Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The series the NBA wanted you to watch begins

Tonight in Atlanta, the Eastern series that everyone wanted to see went to Game Two after such a terrible Game One, many had lost enthusism for the whole thing. But instead of showing up and performing like they had little if any idea of how to play this game of basketball, the visitors from South Beach rained down threes en route to a big and consistent lead, and played a dramatically better game in tying the series up.

(Why the bird photo? It's the Hawks mascot, which went off script and delayed the game. Feel free to drawn your own parallels here, really.)

Atlanta is fed by the best-kept secret in the NBA -- i.e.., the only sports fans in Atlanta that are worth anything -- to stay in it, and heaven knows this Heat team isn't bright enough to put the hammer down. When your team loses track of the 24-second clock, that's bad. When they do it out of a timeout, that's telling. A lot. But when you shoot nearly 60% from the arc, you should win, and will. It was 108-93, but a hell of a lot more entertaining than that.

Beyond a great number of made long shots, why was Miami a semblance of a basketball team tonight? Credit will go to Dwayne Wade for his 33-4-4, including a ridiculously lucky banked three (Wade in the post-game interview: "I had to pull something out my butt") with one second on the clock. But he battled foul trouble and wasn't on the floor for some of the biggest moments of the fourth quarter.

You also have to give credit to Jermaine O'Neal. The almost universally disdained starting center for Miami gave them 19 and 5 with 4 blocks, one of them an immense stuff on a fast break for Flip Murray that would have torn the roof off the building during a Hawk run.

You can also throw some love to Daequan Cook, who made 20 points and 6 of the Heat's 15 three-pointers to give the visitors a huge edge in bench scoring (37 to 20). Udonis Haslem also made two huge buckets to keep them afloat during the Heat run, had his own monster block on Murray, and picked up a couple of big boards to kill clock. Wade was great, but tonight, he also had teammates.

For the Hawks, until the last three minutes when they more or less went on auto-pilot and let the final score creep, they just didn't seem like the worse team tonight; just one that wasn't very bright. The knucklehead plays -- dumb fouls, missed free throws, careless turnovers and wide-open shooters -- just overwhelmed their crowd and athleticism. But land o'goshen, they are just absurdly athletic, and their crowd is crazy into it. There is no way this series isn't going deep, because Miami can't shoot like that every night, and Atlanta can't make that many mistakes.

And maybe this series really isn't all that meaningful in the long run, seeing as how Cleveland lurks in the background to just out trump either of these squads... but this Wade guy? You should watch him. He's good. Same with Joe Johnson, and Josh Smith when his brain is in his head, and a load of other players who are dynamite in the open court. There's a reason everyone wanted to watch this one; it's amazing, even if flawed.

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