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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Suns vs. Celtics Recap

I posted a few quick thoughts late last night after the game, but wanted to get a little more in depth into the game. It was a pretty good showing by the Suns, and i was very encouraged by some of the things i saw.

A lot was made about what exactly Shaq would bring to this Suns team, on and off the court. Off the court it was evident pretty quickly: He brought confidence, swagger, and some humor. How that would translate in the locker room and on the court we were left to wonder when he first showed up in Phoenix. After two games, it's quickly becoming evident what Shaq brings to this team on the court as well.

After game 1 against the Lakers, a lot of people immediately jumped on the Suns about not playing any defense, and Shaq's non-ability to defend or guard anyone. After game 2? Not so much.

The Suns played excellent defense, frustrating the Celtics to a level i have not seen from them this year. KG in particular was really irritated, as Amare pestered him, scored on him, and generally held him in check for the entire game. The Celtic's other members of the Big Three, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, shot a combined 5-25, 20%.

The Suns also crashed the boards again, out-rebounding the Celtics 50-32, meaning in both of Shaq's games the Suns have grabbed more rebounds than their opponents. Shaq himself had 14 boards, while Grant Hill continued his dominance since Marion left with 13 boards and 14 points. Hell, even Steve Nash got into the act with 7 boards, good for third on the team.

And while defense and rebounding were certainly something i wanted to see the Suns improve on with Shaq, there was one other thing i noticed about the Suns that has changed since Shaq started playing: They got a mean streak.

That's right. The run-and-gun, finesse-style, 'soft' Suns got tough all of a sudden.

Last night's game was chippy, to say the least. It started with Shaq early, picking up an offensive foul on the first possession of the game. It continued with Amare and KG, who yapped at each other the entire game. The fouls came early and often in this one, with Shaq and Amare getting KG, Kendrick Perkins, and Pierce all in foul trouble early. It lead to the Suns getting to the foul line often, and attempting 12 more foul shots than Boston.

However, the best thing i've seen come out of Shaq's arrival has been Amare's absolute dominance. Shaq called him the 'greatest big man in the game right now' last night. High praise indeed, even if it is a bit premature. Amare is averaging 33 and 11 with Shaq in the line-up, and has done it against very good competition. KG is an absolute stud, and Amare did everything but brand him and claim him for his own, including getting into his head.

Amare himself attributes it to being able to move back to the power forward slot instead of center. With Shaq in the line-up, Amare is freed up from all the banging down low against bigger and stronger centers, and is able to move more freely inside and out, where he is developing an absolutely devastating 17 footer.

Just like the over-reaction after the Lakers game, it is hard to make too many observations of trends after only two games. That said, there are a lot of good things i see from Shaq and the Suns, and if they can keep it going they have a very good chance to make some serious noise in the playoffs.

Suns vs. Celtics

So yeah, the Suns were the balls tonight against the Celtics. Shaq was worthless scoring the ball, but then again we don't need him to score. We need him to rebound, and he did that 14 times. So, you know, that's kinda good.

Oh, and Black Jesus (Amare Stoudemire) continued his destruction of anything in his path during Lent, popping off for 28 and making KG as angry and frustrated as i've ever seen him. Along with Grant Hill's double-double, 14 points and 13 boards, the Suns cruised to a relatively easy win over the Celtics, never trailing in the game.

KG scored 19 for the C's, but their second leading scorer was Rajon Rondo, which is never a good sign. The C's also got out-rebounded on the game 50-32 and were held to only 77 points. Who says the Suns can't play any defense with Shaq...

Ahh ha ha ha ha, Ahh ha ha ha, oh stop it, c'mon! Ahh ha ha ha ha...

Look, this is a story about Larry Fitzgerald and the attempts by The Buzzsaw (aka the Arizona Cardinals - Hat Tip to Deadspin) to re-sign him.

The story in and of itself is is mostly uninteresting to this here blog, except for the minor fact that i would love Fitty to leave the Cards and sign with the Vikings. But even all that is un-important next to this quote from the AZ Central story about the situation:

"The Cardinals are trying to appeal to Fitzgerald's desire to play for a winner."

There is absolutely nothing i can add to that statement to make it any funnier. Or more funny. Whatever. Just bask in the glory of that statement...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Shaq Era Begins...

7:00pm Mountain Standard Time, on ESPN. Mark it down as the beginning of the Experiment in the Desert, also known as Shaq debuting with the Suns. And make no mistake, it is an experiment.

Despite all the (now) glowing reviews about the Shaq trade by most fans, the majority of local media, and a smattering of national media, this trade is an experiment. And it's either going to be the re-invention of the wheel (a championship) or it's going to send the lab into a big fiery mess (losing in the first round). It's an either-or proposition, with almost no middle ground.

High-risk high-reward to put it another way. Regardless of what anybody thinks, it was a needed experiment. For as much as everyone here in Phoenix loved Shawn Marion (and make no mistake, he was beloved in this town), most people could see and agreed that it was probably time for him to go. He is a fantastic player, and almost tailor-made for this type of run and gun system, but his attitude has never quite been right. He was just a little too me-first, while the rest of the team was win-win-win, with Steve Nash being the loudest voice of unselfishness and team play.

When your team team leader and perhaps best all-around player clash, eventually that will start to blow up. They co-existed peacefully for the first few years because the team was winning and having fun. It was all new to them. This season, with the weight of the last two year's playoff exits and the expectations of winning and championships, cracks started to form in the relationship. They lost their care-free, fun attitude. Their run-and-gun offense has slowed a bit, and been replaced by the crazy guys in Oakland. It was evident in the Golden State-Phoenix game last week; While Phoenix ran and stayed with the Warriors, it was a faster pace than they usually play.

So with cracks showing, and the team appearing to not have much fun playing together anymore, the Suns made their move. Out went Marion (and Banks, by all accounts as close to a clubhouse cancer as the Suns had), and in came The Big Aristotle himself, Shaq. And Shaq comes in preaching team-first, it's not about me, etc. He comes in laughing and cracking jokes. Suddenly Steve Nash is playing around with Craig Sagers handkerchief on national tv at the all-star game, and cracking jokes to the media.

Of course, this has all been off the court. Tonight, we get to see the on-court transformation of the team. We get to see if Shaq, as he says he will do, can really adapt to the Suns style without slowing them down. We get to see if he will help alleviate some of their rebounding woes. And we get to see if he still has anything left in the tank to help lead this team to the promised land.

Tonight we see the first glimpse of the experiment, gathering all the ingredients and starting to mix them together. We won't know for another couple of months whether this experiment will work or not, because it takes time for all the processes to fizzle and fizzure. But it starts tonight. And you know what?

I'm excited...