No tears for 'Toine
Antoine didn't go quietly.
The official reaction from Dimedom to the suspension of Antoine Walker?
Don't like it.
Don't like it for our own selfish, er, special reasons.
Reason No. 1: This one-game ban of Walker after multiple scuffles Thursday night with the Indiana Pacers' Jermaine O'Neal will inevitably give someone -- probably several someones -- the motivation to suggest the suspension is some sort of makeup call from the league office.
Right? Someone out there is bound to argue loudly that league officials took a hard line with Walker to prove there's no anti-Pacer bias in New York ... after the suspended Ron Artest was not reinstated for the playoffs.
Reason No. 2: You know what you're going to hear next if the Pacers win Game 4 and get the other victory they need to advance to the second round. You're going to hear someone contend (loudly again) that Indiana never could have won this series if the Celtics hadn't been stripped of 'Toine's services in a crucial Game 4.
Both claims would be so out of order that we feel compelled to try to shoot them down before they spread.
Much as we wish that 'Toine would have merely been fined Friday, since you never like seeing a team weakened by suspension in the playoffs, trust us when we say that Le Commish isn't trying to help the Pacers here.
The rulebook leaves little room for interpretation in David Stern's kingdom. Manhandle a referee in plain view and you're going to be suspended for a game. That is why the Celtics won't have their trade-deadline savior Saturday, and no matter what Walker's intentions were when he tried to remove referee Tom Washington from his path, Stern's disciplinarians decided they just couldn't let it go.
The record should also show that the battered Pacers had seized control of this series long before 'Toine made the ill-advised decision to tangle with Washington or bark at lead ref Bennett Salvatore so late in a game that was already lost. The way Indy's rolling now, even with Jamaal Tinsley still sidelined, it would have been the favorite to beat Boston in Saturday's Game 4 even if Walker were playing.
After two nightmare first-round showings against the Celtics in 2003 and 2004 -- and a dreadful Game 1 last week -- Reggie Miller has found an antidote, totaling 61 points in Indy's two victories.
O'Neal's heating up, too, judging by JO's 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in Game 3 in spite of that tender shoulder.
If the trends continue and those two keep getting better, it won't matter who's playing for Boston.
The Celts, meanwhile, are being victimized by their own volatility at the worst time. Doc Rivers has ably massaged his many egos for much of the season, but 'Toine is suddenly testy and Ricky Davis is struggling (3-for-18 from the floor in the two losses). Using the bench a bit more liberally Thursday night - after Doc absorbed much criticism for riding his starters in a narrow Game 2 defeat - didn't exactly look like the answer.
Maybe the Celts have a surprise in store. Maybe they can relocate some poise and steal a road win with rookie Al Jefferson subbing for 'Toine. The safer bet, though, is bracing for very loud angst from Bostonians in coming days. It's been a while, remember, since they've had to deal with their teams disappointing them.
It took a near-perfect game, with the Sixers sinking 11 three-pointers and committing only seven turnovers . . . but it finally happened. For the first time in 26 playoff games, Detroit allowed 100 points in regulation.
It was 115 points, to be exact, in Philly's comfortable Game 3 triumph at home.
How unexpected was the eruption?
Look at what the Pistons' defense had done to the Sixers before Friday after suffocating the four teams it faced en route to the championship last season:
Only the Nets, in the past five series, came within 10 points of their regular-season scoring average, and that's only because they scored 127 points in a triple-overtime game in that series. In the other six games against the Pistons in last spring's second round, New Jersey averaged just 76 ppg.
Philly averaged 99.1 points this season and hiked its series average to 94.7 points with Friday's display.
In Game 1, Shawn Marion fell hard on a Shane Battier flagrant foul, injuring his wrist -- but Marion stayed in the game. In Game 2, Marion again survived a hard fall on a drive to the basket. In Game 3, Steve Nash collided with Lorenzen Wright and had to leave the game -- but returned.
All of which underscores one of the key secrets to the Phoenix Suns' success this year -- health. With a wobbly bench, a serious injury to one of its starters could have proved disastrous, much as it did a year ago when Amare Stoudemire missed 27 games.
