NBA Finals a matter of perspective

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One of the toughest things to find when analyzing sports, or any other sequence of human behavior, is the difference between causation and correlation. Everyone who spends a year in the United States Marine Corps is a disciplined solider; everyone who spends a year in the Ford Modeling Agency is an attractive model. However, the two entities are hardly the same. 
We all know what’s happened in this series — The Laker offense has looked broken at times, and has devolved into Kobe vs. Boston all too often. The Celtics, from 1-12, have played on a completely different level than they showed they were capable of in the regular season. The fun part is figuring out why these things are happening: is it the fault of the Lakers or the fault of the Celtics? The answer likely depends on your perspective, but here’s PBT’s attempt to take a crack at figuring out why things have shook out the way they have over the first five games of this series:

Question: The classic Lakers chicken-or-egg question: Did Kobe Bryant take 15 more field goal attempts on Sunday because the Lakers had no other offensive activity, or did the Lakers have no other offensive activity because Kobe took 15 more field goals than anybody else?
PBT’s answer: On Sunday, the Lakers’ lack of offense was definitely what forced Kobe into takeover mode. In the first half, when Kobe took 12 FGAs and accumulated all four of his assists, the Lakers managed to score 39 points. In the second half, when Kobe took 15 shots and made all seven of his free throws, the Lakers scored 47 points. 
Going beyond that, it’s extremely difficult to run an efficient, balanced offense when your team is behind and failing to get stops. The team begins to panic, the role players don’t want to make plays, everyone plays tight, and the offense grinds to a halt. Playing on the road compounds these problems. When a team is getting lit up, they invariably go to their “panic offense” — give the ball to their best player, give him an ISO or a screen, and hope he bails them out. 
The Lakers’ panic offense is giving the ball to Kobe Bryant and letting him shoot jumpers, and it isn’t a bad one. After the Lakers scored 39 points in the first 24 minutes of play, Kobe scored 19 points in the next seven minutes of play. That should have gotten the Lakers back to even, but their defense gave up 22 points over the course of that seven minutes. With the Lakers getting pushed around on offense and allowing a layup line on defense, their only chance was to have Kobe shoot them back into the game. History is the propaganda of the victors, and Kobe has been a beneficiary of this in the past, but Bryant was not the reason the Lakers lost game five.
Question: Is the Laker offense broken, or is Boston’s defense just that good?
Answer: Boston’s defense is just that good. They swarm and recover like no other team is able to. They play physical without losing their heads. They don’t let anybody get to where they want to go, and dictate the pace of the game even when the other team has the ball. They made Cleveland’s offense look broken. They shut down Orlando’s three-point attack and handcuffed Dwight Howard at times. They didn’t let any Heat player other than Dwayne Wade have any kind of success. (Okay, maybe that wasn’t all that hard.) Despite all the injuries they had in the regular season, they finished 5th in defensive efficiency.
In 2008, the last time Garnett was healthy for the playoffs, the Celtics dominated every offense in their path on their way to banner #17. That season, their defensive efficiency was the best in the league. They have the best defensive center in basketball this side of Dwight Howard. They have the best defensive point guard in basketball. Their power forward was the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. Their defensive coordinator is perhaps the best defensive mind of the last 20 years. At some point, it is not a coincidence that so many teams forget how to play offense when they play the Celtics.
Question: Were the Celtics dogging it in the regular season, were they sacrificing regular-season success to better prepare themselves for the postseason, or were they just injured?
Answer: A little bit of all of them, it turns out. The Celtics certainly rested their starters and didn’t stress that much over regular-season games, but you’re not going to tell me losing to the Nets at home was part of their plan. 
Even so, the confidence the Celtics developed over the regular season seems to be helping them now. It seemed like hubris at the time, but as the playoffs have gone it, it’s clear that the Celtics have more players willing to step up at any given time than any other team. They don’t have one guy who they know to go to in crunch-time; sometimes it’s Pierce from the right elbow, sometimes it’s Ray Allen off a screen, sometimes it’s Rajon Rondo in transition, sometimes it’s KG in the post. Sometimes it’s Nate Robinson and Big Baby who save the day. The Celtics don’t care. 
While every other team would go to their “panic offense” and let their best player bail them out in the regular season, the Celtics were blowing leads and getting their role players ready to take over. The Cavs won 61 games by keeping games close and letting LeBron take the game over in the final five minutes; when the Celtics got out to leads against them and packed the paint against LeBron, they shrunk. The Magic didn’t know how to operate without Dwight Howard drawing multiple defenders. The Lakers have done better, but their non-Kobe personnel has still looked panicked at times. The Celtics, meanwhile, have the confidence to throw insane full-court inbounds plays and make reverse layups with a Finals game on the line. Show me one other group of three players in these playoffs that could have pulled that off. So far, that confidence has been the difference.
The way the Celtics played all year was certainly unorthodox. But up until now, it’s certainly looked like a winning strategy. If they play 48 more minutes of strong basketball, it will go down in the history books as a championship strategy. 

Kings’ point guard Darren Collison arrested on domestic violence charge

Darren Collison, Ronnie Price
Associated Press
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Darren Collison, the Kings’ only point guard under contract for next season, has been arrested on charges of domestic violence and driving with a revoked license.

CBS Sacramento broke the story, noting Collison was arrested in Placer County, which is north of Sacramento.

Collison, 28, was booked into Placer County Jail on one count of inflicting corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant and a bench warrant of driving while his license was revoked.

The Kings released this statement:

“We’ve been made aware of the situation. The Sacramento Kings condemn violence of any kind. We are gathering additional information and once all facts are known we will take appropriate steps.”

