Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Every Single Night's A Fight

Every April
A couple of weeks ago, I was playing golf with friends. We got to the 18th, an elevated par 5, 500+ yards, a beautiful driving hole. And I absolutely crush my drive. It's one of those abiding memories, the sun setting, everything pristine and perfect, and my ball is ascending in that damn near professional way, bouncing high on the fairway, kicking further down the green, leaving me dead center for my second shot.

I am not a good golfer. I consider it a great round if I don't lose too many balls and finish under 100. But I have my moments, as does every hack, that keep me coming back. And I'm old and smart enough to remember the good shots, and do everything I can to keep them fresh in my mind.

What I am not smart enough to do is to, well, put that shot out of my mind and play the second one well. Or just to pick up the ball and call that my final shot of the day, knowing that nothing else as good can happen after that.

And that's how I feel about the NBA's first round.

Let's get the compulsories out of the way first. Washington ended Chicago in a rock fight that might have been the final game for Tom Thibodeau in Chicago. It hurt the eyes, the rim, and the continuing fact that people who go to bed early have no idea why this first round has been so awesome. Congrats to the Wiz, who have to be considered the favorite to win their next series, since they'll get either the Hawks or Pacers. Moving on.

Tonight in Oklahoma City, something historic happened; the first time in a playoff series that the game went to overtime for the *fourth* straight game. No, seriously. Tonight was a big early Grizzly lead on the road, then a furious Thunder comeback, then a rock fight for most of the fourth and a late Grizz lead... which was erased by a Russell Westbrook strip and slam to tie it. Zach Randolph's game winning tip at the buzzer was a tenth of a second late, and history was made. In the overtime, Mike Miller made two threes, the Thunder fought back with a grow-up effort from Serge Ibaka, and then true weirdness happened.

Down two late, Kevin Durant got to the line with a chance to tie it. He hit the first, and was about to take the second when referee Joey Crawford -- honestly, I love the Association, but how many years do we need to have these Joey Crawford moments -- seized the ball from him instead of letting him shoot in rhythm, berating the scorer's table for some unknown transgression. After a minute of choice shade and delay, Durant inevitably missed the second. OKC got a stop and the ball back with 3 seconds left. The inbounds came to Durant, who hoisted from forever and missed. Ibaka then tipped it in for the apparent win... but the refs had him late to the clock, and rather than review the replay for the extensive amount that you'd think that a series-changing play would warrant, Crawford was definitive. And, seemingly, irritated at having to work overtime. No goal, Grizz win, 3-2 series with the chance to close it out in six.

I have no idea if Ibaka scored in time. I also have no idea why your need one point end of game play is a contested 30-footer. And I have absolutely no idea why Crawford goes into full freakout twice, with merely the entire series on the line. What I do know is that this matchup, just like every other freaking series in the West, is absolutely medicinal grade hoop, glistening and perfect, hopelessly addictive. And I'm rooting for seven games no matter who wins it.

And then there's the late game.

In Los Angeles, against the backdrop of the incredible Donald Sterling resolution (at least for now, before the lawyers get into it)... we pick it up in the third. With TNT puling for Stephen Curry to get into it, he seemingly hears the announce team, drains a deuce, then makes an absurd three off a fast break for the lead. The Clips then get turnovers -- Curry's true Achilles heel now that his ankles have seemingly grown into adulthood -- to get the lead back. Deep foul trouble littering prominent players on both sides. The crowd seems subdued, not sure if it's a holdover from the unseemliness earlier in the week, or just plain worry that the Warriors aren't going to be denied. Chris Paul with the hero ball triple to end the third, and the Dubs nearly hit a 55-footer to answer. Ye Gads.

In the fourth, the Dubs just kept matching shot for shot and play for play, with the Clips seemingly struggling, but maintaining their lead. I kept expecting the Dubs to take a lead, and it kept not happening. Curry with a late clock three? Jamal Crawford right back with an answering one. Andre Iguodala with the resurrection series, but Blake Griffin just growing with every possession... and because this isn't Thunder vs. Grizz, it actually led to a game that wasn't decided in the final minute.

Credit DeAndre Jordan, who made enough free throws to make intentional fouling a bad play, and Jamal Crawford, who has been on fire for the last two games.

Such a difference for the Clips in Game Five. Wonder why?

So, why did the Clips hang on? Well, they do have the better bigs, and even with a balky hamstring, Paul is just so damned mentally tough. But the biggest edge that the Clips have is on the sidelines, where Doc Rivers has somehow Jedi Mind Tricked the Warriors into not getting enough shots for Curry (5 for 10 tonight?), who got Jordan back into the game after an AWOL Game Four, and who just managed the most ridiculous owner situation ever...

And he's got his team up 3-2, with two chances to finish.

Maybe Mark Jackson never really had a chance in this series, what with Andrew Bogut not suiting up. But it's not as if he's got nothing from Jermaine O'Neal, and after watching the job Rivers has done on him, I'm not sure it would have mattered. Final score: Clippers 113, Warriors 103.

What a round. And it's far from over.

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