In case you hadn’t noticed in the overwhelming deluge of attention that’s been rightly lavished on Steph Curry’s tremendous work in the playoffs so far, Kevin Durant is—still—completely out of his mind. Having watched him in person this season at Timberwolves’ games, it’s tempting to crib from Bobby Jones’ analysis of Jack Nicklaus following his win in the 1965 Masters and say that Durant plays a game with which I am not familiar.
Except I am. I’ve seen it before, just not in real life. Durant’s closest antecedent is Rashard Lewis in NBA 2K2.
Hear me out. Lewis was drafted out of Alief Elsik High School in Houston, Texas, in 1998, a few years before the zenith of the preps-to-pros trend in 2001 when Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry and DeSagana Diop all went in the top ten. Expected to go in the lottery, Lewis instead slid and slid until he was the last guy in the green room, finally taken by the Seattle Supersonics with the 32nd pick.
His first couple seasons were fairly unremarkable. His rookie year he only logged 145 minutes, managing a Filene’s Basement-esque 4.5 PER. In 2000 he came off the bench and looked a lot better, improving his PER to 16.5 and recording a .521 effective field goal percentage.
When he broke out in his third year as a starter with the Sonics, he looked good. And by good I mean GOOD. His per 36 stats didn’t make a huge jump, but when his minutes per game jumped from 19.2 to 34.9, he went from scoring 8.2 ppg to 14.8. His FT% jumped from .683 to .826 and his 3P% leapt dramatically from a solid .333 to a sterling .432. The advanced stats looked good as well: a PER of 17.3, an offensive rating of 114, and a true shooting percentage of .587. Although his usage rate was well below Durant’s, Lewis’ 2000-01 season is fairly comparable to Durant’s sophomore season in 2008-09.
2K Sports clearly thought of Lewis’ 2001 season as a harbinger, not a high water mark. In NBA 2K2, Lewis was a scoring MACHINE. At 6’10” and blessed by the game’s makers with guard-level speed and preternatural 3-pt shooting, Lewis could easily play shooting guard or small forward. He could shoot over just about any guard and was fast enough to get past any forward. He could finish hard at the rim and make his free throws. When he put it on the floor, he opened things up for the other shooters on the Sonics, which in 2002 included Brent Barry and video game Vladimir Radmanovic (who was very good). I scored 100 points with him once. He was, in short, a polygonal fever dream of beautiful basketball.
But then, it turned out that Lewis’ 2001 was both more illusory and more concrete than NBA 2K2 made it look. It was ephemeral in the sense that 2K Sports had to look at his play from the year before and see what it augured. Where they saw growth, we instead got stability. His PER inched up to 18.5 in 2002 and his wins shares per 48 rose to .160, but that’s about as high as they ever got. Through the peak of his career between 2004 and 2007, he would be named an All-Star and his PER would hover around 20 as his usage rate increased to around 24%.
And that’s good. That’s very, very good. But it’s also not Durant-good, and not Lewis-in-NBA-2K2 good. Rashard Lewis’ points per game peaked at 20.6, his rebounds per game peaked early on in 2000 at 7.7, and his assists per game never got higher than 2.6. Consider that this season Durant averaged 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, plus notched a career-high PER at 28.3, and he’s very possibly going to get better.
And while the numbers are impressive enough, they have a hard time the uncanniness of Durant on the court. His jumper is so smooth it looks lathed, his crossover so startlingly fast across such a broad reach that it looks like a canned animation. As he threads through the lane on a fast break to throw down a dunk, you question the collision detection. He’s a living, breathing cheat code, rubberband AI made flesh.
To put it simply: real-life Kevin Durant is what video games dream of becoming.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
(Paroxysm at Gametime features our writers with original reporting by attending live games. It’s just like the stuff we did when we started, only completely the opposite in every way. In this edition, Amin Vafa covers his first game and balances the nervosa of being out of your comfort zone with being out of your comfort zone by playing as a Washington Wizard. Enjoy. – Ed.)
