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Team USA practices at George Washington University on July 15th, 2012.
Team USA practices at George Washington University on July 15th, 2012.
Team USA Basketball held a scrimmage at the D.C. Armory on July 14th, 2012.
Welcome back again everybody! If you missed any of yesterday’s action, make sure to check out my recap of all four games. Now on to day two of the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs!
Fun first quarter in Chicago. Both teams were surprisingly competent offensively and John Wall and Nene have helped control things early on as the Wizards have opened up a two point lead.
Nice start to the game for the Wizards, who get a couple of Nene scores on a pick-and-roll and a post-up. Nene is the difference maker for Washington. His combination of defensive savvy, scoring touch and cunning passing makes him one of the few players in the league that can put a ton of pressure on Chicago’s defensive scheme. It will be fun watching John Wall compete against a defense geared to stop players of his ilk, and getting him on the move to the basket is going to be a priority for the Wizards.
Charlotte competed hard, and we can expect that from them for the rest of this series, but Miami is just more talented and more fluid offensively. Kudos to Steve Clifford for bringing his team into Miami and having them play like they thought they had a chance. That’s not an easy sell against the back-to-back champs and a player that dropped 61 points on them earlier this season. Al Jefferson was a warrior, playing on one leg for most of the game and dominating Miami anyways. This was a fun game despite the large margin and I look forward to watching the rest of this series.
Next up we have the Wizards and Bulls, another pair of teams that will play a grind-it-out kind of series. I’ve enjoyed watching the Wizards play all season long and this series should be really fun for everybody that enjoys the little things about basketball – the pick-and-roll coverages, defensive rotations and off-ball movement – rather than just the stars. John Wall in his first playoff series is going to be compelling TV and I think he’ll help lead the Wizards to the second round in six games. See you back in here in one hour for tipoff.
The Heat regained some of their rhythm to close out that quarter, getting their lead back up to seven, which is where it was at the half. You have to admire the fight that Charlotte has shown, but their offense can’t keep up with Miami’s, even when the Heat are having a hard time scoring themselves against the Bobcats’ tremendous defense.
Charlotte comes out of the lockerroom on an 8-0 run. This is exactly the kind of start that they needed in order to keep this game close throughout.
Gary Neal and Kemba Walker nail a pair of big threes to get Charlotte back within seven at the break. That’s big for the Bobcats after the Heat had seized all of the momentum. Miami recovered from a slow start with one of their patented runs, and Charlotte helps ignite those stretches with their inept offense. If they miss a couple of baskets in a row and allow the Heat to get out on the break, things start changing very quickly. The Bobcats have to come out of the lockerroom ready to defend and they have to hope Al Jefferson is ready and able to carry them offensively for the next 24 minutes.
The Heat have erupted on a 19-2 run, stifling Charlotte’s offense while getting out on the break for some transition baskets and getting LeBron to the foulline by getting him the ball in the post. Charlotte has to prevent these kinds of explosions if they want to have any chance of winning a game against the Heat, much less as series.
Charlotte continues to grind defensively. They are forcing the Heat into some tough looks. Their offense isn’t much better, but they’ll always have Al Jefferson on the block as a decent fallback option in this series. Miami doesn’t have anybody with the strength to keep him from getting deep downlow and he has a number of easy baskets at the rim so far in this game.
The Heat have had an incredibly sluggish start to his game offensively, but that’s not a fluke. The Bobcats are really tuned in defensively. Steve Clifford is one of my favorite coaches in the league. He’s got a great scheme and his players compete for him. Enjoy watching Charlotte play even if they struggle offensively and don’t have a true superstar.
Perfect timing for the Spurs-Mavs to finish up, as Bobcats-Heat just tipped on ABC. I’ll have more on the last game in my recap for the Caller-Times, which I will link to in my recap of today’s action later on this evening. I expect the Heat to take down the Bobcats in five games, though the Bobcats play strong enough defense to make each game interesting.
10-0 run by the Spurs behind six points by Tim Duncan, who has a game high 26 points. The Mavericks offense has hit a roadblock and vintage Dirk hasn’t been there to bail them out. Spurs have a chance to close this here.
The Mavericks opened up a 10-point lead on the Spurs, but a couple of scores by Tim Duncan on the block have it back down to six. The Spurs just aren’t in the same flow that we are used to seeing from them and they are instead relying on isolations and post-ups for Duncan. Duncan’s got a couple of baskets to go, but they’ll need to swing the ball from side to side to get better looks down the stretch. Dallas has done that all game long with their pick-and-roll attack, and Harris continues to find good looks for himself and his teammates. This should be a fun seven minutes.
The Spurs get a couple of baskets in a row and hold the Mavs to some contested mid-range jumpers during the final minutes of the third, and the game is tied up at 65 as we head into the fourth. Duncan has returned to the bench and looks ready to check back into the game whenever Pop calls on him, which is great news for the Spurs. If Dallas is going to pull this one out, they’re going to need Dirk to have a vintage Dirk performance in the fourth. He’s only got 7 points on 2-of-8 shooting to this point. It’s a miracle that Dallas is even in this one given that, but Harris and Ellis have done a nice job picking up the slack. If I’m San Antonio, I start running a ton of pick-and-rolls with Ginobili because Dallas hasn’t been as good against him as they have been against Parker.
Devin Harris continues his run of impressive shotmaking for the Mavs, knocking down a pair of mid-range jumpers to give Dallas a four point lead. Meanwhile, Monta Ellis ran into a Tim Duncan screen on the other end, bumping into his knee. Duncan went to the bench, but since it was a contact injury, it doesn’t seem to be too bad.
The Mavericks have continued to play well to start the second half. Calderon has gotten a better feel offensively, Monta Ellis is competing on both ends and the Mavs are still leading despite Dirk still being quiet. They’ve also played well defensively, forcing the Spurs into post-ups for Tim Duncan.
