It’s that time of the year, when NBA GMs/Presidents like to play The Semantics Game.”
Reports surfaced over the weekend that Phil Jackson had spoken to Luke Walton about the Knicks coaching job, which morphed into speculation (on other sites, not here) that Jackson tentatively offered the job to Walton, and other reports said the Golden State assistant shot that down.
Phil Jackson took to Twitter to put his spin on clarify things Monday:
Press accounts of coaching actions are untrue. Nobody has been asked nobody said no.
Did Jackson conduct a formal interview with Walton and formally offer him the job? No. That would be farther down the line. However, a GM’s or President’s first contact with a coach is never that formal. It starts with a call to an agent and some broad discussion of interests; then if the sides are on the same page it will lead to a phone call or quiet lunch/dinner with the coach to discuss things in more detail. Know that not only teams in the midst pf an active coaching search — New York, Minnesota, Washington — but also teams considering a coaching change have taken those steps with potential replacements. It’s just like NBA free agency: There are no formal talks until July 1, but a lot of back-channel groundwork is set in place before that day arrives, including informal talks between people close to the players and interested teams.
You can bet there was some feeling out process between Jackson and Walton at the least, and I suspect they had a casual phone conversation about the job. That may well have included Walton letting Jackson know it’s not likely he takes the gig, but nobody is saying anything definitive yet. It’s a feeling out process.
The buzz around the league is Kurt Rambis remains the front-runner, but how likely it stays that way depends on whom you talk to.
Ray Allen on Stephen Curry: “I think Steph is in a category of his own”
Based on what he’s done, I think he has to be—he’s on his way to being the best ever. It’s always arguable, based on who’s telling the story. One thing I always tell people is, it’s hard to compare generations. Everybody has something or somebody that makes him feel special about the game, or the way they saw and the way they appreciate the game. I’ve sat back and watched a lot, and listened to a lot of people talk. He’s creating a lane all of his own. People comparing him to me, to Reggie [Miller]. But I think Steph is in a category of his own. Just being able to have great handles the way he has with the ball, to be able to score at will by getting to the basket. Myself, Reggie Miller, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson—we play a different game. We’re shooters. We come off screens, pindowns—Steph can do that, but he’s creating a different lane. Point guards haven’t been able to do what he’s been able to do, because he’s mixing that 2 guard-ish in there with having the great handles of a point guard.
Shooters respect shooters, and Ray Allen is far from the only one who tips his cap to Curry.
Warriors fans living in the Bay Area, if you are a Comcast subscriber getting Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area, you can stream Monday night’s Rockets/Warriors game by following this link.
The only question about Curry is if he can sustain this kind of success, as Ray Allen did over a lengthy NBA career. Shooters can last a long time in the NBA — come the day Curry loses a step and his handle doesn’t create the same space, he will be insanely dangerous off the ball (so long as he accepts that role).
It leaves Portland with some difficult choices going forward. Damian Lillard cannot cover Paul. The best option is probably Al-Farouq Aminu on Paul, and then Portland can hide Lillard or C.J.McCollum on Luc Mbah a Moute. The problem is the other guard still draws J.J. Redick and will have to chase him off picks all night, an exhausting proposition that tilts in the Clippers’ favor. It will be interesting to see what Terry Stotts comes up with for Game 2 Wednesday.
Three things to watch tonight in NBA Playoffs: Will Curry play for Warriors? Does it matter?
From now through the end of the playoffs, each day the team at PBT will give you a little preview of what will be coming that night and what to look for on the court. For Monday, the things to look for starts with the very basic question of whether Curry is even on the court.
1) Will Stephen Curry play for Warriors? Will it even matter? Stephen Curry has said he wants to play in Game 2 Monday. However, he did not go through practice with Golden State Sunday and is officially listed as “questionable” with a sprained ankle suffered in the Warriors blowout Game 1 win against Houston. Considering Curry’s ankle injury history (he’s had two surgeries on that same ankle) and his importance to their playoff run, Steve Kerr may be leaning toward having Curry sit out Game 2.
The real question is, can Houston do anything about it if he does sit? Technically Houston outscored Golden State by six points when Curry was on the bench through the first three quarters of Game 1 (which eliminates the garbage time of the fourth when Curry sat), but this will be different. The bickering Rockets tried to get James Harden going (17 points on 19 shots), but the Warriors did a great job of not fouling (zero free throw attempts for Harden), and the Rockets lack the shooters to prevent help from getting in the way of Harden. J.B. Bickerstaff has work to do looking for ways to get Harden playing downhill and back to being Harden.
This is simple for the Rockets: If Curry sits this is the road game Houston needs to steal to have any shot in this series. If the Rockets’ can’t, go ahead and start booking tee times.
2) Will DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry show up for the playoffs in Game 2? Toronto was the No. 2 seed in the East on the strength of their backcourt — the second best in the NBA — but the Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan who terrorized the league for much of the season didn’t show up for Game 1. They combined to shoot 8-of-32 from the floor overall, 1-of-10 from three, and they had nine turnovers. Credit the Pacers physical defense with some of that — they contested 20 of those shots and Lowry/DeRozan hit just four of them — but Toronto’s All-Stars are better than this.
