Celtics-Bulls is one for the ages

Game 6: And the readers have spoken

Fouls, flops, fiascoes … but not flagrant

Twelve days into the NBA playoffs and I’m brimming with questions. And not simple questions like, “How have 12 freaking days passed and we’re not close to being done with Round 1?” or “Who is directing Round 1 right now, David Fincher?” I’m talking about real questions. Questions that stick in your craw. Questions my friends and I have been batting around. Questions that may not even have an answer. For example …

Q: Should Rajon Rondo have been whistled for a flagrant foul at the end of Game 5?

Rajon Rondo

A: The short answer: Yes. The long answer: No.

OK, you’re confused. Not to sound like Coach Finstock, but there are five laws in the NBA. The first is that two players can only feud because someone owed someone else money from a card game and didn’t pay, or because someone slept with someone else’s girlfriend or steady hookup. The second is that everyone has to pretend Kobe Bryant is a good guy at all times, even if it means lying to family members, friends and media members or convincing Spike Lee to make a full-fledged gushing documentary about him. The third is the NBA doesn’t “fix” games per se; the league just “orchestrates” them a little with referee assignments, and teams are not allowed to complain. The fourth is Stu Jackson and Ahmad Rashad must always remain employed with jobs that are well beyond their means. And the fifth? The last 15 seconds of a fourth quarter or overtime morph into rugby rules and it’s just implicitly understood.

This is why everyone flipped out on Bennett Salvatore after his touch foul on Dirk Nowitzki swung the NBA Finals in 2006: Technically, yeah, the Sauerkraut Kid might have given Dwyane Wade a tiny nudge in Game 5. BUT YOU DON’T CALL IT!!!!!! Not in the last 15 seconds. Same for Hue Hollins saving the Knicks with a touch foul on Hubie Davis in 1994 (Chicago fans just groaned), or by contrast, the officials not whistling MJ’s shove on Bryon Russell in ’98 (Chicago fans just cheered). In the Final Fifteen, the players decide the game unless it’s an obvious call. At the end of Game 4, Brad Miller grabbed Ray Allen from behind and flung him down like a kick returner so Miller could potentially get a buzzer-beating tip on a missed shot. Did they call it? No. That play shouldn’t have decided the game. And it didn’t.

So when Rondo walloped Miller across the face on that climactic drive Tuesday night, it was his single smartest play of his phenomenal first round. He had no chance of blocking the shot, and he had to hit Miller as hard as he could to prevent the and-one, so screw it … SMACK! (He even admitted this after the game.) Since the motion technically looked like Rondo was swiping at the ball — even though his hand wasn’t within two feet of it — the officials couldn’t call a flagrant and that was that. If Bulls fans want to whine about it, fine, just remember that (A) Boston’s best clutch guy (Ray Allen) fouled out on two of the worst calls of the playoffs, and (B) Ben Gordon stepped out of bounds right as he got fouled by Tony “Why Am I In The Game Again?” Allen for three game-tying free throws in the final 30 seconds. Sweeping incompetence will eventually even out over time.

(The NBA … it’s FANNNNNNtastic! I love this game!)

The inevitable hullabaloo over the Rondo foul obscured six things. First, this is now the greatest first-round series since the NBA expanded to a best-of-seven format — no matter how it turns out — and I just wish I could have predicted that a week ago. (Wait, I did???? Really? I’m never right! This is great!) Second, I’d like to waive the five-year waiting period and immediately induct the Brad Miller “I just got whacked in the face, my lip is swelling, my mouth tastes like blood, I’m seeing stars, and now I have to make two humongous free throws” Face as well as the Brad Miller “I just missed the first free throw, now I really have to play up how much this hurts and act like I might keel over” Face into the Faces Hall of Fame. Third, Kendrick Perkins’ dead-on impersonation of Robert Parish in Game 5 — 16 points, 19 rebounds, seven blocks — made me so proud that I can’t even tell you. Fourth, the young Bulls have been so remarkable that we’re penciling them in as a title contender in 2010 and beyond; if it weren’t for coaching misfires and a lack of playoff reps in crunch time, they would have ended this series in five. Fifth, Paul Pierce has looked sluggish for much of these five games, and Lord knows what’s wrong with him, but you have to admire the way he carried Boston in the final eight minutes of Game 5. Only a few players could pull themselves out of the abyss and start draining shots like that.