The NBA, along with other professional sports leagues, has come down harder with fines and suspensions on players found to have committed domestic violence in recent seasons. For example, the Hornets’ Jeff Taylor was suspended 24 games. Both the Kings and the league will let this criminal investigation and process play out longer before jumping in, but Collison likely will get more than just a slap on the wrist if the charges are true.

Collison is under contract for $5.2 million for the Kings next season, and is in line to see more minutes next season (depending upon free agent moves). Sacramento is an organization looking for a fresh start — they have a new coach in Dave Joerger and are moving into a new arena in the heart of the city next season. They want to turn the page on a turbulent, playoff-free past decade. Incidents like this certainly do not help with that perception (even though the team wasn’t involved).

Reggie Jackson tweets smirk emoji after Thunder loss

Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Three minutes after the Thunder lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals to the Warriors, former Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson tweeted:

I’m generally reluctant to interpret vague tweets by a stranger, but it’s hard to believe Jackson was referring to anything but the Thunder losing.

There’s plenty of history here, from Jackson’s ugly Oklahoma City exit to disputes in both Pistons-Thunder games this season. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have shown they aren’t fond of Jackson, and the feeling is clearly mutual.

If Jackson is referring to Oklahoma City’s loss – and I think he is – he’s being petty. But that’s fine. There’s room for pettiness in sports – especially when both sides will face each other on the court.

Durant and Westbrook surely aren’t thinking about regular-season games against the Pistons, but I bet Jackson is ready for the matchup. Considering how much better the Thunder are than Detroit, Jackson probably needs that extra edge to compete – though now Durant and Westbrook can also use this tweet as motivation (at least if Durant returns to Oklahoma City).

New Grizzlies coach David Fizdale: ‘I didn’t leave Miami and that beautiful beach and all that water and good stuff to come here to lose’

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 17:  (L-R) NBA players LeBron James, David Fizdale, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Erik Spoelstra accept award for Best Team onstage at The 2013 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for ESPY)
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for ESPY
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) David Fizdale left no doubt about his intentions in the longtime assistant’s new job as the Memphis Grizzlies’ head coach.

“I’m here to win,” Fizdale said Tuesday at his introductory news conference. “That’s the best way to put it. I didn’t leave Miami and that beautiful beach and all that water and good stuff to come here to lose. I came here to win. And I came here to be a big part of this community, a big part of the people here. I’m going to be out and about, and I’m going to be involved in everything.”

Fizdale replaces Dave Joerger, who was fired May 7 after three seasons and three playoff appearances. Joerger has since been hired as the Sacramento Kings’ coach.

In Memphis, Fizdale takes over a team with the NBA’s third-longest postseason streak at six straight seasons, behind only San Antonio (19) and Atlanta (nine). But center Marc Gasol is recovering from a broken foot, while point guard Mike Conley hits free agency in July.

“The goal is to win a title, no doubt about it,” Fizdale said. “With the pieces that we have and the pieces that we’re going to put together, with us working together in collaboration, I see no reason why we won’t have an opportunity to take that run.”

Although this marks Fizdale’s first NBA head coaching job, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace cited the longtime assistant’s background as evidence that Fizdale is “uniquely prepared to lead the Grizzlies into the future.”

Fizdale was an assistant coach with Golden State in 2003-04 and the Atlanta Hawks between 2004 and 2008. He started coaching as an assistant at his alma mater, the University of San Diego.

He also spent a season as Miami’s video intern in 1997-98.

The Grizzlies gave Fizdale his first head coaching opportunity during an offseason when many other teams went with NBA head coaching veterans such as Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, Nate McMillan in Indiana and Frank Vogel in Orlando.

“I feel very confident that I’m ready for this. … I’m going to attack this job,” Fizdale said.

Memphis wrapped up its selection process less than three weeks after dismissing Joerger.

He Grizzlies also considered former Grizzlies and Nets coach Lionel Hollins, Charlotte assistant Patrick Ewing, Portland assistant Nate Tibbets, Spurs assistants James Borrego and Ettore Messina as well as Vogel.

Now that they’ve found their coach, the Grizzlies can concentrate on personnel matters.

The Grizzlies are waiting for Gasol’s foot to heal after his season ended in February. Conley is due to become a free agent after left Achilles tendinitis ended his season in early March. Memphis also has to decide whether to exercise the option on Lance Stephenson and if they should keep Vince Carter, JaMychal Green and Xavier Munford.

Report: Most insiders consider Kevin Durant signing 1+1 contract with Thunder most likely

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The summer of Kevin Durant has arrived.

What will the superstar do in free agency?

Marc Stein of ESPN:

File this under: Do they know something? Executives around the league are sometimes better positioned to gain and share inside information, but sometimes, they’re supposing just like the rest of us. The possibility of the former makes this noteworthy, but don’t rule out the latter.

Durant signing a two-year contract with a player option would make a lot of sense. He’ll be eligible for a much higher max in 2017, because he’ll have 10 years of experience and the salary cap will continue to skyrocket. He could also spend another season with an excellent Thunder team that just beat the Spurs and pushed the Warriors to a Game 7. Plus, his next free agency would coincide with Russell Westbrook‘s in 2017. That way, Durant could stay with this team that should compete for a title next year without getting trapped in Oklahoma City if Westbrook leaves.

It’s easy to assign our values to this situation and then say what Durant should do, but this is about what matters to him. How important is money? How much risk is he willing to take on a short contract? Does he want to stay with Westbrook and his other teammates? Does he believe other teams offer him a greater chance to win a championship?

There are so many issues for him to weigh, and he’ll surely give teams an opportunity to pitch him come July. He’ll gather more information before signing.

That is to say, if Durant is leaning one direction – and I’m not sure he is yet – so much  still stands between now and him signing.