Monthly Archives: April 2012

Stray Thoughts on the Knicks From Games 1 and 2

  • Let’s address the free throw disparity in this series first (and it may take me a few bullets to get through it), because if I see one more Knicks fan complain about it on Twitter I’m going to light myself on fire. In two games so far, the Heat have attempted 60 free throws and the Knicks have taken just 30. In the most predictable Internet thing that has ever happened, this aforementioned disparity has set off a virtual firestorm of Twitter complaints asserting that the fix is in, the league and the refs are favoring the Heat and want the Knicks to lose. Sorry, fellow Knicks fans, but I can’t get on board this one with you. Simply put, the Heat have just been far more aggressive throughout the course of the series. They’re earning their way to the free throw line by consistently attacking the basket and drawing contact while the Knicks have been content to sit outside and fire mid-range jumpers. That’s not a recipe for success and it’s not a recipe for drawing foul calls either.
  • As an aside, blaming the refs for a loss in a game where the final differential was 33 points (and I swear I saw people doing this) is just not a good look. It’s actually pretty ludicrous. Game 1 was not on the refs. Period. I don’t care how many questionable calls there were. When you turn the ball over 24 times – and 12 in one quarter – that’s not the refs’ fault. When you shoot 35.7% from the field, that’s not the refs’ fault. When you can’t figure out how to attack something as simple as the Heat fronting Carmelo Anthony to deny entry passes to the post, that’s not the refs’ fault (more on this later). You want to point out a couple of bad calls here and there, fine, but let’s not pretend that it would have changed the outcome of a game in which the Knicks were so thoroughly outclassed they barely tied the record for least amount of points in a playoff game.
  • Similarly, had the Knicks drawn as many foul calls in Game 2 as the Heat, it wouldn’t have made up for the fact that the lost the turnover battle again, let the Heat get loose for nine 3-pointers and gave up 50 points in the paint. Miami averaged 42.5 points in the paint this season, per NBA.com, and a rate of 50 per game would have ranked 2nd in the NBA over the course of the season. The Knicks were excellent defending the paint this season, yielding just 38.9 points in the paint per game, the 8th best mark in the NBA. But they’re allowing LeBron to get anywhere he wants on the court – not that they really have anyone who can deny him his space – and Dwyane Wade is getting open on cuts, run outs, dribble drives, basically however he wants. And because Tyson Chandler is stuck guarding Chris Bosh due to Amar’e Stoudemire’s defensive ineptitude, there’s no one in the middle of the lane to challenge and alter shots, and guys are over-compensating to try not to give up easy layups and they’re fouling. It’s a bad recipe for defense and it has absolutely nothing to do with the refs.
  • Speaking of defense… a lot of hay was made about how much the Knicks improved on that side of the court under Mike Woodson, but not too many people noticed that the defense really tailed off down the home stretch. Over the last 10 games of the season, New York allowed teams to score at a rate of 103.4 points per 100 possessions, or about the rate of Denver’s 19th-ranked defense for the full season. Throw in a flu-ridden Tyson Chandler, the loss of Iman Shumpert’s hounding 1-on-1 defense on the perimeter, Baron Davis’ back injury necessitating more minutes from Mike Bibby and the return of Amar’e Stoudemire from injury and there you have your reasons for Miami’s insane 117.0 offensive efficiency through the first two playoff games.
  • More Woodson. As well as he got the Knicks to play after the resignation of Mike D’Antoni, I’m not sold he’s the right guy to coach the team next season and beyond. This series has exposed how mismatched he is in terms of managing the rotation and making tactical adjustments on the fly. The most glaring example of this is his stubborn insistence on playing Carmelo and Amar’e together for heavy minutes. In the 976 minutes the two played together this season, the Knicks were outscored by 3.6 points per 100 possessions. They each struggled to gain their footing offensively when on the court together because they like to operate from the same areas of the floor and the team’s defense suffered because they are both sub-par defenders. Naturally, Woodson has played the two together for 71 of the 96 minutes in the first two games. New York has been outscored by 23.6 points per 100 possessions in those 71 minutes.
  • The Knicks’ most effective stretch of the season on offense came in the month that Amar’e missed recently when Carmelo was moved to power forward. There were numerous calls in the days leading up to Stoudemire’s return for the Knicks to use him off the bench as the centerpiece of a second unit that included J.R. Smith, a credible pick-and-roll partner, and Steve Novak, possibly the best floor-spacer in the league. This seemed to be an ideal route to get Stoudemire more, and more quality touches as well as a way to not disrupt the team’s new-found offensive flow with Anthony at power forward. But Woodson was adamant that it was up to him to make Melo-STAT work, and he hasn’t. At all.  (Note within the note: At the time people were saying this, I was one of the people pointing out that sending him to the bench may not yield the best results either. He’s never come off the bench before and you never know how he would respond. However, we do know that playing him with Carmelo does not work. There’s a season and a half worth of evidence that lineups featuring both of them are mostly unsuccessful. They obviously have to share the court at some point, but whenever there is an opportunity to get one of them out there without the other to better enable them to find a rhythm on offense, it should be taken. This is especially true for Stoudemire, who often becomes an afterthought in Woodson’s isolation-heavy style of offense. Amar’e was relegated to a third or fourth option for extended stretches in the first two games.
    • Another thing bringing Stoudemire off the bench for this series would have changed: Chandler would no longer have to guard Bosh (which draws him too far out of the lane to credibly cut off drives by LeBron and Wade) and he would be freer to roam the paint and contest shots at the rim. Of course, this would have left Landry Fields to get repeatedly punished by LeBron, but it’s not like Bron’s not going to punish whoever guards him anyway. And when Amar’e did share the court with Carmelo and Chandler, you could have had him guard Battier, James Jones or Mike Miller rather than one of Miami’s big men (who Chandler would now guard). Asking Stoudemire to simply stand in the corner and not let his man take a wide open shot while also freeing up Chandler to roam the paint sounds like a win.
  • Moving Anthony out of his new power forward position also robbed him of a potential mismatch with Bosh guarding him on the other end and has instead forced him to deal with LeBron James and Shane Battier. The Knicks were so flummoxed by Miami’s strategy of fronting Melo in the post in Game 1 that they literally gave the game away in the second quarter because they couldn’t make an entry pass. It didn’t help that Woodson refused to diagram anything other than, “Melo, stand there with your hand in the air and call for the ball until they pass it to you,” as a way to get him open. No cross screens, no pin-downs, no cuts, no making him the ball-handler or screener in pick-and-roll situations, nothing. Woodson basically decided, “Let’s just keep trying the same thing over and over and hopefully it will work,” which is pretty much the dictionary definition of insanity. The result was the same nearly every time in the second quarter of Game 1: a turnover (they had 12 in the quarter) followed by a Heat fast break basket.
  • In Game 2 Woodson made some adjustments. He used those cross screens and pin-downs to free Melo to catch the ball on the wing for isolations and he had Melo act as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll a few times. Still, it was mostly isolation, and that’s a losing strategy against the Heat, the 1st ranked isolation defense in the NBA according to mySynergySports. Anthony, obviously, is an incredibly talented offensive player who thrives in isolation. Getting him opportunities to use isolation plays should be a big part of the offense. But there has to be something else, some way to draw attention away from him and save his legs, and right now there isn’t. Even if Melo does have stretches where he looks nearly unguardable, it isn’t sustainable. In the first quarter of Game 2, he scored 15 points on 6-11 shooting. In the rest of the game, he scored 15 points on 5-15 shooting. He simply can’t break down LeBron off the dribble all game long and not get tired. It happened in the last regular season game against the Heat too. He lost his legs and started settling for jumpers instead of attacking the basket. He’s being asked to do way too much and it’s not going to work. This is why it’s paramount to get Stoudemire time with the second unit so he can be the primary screen-and-roll man, why it’s important to run Steve Novak off screens (and especially when the Heat play two of Haslem, Turiaf and Anthony at the same time; it’s practically an invitation for Woodson to put Novak in the game but so far he has refused), why every once in a while you have to give Landry Fields those side pick-and-rolls he likes and why high pick-and-rolls with Chandler as the screener need to become a big part of the offense again.
  • Woodson’s refusal to even slightly deviate from his offense in the first two games of the series conjures memories of Mike D’Antoni. The only difference here is that Carmelo likes this offense because it’s all about him, so he’s not actively trying to get Woodson fired.
  • As I was writing this, Twitter broke the news of Amar’e Stoudemire punching either a fire extinguisher or the glass that encases a fire extinguisher and sustaining a laceration to his hand. He may or may not have had stitches. As nice as it is to hear that Amar’e is finally attacking the glass (rim shot), I’m utterly disappointed in him. Amar’e is a co-captain, he’s supposed to be a leader and an example for the other players on the team and he’s punching fire extinguishers in the locker room and putting his season in jeopardy. In this crazy Knicks season – which I am totally going to try to write a book about and never finish – I’m not sure why I’m surprised that something like this happened, but it’s disconcerting nonetheless.
  • Before we end this, it must be said: bringing Jeremy Lin back for this series would be a monumentally terrible idea. No matter how much buzz it would generate, how many extra tickets or jerseys it would sell or how big a ratings spike it would provide, it would be a huge mistake. It was bad enough losing Lin and now Shumpert with knee injuries, but the only way it could get worse is to bring Lin back and have him get hurt again. That’s a definite possibility, especially since his initial prognosis in early April called for him to miss at least 6 weeks and now he’s contemplating coming back in just under 4 weeks. He could also just flat out struggle against the Heat’s defense like he did in their February meeting and that wouldn’t be good either. Sure, Lin gives the Knicks a better shot at stealing a game or two in the series, but if that’s realistically the ceiling (which it is), it just isn’t worth it. Bringing him back down 2-0 or 3-0 just for the sake of snapping the franchise’s now-record-tying 12-game postseason losing streak and trying to prolong the inevitable at the risk of his health and his future is a step too far. Go to war with the team on the court and let Lin heal.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com

