Eastern Conference Finals

The Long Strange Road

This post started on May 1st, during Game 5 of the Pacers Hawks series when things looked pretty bleak for the Pacers. Needless to say, the post was a little bleak. As things unfolded and the team didn’t disintegrate, I kept adding to it. What follows is some sort of hybrid between a diary and a live blog reliving a weird year for the Indiana Pacers. Enjoy.

The First Round: Started May 1st

“I don’t even know you anymore.”

For the past few months, this has been my overwhelming reaction to watching the (MY) Indiana Pacers. The jerseys were the same. The faces were the same (for the most part). But there was something different. Noticeably, but ephemerally, different. As if they’d forgotten to be who they were. And now they’re flirting, aggressively I might add, with infamy. And I’m here for the first time since November 1, 2012 to try and sort out this painful extended bad dream.

Bird’s Lament

By January 20th 2014, the Pacers had cemented themselves as the best team in basketball. Sure, there were contenders, but the Pacers were at the top of the list. The Pacers! 33-7! A small market team without a draft pick above 10th! That’s a rare convergence of talent evaluation, coaching, luck and success we rarely see, but there it was. They were a historically great defense with a good-enough offense to beat the living crap out of all comers. Times were simple: the team’s weaknesses were turnovers and a really inconsistent bench. But the Pacers kept winning in spite of it. They were chesty, and deserving of it if anyone ever is. Roy Hibbert went from baby-giraffe impersonator who famously couldn’t do a pushup to stuffing Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James on the biggest stage. Paul George went from a nice defensive stopper from Palmdale, CA to a legitimate MVP candidate. Lance Stephenson went from “choke-sign artist” to nice player to “holy shit is Lance an All-Star?” The times, they were a changin’.

On January 22nd, the Pacers were absolutely blitzed by the Phoenix Suns. The kind of beating so rare to a great team that you just write it off as west-coast-roadtrip fatigue, a horrible matchup, and one of those things that just happens. Of course, this wasn’t the start of the collapse, just a convenient endpoint in our minds. Collapses like this don’t have easily identifiable starting points. The seeds of collapse were already sown. But the gears of change were in motion and, as we now know, the Pacers were headed down one hell of a dark tunnel.

Using January 21st as a completely arbitrary endpoint, the Pacers went from having one of the top point differentials in the league and a historically great defense to having the point differential of the 2013-14 Boston Celtics. Yes, that team that’s headed for a top-6 pick. Yes, the team that started Vitor Faverani, played Avery Bradley at point guard, and gave minutes to Gerald Wallace by choice.

Please note that the team still had Danny Granger on the roster at this point and both Evan “Slow Foot, Frantic Hands” Turner and Andrew Bynum were nowhere near joining the team. The team’s precious chemistry was “fine”, though the way the Pacers turned the ball over you’d never guess that chemistry was a strong suit. The only hints of potential rot to this point was a little more bitching to the referees than you’d like. It bothered me when they were winning and I hated it when they were losing. But given the way the Spurs handle officiating and complaining, I’d say it’s safe to classify this as something that NBA players do regardless of the team’s collective mental health.

Time passed; things didn’t get better. They got worse. The offense started to slip from mediocre to hideous and the defense went from phenomenal to average. Why? How? Over the course of a few months the NBA’s best team and the Heat’s only Eastern rival turned into a dysfunctional, broken shell of itself. And now we’re here picking up the pieces trying to figure it all out. For closure. To keep from thinking back on a good time gone horrendously wrong and wondering “what if?

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5/24/10 Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics (Game 4) Predictions

Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics- 8:30 ET ESPN

Pierce & the Celtics will have some time to rest up, stretch out, & prepare for the NBA Finals

The Magic are down for the count. With no hope of coming back from a 3-0 hole in the series, I fully expect them to lay down in Game 4. Hopefully the take the series loss like professionals and play hard all game, but in no way I expect them to come out on top. If I’m a Magic player, I rather get swept in Boston then have to come home and lose Game 5 in front of the home crowd.

It’s been a disappointing series to say the very least. In fact the NBA Playoffs as a whole have been very disappointing up until this point. Hopefully the NBA Finals matchup Celtics-Lakers/Suns offers a much more exciting series than we’ve been treated too so far this year. Celtics took care of business in the Eastern Conference Finals as an end result, they’ll be treating themselves to some days off to rest.

