Tag: Celtics Magic

NBA Playoffs, Magic Celtics: Brandon Bass is giving the Magic a nice boost

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Bass_dunk.jpgAfter playing sparingly throughout the regular season and in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Brandon Bass has been unearthed.

After two successful seasons with the Mavs averaging nearly 20 minutes a game, Bass was boxed up and hidden away in Stan Van Gundy’s attic. There were just too many big bodies worthy of playing time on the Magic roster, and between Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Marcin Gortat, Ryan Anderson, and Bass, something had to give. Or, y’know, be banished to the end of the bench.

No longer, as SVG turned to Bass in Games 4 and 5 as an energy big off the pine. He doesn’t have Howard’s size or finishing ability or Lewis’ mobility, but Brandon does have offensive utility. The limitation to Bass’ production — and the reason he didn’t play significant minutes in the regular season — is his defense.

Bass is not a bad one-on-one defender, particularly in the post. He makes up for his lack of height with strength and reach, and he fights for defensive position down low. It’s when he’s asked to rotate and help that things get a bit difficult. If the ball is anywhere but in the hands of his defensive assignment, Bass looks lost, and that’s problematic.

That much was true even in the last two games. But you know what? Brandon can contribute. He was fourth on the team in points per 36 minutes in the regular season, and his time with the Mavs shows that it’s no sample size error. He can hit an open jumper, nail the turnaround in the low post, and work the offensive glass. Bass’ defensive value is certainly limited, but given what he’s been able to offer on the offensive end in his last two outings, he could definitely be useful as Orlando looks to stay alive tonight.

This isn’t a J.J. Redick parallel, where a guy clearly deserves an increased role even it comes at a cost. Redick was outplaying Matt Barnes and Vince Carter in phases, and was facilitating the Magic offense when he was on the floor. Bass doesn’t have such a clear advantage to his rotational counterparts, but if Orlando is in need of scoring and energy in Game 6, Brandon should see (and likely will see, given Van Gundy’s willingness to adjust) additional time.

Bass’ strong play in Game 5 doesn’t change his faults. It doesn’t mean that SVG was wrong to hide him on the bench all of this time, or to look to Ryan Anderson or Marcin Gortat at the 4 instead. All it means is that against the Celtics, Brandon can be an asset. The Magic won’t lean on him or rely on him, but could benefit from his presence tonight if things start to get sluggish. And against the Celtics’ defense in Boston? You better believe that it could be.

NBA Playoffs, Magic Celtics Game 5: Vince Carter should do the exact same thing he did last game, only completely different and much better


Vince Carter had no redeemable value for the Magic in Game 4. He wasn’t scoring well, and finished with just three points on 1-for-9 shooting. He wasn’t making plays for his teammates, even if he wasn’t necessarily a ball-stopper. He wasn’t hitting the boards particularly hard, and he certainly wasn’t making any significant contributions on the defensive end. Stan Van Gundy ultimately pulled Carter for much of the fourth quarter in favor of J.J. Redick, and it was absolutely, positively the right move.

So naturally, SVG is expecting a bit more from Carter tonight. From Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

Carter missed eight of the nine shots he attempted in Orlando’s
96-92 overtime victory in Game 4 on Monday, and Van Gundy was asked
moments ago what he needs to happen for Carter to be more productive.

“It’s a combination of everything,” Van Gundy said after the Magic
completed their shootaround. “I think he needs to be more aggressive.
We probably need to get him in better situations, and he needs to make
the shots he gets. I mean, part of it is simple. Everybody in this
series other than Paul Pierce has had both good nights and bad nights.
Paul’s the only one on either team offensively who’s has four good
nights. So, you can ask that question about anyone except him.”

In summary: every non-Paul Pierce player has had a bad offensive game in this series, but Vince Carter needs to be more aggressive (coach-speak for show better shot selection while looking to attack the rim), get the ball in situations better suited to his talents, and actually make some damn shots. That’d be a start, because as Game 4 showed, Carter’s utility for this team is significantly limited when he’s not scoring. Putting up points is never easy against a defense like Boston’s, but Vince will have to find ways to get his if he’s going to help the Magic stave off elimination again tonight.

NBA Playoffs Celtics Magic Game 5: Stan Van Gundy has to be willing to gamble


Thumbnail image for Howard_blinded.jpgOnce again, Orlando, this is it. You staved off the monster, backing into a cave and swiping at its tentacles, forcing Rajon Rondo to the locker room, forcing Kevin Garnett into tough decisions (other than yelling and barking), and generally didn’t suck. Congratulations. Now you just need to do it three more times in a row.

Stan Van Gundy is often labeled with, and I’m sorry to apply simplistic adjective here but I’ve got little choice, the stupid moniker of the Master of Panic. Guys that panic don’t get their teams to the Eastern Conference Playoffs in consecutive years. But if panicking means overreacting to the situation, this is one scenario where SVG needs to embrace that label. The rotations must change.

