NBA Playoffs: Zone defense ain't no thing, Cavs coast to a Game 1 win over Bulls

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Thumbnail image for Jamison_Game_Bulls.jpgLet’s not pretend that the Bulls’ performance in this game was somehow significant; after building an early double-digit lead, the Cavs worked, and held, and coasted, until a temporary hiccup against the Bulls’ zone defense made this game a bit closer than it should have been.

Does that mean Chicago is somehow going to make a series out of this thing? Not bloody likely. As soon as Cleveland had the chance to regroup during a timeout, their execution against the zone was much improved: they found holes to shoot from mid-range, hit the offensive boards, and made quick cuts to the basket through the heart of the zone.

That’s not to fault the Bulls’ effort, because Chicago was very focused. They’re just not all that talented, and when forced to match up against the likes of LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, the Bulls struggled.

Cleveland focused on going through Shaq (12 points on nine shots, five rebounds, four assists) early in the game, where he put a spotlight on Joakim Noah’s inability to contain him one-on-one. Noah just doesn’t have the size to deny O’Neal position in the post, and while he worked to contest Shaq’s shots, his lack of size (and girth/strength, especially) was a bit of a disadvantage. Cavs fans should be pleased with Shaq’s first game back from injury, even if it’s going to take a few games to get O’Neal properly re-acclimated to the pace of the NBA game.

LeBron James twiddled his thumbs to score 24 points while grabbing five rebounds and throwing in six assists for good measure. The guy doesn’t just make the game look easy, but also makes racking up stats look easy. He let the offense work through Shaq at times, made a few passes, and let let the Cavaliers offense establish his own flow.

That may not make for a spectacular individual performance now, but what about later in the playoffs when the production of Antawn Jamison (15 points, 10 rebounds) or Mo Williams (19 points, 10 assists, five turnovers) matters much, much more? Cleveland will be thankful for games like this one.

There was the Cavaliers’ turnover problems (18 in the game to 14 for the Bulls). Make a note. It could have just been a few over-anxious trigger men on the fast break, but Cleveland was a bit sloppy with the ball.

Derrick Rose (28 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, seven assists) was as spectacular as advertised. He wasn’t as efficient as you’d like to see him be (how could he be with this team against Cleveland’s defense?), but his array of floaters and runners was absolutely beautiful. It’s days like this where you see what Rose could be if his mid-range game was a bit more complete: he gets right to the basket, nails a step-back jumper, and hits an intermediate floater, creating a can’t-win proposition for the D. If and when this cat develops three-point range, the entire league should be on notice.

Luol Deng is better than the Luol Deng that played today. He defended LeBron fairly well at times, but his decision making on offense was nothing short of atrocious.

Unfortunately, the day’s events indicated that the rest of the series will proceed as planned. The Cavs will have plenty of time to tweak their offensive approach against the Bulls’ pesky zone, the Bulls aren’t likely to grow out of their significant size disadvantage (they lost out 38-50 on the boards), and Cleveland’s depth (Anderson Varejao outrebounded the Bulls’ reserves 15-4 on his own) isn’t going anywhere. A temporarily successful gimmick defense does not a series make, no matter how impressive Derrick Rose looked.

 

Phil Jackson goes on vacation, reportedly puts Knicks’ coaching search on hold

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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Phil Jackson has stumped for Kurt Rambis, interviewed David Blatt, talked with Luke Walton and ignored Carmelo Anthony.

It must be exhausting.

So, it appears the Knicks president took off on a tour the American West:

No big deal. Everyone has cell phones. Jackson can still run the coaching search from afar.

Except….

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Jackson is on vacation at the moment. The interesting thing here is that league sources say that some involved in the Knicks’ coaching search have been informed that Phil is away at the moment, meaning the search is on hold.

This matters only if Jackson isn’t just going to hire Rambis anyway. But if the Knicks are interested in exploring candidates other teams – Rockets, Pacers and Kings – might want, Jackson is missing a valuable opportunity.

Reminder: The Knicks are paying him $12 million per year – money that could have lured someone with a record of front-office success or even just the commitment to delay a vacation until after hiring a coach.

Three Things to Watch in Heat/Raptors Game 2: Will Kyle Lowry’s jump shot return?

TORONTO, ON - MAY 03:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors attempts to help DeMar DeRozan #10 up off the floor late in the second half of Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 3, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The first game went to overtime, and we should see a desperate Raptors team in Game 2, one that knows it can’t go down 2-0 and win this series. Here are three things to watch.

