The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, would like the springtime weather to actually reach Chicago. It can happen any time now. When he's not ruing unseasonably low temperatures in the midwest, he can be found trying to warm his hands at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
The Maverick meltdown: Will it ever end? For about 12 minutes, it looked like the Dallas Mavericks were picking up right where they left off in Game 3. Then — and I know this is going to shock you — everything fell apart.
The first sign of trouble was when Dallas followed a 30-point first quarter with a 14-point second quarter. Then David West scored 10 of his 24 points during a third quarter run that pushed the Hornets' 4-point halftime lead to 13. The Mavs would be unable to cut into that deficit, leading Jason Kidd to get kicked out for almost killing Jannero Pargo and a fan to get ejected by Mark Cuban for verbally harassing Chris Paul. It was an ugly night in Dallas all around, and it turned into an ugly 97-84 defeat for the home team.
Paul had 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists and Peja Stojakovic added 19 points and 5 boards for the Hornets, who shot 50 percent from the field and committed only 9 turnovers. The Mavericks, on the other hand, were shooting cross-eyed all night (36 percent). Dirk Nowitzki led the cowboys with 22 points and 13 rebounds, and Jason Terry scored 20. J-Kidd (3 points, 1-for-6, 3 assists) didn't do much before he got the boot, and Josh Howard hit only 3-for-16 (but it was a relaxed 3-for-16).
And while a 3-1 series deficit isn't insurmountable, does anybody have confidence that this particular Dallas Mavericks team can overcome it?
LeBron 3, DeShawn 1. That's the official score after four games, despite all the trash talk, hard fouls, and what King James called "some extracurricular activities going on outside and inside in this series." And with about three and a half minutes left in the first half, Stevenson tried to get in a little more extra credit upside LeBron's head while the King was motoring toward the hoop. The two men took a few menacing steps toward each other before teammates got between them ... much to the sweaty-palmed relief of David Stern. Still, according to LeBron, the Locksmith was lucky the incident didn't happen during a pickup game. "If we was on the park, something definitely would have escalated. But, you know, I guess that's what they want to do. They want to hurt Lebron James this series. It ain't working."
Superstars speaking in third person aside, LeBron ain't wrong. After Stevenson's flagrant foul, James hit one of two free throws and then knocked down a three-pointer from somewhere just outside the arena to help his team go on a streak of 13 unanswered points. Gilbert Arenas said it best when he explained "That (foul) got him mad."
James finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds, but his biggest play of the night came when he drew pretty much every Washington defender into the paint and this dished the ball to Delonte West, who hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 5.4 seconds left. The play was eerily reminiscent of when the Cleveland eliminated the Wizards in Game 6 of their first round series. In case you've forgotten, James hit Damon Jones for the winning bucket in the final seconds of overtime. Said James: "Washington definitely probably had a flashback." Definitely. Probably.
Gilbert Arenas — who had tied the game with a couple free throws and a crazy, off-balance banker from eight feet out — missed an isolation three-pointer as time expired. And that was that: Cleveland 100, Washington 97.
In addition to the game-winning three, Delonte West had a career playoff high 21 points. The Cavaliers also got four three-pointers out of Boobie Gibson and 12 rebounds from Ben Wallace. Antawn Jamison led the Wiz with 23 points and 11 rebounds, Caron Butler scored 19, and Brendan Haywood added 16.
Pride game! And to think: Some people thought the Spurs were going to sweep. No way. The Suns were playing for a little pride, and they came out with the kind of reckless abandon and defensive intensity that would win them a championship if they could do it every night. But at least they did it for one game and thus saved themselves the shame and embarrassment of getting eliminated at home.
And believe it or not, the Suns' superstars weren't the authors of yesterday's 105-85 butt-kicking. That honor went to the tandem of Raja Bell (27 points, 5-for-7 from three point range) and Boris Diaw (20 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists). And their out-of-nowhere revival was exactly what Phoenix needed ... even if it came about three games too late.
And let's face it, this loss isn't going to faze anybody on the Spurs. As Tim Duncan put it: "We didn't expect to sweep these guys. We're excited to be in the situation we're in, up 3-1. We've got to win one more game, and we get to go home and try to win it there. Those are a lot of things that are in our favor." Well, actually it's only two things. But in all fairness, it's a big two.
The Big Cactus added 14 points and 12 rebounds, and he also defied Gregg Popovich's Hack-a-Shaquery by hitting 6-for-10 from the line. Tim Duncan had 14 points and 10 boards for San Antonio, and Tony Parker scored 18 but shot only 7-for-17 against Diaw's long-armed and aggressive defense. All in all, it was a great win for the Suns. But still, I have a sneaking suspicion that the 20/20 Rule could be in effect on Tuesday.
Order is restored. For now. The Detroit Pistons pulled off one of their patented "big wins just when everybody thinks they're down and out," using a 34-16 third quarter blitzkrieg to beat Philly 93-84 and tie their first round series at 2-2.
Said Chauncy Billups: "Everybody knows that we are good under pressure. I hate that we put ourselves in this position a lot of times. I believe in the guys who are in our locker room." Those guys certainly made believers out of the 76ers, particularly Tayshaun Prince (23 points, 11-for-12) and Rasheed Wallace (20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 three-pointers in the third quarter).
In addition to 'Sheed raining down threes, the Pistons forced seven turnovers during their third-quarter turnaround. As Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks put it: "The game turned just like that. We gave them life in the third quarter."
Philadelphia's biggest problem, besides the whole losing the game thing, is the continued MIA status of leading scorer Andre Iguodala. The Detroit defense has totally taken him out of his game all series. Last night, he scored only 12 points on 4-for-16 shooting and committed 5 turnovers. It's hard to imagine Philly winning another game in this series if that continues.