“Remember: You are not going to feel like you belong there. You belong there.”
I covered my first game tonight. My first professional sports game. I’d been in the locker room before. I’d been to meet and greets with players. I’d seen players shopping at Target or walking their dogs. I’d seen coaches walking down the street. Hell, I even saw Oliver Platt at the train station this week. But it’s different when you’re there for a game. You’re part of a machine. You need to go through the motions just like everyone else. You’re told beforehand where to be, where to go, who to see, who to cover, who’s who, who’ll be there to help out. But beforehand is different than during. Practice it all you want. During a game, all of that changes. Things are happening. You’re moving on the fly. You can’t just do it all by yourself. You have to communicate with other people. “Excuse me person who works here, where am I supposed to be? It’s my first game.”
Chris Singleton’s is back near halfcourt during shootaround. He’s with an assistant coach and the other rookies Jan Vesely and Shelvin Mack. They’re practicing basic ball movement skills: dribbling low to the ground, moving the ball fluidly around their torsos, bouncing the ball against their fingertips above their heads. Once they work together for a few minutes, they join the layup/post-move line. The same assistant coach tosses them the ball under the basket. They do a quick pivot under the basket, and lay it in. Andray Blatche is around for this part of shootaround, but after a few missed dunks it looks like his calf is still bothering him. But to his credit, he’s working up a sweat and looks like he wants to be out there and is having fun.
The line breaks up. Half of the players start going back inside to the locker room. A couple of them stay on the court. Vesely’s practicing his foul shots. Probably a good call. Jordan Crawford is practicing long jumpers at the top of the arc. Singleton’s on the right side of the arc, shooting threes. Singleton put up a respectable 3P% in college (about 33%). He’s shooting about the same percent this season, but he has taken far fewer shots.
â€œI knew I could shoot. Itâ€™s just if they knew I could shoot. Thatâ€™s what I was working on, this whole lockout.â€
Singleton nailed his warmup and shootaround 3s. I didn’t think he was going to hit them, though, because his footing was really odd. He sets up his shots pigeon-footed. Then I realized another player has that same, ugly footing for this 3s: Antawn Jamison. Weird that the two haven’t played with each other, yet both played for the Wizards and share this awkward habit.
The Wizards were Â up 68-60 at the half. A halftime score, we remind ourselves, higher than the final output of their game against Chicago at the United Center last month. After playing a surprisingly strong half of offensive basketball (they still gave up 60 points at the half), they lay a dud offensively and defensively against Sacramento (largely without Tyreke and Demarcus).
“Until they are commited to playing winning basketballâ€¦ weâ€™re going to be like this team was tonight.Â There wasnâ€™t anything in that secondÂ half that was done to win the game…Â Guards fromÂ SacramentoÂ crashed boards and put it in 6 times in fourthÂ quarter.”
-Randy Wittman, not trying to hide his frustration and disappointment after a complacent second half.
Coach Wittman alternated between the usage of “they” and “we” when referring to the team, his professionalism battling his dismay atÂ Â his team that won’t listen. He called out three specific plays (thus singling out the perpetrators) where “winning basketball” mentality and plays weren’t implemented. The first was Nick Young’s botched 360 layup in the first quarter. The second was blaming a guard for standing out by the three point line while his man got his own putback (this happened a few times, it seemed, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly to whom he was referring). The third was JaVale McGee’s monster goaltend during the 3rd quarter, but to be fair, someone brought that up. However, Wittman was more infuriated by McGee’s lack of playing the Pick and Roll correctly than his goaltend.
Around the same time Isaiah Thomas officially rid himself of the “Mr. Irrelevant” moniker, the two teams headed into the locker rooms.
“We have some bad habits, and we’re trying to break them. When you have bad habits, sometimes you go back to them.Â When we played like a team and shared the ball and played team defense, we played well. When we didnâ€™t, we struggled.”
