Believers 1, skeptics 1
Round two is in the books, and we've got as many new questions on our hands as we do answers.
Before I get on to the relevant stuff, I think the Sonics deserve some serious respect. A team built around jump shots and some working stiffs mixing it up in the paint, with a coach and star player purportedly on their way out of the town. Supposedly doomed in the post-season, despite having put together a sparkling year while vultures circled overhead. They lose their third best player early in the first round, and still breeze through a deep veteran team with loads of playoff experience. In round le deux, they have the good fortune to draw the putative favorites to win it all, albeit with an ailing star. The Sonics proceed to play San Antonio tight for six games, nearly forcing a seventh, somehow making due without Radmanovic or the newly-injured Lewis. Seattle has some serious thinking to do, management and personnel alike; is this something they can build, or should they congratulate themselves on getting the most out of a limited formula and move on? Either way, though, they've been the definition of classy, worthy postseason effort.
Now on to the answers: yes, Steve Nash deserved the MVP; yes, the Suns are resourceful enough to play outside of their comfort zone. Nash has been nothing short of phenomenal this past week, coming up with big play after big play in a shoot-out that demanded a torrent of them. With Johnson out, Amare stifled, and, in game six, everyone in foul trouble, Nash took over with his scoring, passing, leadership, and plain old sense of the game. He was like a more accurate Iverson, splitting the defense and pretty much making any fantastic shot he got a good look at. And while the Suns victory is mostly a product of Nash's virtuoso showings, Jackson and Hunter proved that they're more than capable of stepping in without the offense collapsing. Nash may not be a top-five player in this league, but he proved that he's anything but a welcher feeding off of the talented cast around him. This is a man with two very impressive feet he can call his own. The Suns, too, may be far from perfect, but they're not nearly as vulnerable as the doubters thought them to be. Dallas threw plenty at them in that series, from exotic defenses to a boatload of proven veteran scorers; they came through with flying colors, either dominating or convincingly gutting out all of their four wins.
(sidebar: someone needs to strangle Walton for saying that Nash has no athleticism. Once he gets going, he's one of the fastest players in the league.)
(sidebar two: if Nash or Ginobili were black, people would be all over them for "showboating")
(sidebar three: nothing but love for Q, but sometimes I feel like I've never seen him make an outside shot)
But oh the many questions: First off, Nash. He decimated a Dallas team that, while it's supposedly trying to play defense, doesn't exactly have a proven track record of being able to do so. You could even make a similar argument for the recent exploits of Wade, the Association's new golden child. Domination in the post-season is always a good thing, but eating up a feckless Wizards defense hardly counts as music for the ages. Almost the converse is true for Amare: Dallas managed to pick his game apart, but other teams should be seriously considering how much this was a function of the Mavs' roster.
There's also those problems so exhaustively considered that they're practically blank by now: is Duncan healthy? what's Miami without Shaq? is it really Wade's team? have the Pistons found their vaunted playoff groove by stomping out an Indiana team that had no business making it into the second round?
So now it's on for real. All the sentimental favorites and intriguing young teams are gone; now it's down to the the four that, for the entire season, have been head and shoulders above the rest. Detroit trying to stop Wade, with a greatly-diminished, possible irrelevant Shaq suddenly facing an unexpected twist in his on-court rebirth. The Suns and Spurs battling for the future of the basketball. with Phoenix looking tougher than ever and San Antonio's fate squarely in the hands of their reckless, unpredictable foreign backcourt.
I've wondered several times in the FreeDarko war room if this blog isn't built for the regular season, not the playoffs. If this post is any indication, these next fwe weeks should be all about business——little room for our trademark irreverance, but an outright salute to the purity of sport that proves we care about more than personality, speculation, and goofy minutae.