Tag Archives: Kendrick Perkins

RTOE: HP Mailbag Roundtable!

Welcome to the Hardwood Paroxysm Mail Bag Round Table Capitalized Compound Word Bonanza!

Thing are happening in the NBA, and there are no better people to answer questions about these things than the HP crew. And there are no better people to ask the questions about these things than you, the fans and readers. Although, sometimes we’re good at making up questions, too. But other times, fans and readers are great. Oh, and reporters. They’re good at asking questions. But DEFINITELY fans and readers (love you guys <3).

Seriously, thanks to everyone who took the time to hit us up on Twitter and Facebook and send in questions.

Roll call: Sean, Eric, Ananth, Jared, Noam, and ParoxyIntern. Trust these men to bring you the answers you not only want, but need.

1) Chris (Facebook): Do you trust this recent trend of NBA teams using the D-League or is it a fad that will go away?

Sean: I think the fact that teams such as the Blazers and Sixers are purchasing D-League teams is going to keep it in the conversation. The real test will come during the next CBA negotiations, when we see if the league and players’ union can come up with a system like baseball’s that allows teams to call up and send down players more freely.

Eric: This is totally dependent on the success of guys that went to the D-League, honed their skills, and came back to the NBA. If teams like the Thunder are going to send Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb to the D-League, and they come back and start killing it on the NBA level, then teams may look to emulate the OKC Model in the way front offices of rebuilding teams seek to emulate the Thunder’s approach to building a contender. On the flip side, Luke Harangody threw up a double-double in the D-League playoffs last year, but mostly just made fans want to throw up when they saw him play in the NBA level. No surprise the Cavs finally cut ties with him yesterday. The trend of using the D-League will continue if teams see a benefit; it won’t if they don’t.

Ananth: Thanks for the question Chris! Trust is crucial to any strong relationship but unfortunately not that many NBA teams have developed a strong relationship with their D-League affiliate. I don’t think it is a fad though, it seems like organizations are slowly coming around to building a proper minor league relationship with their D-League team. Boston does a good job with their affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, so does the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Philadelphia 76ers are rumored to being the old Utah Flash D-League team and moving the team to Pennsylvania. Hopefully more teams will join their ranks.

I once sat court side at a D-League game and watched a very raw Byron Mullens, who was playing for the Tulsa 66ers. These kids who were sitting next to me kept heckling him and at one point he took the ball out near us and said something to them which shut them right up. No real point to that story but it always makes me smile.

Jared: I want to trust it, but I don’t. Teams have never really used the D-League correctly before, so I don’t see why it would just start being the case now. Until they make it a full-fledged minor league system and stop docking teams an active roster spot when they send a player down, I don’t think teams will consistently use it the way it should be used.

Noam: I definitely don’t think it’s going away. There’s just been too much success with it – the Warriors having multiple callups make major contributions to the team (and eventually sign elsewhere – Dubs be Dubsin’), and Houston sending virtually every draft pick for seasoning and getting clear cut NBA players in return are two strong examples. It may spread slowly, but it will continue to spread.

ParoxyIntern: It is a fad that will go away. Chris, when was the last time, excluding the one and only Gerald Green, have you witnessed a NBA player make an impact after spending time in the D-League? NBA teams are trying to model the D-League after the Minor Leagues, but there is simply more talented baseball players then basketball players in the world.

2) David (Facebook): Have you seen a major impact from the new flopping rules?

Sean: Sure, there’s been an increase in “_________ is getting fined for that one” tweets in my timeline.

Eric: I don’t know if I would go as far as to say major yet, but it certainly hasn’t hurt matters. It’s hard to say whether flopping is truly down this year compared to previous seasons because no one really tracks that, but I will say it does not appear to be an epidemic like it was five years ago or so. Get back to me at the end of the season.

Ananth: Great question David! I personally have not seen a major impact from the new flopping rules but the fact that it is being discussed among players and coaches is significant. It will take some time to actually make an impact but it is a step in the right direction.

Jared: No.

Noam: Not really, and frankly, I doubt we will. Headline-grabbing rule changes tend to disapate once talking heads turn elsewhere (remember the harsher tech rules, or the new synthetic basketball?).

ParoxyIntern: Not really. That is because players will still yell and flop trying to sell the call. That is how they grow up playing. I am 16 and I have played some AAU myself so I know firsthand this flopping technique of selling a call was not learned in the NBA for these players, it was how they were taught. With that being said I do not see much of an impact from the rules.

3) Dan (Facebook) Size up the Bynum acquisition vs. the Bogut acquisition.

Sean: Bogut hasn’t provided close to the comedic value of Bynum’s hair and the bowling thing. Advantage: Philly.

Eric: Awful for both sides, but clearly worse for the Sixers. Bogut is at least under contract for another year so Golden State should, theoretically, be able to salvage something out of the trade. Bynum is a free agent next summer and it is extremely likely that he will never suit up for a single game with the Sixers. Just a dumpster fire of a situation all around.

Ananth: Danny boy, this is a really good question. Both players are 7’0″ feet but Andrew Bynum weighs 285 while Andrew Bogut only weighs 260 pounds.

Bynum has a 7’3″ wingspan but Bogut has him beat as he has a 7’6″ wingspan. So size wise they are pretty similar, but I will give the edge to Bynum and the 76ers because of his afro and Andrew Bogut looks too much like Ashley Simpson.

Jared: I keep going back and forth on this in my head, but I think I like the Bogut acquisition better. When healthy, he’s a top 5 defensive player in the league, and I don’t think you can say the same about Bynum on offense. The Bynum acquisition really changed the entire complexion of the Sixers. They went from being a defense-first share-the-ball team to one that would probably be offense-first and mostly based around getting the ball to one player, and that player hasn’t gotten on the court yet. It’s tough. The Bogut acquisition was really just filling in the last piece of the puzzle. He makes the Warriors roster make sense. He lets Lee do his thing on offense from the high post because Bogut is on the block. He can cover up for the defensive deficiencies of both Lee and Curry, and the stable of shooters Golden State can station around the perimeter is a good fit with his excellent low post passing.

Noam: Oft-injured, offensive cornerstone joins team going nowhere with major offensive issues vs. oft-injured, defensive cornerstone joins team going nowhere with major defensive issues. Pretty darn similar. The difference is, sadly, how oft-injured oft-injured can be. It’s been almost 3 years since Bogut was last an effective offensive player, while Bynum has at least shown short stretches of durability. This topic depresses me. Jrue Holiday! Steph Curry!

ParoxyIntern: They are very similar. Both huge risks. Both out indefinitely. Not a good acquisition for either team NOW, but at the time both looked like great deals for the Sixers and the Warriors. Honestly, I would be more worried to be a Sixers fan at this moment, because Bynum has a longer history of knee injuries then Bogut.

4) David (Facebook) Why is Pablo Prigioni the best? There is no wrong answer here.

Sean: Because he has the same first name as Bob Dylan’s teenage rapping grandson.

Eric: He’s 35 years old so he appeals to the older crowd. He’s a rookie so he appeals to the younger crowd. He runs the pick and roll well in an offense that is shifting away from more than just ISO-Melo. And he’s got a tremendous name.

Ananth:

Jared: ¡Pablocura! He’s pesky.

Noam: HE’S JUST SO HAPPY ABOUT EVERYTHING! It’s almost impossible to find something he doesn’t like. Here, I’ll show you. Pablo, how do you feel about J.R. Smith taking step back 32 footers?

ParoxyIntern: Because he is a 35 year old rookie!

5) Joe (Facebook): OJ mayo coming on strong. Main reason for his resurgence?

Sean: Not having to pretend to be a backup point guard anymore.

Eric: Environmental change? Has there been a player thrown into more Trade Machine scenarios over the past few years other than Pau Gasol and Mayo? He could have been a Pacer two different times but it fell apart in both instances. Maybe all he needed was a change of pace. Whatever it is, it’s paid dividends for the Mavs. He’s finally developed an efficient shooting stroke that’s led to career highs in field goal and three point percentages and his second highest free throw percentage since coming to the NBA.

