Last Night in the Playoffs: Classic defenses torn asunder

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For the past three seasons, the San Antonio Spurs and the Boston Celtics have been pillars of defensive excellence in the NBA. They’ve consistently managed to find victory by shutting down their opponent. The blueprint was always the same. Consistent terrific help on any perimeter penetration, effective, smothering doubles on post-players, and a persistent maintenance of defensive assignments.

And last night, all that got blown to hell.

Boston was the more egregious failure last night. Boston allowed 95.6 points per game this season, only to allow the Cavaliers, in Boston, to drop 124 on them. But as we often try and tell you, per game numbers are fools gold, especially talking about team offense and defense. Offensive and defensive efficiency is a calculation of the number of points allowed per estimated 100 possessions (a rough average used as a standardization). For an offense, more than 100 is okay, less than 100 is not good, anything better than 110 is terrific. For defense, obviously, you want to keep it low. Using this allows us to get a better feel for how teams perform regardless of pace. For example, no matter how good your defense is, you’re likely to give up more points to the Warriors because they play at a faster pace, which creates more possessions.

The Celtics had the fifth best defense by this measure this season, at 101.1. In Game 2, Boston allowed just a 91.5. Last night? 142.5. This is a ridiculous number. It’s absolutely absurd. You have to fail in every conceivable way, having no impact whatsoever on the defensive end, and lacking any significant cohesion in any facet of your defensive approach to hit that number. It was a stirring failure, one that has to leave Boston fans shaken. Despite the brilliance of LeBron James (and to be sure, James put on a clinic on how to excel with a good defender in your face), this performance was simply not worthy of a championship contender. It’s only one game, but even if the Celtics were to advance, you have to note this performance as a relevant moment in their season.

The Spurs’ failures were much less shocking. The Spurs allowed 96.3 points per game this season and gave up 110 to the Suns in Game 3. They had a defensive efficiency of 102 and allowed a 122. So it wasn’t as bad as the Celtics. Which is kind of like saying New Coke wasn’t as bad as accidentally inventing a new plague.

So what we have is two prolific defenses, rocked to their core by efficiency and overwhelming offense. Both teams had offensive efficiency above 105. They got the job done in that area. Defense wins championships, if that’s your mantra and you execute it. But last night, both of these  contenders have relied on defense throughout their championship runs. And so far in the second round, they look like that foundation has been cracked.

Carmelo Anthony predicts Knicks-Bulls on Christmas or opening night

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 23: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks shoots over Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Carmelo Anthony said the Knicks should have gotten a Christmas game last year. In hindsight, the NBA reportedly agreed.

So, Anthony expects New York to get a marquee matchup — against the Bulls — on either Christmas or opening night.

Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:

The storylines are overflowing.

The Knicks added Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — two former Bulls — to join Anthony, who strongly considered Chicago in his last free agency. The Bulls answered with a couple big names: Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. They’ll join Jimmy Butler, whose stature is only growing — just like Kristaps Porzingis in New York.

Those are plenty of attention-drawing players, and the league will want to capitalize, even if we’re talking about a couple middling Eastern Conference teams.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that New York and Chicago are huge markets.

Newspaper uses crying Michael Jordan photo with article on his race statement

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 11: Michael Jordan to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame speaks during an induction ceremony on September 11, 2009 in Springfield, Massachusetts. 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 Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Michael Jordan issued a statement on race in America and donated $2 million to a couple worthy causes.

That drew international coverage, including one curious photo choice:

Only in Malawi.

Watch Amar’e Stoudemire’s top 10 career plays (video)

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When Amar’e Stoudemire retired, I said history will treat him better than present-day analysis — maybe even to the point he gets legitimate Hall of Fame consideration.

Get past Stoudemire’s injury-caused decline with the Knicks and his wayward years with the Mavericks and Heat, and Stoudemire was a heck of a player with the Suns (and in his first year in New York).

Thanks to the NBA, the process of remembering Stoudemire for his peak can begin immediately. I was blown away by the first few highlights before realizing they were just the introduction for the top 10.

Kings GM Vlade Divac: DeMarcus Cousins is ‘most dominant player in the whole world’

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  DeMarcus Cousins #12 of the United States Men's National Team dribbles the ball up court against the China Men's National Team during the first half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Vlade Divac isn’t calling Rudy Gay with trade-talk updates.

So, how is the Kings general manager spending his time?

Watching DeMarcus Cousins with Team USA.

James Ham of CSN California on Cousins:

He’s primed to show the world what both he and plenty of others around the basketball world already believe — that he is the best big man in the world.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac said from his courtside seat. “He’s the most dominant player in the whole world. And being from Serbia, I have to root for Serbia, but I feel bad for them. He’s going to kill them.”

If we take Divac’s statement — “He’s the most dominant player in the whole world” — at face value, nope. LeBron James is. Other players like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are also better than Cousins, but big men can dominate in a way perimeter players can’t

If Divac meant just among big men, there’s a case. When Cousins is fully engaged, it’s one I’d definitely buy. He’s a load to handle inside, and his defense can be top-notch.

There are just too many times Cousins checks out. It’s a fine line, because Cousins’ emotions carries him to his highs. But he hasn’t yet found an ideal equilibrium point. His lows are still too low and too frequent.

That said, no center nears Cousins’ peak dominance. DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green, when he plays the position, need too much help from teammates to be considered truly dominant. Andre Drummond isn’t polished enough. Even with his flaws, Cousins is probably already the NBA’s most dominant center.

Most dominant player, though? No. That’s a step too far.