Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Paul Pierce hearts (G)Men?

There was a tangible buzz in the crowd yesterday leftover from the Giants victory over the Wrangled One and the Packers in Sunday's NFC championship game. Blue and Red sweat pants abounded and the previous day's wing-sauce stained shirts were being worn with pride. At several points I thought I saw Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The first time was at the Nathan's across the street where I enjoyed the usual pre-game #2 meal with lemonade and the second was on line for the men's room at halftime.

Regardless, the running subplot, at least in the hearts and minds, was the fortuitousness of the New York versus Boston matchup the day after the same had been set for the Super Bowl. It didn't take much mental energy for folks to reach this realization but it was a day off work and pretty early so it's the best we could do, collectively. And, the parallel does work, to a point. In each case the Boston team is a juggernaut and seemingly destined for success. The similarities shrink like Favre did in the cold when you try to compare the NY teams.

As I mentioned earlier the most electric moments of the afternoon where when the Giants who were in attendance were introduced to the crowd and shown on the big screen. Plax, in particular, received the loudest ovation. While being shown on Gardenvision he held up his big mitts and proceeded to make squeezing motions. I'm going to guess that he was bragging, deservedly, about his good hands during the game on Sunday but if I were less kind and more of a muckraker I could easily say that it looked like he was miming something else altogether. Either way, it was Plaxico's next move that really drew the most attention. He held out his hand and dramatically pointed to his ring finger, right around the spot where a Super Bowl ring might go.

Alright, to the point, as the Garden was booming with a feel-good, Giants vibe, Paul Pierce made his way over to Plaxico and his teammates to shake hands and congratulate them. At first it just seemed weird because he was doing this while the game was happening. It wasn't during a timeout or at the end of the quarter. The ball was stopped but it was just an inbounds or something brief. Moreover, you didn't see any other players going out of their way to make a scene. Just Pierce.

And, since Pierce is a NBA-lifelong Celtic it is really even stranger. Shouldn't he be pulling for the Pats in two weeks rather than going out of his way to suck up to the Giants the day after the championship games?

Oh, well, I'm sure the rational sports fan across New England won't take any offense at something as innocuous as this. Right?

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. The Giants. The "Let's Go Giants" chants the past week have been louder than any PRO-Knicks chanting at the Garden since the second home game of the year against the Nuggets. And, this doesn't figure to change any time soon during the next few weeks. Essentially this team can no longer do any wrong. They have shown remarkable poise at moments when others have crumbled and they are playing with house money in the XXXXII. The Giants are officially Davids to the Patriots Goliaths and they are beloved for this.

2. Rashard Lewis. He hit the game-winner as the Magic knocked off the Pistons in Orlando. Playoff preview?

3. Georgetown. Hours after ESPN Classic replayed the 1985 game when Pearl Washington's last second shot overcame a monstrous Ewing performance at the Carrier Dome, the Hoyas got a measure of revenge by defeating the Oranges in overtime. G'Town holds down the 9 slot in the rankings.

4. Ryan Gomes/Kendrick Perkins. Unheralded bigs of the world unite!

5. Kobe Bryant. The Lakers beat the Nuggets last night and Kobe was NOT the team's hi scorer. Derek Fisher was with 28 points. Yes, that Derek Fisher. And, in this upside-down universe, Kobe had his season-high in assists, with eleven. Alleged sex crimes aside, Kobe is proving a lot of people wrong on the court this season.

Greater Than, Less Than

Celtics > Knicks
Giants' popularity > Knicks' popularity

There were six incredibly loud ovations during the game yesterday afternoon. None of them were received by a member of the New York Knicks. In order, they were received by Kevin Garnett (upon his introduction), Aaron Ross, Steve Smith, RW McQuarters, Plaxico Burress and Kevin Garnett (upon his exit from the game). The closest any member of the hometeam (the Knicks not the Giants) got to that sort of thunderous applause was when Quentin Richardson got himself and Pierce ejected from the game.

