No words necessary.
Get your popcorn.
No words necessary.
Get your popcorn.
Here’s the secret to this series, and the Celtics’ postseason in general. Kevin Garnett getting points off the pick and pop and in the post over Ronny Turiaf and yelling and barking and cursing is nice. Paul Pierce getting an inefficient number of points per FGA is fine. Ray Allen hitting some in-between freezeouts is fine, and Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling having “playoff home team bench performances” is all well and good. The Celtics would still be doomed, and I mean “Greek tragedy, female-characters-in-a-Joss-Whedon-story, Blazers-top-draft-pick doomed” without Rajon Rondo.
Rondo is who answered when the Heat cut the lead into single digits in Game 3. Rondo kept them with a chance to win in Game 2. Rondo has answered every call, made every play, responded in every opportunity to keep the Celtics alive and kicking. Without him, they’re and old team that can’t stay in front of the Heat for 48 minutes. That’s just the reality. The Celtics played great as a team in Game 3, and still would have been ruined by the fourth quarter onslaught of the Heat if Rondo hadn’t kept attacking and making smart plays.
This series is about Rajon Rondo vs. LeBron James. James is up 2-1, and each has a prolific performance in a loss, though Rondo’s far exceeds James’. Miami has tried everything. Playing under, he nailed jump shots. Playing him off-ball, he slices to get free. Trap him, he racks up the assists. Hedge, he gets the corner. The Heat defense is not overrated. It is not a sham. It is as good as advertised, as is Boston, when they have the energy to execute. Neither team can do much of anything against the opponent’s best player, but that’s what this will come down to. Both sides will get contributions from the other players. Dwyane Wade will snap back. Paul Pierce is going to have a Truth game. But this series rests on the shoulders of Rondo, who as primary weapon and best player on the Celtics, has never lead them to the title, and James, who has never lead his team to the title.
Forget KG screaming. Forget Truth popping his jersey. Forget the Ray Allen resurrection, Chris Bosh’s status, Dwyane Wade’s performance. This is about two of the modern age’s best players, models of efficiency, production factories, and whoever can make the right play, not the most plays, will carry his team forward. This is the stuff of legend.
The James Kingdom or Rondoworld. Game 4 looms.
The Warriors at this point might as well put up a big neon sign outside their offices that read “TRADE MARKET FLEA SALE TODAY!” Ever since they went into tank mode, they have made it known that their players are available for trade and that they want a small forward in return. And by landing the seventh spot and avoiding losing their pick to Utah, it means that’s something else they can throw on the trade pile.
What are they looking for? Well, let’s just say they’re not aiming low. From the Contra Costa Times:
Golden State has long since had interest in Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala, who is exactly the playmaking athlete the Warriors need at small forward. Other small forwards high on their list, according to league sources, are Portland’s Nick Batum, Indiana’s Danny Granger and Memphis’ Rudy Gay. And don’t be surprised if the Warriors make a play for Atlanta forward Josh Smith.
Trading the No. 7 pick for a veteran wouldn’t rule out the Warriors’ filling a need with a rookie from this year’s draft. The Warriors could potentially move up using their other three picks and have a shot at Illinois center Meyers Leonard, St. Bonaventure power forward Andrew Nicholson or maybe even Kentucky’s Jones (who some mocks have falling out of the lottery).
Taking a look at their roster, this gets a bit tricky. Their biggest assets on roster are Stephen Curry, David Lee, the expiring-by-virtue-of-non-guaranteed-in-2013-2014 contract of Andris Biedrins. Curry is the best young player they have, Lee has a monster contract with four years, $57 million left on it, and Biedrins is just painfully low on value. Dorrell Wright, a crack shooter, would likely be involved in a deal along with the seven. But is any team going to take the No. 7 in what is considered to be a weak draft, Dorrell Wright, and either David Lee’s salary or Biedrins’ dead weight for their franchise small forward?
It seems like a fairytale. But we’ve seen teams take on contracts before. Were the Sixers to amnesty Elton Brand, Lee would be a solid replacement at power forward. the Grizzlies need an outside shooter like Wright and center depth with Biedrins. The Pacers might be compelled by a forward at the No.7 spot to take a gamble on moving Granger. It’s going to take some trickery, but it could be done. The Warriors do have another first-rounder at the very bottom of the round, and could of course leverage future assets as a throw-in. That always works out well.
The Warriors are aiming high on the rebuild. With Andrew Bogut and Curry (unless they get really dangerous and trade the young guard which changes everything), they could make a few moves and have their future core set. One thing is certain. We’re going to hear a lot about this potential move over the next four weeks.
Maybe they’re right.