-Roger Mason Junior, on the team’s regression to a non-fluid offense in the second half.
“We didn’t play defense, didn’t box out… We gotta get better mentally and physically… We gotta regroup. Enjoy these couple days off and get back to business.”
-Jordan Crawford, on the team’s lapses and looking forward.
“I thought this was a game we could win, and we thought we were gonna win… [We played] lots of one-on-one ball…[Sacramento] beat us up on the glass… [This game is] something we gotta learn from…we gotta play for 48 minutes.”
-Rashard Lewis, on expectations and consistency
“Singleton will be easy to talk to, Amin. He probably won’t have big crowds in front of him like the stars of the team, but he’ll have some good stuff to say. Ask him a few questions. Start with some softballs, and then ask him a few other questions.”
-Matt’s sound pregame advice to me.
Singleton. Singleton. Singleton? What on Earth could I ask this kid? Well, there’s all the regular stuff about him being drafted because his defensive prowess. “You were ACC Defensive Player of the year two years in a row. You led the ACC in steals and steals per game your sophomore year. You defend multiple positions. You’ve defended Deron Williams, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant this season. Who’s your toughest cover?” Well, his Defensive Win Share isonly 0.5, andÂ he gives upÂ an above average PER at both forward spots when he’s defending. So maybe everyone is a tough cover. Because he’s a rookie. And he’s being thrown at lions. VETERAN lions.
I could ask him about the college-to-pro transition, and how the team atmospheres differ. Yeah, maybe I’ll ask him that. OK, I’ll start with some easy questions about his personal life, then I’ll ask him about his transition after the game. He’s got half a season under his belt. It’ll be perfect.
OK, so a rough half for Singl… oh, that was for the whole game? And he wasn’t around for questions after the game? Ruh-roh.
OK, it’s fine. Think.Â Think, McFly, think.Â Wait, what’s Rashard Lewis doing out there when there are 3 guards and a center on the floor? He’s playing power forward, like he used to in Orlando, but more in the post than out by the 3-point line. And he’s doing a halfway decent job. Good on him. A +5 on the night.
â€œYouâ€™ve got to moveÂ without the ball, because itâ€™s not very many plays called for the three-man in this offense. A lot of stuff is with the point guard and the big, as well as the two guard.”
Well, Rashard, you look like you’re playing well as a big. You’re still moving without the ball a lot, but your aggressiveness is noted. Maybe you should stay at the 4.
This team is very young. There’s a veteran presence on the team (Blatche, Evans, Mason, Turiaf, and Lewis). There are even some championship-tested players on the team (Mason, Lewis, and Turiaf). But by and large, this team is young. It’s full of rookies and sophomores, guys who played for successful teams in high school and college, but who don’t have a “winning mentality” in the NBA yet, to use Coach Wittman’s phrase. Of the five veterans on the team, they’ve either all been injured at some point, or have had their minutes limited by ineffective play.
The young guys on the team, no matter how many times they practice their fundamentals during shootaround, need a veteran to hold their hand for a while. Not a long while, just long enough to point them in the right direction. And not literal hand-holding, just a good and consistent example. But there comes a time in every young player’s career when having no stable veteran presence is no longer an excuse.Â Self-motivation is a big key for this team. They don’t have many vets on whom they can rely to show them the ropes. But it’s clear from the energy in the locker room and the energy on the bench that these players care about each other, even if they beat themselves up after a loss. A wise man once said, “If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.” And based on the consensus post-game comments (“We played selfish. We didn’t pass the ball. We fell on bad habits. We didn’t play team defense.”), these guys know that they need to play together to finish out games.
Thirty-three games down. Thirty-three games to go. You can choose to be wandering the corridors of the arena by yourself, or you can motivate yourself to ask some questions to make sure you’re headed in the right direction and do your job. You belong there.
