|Posted on May 5, 2015 at 4:35 PM|
The era is coming to a close. Get me a box of tissues. I'm going to cry like I did at the end of Fast and Furious 7.
Tim Duncan is older than former All-Star Steve Francis, who was last spotted averaging 0.5 points per game in a Chinese league… in 2010! Tim Duncan is older than former All-Star Wally Szczerbiak, last seen on an NBA court in 2009 in a Youtube video titled, "Wally Szczerbiak dunks.... lol". Tim Duncan is three years older than Baron Davis, four years older than Tracy McGrady, five years older than Andrei Kirilenko, and six years older than Gilbert Arenas, all former All-Stars who haven’t been heard from in years. The "Guess Who's Younger Than Tim Duncan" game is really fun. He's 39, by the way.
And Duncan is still schooling guys like Deandre Jordan (a strong, athletic 26-year-old) in the post with the same moves that worked on Karl Malone. He’s as good a rebounder as ever and arguably a smarter player than he ever was. It was fun to watch him truly put a team on his back for the first time since Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili became stars. Check out these numbers:
Tim Duncan 2003-2007 NBA Playoffs (his apex): 22 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.4 blocks, 51% shooting
Tim Duncan 2015 NBA Playoffs: 18 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.4 blocks, 58% shooting
If nothing else, this year’s playoffs solidified Duncan’s career as the greatest start-to-finish NBA career since Michael Jordan. We’re talking about a guy who’s played in All-Star Games with John Stockton and Kyrie Irving. Would you rather have 10 up-and-down years of Kobe, or 19 robotic, consistent years of Duncan at 98.7% of Kobe’s level? The answer is becoming increasingly clear each year that Duncan fails to regress.
If this is the end of the line, so be it, but I’d love to see the Spurs hold onto Duncan for a few more years. He could play in a game or two per month during the regular season to stay in the flow, and then, in the playoffs, come to the rescue like the eagles at the end of every Lord of the Rings movie. How awesome would THAT be? Couldn’t he keep doing that for ten more years?
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin: A+
It took Aron Baynes guarding him in Game 1 for Griffin to realize that he has an athletic advantage every single time down the court against every team. He was aggressively attacking the basket, knocking down 20-footers in the entire advanced analytics movement’s face, and rebounding really well (he had averaged a paltry 6.8 rebounds per game in his first three career postseasons). And, he topped off his excellent series by recording the quietest Game 7 triple-double in the history of basketball.
And then there was Paul, who’s been slammed for having never reached the Conference Finals despite being the best point guard in the league over the past decade. He shot 9/13 for 27 points in Game 7, including a critical three at the end of the third quarter to take the lead, another three over Tiago Splitter early in the fourth quarter to reclaim the lead, and the eventual game-winner, which could not have been defended any better by the Spurs. He was incredible, and although he still hasn't changed some people’s perceptions about his career accomplishments, the debate about whether or not he’s a playoff choker is over.
That Chris Paul buzzer-beater to end the third quarter in Game 7 was so eerily similar to Mario Chalmers' buzzer-beater to end the third quarter in Game 7 of the 2013 Finals. They were attempted from almost the exact same distance, both put the Spurs down one after being up two, and both swung the momentum in games where neither team could get ahead by more than a few points.
The Clippers stepped it up in Games 6 and 7 in part because they stopped kvetching about every call and focused on playing basketball. There’s a reason for the narrative that “everyone hates the Clippers,” and it’s not unrelated to the fact that, ten times a game, coach Doc Rivers runs up and down the sideline with his arms flailing in the air and tears running down his face like his wife is leaving him home alone to watch the kids for five hours. And, speaking of the kids, every time Chris Paul gets called for a foul, he looks like a two-year-old who just got his new toy truck taken away from him.
The A is for nearly winning a series in which his team had no more than one of the five most athletic players on the court at all times. The minus is for the Spurs’ atrocious pick-and-roll defense throughout the entire series, which cost them, particularly in Game 6. When Griffin or Glen Davis (sometimes both at once) would set a high screen for Paul, Paul's defender would try to fight over the pick, even if it was being set well behind the three-point line. Paul would blow by his defender almost every time, leaving whoever was guarding the Clippers’ screen setter to choose between picking up Paul or staying on his own man. Whether it was Diaw, Splitter, or Duncan, the Spurs' big men would hang out in no man’s land, leaving Paul space to pull up for his go-to mid-range jumper or scan the floor for shooters. Not only was the Spurs' defensive strategy ineffective, but the they never gave the Clippers different looks, allowing Paul to get in a comfort zone.
