On today's show, The Basketball Jones preview and predict the Western Conference finals. They also discuss George Hill's injury, Mike Woodson finally playing Chris Copeland, guys who have boosted their free-agency stock, whether Paul Pierce has played his last game in a Celtics uniform, the Kings staying in Sacramento, and the NBA's best and worst mascots.
All that, plus swirling winds, The Office, tiny "Baby Birdman," and more on crepes.
In case you were busy doing hilarious takes to a nonexistent camera when your friends and associates said absurd things, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a conclusion to a magnificently contested series that makes me wish to wax poetic, the San Antonio Spurs overcame a poor shooting night from their backcourt to oust the Golden State Warriors from the NBA playoffs with a 94-82 Game 6 win. Despite its premature end, twas a series in which all of the participants were worthy of the title warrior, even those generals who bestrode the sideline battling with their wits rather than their bodies. Sing oh muses of the ankle of Steph Curry, son of Dell, which brought countless ills first to his enemies, and then to himself! Such was the sovereign doom of a cursed team, and the will of Stern writ large: There shall be contested yet between famed warriors The Bron and Timothy Who Dunks a Finals that shall split the world in twine!
In a non-conclusion to an adequately contested series that makes me wish to speak plainly, the Knicks kept their hopes of an Eastern Conference finals showdown with Miami alive, beating a depleted Pacers team, 85-75, at Madison Square Garden. "Just taking it one day at a time," said Knicks coach Mike Woodson after the game, "because if we do more than that we'll become aware that the winner of this series gets the Heat and oh, no that's terrible! The winner of this series gets the Heat! Oh no, they have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Oh man, they also have Chris Bosh. Why did I stop taking it one day at a time? Why?"
The other night in San Antonio, the Spurs “regained control” of their series with the upstart Golden State Warriors. Their winning formula was familiar: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker led the team in field goal attempts, while Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green each provided valuable supplements. The Spurs have a clear hierarchy of talent and leadership that generally manifests into a predictably similar order on the stat sheet.
The current Warriors hierarchy is in a bit of disarray. Although these playoffs have undeniably improved the reputations of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Game 5 it was Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack leading the Warriors in field goal attempts, while Curry and Thompson were off somewhere in the basement of the Alamo.
OK, let's acknowledge this up front: When Russell Westbrook got hurt, everyone agreed it almost certainly killed OKC's title chances. They probably wouldn't even make it to the conference finals, we thought. Fast-forward two weeks, they go down in the Western semis, and suddenly people are criticizing Kevin Durant, second-guessing Sam Presti, and calling for Scott Brooks's job. It's ridiculous, yes.
And yet ... Even if the title window isn't closing as long as Durant and Westbrook are there, shouldn't it matter that the best young team we've seen since the Kobe-Shaq Lakers blew the doors off the West and went to the NBA Finals last year, and then came back and got worse? That happened, right? Even with Westbrook, this Grizzlies team would've given Oklahoma City problems, ditto for the Spurs, and the Heat would've destroyed them if they had gotten that far. Their regular-season numbers were great, but I tend to be on Team Marc Stein here: "The regular season didn't expose OKC but the playoffs would have."
Chris Ryan: This happened right after Zach Randolph's official postgame interview with one of TNT's sideline reporters. He was respectful of the Thunder, generous with his time, and praised both Golden State and San Antonio. Then he went over to Tony Allen and they rubbed their foreheads together and they spoke bear to one another and punched each other in the chest. Whatever the Grizzlies lack in the aesthetics department on the court, they more than make up for with their collective personality. This happens in the playoffs a lot. You watch a team enough times and they become three-dimensional; you start to notice all their personality quirks. It's happening in a big way with the Grizzlies. You just see them talking. ALL. GAME. LONG. No matter what. Talking to themselves, to each other, to the refs, to the opponents, to fans, to hecklers, to no one in particular. They talk when things go right, they talk when things go wrong. And when they aren't talking their facial expressions are doing the talking for them …
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. The Kawhi Leonard–for–George Hill Trade
Danny Chau: It was a good night for the 2011 trade that sent George Hill to the Pacers and the draft rights to Kawhi Leonard to the Spurs. At the time, it was a shrewd attempt from both franchises to patch up their more glaring weaknesses. The Pacers needed a versatile, two-way player to fill in the gaps left in the Pacers’ backcourt, and the Spurs needed an infusion of youth, a lottery-type talent that they hadn’t been able to acquire since Tim Duncan (really fitting that Leonard fell one spot outside the lottery). Now, less than two years later, the trade is one of the reasons why each team is only one win away from their respective conference finals.
