Friday night’s twilight game at the Goodman League was more about the hoopla than the hoops on a cool evening in the District. The scent of grilled barbeque decorated the air at Barry Farms’ basketball court while announcer Miles Rawls provided the jokes for those in attendance. When the crowd wasn’t enjoying the surrounding festivities, they were enjoying a barn burner between Team Ooohs and Ahhs and the Maryland Greenhawks. The Greenhawks, headlined by Randy “White Chocolate” Gill, raced down to the wire with Ooohs and Ahhs, edging them 91-84.
In a high scoring shootout, both teams forced the ball downcourt relentlessly as fastbreaks were pushed whenever the opportunity presented itself. Usually when two teams run and gun to the extent of Friday’s action, the term “bring your track shoes” is often used as an illustrative description. But one player on Team Ooohs and Ahhs took the saying to heart and Rawls made sure to take it to him.
“Look at the new guy checking in with the track shoes on,” Rawls joked. “He must have had those on his grocery list for K-Mart. Milk, toilet tissue and new shoes.”
It was that type of night at the Goodman, where the atmosphere of a storied city basketball league could’ve easily been mistaken for a summer family cookout. Rawls does an excellent job of compensating for entertainment whenever the games lack the star power of top name professional ballers. Although the night featured famed And 1 hoopster Gill and a few other familiar ballers, it was mostly staffed full of miscellaneous first names that members of the crowd had never heard of.
Former Tennessee point guard Bobby Maze led the Greenhawks with 31 points while Wade added 24. Boo and Chris Matt both added 24 points for Ooohs and Ahhs in the defeat. Names like Wade, Boo and Chris Matt aren’t going to pack the bleachers but their games are impressive. Both Maze and Wade showcased their slashing abilities as they got to the basket when they wanted, whenever they wanted. Boo and Matt are excellent one on one scorers who should help the Greenhawks remain an attractive team to watch for as the summer progresses.
He hasn’t even been drafted yet but Kentucky point guard John Wall is quickly becoming one of the most popular pro athletes in Washington, D.C. The Washington Wizards hosted a private 30-minute workout for the Freshman of the Year on Thursday with hordes of front office execs and media hounds on hand for his every move.
With cameras flashing and presidents and owners nodding their heads in approval, Wall showcased the trademark quickness and athleticism that has him projected to become the Wizards’ No. 1 overall selection in the first round of the NBA Draft on June 24.
Following instructions from Wizards head coach Flip Saunders and assistant coach Sam Cassell, Wall raced up the court doggedly as he nailed runners in the lane and sliced through the air for dunks. A few free throws here, some ball handling drills there and Wall had the look of a top prospect as he completed each drill smoothly with effortless flair. The only thing easier than Wall’s workout was the endless amount of questions he answered calmly and at times jokingly from a large media turnout.
“If the Wizards pick me I’ll come in and try to help the team the best way I can,” Wall said when asked about his expectations for next season. “Your first year you have to learn a lot. I know that I’m not going to come in and be the best player in the world and come in and not have [any] ups and downs. I’m just preparing myself for that. You [have] to be mentally prepared for that type of stuff.”
While Washington general manager Ernie Grunfeld and new team owner Ted Leonsis have yet to give any indication that Wall will indeed be the top selection, their presence on Thursday went a long way into providing some type of premonition. Considering that Evan Turner— the draft’s projected second overall prospect—refused to workout for the Wizards this past week, the chances of Wall becoming the top selection increases by the day.
“He is certainly a very talented player and there is consensus if you go across the board that he would be the first pick,” Leonsis said.
Despite a tumultuous season for the Wizards, Leonsis admitted that earning the draft’s top selection is just part of the process that helps teams turn their fortunes around.
“Sometimes you have to be bad to be good,” he said with a smile.
If drafted first overall, Wall will join Derrick Rose and Allen Iverson as the only point guards taken with the top overall selection in the last 30 years. Ideal company for the 19-year-old who grew up idolizing Iverson and mentions Rose as one of his favorite players in the league.
“Growing up, everybody liked Allen Iverson,” Wall recalled. “Little kid with braids, tough, had a crossover. Now, I like guys like LeBron (James), Derrick Rose [and] Chris Paul.”
