NBA Playoffs: Carmelo Anthony's success puts him in a strangely familiar place

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Anthony_game.jpgIn four games against the Utah Jazz in this year’s playoffs, Carmelo Anthony is averaging 34.5 points per game while shooting 52.6% from the field and grabbing seven rebounds a night. Yet his Denver Nuggets trail the Jazz 1-3 in the series after another loss last night, and Anthony’s 39-point, 11-rebound performance (though with nine turnovers, mind you) in a losing effort is an interesting indication of the path Carmelo’s career has taken. 

There was a point where Anthony himself was emblematic of all the Nuggets’ problems. They had talent — Andre Miller (and later Allen Iverson), Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, Nene, and of course Anthony himself — but even in the rare instances when each member of Denver’s core was healthy at the same time, there were some serious question marks. Offensively, how could the team depend on a jumpshooter who had fallen in love with 20-footers? And on defense, why couldn’t a team of talented individual defenders establish themselves as an effective defensive unit?

Those types of questions seemed perpetual, and kept the Nuggets grounded. Anthony was a good player but hardly a great one, and his team was apparently ready to follow suit. In a lot of ways, Carmelo had no one to blame but himself. If he were only a more efficient scorer, a more focused defender, and a better leader, maybe the Denver Nuggets would have been a different team.

Then, in spite of worries that Anthony’s development may have stagnated, he’s done all of those things. He’s refined his offensive game and learned to exploit his incredible first step. He’s shown a willingness to defend the league’s elite scoring wings, and actually succeeded in doing so. He’s benefited from Chauncey Billups’ leadership, sure, but is also a huge part of why the Denver locker room is so confident — or laced with hubris, take your pick — at all times.

The only problem is that now, Anthony is so productive offensively that he’s not exactly the problem. His turnovers over the course of this series (he didn’t turn the ball over at all in Game 1, but has averaged six per game in the three subsequent losses) are absolutely painful, but they seem a bit more manageable given Carmelo’s touches and production. After all, Game 3 aside, the problem has not been the Nuggets lack of offense (Denver has averaged 111.95 points per 100 possessions for the series). Rather, it’s the team’s painfully ineffective defense (115.23 points per 100 possessions allowed) that could make Anthony’s volume scoring not long for this playoff world.

Anthony adapted, and he’s twice the individual player that he was earlier in his career. Okay, maybe more like 1.5 times the player he was. Yet the Nuggets again find themselves in more or less the same place; they’re talent-laden, but unable to work things out on the defensive end despite the number of talented individual defenders (Billups, Afflalo, Nene, Martin) on the team.

Should Denver drop Game 5 to Utah, it will be the fifth time in seven years that Carmelo and the Nuggets have lost the first round 1-4, with the only exceptions being last year’s run to the Conference Finals and their failure to win a single playoff game against the Lakers in 2008. Anthony has come so far in terms of his individual game, and on paper, the Nuggets have made serious strides in terms of their talent. Without any hope for a successful team defense, though, Denver is right back where they started in 2003.

  

 

Klay Thompson on Stephen Curry’s profane outburst: ‘I hope Riley didn’t see it’

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Through halftime of Game 3, Stephen Curry was shooting 3-of-20 on 3-pointers in the Western Conference finals. The Rockets targeted him relentlessly while he was on defense. The Warriors had been outscored with him on the court.

For days, questions swirled.

Is Curry overrated? Is he too soft to withstand the pressure Houston was applying? Is he still injured?

Curry answered in an an emotional third quarter of Game 3: No, no, no. The Golden State superstar scored 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting, including 2-of-2 on 3-pointers, in the period.

Along the way, he shimmied:

And after another made basket, he removed his mouthpiece and stayed behind the play to declare,”This is my f—ing house:”

That was quite a moment for Curry.

Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area:

So hyper-aware of it was Curry that had a ready response when asked about it after the Warriors laid a 126-85 beating on the Rockets in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

“I already know,” he said.

