Tag archive

Los Angeles Clippers

Heart and Hustle

in NBA by
USATSI_9274734_154512334_lowres

It is hard to decide whether the circumstances surrounding the Los Angeles Clippers’ latest postseason disappointment makes their fate easier to swallow than their last surprising playoff exit.

Last season, a franchise that had barely even sniffed second round in its existence was a quarter away from a conference finals berth that would have greatly altered the perception of the franchise and its core before choking it away. This year, a seemingly cursed franchise suffered two cataclysmic injuries just when promise seemed to be on the horizon.

What is more painful: Having firm control of your situation and failing to meet expectations or never even getting that opportunity?

At the end the day, the details won’t matter for the Clippers. They don’t change the bottom line, which is that this was another lost season for a franchise in desperate need of a breakthrough, a lost season for a core that might not have another season together and a lost season for a point guard whose prime is closer to its end than its beginning.

But the details do matter, at least in one respect.

The poignant difference between the final games of the Clippers’ season during the past two years was their disposition. This time around, the Clippers did not go down without a fight. They were not befuddled by unexpected circumstances like they were when the Rockets made their furious comeback last year in Game 6. Even without their two best players and with J.J. Redick looking like a shell of himself, the Clippers scrapped, clawed and fought back against the Blazers, and they were on level terms with Portland for seven of the final eight quarters of this series.

Doc Rivers and his players said all the right things about trying to move on from the injuries to Paul and Griffin. They talked about coming to terms with the situation and trying to fight through it. It wasn’t an unfamiliar rhetoric; what was surprising was that the Clippers actually lived up to their words. It would have been natural and completely forgivable for the Clippers to fold once their postseason dreams turned into heartbreaking nightmares. Instead, they tried to persevere and did not concede an inch to the Blazers.

The two players who most embodied the Clippers’ undying pride in the final two games were DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers.

Jordan played a fantastic series altogether. Los Angeles came into the series with a staunch dedication to its gameplan for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, which required its bigs to extend high to trap Portland’s star guards before scurrying back to the paint in time to protect the basket. For a player who has become synonymous with the prevalent “ice” coverage, which allows him to sag back in the paint on pick-and-rolls, Jordan showcased an ability to pressure the ball well beyond the 3-point line while still acting as an effective rim deterrent. Things did not get easier for Portland once Paul and Griffin went down, which is a testament to how good Jordan was on the defensive end in this series.

Then there was Rivers, who took an elbow to his left eye during the first quarter of Game 6 and was a bloody mess as the trainers ushered him to the locker room. Rivers only missed about a quarter of the game before returning with 11 stitches under and above his eye. There were times when you could see blood streaming down his face from the fresh wound, but Rivers didn’t care. He managed to pour in 21 points to go along with eight assists and six rebounds with one eye practically shut, a la Steve Nash in the 2010 semifinals against the Spurs.

When the final buzzer sounded, Rivers was emotional. You could tell he mustered up everything he could to get back in the game and play through his impairment for his teammates, and he literally left his blood, sweat and tears on the court.

Given that his coach is also his father and that his tenure in New Orleans didn’t go particularly well, Rivers has been one of the league’s most maligned players during the past two seasons. Many believe he wouldn’t have a spot in the league if it weren’t for his dad’s role as coach and general manager, but this game helped confirm that isn’t the case. This was the fourth time he has scored 15 or more points in a postseason game for the Clippers, and his defense on Lillard was phenomenal. Rivers has a player option for next season, but don’t be surprised if he opts out in search of a better deal.

What happens next for the Clippers will be one of the biggest stories of the offseason. Or maybe it won’t. Much like this season, when the Clippers were an afterthought hidden in the footnotes of historical seasons for the Warriors and Spurs, Kevin Durant’s free agency (and who knows, maybe LeBron’s, too) might push any shakeup in Los Angeles to the backburner.

I hope this isn’t the end for the Clippers as we know them, though. Doc Rivers talked before the season about change being necessary if a core becomes stale, but the way this season ended was obviously not a product of that. Los Angeles certainly needs to upgrade to stay on course with the Warriors, and Doc’s extremely spotty record as a GM leaves little room for hope on that front, but after all this team has been through, it doesn’t deserve for its present era to be ended by untimely injuries.

But if this was the last time we see this iteration of the Clippers, even if Paul and Griffin were absent, at least they went out fighting like a team that believed it could overcome its certain demise. For the Clippers franchise, that is a victory in and of itself.

Back In The Spotlight

in NBA by
USATSI_9269717_154512334_lowres

For the first time in three seasons, Chris Paul overshadowed Stephen Curry. Ever since Curry broke out on the national stage in 2013, Paul has become a bit of an afterthought, replaced as the league’s preeminent point guard while the Warriors quickly supplanted the Clippers as the most exhilarating team in California.

Monday night, however, Paul stole the spotlight back. And it could not have been for a worse reason.

Just more than 24 hours after Curry slipped on a wet spot near midcourt at the Toyota Center and suffered a mild MCL sprain, Paul’s innocuous reach on Gerald Henderson produced even more disastrous results, for he fractured the third metacarpal in his right hand. While Curry’s initial two-week timetable leaves room for optimism, Paul is expected to be out for the remainder of the postseason, giving the Clippers little reason to hope.

And, as the Clippers luck would have it, Paul isn’t only causality they will have to deal with in this series. In Game 4, Blake Griffin aggravated the quad injury that kept him out for a large part of the season, and the team has announced he is done for the year. The cherry on top is J.J. Redick, whose bruised heel is limiting his effectiveness on the heels of the best season of his career. By the end of Game 4, the lineup the Clippers had on the floor looked like one Doc Rivers deployed in the dying days of the season when the seeds were set, and that is going to be how the Clippers look to finish this series.

This was a cruel turn for one of America’s sincerely cursed sports franchises. When the Clippers took the floor in Portland on Monday night, their oft-criticized core had never been in a better position to make the conference finals. The most optimistic timetable for Curry had him returning for Game 4 in the second round at the earliest, and Los Angeles was in a good position to take a 3-1 lead against the Blazers, a team it had dominated for two of the first three games of the series.

By the start of the fourth quarter, that narrative had been completely reversed. Suddenly, the Warriors seemed to escape the possibility of facing the Clippers, a team that consistently pushes them (in large part thanks to Paul’s fight), without Curry and instead a more favorable matchup against the Blazers had become more likely.

