Spurs' new go-to guy
Manu has been the Spurs' most aggressive, most effective player in the postseason.
Duncan got the last shot and the Spurs won the game. Of course he did. Of course they did. He's Tim Duncan. These are his Spurs.
He shot puts that little bank of his and it's money and the Spurs advance, and this is how it goes, how it's gone for years. It's the San Antonio way. Game over. Series over.
Only this time, if you watched closely, it looked a little different. In fact, it looked a lot different. This time, it looked like TD, the eight-time all-NBA man, the rock upon which all things Spurs are built and stand firm, the face of the franchise, the heart of the matter, was most definitely the second option.
Maybe it's too early to say we're seeing the changing of the Alamo guard, but it sure looked like this was Manu Ginobili's play from the get, Manu's ball and Manu's call. Duncan said so himself after the game, said Pop told him to get to the other side of the lane so Ginobili could work to his strong left hand.
The Sonics knew it, too. They stayed trained on him for every one of those last 13.5 seconds. Potapenko got lost on the play because he thought for sure things were drawn up for Ginobili. He and Daniels and the rest of the gang in green and gold played the moment like they never for a moment thought it might come down to one of the 50 greatest players of all time, the dominant, deadly inside presence wearing number 21, doing them in. They played it like they figured it was the three-year Argentine swingman all the way.
And it was, and it didn't look like a set play, either. It had some major freelance in it. They essentially cleared out for him, put themselves in his able hands, like he was Jordan, like Duncan was his Bill Wennington or his Steve Kerr.
And it was absolutely the right call, because Ginobili's a pure baller. He invents opportunities, creates spaces, reads situations. You don't design things for him, you riff off his improvisations.
Consider the sequence with 1:20 to go, when he does a little crossover back-down thing on Daniels down on the right block, looking for all the world like he's trapped, but somehow never giving up the dribble, and then, on a half-beat, finding Duncan coming down the lane for an and-1.
And remember the last play again: If Seattle sags off him a bit, he's a very good bet to hit a winning jumper fading just a bit to his left, and when they stay up on him, he throws a bullet (through the key, below shoulder-level, mind you) to Duncan for the easy banker.
We think of the Spurs and we think of team efficiency and group execution, of discipline and preparation. They're the height of NBA professionalism, off-court and on, and when they win (which they've done more consistently than any other professional sports franchise these last seven years), this is what we talk about.
But if they're going to contend for the title in the next two rounds, their chances may hinge on whether they continue to trust in Manu the way they did in Game 6 of the semis in Seattle.
(AP Photo/Tom Strattman)
With 15.7 seconds showing on the clock, the moment arrived for Reggie Miller to leave the stage. First, he received an embrace from friendly rival Tayshaun Prince of the Detroit Pistons, who famously blocked Miller's layup to turn the 2004 East finals in Detroit's direction.
Pacers fans, whether you were disappointed or inspired by your team's roller coaster season, take heart. Next season Indiana should be the team to beat in the NBA -- even if Reggie Miller sticks to his retirement plans.
Barring another season of suspensions and injuries, the Pacers should have all the requisite ingredients for a champion coming into next season:
A great big man: Jermaine O'Neal continues to transform himself into a legit MVP candidate.
An excellent point guard: Jamaal Tinsley took a big step this year and, when healthy, was one of the five or six best point guards in the league this year.
Fantastic depth: Guys like Stephen Jackson, Jeff Foster, Fred Jones and youngsters David Harrison and James Jones stepped up huge in the absence of many of the teams elite players this season. If Jonathan Bender can ever get healthy, they'll be as deep as any team in the East.
One of the best head coaches in the game: If you had any question about Rick Carlisle's chops, they were answered this season. Higher-profile guys like Larry Brown and Phil Jackson always get the love, but no one has done more with less than Carlisle has done the last four seasons.
Ron Artest: From the sound of things, the Pacers have no intention of dumping Ron this summer. According to Carlisle and his teammates, Ron has regained his passion for the game (they have to get pounded by him in practice everyday) while gaining some much needed perspective and maturity over the past year. As Carlisle said Thursday night about Artest's return, "That'll be like having a lottery pick delivered to you."