LeBron JamesAnd sixth, Rondo has now passed the oranges, the reds and the greens and moved toward Park Place and Boardwalk on the Monopoly board of point guards. Only a handful of guys in history can match what he did in these first five games (he’s averaging a 24-10-10 with three steals a night, and that only starts to tell the story); he won’t allow the Celtics to lose these games, displayed a real mean streak (just ask Brad Miller) and was electrically exciting to boot. I don’t know what’s left. There will be a moment in Game 6 when Rondo drives to the basket and Miller (one of the tougher NBA players) absolutely decks him for a little revenge from Game 5. Rondo will scrape himself off the floor. He will sink the free throws. And two plays later, he will challenge Miller again.

Put it this way: Rondo could have rolled over in the 2009 playoffs with an undermanned team like Chris Paul did. He decided to keep fighting. Chris Paul can’t say the same. Which reminds me …

Q: With their 58-point loss at home in Game 4, did the Hornets redefine the phrase “quitting on their coach” for the rest of sports eternity?

A: The honors still go to Mox’s “Varsity Blues” football team for refusing to come out for the second half of the climactic game unless coach Bud Kilmer went away. Actually, that might have been a better move for the Hornets than just rolling over in Game 4 like they did in this decade’s biggest NBA postseason disgrace. (I get rolling over on the road. But at home? How can you do that to your fans?) Now they have to fire Scott, which works out awesome for him — he gets paid $5.5 million next season whether he coaches or not, explaining his “Hey, whatever, I already won three rings with the Lakers” demeanor at Monday night’s news conference — and terrible for the Hornets, who were already going broke and now have to pay two coaches.

How much do we blame Paul for this? Allow me to make two excuses for my favorite point guard not named “Rajon.” First, the 2007-08 Hornets were much better than the 2008-09 Hornets, mainly because 2007-08 Tyson Chandler looked like the next Marcus Camby and 2008-09 Chandler looks like the next Marcus Haislip, but also because Peja Stojakovic and James Posey got old and they miss Jannero Pargo’s hit-or-miss bench swagger. It’s just not the same team. In fact, that’s why I picked Paul second for MVP — I just thought his supporting cast stunk this season. Throw in Kenyon Martin’s obscenely good defense on David West, and I feel like an absolute idiot for picking New Orleans in that series. I thought the Hornets would turn it on. Instead, they turned it off and threw the switch in the toilet.

Second, more superstar-led teams quit on coaches (or themselves) than you’d think. The ’82-83 Celtics quit on Bill Fitch. The ’81-82 Lakers quit on Paul Westhead. The ’89-90 Bulls quit on Doug Collins. The ’74-75 Bucks quit on Larry Costello. The 2003-04 Lakers quit on everyone. If the Craigslist killer targeted NBA coaches instead of masseuses, he wouldn’t have killed half as many coaches as Wilt Chamberlain did. You have a better chance of going the other way and trying to find an NBA superstar who played on a team that didn’t quit on its head coach: Basically, it’s Bill Russell, Jerry West, Bob Cousy and that’s about it. So, yeah, I’m a little disappointed in the Evolutionary Isiah (CP3). Surprised? No. This is the NBA. Teams quit on their coaches all the time. Here’s your list of longest current NBA coaching tenures.

    Jerry Sloan, 20 seasons
    Gregg Popovich, 13 seasons
    Mike Dunleavy, six seasons
    Lawrence Frank, five-plus seasons
    George Karl, five-plus seasons
    Doc Rivers, five seasons
    Mike Woodson, five seasons

Chris Paul

(I don’t know what’s more amazing: The fact that just seven guys made it five seasons or more … or that one of them was Mike Dunleavy. By the way, what’s my appropriate response when the Clips send me a 2009-10 renewal bill this month? Do I collect a month’s worth of dog doo from outside my house and mail it back to them with my check? Is that legal? Is there a legal precedent with a fan doing that? What if I put the poop in one of those stay-fresh containers so you could see it but not actually get it on you? I need to think more about this.)

