AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Milwaukee Bucks coach Terry Stotts was sitting by himself in the corner of the visiting locker room some 45 minutes after Game 1 had ended, keeping all the bullets in his gun for use another day.
Bucks not crying foul, yet
His team had attempted as many foul shots as the Detroit Pistons had missed, but Stotts wasn't going to gripe publicly about the 34-10 disparity in free throws attempted. There may come a time when he'll have to, but that time has not yet arrived.
"I'm not going to do that tonight," Stotts said.
I pointed out that his team had been treated like a No. 8 seed, which is pretty much what he should have expected coming in.
"Yeah, that's about how I saw it," Stotts said. "Them and San Antonio are probably the two most physical teams in the league, yet both of them go to the foul line more than anyone else."
Stotts was simply stating the facts and wondering aloud in the final minutes before he exited The Palace for the quick flight back to Milwaukee to plot some kind of strategy change for Game 2 Wednesday night. More than needing to get his team to the line, he needs them to get back on defense.
The Bucks were outscored 21-7 on fast-break points and 24-8 at the line in a game that was a quintessentially typical Pistons victory. Detroit was ahead by six at the half, boosted the lead up to 19 in the third quarter, got bored and let it slip to four early in the fourth quarter, then put down the hammer with a 9-0 run over the next 2:39 to turn it back into a blowout.
"I thought we competed well and we came back against them, and we've played them well before," said Stotts, whose team went to the line only four times in the second half to Detroit's 24.
Two of those Pistons free throws came early in the third quarter after T.J. Ford and Andrew Bogut both drew technical fouls. Bogut wasn't giving up the secret of what he said to the refs after he tried to draw contact in the low post against Antonio McDyess and shot an air ball that led to a 24-second violation, but McDyess provided an eyewitness account.
"He kept saying 'If that was Rasheed Wallace you'd have given it to him.' He came back down and said it again, I think, and they called the tech," McDyess said. "I think that's a good thing for a rookie. It lets them know he's a got a little fight in him. A rookie getting a tech in a playoff game, you don't see that much."
Bogut played a team-high 39 minutes and shot 5-of-13 for 10 points with eight rebounds -- none on the offensive end. The two players he defended had much better stat lines (Rasheed Wallace scored 22 points and McDyess had nine points and 10 rebounds), but Bogut and his teammates were not totally discouraged.
"Man, they put up points quick, but we just have to try to withstand some of those runs," Ford said. "How many fast-break points did they have, 21? And 24 points on free throws? If we can limit half of that, we'll be better off."
If not, expect Stotts to empty his gun prior to Game 3. It may be his lone opportunity to give his team a chance in this series.
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While Vince Carter played decoy, Richard Jefferson of New Jersey got the ball in the left corner with 0.9 seconds remaining for this jumper over Fred Jones of Indiana. The shot fell just short and the Pacers won the state skirmish 90-88 for a 1-0 series lead.
The beauty of the playoffs is that there's no hiding who you are. During the regular season, what with the blur of games and varying schedules, a good player who gets enough touches and plays enough minutes can produce the kind of stats and highlights that will fool 78.4 percent of the people who call themselves basketball fans or experts or aficionados or whatever other title looks good on the business card in your mind.
Pau Gasol is a good player. Maybe even a very good player. Great player? Franchise player? Put-a-team-on-his-back-and-carry-them player? I've heard people refer to him in those terms. I've never seen it, although to be honest, I saw the Grizzlies live twice and maybe a dozen times on TV.
Including Game 1 against the Mavericks.
Gasol finished with a team-leading 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. In a team-leading 41 minutes. Respectable numbers. Good-player numbers. Maybe even very-good-player numbers.
They were also meaningless numbers, in the context of winning or losing the game. Which is why numbers can't be trusted to assess a team or a player or a game. (Sorry, Hubie.) Gasol was so timid in going scoreless in the first half that his supporters were left murmuring about his foot injury obviously bothering him. That theory was blown up by coach Mike Fratello, who told a reporter coming out of the locker room that his star forward was physically fine but that his "confidence" apparently was shaken. I only wish the reporter had told us how exactly Fratello said it, since I can't think of more damning words by a coach about his star at halftime of a team's first playoff game.