This was also an unbelievably traumatic twist for Paul. Paul is one of this generation’s most brilliant and accomplished players, but circumstances and happenings out of his control have robbed him of a legitimate title chance seemingly every season. He had had a fantastic regular season, perhaps his best since his first with the Clippers, navigating choppy waters without Griffin for most of the season and carrying the team to another 50-win season, no small feat for Clipper land. Most importantly, Paul was healthy for most of the year and might have played all 82 for the second straight season were it not for precautionary DNPs and the Clippers resting guys down the stretch. Another of Paul’s prime seasons going to waste because such an unlucky injury in the postseason feels so unjust.

Now that the Blazers have found an offensive rhythm and with the Clippers down their two best players, the pendulum has swung violently in Portland’s favor for the remainder of this series, and Los Angeles shutting down Griffin could easily be interpreted as the white flag on this season. So within two days we went from having two blockbuster, potentially all-time great, second round matchups – Oklahoma City vs San Antonio and Los Angeles vs Golden State – to one great series and another tarnished by injuries.

The pressure has certainly shifted to the Thunder and Spurs, two teams that couldn’t have envisioned this good a shot at the Finals just two days ago. Assuming the Blazers are able to defeat the Clippers, which they should be favored to do at this point, they will face the Warriors without the league MVP, but Golden State will be happier to see the Blazers than the healthy Clippers, for the Warriors have a much better chance to stall against Portland, making Curry’s return while the series is still being decided a possibility. Either way, if Portland can beat the wounded Warriors or if Golden State scraps by the Blazers with Curry barely rounding into form, the Thunder or Spurs will smell blood in the water in the conference finals.

Meanwhile, Paul and the Clippers will likely be at home watching the conference finals yet again, wondering what might have been. In back-to-back seasons the Clippers were a fourth quarter away from their first conference finals birth – first against the Thunder in 2014, then the Rockets last season – only to choke away those opportunities. Maybe they wouldn’t have gotten nearly as close this year, but in many ways a second round victory against the (healthy) defending champions would have been a validation of this Clippers’ core.

But now, because of the unforgiving and untimely nature of injuries, the Clippers won’t have that chance. And who knows how much time Paul has left in the spotlight.

Grass Is Greener, Pt. 3

in NBA by
jeff green

There is some unidentifiable, likely illusionary, quality that Jeff Green possesses that turns NBA executives into overzealous caretakers who are stricken by the belief that they have the necessary infrastructure in place to extract whatever furtive ability still lies beneath Green’s surface.

That unfettered confidence has twice been the justification for trading a first round pick for Green. Memphis dealt a first rounder that is expected to convey in 2018 to Boston for Green in Jan. 2015, and the Los Angeles Clippers traded a lottery-protected first (likely to convey in 2019) to Memphis for Green on Thursday. After dangling Lance Stephenson to a number of teams before the deadline, Los Angeles opted to move him for Green rather than Channing Frye, and the cost of acquiring a more intriguing asset (and an expiring contract with Bird Rights) was a first rounder.

That is, in a vacuum, logical thinking. Frye would have been a nice addition, but his impact would have been muted when Blake Griffin returned from injury and resumed playing 35 minutes a night at power forward.1 Green is younger, can be let go this summer if this trial doesn’t work out and can play a position the Clippers haven’t filled with an above average player in several years.

The troublesome part is that the Clippers are betting on a potentially counterfeit asset, and that the executive who thinks he has the right environment for Green to thrive in is also the coach, spawning some kind of circular logic founded on unsubstantiated optimism. This is the second time Doc Rivers has acquired Green, and though he is in the middle of his prime now, Green is even less of a reliable quantity than he was when the Celtics got him from the Thunder in 2011. Who knows how Green’s career would have turned out if he didn’t have to miss the entire 2011-12 season while he recovered from heart surgery, but his time in the league since has mostly been cloudy and underwhelming.

Green is a combo forward who doesn’t have standout qualifications for either position. He’s a good athlete who can play in transition and has shown some ability to attack the rim against bent defenses and on cuts, but his efficiency has always been lacking (he’s never had a PER above 15.01), he is an inconsistent outside shooter (he’s shooting 31 percent deep this season and his career average is 34 percent), his defense is average for someone with his physical tools and he is not much a ball mover or someone who creates good shots for his teammates.2

But then there are those stretches, those games, those possessions, where Green looks like a player worth salvaging, a patient worth treating with alternative means. There was a stretch at the end of January when Green scored 30, 21, 29 and 24 in consecutive games, shooting better than 60 percent on each occasion. When a coach like Rivers gives up a first rounder for Green, he isn’t looking at modest per game averages and cantankerous shooting percentages; he sees those glimpses, which are sometimes as prolonged as a whole week, and figures that kind of production would be nice to have, even if it comes in spurts.3

For a team that has been on the edge of a conference finals appearance, which should not be treated as some sort of laughable consolation prize given the current state of the West, that is far from the most objectionable rationale, and yet this trade reeks of the kind of move that a desperate team makes.

Contextually, this deal looks much worse than it is because of what the Pistons did Tuesday. Stan Van Gundy, whose front office debut has restored faith in the idea of coaches duel-wielding basketball-related responsibilities after Rivers sabotaged it, acquired a player who is essentially a younger, more malleable version of Green, Tobias Harris, without sacrificing any future assets, instead completing the deal with two expiring contracts as trade chips. Operating under the assumption that Orlando did the deal to clear an expensive cog in its forward log jam and to open up cap space in the summer, then the Clippers might have been able to send Stephenson and Jamal Crawford’s expiring contracts for Harris, who is under contract for three more seasons on a declining contract.

Then again, Rivers has never coached Harris before, so that move never seemed to be on that table. That Rivers has yet to expand beyond the scope of players he either coached or coached against might be the most concerning part about his tenure as a front office executive. One way to break that cycle is to inject some fresh (and cheap) talent into your locker room via the draft, but Rivers made how much he values draft picks evident in this deal.

To his discredit, Rivers has an embarrassing draft rap sheet, and the fact that he treated a first rounder like the worthless fodder his selections have turned out to be highlights an insensible thought process. The Clippers were the only team to sacrifice a small slice of its future in a win-now move at the deadline, which means they were the only team that thought it could improve enough to have a better shot at Golden State. All the other buyers on the market decided against pushing for contention because they had the sense to recognize how far off they are.