Q: We lost Dikembe Mutombo to a career-ending injury. Does this mean we lose him for the dunk contest as well?

A: I don’t know. And you know what that means? We need an announcement from David Stern telling us in no uncertain terms, “Dikembe is gone, but we’ll still be involved in all of his charities, and also, I’ve signed a six-year deal with Dikembe to sit in the front row of our next six dunk contests.”

Q: When the Rockets need a basket, why don’t they pound the ball down low to Yao Ming, a great free-throw shooter who has a mismatch with whomever might be guarding him, instead of having Yao set picks 27 feet from the basket to set up unspeakably bad jumpers by Ron Artest?

A: I … I don’t know.

Q: Does Dallas’ thorough shellacking of the Spurs mean that the Jason Kidd-Devin Harris trade wasn’t one of the five worst trades of the decade?

A: You know what? I have to say yes. To be clear: The Mavs still gave up waaaaaaaaay too much and should have fired their coach before shaking things up; there’s an 81 percent chance they’d be just as unstoppable with Devin Harris in Kidd’s place. But you can’t deny Kidd’s effect on Jason Terry, Josh Howard and Dirk — he lives to make them better and they are better. Beyond that, the Mavs have excellent chemistry for the first time I can ever remember. Part of that might be Nowitzki emerging as a leader, but again, maybe that doesn’t happen without Kidd.

The most interesting wrinkle to me: Of any “former great,” with the possible exception of Karl Malone, Kidd did the best job of accepting his weaknesses and accentuating his strengths. He can’t defend good point guards anymore, and he always shot a poor percentage. Fine. But he can run a team. He can make 3-pointers as long as he’s wide open. He can advise and lead. He can run fast breaks as well as anyone. He can still jump passing lanes and swipe a dumb pass. He has recreated himself as a still-effective complementary player. That’s something that Gary Payton couldn’t do, or Chris Webber, or Allen Iverson, or Charles Barkley, or Larry Johnson, or Mitch Richmond, or Glen Rice, or Penny Hardaway, or Jermaine O’Neal. … I mean, it’s hard to say, “I can no longer do everything from A through Z, but I can still do A, D, F, J, K and M, so that’s what I will do.”

In a stroke of luck, Kidd might make it the rest of the playoffs — a postseason that featured a remarkable slew of penetrating point guards — without facing anyone else who will chew him up like Tony Parker did. In Round 2, Chauncey Billups is a perfect matchup for him, a herky-jerky, physical jump-shooter who Kidd can bump and grind. In Round 3, he’d go against Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown and the Artist Formerly Known As Jordan Farmar, or as I like to call them, the Poop Club Sandwich. In the Finals, he’d get Mo Williams and Boobie Gibson. That’s why I see Kidd gaining steam as the playoffs keep going, this rejuvenated Dallas team making the Western Conference finals, and even the Lakers sweating out that Finals berth more than people anticipate.

You know what else? A reader (can’t remember his name) pointed out something to me that I passed along in a podcast and now I will mention here: Kidd is the only guy who can defend LeBron and Kobe. Why? They respect him too much. They don’t want to kick his butt. It doesn’t make them feel good. They settle for jumpers instead of just destroying him off the dribble in a goofy display of guilt and respect. Back in the ’60s, Wilt rarely unleashed against Russell because he liked him so much. … In fact, that was Russell’s ploy, to make Wilt like him so he wouldn’t annihilate him. I don’t think Kidd thinks that way; the situation is what it is. Those guys love him from their Redeem Team days and have no interest in eviscerating him now.

But as strange as this sounds, Jason Kidd’s advanced age and declining defensive skills might be Dallas’ best chance against the Lakers and Cavs. Call it the Pity Theory. Just wait.

Q: When Brian Scalabrine fouls out of a playoff game, and your reaction is, “Uh-oh, we’re screwed,” is that a bad sign for your title hopes?

