Thursday, May 31, 2007

Yes, I'm a Witness

East Conf. Finals (Game 5)-- Cavs 109, Pistons 107 (2 OT)

- Yeah, that Bron is kinda good. Didn't think Bron could do it pretty much by himself with minimal input from his supporting cast, but when he's hitting jumpers like he was, well, he's sorta awesome. Just some ridiculous jumpers hit at a variety of angles usually coming off the dribble. And he mixed it up with some ferocious drives thru traffic, including 2 monumental dunks late in regulation. Bron scored the last 29 of the Cavs 30 pts which spanned the 8:00 mark in the 4th to the final buzzer thru 2 OTs. Bron finished with 48 pts, 9 rebs, 7 assts on 18/33 (10/14 fts), and was 11/14 from the field from the start of the 4th to the end. Yes, it was downright Jordan-esque.

- To say Bron was a one-man gang is pretty much an understatement. Ilgauskas did some nice things on the low-block with his sweeping hook for 16 pts on 6/9, but he really was the only other Cav who had a decent offensive game. Though Varejao & Snow have to be commended for their defensive effort. Both guys made some key plays late: Snow made steals on consectutive possessions with under 2:00 left in regulation, and Varejao deflected shots on the last 2 Det possessions--block on Sheed with :15 secs left, & he just got a fingertip on Billups last-second shot.

- Why didn't Flip decide to double Bron up high on the Cavs last possession in 2OT? You knew he was going to drive for his own shot or drive-n-kick. You have to blitz him early & just make him give up the ball, or at least make Bron string his dribble out trying to negotiate two defenders on the perimeter, so to use up some clock where maybe only a forced jumper is the only option. A major mistake in my book. The Pistons had just trapped Bron on the previous Cavs' possession & it eventually led to Varejao getting his shot blocked & a shot clock violation. So why wouldn't you do it again? Flip did make a decent move going to zone for a pinch in OT, but maybe should have gone to it in the 4th while Bron started darting to the rim.

- Still would like to see more straight zone from Detroit. Bron is more effective when he gets some movement before his jumper, he's better with rhythm into his shot. When he's stationary, his shot doesn't seem as good, and zones tend to encourage more stationary shots. Bron almost needs to have a defender close to him, because it's forces him to have to shake the defender to create space, and this movement seems to help his shot. Mix the straight zone with hard traps on Bron in Game 6, Flipster. Thought the Pistons' bigs (Maxiell & Sheed) were indecisive on their help responsibilities late & allowed Bron way too much room in the lane to finish. You have to make him pitch the ball out to the perimeter shooters, make someone else beat you, if Marshall/Sasha/Gibson make the open jumper, so be it. I rather get beat with a jumper by a Cavs' role player than allow Bron alleys to the rim.

- The Cavs got away with some mismanagement of timeouts late in the 4th, and lucky that their poor foul-shooting didn't cost them the game--they were 2/9 on the line in the 4th. Coach Brown did make a nice adjustment by finally moving Bron toward the middle of the floor during the 4th, and it made things a lot easier. During the 3rd, Bron was setting up too much on the sides which allowed Det. easier angles for help.

- Prince was Detroit's main source of offense in the 3rd. Tay scored all 10 of his points in the quarter, and did it by isos on the side. Overall, Tay had another rough game from the floor going 4/13 & had some costly TOs down the stretch, 4 TOs overall. Tay is now shooting 26.8% (15/56) for this series.

- The Pistons tried to go thru the post late in the game and they really never got a consistent flow going, and the normally reliable Sheed couldn't get his low-post game in gear. Though it did seem that Varejao got him just enough on the hand for a foul to be called with 15 secs left in 2OT. Probably needed to run some more curls for Rip, the action they get off it usually works well (it sure worked wonders in '04). Rip had 26 pts & 5 assts, and when you help onto Rip off the screens, he will dish to the open man.

- Billups played probably his best all-around game of the series with 21 pts, 7 rebs, and most importantly, only 1 TO. Chauncey was 3/7 from deep, including a huge 3pt. to give Det. a 91-89 lead which allowed the Pistons to extend the game into OT.

- CWebb was the only Pistons' starter over 50% from the floor and had himself a nice game with 20 & 7. CWebb did most of his work 8-feet & in with some post-ups over Big Z, including a crucial plus-1 bucket that gave the Pistons a 3-point lead in 2OT & fouled out Big Z at the same time.

- No big newsflash, but McDyess should not have been ejected. A flagrant 1 foul, absolutely, but no way kick-out worthy. Can't see him suspended, plus he missed most of Game 5 anyways, it's not like it happened late like Horry's. The ejection definitely played a minor role in Detroit's efforts, even though Webber had 20. Dice's absence messed with the rotation when Webb got into some foul trouble.

- By no means is this series wrapped up. Don't forget the exact same scenario played out last year in the Conf Semis--the Pistons won the first 2 games, then lost the next 3, and had to win a game in Clev. to stay alive. And the Pistons are a very good road team who beat the Bulls in Game 6 last round. If Bron's jumper is not finding the mark, then the Cavs could be in some trouble. If it's on, like tonite, then the city of Cleveland could very well get their first taste of the NBA Finals.