The Clippers have decent reason to believe they can give the Warriors a series, but that isn’t exactly the kind of ringing endorsement that should push a team to sacrifice a first round pick for a slight upgrade at small forward. That leads to the most interesting part of this trade: That Green might not be a significantly better basketball player than Stephenson, if he is better at all.

Stephenson was a spotty performer and never earned a spot in Rivers’ rotation, so Rivers traded for a commodity he was more comfortable with even though the new player might be worse and the opportunity cost of such a transaction was a first round pick.4

Somewhere, in the back of his mind, Rivers has to realize the risk he took with this deal. He has to know that sacrificing a long term asset for a negligible upgrade in talent and fit is such bad business that even Kanye West wouldn’t consider it. He has to realize he has established a troubling trend of acquiring has-been and never-was players whom he has spent considerable time around and against.

Rivers must have considered of all of this before he decided to pull the trigger on a move in which he spent a first round pick on a perennially vague forward whose ideal situation is as hard to discover as gravitational waves. But despite all of the cons listed on his legal pad, Rivers was inebriated by Green’s imperceptible allure, and he is giving Green a third chance to prove that the grass can be greener if you find the proper pasture.

Footnotes


 

Still On Top

in NBA by
USATSI_8903463_154512334_lowres

GSWLAC

The Clippers nearly did the impossible. They nearly became the first team in what seems like forever to spot Golden State a 17-point, come back and live to talk about it. Nearly.

Instead, despite getting a 10-point lead of its own with five minutes to play, the Clippers fell short of the Warriors once again. It was the same old story for Golden State: Remove all of the constraints of traditional basketball – ie. a big man – and play free flowing basketball with offensive threats all over the flow. The Clippers are supposed to have one of the most capable frontlines in the league when it comes to countering Golden State’s futuristic lineup, but they were shut down on Wednesday night.

Draymond Green flew around the floor and made plays, and his teammates followed suit. Even when Andre Iguodala wound up switched on Blake Griffin, who is on a tear to start the season, Griffin couldn’t muster much when trying to back him down. As we saw when the chips were down last postseason, Golden State’s trump card changed the game, with its stops fueling its offense, and particularly Curry, who fired in threes from across the bay like it was nothing.

This game had a weird flow to it. Curry was taken out of the game after just three minutes due to foul trouble and didn’t return until the start of the second quarter. In the second half, the same thing happened to Paul, who picked up his fourth foul with eight minutes left in the third and sat almost an entire quarter until he returned. Even still, both teams managed to play tremendous offensive games, especially given the defensive prowess of its opposition.

Griffin was spectacular for most of the game, but his inability to muster a good look when the Warriors had smaller defenders on him down the stretch was worrisome. In a postseason matchup between these two teams, that would be a frequent occurrence, and if Green is going to switch onto Paul, then Griffin has to make Golden State pay. Curry (31 points, 5 boards, 7 threes) and Paul (24 points, 9 assists, 3 steals) were both fantastic, as always seems to be the case in one of the league’s most exhilarating point guard matchups. The same cannot be said for whatever Jamal Crawford was doing last night.

Despite the loss, I think this might be an early-season confidence boost for the Clippers. They got down big in the league’s toughest road environment, fought back with their reserves and got themselves in a position to win. Execute better, and smarter, when the Warriors hand you a size advantage and get out to Curry quicker on his pull-ups and perhaps this result is different. No other team has challenged the Warriors to this point and despite the somewhat deflating loss, I thought this was a good showing for Los Angeles overall.

SASWAS

In the blink of an eye, the Spurs were down 19-2. Then they went on a 21-3 run and took a 23-22 lead at the end of the first quarter. While it was a particularly impressive comeback in the moment, in hindsight it was illustrative of a larger issue that has troubled the Spurs through five games: The starting unit is far from a finished product.

The Spurs starting lineup, while elite defensively (96.1 defensive rating), is only scoring 91.2 points per 100 possessions in their 78 minutes together this season. But once Pop makes his first waves of substitutions – usually Manu Ginobili for Danny Green, Patty Mills for Tony Parker and Boris Diaw for Tim Duncan – the Spurs look like one of the best teams in basketball. The group of Mills, Manu, Kawhi, Diaw and Aldridge is scoring 106.5 points per 100 possessions while only allowing 88 points per 100 possessions on the other end.

Aldridge and Diaw have been the Spurs’ best big man pairing both statistically and aesthetically. Aldridge has shown better prowess as a rim protector than I thought he would, so when Diaw checks in for Duncan and provides his unique blend of passing, cutting and spacing, the Spurs get back to the beautiful game that they showcased in the 2014 Finals. With Duncan and Aldridge, things are more cramped, possessions develop slower and Aldridge really isn’t getting that many touches, which is surprising only because the slower pace seems to be a way to introduce Aldridge’s post-game into the Spurs’ vernacular.

San Antonio looked good for most of this game after the first quarter, but once the starters returned in the final five minutes, the offense went in the tank and its turnovers fueled the Wizards’ transition attack. The Wizards, who were playing small with Jared Dudley at the four, were always going to trouble San Antonio’s twin towers lineup in transition, and the Spurs’ turnovers only made matters worse. Tony Parker nearly saved San Antonio with his game-tying three in the final seconds, but Bradley Beal returned the favor after the Spurs messed up a switch on a high screen designed to free Beal. Beal shook a hurried Aldridge, who was rushing to cover for Leonard, and buried the winner.

In May, I wrote about John Wall’s path to stardom, and he was unbelievable in this game. Shooting 6-of-16 isn’t great, but he orchestrated everything for Washington in this game, dishing out 13 assists with only one turnover while gobbling up four steal that got the Wizards on the break. His ability to read a defense continues to impress, and he caused several breakdowns by the Spurs in this game.

Meanwhile, I may end up writing a similar piece about the growth of Bradley Beal. Beal looks like a legitimate offensive superstar right now, and he’s a good defender as well. Beal scored 25 points on 50% shooting, grabbed give boards, dished out four assists and collected three steals against the Spurs, and he’s averaging 25 points with 48/46/75 shooting splits to start the season. It looks like Washington’s two budding stars are finally coming into their own. And if this team lands a certain local kid in the summer, the East might have a new king.

HOUORL

The Magic are the most entertaining, if not best, 1-4 team I can remember seeing in recent years. Their four losses have been by a combined 14 points (or six points less than the standard Rockets loss this season), two of which came in over time, and they’ve played the Wizards, Thunder, Bulls, Pelicans and Rockets. 1-4 against five playoff teams may be a solid indication that the Magic still have a ways to go before they are legitimate playoff team, but they’ve been right there in every game and Scott Skiles has done a nice job revamping this team on the fly.

