Spurs show who's sheriff
Brent Barry finally reminded the Spurs why they signed him.
This should not have surprised you. Absolutely none of it.
Tim Duncan quickly relocating his sweet touch? Bruce Bowen and his defensive helpers swarming Carmelo Anthony? The selfless move to the bench from All-Star guard Manu Ginobili ... just as Tony Parker shifted back into attack gear?
Not even the lopsided score Wednesday in San Antonio should be classified as a shocker, and that's coming from the coach who had to absorb it.
"Their response," George Karl said, "was very predictable."
Which is why, on this night, we couldn't get away with calling him Furious George. Even after his Denver Nuggets withstood a 104-76 pounding at the metallic barn known as the SBC Center, Karl insisted that he really wouldn't be angry taking a 1-1 series back to the Rocky Mountains.
"I think the San Antonio Spurs are the best team in the NBA," Karl says.
"I think you saw a championship basketball team show their pride and their heart."
There's a reason Karl had a bad feeling this was coming, after the Nuggets came to South Texas and inflicted a Game 1 defeat on the West favorites. He hasn't forgotten how the Spurs, during their last championship run in 2003, lost Game 1 at home twice in the first three rounds -- to Phoenix in Round 1 on Stephon Marbury's banker at the buzzer, and to Dallas in the conference finals. He knew they'd rebound.
What's not so easy to forecast is how the young Nuggets will respond from here. It's fair to wonder, after all the doubt surrounding Duncan's ankle and the Spurs' depth, whether the Nuggets have any momentum left from their Game 1 upset after being so thoroughly toyed with in Game 2.
The good news: Denver has lots to throw at the Spurs besides the swagger stemming from that 32-8 finish to the regular season. The Nuggets have an aggressive point guard (Andre Miller) to make Parker work. They've got length (Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin and Nene) to send at a vulnerable Duncan. They've got a serviceable bench, too, and they're going home to the suffocating air of the Pepsi Center.
The bad news: Duncan suddenly looks a lot more like a fully fledged Tim Duncan, and Anthony is struggling mightily. Melo's line for the series, after two games, includes just 11 baskets, a mere 10 rebounds, a whopping two free-throw attempts ... and (gulp) 10 personal fouls.
So, George, please tell us what happens next.
"Probably going to have a series the rest of the way," Karl said, endorsing his team's ability to bounce back from a humbling.
Since he's been right so far, we're obligated to give George the benefit of the doubt and check back Saturday to see if he's right again.
So you're thinking that Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, after two home defeats and copious amounts of second-guessing in Dallas, must be drowning in pressure as he prepares for Thursday's must-win Game 3 at Houston.
Armchair analysts have inevitably cited Johnson's lack of playoff experience as a big factor in the Mavericks' 2-0 deficit to Houston, but owner Mark Cuban angrily shot down the idea that he might want to revisit his commitment to Johnson if Dallas, say, gets swept by Jeff Van Gundy's Rockets.
"AJ is our coach," Cuban said Wednesday. "No matter what happens.
"Only a [dummy] would think otherwise."
Johnson, who succeeded Don Nelson on March 19, reached terms with Cuban on a four-year contract worth an estimated $10 million before the playoffs began.
All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas somehow shot 3-for-19 from the field in the Washington Wizards' Game 1 loss at Chicago. The San Antonio Spurs somehow looked even uglier in the fourth quarter of its Game 1 home loss to the Denver Nuggets, missing 17 shots in a row in one unfathomable stretch, seven of those misses from Tim Duncan.
How did the bricklayers fare Wednesday?
Arenas looked a bit more like the guy on my All-NBA third team, scoring 39 points in spite of a flurry of three-point misses at the United Center. Arenas shot 10-for-13 inside the arc but only 4-for-12 from behind the line.
Duncan, meanwhile, made nine of 11 shots in the first half before proceeding to some welcomed second-half rest in San Antonio's series-tying rout of Denver. Duncan wound up missing more free throws (five) than field goals (four) in his 28 minutes, totaling 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Of greatest importance, of course: Duncan also got a win to go with his resurrected confidence. That elusive W is something Arenas and Sacramento's normally clutch Mike Bibby -- who quietly went 7-for-14 in Tuesday's late loss to Seattle after a 1-for-16 nightmare in Game 1 -- are still looking for.
Most fans are abundantly aware that Vince Carter played well down the stretch, as the New Jersey Nets won 15 of their last 19 games. What they may not realize is just how amazing Carter really was -- dare I say it, Jordanesque. Carter wasn't just the best player on the Nets during this stretch -- he was the best player in the league. If the NBA gave out a fourth quarter MVP award, he would have won it hands down. Over the final 12 games, his numbers approach the absurd: 32.8 points against 2.0 turnovers, 50.3 percent shooting, and 44.4 percent on 3-pointers.
