Author: Matt Moore

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game Three

Celtics-Heat Game 5: Erik Spoelstra vs. the depths of pressure


The thing you have to understand is that I don’t think you can really study Erik Spoelstra and think he’s a bad coach. His preparation, his devotion, his work ethic, his approach, most of his tactics, and his overall intelligence make it pretty hard to validate what so many people say about him, just because he’s at the head of a team they hate, one he didn’t assemble, ask for, or prematurely celebrate with.

And he seems like a genuinely great guy.

Which is why it’s really hard to write this, and I take zero pleasure in it. Spoelstra’s spent his entire career in pro basketball in Miami. He worked his way up from video guy sleeping in the tape room to head coach of the most talked about team in the world.  So the fact that he may wind up being the fall guy is just brutal.

But there’s just no way around it. Erik Spoelstra has gotten worked in this series. Now, that’s no terrible damnation. Phil Jackson was worked by Rivers in 2008. Stan Van Gundy in 2010. Rivers is a brilliant motivator who has also gotten really incredibly good at tactical adjustments. But in a series like this you look at what cost Miami a game they could have won. And Spoelstra’s decisions account for a lot.

For starters, Joel Anthony was a DNP-CD Tuesday night. Anthony wasn’t going to make a huge difference in the game. But in a game where the Heat were slaughtered late by offensive rebounds and Kevin Garnett inside, Anthony might have helped. Instead, Spoelstra elected to play Udonis Haslem heavy minutes, despite Chris Bosh saying he was ready. They needed a presence inside, Spo turned to reliable, safe Haslem, who the Celtics funneled the ball to and watched him drop it. This isn’t Haslem’s fault, he’s not an offensive weapon (and surely Anthony would have done no better at catching and finishing), but he’s also out-sized. Spoelstra wanted a small lineup to battle the Celtics’ small lineup, not factoring that with KG, their small lineup was bigger than Miami’s.

Since Game 2, Spoelstra hasn’t been able to counter the Celtics’ use of Garnett and Boston’s counter to the Heat’s front. When the Celtics adjusted to the Heat fronting Garnett, Spoelstra did not throw different looks at them. He did not switch up his coverage. He just did more of it. And watched the 900-year-old Garnett decimate them. Garnett has played his face off in these Conference Finals, beyond what he’s done all year and is an all-time great. The Heat also opened up a welcome sign for him in the paint.

And then late, he’s running plays with LeBron James standing in the corner. Some of this is on James. But even looking back to last year’s semifinals when James nailed key three-pointers over Boston, they were off the dribble, gauging the defense. Spot-up? Not so much. But those were the looks James got in the fourth. They needed to activate their MVP, create space by any means necessary. Instead they let Wade trying and slice through four Celtics defenders. Another fail.

The motivation matters, too. Spoelstra told Doris Burke on ESPN in the interview before the fourth that Boston had “got into (Miami’s) mind a little bit.” He actually said this. On national television. In the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s not that he said it, it’s that he was so obviously wrapped up in it happening. The Heat were frustrated and falling apart and Spoelstra couldn’t pull them out of it. That matters. Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe they should be able to on their own. But he’s part of it.

So Spoelstra has been worked over, and it’s a crushing assessment of a guy who never asked for this. But he’s here, it’s his responsibility, and if someone is likely to take the fall this summer should the probable happen and Boston close them out in Game 6, it’s going to be Spoelstra. Spoelstra didn’t collapse, the Heat did. But Spoelstra just hasn’t done enough to help the Heat win this series. Someone has to be held accountable.

And we know it won’t be LeBron.

Celtics-Heat Game 4: It was more about the Celtics defense than anything

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game Four



OK, moving back to the real world, where fairytales aren’t spun on the dreams of angels and people are taking it one game at a time giving 110 percent, there’s something that’s going to be lost in the incessant nonsense you will be hearing all day tomorrow.

Boston won that game. Miami didn’t lose it. Boston won it. It was Boston that came out and smacked the Heat in the mouth out of the gate, taking the life out of them in the first half, and pounding the shovel on their head. It was the Celtics who responded to a second-half collapse and rallied to force overtime, then made the plays to win.

And most importantly? It was Boston who triple-teamed the best player on the planet and made him pass, and the Celtics who got a hand up in Dwyane Wade’s face to keep him out of the lane . Boston committed three defenders to James and attacked his angles. James had Pietrus going to his left. But the Celtics have always played James so well to that side of the floor, he opted to go middle. And that’s when two more defenders jumped him. The result was a bad pass to Udonis Haslem and a contested fadeaway from UD resulting in overtime.

There, the Celtics ran the right coverage at Wade. Wade was going to shoot. That was always clear. But instead of allowing him inside, where he’s a dangerous scorer, they did enough to work him into a 3-pointer. Wade is 2-of-7 from three in this series, and 28.7 percent from three in the playoffs. That’s defense. Forcing your opponent to take an uncomfortable shot from a place they can’t hit.

Rajon Rondo attacked. The officials were involved. Kevin Garnett was big. But the reason Boston is headed back to Miami with a whole new series and all the momentum?

