NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 2: Somehow, Phoenix finds a way to negate Duncan's advantage in the paint

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Although the Suns aren’t exactly stacked with defenders that can handle Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, no single Spurs player stands as a bigger threat to what Phoenix hopes to accomplish than Tim Duncan.

If TD is playing his best basketball, the Spurs would likely win this series even, regardless of a George Hill disappearance. San Antonio could definitely use an extra scoring threat to put alongside the big three, but if Duncan is doing his thing offensively and defensively, it runs so directly opposed to the Suns’ game plan that his influence could almost win the series on its own.

There’s no question that picking up the pace of the game will be crucial for Phoenix, if only because the Spurs’ transition defense isn’t as strong as their half-court model. That’s when Duncan can make the biggest defensive impact, and having a big man like Tim on the floor can alter an opponent’s approach entirely. He alters too many shots and provides too big of a road block for teams not to pay attention to him.

He can also pose quite a problem for the Suns on the other end, as Duncan’s face-up and back-down possessions take up more clock (which makes the Phoenix defense work for longer periods and increases the likelihood that they break down), usually end with open shots for either Duncan or his teammates, and even misses result in shorter rebounds that are more difficult to transition into fast breaks. This isn’t even acknowledging the fact that no Suns big is considered a strong post defender (no, definitely not you, Jarron) on paper, which would — in theory — allow Duncan to run roughshod over Phoenix’s interior D.

Only in Game 1, that wasn’t the case at all. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Duncan had seven true post-ups on Monday, and only scored on two of those possessions. Tim averaged just 0.29 points per possession on post-up plays in that game, thanks to the efforts of Channing Frye and some terrific help defense.

[6:31, 1st] Duncan catches the ball at the left block extended, and faces up against Frye. After using a jab step to get Frye to overcommit, Tim drove baseline toward the suddenly open rim. The ocean of open space in the paint becomes a bit smaller as Grant Hill rotates quickly to contest Duncan’s shot, and either partially blocks it or simply alters it enough to cause a miss.

[4:10, 1st] Frye fronts Duncan in the middle of the paint, and Manu throws a lob over the top after faking a pass along the perimeter. Jared Dudley rotates in time to prevent an easy bucket, but the defense is aggressive enough to warrant a whistle and a trip to the line for TD. Duncan makes one of two free throws.

[2:47, 1st] The Spurs again feed Duncan on the left block against Frye. Tim begins to back his way into the paint, but he’s not without resistance: Frye bodies up Duncan as he tries to power his way into the lane, and Tim settles for a fadeaway jumper.

[5:25, 2nd] The Spurs push the ball in transition off of a missed Steve Nash three-pointer, but Tony Parker doesn’t force the issue as the Suns scramble back into position. Nash is actually matched up on Duncan for a moment, but Lou Amundson quickly relieves Nash of that responsibility after recognizing the mismatch. It’s a tad late however, as the switch affords Tim some prime low-post real estate, and Amundson fouls him in an attempt to push him out of the paint. Duncan again makes one of two free throws.

[4:28, 2nd] Duncan receives the ball on the right block, and begins to force his way into the paint against Frye. TD tries to spin baseline, but Grant Hill has already rotated to that position to help out Frye. Hill swipes at the ball, and Duncan reverses his pivot, spinning back away from the basket to shield the ball and find his open teammate. He waits too long, and when Duncan tries to throw a cross-court feed to Hill’s man on the opposite baseline, Grant deflects the pass and the Suns’ fast break is go for launch.

[4:55, 3rd] Frye battles before the catch to deny Duncan deep post position. When Tim receives the entry pass outside the paint, he faces up on Frye, and puts up a jumper that catches plenty of rim but no net.

[7:55, 4th] Duncan receives a pass on the left block extended, and tries to face up and drive against Frye. TD again goes baseline, this time with an attempt to come up on the opposite side of the basket. Channing is physical with Tim as he moves along the baseline, and the reverse layup attempt comes up a bit short. Duncan clearly wants a call, and he may not be wrong; Frye was definitely physical on the drive, but in this case the advantage goes to the defense.

These aren’t exactly examples of perfect post defense, probably because Frye isn’t exactly a perfect post defender. But Channing worked to push Duncan out of his more comfortable areas on the floor, positioned himself so that he could contest as many shots as possible, and relied on his teammates to provide help.

It’s somewhat amazing that the Suns were able to both provide help against Duncan and throw such aggressive double teams at Manu Ginobili, but that embodies Phoenix’s new defensive mentality. They may not always be effective, but they work hard, they scramble, and they help each other out. So far that hasn’t produced anything close to an answer for Tony Parker, but it was enough to force Duncan into a rough scoring night in the post and lock up a Game 1 victory.

