Chicago Bulls' Boozer reacts after being called for a foul in their NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston

The Extra Pass: How the Lakers took advantage of Carlos Boozer’s defense

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The Lakers’ win over the Bulls on Sunday was a real workmanlike effort that showed improved dedication on the defensive side of the ball and growing chemistry. The Lakers really seem to be hitting their stride at the right time as they make an end of the season push to qualify for the playoffs.

The Bulls, however, have hit a bit of a rough patch lately. They’ve lost three of their last four games, and their lone win came on a last second three pointer to beat the free falling Jazz.

And while their lack of offense — a season long issue — typically gets focused on most when discussing why the Bulls have trouble winning games, it has actually been their defense that’s been letting them down of late. Per the NBA’s stats database, the Bulls have a defensive efficiency of 106.7 over their last 4 games — a mark that is a full 8 points per 100 possessions worse than their season average.

For a team that relies on getting stops to win their games, they’re not getting enough of them and the results are what you’d expect when that is the case.

One player who was particularly exposed down the stretch of their match up with the Lakers was Carlos Boozer. In the 4th quarter the Lakers offense seemed to target Boozer in pick and roll actions to make him defend on and off the ball, forcing him into positions where his decisions would determine how successful the defensive possession would be.

In this first play, the Lakers switched up their pick and roll action to purposely involve Boozer. Rather than have Dwight Howard set the screen, Kobe Bryant motions to Metta World Peace to come and set the pick and with him comes his defender (Boozer):

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Boozer is actually in decent position to start this play, sitting in his defensive stance and seemingly ready to slow down Kobe as he comes off the screen. However, with Kobe attacking full speed, Boozer simply doesn’t have the lateral quickness to contain Kobe:

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With Boozer looking like he’s going to be beat around the edge, Joakim Noah has already slid into the paint and is ready to contest the drive. However, with Noah committing to helping on Kobe, Dwight Howard is left open at the basket. Kobe recognizes this and hits him with a lob that Howard finishes easily:

The Lakers would run this action over and over again in the final minutes of the game, hoping to get Boozer to make mistakes or to get his teammates to overcompensate for his deficiencies. Here, we see that Boozer recognizes he can’t give up the corner to Kobe so he adjusts his coverage in the P&R:

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Look at how low Boozer is sitting below the screen now. When Kobe comes off the pick, Boozer is nearly 10 feet from the ball and is  on his heels in retreat. As Kobe attacks that space, Boozer only continues to give ground, ultimately ceding a wide open 15 foot jumper that Kobe knocks down easily:

But it wasn’t just Boozer’s defense at the point of attack that the Lakers tried to expose. They also put him in positions where he was on the back line of the Bulls’ defense and forced to make the key rotation to stop an easy basket.

This next play starts with Nash running a high P&R with Howard while Boozer is on the weak side defending World Peace. As you can see, Boozer his hugging the right lane line:

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So far, so good right? Well as the play advances we start to see how Boozer becomes a liability. After Nash came off Howard’s screen, he initiated a hand off sequence with Kobe who then came off a screen by Howard. After that pick is set, Kobe looks to attack the middle of the floor and Howard rolls down the left lane line. Meanwhile, Boozer is standing in nearly the exact same spot he was when the possession started:

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You can only guess what happens next. Kobe hits Howard with a pass and the result is a dunk with Boozer’s reaction to the pass to late to prevent any of it:

Boozer should have left World Peace in the corner, rotated into the paint earlier, and forced Kobe to make the skip pass rather than allowing an easy pass to Howard on the roll. Up to that point in the game, World Peace had missed all six of his three point attempts and is not a threat from that spot and Boozer needed to understand situation and who he was guarding better than he did.

Of the Lakers final 10 points, 8 came on plays where they either attacked Boozer at the point of attack or as a back line helper out of pick and roll actions. It’s closing situations like these where it’s obvious how much the Bulls miss Taj Gibson. Gibson, with his superior athleticism and defensive instincts, is a staple of Coach Tom Thibodeau’s crunch time lineups usually replacing Boozer for reasons that are pretty clear from the clips above.