Wall will get a chance to join the likes of heroes on June 24 when the highly coveted prospect will be a trendy name even if Washington elects to go in a different direction. The popular Wall has gained so much acclaim over the last few years that it would be amazing if he’s not chosen No. 1.
Although Wall isn’t sure himself of where he’ll land come draft night, he’s just enjoying the moment at this point.
“It’s a dream come true,” Wall kept repeating during a 20-minute press conference. “Three years ago I didn’t have any of this. I was just a regular basketball player.”
Judging by Thursday’s media turnout, it’s safe to say no one in Washington will be expecting Wall to be ‘just a regular basketball player’ next season.
It’s not too many ballers who could drop 30 points after entering a game late and fresh off the street, but Kevin Durant is one of the privileged few. The Oklahoma City small forward arrived about five minutes into the evening’s twilight game between his Awash squad and Team H.O.B.O. decked in a Raiders cap and a white tee, but it didn’t take long for him to get suited and thrown into the action.
Durant began his second appearance at Washington, D.C.’s Goodman Summer League on Wednesday much like his debut on Sunday; launching a three pointer on his first attempt just to check the heat on his jumper.
After a flailing airball and a few one-on-one dribble duels with Team H.O.B.O. and local standout Omar Weaver, the man nicknamed KD was finally warmed up and riding with the flow of the game. After Weaver swished a three in Durant’s face, the competitive 21-year-old flashed a confident smirk as he jogged back down the court ready to attack on the next play. Facing up against Weaver on the left side of the basket, KD darted right before swinging the ball back left and finishing over Weaver with a one-handed dunk that left a sparse crowd shaking their heads in disbelief.
If you’ve never seen a 6-foot-10 NBA forward cross someone over and flush, it’s a pretty amazing sight to see, especially live in person. Durant made it his duty to show off his athleticism on the night; angling his body for tip dunks and gliding through traffic for no look passes and fadeaway jumpers.
“He loves it here inside the gates and the gates loves him right back,” announcer Miles Rawls gushed when praising the NBA’s scoring champion. But it was Weaver who finished as the night’s high-point man, posting 37 points and showcasing a game that even a future NBA MVP had to appreciate. Weaver’s performance helped his H.O.B.O. team narrow a 15-point second half deficit to one before KD got serious again.
Durant drew a pair of and ones on a couple of effortless layups and dished off to open cutters once the defense started to double and triple down on him. Despite the late arrival, Durant still finished with 30 points and revived his team just in time for them to finish with the win against a hard-charging H.O.B.O team.
It’s something about a NBA All-Star hooping it up with local regulars that always launches a buzz into the air at the Goodman but it’s becoming a regular scene for attendees these days. Rawls warned the crowd to enjoy Durant’s early summer presence while they can since the budding superstar will be leaving in August to partake in Team USA’s training camp for the 2010 World Championships.
“Enjoy him while you can because he’s gone come August,” Rawls cautioned. “Got some things to take care of overseas.”
Until August, Durant’s taking care of things at the Goodman League and showcasing an Olympic-style game that continues to impress. Even without a proper warmup.
It’s come down to a coin flip for the NBA Finals. When the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics tip off Game Seven on Thursday night, it’ll be just the third time since 1994 that the NBA Finals has required a deciding game. And for the NBA and its fans, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
After a second consecutive failed attempt at a Lebron/Kobe Finals matchup, the league was delighted to settle for an old school brawl between Boston and Los Angeles. The Lakers and Celtics remain as the two best teams in the NBA, headed for a one-game elimination to settle the score for the championship title. Perfect!
Despite both clubs dealing with key injuries to their starting center positions, plenty of star power remains for Thursday’s game in what could turn into a record breaker for viewership ratings.
“You know it’s Lakers-Celtics, the biggest rivalry in NBA basketball, seven games. It is what it is,” Boston point guard Rajon Rondo told Boston.com when asked about Thursday’s title clincher.
Multiple sources have already confirmed that Celtic center Kendrick Perkins will miss Game Seven after spraining his knee on Tuesday. With Perkins out for the Celtics, the Lakers will probably have to endure another injury-riddled effort from starting big Andrew Bynum. Bynum has gutted it out so far through the Finals with a knee injury but left the second half of Game Six after complaining of stiffness in his leg. With a championship on the line, Bynum is fully expected to give it one more go.
