NBA finals: How do the Celtics match up?

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piercegm6.jpgAnd lo, I saw green horse, and on them green riders, and their names were the Celtics. And hell followed with them.

The Boston Celtics are returning to the NBA finals with a defense of the fiercest machinations, led by veteran stars who are still quite capable of eviscerating a defense. After dispatching the Magic in Game 6, ending any discussion of a chokejob in Beantown (well, another one, eh Bruins?), the Celtics can turn their attention towards their final opponent, whoever that may be.

So how do the Celtics match up with the two Western contenders? Let’s begin with the less likely of the two options.

Phoenix Suns: I’d bother with telling you the Suns won both regular season matchups, but the Celtics have already shown that the regular season doesn’t mean anything to them and the results are meaningless. The Suns do represent the classic foil to the Celtics. Even with a tougher, more defensive approach, they’re still the unstoppable force to the Celtics’ immovable object.

The Phoenix offense isn’t exactly a cake walk for the Celtics. The same spread perimeter attack that enabled the Magic to crawl back into that series is there for the Suns. Steve Nash is one of the few point guards with the confidence and versatility to counter Rondo’s brilliance on the offensive end. The Suns rebound well and have considerable length. They have experience in Grant Hill and versatile wings in Jason Richardson and Goran Dragic. And they possess a bench unit with considerable advantages over Boston.

The run and gun style of the Suns would give the Celtics problems, as injuries and fatigue have become more and more  of a factor for the Celtics, though it’s a factor they’ve admirably overcome. Slowing down that transition attack by stopping the ball in Nash’s hands would fall to Rondo, whose length would likely give the Celtics a chance to do so. Coverage of the perimeter shooters in transition would be more difficult, but it’s also a shot the Celtics are willing to take.

All in all, you have to give the Celtics the advantage based on two factors. One, the Celtics’ toughness and physical nature would likely knock the Suns back on their heels. Amar’e Stoudemire would be pounded by tough, long defenders, and the Suns’ mob bench would be overwhelmed on the glass from Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis. Jason Richardson wouldn’t be able to counter Pierce, nor Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo would make Nash look like Derek Fisher on the defensive end. This has to be the result the Celtics are looking for if they want an easy route to the ring.

Los Angeles Lakers: Hello, darkness my old friend, I’ve come to welcome you again. The Lakers and Celtics know each other and an epic ratings-soaring finals matchup would satisfy both clubs’ requirement for destroying the other on their way to the championship. Any championship without beating the other would seem empty for these two.

There are plenty of reasons to suspect this matchup to follow the blueprint of two years ago.Paul Pierce is controlling the force of the game with his offense, as he did in 2008. Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins create a tough bullying counter to Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom is always likely to vanish for a game or three.

So what’s different? Ron Artest gives the Lakers a defensive attack dog to unleash on Paul Pierce, which they didn’t have in 08. Shannon Brown can at least deflect some of the damage from Nate Robinson, and Andrew Bynum’s appearance is significant in a possible series. It would open Pau Gasol in space. The Lakers can’t just depend on Kobe Bryant, but this time they have enough weapons to offset the Celtics’ defense.

The one huge red flag for the Lakers has to be the play of Rajon Rondo. Derek Fisher has done a phenomenal job in managing Steve Nash, but Rondo’s a whole other set of problems. With length, speed, and a sick amount of athleticism, Fisher would need considerable weakside help to slow down Rondo. At some point in that series, Kobe Bryant may be switched on to Rondo much like he was to Russell Westbrook in round one.

The Lakers overall talent probably puts them in a favorable position. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned this postseason, the Celtics don’t care how big of an underdog they are, how much more talented the other team is. They focus, execute, and deliver. If these two meet in the finals as it seems destined they will, it will be fire on the mountain.

Wizards, Suns, Grizzlies blame each other for failed Brooks trade

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A three-way trade between the Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies fell part due to Brooks confusion. Phoenix thought it was getting Dillon Brooks. Memphis thought it was sending MarShon Brooks.

In the aftermath, the Wizards and Suns agreed to a simpler deal, swapping Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers for Trevor Ariza. But the saga was embarrassing.

So, it’s time to assign blame.

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“[Memphis owner] Robert Pera did not have any conversation with Suns owner Robert Sarver about the reported three-way trade. Our front office also didn’t have any conversations with Phoenix regarding the reported three-way trade prior to it leaking during our game tonight.

“We were floored to learn of the reports involving Dillon Brooks in the reported trade. We never discussed Dillon as part of this trade with Washington — which was the only team we spoke with concerning this proposed deal.”

Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

The Wizards entered into discussions about Ariza over the last 2-3 days. By that point, the Suns and Grizzlies were deep into conversations about a potential move with Memphis concerning Dillon Brooks. The two sides talked at least a half-dozen times over 7-10 days including at least one directl chat with owners of both teams.