Ananth: He changed his whole diet in the off-season and it has worked wonders – orange juice and mayo smoothies. Actually, a lot of the credit has to go to Rick Carlise and his system which is allowing Mayo to flourish. Mayo was a stud in high school and had a lot of hype surrounding him when he entered college. He probably will never match that hype but he is a damn good player and it is great to see him develop into a very solid NBA player.

Jared: Unsustainably hot 3-point shooting?

Noam: He’s making 51.2% of his threes. I really want to give him credit for being more aggressive (career high free throw rate, though not by a blowout) and for looking better without Lionel Hollins shackles (isn’t it weird how hit-or-miss Hollins is as a coach? He gets either 300% or 20% from everybody with no in-between), but if he took the same shots and shot his normal 38%-ish fromt three he’s the same guy he’s always been with more opportunities and less depressed glances at his feet.

ParoxyIntern: In Dallas, the guard position is not close to as crowded as it was in Memphis. Memphis had many players who played similar positions to OJ and played similar styles( Rudy Gay, Xavier Henry, and Tony Allen). Currently in Dallas he has no other competition. The fact that Dirk has been out for the whole season so far also makes OJ the number one guy in Dallas which is something he never was in Memphis.

6) @TheDissNBA (Twitter): Is Hasheem Thabeet better than Kendrick Perkins?

Sean: Most people are better than Kendrick Perkins.

Eric: On November 30, 2012, yes. Thabeet has outperformed Perkins in just about every main category (per 36 minutes) like points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage. Advanced stats are in favor of Thabeet too. Oh, and Thabeet is making $7 million less than Perk this year making him a better front office value as well.

Ananth: It’s funny but this is a valid question due to improvement in Thabeet’s play this season. Basically the only claim to fame Kendrick Perkins has is that the Boston Celtics never lost a playoff series with Perkins in the starting lineup. He is a solid low post defender though and am not sure if Thabeet can match up with some of better centers in the league. It is important to note that Thabeet comes off the bench so plays against second string centers and forwards.Perkins still has the edge over Hasheem “The Dream” but if Thabeet keeps it up he could eventually surpass Perkins, the potential is there.

Jared: Thabeet has all the better individual numbers: points and rebounds and free throws per-36 minutes, FG%, PER, TS%, TRB%, STL%, BLK%, O-Rtg, D-Rtg, WS/48, but he still fouls way too much, can’t stop turning it over (~30% of his possessions) and the team is better with Perkins on the floor than Thabeet (though that has a lot to do with Perk playing with the starters and Thabeet only playing with the bench guys). Basically, I don’t know, and I don’t know if that says more about Thabeet or Perkins.

Noam: ………yes? Oh god, Nenad Krstic was the best player in the Green-Perk trade, wasn’t he?

ParoxyIntern: No. His upside was and still is incredible which is why it is good to have a player like that on your team. But to answer your question, he is not better than Perkins. Perkins is much bigger and stronger which helps on the boards as well as defensively against opposing centers.

7) From my friend Mike via text message: Can you get the HP scientists on how Rashard Lewis shoots with a slomo rotation on every shot?

Sean: PEDs

Eric:

Ananth: No science involved. It’s an art.

Jared: It’s all in the hips.

Noam: Rashard actually shoots fastmo. It’s just that his time scale is different than ours because he’s a million years old.

ParoxyIntern: He was taught that way in his early childhood and I guess it has worked for him, so props to him.

8) BONUS (from me): What do you think of Pop benching his big dawgs?

Sean: #TeamPop all day.

Eric: Did it suck for the fans? Yeah. Did it suck for TNT and those who worked on it? Absolutely. But did he have every right to do it? Yes. Shockingly, last night turned into one of the more entertaining games of the season. I was pulling for the Spurs all night, if only to get a Pop post-game press conference where he remixed Shaq’s “Tell Me How My Ass Tastes” rap for David Stern.

Ananth: I love it. This was a controversial topic yesterday on Twitter and even David Stern weighed in on the issue. I believe in the Spurs and am all for them extending their season any way possible. In the long run this is just one game in the first month of the regular season.

Jared: I didn’t care at all until all the moralizing that came along with it. Now I care because everyone’s being so high-and-mighty about it and it’s really annoying.

Noam: I was initially mad at him for ruining my TNT Thursday. Then Nando De Yolo and Tiago Splitter played such a fun game that I didn’t care anymore. Pop is hilarious, scrubs playing basketball is fun, and any talk about Substantial Sanctions is ridiculous.

ParoxyIntern: I am confused. I think this is smart to let them rest, but this is not allowed. This is equivalent to tanking a season but in this case it is just a game. I respect Pop as a coach but I hope that David Stern does something about this because if not, it won’t be good for the NBA.

Stinkface Chronicles: Griffin and the Greats

"Where'd you learn to dunk? Finishing school?" via imaginaryyear.com

With the exception of Kobe Bryant’s three-game 40-point run — his middle finger to Father Time — Ricky Rubio going all “Pistolero” on the NBA and The Jeremy Lin Experience (Have you ever really been experienced?), this truncated NBA season hasn’t provided a the range of exquisite flavors an 82-game season does.

As opposed to the grind of a full season (which I don’t mind because it allows players, teams and story lines to develop), this lockout-truncated season has been more meat grinder. It has been more about what’s missing. First, it was the league itself. Now, it’s the players’ health. By the end, it may be their sanity because squeezing 66 games into just under 130 days is plain crazy.

That’s not to say there haven’t been sublime NBA moments this season. Considering these are The Stinkface Chronicles, you’ll note that I take note of those that have been above the rim. Here are the five I’ve enjoyed most so far.

DeAndre Jordan on Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, Dec. 19, 2011

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gDMERiw9Vs

This one happened during the preseason in December, which just goes to show you how weird this season has been. But this flush on the Lakers’ formidable frontline not only provided a glimpse into the denizens of Lob City (ironic, though it was a bounce pass off a pick-and-roll) but also harkened back to another preseason perpetration of Staples-on-Staples crime and the first entry in The Stinkface Chronicles. The Clippers’ bench — and Lakers haters — took great glee in this one, though Lakers’ fans could counter that the Clips should have been whistled for a technical foul for having 12 men on the court after Jordan’s flush.

4. Vince Carter on Emeka Okafor, Jan. 7, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efxVcT7GpDk

It’s vintage Vince, the greatest in-game dunker in NBA history and it’s beautiful. Also, that’s the fastest Brendan Haywood has moved in quite some time, even with Delonte West riding shotgun.

3. Dwyane Wade on Landry Fields, Jan. 27, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEsQm3cxw2A

Wade shows Fields the ball, loops it around Fields’ noggin and then slams said ball on said noggin’. Euro-steppin’.

2. LeBron James on/over John Lucas III, Jan. 29, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvjjEtjwKHE

Here’s a little bit of trivia for you: who was the announcer when Vince Carter unleashed “Le Dunk du Morte“? On the US broadcast, it was Mike Breen, who had a similar reaction to Bron’s dunk as Doug Collins’ did to Vince’s. Breen chuckles a little like Santa Claus — “Hohohoho” — as he should because these two dunks were the best gifts any dunk connoisseur could receive. (An aside, when I saw LeBron’s slam, all I could think of was Collins’ “he jumped over his heeeeaaad” commentary.)

1. Blake Griffin on Kendrick Perkins, Jan. 30, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w_Vy0lDk_A

I rate this slightly ahead of LeBron’s dunk because Lucas didn’t see it coming while Perkins knew full well what he was getting into. Perkins’ act of engagement (and aiding his rise by graciously providing his chest as a step stool) helped make this the dunk* of the season … thus far. So, we thank you, Kendrick.