Celtics- 95 Magic- 87

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5/22/10 Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics (Game 3) Predictions

Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics- 8:30 ET ESPN

Was Redick drunk when he decided to call a timeout in the backcourt?

The Orlando Magic’s Game 2 performance can be summed up with mental breakdowns. From Vince Carter not focusing at the free throw line throwing up to bricks in the critical moments to J.J. Redick dazed and confused calling allowing about four seconds to expire before calling a timeout in the backcourt. Simply put, the Magic gave the Celtics not only Game 2, but the entire series.

There’s no doubt the Celtics smell blood and they’ll be going for the kill in Game 3. They understand exactly what opportunity is at hand now that the series has shifted back home to Boston and don’t think the fans won’t be fired up as well. Offensively Paul Pierce will lead the usual charge and nothing could be any sweeter than if Rondo’s able to put up 20+ points. Rondo’s scoring outage is a really important motor to the Celtics success and I expect Rajon to bring his “A-Game” in Game 3.

Van Gundy must unleash Air France

For the Magic it goes without saying that Rashard Lewis has been a complete joke all series long. In Game 2, Lewis played a team-high 41 minutes and only contributed 5 points. Obviously that’s a big problem but the biggest issue in Game 2 was that nobody was able to “cover up” Lewis’s lackluster play. Nelson and Carter both struggled from the field and for some reason I can not understand why Stan Van Gundy didn’t give Pietrus more than 15 minutes of action. Mickael Pietrus is my key to a Magic Game 3 victory, not only is he counted upon to bring some production off the bench, but he also can be the man who steps right in to fill Lewis’s scoring load.

Hey Dwight, ask your "wanna-be" LeBron puppet, if there's a chance the complete Dwight Howard can step up in Game 3

As for Dwight Howard, the team’s catalyst, he’ll need another strong outing especially on the road. What concerns me so far in this series is Howard’s ability to play at both ends of the floor. In Game 1 he was a non-factor on offensively but tallied 12 rebounds and 5 blocks. Then in Game 2, he went off for 30 points but only snagged 8 rebounds and didn’t even record a block! Where in the world did the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year go?

Of course, that question isn’t referring to Dwight Howard’s vacation plans but it soon could be if the Magic can’t win Game 3. Celtics execute their game plan and get overall better team contributions leading them to victory.

Celtics- 97 Magic- 93

The Celtics may be able to close out this series faster than Usain Bolt

5/18/10 Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic (Game 2)

Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic 8:30 ET ESPN

Magic got just what the "Doc" had ordered in Game 1

The Orlando Magic got just what the “Doc” had ordered in preparation of Game 1. It all got started with the tremendous defensive effort throughout the entire 48 minutes of play. The Celtics effectively pressured the Magic on the perimeter forcing them off the three-point line and when the Magic swung the ball, the Celtics rotations were perfected with ease.

Expect to see an entirely different Game 2 tonight, not only will the Magic bounce back, but the Celtics will be fine settling with a spilt series heading back to Boston. Don’t worry Magic fans it’s not time to panic and honestly, I’d probably panic if I were a Boston Celtics fan. Here’s why:

-The Magic shot 5-22 from behind the three-point line

-The Magic had a total of 10 assists for the game

-The Magic turned the ball over 18 times

THE END RESULT= A 4 POINT LOSS!!!

'Shard & Dwight must immediately improve their contributions offensively

Both Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson have been spectacular for the majority of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, but the two Magic players that have yet to remain consistent have been the money makers in Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard, who combined for a mere 19 points in Game 1.

Down low, Dwight Howard must get tougher and actually begin using the muscles he’s gifted with, no more settling for the “avoid-contact-at-all-cost” hook shots. On top of the moves, Dwight’s got to remain mentally tough, it was clear in Game 1 that he allowed Rasheed Wallace to get the best of him.

Then there’s Rashard Lewis, ugh it gives me a headache every time I think about how much he’s getting paid, Lewis must start knocking down those contested shots from the perimeter. At nearly 7 foot and having a high release point on his follow through, there’s no excuse for him not being able to drill those spilt-second open looks.

Better team play, with the improved play of both Howard and Lewis will lead the Magic to a Game 2 victory tonight.