With Dillon Brooks currently sidelined by a knee injury, the Suns requested the guard’s physical from the Grizzlies. Enough information and dialogue were exchanged during the process between all three teams that there was clear understanding of the players involved, at least for the Suns and Wizards. It’s possible what all witnessed was a bad case of nerves by the Grizzlies at the buzzer.

Gina Mizell of The Athletic:

Here’s how it all unfolded according to a source familiar with the Phoenix end of the night:

There never were any discussions between the Suns and Memphis about MarShon Brooks. And the Suns never had any interest in discussing that Brooks.

However, there were discussions for about a week between Phoenix and Memphis about Dillon Brooks. Washington was not involved in the discussions with either team at that point.

The Wizards inquired with the Suns late in the week about Ariza

Despite reports to the contrary, there were no discussions on Friday involving Suns owner Robert Sarver, according to the source. He was at the team’s holiday party for employees.

James Jones and Trevor Bukstein, co-interim general managers, were working together on talks with several teams and worked through Washington on the three-way proposal.

I don’t know who discussed whom. Maybe the Grizzlies really made up this Brooks excuse because they got cold feet at the last minute.

But I’ll give Wallace way more benefit of the doubt, because he spoke with his name attached. The spin from Washington and Phoenix is coming anonymously. If it’s shown he’s lying, Wallace will face the consequences of that. If the Washington and Phoenix reports are shown to be inaccurate, the leakers are protected by their anonymity.

For what it’s worth, I would have done the trade as the Grizzlies with either Brooks. I wouldn’t have done it as the Suns for either Brooks. Phoenix is better off now just getting Oubre, the most valuable player in the trade. Oubre is rough around the edges and headed into restricted free agency next summer, but the 23-year-old is still quite intriguing.

Russell Westbrook and Jamal Murray scuffle (video)

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The Nuggets had a productive weekend. A good way to tell: How aggravated their opponents got.

First, Russell Westbrook initiated a confrontation with Jamal Murray late in Denver’s win over the Thunder on Friday.

Royce Young of ESPN:

“I was standing in my spot, he tried to step over me, and then he shoved me first,” Murray said. “I guess they were losing or whatever, so I don’t know, ask him.”

Said Westbrook: “He was in my way.”

Then, after the Nuggets’ win over the Raptors yesterday, Toronto coach Nick Nurse lashed out at how Kawhi Leonard is officiated.

Nurse, via Eric Koreen of The Athletic:

“You can’t tell me that one of the best players in the league takes 100 hits and shoots four free throws, and they handed him two for charity at the end,” Nurse said in a two-part rant that will earn him a fine from the league office. “So he was going to have two free throws for the game with all the physical hits and holding and driving and chucking and doubling and slapping and reaching and all the stuff. It’s been going on all year. I do not understand why they are letting everyone play one of the best players in the league so physically. I do not understand it.

“Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim and just getting absolutely held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable to me. It’s ridiculous. The guy is one of the best players in the league and he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that, and they just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

Westbrook and Murray each received technical fouls. Nurse will probably get fined.

But there’s only so much anyone can do about the Nuggets. They’re very good. Teams should get more prepared to handle frustration when facing Denver.

Indiana hires WNBA’s Kelly Krauskopf, she’s first female assistant general manager in NBA

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Women’s progress in the male-dominated world of the NBA is often focused on Becky Hammon in San Antonio and other coaches, or business-side executives such as Clippers president Gillian Zucker.

NBA front offices will start to see changes, too, and that took a big step forward Monday in Indiana with the hiring of Kelly Krauskopf, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Pacers.

“Kelly has played the game, worked in the WNBA league office, helped build and run the Fever franchise from its beginning and eventually built a championship team,” said Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard in a released statement. “She is very well respected in all basketball circles and she has great knowledge of our entire operation, so when we looked at this position, it made complete sense to just look in our own building. We think she will be a great asset to myself, General Manager Chad Buchanan and Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Peter Dinwiddie as we pursue our goal of building a winning team for our state and our city.”

“As the architect of one of the WNBA’s most successful franchises, Kelly is a true pioneer in our sport,” said Pacers owner Herb Simon in a statement. “I’ve worked with Kelly over the past two decades, so I know her tremendous basketball mind, strong work ethic and proven leadership skills will continue to be of great benefit to our organization.”

Good for the Pacers — hire the best, brightest, most capable people and the organization will thrive. Krauskopf has unquestionably shown she knows how to run a basketball organization.

Krauskopf was the long-time president of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever who helped guide them to three Finals appearances and the 2012 WNBA title. She also worked with USA Basketball, helping select the American women’s teams that have dominated the sport. Then in 2017 jumped to the Pacers to head up their NBA2K League team.

Now she becomes the highest-ranking woman in an NBA front office (she will not have any WNBA or esports duties anymore).

“First, I would like to thank Herb Simon, Kevin Pritchard and Rick Fuson for this amazing opportunity,” said Krauskopf. “I have admired the work that Kevin and his staff have put forth so far and I am honored to be a part of an elite and historical franchise. The chance to work in an NBA front office for a first-class organization filled with great people I know and in a city that has become my home is extraordinary.