Unfortunately, the Nets have to play this Miami Heat team at least four more times if they hope to advance, so Carter better end his South Beach scoring diet -- especially the 33.3-percent shooting from inside the arc. Thus far, he seems more likely to figure out cold fusion than a way to beat Van Gundy's defense. Overall, his performance in Miami could best be described with a twist on a familiar South Florida lament. For Carter, it's not the humidity -- it's the Heat.
Phoenix 2, Memphis 0
Game 3: Fri., at Memphis, 9 ET, ESPN2
San Antonio 1, Denver 1
Game 3: Sat., at Denver, 10:30 ET, ESPN
Seattle 2, Sacramento 0
Game 3: Fri., at Sacramento, 10:30 ET, ESPN
Houston 2, Dallas 0
Game 3: Thurs., at Houston, 9:30 ET, TNT
Miami 2, New Jersey 0
Game 3: Thurs., at NJ, 7 ET, TNT
Detroit 2, Philadelphia 0
Game 3: Fri., at Philadelphia, 8 ET, ESPN
Boston 1, Indiana 1
Game 3: Thurs., at Indiana, 8:30 ET, NBA TV
Chicago 2, Washington 0
Game 3: Sat., at Washington, 3 ET, TNT
As the Chicago Bulls took a 2-0 series lead over the Washington Wizards, Kirk Hinrich needed just 15 shots to score 34 points, sinking all five of his three-point attempts. That prompted Gilbert Arenas -- who's supposed to be dominating the Bulls' backcourt -- to say in tribute to Hinrich and Ben Gordon: "If it's not one, it's the other."
-- Marc Stein
114-103, 108-103. This ain't gonna work. If you're Memphis, your best shot in this series is to slow things way down. You have the personnel to do this: Two capable point guards with fouls to give while jamming up Steve Nash, a clever post player in Gasol, two perimeter shooters in Battier and Cardinal, two crafty tweeners in Cardinal and Posey. Why are you running? Have you been baited? Are you sucked in, like the Millennium Falcon approaching the Death Star, by the lure of funball? Are you responding to some sort of primal playground challenge? Has your coach (who was seen just a couple nights ago sporting a Hawaiian print shirt to his press conference) made offseason travel plans? Because this ain't gonna work. This way, the Suns are in the flow. This way, Amare Stoudemire hits baseline 19-foot jumpers instead as well as dunks. This way, with his legs all warmed up and his heart all happy and confident, Q Richardson rises up and slaps Gasol's late-game shot deep into next week.
-- Eric Neel
The Mavs must remind themselves they had the one of the best road records in the NBA at 29-12. Whatever it takes, they must get the ball out of Tracy McGrady's hands. Must get Dirk to rotate quicker to get in front of Yao on his rolls to the basket after screening. Must continue to attack the offensive glass to get points in the paint. Dampier must back up his words on the road and dominate. But the real key is still Nowitzki, who must shoot the ball at a higher percentage. Winning four of five will be difficult against this red-hot Rockets team. Dallas must play with desperation, but with confidence.
-- Brian James | See full scouting report
Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has earned compliments for his work this season, and deservedly so. But here's my question: Whither Jeff Foster? The starting center in last season's run to the conference finals, Foster has been reduced to a bit player this postseason, seeing only nine minutes in Game 2 while suffering the twin indignities of being behind Dale Davis and Scot Pollard in the Pacer frontcourt rotation. It's puzzling because Foster remains as effective as ever. He's an offensive rebounding machine who averages 13.8 rebounds per 40 minutes (6th in the NBA), and he shot 52 percent from the field. Moreover, he's the only Indiana big man quick enough to chase Raef LaFrentz around the perimeter, so his skills would appear to be in demand in this series. But still, he sits. Carlisle's track record gives him the benefit of the doubt, but this move is a head-scratcher.
-- John Hollinger
The frustrating thing was that Game 2 was a microcosm of the entire Celtics season. This Celtics team has been killed by the Little Things all year, especially in close games against well-coached teams. I kept picturing Carlisle and Larry Bird laughing after last night's game, as Carlisle said, "I told you, I told you that would happen" and Bird responded, "You were right, you were right." I'm not sure if we're headed for the NBA equivalent of a No. 15 toppling a No. 2 seed, but it sure seemed that way last night.
-- Bill Simmons | See full blog entry
The Celtics do have better players than the Pacers right now. But sometimes that's not enough. The Pacers have the better coach. They have more experience. They've been forged in the fires of adversity. Maybe they win the series, maybe they don't. The point is that the biggest shock of all would be for the Pacers not to be competitive in the series. The talent they're putting on the floor argues otherwise. But if you've watched them play the last few months of the season, you know better than to bet against them.
-- Chad Ford | See full blog entry