T-Mac of all trades
Trady McGrady was feelin' it.
Six games into some of the toughest double duty he could ask for, Tracy McGrady is actually feeling pretty fresh. So fresh that McGrady no longer feels the need to pretend that he's not tired.
Now that he has made it to Game 7, as close to the sacred ground of the second round as he has ever been, McGrady no longer shrugs at the fatigue questions he has been getting for days. He's letting his guard down to acknowledge fatigue, which means he must, in reality, be feeling pretty good.
"He kind of wears me down," T-Mac unexpectedly admitted, referring to Dirk Nowitzki.
Emphasis on kind of. You can only wish work made you look as weary as McGrady on Thursday night, when he rifled in 37 points while spearheading the coverage that hounded Nowitzki into a 5-for-22 evening. Which means it's probably time for those of us (hello!) who've been wondering since Game 1 how T-Mac would hold up shadowing Nowitzki for long stretches while running every facet of the Houston offense to concede that their doubts have pretty much been answered.
In Game 6?
"We expected him really to have 40," Nowitzki revealed.
The bigger mystery, as the Interstate 45 Championship progresses to a decider Saturday night, is what to expect from Nowitzki. He hasn't come close, even once, to looking like the Fifty-Three Point Dirk who gunned down the Rockets in Dallas on Dec. 2. Nowitzki is shooting 35.1 percent from the floor in the series, just 30.8 percent on 3-pointers.
And with McGrady reminding us nightly that no swingman in the world is more devastating with the ball in pick-and-roll situations, Kobe Bryant included, all Nowitzki has to draw on now is history. Game 7s have been good to the German, who played in two of them in spring 2003 and averaged 30.5 points and 15 boards in those home victories over Portland and Sacramento.
McGrady, remember, has seen only one Game 7. That would be the loss that clinched his infamous nosedive in Orlando from a 3-1 lead over Detroit to a first-round exit.
The guess here, though, is that T-Mac won't be subjected to any deep personal attacks no matter what happens in the next game. It's tough to imagine him getting significant blame in the event of another first-round exit ... even though the Rockets are still smarting from their inability to build on their two road wins to start the series.
Reason being: McGrady makes it tough to hit him with blame when he's doing even more for the Rockets than they used to ask him in Orlando. That includes bringing teammates into the game better than ever; Houston knows it wouldn't have forced a Game 7 otherwise.
Don't forget the defense, either. Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy would certainly prefer not to ask McGrady to guard Nowitzki so much, but Van Gundy concedes that "it's our best chance."
"If it doesn't work," Van Gundy says, "put it on me."
Make that only chance. Yet Van Gundy, who obviously has lots to deal with already, can take some comfort in the knowledge that the next person who claims it isn't working will be the first.
If that was Reggie Miller's last game in Conseco Fieldhouse, it was a doozy of an egg he laid.
For all the clutch shots Miller has hit during his magnificent career, there's no escaping this: That shot he took at the end of regulation was horrible.
With six seconds left in a tie game, Miller launched a bomb from five feet beyond the 3-point line over the outstretched arms of 6-9 Antoine Walker, and got nothing but air.
He couldn't rectify his error in overtime, either. With Indiana trailing by three and 0.7 seconds to play, he couldn't get open on a set play out of a timeout, forcing third option Anthony Johnson to rush a shot that missed by a mile. Overall, Miller's tally on the night was 3-for-10 from the field, with 12 points.
For shutting down the 39-year-old Miller, a heap of credit must go to 36-year-old Gary Payton. Despite playing with a sore back that crippled his shooting stroke, Payton managed to stay with Miller step for step and didn't fall for any of the Jedi mind tricks Reggie uses to draw fouls on younger players. On that final play of regulation, Payton also picked up Jermaine O'Neal on a switch and forced him to lose his balance. That's why, instead of feeding the post, Miller decided to fire his ill-advised 3.
But don't count out the Pacers just yet. Remember, Reggie has always saved his best work for the road. Just ask Spike Lee.
Moreover, Boston showed numerous vulnerabilities despite the winning effort. They snoozed through the first quarter for the second game in a row, netting just two points in the first six minutes. Antoine Walker again seemed hell-bent on playing keep away from his teammates, ignoring an open teammate on at least three fast breaks and taking more than twice as many shots as Paul Pierce. He finished 11-for-26 with eight turnovers, and again failed to take a free throw.
And then there's Pierce, who committed one of the great gaffes in NBA playoff history to allow Indiana to tie the game and forced an unsuspecting Kendrick Perkins to take the biggest shots of Boson's season.
But ultimately, it gets back to Reggie. In Indiana's three defeats, he has shot 1-for-7, 3-for-10 and 3-for-12 -- that's 24 percent overall. In the three wins, he has more than doubled that mark to 53 percent. If Miller wants to extend his career another two weeks, he'll have to evade Payton long enough to get clean, high-percentage looks at the basket on Saturday.
