NBA Preview 2008: A Glimpse into the Future
With all the NBA Previews floating around, here’s an uncompromising vision of the 2008 NBA Playoffs…
Mid-April 2008: the NBA Playoffs are set
1. Celtics (58-24) versus 8. Knicks (41-41)
2. Pistons (52-30) versus 7. Cavs (43-39)
3. Magic (47-35) versus 6. Heat (45-37)
4. Bulls (47-35) versus 5. Nets (46-36)
1. Suns (61-21) versus 8. Kings (43-39)
2. Spurs (59-23) versus 7. Hornets (46-36)
3. Nuggets (54-28) versus 6. Rockets (51-31)
4. Mavs (54-28) versus 5. Jazz (52-30)
The first round of the 2008 NBA Playoffs featured a few laughers, some unforgettable subplots and one epic series. In the East, the Celtics beat the Knicks in four. In Game 1 Isiah Thomas (who just before the postseason signed himself to a 10-day $40 million contract to prevent Stephon Marbury from running point) took the opening tip and drove to the basket. The ensuing swat by Kevin Garnett was so severe that player-coach-GM Isiah opted to forfeit the series and all three of his job titles, and move to a country where it wasn’t frowned upon for a male boss to make sexually insinuating remarks to a female subordinate. The next day Marbury led the Knicks in a parade down Broadway.
The Nets/Bulls series was a first round joke, as Vince Carter dropped 45 in Jersey’s Game 1 victory. His agents then informed him on a conference call that the 2008-09 season wasn’t a contract year, and the Nets lost the next four straight. In the 3-6 matchup Dwight Howard and the Magic knew something was awry when Shaq rolled up to Amway Arena in a 22-wheeler emitting pungent diesel fumes. In the Heat’s 4-1 series win, Shaq went for at least 18 and 12 each night.
The best series was a rematch from last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, between the Pistons and Cavs, won by King James. The Pistons made the necessary adjustments and were in position to eliminate the Cavs in Game 6 before Lebron iced Rasheed Wallace at the free throw line, if you can call it that. As he did to Gilbert Arenas two years ago, Lebron walked up to Sheed and whispered something in his ear. Sheed then removed his head band, threw it around the neck of Lebron, pulled him close and whispered something back through a loony smirk. For that he received his fourth technical of the series, allowing the Cavs to force a Game 7, which the Pistons won in double overtime.
Out west the Kings battled the top-seeded Suns to a split in Phoenix. In Game 3 back in Sacramento, the Maloof brothers, evidently too close to the action, inadvertently tripped Ron Artest as he was running back up the court after a dunk. An incensed-Artest chased the petrified owners into the stands, making him the first player to leave the court both on the road and at home. There were no injuries, but the remainder of the series didn’t go too well for the Kings, and their owners, the Queens.
In other first round action, the second-seeded Spurs dismantled the Hornets, sweeping four straight. The series was so one-sided Tim Duncan only protested every other call against him. Meanwhile, in the 3-6 set, the Nuggets (who owned the best record in the league over the last six weeks) maintained their high level of play against Tracy McGrady’s Rockets. Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony hit many, many jays and Marcus Camby’s lanky, shot-blocking frame consistently frustrated Yao in the Nuggets’ 4-2 series win.
That left the Mavericks and Jazz, a series which Mark Cuban assured everyone who was willing to listen that his Mavs would not lose. Too bad they didn’t have an answer for Deron Williams, who methodically picked apart the Dallas defense with a dizzying array of fast break dishes, no-look bounce passes and smooth jumpers. Dirk Nowitzki didn’t replicate his dud performance of a year ago against Golden State, but in the end the Mavs fell in an anti-climatic Game 7, very similar to their Game 6 elimination at the hands of the Warriors. After his team’s second consecutive first round exit, Cuban was so enraged he vowed never to speak to the team or media again. In their pieces the next day the Dallas beat writers declared the season a success.
