Rose wins the NBA MVP Award, but will his team survive semifinals? Also, news and analysis from around the league.
By Michael Brown,
Sentinel Sports Writer
Top-Seeded Bulls Look Ripe for Upset
The Bulls weren’t the only team to drop Game 1 in the NBA playoff semifinals, but they looked the most vulnerable by far.
Unlike the Oklahoma City and the Lakers, the Bulls’ problems may not be fixable.
After losing Monday night to the Atlanta Hawks 103-95, blowing home court advantage was the least of their worries.
That’s because late in the game, point guard Derrick Rose turned his left ankle after stepping on an opponent’s foot. Luckily for the Bulls, the x-rays came back negative.
However, Chicago’s luck may be temporary.
For weeks I have been writing about Chicago’s vulnerability at shooting guard, and asking how they would respond to a bad shooting night by Rose, who was named NBA MVP Tuesday.
Well, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford exposed the Bulls’ spotty play at the two, and Rose was terrible from the field (11-for-27) in the loss.
Chicago Coach Tom Thibodeau was presented with the NBA Coach of the Year Award Sunday which is well deserved, but his coaching prowess will be put to the test.
Atlanta Coach Larry Drew has already made re-adjustments in preparation for the Bulls. Drew used three centers to hack away at Dwight Howard, helping the Hawks advance.
During Game 1, Drew never allowed two of his three-headed monster, Josh Powell and Hilton Armstrong, to see the court, opting for a smaller lineup.
As a result, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford smelled blood in the water anytime they saw Kyle Korver or Keith Bogans on the floor for the Bulls.
Johnson scored 34 points, including going five-for-five from the 3-point line and Crawford finished with 22 points off the bench.
There’s no need to jump to conclusions after Game 1, but there are glaring problems the Bulls have to answer.
Korver is the team’s best shooter, but it’s obvious he can’t be on the floor for extended minutes this series. He’s a liability on defense and the Hawks athletic tandem will have a field day.
Carlos Boozer and Loul Deng are going to have problems at the forward positions as well. Atlanta’s Marvin Williams and Josh Smith are both long, rangy athletes who disrupt smaller shooters.
Deng shot the ball well (8-for-12) but, didn’t prove to be a difference maker. Boozer and Joakim Noah must score more if the Bulls are going to advance.
As Rondo Goes, so go the Celtics
A few years back that statement would have been heresy, with the young guard playing fourth fiddle to three future Hall of Famers.
But times have changed. Rajon Rondo has emerged as the most important Celtic on the current squad, and like it or not, their championship aspirations hinge on his play.
I sang his praises last week after the Celtics eliminated the Knicks, but he responded with a sour note of a performance Sunday at Miami.
Rondo finished Game 1 with eight points on 3-for-10 shooting from the field with seven assists and five key turnovers.
Although Rondo wasn’t assigned to guard Dwayne Wade, he could have at least lifted a finger to stop him from scoring 38 points in the Heat’s 99-90 victory.
In fairness to Rondo, Ray Allen was the only Celtic to show a pulse at Miami, finishing with 25 points.
I expect Boston to even up the series in Game 2 due to several reasons.
First, the chances of Miami’s James Jones equaling his Game 1 total of 25 points, including 5-for-5 from the 3-point line, aren’t likely.
Jones, a reserve, took advantage of wide open looks at the basket while members of the Celtics’ bench were ineffective.
Aside from Jones, the rest of Miami’s bench scored four points. Celtics reserves such as Jeff Green, Glen Davis and Delonte West have to capitalize.
Depth is clearly in Boston’s favor and I expect them to assert themselves on both ends of the floor. They’ll be needed during what looks to be a thrilling seven-game series.
It’s Official: Memphis is for Real
For a franchise that had never won a playoff game coming into the current postseason, they sure do make it look easy, particularly on the road.
Memphis caught the attention of the NBA world a few weeks back when they won Game 1 at San Antonio. They proved that was no fluke by winning Sunday at Oklahoma City, 114-101.
What makes both wins all the more impressive is that the Grizzlies finished the regular season 16-25 on the road.
The Grizzlies won Game 1 against the Thunder by sticking to the same formula they used to beat the Spurs: When in doubt, feed the big men.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol pushed around the Spurs’ aging frontline and they had their way with Oklahoma City’s as well.
Randolph scored 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Gasol finished with 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field, 13 rebounds and three blocks.
Memphis’ upset win was helped along by the Thunder’s erratic play at times. The Grizzlies took care of the ball, limiting themselves to eight turnovers while the Thunder committed 18.
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook finished with 29 points, but that was misleading. The former Bruin had a terrible game and looked wild at times.
Westbrook committed seven turnovers and finished with more shots (9-for-23) than No. 1 scorer Kevin Durant, who scored 33 points on 11-for-21 shooting.
Serge Ibaka had a nice game, but Kendrick Perkins didn’t produce on either side of the floor for the Thunder.
That must change if the Thunder has any plans to advance. Durant has to demand the ball on the offensive end and along with his coach, corral Westbrook when he jacks up too many outside shots.
At times, Westbrook appears to be trying to mimic Chicago’s Derrick Rose by taking a high volume of shots. However, Chicago’s offense revolves around Rose. Its success is dependent upon him taking a lot of shots and controlling the offense.
Westbrook has the most dynamic scorer in the league as a teammate and someone needs to remind him of that.
True, the Thunder need Westbrook’s scoring, but he must facilitate and defer to Durant first. If not, the Grizzlies would be wise to let him launch as many errant shots as possible.
That way, there will be no need to double-team Durant.
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