1) Did Kyle Lowry’s late-night shooting work pay off? To put it bluntly (as I did in the series preview): If Lowry isn’t playing at an All-Star level the Raptors are not winning this series. He was 3-of-13 shooting in Game 1. It wasn’t just that game, and it wasn’t just the first playoff series with George Hill draped on him, Lowry was not shooting well as the campaign wound down — his 57.8 true shooting percentage for the season dropped to 51.1 (below the league average) in April. That has to change fast.

It wasn’t just Lowry, however, a lot of Raptors players were missing wide open looks — as a team they were 4-of-17 on uncontested threes. Those shots need to fall.

2) Can Toronto defenders stay in front of Goran Dragic? The Miami point guard has felt more and more comfortable in recent months — since the All-Star break when Miami was pushed to small ball — and the Raptors did nothing to make him feel uncomfortable. Well, one Heat player did, Hassan Whiteside (Dragic was 3-of-9 finishing in the paint in Game 1), but if he keeps getting into the paint at will — both in secondary transition actions and in the half court — breaking down the Raptor defense this is going to be a rough series in Toronto. I expect a lot more effort and a better performance from the Raptors defensively, with Dragic as a focal point.

3) “We need more Jonas Valanciunas” — the Raptors must attack Hassan Whiteside and draw some fouls. Whiteside intimidated a lot of Raptors shooters in Game 1 — not only did Raptors guard struggle to finish inside, but they also pulled up and didn’t take shots in the paint at times just to avoid Whiteside. However, Toronto’s Valanciunas has the size advantage inside and put it to good use with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks. The Raptors need to feed him early and try to get Whiteside in foul trouble — that also means attacking guards like DeMar DeRozan can’t pull up, he has to risk some blocked shots to go into the body of Whiteside and draw fouls. If Whiteside is allowed to dominate the paint, the Heat will take the series, the Raptors need to go at him.

Cavaliers’ 3-point shooting was excellent. THEN, they made 25 in a game

Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (5) reacts after the Cavaliers beat the Atlanta Hawks 123-98 in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Cleveland. Smith hit seven 3-pointers in the game. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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The Cavaliers set a record for 3-pointers in a team’s first six playoff games on this Kyrie Irving shot:

Did you notice anything strange about that clip?

It came in Game 1 against the Hawks – Cleveland’s fifth playoff game.

That’s right, the Cavs needed just five games to set a record for 3s through six playoff games. Then, they piled on 25 3-pointers – a record for any NBA game – in their Game 2 win over Atlanta on Wednesday.

Cleveland’s 97 3-pointers through six postseason games absolutely crushes the previous record:

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The difference between the Cavs and second place equals difference between second and 88th.

In fact, Cleveland has already demolished the record for 3s through EIGHT playoff games (previously 90 by the 2014-15 Hawks). Again, the Cavaliers have played just six games this postseason.

Where is all this outside output coming from? The key long-distance shot makers:

Add it all up, and the Cavs are making 16.2 3-pointers per game – which would easily set a playoff record:

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Cleveland could make no 3-pointers in its next two games – and still rank first for 3s per game in a postseason.

Not that the Cavs appear likely to go cold from distance anytime soon.

Their stars generate open looks and make 3s themselves. Smith is an unrepentant gunner, and he’s feeling it.

These are the Cavaliers as scary as they get.

John Wall undergoes surgery on both knees, expected to be ready for start of next season

Washington Wizards guard John Wall speaks during a media availability before an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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John Wall tried putting the Wizards on his back and carrying them into the playoffs.

Washington fell short, but the process still took a toll.

Wizards release:

The Washington Wizards announced that guard John Wall underwent a successful procedure today to excise calcific deposits in his left patella tendon in order to eliminate pain and assist healing.  He will begin the rehabilitation process immediately and is expected to be available for the start of the 2016-17 season.  Wall also underwent an arthroscopic lavage on his right knee in order to remove loose bodies.

If the Wizards are just using the next date most fans care about, this might not be such a big deal. That would open the door for Wall being healthy at any point over the summer.

But if the start of next season is his targeted return, that’s more troubling. Sitting an entire offseason is a big deal, and that means potential complications are more likely to cause him to miss games. It’s also a worse indicator for his long-term health.

As the Wizards enter free agency primed to spend, the last thing they need are questions about the length of their franchise player’s prime.