“I blacked out,” Curry explained, his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. “I blacked out.”

People close to Curry didn’t miss it – nor did the many fans watching.

NBC Sports Bay Area:

Klay Thompson:

That was funny. I hope Riley didn’t see it. It got Oracle pretty fired up. And that’s a rare occurrence. I’ve never really seen Steph – I’ve seen him, yeah, use that langue. But that’s what the playoffs brings out of you. So, don’t do that at home, kids. It’s just once in a while.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

His mother, Sonya Curry, was pleased with her son’s performance, but not with his mouth.

“She already sent me two home videos, showing me the clip and playing it back,” Curry told ESPN. “She was telling me how I need to wash my mouth out, saying to wash it out with soap. It’s a message I’ve heard before.”

It was Curry’s breakout game in this series, but he is a devout Christian and says he understands why he received such a scolding.

“She’s right,” Curry told ESPN. “I gotta do better. I can’t talk like that.”

Curry has cultivated such a wholesome image despite massive amounts of showboating and taunting on the court. If his previous boastful behavior didn’t turn off anyone, this incident probably won’t, either.

No matter how he’s marketed, Curry is an exceptionally intense competitor. That’s a huge part of what makes him a great player, and it’s not always polite when that side shines through.

I won’t start chiding Curry for playing with emotion and, gasp, swearing. I’d much rather appreciate his passion.

I’d also prefer if we appreciate similar passion from all players rather than applying a double standard.

Warriors-Rockets features one of biggest game-to-game swings in NBA playoff history

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In Game 2, the Rockets handed the Warriors their biggest playoff loss with Kevin Durant.

In Game 3, the Warriors earned their biggest playoff win and gave the Rockets their biggest playoff loss in each franchise’s history.

Quite the turnaround.

The 63-point swing from Houston’s 127-105 Game 2 win to Golden State’s 126-85 Game 3 win is one of the largest reversals in NBA playoff history.

It’s been a decade since the last larger game-to-game swing. The last series to have one as large as these Western Conference finals was the 2016 NBA Finals, when the Cavaliers began their comeback against the Warriors after getting blown out in Games 1 and 2.

Here are the biggest game-to-game swings ever in the NBA playoffs:

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That’s a lot of momentum moving against the Rockets. Can they recover?

Warriors post longest playoff home winning streak in NBA history

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You remember the Warriors’ last home playoff loss.

Golden State hasn’t lost a playoff game in Oakland since signing Kevin Durant. The Warriors went 9-0 at home last year and are 7-0 at home this year. Their Game 3 win over the Rockets last night gave Golden State a record-breaking postseason home winning streak.

The Bulls (1990-91) previously held the record. The leaderboard:

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Are the Warriors atypically good at home? The more accurate answer is they’re just atypically good.

They’re 10-4 on the road the last two postseasons, an incredible mark in its own right. Like most teams, they’re better at home.

That presents a tough challenge for Houston with Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday in Oakland.

Backed into must-win Game 4, here are three things Rockets must do to even series

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Three years ago, the Houston Rockets came back from 3-1 down in a playoff series to defeat a Los Angeles Clippers (and give that franchise a punch to the gut from which it has not recovered). It was one of the great Rockets’ moments of the last decade.

Houston is not going to be able to do that against these Golden State Warriors. Go down 3-1 after Game 4 Tuesday at Oracle and the series is all but over.

Which means after the Rockets’ blowout loss in Game 3 Sunday night, Houston finds itself in the same must-win spot it did after Game 1. And unlike Game 2, the Rockets will not get helped out by an arrogant Warriors team not playing at its peak — the Rockets are going to need a near perfect game to beat a full-force Warriors team on Tuesday.

Here are the three key areas the Rockets must improve to win Game 4:

1) Just shoot better — finish shots at the rim and hit some threes. It’s rather obvious and simplistic, but it’s the reality: Houston just has to shoot better in Game 4.