Hill and Leonard were incredible last night. Hill was the only bright spot in the Pacers offense, which shot 35.4 percent without him (his 9-for-14 outing single-handedly raised that figure to 40.8 percent), while Leonard, who was nearly perfect from the field, shooting 7-for-8, was the model of efficiency for a Spurs team that couldn’t miss.
Hill has been exactly what the Pacers needed to make this kind of playoff push. Like Mike Conley Jr., who is rightfully getting a lot of buzz right now, Hill will likely never be an All-Star, but his role as a game manager and a sneaky offensive threat sets a standard for the Pacers offense. He’s provided a steadying influence for the once-wild Lance Stephenson and allayed Paul George’s growing pains in his ascent to stardom.
Leonard, like Hill in his days as a Spur, plays a significant role as a fourth option, never hijacking the attention for too long. It was frustrating to watch Hill at times, knowing he was capable of more, but there was always going to be a ceiling to his contributions playing behind Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. There is no such limit for Leonard, but he often plays like there is. His youthful reticence and by-the-book abidance to the system is partly the cause, but we also might be asking too much of him too soon in the first place.
Fortunately, there’s still time, because it seems likely both teams will advance. Last night was a good example of what these players are capable of when let loose. It wasn’t a trade that heavily tipped the scales at the time, but both teams have come away as big winners since.
2. The Basketball Koans of Metta World Peace
Knicks are trying to find themselves on the go. Kinda like take out food or a drive thru. They can't find the ketchup. >>>>>
netw3rk: In his inimitable, fractured, non sequitur way, Metta World Peace perfectly summed up the Knicks', and Mike Woodson’s, strategic efforts against the Pacers last night in Game 4. And listen, regardless of what lineups Woodson puts on the floor at whatever junction of the game, the Pacers are the best defensive team in the league. They have excellent rim protection, the athleticism to guard Melo, and they are the best in the league at defending the 3-pointer. They are the better team. OK, fine, but in what universe is playing Pablo Prigioni — who you could easily argue is New York's best point guard — 3 minutes and 26 seconds TOTAL, while giving Jason Kidd, who at this point is ambulating around the court sheerly by rigor mortis, almost 16 minutes?
Less than 90 seconds into Monday’s Game 4 between the Bulls and Heat, something seemingly uneventful happened. Dwyane Wade had just received an entry pass down on the right block, where he was doubled by Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer. Joakim Noah was also interested in stopping Wade, and he had strayed from Udonis Haslem to camp out alone at the crown of the restricted area. Suddenly, one of those non sequitur whistles sounded and play abruptly stopped.
Joakim Noah was called for defensive three seconds, which results in a technical foul. This call established early on that the refs were not going to tolerate Noah’s cheating toward the basket, thus denying the Bulls a vital tactical advantage.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Tony Allen
Danny Chau: I’ve replayed Tony Allen’s game-clinching steal in Game 4 a hundred times and it doesn’t get any less awesome. Kevin Martin fakes a pick for Kevin Durant, which leaves him completely open behind enemy lines. All Derek Fisher had to do was bullet it to Martin and he most likely would have had an easy basket or gotten fouled by a recovering Marc Gasol. Instead, Fisher opts for a bounce pass that travels at a rate slower than the man himself. Allen sees this somehow, and pirouettes around Gasol in the paint to snatch the ball and essentially seal the victory. It all happens in less than a second. The crowd roars and starts a “TONY!” chant during the timeout. He blows a kiss right back at them. It’s love. It’s that simple.
You get a sense that they appreciate things differently down in Memphis. They accept most of Allen’s feckless layup attempts because one day, when the moon’s glow is just right, some fool is going to bite on one of his pump fakes from way out in the boonies (relative to Allen’s range), and he’ll have a layup so easy even he can’t miss it.
And the fans will cheer because he deserves it, he who has spent his entire career mastering the most difficult craft in basketball, which has left him more or less incapable of making a sensible offensive play. But it’s a fair price to pay, and no team understands that more than the Grizzlies. Allen could play for any team he wants next season, but on any other team, he’s just a defender. In Memphis, he’s a spirit animal.
In case you were busy trying to prevent the refrain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind from morphing into the theme from The Sting in your mind, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Bruins overcame a 4-1 third-period deficit before completing the comeback with a Patrice Bergeron overtime winner as Boston eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the NHL playoffs in a heartbreaking Game 7. While congratulations are in order for Boston, it should also be noted that the devastating loss was taken well by the people of Toronto, who, luckily, are fairly agnostic toward the game of hockey and have a very limited history of suffering with the town's most popular team.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat dominated the Chicago Bulls on both ends of the court en route to an 88-65 win at United Center. Diminutive Bulls guard Nate Robinson, who had starred earlier in the series, was held without a field goal in the defeat, which he attributed after the game to being, "Yeah, shorter than everyone else. That's why. Guess after all these years that finally caught up to me. It wasn't at all because of Miami's defense combined with a little bit of fatigue. It's my genes. Thanks, Randy Newman."