Boston will be expected to give it one more go after a poor performance in Tuesday’s 89-67 loss. The Celtics were outrebounded 52-39 and scored just the second-lowest point total in NBA Finals history. But Game Six for the Celtics is exactly that at this point, history. With their eyes focused on Game Seven, Boston will be expected to lay it all out on the line for the last time this season.
“To me, the game (Game Six) is over,” Rondo told reporters. “We have one game (left). They have one game. All or nothing. (Game Six) is in the past.”
If the Lakers and Celtics’ past is any indication, Los Angeles could be in trouble. The Lakers and Celtics have played in four Game Sevens over the course of their 11 previous Finals matchups, with Boston winning all four. Although the two clubs haven’t played in a deciding final game since 1984, Boston still owns the edge in the series 9-2.
While the Celtics have the history, the Lakers have Bryant. The four-time champion will try to extend his ring count to five with a win and further add to an already stellar legacy. But maybe more important than adding to his hardware collection will be inducing confidence to a Lakers team that has appeared rattled at times during the series.
“We’re used to being in must-win situations,” Bryant told reporters. “The way we look at it, (Game seven) is just a game we’ve got to win. I know what’s at stake but I’m not tripping.”
Bryant doesn’t have to “trip,” the NBA’s fan base will be head over heels for Thursday’s Game Seven; The league’s ultimate elimination game between a pair of the league’s ultimate franchises.
“This is what it’s all about,” Glen “Big Baby” Davis told reporters. “This is what you guys are going to talk about for years. You guys are going to remember this moment. You are going to remember Thursday forever. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to step up on the floor and win here in L.A.”
Confidence at its strongest. Perfect for a NBA Finals series at its most storied.
Kevin Durant showed up for his Washington, D.C. Goodman League summer debut on Sunday with lots of people to please but little to prove. After all, the NBA’s reigning scoring champion did give spectators at Barry Farms something to remember last summer with a 62-point outburst.
Topping that feat would’ve been difficult for even the modest NBA 2K champion, let alone the NBA’s leading scorer. But fans didn’t withstand the sweltering heat and bypass the first half of Sunday night’s NBA Finals to see the extreme; they just came to show support for one of the best home-grown ballers in the league do his thing. And Durant answered their wishes.
His performance wasn’t 62-point-esque but Durant’s 35 points raised enough ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from a packed crowd to grade his Goodman League debut as a success. Playing alongside the Washington Wizards’ Andray Blatche, Durant and Blatche dazzled at times “inside the gates” for their 3rd Eye ball club. The Oklahoma City Thunder forward launched the first shot of the game; a three-pointer that grazed off the rim before executing a spin move on his next possession and finishing with a one-handed dunk. That would turn into an ongoing theme for much of the night for the 21-year-old nicknamed “KD.” While his normally reliable jumpshot wasn’t falling, KD was busy attacking the rim and finishing strong with two-handed and one-handed rim rattlers. Clapping his hands after explosive finishes and face-flexing to the crowd.
“KD is officially here at the big show,” announcer Miles Rawls bellowed whenever Durant would throw down one. Watching the 6-foot-10 scoring machine glide up and down the court with his smooth handle and crossovers galore made a few onlookers shake their heads in disbelief but if you’ve been watching Durant emerge as one of the NBA’s best players over the last three seasons then the display came as no surprise.
Durant wasn’t the only NBA specimen impressing. Much like his Wizards’ responsibilities, Blatche did a little bit of everything on Sunday. Rebounding, passing and scoring, Blatche recording a few ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ on his own courtesy of some slick crossovers and a few athletic finishes. But while NBAers Blatche and Durant were starring, it was Team Cricket’s pair of And 1 superstars Hugh “Baby Shaq” Jones and Lonnie “Prime Objective” Harrell that stole the show. Following along the lines of his And 1 exploits, “Baby Shaq” made play after play during the evening’s twilight game, scoring at will and swishing the final shot in overtime that sent Durant and his 3rd Eye team home losers on the night.