Perhaps the Magic would have prevailed in this one had Nikola Vucevic not gone out with an injury in the second quarter. But Aaron Gordon came off the bench and gave the Magic 32 really good minutes. He scored 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting while grabbing eight rebounds and playing really good one-on-one defense when matched up with James Harden on a couple of occasions. Evan Fournier was also quite good for the Magic, posting a 29-6-4 line while spending most of the game attacking Harden on the offensive end.

Harden had another awful shooting game – you know you’re shooting poorly when a 2-of-11 performance from three actually improves your 3-point percentage for the season – but in typical Harden fashion, he got to the line 17 times and helped seal the victory in the closing moments. Interestingly, Gordon’s emergence led to just 21 minutes for Tobias Harris, who played well for the most part. He had 16 points and five boards but didn’t see any time in the crucial moments of the game, save for the final possession. Harris seems like the kind of guy who you want to play as much as possible against the smallball Rockets, but I guess it will take some time for Harris to earn Skiles’ trust after their falling out in Milwaukee when they were both Bucks.

g12558-1

The Thunder had this game in the bag. They lead by six with two minutes to go, but the Raptors were the most aggressive team down the stretch. They scored eight points from the free throw line and their two crunchtime field goal came inside the paint while Westbrook and Durant couldn’t manage to put home any of their close-range attempts.

This game must have taken place in a parallel universe, because the Thunder, who own time shares at the free throw line, had only 14 free throw attempts while DeMar DeRozan had 15 by himself. As a team, the Raptors had 39 free throw attempts, which helped make up for the fact that Oklahoma city shot 48% from the field in this game. DeRozan put his head down and went at Andre Roberson and Serge Ibaka all game long, and I thought Jonas Valanciunas, off to a fine start this season, got the better of Steven Adams and Ibaka as well.

Russell Westbrook came out of the gates on fire – as a passer. He dished out 16 assists on the night, but he was off from the field, and Kevin Durant’s 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting wasn’t enough for the Thunder to overcome their excessive fouling and 19 turnovers. Oklahoma City is last in the league in turnovers per game at 20.2, more than two more than Philadelphia, who take as good of care of the ball as I do of my pencils. It’s early, but Billy Donovan still has some work to do with his team’s discipline on both ends.

It’s Going Down!

in NBA by
NBA: Playoffs-Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors

NetsRapsG1

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.

WarriorsClippersG1

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.

HawksPacersG1

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.

GrizzlieThunderG1

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.

A Hollywood Ending

in NBA by
paulgeorgea

g26944-6For the most part, this game was much closer than you would expect for a matchup between one of the few title contenders in the East and a tanking team. That’s because Jacque Vaughn has a few very tantalizing prospects on his roster, and one of them really came to play in this one. Second year player Andrew Nicholson was feeling it offensively in this game, knocking down a pair of corner threes, pulling off a sweet spin move from the elbow to get himself a lay-up, nailed a jumper off a pick-and-pop and showed his underrated ability on the block. He’s an emerging player that can do a lot of things offensively and he really should be Orlando’s starting power forward going forward ahead of Jason Maxiell.

Rookie Victor Oladipo and second year player Maurice Harkless also looked nice in this game. I was a bit surprised that Oladipo didn’t get the start at point guard, but I guess I’m OK with him coming off the bench until the Magic find a suitor for Jameer Nelson. Oladipo appears to be a tireless attacker that will foray to the rim time after time off pick-and-rolls and other actions. Harkless is mostly viewed as a defensive prospect, but his offensive game needs to come along for him to develop into a solid rotation player. If this game was any indication, he’s on track to becoming a bit more of a diverse threat. He drilled a pair of threes and even had a nice attack of the rim on a pick-and-roll late in the game.

But let’s make no mistake about it, the Pacers are really good. Their offense is going to be sticky at times this season, particularly as they wait for the return of Danny Granger, but that defense is as good as ever. Given their exploits on that side of the floor, I think you can make a case for Paul George and Roy Hibbert as the best duo in the league. Hibbert controls the game so well on the interior, and he dominated this game to the tune of 16 rebounds and seven blocks. It’s a nightly joy to watch the Pacers’ defense work with Hibbert in the middle, as he does a tremendous job containing pick-and-rolls while still managing to protect the paint. George was tremendous as well, putting up 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting (3-of-6 from three), with six rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

g26410-9This one looked like it had the makings of a classic Bulls-Heat game in the early and the late goings, but Miami dominated the bulk of this game by completely destroying the Bulls defense by attacking them in semi-transition. I thought the Bulls did a pretty good job when their defense got set in this game, but the combination of foul trouble for Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler and Miami relentlessly pushing the pace and playing quite flawlessly on the break put Chicago in a bind they couldn’t escape. The Heat ramped up their defense as well in this contest, rotating like mad and taking away almost all of Chicago’s offensive opportunities that didn’t involve Carlos Boozer bullying somebody downlow. Derrick Rose had a forgettable return, shooting just 4-of-15 from the field with six missed threes and five turnovers. Miami really put the pressure on him and Chicago’s auxiliary options were unable to make the Heat pay for most of the night.

Aside from the lights out shooting from Shane Battier and Ray Allen, I came away from this one really impressed with Norris Cole. I thought he was everywhere in this game, making stellar plays in transition and when attacking the rim, snatching up seven rebounds, finding teammates and competing defensively. Mario Chalmers wasn’t bad himself – 13 points, five steals, four assists – but it appears as if Erick Spoelstra has reached the point where he is comfortable closing games with either on the floor. And in case you were wondering, plus/minus freak Chris Andersen had eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 17 minutes, during which the Heat outscored the Bulls by 14. I’m not a fan of individual plus/minus that isn’t adjusted for other factors, but Andersen has been a real difference maker for the Heat since they signed him last year.

lakersclipsIn what can easily be described as the biggest upset of the season, the Lakers – or, more specifically, the Lakers’ second unit – housed the Clippers, winning the fourth quarter 41-24 en route to a 13-point opening day victory. Throughout this entire game it was tough not to feel like the Lakers were showing a lot of heart to stay in the game, but that eventually the Clippers would exert their will and their large talent advantage would carry them to victory.