Amazingly, such an injury never transpired this year. Phoenix's starters missed just 13 games combined, playing 1,314 minutes as a unit. Only the Detroit starting five of Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince has played more, and that's because the Suns' unit sat out so many fourth quarters in blowout wins.
In contrast, the Grizzlies' injury-plagued starters played only 280 minutes as a group, helping explain their inability to repeat last season's success.
The Suns are really struggling to adapt to playoff basketball, aren't they? Before you dismiss Phoenix's point totals so far (114, 108 and 110) by slamming its first-round opposition, don't forget that Memphis held the Suns under 100 points in two of the three meetings this season in which Steve Nash played.
• As the Suns go for a sweep Sunday that could give Nash a full week of rest, here's some irony: Phoenix was legitimately worried about opening up against the deep and physical Grizz, fearful that the toll on Nash would be significant. How many points would the Suns be scoring if they weren't worried?
• No matter how long Seattle lasts in the playoffs, Vladimir Radmanovic can surely count on a guest spot on the forthcoming Williams Sister reality show as long as he sticks with the beads in his hair. Looks like a young Venus to us.
Phoenix 3, Memphis 0
Game 4: Sun., at Memphis, 8 ET, TNT
San Antonio 1, Denver 1
Game 3: Sat., at Denver, 10:30 ET, ESPN
Seattle 2, Sacramento 1
Game 4: Sun., at Sacramento, 10:30 ET, TNT
Houston 2, Dallas 1
Game 4: Sat., at Houston, 5:30 ET, TNT
Miami 3, New Jersey 0
Game 4: Sun., at NJ, 3:30 ET, ABC
Detroit 2, Philadelphia 1
Game 4: Sun., at Philadelphia, 1 ET, ESPN
Indiana 2, Boston 1
Game 4: Sat., at Indiana, 8 ET, ESPN
Chicago 2, Washington 1
Game 4: Mon., at Washington, 7:30 ET, NBA TV
(AP Photo/George Widman)
Allen Iverson, Philadelphia: With a tidy 37 points and 15 assists, Iverson willed the Sixers to a whopping 115 points. Against Detroit. And, yes, we're serious.
Play of the Day
The Kings held serve Friday in a series that still seems ho-hum. The games are entertaining enough, but interest in the series is hampered by at least a couple of things -- the two teams stumbled and lurched toward the playoffs, and everyone, right or wrong, thinks the winner is dead meat in the second round.
So in the meantime, we're keeping an eye on Jerome James, the Sonics' riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma in a 7-1 frame.
Despite the loss, he made it three big games in a row, putting up 22 and 9. That gives him averages of 19 points and 11 rebounds for the series, after a season in which he averaged 5 and 3 as Seattle's starting center.
Question: Great move by Gregg Popovich putting Brent Barry (4-4 in 3-pointers) in the starting lineup with Tim Duncan and having Manu Ginobili, who is more capable of creating his own shots, come off the bench. Will we see this lineup in the next game(s)? -- Newlin (Toronto)
Answer: Newlin, I think we might. Here's the thing: Most players play worse off the bench than they do as starters. If you go through the league, probably 90-95 percent of the players are like that. But Ginobili, over his career, has played just as well as a sub, so the adjustment isn't a big deal to him.
Meanwhile, Barry's starter-sub splits are huge. This year he shot 48 percent when he starts versus 41 percent off the bench, and his per-minute rates of points, rebounds, and assists all increased substantially. So by making this move, Popovich dramatically increases Barry's effectiveness while losing nothing from Ginobili.
The Baby Bulls have yet to play a road game, but their dominance at home is enough to convince 93.7 percent of voters in our poll that they'll advance, although only five percent expect them to sweep the Wizards.
And talk about a bad loss. Denver's uninspiring performance in Game 2 against the Spurs has turned the tide of popular support against them. Even with the series tied at 1 heading to Denver, only 17 percent of SportsNation picks the Nuggets for the upset.