Observations and analysis as the NBA playoffs get under way ...
• The Spurs have won four NBA championships since 1999 with a proven formula: relying on key role players, mostly off the bench, to back up a cluster of All-Stars by knowing their jobs and doing them well. The names and faces changed --
Dallas was the squad getting vital contributions off the bench from unexpected sources, grabbing home-court advantage away from the Spurs in the process. Guys who would seem right at home in the Spurs' system -- pesky guard
Nowitzki went to the bench, in fact, with 8:28 left in the second quarter, getting caught whacking
Dallas' bench wound up with a 39-14 scoring edge, while several Spurs role players came up small. Gooden (eight points) was a nice pickup and knows his way around playoff atmosphere. But
Counting the regular-season series, Dallas is 3-1 against San Antonio when Howard plays, vs. 0-1 when he doesn't. The Mavericks are now 34-19 since opening night with Howard, compared to 17-13 when he's hurt. He'll still need ankle surgery this summer, but it didn't hamper him Saturday.
• Dallas center
• The victory snapped a streak of nine road playoff losses for Dallas.
Most NBA rookies show more emotion when they're running doughnuts for the veterans than Rose did in his historic playoff debut. Oh, he did seem, upon examination of the videotape, to express a glimmer of frustration when he got suckered by
Unflappable? How 'bout flat-lining?
Asked immediately after the Bulls' surprisingly poised and resilient performance how he had been able to perform so coolly under such pressure, Rose stared blankly and said in a monotone: "Uh, it don't really matter. If you play hard, you should be able to do anything.''
Anything? Sure. But everything? Rose didn't just attack the Boston defense, match and surpass Rondo in quickness and spur his team to the road victory it was going to need in the best-of-seven series against the NBA's defending champs. He put himself into elite company among the league's greats, his 36 points matching
Rose, though, did even more than that. He shouldered the responsibility for Chicago's attack and, in the process, got
Heck, for some Boston long-timers, Rose probably brought back memories (or nightmares) of
• Kevin Garnett sitting over on the Celtics bench for half of the opener against Chicago was as difficult and painful to watch as it surely was for Garnett to be planted over there.
It didn't last long, just 24 official minutes before Garnett and coach
Oh, it was a good idea at the start: Have Garnett out there as a resource for Boston's big men, should they need a little veteran insight on the fly. Having him visible to his teammates and to the fans at TD Banknorth Garden wouldn't hurt, either, from a talisman and confidence standpoint.
But the big guy looked about uncomfortable over there, trapped in a suit, wedged in between the players and the assistant coaches. The first chance he got, in an early Celtics timeout, he chimed in right over Rivers' message. Watching Garnett watch was a weirdly tense experience, as if he might spontaneously combust or gnaw through his cheeks over on the side. Mercifully, he stayed in the back for the final 29 minutes, his wrath hopefully focused only on inanimate objects.
The cynics following this series are convinced Garnett, should the Celtics find themselves facing elimination, would tape, wrap and medicate himself onto the court, if only for inspiration. But most imagined that happening, if at all, in a Game 7. The Bulls might be fast-tracking that scenario now.
• So we knew where Garnett watched Game 1 from. We even knew where Chicago coach
• The Celtics played 14 home games in last spring's playoffs and went 13-1, including a 9-0 start. And here they are having already lost homecourt edge vs. Chicago.
• For all the talk about how limited the Bulls are in playoff experience, it was oldster
• Detroit is using its geographic proximity to Cleveland to minimize the road rigors in this series, hopping its charter flight home after Saturday's loss rather than kill a lot of empty hours at the hotel or the Tower City Center food court. The trick now is persuading the Pistons to climb back onto the plane for the return flight and Tuesday's Game 2, as the next step toward their fishing hats and tee times.
It's one thing to nobly play the role of underdog in a 1-vs.-8 matchup, to take your lumps and to still cordially praise the guys -- most of all
With 5:41 left in the first half, the Pistons were within 41-38. Then clang, clang, clang -- seven missed shots and a turnover later, they trailed 50-39. Cleveland turned up its defensive intensity and put some air into the score, keeping it there until
Near the end, Detroit's frustration was evident, as in
Jump-shooting teams have to cope with such nights, but we're talking about more than one game, more than one series. This is the end of the line for Detroit, at least in this incarnation, and by the time we see Bynum,
• In four regular-season games against Detroit, LeBron averaged 25.7 points and made only 42 percent of his field-goal attempts, though the Cavaliers did go 3-1. He had no such problems in Game 1, hitting 13 of his 20 shots for 38 points and sitting down early with eight rebounds and seven assists. Of his seven misses, three were from beyond the arc -- and James hit the longest and most dramatic of those, a running fling from just across midcourt to beat the halftime buzzer and give the Cavs their biggest lead to that point.
• Silver lining for the Pistons? Well, they averaged just 81.8 points on 41 percent shooting against Cleveland during the 2008-09 season. So they're making progress offensively.
• Prince, if you go merely by his regular-season numbers, has been a steady performer for Detroit. But you can't say the same thing for his postseason showings. Prince broke through as a star allegedly born in the 2006 playoffs, when he averaged 16.4 points (after being the only Detroit starter who didn't get invited to the All-Star Game a few months earlier). But Prince's production dipped to 14.1 points in 2007 and 13.8 last spring. You could see him jogging rather half-heartedly a few times in Saturday's game, too.
• Some might consider this to be the ultimate in scab-picking, but there might never again be such a perfect time: What if Detroit hadn't used the No. 2 pick in 2003 on
• Come to think of it,
• Welcome to the postseason, young Trail Blazers. Or would that be Fail Blazers? Portland, as a group, was sort of the anti-Derrick Rose on Saturday, reacting to its first playoff appearance since 2003 -- and first, period, for many of the guys on its current roster -- like deer in the proverbial headlights. Wait, make that Bambi in the path of Godzilla's fire breath. Try as he might, Blazers coach
• In it to win it? Not yet for the Blazers, who were in it simply to comprehend it Saturday. So they're probably not the '77 Portland crew, who won the NBA championship in the franchise's first trip to the playoffs.
• Maybe the unexpected success of road teams Saturday -- they won three of the four openers -- will inspire Utah, which drags the worst road record (15-26) among 2009 West playoff teams into Staples Center against the Lakers. Then again,
• I hate it, really hate it, when big guys opt to flop rather than stand their ground, use their size and defend like, y'know, a man. (Yes, that still means you,
• If I'm McMillan, I'm getting