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.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.

Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

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The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.