Overall, Anderson showed flashes of brilliance, and I mean that. He scored in double-figures in 5 of his 6 starts, with the lone exception being a major outlier of a game in which he missed 10 of his 11 three-point attempts. And in back-to-back games in March, he scored 38 points in 43 minutes on 13-of-24 shooting. If he trims his usage a bit, improves his passing, and tightens up defensively, he could be a fringe All-Star within a few more years. Remember, he’s only 22, and has plenty of time to improve.
My worry is that he might not get that opportunity in Orlando, which owes Lewis more than $60 million over the next three seasons. Sure, Anderson can count on an uptick in playing time as Lewis ages, but he won’t crack 18 minutes per game. Will the Magic have the patience to stick with Anderson? Or will the long-term commitment to Lewis make Anderson expendable? I certainly hope, for the Magic’s sake, that they take the former approach. Anderson’s a rare talent. Big men who can shoot the three and rebound are valuable commodities in this league, especially surrounding a guy like Howard, who needs some space to work inside. Anderson’s the youngest of the players who fit that profile. I mean, compare some of his stats this year to those of Lewis’ All-Star campaign last year. Then consider his age. Then try to tell yourself that Anderson doesn’t belong.
SVG is a tremendous coach. For all the ridiculous talk about panicking, the man simply wins, and does so while developing young talent. He hasn’t shown a reliance on any one particular facet (veterans being the common one), and has shown an ability to make adjustments when he needs to. He’s been bested because the other team was better. Not because he was somehow a failure. That said, his reluctance to rely on unproven players killed him this year just like it kills so many coaches.
I pondered this over at PBT only to watch it occur. I like to think Stan read my piece, realized the folly of his ways, and turned to J.J.
Or, you know, not.
Either way, he never did turn to Anderson. The struggle is this. You’re down 3-0. The Celtics have tossed you around the room like you’re a ragdoll and they’re some sort of demented toddler hellbent on destruction (or as I like to call him, “Big Baby Davis”). Nothing you have done has worked and you’re in desperate need of a stretch four that can knock down threes and rebound. “Oh, hey Ryan Anderson, sorry, didn’t mean to step on your foot… Anyway, WHERE COULD WE FIND SUCH A MAN?!”
Anderson’s production has been there. He’s a terrific asset, and he looks like the piece New Jersey shouldn’t have surrendered. That he’s now trapped three deep on Orlando is a shame. He’s capable of so much more, and if the Magic don’t want to use him, that’s fine, but let’s go see what he can do elsewhere. Trapping him long term in Orlando is a waste of his potential. If you’re not going to use him anyway, go get a Collins brother or someone else equally useless. Don’t pen up the kid that can shoot.
The small market teams should be making eyes at Orlando, offering to take Carter off their hands if they throw Ryan Anderson in. Getting a versatile perimeter forward with size, good health, and who’s young while tagging Carter for some cap space in order to better prepare yourself for the new CBA would be a pretty wise move. Either way, Anderson’s gotta get sunlight.
A brief overview in order of importance regarding what cost the Celtics Game 5:
J.J. Redick running pick and roll
Dwight Howard killing everything in sight (including Kendrick Perkins for his quarter and a half)
Ray Allen 3-11
Paul Pierce 3-8
Kevin Garnett 5-14 (!)
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.Â 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.
It wasnâ€™t in the â€œI played with a magnifying death ray burning ants on the sidewalk, hope to find a friend with an illegal firework so I can play Russian roulette with my handâ€ sort of fascinated with dynamite way. It was totally legit. Whenever the coyote was chasing the roadrunner and had a trap set with some good â€˜ole ACME TNT, I waited for the explosion and the colored stars to go pulsating through the screen without really caring about the end result.
What can I say? Explosions easily amused me as a child (and probably still am).
Well, when the Human Dynamite Stick, Josh Smith, threw down the TNT plunger with the walk-off tip dunk against the Orlando Magic Wednesday night, it had roughly the same affect on me. I didnâ€™t necessarily care about the carnage it may have caused or left behind.