The motivation: Everyone from Larry Bird to the ball boy thought this was the Pacers' year. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Still, they persevered and turned one of the league's most demoralizing stories into an inspirational one. Next season the team will be as focused, determined and hungry as any team in the league.
Bubba (Pecot, TX): Everyone's excited about the Sonics season, but what happens this summer when their entire team, coaching staff and front office hit the free agent market?
Chad Ford: Bubba's got a point (I don't get to say that every day). There are no easy answers in Seattle.
Ray Allen, Antonio Davis, Jerome James, Vladimir Radmanovic, Reggie Evans and Ronald Murray are all key free agents. Coach Nate McMillian's contract is up. So is GM Rick Sund's.
Allen and Daniels reportedly would like to bolt. Given that the Sonics don't want to break the bank with either guy, the chances that they leave are pretty high.
I don't see them re-signing James. He's been impressive in the playoffs, but it's the equivalent to a deathbed confession I'm not sure how sincere it really is.
They probably keep Radmanovic because he's a restricted free agent and no one is likely to make him a huge offer. The same may hold true for Flip Murray, especially if Allen bolts.
Evans is another difficult one to call. He gives them toughness and energy in the paint.
No wonder McMillian will look hard at other opportunities in Orlando, Minnesota, Cleveland and New York.
We hear that Sund is trying to workout a new deal. If it doesn't happen, Cleveland is somewhat interested.
The bottom line for Sonics fans is that there should be a major overhaul on this team in the next few months.
Pistons vs. Pacers ending: What happened Nov. 19 at The Palace of Auburn Hills will never be forgotten. Perhaps the same will be said now about the final 16 seconds on May 19 at Conseco Fieldhouse, where players from both teams -- and then the fans -- gave the retiring Reggie Miller an emotional, hug-filled sendoff.
"How 'bout that?" Pistons coach Larry Brown wondered with pride.
Looks like Jermaine O'Neal was right when he told ESPN.com back in March that a long Pacers-Pistons series "would be good for the NBA" to help folks finally gain some distance from some of the ugliest scenes in league history.
Getting to the line just seven times in a do-or-die playoff game, and then making just two of the seven, was a killer. That neutralized Miller's turn-back-the-clock 27 points.
Play of the Day
Reggie Miller went out in style, scoring 27 points in his final NBA game.
Only four players in league history finished their NBA careers by scoring more points in a postseason game: Alex Groza, 38 (1951); Richie Guerin, 31 (1970); Cliff Hagan, 29 (1966); and Joe Caldwell, 28 (1970).
Elias Sports Bureau, Inc.
Marc Stein's prediction for the Eastern Conference finals:
Detroit 4, Miami 2
So you have to favor the defending champs to get back to the Finals, especially after the Pistons finished off their most bitter rivals in a Game 6 at Indy when it so easily could have gone the distance.
Detroit clearly doesn't have the bench it had this time last year, but it can claim playoff sharpness. The Pistons still have two Wallaces to make Shaq work in one-on-one coverage. Which means Dwyane Wade will have to work much harder for his points than he did against the Nets and Wiz.
Rip Hamilton talking about Reggie Miller Thursday at Conseco Fieldhouse:
"I always watched Reggie Miller but I always hated him for the simple fact that I loved the Bulls so much.
"It was crazy because he had the best guard in history, Jordan, playing defense on him and he still got his shot off. It was something that nobody could stop.
"When I got to the league and started playing against him, he would always get me in foul trouble. So I really watched him. I really sat down and was a student of the game, like, 'Why is he getting this shot? Why can't I get that shot?'"
Steve Nash followed up his 48-point performance in Game 4's defeat with his first career playoff triple-double. By doing so, he became the third player in NBA history to follow up a 40-point playoff performance with a triple-double.
Michael Jordan did it twice, both times against the Knicks (1989, 1993), and Wilt Chamberlain did it against Cincinnati in 1967.
That's some tall company.
It's a mere consolation prize for Dirk Nowitzki after a fall-from-ahead loss in Game 5 that put his Dallas Mavericks on the brink of elimination, but it is a historic prize.
Nowitzki this week became the first European-reared player in league annals to earn a spot on the All-NBA first team. He's also the first player to be voted among the top five players in the league without attending an American university or high school.