Wall had an unbelievable round, turning the Washington Wizards into his team the same way that James Harden turned the Rockets into his team. Wall not only runs the offense, he is the offense. He makes every pass you’d want a point guard to make: the skip pass to a three-point shooter in the corner, the pick-and-roll lob to Marcin Gortat, the pick-and-pop pass to Drew Gooden (since when did he become a stretch 4?). And Wall is doing all this while being coached by this guy...
In the span of a seven-second Vine, Bradley Beal’s face goes from confused to horrified to disgusted before finally settling on confused. I’d also like to point out that that clipboard is symmetrical, so it really shouldn’t matter which way it’s turned. Also, based on what we’ve seen from the Wizards this season, why does the man even need a clipboard? Hmm… should we run the “John Wall goes 1-on-1” play or the “John Wall gets a screen from Gortat, then goes 1-on-1” play?
Whitman may be pulling a Keyzer Soze from The Usual Suspects. What if he can actually coach, and he’s just playing dumb so that when he actually does make a smart coaching decision (waiting until Game 85 of the season to play Paul Pierce at power forward), nobody’s ready for it? It certainly can’t be ruled out.
After a strong outing in last year’s postseason, Lillard took a gigantic step back. He shot 5/31 on threes in the first round, and when his shot wasn’t falling, he didn’t have any Plan B. Defensively, he was a disaster, getting lit up by Nick Calathes of all people due to ball-watching, not closing out on threes, and, in general, having no freaking clue where his man was. He’s young, and we’ve seen offensive talents such as James Harden make great improvements on defense simply by increasing their effort, but it does look like this Portland Trailblazers team is not built for the playoffs. To make matters worse, LaMarcus Aldridge, a free-agent this summer, looked checked out. Even though it doesn’t feel like he's getting old, he’s going into his tenth season, and if he wants to win a championship now, there are better destinations for him than Portland.
Pau Gasol: B
Gasol is what pushes the Chicago Bulls from a decent to very good team offensively, but his inability to cut off Milwaukee Bucks players attacking the basket was one reason that Chicago let the Bucks hang around for six games. With Kyrie Irving and LeBron James attacking the hoop and Tristan Thompson crashing the boards in the second round, Gasol is going to have to play with more energy on the defensive end.
I don’t want to jinx anything. Moving right along.
Love's shoulder injury is really going to hurt the Cleveland Cavaliers. They're losing valuable floor spacing that allows LeBron and Kyrie to operate on the perimeter and they have to fill 34 minutes of playing time with a very weak bench. Thompson is their strongest reserve, but he’s already playing 25 minutes a game and he expends a lot of energy when he’s on the court. They’ll try lineups with LeBron sliding up to power forward, but with a Bulls team that led the NBA in rebounding this season, Cleveland should be wary about going small. It’s a major conundrum, and one that Kendrick Perkins, the oldest-looking 30-year-old on the planet, is not going to solve.
Lebron James: C
The Cavaliers have a second gear, and so does LeBron, but he didn't show it in the first round, as he was regularly getting beat off the dribble and on backdoor cuts by Jae “Rich man’s Renaldo Balkman” Crowder. His attitude towards the Boston Celtics was essentially Will Smith's attitude in this scene:
Those ten minutes were really fun. Almost as fun as it’s going to be to watch Anthony Davis when he hits his prime like five years from now. Are you kidding me with this stat-line for his first career playoff series? He wouldn’t have even graduated college yet had he stayed in school!
Stephen Curry: A
This article is already way too long, so we can talk more about the Golden State Warriors in my second round recap, because the Memphis Grizzlies don’t have a chance against them unless Mike Conley is 100% healthy to guard Curry.
Time for some rapid-fire grades to finish this off!
Kelly Olynyk’s beard: F
Chris Kaman’s beard: D
Pero Antic’s potential as a Taken 4 villain: B+
Glen "Big Baby" Davis’ potential to star in Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3: A
Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy: C
Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy: A-
Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens’ presidential candidacy: A+
The Clippers-Spurs series: A++++++++++++++
Enjoy the second round!