As for Griffin’s full-fledged assault on Perkins’ puss, we can’t call it the greatest dunk of all-time. That belongs to Vince in 2000. I’ll also argue it doesn’t belong in the Top 10* on two points: One, it had a precedent, specifically Griffin’s throwdown on Timofey Mozgov in the 2010-11 season; and, two: neither were technically dunks as Griffin threw both into the rim instead of grabbing the rim. While I won’t be too much of a Grinch to give the plays their due, I can’t put either into the greatest of all time because of it. What follows is a list of my favorite all-time dunks in an NBA game. Make it yours, because, really, you can’t go wrong when you reference them.

FAVORITE IN-GAME DUNKS OF ALL-TIME (PRE-2011-12 EDITION)

Amar’e Stoudemire on Michael Olowokandi

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mbLdZlQC1U&feature=fvst

This dunk is the genesis of The Stinkface Chronicles. We thank thee, Amar’e and you as well, Starbury. Your expression speaks volumes. (For more Amar’e, check out a similar destruction of Anthony Tolliver.)

Dwyane Wade on Kendrick Perkins

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cYau7gba5Y

Now, this is a dunk on Kendrick Perkins.

John Starks on Michael Jordan*

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCTfxOrX4k8

OK, it technically wasn’t on Jordan, but he was in the picture and I just wanted to remind everyone about that.

Dominique Wilkins on Larry Bird

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ngtWdgOz0o

Bird looks like he was shot out of the sky.

Baron Davis on Andrei Kirilenko

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYpwjB0IzoU

Isn’t it amazing what Baron Davis can do when he’s in shape and interested?

Tom Chambers on Mark Jackson

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7T_Wg5ilo8

This dunk has the Chris Webber seal of approval.

Shawn Kemp on the Knicks

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVm6USjXAzk

While most people will give Kemp props for his destruction of Alton Lister, I prefer this one because of the degree of difficulty. A double-pump reverse on two defenders? Get the hell outta here /NewYorkvoice. (It’s No. 3 in this compilation which includes classics such as Chris Gatling giving the Reignman his props and Kemp putting a knee into Bill Laimbeer’s onions.)

Julius Erving on Michael Cooper

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCT9QyqhkBU

From the cradle to the crowd rising, like the crest of a wave, as Dr. J skims across the Spectrum floor to Chick Hearn’s call of the cradle (“Way … he rocks the baby to sleep…”) to Michael Cooper going into the fetal position to Beard Dude, everything about this is cool.

Vince Carter on Alonzo Mourning

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcU66xdeGck

Carter, the greatest in-game dunker in NBA history, (I need to trademark that), has more than his share of show-stoppers, but Carter goes chest-to-chest with Zo, one of the more feared shotblockers in NBA history, and destroys him. I had this saved on my DVR for more than two years. I wish I still had it.

Michael Jordan on Patrick Ewing

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1R015PScpTM

Oh, no, Jordan’s trapped in the corner by two Knicks. Wait, no he isn’t. But, oh no, there’s no way he’s going to the make it to the hoop. Ewing is there to block it … Never mind. A seven-foot obstacle is no impediment. After Jordan stares down Ewing, you can hear Cliff Livingston go, “Wooohoohoo!” as he mock sprints from the scene of the crime. Or, later in the highlight, Walt “Clyde” Frazier noted that Jordan was gyratin’ and vibratin’ and manages to get a Diet Pepsi commercial all in one comment.

This one play may encapsulate Michael Jordan’s gifts better than any play in his career: the improvisation, the athleticism, the competitiveness. Of all the great dunks in Jordan’s career, this one rises above the rest.

Revealing An Iceberg

My initial reaction to Kobe Bryant’s comments during last night’s game were ones of anger, considerable anger. I didn’t react that way because I’m a “Kobe hater,” or because I wish ill on the Lakers. I was angry at the nature of the comments, the insensitivity for which Bryant happened to be responsible.

Kobe Bryant is an icon in the NBA, a figure who transcends basketball and stands for leadership, perseverance, and plenty of other values. To see him use derogatory language was disappointing, as he should know better. The normative question as to whether athletes should be considered role models is a loaded one, and one that will probably remain insoluble. With that said, it is irrelevant in this case. What matters is that Bryant is seen as a role model, whether he likes it or not, and he has to act accordingly. What he said was not compatible with his role-model persona.

On Wednesday afternoon, Bryant issued some haphazard comments to get out in front of the story:

“My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period,” he said. “The words expressed do not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone.”

In the wake of the situation, Bryant made the right decision to respond right away. The problem, though, is that these remarks aren’t very meaningful. He didn’t really apologize for himself, only for the misfortune of the situation. He’s a very proud man, and it’s understandable that he had a problem with admitting guilt for harm he didn’t intend. In this instance, though, intent is irrelevant.

There’s no contention that Bryant was complimenting Bennie Adams when he uttered the regrettable slur in his direction. It was a negative comment. That’s undeniable. By expressing his disgust with those words in a negative connotation, he necessarily implied discriminatory feelings toward the homosexual community.

But the real tragedy of the situation isn’t that Kobe used this phrase. It’s used quite frequently, probably among the NBA community, and he was just the guy to get caught on national TV (For those who think this bad luck excuses his behavior, though, that’s bogus. It was the same luck in the genetic lottery that got Bryant to the NBA.). The real tragedy is that Bryant is only a notorious representative of a pervasive toxin plaguing our entire society. It is, for whatever reason, still socially tolerated and commonplace to discriminate against the homosexual community in casual conversation, and Bryant was an eye-opening reminder of that societal glitch.

There’s a discrepancy between the reception of words like the one Bryant used and that of racial, religious, or gender-based slurs. If a white NBA player were to use the N-word in a derogatory context to or about another black player, that would be egregious and met with duly severe castigation. Why, then, is society lagging behind in attaching the same stigma to homosexual slurs? Until those words are just as socially taboo, a problem needs solving.

When the NBA levied its $100,000 fine on Bryant later in the afternoon, it was a step in the right direction. That’s chump change for Bryant, honestly, but it sends a message that the league is not going to tolerate this type of insensitivity from its players. Still, this should be just the first step in a series of moves to push reforms for the league.

In everyday society, there is no way to discourage people from committing these acts of discrimination. They’re protected by the freedom of speech and driven by personal insecurities. The NBA has no such problem. As a private, controlled body, the league has the power to forbid this type of behavior by its players. In that way, the NBA has the potential to be a major agent of social change by setting an example, serving as a pioneer of social justice in the spotlight.

So here’s what David Stern should do: outlaw a specific list of slurs. When a player uses a word, fine him. Or suspend him. Or institute mandatory sensitivity training for that violator. Considering all the no-tolerance policies already in place with regard to performance-enhancing drugs, apparel, social media, or anything else, this shouldn’t be that much of a step up. It’s an easy solution to an ignored problem.

Consider this Tweet from Matt Moore:

If our priorities are so messed up that we chide one player for standard conduct and shrug off another player for being socially despicable, there needs to be improvement. And it needs to come soon.

Kobe Bryant might have been caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. But he’s a figurehead of a society with a flaw. And that figurehead has to be held accountable. Fortunately for him, there’s a chance something great comes out of all this.

The Vulnerability Of Arrogance

Photo via mrocki1 on Flickr

Maybe it was Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals that led to Danny Ainge trading Kendrick Perkins.

Even without the defensive stalwart thwarting scoring attempts in the lane the Boston Celtics still led the Los Angeles Lakers with less than seven minutes to play. A loss meant his team – a year older – would only be that much hungrier entering the 2011 playoffs, eager to win another championship before the triumvirate of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were no longer capable of elevating their play to the highest level. Certainly with Rajon Rondo blossoming into a superstar and the emergence of Glen Davis as a viable frontcourt presence, meant it was time to start thinking about the next wave of Celtic teams beyond the Big Three.

The opportunity to acquire a young, athletic wing player who could shoulder some of the load for Allen and Pierce wasn’t one that could be passed up – could it? Even with the asking price of Perkins, surely Garnett and the Brothers O’Neal were capable of maintaining Boston’s suffocating interior defense.