After the Celtics smoked the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Dwyane Wade held a players-only meeting in the locker room. He told his teammates that the Celtics were very beatable, given how “freaking old” they all were. By the end of his tirade he realized that the cold stares of Shaq, Alonzo Mourning and Penny Hardaway were burning holes through his jersey. The Celtics coasted in five. In the other second round matchup, the Pistons and Bulls squared off for the second year in a row. Chauncey Billups (aka Mr. Big Shot) was neutralized by Ben Gordon’s protruding chest. Due to this, Pistons coach Flip Saunders was rendered completely useless since he had only one play on his clipboard (“Chauncey create offense”). Da Bulls advanced in six.
In the second round of the west, Phoenix started looking like a team ready to handle business. The Jazz, who had looked so workmanlike in the first round, simply couldn’t run with Steve Nash and the Suns. After Utah lost the first three games of the series by a combined 42 points, Carlos Boozer tracked down Phoenix GM Steve Kerr and told him he had a hidden “screw over my team” clause worked into his contract and he’d be willing to exercise it for an immediate trade. Sans Boozer, Utah was swept the next night. Meanwhile, the Nuggets and Spurs clashed for the third time in the past four postseasons. In a startling reversal of roles, it was the Spurs who captured Game 1 before losing four of the next five to a Nuggets team clicking on all cylinders. For the third time in five years, the Spurs again could not defend their title. When Tim Duncan was asked if he felt his team didn’t have the necessary fire and drive to repeat as champions, he responded by saying that Dirk Nowitzki’s game-tying three point play in Game 7 of the 2006 Playoffs was “bulls–t”.
That left four teams standing in the ’08 Playoffs: the Celtics, Bulls, Nuggets and Suns. The Eastern Conference Finals was a backyard brawl. The teams split the first six games, all hotly contested affairs. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Ben Gordon each hit a game-winner. What was an up and down, guard-oriented affair throughout the first eighty percent of the series turned into the KG show in Game 7 at the Garden. Garnett went for 37 with 24 rebounds in the decisive contest, and entered select company when he shattered the backboard glass on a tremendous two-handed throw-down. He then ate the remnants of the defunct apparatus. The Western Finals was equally entertaining. While the Suns took care of the Nuggets in six, Denver won the first game against a suddenly lackadaisical-Suns team. The series became an instant classic when Iverson arrived unannounced at Mike D’Antoni’s press conference after Game 1, during which the coach was questioning if his Suns had practiced hard enough to adequately prepare for the tough-minded Nuggets. A.I. looked up at the snarling coach, and asked him if he was really talking about “practice?!?”.
The Celtics and Suns, after waiting a combined 34 years (the Celtics since 1986 and the Suns since 1993) to return to the Finals, waged hardwood war in the championship round. The hype going into the series revolved around an ongoing debate of which franchise and its players was hungrier. Was it the Suns? who had only appeared in two Finals in their history, the ’93 loss to Michael Jordan’s Bulls and a 1976 loss to their father’s Celtics. Or was it the Green? who had suffered through two decades of total futility after three decades of systemic dominance.
Each side claimed it was hungrier than the other. In the first shocker of the series, Steve Nash beat KG in a hot dog eating contest prior to Game 1. For the first time all season the omnipotent and omnivorous Garnett was upstaged, which set the tone for the series. Nash was simply too much for the slower-Celtics and their epically overwhelmed point guard, Rajon Rondo. The Suns notched the first two games in Phoenix plus the second game in Boston, pushing Boston to the cusp of elimination going into Game 5. In that affair the Green looked done with just under a minute remaining, trailing by eight points. It was then that Danny Ainge pulled the string on an incredible transaction, securing Reggie Miller’s services for 38 seconds. The baller who had redefined “clutch” entered the game and ripped off three treys in a row, sending the Garden into oblivion and implausibly jettisoning the Celtics back to Phoenix for Game 6. Returning to the arena formerly known as America West, Nash ended any hopes of a Boston-comeback. The Suns won a track meet, 123-119, and Phoenix clinched its first basketball title behind Nash’s 24 points and 16 dimes.
And just like that 2008 was in the books.