NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 1: Stars for Phoenix are hidden in plain view

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Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire are All-NBA caliber players, and in this series they will perform and be praised. They’re just too talented not to, and their combined 56 points — as well as their respective double-doubles — speaks to their tremendous impact on the Suns’ huge Game 1 victory over the Spurs.

On the other end of the rotation are the Suns reserves, who have rightfully been praised for their superior play over the course of this season. Their ability to relieve Nash and co. is a crucial reason why this Phoenix team is still alive in the playoffs, or playing in the postseason at all. Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye, Goran Dragic, Louis Amundson…these guys have been quality players for a team that desperately needed depth, and all the talk over how the bench will be the key to this series is not misguided. They matter that much.

Then, somewhere in between, are the other Suns. Oh, you know, the ones who probably won the game for Phoenix last night with their ability to get out in transition, defend, and hit big shots. Jason Richardson and Grant Hill are overshadowed in the starting lineup by their more impressive counterparts, but each was absolutely stellar last night. Jason Richardson’s contributions seem easy to quantify, as he finished with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting, but even those numbers don’t properly capture what J-Rich was able to add to the mix.

Richardson is something of a Shawn Marion/Joe Johnson (Phoenix era) hybrid, in that his designated role in the offense is to leak out intro transition as quickly as possible. His ability to finish lies somewhere between the two, as he’s athletic enough to finish in the paint over and around defenders, but hardly as explosive as Marion was in his prime. He also shows off Johnson’s three-point range and leans more to his defensive style than he does Marion’s. Richardson is hardly a part-for-part Frankenstein’s monster-ish amalgam of the two former Suns, but the elements of each are there, and the playoff results have been fantastic.

Jason is a central reason why Phoenix was able to push the pace up to 98 possessions, which is about in line with the Suns’ season average. He runs the court so well and gets out into transition so early that many possessions are just a Steve Nash outlet away from completion. On most nights, you’d expect the Spurs’ transition defense to perform better than they did in Game 1. Then again, maybe that’s a testament to how quickly Phoenix was able to trigger the break, and Richardson’s consistently aggressive style in the open court offered an invaluable weapon.

Grant Hill, on the other hand, did most of his damage on defense. Hill guarded Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for a majority of the night, and while the Suns double-teamed Manu to get the ball out of his hands later in the game, Hill did a good job of denying the ball and playing solid one-on-one defense earlier in the game. Grant scored just seven points, but also grabbed six rebounds and notched four assists; it wasn’t exactly Hill’s most impressive statistical performance, but his ability to contain the Spurs’ deadlier threats on the perimeter was particularly notable.

When the Spurs struggled offensively in Game 1, ironically it was because they couldn’t get past the Suns’ defense. Phoenix limited San Antonio’s penetration as much as possible given the personnel on the floor, and the quick rotations of players like Hill and Richardson (and Amar’e Stoudemire, who was quite impressive defensively in the fourth quarter) denied the Spurs the usual advantages of playing against heavy double-teams.

When San Antonio went small in the fourth, they couldn’t manage to find a fifth player for the lineup that could actually contribute offensively. Roger Mason can’t shoot anymore for some reason, Keith Bogans has always been iffy at best on that end, and Richard Jefferson seems to make things so much more difficult than they have to be. The Suns scrambled to cover the Spurs’ four more threatening players while still managing to rotate onto the fifth, weaker offensive player, and their defense supplied just enough of an edge for Jason Richardson and Grant Hill to hit dual daggers in the final minutes.

Hill filled the gaps, and while the stat sheet may not reflect too kindly on his 32 minutes, he still played rather well. I don’t think Alvin Gentry would mind seeing Grant hit more than two of his seven shots, but this is a case where you take the defense (both on and off the ball), you take his passing and his help in establishing an offensive flow, and you take the win that he helped earn. 

NBA report: Wizards should have gotten technical for assistant coach being on court vs. Knicks

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The Knicks were down 113-110 with just 13.7 seconds remaining when Carmelo Anthony passed to an open Courtney Lee, who passed up a clean look at a 3-pointer from the corner, instead passing to Brandon Jennings, who turned the ball over, and the Wizards got the win.

After the game, Lee said he didn’t shoot because he felt and heard what he thought was a defender near him, but it turned out to be Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe, who came onto the court and barked words implying he was switching out onto Lee.

The NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report sides with Lee, saying the Wizards should have gotten a technical. From the report:

A WAS assistant coach stands on the floor close to Lee (NYK) for several seconds and should have been assessed a technical foul.

This is an area the NBA needs to crack down on, coaches walk out onto the court all the time. Far too often. Frankly, I have an issue with coaches on the bench stomping their feet or yelling at shooters near their sideline, but Lowe took it a step further.

