NBA Playoffs: Jazz unable to deal with Denver's firepower

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Anthony_game.jpgAs much as anything else, the Jazz-Nuggets series is about old school vs. new school. Both Utah and Denver came into this series as one of the 10 best teams in the league in terms of offensive efficiency. The difference is that Utah relies on Jerry Sloan’s old-school flex sets to get points, while Denver uses Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, a harem of other talented scorers, and a hearty dose of organized chaos to outscore their opponents.

On Saturday, both Utah and Denver were able to execute their offensive game-plans. Deron Williams was brilliant as always, finishing with 26 points and 11 assists in a losing effort. On the other side of the ball, Denver was unable to fight through the bevy of screens Sloan uses to free up his offensive threats. As a result of that, Carlos Boozer and Paul Milsap were able to hurt Denver all game by spotting up from mid-range or rolling all the way to the hoop, finishing with a combined 34 points on 29 field goal attempts. C.J. Miles and Mehmet Okur were both able to do some damage early, but both got injured over the course of the game. (Miles would later return, but Okur did not.) Kyle Korver was able to get some open looks off of penetration and pin-down screens, and knocked down most of those looks. 
In the third quarter, the Jazz tried to beat the Nuggets at their own game, and acquitted themselves fairly well. They pushed the tempo, let Deron Williams do most of the playmaking, and looked for early offense. They were able to score at will against the Nuggets during the period, but switching to a zone didn’t help them stop Denver at the other end of the floor. 
Thanks to the efforts of all of those players and Jerry Sloan’s time-tested offensive strategy, the Jazz were able to put up a fight on the road. After three quarters, the Jazz were very much in the game, trailing by a score of 86-88.
In the end, however, Denver was able to overpower Utah with their arsenal of offensive weapons. First and foremost, the Jazz had no answer whatsoever for Carmelo Anthony. Anthony might not be the best pure scorer in the NBA, but he should certainly be in the yearbook picture. Anthony lit up the Jazz in a variety of ways on Saturday en route to getting 42 points on 18-25 (!) shooting from the field. He scored from mid-range. He posted his man up and took him to the hole. He hit threes. He used his spin move. When the Jazz switched into a zone, he moved without the ball and found the seam in the defense. He did just about everything but miss. An absolutely mesmerizing performance from ‘Melo. 
And it wasn’t just ‘Melo killing the Jazz. Chauncey Billups finished with 19 points and a team-high eight assists. Nene torched Utah inside to the tune of 19 points on 10 field goal attempts. Ty Lawson had 11 points and six assists of the bench, as well as a complete lack of rookie jitters. Arron Affalo stretched the floor effectively and hit five of his seven field-goal attempts. 
In the fourth quarter, J.R. Smith ended up being a key factor. There is perhaps no other player who personifies the difference between the Jazz and the Nuggets as poignantly as Smith does. Smith is a gifted athlete, but his game revolves around taking quick-trigger threes with no hesitation whatsoever. He has adorned his neck with tattoos and occasionally likes to celebrate big threes by making finger circles around his nipples and dancing like a chicken. To put it simply, he is not the epitome of a Jerry Sloan player. 
Smith had a rough start to the game, and made only one field goal in the first three quarters. True to form, Smith did not let that deter him. In the fourth quarter, Smith went off for 18 points, including a run of 11 straight points near the beginning of the quarter to give the Nuggets a commanding lead. He got the smallest possible window of daylight from the perimeter, and drained three straight quick-trigger threes. When the defense closed out on him, he went to the hole and made a lefty layup. If there’s a game that better describes who J.R. Smith is as a player, I’ve yet to see it. For better or for worse, the man always thinks he’s going to make the next shot. 
Utah should be pleased with how hard they competed with the Nuggets for the first three quarters and how well they ran their offense. However, they’re going to have to find some way to slow down Denver’s offense if they want to have any hope of winning this series. 

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

Gordon Hayward birth of son
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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason β€” he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one,Β “I missed that on purpose.”Β 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. β€” he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle β€” providing more quality wing play and good decision making β€” and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart β€” an All-Defensive Team player β€” had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that β€” and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late β€” to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year β€” 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.