Posts Tagged ‘Bad Boys Pistons’

Isiah On Open Court: Malone Utah’s ‘Weakest Link’; Regrets ’91 Walk-Off

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When you spend the bulk of your life pursuing and achieving the excellence that Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas has, you tend to spare yourself the agony of looking back, second guessing or worrying about the sensibilities you might have offended along the way. Winning championships at every level affords you that luxury.

But Thomas, an NBA TV analyst these days, decided to look back a little anyway when he hit the couch next to TNT’s Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and a cast of other TNT and NBA TV personalities.

Isiah didn’t hold back during shooting for the premiere of the critically acclaimed show’s third season (it will air on Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. ET on NBA TV) . In fact, he made sure “Open Court” will get off to an explosive start when he identified his former rival and fellow Hall of Famer Karl Malone as the man who cost the Utah Jazz a title.

“I thought Utah, going back to that team, I thought they had everything it took to win a championship,” he said. “They had the system, the players, the toughness, they were defensive-minded and everything. I always thought like Malone was the weakest link because he wasn’t a good foul shooter. Had he been a good foul shooter they would have beat Chicago.”

When pressed by Johnson about using the term “weak link” in regards to Malone, Thomas didn’t flinch.

“That’s a weak link, because at the end of a game when you are playing at that level, you come down to the last 30 seconds or the last minute of the game, if that guy can’t make fouls shots then he’s the weak link. He’s the guy that you are fouling, the guy you want to put on the line. You’re not fouling [John] Stockton. You’re not putting him on the line, you’re not letting him take the shot. Everything is going to Malone. I thought Malone’s inability to hit free throws is what stopped them from winning a championship.”

Thomas expressed regret for not handling things better against Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons were swept at home in that series and infamously marched off the floor without shaking hands with the Bulls, a move that sparked a decades-long feud between stars on both sides — most notably Thomas and Jordan.

Ernie Johnson asked if Thomas wishes he’d have handled it differently. The response was immediate.

“Absolutely,” he said. “… looking back, we all should have taken the high road.”

But in the heat of the moment, and with what he called Chicago’s posturing in the media leading up to Game 4, Thomas said the walk-off was orchestrated because he didn’t feel the Pistons were being afforded the respect befitting two-time champions.

Don’t miss all that and more on the Oct. 8 premiere of “Open Court” on NBA TV (6 p.m. ET).

Durant Doesn’t Deserve A Pass, Only Time

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant is not getting a pass around here. No excuses, no pardon, exoneration or any other escape hatch for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s failures in these NBA playoffs.

There will be no handouts for Durant or any other superstar who falls down on the big stage. Durant should be held to the same standard all of his contemporaries, past and present, have been held to in the annals of this game. You either win it all or you go home with nothing. It’s a fair trade-off and one that all superstars sign off on when they play.

That said, the rush to judge Durant after he struggled against the Memphis Grizzlies without Russell Westbrook is overcooked dramatically. The Thunder’s 3-6 postseason mark without Westbrook, who saw a torn meniscus in his knee end his season in the first round against Houston, says more about Westbrook’s value to his team than it does about Durant’s inability to lift them up on his own.

This notion that a lone superstar of any ilk will lead his team to a championship is a longstanding myth that needs to be debunked. It almost never happens. Not at the NBA level. Not in the past 40 years or so. The only exceptions to that statement might be the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston Rockets of 1993-94 and the Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks of 2010.

Magic Johnson didn’t do it alone. Larry Bird didn’t do it alone. Isiah Thomas didn’t do it alone. Michael Jordan didn’t do it alone. Shaquille O’Neal didn’t do it alone. Tim Duncan didn’t do it alone. And the list goes on.

Kobe Bryant had help (in the form of Pau Gasol and others) after serving as Shaq’s superstar partner and LeBron James tried to break the mold in Cleveland, only to find out that he needed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami to seal the deal.

Contrary to Twitter wisdom, there is no shame in recognizing and realizing that reality. This need for someone to blame when things go wrong isn’t a new phenomenon. But it’s taken on epic proportions in the social media age. That’s why it’s fine to point out Durant’s breakdowns against the Grizzlies without absolving him of all responsibility.

He struggled mightily against a complete team that might not have a superstar of his caliber on its roster but is stronger collectively — something especially true when Durant’s superstar partner is out of commission. Jordan knows that better than anyone, having failed repeatedly against the Bad Boys Pistons before he and Scottie Pippen were able to finally stare down that demon.

Trials and tribulation are generally a prerequisite for NBA championship contention. The Grizzlies served that up aplenty in their conference semifinal conquest. Durant was met with defender after defender. He was the focal point of a Grizzlies defensive attack for which he and the Thunder had no counter-punch.

But that doesn’t mean you write Durant off now, not after all that he’s accomplished before his 25th birthday.