A: Yes. Yes it is.

Q: Who is the most underrated player in the playoffs?

Dahntay Jones. Totally underrated. Premier defender, agitator and chemistry guy. Takes nothing off the table. Even came up with a new spelling for “Dante.” I like everything I’m seeing. I’d pick Perkins second, Aaron Brooks third and Tyson Chandler last. Three other guys worth mentioning while we’re here:

Kirk Hinrich: Played so well on both ends that I’m now moving him into that Jason Terry/Mo Williams “We got overpaid and teams were afraid to trade for us, and maybe we let it affect us a little, but we remained talented, and as soon as our situations turned a little and our teams improved, we made a comeback; now everyone feels absolutely stupid for not trading for us when they could have had us for 40 cents on the dollar” group. Hinrich makes $10 million this season and $26.5 million total over the next three. That’s not a fair price? How could the Blazers not make a run at him when they’re trotting out that hideous combo of Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez? This bugs me

Lamar Odom: The player we always wanted him to become. Can’t say enough about him. The remaining 71 Clipper fans will now light themselves on fire.

Kenyon Martin: Like Kidd, he reinvented himself as a complementary player (in this case, an energy guy and defensive stopper) and absolutely wiped out David West in Round 1. The K-Mart versus Nowitzki matchup might be the single best matchup of Round 2 — a sneering stopper trying to shut down a sneering shooter for seven games. And if you look at Dirk’s history against physical, trash-talking, in-your-face guys with tattoos (see: Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes in 2007), it’s not great. Stay tuned.

Q: Why haven’t you mentioned the Blazers or taken a shot at Greg Oden yet?

A: Because I might have an entire Blazers column in me and don’t want to step on it. Stay tuned. Let’s see what happens Thursday.

Q: Come on … not one shot at Oden? What about a reader e-mail?

A: Fine, fine. Let’s go with this one from Kyle in Chicago: “Oden came into Game 4 with 3:21 left in the third. At that point, I offered my roommate a bet: ‘Will Oden pick up his next foul in less than or more than two minutes?’ My roommate pounded the over. Huge mistake. Oden immediately began trying to commit fouls at both ends of the floor before finally picking one up at the 2:15 mark when the refs decided they’d had enough of the whole push-Yao-outside-the-3-point-line defensive strategy. Easiest money I’ve ever made. As a tribute to Mr. Oden, I spent the entire next day posting Facebook status updates such as, ‘Watching Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Can’t wait for the part where Greg Oden fouls Orlando Bloom,’ and, ‘Greg Oden just fouled the word ‘Rocket’ in the dictionary,’ and, ‘If Greg Oden goes to an electronics store, and he just looks around without buying anything, could he still commit a foul? Keep in mind, he’s not buying anything.’ A day well spent, if you ask me.”

Q: What rules need to be passed to prevent us from ever having a first round ruined by the likes of the 2008-09 Pistons when we had a legitimate playoff team, such as the 2008-09 Suns, sitting home?

A: Five easy ones. First, shorten the season by one week (four games). Second, guarantee the first 12 playoff seeds (six for each conference) and put the next two up for grabs (best records get them, as described here). Third, create the Entertaining-As-Hell Tournament at the end of the regular season — sixteen teams in all, all nonplayoff teams — with the runner-up getting the 16th seed and the winner getting the 15th seed. (Note: As I spelled out in this 2007 column, the tourney prevents teams from tanking down the stretch or shutting down players, and even better, gives the playoff teams a week off to recover. You’re saying you would have been against the Zombie Sonics sneaking into the playoffs? And by the way, there would be no lottery repercussions because we’re also making the lottery open to all 16 nonplayoff teams, same odds for everyone. Again, the goal is to kill any inclination to tank. Covered it all in that column two years ago.) Fourth, the playoffs would no longer be by conference: Just a 16-team tournament, winner take all. And fifth, the top-seven seeds get to pick who they’re playing — No. 1 overall goes first, No. 2 goes second, and so on.

(Now you tell me: Would that make the first three weeks of the postseason more exciting? Or do you like the old system more? Come on.)