Tremendous second quarter for the Mavericks. They took a nine-point deficit and turned it into a one point halftime lead. Devin Harris changed the complexion of the game, knocking down a trio of threes while attacking the paint and breaking down San Antonio’s defense. He’s had a few lay-ups and a couple of lobs to Wright off his drives and he’s helped the Mavericks overcome Tony Parker’s torrid start. It’s crazy to think that the Mavs could be up by one on the road with Dirk having just five points, but Harris’ play has helped make it so.
On the other end, the unusual strategy of switching on all of Parker’s pick-and-roll has worked to an extent. Parker has blown by his man and gotten into the paint often, but it does take the Spurs out of their element a bit. It breaks up their rhythm and forces Parker to pull the ball out and isolate. It has worked, but if Parker doesn’t get into the paint, it forces the Spurs to take uncommon shots. So, in a way, Dallas is baiting the Spurs to have Parker attack them one-on-one without getting any motion going, which means no open threes off of breakdowns for Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. That’s why San Antonio only hit two threes in the first half, both by Manu Ginobili.
The Mavericks have given themselves a shot in this game despite being at a massive disadvantage by pulling a wacky strategy out of their hats against Parker. The result has been Parker going off for 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, but nobody else has really gotten going for a team that thrives on beating you collectively rather than individually.
With Harris on the bench Monta Ellis has begun having success against the Spurs defense out of pick-and-rolls, and the Mavs are competing much better defensively than they were at the start of the game.
The two major storylines for both teams – Tony Parker for the Spurs and that bench unit for the Mavs – are going back and forth in this one. Dallas has played great basketball since this unit has been on the floor, but with Parker back in the game he continues to go right at the rim and not even Devin Harris, Dallas’ best defensive guard, can slow him down. Fun action so far.
12-0 run for the Mavs going back to Harris’ three near the end of the first quarter. Not surprisingly, the run came with that special second unit on the floor for Dallas. Harris has worked the pick-and-roll well and the Spurs’ defense is stretched thanks to Dirk. Good work by Dallas.
The Mavericks struggled on both ends in that quarter. They couldn’t contain Parker off the dribble, lost the big when Ginobili operated the pick-and-roll and only managed 12 points on the other end. Dallas will have to rely heavily on their second unit with Dirk at the power forward to get some offense going. The reserve unit of Harris, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder Dirk and Brandan Wright has done great with their spread pick-and-roll attack and Carlisle is going to that unit now.
We’ve seen an interesting strategy from Carlisle in the early going. He has his bigs switching on most Parker pick-and-rolls, and Parker is feasting on Dalembert by blowing by and getting right to the rim. As I said in my preview of this series, nobody on the perimeter can prevent Parker from getting into the paint, and once he’s there the Mavs don’t have any rim protection. On the other end, Dallas has gotten OK looks but the Spurs are doing a good job of getting a hand up to contest.
We are about to get started in San Antonio with Spurs-Mavs. This series should be entertaining because of all of the offensive talent on the floor, but as I said in my preview for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, this series should be over quickly. That said, it’s starting way too soon according to Gregg Popovich.
Gregg Popovich: “I didn’t even have any wine last night because it’s a NOON GAME! That’s the worst part about a noon game.”
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 20, 2014
Hello everybody! Today we have another quadruple header across TNT with one ABC game mixed in during the afternoon. Two series from each conference will kick off today and they couldn’t be any more different. The Spurs and The Mavericks and Blazers and Rockets are going to put up a ton of points while getting up and down the floor at a quick tempo while the Bulls and Wizards and Heat and Bobcats are likely to play in lower scoring, slower paced games. I love all kinds of basketball, but if you’re a fan of any style in particular, there’s something for you on this glorious Easter Sunday. Check back later today as we get started with Spurs-Mavericks at noon.
The scene was set for a historic afternoon of Raptors basketball, with the city of Toronto showing up in huge numbers to support their team in its first post-season appearance since the Vince Carter era. The Air Canada Centre was filled to the brim and another 10,000 raucous fans waited outside the arena watching the game on a big screen. There was a palpable energy in the building from the tip and you could tell that everybody in the stands was waiting for that one moment that would allow them to blow the roof off of the building.
But that moment never came. The closest the Raptors came to giving their home crowd a reason to to go crazy was when Greivis Vasquez nailed a three to give the Raptors the lead with five minutes to go. The lead wouldn’t last for long, though, as Joe Johnson answered immediately on the other end. And that’s when Brooklyn’s wily ole vets, who had struggled just like most of the team throughout the afternoon, helped seal the game for the Nets with some tremendous crunchtime shot making that remind us that, though their glory days are past, they are still two bad dudes.
Kevin Garnett got things started with a turnaround jumper from the post, and then Paul Pierce, Boston’s closer for so many years, took control. Pierce nailed a three off one of Brooklyn’s most effective actions, a 1/2 screen-and-roll with Williams on the left side of the floor, which forced Toronto’s weakside defenders to slide into the paint for just a second, allowing for Pierce to slide up to the right wing, with Garnett setting a brilliant backscreen on Pierce’s man to get him free. Then Pierce rescued a poor Nets possession by driving into the lane late in the shot clock for a lay-up, though it’s hard to say he didn’t travel. And finally, with Toronto managing just two points over the last three minutes of game action, Pierce drilled a fallaway mid-range jumper off an inbounds pass to put the game away for good.
This was an extremely tough game for the Raptors to lose. Not only did they give up homecourt advantage in this game, but they lost in the most disheartening way possible. The Nets were putrid offensively, not because they ran bad sets, but because they’d get good looks and miss them. They shot 4-of-24 from three in this game and prior to Pierce’s dagger late in the game they had missed 19 three-point attempts in a row. Brooklyn wasn’t a great offensive team this season, but most of their line-ups with Pierce as the smallball four scored at a pretty good rate, so this kind of offensive outing is not something you’d expect from them again going forward.
