PHOENIX -- Small addendum to the scouting report that says tiny Phoenix, if it struggled inside with Lakers center Kwame Brown, has no chance with Clippers big man Elton Brand:
No sign of stops here
That part couldn't be more true, but it's probably worth mentioning that the Los Angeles Clippers still have to run after a lot of little Suns.
Which ain't exactly a bargain, either.
Brand punished the Suns with near-perfection Monday night in the Western Conference semifinals and scarcely slowed them down. The team that likes to say it has now won five in a row, because it still refuses to believe that Game 4 of the first-round Lakers series ended in defeat, responded to local fears of a letdown or fatigue or a Kobe Hangover to post a couple of 37-point quarters in the second half and win the Game 1 track meet by a robust count of 130-123.
"They're too good."
Ever since the aforementioned Game 4 at Staples Center, where the Suns couldn't hold a five-point lead with less than 13 seconds left and lost in OT, they've been irrepressible. Even with Brand neutralizing a variety of coverages to drain fallaways and turnarounds that Kwame can only dream of, and even with Sam Cassell or Shaun Livingston going at Nash offensively and Quinton Ross waiting for Nash at the other end, L.A.'s new hoop lords never slowed the game down. "The tempo," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy deadpanned, "wasn't exactly what we needed."
Indeed. Nash, Diaw and Barbosa created so many opportunities with their penetrations, either for teammates or themselves, that the Suns actually outscored the visitors in the paint by the stunning margin of 48-42 ... on a 40-point night for Brand. After a week off since dispatching Denver, there was little resemblance between these Clips and the group that finished fourth in the NBA in field-goal defense (43.5 percent) during the regular season.
The Suns also blew the game open as soon as Dunleavy took the ill-advised risk of trying to give Brand a brief opportunity to recharge for the stretch run with 7:15 to play. The hosts' two-point lead quickly became nine before Brand, who had 38 points when he left and only a deuce in the final 5:34, was rushed back into the game.
"You're doing great and you sit there and say, 'Do you think you can give him a minute?'" Dunleavy said. "I guess the answer was no."
Not when the Suns are in this mood, this loose. Raja Bell, just to name one, couldn't have looked more liberated after seven games of wrestling with Kobe Bryant. Bell hounded Cuttino Mobley into 1-for-6 shooting (and a spot on the bench for most of the final quarter) and added 22 points.
Nash was looser still. He was honestly more angst-ridden at the morning shootaround about the just-released roster of England's World Cup soccer team -- and the controversial selection of an untested teenager named Theo Walcott over Jermain Defoe of Nash's beloved Tottenham Hotspur -- than the state of his tender ankle or the pressure of living up to the MVP statuette he collected from commissioner David Stern in a pregame ceremony.
But maybe that's because he had already survived three games on the brink of a much worse fate than a Game 1 defeat in Round 2. Without that comeback against the Lakers, there would have been no pregame handoff of the Maurice Podoloff trophy. He would have been forced to accept it at an uncomfortable news conference while the Clippers and Lakers were meeting in a Hallway Series.
"I would have been so disappointed for him," D'Antoni said. "You can say other [MVP candidates] were deserving, but don't try to tell me this guy didn't have an MVP year. Forget all the stats and the 54 wins and the rest of it. People don't realize the [impact] this guy has in the locker room. The fact we came back [from 3-1 down] tells me he just might have deserved it."
No dispute from the guys who must quickly find a way to play at something closer to their pace in Game 2.
"I guess we can look forward to when [Nash] is healed and ready to go on Wednesday," Dunleavy said.
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Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
While torching the Heat, Nets forward Richard Jefferson is brought down by an injured ankle. His readiness for Game 2 is not known.
For a fleeting moment, when Richard Jefferson crumpled to the floor in Game 1 of the Nets-Heat Eastern Conference semifinals, clutching his ankle, it was as if the air was let out of a balloon. Everything stopped for these Nets. Everyone gasped. Tim Walsh, the trainer, leaned over Jefferson. Coach Lawrence Frank stood in the background. For a moment, this looked downright frightening.
Everyone else on these Nets, they stopped pounding the Heat for a moment and begged the fates to spare them the cruelest of derailments. Everything had been running so furiously, so fast, and now it had come to a most startling stop.
Jefferson was down, soon leaving the floor for X-rays on his right ankle that turned out to be negative Monday night. His 23 points in 20 minutes had been like a hurricane hitting Biscayne Bay, his five assists, four rebounds and two steals going a long way to balancing this 100-88 beat-down of the Heat. The Nets grabbed control of this series, something that is suddenly flimsy unless Jefferson makes a swift return to the conference semifinals.
