By Lenn Robbins
MEMO TO KNICKS: Make an offer, an offer he can’t refuse, to Atlanta forward John Collins as soon as the NBA free agency signing period begins.
Now back to our scheduled programming.
These NHL playoffs have been, as usual, great.
Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock comes sliding across the crease like a curling stone in the final second of New York’s 3-2 win in Game 4 to deny Tampa Bay’s Ryan McDonagh of a game-tying goal.
The Montreal Canadians are on a run that has an entire nation talking. It should be law that a Canadian hockey franchise play in the conference finals, if not the Stanley Cup, but that’s just one man’s Moosehead-beer driven fantasy.
As for reality, the NBA playoffs have been better than an NHL playoffs. Much better. These NBA playoffs will be talked about for decades.
But for the last 48 hours, the story that has brought out the worst in us has dominated the headlines – Ben Simmons is a bust who Philadelphia fans will never embrace after his horrible performance in the Sixers’ season-ending 103-96 Game 7 loss to the Hawks.
“If he was in my locker room, I’d have knocked his ass out,” noted peace-keeper Shaquille O’Neal said on TNT’s postgame show after Simmons passed up a layup late in the game.
It was the last retched play in the Australian’s no-show. He finished with five points, having attempted just four shots with nine rebounds and 13 assists.
“The locker room won’t recover from this. He can’t recover from this,” Magic Johnson said on ESPN on Monday morning. “It’s over.”
Maybe it is. Maybe fans, and we know how empathic those Philly fans can be, have no forgiveness for Simmons, who took responsibility for the loss.
“I ain’t shoot well from the line this series,” Simmons said. “Offensively, I wasn’t there. I didn’t do enough for my teammates. … There’s a lot of things that I need to work on.”
It was somewhat reminiscent of another star’s acknowledgment. Paul George once was doubted, not to the extent of Simmons but it wasn’t until he had the courage to talk about playoff pressure that allowed Playoff Paul to excel.
“I underestimated mental health, honestly,” George said about a year. “I had anxiety. A little bit of depression. Just being locked in here. I just wasn’t there. I checked out.”
I have no idea what’s going inside Simmons’ head. Philly coach Doc Rivers said on Monday that the team has a plan to help its point guard. Rivers wouldn’t go into detail other than to state the obvious – Simmons, who made just 34-peercent of this playoff free throws (25-of-73), needs to work on that part of his game.
He also acknowledged his struggles extend beyond free throws.
“The first thing I’m going to do is clear my mind and get my mental right,” Simmons said. “You got to be mentally tough. You can’t take games for granted. Especially in the playoffs. Every game matters. Every possession matters.”
Before the Sixers knock out Simmons, maybe one off-season of working on his mind and foul shot can help the 6-foot-10 point guard – there aren’t many of those – get his game right.
Speaking of George, he is reminding us that he is an elite player, possible even more elite than we gave him credit for. When Kawhi Leonard is healthy, George professionally embraces his role as the No.2 option. With Leonard injured, George has scored 373 points in the playoffs, second only to Kevin Durant He’s grabbed 124 rebounds, the most of any player still playing.
Playoff Paul? You bet.
Speaking of Durant, he just treated us to the greatest display of playoff basketball we’ve seen around here since Clyde Frazier. Want a fun debate to get you and your friends to the first NFL preseason game, try this: Which was Durant’s better performance?
- His Game 5 masterpiece in which he scored 49 points (in 48 minutes) on 16-of-23 shooting, including 4-for-9 on threes and 13-of-16 from the line with 17 rebounds and 10 assists.
- His Game 7 masterstroke in which he scored 48 points (in 53 minutes) on 17-of-36 shooting, including 4-for-11 on threes and 10-of-11 from the line with nine rebounds and six assists.
Before you answer, ‘A,’ remember the effort Durant extended in Game 5 (48 minutes) and Game 6 (40 minutes), before getting to that deciding Game 7. And although his second chance at playing hero was an airball, it was KD’s ridiculous off-balance, sideway-fading 23-foot jumper that sent the game to overtime.
The remarkable and ridiculous happened around the NBA all postseason. Consider:
Boston’s Jayson Tatum’s 50-point performance in Game 3 against the Nets. Damian Lillard’s epic 55-point barrage in Game 5 against the Nuggets in which he made an NBA playoff record 12, threes (out of 17 attempts), yet still the Blazers lost in double overtime. Go figure.
Phoenix’s Devin Booker, who looks like he can go six months without having to replace the blade in his Harry’s $5 shave starter set (best deal in shaving), records a triple double (40 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) in his first conference finals game, the Suns 120-114 win over the Clippers in Game 1.
Chris Paul, 36, reminding us how mesmerizing it is to watch intelligent, high-level point guard play. Anyone who wouldn’t want to see him get a ring has lost his or her basketball soul.
And how about the Playoff Pest? You know where we’re going with this. Trae Young has given these playoffs an extra dimension. He’s a bit like the annoying kid in the playground who starts trouble only to hide behind his bigger, stronger friends.
Except Young doesn’t hide. He’s front and center, his ugly-art game on display for all to hail as brilliant and deride as an eyesore. Young was at his best and worst Sunday night as the Hawks took out the 76ers, 103-96, the top-seeded team in the East. Young was a horrific 5-of-23 from the field and 2-of-11 on threes but he drained a 29-footer with 2:31 left that gave Atlanta a 93-87 lead.
Young, of course, ended the Knicks season, bowing at center court at MSG. He constantly engaged with the notorious Philly fans. But after Game 7 ended, Young peeled off his jersey and gave it his father, who was in the arena – a kid and a dad celebrating a special moment.
DON’T TOUCH THAT DIAL: For those who believe a game is never over, consider these playoff results.
The Hawks, down by 26 in Philadelphia and 24 entering the fourth quarter, rally to win Game 5, 109-106. The Clippers, down 25 at home to the Jazz and without Kawhi Leonard, rally to win Game 6, eliminating Utah, the No.1 seed.
MAKE THAT A JOHN COLLINS – These NBA playoffs have given us a look at some of the uber-talented young forwards, most notably Phoenix’s Makil Bridges, the former Villanova star. He stands 6-7 with a 7-1 wingspan, making him a defensive nightmare. He’s had seven games in the postseason in which he’s posted a blocked shot and a steal and he’s hitting 36-percent of his threes.
Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter has gotten better in each of his first two seasons. His season ended two weeks ago with a torn meniscus, which is a much better diagnosis than a ligament tear. He is not an impending free agent but when he is…
We end as we began.
MEMO TO KNICKS – Make an offer, an offer he can’t refuse, to Atlanta forward John Collins as soon as the NBA free agency signing period begins.