“My past experience has shown me that building winning teams and elite level culture is not based on gender – it is based on people and processes. I am excited to join the Pacers as we continue building the best NBA franchise in the business.”

Krauskopf is now the highest ranking woman in an NBA front office, however, she is not alone as Wojnarowski noted.

There is a growing number of women in front office basketball roles in the NBA, including Becky Bonner (Orlando), Amanda Green (Oklahoma City), Teresa Resch (Toronto), Michelle Leftwich (Atlanta), Ariana Andonian (Houston) and Natalie Jay (Brooklyn).

 

Three Things to Know: When good John Wall shows up and hustles, the Wizards can impress

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Lakers go as LeBron James goes. When John Wall hustles, the Wizards go as he does. On Saturday, the Washington Wizards beat out the Los Angeles Lakers (and several other teams) to trade for Trevor Ariza.

Sunday, the Wizards just flat-out beat the Lakers.

Midseason trades can light a fire under a team, and while Ariza has yet to put on a Wizards jersey (again, he was with the franchise from 2012-14) something seemed to light a fire under John Wall and the Wizards. Maybe it’s the trade, maybe it was LeBron James coming to town.

Whatever it was, the Wizards played their best game of the season beating the Lakers 128-110. It was an impressive performance from a team that has looked like it’s thinking about postgame dinner reservations much of the season. The question is can Washington repeat Sunday’s effort? David Aldridge of The Athletic (and myself, and just about everyone who has watched Washington this season) has doubts.

The real take away from this game: The Lakers go as LeBron James goes, when John Wall hustles the Wizards go as he does.

Wall has been at the heart of the disappointing 12-18 start in Washington, often showing little effort on offense when the ball was not in his hands, looking disinterested on defense, and putting up good counting stats but not contributing the little things that help a team win. Sunday the Wall the Wizards need showed up — 40 points, 14 assists, six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Wall was a blur with the ball, making plays in transition, and tearing up Lonzo Ball, Lance Stephenson, and anyone else Luke Walton sent to guard him.

With LeBron, he is the Lakers’ best playmaker and the focal point of everything they do — as he should be — and when he’s off Los Angeles is a different team. An unimpressive team. In Laker wins, LeBron has an insane true shooting percentage of 62.9; in losses that falls to a slightly above average 56.1 percent, plus in wins LeBron’s assists and rebounds are up. Put more starkly, in Laker wins the team out scores opponents by 18.6 per 100 possessions when LeBron is on the court, in losses they get outscored by 12.4 — a more than 30 point per 100 swing.

Sunday in our nation’s capital, LeBron had 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting, had six assists but four turnovers, and was -18. The result was ugly, just a day after his triple-double in Charlotte had the Lakers humming as a team in a blowout win.

The Lakers are 2-3 in their last five away from home with a game in Brooklyn Tuesday closing out a string of road wins games.

2) The hottest team in the East? Indiana has now won seven in a row. Discussion of the best teams in the East tends to focus on Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee, and if Philadelphia is on that level yet.

Don’t sleep on Indiana. The Pacers are 20-10, third in the East (ahead of the Sixers and Celtics) and after knocking off the Knicks Sunday they have won seven in a row. Much of that without Victor Oladipo, although he was back and dropped 26 points on just 13 shots on New York.

What has sparked the Pacers’ run is their defense, which has given up less than a point per possession in the last seven games, best in the NBA over that stretch. (Their offense has been middle of the pack, which has been enough.) Opponents are shooting a league-low 41.2 percent against the Pacers in the last seven, plus opponents are not moving the ball well (just 21.7 assists, third lowest in the league in those seven) and they are not getting to the glass. Myles Turner has played strong defense inside, helping key the run.

While much of the Pacers’ run has come against a soft spot in the schedule, they have knocked off the Bucks and Sixers in this stretch. December win streaks are not harbingers of playoff success, but ignore the Pacers at your own peril. This team can play.

3) Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox just ran right past Dallas on the way to 28 points. There is nobody in the league right now faster end-to-end with the ball than De'Aaron Fox. Watch this play from Sunday: What other players can get the rebound (away from a bigger player) and get end-to-end on a one-man fast break better than this? Russell Westbrook, sure. John Wall in the sporadic games he decides to hustle. Fox is with the NBA’s elite in that category?

Fox and backcourt teammate Buddy Hield each had 28 points in Sacramento’s road win in Dallas, spoiling Dirk Nowitzki‘s home debut. The Kings looked like a team with an elite backcourt and Dallas could do nothing about it. These games matter — the win moves Sacramento into a three-way tie for the 6/7/8 seeds in the West, while Dallas is now the 9 seed half-a-game back. When the season ends, these conference games are going to matter in the brutally tight West.

Also, well done Dallas welcoming Nowitzki home.