Gasol, of course, then offered more proof there was nothing physically wrong by galloping down court to finish a third-quarter fast break with Bobby Jackson.
The only mystery is that GM Jerry West didn't storm the court right after that dunk and hold a press conference to announce that Gasol had been suspended for not showing up until the third quarter of a playoff game. That, after all, would seem the only appropriate response in light of 76ers GM Billy King going off on Allen Iverson and Chris Webber for showing up less than an hour before the team's next-to-last regular-season game.
Now, anybody willing to dismiss his first half because of his second-half production doesn't understand the responsibility of the star of an underdog team. This is, supposedly, the Grizzlies' leader, their go-to guy. And it's not that he just didn't score. That happens. He wasn't doing anything, other than waiting for the defense to collapse enough for him to get rid of the ball. He looked nervous, or scared, take your pick.
That will happen sometimes to good players. Maybe even to very good players. Great players? Franchise players? Never.
-- Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine
Apart from a few "M-V-P" chants for Steve Nash, and one "Kobe sucks" chant in the fourth quarter, pretty much nothing followed the supposed script Sunday afternoon.
No scoring spree from Kobe.
And in its place ...
A parade to the free-throw line from the Suns.
It's a tradeoff that naturally didn't do much excitement-wise for a game that was billed as surefire entertainment and didn't totally deliver. But it does raise an interesting question:
Which was the bigger surprise?
I'd go with the free throws.
Shocking as it was to see Bryant produce so little in his favorite quarter, especially when the game was set up for him to win it and with the Suns' best Kobe defender (Raja Bell) hampered by serious foul trouble, it was arguably even more shocking to see Phoenix win a playoff game at the line.
This season, without Amare Stoudemire, the Suns, remember, established new all-time NBA lows for free throws made (14.5) and attempted (18.0). Yet in Game 1, Phoenix somehow generated 35 free-throw attempts and sank 32 of them.
You won't be surprised to hear that no one was more angry about this development than Bryant, who's still fuming about that noncall as he drove along the baseline with the Lakers down, 101-97, inside the final minute. Bryant contends that Suns hero Tim Thomas (22 points and 15 boards) caught his head with a swipe and thus caused Bryant to lose his footing (and the ball) as he stumbled into the paint.
Phoenix converted the turnover into -- what else? -- two free throws by Shawn Marion to gain two-possession distance from L.A. with 22.8 seconds left.
-- Marc Stein, from US Airways Arena in Phoenix
The Pistons need 12 steps to get back to the NBA Finals, and they took Step 1 on Sunday night, led by 22 points from Rasheed Wallace.
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As Marc Stein explains, Kobe Bryant's passive play was part of a plan. We'll find out in Wednesday's Game 2 if the method to the Lakers' madness pays off.
Quote of the Day
-- Royce Webb
Phil Jackson has never lost a first-round playoff series as a head coach (14-0), but he now finds himself in unfamiliar territory. Until the Lakers did it Sunday, a Jackson-coached team had never lost the opening game of a first-round postseason series.
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We shouldn't be surprised the Pacers-Nets game was close, needing a disputed call with 0.9 seconds remaining to break a tie.
In fact, as John Hollinger pointed out earlier this week, the series looks dead even statistically.
That's because Indiana (+1.9) actually had a better scoring margin than New Jersey (+1.4), an advantage which essentially negates the Nets' home-court advantage.
This fact is hidden because the Pacers somehow won seven fewer games than they should have, as shown on this chart of expected wins.
Some would chalk that up to "not knowing how to win close games," but Sunday's last-second win appears to disprove that theory and shows that the Pacers' mediocre .500 record was probably a bit of a fluke.
As Hollinger wrote, "Although Indiana was only 41-41 on the season, its victory margin was better than New Jersey's and within striking range of Miami's, so don't dismiss the Pacers just yet."
SportsNation was right on the money in seven of eight series, based on the early returns of the weekend.
We asked you last week who would win each series. We received more than 75,000 votes, and got the following results, in order of dominance:
97.7% Pistons over Bucks
As you can see, only the Pacers surprised SportsNation this weekend.
Which reminds us that we all -- SportsNation included -- liked Indiana's chances a little better before Ron Artest's latest banishment, as these preseason poll results show.