Take a look at it.
The shot goes up from Joe Johnson. Dwight Howard was left in No Manâ€™s Land defensively as he canâ€™t really get over to challenge the shot but also has to provide the threat of a hovering missile defense system in order to deter Joe from waltzing into the lane. This leaves the rebounding job up to Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis who are averaging 7.4 rebounds per game between them. Considering one of those guys is a Keith Closs blowout away from being seven feet tall that seems kind of like a paltry number.
This is the point in the cartoon in which you realize the dynamite isnâ€™t working with the coyote. Even though it appears to be complying throughout the entire process, itâ€™s going to end up exploding in the face of the coyote when itâ€™s least expected.
Josh Smith had been hanging around the perimeter on this final play. He wanted the ball. He was just sitting out there, praying for a kick-out pass that would be entrusted to him to save the day. The pass never came. As internet sensation and two-time TrueHoop Network blogger, Sebastian Pruiti, pointed out, â€œhe calls for the ball at the three-point line and doesnâ€™t get itâ€¦ last year he pouts and doesnâ€™t go for the board.â€
Josh Smith is out at the three-point line and normally would just sulk his way into overtime. It appears the dynamite is working with the coyote. But the dynamite doesnâ€™t work the way you have always expected it to. Instead, the Human Dynamite Stick goes flying into the paint unabated. He rises up into the air (pulls the detonating plunger up into the air), catches the ball on his wrist and brings down the hammer (thrusts the plunger downward to ignite the explosion) as the buzzer sounds.
The result is pulsating stars filling your television screen. Ka-plooey.
Normally, Iâ€™d smile at the screen, wait for the credits to roll and move onto the next show. But this time Iâ€™m interested in the carnage and aftermath.
The Atlanta Hawks donâ€™t matchup well with the Orlando Magic. In the past three seasons (including this current one), the Hawks are just 4-8 against the Magic. They canâ€™t seem to handle Dwight Howard on the inside or the jump-shooting goodness on the outside. The styles donâ€™t mesh.
But eventually, all that can change with one big catalyst. Itâ€™s funny how one buzzer-beating tip dunk can erase an entire mentality of being owned by another team. You forget that you donâ€™t match up well with them. You forget that you struggled profusely on offense and could only manage 84 points in the first 47:59 of this game. It doesnâ€™t matter. The dynamite exploded and the Orlando Magic have to wear it.
Now the Hawks are feeling good about themselves and the Magic are dealing with defeat. Might I add that theyâ€™re dealing poorly with the loss?
Lewis privately muttered something about Van Gundyâ€™s offense on a night he was 2-of-9 for six points. Matt Barnes was seething at the coach, too.
Van Gundy took out defensive specialist Barnes for a long stretch in the fourth period, trying to get the Magic back in the game with shooters, and Barnes took it as a personal affront.
â€œHe obviously doesnâ€™t trust me down the stretch,â€ Barnes huffed.
I find it hilarious that the 6â€™10â€ forward with the $18 million price tag is blaming the coach for not getting him enough shots when a clearly missed box out of the second most dynamic athlete on the court is the reason the Hawks walked away with the home win. Throw a body on Josh Smith and keep him from getting to that board and you leave Flip Murray Mario West (I’ve had Flip on the brain lately) trying a desperation tip with Jameer Nelson all over him. Seems like a lot more of a low percentage shot than Josh Smith converting an unmolested tip dunk.
If Lewis boxes out Smith, the carom goes harmlessly off to the side and the players get ready for the overtime period. In this period, Matt Barnes gets a chance to make a difference and Rashard Lewis probably gets four or five more shot attempts to botch to satisfy his ego. The Magic go into their normal wing-clipping mode against the Hawks, pull out the tough road victory and head home with a season sweep of Atlanta.
