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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Rockets miss chance to steal game in Oracle

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Houston had a chance to steal a game in Golden State and it clanked off the rim. Thirty-three missed threes. 33.

Houston had a 102 offensive rating in Game 1 of the second round (12.8 below their regular season average), they took 57 percent of their shot attempts from three but hit just 29.8 percent of them — 33 misses.

That is the stat that sums up why the Houston Rockets blew a chance to steal Game 1 on the road — this felt like a blown opportunity because those chances are rare at Oracle Arena. The Warriors stumbled in this game, the Rockets did not grab the opportunity.

The Warriors hung on to win Game 1 104-100. Game 2 is Tuesday night back in Oracle.

In an intense defensive game that turned things sloppy at times, the Rockets missed the shots that define their offense. The Warriors defensive strategy of crowding the shooters seemed to throw off the Rockets, and Houston didn’t get the calls they expect/get bailed out by (depending on your perspective). More on the officiating in item No. 2 below, but know it wasn’t the reason the Rockets lost. They just missed their shots.

The other reason they lost was one Kevin Durant. He has been the best player on the planet for a couple of years now and continues to show it on the biggest playoff stages. He had 35 in this game — the same as James Harden, but Durant’s felt more clutch as he hit them when his team needed them.

Game 1 was about the defenses, and now the Rockets need to adjust to how the Warriors have chosen to defend them.

The Warriors did not switch Harden’s picks to give Houston the matchup it wanted, instead, Stephen Curry (or whomever) would do a hard show to cut off the drive, then recover, and they did that smoothly. (Late in the shot clock the Warriors switched those picks but at that point Harden’s options were limited and he just had to try a stepback three everyone knew was coming). Golden State — and Draymond Green in particular — also did an excellent job of contesting Harden on drives while at the same taking away the lob to Clint Capela.

Warriors got away with sloppy play for long stretches of the game, they turned the ball over on 30 percent of their possessions in the first quarter, 20.6 percent for the game (22 total). Be careless with the ball like that again and it will cost them a game.

However, their stars both got the matchups they wanted and hit the big shots when needed. For example, when Mike D’Antoni subbed in Nene for rebounding in the final minute, Curry got the switch he wanted and sunk the dagger in the Rockets.

Houston had a chance to respond and went to a Harden stepback three that did not fall (and he was not fouled by Draymond Green on that play… again more on the officiating below). Chris Paul grabbed the rebound after Harden’s final miss, Harden was still on the ground trying to sell the call that wasn’t coming, so CP3 attempted to draw a foul on Klay Thompson he didn’t get, then got ejected with his second technical when he yelled at the referee for not giving him the call. CP3 will be writing a check to the league for this.

In the end, the Warriors fought through their adversity to get the win and go up 1-0, knowing they can play a lot better — they didn’t take great shots at times, didn’t take care of the ball, and were not always sharp defensively. The Rockets can play better too, but it feels like this was as good a chance as they were going to get to steal a game. Maybe Houston can prove that idea wrong in Game 2.

2) “Refereeing is an inexact science. So it is what it is.” That was Draymond Green, and he’s right. The officials are human, they miss calls, and that’s just part of basketball. However, Houston’s system is built on pushing the rules and getting calls, and those calls did not come in Game 1. There are legitimate questions about where the line is and how it should be enforced.

Mark Cuban put it this way.

Houston and Harden have a system that pushes the rules to their edge — and they count on getting those calls as part of their offensive strategy. It’s baked into the system. Those calls were not coming on Sunday, the referees were consistent — and at times incorrect — not calling fouls where Harden was contacted in the air, where he didn’t have a landing zone (Klay Thompson in the first half should have gotten fouls for that). The idea that a jump shooter has to have a place to land has been a point of emphasis for officials for a while now. Houston banks on it.

However, it’s not clean cut and easy to call, especially with Harden. He leaps forward on his shots, he’s not vertical. His final three-point attempt, where he wanted a call on Green, was not a foul and a good no call by the referee, as Joe Borgia explains well, here.

Harden does leap forward, not straight up, and if he goes into the defender’s space that’s not a foul. However, there were missed calls where the Warrior defender closed into Harden’s space and a foul should have been called.

Warriors fans can “whataboutism” this — and they would be right. There were also times Harden pushed off (Kevon Looney) and no call was made, or a player was just in a good defensive position (Andre Iguodala) and Harden got the call anyway. Things tend to balance out over the course of the game.

Houston wants to say historically Golden State gets the benefit of the whistle. That there is an institutional bias benefitting the Warriors.

That’s a lovely esoteric argument, but it’s not going to help them in Game 2. The question is how will that one be officiated compared to Game 1.

3) Boston goes into Milwaukee, plays a textbook game, and comes away with a comfortable Game 1 win. Things could not have gone much better for Boston — they set up a list of things they wanted to do in Game 1, then proceeded to just go down the list and check them off.