Meanwhile, the Nets defense was completely locked in all game. They had the Raptors scouted well and their scheme neutered almost all of Toronto’s actions. Their combined length on the perimeter deterred drives and disrupted passes, forcing the Raptors into 17 turnovers while holding them to 39% shooting. The Nets showed on almost all pick-and-rolls, taking away any space for Kyle Lowry to launch from deep while rotating quickly on the outside. Just about the only consistent success that the Raptors had offensively in this one was with Jonas Valanciunas in pick-and-rolls as he was able to make a couple of clean catches on the way to the basket for some good looks.
Other than that, though, the Raptor offense was stagnant and bogged down. Despite playing some line-ups with three shooters spacing the floor around their pick-and-roll, Toronto was still unable to find space because of Brooklyn’s tremendous defensive effort. And, perhaps most importantly, Shaun Livingston submitted a sublime individual defensive effort on DeMar DeRozan, forcing DeRozan into one of his worst shooting games of the season (3-of-13 from the field, 0-of-4 from deep) and stifling a lot of the sets that the Raptors are used to flowing into to get DeRozan the ball in good spots. Take this play for instance, where Livingston and Pierce prevent DeRozan from getting any momentum off a pick-and-roll with Amir Johnson while Livingston recovers, sticks right on the hip of DeRozan and forces him into a bad shot.
Plays where DeRozan was able to get free from Livingston in this game were few and far between, and when Livingston sat with foul trouble, Joe Johnson did an admirable job defending DeRozan. Dwane Casey will have to find ways to get DeRozan the ball in space and with momentum going towards the rim to get him going in this series, because the Nets’ pick-and-roll coverages prevent him from turning the corner off a screen, and he’s been unable to get by his man in one-on-one situations. That’s easier said than done, though, and it’s entirely possible than the potential laden DeRozan simply needs another off-season to develop the kind of one-on-one maneuvers necessary to beat the tight defense he’s going to see in the post-season over the next decade.
The Raptors were OK themselves defensively, but the numbers would have looked much worse had the Nets made even half of the many good looks from deep that they got in this game. Toronto has to be much smarter with their double teams for the rest of the series, whether that means coming earlier, changing up where the help comes from throughout the game or simply trying to let Lowry, DeRozan or Ross defend in the post one-on-one, because Johnson feasted on their second and third rotations in this game when they came to double him in the post.
This was an extremely disheartening loss for the Raptors. The fans were pumped to have the post-season back in their city and the Nets played very poorly offensively for the majority of this game, opening the door for the Raptors to start the series off on a good note. But the Raptors just couldn’t capitalize. Brooklyn’s strong, smart defensive effort kept them from every establishing rhythm and Pierce’s late-game heroics fossilized them for good.
It’s difficult to tell if the Warriors are going to make this a series or if the atrocious officiating, which hurt both sides in this game, muddied things up so much that there’s nothing to take away from this one other than that Mark Jackson really had his troops ready to play. Blake Griffin played 19 minutes in this game because of foul trouble, Andre Iguodala fouled out in the fourth quarter after picking up four in the first half, Chris Paul had to spend more time than usual on the bench because of a few ticky tack calls and David Lee had an early hook because of some quick whistles. Rarely did both teams have their best units on the floor – and, of course, Golden State never will because of the injury to Andrew Bogut – and during the rare stints when Griffin and Iguodala were able to be on the floor, they were tentative because of how poorly the officials were calling the game.
It’s possible that Blake’s early exit threw everything out of whack for the Clippers, who have come to rely on him more than ever this season, and it’s certainly true that the Warriors can more easily find a replacement for Iguodala than the Clippers can for Griffin. If foul trouble doesn’t play a major role in game two, then the Clippers may win handily against a Warrior team that is missing its defensive centerpiece.
But then again, the Warriors showed something in this game that is almost assuredly going to continue to cause problems for Los Angeles no matter who is on the floor for them: Mark Jackson is willing to go small again, and the Warriors play extremely well on both ends of the floor when Draymond Green is inserted at the power forward spot. The Warriors were insane defensively when Green was on the floor, limiting the Clippers to 78.5 points per 100 possessions during his 22 minutes. Even Harrison Barnes was great when he was asked to play power forward, and he had the play of the game in the fourth quarter when he blocked Chris Paul’s lay-up attempt in transition with two minutes to go before getting back on the other end and drilling a three that put Golden State up by two.
What’s even more troubling for the Clippers is that the Warriors destroyed their defense even when it was Lee and Jermaine O’Neal sharing the floor, as Lee’s expert passing in the paint helped lead to numerous defensive breakdowns of the Clippers. In the first half DeAndre Jordan was doing an adequate job protecting the rim, racking up five blocked shots, but in the second half he was nowhere to be found, sucked in often by dribble penetration with nobody else on the backline there to help the helper. Again, it’s tough to evaluate the Clippers’ overall performance because of how little Blake played, and putting Glen Davis on the floor for any length of time will lead to some defensive issues, but the Clippers had no rim protection in the second half and they got slaughtered on the boards, allowing 15 offensive rebounds for the game.
Blake is obviously one way for Doc Rivers to counter Golden State’s smallball attack as he can get him on the block and have him attack Green downlow, but another flaw emerged in this game for the Clippers, and it’s one that could wind up being fatal for the Clippers if they don’t adjust: They can’t guard Stephen Curry on high pick-and-rolls.
