NBA Playoffs, Celtics Magic Game 1: Where the Magic couldn't score inside or out

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SVan_Gundy.jpgMagics fans couldn’t help but ask: Who were those guys?

What happened to the Magic that steamrolled an Atlanta team (who finished with a better record than Boston)? They recognize the guys from the fourth quarter comeback, but that was not enough. Now the Magic are in a 1-0 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Was that the real Magic team, and they are not a good as we thought? Or did we only see glimpses of what they can do? Honestly, the Magic players may not know the answer to those questions. Nobody will until Tuesday night.

What happened in Game 1 to Orlando wasn’t about rust while sitting out. Well, not completely. It’s a lot of time in practice where it was impossible to simulate what the Celtics do on defense, how physical they are, how long they are. The Magic certainly didn’t see that from an Atlanta team that went meekly. Suddenly, that presence was in their face.

“I don’t think we were prepared for the level that they were ready to play,” Vince Carter said after the game in a televised press conference.

Orlando looked caught off-guard. Like a boxer dazed after a good punch. The time off amplified that, but they simply had not had to go up against a team playing at this level of defense all year.

What Orlando does on offense is not complex — they go inside to Dwight Howard, and expect you to double team him. He may power through your guys and score anyway, or he will kick out to a deadly perimeter shooter. Secondly, they will run the pick-and-roll (multiple ones on one play) until the defense is out of its shape, and the Magic attack. They want their shots to be threes or in the paint.

The Celtics didn’t have to double or bend out of shape. They have Kendrick Perkins in the middle guarding Dwight Howard one-on-one, and that allows Celtics defenders to stay with guys on the perimeter. Perkins was pushing Howard off the spots he wanted to shoot, being physical with him. Kevin Garnett was helping and recovering like he was 10 years younger. The Celtics played one-on-one and gave up shots to the Magic in the paint, then just tried to contest them.

It worked, the Magic were not hitting shots over the long-armed Celtics defenders in the paint nor were they hitting threes (0-9 in the first half). What’s more, the Celtics played right into their hands by doing a lot of post-isolation for Howard in the first half. The Celtics were not dominating on offense, but they didn’t need to be to take a 15-point lead.

“They pretty much guarded everyone one-on-one, and we weren’t able to score one-on-one,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “The biggest problem on the offensive end, clearly, though was turnovers.”
 
The Magic had 18 turnovers for the game.

In the second half, the Magic started to attack more from the their guards and they kept taking threes — then in the fourth quarter they started hitting those shots (they scored on 10 of their first 14 possessions in the fourth quarter). Jameer Nelson started seeing his shot fall, and JJ Redick was hitting shots from the second he came off the bench. Things opened up.

The Celtics held on to win because they have big game veterans who know how to hit key shots, guys such as Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

The Magic are over their daze. They will play better next game, the guys that Magic fans remember will be back. Now, will that be enough against a good Celtics team is a separate question.
 

Gregg Popovich ducks Australian sideline reporter for interview (VIDEO)

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San Antonio Spurs and Team USA basketball coach Gregg Popovich is notorious for not giving interviews to sideline reporters. At this point, it’s already become a schtick that’s considered a played out.

But abroad, Popovich hasn’t done that much ducking of in-game media. Perhaps he needs to get some practice in before the 2019 FIBA World Cup starts in China?

Popovich was in attendance at an Aussie rules football match this week when a reporter from BT tried to get him on camera to say a word. Not obligated to fulfill any requirements the way he is in the NBA, Popovich quickly gave the reporter the slip.

Via Twitter:

Even if you don’t like Popovich doing this to NBA reporters, this feels like it’s forgivable. There’s no obligation for him to be on TV outside of the NBA, and media is his face all the time. Pop is just trying to enjoy a game, and the reporter didn’t seem like he was too bent out of shape about it.

Meanwhile, the legend of Pop grows internationally.

Should the Raptors use this retro floor next season? (PHOTO)

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Teens keep releasing retro floors for the upcoming 2019-20 NBA season. Retro jerseys accompanied a lot of these floor releases, and teams like the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Charlotte Hornets have dipped heavily into the nostalgia sphere.

This season it could be much the same for the Toronto Raptors.

In a graphic posted it to r/nba this week, a potential new floor for the Raptors showed something a bit different.

Or should we call it an old floor?

Just months after Toronto won the NBA championship, it appears that they might be looking to harken back to the team’s very first year in existence.

