Let’s get a little overly dramatic here, shall we?
On what will forever be known as Black Wednesday everywhere from Boston to Brooklyn to Beijing to Barcelona, commissioner David Stern’s referees swallowed their whistles when Rajon Rondo got whacked in the forehead late in overtime, and Stern’s ping-pong ball machine magically delivered the No. 1 pick in the draft to the league-owned New Orleans Hornets — all on the same night Stern sounded as though he endorsed the idea of banning anyone 24 or older from playing men’s basketball at the Olympics.
Does that lede satisfy the conspiracy theorists, the Stern haters and Celtics Nation?
Well, nothing short of banner No. 18 will satisfy Celtics nation — not even the memory of Rondo’s 44-point, 53-minute epic performance in what turned into a painful 115-111 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals (Boxscore here).
What Celtics fans will remember most is Rondo falling to the floor with 1:35 remaining in overtime after missing a driving layup on which he was hit across the forehead by Dwyane Wade. No foul was called, and the Heat went downcourt and got a transition dunk from Udonis Haslem that put them ahead to stay, 107-105.
From Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: “After last night’s game, Danny Ainge stopped Joe Borgia, the NBA’s officiating supervisor, in an attempt to get an explanation for the clear-path foul call against Mickael Pietrus on LeBron James early in the fourth quarter. Then there was Rajon Rondo’s missed reverse layup late in overtime, when he appeared to get hit in the face. … There were the amazing 24 free throws attempted by James, Miami’s 47-29 edge in attempted free throws, and the fact that Paul Pierce [stats], Pietrus and Keyon Dooling all fouled out. The Celtics were clearly left wondering about the officiating crew of Ken Mauer, James Capers and Tom Washington last night, as much as some tried to contain their chagrin. “Can you call it something else besides 50-50 calls?” coach Doc Rivers said in reply to a question about how the Celtics appeared to lose out on most of the calls that could have gone either way. “Can you come up with another percentage? . . . I cannot (comment on it). Listen, it is what it is. LeBron James took 24 free throws tonight and our team took 29. Paul Pierce fouled out of a game where he was attacking the basket. It’s just tough. But we just have to keep playing. I tell my guys that it doesn’t matter. We can’t get distracted. We will not get distracted in this series.”
The Celtics did not play a distracted game, quite the contrary.
Ray Allen rediscovered his shooting touch, made five shots, scored 13 points and logged 43-plus minutes despite the bone spurs in his ankles. Kevin Garnett scored 18 but missed a dozen shots, including an airballed 3-pointer from the corner with 46 seconds left in overtime and Boston trailing by five. Pierce had 21 points but went 0-for-5 on 3s, and Rondo was utterly magnificent in putting up a line of 44 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and three steals as he put his team on his back.
But The Celtics got only seven points from their reserves and were outrebounded on the offensive glass 13-8, whereas Miami not only got 34 points from James and 23 from Dwyane Wade, but also 22 from Mario Chalmers and 13 from Udonis Haslem. The Heat had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but James missed an isolation 20-foot jumper just before the final horn.
From Ethan Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: “The Heat survived the third-highest scoring performance by any opposing player in a playoff game -third to Michael Jordan’s 56 and 46 in the same 1992 series. Barely. ”Embrace the difficult,” Spoelstra called his team’s mind-set. And was this ever difficult, to survive Rondo at his most sublime – by far the most electric all-around performance by any opponent against the Heat this season. So it’s hard to see how Miami will have to endure anything worse, even in the unfriendly confines of the TD Garden. It’s hard to see how Spoelstra won’t author some adjustments, showing more respect for the outside shot of a player who made a healthy 39 percent of his long-range two-point attempts this season, no matter what he says. “I have no idea,” Spoelstra said of what to attempt next. “I’ll be honest. We’ve tried almost everything on him.” It’s hard to see how Rondo shoots 16-of-24 again, considering he hadn’t made that many field goals in any game of this regular season or post-season, reaching double-figures in that category just five times. Of course, the Celtics will see this differently. They’ll argue that they nearly had the Heat beat in Miami’s building, even with several Celtics players – including Paul Pierce – in foul trouble, and might have finished the job had Wade been called for raking Rondo’s face late in overtime, with Rondo attempting to break a tie on a reverse layup. The Celtics will see promise in Ray Allen’s better balance, and find hope in the way that James failed to finish when given the chance at the end of the fourth quarter. The Celtics won’t worry that merely getting into overtime required one of the epic performances in their proud post-season history, or that Rondo could wear down under the unbelievable burden. But they will know this. ”It’s tough for him to play that way, and not win the game,” Rivers said. It’s tough, because we may all be waiting forever to see anyone play that way again.
So the NBA playoffs now have two series in which teams hold 2-0 leads, with the action shifting to Oklahoma City and Boston for the next four nights.
We’ve all heard the expression a series doesn’t truly begin until the home team loses a game, but only 14 teams in NBA history have come back from 2-0 playoff deficits. And it is entirely possible that the weekend will end with the NBA Finals matchup already determined.
The Spurs are taking a 20-game winning streak into tonight’s Game 3 in OKC, and the Heat are the Heat. They have arguably the best two individual performers remaining in this postseason, although Kevin Durant fans might argue otherwise (as might Rondo fans).