NBA Playoffs: Indiana Beats The Dickens Out Of Orlando

Photo by Ewan-M via Flickr

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

For both the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic, the first two games of their first round series have been the best of times and the worst of times. In Game 1, Indiana saw a late seven point lead evaporate as the Magic closed the game with a furious 11-0 run to steal an 81-77 victory. Game 2 however, was a different story. From the opening tip, Indiana did exactly what they needed to do and punched Orlando square in the mouth taking an early 22-12 lead. Though Orlando took two point lead into halftime, the Pacers blew the game open in the third outscoring the Magic 30-13 in the quarter. The Pacers avoided a second consecutive late game collapse and cruised to a 93-78 victory. So what were the biggest differences between Games 1 and 2 for the Pacers?

1. The Georges

Paul George and George Hill both rebounded from disappointing efforts in Game 1 with strong, needed Game 2 performances. Let’s begin with Paul George.

George was having an extremely difficult time buying a bucket in Game 1 as he finished 4-11 from the floor including 0-4 from beyond the arc. Tonight, he was a tidy 7-10 from the field. However, it wasn’t so much that he was shooting better as it was that he was getting to the rim and converting shots from close range. Of the seven field goals he made, six of them came in the restricted area. It’s concerning that George is shooting 2-10 from outside the paint thus far in the series, but if he can consistently get to the rim and continue to convert, it is going to make things much easier for the Pacers.

George Hill followed a similar path to that of George in the first two games. In Game 1, he converted only two of seven shots from the field. Tonight, for the second game in a row, he finished 1-3 from three point range, but like George, got into the paint much more effectively by going 4-5 in the key. By getting into the paint, and knowing that Dwight Howard will not be controlling it for the duration of the series, the Pacers increase the likelihood for fouls on Orlando’s already thin front line which should prove to be beneficial moving forward.

2. Limiting Rebounds

Not only was this a tale of two games for the Pacers, it was really a tale of two halves. The Magic seemingly were getting their hands on every offensive rebound in the first half tonight, finishing the first 24 minutes of the game with 12 offensive boards. In the second half, they were limited to just one offensive rebound, and 13 rebounds overall for the entire half. Meanwhile, the Pacers flipped the script by pulling down 11 offensive rebounds of their own in the final half of the game. Although the Magic ultimately finished with a slight edge in second chance points (25-24), only two of those points were scored after halftime which allowed Indiana to pull away.

3. Fast Breaks

The common perception is that playoff games are played at a slower pace than regular season games. Defenses clamp down, teams tend to play more conservative, and it is rare to see a team frequently get out on the break. While watching tonight, it seemed like the Pacers were getting a lot of easy baskets off of turnovers and in transition; luckily, my eyes were not deceiving me as the statistics back it up. Indiana finished the game with a stunning 22-2 fast break advantage tonight, a far cry from Game 1 where both teams only managed five points each. By getting out and converting easy baskets, the Pacers simultaneously energized the home crowd (providing an emotional lift) and extended their lead to the point that there would be no comeback tonight.

Final Thoughts

This is the result that a lot of people, myself included, expected to see in this series. The Pacers have proven that they can compete with anyone in the league, and the Magic entered the playoffs in absolute shambles. It’s not clear whether Indiana underestimated Orlando in Game 1, were not prepared for the bright playoff lights, or simply collapsed, but Game 2 was a totally different story. For Orlando, you have to be encouraged that you managed a split on the road and have this series heading back to Florida this week. For the Pacers, you have to take solace in the fact that Danny Granger really has not gotten going in this series (11-34 FG thus far) and you still pulled out a win. And since each team has tasted victory, both feel like they are capable of winning this series. Or, as Charles Dickens would say, they both have Great Expectations.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

NBA Playoffs: Manu Enters the Hot Tub Tim Machine

The excitement of the start of the playoffs was dampened considerably yesterday by Derrick Rose’s devastating ACL tear. The crushing loss of the reigning MVP from one of the two teams in the east with a legitimate shot at winning a title hung like a black cloud over the rest of the day’s games, and probably won’t quite disappear from the backs of our minds for the rest of the postseason and beyond. But Sunday’s opening contest between the Jazz and the Spurs played host to something as wonderfully life-affirming as the Rose injury was soul-crushing: Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili found the fountain of youth.

The aging Duncan and injury-plagued Ginobili, both of whom sat out the final stretch of regular season to preserve their legs, lent credence to the theory that maybe, just maybe, the teams best suited for this hectic, 66-game lockout schedule are the oldest ones, the ones with the veteran know-how. How many times did we see Duncan do this in the regular season?

Ginobili’s two slams were equally awesome, throwback affairs.

Through two days, the postseason has been at times depressing (the injuries to Rose and Iman Shumpert) and thrilling (the Clippers’ insane comeback, Kevin Durant’s game-winner), and full of smaller, simpler pleasures that may go forgotten as the playoffs unfold. Pleasures like the knowledge that two of the most reliable aging superstars in the game can still look 10 years younger when they want to.

NBA Playoffs: Grizzlies Dominate… Wait The Clippers Came Back And Won?!

So… Well… See the thing is. I have no idea how that just happened. I’m glad I was just taking notes as we went because I would no idea how to sum up what just happened. The Grizzlies were cruising to a victory, they should have won that game, but they didn’t and now they find themselves down 0-1 after dropping a game at home. What. A. Game. Here are some thoughts, reactions, and just random outbursts I had throughout the game:

Pre-Game:

  • In the midst of all this Rondo craziness, I’m made aware of the fact that Chris Webber is going to be calling this game. Tony Allen? Chris Paul? Blake Griffin? Grit and Grind? Chris Webber? On TNT? OH MY GOD THIS CANNOT GET ANY BETTER!
  • Also looks like Zach Randolph will be in the starting lineup, interesting move given he’d been coming off the bench for most of the season.

