NBA Finals a matter of perspective

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One of the toughest things to find when analyzing sports, or any other sequence of human behavior, is the difference between causation and correlation. Everyone who spends a year in the United States Marine Corps is a disciplined solider; everyone who spends a year in the Ford Modeling Agency is an attractive model. However, the two entities are hardly the same. 
We all know what’s happened in this series — The Laker offense has looked broken at times, and has devolved into Kobe vs. Boston all too often. The Celtics, from 1-12, have played on a completely different level than they showed they were capable of in the regular season. The fun part is figuring out why these things are happening: is it the fault of the Lakers or the fault of the Celtics? The answer likely depends on your perspective, but here’s PBT’s attempt to take a crack at figuring out why things have shook out the way they have over the first five games of this series:

Question: The classic Lakers chicken-or-egg question: Did Kobe Bryant take 15 more field goal attempts on Sunday because the Lakers had no other offensive activity, or did the Lakers have no other offensive activity because Kobe took 15 more field goals than anybody else?
PBT’s answer: On Sunday, the Lakers’ lack of offense was definitely what forced Kobe into takeover mode. In the first half, when Kobe took 12 FGAs and accumulated all four of his assists, the Lakers managed to score 39 points. In the second half, when Kobe took 15 shots and made all seven of his free throws, the Lakers scored 47 points. 
Going beyond that, it’s extremely difficult to run an efficient, balanced offense when your team is behind and failing to get stops. The team begins to panic, the role players don’t want to make plays, everyone plays tight, and the offense grinds to a halt. Playing on the road compounds these problems. When a team is getting lit up, they invariably go to their “panic offense” — give the ball to their best player, give him an ISO or a screen, and hope he bails them out. 
The Lakers’ panic offense is giving the ball to Kobe Bryant and letting him shoot jumpers, and it isn’t a bad one. After the Lakers scored 39 points in the first 24 minutes of play, Kobe scored 19 points in the next seven minutes of play. That should have gotten the Lakers back to even, but their defense gave up 22 points over the course of that seven minutes. With the Lakers getting pushed around on offense and allowing a layup line on defense, their only chance was to have Kobe shoot them back into the game. History is the propaganda of the victors, and Kobe has been a beneficiary of this in the past, but Bryant was not the reason the Lakers lost game five.
Question: Is the Laker offense broken, or is Boston’s defense just that good?
Answer: Boston’s defense is just that good. They swarm and recover like no other team is able to. They play physical without losing their heads. They don’t let anybody get to where they want to go, and dictate the pace of the game even when the other team has the ball. They made Cleveland’s offense look broken. They shut down Orlando’s three-point attack and handcuffed Dwight Howard at times. They didn’t let any Heat player other than Dwayne Wade have any kind of success. (Okay, maybe that wasn’t all that hard.) Despite all the injuries they had in the regular season, they finished 5th in defensive efficiency.
In 2008, the last time Garnett was healthy for the playoffs, the Celtics dominated every offense in their path on their way to banner #17. That season, their defensive efficiency was the best in the league. They have the best defensive center in basketball this side of Dwight Howard. They have the best defensive point guard in basketball. Their power forward was the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. Their defensive coordinator is perhaps the best defensive mind of the last 20 years. At some point, it is not a coincidence that so many teams forget how to play offense when they play the Celtics.
Question: Were the Celtics dogging it in the regular season, were they sacrificing regular-season success to better prepare themselves for the postseason, or were they just injured?
Answer: A little bit of all of them, it turns out. The Celtics certainly rested their starters and didn’t stress that much over regular-season games, but you’re not going to tell me losing to the Nets at home was part of their plan. 
Even so, the confidence the Celtics developed over the regular season seems to be helping them now. It seemed like hubris at the time, but as the playoffs have gone it, it’s clear that the Celtics have more players willing to step up at any given time than any other team. They don’t have one guy who they know to go to in crunch-time; sometimes it’s Pierce from the right elbow, sometimes it’s Ray Allen off a screen, sometimes it’s Rajon Rondo in transition, sometimes it’s KG in the post. Sometimes it’s Nate Robinson and Big Baby who save the day. The Celtics don’t care. 
While every other team would go to their “panic offense” and let their best player bail them out in the regular season, the Celtics were blowing leads and getting their role players ready to take over. The Cavs won 61 games by keeping games close and letting LeBron take the game over in the final five minutes; when the Celtics got out to leads against them and packed the paint against LeBron, they shrunk. The Magic didn’t know how to operate without Dwight Howard drawing multiple defenders. The Lakers have done better, but their non-Kobe personnel has still looked panicked at times. The Celtics, meanwhile, have the confidence to throw insane full-court inbounds plays and make reverse layups with a Finals game on the line. Show me one other group of three players in these playoffs that could have pulled that off. So far, that confidence has been the difference.
The way the Celtics played all year was certainly unorthodox. But up until now, it’s certainly looked like a winning strategy. If they play 48 more minutes of strong basketball, it will go down in the history books as a championship strategy. 

Eric Gordon says Rockets are ‘not using some guys the right way’

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The Houston Rockets aren’t who we thought they were. The team that gave the Golden State Warriors a run for their money in the Western Conference Finals last season have looked unsteady to open the year, and despite jettisoning Carmelo Anthony, have not returned to their former glory.

While this has much to do with overall team construction, individual players in Houston have struggled as well. Do-it-all wing Eric Gordon has had a down year, with just about all of his advanced statistics taking a significant drop. Most important has been his 3-point shooting, which is down five percent year-over-year. Even when Gordon has performed well, it’s not always translated to wins for Houston.