Instead, Lewis got lazy, the rebound got crammed home and the Hawks now have a little swagger against Orlando that was previously nonexistent. Orlando now has to face internal issues that are being immaturely aired out in the media.
You can thank the uncooperative Human Dynamite Stick for that.
That was ugly. After starting strong in the first quarter and building a 16 point lead, the Celtics let the Magic back in the game and just didn’t have enough energy to hold them off in the 4th. Sheed’s airball as time expired was an absolutely fitting finish to that game (and the uncontested layup just before that was even worse). Just ugly.
For a game that was pretty sloppy and illustrated mostly weaknesses on both sides (yes, I’m linking Hollinger, give me a minute), there’s a ton to come away with from the game.
Hmmm…Magic, Celtics, Magic, Celtics…winner?
I donâ€™t know if I just get weepy when I see the usually strong Garnett get blown by on a drive to the basket- or if I just canâ€™t stand watching him hobble through a whole quarter of basketball and claim it had nothing to do with his knee. Whatever it is, Garnett and Allen are making me feel pretty low. I remember watching Larry Bird retire and not understanding why he would ever stop playing (okay I was six, leave me alone). The Celtics were a â€œyoung teamâ€ for so long that I havenâ€™t gotten used to the thought of any of my beloved players hanging it up. Most of my favorite Celtics over the last ten years have been role players that more of less stopped getting phone calls- Walter McCarty, Eric Williams- so their exodus was much easier to take/ gloss over.
Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are not done yet, but their days as elite players are numbered. Call it naivete, call it denial- call it blatant homerism if you want, but I didnâ€™t think this day would come this year. Unfortunately, I can see Garnett and Allen declining sharply this season and into next season.
Someone, anyone, leave me some words of encouragement.
The big debate today is whether this means that KG is old and “done” or just had a bad game, which is what he’s saying. It would be one thing if his fadeaway wasn’t falling (he had a bad shooting night but made a biggie down the stretch and drew a foul on Lewis on another fake-to-the-up-and-under). But the problems are painfully obviously physical. When you don’t finish an alley oop at his height, standing under the basket? DANGER, DOC RIVERS, DANGER.
I don’t think when I watch the replay that Garnett physically couldn’t get his body over to close off the baseline. He made that same adjustment five times in the third quarter that I noted and was his usual awesome self. From what it looked to me, the wear and tear of the game wore on his focus, and enabled the slightest slip in his reflexÂ to not be able to recover from the swing right.Â That’s something that he can overcome with a few days of rest in April and then go out and blow doors off hinges in the first round of the playoffs, provided they don’t get a tough opponent. Then again, we’ve said that the last two years and those series have both gone seven games. Garnett may be able to knock down doors int he first round, but will the rest of his team? It’s not so much a matter of winning the first round, because I think they’ll do that, it’s the wear and tear of it. What if they get the Bobcats? That’s at least six games of “Dear God, quit throwing yourselves at us” basketball. That team is relentless. And that wear and tear will lead into the second round, where, you know, they’re likely to meet a team that has beaten them.Â It’s not one flaw, one achilles, that will doom this team, it’s the collective attrition of the same thing they were built for, the playoffs.
The only problem is, even machinesâ€™ get old. Machines wear down and cease to function as they once did. This may be why Ray Allen canâ€™t (or wonâ€™t) admit what is really going on with his shot lately (save for last night). He might not be able to tell you. A carâ€™s check engine light doesnâ€™t tell you whatâ€™s wrong with it, it tells you to go see someone and find out. I donâ€™t know about you, but Iâ€™m dying to find out.
A broken clock is right twice a day- which means Ray Allen will have games like the one he had last night again- but until I see him perform the way he did last night on a consistent basis, I will not say he is back. I can not say heâ€™s back because he is not. 20 points on 8-12 is a great performance and exactly what the Câ€™s needed from Ray last night. The problem lies in the fact that 20 points on 8-12 shooting should be the normal production the Celtics see from Ray Allen. Those numbers should be expected.
