Saturday, April 26, 2014

For Home Teams, Nothing Is Easy: Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Troy Daniels (Who?) Save Their Teams

Five overtime games so far in the first round, and no series has gone past Game 3 yet. Oh, and both 4-5 series are devoid of wins by the home team. Play, Ian.

I didn't see much of Nets-Raptors, because watching these teams makes me sad. I get that they are playing close games in front of great crowds, and Kyle Lowry is doing nice things... but if you like to see a grindy old team nearly blow a game at the line, only to see the athletic young team blow it right back, have at it. I've got too much pretty to watch instead.

In Washington, the Bulls staved off a 3-0 hole behind a career night from Mike Dunleavy Jr. -- and by career night, I mean his entire damned career hasn't been worth this one game -- and a poor decision ejection for the Wizards' Nene Hilario. After watching the Bulls blow both games at home, this was borderline shocking, but if Dunleavy is going to hit eight freaking threes, that just tells you that there's a blood moon or something going on.

The Bulls have to be thrilled to have a pulse, especially when they didn't really get good games from anyone but Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler (who was the focus of Nene's ire, and also had a big three late). If Hilario gets tossed from Game Four, which seems quite possible given the MMA nature for his contact with the smaller Butler, this could swing right back into Chicago's favor, when they looked eminently sweepable.

If you had given me a list of players who could swing a series for their team, I think I would have listed some guys who are not in the Association right now, before I got to Dunleavy The Younger. I was in the Bay Area when he broke into the NBA as the third overall pick (yes, seriously, he went #3), and I got to see his utter lack of game at close range. But every dog will have their day, and this was clearly his. He now has the most three pointers in a playoff game in franchise history. Seriously, it's not Michael Jordan, B.J. Armstrong, Craig Hodges or Scottie Pippen... it's Mike Freaking Dunleavy. Junior. Previous career high in a playoff: 17. Tonight, 35. Literally no one saw this coming.

The night ended in the glorious West, where in Portland, Houston continued the road warrior ways with an overtime win over the Blazers, who finally got a human effort from LaMarcus Aldridge, but still clearly could have won just on the effort of point guard Damian Lillard. Houston got a determined bounce-back game from James Harden that started to reclaim the idea that he's actually an asset, some good work from center Dwight Howard, and some early threes from defensive savant point guard Patrick Beverly. But Terrence Jones was an utter no-show -- this is a terrible match-up for him, because he's got no one that he looks comfortable guarding -- and when you are relying on Jeremy Lin for crunch-time minutes in the same backcourt as Beverly, you have a 3-guard lineup where two guys can't defend. There's only so much that Beverly and Dwight Howard can do to cover that, and it's not like Chandler Parsons is a stopper, either.

Watching the fourth quarter of this game, with the Rocket lead slip sliding away, was like watching the tide come in. Possession after possession as the clock ticked down, the Blazers got closer and closer, and looked better and better... and when Howard finally missed a free throw, and Lilliard beat Harden off the dribble by miles, which he just kept doing... they finally had the lead with 1:59 to play. And then the Rockets called time, Harden got to the line twice, Aldridge missed, and Lin had a clear transition opportunity to go up five with 40 seconds let... and misses. Portland got Nicolas Batum clear for a three, which he buried, and we had the rarest thing in the NBA -- a crazy exciting and fast end of game, because neither team called time during all of that. Have I mentioned that the NBA's first round is the best?

This was just a crazy tight game, with the refs ignoring a lot of stuff that usually get technical foul calls, and players ping-ponging from hero to goat with utter randomness. Harden had 37-9-6, but set a new Rockets record in shots taken to get there. Lin made some great plays, but also missed a layup that could have ended it in the final minute and had a bad turnover in OT, while missing a 3 that could have been huge. Then he got his hands on the ball at the end of an ugly scramble possession, found D-League Refugee Troy Daniels at the arc, and the undrafted anonymity just canned the killshot. Just loco. A guy who had only played 75 freaking minutes all year saves the season, at least for one more game. He even secured the board off the Blazers' last gasp, though it was more to the credit of Beverly, who skied for the tip on his should have had an operation knee. If you are a Rocket Fan and you don't love Beverly, something's wrong with you.

Just like in DC, we're one more road moment away from the series going back to re-start and the favorite having the upper hand. You have to think that Harden's starting to find his way in this series, and Howard is looking better than he has in years; Portland's lack of bench remains troubling. But the Rockets have all of these one-way players, and Aldridge might go back to Unstoppable Mode. The dark horse pick for bet series in the first round is gaining steam, but it's got competition all over the board.

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