Maybe the league, in the face of unfathomable depths of reason to avoid the concept like the plague (which I have outlined here), really did rig the 2012 NBA Lottery in order to help the Hornets after a rough year, or dot the i’s on the sale of the team to Tom Benson, or to make up for the Chris Paul trade intervention, or whatever. It’s possible. The league is capable of doing it, even of keeping evidence from leaking. It could have happened.
And if that’s the way you want to look at it, God Bless you. I’ve long said what makes the NBA great is the insanity of it all, not its greatness. We like to pretend it’s Jordan’s push-off and jumper, Magic’s Skyhook, Kobe’s lob to Shaq, the steal by Bird, the passion, the drama, the glory of championship greatness. But in reality? It’s DeShawn Stevenson’s neck tattoo, it’s Adam Morrison, it’s Looney Tunes halftime shows, and Carl Landry’s teeth getting embedded in Dirk’s arm. It’s conspiracy theories about frozen envelopes and vetoed trades. This is the tapestry of the league.
But for me? The only way I can look at the Hornets’ acquisition of the No. 1 overall pick in the draft is serendipity.
This is painful, but we must start here.
Anthony Davis desperately needed to not go to the Charlotte Bobcats. This is not another treatise about how terrible the Bobcats are, about them being “worst of all time” because they’re not. I’ve seen worse teams. This year. There are teams that played with less focus, less effort, less heart. The Bobcats are short on talent and ability and skill and lots of other things but that doesn’t make them irredeemable. It just makes them bad. I want to say that Davis not landing to them is the best thing for them as well, that they need a scorer like Bradley Beal or a game-changer like MKG on the wing. But I’d be lying. They need a franchise player, and the only one in this draft, even though I’m more bullish on this draft than most, is Anthony Davis.
But the thing I want most for rookies coming in, because I genuinely want them all to succeed, is that they find the right place for them. And that was not with the Bobcats. Davis needs three things. Stability, because all rookies need that, the possibility of success, because even if they’re terrible they need to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and a point guard. Davis has an offensive repertoire which wasn’t showcased at Kentucky. But it’s going to take him a few years to work out the kinks and get it up and running. In the meantime, he needs a point guard who can run the offense and get him the ball. I think D.J. Augustin is a talented scoring guard who could contribute if he were to escape Charlotte. But he’s not a great fit with Davis. Don’t even get me started on Kemba Walker. It’s unfortunate, but maybe it’s for the best that Charlotte didn’t get Davis. And maybe the odds will work out and Beal, or Drummond, or MKG will be that player for Charlotte. God willing, because I’m tired of everyone dumping on a team down on its luck because it makes them feel better.
But no, those things I mentioned that Davis needs?
That’s New Orleans.
It’s stable. You can question that given the league’s reign over them as owners, but the fact is the owner of the Saints took over. That’s the shot in the arm they needed. Monty Williams and Dell Demps… survived! Do you know how improbable that is? If I were Dell Demps, I would have set my office on fire as my resignation this season. If I were Monty Williams… I would have turned into late-era Don Nelson. Let’s just say that.
But here they are. Demps, who has brought in high quality players, and diamonds in the rough. And Williams. I was livid when a Los Angeles writer said that the Lakers being challenged (and still winning!) by the Hornets was a disgrace. It was proof of how little many beat writers and columnists flip on league pass. Because you can’t have watched this year’s Hornets team and thought they were a disgrace. The hardest part of a losing year is getting the team to come out and give a crap. Would you, if you knew that winning meant nothing? But there the Hornets were. They were prepared. They were focused. They wanted to win. They didn’t, because they were without talent. They didn’t have enough good players, and their best player was out with injury. Now they’re reinvigorated.
Demps has been given the player he needs to build around. You don’t think Demps, who worked under R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, knows how to build around an elite big man? That’s the model. And Williams is a relentless defensive coach, who has been gifted arguably the best defensive prospect in a decade. Davis is walking into a situation with a coach who knows how to use him. Pick and roll on offense, tenacious defense. Davis is in a great position to learn what he needs to and excel off the bat.
They have a point guard, in Jarrett Jack, who can run the offense and feed Davis. He’s excited to have Davis and wants to win. Jack’s a professional and not a diva. But it’s not just those two. Davis won’t be expected to score 18 a game. He’s got Eric Gordon. (For those of you raising his impending free agency, stop. No one goes loose off their rookie contract, the money’s too important, and anyway, you think with a legitimate chance to win next year, the Hornets are letting Gordon walk?) They have scoring balance. And this is before the No.10 pick and adding Damian Lillard or Kendall Marshall or Terrence Jones, or whoever. The Hornets are set up perfectly.