Magic- 97 Celtics- 91

Professor Wallace Teaches Young Dwight a Lesson During Free Throw Attempts:

5/16/10 Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic (Game 1)

Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic- 3:30 ET ABC

The Boston Three Party (the one last title shot)

Though the Celtics-Cavs series didn’t go the expected 7 games, the Magic should be well rested yet again for their third and final matchup in the Eastern Conference. Only the Boston Celtics them back from returning to the NBA Finals for the second straight year with an improved, experienced roster. The Celtics having taken a year off from a Finals appearance look to get there for what could be their last chance at winning a title, at least with The Boston Three Party.

The Celtics aging stars don’t have much left in the tank for being “go-to” players and soon will all transform into Rasheed Wallace type guys where a once all-star turns role player happens. Ray Allen is a free agent at the end of the season and there’s a very good chance he won’t return to Boston, after all, he was being shopped by Danny Ainge throughout the course of this season.

On the other hand, the Magic are on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. While Vince Carter play resemble that of Celtics star, the rest of the Orlando key players are blossoming as we speak. One that’s been shining more than ever is point guard Jameer Nelson who’s arguably been the team’s catalyst during this 2010 playoff run. Nelson has been spectacular in the first, two rounds of play torching both the Charlotte Bobcats and the Atlanta Hawks.

"The" Matchup that will decide the verdict of the series

In Game 1, I’m immediately pointing towards the key matchup of Jameer Nelson and Rajon Rondo. Both point guards have been the catalysts on their respected teams and are key reasons why they’ve been as successful as they have been so far. Whomever tallies the better of the two overall stat lines will help win the game for their team. To me that right there is the key to each and every game we’ll see in this Eastern Conference Finals series. Rondo plays better than Nelson= Celtics win; Nelson plays better than Rondo= Magic win. The Magic may be 8-0 in the playoffs, but today look for Rondo and the Celtics to have other plans in Game 1. Celtics shock the Magic on the road.

Celtics- 108 Magic- 103

This Series Could & Should Get Pretty Interesting

5/10/10 NBA Playoff Predictions

Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks- 8 ET TNT

It's time to unleash Mario West & let him try his best to stomp on the Magic

It’s only Monday but T.G.I.F. thank goodness it’s finished! At least as far as this series is concerned, it’s been a complete joke, and there’s no sense wasting anymore of my time or your time doing a write-up on a series that was over even before it started. This has to go down as one of the worst second round series of all time, I mean seriously, each final score looks as if it’s a preseason game matchup. Speaking of preseason, the Hawks should prepare for this one as if it is next season and play their youth. The Atlanta Hawks “so-called” rowdy fans have already thrown in the towel, why shouldn’t the team follow suit? Magic win again.

Magic- 113 Hawks- 93

First Dwight Howard stole the nickname “Superman” from Shaq & Now Take This From King James?!?! haha

Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz- 10:30 ET TNT

Nearly a Game 3 Hero

I wished you all could’ve heard the roar of exasperation that traveled throughout the dorm room on the campus of Marquette University as the final buzzer sounded at the end of Game 3 on Saturday. Our very own, Wesley Matthews fell just short of being a Game 3 hero with a last second tip in at the buzzer, but the ball just didn’t bounce his way.

Facing a 3-0 deficit the Jazz are toast, but I think they’re a team with too much pride and heart to get swept and finished off on their home floor. Deron Williams will be given his time to shine much like Dwayne Wade did in Round 1, down 3-0 against the Boston Celtics. The Jazz will ultimately help the Phoenix Suns get another few days rest and give them a chance to sit down to study the Lakers live. The Jazz are much more similar to the Suns than they’d probably like to admit. While their effort on the defensive end is much different, their size and style with their postmen is very similar. Jazz take Game 4 and avoid the sweep.

Jazz- 108 Lakers- 101

Jazz Rookie Wesley Matthews & Kosta Koufos have a Dance-Off

5/9/10 NBA Playoff Predictions

Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics- 3:30 ET ABC

For the Celtics, Game 3 was embarrassing to say the least and it ended up being the historic franchise’s worst playoff loss ever. Game 4 isn’t just a matter of winning or losing it’s more about stepping up to the challenge that comes with playing against LeBron James.

Stop Simply Glancing at the Scoreboard & Make Some Adjustments!