If Saturday night's win over Miami was a litmus test of sorts. Are we better than the worst? Yes. Then, yesterday's MLK matinee was a reality check. Are we worse than the best? Yes. And by a good amount.

The most telling moments of the game took place in the first quarter. Yup, the first quarter. Meaning that the most important parts in the game weren't the hi jinx with Q and Pierce. Nor was it the individual spurts by Pierce, Allen and finally Garnett that put the game away. It wasn't the weird non-timeout where the Knicks were seemingly waiting around to fight while Boston was actually huddled up diagramming plays. Nope, the most revealing moments of the game where when Kendrick Perkins, one of the "small-2" in the Celtics starting five, scored 15 of Boston's first 17 points. Aside from proving that the best way to a career-high is through the Knicks frontcourt, the way that the Celtics kept feeding Perkins the ball showed that they are not only talented in the muscles and tendons and quick-twitch fiber sort of way but also in the brains and savvy and poise departments. At one point about midway through the first, Garnett received a pass at the top of the key. He was wide open. Embarrassingly wide open. But, rather than take the jump shot, he drove four steps into the paint. Predictably, the defense collapses on him and he shoots a pass to a now wide-open Perkins under the hoop for an easy two points. Similarly, Paul Pierce had assists on Kendrick's first three buckets. He had three assists before attempting a shot.

This is why the Boston Celtics are better than the New York Knicks. Their best players are secure enough to be unselfish. They put each other in a position to succeed rather than just trying to keep themselves out of a position to fail. They play against their opponent rather than just against themselves and the box score. And this is why the Celtics had a solid lead at halftime. This lead, though, was the result of a good run/collapse by the Celtics/Knicks over the last few minutes of the second. What was a three-point game with 3 minutes to go became a 14-point game heading into the tunnel.

The Knicks actually outscored the C's during the third quarter to put themselves within striking distance heading into the final quarter. Of course the third quarter was defined by the almost-fracas between Richardson and Pierce.

Q entered the game with about six and a half minutes to play in the third, replacing a painfully inept (at least offensively) Jeffries. From section 345 everything seemed ho-hum until a sequence of plays a few minutes later. Q forced Pierce into a miss on possession and then stole a poor pass attempt by Pierce next time down the floor. Not one to go quietly into the good night, Q was letting Pierce hear all about this and you could notice that two of them jawing back and forth now. After a Randolph bucket at the other end, Pierce draws three personal fouls on Q (the last being a shooting foul) and both players are awarded a technical foul. This all happens during one pro-longed possession. The last foul, the one that sent Pierce to the line for two occurred after a NY timeout. Whatever, if anything, was said to calm down Q during the TO didn't exactly work. The two were ejected and had to leave the court one at a time to avoid a fist-fight in the corridor. Still, security guards could been seen rushing down in that direction less than a minute after both were under the stands.

Foolish or not, the net gain was clearly in the Knicks favor. Q had been a non-factor and Pierce was most definitely a factor. Curry in particular seemed to be energized by the events and could even be seen rebounding the ball on the defensive end for the next few minutes. It was really amazing. To top that Curry played up to his size on the other end drawing five fouls over a stretch straddling the third and fourth quarters. Buoyed by Curry's free-throw shooting an electrifying Nate dunk the Knicks went into the fourth only down by 8.

The lead was actually down to 7 with less than ten minutes to play but a Ray Allen three-pointer triggered a 14-4 run by the Celtics that put the game out of reach. The Knicks turned the ball over twice, committed two fouls and missed multiple shots during this run. A deep, two-point jumper by House effectively ended with contest with just under five to play. The assist had come from KG.

When the final buzzer sounded the Knicks had been handily beaten by a far superior collection of players, including three of the best at their respective positions. Moreover, the Knicks were beaten by a team that is confident enough to make the extra pass to an open teammate. You could just tell that Garnett, Allen, and Pierce were all getting a kick out of Perkins demolishing the Knicks in the first half.

To sum up, Heat < Knicks < Celtics