Curry is an offense all unto himself. A simple screen-and-roll with him up top can result in countless breakdowns for the opposition, whether it’s someone slipping up and giving an inch of space to launch a three or the backline rotations not being quick enough to recover for the big man that had to come up to prevent Curry from stepping into a shot. The Clippers chose to trap Curry on his high screen-and-rolls, and with Lee being such a great passer and decision maker on the move, the Warriors were comfortable using the pick-and-roll as an invitation to bring a Clipper big away from the rim. Curry would wait until the perfect time to hit Lee on the roll, allowing for Jordan or Griffin or Davis to come out far enough to make it difficult for them to scurry back into the paint. The result was driving lanes for Lee, who was able to get a few buckets at the rim and find shooters on the weakside as the Clippers were forced to breakdown to protect the paint.
Take a look at a sampling of Golden State’s tremendous ball movement against the trap in this one. And remember, all of this happens because the Clippers are frightened by the idea of Curry coming off one of those picks and launching a three-point attempt.
Los Angeles will have to change things up going into game two. All season long they’ve had Jordan and Griffin become comfortable sagging back on pick-and-rolls on their ICE coverage, but in this one they decided to come out and be aggressive to keep Curry from beating them. Well, even though it’s a dramatic shift in philosophy, having their bigs play a little further back and forcing Curry to beat them without getting others involved may be an optimal strategy, or at least one worth trying after their original plan was torched in game one.
The Clippers should be fine on the other end. Paul was brilliant in this game despite his late free throw misses and six turnovers and J.J. Redick was on fire from deep. If they can get Jamal Crawford’s game out of the gutter and a full performance from Blake, they have to like their chances going forward. That said, the Warriors took the fight to them in this game and Curry showed that even when he’s not lighting up the scoreboard himself, he can still have a dramatic impact on the outcome.
Before this series, it seemed radical to suggest that the #1 seeded Pacers may have to take the player that they’ve built their entire, incredibly successful, defensive scheme around off the floor because of how he matched up with the 8th seeded Hawks, who finished the season six games under .500, but you can’t argue with it after game one. Whether it was by directly involving him in a pick-and-roll or having him hang around the perimeter to guard a spot-up shooter, the Hawks exploited their schematic advantage time and time again, running pick-and-pops with the floor spaced with shooters, putting the Pacers at odds with their principles.
Indiana wants to clog the paint and keep ball handlers out of the middle of the floor, but against the Hawks starting five, there is no weak link to sag off of to help pack the paint, and the usually statuesque Hibbert is required to leave his comfort zone to guard Atlanta’s stretch bigs. At first, the Pacers stuck to their gameplan and let the Hawks bigs get some open looks on pick-and-pops, but as the game wore on and they started drifting further and further out to guard the shooters, Jeff Teague began ripping apart their interior defense, routinely blowing by George Hill, who had no help on the backline thanks to Atlanta’s floor spacing bigs.
Just look at how much space there is behind the initial defender and how beautifully Teague goes about getting by his man to get into the wide open lane.
Teague was excellent, putting up 28 points and five assists, and the Hawks also got a huge game out of Paul Millsap. When the pick-and-roll game stalls for Altanta, Millsap is the one player that the Hawks can count on to get something going on his own, and he wound up with 25 points and eight boards for Altanta, in addition to hitting a pair of threes. And though Kyle Korver had an off night by his standards, the Hawks got him some really clean looks off some pretty pindown and curl screen plays, and they’re likely to be there again in game two. Picking up the slack for Korver was DeMarre Carroll, who played a hell of a game, scoring 12 points, pulling down 10 boards (five offensive), hitting a couple of threes and playing some really good defense on Paul George.
The worst part about this game for the Pacers wasn’t necessarily that they lost, it’s that they got down by 20 at one point in the fourth quarter and the team started slumping its collective shoulders like we saw many times during their tumultuous stretch to close out the regular season. Coming into the game the team preached about having a clean slate in the post-season, but they showed the same signs of losing faith in each other when things got tough in this one.
And let’s be honest here, Indiana’s struggles don’t have everything to do with attitude. It plays a part, but the real issue here is that the Pacers just can’t score the basketball efficiently, and despite solid games from George and Lance Stephenson in this one, there’s just nothing else there aside from the occasional C.J. Watson outburst. George Hill is better suited for a utility role like the one he filled for the Spurs, not as the creator for an offense that doesn’t have any space, David West struggled with foul trouble and never got going, Luis Scola was 0-of-6 from the field and Hibbert has always been an average offensive player at best unless he’s got a colossal size advantage.
Indiana’s offensive ineptitude finally caught up to them when their defense slipped even the slightest bit, and against a team like Atlanta that further minimizes the impact of Indiana’s usually stellar defensive scheme, the Pacers are in big trouble now that they’ve surrendered homecourt advantage, something I’m sure can only damage what was already a deteriorating team psyche.
You have to credit the Grizzlies for fighting their way back into a game that they trailed by 25 in during the first half. Memphis didn’t even make a shot outside of the paint for the first 23 minutes and 59 seconds of this game, finally getting a three to go at the halftime buzzer. The came out strong in the third against a Thunder team that clearly thought they had closed the coffin on them in the first half, putting together a 31-13 run that made it a game going into the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies even cut Oklahoma City’s lead to two in the fourth when Mike Miller hit a three with 8:45 to go in regulation, but that shot was just about all the Grizzlies had left in the tank. They wouldn’t score another field goal over the next three mintues of game time, allowing the Thunder to go on a 13-1 run that put the game out of reach for good.
Most of the credit for Memphis strong third quarter effort has to go to Tony Allen. He held Durant to 5-of-14 shooting, allowing just 13 points compared to the 20 points Durant dropped on his teammates on 73% shooting. His activity off the ball often prevented Durant from even getting a touch, a familiar sight after seeing Allen do this to Durant twice over the past two post-seasons, and he created turnovers that led to easy buckets for the Grizzlies on the break, which was huge for a team that struggled to create good looks in the halfcourt all game long
Even though Memphis made up some ground in this one, it still feels like the gap in talent between these two teams is too large. The Grizzlies just have no space offensively, and it’s just something have to accept because Allen, who, despite a decent shooting outing in this game, remains an impotent outside threat, is their only defender that can slow down Durant. I’m sure Conley will rebound after his poor shooting performance in this one, but the Thunder also have the length and athleticism to throw at Conley all game long and there help defenders can be aggressive in digging down on him when he drives, too. If there’s any hope for the Grizzlies in this series, they’ll need Allen to replicate those same results each and every night and hope that Conley and Marc Gasol can work enough magic in the two man game to create any kind of rhythm for their offense.