In Part 1 of 2, Bill Simmons talks to Joe House about the NHL and NBA playoffs, then asks which playoff city is House's food favorite. In Part 2, Simmons calls Zach Lowe to talk about the NBA playoffs and whether Golden State can pull off the upset over the Spurs.
To listen to these podcasts, download them on iTunes here, or to listen at the ESPN.com Podcenter, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous weekend, along with ones you will remember forever.
The Black Falcon Has Landed
Jay Caspian Kang: Last spring, when the Golden State Warriors were redefining the acceptable parameters of tanking and Harrison Barnes was redefining the boundaries of how badly I could troll a player on my beloved Carolina Tar Heels, I wrote a series of columns stating the Warriors were doing the NBA a disservice and that Barnes was a bust. Around that time, I recall a friend joking that the best possible outcome would be if the Warriors tanked their way into the middle of the lottery and picked up Barnes. That way, my two beloved hatreds could be intertwined forever. If Barnes ended up being an NBA bust, the specious logic of sports predictions and the Internet record would vindicate me forever.
In case you were busy asking, "yeah, but when is Spoiled Only-Child Day?" here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tiger Woods won his second career Players Championship and his fourth PGA Tour event this year, finishing the tournament at 13-under. Woods benefited from Sergio Garcia's quadruple-bogey on TPC's iconic 17th hole. "I can't believe it," Tiger said after the tournament, "I thought for sure I was in trouble. You don't just stare down Sergio Garcia and live to tell the tale. I'm shocked that he made it easy for me. Shoooooocked." When told of Woods's comments, Garcia said, "Why? What's his problem, man? Guy has everything. He has a boat that holds other boats in it. He has a trophy case that is just all of the trophies he doesn't like melted down and turned into a trophy case. Why's he gotta come after me? What's he compensating for? What trouble has Tiger f-ing Woods ever had to deal with? Can we talk about that for a second? Can we talk about Tiger Woods's hypothetical personal troubles?" When told of Garcia's questions, Woods asked, "Wasn't he married to Greg Norman's daughter?" before winking provocatively at the press corps. When told of Tiger's wink, Sergio let out a frustrated scream. When told of Sergio's scream, Tiger let out a sarcastic chuckle. When told of Tiger's sarcastic chuckle, Sergio sighed. When told of Sergio's sigh, Tiger fist-pumped. When told of Tiger's fist pump, Sergio's lip began to quiver. When told of Sergio's lip quiver, Tiger didn't look up from his dinner of truffles and lobsters. When told of Tiger's feast, Sergio let one tear trickle down his cheek. When told of Sergio's tear, Tiger turned his laptop toward the reporter talking to him; the laptop had a really smug animated GIF playing on loop. When told of Tiger's GIF burn, Sergio asked, "Isn't that pronounced with a hard 'G,' like Garcia?" But it isn't, and when a reporter went to tell Tiger of Sergio's foolishness, he was too busy watching someone polishing his trophy case made of trophies to acknowledge the reporter's existence.
Even with Stephen Curry at less than full strength, the Golden State Warriors evened up their series with the San Antonio Spurs with a 97-87 overtime win. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was concerned after the game, saying, "Now that Curry is banged up, Mark Jackson discovered he's allowed to rest him. That sprained ankle cost us a massive competitive advantage in this series."
If the first two games were any indication, the second-round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies is going to be decided by the slimmest of margins. A mere eight points is all that has separated the two squads as they head to the River City, and between two evenly matched sides, any advantage, no matter how minuscule, could prove to be the deciding factor. It’s with this in mind that a four-minute stretch from Game 2’s second quarter might say a lot about Oklahoma City’s chances.
In the absence of Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City can no longer overcome its role players’ offensive deficiencies with the sheer firepower of two superstars. To come anywhere close to the incredibly efficient offense they were in the regular season, the Thunder now need space and shooters around Kevin Durant. Against Houston, a team with exactly one effective big man (Omer Asik), this was easily accomplished without exposing the Thunder to mismatch problems inside.
The Grizzlies duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph bring a different challenge. They make it much more difficult for the Thunder to both field these smaller lineups and match up with the Memphis front line. In two games, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has chosen to match the Grizzlies behemoths with his own, but this has meant giving a staggering number of minutes to two players, Kendrick Perkins and Hasheem Thabeet, who should be relative afterthoughts.