Posted: Wednesday May 3, 2006 12:08PM; Updated: Wednesday May 3, 2006 5:18PM
Andres Nocioni's gritty play has set a tone the Bulls have followed in stretching the Heat to at least a sixth game in the first round.
Love him or hate him, Bryant always puts on a good show. His sudden embrace of "There's no 'I' in Kobe" has been fascinating, in part because it feels so unnatural, thus making it seem just a matter of time before he reverts back to form in some orgy of scoring. Tuesday night in Game 5, even when the Lakers got down 20, one half-expected Bryant to go Jordan on the Suns -- though at this point, maybe he's earned his own term, as in "go Kobe" -- and score 29 in the quarter or something ridiculous like that. Instead he got ejected, not long after being rather brutally clotheslined by Raja Bell. It will be interesting to see how Bryant responds in Game 6. Will we see the team-first Kobe, the one who talked beatifically of how he enjoyed seeing his teammates being cheered? Or will we see a pissed-off, jack-it-up-and-score-45 Kobe? The guess here is that the lure of closing out at home, after being dropped by Bell, will be too much; if the Lakers are losing in the third quarter, it's going to quickly become a one-man triangle.
Andres Nocioni: the best YMCA player in the NBA
The frenetic Argentinean has been the key for the Bulls thus far in making the Heat sweat. In Tuesday's Game 6 Bulls loss, Nocioni had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and in the series he's averaging 20.8 and 9.6. I don't have a tally of the times he's hit the floor, flown out-of-bounds or shoved his elbow into someone's back, but no doubt his numbers are impressive in these categories as well.
Nocioni reminds me of that guy at the Y, the one in his late 30s who's still playing with the younger guys and takes every game very, very seriously. He's the dude setting hard picks (and yelling "Use it! Use it!") while playing with a bunch of teenagers who are goofing off. He's the guy who lifts weights after he plays, the guy who never wants to play 21 or H-O-R-S-E, because what's the point of that? Nocioni is that guy if he were 26 years old, 6-foot-7 and had the athleticism to dunk on James Posey. The other day, Scott Skiles described him repeatedly as "a man" while trying to explain Nocioni's effectiveness, and it was easy to see the coach's admiration for his forward. In fact, Nocioni might be a decent approximation of Skiles had Skiles been 6-7 (remember, Skiles once tried to fight Shaquille O'Neal). In the wake of Tyson Chandler's injury, Skiles hinted that he might put Nocioni on Shaq for short periods of time. Here's hoping he does.