Much like telling a six-year-old to stop licking their shoes this isn’t something NBA officials should have to deal with, it should be common sense, but the league needs to crack down on coaches stepping onto the court. Maybe this will push the league to start enforcing that rule.

 

PBT Extra: Russell Westbrook was snubbed as All-Star starter, but worse snubs coming

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Should Russell Westbrook have been a starter for the All-Star game over Stephen Curry? Sure. Going on stats from the first half of this season — when Westbrook is averaging a triple double — Westbrook deserves the nod. But I have a hard time getting worked up over the fans choosing the two-time MVP to start the All-Star Game.

The real snubs are coming.

When it comes to choosing the All-Star Game reserves, the coaches are facing some tough choices. How many point guards in the East? Does Joel Embiid deserve to go? Kristaps Porzingis? Out West the questions shift to Mike Conley, Damian Lillard and others.

I talk about those tough choices and who I would pick in this latest PBT Extra.

 

Bucks’ Greg Monroe says he’s not thinking of player-option decision

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 19: Greg Monroe #15 of the Milwaukee Bucks is defended by Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat during a game  at American Airlines Arena on January 19, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Bucks reportedly already planned for Greg Monroe to opt in after this season, a reasonable conclusion considering they tried to dump him in a trade all summer and found no takers.

But Monroe has quietly boosted his stock this season. Coming off Milwaukee’s bench, he’s still a skilled interior scorer. But he’s defending and rebounding better, using his quick hands to strip opponents and taking plenty of charges.

Could he even decline his $17,884,176 player option?

Monroe, via Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“I’m not thinking about anything like the off-season right now. There is a time and place for everything. If and when I have to make a decision, that time is not right now.”

The time might approach more quickly than Monroe expects. If the Bucks shop him again, potential trade partners will want to know Monroe’s intention. Some might prefer the flexibility created by him opting out, and others would like the certainty of having a productive player at a reasonable-enough cost next season. But all would want to know where they stand.

That said, it’s hardly a give Milwaukee moves Monroe. Though he has backed up John Henson and Miles Plumlee, Monroe (21.2 minutes per game) plays more than both. He’s a valuable contributor on a team jockeying for playoff position.

Most importantly, Monroe appears to complement Bucks franchise player Giannis Antetokounmpo well. Antetokounmpo scores more (23.5 to 26.3 points per 36 minutes) and more efficiently (59.0% to 65.7% true shooting percentage) from when he plays without Monroe to when he plays with Monroe, and Milwaukee’s offense improves accordingly (104.3 to 114.6 points per 100 possessions).

Andre Iguodala: Jealous media tries to make players ‘feel less than what we are’

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 11:  Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors spwaks in overtime the media after Game Four of the 2015 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 11, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.  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 Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Stephen Curry is having a down year relative to his last two seasons.

That shouldn’t qualify as a controversial statement. Curry won MVP the last two years. There wasn’t much room to go anywhere but down. Adjusting to playing Kevin Durant has taken time, and Curry might have been due for regression to the mean, anyway. It isn’t as if Curry is having a bad season. He remains a superstar, and I haven’t seen anyone credible unfairly admonish Curry for his production slip.

Yet, the slightest sniff of Curry criticism prompted teammate Andre Iguodala to unload on the media.

Iguodala, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“I be like, ‘What are y’all even talking about.’ Like, why? That’s just the world we live in,” Iguodala told ESPN. “It’s like, whatever. You can be on the best team and winning the most games and they’ll try to find something. It’s almost sad because they look for things to say negative. They just look [for] something, anything.”

He blames the media for reaching for a narrative.

“I think they’re just looking for something,” Iguodala continued. “It’s not just that he set the bar so high. I don’t think it’s that. It’s just the hate. That’s just how they’ve been since the beginning of time. And you’re not going to write that, but that’s just how they are. Since the beginning of time, it’s some things that we can do that they can’t do. And they’ve been trying ever since to either try to do it, which they can’t, and they figure that out, and to make us feel less than what we are.”

There is some truth to that. Most media members at one point dreamed of playing in the NBA, and none of us can do it. Otherwise, we would be doing it.

Nearly all of us learned long ago we’d fall far short of playing in the NBA, so I don’t think there’s such a direct jealousy as Iguodala paints. It’s just not something most of us are dealing with.

That said, some reporters can be overly negative for varying reasons. I caution against speaking as broadly as he does, but Iguodala certainly has a right to express his opinion.

Perhaps, Haynes negating Iguodala’s prediction that his comments won’t be written up shows that we’re not all so bad?