It’s not like he laid down for the Grizzlies anyway. He played 46 minutes a night in the series, averaged 29 points, 10.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.2 blocks, all done — save for Kevin Martin‘s Game 1 outburst — without any consistent supporting cast assistance. And basically every game went down to the wire. Durant, Westbrook and James Harden barely survived a seven-game series with these Grizzlies a couple of years ago, so there is no shame in falling to them under these circumstances.

To his credit, Durant stood up and accepted all of the blame. He didn’t shirk his responsibility as the Thunder’s leader. And with his track record and work ethic, you know his rigorous offseason routine will be fueled by this most recent failure.

His sudden crowd of detractors will, of course, label him and suggest that he just doesn’t have the fire or mean streak to be a champion because he chose to view this latest setback like the adult that he is. No, it’s not the end of his world. He doesn’t view the entire season as a complete waste of time, like Kobe claims he does when his season ends without confetti and a championship parade.

Save the drama, folks. You don’t have to give Durant a pass … he doesn’t want one and doesn’t deserve one.

Just give him the time to right whatever went wrong.

If he’s half the superstar you thought he was before this postseason, you won’t be disappointed.

Any Room For Bruisers At The Top?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Bad Boys era Pistons would have been proud of the effort from the Chicago Bulls Sunday in Miami. The intent was there.

But the execution and the results were not there as injury-plagued Bulls did their best to rough up the Miami Heat before falling 105-93 to the defending NBA champs on their home floor.

“Make ’em feel you,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said during one timeout huddle as he rallied his troops from an early deficit. And it worked for a while. The Bulls stayed in this game because they were willing to inflict as much legal but very physical pain as allowed in order to neutralize the Heat.

When it works, it’s a thing of brutal beauty, sort of like the Bulls’ streak-busting win over the Heat on March 27. You might remember that game from the LeBron JamesKirk Hinrich floor scrubbing incident, one of the plays that prompted James to groan about the way the Bulls were allowed to muscle up on the Heat.

It appears we have reached a crossroads, of sorts, in regards to whether or not those sort of, let’s call them “chippy” tactics really work anymore. They certainly haven’t produced any championship hardware recently. The last team to play bruising defense that leaves opponents black and blue from the experience was the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, a team Thibodeau served as its defensive coordinator under Doc Rivers.

That Celtics team would qualify as the last team to utilize that brutal, throwback defensive style on its ride to a title. That’s not to say that you don’t have to be an elite defensive team to win a title, because you absolutely do.

All four teams to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy since then — the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010, the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and the Heat last year — have finished among the league’s elite in defensive rating. In fact, the last championship team to finish outside the top eight in defensive rating was the 2001 Lakers, who finished 18th.

There is only one non-playoff team in the top 10 this season, the Washington Wizards. So again, you have to play defense at an elite level to even get into the championship conversation.

But that doesn’t mean a team will be able to bully its way to the title the way the 2004 Pistons did. We might not see another team built on that sort of rugged defensive bedrock the way that Pistons team was or the 2008 Celtics were when they won it all.

The Bulls have tried it in recent years and seen it go up in smoke in the playoffs.

They had the best record and defensive rating in the league in each of the past two seasons, and lost to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals two years ago and in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers last season, after losing 2011 league MVP Derrick Rose to a knee injury that has sidelined him this entire season.

It makes you wonder, if and when we might see another bruiser riding down the street during a championship parade?

Magic Get No Love From Dwight?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Lost in the fallout from the Los Angeles Lakers’ home loss to the Orlando Magic Sunday was the end of the game scene that didn’t include any warm and fuzzy handshakes between Dwight Howard and his former teammates.

With Howard and the Lakers smarting from the 10-point loss to the Magic, the All-Star big man reportedly left the court without so much as a handshake for the guys he battled alongside for years in Orlando.

While this wasn’t anywhere near the level of the Bad Boys Pistons shunning the Michael Jordan-led Bulls back in the day, it is yet another missed opportunity for Howard and the Magic to heal from their nasty break up last summer. To their credit, Howard’s Magic teammates are much more forgiving and understanding than some his critics might be (more from Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel):

Magic players said they weren’t upset that Howard didn’t shake their hands or wish them well after Sunday night’s win. Howard walked off the court once the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked off Staples Center’s clock.

“That’s fine,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. “Certain guys don’t shake hands after the game.

“I don’t have any hard feelings to the guy. He made a decision to do what he did. He’s on the team that he’s on. I’m here in Orlando, where I want to be. I just wish him the best of luck. I’m not going to go up and hug him and kiss him or anything like that. I think my coach would be mad at me.”

Magic power forward Glen Davis said he didn’t take any offense.

“If he wants to walk off the court, it’s cool,” Davis said. “No hard feelings, you know? He lost. I would feel bad, too. I wouldn’t want to shake anybody’s hand. So it is what it is.”

Howard and the Lakers have issues of their own to deal with. They’ll have to play another week without Steve Nash and another six to eight weeks without Steve Blake (abdominal surgery), the man who was slated to serve as Nash’s primary backup,

And we can’t forget about Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and that whole “Big Boy Pants” thing … but not even a quick, courtesy handshake and good luck to his former teammates?