Q: Should Dwight Howard be suspended for Game 6 for whistling a malicious elbow at Sam Dalembert’s head?

A: Yes. Unequivocally. If the 2006-07 Suns can lose their best player for a game because he reacted to the sight of his best teammate getting thrown against the scorer’s table like a rag doll and ran 15 feet without doing anything, then Orlando can lose its best player for a game because he nearly ruined Sam’s face. Actually, he should have been tossed from Game 5, but the refs didn’t have the testicular fortitude to do it. So this is the next best thing.

Q: Should Rajon Rondo be suspending for Game 6 for raking Miller across the face?

A: Yes. Because he admitted afterward that it was kinda, sorta intentional. But here’s why the league WON’T suspend him: The NBA would be admitting the officials blew that call. So, they’ll fine Rondo and admonish him in a statement, and that will be that. Gotta keep the illusion going that NBA referees don’t suck! Hold on, I’m not done.

Q: As we near the two-year anniversary of the Tim Donaghy scandal, is the putrid situation with NBA officiating getting any better?

A: Nah, it’s as bad as ever. It’s really, really bad. It’s “I feel dumb loving this league so much” bad. It’s “you lied to us when you said you’d fix this after Donaghy” bad. Let’s forget about the consistent incompetence for a second — it’s not like we didn’t know the playoffs wouldn’t make us want to not punch a wall twice a night, and yes, that was a quadruple negative.

Here’s what bothers me: The league promised us Donaghy was a rogue official, promised to clean things up, hired a new leader (the Sarge, Robert Johnson) and promised to get better. The media accepted the league’s “investigation” at face value and moved on. (I blame myself as well.) So how can the following two things happen in Round 1?

No. 1: Joey Crawford reffed Game 3 of the Spurs-Mavs series in San Antonio. This guy was suspended for flipping out on Tim Duncan last season. The Spurs are convinced he hates them. Their 2007-08 season ended because of Crawford’s non-call on Brent Barry’s 3-pointer against the Lakers. There are seven other playoff matchups. How does this guy end up getting assigned to Game 3 in San Antonio? Why even risk it?

No. 2. On St. Patrick’s Day, Doc Rivers and longtime nemesis Bill Kennedy got into such a staredown/screaming tiff that Doc was fined $25,000 and Kennedy was fined as well. Heading into Game 4, I was texting my Boston buddies, “The league needs this series to go seven, and they will screw us on the officials. You watch.” One of your three officials? That’s right … Mr. Bill Kennedy. It was like seeing Ike and Tina get back together. I mean, why even go there? And that’s before we mentioned the Boston Herald’s report that two of the three members of Kennedy’s Game 4 crew live in Chicago and greeted families after the game who were wearing Bulls gear. No, really.

Q: From Orlando reader Marc M.: “Do you think Game 3 of Hawks-Heat could have been released in theaters as ‘Proof of Life 2: The Jermaine O’Neal Story?'”

A: Even after his 22-10 in Game 3 and 20-6 in Game 4, I’m still not there. I need a photo. Can you send me a photo of him holding today’s Miami Herald and smiling?

Q: Was that the end of the Spurs’ pseudo-dynasty?

A: Yeah, I think so. It’s too bad. You can only feast on bargain free agents, castoffs and late first-rounders for so long. And Duncan passed the 1,000-game mark, which is never a good thing. Barkley made a great point on TNT on Tuesday night that I will try to paraphrase: Superstars reach a point when everyone starts saying, “We just need to get him some rest” or “We just need to get him more help,” when really, the guy is just getting old and you can’t stop it. In Duncan’s prime, he would have seen the series slipping away after Game 3 and slapped up a 35-19-7 with seven blocks to save the Spurs in Game 4. Not this time. He only had a 25-10-7 with one block in him, Slight difference &#133 but a difference.

Know when I knew it was over for the Spurs? When they signed Drew Gooden. Good rebounder, decent inside scorer, total knucklehead. He grew a mini-beard on the back of his neck three years ago. He let down LeBron so many times that LeBron developed an actual “Drew Gooden disappointed me yet again and I might have to kill him soon” frown. When he went to Chicago, Cleveland immediately became a better team. The Bulls dumped him and they immediately became better. He’s exactly the type of player the Spurs NEVER sign: someone who looks better on paper than he actually is. I just thought it seemed like a desperate move. And it was.