But Gibson is out with injury and it was Boozer who was tasked with being a key cog in the Bulls’ scheme. He couldn’t get it done, though. And the Lakers, recognizing that he was the weak link, attacked him over and over again to close out the game.

Report: Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel’s contract up, no talks yet about extension

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26:  Head Coach Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers shouts to an official in the first half of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Raptors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 26, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Frank Vogel is one of the 10 best coaches in the NBA. The Indiana Pacers are better with him in the big chair.

But is he going to be back next season?

Probably, only because it’s hard to imagine otherwise, but the door has been opened reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Are the Pacers’ serious? Team president Larry Bird wouldn’t answer the question, but neither did he throw water on the rumor to put the flames out.

Vogel wouldn’t need to worry about employment, he would instantly jump to near the top of every coaching search list out there (and the ones that will come up next year).

The question is, why would the Pacers do this? Can you pick apart is end-of-game management in Game 4, and question his rotations? Sure. Did he make a mistake with his timeout call late in Game 7? Probably. He’s not perfect.

However, this is a team whose second and third best players are Monta Ellis and George Hill, and they have a thin bench — Vogel did more with less he was given by Larry Bird than just about any coach could have. This team has limitations and he has done a fantastic job putting players in positions where they could succeed.

I imagine in a couple of weeks the Pacers will announce a new deal with Vogel. But the door is now open to change.

Raptors hang on through rough finish to beat Pacers 89-84, advance to second round

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To paraphrase the great Rasheed Wallace: “Both teams played hard. Not well, but both teams played hard.”

Game 7s can be filled with tight play and poor decisions, and the final few minutes of this Game 7 between the Raptors and Pacers certainly saw that. It saw the Raptors score just 11 fourth quarter points — and saw the referees swallow their whistles on a clear foul that would have given the Pacers a better chance at a win — but none of that matters to a Toronto fan base starved for a playoff series win.

They don’t care about style points, just give them the “W.” The Raptors and their fans can finally exhale.

Toronto had a 16-point lead, tried desperately to run out the clock in the final five minutes, and in doing so opened the door again for Indiana and made it tight at the end, but Toronto hung on for an 89-84 win.

Toronto wins the series and now advances on to the second round for the first time since the Vince Carter era. The Raptors will face the Heat starting this Tuesday at home in Toronto.

“I think everybody wrote the Raptors off and gave us up for dead,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said after the win. “But that locker room is full of fighters and scrappers and guys that are really getting into it now.”

Casey is wrong in the micro — I certainly don’t remember any “Toronto can’t win Game 7 at home” stories in the press — but right in the macro that his team carried a heavy “they can’t get out of the first round” burden all season, a reputation that almost was an anchor for them in the closing minutes of this game.

But they survived. And advanced.

Paul George was the best player on the floor and finished the game with 26 points, but it was the play he didn’t make (and the foul the Raptors got away with on that play) that will be the talk of Game 7.

Toronto had a small lead most of the game, but a couple of runs (one in the third quarter, another early in the fourth) had stretched it out to 16. Leading the way was DeMar DeRozan, who wasn’t efficient (10-of-32 shooting) but did put up 30 points and was attacking hard. The other key in this game for the Raptors was on the glass where they grabbed the offensive rebound on 35 percent of their missed shots, which led to 17 second-chance points on the night.

But everyone knew Toronto was not going to just be able to coast in for the win. It was going to be hard.

With five minutes left Toronto started to try to run out the clock — Shaquille O’Neal called it “prevent offense” — and the team wouldn’t even really start its attack until there were five seconds or so on the clock. The result was, predictably enough, difficult and contested shots. Meanwhile, the Pacers kept hitting shots and went on a 15-2 run, with Solomon Hill throwing down a huge dunk and Monta Ellis hitting a three that made it a three-point game with 2:36 left.

Then Kyle Lowry answered with a driving layup that had the Raptors up 87-82 with 2:10 left. That would be the last bucket of the game.

Indiana had its chances, but both Ellis and George had turnovers.

George had a chance with the team down 5 and :26 seconds left to go for a quick two and then play the foul game, but as he drove and got cut off he went up and rather than bank in a 10-footer he threw a lot to Ian Mahinmi — and DeRozan shoved Mahinmi while the big man was in the air, causing the pass to go sailing over Mahinmi’s head. It was a clear foul by DeRozan that was not called — and George should have just shot the ball there — but with that the Pacers chances few away as well.