You can choose to think that makes it all the more suspicious that they wound up with Davis. But they had better than a 1-in-10 shot at Davis. They set themselves up success and better yet they’re in a position to set up Davis for success.
You can see a dark cloud on the horizon, I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for a team that didn’t make things wore for itself in the middle of misery. I’m loathe to throw out “Shawshank Redemption” lines because another writer has made that his trademark. But watching Monty Williams beaming on lottery night, this was the only thing I could think of.
“Monty Williams. Crawled through a river of (expletive) and came out clean on the other side.”
You can call it conspiracy. I call it the universe throwing us a bone in this darkened, injury-filled, lockout year.
Seriously, this is the most serious of seriousness. This is the business. This game is monstrous. All those games before that were big? No, this one is big. BIG. Like, those commercials big.
Thunder-Spurs Game 4 is going to have dramatic ramifications either way. If the Spurs win, the Thunder’s Game 3 win is meaningless and the series is over. The Thunder could force them back to Oklahoma City for Game 6, maybe even drag it back to the Alamo for Game 7. But if the Spurs go up 3-1, that’s all she wrote. NBA players know the reality. They’ll say they’re not paying attention those things but that’s a lie. They watch NBC Sports Net just like you do. They know the stats about a team going down 3-1. The spirit is crushed if the Spurs prevail in OKC.
Likewise, a Thunder win? Forget those two dominant Spurs wins, forget the streak and the aura of invincibility the Spurs carried with them. Two straight losses and it’s a three-game series, with the Thunder with all the momentum. On a shortened schedule, steal Game 5 in San Antonio where they played decent enough, and the Spurs will be on their heels going back to the Thunder dome. Tying this series up isn’t about getting the Spurs off their back, it’s about wiping the slate clean. Everything changes if they win Game 4.
So how is it done for both sides? Five things to watch in Thunder-Spurs 4.
1. The Ol’ Switcheroo: The Thunder switched extensively in Game 3 instead of trying to recover with their man and it worked wonders. Kendrick Perkins guarded Tony Parker effectively. Thabo Sefolosha defended everyone effectively. It was a switching festivus and the Thunder were partying. To counter this, the Spurs have some options. For starters, Tony Parker can drag the screen to the wing as far as possible, putting the larger player in a tough position to get to the baseline. He can be quicker with the pass, quicker with the drive, and more aggressive. Likewise, running the 3-4 pick and roll with Ginobili and Duncan could do damage. The Thunder aren’t equipped to guard Duncan in space and you have to think he’ll bounce back after a poor shooting performance. How this elements is handled by both sides is a fascinating chess match within a “Risk” game going on.
2. Harden Attack: James Harden got his game together in Game 3. It’s a pivotal matchup with Manu Ginobili and whoever wins the battle wins the game, so far. Harden was more aggressive and not as tentative in Game 3, and he understands better how to get the angle on the Spurs’ defense. I’d expect a lot more of Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard on Harden. They can survive the points from the Big 2, not the Big 3. Speaking of…
3. Inevitable Barrage: Durant or Westbrook are going to shake loose. They’ve gotten points, but neither has had a truly brilliant, efficient game yet. Game 4 provides that opportunity. It’s not that the Spurs can’t defend them well. It’s that those two specifically are stars because of their ability to confound defenses with scoring despite good defense. The Wonder Twins have to activate and have a performance worthy of their brand value for the Thunder to even the series.
4. How Diaw, Brown Cow? Boris Diaw played excellent defense against Blake Griffin. Boris Diaw played excellent defense against Serge Ibaka, for a while. But Game 3 provided some exploitation of the things that made Diaw a bad contract in Charlotte. He couldn’t stay out of foul trouble, he was throwing passes into steal lanes, he was off his element and was outrun. The Spurs may turn to DeJuan Blair in Game 4, after he played well at the end of Game 3 and may be a better matchup. The passing is really crucial. If Diaw isn’t creating perimeter rotations out of the post, his value on the floor becomes limited. How the Spurs react will be interesting given Popovich’s trust in veterans.
5. The Best Offense: Is a good defense for OKC. In Games 1 and 2, Scott Brooks tried to score with the red-hot Spurs. In Game 3, he deployed defensive lineups and got the desired result. Yes, Thabo Sefolosha won’t score that many again, but with Danny Green struggling, he doesn’t really need to. The Thunder’s offense has been very consistent in this series, and compared to last year. The Thunder are going to get points. It’s whether they can slow down the awesome power of the Spurs that will determine who wins the west. You could honestly say a bowl of salad on Sunday could alter players’ careers in this game. The Spurs know they have to stop OKC’s transition attack. The Thunder have to prevent open looks, something no one has been able to do in a long, long while.