Here's what didn't get enough attention about Paul Pierce's ejection: The rule allowing the opposing coach to choose somebody to shoot the free throws when a player is fouled and ejected at the same time. In this case, the Pacers plucked Kendrick Perkins off the end of the C's bench, and he promptly banged two foul shots off the rim.
Although the rule is an obscure one, and seldom used, it needs changing, because it opens up a gigantic can of worms.
Consider the possibilities.
Could the Pacers have chosen a player who dressed even though he was injured? What about a player who injured himself earlier in the game but stayed on the sideline in uniform to root for his team? What if Kendrick Perkins had immediately raced to the locker room for "treatment" on his "tendinitis"? Could the refs have summoned him back to the floor?
It's only a matter of time before something like this happens, which is why the league should change the rule now and only let the opposing coach choose from among the four remaining players on the floor.
Ray Allen, fresh off a glorious 45-point night that essentially secured Seattle's first-round victory over the Sacramento Kings, is leading all scorers in the postseason with a 32.4-point average.
Bruce Bowen, San Antonio's designated stopper, recently was the runner-up in the voting for NBA defensive player of the year, garnering 33 of 125 first-place votes, so tenacious is he at his specialty.
But that is not what makes the Sonics' and Spurs' Western Conference semifinal matchup delectable.
No, it is its recent history.
Six weeks ago, the Spurs beat the Sonics 89-76. At one point, Allen and Bowen squared off and were separated. Then they got tangled up again and Allen was called for an offensive foul.
After the game, Allen said: "He doesn't play basketball. I don't know what he does. They put him out there to throw punches and throw elbows. That is not basketball out there, what he plays."
Bowen replied: "I've heard so much, but I've never heard the great ones say anything
like that. You never heard Michael Jordan say, 'Oh, John Starks doesn't play basketball.' John Starks may have been physical with him -- and what did he do? He went and hit the gym hard and continued to play."
Western Conference, First Round
Phoenix 4, Memphis 0
Phoenix wins series, awaits DAL-HOU winner
San Antonio 4, Denver 1
San Antonio wins series. Next: Seattle
Seattle 4, Sacramento 1
Seattle wins series. Next: San Antonio
Dallas 3, Houston 3
Game 7: Sat., at Dallas, 9:30 ET, TNT
Eastern Conference, First Round
Miami 4, New Jersey 0
Miami wins series, awaits CHI-WAS winner
Detroit 4, Philadelphia 1
Detroit wins series, awaits IND-BOS winner
Indiana 3, Boston 3
Game 7: Sat. at Boston, 7 ET, TNT
Washington 3, Chicago 2
Game 6: Fri., at Washington, 8 ET, ESPN
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
After Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy's notorious accusation of officiating bias against Yao Ming earlier this week, referee Eddie Rush may have felt like getting even more physical with Van Gundy than he did here as he explained a foul call.
Play of the Day
-- Marc Stein
The Bulls are too stubborn to understand they're not good enough to compete in the NBA.
Their coach, Scott Skiles, never understood it, and his players carry his legacy forward.
They contest every shot. They're like Stockton and Malone without portfolio. They run various sets off screen-roll action and never stop. The big men all set hard screens and stay with them. The guards make hard cuts and then back-pick. They run 'em again and again.
Eventually, talented teams wear out or just get bored and allow a shot.
Skiles has kept a book his entire life of plays, picking them up in his NBA career, when he coached in Europe and in Phoenix. If he sees a play he likes he jots it down and incorporates it into his system. When coaches get together, they applaud his inventive sets.
For all you neophytes who don't know the storied history of the Washington Bullets, we're the franchise that won our lone title in 1978 (unless you count the title we won last year for Detroit) and has been wandering aimlessly ever since.
We've had players past their prime (Moses Malone, Bernard King, Mark Price, a certain MJ) and we've had players before their prime (Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton; essentially the core of the world champion Pistons), but never a team that played in primetime in May.
So, if you think it's over now, just because Gilbert Arenas made an unconscious shot and the Bulls have lost 10 straight in D.C., forget it. We are the Bullets. We take fourth quarters off. Charles Barkley coaches us from a TV studio. We play the passing lanes, but we don't play defense. We shoot free throws like there's a moving target. We play nervous, even though we used to have "Never Nervous Pervis."
What, me worry?
Remember when Gilbert Arenas signed with the Wiz and said that he would turn them around? I thought he was an brazen idiot. Mea culpa, Gilbert.
-- Scott (Boston)
How about that Wizards game? I kept saying "If the Bulls don't score on this possession I can flip over to South Park." But they scored every time and I missed South Park.
Had the Bulls won, Pargo's performance would've rated up there with Reggie Miller against the Knicks, but because of Arenas' shot, it will be remembered as a good effort, nothing more.