But right now, I wouldn’t bet on that happening.
The 2014 NBA playoffs get underway. Join me throughout the day as a liveblog the action!
The Thunder have jumped out to a huge lead. Memphis doesn’t seem to have a puncher’s chance in this game as they continue to throw the ball down to Zach Randolph expecting him to rekindle his magic touch from 2011, and that’s simply not going to happen. I’ll be cutting off the liveblog now and focusing on my recaps. I’ll be back at it with another liveblog tomorrow four another quarter of games.
I’ll have more on the Hawks-Pacers game later tonight. Now we are on to the Grizzlies and Thunder. I don’t think Memphis has a shot in this series and I’ll be surprised if the Thunder can’t pull off a sweep.
The Hawks are in a prime position right now. They’ll need to get good minutes from Shelvin Mack and Lou Williams whenever Teague goes to the bench. Indy made their run in the first half when Teague wasn’t on the floor and when Atlanta’s offense stalled.
Jeff Teague has been unstoppable in the second half. His quickness when coming off of picks is killing the Pacers, and he’s done a brilliant job splitting the big and getting to the rim.
We saw the Pacers switch a Teague/Antic pick-and-roll a moment ago. Teague couldn’t take advantage, but I’m sure Hibbert doesn’t want to have to guard on the perimeter consistently. Meanwhile, the Hawks have started the second half on an 8-0 run, leading to a timeout by Vogel. DeMarre Carroll has been fabulous in this game on both ends, and his three a moment ago made him 2-of-2 from deep on the game. When he’s hitting from deep, Atlanta has a true five out system with their starting unit.
Worked on a few videos for my recap during half-time. We’re tied at 50 to begin the second half. The Pacers seemed to put themselves in a great position heading into the lockerroom before a quick burst from Atlanta in the final minutes. The Hawks still have a great chance in this one. They’ve gotten some great looks, particularly for Korver off screens.
Lance Stephenson has gone on a run for the Pacers, and the Hawks are struggling to sore with Teague, Antic and Millsap on the bench.
Really like the way the Hawks have played to start the game. They’re just putting Indy’s bigs in pick-and-rolls and having Millsap and Antic pop to the top of the key. If the bigs stay back as Indy’s scheme calls for, the shots are open, and if the bigs chase to the perimeter, there’s space for Teague to exploit.
Tremendous win for the Warriors. At the end of the day, nobody will care how this game was won, and now they are going back to Oracle with homecourt advantage. That’s beyond huge. I’ll more on this game in my recap later tonight. Next up is Pacers-Hawks in about 30 minutes. and I have the Hawks pulling off the upset in six games. See you back here then.
Draymond Green with two huge free throws, and the Warriors are 24 seconds and a defensive stop away from pulling off a big upset. It’s tough to tell if this game is a sign of things to come or if the foul plague muddied up the result. Nonetheless, this was a really fun game.
We had a large string of misses for both teams before the Clippers got a couple of baskets on the move. The Warriors have had a ton of success with Steph Curry high screen-and-roll but they’ve gone to Klay Thompson on the block against Chris Paul on the last few possessions, likely because Paul is in foul trouble. They need to stick with Curry running pick-and-rolls, getting LAC to trap the ball and then breaking their rotations with quick passing. On the other end, the Clippers should be giving the Warriors a heavy dose of Blake Griffin once he returns to the game.
The Warriors were out of their minds in the third quarter, surging to an eight point lead while shooting 14-of-20 from the field. Curry was spectacular, David Lee was great, Jermaine O’Neal owned DeAndre Jordan on both ends. A bizarre performance, but it at least partially be explained by Blake Griffin and Chris Paul being in foul trouble.
Things have picked up in Los Angeles. Foul trouble is still having a big impact, but the flow of the game has been much better in this third quarter, especially over the past few minutes. Chris Paul, Steph Curry and J.J. Redick are going back and forth with their own unique brand of offensive brilliance, although the Clippers have had some pretty bad breakdowns on the perimeter that have led to wide open looks for Thompson and Barnes from three. The pace of the game has picked up, and if the fouling slows down we are in for a heck of a finish.
We’re tied up at 52 at the half. Blake Griffin played just four minutes because of foul trouble, Andre Iguodala played a bit longer but at the cost of picking up his fourth foul, Steph Curry was incredible, Chris Paul played well and there was a whistle every half a minute. Golden State is doing a great job of exploiting Los Angeles’ hard hedge on Curry pick-and-rolls buy swinging the ball around to open shooters, but Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson are just 2-of-8 from deep.
DeAndre Jordan was the best player on the floor for the Clippers. There were a couple of defensive breakdowns mixed in, but otherwise he was a monster in the paint, protecting the rim, pulling down rebound and getting himself easy chances with cunning cuts to the rim on offense. The Clippers needed Jordan to step up with Griffin in foul trouble and he did. With the game tied, you’d think that Los Angeles would have the edge in the second half with a fresh Griffin ready to attack the Warriors frontline, although Mo Speights played surprisingly well in the first half.
Four fouls now on Iguodala. Didn’t look like he got Barnes, but Mark Jackson has always risked it in these situations and it may come back to bite him in this game. The Warriors are doing very well defensively while the Clippers try to tread water with Griffin on the bench. As always, Steph Curry’s work on offense is having a big impact on this game, even if he’s just drawing attention to himself so that the Clippers defense cracks somewhere else.