On second thought – perhaps it was Ainge’s arrogance that manifested itself in this trade.

The emotional impact is undeniable and was readily apparent in the reactions of Perkins’ former teammates when they learned of the news. The physical effects have been even more pronounced, resulting in a 15-12 record since the trade and a significant blow to Boston’s trademark defense. Derrick Rose’s endless barrage of forays to the basket last Thursday in a loss to the Bulls wasn’t an aberration, rather a nationally televised unmasking of the Celtics dirty little secret – the soft underbelly that is now their ability to defend the rim sans Perkins.

From an overall statistical standpoint, Boston remains one of the best interior defenses in the NBA. This however is an empty facade, a result of their first 55 games, which saw them limit opponents to 59.4% shooting at the rim, a percentage bested only by the Miami Heat. To be fair, Perkins was absent for a large portion of these games, with Jermaine and Shaq handling much of the interior duties, but suddenly with those two succumbing to injury and Perkins gone, things have digressed. In the 27 games since Perkins was dealt that initially pristine mark has swelled to nearly 64%, this puts the Celtics nearly on the league median. But the absence of Perkins goes far beyond numbers: Boston is suddenly vulnerable in a way we haven’t seen in years.

In a game rich with young guards who continually push the boundaries of their position, size remains directly correlated with success. The Lakers – for all of the adjectives used to describe Kobe Bryant – can point to their overwhelming frontcourt advantage as the base on which their back-to-back championship teams have been built. San Antonio and Chicago can point to the ability to defend the area around the rim as helping to propel them to the top seed in their respective conference playoffs. Is it any wonder that Oklahoma City has suddenly become an even bigger threat out west after providing a strong complement to Serge Ibaka inside? Boston’s intimidation factor is gone – teams aren’t deterred from driving the lane, an act that at best used to be cautionary.

Beyond his presence as an unselfish defender though, the void left by Perkins may be the single biggest argument for those that so staunchly oppose the statistical revolution. As much as I enthrall myself in the world of advanced stats, I do understand the need to sometimes throw caution to the wind and let the emotional aspect of the game have its due. The Celtics thrived on this emotion, dating back to that championship season, when they embraced the concept of Ubuntu.

Yet Ainge’s insistence that his (somewhat) failed offseason acquisitions in Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal could sustain the Perkins presence, not merely his production, was shortsighted. Boston may be better suited for the day when the Big Three retire and yes they got something in exchange for Perkins in the present, rather than losing him to free agency, but at what cost? A team once revered for its cohesiveness and lauded for its postseason play, has lost its edge and more importantly, likely its last chance at a title.

Is it unconventional that on a veteran laden team the loss of a 26-year-old proves to be its undoing? Of course, but then again, very little about Boston’s run of the last four years has been conventional. Now in a postseason filled with young and hungry sharks, the Celtics sudden vulnerability is akin to blood in the water and their life raft is wearing a new uniform.

NBA Finals Lakers-Celtics Game 7: Hey, Look! It’s ANOTHER Game 7 Primer!

Holy crap!

It’s Game Seven. GAME FREAKING SEVEN! This is what it’s all about. Instead of trying to find some clever way to tell you how big this game is even though you already know and you’ve already read about 20 Game Seven previews that try to wax poetically about the final game of the year, I’m just going to do what I do best – babble on until I run out of things to say:

Apparently, Perkins Can’t Play On Crutches
So Kendrick Perkins is out. The bum decided two torn ligaments in his knee were too much. Just kidding. This is a bummer for me and hopefully for everybody. I’ve been a huge fan of Perk over the last three years. He’s so good defensively and I don’t think a ton of people realize it. Pretty much every blogger knows it and a lot of the people that read those blogs know it too. But the casual fan has no clue how good Kendrick is defensively. All they see is the angry scowl and the fact that he doesn’t have an upper lip and they just assume he’s an overgrown toddler. One more game probably wasn’t going to change public opinion or public awareness of the impact Kendrick Perkins has but I still wanted to see him and both teams at full strength heading into the final game of the 2009-2010 campaign.

I know Bynum is hurt but he’s able to play hurt. Perk is hugely injured. There’s a huge difference. I just hope that the Celtics don’t use that as an excuse if they lose to the Lakers tonight. They most likely won’t but at the same time, the absence of Bynum is banged on about when talking about the 2008 NBA Finals. These teams are good enough to win without their center.

The Celtics Are Going To Be Fine Without Him
Even though KP is out for probably the next year, the Celtics aren’t toast or even an English muffin. Yes, it sucks that he’s out but the Celtics can easily survive this fact. The key is going to be the first quarter of this game. KG and Rasheed will have to play their butts off and stay out of foul trouble in the first 12 minutes of the ball game. Once the Lakers send Andrew Bynum to the bench, the Celtics have evened up the advantage that the Lakers size gives for the rest of the game. When Bynum goes to the bench, his knee will swell up like the Fourth of July (just go with it). When that happens, the Lakers will have inserted Lamar Odom into the lineup and that’s when Big Baby can check into the game and play a human version of Plinko as he slams into every peg on the floor.

I’m not saying this is easy by any means. Andrew Bynum will be able to dominate in the first quarter if the Lakers look for him. This Celtics team with Perkins can handle Bynum. This Celtics team without Perk cannot. But once he sits for the first time in this game, the knee expands and the pain decides to pull up a chair and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. So if you’re the Celtics, just endure through Bynum’s first stint.

Hitting The Boards Wins The Game
So far in this series, if you want to win any given game then you have to win the rebounding battle. The winning team in each game has won the rebounding edge. Without the healthiness of Andrew Bynum or the existence of Kendrick Perkins, that leaves the majority of the rebounding to Glen Davis and Lamar Odom. I think that whoever has this assignment is going to have to put a body on these guys constantly. Kendrick Perkins said that Big Baby needed “11 rebounds” in this game. I’d say the same for Lamar. For some reason, they have a really easy time of getting to the basket for rebounds. They just have to choose to be aggressive in doing so. Win the rebounding, save the cheerleader, win the championship.

Regardless Of What Happens, You Can’t Blame Ron Artest
There is going to be a certain backlash at the Ron Artest signing if the Lakers lose the NBA Finals. People are going to pretend that Trevor Ariza would have made a huge difference in this series or any other series. It’s all crap. You can’t blame a loss on one player in this series. Is Ron Artest a good shooter? No. Trevor Ariza is probably a better overall shooter in terms of sheer ability. Although, I think the difference is damn near negligible.

However, Trevor Ariza wasn’t a great shooter during his time in Los Angeles. He had a good stretch of shooting when the games were most important but for the most part, he was just an okay shooter. He’s also a different type of defender than what Ron Artest brings to the table. Paul Pierce would have had to get a little more lift on his jumper but he could have created the necessary space to shoot jumpers much easier against Ariza. Artest may have struggled guarding Pierce over the past couple of games but most defenders do (even the elite ones). Ron came in and did his job this year. He hasn’t really been THAT bad on offense during the season or post-season. Sure he’s had his moments but it’s not like he’s been atrocious every time out.

I Thought This Would Be A Good Time To Drop This In (via SB Trey)

Pau Gasol Isn’t Soft
Stop saying Pau Gasol is soft. He’s not. Was he soft two years ago against the Celtics? Maybe. I don’t know for sure because I’m not quite sure what it truly means to be soft. Does him being European make him soft or does it just make him European? Was he soft in the 2009 Finals when he was shutting down Dwight Howard? Didn’t seem like it to me. Just because he’s having a hit-or-miss Finals against the Celtics doesn’t mean he’s not tough enough to be good. He’s proven he can come through in big games. It’s just hard to score against Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. It doesn’t mean he’s soft; it means he’s human.

EVERYBODY Flops
Lakers fans and Celtcs fans need to come to some sort of resolution on the idea of complaining about flopping. Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher flop an inordinate amount on the court. Paul Pierce flops more than a school of fish that have decided to hoof it on dry land in the Gulf Coast because the water makes them feel like they’re in some sort of Fear Factor challenge. In fact, MOST PLAYERS IN THE NBA FLOP! You guys have go to stop complaining and pretending like the other side is the only side that flops.