The talk around the Rockets has been about their stars struggling, but so too has their lack of comparative bench depth hamstrung them. Gordon’s solid performances lacking an impact on the win-loss column is illustrative of that.

For his part, Gordon says that he’s still not having fun on the floor in Houston, and that he feels the team’s meager roster isn’t being used properly.

Via The Athletic:

“I’m just not having fun man,” Gordon told The Athletic. “I’m just not. This sucks. Even the times where I have good games. We’re just not using some guys the right way. Are we gonna make the right sacrifices? Do we have the right attitude?

“Last year was the best year I’ve ever had being a part of a team,” he added. “We just never had a bad moment. If we ever had a bad game as a team, you knew the next game we would blow somebody out. It didn’t matter who it was.”

The Rockets are 11-14 and have the second-worst record in the Western Conference. There’s many months left in the season, and there’s plenty of time to rebound. But unless Houston can get their internal struggles figured out — or trade for an impact player — it seems possible they finish the year scraping for a playoff spot or missing the postseason altogether.

Watch LeBron James give game-worn shoes to emotional Grizzlies equipment manager

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Brian’e Miller is an assistant equipment manager for the Memphis Grizzlies. A longtime LeBron James fan, Miller wears The King’s signature shoes during each workday, a particularly fun pastime when the Los Angeles Lakers come to town as they did on Saturday night.

James and Co. took care of the Grizzlies, 111-88, but the shoe habits of the 23-year-old Miller were not lost on LeBron. During the game, video was captured from the stands of James giving Miller his game-worn shoes. Miller, naturally emotional about the interaction, gave James a hug and could be seen pushing back tears.

It was touching to see.

Via Twitter:

Miller told the Commercial Appeal that she had been a fan of LeBron for years.

“It’s emotional because so many years I’ve been idolizing him,” said Miller. “He has so many fans. That’s the thing. I’m not a fan just when LeBron comes. I’m a fan when he’s not looking, so it was just really cool to see him appreciate me.”

One of the things that has let the NBA become the league of LeBron is just how accessible he’s seemed over his tenure. While some players don’t have the personality or the temperament to be a global star, James has that “it” quality, particularly after his first championship with the Miami Heat.

That’s why when video was captured of James giving his game-worn shoes to Miller on Saturday, it felt wholly in-character.

James was asked about the interaction after the game, and he responded by saying that he had noticed Miller’s dedication to his shoe line for a while.

Via Twitter:

It’s easy to feel cynical when it comes to sports, especially in the face of the overcommercialisation of pro athletes. Hell, this story is about giving and receiving shoes. But the connection Miller felt to James, and that he decided to respond and recognize that is a human thing more than anything. Good for him.

Matthew Dellavedova receives standing ovation in return to Cleveland (VIDEO)

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CLEVELAND (AP) Matthew Dellavedova‘s return to his first NBA home is off to a good start before playing in a game.

Dellavedova, dressed in street clothes, was greeted by security guards and arena employees, and received a standing ovation from the crowd when he returned to Cleveland on Saturday night.

“I appreciate the love from everyone,” he said. “It makes me feel very welcome.”

 

Cleveland acquired Dellavedova in a three-team trade Friday with the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards. He began his career with the Cavaliers in 2014 and was a key member of the 2016 title team before he signed with the Bucks later that summer.

Dellavedova watched Saturday night’s game against the Wizards from the bench. The Cavaliers showed a video of him playing in the Finals from the championship season, which led to a long ovation from the crowd.

Known to Cleveland fans as “Delly,” Dellavedova became an instant hit with Quicken Loans Arena crowds, who immediately liked his gritty style of play. The trade received positive reaction from fans on social media.

“It makes me feel great,” he said. “My time here was really special and I loved every minute of it. It makes me excited to get back out there and play for everyone in this city because it’s a special place.”

Dellavedova could play Monday when Cleveland is in Milwaukee, where he learned of the trade.

“Obviously you don’t expect to pick and move, but it’s the NBA so it could always happen,” he said. “If it was going to be anywhere I’m definitely glad it’s here where I’m comfortable with familiar faces and a lot of friends. ”

The 28-year-old Dellavedova averaged 1.7 points and 2.4 assists in 12 games with Milwaukee.

Cleveland is 5-20 and rebuilding following LeBron James‘ departure last summer. The Cavaliers also received forward John Henson and 2021 first- and second-round picks from Milwaukee, and a 2022 second-rounder from Washington.

Henson also arrived in town Saturday and quickly learned how popular Dellavedova is, calling his teammate a “folk hero” in Cleveland.

“I’ll just be in Delly’s shadow,” Henson said. “Don’t forget about me.”

Cavaliers coach Larry Drew believes Dellavedova will help the development of rookie point guard Collin Sexton.

“It will be really, really good for Collin,” Drew said. “Delly is one of those guys when you watch him play, he doesn’t woo you the way he plays, he just gets the job done.”

The Cavs sent guard George Hill and a 2021 second-round selection to the Bucks, and forward Sam Dekker to the Wizards. Milwaukee also got forward Jason Smith from Washington.

For more AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Chris Paul politely tries to get reporter off the court before game starts (VIDEO)

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Dallas Mavericks’ sideline reporter Dana Larson was where she felt she was supposed to be: On the sidelines.

However, with the game about start, Chris Paul was trying — politely — to urge her to step off the court.

The best part of this video may be what’s happening in the background.

First, watch DeAndre Jordan doing a pirouette for some reason as he steps onto the court.

Then at the end, there’s James Harden, bouncing back-and-forth like a boxer waiting in the corner for the bell to ring. Or a jogger at the corner waiting for the light to turn so he can keep running.

If you thought the pregame for Dallas vs. Houston was fun, you should check out the final three minutes of the game.