Head Coach Doc Rivers and his handful of well-seasoned NBA greats never once even made an effort to make an adjustment in Game 3 on LeBron. They didn’t show any pride, allowing their team in their city to get absolutely embarrassed in their first home game in Round 2. There are no excuses for not even trying to make adjustments! None! Zip zero!

Now granted LeBron hit his fair share of “nothing-else-you-can-do” shots on Celtics defenders but at some point in the game, you to pick your poison, and force those around LeBron to beat you. Everyone knows there’s a lot of pressure on the Cavaliers to win a championship this year with LeBron heading into a free agency campaign. Despite where you stand on whether LeBron will leave Cleveland or not, the pressure is clearly there. The Cavs organization has done it’s best to surround LeBron will the very best unit that can help him become an NBA champion, make those guys (Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, and heck even Shaquille O’Neal) prove that!

Make Him Beat You

All season long the Celtics have been a team that either show up and play or just aren’t all quite there, a sad but true statement about a group of notable, experienced players. Game 4, I expect the Cavaliers to prevail yet again. If the Celtics are to stand a chance they’ll have to get a big boost scoring wise from Rajon Rondo. But I see LeBron and the Cavs heading home just one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals.

Cavaliers- 107 Celtics- 93

Someone Please Inform LeBron That Tomorrow is in fact Mother’s Day & He Shouldn’t Tell His Mother to “Sit Her Ass Down”….

Coincidentally this happen in a playoff series against the Celtics!

Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs- 8 ET TNT

That Goal Was To Make My Predictions Look Foolish- Mission Accomplished

I’ll be first to admit it, I’ve been horribly wrong with my expectations for the Suns in this year’s NBA playoffs. Maybe it was just my lack of interest in the team, even better, it might just be the fact that in the past two years the only games televised here in Milwaukee are on TNT, or maybe I got it all twisted. Maybe it’s not my expectations for the Suns that are terribly off, instead it’s my expectations for the San Antonio Spurs. After all, I did kind of forget that they’re the 7th seed.

But 7th seed or 1st seed bottom line is both of these teams are very similar. Both have their big names stars ending their prime in Nash and Duncan. Both have their scoring machine shooting guards in Richardson and Ginobili. And probably most importantly both have plenty of concerns to deal with at the end of their seasons.

But hey, I’m not here to bash either team in fact I’ve been very impressed with the Suns demeanor and if they keep this momentum up, I might even give them a slight chance of beating the Los Angeles Lakers in a 7 game series.

Cherish This Suns Fans

There’s really not much to comment on heading into Game 4. The series is clearly over and the Suns would be foolish not to give it their all to finish their business tomorrow night. But if I were still a Suns fan, I’d actually wish upon a Suns loss. If you’re a diehard Suns fan it’d be priceless to be at Game 5 and being able to talk trash and boot the Spurs out of the playoffs in Phoenix, something the Suns fans can’t say they’ve done in years. I can already see the crowd of Suns fans outside the Suns player parking garage anxiously awaiting the departure of the Spurs team bus headed to Sky Harbor that night.

One final note before I call it quits on this post, how can I not at least give some recognition to Goran Dragic. While I’m far from impressed of his potential, I’d be ignorant to say what he did in Game 3 wasn’t very impressive. Congrats Goran, you’ve only continued to help Suns fans maintain some hope that you are the future point guard. Your shot has drastically improved, there’s no doubt about it, but as far as being a leader goes, you got a long ways to go. Keep making steady improvements and maybe I’ll decide to budge a little, but having the tendency to pick up your dribble for no purpose and turning over the ball in the backcourt when faced with backcourt on the ball pressure doesn’t help your case. Oh and by the way, my name is spelled Ross, not Rosse so next time someone decides to try to play a joke on me and ask you to personally make an autograph out to me, drop the “e” my friend. (True Story).  But nonetheless good job in Game 3, you stepped up in a big position and got the job done, something I’m not used to seeing you do in games I’ve been able to watch. So with all this I apologize to any offended Suns fans, maybe it’s just the games I’m able to see that misguide my judgments, as do many of you when it comes to your opinion on my Milwaukee Bucks. But hey, at the end of the day, congrats to the Phoenix Suns, you’ve done it, you’ve finally beat the Spurs and did s in an impressive and very commanding fashion. You’re headed to the Western Conference Finals.

Suns- 111 Spurs- 103

While I could remember this….

I’ll Choose to Remember This….