As a literal matter, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs were the only true winners on a remarkably entertaining Friday night of NBA playoff action, winning their respective games by matching 10-point margins. The Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors, obviously, were the losers.
But that's something of an oversimplification, as there were so many other winners and losers of note.
A forgotten relic of NBA offense enjoyed a minor resurrection in Chicago, a referee (of all things!) handled a dicey situation expertly, and an entire country saw a pair of its representatives do it proud.
On the other hand, a nasty temper, some dubious foul calls and yet another ankle sprain for the league's newest superstar made losers of Nazr Mohammed, Andrew Bogut and the assembled viewing public.
As is the case with the rest of the NBA's elite defensive clubs (think Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers), the Chicago Bulls are loath to allow easy baskets at the rim and three-point attempts from the corner. It's a proven strategy, one designed to prevent opponents from getting good looks from the most efficient spots on the floor.
But by taking away the paint and the corners, the Bulls have to surrender something, and that "something" is the mid-range area. In the age of analytics, that's a reasonable move, as long twos yield the lowest expected value of any shot.
The Heat were happy to take advantage of the Bulls' willingness to allow uncontested jumpers, knocking down 13-of-25 from two-point range outside the paint. Miami knew where its shots would come from in Game 3 and made the most of them.
Can't remember the last time the Heat took so many consecutive mid-range jumpers.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) May 11, 2013
Mid-range shots are no longer trendy, but when a defense gives an opponent no choice but to fire away from inside the three-point line, it helps to have guys like Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. They combined to hit 13-of-23 field-goal attempts, including 8-of-13 on two-point jumpers. Bosh, in particular, was masterful, drilling jumpers and even pulling down a game-high 19 boards.
The mid-range game is not dead! Long live the mid-range game!
Don't let Nazr Mohammed's zero-point, one-rebound night fool you; his performance was actually much worse than that.
It's hard to know whether Mohammed's out-of-nowhere attack on LeBron James in Game 3 was the result of premeditation or a synaptic misfire. Whatever the explanation, the Bulls backup center did his team a major disservice by getting himself ejected in the second quarter for administering a two-handed shove to James.
Nazr Mohammed ejected and rightfully so. He went all macho and left his team in a weaker position.— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) May 11, 2013
Now, it's not as though Mohammed was going to be the difference in the game, but for a Chicago squad that can't seem to keep anyone healthy, every live body matters.
Plus, it's pretty well established that James isn't a player who shies away from physical play, so even if Mohammed's shove was designed to intimidate, it was pretty ill-conceived. LBJ kept attacking (he shot and made 11 free throws on the night) and hardly seemed bothered by the incident.
The Bulls have been trying to rile up the Heat throughout this series, but they seem to have lost their ability to do so subtly. Mohammed proved that on Friday.
I know, I can't believe I'm about to praise Joey Crawford either. But think about it: Everyone rolls their eyes whenever he's assigned to a game because he's a notorious control freak who has the shortest fuse of any NBA official.
Typically, those qualities are annoying. Fans want to see players getting after it, not referees bogging things down with quick whistles and a liberal policy on the administration of technical fouls. But the series between the Heat and Bulls is hardly typical.
Crawford, who doesn't mess around, was just what the doctor ordered.
Obviously, both teams were on edge from the opening tip, and the bad blood spilled over on more than one occasion. But Crawford kept things as controlled as they could have been, whistling a few instances of minor contact in the first quarter (much to the chagrin of Jimmy Butler, who picked up two quick fouls) and never hesitating to fire off a tech when it looked like things were going to escalate.
The NBA really doesn't have much choice here. Both teams are trading blows, and without a steady hand to keep them in line, basketball was in danger of giving way to rugby.
Nice job, Joey.
Read carefully, everyone: Andrew Bogut is not a loser because of anything he did; he's a loser because he was on the wrong end of some seriously rough calls.
In one third-quarter sequence, the Aussie was whistled for a touch foul as Tim Duncan received an entry pass. To TD's credit, he made a veteran move, lurching forward to exaggerate the contact. Less than two minutes later, Bogut rudely swatted Duncan's layup attempt out of bounds.
Bogut got called for a foul on a clean block. Three suspect calls in a row on the Spurs side.— Jordan Ramirez (@JRAM_91) May 11, 2013
The play was clean, but the sheer violence of the rejection resulted in Bogut's fourth foul. When Bogut went to the bench immediately thereafter (at the 6:33 mark of the third quarter), Golden State trailed by a single point.
By the time the period ended, the Spurs had opened up a double-digit lead.
Bogut had been playing brilliantly to that point, with eight points and nine rebounds in just 21 minutes. His presence on the defensive interior—and his role as a bone-jarring screener in the pick-and-roll—simply couldn't be duplicated by any other Warriors player.
His team's loss hurt plenty, but it had to sting Bogut a little extra to know that he was taken off the floor because of a couple of shaky calls.
Tony Parker and Boris Diaw, both Frenchmen, combined to make 15 of their 18 first-half field-goal attempts in the San Antonio Spurs' Game 3 win over the Golden State Warriors.
#Spurs not named Parker or Diaw shot 40 pct (10 for 25) in first half.— Monte Poole (@1MontePoole) May 11, 2013
And while the duo didn't quite retain that pace throughout the game, they ultimately put up a collective 41 points on just 28 shots.
DIaw's been great, and Parker's been something beyond that.— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) May 11, 2013
Parker was particularly good, rebounding from a pair of less-than-spectacular efforts in Games 1 and 2 to captain the Spurs offense and ultimately lead his team to a 2-1 series lead.
The usual suspects for the Spurs got the job done as well—Duncan had 23 points and 10 boards, Danny Green played phenomenal defense on Curry, and Kawhi Leonard chipped in 15 points and nine rebounds—but the French duo emerged as some of the biggest winners of the evening.
It happened again, everyone: Curry rolled an ankle. With just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter and with his team trailing by nine, the most exciting player of this postseason came around a simple screen, caught the ball and came away hobbling.
Looking at the 19,000 fans in Oracle as they watch Curry limp around...it's like they were told Christmas is canceled— J.A. Adande (@jadande) May 11, 2013
Curry, as he's done so many times during his career, had rolled his ankle without so much as stepping on anyone's foot.
It was the left one again—not his surgically repaired right, but the one that he tweaked badly in Golden State's first-round series against the Denver Nuggets.
The sharpshooter hadn't been having much of a game when he did it, having hit just five of his first 16 attempts. To Curry's credit, he finished the contest, but shot just once more, missing badly. Jarrett Jack spent the final five minutes alternately taking bad shots and turning the ball over, emphasizing Curry's irreplaceable value to the Dubs offense.
Curry was in obvious pain, and the Warriors' chances of advancing were suddenly hurting, too.
If anyone can recover from an ankle sprain, we know it's Curry. But at some point, the collective toll of so many sprains, strains and rolls is going to render him incapable of playing with the reckless abandon that has made him this year's breakout star and playoff darling.
If you've been enjoying Curry's incredible run (and who hasn't?), you, my friend, were a loser on Friday.