Crossin’ Over With… Kevin Harlan

I had the distinct pleasure of catching up with NBA on TNT play by play man Kevin Harlan earlier today as he was en route to Miami to broadcast Game 2 of the Miami/Boston series.  Kevin is one of the best announcers in sports and a fan favorite as one of TNT’s top NBA announcers.  We had the chance to talk to Kevin about what he’s seen in the Playoffs so far, Kobe Bryant, and his thoughts looking ahead to Heat/Celtics Game 2.  If you’d like to read more from my interview with Kevin, you can jump over to the other half of our Q&A at Awful Announcing.

Q: Working during the NBA Playoffs, what has caught your eye so far with some of the stories that have developed?

A: The coaching of Doug Collins caught my eye.  In particular, knowing how well he coached that Sixers team into the Playoffs and then the respect shown Doug after that final game when they were eliminated and the Heat players came over and gave him a hug.  I found out later how much they respected him for how he coached a very young, inexperienced Philadelphia team.

Of course he’s a former partner of yours.

Yes of course, and perhaps that’s why my attention was there.  We did a game in that series so naturally you carry that preparation down the road even if you aren’t doing games in that series because you know the stories and can relate to those.

But then, the most compelling story of the Playoffs is the Memphis story.  The play of Tony Allen, the meaning that Shane Battier gives that team, the emergence on the national stage of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Conley and his emergence, and right on down the line.  They’ve gone from a good team to a rugged, hard-nosed physical team and no one has an answer so far.  I guess that has been about as amazing of a team story, but as far as an individual, the play of Chris Paul at certain times in that series was mesmerizing.  And then, in Game 5, Kobe Bryant literally taking the series by the throat with two series changing slam dunks.  He just took over and said enough is enough, and that’s what the great players do.  Those are just a few of the highlights that I’ve picked up in the Playoffs.

Q: Before that Game 5 there had been so much speculation on Kobe Bryant and his injured ankle.  Then, he takes off on a dunk that we haven’t seen from him in quite some time.  

A: I’ve probably done anywhere between 80 and 90 Kobe Bryant games and nothing that guy does amazes me.  He is exactly like Michael Jordan in terms of his competitive zeal, his pain threshold, his ability to lead, setting a tone, and then pulling off these incredibly brilliant athletic plays.  You’re just thinking, “Oh my gosh, how in the world did he just do that!”  Then knowing, with his bad ankle, that I saw with my own two eyes turn 90 degrees.  I don’t care how tough you are, that had to be painful.  How he got up there so high and with such ferocity, sending a message… sometimes you look at one play, and that was the one play that sent a loud and distinct message to his teammates and the New Orleans ballclub on where the series was and where the series was headed.

Q: Watching the Lakers, are they still looking good for another title?  They were challenged by New Orleans and now have a tough matchup with the Mavs ahead.

A: Dallas is a completely different team than New Orleans.  They’re much bigger on the frontline.  I think it’s going to be a much more difficult series.  New Orleans was an undermanned club.  In that last game, Chris Paul ran out of gas and there was nothing left for him.  He was everything for that club and unfortunately just had nothing left.  I think it’ll be a chance for Kobe to get healthy and I think the Lakers will play well.  I picked them to make the Finals and I’m not going to back off that.

Q: You’re on your way to Miami for perhaps the most anticipated matchup of Round 2.  How do you set the scene for Game 2?

A: Kevin Garnett has got to put more of his fingerprints, as does Rajon Rondo, on that Boston team.  They’ve got to not turn the ball over, Pierce has got to keep his composure, and I think that that affects that team.  He is the captain of that ballclub and he affects that team.  Ray Allen was brilliant and Pierce has to play a Pierce type game.  Garnett has to rebound and Rondo has to play like he did in the first half of the season and like he did in Games 3 and 4 against New York.  That position is a big advantage for Boston.  Then, we know that James Jones will struggle to have that kind of game again, you don’t know if Wade will have those type of numbers, but Miami looked very sharp and they’ve got a lot going for them now.  It meant more for Miami to win as opposed to Boston in Game 1.

Check out more of our interview with Kevin over at Awful Announcing where we discuss his experiences at the Super Bowl and NCAA Tournament along with more questions about the Playoffs!