Posted: Monday April 24, 2006 10:27AM; Updated: Monday April 24, 2006 12:47PM
Denver at Los Angeles Clippers
Champ: Elton Brand
Playing in his first playoff contest after 526 regular-season appearances, Brand did some damage to a Denver frontline that hasn't a clue as to how to handle his load down low. In 41 minutes, the MVP candidate notched 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, eight boards, four blocks, five assists and four turnovers. Cuttino Mobley was also solid, adding 17 points on just 10 shots, with six rebounds.
Chumps: George Karl and Carmelo Anthony
Karl deserves our scorn for throwing up his hands and abandoning any semblance of a half-court offense by the first half of the first game of the postseason -- which is sort of the worst time to abandon any semblance of a half-court offense. The Nuggets' coach was unable to run any sort of gimmick late in the game in order to free up his superstar forward, and Anthony responded by missing all eight of his shots in the fourth quarter. And though Carmelo isn't even 22 yet, we're not giving him a pass. Saturday was the 11th playoff game of his burgeoning career.
Ruminations: Denver's fourth-quarter charge was typical of its attack this season. When the Nuggets weren't giving the game away in the fourth quarter this year, they were usually rallying in the final period, trying to reacquire a game they gave away in the first three quarters. Even though the Nuggets had their chances late in Game 1, a sweep is looking more and more likely. Look for a dispirited Game 2 loss, a close defeat in Game 3 and one that gets away from them late in Game 4.
Indiana at New Jersey
Champ: Fred Jones
On a team that usually has to scratch and claw just to put 75 points on the board, Jones' 15 points in 26 minutes put the Pacers (who finished with 90 points) over the top in Game 1. Making 4 of 7 shots, Jones also added five rebounds and four assists, while his three-point touch (3 of 4 from deep) was a pleasant surprise.
Chump: Vince Carter
How Carter mustered the audacity to defend his itchy perimeter trigger finger after Game 1 was beyond me. The dude nailed 10 out of 20 shots in the paint, tough contested looks that were befitting of his franchise talent. He also added 13 rebounds and six assists, but that outside touch was brutal on Sunday. He hit 1 of 8 from beyond the arc, 1 of 5 from just inside, and every time he faded away, something in New Jersey's attack died a little.
Ruminations: The call that sent Anthony Johnson to the line with .9 of a second left in the game left most Nets fans beside themselves, but it's hard to imagine how the refs could have called that any other way. While most right-thinking NBA fans are squarely in favor of the referees swallowing their whistles in the final seconds of a close game, think of the uproar these zebras would have faced had they not called a foul in that situation. A player dives through two defenders, gets bumped by one and has his jersey pulled by another? You can't ignore that. It was a frustrating call, to be sure, but it was also the right one.