Lowry and DeRozan — and coach Dwane Casey — said all the right things Sunday about them not being rattled by the pressure of history (the Raptors haven’t advanced out of the first round since the Vince Carter era), now they need to back that up. In part, that means coming up with play designs to create space for the guards, but then the duo just needs to hit shots. The Raptors didn’t play to their strengths or identity, that needs to change..
By the way, the Raptors don’t just need to adjust on the offensive end. DeRozan was assigned Paul George defensively much of Game 1 and was torched — George had 27 of his 33 points in the second half and keyed the Pacers’ win. Specifically, expect a change in who is on Goerge (Norman Powell?) from the Raptors, as well as how they deal with George on the pick-and-roll. Expect hedging and traps.
3) What can Rick Carlisle do to get Dallas buckets? Other than get back to playing Justin Anderson more. Dallas has far less talent than Oklahoma City. That’s not up for debate. The Mavericks’ only hope to make their first round series interesting was for brilliant coach Rick Carlisle to come up with some masterful stroke that neutralized Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the talent gulf. We’ve come to expect him to do just that. Except it didn’t happen in Game 1. Not even close, OKC won in a blowout.
For all the talk of the OKC offense it was the team’s defense that owned Dallas and decided that game. It was the best Thunder defensive performance in some time, they were active and aggressive. Carlisle has to find a way to get players not born in Germany some buckets to open up the floor — one way would be to play Justin Anderson more. The rookie started the six-game winning streak Dallas had to make the playoffs, and then Carlisle went away from him to get more minutes to trusted veterans. Stop it, go with what worked. To add to Carlisle’s challenges, for Game 2 J.J. Barea is out injured and Deron Williams is questionable. So that talent gulf just got bigger. What I’m saying is I do not envy Carlisle today.
Behind pressure defense, Chris Paul, Clippers pull away for 20-point win against Portland
LOS ANGELES — First rule of playoff defense: Take away your opponent’s option No. 1. Followed by take away option No. 2. Make someone they don’t trust as much beat you.
The Los Angeles Clippers did that in Game 1 against Portland. During the regular season, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined to take 41.3 percent of the Trail Blazers shots, on Sunday night that fell to 33 percent. The Clippers aggressively trapped the pick-and-roll and forced Portland’s backcourt to get the ball to other players — Al-Farouq Aminu and Gerald Henderson both had more shots than McCollum. The Clippers will take that every game this series.
Meanwhile the Trail Blazers’ defense — just 22nd in the NBA after the All-Star break — could not get the ball out of the hands of Chris Paul (28 points and 11 assists), Blake Griffin (19 points) or DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 12 rebounds). The guys the Clippers wanted to shoot were getting shots, and exactly where they wanted them.
The result was Los Angeles pulling away in the second half for a comfortable 115-95 Clippers win to take a 1-0 lead in their playoff series.
There was good news for the Clippers besides the win — this was the best Blake Griffin game since his return from injury and suspension late in the season.
“I felt good. I felt really good,” Griffin said postgame. “Our offense was really clicking. I thought we were doing the things we wanted to do and that helps when you’re getting easy shots. I got some right at the basket early, so that helps. But pretty close, pretty close to how I want to feel.”
Portland’s defense allowed the Clippers to shoot 53.8 percent on the night as a team and have an offensive rating of 122 (points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com) — and that may be the most difficult thing for coach Terry Stotts to adjust, just because there are no good matchups.
“We got to get back in transition, we’ve got to rebound and prevent offensive rebounds, especially on free throws,” McCollum said. “I’ve got to get back and watch the film, but they got middle a couple times on the pick-and-roll and that always creates a lot of problems because you’ve got a shooter like J.J. (Redick) on the weak side or you’ve got Jamal (Crawford) on the weak side so it’s hard to help.”
The Trail Blazers switched a lot of pick-and-rolls in this game, but the Clippers responded by posting up Blake Griffin (with Aminu or someone else smaller on him) and taking advantage of their size. The Trail Blazers may move Aminu or Maurice Harkless to guard Paul (they needs to do something, Lillard was torched much of the night), but either McCollum or Lillard would still need to guard Redick and his constant motion. Stotts is a fantastic coach, but his is limited with how he can match up defensively and keep his playmakers on the floor.
Portland’s other adjustment will be how to deal with the aggressive pick-and-roll traps Los Angeles used on Lillard and McCollum.
“It’s obvious they were really pressuring Damian and C.J., on pick-and-rolls, doubling them and forcing them to pass out,” said Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “We had some threes on the weak side, we had some rolls to the basket and weren’t able to finish them. But if they’re going to double-team Damian and C.J., then other players are going to have to make plays for us.”
“They trap a lot of ball screens and switch a lot of ball screens, similar to Golden State….” McCollum said after the game. “It was a tough game but we’ve got to move forward, figure out different ways to score in pick-and-rolls, figure out different ways to get guys shots when they’re trapping and when they are switching out off ball screens.”
“They were physical, they were ready every time, they communicated,” Lillard said. “It was tough to deal with. We had to make the play and get the ball in the middle to a big, and find a weak side guy. Just as a team we didn’t have a great offensive night.”
The big adjustments for Game 2 Wednesday fall on Stotts, who needs to both improve his team’s defense and also find a way to make the Clippers pay for their aggressive traps (just getting Aminu and Harkless to hit their shots would help). He didn’t have any answers during Game 1. He’s got until Wednesday when Game 2 tips off in Los Angeles to figure it out.