Boston’s defense stepped up. It wasn’t the Heat failing. It was Boston playing better. Miami wasn’t worse.

Boston was better.

Celtics-Heat Game 4: Rajon Rondo punks Heat in halftime interview on whining about officiating


Rajon Rondo, after dropping 10 assists in the first half of the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Heat, spoke to ESPN reporter Doris Burke for the standard halftime interview. And took a shot at the Heat right off the bat. 

“They’re complaining and crying to referees in transition.”

That’s pretty succinct. 

Rondo’s correct in that assessment. He was able to get out and slice through the defense at will, because the Heat were stunned at how the game was being called. Unfortunately for Rondo, the Heat responded in the second half, closing an 18-point lead to take the lead in the fourth quarter. They didn’t hold on, but definitely responded. But Rondo got the win, and the Heat were left whining about officiating after the game when LeBron James fouled out. The call was bad. Many of the calls were bad. 

Nothing changes the result, and Boston goes to Miami tied 2-2 with all the momentum.

When the process matters: Why Charlotte should trade the No.2 pick

Image (1) bobcats_logo-thumb-250x182-19284.jpg for post 3934

Let’s start off with some instant rebuttal to the premature outcry that headline above is going to muster. First, the basics. The Charlotte Bobcats, in a continuing pattern regarding their awful, horrendous, terrible franchise history, lost the lottery’s No.1 pick despite a 1-in-4 chance to land Anthony Davis. The Bobcats are an awful, awful basketball team that needs help at every position. They have the No.2 pick. There is talk that they could trade the No.2 for more draft picks and/or players. Some people think that’s crazy talk. I’m here to share why it’s not. Now for the immediate outrcy, as kind of a primer:

1. Yes, the Bobcats need a franchise superstar.  The Bobcats need that transcendent player, that guy who they can build around, who they can go to and say “That’s why we we’re winning. We drafted that guy.” The Spurs are a hugely successful franchise and still Gregg Popovich credits Tim Duncan with all of their accomplishments. The Bobcats do not have that guy, have ever had that guy, and desperately need that guy.

2. Unfortunately, this draft is not the one to get it outside the No. 1 spot, from where we sit today. This draft was considered hotcakes a year ago. And a lot of people have talked this up as one of the deeper drafts in years. For what it’s worth, I’m huge on it. I think all the way up to the 22nd pick you can get a franchise impact player. But if you talk to front office people, you’re going to hear a lot about this draft is not that great. It’s been leaked everywhere already. People have soured on this class. Whether it’s Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes’ step backwards, or the incomplete nature of the freshmen, there’s just a huge amount of doubt about this draft, but especially in the superstar category.

There’s just not a perception that Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, or Andre Drummond are going to be franchise savior players. Kidd-Gilchrist has a jumpshot under heavy debate (don’t let one hot workout cloud the issue), Bradley Beal faces questions about height and his shooting percentage considering he’s, you know, a shooter, Robinson was a footnote at Kansas until this season and doesn’t have exceptional length, and Andre Drummond has more questions about his head than the guy from “12 Monkeys.”

So with that No. 2 pick, there’s strong reason to believe the Bobcats aren’t getting that franchise guy. They need him. But you shouldn’t just take a guy who is likely not that because you need him, just like you should’t take a subpar rebounder who’s tall just because you need a guy who can crash the boards. If he can crash the boards (because he’s tall), but he doesn’t, it doesn’t help you in the end.

3. Yes, they can be very, very wrong on this and look stupid. This is what is terrible about the draft. The smart thing if the Bobcats cannot get a superstar is to trade the pick. But if they trade the pick and the player taken turns out to be a superstar in Portland or Cleveland, or wherever, it just makes you look that much dumber for trading the pick. But you have to operate based on the knowledge base that you have right now. And the knowledge base that you have right now says that the smart move is to trade the pick. Why? Because you have so many other needs.

4. No, the Bobcats will likely not get back equal value from an objective viewpoint. The subjective is what matters here. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t matter if the media torches you because Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Thomas Robinson are better than whoever you get at No. 4 and No. 24 or with a young veteran wing, a first, and a future first. It matters if the players you get from the trade help with your overall plan and process. That process, which is the biggest reason for the Spurs success, is what defines championship organizations. It’s not the market or the money, or (just) the superstar. It’s the way they do business and if it’s consistent and well-thought out with the long-term plan in mind. It’s much like trading a superstar. You’re never going to get equal value for Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. Your objective should be to get things which will set you up in the future. You think the Hornets got equal value at the time for Chris Paul? Absolutely not. But are they in a great position to take a major step forward in the 2013-2014 season? Absolutely.

5. The Bobcats have desperate needs at every position. You know what would be better for when the Bobcats do land their superstar on that great come and get it day? Having a roster in place that doesn’t put him in a position to fail. I’m a huge believer in that concept. You have to put guys in a position to succeed. The Bobcats, honestly, were not in a position to help Anthony Davis succeed. Now that doesn’t mean that had they drafted him, he couldn’t be successful right off the bat and it certainly doesn’t mean he couldn’t be successful in 2-to-4 years. But it’s still not an environment built for him to succeed. The way you do that is by getting a team that is at least passable.