That started with defending Giannis Antetokounmpo. In NBC’s preview of this series I wrote Al Horford was the key for Boston, he had to be big on both ends. He was that in Game 1 — 20 points and he did a great job defending the Greek Freak. Still, nobody saw this coming.

Boston went into Milwaukee and owned Game 1, taking it 112-90. It was the kind of performance that had Boston looking like a contender — something they have done in flashes for the season, but have not been able to sustain.

This was no one-man show, the Celtics threw multiple defenders at the Greek Freak, but it was Horford’s ability to recover that was key to forcing Antetokounmpo into a 7-of-21 shooting night. More importantly, Antetokounmpo had just two assists. The Bucks were not moving the ball, finding the open man, the making the Celtics pay.

“If they’re going to play like this the whole series, I just have to make the right pass, and trust my teammates to knock down shots,” Antetokounmpo said after the game.

Offensively, Boston took the shots they were given — 41.5 percent of the Celtics shot attempts came either as midrange jumpers, or longer (floater range) shots in the paint, but they hit 56.8 percent of them. Milwaukee forced the Celtics into the shots nobody wants to take, but if Boston can knock them down at that rate Milwaukee will be in real trouble this series. Kyrie Irving had 26 to lead the Celtics.

However, Boston’s defense — and Milwaukee’s offensive struggles — were the real keys. Especially in the first half, the Bucks seemed to take a lot of difficult, contested shots that were not going down. Then again, by the NBA’s tracking data, the Bucks also were 18-of-50 (36 percent) on uncontested shots, too. Just nothing was falling.

Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee need to find that offensive flow before Game 2 or the hole they will find themselves in will be just about impossible to climb out of.

Andrew Bogut appears to take shot at LeBron on Twitter

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The NBA wants it to, and it will eventually fade some (only to flare up again later), but the NBA/China relationship issue is not going away.

The latest spark comes from across the ocean, down in Australia, where former Warrior (and Buck and a couple other teams in the middle) Andrew Bogut takes what is a pretty clear a dig at LeBron James over the China issue.

Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted support for the Hong Kong protesters just before the NBA was about to send the Lakers and Nets were about to head to China for a couple of exhibition games. China flexed its muscle to punish the NBA for touching a third-rail issue by having corporate sponsors pause their involvement with the league and preseason games were not shown in China. Adam Silver issued a milquetoast statement that seemed aimed to appease China, and when a backlash from the United States — still by far the largest NBA market — came swiftly Silver adjusted his position and came out more backing Morey’s right to free speech.

After all that, once back in the states, LeBron vented about the situation, saying Morey wasn’t “educated” on the topic, and seeming frustrated because the Tweet put the players in China on the front lines of an international trade dispute — remember, there is a trade war and tariffs. However, LeBron’s meandering comments came off as being more concerned about money than free speech. LeBron said he was saying Morey didn’t think through the consequences of his Tweet (true) and that he doesn’t have to take a public stand on every issue (also true) but it all came off as LeBron prioritizing protecting his brand,

Which leads to a lot of criticism. Some a lot more direct than what Andrew Bogut said.

Report: Grizzlies, Bulls have conversations with Iman Shumpert

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Iman Shumpert is just 29 years old, which seems crazy because it wasn’t that long ago he was making the All-Rookie team in New York or winning a title with LeBron James.

The point is he’s still young, was on the court for the Rockets during the postseason last year, and is the best free agent available. He turned down a contract offer from the Rockets before the preseason (which may have been incentive heavy, like Nene’s) and remains on the market.

Some team is going to snap him up. That team could end up being the Memphis. Or, maybe Chicago. That according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Free-agent guard Iman Shumpert has had conversations with teams, including Memphis and Chicago, league sources said. Shumpert, an eight-year NBA veteran, is one of the best players remaining on the market.

Chicago has Zach LaVine and Otto Porter starting on the wing, but they may want more veteran depth behind them. Memphis has the combination of Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen at the two, they may want to add some veteran depth to that mix.

At this point, teams are just starting to accurately assess where they are and where they need help — players they thought would step up didn’t, or there are injuries creating gaps — and that will continue into the first weeks of the season. As that happens, a few of the veterans on the sideline will get picked up (no, probably not Carmelo Anthony, that’s another topic).

Shumpert should be at the front of that line. He’s already got interest.

 

Pacers reportedly testing trade market for Domantas Sabonis

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Two factors are in play here.

First, the Pacers and Domantas Sabonis‘ representatives are reportedly nowhere near an agreement on a contract extension.

Second, there are real questions about how Sabonis and Pacers’ center Myles Turner can play together. If they can’t, then the question becomes how much do the Pacers want to pay Sabonis to be a backup five (because Turner is the better player and a guy they can build their defense around).

