Do you guys remember the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs? They’re still in the playoffs, I swear! That Heat-Bucks series was actually this season. I know — it seems like it might have been Miami’s first-round series last season, but it really was just a week ago the Heat wrapped up the most predictable sweep of this season’s first round.
The biggest story out of Miami since then has been Shane Battier’s decision to grow something like a Fu Manchu mustache. They may have also scheduled some exhibitions against the Generals, just to stay fresh. The Spurs have presumably been on a wine-tasting tour with Gregg Popovich, and rumor has it franchise higher-ups forced Pop to undergo a media-training refresher after he was strangely polite to sideline reporters during the Spurs’ first-round whitewashing of the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Minutes after Boston held on for a 92-86 win against the Knicks — nudging the series to 3-2 and squeezing out at least one more home game this season — the Celtics were back in the visitor’s locker room at MSG, breaking down a little dustup. At the end of the game, Jordan Crawford, who hadn’t played a minute, got into it with Carmelo Anthony; fellow DNP’er D.J. White held him back, more or less, while Raymond Felton popped up to slang some words as well. The Internet has already come to a conclusion as to what Crawford said, and, well, it’s not pretty. Let’s just say the comments are in line with, but lack the subtlety of, Kevin Garnett’s famed Honey Nut Cheerios monologue.
“My homeys already texted me like, ‘You ’bout to scrap!’” White said, pulling up his pants while checking his phone. Then, to Crawford in the locker over, good-naturedly: “You started it, and you dipped!” Terrence Williams, who played a surprisingly solid 17 minutes at point guard, piped up: “Q[uentin Richardson] always comin’ in. Where he come from?” And White, by way of cosigning Williams’s disapproval of Richardson’s behavior: “Yeah, with his E.T.-lookin’ ass.” Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo was off to the side eating Chinese takeout, and Avery Bradley just tried to stay moisturized: “Yo, J.C., let me fuck with that lotion.” Crawford didn’t notice, busy getting dressed. (His ensemble included, I swear to God, a different pair of weed socks than the ones he had on the other day. In his defense, Hot Topic does tend to sell novelty socks in pairs.) Williams tried to offer him some alternate lotion, but Bradley stayed firm. “Nah, I'ma fuck with that lotion right there.”
Chris Ryan: I think it was Pete Carril who said the the playoffs don't really start until one guy taunts another guy about a separate guy sleeping with his wife. Well, Jordan Crawford, I guess that makes you the starting gun.
You heard it over and over again over the last two nights of games: playoff basketball. Somebody gets tagged coming down the lane? Playoff basketball. Francisco Garcia checking Kevin Durant for about 90 feet with his hand around his hip? Playoff basketball. Hitmen? Playoff basketball. Open-play, timeout-call retaliations? Playoff basketball. Some bench scrub telling one of the 10 best players in the world that another one of the 10 best players in the world did something that rhymes with "plucked your fife"? Playoff. Basketball.
In case you were busy having an adorable cat on your chest and being unable to move, or breathe, or — hey, this cat's trying to kill me! — here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
We're headed back to Boston after the Celtics held on for a 92-86 win over the New York Knicks, forcing a Game 6 in their first-round playoff matchup. Kevin Garnett fueled the Celtics with a vintage 16-point, 18-rebound performance. "Man, that takes me back," Garnett said wistfully after his double-double. "Remember when I was crushing it up in Minnesota. Just me and Terrell Brandon. So young, so naive. Maybe I could get that TV show about my posse off the ground now. Do you think the breakthrough success of Entourage makes it more or less likely? I mean, it was gonna be The Monkees meets The Beverly Hillbillies. I guess it could be reality. That's basically what Carmelo's wife has going on. Nah, TV is a young man's game. I was just born too young."
Despite the absence of Sidney Crosby, the Penguins took care of business by thrashing the New York Islanders 5-0 in Pittsburgh. "Oh man, that'll teach us to come on the mainland," Islanders captain Mark Streit said after the loss. "It's weird here. First of all, not everyone takes boats to get places. Also weird, the lack of nautically themed dining establishments. I'm starving for some fried calamari down by a marina; I can't find that in Pittsburgh at all. Total nightmare. They told me, 'Go to a river.' I told them to go up a river, with dumb advice like that. A butt river. Man, I'm hungry."
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to Grantland’s own Jonah Keri talk about some Reds pitcher who had “lost velocity” on his fastball. As he spoke, I wondered what the NBA equivalent of this would be. Baseball has radar guns that reliably identify a downturn in pitching ability; we don’t have that instrument in the NBA. It’s not as easy to detect performance declines in basketball.
If there’s one theme that’s dominated the last few weeks in the NBA, perhaps it’s the immemorial relationship between age and decay. The NBA season is long, basketball is grueling, and old guys break down. The league is full of aging superstars who are always a tweak or aggravation away from street clothes.
In case you were busy mixing up Davy Crockett with Daniel Boone, much to your own embarrassment and chagrin, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Golden State Warriors, powered by Stephen Curry's 30 points, beat the Denver Nuggets, 131-117, to even up their first-round playoff series at a game apiece. Curry, who fought through a twisted ankle in the third quarter, said after the game, "Of course I overcame a twisted ankle. I'm Steph Curry. A twisted ankle to me is just an ankle. A sprained ankle for me feels like a twisted ankle for you. I need to have my entire foot removed from my shin at this point to be fazed by my ankle."
Despite a night that many would say was quiet by his standards, LeBron James and the Miami Heat used a strong fourth quarter to dispatch the Milwaukee Bucks, 98-86. "Sometimes you have to be subtle, understated," James said after the game. "You can't just score 40 every night; you have to treat each game like it's a snowflake. Sometimes you have to be gentle with it. Let it know you care, that you see its unique qualities. And then some snowflakes you drop 60 on because that's what that snowflake wants. Tonight wasn't about that. Tonight was about the velvet touch."