Instead, a mash unit made up of Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill vastly outplayed the Clippers down the stretch, using a spread pick-and-roll attack to cause the Clips’ D to fundamentally breakdown while they zoned off Chris Paul on pick-and-rolls and dared Blake Griffin to beat them (I’m not sure you can dare a star power forward to beat you anymore than by putting Wesley Johnson on him in the post). It was the first time since Mike D’Antoni was hired by the Lakers last season that it looked like the team was playing his style of basketball. Ironically, even with star talent like Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard on the floor last post-season, the offense never looked as good as it did with the second unit tonight (the Clippers’ horrendous defense played a large role in this, too).

Hats off to D’Antoni, too, for sticking to his word. In the pre-season he said that a lot of his line-up decisions would be made by the players and whoever was hot. He held true to that philosophy in this one, choosing not to disrupt the flow that Farmar and the second unit had, which meant keeping Nash, Blake and Gasol on the bench for the final 15 minutes of the game. Again, this is not a move I think D’Antoni would make last season, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the Lakers didn’t have the kind of athletes that they do now. They may be no names and reclamation projects at best, but they competed and with a legit NBA point guard in Farmar piloting the attack, the Lakers were able to find open looks.

Xavier Henry looks like the most promising youngster of the bunch, outside of Farmar, of course, but he’s proven to an extent and should be the sixth man for this team. Henry had a career high 22 points in his Lakers debut, the high mark of of the team’s 76 bench points, and showed an array of skills attacking the rim and shooting from the outside. He’s never really shown the ability to knockdown jumpers consistently, but he made all three of his three-pointers, and his athleticism has always been his calling card. He had a nifty dunk in transition and had a eurostep on a drive to the rim that the Lakers haven’t seen from someone not named Kobe in a long time.

Johnson, who shot 1-for-11 from the field, with that one make being a critical three in the fourth quarter, also played a big role defensively. He was asked to guard Blake Griffin the post initially, and then the Lakers would tilt their defense toward Blake, sending help at him and putting him in tough spots. When he did try and score, Griffin looked uncomfortable to say the least. I think the Lakers had a great gameplan for playing small and defending Blake at the same time, and they also did a great job against Chris Paul the scorer.

The Clippers have to be worried about how their defense performed. The offense had some great movement for most of the night, but their defense fell apart quickly in the second half. Darren Collison was letting whoever was in front of him get to the rim with ease and the backline of the Clippers defense couldn’t withstand Farmar’s dribble penetration in the fourth quarter, which freed up the Lakers’ shooters. Now, the Lakers may never shoot the ball as well as they did in that fourth quarter again this season, but the shots were there because of the Clips’ breakdowns. The fact that the Clippers don’t have a reliable, or even decent, third big man is a huge deal – Ryan Hollins played four minutes while Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens didn’t see the floor. Perhaps this is a positive in that it will get DeAndre Jordan more minutes, but the Clippers aren’t going to be an elite defensive team without a quality back-up big.

This game may end up meaning nothing more than that crazy things can happy in the NBA, but there were some encouraging signs from the Lakers in this one – not the least of which is that Pau Gasol looks like the prototypical D’Antoni big when he’s shifted to center – and some things to worry about for Doc Rivers and the Clippers.

Plan Bledsoe

in NBA by
bledsoe

As someone that decided to attend Oklahoma State University about midway through the 2012-13 college basketball season, I felt weird watching the Cowboys play for the rest of the year as sure one-and-done prospect Marcus Smart developed into the best all-around player in the country. On one hand, I thought it was cool that I’d be able to say that I went to the same school as Smart and cheer him on in the pros, but on the other, I was sad that I wouldn’t be on campus to watch him play in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

As happy as I was to hear that Smart was making the unprecedented decision to pass up a sure top five selection to come back to OSU for his sophomore season, the Orlando Magic had to be equally depressed. The Magic, who have a pretty solid, if not unremarkable, foundation, are in need of a franchise point guard, and Smart embodies everything you’d want in your floor general: leadership, fearlessness, discipline and competitive fire. In a draft class devoid of a superduper star player, Smart and the Magic were the best match on the board as far as finding a team a cornerstone piece.

Losing out on the top selection because of a few stray ping-pong balls and ending up with the #2 pick doesn’t phase the Magic at all, it’s the absence of Smart’s name on their draft board that hurts the Orlando front office. Michigan’s Trey Burke is the top point guard prospect available in the draft this year, but he doesn’t bring with him the total package that Smart does and the Magic don’t seem to be in love with the idea of taking him with the second overall pick.

So Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan, who had an impressive first year on the job for a 30-year old, appears to be taking his search for a new point guard to the trade market. According to a report by ESPN’s Chad Ford, Orlando has shown interest in Los Angeles Clippers’ back-up point guard Eric Bledsoe. The specifics of the rumor are that the Magic are set to offer Arron Afflalo to the Clippers for Bledsoe as well as Caron Butler’s expiring contract.

The caveat with any rumor involving Bledsoe is that the Clippers are not going to part ways with him until they are 110% sure that Chris Paul is going to return to the team. Simply put: Bledsoe is their CP3 insurance. The obvious hurdle in any pre-draft deal involving Bledsoe is that the Clippers would not have Paul’s desire to return to Los Angeles in ink yet, so they’d be taking a risk even if CP3 has given them a verbal promise. Since the rumored deal doesn’t involve draft picks, the Magic could be the ones to take the risk by drafting a non-point guard with their pick and hoping that Paul doesn’t leave LA so that the Clippers will finally let go of Bledsoe.

While this is a pretty significant barrier between Bledsoe becoming a Magic, this is the rare rumor I feel like delving into because it makes quite a bit of sense for both sides.

It’s a no-brainer for the Magic.

Bledsoe brings many of the same aspects to the table that Smart does; Bledsoe is a much better athlete and Smart a much better pure passer, but each is a very complete player whose biggest weakness is their lack of a jumpshot. Bledsoe is a legitimate game changer on the defensive end and has the ability to put pressure on the defense via pick-and-rolls with his speed; teams smartly adjusted to Bledsoe’s ability to attack the rim by having their big man sag off him when he turns the corner and, again, that is where he has to improve to be an above average offensive player.