I’ve contended that the Bobcats were this terrible this year on account of a perfect storm of factors. The lockout schedule, some bad breaks in games, injuries, and poor tactical coaching. Honestly, they showed up to play a more focused game than the Wizards did half the time. The Wizards just had more talent. And that’s a big deal here. The Bobcats simply lacked talent at almost every position. Their bright spots were a freak of nature power forward who can’t score and a diminutive point guard who struggles with passing. This is a bad thing. The Bobcats need players. Every position needs an upgrade, and a move backwards in the draft or for young, veteran talents (who are willing to work with the Charlotte franchise — that’s a big one) is going to help them. They’re not going to make any huge leap next season. They’ll still have a chance at Shabazz Muhammad or whoever winds up No. 1 overall. So why not fall back, pick up some talent, get some depth, and set yourself up to not be terrible?

A roster full of young, versatile players on rookie contracts who have shown some life is a much better situation to drop a No. 1 overall pick than a team of upgraded D-Leaguers and malcontents.

Plus, it allows them to get rid of some of that rot. Tyrus Thomas’ attitude? See ya, we got a better power forward so we can trade you for pennies on the dollar just to get rid of your contract. Corey Maggette? Adios, we picked up a shooter wing. Getting multiple positions covered isn’t going to make them a good team. But it’s removing the infected areas so that at least the lifeform isn’t ridden with rot. Doesn’t just adding MKG or Beal help with that? Well, yeah, but you’re also putting them in a position where they have to succeed automatically. You need to allow quality supporting players to be quality supporting players. You build a foundation. You get rid of the things that made you a joke. You stabilize your franchise and instill a winning culture, without the wins.

It’s about process.

I think both MKG, Beal, and Robinson can be fantastic players. I don’t think they can be franchise guys… for the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats need a complete organizational makeover. Moving the pick for multiple assets is the way to go. It doesn’t have to be any deal available, they should wait for the right one. But any deal involving a first rounder this year, an asset either in cap space or player, and a future first should be the model. If the Cats can be smart enough to set themselves up with multiple chances in future lotteries, they can improve now and still have a shot at that franchise player.

I think trading the pick is almost never the answer. But here? I think it’s a must. The Cats need to start the process. And that takes more than one player, if that player is not Anthony Davis.

The Bulls, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, and walking the walk vs. talking the talk

Derrick Rose

See, here’s the problem with the superstar team-up era. The Chicago Bulls have put together a team that features a perennial MVP candidate at 23, an All-Star wing defender who can shoot, a hyper-active emotional powderkeg with some offensive skills built in at seven-feet, a deep bench, some microwave scorers… and Carlos Boozer. (No one’s perfect.) And yet when CSN Chicago reports that the Bulls are planning to make a run at either Jason Kidd or Steve Nash, both unrestricted free agents this summer, I have nothing but skepticism because Chicago has not been a franchise that has pursued being “elite” since Jordan walked away. That team they have is good enough, it’s great enough. But I still can’t believe Chicago will really try and make that monster move, because of the money involved and their past history. From CSN Chicago:

While the front office may seek out minimum-salary veterans at several positions, including point guard, a source tells that the Bulls will take a run at future Hall of Famers Steve Nash and Jason Kidd in free agency, trying to convince the former All-Stars that they will have an opportunity to win a championship, of which Kidd has one, from last season with the Mavericks, and Nash has none, in Chicago.

According to the same source, the rest of the team’s “core”–starters Rose, Deng, Hamilton, center Joakim Noah and power forward Carlos Boozer, as well as reserve big men Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, the latter of whom is a restricted free agent this summer, though the Bulls are likely to match any offers for him from opposing teams–is “safe,” though team management will surely at least listen to trade offers.

via Rose making progress, Bulls thinking big?.

Perhaps you’re wondering how on Earth either of those guys will be willing to make a massive paycut to play backup. Well, here’s the thing. They may not have to. We saw this year a lot of teams playing two-point-guard lineups effectively. Honestly, with how fast the league is moving, you almost have the luxury of playing smallball a lot of the time against most teams. Kidd is probably reaching a point where he’s best suited as a role player on the bench anyway, but Nash could excel with Rose next to him. There’s no reason Rose can’t guard some of the bigger 2-guards, and the ones he can’t? Luol Deng can cover. The number of teams with incredible scorers at both the 2 and 3 spots is really in the 3-4 range, with Miami and OKC the obvious inclusions there.

But still, you can’t help but be concerned. Jerry Reinsdorf, the Bulls owner, has made noise about going into the luxury tax this summer which would be a big departure for him. He’s going to have to if he wants to keep that core mentioned above together, considering Asik’s likely offers in restricted free agency and Derrick Rose’s extension kicking in, and that’s before trying to add a Hall of Fame point guard.

So, no, I don’t think the Bulls will swing for the fences with either player. I think we’ll see the same Bulls team back, but it may not be as good. But then, I don’t know why that’s a problem. When healthy, that’s still more than enough for the Bulls to win the title.