Let’s Not Be Stupid And Blame The Refs
Conspiracy theories are just stupid. I get that they’re fun to volley back and forth with the casual fan. But for the most part, they’re just stupid. With that said, I think the officiating has been pretty good. I’ll happily admit that the refs were all over the place in the first three games. Game One was weird. Game Two was called way too tightly and in Game Three was a lot looser than anybody was prepared for. But Game Four and Game 5 (outside of the questionable fourth quarter) were actually officiated quite well. Game Six was good too even if the in-game competition wasn’t exactly legendary.

You can’t say that there was a conspiracy to get this series to a Game Seven because Game Six couldn’t really have been less competitive. You can’t say that the league put these two teams in the Finals because it would get the ratings because 1) Cavs-Lakers would have been much bigger ratings (easier to pull in the casual fan) and 2) how big could the conspiracy be if the result is a series that couldn’t even get better ratings than the USA-England World Cup match? These two teams are in the Finals because they’re the two best teams. And they’re going to a seventh game because they’re the two best teams and a fairly even matchup across the board. Embrace and enjoy.

Kobe’s Legacy Will Be Unaffected
Kobe Bryant is one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball. He’s not THE best player of all time. Jordan was better. But he’s still one of the best. Could probably make the argument that he’s the second best player of all-time. But this game is not going to dramatically raise or drop his place in the lore of the history of the NBA. It’s just not. Let’s say he scores 50 points and points 48, 49 and 50 are on a tough fadeaway three-pointer as time expires to win the game and the NBA title. Does that make him better than he already was/is? What if he misses that shot and just has to live with 47 points, an NBA Finals loss and a missed chance to make a historical moment? What if the Celtics decide to completely take him out of the game and force him to pass nearly every time down the floor? How does this change the legacy of a guy who has won MVP awards and four NBA titles?

I just find it hard to believe that the 48 minutes played tonight has a huge impact on a guy that has already logged over 40,000 minutes in the NBA and been as accomplished as Kobe is. The Jordan argument is moot but the Magic Johnson argument is very alive. I get that. But couldn’t you make a really strong case that Kobe is already the greatest Laker of all-time? If he wins tonight with a spectacular showing, couldn’t you still make a really convincing argument that Magic Johnson is still the greatest Laker of all-time? I just think at this point Kobe’s legacy is cemented and we’re just trying to iron out the final details over the next couple years.

Paul Pierce’s Legacy Will Be Affected
Now this may sound a little hypocritical but Paul Pierce’s legacy IS affected by the outcome of tonight’s game. Yes, Pierce has already accomplished a lot in the NBA and is probably a Hall of Fame player. He’s probably going to get his jersey retired by the Celtics someday too. But winning a second title and being a multiple NBA championship winner makes a huge difference in how you’re remembered. Once you’ve won more than one title, it’s sort of just piling up the wins and accomplishments. But making that leap is huge for how you’re remembered and Pierce knows that.

He wants to be remembered as one of the best Celtics of all-time and rightfully so. He’s had a great career in Beantown. He probably hears the way the older fans talk about Hondo, Cousy, Cowens Russell, Bird, etc. and wants to be mentioned in that group. A second title goes a long way into putting him in that end of the memory bank. Pierce has been sensational over his career. People don’t realize just how good he is. For a five-year stretch, he wasn’t just an incredible offensive talent that made a ton of clutch shots but he was also a pretty savvy defender that held his own with guarding the elite scorers in the NBA. Pierce needs this second title more than Kobe needs his fifth.

THIS IS GAME FLIPPING SEVEN!
Now that you’ve perused nearly 2,000 words up until this point, I’d like you to forget everything you just read. Because ultimately, it shouldn’t impact how you think about this game or watch this game tonight. This is Game Seven of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics. This has only happened four times in NBA history up until this moment. Hell, a Game Seven in the NBA Finals has only happened 16 times in NBA history before tonight. This is the type of closure that your ex-girlfriend could only dream of.

So you know what you should do? Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Don’t get caught up in complaining about the officiating unless it’s truly horrible. Don’t let your disdain for certain players make you scream at the top of your lungs, wishing a plague upon him and his family. Don’t take this game personally. Just sit back and enjoy it. I’m going to be watching this game with a gigantic smile on my face. This is what we hoped for all season long – a Game Seven of the NBA Finals that causes every player on the floor to give every last ounce of effort they have in their bodies. Think about the game we’re going to see from Kobe Bryant. Think about the game we’re going to see from Rondo, Ray, Pierce and KG. Doesn’t that make you giddy to anticipate the show we’re going to see tonight? Your adrenaline should be pumping all day.

A Game Seven in the NBA Finals hasn’t happened since 2005 and before that it hadn’t happened since 1994. This is a rare thing. This is a treat for good behavior. This is the basketball gods smiling upon us and rewarding us for loving a sport so pure and perfect in its design. This is what we’ve all pretended would happen for us in the driveway while we let our imagination take us to the biggest stage. These guys have done the same thing too. Yes, they’re professional athletes with more money than God. Yes, they live a blessed and ridiculous lifestyle that we could never imagine. But they were once in that driveway or bedroom with the Nerf hoop or park with their friends pretending to play out a moment that will actually come for them tonight. Their dreams coincide with our dreams and come true tonight.

Sit back, relax and enjoy history. I know I will.

NBA Finals: Celtics Need To Attack The Lakers Bigs With Rabies

“You should attack their big man like you’re trying to give him rabies.”

Earlier in our season (did you forget I coach JV high school basketball?), we faced a team that built their offense and defense around one of the lankiest 15-year olds you could ever see. He wasn’t abnormally tall by any means. He was about 6’3”, which is sort of incredibly tall for a 15-year old, but it’s not like he was Manute Bol out there. For the sake of the story and keeping anonymity, we’ll call this player Seal.

We’re going to call him Seal for a couple of reasons. First, he sort of looked like Seal without all of that facial scarring. Second, it gives me a tangential opening to mention that I was in Chicago last weekend and in Chicago I got to sing Kiss From A Rose with Trey Kerby while driving around. It was pretty great.

Anyway, Seal was a very sound, fundamental defender against our team. His arm length was almost cartoonish and he used it to perfectly defend a lot of shots coming into the painted area. He rarely went for the pump fakes, he kept his arms high in the air to intimidate our players and he timed every passive aggressive shot taken around him perfectly. He blocked at least nine shots in the first half of the game, as our guys were scared to challenge him.

And he wasn’t just protecting the rim well either. He kept the ball high on offense and put it up only when the shot was there. He also controlled the boards against our guys. It sounds simple but he just jumped as high as he could and secured the ball. He didn’t tap it all over the place before grabbing it. He just grabbed it.

At halftime, we ripped into our guys for being afraid of Seal. Our big men were better than him and we all knew it. They were just playing scared. And by being scared of his length and shot-blocking ability, they allowed him to dictate everything inside. I told our team the same quote that sits atop this post. Attack Seal like you’re trying to give him rabies. Be the more aggressive dog in the fight. It actually took the smallest player on our team to turn things around.

He gave up more than a foot in height to Seal but he had no fear. He went right at Seal on the first couple possessions of the second half and perfectly used his floater to protect shots. He jumped into him to create contact and knock him back a little. He gave Seal a different look than what he had seen all game long – aggressiveness. This aggressiveness not only showed the team that getting your shot blocked was nothing to be afraid of, it also got Seal out of position inside. All of a sudden we were grabbing rebounds and getting putbacks inside. Seal had to reach over our players to protect his rim and he was getting into foul trouble the other team couldn’t afford to have him in.

By the end of the game, Seal was on the bench with about 16 blocked shots and five fouls. He fouled out because we attacked him with purpose. We ended up dominating the boards in the second half because we didn’t allow him to control everything. It was an easy win with a good lesson to our guys that they shouldn’t let the other team’s big man control the interior.

