and none of those guys are Dwight Howard??? Do you want to work for TNT, NBA TV or ESPN that year? I'd start thinking about it now.

46. "That's good. That's like a 40-degree day. Ain't nobody got nuttin to say about a 40-degree day. Fifty? Bring a smile to your face. Sixty? Sh*t, n****s are damn near barbecuing that motherf**ka. Go down to 20? N****s get they bitch on. Get they blood complainin' ... but 40? Nobody give a f**k about 40. Nobody remember 40, and y'all n****s is giving me way too many 40-degree days."

One of the most colorful monologues in the show's history (Stringer Bell yelling at his drug soldiers to step it up) goes to Phil Jackson, whose Lakers team is definitely giving him too many 40-degree days. It's OK for a former champ to trust your on/off switch and wait until you feel that familiar wall against your back (the '88 Lakers, '95 Rockets and '02 Lakers are three good examples), but once you start wearing that switch out, you never know when the wrong team can catch you … like how the '07 Cavaliers caught the Pistons, or how the '11 Grizzlies caught the Spurs last week. That switch has a shelf life. These Lakers can beat the Mavs in 40-degree mode, but not the Grizzlies or Zombie Sonics (much less the best Eastern team).

Speaking of Stringer, here are three more reasons why "The Wire" was the greatest show ever: Not only did it shove the show's lead (McNulty) into the background for an entire season, but it killed off the show's single most compelling character (Stringer) with two seasons to go AND killed off everyone's favorite character (Omar) halfway through its final season. It went against everything that's ever worked in television history, but it also fit into the premise of the show: There were no winners in Baltimore, only survivors, and you never knew when your time was going to be up.

47. "Well it seem like I can't say nuttin' to change y'all minds."

To the NBA, who made the same mistake it makes every year: using local announcing feeds in Round 1 over two professional, impartial announcers who may have called the game without cheering wildly for one of the two teams. For Game 2, the poor Grizzlies fans had to listen to Sean Elliott and his yahoo play-by-play partner cheer for the Spurs like Little League parents, repeatedly use the word "we," and compare Ginobili's return from an elbow injury to Willis Reed's comeback in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals. All so the NBA could save a couple of grand in traveling expenses. Here's an idea: Charge an extra quarter next year for the NBA Season pass, then spend that extra windfall on real play-by-play guys like Ian Eagle and Sean Grande so this never happens again. We'll all chip in. I promise you.

48. "I see you favor a .45."
49. "Tonight I do. And I keeps one in the chamber in case you ponderin'."

To Dirk Nowitzki, who reinvented himself over the years as a fiery competitor with the single most unstoppable move in basketball: his foul line post-up game that always seems to result in (A) him whirling around his defender and getting a layup, (B) him spinning around, sticking his elbows right in the defender's mug and launching a jumper that starts over Dirk's head, or (C), him fading away with an awkward-looking fade-away that has to rank alongside Hakeem's Dream Shake and McHale's mega-fallaway in the Shots That Seem Technically Impossible But Go In Anyway pantheon. Do you have any idea how that shot goes in? Me neither. I also have no idea how to stop that post-up game. Double him and he kicks to an open shooter. Single him and he scores. You can't win. Two more years at this level and Judge Simmons will begrudgingly have to start taking "Would you rather have nine transcendent years from Bird or 13 killer Nowitzki years plus the five after that when he reinvents himself as the greatest version of mid-1990s Sam Perkins ever?" arguments. Crap.

50. "What's up playboy, how come you're wearing that suit? For real, it's 85 f**kin' degrees out here, you tryin' to be like Pat Riley."
51. "Man, look the part, be the part mothaf**ka."

As badly as I wanted to give this one to Erik Spoelstra, we're giving it to Scottie Brooks, who looks the part, and that's about it right now. Why can't Brooks get Westbrook under control? Why does Oklahoma City look so confused offensively in the last four minutes of close games? Why do they have such a nasty habit of falling behind by double digits in games? Why do they always make me say, "Wait, is Flip Saunders coaching this team and nobody told me?"

52. "Mr. Mayor, about Ervin -- if you don't mind me asking -- why keep him as a puppet commissioner when you can just fire the guy?"
53. "We mind you asking."

To the Knicks ... why are they keeping Mike D'Antoni again? I say trade him to the Warriors for a second-round pick and let him find his Part 1 of his three-part manifest destiny: coaching a team that scores 110 points a game, can't get a defensive stop, has two guards scoring 30-plus a game and occasionally plays home games that make you say, "158-153 -- is that a bowling score or the score of last night's Warriors game?"

(In case you're wondering, Part 2 is "coaching a WAC team that averages 100 points per game" and Part 3 is "returning to Phoenix to coach the Mercury." And … scene!)

54. "You're not even worth the skin off my knuckles, junior."

