Baseline to Baseline: 'Manu Ginobili wins at life' edition

1 Comment

Duncan_Defense.jpgWhat happened while you were putting a snake in your mouth

Spurs 94 Celtics 73: Such a good game at the half. Such a demolish in the second half. Yikesabees.

You may remember these Celtics from such hits as “Christmas Through Two Weeks Ago” and “That Time The Nets Beat Them.” The Celtics had 30 points in the second half. 30 points in 24 minutes. To put that in perspective, the Tennessee Volunteers scored 28 in the second half of a good game in a loss to Michigan State.

It was a bloodbath, and Manu Ginobili played Bill the Butcher. Ginobili was everywhere, leading the defense, slicing through the Celtics’ man-help (which was unbearably slow), and doing this thing that is hard to even describe (admission, I run that site so obviously I can describe it, but you can skip my blabbing and head straight for the video).

The Celtics were not there. I mean, they were there. They weren’t absent like Kevin Garnett was in the playoffs last year. They were physically in the game. But their souls and intentions were somewhere far away. Perhaps watching Mad Men, or having tea with the queen. Where they weren’t was in TD Northbank in the second half.

Tim Duncan had two blocks in the first five minutes, and Richard Jefferson had a good game. Richard. Jefferson. Ye Gods.

Bucks 108 Grizzlies 103: There were a lot of makeup calls in this game, down the stretch.

I say that not to excuse the Grizzlies, the NBA team I so often yell in support of, but to just state a fact. The refs overlooked an Ersan Ilyasova over-the-back on Marc Gasol because apparently they had been watching college ball too much. Then they made up for it with an easy breezy tag-it foul on Brandon Jennings, based solely on the fact that the rookie made the poor decision to bite on a pump fake, even if he didn’t make contact.

Then, as if they felt bad for the make up call they made for missing another one, they no-called an obvious one on Luke Ridnour when O.J. Mayo gave him the “Paul Pierce Special” (jab-step, pumpfake, bring the arm and ball up through the defender, an easy call).

Which is too bad, because otherwise it was a fantastic game. The Grizzlies are a tough offense to stop, and while the Bucks couldn’t neutralize them, they did make them sputter at times. The Grizzlies’ bench was outscored 33-6, and you just can’t have to rely on your starters that much, every game.

It’s frustrating that the Grizzlies don’t lean on Marc Gasol for offense more. He’s a tremendous facilitator and his defense is superb (5 blocks), but he’s so efficient from the floor, you almost want to see him try and take over more. He could have done more to counter Bogut.

Hawks 94 Pacers 84: This wasn’t the perfect Hawks game. Joe Johnson was off (5-13), Josh Smith had zero blocks, and Mo Evans was very, very bad.

But it was close. That defense that had been relenting lately found itself, and Josh Smith honestly could have done anything he wanted in the post. There wasn’t a single matchup the Pacers could counter with, and the Hawks exploited it.

Al Horford somehow plays better as the season goes along, and it’s getting bizarre.

Cavs 97 Kings 90: The Kings were not about to let Z’s big return be a laugher. Big ups, Sactown. You’ve got fighters.

Tyreke Evans? Out. Brockman? Out. Spencer Hawes? Out. Dominic McGuire? Out.

And still. To the very last man, a brawl.

Beno Udrih had 18 points and 15 assists. If you have good point guard play, it freaks out the Cavs. They’re just not prepared for it, provided you can defend at the other end. They’re fine with it as long as you want to play up and down. But slow it down at either end, and you’ve got a serious chink in the armor.

But a win’s a win. And Antawn Jamison had 26 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and only 1 turnover in 41 minutes. Ruh-roh. The big acquisition found himself.

4 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks. Welcome home, Zydrunas. We missed you.

Heat 97 Raps 94: I flipped it off in the third quarter. The Raps were rolling, as they can do. Hitting everything. Running, running, running. So having to rewatch this bad boy was irritating. Probably not irritating like it was for Raptors fans.

Look, I’m not big on cliches about defense, and I tend to think that defense may win championships, but if you can’t put the ball in the hole you’re just as screwed. But if you ask me how these Raps are going to do in the playoffs, I have to point wildly at this game. Gesticulate, actually.

They can’t get stops. Not when they need to. Not when it’s crucial. Not when they’ve put themselves in a position to win. They can’t communicate, can’t execute, can’t deliver. The Heat really aren’t the better overall team. I believe that, based on the talent involved. But they can do business when it matters.

Bulls 110 Pistons 103: The Bulls announcers couldn’t believe how bad Ben Gordon was. It was like when your boy scout son comes home from college with a nosering, a dragon tattoo, listening to death metal and talking about becoming a poet.

Sad, really.

The Bulls? They’ve got some life in them. They’ve got a few coals left in the fire. Not much, and a playoff caliber defense will likely extinguish them like a trashcan fire. But there’s some talent, a lot of effort, and some weird combinations of ability. I’ll likely change my mind in two days when they get blown out again.

Magic 103 Nuggets 97: Great game. Can we just vote these two into a second round series? It’s a brutal matchup for both sides. Jameer Nelson had serious problems with Billups, who is built to beat him. And when Vince Carter went down, the door blew open to let the Nuggets take control.

But it was a Duke day.