San Antonio’s Game 2 response relies on a few things: more patience from Duncan (who could have forced his way into better looks), a maintained commitment to the pick-and-roll (which the Spurs’ guards were able to generate a ton of points from) in order to get Duncan more points on the move, and some better spacing and more reliable shooting from the supporting cast (who were a no-show in Game 1).

None of those are outside the realm of possibility, so while Phoenix’s defensive performance on Duncan seems very replicable, Game 2 could be a demonstration of the Spurs exercising their own will. As the back-and-forth nature of Game 1 demonstrated, this series has the potential to be quite volatile, and neither team can be fully expected to execute their own strategy given the resilience of their opponent and the stylistic differences between the two. That’s what makes Suns-Spurs such an intriguing watch, even though it doesn’t exactly bode well for anyone ability to predict the outcome of a given game.   

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas undergoes surgery on dislocated thumb, out a month

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It was clear it was bad when it happened. Not because of the violence of the play by Draymond Green — no foul was called, and the hand is part of the ball by rule in these cases — but because of Jonas Valanciunas‘ reaction. The man was in a lot of pain.

With 8 minutes to go in the second quarter of the Raptors win Wednesday night, Valanciunas got the ball with Green on him and decided to back down the smaller player, Green reached in and swiped down knocking the ball away but getting Valanciunas’ hand in the process.

Thursday the Raptors announced that Valanciunas had surgery on his dislocated left thumb and will be out at least a month.

This is a blow to the Raptors’ frontline depth, although they still have plenty of talent up front. Serge Ibaka starts most nights at center, and at times the Raptors go small and put breakout player Pascal Siakam at the five. However, Valanciunas is their matchup for other bigger, more traditional centers, or sometimes coach Nick Nurse tries him to force a mismatch. Valanciunas is averaging 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds a night playing nearly 19 minutes a night, the Raptors defense is 3 points per 100 possessions better, and the Raptors outscore opponents by 5.4 per 100 when he is on the court. It will not be easy to fill his minutes.

The Raptors are 23-7 and the team in first place in the East having just knocked off the Clippers and Warriors in back-to-back nights on the road. They look like contenders, but they could use Valanciunas to help them get through the regular season (he’s harder to play in the postseason, but we’re not there yet).

 

Hornets owner Michael Jordan: Smacking Malik Monk was ‘tap of endearment’

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Hornets owner Michael Jordan smacked guard Malik Monk on the back head of the head, because Monk prematurely ran on the court to celebrate Jeremy Lamb‘s game-winner against the Pistons last night. Charlotte received a technical foul for having too many men on the court, but held on for the victory.

Zach Aldridge of WCCB:

Some people took affront to Jordan putting his hands on Monk – to the point Jordan explained himself.

Associated Press:

Hornets owner Michael Jordan says lightly smacking the back of second-year guard Malik Monk’s head in closing seconds of Wednesday night’s win against the Pistons was a “tap of endearment.”

The Hornets owner, says “It was like a big brother and little brother tap. No negative intent. Only love!”

I doubt any other NBA owner could have gotten away with that.

But Jordan isn’t any other NBA owner.

He’s a former player, widely respected as the greatest of all-time. He’s black. He’s just 55, younger than most of his owner peers.

Jordan and Monk can relate in a way other owners and players can’t.

The power dynamic still isn’t balanced. Jordan is Monk’s boss. When initially watching the exchange, I worried Jordan crossed a line.

But both Jordan and Monk laughed it off. I believe this truly was acceptable in the context of their relationship.

LeBron James on consideration given to signing with Rockets: ‘Not much’

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For a while, it seemed LeBron Jamesfinalists in free agency last summer were the Lakers, Cavaliers, 76ers and Rockets.

LeBron obviously signed with the Lakers. Cleveland remains special to him. His agent met with Philadelphia.

And then there’s Houston.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

The Rockets – led by Chris Paul – reportedly recruited LeBron hard.

But LeBron reportedly previously said he didn’t like Houston as a city, and at this point, it’s impossible escape lifestyle as a key consideration for the superstar. He clearly enjoys Los Angeles.

I doubt LeBron regrets dropping the Rockets from consideration early. The main appeal would have been their direction path to championship contention, but they’ve been the NBA’s most disappointing team this season.

Which makes it even easier for LeBron to dismiss his Houston consideration.

2018 NBA playoff teams get new alternate jerseys (photos)

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Did your favorite team or player make the playoffs last season?

Well, someone thinks that might have you invested enough to buy yet another jersey.

Aaron Dodson of The Undefeated:

The Bucks jersey is the best – despite the advertisement patch intruding on the otherwise minimalist look. Milwaukee would be the runaway winner without the ad.

As is, I also really like the Pelicans, Pacers and Heat. I suspect Miami’s fuchsia Miami Vice edition will draw the most attention.

A few of these are rather plain, and that’s always disappointing in an alternate jersey. But I particularly dislike the Cavaliers and Spurs jerseys.