To Joakim Noah -- it just seems like something he'd say, or even better, something a veteran power forward would say after debating for 5 to 6 seconds whether to punch him in the face or not. Not since Bill Laimbeer have we seen someone deliberately agitate playoff opponents like this -- that's why I parlayed the Bulls beating Atlanta with over 2.5 head butts by Zaza Pachulia on Noah.

55. "As rough as that neighborhood could be, we had us a community. Nobody, no victim, who didn't matter. And now all we got is bodies, and predatory motherf**kers like you. And out where that girl fell, I saw kids acting like Omar, calling you by name, glorifying your ass. Makes me sick, motherf**ker, how far we done fell."

One of the show's most poignant moments (Bunk laying into Omar and everything he stands for) goes to the most poignant moment of Round 1: Brandon Roy's unfathomable Game 4 performance, when he dragged Portland back from 20 down for an astonishing comeback victory that doubled as "The Round 1 Game You Would Have Most Wanted To Be In The Building For" and guaranteed him a free trip to the 2011 ESPYS. I wrote once that true sports fans feel obligated to watch everything hoping they might catch one of those rarer than rare sports moments -- something that might happen once every 2,500 times -- and that we put up with the other 2,499 times for that 2,500th time when something magical might happen. The Brandon Roy game was definitely a 2,500th Time Game. There's no question. I will always remember watching it. That specific player, in front of those specific fans, at this specific point of his career? I still can't believe it happened.

Quick tangent: During the tail end of Larry Bird's career, after his body had betrayed him, my father and I went to a playoff game against Detroit when Bird couldn't hit anything. Then a bird flew from the rafters, parked himself near midcourt and wouldn't leave. The crowd started chanting, "Lar-ree! Lar-ree! Lar-ree!" They got rid of the bird. Larry came out and started making jumpers. A bunch of them. The fans were beside themselves. We won the game. And as we were leaving, my dad looked at me and said, "Did that just happen?" Anyway, it's one thing to watch a game like that on television -- but being in the building for a "Did that just happen?" game. You never forget. You just don't. The Blazers may have lost in Round 1, but their fans will always have that game.

56. "Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeee-eeeeeeeet."

Clay Davis' signature line goes to me and my friend Sal, who made one of the great wagers in sports history if gambling were legal (we took Memphis in 5 at 20-to-1 odds), opted against hedging with the Spurs in Game 5 … and you know the rest. Put it this way: If Sal and I had bet on the U.S. killing Osama bin Laden in 2011, the Navy Seals would have missed him. Sheeeeeeeeee-eeeeeeet.

57. "You know what the difference is between me and you? I bleed red and you bleed green. I look at you these days, you know what I see? I see a man without a country. You're not hard enough for this right here and maybe, just maybe, not smart enough for them out there."

Avon's famous quote to Stringer (the scene when their friendship undeniably started to fall apart) goes to Russell Westbrook, who unleashed some serious Stringer potential with his Marburyish performance in Game 4 in Denver: 30 shots and two egregious "don't you know that you have Kevin Durant on your team???" bricks in the final two minutes.

I joked all season on Twitter about the Avon/Stringer potential with Durant and Westbrook, never seriously thinking it might manifest itself, that a balcony scene was looming, that they'd end up wrestling on the floor, or even that Durant might give him up to Omar and Brother Mouzone someday. And it may have just been a one-game aberration, obviously. But this goes back to the "stay in your lane" concept. Westbrook is "hard enough for this right here" (you could never question his competitive fury, which ranks up there with anybody), but he's not always "smart enough for them out there" (getting teammates involved, taking care of the ball, controlling the pace of the game, etc.). At least not yet.

58. "You know Avon, you gotta think about what we got in this game for, man. Was it for the rep? Was it so our names could ring out of some f**king ghetto street corners? No man, there's games beyond the f**king game."

Sorry, I'm not done with Westbrook yet. Oklahoma City has enough talent to win the 2011 title -- it's sitting right there for them -- but it's going to hinge on how Westbrook runs the show. There's a game beyond the f**king game and I don't think he can totally see it yet. He's learning on the fly. A crash course, if you will. I don't trust him yet. Stephon Marbury never found that balance between scoring and creating; Allen Iverson only found it when they moved him off the ball. Can Westbrook find it on the fly? Either way, Durant's unreal fourth quarter in Game 5 was the best reality check possible: He basically hired Brother Mouzone and Omar to shoot Stringer Westbrook. We'll see if he comes back from the dead.

That reminds me, I thought Chuck and Kenny did a spectacular job of breaking down Westbrook's struggles in Game 5 -- he took some heat for the first time (for Game 4) and it clearly affected him, but as Kenny pointed out (I'm paraphrasing), if you want to be great, you need to learn how to handle being the hero and being the goat. That's the final stage for a basketball player. Durant struggled earlier in the season, took some heat, questioned himself a little, and ultimately, it made him stronger. Now it's Westbrook's turn. To be continued.

