As we mentioned in Smack, I got the chance to participate in a conference call yesterday with TNT and the voices of the Eastern Conference Finals: Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr and Marv Albert. They broke down the Chicago and Miami matchup for nearly 45 minutes, and TNT alerted me that Game 1 on Sunday night was actually the most watched NBA game of all-time in cable history. It finished with a 6.2 rating and over 11 million viewers. The amount of hype and anticipation for this series is clearly exceeding even our own lofty expectations.
The series continues on Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. ET (8 p.m. pregame show) for Game 2 in Chicago. Here are some of the highlights from the conversation where the guys talk playoffs, the NBA Draft, the MJ money train and why they aren’t mad at Miami’s celebrating:
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On the atmosphere in Chicago:
Marv Albert: “Well, it’s one of the great atmospheres in all of sports in Chicago, being at the old Chicago Stadium or at the United Center in terms of excitement, the introductory music, the lineups, the sound. Reggie and Steve were ready to take the floor. I don’t know what they would’ve done (laughs). But they were ready to run out there. The broadcast point of view, particularly last night, everybody was so pumped up with the singing of the anthem. This goes back to the Michael Jordan days with the PA and the introduction of lineups. It really gets to you. There are not many places like this. For a broadcaster, it’s just perfect. For me, the sight of Benny the Bull does it. I’m ready.”
Steve Kerr: “It reminded me a lot of the old days for sure. Marv mentioned the opening starting lineups with the same music. The magic is back in that building.”
On the playoffs:
MV: “To me, it’s the most unusual season, in a good way, that the NBA has ever seen because of all the unexpected developments with teams that you did not think would reach the point that they did.”
On Chicago’s adjustments:
SK: “I don’t think there is anything (different) that Chicago has to do gameplan-wise. I think they have to be careful. It’s kind of a setup for Game 2. You have two days off and you are going to hear how great you are the whole time. Everybody is going to be beating up on Miami.”
“The whole Heat team â€“ LeBron and Wade â€“ just stewing in their hotel rooms for the next couple of days. They are going to come out on fire on Wednesday night. I think the Bulls have to be ready emotionally. They can’t be happy just getting that opening win.”
On Miami’s adjustments:
Reggie Miller: “Having a chance to follow the Heat in that second-round series and their matchup with Boston, you knew they had to bring maximum effort, which they did in five games. We didn’t see that in Game 1.”
On Miami’s frontcourt:
SK: “I think the biggest think is what’s Erik (Spoelstra) going to do with the frontcourt. He didn’t even activate (Erick) Dampier and (Zydrunas) Ilgauskas for the game. I think they combined to start 79 of the 90 games that they had played up until last night. That’s a pretty dramatic shift to all of a sudden say I’m not even going to dress those guys.”
“Joel Anthony is probably a 20-25 minute-a-night guy. He’s never been more than that. So it’s a lot to ask of him. But that’s their best chance with Anthony on the floor.”
On the officiating:
RM: “I haven’t seen any major flaws in any of the officiating. The best thing that could’ve happened to the officials is the chance to go over to the monitors and review certain plays. We all know come playoff time throughout the history of the game, there has always been conspiracy theories and certain teams go further and the league wants this and ratings…whatever. Having a chance to be a player and then be on this side, there’s been a few questionable calls, but to me as a whole, I think the officiating has been great.”
SK: “The officiating always gets way better when you’re a television analyst than when you were a player or a coach (laughs). For the most part, the officiating has been really good. It’s the hardest game to officiate on Earth, so there’s always going to be bad calls. It’s just part of the game. There have only been a couple of controversies to me in the playoffs. One was in the Lakers/Dallas series when there was the substitution question between Steve Javie and Phil Jackson. There was confusion also in Atlanta and Chicago, Game 4 when Atlanta tied that series in terms of the timeout situation for Chicago. That was more a scorekeeper issue.”
On the Western Conference Finals (both Kerr and Miller believe Dallas will win):
RM: “I love the dynamics on both ends. You have a young, energetic and upstart team in Oklahoma City. You take Kendrick Perkins out of the mix and there’s not a lot of experience going deep in the playoffs. But you have the scoring champion in Kevin Durant and you have one of the top five point guards in Russell Westbrook, an up-and-coming power forward who reminds me of a young Hakeem Olajuwon on the defensive end, blocking shots, Serge Ibaka. You have a tough, rugged center with championship experience in Kendrick Perkins. But you’re going against a team that has future Hall of Famers in Dirk Nowitzki, who is arguably one of the top 10 or 15 players in the league, Hall of Famer point guard in Jason Kidd, who has been to two Finals and numerous Conference Final appearances, Jason Terry, a former Sixth Man of the Year, and a very well-coached (team), and one of my former coaches, Rick Carlisle.”