1st Quarter:

  • Grizzlies are running their offense through their two post players, and getting very good results. Gasol is passing beautifully out of the high post, and seemingly scoring at will. Randolph has faced up on Griffin twice sinking the first jumper and missing the second. On the other side of the ball Memphis is doing a great job defending the side pick and roll. Considering that’s essentially the only play the Clippers run, if Memphis can continue to limit it’s effectiveness LA is in some serious trouble.
  • Also, Memphis is booing Blake Griffin whenever he touches the ball, apparently they hate fun in Memphis. Nothing but grit and grind.
  • Seriously Marc Gasol’s passing is the best.
  • OH MY GOD NO ZACH!!! YES HE’S OKAY!… And Zach doing pushups happened
  • The Clippers look incredibly lost right now. Four turnovers so far, the pick and roll isn’t giving it’s usual returns, and Blake Griffin just picked up his 2nd foul. This would be a great time for the Point God to show himself.
  • Can’t say enough about the ball movement from the Grizzlies this quarter. This shooting isn’t sustainable, but if the Grizzlies keep getting good looks every time down the floor, they shouldn’t have an issue taking this game, and ultimately the series. Predictably, Memphis has had a lot of success cutting after entering the ball into Gasol in the post. To me at least, this team is at it’s best when it’s running through Marc, he’s capable of controlling the offense in a way unlike any other big in the league(including Pau), sort of like a point center maybe? Also worth noting that OJAM checked in, hit a ridiculous three, and has been aggressive in attacking the rim so far. He could be huge for the Grizzlies in this series if he shoots well and stays committed to getting to the basket.
  • Paul finally finds an easy basket out of the pick and roll with a lob to DAJ, but follows it the next series with an offensive foul. Really hard to imagine a scenario in which the quarter went any worse for the Clips.
  • Grizzlies completely dominate that quarter, mostly due to their ability to neutralize Paul in the PnR and their offensive brilliance, especially Gasol, who finished the quarter 5-6 from the field for 10 points while also netting 4 assists.  Worth noting that the Memphis crowd was absolutely fantastic that quarter, you could see the Grizzlies feeding off the energy after every made basket and defensive stop. Really, really fun stuff.

2nd Quarter:

  • Speights and Jordan getting chippy. You feel like Memphis is totally controlling the tone of this game, lots of Grit and Grind, also a lot of “WE WILL NEVER MISS ANOTHER SHOT EVER” which always helps. The Clippers so far are sticking to their team motto of “No help defense city”, or whatever it is I can never remember.
  • Worth nothing that the Grizzlies are 4-4 from behind the arc. Also worth noting that the Clippers are getting hammered. Like seriously killed. As in they are losing by a very large amount of points. Really, this is probably verym very embarrassing for them.
  • Eric Bledsoe made such a nice spin move I actually mistook him for Chris Paul for a moment. No seriously, that happened. Meanwhile, the Clippers have cut the lead to 13 and some of the energy from the initial flurry seems to be subsiding. This will be a very key stretch of the game, Grizzlies have to keep their foot on the pedal, so to speak.
  • OJAM is playing out of his gourde as he drills another three coming off a quick screen. OJ looks really good coming off the down pick to shoot, and while I didn’t love that shot, it went in. Also the word gourde is fun.
  • It’s just not a Grizzlies game without a hilarious Tony Allen fastbreak sequence. Difficult to describe this one other than to say that it ended with Allen barreling into the lane and essentially throwing the ball straight in the air and somehow drawing the blocking foul. All about the grit and grind.
  • Griffin is seriously struggling in this game. Can’t find any rhythm offensively, either in the post up, or in pick and roll situations, and defensively he looks lost in his rotations and help defense. This is where Griffin’s lack of offensive refinement really hurts him, without the free form points off of pure athleticism and against a good defense, he’s going to struggle to assert himself. Unfortunately, The Clippers can’t afford to have Griffin be a non-factor when he’s on the floor, they don’t have enough other scoring options.
  • The Grizzlies end the half with a pretty big exclamation. First Cunningham puts back a Gasol miss with a vicious slam that ignites the crowd and sends Dante into a JR Smith worthy post dunk celebration pose. Rudy Gay follows on the next possession with a nice jumper and then, while attempting to dribble the clock out for the last shot, Chris Paul gets whistled for an offensive foul. This leaves Memphis enough time for Conley to deliver a beautiful pass out of the pick and roll right to Gasol for the dunk. What an incredible way to end the half for Memphis, the had let the door creak open, only to emphatically shut it right back in the Clippers face.  Memphis has come out swinging, and hit the Clippers right in the mouth, it’s up to LA to duck, dodge, adjust, and counter punch in the second half.

2nd Half:

  • Note from the first half: Memphis held Paul to 3 points on 0-4 shooting. Raise your hand if you saw that coming? (Don’t you dare raise your hand, liar).
  • Right to Griffin one-on-one versus Z-Bo to start the half, and he gets nothing on an awkward drive to the rim. Gotta agree with Webber, sending Blake on these iso missions seems ill fated. Better off finding ways to get him the ball in space, and/or while in motion.
  • Mike Conley takes a soccer dive to give Griffin his 3rd foul. Seriously just spectacular form on that dive, UEFA champions league worthy. Then to add insult to injury Conley starts drilling threes left and right extends the lead to 21 points.
  • Important point that I think is worth considering. Many are hoping or expecting Chris Paul to shred Memphis much like he surgically dissected the Lakers last year. While certainly Paul is more than capable of taking over games I think it’s also important to recognize the difference in opponent. The Lakers were not well equipped to defend Paul in pick and roll situations. They didn’t really have anyone to hound him on the perimeter and their bigs were generally lost trying to corral him on the pick and roll. In contrast, Memphis has a number of very capable perimeter defenders, and is disciplined in their pick and roll defense. So yes, given the opportunity Paul will engage “Point God” mode, but Memphis might not ever give him the chance.
  • While Memphis has not been terrific on offense during the season, I’m actually not that surprised the Grizzlies have had such an easy time scoring the basketball (generally due to the Clippers well known defensive woes). What I am surprised by, is the Clippers inability to get anything going on the offensive end. Paul has generally struggled against the Grizzlies pick and roll defense and Griffin has been borderline awful (3-10 from the field midway through the 3rd). The Grizzlies aren’t going to shoot this well every night, but if their defenses continues to befuddle and stymie the Clippers offensive attack it won’t really matter.
  • And Mike Conley has made 4 threes this quarter. Analysis: ALL GRIT AND GRIND BABY
  • At this point the Grizzlies are out there like Roy Jones Jr.: Dancing around toying with the opponent, equal parts domination and entertainment. This is a lot of fun to watch, unless you’re a Clippers fan.
  • I’m going to note for the 600th time that Marc Gasol is brilliant. He really is one of the best, if not the very best post passer we have in NBA. It’s so fun to watch him catch it in the high post and hit Tony Allen on a cut, or Rudy Gay on a lob. I think what I’m trying to say is I’m in love with Marc Gasol.
  • Really interesting that Conley and the Grizzlies have legitimately bothered and frustrated Paul. He’s committed uncharacteristic offensive fouls, turnovers, and travels. I honestly never thought I’d see Paul flustered like this. It feels funny.
  • Clippers put together a nice run to cut the lead to 12 at one points with about 4 minute left and are lurking. Would be really tough if Memphis found a way to give away this game after playing so well all night. Give credit to Bledsoe, and Young for providing a spark off the bench. Also, not surprisingly, Paul refuses to quit, despite being frustrated all came he’s taking advantage of Memphis’ lapse in intensity and picking apart the defense.
  •  Mayo delievers the pass of the game on an over the shoulder touch pass, only to have Speights blow the lay up. I guess everything can’t go perfectly for Memphis.
  • Behind Nick Young nailing three 3-pointers in a minute, the Clippers have cut the lead down to 3 points with just under 2 minutes left to play. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WHAT IS HAPPENING? WHY ARE THE GRIZZLIES TURNING IT OVER EVERY TIME? IS NICK YOUNG ACTUALLY GOD? SO MUCH BUCKETS… AHHH
  •  This would be an absolutely HUGE win if the Clips somehow manage to steal this one.
  • “At this point there’s not much left to say. The Grizzlies completely and totally dominated this game. If you’re the Clippers your defense has to be better, but really you have to be more concerned with your offense. You have to find ways to make the pick and roll work, you have to counter the aggressiveness and grit of the Clippers, and you cannot turn the ball over. You have to believe the Clippers will play better, you have to believe Paul will come out on an absolute mission to destroy them next game. As of now though, the Grizzlies have to feel like they are the better team, they have to feel like at their best they can control this series; that’s no small fact. The Grizzlies came out with a bang, it will be interesting to see how the rest of this series takes shape moving forward” -I wrote this above during the beginning of the fourth quarter and now, behind two Griffin made free throws, the Grizzlies are only up 1…
  • Chris Webber is spot on, Reggie Evans defense and rebounding, and general toughness have been huge during this incredible comeback. On multiple occasions he’s pushed Gasol and Randolph off their spot and forced them into turnovers or uncomfortable shots. Evans deserves a lot of credit if the Clippers somehow steal this one.
  • And just like that Evans hits a lay up to put the Clips up one… WOW
  • Gay hits a turnaround over Paul after getting the mismatch on a switch. That’s one of ways he will be so valuable to Memphis in the playoffs, now they have another go to scorer late in games.
  • Allen fouls Paul who hits both free throws to take the lead by one. Memphis completely bungles the last possession, wasting way too much time as Gay forces up a shot with the clock close to expiring. That’s inexcusable. Down one you have to get a shot up with enough time at least to rebound and have a second chance, and in reality you should leave enough time to foul, force free throws and get another shot at tying the game. Jesus. Cannot believe Memphis found a way to give that game away. Credit the Clippers who did not quit on the game. Also another great performance from Paul who despite struggling most of the game directed the offense brilliantly late in the game. But mostly just WOW. That was an absolutely incredible comeback. This could kill Memphis, this is the kind of loss that breaks your spirit. Series can be won on comebacks like this. Yes the Grizzlies are tough, but this could be a back breaker.