When I look at this Celtics-Lakers Finals so far, the overall message rings true throughout. Now there are a couple of differences. I don’t think the Celtics are afraid of the length inside. The Celtics are a big team on their own. KG, Perk, Sheed and Big Baby provide a formidable frontline. The problem is the size of the Lakers frontcourt with Gasol and Bynum can completely neutralize that. Also, there is no Dikembe Mutombo or Mark Eaton (what up, Devine?) protecting the basket. But the Lakers have still done a pretty incredible job of protecting the basket. They’ve blocked 31 shots in the first four games of this series with 28 of them coming in the first three games.

The Lakers length presents a problem that the Celtics can fix in three ways and it’s all about Boston being aggressive in the way they do things.

1) Don’t Be Afraid to Attack the Basket
I don’t know that I’d say the Celtics were afraid to attack the basket in the first three games. They were blocked 28 times and actually won the points in the paint battle 116-112. But whenever Gasol and Bynum are in there together, there seems to be a bit of trepidation. Part of that could be the good team defense the Lakers are playing. With the way they’re helping, it’s easy to think twice about attacking and if you’re hesitating then it’s going to kill a lot of advantages.

This biggest way to fix this is to find ways to get Rajon Rondo to the basket without a lot of long limbs challenging his layups. Big Baby was great in Game Four in the way he smothered the interior. But that can be defended pretty easily with better effort and positioning by the Lakers bigs. Also, Lamar Odom pretending he cares would also be a great way to combat Davis. The more important thing is getting Rondo into the paint with good opportunities to score. Assuming the Lakers can’t block his shot so easily (six times in the first three games), even if Rondo misses the Celtics should be in a great position to grab the offensive boards and get good putback opportunities.

2) Grab the freaking ball!
Kevin Garnett used to be THE standard for NBA rebounding. During his days in Minnesota (chest pains for me right now), he had to do it all and a lot of the Wolves rebounding advantages were because of KG’s insistence on owning the boards. Since he’s been in Boston, the Celtics have been a good enough team to not need so much effort out of him. He’s able to concentrate on defense first, defense second and everything else third. Perhaps that lack of need for his boarding has turned him into a slightly above average rebounder instead of the all-world specimen he used to be. I’m sure the ravaging his knee took over the course of a couple of years hasn’t helped either.

KG used to be so great at tipping the boards to himself because he’s always been longer and more athletic than his opponents. He was able to tip the ball until it was safe to just grab it so he could fire a good outlet pass to his guards. With the declining athleticism and the great length of the holy Bynum-Gasol-Odom triumvirate, Garnett and the rest of the Celtics no longer have that luxury. When KG taps the ball to himself, Gasol and Odom have the length and the athleticism to match him or overwhelm him on the boards. They’re able to steal a lot of 50/50 balls because it’s still up for grabs. When Big Baby was dominating the offensive glass in Game Four, he just went after the ball and snatched it out of the air. He didn’t play badminton with it.

Kevin Garnett’s rebounding is really important to the Celtics success. They need to win two out of the next three games for banner number 18. That’s a 66.7 win percentage needed. Well, it’s no coincidence that since Garnett has joined the Celtics in 2007, they’re winning 69.8% of their games (including playoffs) when KG grabs nine rebounds or more in a game. He has to simply go grab the basketball.

Tipping the ball to yourself probably works against Boris Diaw, Kenny Thomas and Amare Stoudemire. But against the length of the Lakers and thieves like Kobe Bryant, it widens the margin for error on closing out defensive stops for Boston.

3) Be quick but don’t hurry… actually, Kendrick, you need to hurry
One of the most frustrating things for me to watch in the NBA is Kendrick Perkins in possessions of the ball around the basket. He’s the epitome of what you don’t want to teach young big men do around the rim. Especially against a frontline like the Lakers employ, you have to be quick to the basket. Kendrick Perkins moves around like the Tin Man when he hasn’t seen an oil can in months (insert BP joke I wasn’t clever enough to think of here).

Perkins could get a lot of easy buckets in this game and put a lot of pressure on the Lakers by racking up these easy points. Instead, he gets the ball and then allows someone to hit the slow motion button on him as he tries to get the ball up to the basket. Perk isn’t taller than most big men he faces and he isn’t all that athletic so it’s easy to see why he’d be careful around the basket. But he has to find ways go up quickly with the ball. He’s like one of those chattering teeth you wind up. Except, whenever you want to show someone how they move you always forget to wind it up enough for a full show. It ends up stopping abruptly and anti-climactically. So you have to wind it up a second time and by then the mystique of a spring loaded toy has been washed away in disappointment.

Well, Perk seems to always need that second wind up around the rim. Except when he finally gets it, there is a Laker around to block or challenge his shot. Kendrick has only taken 18 shots in this series but he’s been blocked five times. That’s an absurd percentage that would make Carlos Boozer blush.

Overall, the Celtics aren’t exactly getting killed in this series. It’s 2-2 and they have a chance to protect their homecourt and head back to Los Angeles tonight with a 3-2 lead. The easiest way for them to do this is to attack the paint much like Glen Davis did and find ways to get the Lakers size and length out of position.

In other words, go out and give them rabies.

NBA Playoffs Celtics Magic Game 5: Apparently Kendrick Perkins Is An MVP

A brief overview in order of importance regarding what cost the Celtics Game 5:

  1. Magic shooting
  2. Poor defense
  3. J.J. Redick running pick and roll
  4. Dwight Howard killing everything in sight (including Kendrick Perkins for his quarter and a half)
  5. Ray Allen 3-11
  6. Paul Pierce 3-8
  7. Kevin Garnett 5-14 (!)
  8. etc.
  9. etc.
  10. etc.
  11. etc.
  12. etc.
  13. etc.
  14. etc.
  15. etc.
  16. etc.
  17. etc.
  18. etc.
  19. etc.
  20. etc.
  21. Kendrick Perkins got ejected unfairly.

And he did, there’s little doubt about that. I went over the reasons Perkins got tagged for the second one at PBT (and if Eddie Rush did warn him, that technical should be upheld. If not, rescind that one too.). The first one’s gotta go, there’s just no excuse for it. I’m not as out of my mind livid about it because the fact that Boston has 18 technicals plays a part here. Should it? Should every instance be judged on its own context? Maybe. But let’s ask this question. If Derek Fisher continues his penchant for bodying up guards at the perimeter with the chest bump, you want the officials to notice that and adapt to that little work around, especially when he tries to draw the charge, right? Context does matter. And Perkins’ penchant for tantrums following a call, often ones that should not be that upsetting, has gotten him a reputation.That reputation comes with consequences. And as I told Celtics Hub, the Celtics play a bullying, brutish, physical style. That comes with consequences. Sometimes that means you’re going to bury a team into submission. And sometimes it means you’re not going to like the calls. But you cannot react to them like Perkins has done consistently. He pushed his luck, and it burned him.

I also think that people are overreacting a bit to the call without knowing what it was Perkins said to the official. “HE WALKED AWAY!’ does not really hold up if accounts like this (which are obviously dubious and uncomfirmed, but so is the argument he said nothing volatile) are accurate. I’m not saying Perkins said something about the officials mother, I’m saying we don’t know if he did or didn’t. We know his elbow slipped on the first one, so there’s ample cause to rescind that technical. Which means that last night’s ejection was unfair. Let me say that again.

Perkins should not have been ejected.

However, what’s causing me to tear my hair out today is the contention that it ended up mattering in this game.