The Rockets took a full one-third of their shots at the rim in the restricted area in Game 3, but they struggled with those making just 13-of-27 (48.1 percent). The Rockets took 42 percent of their shot attempts from three but hit just 11-of-34, and they were 7-of-25 on above the break threes. That’s not good enough, the Rockets are going to need at least 15 made threes in a game to win.

“Those are double whammies,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said of the missed shots at the rim. “It’s like we missed layups first half especially and they go down and score. So in transition, you’ve got to keep them out of transition, you’ve got to make layups. We didn’t do that. When they did miss, we didn’t box out all the time, and then we turned it over 20 times. It’s a formula for losing, and for us to correct that, we can’t turn it over. Got to make layups for shots, and get back.”

To be fair, the Warriors contested shooters well all game, especially guys driving the basket, but still, the Rockets need to knock down more of their shots contested or not. It’s the most basic premise of basketball.

2) Houston has to play faster. D’Antoni said it above, the Rockets and their missed shots let the Warriors get out in transition and control the pace. It’s also a simple fact that the team that controls the pace — the team that gets transition opportunities and gets into its offense earlier in the shot clock — will win the games.

Golden State had 26 transition opportunities to 12 for the Rockets, according to the Synergy Sports stats breakdown.

Or, look at it this way (via Cleaning the Glass), in Game 3, Houston started just10.4 percent of their possessions in transition (and scored a dreadful 0.89 points per possession on those plays). For comparison, in their Game 2 win, the Rockets started 18.7 percent of their possessions in transition. On Sunday night in Game 3 Warriors started 19.8 percent of their plays in transition, nearly one in five trips down the court, and they scored 1.44 points per possession on those plays.

The Rockets need to make more shots and then, even when they miss, get back in transition and not let the Warriors get rolling early in the clock. Houston also needs to defend better and force more Warriors misses, which will allow them to run. It’s all tied together, the Warriors were making shots so the Rockets were taking the ball out of the basket and coming up against set defenses; the Rockets were missing shots that let the Warriors come up fast and forcing the Rockets to scramble on defense (Golden State tears apart teams in those situations). It’s a holistic thing, but the evidence it’s working is which team controls the pace, and the Rockets need to do that in Game 4.

3) Houston needs more out of Chris Paul. It’s easy to point to the Stephen Curry eruption in the third quarter as the time the Warriors ended the game, and there is truth to that. Golden State started the third on a 10-0 run (where Curry had five of those points) and the fire was lit, then Curry started hitting 30-foot threes and quickly the game was out of reach. Those Warriors runs are crushers.

However, to me the turning point in the game was when James Harden went to the bench for his usual rest with 2:46 left in the first quarter — the Warriors outscored the Rockets by nine before the quarter was up (part of an 11-0 run to end the quarter). By the time Harden returned with 9:16 left in the second quarter, the Rockets were down 10, a hole they never could get out of (they were down 11 at the half).

CP3 has to be better in that stretch. The Warriors threw bigger, switchable guards at him on defense — Shaun Livingston, Nick Young, and then Andre Iguodala — and Paul couldn’t get separation and make plays against them. Without Harden, the Rockets offense stalled out, and doing that led to the Warriors getting to push the pace and get their transition buckets. Paul looked slowed at points, reaching on defense and not as explosive as we’ve seen.

This isn’t the Utah Jazz. Harden was off in Game 5 against Utah, but Paul picked up the slack (his 41-point, 10 assist game) and Houston got the win. Against Golden State, both Paul and Harden must have good games for Houston to have a chance. The Warriors are too good, too deep, there is no margin for error anymore.

The Rockets have an elite game in them — we saw the blueprint of what they have to do in Game 2. Houston can do that again. The only question is can they do it in the face of Golden State’s pressure, because the sharks on the Warriors smell blood in the water and will be coming hard in Game 4.