Posted: Monday June 12, 2006 12:35PM; Updated: Monday June 12, 2006 2:45PM
Champ: Avery Johnson
Antoine Walker's quick trigger finger might be needed off the bench, but it hasn't helped the Heat's starting lineup.
The Mavericks coach gives his club chances to win in any number of styles (defensively, in the half-court, with isolation sets, in transition, with a 7-footer dropping 50) every time out, while acting as if he's merely living up to his own expectations. We're not going so far as to call him a "genius," as one national scribe did on the national airwaves last week, or wonder aloud if Red Auerbach's records are in jeopardy, but we will say this: The Mavericks entered the postseason with as good a chance as any to win it all, but Johnson's tangible moves and unrelenting style have turned a typical 60-win team into something special.
Chump: Antoine Walker
Walker was an outright embarrassment at times in Games 1 and 2, and though his play may not have explicitly cost Miami a pair of victories, he certainly didn't help the cause. Game 1 saw Walker hoist 19 shots -- making only seven -- most with Shaq perched in the low block. One such chuck in Game 1's fourth quarter not only more or less dispirited the Big Fella, it also reiterated to the Mavericks that Dallas was the smartest team in the building: With six minutes left in the game and the Heat down six, Walker -- with Shaq well within his crosshairs -- threw up a three-point miss with 21 seconds on the shot clock. Game over.
Walker has improved on his regular-season showing against Dallas, which saw him score seven points and five rebounds in 41 total minutes, but his averages of 18.5 points, five rebounds, three assists and four turnovers a game will have to improve if he keeps averaging more than 42 minutes a game.
Champ: Antoine Walker
That's right; I get to have it both ways. Walker can be a difference-maker in Miami if he does most of his damage with O'Neal on the bench. These guys can't play with each other, partially because Walker can't throw an entry pass to save his life, because Walker's outside shot is inconsistent (it's mostly gone after kickouts from O'Neal) and because Shaq's presence in the lane forces Walker into doing his damage from the outside.
But with Shaq on the bench in the fourth quarter of Game 2, Walker attacked. He drove into the paint, scored inside, found Alonzo Mourning for a score and hit his three-pointers. Walker started only 19 games during the regular season -- since he needs to dominate the ball in order to be effective, why not bring him off the pine to act as Miami's designated ball-hog? There's no shame in that. Walker is what he is, and Riley needs to play to his strengths.
If Rudy Tomjanovich can win a championship starting PeteChilcutt, and Gregg Popovich can take the title with Jaren Jackson in the initial lineup, I see no reason why Riley can't begin the game with Jason Kapono on the wing. He'll spread the floor and allow Walker to play against the second team. Miami's bench has been outscored 65-22 so far in the Finals, so every little bit helps.
Their overall package still isn't half as good as TNT's, but ABC's Finals production has improved tenfold over what we saw during the '03, '04 and '05 Finals. For one, the Jay Leno-style crowd shots have all but disappeared. It seemed as if every basket (there weren't many of them, but still) in last year's Finals was punctuated by a needless pan to a cheering fan, one who usually seemed overcaffeinated and blithely unaware of his or her (usually her) surroundings. It reminded me of those nausea-inducing shots that Leno's show throws out right before his opening monologue.
(Don't judge me. Louis C.K. was on Leno last week, and I had to watch.)
The announcing duo of Mike Breen and Hubie Brown, as expected, are beyond good. Breen is capable of unhurried and incisive commentary that adds weight to his top-gear play-by-play, while Brown is typically brilliant. The music the network plays going in and out of timeouts is a little annoying (What has two thumbs and can't stand to hear another second of Papa Was a Rollin' Stone? This guy!), but it's heaps better than watching Al Michaels strut to a Black Eyed Peas song during a commercial bumper.
Chump: Exquisite Timing
The first quarter of Game 2 was downright ugly. The two teams combined for 35 points, there were scores of unforced turnovers and the defense was hardly to blame. The play was just that sloppy, though it's hard to call out Miami and Dallas in this instance.
Game 2 was Dallas' second game in eight days, and Miami's second game in nine days, and the result was an arrhythmic brand of nasty basketball. I'm not going to lambaste the NBA for this one; they have to answer to their advertisers and acquiesce to the wishes of their national-TV partners (though we really miss the Wednesday-Friday-Sunday schedule that NBC gave us), so we'll just have to look forward to better games in Miami on Tuesday, Thursday and (hopefully) next Sunday.