Afflalo was portrayed as the big grab for the Magic in the Dwight Howard deal, but it turns out that everyone involved in that trade got screwed except for the Nuggets, so trading Afflalo, and his sizable contract (three years left at $23.3 million), for a potential laden young point guard wouldn’t taint my opinion of the Howard deal (in fact, you can look at it like Bledsoe was Orlando’s big get in that deal). Acquiring Butler would help clear Orlando’s cap sheet for next off-season and could hypothetically Al Harrington his way through next season.

Trading away a player like Bledsoe is something that a franchise often grows to regret in hindsight, but with Chris Paul in tow, I doubt the Clips will be crying over spilled milk. There’s a case to be made for keeping Bledsoe and having one of the league’s best back-up point guards at your disposal, but Los Angeles has to know that they’ll never be able to extract the most out of Bledsoe as a back-up. Instead, they can trade the 35% of Bledsoe they get using him as a reserve and replace him with 100% of a solid two-way swingman like Afflalo.

Afflalo is an upgrade on both ends of the floor over Butler, and if the Clippers decide to retain Matt Barnes, they can roll into next season with a very good Paul-Afflalo-Barnes-Griffin-Jordan starting line-up. Afflalo offers the same spot-up shooting ability as Butler on top of the ability to do other things effectively in a pinch; Afflalo can come off screens and knockdown shots, he’s got an effective and nifty post-game with a nice touch on his turnaround jumper and he ran more pick-and-roll than ever last season, Though he’s not a great ball-handler, Afflalo can run secondary pick-and-roll or make plays one-on-one for a team that desperately needs the ball to swing to both sides of the floor on a given possession.

The Clippers are already locked in cap wise if they resign Paul, so the only way they are getting a role player of Afflalo’s caliber is via trade, and at this point in their development as a team, getting a perimeter player that can defend well and isn’t solely a spot-up guy offensively is a must. Bledsoe is a tough piece to give up, but sometimes it’s better to have a good pie all to yourself rather than a marginal slice of a very good one.

NBA Playoffs Liveblog: Day 1

in NBA by
celticsknicks

Join me and Demarcus Robinson as we liveblog the first day of the 2013 NBA Playoffs!

Mark Travis - 4:34 PM ET

Demarcus is here to help me out with the Warriors-Nuggets game. With Faried injured and likely out, I’m picking Golden State to steal this game and to win the series in six, mostly because I want to feel what it’s like to root for Stephen Curry.

Mark Travis - 4:33 PM ET

Tremendous win for the Knicks. Almost everything went wrong for them – horrid offensive execution, Tyson Chandler being hurt, Carmelo’s off night – and they still beat Boston at their own game. I’m starting on my recap of the game now.

Mark Travis - 4:26 PM ET

Tremendous play from Jason Kidd has helped the Knicks secure a seven point lead with 1:21 left in the game. Kidd has been everywhere defensively and the Knicks have been able to hit some big shots while the Celtics have gone cold on the offensive end.

Mark Travis - 4:06 PM ET

The Knicks’ effort level has taken a step up in the fourth. They sense that Boston is not going to beat themselves and that they must play better in order to beat them. New York needs to continue to trust their pick-and-roll attack and try and swing the ball to get good looks. It is much better to get Carmelo a three point look off of a few swing passes than it is to give him the ball and ask him to take the shot off the dribble.

I expect Boston to go to some Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett pick-and-roll action here with either one of them getting a post-up off the action.

Mark Travis - 3:57 PM ET

Boston takes a three-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Knicks did a little bit better job of getting their pick-and-roll action going in the third, but it still wasn’t enough. The Knicks need to get into their flow offense and start swinging the ball to get good looks on basically every possession instead of relying on isolation plays.

Mark Travis - 3:31 PM ET

Mike Woodson didn’t waste much time to put J.R. Smith into the game to give his offense a boost. Boston has been so awesome on defense in this game and the Knicks haven’t been able to generate any space with Felton running things and Melo being the only other player on the floor capable of creating his own shot. Smith changes that and just nailed a pull-up jumper to give the Knicks the lead again. This is a good timeout by Doc; Boston’s offense needs to get back into rhythm.

Mark Travis - 3:12 PM ET

The Celtics look like the better team right now. Their offensive execution is solid and they are taking advantage of every transition opportunity they’ve gotten while the Knicks’ offense has devolved into Carmelo isolations. Boston is pressuring the ball and forcing the Knicks to start their offense so late in the clock and all New York is doing is giving the ball to Carmelo and getting out of the way. That strategy is not working with Brandon Bass defending him. Bass was tremendous against LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals last year and he’s been great on Carmelo. He’s not making anything easy for Anthony and he’s only gotten blown by once by the more athletic Anthony.

This was a great half for Boston because they’ve proven to themselves that they’ll be able to stop the Knicks and score at a decent clip. When the Celtics aren’t getting their offense from Paul Pierce posting up, it’s Jeff Green being really aggressive that has fueled their attack. Green has 20 points on 10 shots at the half while Pierce and Garnett have only combined to shoot 14 times (their major contribution has been their 10 combined assists).

Boston has a 53-49 lead at halftime. New York is going to have to come out of the lockerroom ready to execute their offense rather than dumping it down to Carmelo every play. If they continue to play ISO ball, Boston is going to steal this game.

Mark Travis - 2:53 PM ET

The Celtics are just posting Paul Pierce up on every possession and burning the Knicks with cuts from the weakside because their rotations aren’t crisp. On three straight plays Avery Bradley has dove right down the lane from the perimeter and received a pass from Pierce for an easy lay-up. Boston’s offense has more fluidity to it than New York’s does right now, mostly because the Knicks are isolating Carmelo instead of getting pick-and-roll action going.

Mark Travis - 2:42 PM ET

Jeff Green has been tremendous for the Celtics this game, knocking down threes, playing good defense at attacking in the half-court. He had given the Celtics a six point lead before Jason Kidd led the Knicks back into the lead with a 9-0 run by hitting two threes and assisting on a triple by Iman Shumpert.

Mark Travis - 2:32 PM ET

Once the initial shock of Carmelo’s start wore off, the Celtics outclassed the Knicks on both ends of the floor and end up with a 29-26 lead at the end of the first thanks to a buzzer beating three by Jeff Green. Boston is working their offense and getting good looks and their defense is forcing the Knicks into some tough shots. New York can’t settle for deep twos if they want to beat Boston’s defense.

Mark Travis - 2:23 PM ET

J.R. Smith just threw down a thunderous dunk off a pick-and-roll. When Smith aggressively turns the corner off high ball screens instead of settling for pull-up jumpers the Knicks’ offense is even tougher to guard. Smith presents a different set of challenges than Felton because he can make the outside shot and finish over size in the paint.