Q: Do the 2008-09 Rockets qualify for the Ewing Theory?

A: I wanted to rule “no” because nobody ever said the words, “Uh-oh, T-Mac is gone, the Rockets are screwed now.” At the same time, you can’t beat the comedy of a T-Mac team finally making it past the first round 12 seasons into his career … only he’s watching from streetclothes on the bench. So let’s include him. By the way, do you think the phone call played out like this before Game 3?

    T-Mac: “Rick, hey, it’s Tracy McGrady.”

    Rick Adelman (startled): “Hey, Tracy. How are you? How’s rehab?”

    T-Mac: “Great, great. Look, I was thinking about sitting on our bench for Game 3. I thought it could give us a boost.”

Now, you’re Rick Adelman. What is your proper response?

Is it, “Are you [bleeping] kidding me? Seriously? Are you KIDDING ME? Is this a prank? Who is this? This isn’t funny!”

Is it, “Great idea, nothing will inspire our team like the superstar with the worst career playoff record ever?”

Is it, “That sounds great! Ironically, it’s the eight-month anniversary to the day when you showed up for training camp overweight and proceeded to murder us for the next five months until we finally decided to trade you, only you one-upped us by opting for microfracture surgery and killing your value. Maybe we could celebrate with cake after the game, win or lose?”

What do you say? I don’t know. These are the questions I would ask coaches if I covered an NBA team. Which is probably why I’d lose locker-room access after two weeks. Or get beaten up. Or both.

Paul PierceQ: Can you wager on NBA games by learning from things that happened in the past?

A: I did it in Round 1! The similarities between the ’90-91 Bulls and ’08-09 Cavs were too overwhelming to ignore: They have similar superstars at similar points of their careers. They’re better than people realize. They have that collective fire in their belly. … The more I chewed on it, I realized, “Wouldn’t the Cavs just repeat what the Bulls did?” So I looked up Chicago’s scores in their Round 1 sweep of New York (126-85, 89-79, 103-94) and projected accordingly since the ’90-91 Knicks were better than the ’08-09 Detroit Salary Dumps. Easy money. You know, if gambling was legal.

Q: What’s the most underrated subplot of the playoffs?

A: How ’bout Yao quietly getting revenge on the members of the Spanish team that slanted their eyes in a controversial team photo in 2008? Fernandez is going down in Round 1 … could Pau Gasol be going down in Round 3? Look out Paz Vega, you’re next!

Q: Why don’t opposing teams know that, with less than 10 seconds left in a tied game, Hedo Turkoglu is going to pretend to drive, pull up and shoot a 3?

A: This comes back to two questions: “Don’t you guys have scouts?” and “Don’t you guys watch ‘SportsCenter’?” I watched that game with a few friends, and as that play was developing, I was telling Thad Young — who couldn’t hear me, since we were about 1,300 miles apart — “pull-up 3, get up on him, get up on him, pull-up 3, get up on him, pull-up 3, pull-up 3.” Of course, Young played four feet off him, bought Hedo’s lame stutter-step move and allowed him to launch the game-winning 3. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?????

Q: A reader named Zo in Arlington, Va., asked this one: “Who do you think mailed in their performance more: Matthew Fox in this season of ‘Lost’ or Rasheed Wallace in Round 1?”

A: Matthew Fox. At least Sheed looked like he still enjoyed the pregame chest bumps a little. Fox has dueling “Guys, this is stupid, can’t we just fast-forward to 2009 again?” and “I should be getting huge paychecks to star in crappy romantic comedies” looks on his face.

Q: What are the only three acceptable excuses for a coach not fouling when he’s up three with 10 seconds or less remaining in a playoff game?