Quick Post Game Note: Charles opens up Inside the NBA with “That’s why I could never coach, right there.” Yup. Lionel Hollins has to be going crazy right now.

Charles again: “I didn’t like Memphis strategy, they started playing not to lose”.

A Preview of the First Round Playoff Series Between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets

Conceptual Architecture

By Jared Dubin

These teams are more similar than you might imagine at first glance. Stylistic differences aside, both the Lakers and Nuggets sported an above average offense (Denver’s was slightly better this year) and a below average defense (Denver’s was slightly worse) during the regular season. They each played basically average – or below – basketball for three quarters of the game and had one quarter where they simply dominated their competition. Both teams excelled at getting to the free throw line at one end of the court and preventing their opponent from getting there at the other end. Neither team shot very well from beyond the 3-point line.

But while they do have their similarities, the main difference between the Lakers and the Nuggets is one that strikes to the core of their very existence. Los Angeles has the glitz and the glam, the Kobe and the Bynum and the Pau and… not so much beyond that (especially since they’ll be without Metta World Peace, their best perimeter defender, for much of the series). Denver has been lauded across the Internet as a great TEAM (always make sure to use capital letters for emphasis); they spread the ball around, they’re unselfish and they work TOGETHER.

The Nuggets come at you in waves. They push the ball up the court and try to ram it down your throat. They’ll keep throwing different combinations of bodies out there, and one night’s crunch time lineup might bear little or no resemblance to the one they use the next. At different times Ty Lawson or Andre Miller might be running the show, and they might be flanked by any combination of Denver’s plethora of wing players – Arron Afflalo, Corey Brewer, Danilo Gallinari – along with any of their multiple, versatile front court players – Kenneth Faried, Al Harrington, JaVale McGee or Timo Mozgov (though not so much with the Mozgov lately). Their deep bench is their greatest strength, even more so than their strong starting lineup, though the two often feel as if they flow together. It’s a new age basketball team; constantly cutting and always in motion. Pick-and-rolls, getting out in transition and spot-up 3’s. Every piece, every part, matters equally.

The Lakers are more traditionally constructed. They have an alpha dog – Kobe – along with two supporting stars – Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. They have a defensive stopper (Peace, suspended for much of the series) and a point guard who controls the flow of the game and acts as a secondary offensive option – Ramon Sessions. Their bench – Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Josh McRoberts, Jordan Hill, Troy Murphy, Andrew Goudelock – is really just there to get the starters some rest before they can come back in and resume dominating the touches. The Lakers run through their sets with precision and if they don’t get an open look out of it they ask Kobe to create his own shot off the dribble or they dump it into Bynum or Pau in the post. They isolate their best players in the spots they like the most and try to get the best shot they possibly can out of the possession.

The series itself is a war of contrasting styles. It’s hero ball vs.”You never know who’s going to get the last shot.” It’s Mike Brown’s methodical, slow the game down and out-execute the opposition approach vs. George Karl’s free-wheeling, make order out of the chaos you create paradigm. It’s top heavy vs. balanced. It’s Kobe System vs. TEAM. It’s a battle for basketball’s soul.

The Death of Reason

By Jared Dubin

Is it possible that the Lakers could have the three best players in this series and still lose? Ty Lawson is going to be a problem for the Lakers’ point guards to defend. Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake simply do not have the speed to keep up with him and he should be able to get into the middle of the lane often. Once that happens, Los Angeles’ defense is in trouble. Lawson, despite his small stature, is a good finisher around the basket; he’s able to make shots over, through and around various big men. If the Lakers’ defense collapses on him, he can kick it out to one of the Nuggets’ multiple strong outside shooters, whether it’s Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington or Corey Brewer.

Gallinari, who did not play well in any of the Nuggets-Lakers games this season, should be a pain for Los Angeles as well. Not having Metta World Peace, their best wing defender, to hassle Gallo, get physical with him off the dribble and generally make him work for his points is going to make a suspect defense even more so. If Gallo gets going, the Lakers are in for a long series.

LA’s big advantage over Denver is their size, but if the Nuggets can get either Bynum or Gasol in foul trouble, they can trot out one of their many small ball lineups and try to run the Lakers off the floor. They’ll probably try to do this by repeatedly involving them both in pick-and-rolls. The Lakers struggled mightily to defend pick-and-roll ball-handlers this season, and when they were able to corral the dribbler they often left weak side shooters wide open. Luckily for the Nuggets, this is exactly the kind of thing their offense thrives on. Bynum especially can be taken advantage of in pick-and-roll situations with athletic big men. In Harrington, JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried, Denver has exactly the kind of guys who can make things difficult for him.

Chemical Reactions Plate Tectonics And You

by Scott Leedy

The initial reaction to the Nuggets-Lakers series might be something like, “That’s an unfortunate draw for the Nuggets; they are going to get killed on the inside.” While this may certainly be the way the series plays out, the Nuggets were actually very good defending in post-up situations – allowing a PPP of 0.78, good for the 3rd best in the league as Sebastian Pruiti noted yesterday over in his preview at Grantland. Looking at the individual match-up of Gasol and Bynum versus the Nuggets this year might give us a clearer picture. Interestingly enough, in 4 games against the Nuggets this year, both Gasol and Bynum posted lower offensive efficiency numbers than normal while still both posting very good TS% (59.4 for Gasol, 66.6 for Bynum). I am more apt to put stock in the true shooting numbers, as the offensive efficiency numbers seems are likely too team-dependent to mean as much. Also worth noting is that both Gasol and Bynum posted individual defensive numbers that were significantly better than their yearly average. This suggests that the Nuggets might have even more difficulty scoring over the Lakers’ size then they will trying to shut down Gasol and Bynum on the other end.

Another issue for the Nuggets is obviously defending Kobe Bryant. The Nuggets retain a trio of very good perimeter defenders in Brewer, Gallo (0.66 PPP allowed in isolation) and Afflalo (though to a lesser extent this year) that will likely be able to contain Bryant fairly well. Bryant posted a negative net efficiency in his games against the Nuggets and posted an offensive efficiency nearly 9 points lower than his yearly average. Perhaps even more indicative of Kobe’s struggles against the Nuggets is his abysmal 34.6 TS%. While it is unlikely that Kobe will shoot this poorly over the entire series, it does appear as though the Nuggets have the personnel and a defensive strategy capable of bothering Bryant, and neutralizing his offensive abilities as much as possible.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Nuggets will no doubt look to attack the Lakers by pushing the pace. The Lakers allowed 1.18 PPP in transition which ranked 27th in the league. In the half court, the Lakers post generally good, but not great numbers in every area. The Nuggets will need to rely most heavily on the skills of Ty Lawson, who’s gifted both in direct drives off the dribble and in using pick and rolls to score and set up his teammates. In the match-ups against the Lakers this year, Lawson has generally struggled on offense – posting a TS% of 47.5 in four games. In order for the Nuggets to have a chance he has to find away to get into the lane and finish amongst the trees or find open cutters and shooters for easy points.