Van Gundy needs to turn to unlikely and unconventional sources to give his team the best attack it can provide. Boston will likely be refocused. Rajon Rondo will likely be back to his werewolf-like self. Kevin Garnett may not miss as many open looks. So the Magic have to be willing to turn to alternative options if the Celtics are able to create the havoc they wreaked in the first three games. That means more time for J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass, and some looks for Ryan Anderson, and less time for Jason Williams, Mikael Pietrus, and especially Vince Carter.

Redick should be a no-brainer. The argument will be that you don’t disrupt the rotation and “psyche of your team” in the Eastern Conference Finals. No, you don’t disrupt the rotation and psyche of your team when you start the Eastern Conference Finals. Down 3-1 versus a very pissed off Celtics team that annihilated you in the first three games? That’s when it’s totally fine to pull any trick you think will work out of the bag.

Redick is +21 in this series (via PopcornMachine.net), versus Carter, who is -23 .Even if you for some reason feel that after Carter’s complete quitjob in Game 4 (going 1-9, getting torched on defense, and not showing any interest in coming back in the game in the fourth quarter) he’s your best option, you can still give Redick significant minutes. Redick’s handle isn’t superb, it’s true. But he’s a better option to run the offense than Jason Williams, who has been a complete disaster. Jameer Nelson is ready to log long minutes, and switching to a Redick-Carter backcourt means you have your best perimeter weapon (when he feels like trying) and the best pick and roll ball handler in this series in while Nelson rests. This is the time for trying new things. Just because you caught the Celtics napping at home doesn’t mean they won’t bring the thunder tonight. You need lightning in a bottle to respond, and so far in this series, the Magic’s regular rotations have been cumulus clouds drifting past a peaceful landscape.

In the front court, the Magic may want to consider some unorthodox alternatives, particularly if Dwight Howard winds up in foul trouble. Does playing Rashard Lewis at small forward against Paul Pierce sound like a nightmare? Absolutely. But it’s not like any of your other options, especially Carter or Matt Barnes, have had any success whatsoever. Lewis has the length to contest Pierce’s pull-up jumper and the size to give him problems if he should drive. What happens for those stretches at power forward then? Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson. Anderson has seen no time in this series, due to his inexperience in both the playoffs and the system. Again, I would respond, “It’s not like the traditional approach has been effective!” Anderson has the size to body up against Sheed and the physical nature to combat Glen Davis, plus range to give both of them significant problems. Why have all this stocked talent if you’re not going to use it?

Then there’s Brandon Bass, who is quite the mixed bag. Questionable on defense, a definite spark on offense. Bass has shown at least a willingness to be aggressive against Boston which is more than you can say for several of the Magic’s wing players. Plus he has touch, which Dwight Howard has struggled with.

There are plenty of reasons to go in with what you feel are your best players and stick to the script that made you so successful during the regular season. But you’ve also got to turn to alternatives when that formula has been neutralized, tazered, dragged outside and left for dead. The Magic aren’t just up against the wall, they’re at knife point. If they want to see tomorrow, and another game in Boston (at which point you’ll see a whole lot of puckering from the guys in green whether they show it or not), they’ve got to be willing to try some new things.

Variety is the spice of life. The Boston Celtics beating the crap out of you for four quarters and you not adjusting? That’s the overcooked toast.

NBA Playoffs, Magic Celtics: Game 4 a good a reason as any of why Stan Van Gundy's job isn't in jeopardy


SVanGundy.jpgThe Magic were on the brink of franchise embarrassment on Monday night, as the Celtics were in command of the series with a 3-0 lead and came back to force overtime despite fantastic outings by Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. Orlando’s season could have drifted away had Paul Pierce found an open Ray Allen at the end of regulation, but Pierce uncharacteristically bobbled away a late-game possession and the Magic survived the overtime period to avoid elimination.

That possession though, and the overtime as well, were icing on the cake of a much-improved overall game for the Magic. The defense still has plenty of room for the improvement and some of the missed opportunities on offense were just painful, but Orlando looked to be a substantial step closer to the excellence they displayed in the first two rounds of the playoffs and the final months of the regular season.

As good as the Celtics have been, the Magic’s unraveling has been something of a wonder. It can’t all be chalked up to Boston’s top-notch defense, as some of Orlando’s underwhelming Conference Finals showing seems to stem from nowhere at all. The Magic played against quality defensive teams in the regular season, but none of those games have been quite as befuddling as the first three in this series, during which Orlando’s offense was shackled, weighted, and thrown into the ocean.

Even beyond that, the Magic were the second best defensive team in the regular season, but the Celtics have averaged a full +3.7 points per 100 possessions above the Magic’s regular season mark in defensive efficiency. Considering how ho-hum this Boston team can be on offense when Rajon Rondo isn’t inspiring epic poems of his exploits, that’s a troublesome and somewhat inexplicable number. Orlando has underperformed in this series, perhaps woefully so.

Reading through that narrative, it may sound shocking similar to that of the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were a superb team in the regular season and still looked awfully strong in their playoff debut. Yet the team crumbled, and the first head to roll was head coach Mike Brown. LeBron received plenty of criticism for his Game 5 anomaly, but it was Brown’s reluctance to adapt the rotation that made the series against the Celtics far more difficult than it had to be. The Cavs still may not have won even if Brown’s performance had been flawless, but he was as culpable as anyone for the way Cleveland left the playoffs.

