Playoff Stats of the Day (5/2): Josh Howard, Indy’s Unsustainable Offense, and the Eric Bledsoe Effect

Utah Jazz at San Antonio Spurs (7:00ET on TNT): Spurs lead series 1-0

March 12, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz small forward Josh Howard (8) looks to pass while defended by Detroit Pistons small forward Tayshaun Prince (22) during the second half at Energy Solutions Arena. The Jazz defeated the Pistons 105-90. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

  • Stat: In Sunday’s loss to San Antonio, Josh Howard went 0-7 from the field, was held scoreless in sixteen minutes of playing time, and had a net point differential of -14.6.
  • Take: That Howard struggled so mightily against the Spurs on Sunday should not have been surprising.  He missed the last month of the regular season before coming back for its final two games, playing just six minutes in the one-game playoff against the Suns before logging 25 in a meaningless win in Portland.  For all intents and purposes, he hadn’t seen regular court time in anything but a glorified scrimmage since mid-March, making Ty Corbin’s decision to start him in the postseason opener even more perplexing.  Howard, a poor outside shooter at this point in his career and hardly the slasher or defender he used to be either, played into San Antonio’s hands by taking two long jumpers on offense and serving as little more than flotsam on either end of the floor.  Bearing this miniscule sample size in mind, Corbin would be best served starting DeMarre Carroll at small forward and using active rookie Alec Burks as his primary perimeter backup.  The former offers size and defense Howard can’t while recognizing his limitations on offense, while the latter brings much needed tempo and aggression to a Jazz attack that rarely scores in transition.  Howard was hardly Utah’s only problem Sunday, but his presence in the starting lineup and rotation posed issues on both ends of the floor that the Jazz could potentially eradicate by giving the lion’s share of his time to Carroll and Burks.

Indiana Pacers at Orlando Magic (7:30ET on NBATV): Series tied 1-1

Apr 28, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers shooting guard George Hill (3) dribbles the ball against Orlando Magic shooting guard Jason Richardson (23) during game one in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Orlando defeated Indiana 81-77. Mandatory Credit: Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE

  • Stat: In Monday’s 93-78 win over Orlando, the Indiana Pacers assisted on nine of their 33 field goals.  Their assist percentage of 27.3 was barely half their season-long average of 52.2%.
  • Take: The Pacers fixed their finishing woes in game 2 by shooting 72.8% at the rim, a key change that we chronicled on Monday.  And their offense, unsurprisingly, thrived as a result.  Indy’s 106.9 offensive rating on Monday night was better than 20 points higher than their Saturday mark, a feat having to do with their newfound accuracy at the rim as much as their proficiency in getting to the free throw line.  The Pacers shot 28 free throws Monday (making 25) for a free throw rate of 36.4, an impressive number not much higher than their regular season average.  So perhaps Indiana’s shockingly low assist rate was affected by Orlando fouls, but such wouldn’t normally account for such a stark decline in assists.  All this goes to say is that the Pacers should be careful if they want to win relying on this style of offense again tonight.  Free throw rate and one-on-one scoring are notoriously fickle on a game to game basis, a fact they’d have to worry about less by getting a few more easy baskets out of offensive sets that yield assists.

Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies (9:30ET on TNT): Clippers lead series 1-0

Apr 9, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe (12) dribbles the ball up the court during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 94-85. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

  • Stat: LA’s Chris Paul/Eric Bledsoe backcourt combination played just 78 minutes together in the regular season, but posted an impressive plus/minus per 36 minutes of +10.9 that was the best mark on the team.  The two also posted a mind-boggling +/- of +79.2 in game 1.
  • Take: The Clippers made their epic comeback run on Monday with the little-used on-floor quintet of Paul/Bledsoe/Nick Young/Blake Griffin/Reggie Evans.  While Young provided the fireworks with three treys in succession to cut a twelve point to lead to three and Evans has been universally lauded for his pick and roll defense and rebounding, little has been made of Bledsoe’s sizable impact.  It should be noted that Bledsoe didn’t play until the beginning of the game-deciding run and was on the floor until the clock struck zero.  So what was the defining and ever-present aspect of this Clippers comeback? Pace.  Lots of pace that the Clippers didn’t play with for the game’s first three quarters.  And that has to do with Bledsoe.  Not unlike Boston’s Avery Bradley, Bledsoe is known as a raw guard with little distribution or shot-making skill but elite athleticism and defensive ability.  On the surface that wouldn’t seem to fit with a player like Paul, but Bledsoe’s presence on the floor often forces LA’s uptempo-averse leading man to get out on the fastbreak where he, Bledsoe, Griffin, and a sharpshooting athlete like Young are deadly.  Go back and watch the run; Bledsoe’s defensive pressure, incisive offensive spacing, and ability to run the floor changed the game for the Clippers.  LA doesn’t have the size, skill, or discipline to slow things down with the Grizz in the halfcourt.  Bledsoe helps curb Paul’s natural tendency to play that way, and the 15-20 minutes the second-year guard will hopefully get from this point on will be huge in determining the winner of this series.