The story of the first quarter was foul trouble. The Clippers established a couple of double digit leads, but Blake Griffin’s two quick fouls allowed the Warrior defense to ramp up on the perimeter, leading to a few easy buckets in transition. Andre Iguodala now has three fouls, though, so Mark Jackson will be relying on Harrison Barnes to shake off his season long funk to give good minutes in the second quarter. DeAndre Jordan played the entire first quarter and Glen Davis played nine minutes, so Griffin is going to have come back in soon, likely as the smallball center while playing with LAC’s bench unit.
The Warriors have cut the Clippers lead to one. Not coincidentally, this all started when Blake Griffin went out of the game with two fouls. With him out of the game, the Warriors have been able to swarm around the perimeter to slow the Clippers offense. On the bright side for Los Angeles, Iguodala now has three fouls.
I’ll have more on the Raptors-Nets game in my recap later tonight. Now we move on to Warriors-Clippers. This series would have been the most entertaining series of the first round were in not for Andrew Bogut’s unfortunate injury in the second to last game of the regular season. His fractured rib will keep him out of the post-season, leaving Golden State without their second best player and their defensive anchor in a matchup against the best offensive team in the league. Any basketball game involving Steph Curry is bound to be fun, but I can’t see the Warriors overcoming the loss of their defensive giant in the middle. I have the Clippers advancing in five.
After Garnett hits a fadeaway in the paint, Pierce nails a three to push Brooklyn’s lead to six with three minutes to play. The Nets’ defense has been tremendous over the past couple of minutes. Length on the perimeter stifling everything the Raptors try to do.
A big stop for the Raptors and an even bigger shot by Lowry at the buzzer to cut the Net lead to five going into the fourth. Toronto has to win this game. As poorly as they’ve played, Brooklyn is not going to shoot worse at any point in this series, and if Toronto doesn’t get going offensively, the way that the Nets have locked down their offense and shut down DeRozan will certainly hamper their confidence going into game two, especially if they lose the opener on their home floor. I expect the Nets to milk Johnson again and to force the Raptor defense into rotations. Lowry may have to have a huge quarter if the Raps are going to pull off a comeback.
The Nets cannot buy a basket from deep right now, and it’s letting Toronto stay in this game even though DeRozan has yet to get anything going. Joe Johnson has started to get going on the block yet again, and he’s finding open guys when Toronto sends the double; the Nets just aren’t hitting those outside shots. The Raptors really need to put a run together soon before the Nets get back on track.
The Raptors have to be happy that they are down just four at the half after they got nothing from Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan. Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez have helped keep them in it by being aggressive going towards the basket and by being comfortable launching shots from the perimeter. If they can get anything out of DeRozan, who was out of sorts in the first half, and Ross, who sat for a long time with three fouls, the Raptors may have a chance to steal this game despite their awful start.
Brooklyn has gotten good production from Deron Williams, but he did take 17 shots to get his 18 points. The Nets were getting a ton of good shots off of Joe Johnson post-ups in the first quarter, but the Raptors ramped up their defense on him in the second quarter, pushing him further away from the basket on his catches and sending quick doubles to get the ball out of his hands while rotating well to make sure the Nets didn’t break their defense with their quick passing. They’ve gotten nothing out of their quartet of bigs: Garnett, Teletovic, Mason Plumlee and Andray Blatche are a combined 1-of-9 from the field.
The difference in the game so far has been turnovers. The Nets have been super protective of the ball, turning it over just three times, while the Raps have as many team turnovers (12) as they do field goals. Brooklyn could come out of the gates strong to widen the gap in this game, but they’ve shot poorly from three in this game, so there’s still a chance for the Raptors to overcome their poor start if they can calm down and play a little more freely in the second half.
Dwane Casey will have to think about getting Hansbrough some extra minutes here and there in this series. His mobility has made a difference in the way Toronto’s defense has covered the spread floor that Brooklyn has. Patterson’s ability to stretch the floor has given the Raps some space on the other end and they are starting to look more comfortable offensively. This should be a good one the rest of the way.
Greivis Vasquez has been solid for the Raptors. He’s the only guy on the team with actual playoff experience and it is showing. He’s been comfortable, as has Lowry, and they’ve been able to slow down the Nets’ offense with Johnson, Pierce and Williams off the floor. Patrick Patterson has also given Toronto something as well. Jason Kidd should be going back to Joe Johnson here soon.
Big issue for the Raptors is how they will get DeRozan going. He was 0-of-5 in the first quarter, including a miss on a wide open corner three. He’s had trouble getting anything going to the rim. Look for the Raps to start running him off of curl screens so he can get some momentum going to the basket.
Kyle Lowry helped keep the Raptors in the game with a nice spurt to end that first quarter. When the Raptors are able to get up and down the floor they should be able to fair better against the older Nets, mostly because it will allow them to flow into their actions rather than getting stagnant like they did during the first 8 minutes of that quarter. Brooklyn has played some sound ball to start the game, and you have to imagine they will keep attacking with Joe Johnson on the block.
The Nets defense is really stifling the Raptors so far. Jason Kidd and his staff have done a great job preparing for this game and Toronto’s sets just aren’t getting them any separation. They are also getting an incredible individual effort from Shaun Livingston, who is forcing DeMar DeRozan into a ton of tough shots. Meanwhile, Brooklyn is milking Joe Johnson in the post. Really good start for the Nets, who just got back-to-back threes from Deron Williams to get their lead up to 12.
Amir Johnson did a great job of disguising which side he was setting that last screen for Lowry on. Allowed Lowry to step into an open three off the pick-and-roll, which is his favorite thing to do. Nets have to be really careful about jumping the screen to the right side in order to take that space away from him. Otherwise the Nets have been pretty decent defensively. They’re forcing the Raps through every option on their sets and making them post up Jonas Valanciunas late in the clock. Luckily for the Raptors, Valanciunas has been tremendous in the early going.