It wasn’t pretty for the Raptors. They do not care. Their loyal and long-suffering fans were rewarded with a first round win, that monkey is off their backs.

But they are going to have to play a lot better and a lot looser against a veteran Miami team if the Raptors want to make the franchise’s first-ever conference finals.

 

 

Stephen Curry says “pretty good” chance he plays in Game 3 next Saturday

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, left, and head coach Steve Kerr react during the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, May 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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The Golden State Warriors were just fine without him Sunday in Game 1.

But no doubt the Warriors are a much more dangerous team with the past-and-future league MVP, so when will they get him back? Maybe by next weekend.

That would put him a couple of days inside the two weeks the team said he would be out, but it’s not unreasonable.

That said, players are the worst people to ask about their recovery timeline, they are always convinced they can be back more quickly than the team doctors say. Also, if the Warriors can win Game 2 Tuesday at home and be up 2-0 in the series, why rush Curry back? Make Portland win a game first.

That said, the Warriors would like to get Curry a little game run and his legs under him this series, because they are going to need him next series (against San Antonio or possibly Oklahoma City).

Warriors’ defense too good, Klay Thompson too hot for Blazers in easy Game 1 win

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Even without Stephen Curry — who thinks he can be back for Game 3 next Saturday — the Golden State Warriors execute like champions.

They have an elite defense. Just as Damian Lillard, who shot 3-of-17 and had 12 points through the first three quarters (he went 5-of-8 in the fourth and scored 18 points, but the game was over by then). Or ask C.J, McCollum, who shot 5-of-17 for 12 points on the night.

The Warriors have more than one elite shooter and playmaker. Klay Thompson had 37 points and was 7-of-14 from three. Draymond Green added a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

It all overwhelmed a Portland team that had played against the Clippers Friday night and still looked a little sluggish. The Warriors opened the game on an 18-4 run and led by 20 after 12 minutes, Thompson had 18 of his points in the first quarter, and by that point the Warriors put it in cruise control and were never seriously threatened on their way to a 118-106 win.

Golden State leads the series 1-0, with Game 2 at Oracle Arena Tuesday night.

Portland has a lot of work to do before then, starting with altering their defensive strategies — they need to have their bigs show out more and be physical when they can with Thompson. Oh, and put Maurice Harkless on Thompson, not McCollum. They need to take away Klay’s space, if Portland gives him the room to operate he had for three quarters Sunday again and he will beat them again.

Another part of the Warriors’ fast start was a clever move by Steve Kerr, asking center Andrew Bogut to guard wing Maurice Harkless. Portland’s game plan (almost every game) is to try and drag the opposing center into defending the pick-and-roll, but now Harkless had to be involved rather than Mason Plumlee. Harkless isn’t half the playmaker or threat in that role Plumlee is. It helped slow the Blazers pick-and-roll, and they went on to score just 17 first quarter points.

All game long the Warriors were able to attack the rim and Portland just does not have the paint protectors that will slow them down. Shaun Livingston had 12 for Golden State getting the start in Curry’s place and Golden State did a good job of posting up the smaller Trail Blazers guards. Portland got 15 each from Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe (who had a good game), but Bogut was a force in the paint and his rim protection was an issue for the Blazers.

Portland also lost Gerald Henderson to an ejection, one that seemed like a quick trigger to me. Toward the end of the third quarter, Anderson Varejao fell and as he did kicked Henderson knocking the Blazer to the ground. Henderson thought it was intentional and got up and got in Varejao’s face. The referees looked at the tape and went with the double technical.  But neither man let the incident go and with 15 seconds left in the third Henderson was trash talking with Varejao, who at that point was on the Warriors’ bench. The referee hit him with a second technical.

But that’s the least of Portland’s problems right now.

They have not been a strong defensive team all season, however they need to be a better one by Tuesday. If the Blazers go down 0-2, and Curry is back for Game 3, Golden State could get even more time to rest before the next round because this series will not last long. Lillard and company need to bring it on Tuesday night.