Via Reddit:

What do you think? Are you a fan of the old purple dinosaur look, or do you think that nostalgia has tinged of the lenses of our judgement?

Team USA plays down loss to Australia: The real thing doesn’t start until China”

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It was the first time Team USA has lost an international game since 2006 — 78 straight wins. That seemed like a big deal.

It absolutely was huge for the 52,000 in attendance in Melbourne, where Australia was the one that upset the USA. This was validation for a strong basketball country and program — remember in the 2016 Olympics they lost by just 10 to a USA team with Kevin Durant, and it took a late push from Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony to secure that win — that has never quite gotten the huge win on the international stage.

But after the loss, members of Team USA chalked it up as a learning experience. Coach Gregg Popovich said that, and the players followed suit. Quotes via Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

Kemba Walker: “Teams lose. We are just going to take this loss and build from it, that’s all we can do is continue to try our best to get better. The real thing doesn’t start until China, so we’ve got one more game. We’re going to head to Sydney and focus on Canada and from that point out the real thing starts. That’s all we are worried about, just continuing to get better, continuing to learn each other.”

Donovan Mitchell: “To be honest, this game doesn’t mean anything. Obviously it hurts to lose, but I look at this and we look at this as more of a learning experience as opposed to we just lost. That’s the mindset. If you think of this as a loss, you start to get carried away with all that.”

Technically, all of that is true. If the USA goes on to win gold at the World Cup, this will be but a blip on the radar.

But the loss also showed just far Team USA is away from that goal and how much work there is to do. Watch the game and what stood out — besides Patty Mills getting red hot and dropping 30, with 13 of that in the fourth quarter — was the difference in cohesion and chemistry. The core of this Australian squad has been playing together for a decade, and with Andrew Bogut as the offensive fulcrum (and Joe Ingles playing that role some) guys were cutting, moving with purpose, and seemingly always in the right place to get an open look or layup.

The Americans are trying to build chemistry on the fly and it comes and goes. Particularly on the defensive end. Team USA members lose guys on cuts, don’t help the helper consistently, and for stretches look like a team just thrown together. Especially under pressure, when the ball movement stops and there is too much one-on-one on offense.

This American squad still has the talent to overwhelm and beat most of the world. However, with some of the USA’s top talent staying home, there are a handful of teams out there — Serbia, Spain, Australia, France — with the talent to hang, and then it becomes about chemistry and execution. Team USA was beaten badly in those hard-to-quantify categories by Australia. The American’s margin for error is much smaller in this World Cup.

Maybe the loss galvanizes Team USA in a way nothing else could. Maybe. And the players are right that things don’t really matter for the USA until the games in China.

But Team USA still has a lot to prove.

James Harden working on one-legged step-back three for next season

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As if James Harden wasn’t unstoppable enough.

Harden’s step-back three has become probably the most unstoppable shot in the NBA. Now video has gone viral in NBA circles of Harden working on a one-legged, step-back three. Think Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged jumper, but from three and with a little more side-to-side to it. (You can see the video above.) Harden talked to Tim MacMahon of ESPN about it.

“I’m not sure; it’s something that I work on,” Harden said when asked if he’ll use the one-legged, step-back 3 this season. “But you know how Mike [Jordan] has his fadeaway and Dirk [Nowitzki] has his one-leg and [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] had the sky hook, I want my step-back to be one of those moves that last forever. So when I travel around the world and I see little kids that [say], ‘Hey James, I got a step-back!’ — I love to see that.

“It’s me being a creator and me being an innovator and paving the way in basketball in my own way, doing it how I want to do it, and that’s what it’s all about. As a little kid playing in these parks, that’s what I imagined, that’s what I dreamed of. Now it’s coming to reality, so it’s pretty cool.”

Harden is going to score a lot of points… or, maybe the better way to say that is he’s going to score even more points if he gets to a point he unleashes that in a game.

The challenge this season for Harden will be balance — he’s got to share the court and the ball with Russell Westbrook. Both of them are at their best with the ball in their hands, creating in isolation, but they need to be more than that. While coach Mike D’Antoni can do some things to help with that balance (staggering their minutes as much as possible) for the Rockets to become the contenders they want to be Harden and Westbrook have to be more than “your turn, now it’s my turn” on offense.

But when it’s Harden’s turn, that one-legged step back will be fun to watch.