NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs: Pace may have been the red herring

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If both the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs are reduced to the most basic tenets of their respective basketball philosophies, it’s easy to paint them as foils. Steve Nash stands as something of an iconoclast in the Church of Popovich; even if Steve’s professionalism, leadership, and continued excellence don’t stray too far at all from the pillars of San Antonio’s success, what Nash represents (outlandish commitment to offense, disregard for defensive execution, team success predicated on the fast break) is antithetical to a Spurs system predicated on balanced half-court offense and a holistic defensive scheme.

The truth is that the gulf that once divided the two teams — in terms of style, not substance — is now more of a stream. Obviously Phoenix would like to push the pace when possible, but the thought that fast break points would be a key to this series has quickly subsided. The first three games, all Suns wins, have been about execution regardless of context. Phoenix has been able to produce points in almost any situation with just about any combination of rotation players on the court.

Plus, while the break no longer gives the Suns a tremendous boost, it also doesn’t act as their crutch. Phoenix came back from 18 points down in Game 3, which could easily (and falsely) be attributed to the old Suns’ tendency to go on (and, in turn, allow their opponents to go on) big runs thanks to the nature of their offense. That just wasn’t the case. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Suns had nine transition possessions on Friday night, which accounted for just 9.6% of their total offensive possessions.

What’s even more surprising was just how inefficient Phoenix was on those transition possessions. San Antonio’s transition defense should get plenty of credit. Even though the Spurs were unable to protect their substantial first-half lead and struggled overall on the defensive end, gone were the wide open Jason Richardson leak-outs, the wide open Channing Frye threes after he lost his defender in transition, and the dribble hand-offs to a streaking Amar’e Stoudemire.

Instead, Phoenix was able to score just 0.78 points per transition possession, a poor level of efficiency for any offensive possession, much less one where the defense is theoretically vulnerable and out of position.

Offensive rebounding, defensive rotations, and depth have all played a substantial role in this series, but the impact of the Suns’ execution in their half-court offense cannot be overstated. Phoenix has outperformed a formidable opponent, and the San Antonio defense that looked so strong against Dallas in the first round now appears to be a step to slow to answer all of the Suns’ offensive threats.

PBT Extra: What did Phil Jackson think he would accomplish with shot at ‘Melo?

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Phil Jackson wants us to know Carmelo Anthony can hold on to the ball too long and stall out the offense.

Shocking. Such a revelation. It’s not like he knew that when he gave Anthony a five-year contract extension… oh, wait, everybody did know that already.

Which leads to my criticism of Jackson in this PBT Extra. Taking a shot at a player as a coach who sees said player every day comes off differently than the same thing from the ivory tower criticism of a GM. Plus, Jackson’s timing made no sense.

Carmelo Anthony says Phil Jackson’s comments “temporary black cloud over our heads”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 07:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks and the rest of the bench react to the loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden on December 7, 2016 in New York City. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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The New York Knicks were on a four-game winning streak, they have looked like a potential playoff team in the East, team chemistry has been pretty good, and there seemed to be more sun shining on Madison Square Garden then we have seen in a few years.

So Phil Jackson decided that was a good time to a CBS Sports Show and take a shot at Carmelo Anthony, saying he could play the MJ/Kobe role, but he holds the ball too long on offense. Anthony wouldn’t comment on the shot at the time, then took to Instagram to express his frustration and displeasure.

How do we know for sure it was aimed at Jackson? Because on Friday Anthony said so, adding that Jackson’s comments were unnecessary. Here is what ‘Melo said, via Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“At the end of the day we’re playing good basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s the only thing that matters at this point. So any negativity that’s coming towards me or towards the team, I don’t think we need it at this point…

“I feel like we’re playing good basketball, and just to have a temporary black cloud over our heads,” he said. “I don’t know when the comments were made or the gist of them, I just know something was said.”

Anthony is spot on here. Jackson isn’t wrong that Anthony can hold the ball too long, but Jackson knew that when he gave Anthony a five-year contract extension. Also, the Sports VU camera data shows Anthony is holding the ball less and dribbling a little less than previous seasons.

But the real question: What did Jackson think he would accomplish with this? He’s too smart, too calculated — he doesn’t just say things to the press without a motive. But with everything going about as well as one could hope with the Knicks, and with Anthony not at a point in his career he’s going to change his game, what’s the point?

Anthony has a right to be ticked.

Report: NYPD nearing arrest of Matt Barnes over club assault

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks on against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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While in New York, Sacramento’s Matt Barnes and DeMarcus Cousins were involved in an altercation at a Chelsea club, which led to them being questioned by police. Barnes’ representative said it was self-defense , but the video of the incident reportedly shows Barnes as the aggressor and choking a woman at the heart of the brawl. Both Barnes and Cousins have already been sued over the altercation.

Now things could get worse for Barnes, NYPD may be looking to arrest him, reports Graham Rayman of the New York Daily News.

“They’ve got enough to charge Barnes with an assault on a woman,” a police source said. “It will probably be a misdemeanor assault on one of the females who was pushed or choked or sustained some sort of injury. She’s obviously cooperating.”

Cousins, a key member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team, will likely not be charged, the source said.

According to the lawsuit, Jasmine Besiso was knocked unconscious by a Barnes’ elbow, while her boyfriend, Myrone Powell, was punched by Cousins.

Barnes put this on Instagram.

A photo posted by matt_barnes9 (@matt_barnes9) on

The Kings released this statement, which came out before the lawsuit or current report: “We have clear standards of conduct and behavior expected of the entire Kings organization – on and off the court. We are working with all parties involved to gather information in order to take any appropriate next steps.”

Report: Magic looking to trade for scorer

AUBURN HILLS, MI - OCTOBER 28: Mario Hezonja #8 of the Orlando Magic while playing the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills on October 28, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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The Magic rank 11th in points allowed per possession and 28th in points scored per possession, but that doesn’t fully explain the disparity.

Over the previous 25 days, they rank even better defensively – first in the league, in fact – and even worse offensively.

So, Orlando is considering a move.

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

The Orlando Magic will sift through the trade market in an effort to add a scorer, a league source with knowledge of the situation told the Orlando Sentinel.

Marc Stein of ESPN offers (informed?) speculation Orlando could dangle Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick last year who has yet to make a dent in the pros.

Other trade candidates? Nikola Vucevic always looked like the odd man out. There are still 25 franchises that have not yet been disappointed first-hand by Jeff Green.

But those are all offensive-first players anyway.

The Magic’s top defenders are:

It’s tough to see Magic general manager Rob Hennigan parting with any of those four. They’re too integral to his record.

Mostly, it’s interesting 10-13 Orlando is seeking to plug its biggest immediate hole rather than building for the future. Clearing a frontcourt logjam that has killed spacing and submarined the offense might be done most effectively by dealing a superfluous player for a draft pick. But in Hennigan’s fifth year, he could be feeling pressure to make his first playoff appearance.