People are forever celebrating Vince Carter on the cross-court wing, but it is Jefferson who delivers the speed and athleticism that makes it impossible for opponents to spend too much time chasing Carter with extra defenders. It was no accident that the Nets' 28-point lead would be whittled to nine by the fourth quarter, a reminder that nothing moves as efficiently for these Nets with Jefferson away from the flow with Jason Kidd and Carter.
Jefferson started hitting shots on Antoine Walker and never stopped abusing him. "He looked like he was going to make them all," Pat Riley sighed later.
After the game, Jefferson was wearing a walking boot to protect the ankle. As far as he could tell, "there is no swelling," Jefferson said. Still, there was no telling what would happen overnight and into Wednesday. At best, it would probably be tender. Nevertheless, the Nets constructed themselves a cushion on Monday night, shutting down Shaq and threatening to deliver a crushing blow to Riles' fading dreams of a championship parade on Biscayne Bay.
As Nets coach Lawrence Frank said, "Richard set a great tone for us." Yes, everything started with Jefferson attacking, attacking and attacking on Monday night, something that sometimes seems so unfair to other teams with Carter across the floor, with the Nets looking like a blue-and-red blur pushing past on the run. All started with Jefferson, and all ended when he disappeared to the dressing room. They need him back in this series, and need him back fast.
-- Adrian Wojnarowski in Miami
With its Big Three clicking, New Jersey took a 1-0 lead over Miami in the conference semifinals.
Nets Lead, 1-0
AP Photo/Matt York
Clippers forward Elton Brand (18-for-22, 40 points) is more than a handful for the Suns and Shawn Marion. Even so, Phoenix earned the 130-123 Game 1 West semis win.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
An MVP does NOT throw in the towel during the second half of a Game 7. I don't know if Kobe was trying to make some kind of statement or what, but that's not what an MVP does. Period.
After Kobe's Game 7 performance, not only should MJ comparisons be forbidden, he should have to give up his self-proclaimed status as Black Mamba. Maybe he could call himself the Mottled Garter Snake or something like that. No way MJ disappears like that in a Game 7. Ever.
So apparently Kobe was trying to get teammates into a rhythm during the second half. Funny, I must have missed his drives and dishes, and his post-ups that drew double-teams and created open shots. I did, however, see Kobe harmlessly swing the ball around the 3-point line quite a bit. Has any other "superstar" been so passive with the season on the line? You can debate whether Kobe should be MVP but there's no debate whether he makes his teammates better. Either he doesn't know how or Saturday he didn't want to try. And if he didn't want to try and he didn't want to shoot, then he quit.
Poor David Blaine. He spends a week in a water-filled bubble only to have Kobe come along and pull the greatest disappearing act of all time. What a shame.
Eddie (Hoboken, NJ): What the heck was up with Kobe in Game 7? Was he reverting back to the "successful game plan" of getting the team more involved or was he just trying to show the world that he doesn't need to shoot every shot? I was baffled.
Marc Stein: I think Kobe thinks that he was somehow going to get even more criticism for L.A.'s Game 7 rout if he scored another 23 points (or more) in the second half and the Suns still won in a laugher.
What I don't understand is how he came to the conclusion that going silent in the second half was going to result in less scrutiny. That's where I'm baffled. Fact is, Kobe is going to get the blame for everything in Lakerdom until they win another championship.
There is also a story going around the desert that Kobe loudly encouraged his teammates not to stick around for handshakes with Suns players after Game 7. If that's true, well, let's just say Game 7 wasn't The Ocho's finest hour.
Stu (Philly): Last chat you said there was no statistical evidence to back up Steve Nash making players better, yet last year you wrote that he has been the PG for the top 3 most potent offenses in NBA history. Isn't that proof enough?
John Hollinger: I think the other guys on that team might have had something to do with that too. The '03-04 Mavs had Nash, Nowitzki, Antawn Jamison, Michael Finley, Antoine Walker, Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels and Tony Delk. How could you NOT set records with that lineup? And of course, without Amare this year the Suns weren't the all-time great offense they had been the year before.
Ryan (Detroit): How true do you think it is to say that Spurs-Mavs is for all intents and purposes the Western Conference finals?
John Hollinger: Completely, 100 percent true, much like the Lakers-Spurs second-round series two years ago. The WCF should be hugely anticlimactic.