Mark Travis - 2:19 PM ET

Two first quarter fouls on Avery Bradley is huge. He’s been tremendous defensively for Boston and he’s grown to be a solid outside shooter and secondary pick-and-roll guy.

Mark Travis - 2:09 PM ET

Carmelo Anthony, ladies and gentlemen! What a start from one of the league’s deadliest scorers. He’s four-of-four from the field and he’s drilled three contested jumpers already (two of which were threes). Boston is running some nice off-ball action to get the ball into Kevin Garnett and Paul Piece, but they aren’t going to win a shootout with the Knicks if Carmelo gets going.

Mark Travis - 2:04 PM ET

Pablo Prigioni has been a solid rotation player for the Knicks this season, but Chris Copeland starting against a Boston team that starts a big line-up with Paul Pierce and Jeff Green on the wings is not a bad thing. Copeland has been pretty good himself this season, too.

Mark Travis - 2:01 PM ET

Hello everybody! While we are here to cover the NBA playoffs today, I’d like to extend our collective thoughts and prayers to the people of Boston and the family and friends of the victims of the tragedies that have taken place in and around the city over the past week.

The Boston Marathon bombings certainly have an impact of some kind on this series, as the Cetlics, who are already one of the most prideful teams in the league, will have a ton of motivation in this series. While Boston will certainly come out with a ton of fire, the Knicks are a superior team, specifically offensively, and I think the new version of Carmelo Anthony is one extremely capable of taking his team on a deep playoff run.

My pick for this series is the Knicks in six games. Now, let’s get the playoffs underway!

NBA Thursday Liveblog: 3/7/13

in NBA by
clipsnugs

Join myself and Demarcus Robinson as we liveblog two key NBA matchups this evening between the Knicks and Thunder and Nuggets and Clippers.

Mark Travis - 1:16 AM ET

Thanks everybody for joining Demarcus and I again for this liveblog! We hoped you enjoyed it as much as we did!

Mark Travis - 1:07 AM ET

This one looks over. The Nuggets have completely owned this season half and have held the Clippers to 12 points in the fourth quarter so far. Los Angeles continues to struggle in getting good looks out of their offense and has to rely on a 3-2 zone defense to gets stops. Things are not looking up for VDN and company.

Mark Travis - 12:56 AM ET

The Clippers had it down to single digits momentarily, but they are back down 12 with half of the fourth quarter in the rearview mirror. I am not sure their offense can muster enough good looks in the final six minutes against such a frantic defensive team.

Mark Travis - 12:31 AM ET

The Nuggets have taken their offense to another level with an influx of threes and transition buckets while the Clippers are falling back into their stagnant ISO heavy attack that has started to develop over the past month or so. Good defensive teams have forced them into some really inefficient looks and that is what the Nuggets have done to build this double digit lead.

Mark Travis - 12:00 AM ET

We had a really slow first half, with each team getting 45 possessions each, putting them on pace for a 90 possession game, which is equal to the Nets league low average of 90 possessions per game. LA’s zone effectively slowed the game down and created some running opportunities for their offense to score easy buckets. I’ve been impressed by Matt Barnes and Wilson Chandler and how they have worked around the floor so far and I am hoping that Chris Paul (2 points, 1-of-4 shooting, though he has 7 assists) and Lawson (2 points on 1-of-6 shooting, though he has 6 assists) step up their games in the second half.

Mark Travis - 11:36 PM ET

Neither team is getting to the FT line very much so far in the game.

I think the Clips’ zone has really cut down on Denver’s penetration so far and most of their baskets near the rim have come on cuts and not drives. I think that has a lot to do with the low free throw total as well as Los Angeles getting a few of their paint buckets on wide open transition opportunities.

Mark Travis - 11:26 PM ET

The Clippers have done a good job of disrupting any kind of an offensive flow for the Nuggets and have played a solid game in transition. Barnes already has 11 points simply by finding holes in the defenses and cutting into them.

Mark Travis - 11:15 PM ET

The Clippers went to a zone against the Thunder when they were down big in the fourth quarter as a last resort. They display it as a strategic scheme here tonight in the first quarter against the Nuggets’ It’s a 3-2 zone with a lot of long arms and smart defenders. Will really hurt the Nuggets and their inability to hit outside shots consistently.

Mark Travis - 10:56 PM ET

I told Brett Koremenos on our podcast earlier today that I think the Nuggets have surpassed the Clippers as the third best team in the Western Conference lately. I am excited for this matchup.

Mark Travis - 10:52 PM ET

Smith misses a turnaround fadeaway from the post and the Thunder win 95-94. Gutty effort from the Knicks with Carmelo out. J.R. was huge but Amare couldn’t pick up that secondary load to get the Knicks over the hump.

Mark Travis - 10:50 PM ET

Durant misses a mid-range jumper and the Knicks are alive again. 7.9 seconds left, Thunder up 95-94. New York went to J.R. Smith and got a great look at a three on their last possession, but now a two wins it. Do you go pick-and-roll again or ask J.R. to win it on a hero shot like he has twice before this season?

Mark Travis - 10:46 PM ET

Westbrook missed a pull-up jumper badly and the Knicks are within one with 38.6 left in the game. I wonder who gets the ball in their hands here. I would be OK with Felton or Smith initiating the action, although part of me feels that Smith will end up taking a bad shot rather than running through a pick-and-roll set whereas Felton will attack to the get the best possible look. We’ll see.

Mark Travis - 10:40 PM ET

Unexpectedly, Chandler didn’t sub back in, but the Knicks do go to a Felton/Amare pick-and-roll, which nets a pair of free throws for Stoudemire.

Mark Travis - 10:37 PM ET

Durant is headed to the line with his Thunder down one with two minutes to go. I’d like to see the Knicks get some high pick-and-roll going here with Felton and Chandler with Amare and Smith waiting on the weakside for some secondary action. I think they need to get OKC’s defense shifting from side to side here because so far in the second half their offense has allowed the Thunder to really dig in without rotating much. Stopping Durant on the other end with Jason Kidd on him? That I am not so sure about.

Mark Travis - 10:28 PM ET

The Thunder hold an 87-85 lead over the Knicks with 6:26 to play. The Knicks have had trouble scoring this quarter since J.R. Smith has cooled off a bit. They are trying to get Amare going and have given a couple of mid-post touches on their last two plays. We will see if Amare can carry them down the stretch, because it appears as if J.R. will have his shots limited a bit with the length of Kevin Durant on him.