59. "Be subtle with it, man. You know what subtle means?"
60. "Laid back and sh*t."

To Mark Cuban and Phil Jackson, who spent the last decade sniping at one another and finally get to whip it out for a playoff series with rulers and everything.

If you're scoring at home, I have "Cuban versus Jackson" ranked as the seventh most compelling Mavs-Lakers subplot behind "Dirk versus Kobe"; "Who are the Lakers' best five guys?" (somehow we're at Game 89 and they still haven't figured it out, which is NOT a good sign if you're a Lakers fan); "Are the Mavs deliberately defending Kobe with Kidd so Kobe's eyes will light up and he'll shoot 30 times a game?" (I say yes); "If Marc Gasol becomes more relevant than Pau, is that the biggest brotherly upset since the time when Charlie Murphy briefly became cooler than Eddie?"; "Did you ever think J.J. Barea would be an X factor of any professional basketball playoff series that wasn't being played in Eastern Europe?"; and "Will Lamar learn to clean up after himself on this week's 'Khloe and Lamar'?"

61. "Now you make sure you tell old Marlo I burned the money. 'Cause it ain't about that paper. It's about me hurtin' his people and messin' with his world. Tell that boy he ain't man enough to come down to the street with Omar. You tell him that!"

To the Celtics, who carried themselves with this kind of swagger for much of the Garnett Era … then Tony Allen left, the Perkins trade happened, Big Baby went into his bizarre swoon, Nenad Krstic turtled into his shell, Jeff Green developed the "overwhelmed college kid who just wants to transfer" face and Garnett slowly turned into "The Guy Who's Suddenly Not As Much of a Bully Because He's Not Totally Sure That Anyone Has His Back." Chicago noticed and exploited it during their April 7 game; Miami did the same in Game 1, intentionally turning things chippy and knocking Boston out of sorts. The Celtics aren't protecting their corners like they once did. That's the bottom line. We're heading to the point that Doc Rivers might need to charge the court like Al Attles in the 1974 Finals to flip this around, because I'm not sure anyone else on the team wants to do it.

62. "It doesn't matter if he said it or not. People think he said it. Can't let that sh*t go."

To Kobe Bryant, who spent the last few years fueling himself with petty slights just like Jordan did once upon a time, only now he's looking at the possibility of being the second-best player in two straight series (Round 1 against New Orleans, Round 2 against Dallas). We've seen Kobe get outplayed in a series before -- like Detroit in 2004, or Boston in 2008 -- but not since he was playing with 2002 Shaq could we definitely say, "Kobe Bryant is absolutely NOT the best player in this series." Chris Paul played better than him; Nowitzki might be next. How will Kobe handle that? Will he overcompensate? Does he know, deep down, that he's entering a different phase of his career? Does he have something left in his apex predator tank and we just haven't seen it yet?

I was talking to Someone Who Knows Kobe recently and this person was telling me, adamantly, that Kobe only cares about passing Jordan's six titles. The all-time scoring record? Blah. Being the best Laker ever? Blah. He measures himself by rings. Or so this person claimed. Well, if that's true, and Kobe can sense the changing of the guard that's happening right now, with the Dirk/Kobe/Garnett/Duncan/Pierce/Kidd generation doing everything it can to fend off the Rose/Durant/LeBron/Rondo/Paul/Howard generation -- no different than Avon figuring out how to handle Marlo, if you think about it -- then Kobe's history suggests that he will start overcompensating soon (more shots, more hero complex stuff along the lines of Game 1 against Dallas) and Phil Jackson will start planting those thinly veiled digs to bring him back into the fold, and they'll be doing their old dance one last time. It couldn't end any other way.

63. "A life, Jimmy. You know what that is? It's the sh*t that happens while you're waiting for moments that never come."

To LeBron James. We're waiting.

64. "Marlo ain't worth it, man. Nobody is."
65. "Marlo's an assh*le. He doesn't get to win. WE get to win!"

I was going to give this defining Wire moment (a frustrated McNulty just being unable to accept that Marlo's kind always ends up winning in the end) to every Celtics fan for how we feel about the Heat. Then it struck me: You could give this exchange to five or six fan bases. You know what came back for these playoffs more than anything else? Good old-fashioned sports hate. Everyone hates Miami. Miami fans hate Boston and Chicago. Chicago fans hate Boston, Miami and the Lakers. Lakers fans and Dallas fans will learn to hate each other -- quickly -- and don't forget, nobody despises a team more than Dallas fans hate Miami. And then there are Lakers fans and Celtics fans, who hate each other's teams almost religiously at this point. They don't get to win. WE get to win! It's the recurring theme of the 2011 playoffs. God bless 'em.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times No. 1 best-seller "The Book of Basketball," now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy's World or the BS Report page. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.

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Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. To send him an e-mail, click here.