A: One, he bet on the other team. Two, he’s stubborn enough to ignore undeniable evidence that it’s spectacularly stupid NOT to turn it into a free-throw shooting contest (especially if you have a Hall of Fame cooler on your team, like, say, Ray Allen). Three, he’s trying to make the game more exciting so it might rerun for the rest of eternity on ESPN Classic and NBA-TV.

Fast-forward to the first overtime of Game 4. The Celtics are leading by three with nine seconds to play. Registered assassin Ben Gordon was inbounding the ball, which meant the Bulls were clearly running Mike D’Antoni’s patented “Inbound guy throws it to the post, makes a cut, gets a pick and launches a 3-pointer” play. (By the way, Vinny Del Negro WORKED FOR PHOENIX LAST SEASON. Yes, I had to use all caps. The Suns ran this play at least five times last season alone.) I am sitting there going, “Either foul the guy who catches it or foul Gordon as he runs after the pass.” The Celtics did neither. Gordon made the 3. Boston lost in double overtime.

One day later? ESPN Classic aired Game 4 as an instant classic. If that was Doc Rivers’ intent, he’s smarter than we thought.

Q: Stephon Marbury played five minutes in Game 4 and finished with a plus-minus of minus-17? How is this possible?

A: I’m not sure. But if he played all 48 minutes, the Celtics would have lost 192-28. In other words, they would have been almost as bad as New Orleans in Game 4. But we keep hearing how much money Ben Gordon made himself in Round 1. Flipping it around, how ’bout how much money Marbury lost???? I was prepared for any scenario when Boston signed him. Steph plowing through Celtics interns like Sherman plowed through Atlanta. Steph getting a tattoo of a leprechaun on his head. Steph getting murdered by KG on the team charter. Steph turning into the league’s best bench player. Everything was in play. Or so I thought. Because I never imagined watching an NBA game in which Stephon Marbury was afraid to shoot.

Q: Was there a worse decision this season than Antonio McDyess deciding to re-sign with a washed-up Detroit team?

A: Maybe James Posey ditching Ubuntu for what amounted to an extra $4 million? (Did I think about this decision as they showed Posey watching sadly from New Orleans’ bench during Game 4’s coach-quitting clinic? Absolutely.) Then again, Posey already has a ring and McDyess doesn’t. What’s interesting is that both decisions combined to help murder Boston’s title hopes. Let’s move on before I start sobbing.

Q: When ABC’s NBA halftime show runs those “Fab Five” segments, are we supposed to be keeping track of the answers? Is there a quiz at the end of the playoffs with a prize for the viewer who remembers the most answers? Is there long-term relevance to Paul Pierce’s five favorite all-time 3-point shooters that I’m currently not aware of at this point in time?

A: (Fighting off 25,000 volts of current.)

Q: I love the NBA’s new playoff commercials, so what would be the funniest slow-motion, black-and-white commercial to see with that piano music playing?

A: I thought of this idea myself and then a few readers sent in similar thoughts. The funniest ever would be Bennett Salvatore’s bogus call from 40 feet away of Dirk’s slight shove on Wade in Game 5 of the 2006 Finals, followed by the crazed reaction of Dallas’ bench. This would be the funniest one ever. It just can’t be topped. I would laugh and laugh. A close runner-up would be any shady Tim Donaghy call from any playoff game, or even better, Donaghy watching a playoff game from jail and getting jumped by three other inmates.

While we’re here, I can’t understand why the NBA hasn’t opened this commercial campaign up to include more classic clips. Instead of the likes of Joe Johnson or Nene, couldn’t we see Jordan’s game-winner in Game 1 of the 1997 Finals? Reggie Miller’s game-winner in Game 4 of the Indy-Bulls series in ’98? LJ’s four-pointer in the ’99 playoffs? Magic’s baby sky hook? (It would kill me, but it would be cool.) Bird’s final basket in the ‘Nique-Bird duel (the twirling lefty layup)? Or the best one of all: Kobe’s alley-oop to Shaq to clinch Game 7 of the 2000 West finals against the Blazers, using the replay of the camera from the opposite end? There are hundreds and hundreds that would give me the chills. And they probably take three seconds to make each one. Can’t we just make it a show? How many could you watch dozens in a row? I think I’m good for about 75 before the piano music makes me batty.