Let’s look at the worst case scenario here. Perkins stays in the game, and then proceeds to do the following:

  • Contain Howard, which he had not done for the quarter and a half he was in. Do you remember the earthquake dunks Howard was delivering in the first quarter that got the Magic going? Yeah, that was on Perkins. It’s definitely true that Kendrick Perkins has the ability to contain Dwight Howard. It’s also true that there are numerous games we can look to and say “Damn, Dwight Howard made Perkins his special friend.” Last night was on track for one of those nights. Howard actually had a better game before Perkins was ejected. He scored 8 of his 21 before Perkins was ejected. So 13 points with Perk ejected, Perk did a better job, right? Wrong. Calculate the hack-a-Dwight free throws and there was really no differential. So yes, it’s entirely possible that Perkins would have gone out in the second half and shut down Dwight Howard. It’s also just as likely that Howard would have killed him, killed him, killed him dead.
  • Make the Celtics make shots. Somehow, I don’t see Perkins helping Ray Allen knock down more shots, or Kevin Garnett start draining big ones. Perkins doesn’t help much on the offensive end. He can get a few buckets, and had a very impressive hook on Howard. He does help on the offensive glass. All these things are true. But his impact on the offensive end was not going to make the difference in this game, and the Celtics, who had a terrible offensive efficiency (comparatively) of 105 (compared to how they’ve been gunning) were not going to turn that around because of him.
  • Defend the perimeter. I get it. “PERKINS HANDLES DWIGHT WHICH MEANS WE DON’T DOUBLE AND THEN THE ROTATIONS ARE THERE!” Except most of the threes the Magic were taking were not the direct result of a Howard double team. It was Pick and Roll. And while Perkins is a good (not great) pick and roll defender, it’s the Celtics’ system that allows them to excel in those situations, and that system broke down because of slow rotations.
  • Guard Jameer Nelson.  Nelson wasn’t killing the Celtics inside. Perkins wasn’t going to allow them better defense on them. He just hit huge shots. Six of his points came off of 1. another long-bomb pull-up three that he’s hit three of in the last two games and 2. a transition PUJIT 3 because the Celtics failed to execute Hack-A-Dwight.
  • Somehow make a 21 point game into a single possession game just for the Celtics to have a chance. Perkins has a huge impact on the team. He does a lot of things really well. He wasn’t going to help them win this game.

***********************************************************************

You know why? Things are regressing back to the mean. The Celtics have been flirting with the heavens during this little run of theirs and the invincibility star they ingested is wearing off and they’re starting to flash back to normal. The Magic were a 57.3% TS% team during the regular season. And in the first three games of this series they shot 49.8, 52.5, and48.7% TS. How much of that is Boston’s defense? The majority. Boston’s defense has been incredible, no denying that. I’ve said on this site, on PBT, on FanHouse, and on Sporting News Radio (which you can catch me on Saturday nights at 11:20PM EST with Larry Brown, I LIKE TO PLUG IT PLUG IT) that the is the best defense I’ve seen since the 08 run. But some of it is also the Magic missing looks. When those shots start to fall, things change. Part of that is the nature of the Magic’s system. Instead of going to something else, they just kept at it, and now those shots are opening up. It’s a grind, and the Celtics are getting tired of running off threes, of battling Howard, Lewis and Gortat for rebounds, and then trying to cover three rotations. The Magic are a good offense. This is just a regression to the mean. The Celtics are still more than capable of holding them under 54% TS%, which is a great job, and kind of the threshold needed to beat the Magic. But there are also going to be nights where the bounces go their way, the threes fall, they get some things going for them.

Offensively, against one of the league’s best defenses, the Celtics have really just kind of maintained. Outside of a few players (Sheed) they’re not really getting outlier performances. Their offensive efficiencies are all within range of their season average. They’re not overachieving. The Magic have underachieved until Game 4. Some of that is the Celtics letting the foot off the pedal. Some of it is the Magic just having a bad run of shots. But now we have the actual series, and if we throw out outliers, it’s a 2-1 Celtics lead in a best of five. Throw out a night where the Magic had several things go their way, and the one where things like Rasheed Wallace hitting a fadeaway three with a defender standing literally shoulder to shoulder with him happened, and you’ve got a 2-1 series lead for Boston and every reason to suspect they can get this done.

I have to wonder if this isn’t everything Orlando can throw at them. It’s a tentative balance, much more so than it was three days ago. The reason? The Big 3 are sputtering. When any combination of 2 of the Big 3 are hitting, you might as well go home. But last night Pierce struggled with the Magic’s physical play of him, Garnett’s head has been AWOL since the start of Game 4, and Allen, well, Allen’s got the best defender in this series on him like white on rice and is still hitting fairly regularly. The Magic have kickstarted the offense and as much as Celtics fans may not want to admit it, Rashard Lewis DOES look like he suddenly got healthier, playing with more energy and the focus on his release has been better.

I still like Boston to close in 6, because I think the Magic will simply fatigue and Rondo will get healthy. He’s a huge factor. When he’s dominating, the Celtics are dominating. He opens those shots up for the Big 3. When he’s hurt, the offense runs through Ray Allen, instead of culminating wit him. Pierce in ISO is a liability against this defense. That’s what it’s going to come down to. I can’t imagine this thing going from 3-0 to 3-3.

… Can you?

UPDATE: Alex Kennedy of Hoops Word reported the Celtics bench was warned just prior to Perk’s second T. The league should uphold that one. (HT: Trey)

Conference Finals: Dwight Howard’s Post Game Adjustments

For someone without a post game as many fans like to claim, Dwight Howard sure did find a way to bounce back from a 13-point, seven-turnover performance in Game One to score 30 points and get the Celtics into foul trouble in Game Two.

I put together this video to hopefully give you a better idea of how Dwight adapted to the way the Celtics were defending him. Enjoy:

Dwight Howard definitely has a post game and it’s still growing. Ever since some time in January, Dwight has been showing real improvement in the way he scores with his back to the basket and when he faces up and drives on his defenders. Like I said in the video, he doesn’t have a huge repertoire of moves. He’s definitely not going to be doing any Kevin McHale impersonations any time soon. But he has a couple of go-to moves in the paint.

The problem with Dwight is his positioning and the way his body is constructed. Think about powerful centers like Moses Malone, Shaquille O’Neal and even guys like Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon to some extent. All of those guys were blessed with tree trunks for legs. Some of them were blessed with big behinds too. These natural physical assets are the reason they were able to dominate and score so easily in the post when they needed to. They had leverage (not a TNT plug but it feels like it because of the constant promos we’ve seen during the playoffs).

Dwight doesn’t have that luxury. He has skinny legs and a small waist. He’s built much more like David Robinson except he doesn’t have the shooting ability. Guys like that have a hard to moving people around in the post with their lower body. Instead, Dwight has to either accept the postposition afforded to him by the defensive player or try to push his way with his upper body into better position without drawing a foul.

It’s great that his upper body is so physically impressive because it allows him to be very good defensively and a strong rebounder. But the fact that he doesn’t have more junk in the trunk means that he’s going to be a center of gravity disadvantage when trying to score with his back to the basket. Considering he has to make due with the way he’s built, I’d say he does a pretty good job scoring inside.

Give him room to operate by spreading the floor and a confident, relaxed and poised Dwight will unleash his small set of post moves and do it effectively. Hopefully for Orlando, it will turn into some wins in this series.

NBA Playoffs: Celtics and Cavaliers Display Faces of Lion, Faces of Lemon

I was G-chatting with Matt and Ben earlier today, and they were all “Whatevs, brah — I see how it is. You think you can cover these playoffs without us? YOU NEED US. Who set this thing up? Us. That’s who. Who do your readers trust? Us. That’s who.”

And then they did this:

Lion Face – The Takeover

There’s not really any way to express how good Rajon was with the written word. Through two games, this is Rajon’s series. For the second straight game, he did pretty much whatever he wanted on the court and was by far the best player on the floor for loooong stretches. A floor he often shared with LeBron James mind you. About his Game 1 first half, I wrote that he played about as well as any human could. Tonight? He might have been even better. The 19 assists don’t even tell the whole story. He was Boston’s heart and soul and if he plays like this in Boston as well, the Celtics could be well on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. In summation, Rajon Rondo not only sounds like the name that should belong to some sort of ancient sun god — he might be one.

