NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 2: Somehow, Phoenix finds a way to negate Duncan's advantage in the paint

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Although the Suns aren’t exactly stacked with defenders that can handle Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, no single Spurs player stands as a bigger threat to what Phoenix hopes to accomplish than Tim Duncan.

If TD is playing his best basketball, the Spurs would likely win this series even, regardless of a George Hill disappearance. San Antonio could definitely use an extra scoring threat to put alongside the big three, but if Duncan is doing his thing offensively and defensively, it runs so directly opposed to the Suns’ game plan that his influence could almost win the series on its own.

There’s no question that picking up the pace of the game will be crucial for Phoenix, if only because the Spurs’ transition defense isn’t as strong as their half-court model. That’s when Duncan can make the biggest defensive impact, and having a big man like Tim on the floor can alter an opponent’s approach entirely. He alters too many shots and provides too big of a road block for teams not to pay attention to him.

He can also pose quite a problem for the Suns on the other end, as Duncan’s face-up and back-down possessions take up more clock (which makes the Phoenix defense work for longer periods and increases the likelihood that they break down), usually end with open shots for either Duncan or his teammates, and even misses result in shorter rebounds that are more difficult to transition into fast breaks. This isn’t even acknowledging the fact that no Suns big is considered a strong post defender (no, definitely not you, Jarron) on paper, which would — in theory — allow Duncan to run roughshod over Phoenix’s interior D.

Only in Game 1, that wasn’t the case at all. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Duncan had seven true post-ups on Monday, and only scored on two of those possessions. Tim averaged just 0.29 points per possession on post-up plays in that game, thanks to the efforts of Channing Frye and some terrific help defense.

[6:31, 1st] Duncan catches the ball at the left block extended, and faces up against Frye. After using a jab step to get Frye to overcommit, Tim drove baseline toward the suddenly open rim. The ocean of open space in the paint becomes a bit smaller as Grant Hill rotates quickly to contest Duncan’s shot, and either partially blocks it or simply alters it enough to cause a miss.

[4:10, 1st] Frye fronts Duncan in the middle of the paint, and Manu throws a lob over the top after faking a pass along the perimeter. Jared Dudley rotates in time to prevent an easy bucket, but the defense is aggressive enough to warrant a whistle and a trip to the line for TD. Duncan makes one of two free throws.

[2:47, 1st] The Spurs again feed Duncan on the left block against Frye. Tim begins to back his way into the paint, but he’s not without resistance: Frye bodies up Duncan as he tries to power his way into the lane, and Tim settles for a fadeaway jumper.

[5:25, 2nd] The Spurs push the ball in transition off of a missed Steve Nash three-pointer, but Tony Parker doesn’t force the issue as the Suns scramble back into position. Nash is actually matched up on Duncan for a moment, but Lou Amundson quickly relieves Nash of that responsibility after recognizing the mismatch. It’s a tad late however, as the switch affords Tim some prime low-post real estate, and Amundson fouls him in an attempt to push him out of the paint. Duncan again makes one of two free throws.

[4:28, 2nd] Duncan receives the ball on the right block, and begins to force his way into the paint against Frye. TD tries to spin baseline, but Grant Hill has already rotated to that position to help out Frye. Hill swipes at the ball, and Duncan reverses his pivot, spinning back away from the basket to shield the ball and find his open teammate. He waits too long, and when Duncan tries to throw a cross-court feed to Hill’s man on the opposite baseline, Grant deflects the pass and the Suns’ fast break is go for launch.

[4:55, 3rd] Frye battles before the catch to deny Duncan deep post position. When Tim receives the entry pass outside the paint, he faces up on Frye, and puts up a jumper that catches plenty of rim but no net.

[7:55, 4th] Duncan receives a pass on the left block extended, and tries to face up and drive against Frye. TD again goes baseline, this time with an attempt to come up on the opposite side of the basket. Channing is physical with Tim as he moves along the baseline, and the reverse layup attempt comes up a bit short. Duncan clearly wants a call, and he may not be wrong; Frye was definitely physical on the drive, but in this case the advantage goes to the defense.

These aren’t exactly examples of perfect post defense, probably because Frye isn’t exactly a perfect post defender. But Channing worked to push Duncan out of his more comfortable areas on the floor, positioned himself so that he could contest as many shots as possible, and relied on his teammates to provide help.

It’s somewhat amazing that the Suns were able to both provide help against Duncan and throw such aggressive double teams at Manu Ginobili, but that embodies Phoenix’s new defensive mentality. They may not always be effective, but they work hard, they scramble, and they help each other out. So far that hasn’t produced anything close to an answer for Tony Parker, but it was enough to force Duncan into a rough scoring night in the post and lock up a Game 1 victory.