Welcome everybody! Thanks for joining me today. The first game of the day is between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors. I was really hoping that these two teams would avoid each other in the first round because I thought they both had the potential to pull off upsets on the way to the conference finals, but instead they are battling for the right to face Miami in the second round.
This is a really interesting matchup. The Raptors have been playing tremendous basketball ever since they traded Rudy Gay and the Nets have found themselves after some early season turmoil. I’ll have more on the series as the game gets closer.
Goran Dragic is having an MVP-caliber season. He’s shattered his career high in PER, posting a 21.78 rating as of today; he has a 61% true shooting percentage, tops in the league amongst starting point guards; he has the 8th best offensive Real Plus-Minus in the NBA (+4.50), ranking him slightly behind Damian Lillard and ahead of Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Love; the Suns’ offense scores 110.6 points per possession with Dragic on the floor (a tick above Miami’s league leading offense) and just 100.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench (a mark that would rank 6th worst in the league); and most impressively, he’s carried the Suns into the playoff picture despite pre-season forecasts that put in the Suns in contention for the number one overall pick and a two month absence from Eric Bledsoe.
What’s more, he may not even be the best player on his own team.
There’s no denying that Dragic has been the Suns’ leader this season, but in the long run, it‘s likely that Bledsoe will be Phoenix’s max player. It’s not a him-or-me situation with these two natural point guards, though. In the 36 games they’ve played together this season, Dragic and Bledsoe have shared the floor for 821 minutes, during which the Suns have played excellent basketball. With Dragic and Bledsoe on the floor, the Suns are scoring 108.8 points per 100 possessions, which would rank fourth in the league over the course of a full season, while surrendering just 97.7 points per 100 possession on the other end, ranking them near Chicago’s defense this season (2nd overall).
Bledsoe and Dragic are both aggressive players and effective scorers, but because Dragic has developed into a great spot-up shooter (he leads the team in catch and shoot eFG% at 64.3%), he’s been able to seamlessly shift into an off guard that gives the Suns’ tremendous spacing whilst having the ability to run secondary pick-and-rolls against bent defenses. And though Dragic is a bit undersized for a two guard, the Suns have more than survived in spite of any mismatches on both ends of the floor.
Phoenix did not expect to be in the position they are in right now — locked in a three-team race for the final two playoff spots with a week left in the season — but as a small consolation prize for the top-five pick they lost out on once Jeff Hornacek’s group decided they were going to go all out for a post-season spot, the Suns have learned a lot about their team this season, thanks in large part to Hornacek’s free flowing spread offense that induces flashbacks to the Nash and D’Antoni days in the Valley of the Suns.
The Morris twins have both made strides as players, with Markieff having a legitimate case for the 6th Man of the Year Award; Gerald Green may be the league’s most improved player, growing into a legitimate rotation player with an NBA Jam-like ability to get hot from deep; P.J. Tucker has developed an accurate three-point shot from the corners, helping him become a more well-rounded player. And, most importantly, the symbiotic relationship that Bledsoe and Dragic have developed has helped Phoenix solidify their core.
And with three first round draft picks (their own as well as Washington and Indiana’s first round selections) and some cap space to work with once they extend Bledsoe this off-season, the Suns are looking at a bright future.
Eric Bledsoe may have the best nickname in the league. It’s not exactly clever and it doesn’t roll off of the tongue, but in terms of what the nickname actually means, you can do worse than “mini-LeBron.” Bledsoe’s former teammate Jamal Crawford gave him the moniker back in 2012, and before you brush it off as an exaggeration, know that LeBron himself embraced the nickname, referring to Bledsoe as “Baby LeBron” as they chatted after a Clippers-Heat game that season. Though they were friends far before Crawford made the comparison, who knows if Bledsoe would have found himself in one of LeBron’s Samsung commercials if we were calling him “EB” instead.
While putting “mini” in front of something may generally have a negative connotation, the only implication it has here has to do with Bledsoe’s size, not his production or skill level. And it’s true: Bledsoe is a chiseled box score stuffer with out of this world athletic talent, or what LeBron would be were he compressed to fit a point guard’s paradigm. Bledsoe’s even experiencing the same growing pains that LeBron did during his first years in the league, having to adjust to defenses that compensate for their inability to contain his speed and strength by playing off of him and forcing him to shoot jumpshots. To Bledsoe’s credit, he has been an improved and more comfortable shooter this season, knocking down 40% of his mid-range shots and 34% of his threes (on 3.3 attempts per game).
Those aren’t great numbers, but they culminate in a career high 57.1% true shooting percentage (up from 51.3% last season) for Bledsoe, good for sixth in the league amongst starting point guards. Given that true shooting percentage gives more weight to three-point shots and free throws, two areas where Bledsoe is below average amongst his peers, it’s impressive that he ranks as highly as he does. He evades those parameters by being so efficient at the rim. Even as teams scheme to prevent him from getting penetration, Bledsoe is still very good at getting into the lane, and he’s even better at finishing. He’s shooting 63.4% in the restricted area this season, the third best figure in the league amongst point guards with at least 150 field goal attempts at the rim behind Dragic (1st at a ridiculous 67.8%) and John Wall.
Bledsoe did a great job picking Chris Paul’s brain during his time with the Clippers, and he’s implemented some of those nifty hesitation fakes that make Paul a terror to deal with into his own game. And while CP3 is a tough son of a gun, he isn’t the physical or athletic freak that Bledsoe is, and the combination of speed and strength that Bledsoe unleashes on his treks to the rim make it extremely tough for defenses to stop him.