Holy CRAP, what happened to Ray Allen? Seriously, can someone tell me what happened to Ray Allen? Yes, I realize he got old. I understand that. But I mean, we’re not talking “lost a step or two.” We’re talking “lost a step or two, and then fell off the cliff into a revene and then the train fell off the revene and landed on top of him and then a bird pooped on the remains.” His PER is sub 15, kids. He’s shooting 35% from the arc. Even as he gets older, he should still be draining threes off curl screens. Last year, I would have been terrified on that last possession the Celtics had. But then I saw Allen, and I realized I was only afraid of it because of what he was, not what he is. I’m no longer terrified of rooting for the other team when Ray Allen has the ball on a last possession. He may make it. But it’s no longer a guaranteed dagger into your throat and then throw you out the window deal.
3) Hollinger is spot on about Rasheed Wallaceâ€™s help defense. During the live chat of Bostonâ€™s first game of the season, David Thorpe pointed out how slowly Sheed was rotating to provide weak side help. He said it would be something to watch all season.
He was right. I watch it every game. There is no way to generalize about Sheedâ€™s help defense, except to say that it is inconsistent and that he is the worst help defender among Bostonâ€™s big guys. (Which really isnâ€™t saying muchâ€”this team rotates like mad).
I’d blame Sheed for last night’s loss, but not for the airball. Everyone’s talking about him not rotating.Â Including, yes, John Hollinger:
Of course, Lewis’ drive wouldn’t have succeeded except that no help defense came from behind Garnett, despite having had ample time to do so. The closest defender, Wallace, inexplicably stayed next to Dwight Howard at the opposite block rather than rotating down to the baseline to stop Lewis’ drive.
For me it wasn’t even the slow rotation. Celtic commenters have pointed out that if Sheed leaves Dwight, that’s an alley-oop Dwight Howard dunk. What does bug me is that Sheed still had a play on Lewis. Not on the ball. But on Lewis. Isn’t that a staple of good defense? No layups allowed? Not habitually, and not constantly. But in that situation, you can let Lewis go, or you can put him on his back and make sure he has to hit free throws to win the game. Is it likely he’ll miss? No. But it’s more likely than Rashard Lewis missing a layup.Â I’m not saying Sheed should have punched him in the neck, but the Celtics’ entire defensive strategy is built on three things: 1. Communication, 2. Dedication, and 3. Bullying. They failed on all three on that possession and it cost them a big game last night.
On to the Magic:
I took four pages of notes during last night’s Celtics loss to the Magic. Mostly it’s really boring stuff. But there’s one thing in all caps, and underlined: VINCE CARTER SUCKS.
I’m not talking about the man. I have met him, and found him to be amazingly nice. I have talked to his mom, his high school coach and all kinds of other people. Nothing wrong with that guy.
I’m talking about his play last night. He almost killed the Magic single-handedly. It’s hard to remember any player have a worse game.
Now, I’ve always been against VC. I understand teammates love him. I hear he’s very nice. He does a ton of charity stuff. And if I covered him day in and day out, I’d probably get to like him and defend him. I don’t. And so I can tell you that he sucks worse than anyone else alive at the art of being alive. The sooner Vince Carter is gone from the public space to the private life (where I hope he lives very long and happily), the better this world will be. I can’t prove that Vince Cater is responsible for the recession but I can’t prove he’s innocent of it, either.
That said, I tried desperately to put that aside. This had the makeup of the “maligned scorer goes to a winner, puts in his best season and becomes a difference maker.”Â The Magic thought enough of him to dump Turkoglu and add him. And many a pundit screamed about Hedo’s aging body and limited skillset and applauded the Magic for adding a weapon like this. So I tried to buy in.