The other player that will be of great import for the Nuggets is Danilo Gallinari. While Gallinari struggled mightily against the Lakers this year – posting a very poor TS% of 38.0 in their four match-ups – the Lakers will be without their best perimeter defender in Ron Artest for most of, if not all of this series. Unfortunately for Nuggets fans, ever since his return form injury Gallo has looked slower and has been unable to drive past anyone. Gallo needs to regain his speed and aggressiveness in order for the Nuggets to have any chance at stealing this series for the Lakers.

Ultimately, the Lakers’ chances in both this series and the playoffs in general will hinge upon the play of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. If Pau mysteriously disappears like he did last year the Lakers, could be upset at any point. However, if both Gasol and Bynum play focused, aggressive and smart basketball the Nuggets will have very little chance at extending this series beyond even 5 games.

As If We Knew

by Sean Highkin

  • Kobe Bryant will score 40 points twice during this series. He will take at least 70 shots in those two games.
  • The Nuggets will steal one of the first two games at Staples, and it will largely be seen as Pau Gasol’s fault. This will kick the tires on the same Gasol-disappearing-in-the-playoffs narrative that prevailed last spring. Gasol will respond to this by dominating at least one subsequent game, likely more.
  • Danilo Gallinari will take advantage of the absence of Metta World Peace and break out of his slump against the Lakers to have a monster series.
  • Prediction: Ultimately, the Bynum-Gasol front line will be too much for the Nuggets to handle. The Lakers will win in six.

Podcast Paroxysm: No ACLs Were Torn During The Recording Of This Podcast… We Think

The first day of the NBA playoffs is often a cause for celebration and jubilation, but that was tempered yesterday by soul-crushing knee injuries to New York’s Iman Shumpert and Chicago’s Derrick Rose, the latter of which may have possibly swung the NBA title. But there were still games that were played and there were things to be broken down, so HP boss Matt Moore spoke with Sean Highkin, Conrad Kaczmarek and myself about the day’s events. We talked Bulls-Sixers and Chicago’s chances of advancing past the 2nd round, Knicks-Heat and the deficiencies of the Carmelo-Amar’e pairing, OKC-Dallas and Kevin Durant’s incredibleness and disappointment with the Pacers after Game 1 of their series with the Magic. We also spent a little bit of time talking about the series that start today. Should the Spurs match Utah’s big lineup or go small? Can the Celtics get past the Hawks? Can the Grizzlies handle Chris Paul? We cover all this and more. Enjoy.

A Preview of the First Round Playoff Series Between the San Antonio Spurs and the Utah Jazz

Conceptual Architecture

By Amin Vafa

There’s a sense of comfort you get when you see San Antonio and Utah are in the playoffs. The universe seems balanced. The future seems bright and predictable, but in a safe and soothing way. There’s a familiar formula that builds, like a movie you’ve seen a thousand times. Pop strings together the most impressive wins with the most fundamentally impressive cast of characters. You know all of Tim, Tony, and Manu’s lines by heart, and even though you feel like you know how it’s going to end (the gang raising the Larry O’Brien trophy over their heads in front of thousands of adoring fans), you never fast-forward. You just want to watch every scene over and over until Pop rushes into your living room and makes you take a break.

In Utah’s case, they’re more of a dependable TV series than a movie. All of your favorite characters show up every week, and they’re in the finest form during sweeps. Every couple of years they recast the roles, but the characters stay the same. The dazzling point guard! The dependable big man! The wily wing! And let’s not forget the curmudgeonly coach. You can flip through the channels, and you’ll always find a good one to watch. “Have I see this one before? I think I’ve seen this one before.” Maybe you have, and maybe you haven’t. Either way, it’s a damn good episode.

But things are slightly different this year. That San Antonio movie hasn’t played its way to the end in about five years. There’s been an injury. Or a blown foul call. Or an act of God. Or Dirk Nowitzki. Or Kobe Bryant. San Antonio is the top seed again this season, and three out of their five past obstacles don’t appear to be so obstacle-y this year (wait a sec… is having Joey Crawford ref your game an act of God in itself?). Can we make it all the way through the movie again after all these years? More importantly, can they?

Last season in Utah, the ratings dipped so low that the show totally jumped the shark. They killed off the point guard AND the coach! The two most popular characters! Next thing you know, the shooting guard will be replaced by a smoke monster. And what happened after all that? They didn’t make the postseason. This year, they went with what they knew and revamped their old characters. And look where they are: back in the postseason (with a few character substitutions here and there), and they even gave us a great lead up to sweeps week!

The West seems whole again with these two teams on board. It’s tough to know what’s going to happen. One team’s coming in hot. One team’s been hot all year. Injuries haven’t been a factor (fingers crossed), and they’ve both got front-court rotations that most other teams covet.

You make think you know how this one goes, but make sure you watch it all the way to the end.

The Death of Reason

By Jared Dubin

The Spurs might have one of those games where they just go absolutely bonkers on offense and drop like 125 points. San Antonio ‘s attack led the league with 108.5 points per 100 possessions (pts/100) this season, and they’ve been even better of late. Over the last 10 games of the year, they scored an utterly ridiculous 117.4 pts/100. Meanwhile, Utah finished the season with the league’s 19th ranked defense at 103.6 pts/100 allowed. They’re the worst defensive team in the playoffs.

Lately, the Jazz have been using a big lineup featuring Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson all on the floor at the same time. That lineup, while effective offensively because Millsap can bully smaller defenders in the post (though mostly with faceup moves, which should help Kawhi Leonard or Stephen Jackson or whoever winds up guarding him at that spot), has left them especially vulnerable to the Spurs’ favorite offensive weapon: the corner 3-pointer. Over the last 10 games, Utah has allowed their opponents the 4th-most corner 3 attempts in the NBA. Though the Jazz have been in the top half of the league in corner 3-point percentage allowed, research done by our own Eric Maroun and Gothic Ginobili‘s Aaron McGuire for this Zach Lowe piece on SI.com show that limiting attempts matters more to a defense. San Antonio is the league’s preeminent corner 3 team, ranking 1st in makes, 2nd in attempts and 4th in percentage.

Four Spurs are shooting over 40% on corner 3’s this season: Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili. At any given time, they’ll have two or three knock-down shooters on the court to spread the defense thin around their potent pick-and-rolls with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter. Parker will probe his way into the lane for a floater, hit Duncan or Splitter on the roll or the pop or catch a defender cheating and fire a skip pass to one of the many catch-and-shoot threats on the floor. Given Utah’s weaknesses, the Spurs are perfectly equipped to attack the Jazz with their combination of side-to-side ball movement, quick-hitting pick-and-rolls, cuts to the basket and long-range snipers.

If the Jazz go to their big lineup, rather than matching Utah with side, Gregg Popovich might do better to spread the Jazz out as much as he can and take advantage of San Antonio’s edge in speed and quickness. For one night, they may catch fire and it’ll carry them to victory.

Chemical Reactions, Plate Tectonics & You

By Jared Dubin

San Antonio loves to run those high pick-and-rolls with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Luckily for them, that’s really the perfect way to take advantage of Al Jefferson on the defensive end. Jefferson struggles to cover large amounts of space, to pick up guards off the dribble coming around picks and to close out on pick-and-pop shooters. That’s exactly what the Spurs’ offense flows from. They have that Parker-Duncan pick-and-roll in the middle of the court and they’ll spread the rest of your defense wire thin by stationing shooters like Matt Bonner, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard on the perimeter.