San Antonio’s Game 2 response relies on a few things: more patience from Duncan (who could have forced his way into better looks), a maintained commitment to the pick-and-roll (which the Spurs’ guards were able to generate a ton of points from) in order to get Duncan more points on the move, and some better spacing and more reliable shooting from the supporting cast (who were a no-show in Game 1).

None of those are outside the realm of possibility, so while Phoenix’s defensive performance on Duncan seems very replicable, Game 2 could be a demonstration of the Spurs exercising their own will. As the back-and-forth nature of Game 1 demonstrated, this series has the potential to be quite volatile, and neither team can be fully expected to execute their own strategy given the resilience of their opponent and the stylistic differences between the two. That’s what makes Suns-Spurs such an intriguing watch, even though it doesn’t exactly bode well for anyone ability to predict the outcome of a given game.   

Report: Phil Jackson would have taken Okafor over Porzingis. Duh.

New York Knicks Draft Picks Press Conference
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Of course he would have — 29 other GMs would have as well.

Jackson also seriously would have considered trading the No. 4 pick if the right package of picks — including Brooklyn’s unprotected pick from this season — were part of the package. Again, that’s not a surprise or even a poor decision.

But in New York, which has fallen in love with the guy they used that No. 4 pick on in Kristaps Porzingis, that idea has become news, especially in the wake of No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor‘s recent run of off-the-court issues. Here is the report, via the New York Post.

According to an NBA source, as much as Jackson’s top adviser, Clarence Gaines Jr., wanted Jackson to take Porzingis even if the Knicks had the No. 1 pick, that wasn’t the way the Zen Master would have gone if it was a choice between the two big men.

Okafor was Jackson’s man.

“He had to draft Okafor — too much a sure thing,’’ the source said.

Again, 29 other GMs would have done the same thing at that time. Now, maybe it changes, but at the time anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

It’s not that some of those GMs (and certainly some of their scouts) didn’t think Porzingis could develop into an excellent NBA player, but he was considered a higher risk pick than Okafor, who is averaging 17.5 points a game for the Sixers and looks like a franchise cornerstone player. Maybe Porzingis had a higher ceiling, but Okafor had a way higher floor. If your job is on the line with a draft pick, you think about the floor.

Has Okafor had some incidents off the court? Obviously. He’s a 19-year-old making decisions that put in situations where bad things happen. That’s correctable. We all made stupid decisions when we were 19, just most of us grew out of them. (Well, if you ask my wife whether I did or not…) He likely will to, his handlers are already making significant steps.

Zach Lowe at Grantland said that the Knicks did consider trading the pick, but the deal never came close to fruition.

The Celtics were hell-bent on moving up to draft Justise Winslow, and offered the Hornets four first-round picks — including one of Brooklyn’s unprotected picks — for Charlotte’s No. 9 pick. But that was Boston’s fall-back plan, sources say. Boston initially chased Charlotte’s pick with the idea of sending it to the Knicks, along with Boston’s No. 15 pick, to vault all the way into New York’s draft slot — where they would take Winslow. Charlotte refused Boston’s pitches, and the scenario died. The Knicks downplay their interest in Boston’s offer, though it’s fascinating to consider how the draft might have played out — and which fan base would be chanting “POR-ZIN-GIS!” today — had the Celtics swooped in for Winslow at No. 4

“We listened,” Mills says. “But we were never close.”

Now, looking back at it, Knicks fans wouldn’t trade any of it.


Pistons’ Reggie Jackson fined $25,000 for what he told OKC heckler

Reggie Jackson, Shane Larkin
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Reggie Jackson, now the starting point guard for the Detroit Pistons, returned to face the team that drafted him last weekend, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The reception was chilly, to put it kindly. Both from the players and the fans.

Jackson responded to one of the heckling fans with an indecent suggestion (if you want to see the incident, you can, but it’s NSFW) and that has earned him a $25,000 fine from the league. The punishment was sent down by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, the league has a pretty clear policy that fans pay the freight and can say nearly anything to players (it is up to the discretion of security at the arena, teams can ask to have fans removed if needed), and the players have to take it. Answer them with better play on the court.

Jackson has had a good season for the Pistons averaging 19.1 points and 6.7 assists a game, showing a real chemistry with Andre Drummond. He is part of the reason the Pistons look like a potential playoff team this season and are on the rise in the East. But the Thunder got the best of him that night (Jackson shot 4-of-16 and was -19), and so did a fan.

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton

Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum

It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.