Vince Carter is THE problem with the Orlando Magic. Not kidding. He’s the root. He instills a shoot-first-pass-only-if-necessary approach that the Magic have caught like VD. His defensive effort is lacking, to the point that I actually started to notice last night that the Magic as a team worked harder at running off threes (like they did against Boston in the playoffs) when he wasn’t on the floor than when he was on. He still acts like every incident of contact is a devastating blow to his physical well-being (leading to the House three last night), leaving his teammates to walk the plank. And he has no concept (neither does SVG apparently) that this is Dwight Howard’s team. Yeah, his offensive repertoire might not be as diverse as VC’s. But you know what? He’s still a freak of nature, a leader of men, and a dominating basketball player. And Vince Carter is a washed up gunner who has failed three different franchises.
Howard was superb down the stretch, showing leadership and poise, and taking the Celtics’ much balleyhooed “Perkins canah totahly shot dawn DHo wan on wan!” and smashing it into a million pieces. If the Magic get Howard the ball, good things happen. The Celtics have neither the size nor speed, nor recognition to handle him. And that reality was a cold splash of water last night.
Jameer Nelson’s step back can be covered. They have Anthony Johnson who never gets playing time yet always plays well when called upon. Heck, they have Redick, who ran that offense better last night than Jason Williams did. This team’s greatest success has come on the back of nontraditional ballhandlers. Last year it was Turkoglu. So why is this team burying Pietrus, occasionally Redick, and keeping the ball away from Lewis in order to watch VC use the same tired tricks he’s been using for two seasons unsuccessfully?
Hedo Turkoglu is having a terrible season. It’s true. And many of the reservations people have about him are completely accurate. But his ability to work with this team was a large part they went to the Finals. SVG needs to wake up and realize that he has one of the most loaded teams in the league, but he’s got to be willing to use them in ways which do not fit his model. Adapt or perish.
Orlando’s defense looked good tonight, too. Poor rotations and pick-and-roll defense helped the Celtics reverse the ball to an open three-point shooter in the first half, but for much of the second, that pick-and-roll defense tightened up. And the “roll”? Boston could forget about it. As Tom Haberstroh of Hoopdata.com pointed out on Twitter, the Celtics missed 12 of their 20 shots at the rim tonight, bumping their season total to 30 misses in 50 rim attempts versus the Magic. Nothing easy inside for the Celtics, due in large part to Howard and Gortat, who combined to tally 7 blocked shots.
For the rest of the season, I doubt we see Howard and Gortat play together very often, or Lewis at small forward. But those rotational tweaks worked tonight, a credit to Van Gundy and the players. For me, though, the biggest wrinkle tonight was Howard’s ability to finish difficult shots against the stout Perkins. If the Magic can begin counting on Howard to create for himself down low, against elite defenders like Perkins, then they’ll be in excellent shape for the next decade. Nevermind the rest of the season. With apologies to Lewis, Howard gets the game-ball tonight, with Gortat also earning kudos for playing Garnett, a future Hall-of-Famer, to a virtual draw.
Poor Scal. Lewis was by far the more troubling match-up for Boston in that series. Tonight will be different. KG has the quickness and length to chase Shard on the perimeter and the size to deal with him on the block. Right?
I picked the Magic over the Celtics last year because I looked at what had happened in their regular season matchups. So I can’t just act like whatever happens tonight is irrelevant because of how the Magic “dominated” as much as you can in a seven game series. And truth be told, this concerns me. CelticsHub points out that Garnett’s still physically limited, and how unsettling that is. But this is a big game, a revenge game, the Rottweiler game. And that means KG will push past whatever he needs to and go into EL TIGRE MONSTRUOSO mode.
Meanwhile, you’ve got Lewis in his third game back from suspension, VC’s been in and out banged up, and no Jameer Nelson. Those excuses won’t fly for the Magic, who need this win. Their beginning to this season has been shakey, much like last year’s. A win tonight and everything is fine and dandy, a loss, and the floodgates open to words like “fluke,” “master of panic,” and “poodles.”
We’ll have more on this in the 15 Footer later today.