Despite the defeat, Durant’s presence alone made winners out of the neighborhood kids who arrived by the masses to come see him. With their fingers pointed in amazement and juice stains decorating their shirts, star-struck youngsters applauded Durant’s every move and grinned in excitement with his every dunk. Durant didn’t have to top 60 on the evening; he just had to show up. And for local D.C. residents on Sunday night, that’s all anybody could ask for.
When Rajon Rondo shoved Ron Artest with 4:41 remaining in the second quarter of the Celtics’ 92-86 Game 5 victory on Sunday, it triggered a role reversal that played out for the rest of the night. With less than five minutes remaining in the quarter, Rondo attacked the Lakers on a fast break, setting up Boston center Kendrick Perkins who later dished off to a cutting Kevin Garnett. Garnett was then shoved to the ground by Artest on a hard foul, prompting Rondo to push Artest in retaliation after the whistle was blown. Rondo received a technical foul for his exploits but his team received a shot in the arm for his courage.
With his team leading 34-31 in the second period, here’s Rondo —the second smallest member of the Celtics’ rotation— shoving Artest — arguably the Lakers’ best defender and most physical player— to the side like he’s two inches shorter than him. Rondo’s push, followed by a profanity-laced reprimand of Artest, showed the Celtics’ heart and passion and was just one of a series of plays that helped to mentally subdue two of the Lakers’ most important players for another contest.
Highlighted by 6-foot-4 reserve guard Tony Allen’s block on Laker seven-footer Pau Gasol in bottom of the third quarter, the Celtics out-muscled and out-played the Lakers for a second consecutive game. Gasol, who went on record after his 23-point, 14-rebound performance in Game 1 to say “Garnett has lost a step,” was stuffed three times in the period. One by Allen that left him on the floor and two others by Garnett, the same player who had “lost a step.”
In fact, Garnett has actually gained a few steps over the past few contests, averaging 19.6 points per game in the last three outings. Light years more effective than the 11 points per game Garnett struggled to score in the series first two games. Garnett’s inspired containment of Gasol (15.3 points per game the last three meetings, 12 points and 12 rebounds in Game 5) has helped swing the series in Boston’s advantage but it was Rondo’s shove that swung the series momentum.
Artest, known for his bruising style of in-your-face defense, was pushed by Rondo and later torched by Paul Pierce for 27 points while the Laker forward could only muster a seven-point, 2-of-9 shooting performance. Since churning in a strong Game 1 with 15 points and two steals, Artest has bottomed out over the last few games (like Gasol). Artest has averaged just six points per game and is shooting a wretched 24 percent from the field, connecting on 8-of-33 field goals in his last four games.
Artest was acquired by the Lakers last summer to be their hired hit man; their bruiser sort to speak. After his first career Finals game, Boston has now turned Los Angeles’ biggest offseason acquisition into its biggest goat and a player that Lakers coach Phil Jackson has to strongly consider lessening minutes for at this point.
Gasol and Artest aren’t the only two reasons why the Lakers now find themselves down 3-2 and one game away from another Celtics’ championship. However, Los Angeles cannot afford to have two of their core players physically and mentally manhandled again in Game 6 if the Lakers want to even the series.
You have to commend Boston coach Doc Rivers for not giving into politics during the Celtics’ 96-89 win in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. With reserves Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Nate Robinson providing electricity off the bench, Rivers had a chance to pull the plug on the show midway through the final period but declined. As he should have.
With Lakers center Andrew Bynum tied to the bench with a knee injury, Rivers wasn’t up against the size disadvantage that he’s faced throughout the first three games of the series, meaning his shorter reserves like Davis (who’s outplayed starting forward Kevin Garnett at times throughout this year’s playoffs) were able to see extended minutes. Bynum’s knee injury going forward could and possibly should result in more minutes for Davis. He’s the only Boston big who appears content with attacking Los Angeles downlow and rather bang than settle for a jumpshot.
But while a vote for extended action for Davis is obvious, Robinson also deserves to be in the running for an increased workload. His perimeter shooting opens up the court for Boston’s half court offense and allows one-on-one specialists Davis, Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen more room to operate in isolation. It’s clear that Robinson is no where near the playmaking point guard that Rondo is but the long distance shooting and scoring that Robinson provides over Rondo is unmistakable.