What there is no argument over is who will be the No. 1 selection in the NBA draft four weeks from now, and Anthony Davis will be spending the next several years in New Orleans showing whether he truly was worthy of all those comparisons that were made calling him the best defensive prospect since Bill Russell. And by the time next season begins, Tom Benson’s purchase of the Hornets should be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors.
But also, for the forseeable future, folks will wonder whether last night’s lottery was fixed — especially after commissioner Stern nixed a pre-season trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers for a package of players that would have made the Hornets playoff contenders rather than the worst team in the Western Conference.
From Reid Cherner of USA Today: “Was it “karma” as Davis suggested or something more sinister that got the Hornets, about to be sold by the NBA, the top pick? And what about Davis returning to the city where he won a national title with Kentucky. And we will throw in Saints owner Tom Benson being the new buyer. Hmmm. We won’t even mention that Michael Jordan, who has some conspiracy issues attached to his first retirement, watched his game-worst Bobcats lose out on the lottery and settle for the No. 2 pick. We kid about the shenanigans but we may not be in the majority. Was the lottery process on the up-and-up?
For the record, we do not subscribe to any conspiracy theories other than the 1985 Patrick Ewing lottery being fishy, to say the least (Video evidence linked in this post).
There are too many neutral observers in the ping-pong ball room, there is a top accounting firm, Ernst & Young (although someone there does not know the difference between Andrew Bogut and Andrew Bynum) overseeing the process, and the NBA even allows the media to observe the proceedings.
But cries of “FIX”" were going to be heard if the Hornets won, and they were certainly being screamed loud and often in the latter hours of Wednesday night.
But not in NOLA.
From John DeShazier of the New Orleans Times-Picayune: “There’s no way of knowing whether Anthony Davis will add an NBA championship in New Orleans to the NCAA title he helped Kentucky win. But with a joy bordering on hysteria, the Hornets franchise will get the chance to find out. Davis, the consensus game-changing player in the 2012 NBA draft, officially became a Hornet on Wednesday night when, against the odds, New Orleans came up with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft lottery. “It’s like karma,” Davis said. It’s like justice, I say. No, the Hornets – who also own the No. 10 pick in the draft, courtesy of their trade with the Clippers – didn’t have the best odds of winning the Davis Sweepstakes. That privilege was owned by Charlotte, which had a 25 percent chance of landing Davis compared to New Orleans’ 13.7 percent. The Bobcats earned the inside track by virtue of a historically horrific level of ineptitude, a 7-59 record that amounted to the worst single-season winning percentage (.106) ever in the NBA. But the Hornets were no less needful of Davis’ talents than were the Bobcats. New Orleans played two unsettling seasons under league ownership, had a former All-Star (David West) decline his player option and leave as a free agent, had another All-Star (Chris Paul) request a trade, essentially was sentenced to the lottery when the league rejected the first Paul trade (a three-way trade with Houston and the Lakers that immediately would’ve made the Hornets competitive), and was among the league leaders last season in games lost to injury. “You can’t control those Ping-Pong balls,” said Coach Monty Williams, who represented the franchise in New York. “We certainly don’t feel like we deserve anything.” He’s in the minority on that one.
Before we close, we would be remiss if we did not include a mention of Stern’s endorsement of a discussion about limiting future international competitions to players 23 and younger. Doesn’t he remember Seoul? Or Munich?
From an item posted last night on this site, headlined “David Stern wants to ruin the Olympics”: “After the United States lost in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) opened the competition to professionals, and the greatest team ever assembled, the original Dream Team, made a such a splash at the Barcelona Olympics that it led to the global growth of the game. The Americans won gold in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2008, with the 2004 team losing three times and finishing with the bronze medal. Team USA is heading to London this summer with a team that may rival the original Dream Team in terms of talent. But will it be the last time we see America’s very best take on the very best from other countries? From listening to Stern and (depute commissioner Adam) Silver, it seems quite possible. “We think international soccer has an excellent model and in the case of soccer, of course, there’s the World Cup of football, which is the biggest sporting event in the world every four years, and then in the off-years, for the World Cup, they play, in essence, with some exceptions, a 23-and-under competition at the Olympics,” Silver said. “And there’s a recognition, certainly Mark Cuban, other owners have raised repeatedly the issue of our players playing in essence year round when you add the Olympics to our newly-renamed World Championship of Basketball to our World Cup of Basketball. So when you have the Olympics, the World Cup of basketball, we are taking a very close look at whether it makes sense from an NBA standpoint and a global basketball standpoint for the top players to be playing at that level on a year round basis,” Silver said. “So what we have told FIBA, and what David has announced several times, is that we are all in through the London Olympics, and then post-London Olympics, we want to step back together with USA Basketball, led by Jerry Colangelo and Patrick Baumann in FIBA and … we need to take a long-term view of what makes sense both for the NBA and for the game.”
I am adamantly opposed, and I will post a podcast later today in which I may my case why this is an epic act of idiocy. Follow me on Twitter, and I’ll alert you to when you can give it a listen.