1. Pau Gasol. If you saw this game then you were impressed. Really, really impressed. And, scared. However, the biggest Lakers fan I know missed the majority of play because ABC opted to show the Pope at Yankee Stadium over Kobe at the Staples Center yesterday afternoon. Thankfully, I discovered the game on some auxiliary ESPN channel and was able to see Gasol turn in an absolute gem of a performance in his Lakers playoff debut. He played a game-high 45 minutes. He scored 36 points. He shot 70% from the field. He shot 100% from the line. He grabbed 16 rebounds. He handed out 8 assists. He blocked 3 shots. And the Lakers won.
2. Philadelphia 76ers. And, it's on. The Sixers beat the Pistons last night in Motown. This is the sort of game (and perhaps will become the sort of series) that the NBA playoffs need early on to keep from losing momentum before they have a chance to gain any. 4-game sweeps in Best-of-Seven Series are the worst thing for fans. Not too many people outside of Boston want to watch ten hours of the Celtics beating up on the Hawks over the next week and a half. And, even fewer people would want to watch Detroit beat up on Philadelphia over 4 nights. While I understand that the 7-game format (instead of the 5-game version) does a better job of ensuring that the best teams advance it undeniably hurts the entertainment value of the opening round. Fans love upsets and don't want prolonged routs. So, as last year's Warriors proved, there is nothing like a David challenging a Goliath in the first week of the playoffs to get everyone interested. The really crazy thing is that Philly didn't do anything particularly out of the ordinary in getting this win. No one erupted for a monster game. No one had to hit a wild shot. They didn't have a huge 30+ point quarter. They didn't do anything out of the ordinary. They just played hard the whole way through and defended with a purpose. But they always do that.
3. Chris Paul. It all worked out perfectly for me and CP3. I was down in Philly for the Mets/Phils tilt on Saturday afternoon. Thanks to two eighth-inning strikeouts by Aaron Heillman the Mets held on to win. Then after a short but mildly confusing drive through the backstreets of South Illadelphia and one stop at a liquor store (or actually it must have been a beer store since you can't by beer and liquor at the same place down there), I was on a buddy's coach just in time to see Dallas head into the half with a 12-point lead over the Hornets. That score was a bit of a gut-punch. But Paul and the Hornets went into the locker room, got their playoff bearings and came back out to torch the Mavs in the second half. Paul flat-out dominated in the third quarter. This was right of the Lebron's 25-straight-points-against-Detroit playbook. Obviously it's not the same thing but such was the force by which CP3 grabbed hold of that game. Which was his first-ever playoff game. He ended up 35 points, 10 assists, 3 rebounds, 4 steals and one blocked shot. I've made it clear to anyone that asks that this is the only Series whose result could really upset me. I don't want the Hornets to lose. Not only do I want to keep watching Paul play but I want the rest of the country to be forced to watch him play.
4. Tim Duncan. The Big Bore hit a THREE-POINTER on Saturday to force the second OT in a game that the Spurs would eventually take from the Suns. Yikes. Apparently, no one told him that the nation has decided that we don't particularly want to watch them in the Finals again. Yeah, after the way they twice came back to force extra basketball and eventually won a game that they had seemingly lost on two occassions it seems like the definitely didn't get that memo.
5. Donnie Walsh. It was so inevitable and talked about for so long that the moment of truth actually was a bit underreported. Donnie Walsh stripped Isiah of his last remaining job title on Friday afternoon! He fired Isiah just like we all wanted. It's done. The Knicks will have a new coach and a chance at a new start next season. After all of the drama and anticipation of his dismissal it was a little bizarre how quickly and quietely it went down. You've got to figure that Walsh timed the Friday afternoon/evening announcement so avoid as much attention as possible. It worked.