Before Thursday night, Rivers had played Rondo 40, 42 and 42 minutes through the series’ first three games and received modest but unconvincing numbers from his star point guard. Aside from a 13-minute, scoreless performance in the Game 1 (where the whole team played poorly), Robinson has given the Celtics 24 points in just 29 minutes of playing time in the last three contests. Even Senators haven’t campaigned harder for more face time than Robinson has this past week.
It remains questionable why Rivers hasn’t ran more of a Rondo-Robinson backcourt at times, especially when Lakers coach Phil Jackson is playing some combination of Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar as his guard set. While Rondo and Robinson are both small in stature, they play bigger than their size, collecting rebounds and blocking shots (Robinson’s block on Dwight Howard in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals was athleticism at its finest).
Rivers’ reluctance to play the 6-foot-8 Davis heavy minutes against Bynum and Pau Gasol through the first three games was understandable but his reluctance to play Robinson however is something he’ll need to rethink going forward. Now that the complexity of the series has changed drastically with Bynum’s availability for the remainder of the series in serious doubt, it should allow Rivers to be more creative with his bench. Robinson, Davis, Tony Allen and Rasheed Wallace played fantastic during Game 4 and have played solid overall during the Finals as well.
If Garnett, Ray Allen, Rondo and Pierce continue their inconsistent play, Rivers should continue to avoid NBA politics and rely on his reserves if he wants to avoid losing the 2010 championship election.
The movie “A-Team” doesn’t premiere until Friday but it was the Celtics’ “B-Team” that was starring on Thursday night. Boston reserves Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Nate Robinson provided the scoring while Rasheed Wallace and Tony Allen added the defense to help the Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 96-89 in Game 4 of the NBA Finals and even the series 2-2. With starters Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett struggling, Robinson and Davis combined for 30 points, exciting the crowd with momentum sparking plays and timely baskets.
Davis, 18 points, took advantage of a depleted Lakers frontline, wrestling with reserve forward Lamar Odom for four offensive rebounds and nine fourth quarter points. A foul and continuation on Davis’ basket with 8:22 remaining prompted Robinson to hop upon Davis’ back as the “Big Baby” drooled for the camera with excitement. With Laker center Andrew Bynum limited to 12 minutes after aggravating his knee in Game 3, the 6-foot-9, 290-pound Davis was the heaviest man on the floor down the stretch and it showed. The Celtics outrebounded the Lakers 41-34 and doubled Los Angeles on the offensive glass 16-8.
Kobe Bryant scored 12 of his 33 points in the final period but was limited to just two points for much of the quarter until sinking a free throw with 2:50 remaining. By the time Bryant scored his third point of the period, Allen’s defense on Bryant down the stretch had helped the Celtics turn a 62-60 deficit at the start of the fourth into an 85-78 lead. Wallace’s defense on Laker power forward Pau Gasol may have been even more impressive than Allen’s. Wallace limited Gasol to only four points in the quarter before leaving with 1:16 left after falling on his already ailing back a few plays earlier. Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers went with the bulk of his “B-Team” deep into the final period until Garnett, Rondo and Paul Pierce returned to put Los Angeles away for the final 2:50.
Pierce scored the next five points and Rondo stole a pass and finished a layup to put Boston ahead 92-84 with 31 seconds remaining. While the Celtics’ bench was emulating a group of ’80s fictional heroes, it was the Lakers who were reenacting their own real life movie. Bynum’s absence in the 2008 NBA Finals helped Boston punish Los Angeles up front and win the series 4-2. With Bynum stationed on the bench the majority of Game 4, it was the first time all series that the Lakers have failed to post double digit offensive rebounds and block less than seven shots in a game, finishing with three.
Despite limited action, Davis, Allen, Wallace and Robinson have played well throughout the Finals as Rivers has given heavy minutes to his first team. With his starters playing inconsistently throughout the first four games, Rivers may be forced into using his “B-Team” more as his “A-Team” down the stretch of games similar to what he did Thursday night. It certainly worked in Game 4.
