Dallas was much more than sick Dirk Tuesday night

4 Comments

Dirk Nowitzki was an inspiration, a guy with a triple-digit fever hitting what was essentially the game-winning bucket, the dagger shot on a scoop layup with 14 seconds left.

But he’s not why the Mavericks won. Or not primarily.

They won because of zone defense and Tyson Chandler and the pick-and-roll and a number of little things the Mavericks did right. Or at least right enough in what was an ugly yet compellingly entertaining game. Dallas did not get its usual night from Nowitzki, it had to compensate in other areas.

Here are a few things that did work:

Fourth quarter defense: The Mavericks have been a pretty good defensive team in the playoffs that has kept Miami to shooting 42 percent in the first three games, keeping the Heat to 10.5 fewer points per game than they scored in the regular season. But with the game on the line Dallas did a better job — Miami scored 14 fourth quarter points on just 33 percent shooting and Dallas also forced six turnovers. While the Mavs have struggled to contain Dwyane Wade they continued to be aggressive and take the ball out of LeBron James’ hands (he helped with that). The result is LeBron has 9 fourth quarter points all series. Dallas was able to play that fourth quarter defense in part because of …

Zone defense: Dallas tried this a few times in Game 1 and got torched, so they went away from it for a while. But in the key parts of Game 4 they returned to their matchup zone and it got Miami hesitating. In particular LeBron, who was not aggressive all night, saw a zone did not turn the corner on the pick-and-roll and attack, he rather held back looking to pass. His passivity and the aggressiveness of the Dallas defense meant turnovers and poor shots from Miami.

Tyson Chandler: He was arguably the best Mavs player Tuesday night. He had four offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, nine total and finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds. He is the biggest man on the court and while Dwyane Wade made a sensational block on one play it was Chandler attacking inside that stemmed the tide of Miami’s runs. He was, if not the best Mavericks player, the most aggressive.

Running pick-and-roll with Marion and Chandler: This was a brilliant adjustment by Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. Usually Dirk Nowitzki sets the picks late and Jason Terry comes off them. But the Mavs started using Dirk off the ball (maybe in part to conserve his energy) and having Chandler and Marion as the roll men. It worked to the tune of 16 points on 10 attempts (compared to 2 points the 9 times Dirk set the pick). Chandler has been a force to fear rolling to the hoop since Chris Paul was feeding him the rock and he had some strong moves to the basket in this one. Marion finished with 16 points and got all his made baskets inside of 10 feet. There was room to operate because with Dirk outside the Heat had to respect the shooter.

Fourth quarter execution: For the second time this series, Dallas was the better team in the final six minutes. They did it at both ends — every shot Miami took late was contested, where Dallas was getting good looks by running their offense. They weren’t hitting those shots because it was that kind of ugly game, but Dallas was getting better looks.

Ugly is fine by Dallas. Another comeback is as well. What matters is this is a best-of-three series now. And if Dallas keeps doing these little things they have a real chance at the franchise’s first title.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

AP
Leave a comment

The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.

Stephen Curry back in full practice mode for Warriors

AP
1 Comment

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry resumed full practice with contact and could play for the defending champion Golden State Warriors as soon as Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night against New Orleans.

Curry looked strong as he practiced Thursday wearing a protective brace over his sprained left knee, which has sidelined him since the injury March 23 – the same day he returned from a six-game absence because of a hurt right ankle.

Coach Steve Kerr is calling Curry questionable for Saturday. That could change if the two-time NBA MVP still feels fine Friday and is fine after one more day of full practice before the Pelicans visit Oracle Arena to begin the best-of-seven series.

“Steph practiced at 100 percent, he did everything, he looked good,” Kerr said. “What we have to do is see how his body responds the rest of the day, put him through another practice tomorrow. I think he needs to string together two good days but it was very positive today. … I think it’s been coming along pretty well. When we were in San Antonio and I was asked a question about how he was doing, I think I was able to give an answer, `He’s doing great but we haven’t ramped him up yet.’ I think today was an important day because it’s the first time he’s actually gone live action and he was allowed to go through practice. And he appears fine.”

Curry went through his usual shooting work with Kevin Durant from various spots after practice, cutting and exhibiting his fancy footwork and dribbling skills. The Warriors have played well without their floor leader, eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the first-round series with a 99-91 win Tuesday night.

The Pelicans will present a different, faster pace for the Warriors, so getting Curry back to push the ball and direct the offense would be important. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, started in the first round in his place while Quinn Cook handled point guard duties late in the regular season with Curry out.

“We’re excited. I know he’s very eager to play,” said Klay Thompson. “He’s a competitor, so sitting out I know kills him. We can’t wait for him to get back whenever that is.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

PBT Extra: How big a threat are Pelicans to Warriors?

2 Comments

Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans were the surprise of the first round of the NBA playoffs. We knew they were good, but they looked dominant on both ends sweeping the three-seed Portland Trail Blazers right out of the postseason (and into a somber period of reflection).

New Orleans looked like the best team in the West in the first round and now they take all that momentum to Golden State where… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In this PBT Extra I discuss how the Pelicans have found an identity, but the matchups against Warriors are dramatically more challenging than what they saw in Portland. And that’s before Stephen Curry returns to the fold.

The Pelicans are a great story, but the pecking order in the West is real for good reason.

Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee undergoes surgery to fix core-muscle injury

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Leave a comment

DENVER — Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee underwent surgery to fix a core-muscle injury.

The team said Plumlee had the procedure performed Thursday morning by Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia.

Plumlee is expected to return to basketball activities this summer and be ready for training camp in the fall. He averaged 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists for a Nuggets team that narrowly missed out on the postseason.

The 28-year-old Plumlee was acquired by Denver as part of a deal in February 2017 that sent center Jusuf Nurkic to Portland. Plumlee signed a three-year, $41 million deal with the Nuggets last September.