Mark Travis - 10:10 PM ET

J.R. Smith is scorching hot. He’s got 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting with five three-pointers, the latest of which was a 28-footer over two defenders. The Knicks were once 1-of-14 from the field in that third quarter, but Smith’s re-insertion into the game sparked the Knicks; they won the quarter 25-16 and lead the Thunder 81-75 as we enter the fourth quarter.

Mark Travis - 10:04 PM ET

I thought Kenyon Martin would play a role in this game, but playing the small forward spot alongside Chandler and Amare when Durant isn’t even in the game? Yeah, this is interesting.

Mark Travis - 10:02 PM ET

The Knicks just went on a spirited run that has galvanized this Garden crowd. There was a monster dunk by Amare and a few more typical J.R. Smith shots as well as some solid defense from New York, who now lead the Thunder by four.

Mark Travis - 9:58 PM ET

pr Here is a simple side screen and roll that the Knicks just ran with the unit that started the second half for them. They have the floor spaced in the corners with Amare being a threat from 20 feet on the baseline and James White being a threat from the right corner. That means the help to contain Felton’s dribble penetration will come from Iman Shumpert. Westbrook is able to slide over to the free throw line comfortably because he doesn’t respect Shumpert’s shot and the Thunder are fine with him recovering a bit late rather than asking their four man to come up from Amare. The result of the possession is a wide open three – but it is a wide open three for a player that is shooting 32% from three on his career and Shumpert is 0-for-3 tonight.

Shumpert has been better this year overall (37%) but he needs to be a consistent knockdown three-point shooter if he’s going to play big minutes for the Knicks, because he has not shown to be much of an off-the-dribble creator so far in his career.

Mark Travis - 9:41 PM ET

Just like he did against Cleveland, Mike Woodson has started the second half with Amare at power forward, this time replacing Kurt Thomas. Let’s see if the Knicks get him involved at the elbows and on the move as he has been having trouble attacking Ibaka straight up.

Mark Travis - 9:26 PM ET

J.R. Smith has been lights out this half, following a trend that has been developing this season (he has done a really good job replacing Carmelo’s scoring when has been out). Smith has 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting and really carried the Knicks in that second quarter. He played so well offensively that the Knicks were able to keep Kenyon in the game for his defense and rest Amare (only 11 minutes in the first half). A fresh Stoudemire in the fourth quarter will be huge. The Thunder have played a decent game but New York has not backed down an inch despite missing their best player.

Mark Travis - 9:17 PM ET

I’m not sure why it took so long for Martin to get a job. I thought he was solid defensively last season; he played 939 minutes for the Clippers last and made their defense about five points better per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. He wasn’t good on offense for the Clippers but that is because their half-court offense had horrid spacing. With these Knicks I think he can find space to cut to the rim and things of that nature even though he is only on the floor for his defense.

Mark Travis - 9:08 PM ET

With Amare on the bench, the Knicks have relied heavily on J.R. Smith to score consistently for them, and he’s done a pretty good job. The Knicks are back within four of the Thunder with five left in the second quarter and Amare should be back in soon. It was funny to watch New York operate offensively on the last offensive possession with the Kidd-Smith-Novak-Martin-Chandler line-up on the floor; it was so clear that J.R. was the only guy that could hurt OKC and it took the Knicks 23 seconds to get a good look off (and the basket didn’t count because of an offensive interference call). With Felton back in, the Knicks have a secondary creator and could make a run hear to close out the half.

Mark Travis - 9:00 PM ET

The Knicks have been adamant about getting Amare the ball, which is how it should be without Carmelo. He hasn’t been tremendously effective, but he’s getting shots down low and drawing contact. I think he may be able to get Ibaka into foul trouble at some point. Meanwhile, Kenyon Martin has done a pretty good job on Durant defensively. That may be the greatest random prediction I’ve ever made.

Mark Travis - 8:50 PM ET

I did not think that the Knicks would heed my advice so early on in the game but we did see Kenyon Martin on Durant there for a couple of possessions. We’ll have to see how long New York sticks with that strategy. That wasn’t such an awful quarter for the Knicks until they started giving away points at the line in the final couple of minutes. Being down nine isn’t horrible, though, and they may get a break with Westbrook being the lockerroom with an ankle injury.

Mark Travis - 8:38 PM ET

Does Reggie Miller follow you on Twitter, Demarcus?

Mark Travis - 8:22 PM ET

Token starters James White and Kurt Thomas have knocked down the first pair of buckets for the Knicks. Their seems to be an underdog energy in the building for NYK.

Mark Travis - 8:12 PM ET

Hello all!

As Demarcus noted, this will be Amare Stoudemire’s night. I had a huge feature on him the other day and he has played extremely well of late. He’s coming off the bench again because Mike Woodson wants to perserve his first half rotation, but rest assured he will finish the game, and the Knicks will go to high pick-and-roll with Amare or Chandler late in the game to find offense. I want to see how effective that will be without Melo against an athletic defensive team. It killed Cleveland, but the Thunder are a different story.

OKC should win this game handily if they execute well. New York’s defense has really slipped of late and their best Kevin Durant stopper is now Durant’s teammate (Ronnie Brewer). I imagine Iman Shumpert will guard Russell Westbrook, which means guys like James White and J.R. Smith will be guarding Durant. If those two guys are getting torched, which is highly likely, I’d like to see the Knicks try to put Smith on Westbrook and Shumpert on Durant, or put Kenyon Martin in the game to have a shot at KD. At the end of the day, there will be no solution for guarding Durant unless he is missing shots, so the Thunder should take this one.

Mark Travis - 8:05 PM ET

Lil Penny!

X’s And Bro’s: Episode 1

in NBA/Podcasts by
cp3

Brett Koremenos, a writer at Grantland and Hoopspeak, joined me to talk about NBA basketball today in the inaugural edition of the X’s and O’s podcast that we’ll be aiming to produce every Monday.

Some of the topics we discussed were:

– The Lakers and what they have done differently as they’ve made their way back to .500.

– Why the Utah Jazz have been struggling of late and whether or not they are the team most likely to fall out of the playoff picture.

– The Clippers and whether or not they are an elite team.

– Miami’s hot steak and which team in the East will pose the biggest threat to them in the post-season and much more.

 

Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Go to Top