Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Warriors Wash Out

My Backyard, Healdsburg, CA April 2007
Golden State's run in this year's playoffs was both inspiring and awesome -- and at times completely frustrating.

Tonight's Game 5 loss to Utah summed up the Warriors' run -- the good, the bad and the oogily.

All you have to do is look at the last minute of the third quarter. The score is 77-73 Jazz and the Warriors have the ball and a little bit of momentum, what with their usual sure-fire three-point shooting not anywhere in building. Stephen Jackson has the ball on the wing and he's being guarded by Matt Harpring, who truth be told has been giving Jackson a tough time. But Harpring is known for his hard-nosed, football-style defense and Jackson won't be the last offensive player who lets him get under his skin.

Instead of sharing the ball, Jackson tries to go one-on-one against Harpring forces an ugly shot and the Jazz get the rebound. On the way down the court, a frustrated Jackson takes down Jazz point guard Dee Brown (who is playing for the first time since suffering a scary neck injury in Game 1). Jackson draws a flagrant foul, giving Utah two foul shots and the ball back. Bad enough until Jackson's jawing brings him a technical foul on top of that. So it's three free shots for the Jazz and the ball back.

Unbelievably, the Jazz miss all three foul shots and do not even score on their ensuing possession, and the Warriors are still in the game -- even after they just miss an ill-advised three-point shot on their next possession. Ah, but the writing was already on the wall.

There's a tiny bit of redemption in the way the Warriors handled the loss after the buzzer. As the final seconds were ticking off the clock in Utah's clinching 100-87 win, Jackson walked over to Utah coach Jerry Sloan and offered a congratulatory hug. The rest of the Warriors manned up too, staying on their opponent's court under a rain of purple and white confetti, to give propers to the winners.

As stupid as they played in the tight moments of this series, they handled the aftermath with aplomb. Here's hoping they come back more mature -- especially Jackson who is alternately a great team player, a solid citizen and a total freaking knucklehead who lets his emotions overrule is better intincts.

Congrats to the Jazz who proved that size really does matter in the NBA playoffs as they make it to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1998. The good news for Jerry Sloan is he won't be seeing Michael Jordan on the other guy's sideline. The bad news -- his team is going to be the dog to whoever makes it out of the Suns-Spurs war.

You'll hear a lot about how Derek Fisher was the difference-maker in this series and how Carlos Boozer ruled the paint, but allow me to give a shout out to Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap, two of the unsung heroes that made sure the Jazz got their business done. Kirilenko, who was in tears after a particularly poor performance in Utah's first-round series with Houston, has rediscovered the confidence that once made him the NBA's best all-around player. He hasn't yet played like the AK-47 of two season's ago but if he's able to reclaim that magic, the Jazz might just make it to the NBA Finals.

Millsap was just a beast inside. He was first to a lot of loose balls and offensive rebounds and he played great interior defense. He came through in some big moments, not bad for a guy who is getting his first taste of the grand stage of the NBA playoffs.

So much more fun to be had this postseason. I'll be checking back in with you after tomorrow night's game.


Undercover Black Man said...

I'm not watching the games, but I'm digging your commentary. Well done, S.O.L.

S.O.L. said...

Thanks, UBM. Glad someone is paying attention. :-D