(Note: This is what I get for posting this late: first, the Pacers go on to get eliminated from the playoffs, rendering the second paragraph moot; second, Bob Johnson publicly vents his frustrations over the taxing life of being a billionaire sports owner, making a bunch of claims that–though I haven’t read them thoroughly yet–are undoubtedly a) unintentionally funny, and b) intentionally hypocritical. I promise more analysis later in the week.)
You know how I was making fun of Shawn Marion the other day? Well, it’s worth mentioning that Marion’s antithesis is Joakim Noah. Reading Noah’s comments (he’s got a recurring journal in SLAM this year) after Marion’s is like chasing grapefruit juice with a cherry Slurpee. I’m still slapping my knee over Noah’s recap of a game against the Knicks at the Garden. “They came out for me, my people from 51st Street and 10th Ave. That’s how we do it,” wrote Noah, later adding that his family and friends “look good on him.” Anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with the layout of Manhattan knows how ridiculous this sounds. 51st and 10th Ave?? I live over in the East Village, where it’s not uncommon to see men openly walk around in dresses, and I think I’m even more hood than that. I’m surprised Noah didn’t give a shout-out to his homies in the “Bear Sterns projects” and tell them to keep their heads up. But I’m laughing with Noah, not at him, because he’s a total crackup, is team-first, and probably a joy to be around. Even when he’s understated (like when he described the situation in Iraq as “kind of disappointing”), he’s a treat to experience. And he can rebound—we could have used him this year.
Oddly, we didn’t need Noah on Saturday night against Indiana. “Rebounding was the key,” Matt Carroll said of the Bobcats’ 107-103 victory over the Pacers. “There have been a lot of games this year when we were on the opposite end of the rebounding total. It’s been our Achilles’ heel.” Similarly, the Bobcats have been Indiana’s Achilles’ heel, taking 3-of-4 games from them this year. Now the Pacers will play with the sword of Damocles over their heads, because they need to win their remaining two games and have Atlanta lose their two in order to seize the last playoff slot. In short, it’ll take a Herculean effort.
Okay, enough with the Greek allusions. The rebounding disparity in the series finale with Indiana—59-43 in favor of us, including a preposterous 20 offensive boards—was somewhat befuddling, especially when the Pacers had home court and an urgent mandate to win. However, before you ask why we can’t do this more often, just look at Indiana’s center situation: Jeff Foster started, and he can barely make a put-back, let alone a long-range jumper; and Jermaine O’Neal continued playing desultory minutes. The only other big of consequence, Troy Murphy, took just 2 shots (and missed them both). Thus, when the opposition has a front court as limited in their offensive capabilities as our own, we look good by comparison.
All of this makes me wonder what Rod Higgins’ current relationship with Andris Biedrins is like. Because they were together with Golden State, do you think there’s any chance Higgins has enough goodwill to lure Biedrins over here? If I remember correctly, AB wanted something in the neighborhood of $10 mil at the beginning of the season, and the Warriors were having none of it. If both parties are still stalemated, Higgins could be our opening. Biedrins is three years younger than Emeka Okafor and three million cheaper, plus he’s more offensively gifted and a certain double-double if given enough minutes.
Two final thoughts about the Pacers: first, watching our guards chase around Flip Murray was semi-depressing, because I couldn’t help but wonder how this season would have gone if we’d had Flip on our team all along. It’s not like he wasn’t available or overly expensive. Effective backup point guards are so abundant nowadays, I just don’t see how we failed so spectacularly to acquire one. I’ll admit it: Earl Boykins never materialized into what I’d hoped, although I still argue that he was better than Jeff McInnis—at least somebody had to cover Earl. Come draft time, I’m leaning closer and closer to advocating a big guy with rebounding ability and picking up a veteran backup PG second-hand.
The other thought was, what happened to Jermaine O’Neal? He seems a shell of himself. I never hear from him anymore, and frankly, I miss him. He used to have opinions that were refreshingly honest—he was the original Noah. Now he just looks like he needs a good cry, possibly after a psychiatrist tells him repeatedly that it’s not his fault.