Posted: Monday April 24, 2006 10:27AM; Updated: Monday April 24, 2006 12:47PM
Los Angeles at Phoenix
Champ: Tim Thomas
The wicked path that included Thomas' circumvention of all that is holy about hoops and ended in a starting spot on the Phoenix Suns will probably drive hundreds of Bulls fans toward atheism, but on Sunday, the man came to play: 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting (4 of 5 from behind the arc) along with 15 defensive rebounds in 34 minutes spread out over the Phoenix win. I'll predict that it will take Thomas another two weeks to harvest 15 more rebounds.
Chumps: The Lakers bench
While the Lakers starters shared the ball, moved into open spaces and tried like mad to stay in front of Steve Nash and Shawn Marion, the reserves fell flat in their playoff debut. Brian Cook, Jim Jackson, Sasha Vujacic and Devean George combined for 38 minutes, 11 points (on 4 of 13 shooting), nine rebounds and two assists. And two of those points came in the game's final seconds, with the team down six, after Cook needlessly followed a missed shot with a layup attempt and was fouled.
Ruminations: This was the triangle offense's coming-out party for this Jackson squad, though with this group of Lakers, we're not sure how long the shindig will last. On the other side of the floor, through all the bluster about the Phoenix Suns being the very definition of unselfishness, they still rely as heavily on one person (Nash) as the Lakers do at times on Kobe Bryant. The one advantage L.A. has is that they have a system (five parts moving in sync) to fall back on, whereas the Suns have more of a philosophy or ideal (with Nash as its principal avatar) to lead them. When things get rough, the Lakers can still boast perfect spacing, make a few passes and get an open look. But if Nash has an off day for Phoenix? Look out.
Milwaukee at Detroit
Champs: The Wallaces
How can we congratulate Rasheed Wallace when he only picks up four rebounds in 29 minutes? Because Brother Ben hauled in 17 of them in just 33 minutes of action, alongside two blocks, two steals and four points. Rasheed managed 22 points (9 of 14 from the floor) with two blocks and three steals. These dudes were everywhere.
Chump: Michael Redd
You'd like to take pity on Redd, as he's a second-round draft pick who shot his way to stardom and has carried the Bucks at times this season -- even playing a little defense once in a while. And when Redd gets harassed into 4-of-15 shooting and he's only able to get one three-pointer off (missing it), you'd like to forgive that as a plucky overachiever merely meeting his match. Problem is, the Bucks don't pay Redd to be a plucky overachiever anymore. He needs to get on track if he doesn't want his team to be swept by an average of 18 points in four straight games.
Ruminations: Holy crap, Detroit is good.
Memphis at Dallas
Champ: Dirk Nowitzki
Credit Nowitzki for throwing off the scent. He wanted to make it clear at the outset of his team's Game 1 win that this would hardly be a back-and-forth series between him and Memphis counterpart Pau Gasol. As is his wont, Dirk Diggler put up 19 points before halftime; Gasol had only three as the Mavs went into the break up nine and well on their way to a solid conquest. Nowitzki ended with 31 points on 9-of-18 shooting, with 11 rebounds and three assists.
Chump: Pau Gasol
There are few basketball-related afflictions more painful and frustrating than plantar fasciitis, but this hardly excuses Gasol for not even looking at the hoop on several forays to the basket on Sunday night. Even if he has to make himself a decoy, or (shock, horror!) go off the wrong foot and up with the left hand, he needs to put together a more cohesive performance than the one he came through with in Game 1. The stats (24 points on 18 shots, seven rebounds) aren't all that bad, but Pau's look of worry and (at times) bewilderment set the tone for his entire team.
Rumination:Chucky Atkins and Eddie Jones played a combined 49 minutes for Memphis and pulled in a combined zero rebounds. Inexcusable, and their team was outrebounded by 11.