J.J. Redick, who if you’ve been paying attention, has turned into a really pretty good NBA player, was huge. 23 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists for the former Blue Devil. And that doesn’t fully capture his work on defense.

But you know who really impressed? Ryan Anderson. 20 points in 19 minutes, with 5 boards. And most of his work was on Birdman. Anderson’s a lot like Anderson, really, except able to shoot, and a smarter defender.

The Nuggets don’t work hard enough at getting Nene involved in the offense.

Blazes 92 Thunder 87: What a weird one.

The Thunder aren’t your typical y
oung team. They’re not particularly fast, they don’t score a ton of points, and they can play defense. They’re willing to get dirty. But, if you hit that next level, you know, that playoff level? They still reel a bit when you’re trading haymakers.

And the Blazers? They’re so used to pain and suffering. Life is pain, so they’re willing to keep swinging all day.

This was as much a death knell for Thabo Sefolosha’s razor-thin defensive player of the year hopes as you’ll find. Andre Miller abused him, and when he wasn’t, Brandon Roy was. Russell Westbrook is a very good defender if you don’t know what you’re doing. These two know what they’re doing.

Suns 111, Timberwolves 105: No Robin Lopez — meaning no inside game whatsoever for the Suns — made this one interesting. Minny owned the paint. Kevin Love had 23 points and 22 rebounds, Al Jefferson had 19 points and 16 rebounds. The entire Suns team had just three more rebounds than Love and Jefferson combined.

For any other team, that would be enough. Not the Timberwolves, though, they find new and impressive ways to lose (you have to if you are going to drop 15 straight like this). Tonight they fall back on the old reliable “bad shooting night” and shoot under 40 percent, and just 25 percent from three. The Suns get the win, but nobody is going to be happy to have to watch the tape on this one later

Warriors 121, Clippers 103: In a game between two teams heading to the lottery, is the winner really the loser? Is not the goal better lottery position?

The Clippers followed the “beat the Warriors” book of slow it down and pound it inside for 10 minutes, and were up double digits in the first quarter. Then they got bored doing the right thing, brought in the subs, got a little smaller, and just start turning the ball over. Turnovers are the Warriors fuel. Golden State starts running, getting easy buckets and transition threes, and before you knew it the Warriors were up 19. Clippers made a couple mini-runs, but by then the Warriors were feeling it. And the D-Leaguers were having too much fun to lose..

Celtics GM Danny Ainge: “Who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team?”

Leave a comment

Isaiah Thomas is the best and most popular Celtics player, leading his team to the No. 1 seed in the East and the Eastern Conference Finals — both significant steps forward for an up-and-coming team.

Yet, from the moment the Warriors landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the talk about Thomas has been about his future with the Celtics: If/when they draft Markelle Fultz, will the Celtics want to pay Thomas max or near max money next summer? Do they want to be locked into four or five years with an undersized guard who will start that contract at age 29? Do they extend him this summer at a likely better price? Trade him?

Celtics GM Danny Ainge doesn’t understand all the talk. He certainly didn’t sound like someone looking to trade Thomas this summer speaking to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“All I’m saying is those are things I have to worry about that even I don’t like to think about. And I know that those are going to be difficult decisions at some point. But we want to keep Isaiah.

“All I know is that he’s had an amazing year, and who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team? Like, you’ve got to be kidding me…

“Why do the fans need to worry about how much money he makes?” he said. “I can understand if Isaiah and his wife and his agent are worried about that, but I don’t understand why that’s a conversation that needs to be had in the media.”

Two things I want to unpack from all that. First, that’s a “get off my lawn” take from Ainge that completely misses the mark with where sports fandom online has shifted. It’s not that he’s wrong at the core of his argument — we all should appreciate the season Thomas just had, Celtics’ fans in particular. Thomas is a joy to watch play and one of the good guys in the league on top of it. Name anyone in the NBA who has gotten more out of his natural abilities than Thomas — the man has put in the work to rise way past expectations. He needs to be appreciated and lauded for that.

But here’s the thing: Fans more than ever like to play GM, and they now have the tools to understand the tough financial decisions that fall on Ainge and others in his shoes. Let me explain it this way: The NBA Finals start June 1, but as a website, the NBC NBA page will draw way more traffic around the NBA Draft at the end of the month, then free agency in July will blow that away. Always does. Player movement — including both rumors of trades and talk of free agents and moves teams should make — is a much bigger draw than the games themselves. That’s not just the NBA, it’s true of the NFL and MLB and NHL and the Barclays’ English Premiere League and on down the line.

Second, Ainge may not like the speculation, but the questions are valid — he and the Celtics have some hard decisions coming up. At the core of them is the question of patience: Push their assets into the middle of the table now, get a couple of players ready to win next season, and make a run at LeBron James and the Cavaliers, or be patient and build to be better than Cleveland in three years (then sustain that for five or more years beyond that)? Ainge has been on the patient side of that equation from the start, and likely will be again — don’t expect him to trade that No. 1 pick or do anything but bring Thomas back. He can be a decision for the summer of 2018.

Then again, he has shopped Thomas before. Ainge is as good or better than any GM in the league of keeping his cards close to his vest, he’s impossible to read.

That said, the smart money is on him being patient. There’s no need to trade Thomas now, that’s the kind of rash overreaction that got the Knicks where they are over the last decade plus. Ainge can wait things out.

 

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

1 Comment

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.