“You have contrasting styles. To me, which style is going to prevail?”
“Who’s going to guard Dirk? Is it going to be Serge Ibaka? Because if that’s the case, you are taking him away from the paint area where’s even been so successful and that’s where Dirk can operate out on the perimeter. So you are opening yourself up.”
On being a former player and Bull:
SK: “It’s where all of us made our mark. The guys you just mentioned (Will Perdue, Stacey King, Bill Wennington– all work in NBA coverage), none of us were great players. We were all role players and just happy to be in the NBA and happy to be contributing. So the Michael Jordan gravy train continues (laughs). We fed off him when we were players and we continue to feed off him now because of the notoriety we received in winning those championships and being a part of great teams gave us a platform, gave us the recognition that led to this next stage of our careers.”
On Derrick Rose:
RM: “I think if anything that somewhat caught me by surprise or off guard is how quickly he’s been able to pick up all different kinds of defenses as well as his improved outside shooting. He’s really opened up Pandora’s Box in his game by improving his range out to the three-point line.”
On the Draft:
SK: “It’s amazing that you can have the projected number-one pick be a guy who played 10 games at point guard in college in Kyrie Irving. And no one is really quite sure what he’s got, but he’s obviously very talented.
“I’d be surprised if he weren’t the number-one pick.
“It’s one of those Drafts were there is no superstar waiting to take a team to the next level. That’s just not the case. But in every draft, there are players who will eventually turn into really good players, and guys who will be passed over. Taj Gibson is a great example of that.”
On the great ratings:
MA: “I think sometimes negative or controversial developments can add interest. To me it began with the Decision show and then the over-celebration by the Miami players. It definitely attracted attention, not necessarily in a positive way.”
On Miami’s second-round celebration:
RM: “I have absolutely zero problems with the way Miami handled their post-celebration in beating the Boston Celtics because I was in the very same boat when we finally beat the New York Knicks in ’95. I remember running across halfcourt, kneeling down, praying, kissing the floor. Now I will say this: that was the semifinal round when we beat the Knicks, very much the same way they beat the Celtics. Our very next round was against Shaq and Penny Hardaway and Orlando and the same thing happened in Game 1. We got blown out. You look at the hangover that the Heat had, then maybe it was a little bit of that post-celebration. But when you run into brick walls of your career â€“ mine was always trying to get by New York, for LeBron it was always trying to beat the Celtics, as well as Miami trying to beat the Celtics â€“ you have to give these guys a little bit of leeway to release some of that tension.
“That’s what basketball is all about. Whatever the Heat do, it seems like we always come down on them. If they would’ve been all laissez, people would’ve been like, “What? They don’t care? They just beat Boston. They’re not jumping up and down?” So they can’t win. I think a lot of times they get an unfair shake, a lot of times by their own doing because they bring it upon themselves. But I had no problems with it.”
On Miami’s season turning point:
SK: “I think we mentioned on the telecast last night, when they were 9-8 and they went to Cleveland and LeBron was getting booed every possession, that was sort of a turning point in their season, the way they responded that night and played so well. I felt like they really rallied around not only that moment, but the entire dynamic that surrounds this team â€“ the scrutiny and the criticism. The bigger question is really whether they are good enough yet? They don’t have much depth. Their hands were tied after they got the Big Three in terms of what they could add depth-wise, and the two big signings they made with the rest of their money â€“ Miller and Haslem â€“ have both been pretty much nonexistent thanks to injuries and ineffective play. I don’t think it’s anything more. They galvanized, they’ve played pretty well, they’ve gotten to a good spot, but they may not have enough yet. They may take another year or two of adding pieces.”
On Luol Deng and Chicago guarding LeBron:
RM: “To me, whenever you are guarding a great player, to me I think you’ve always gotta put pressure on them on the other end offensively. I think that’s what Deng tried to do as well: make LeBron guard him on the other end. If you look at the numbers, he had a pretty good game offensively as well. But you gotta remember, these two guys are very familiar. They go back to AAU basketball, playing one another. You’ve heard Luol in certain interviews say that he’s always up to the challenge of guarding LeBron.
SK: “Luol is a really smart player. He understands the angles. He understands LeBron’s tendencies because he’s played against him so often. They played last year in the first round of the playoffs when LeBron was with Cleveland. I just feel like Chicago’s defensive schemes are really good and their team defense just builds these walls in front of LeBron and Wade. Chicago is built to stop Miami’s offense because of the fact that Miami runs so many isos and the ball stops with LeBron and Wade so often. Chicago is just kind of overloaded in front of those guys and waiting for them.
What do you think?
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