The Boston Celtics were met with boos as they jogged onto the court for pregame warm-ups Saturday, which seemed about right. It didn’t matter that the Celtics were wearing commemorative shirts that would be auctioned off for The One Fund Boston or that they had scrawled messages of support on their sneakers. “Get outta here!” a Knicks fan in the not-exactly-cheap seats playfully hollered, over and over, and why hold back? The rivalry between New York's and Boston’s teams is constant and occasionally vicious. It’s not like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were medics or detectives or firemen, they just happened to work there. Pray for Boston, etc. — but down with the afternoon’s invaders.
I can’t imagine anyone impartial rooted for the Knicks on Saturday, not with the game happening in such close proximity to last week’s events in Boston. It feels good to witness magic and harmony and spontaneous proclamations of civic pride, even if these moments of coming together can’t turn anything back. But someone had to lose, and it’s not like Doc Rivers wanted New York’s pity anyway. Shut off from the sentiments prevailing elsewhere, the atmosphere in and around the Garden was lively enough, though nowhere near as raucous as one would expect in this post–Honey Nut Cheerios world. After members of the New York and Boston fire departments presented the flag, Carmelo Anthony and Pierce strode to the center circle to offer statements on behalf of each team. Some fans started booing as soon as Pierce spoke, but everyone else aggressively hissed them quiet. You could resume hating him in a few minutes.
In case you were busy devising an elaborate fake game show so you could injure otherwise forgotten celebrities, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
LeBron James flirted with, but fell two assists shy of, a triple-double as his Miami Heat throttled the Milwaukee Bucks, 110-87, to begin their NBA title defense. "Yeah, I saw her across the court," James said of the triple-double. "And you know I was interested, so I said, 'What's up,' bought her a vodka soda, asked the triple-double about her interests. Stuff like that. I mean, there was some chemistry. We had some stuff in common: She's associated with three statistics; I have three MVPs. Stuff like that, you know? But some nights it's not about the triple-double. You aren't generous enough to get her, and that's OK. You learn from that. Triple-doubles aren't objects. Triple-doubles are unique snowflakes, and sometimes, they aren't yours to possess. I mean, we aren't all Oscar Robertson. He once said he had 10,000 triple-doubles. That number's probably too high, but we all know the guy was a player."
The San Antonio Spurs took care of business with a 91-79 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. The Spurs overcame the Lakers' perceived advantage inside, which exists because people forget how good Tim Duncan is. "Dwight should be dominating this game. What's going on?" asked self-described medium-core NBA fan Paul Witten of Dallas. "Wait, Tim Duncan's PER was over 24? That's like, really good, yeah? Does everyone know that Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan? Oh, man, this is what I get for tuning out the regular season when the Mavs went in the tank."
We asked some of our writers to tell us what they're expecting from the upcoming NBA playoffs.
Jay Caspian Kang: Miami will go 16-3 in the playoffs, and one of the losses will come to the Bucks. They'll also lose a game to the Knicks and the last one to the Thunder in the Finals. They're the first team since the first Ubuntu Celtics that's going to legitimately intimidate their opponents. The Nets vs. Bulls first-round series will be unwatchable. In the Western Conference, I think we'll see more than 10 different games in which a player scores more than 40 points. Steph Curry, Tony Parker, James Harden, Durant, and Westbrook will all turn in memorable performances. Oh, and this Western Conference playoffs, as a whole, will trend on Twitter every single night. Just so many great matchups and players there. Every series in the Western Conference will go at least six games, but all the top seeds will advance.
In preparation for the NBA playoffs, this is the first of four entries breaking down one key play or action central to the success of each playoff-bound team. Check back later this week for the remaining 12 breakdowns.
New York Knicks: The Carmelo Anthony Iso
New York was considered a relative afterthought in the Eastern Conference before the season started, but thanks to a shift in its offensive philosophy, the Knicks now represent the biggest threat to Miami. Their explosive offensive scheme leans heavily on their star forward to create mismatches in isolation plays all over the floor.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson gets Anthony into these spots in two ways. The first is by using false action.
By using a loop cut or quick down screen, the Knicks give Anthony just a little separation in order to cleanly get to his spot and use his jab-attack game. But because the team has played a vast majority of the season with one lone big (or sometimes none at all), it's also been able to just let Anthony walk into isos without any help.
The key to Anthony’s success is the newfound space he has to operate. With shooters spread around him, teams are forced to pick between letting Anthony attack an overmatched defender one-on-one or leaving an open shooter on the perimeter.
In case you were busy planning the ultimate prank (hint: you need Krazy Glue, a dozen Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and three rubber snakes), here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Despite a gruesome leg injury to reserve forward Kevin Ware, Louisville knocked off Duke, 85-63, to book a spot in the Final Four. "Man, that's the worst thing that I've ever seen on a basketball court," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino at his postgame press conference, "and I'm not talking about the refereeing. Zing. But seriously, I'm just gutted by what I saw today. Really soul-shaking stuff out there. And not just the refereeing — I'm sorry, I just can't stop zinging those guys. I know this isn't the time. Much as it wasn't the time for them to call a foul on every play right after Kevin hurt his leg. Damn it! Must. Stop. Zinging. Refs."
Brittney Griner and the Baylor Lady Bears were shocked by the Louisville Cardinals in the regional semifinals of the Women's NCAA Tournament, 82-81. "Can you dunk away the tears?" Griner asked her teammates after the game, before a horrifying wave of loneliness washed over her as she realized she was the only person in the room who could answer that question. Griner was later seen, alone in the deserted Chesapeake Energy Arena, yelling, "I feel nothing!" as she dunked ball after ball through the unguarded nets.