Celtics-Heat Game 4: The bizarre development of the Boston offensive juggernaut

7 Comments

It makes no sense, you understand. We’re talking about throwing away not just the stats, forget the stats. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen the Boston offense not only struggle, but look absolutely apoplectic for six months. That Sixers series was something out of a Rob Zombie film on offense. It wasn’t just gross, it was poorly done with little cohesion. And that defense was worse than Miami’s! But yet here we are, and we’re going to have to live with it.

Boston can score on Miami. Often, and well. The Celtics have a 98.2 offensive efficiency in the playoffs, which is dreadful. Against Miami through three games, they have a 107.6 offensive rating. Which is spectacular. Boston can score. It makes no sense, but that was the trend in the regular season, and that’s the trend now. Miami’s defense is every bit as good as Boston’s, and yet neither team can stop one another (Miami has a 109 offensive efficiency vs. Boston in the Conference Finals). And what’s even crazier? That’s the Celtics’ best chance to win. Out-gun the mighty Heat.

In Game 1, Boston tried making it into a streetfight. Slowed the game down, tried to make it into their kind of mud-wrestling match. Miami walloped them. In Game 2, they broke the game open and nearly won. In Game 3, they took them to the races and ran them out of the building. This is the way. It goes against everything Boston does philosophically, it goes against logic and reason, but this is Boston’s best chance at evening this series, winning this series, “shocking the world.” (Note: Most people picking the Heat does not in any way indicate that Boston winning would shock the world. Most people would not be surprised if you told them before the series that Boston would win. They’d be surprised you traveled back in time to tell them the outcome of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals series.)

So we’re just going to have to adjust. Boston hasn’t even gotten all its weapons going. Paul Pierce is still barely scoring more points than field goal attempts, Ray Allen is still spotty, and in reality it was Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling who carried the day in Game 4. So they can play better on offense. Miami will find ways to adjust, but some things they can’t adjust to. They can’t get longer to battle Kevin Garnett. They can’t get faster to cover Rajon Rondo. And if the Celics keep up this “fire when ready” approach, running the offense through Rondo and not Pierce, they’ve got a great chance at winning Game 4 and sending the Heat back to South Beach with their tails between their legs.

Miami has to slow down Boston. (Things you never thought you would say.) They need to get their transition defense back, get better interior rotations, and stay engaged defensively. They can score on their own end, and the formula isn’t tough. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James score a lot of points. If Wade has another off day, they’re sunk. That’s just the reality without Bosh, but their bigger concern is defense.

It’s strange, it’s baffling, it’s against what we know and understand. But this plodding, awful Boston offense that relies on contested jumpers can score on the Heat, at will. The degree of how much will determine whether the Heat can put the Celtics to the edge of the shore.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

Getty Images
Leave a comment

When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

3 Comments

Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

image

The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

Getty Images
4 Comments

We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.