Q: What needs to happen for Vinny Del Negro to get through a half without using his 20-second timeout?

A: The answer involves a ski mask, duct tape and a Taser. Which might also be how he got hired.

Q: What was the defining No Benjamins Association moment of Round 1?

A: The Pistons e-mailing Cleveland season-ticket holders before Game 3 and offering them deals on tickets for Games 3 and 4 in Detroit. When teams are ENCOURAGING opposing fans to come to playoff games, we are headed for financial disaster. And we are. Nobody believes me. There will be a lockout in 2011.

Q: Are there any unacceptable scenarios for preening after hitting a big playoff shot?

A: Just one. I call it the Andre Iguodala Corollary: namely, if you just sucked for the last two minutes of Game 1, bricked two free throws and missed another shot, you are not allowed to prance around like a superstar if you happen to make an absolutely atrocious stutter-step fallaway that you never should have taken in a million years. I will allow you to chest-bump a teammate or two, but that’s it.

That reminds me, have you ever noticed the correlation between a player’s reaction after he makes a game-winner and his status as a player at that specific time? Jordan was fascinating in this respect: In the ’80s, he jumped around every time he made one. By his last two Chicago seasons, he just pumped his fist and did the whole “Come on, like there was any doubt?” routine. It’s the last stage you can reach as an NBA star. So let’s say there are 10 stages in all. I think they would look like this:

Stage 1: “I can’t believe that went in, I’m going to jump around like a huge dork, and I am definitely getting laid tonight.”

(Best example: Any game-winner from a dorky shooting guard.)

Stage 2: “I have no idea how to act but I’m going to try to seem like I’m an assassin and do some preening, and you’re going to hate me by the time I’m done.”

(Best example: The Iguodala example above or Ben Gordon’s crotch grab in Game 4.)

Stage 3: “I’m going to try to seem like I meant to do this, but you’ll know I’m rattled as soon as I blow my first three chest-bumps or stagger around like I’m drunk.”

(Best example: Any game-winner ever made by Patrick Ewing.)

Stage 4: “Even though I should be acting like I’ve been here before, I’m still going to jump around and completely lose my crap because I’m so freaking excited.”

(Best example: Reggie Miller running around like a chicken with its head cut off after his 3 in Game 4 of the Bulls series in ’98.)

Stage 5: “I’m going to pretend to be Michael Jordan to the point that you will feel creepy.”

(Best example: Kobe’s game-winner against the Suns in 2006 that recently made the slew of cool playoff commercials. We haven’t seen an imitation that uncomfortable since Jennifer Jason Leigh got Bridget Fonda’s haircut in “Single White Female.”)

Stage 6: “I normally don’t get excited, but that was just too damn cool.

(Best example: Tim Duncan nailing the game-saving 3-pointer against Phoenix last spring, or John Stockton nailing the series-winner against the Rockets in ’97.)

Stage 7: “I am not surprised this happened. I am really, really good and the moment needs to be commemorated in some way.”

(Best example: Dwyane Wade’s steal and banker to beat Chicago, followed by Wade calmly running over to the scorer’s table, hopping on it and staring at the fans. That was cool. Gotta hand it to him.)

Stage 8: Any Jordan game-winner from 1996-98 or any Bird game-winner from 1985-88. The defining “Come on, of course that was going in” guys of my lifetime.

Stage 9: Jerry West. Remember when West nailed the 60-footer to tie Game 3 of the NBA Finals in 1970? THE MAN DOESN’T FLINCH. No celebration, no fist pump, no smile. I’m not even sure his hair moved. But he did accept a few handshakes. So …

Stage 10: Bird again. Remember when Reggie made that aforementioned 3-pointers in ’98 against the Bulls when he hopped around like a pansy? The crowd explodes. His teammates go bonkers. It’s complete chaos. NBA cuts to a replay of coach Bird’s reaction. The Legend doesn’t even blink. Just stands there. He couldn’t be less impressed. Wake me up when someone else gets to Stage 10.

(See, everything comes back to Larry Bird.)

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy’s World.

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Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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