“We just knew we had to bring our energy, that’s the main thing for us,” Robinson told reporters about his reserve unit’s play. “The more energy we bring, the better offensively we are and the better defensively we are.”
Sandwiched between reserve forward Lamar Odom’s revival and Derek Fisher’s clutch shooting in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 91-84 win in Tuesday night’s Game Three of the NBA Finals was Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum hobbling to the bench in the third quarter. Bynum reinjured his already faulty right knee twice in the quarter, reducing him to just four minutes in the final period.
Bynum later told reporters he reaggravated his knee while chasing down a loose ball and landing from a block of Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. Bynum’s presence through the first three games of the Finals has been huge for the Lakers but his remaining availability going forward has the potential to reshape the whole series.
“It’s going to be a little questionable Thursday,” Bynum told reporters after Game Three. “There’s a lot of swelling in there because of the couple of little tweaks I got today. What I’m going to do is attack it all day [Wednesday], probably get three treatments in and then take it from there.”
Before limping to the bench, Bynum still managed a respectable nine points and 10 rebounds. His appearance in this year’s Finals has given the Celtics all kinds of problems thus far, evident by his Game Two performance of 21 points and seven blocks. Bynum is averaging 13 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in the series despite playing only 32 minutes per game. His presence alone has made for a clear difference from this year’s Finals and the Celtics and Lakers 2008 matchup when Bynum was out with an injured knee.
During Bynum’s absence in ’08, the Lakers were forced to move starting power forward Pau Gasol to center and Odom to power forward, where the more physical Celtics dominated Los Angeles on the interior. Although the Lakers went with the same lineup down the stretch on Tuesday, they were fortunate to have raced to a 17-point first half lead—aided by Bynum’s presence— that Celtics had to battle back from.
Los Angeles was also fortunate to have received a positive game from Odom as the versatile reserve posted 12 points and five rebounds and came up with key baskets down the stretch. But Odom has been inconsistent so far this series and a possible absence by Bynum or his limited availability could put Los Angeles back in a familiar position. The same position that resulted in a 4-2 Finals win by Boston two years ago.
“They say he’s an All-American, well show me something!” one spectator demanded. “This ain’t no Catholic league son, it’s the blacktop,” another bystander informed. The vultures were out in cut throat fashion and ready to pounce on Tuesday at D.C.’s Goodman League. With their sights set on DeMatha High School’s decorated point guard Quinn Cook, the highly coveted junior didn’t disappoint, it just took him a while to get going.
Making his second appearance at the storied ballpark, Cook gave way his starting position to a longtime Goodman veteran on his Drama Detail team. But once his dues were paid, it was time for the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Player of the Year to cash in. Cook entered the game shortly before the half but missed his first three-pointer and had his reverse layup pinned on a fastbreak, a shaky start for the 16-year-old.
On defense, famed streetballer Randy “White Chocolate” Gill had his intentions set on going after “the youngster,” as he was referred to repeatedly by announcer Miles Rawls. Isolated against Cook at the top of the key, the Madness team’s point guard dribbled and dazzled but the DeMatha star was unfazed, staying in front of Gill and deflecting his dribble out of bounds.
The strong defensive stand got “the youngster” going as he would knock down his next two shots; a quick layup and a deep jumpshot that eased the hecklers off his back. Cook started the second half similar to how he finished the first, swishing jumpshots and dishing out no-look passes.
He drew a few claps from an applause-stingy crowd on a double-pump layup, drawing the foul and the basket before converting the free throw. His Drama Detail team would eventually run the Madness squad off the court through a series of fast breaks and highlight dunks.
This summer’s Drama Detail team is strong, with athletic big men and a slew of guards. They’ll be tough to handle for opponents throughout the season.
It’s not easy playing at the Goodman league and for a fresh-faced youngster from a Catholic high school, nerves would typically get the best of most kids, but Cook isn’t your average Xbox-playing adolescent. Day two of the Goodman league featured several quality players but when a high school star comes to visit, attention flags are immediately raised. Cook didn’t explode for 30 or 40 points but he did impress, a performance even the courtside critics had to acknowledge.
“I wanted to come out and have a good game and I think I did that,” Cook said. Any spectator sitting courtside at the Goodman League on Tuesday can vouch for that.