If you commit more than just the two initial defenders to the pick-and-roll defense, Parker will hit you with a quick skip pass and a 3-pointer is in the air before you even know it. If you try to defend that pick-and-roll straight up, especially if Jefferson is involved, Parker’s going to get right into the lane for a lay-up or a floater. And if you double Parker, you’re banking on Tim Duncan missing 15-18 foot jumpers or not being able to hit cutters after the defense collapses on him when he catches the ball in the lane off the roll. All risky propositions.

When Parker’s not on the court, it’s Manu Ginobili or Gary Neal running those pick-and-rolls, and they’re both more dangerous outside shooters than Parker, even if they’re not on the same level as creators or passers. They each present a unique challenge for Utah’s defense, which hasn’t exactly been up to snuff this season.

On the other side of the court, San Antonio figures to struggle with Utah’s size. Everyone is pointing to how the Grizzlies overwhelmed the Spurs with their big men in the first round last season as an example for how the Jazz should attack this series. It will be interesting to see whether Gregg Popovich decides to counter this big lineup with the Duncan-Tiago Splitter defensive pairing and give up a little bit on offense or whether he depends on Bonner, DeJuan Blair and maybe a little bit of Kawhi Leonard the four spot. Bonner can draw either Favors or Millsap away from the lane on the opposite end and has been a credible post defender this season. Blair is a good rebounder and has been better on D this year than last, but Splitter is probably the best equipped of the three to handle Jefferson or Favors on the inside.

In the past, Popovich would have made that offense/defense trade in an instant, but with the way this particular version of the Spurs is constructed, it may not be worth it. San Antonio may just try to outscore Utah in this series, especially since they’ve got the firepower to do it.

As If We Knew

By Jared Dubin

Are the Jazz for real?

Their hope is alive.

But that hope will die.

Spurs in 5.

A Preview of the First Round Playoff Series Between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies

Conceptual Architecture:

By Scott Leedy

Tony Allen is the most entertaining player in this league. He’s fun, he’s intense, he’s a pitbull, he misses open layups. He pays money for missing open layups. He waves towels and cheers, and quotes EA Sports in interviews. He gives Kobe Bryant fits and refuses to give any offensive player kudos. He works hard, he’s one of the most intense and gifted defensive players in the league. What he lacks in offensive skill or awareness he makes up for with hustle. He won’t back down or give in to anyone. Tony Allen is all about the grit and grind.

Chris Paul is all business. Sure the aesthetic of his game is fatally mesmerizing, but that belies Paul’s no-nonsense dedication and drive. The ever apparent flashes of stylistic brilliance is only a byproduct of Paul’s masterful craftsmanship; never a true attempt at flash for the audience’s ask, only the appearance of showmanship. Chris Paul is always in total control, always finding the right shot or pass, always coming off the pick with just the right amount of pace, deploying in-and-out dribbles to freeze defenders, behind the back maneuvers to split double teams, or a hard step back dribble into an easy unguarded mid ranger jumper. Paul doesn’t let the game come to him, he bends the game to his will. Paul is a fearsome figure, capable of single handedly crippling the opponents defense. He is intense, he is willful, he will not quit, he wants to destroy your team. Chris Paul is all about the grit and grind.

While they are entirely different players, and seemingly unrelated, Chris Paul and Tony Allen embody the combination of nasty toughness and sheer fun that will define this series. Neither Paul’s Clippers nor Allen’s Grizzlies will give an inch. Both will fight claw, flop, steal, and compete until the last buzzer sounds. The Grizzlies defense will hound, and pester the Clippers into unwanted situations and turnovers .They will do everything they can to neutralize Paul, to limit his effectiveness. In response Paul will do everything in his power to elude, escape, and destroy the Grizzlies defense.

For their part both teams will also provide a series that will be entertaining as entertaining as it is gritty. Chris Paul, with his artfully choreographed dribble drives and deft passing, and Blake Griffin with his always highlight worthy acrobatics. For the Grizzlies, Marc Gasol has become a pure joy to watch – combining brilliant passing out of the post with a feather soft touch around the rim. Rudy will no doubt be active and high flying as ever, while O.J. Mayo is bound go on more than one torrid scoring run. Still, this series won’t be won by highlight plays or beautiful acts of basketball brilliance. This series will be won by Zach Randolph committing himself in the post. It will be defined by Paul’s ability to overcome Memphis’ relentless defense. It will come down to a few important plays, a few important moments. It will be embodied by the late game match-up between Paul and Allen. A fight between the tormenting defender and the relentless offensive wizard. This series will be nasty and viciously competitive. This series will be all about the grit and grind.

The Death of Reason

by Sean Highkin

What if this series was over quickly? What if it was relatively boring without a lot of close games? That, to me, would be the most insane, illogical possible outcome. These teams are too perfectly matched to each other for this series not to produce several thrilling, down-to-the-wire contests with a handful of overtimes. But what if that didn’t happen? What if Chris Paul is just ridiculous and not even Tony Allen can keep him in check? What if Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol neutralize Blake Griffin and none of the Clips’ shooters get going? One of these things could happen just as easily as these two teams playing the most compelling basketball we’ll see this spring.

On paper, this is the most exciting, watchable matchup of the first round, but there’s room on either side for it to disappoint. A series with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Rudy Gay being uneventful would define the phrase “season without reason.” Then again, as I write this, I’m watching Game 1 of the series between the Pacers and the Dwight Howard-less Magic. This is the series I was almost positive would consist entirely of blowouts, and it’s so far been exciting, back-and-forth basketball. It’s just as plausible that this awesome Clippers-Grizzlies pairing will suck. It probably won’t, but predicting which basketball will be good and which won’t can be just as futile at times as picking winners and losers.

Chemical Reactions Plate Tectonics And You

by Scott Leedy

It’s no secret that the Clippers as a whole don’t defend particularly well. However, there are a couple specific areas of weakness that the Grizzlies should look to exploit. The first tool the Grizzlies should look to utilize as often as possible is Marc Gasol. First, Gasol’s great gift for passing out of both the high and low post will prove incredibly useful against the Clippers. According to mySynergySports, the Clippers surrender 1.24 points per possession (PPP) off the cut (24th in the league) while also surrendering .98 PPP on spot up shots (23rd in the league). In watching the tape Gasol, once in position, was able to find cutters who entered vacated space underneath the hoop, or throw cross-court to an open shooter for a spot up three.  Another area is which Gasol should prove valuable is as the roll man in a pick and roll. Gasol is very good at timing his roll and finding space, and proves deft at both scoring (1.06 PPP in roll man situations good for 39th in among all players) and finding an open cutter after receiving the pass from the ball handler. Furthermore, The Clippers were awful this year defending the roll man; they gave up 1.04 PPP (26th in the league). Look for the Grizzlies to be successful utilizing Gasol both in post up and pick and roll situations.

Another match-up the Grizzlies are sure to exploit is Blake Griffin guarding Zach Randolph. As Sebastian Pruiti noted in his terrific playoff preview over at Grantland, Randolph can dominate Griffin if he stays aggressive and pounds Griffin inside. Despite all of Griffin’s athleticism and gifts, he still remains a very questionable defender. Randolph – if healthy – is very gifted in both isolation and post up situations. Furthermore, while Griffin is a good rebounder, he relies on his athleticism a little too often. Failing to to box out Randolph – one of the league’s most gifted offensive rebounders – could prove fatal to the Clippers’ chances in this series.

For the Clippers, their hopes hinge almost entirely on the play of Chris Paul. If he can capture the same magic that inspired his incredible play last year against the Lakers, they have a shot. However, Clippers fans should be somewhat wary of Paul’s ability to shoulder such a large load against a Memphis team that is excellent at defending the Clippers strengths. Obviously Paul is a gifted scorer as the ball handler in pick and roll situations. This season, he netted .94 PPP – good for 20th among all players in the league. Paul is also incredibly deadly in isolation situations; he posted the 8th highest rate in the league with 1.08 PPP.

The Clippers are also ranked second amongst all teams in points per possession for the roll man (1.04 PPP), likely a product of Paul’s brilliant pick and roll passing and both Griffin and Jordan’s athleticism and finishing ability.  Unfortunately for the Clippers, Memphis ranks very well in defending two of these three areas and above average in the other. Memphis posted the seventh best defensive points per possession in isolation (0.76 PPP), the 6th best against roll men in the pick and roll (0.93 PPP) and the 12th best against ball handlers in the pick and roll (.79 PPP).