Lemon Face – Cleveland’s Half-Time Speech

I have no idea what happened in the Cavs locker room during half time. But it didn’t work. 12 points in the third. Twelve. Uno. Dos. Unacceptable. Particularly when you, perhaps relatedly, give up 31 on the other side. I mean, Cleveland’s offense was hitting on zero cylinders all game long (91.5 offensive efficiency, 42.9% eFG%, 4/21 from three and 26/38 from the line for the game), but the third was particularly gross. And a lot of it came against Boston’s reserves given the team’s foul trouble. You can’t win a playoff game scoring 38 points in the second half. Not even at home. Not even after you watch the NBA MVP trophy being handed out to your captain before the game. This is not 1998 and Jeff Van Gundy is not hugging Alonzo Mourning’s leg.

Lion Face – Throwback Sheed

At this point, mocking Sheed’s tenure as a Celtic isn’t even funny anymore. There are no jokes that haven’t been made already, and everyone in the universe knows how that his inability to contribute can be blamed on his doughy exterior, half-hearted (at best) effort and unwillingness to do anything consistently beside hoist errant three-pointers. Tonight, none of that mattered. Sheed, in just 18 minutes, was a true difference-maker and showed us all the qualities that once made him one of the most feared, versatile power forwards to ever lace ‘em up. He hit 7 of the 8 shots he took and 3 of his 4 trey attempts. 17 points on 8 shots without even going to the line. CTC.

Lemon Face – Mo’ Williams, Mo’ Problems

You know what you did. You did it last season against Orlando, and you did it again tonight. If you don’t learn how to play a meaningful playoff game without having to wear a diaper for fear you might soil yourself on any given evening, your team will not continue to advance. Real talk.

Lion Face – PEEERRRRK

You knew it was going to be a good night for the big fella when you saw him hit a mid-range jumper early in the first quarter. KG kicked it over. Perk looked at the rim. No one challenged. And he was like “I’ll take anybody’s money if they just giving it away” before re-gathering and letting it fly. Twine music. Throw in some solid interior defense even before that shot when Cleveland unsuccessfully tried to run some offense through Shaq to start the game, and Kendrick had a lot to do with setting the tone for how this game would unfold.

Lemon Face – Kevin Garnett’s shooting

8/21. Not cool, dude. Not cool. /headbuttsmirror

Lion Face – Kevin Garnett’s Other Stuff

Nice work. /headbuttsmirror

Lion Cub Face – Antawn Doing His Job

You were dull, not all that stand-out-ish and generally Antawn-ian. But you did your job. You hit some shots (6/11 from the field and 2/5 from three), spaced the floor, played enough defense and rebounded well enough. Nothing to get too excited about, but this should be all that Cleveland really needs from you. Still, you’re going to have to have at least one 25+ point game in this series. It would be wise to try to make that happen in Game 3. Please advise.

Lemon Face – Anthony Parker Not Doing His Job

What would ya say … you do here? Quit trying to penetrate. You’re not good at it. Spot up, keep the ball moving and perhaps drive-and-kick a little. No one is going to let you get to the rim. This is the Boston Celtics defense — not the California Penal League. More importantly, play defense. They need you to control Rondo and other perimeter players and generally control penetration. Do what you are good at. Not the other stuff.

Lion Face – Al Roker’s Press Conference

Way to call out your team for putting up a game like that at home against a conference rival. Mike Brown was fiery, unapologetic, demanding and down-right pissed off in his post-game talk. “Aint a goddamn thing that’s going to be given to us in this series,” he said unhappily. A lot different than his giddy reaction after Game 1.

Lemon Face – LeBron

You were 1/7 on shots from outside of the paint. You only took 1 shot in the second quarter. And it’s not like you were creating a lot of great looks for teammates instead — not by your standards anyway (only 4 assists for the game). You turned the ball over 5 times. You missed 5 free throws. You had a few steals and that one insane — yet somehow now expected every game — chasedown block on Tony Allen, but your defense was not particularly good. You took some plays off, didn’t fight through screens all the time and missed some assignments. Sure, you finished with 24, 7 and 5 on not-terrible shooting — but that’s not enough. You don’t have Manu Ginobli or Pau Gasol. You have to play better for your team to win in these next — you hope — three series. If not, there won’t be three series at all.

NBA Playoffs: (4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Miami Heat – The Unknown (Disclaimer: This Is Not an M. Night Shyamalan movie)

The Celtics are a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a conundrum wrapped in a knee brace.

No one thinks this team has a shot at making the Finals — and rightfully so. Personally, I would be shocked if Boston even made the Eastern Conference Finals. They’re old. They’re slow. They’re inconsistent. They’re cavalier. (And, not in an amazing, LeBron Jamesian way or even a crazy, fantastical Delonte West way either). Most importantly, they simply have not been playing good basketball for the last two-thirds of the season. (They’re a Chicago Bulls-like 27-27 during their past 54 games.)

We know all this.

Still, they are better than most people think. And it’s almost entirely because of the defense. You just can’t get a 5th ranked defense by accident. The schemes, the commitment and — yes, even in 2010 — the personnel got it done this year. Kevin Pelton rightly points out that KG can still play some defense. He may overstate the case a little, and few people have made more jokes about KG’s gimpy knee than I have, but the reports of The Kid’s death have been greatly exaggerated. You look at photos like this and think back to the infamous Saturday afternoon when he allowed Al Harrington to look like Bernard King in MSG, and it’s easy to dismiss all the good stuff Garnett does out there even while less fleet-of-foot than ever. This isn’t 2004, sure, but particularly with Kendrick Perkins standing next to him, KG can anchor very good defense.

And he has done exactly that this year.

Outside of Rondo for the first 45 minutes and Pierce for the last 3, there isn’t much about Boston’s offense that should terrify anyone. Ray Allen is finally shooting like Ray Allen again (40.3% from three since the All-Star Break compared to 33.8% prior) and KG, even on one leg, can still make the mid-range jumper, but, if you’re Miami — especially if you’re Miami — or any other team, figuring out how to stop the Celtics isn’t the biggest hurdle to exposing Boston’s geriatric mediocrity.

The challenge is figuring out how to score on them. And that’s not something Miami does particularly well. (They’re 19th in offensive rating and 15th in effective field goal percentage). Flash is Flash, and he’s as much of a rock as anyone we have in this league (and I’d still argue that he is underrated), so he’ll obviously get his. But the key for Miami won’t be hoping Dwyane pours in a few 43-point nights and jumps on the scorer’s table and tells his fans whose house it is. Whether or not the Heat can advance depends more on consistent production from everyone else. They need points from the guys Charles Barkley calls “a bunch of Tito Jacksons.”

Can Beasley, aka the East Coast Lamar Odom Sans All the Versatility, show up to play two games in a row? Can JO do more than just protect the paint? Will Carlos Arroyo keep playing the point well enough to let Wade play off the ball? Will Udonis get the minutes he deserves? Will Q and Chalmers hit their open threes? Can Dorell Wright finally translate his scoring ability into enough a playoff success to actually make me remember whether or not his name has two Rs or two Ls without fact-checking? (/googles dorrell wright)

I know that asking a bunch of obvious questions is a lame way to try to provide insight into this series, but I honestly have no idea if any of those things will happen. I don’t think anyone does, frankly. Not Eric Spoelstra. Not Pat Riley. Definitely not Dwyane Wade. Anyone who tells you different is either a liar or someone who somehow got a hold of the Gray’s Sports Almanac Biff brought back from the future.

But there are a few things we do know: (1) The Heat will play high-level defense, (2) The Celtics will play high-level defense, (3) Boston will execute well enough late in games and get enough big buckets out of Pierce, Rondo, Ray and maybe even KG to grab a win or two, (4) Dwyane Wade’s parents are not strong spellers.

The only thing left that we’re really not sure about is whether or not the Heat, who have won 9 of their last 10 games and an ungodly 18 of their last 22, will score enough to ensure that that late-season run continues.

I would love to see it happen.

But I doubt it does.

Boston in 6