Bledsoe also has a great touch off the backboard with his lay-ups, a fundamental skill that even some of the game’s most graceful athletes like Paul George or Damian Lillard don’t always master. According to SportVu data hosted on NBA.com, the Suns are scoring 8.8 points per game on Eric Bledsoe drives, or just a bit less than Miami scores per game on LeBron drives and a bit more than the Rockets score per game when James Harden goes to the basket.
As he’s been given his biggest role to date, Bledsoe is having a career year, posting a career high PER of 19.22 to go along with his career high usage rate. For a player that struggles with his outside shot, it’s a great sign than his increased usage didn’t lead to a dip in efficiency, similar to how players like Monta Ellis (or at least the old Monta Ellis) and Brandon Jennings saw their effectiveness drop when they were put in charge of more possessions.
The only thing that Bledsoe lacks when being compared to the elite point guards in the game is a huge assist ratio. Bledsoe isn’t in the top 50 amongst point guards in assist rate this season and even his career best mark in his rookie year was just slightly above average. I don’t see this as an issue, though, because if you view both Bledsoe and Dragic as combo guards that can function as scorers and point guards at any time, and often on the same possession, then neither one of them has to assist on the same percentage of baskets that Chris Paul does. And even with his mediocre assist rate, Bledsoe still ranks higher than noted score-first point guards like Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard.
While there is always potential for Bledsoe’s numbers to regress next season when his stats will reflect a full 82 game sample, nothing Bledsoe has done in his 39 games this year has seemed fluky or out of the ordinary. If anything, another off-season to work on his game is likely to lead to more improvement for Bledsoe. And that’s scary for the rest of the league. Because at 24, Bledsoe has put per game stats of 18 points, six assists and five rebounds, attacked the rim ferociously and with excellent efficiency and taken the first steps towards an improved jumpshot.
And I haven’t even touched on the most valuable part of his game.
Bledsoe’s physical archetype defies convention. At a stout 6’1″, Bledsoe not only possesses instinctive footwork, supple speed and a celestial vertical, he has disproportionately long arms that bolt onto his broad shoulders, giving him the reach of a swingman. It’d be hard to sculpt a better prototype for a new age NBA point guard. While Bledsoe’s athleticism allows him to do some very valuable things offensively, his defensive prowess as a guard is unparalleled throughout the league.
During a golden age of point guard play, the tangible effects that a point guard can have defensively have been neutered by their supremely talented offensive counterparts. Only a select few lead guards — Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio, Patrick Beverley and Mike Conley — can claim to be above average defenders. The NBA is a pick-and-roll league filled with a plethora of dynamic point guards, so often forcing guard defenders out of the picture and putting the emphasis on the lumbering bigs.
But Bledsoe flips the script. He forces the emphasis on himself, applying pressure to his man at every opportunity, even as he lurks in the passing lanes, praying for the ball to swing his way.
I’ll never forget watching Bledsoe defend Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili during the 2012 Playoffs. The Clippers were totally overmatched in that series in every way, but during the stints when Bledsoe was on the floor, he completely changed the complexion of the game. On one possession he would corral Parker’s dribble with his long arms and impossibly quick feet, the next he would stick with Ginobili throughout all of his quirky dribbles and fakes and force him to fire a fadeaway jumper. And, based on the numbers, he was even better in the Memphis series that season, with the Clippers possessing a stunning +29.2 net rating with Bledsoe on the floor (and a +14.8 net defensive rating).
ESPN’s newly released Real Plus-Minus stat also portrays how valuable Bledsoe is defensively. Bledsoe has a +3.64 DRPM (defined as a player’s estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance, measured in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions), the best mark of any point guard in the league by a big margin. The results don’t change when going by NBA.com’s on-off court data: With Bledsoe on the floor, the Suns give up 100.4 points per 100 possessions compared to a 105.5 defensive rating when sits, making for a +5.1 net defensive rating for Bledsoe.
Bledsoe uses his brawny upper body to ward off dribble penetration, his quick hands to incessantly poke at the ball like a woodpecker on a tree. He uses his quick feet to stick with his man’s each and every dribble, like a drummer that’s in perfect unison with his lead singer. And when opponents try to get a shot off, Bledsoe shoves his Inspector Gadget arms into the air, an overwhelming resistance for just about every point guard in the league, deterring their shot like he’s Serge Ibaka protecting the rim. Bledsoe owns the game’s most terrifying defensive skillset for a point guard since Gary Payton. A few players have been said to have the tools that could one day make them a stopper like Payton — John Wall is a name that comes to mind — but Bledsoe is a first to put those supernatural physical assets and innate defensive instincts to good use.
Even if his offensive growth stalled out, an unlikely occurrence for a 24-year old, Bledsoe would still be a major asset for the way he’s able to hassle opposing guards. Bledsoe is about as big of a difference maker on the defensive end as you’ll find for someone that doesn’t patrol the paint, and it’s hard for me to imagine Bledoe not supplanting his former tutor on the All-Defensive First Team once his reputation catches up to his game.
With four games left in the season, Hollinger’s NBA Playoff Odds give the Suns a 57.1% chance of making the post-season, and it is all likely to come down to the head-to-head matchups that Phoenix has with both the Mavericks and the Grizzlies over the next few days (the Mavericks play the Grizzlies as well). The Suns currently sit in the seventh seed, but their post-season odds are the lowest of the triad because they’ve already lost the season series (and thus the first tiebreaker) to the Grizzlies.
Should Phoenix make the post-season, it will be one of the most remarkable finishes in league history. The Suns will have gone from a team projected to tank for a top pick to a playoff team that’s likely going to make the Spurs fight their way out of the first round (and, based on their regular season meetings, a 2/7 matchup with Thunder would be thrilling television).
But whether or not the Suns make the playoffs this season will wind up being just a footnote in the grand scheme of things. That’s because the sun isn’t set to rise in Phoenix for another couple of years. But when it does, it’ll likely be lifted up on the vast, yet compact, shoulders of Eric Bledsoe.