There is no doubt that the Clippers will try to do everything they can to exploit Paul’s skills in pick and roll as much as possible, while the Grizzlies will do everything in their power to neutralize him. While Paul’s shooting numbers never looked good against the Grizzlies this season (39.0% according to NBA.com’s new stats tool), the tape reveals he almost always found good looks for himself but was never really able to put them down. The Grizzlies often challenged Paul to shoot over the picks and it will be interesting to see if they continue to deploy that strategy in this series. Paul needs to find a way to score more efficiently, yes the Clippers were able to win 2 of the 3 regular season match-ups even with Paul shooting poorly, but they should not place any faith in their ability to replicate those results. The bottom line is Paul needs to have an absolutely monster series for the Clippers to win, against a defense that is well equipped to defend him. Unstoppable force meet immovable object, repeat 7 times if necessary.

As If We Knew

By Jared Dubin

Hosting a Game 1 in their own building for the first time in franchise history, the Memphis Grizzlies fell to the Los Angeles Clippers 99-91. There was really nothing they could have done about it; it was one of those Chris Paul games. After Tony Allen picked up two early fouls, CP3 went to work on Mike Conley and Gilbert Arenas and finished the first half with a double-double – 14 points and 10 assists. The Clippers’ offense slowed in the second, but a 12-point halftime deficit was too much for the Grizzlies to overcome.

Game 2 was an entirely different story. Allen and Marc Gasol stifled the Clippers’ pick-and-roll attack for much of the evening, holding Blake Griffin to only 8 field goal attempts. Rudy Gay went off on Caron Butler, Nick Young and whoever ever LA sent his way. Gay finished 12-for-17 from the field and 9-9 from the free throw line on his way to 36 points and also grabbed 7 rebounds and dished out 5 assists as Memphis rolled 101-85.

The Clippers grabbed control of the series once again as the series swung back to Los Angeles. In Game 3, DeAndre Jordan blocked 6 shots, Young hit 4 threes, Griffin had 7 dunks and Paul notched 12 assists and didn’t turn it over once. It was just barely enough to get them past Zach Randolph and the Grizz. Z-Bo put up 24 points on 16 shots and grabbed 13 rebounds. But Eric Bledsoe came off the bench and hounded Conley into 6 turnovers, and Memphis didn’t force enough to overcome a potent Clipper offense. LA prevailed at home 100-95.

Memphis seized momentum in the series by winning Games 4 and 5 by a combined 36 points, pounding the Clippers on the offensive boards. Gasol totaled 43 points, 25 rebounds (10 offensive) and 9 assists in the two games, dismantling Jordan from the low block. Allen had 6 steals combined in the two games as he hounded Paul into 9 total turnovers. Gay struggled in Game 4 and for the first half of Game 5, but poured in 16 points in the third quarter of Game 5 as the Grizzlies turned a 4-point halftime deficit into a 23-point lead heading into the 4th quarter.

With their backs against the wall in Game 6, the Clippers once again turned to CP3 with the game on the line. Tied with 14.3 seconds to go, Gasol missed the first of two free throws. Once he missed, Paul implored head coach Vinny Del Negro not to call a timeout after the second shot, which Gasol made. As the clock wound down past 10 seconds and approached 5, Paul dribbled above the top of the key and waited as Griffin approached with a screen on Allen’s left. Paul faked to his right, as if he’d take that screen from Griffin, but at the last second he crossed over and got right past Allen into the middle of the lane. Gasol tried to step up, but it was too late. Paul released a floater over Gasol’s outstretched arms that dropped into the basket just as the buzzer sounded. The series was headed back to Memphis for a decisive Game 7.

In a back-and-forth affair that featured 14 lead changes and 9 ties, Paul and Griffin combined for 63 of the Clippers’ 96 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Memphis’ more balanced offensive attack. The Grizz had 7 players reach double figures – 17 for Gasol, 16 for Gay, 14 for Randolph, 13 for O.J. Mayo, 12 for Conley, 10 for Allen and 10 for Gilbert Arenas – and prevailed at home 102-96. Neither team ever led by more than 7 points. Memphis’ swarming defense forced Young, Butler, Randy Foye and DeAndre Jordan into a combined 7-26 shooting and Clippers outside Paul and Griffin scored just 33 points. The Grizzles won the battle on the offensive boards and in the turnover department, and in the end came away victorious.

Grizzlies in 7

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com

NBA Playoffs: Miami Heat Destroy The New York Knicks… No Seriously The Knicks Are Dead

Photo by sippay From Flickr

Welp, that was… well… I mean… I don’t… How do you even?… You can’t really I guess. The english language doesn’t exactly have a word for whatever it was that happened to the Knicks today(Unless you count ZOMGSOMUCHLEBRONANNHILATIONMYEYESMYEYES as a word, which I do). Okay, let’s deal with the storyline that a lot of Knicks fans are sure to point their always shifting finger at: The refs cost or at least played a large role in the Heat’s victory. I’m willing to concede that point if all of the following questions are answered with a yes: Was it the refs that went for 23 points on 7 shots in the first half? Was it the refs that held the Knicks to 31 points through half, and 47 through three quarters? Was it the refs who ingeniously decided to front Carmelo Anthony totally disrupting the Knicks’ offensive rhythm? Was it the refs that then stubbornly refused to adjust the Knicks’ offense while the team dug itself a deeper and deeper hole. Was it the refs who tricked Tyson Chandler into committing a colossally dumb foul in the back court to pick up his fourth foul? Did the refs incept JR’s mind and make him even less aware then usual? Did the refs sneak into Tyson Chandler’s apartment and inject him with influenza? Was it the refs in the library with the candlestick?

Look the refs were not great; that initial assessment of a flagrant 2 on Chandler was laughable, the two flops by LeBron were pretty egregious, and the Melo technical fairly ridiculous. That being said the game was not decided by the refs. The Knicks loss was almost exclusively due to the total dominance of LeBron James, Tyson Chandler’s general malaise, and the Heat’s defense on Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks.

Offensively, the game started out fine for the Knicks. Yes, Carmelo Anthony was 0-7 in the first quarter but the Knicks were getting good movement off cuts when the heat brought pressure to Melo, and Melo was finding the open man. Unfortunately, while the Melo-Chandler pick and roll was yielding pretty nice results in terms of opportunity, Chandler was clearly not himself, unable to finish near the rim, dropping good passes, committing uncharacteristic turnovers, and running into waiting Heat defenders for offensive fouls. With a healthy Chandler it would’ve been interesting to see if the Knicks could’ve looked to exploit that particular play a little more. As it was though, the Knicks were actually fairing okay due to some surprisingly good shooting and all around play from Baron Davis, teamed with solid defense on the other end. Trailing 29-30 around midway through the 2nd, without any scoring provided so far from Melo, the Knicks had to like the position they were in. That’s when all hell broke lose. Miami unleashed a swarming active defense that forced the Knicks into more turnovers than made field goals, and propelled the Heat to a 32-4 run that would last well into the third quarter, and ultimately crush the Knicks hopes of stealing game 1.

LeBron James was completely and totally dominant, summoning all his immense god given talent, and I believe even activating his gamebreaker bar, torching the Knicks to the tune of 32 points on 14 shots, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals(and the Derek Fisher award for flop of the game, that’s gotta feel pretty nice). It cannot be emphasized enough, just how good, and how scary LeBron is when he has games like this. He was agressive, he was making his outside shots, and he was defending with a furry, wreaking havoc, and pushing Carmelo Anthony off his spots. When LeBron plays like this, the Heat will lose few if any games at all.

While LeBron was great, this victory did not come on his shoulders alone. A lot of credit needs to be given to Shane Battier and Erik Spolestra, for the defensive strategy they employed against Carmelo Anthony. Spolestra had Battier all out front Melo whenever he tried to establish position either in the post or even all the way out on the wing. This caused all kinds of frustration and confusion amongst the Knicks offense, especially the Knicks guards who threw every iteration of terrible pass Carmelo’s way en route to what can only be approximated as a “butt load” of turnovers. Inexplicably, the Knicks did nothing to strategically take advantage of the vulnerable position Battier put himself in. Even after halftime Woodson appeared to make little if any adjustment to help free Melo and create easy scoring opportunities.