That has led to the Pacers exploring possible Sabonis trades, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

…sources say the Pacers have engaged in active trade talks with several teams this week about the fourth-year forward. Sabonis, the 23-year-old who arrived with Victor Oladipo in late June 2017 in the Paul George trade with Oklahoma City, is clearly on the market.

There is no lack of interest in Sabonis, who averaged 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season as the Pacers — who lost Oladipo to a season-ending ruptured quad injury in a game against Toronto on Jan. 23 — pulled off such a surprising campaign (48-34; lost in the first round to Boston). Thus far, sources say the Pacers’ asking price in talks with several teams has been too high.

Sabonis is a skilled offensive big man who is versatile. That makes him a fantastic pick-and-roll or dribble hand-off guy who can help create space for the ball handler to find a lane, then he rolls into open space. He’s strong around the basket and plays a crafty, high IQ game. He can help a lot of teams. However, two things limit Sabonis: He is not good defensively and he does not space the floor (76.4 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket last season, and he doesn’t make many beyond that range).

Sabonis is in the final year of his rookie contract and has a healthy pay raise coming next season, up from the $3.5 million he will make this time around. The Pacers, however, just forked out big cash for Myles Turner (four-years, $72 million) and Malcolm Brogdon (four years, $85 million). They may be a little gun shy about doing that now for Sabonis, and there are other teams interested. That doesn’t even count Victor Oladipo’s payday. All this for a team not likely to venture into the luxury tax.

How much the Pacers can get for Sabonis remains to be seen, but the Pacers may want picks because not much salary needs to be exchanged. Of course right now the Pacers are asking for everything but the GM’s firstborn son from other teams, and of course the other teams are lowballing the Pacers with their first offers. That’s how negotiations work. When things start to evolve to a middle ground, the Pacers may well find a deal because, as much as they like him, it’s hard to make everything fit with Sabonis on the team.

Draymond Green says teams deserve blame for draft picks not developing, Marquese Chriss agrees

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Marquese Chriss was a No. 8 pick in the NBA draft who has yet to pan out. He showed a little promise as a rookie in Phoenix, but by Summer League the next July issues already seemed to pop up. His shooting percentages dropped, mostly because of questionable shot selection — every season he has taken more threes and made a lower percentage (22.2 percent last season). He wasn’t strong on defense. He looked like a player who might not be long for the NBA.

Now he’s going to make the Warriors roster. Maybe injuries to other frontcourt players — Willie Cauley-Stein, rookie Alen Smailagic, and Kevon Looney are — made keeping the 6’10” forward a smart move, but Chriss’ play in the preseason helped earn him that spot.

After a preseason game against the Lakers Wednesday, Draymond Green stuck up for Chriss, saying it may be less about the player and more about the organization. Via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole.

“He’s been in some pretty tough situations,” Green told reporters… “No one ever blames the situation, though. It’s always the kid. No one ever blames these s***y franchises. They always want to blame the kid. It’s not always the kid’s fault.

“He’s getting older now, so he’s not a kid anymore. But he came into this league as a kid. But it’s never the organization’s fault. It’s always that guy. So I’m happy he’s got another opportunity to show what he can really do. Because he’s a prime example.”

Chriss was grateful for what Green said, as reported by Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I appreciate him for having my back and I wholeheartedly believe what he said,” Chriss said. “Being a person to go through things like that. Having a lot of blame on you for stuff you can’t really control is tough and its growing pains with being in the NBA. I feel like it takes time to develop and learn.

“It bothers me when people try to come for my character,” he added. “I know what type of person I am and I know how my mom raised me and I know how I want to represent myself and my family so that’s the biggest thing for me is just showing that things that have been said are not true.”

Jared Dudley, who was with Chriss in Phoenix, said that it was a combination of an immature Chriss but also a Suns organization that did not create a good environment to develop players.

“He was immature,” former teammate Jared Dudley told NBC Sports Bay Area Friday afternoon. “But it’s not a bad immaturity, he just had to grow up and they threw him into the fire and sometimes kids aren’t ready for that…

“At the time Phoenix didn’t have the infrastructure to manage and control people and to develop people at that time,” Dudley added. “Three coaches in his year and a half. He was partially to blame, he was getting technical fouls, he was shooting bad shots but sometimes it’s on the organization and they failed him.”

The Warriors have a strong development program for young players, and a strong culture, on that Chriss seems to be thriving in.

Injuries helped open the door for Chriss in Golden State, but to his credit he has pushed it open wide with his play and it would not have been easy for the Warriors to let him go. He’s attacking the rim and scoring 9.5 points per game on 60.9 percent shooting (he’s still struggling from three, 20 percent, but he’s only taking 22 percent of his shots from there, down from nearly half last season). Chriss also has been a beast on the boards, grabbing 8.3 rebounds a game.

That’s impressive, but it’s also the preseason. If he can do it when things get serious starting next week, Chriss will have the redemption he wanted.