Yet you won’t — and shouldn’t — see anything in the coaching of that series that even remotely parallels this one. It may seem like Stan Van Gundy’s system is under fire, but SVG’s offensive adjustments in Game 4 showed why he’s still one of the best in the business.

With an understanding that guard penetration would be the key to unlocking the offense and that limiting Rajon Rondo’s effectiveness on the other end would ease his team’s defensive burden, Van Gundy devised an approach that could tackle both problems simultaneously. Whenever Jameer Nelson had the ball on the perimeter, he had the option of using two staggered screens to brush off Rondo. Rajon’s length and quickness had bothered Jameer throughout the series, and having not one, but two big bodies running interference freed up Nelson enough to pull-up from behind the arc or get all the way to the rim.

Plus, no one should discount how much running through screens can take out of a defender. Just ask any player who’s had the displeasure of defending Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, or Rip Hamilton about how exhausting it can be to chase shooters through screens all night. It’s not exactly the way that any player wants to spend their time on the defensive end. With Rondo asked to fight through several screens on pretty much every possession down the floor (another essential component of the plan was putting the ball in Nelson’s hands more often, which worked beautifully) while also running the Celtics offense, the burden of those dual responsibilities undoubtedly took a physical toll on him.

Running Rondo ragged, playing J.J. Redick major minutes, sitting the ice-cold Vince Carter during crucial moments in the fourth quarter — these are the reasons why Stan Van Gundy would have a job even if the Eastern Conference Finals had ended in a sweep. Among the most logical reasons to fire a coach is a distrust in them to make the right adjustments. That has never and will never be the case with Van Gundy. He makes mistakes — with sets, with the rotation, with certain play calls — but he’s a perfectionist that works tirelessly to correct those mistakes. He’s always tinkering, and his willingness to adjust is what makes him so valuable as a head coach.

Stan Van Gundy is not Mike Brown. Brown may not deserve the ridiculous amount of criticism he’s received over the years, but his inability to compromise — which is a bit odd to say for so amicable a coach — put his team at a disadvantage at inopportune times. The same is just not true of Van Gundy, and wouldn’t have been made more true if the Magic’s playoff run ended in a sweep. 

NBA Playoffs, Magic v. Celtics: Matt Barnes says what we already know about Paul Pierce


There are various degrees of flopping. There are players that “flop” strictly as a way to exaggerate contact in order to get a call they rightfully deserve. There are others who flop as a way to validate a smart play, like when the how every player that draws a charge isn’t just knocked over, but sent sliding across the floor. Then there are those who create fouls from nothing, and through a scream of pain, a flailing of limbs, and often a fall, some players are able to completely manipulate the referees into seeing something that flat-out didn’t happen.

Then on another level entirely is Baron Davis’ flop against Mehmet Okur in 2007, which is just tremendous.

Paul Pierce is a fantastic player, but the infuriating thing about him is that he stands (or falls?) amongst the most egregious floppers. It’s one thing for Paul to exaggerate a bump on the way to the rim, but the way he collapses on the floor after minimal incidental contact or pretends to be hit in the head while shooting seems like it should be beneath him. He’s honestly too good of a player to be compensating like that.

Matt Barnes, who has become intimately familiar with Pierce’s…gamesmanship, talked a bit about Paul and his ability to manufacture foul calls. From Tania Ganguli of the Orlando Sentinel:

Pierce can be a maddening player for opposing teams.

His ability to score and to draw fouls are among his strengths. Both
California guys, Barnes knows Pierce’s game well. And while some of
Pierce’s antics annoy Barnes, he said he doesn’t “go for” some of what
Pierce tries to do, he couldn’t deny Pierce’s effectiveness.

“My third foul in the third quarter, when I tried to beat him over
the screen, he fell down like I threw him,” Barnes said, when asked
about Pierce’s tendency to exaggerate contact. “It was ridiculous. But
the refs called it, so it was a good play. It was a flop, 100 percent,
and that’s how some guys like to play. But if the refs call it, it’s

Barnes’ quote applies more to a singular incident of Pierce’s flopping than a general trend, but his point stands. However, that doesn’t mean I’m here on a holy crusade to rid the world of the flopping abomination. That’s the problem, actually. No matter how much we rant and rave, there isn’t a convenient solution to get rid of this kind of play. Pierce will continue to go on rewarded for what he does, and there’s really not much the NBA can do about it.

Start giving technical fouls for flopping? Well, that relies on refs correctly identifying the flopping in the first place in the course of a game, which they’re clearly not doing. Fine players for flopping? It can be obvious like in that Baron Davis clip, but there’s pretty much no bright line on what constitutes flopping, and assessing who’s to be fined would be a hell of a judgment call.

Rather it’s just to reference what Paul is doing, shake my head in disgust, and maybe even laugh at him a bit. There are players in this league who need to sell calls in order to elevate their value and earn their next big payday. Pierce is not such a player, and it’s interesting to note that despite Paul’s hubris, he still thinks he needs to be.