Going forward the Knicks need to find a way to make the Heat pay for their all out front on Melo. There are a number of ways to do this, one of which would be to simply set pindown screens for Anthony, leaving the defender trailing behind. If the Heat start to switch, the right screener can be used to take advantage of the mismatch. I’d also like to see Melo in some post to post flex screens that might free him to post up closer to the rim. Another, really good option, as mentioned by Sebastian Pruiti would be to send a player to the high post while Melo tries to get open. The ball could then be entered into the high post, and Melo would have Battier on his back with an open lane to cut towards the hoop. Whatever solution the Knicks prefer, they need to employ it sooner rather than later or this series will be over very quickly.

Yes this was an ugly loss for the Knicks (and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Shumpert crumpled to the floor in agony on a non-contact play) but this wasn’t a game they really ever had a shot at winning. Tyson Chandler was not even close to himself, and without a healthy Chandler, on the road in the playoffs, against Miami, the Knicks can’t expect a positive result. This is one loss on the road, that’s all it is, it only becomes more than that if the Knicks let it. Yes, there’s a lot the Knick’s can’t control in this series. They can’t magically restore Tyson Chandler to full strength, they can’t heal Iman Shumpert, no one can really tame JR Smith’s bonehead tendencies, and most importantly they can’t beat the Heat when they are at their best. If they want to, The Knicks can resign themselves to that fate and succumb to misfortune of their circumstance. But if they want to capture whatever chance they have left, they have to forget about the things beyond their reach, and focus on their own actions. They have to adjust their offensive game plan. They have to counter the fronting of Carmelo Anthony. They have to take much better care of the ball. Their doomsday fate isn’t reality just yet, but if the Knicks aren’t careful it will be soon.

A Preview of the First Round Playoff Series Between the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks

Conceptual Architecture

By Conrad Kaczmarek

While this has been the regular season without reason (copyright: Matt Moore), the upcoming series between the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks is essentially guaranteed to continue that trend. It’s not secret that the Hawks are one of the most inconsistent teams in the league and are driven by one of the most inconsistent players in the league, Josh Smith. Atlanta saw injury take down their best player, Al Horford, yet managed to secure home court advantage in this series.

Boston, meanwhile, was written off by nearly everybody in the first half of the season. Nobody gave them a chance, and rightfully so – they looked like garbage. Somewhere along the line, however, Doc Rivers found the fountain of youth and pointed it out to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The bottom line is that while you have come to me for analysis about this series, I offer you information with very little predictive value. I don’t see how anybody could. You’ve got the Hawks who are relying on Josh Smith to not take 18-foot jumpers and you’ve got the Celtics who are asking Avery Bradley and Greg Stiemsma to play major roles.

Everybody talks about how Rajon Rondo (another incredibly inconsistent player) steps up with the spotlight on him, but is a first round game against the Hawks a big enough stage to trigger supernova-national televised Rondo? Throughout these playoffs there will definitely be better series. There are teams with better players and better matchups. However, Boston-Atlanta brings that inconsistency factor that no other series can match. I expect the landscape of this series to change several times and I still haven’t made a pick that I feel confident about. So that’s what I’ve got for you: the architecture of this series is built on an incredibly shaky foundation. And that could make it awesome.

The Death of Reason

By Jared Dubin

The last time the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks met, on April 11, Rajon Rondo recorded a triple double. It was Rondo’s sixth triple double of the season, and the NBA’s 14th (there would be three more the rest of the season). He finished the game with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 20 assists. It was just the ninth 10-10-20 game – with assists – in the NBA since the 1985-86 season. Rondo has four of them, each coming in the last two years.

Rondo will hang at least one triple double on the Hawks during this series, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit the 20 assists plateau either. After all, he’s been quite successful against the Hawks this year. Since the All-Star break, Rajon is averaging 9.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 13.5 assists per game. He’s more in control of the Boston offense than ever before. Everything they do flows from how he manages the game. Whether he’s setting up Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass for mid-range jumpers, finding Avery Bradley on cuts to the basket, spotting Ray Allen behind the 3-point line out of the corner of his eye or dropping it off to Paul Pierce for a three, a mid-range jumper or an isolation play, Rondo is, more than ever, the engine that drives the Boston attack.

You have to figure that the Hawks will try to make Rondo beat them with his own offense and cut off his passing lanes, which should lead to some higher point totals from the point guard than might be typical. Even with Atlanta playing him that way, he’ll always get his assist numbers since he has the ball so much – And because Boston’s biggest offensive threats depend on him so much to create open looks for them. Let’s be honest here; Garnett, Piece and Allen are still very, very good players, but none of them is especially good at creating their own shot off the dribble anymore. The Celtics run their sets to get them slight openings for shots and Rondo gets them the ball in the right place at the right time – and especially because of those friendly scorekeepers in Boston. Rondo also has a height and rebounding advantage on Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, giving him the edge he needs to grab some more boards than he normally might.

And that’s why Rondo may not just put up one triple double in this series, he could actually average one. Before you go and call me crazy, think back to the 2009 Playoffs, where Rondo put up averages of 16.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game over the 14 contests Boston played. Now think about how much more important Rondo is to the Celtics now than he was three seasons ago, and how much he’s grown as a player and as a floor leader. Yeah, it’s possible.

Chemical Reactions, Plate Tectonics & You

By Conrad Kaczmarek

I know this may shock you, but I’m about to write about Josh Smith again. Personally, I think J-Smoove is one of the most fascinating players in the league. He’s got an outrageous amount of talent and can be an absolute game-changer…sometimes. When he feels like attack the basket and playing lockdown defense, he’s amazing. When he gets lazy and shoots jumpers, he’s less amazing. I guess the Celtics will match him up with Kevin Garnett and that could be a problem. If Smith is really motivated and wants to take over, I don’t think KG has the athleticism anymore to keep up with him. It will be an incredibly interesting matchup of KG’s obvious defensive prowess put up against the overwhelming athleticism of Smith. It’s a matchup that I believe Josh Smith could win, but Garnett’s defense has been otherworldly lately. Keep your eye on that one.

On the flip side, I have no idea who the Hawks will play at center for their major minutes. With Al Horford still not expected back for the playoffs, you’ve got guys like Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins as your next best option. Uh, really? That’s all you’ve got? Even since Doc Rivers switched Kevin Garnett over to the center position, he’s been awesome. So awesome that I believe he could ever matchup with the likes of Zaza Pachulia. Yeah, that awesome. The Hawks have a gaping hole at center like they have had all season. Now, however, a team will get up to 7 chances to exploit that hole. That’s going to be a big one as well.

As If We Knew

By Amin Vafa

Remember that one time when Boston played Atlanta in the first round? The year was 2008. Summer came early that year, and with it… you know, nevermind. Seriously though, that Boston-Atlanta series in 2008 was fantastic because it showcased the eventual champions having their hands full with below-.500 upstarts that had no business playing how they played. But it was AWESOME. The core parts of the rosters aren’t that different now (Pierce, Garnett, Rondo, Allen, JSmoove, Horford, Joe Johnson, Zaza). We know way more now about these two teams than we did in 2008 (the Big 3 were brand new in Boston and Atlanta hadn’t been to the postseason since we were all avoiding Sputnik’s purported wrath), but every time each of these teams hits the floor, we really don’t know what’s going to happen. Does Atlanta run plays? How are they playing better without Horford? What’s Boston’s tipping point from veteran to arthritis? Will Josh Smith shoot some ill-advised threes? Will Rondo have more than 23,607 assists in the series?

There are two major differences in this series that tip it in favor of the Celtics: Rondo and Horford. No Horford = No sanity. Everything in that front court is going to be Garnett & Smith & Ivan Johnson & Zaza Pachulia. Yikes! And Rondo. Ol’ Rajon. Yeah, if you’ve made it this far in the preview then you’ve heard enough about how he’s awesome.

Celtics in 5.