M. Haubs: A Few More Notes from a Classic

- "This is Jordan-esque!" That sentence was uttered by Steve Kerr last night after LeBron's insane step-back three under duress. When that statement is actually valid, as it was last night, can you really ask for anything more as a basketball fan? Not to mention for the league in general. Just as it seems we were careening inexorably toward a buzzless Spurs-Pistons Finals, all of a sudden these playoffs get a desperately needed Pulp Fiction-style adrenaline shot to the heart. Wow. We may well look back on last night as the game that *finally* turned the pendulum back towards drawing casual fans back to the NBA.

- What happened to the Pistons D - how did they let LeBron get to the rim uncontested so often in the halfcourt O? Also, I can't believe Rasheed cheated over to stay with Donyell instead of stepping into the lane to help on two big plays - the dunk with :09 in regulation and the game-winner. Don't you think you need to force LeBron to make that pass again?

-I criticize Snow as much as anybody but he was really great down the stretch on D - not just the strips but avoiding the foul when Billups got him up in the air.

-Why do they let Bennett Salvatore officiate games of this magnitude??? He's absolutely awful.

-There really are three "boobies" in the series - not just Daniel Gibson but Flip and Mike Brown, too! I loved the subtle digs from Kerr/Collins all night.

-I don't know if I've ever wished I'd witnessed a conversation in person as much as this one, as reported by Chris Sheridan in the Daily Dime:
"Nearby stood Gloria James, LeBron's mother, with such a prideful look on her face that you couldn't help but smile when you saw her. She listened intently as Hubie Brown regaled her with praise for her son's talents, the brightness of her smile practically illuminating the loading dock where the Cavs' friends and families congregated afterward."

Here's how I picture it:
"OK, now, Glo, you cannot stop your son from getting into the painted area, so what do you do? Well, you *must* trap him at the half-court line...."

Jay Aych's take on the conversation:
"Gloria, your son is one of the best finishers in the painted area that we have in this league. You say to yourself, who is a better finisher than Bron? That's right, no one."

Spurs Capture West Title

West Conf. Finals (Game 5)-- Spurs 109, Jazz 84
(Spurs win series 4-1)

- This one was a done deal after the 1st quarter. As good as the Spurs looked offensively in the 1st 2 games of this series, they were even more devastatingly efficent in Game 5. In the 1st quarter the Spurs were literally unstoppable, got everything they wanted, executed perfectly, and made nearly everything they threw up. And Parker downright shredded the Jazz for some ridiculous finishes in the lane and when he wasn't finishing he got to the line (7/11 fts). The Spurs continued their assault until the final buzzer, and I don't believe the Jazz got closer than 15 points after the 1st.

- Parker led the way with 21 pts not just off his flying lay-ins, but with a few jumpers--Tony shot 7/13. I think we can officially call Parker a solid jumpshooter after this post-season; though I still sag off, go underneath pick/rolls on him. The Spurs got a nice effort from the whole team where Finley & Bowen hit jumpers, Barry & Elson did some nice things off the bench, and Horry was quietly effective on the defensive end, including a sequence in the 1st quarter where he forced 2 TOs & got a block in the span of a few possessions.

- Can't forget about the continued all-around play of Fab Oberto--Fab had 7 pts on 3/5 & 10 rebs (4 off). Mentioned in the series preview the Spurs needed better production from their center spot after the Spurs' centers had a low-impact in the Suns' series. Fab definitely delivered in this series with 10ppg, 7.8 rpg (2.8 off), & 70% shooting. Been a fan of Oberto for a few years and in this series he showed some of the underrated footwork & scoring ability he's shown on the biggest stages of FIBA play for awhile. He also did a solid job defending Boozer in the series, and he was a constant nuisance on the off. glass usually tipping out the ball to pile up extra possessions.

- Let's not forget that the Spurs defense was just as important to this Game 5 shellacing. They played with the vigor that said they didn't want a return trip to Salt Lake. Were contesting almost every shot, and held Utah to 38% from the floor.

- No one from Utah really got much going in this game, and they seemed like they conceded this game/series after the 1st quarter. Deron only managed 11 pts and seemed to be limited by a foot injury, and Booze had a rough day with 9 pts on 3/10. They really did not get enough support from the rest of the team, and this was definitely a recurring sorespot for the Jazz in this series.

- The one guy who will get some of the blame for underachieving is Memo Okur. It's not totally unwarranted, Memo had a really rough 2007 playoff season--he averaged 12 ppg & 8 rpg on 39% (31.6% 3pt.), compared to 17.6ppg on 46.2% (38% 3pt) for the reg. season. For the Spurs series, Memo had an even tougher time with 7.2 ppg & 4.6 rpg on 28.3% (31.3% 3pt), unacceptable for a borderline All-Star. Though he does need some props for his on-the-ball defense on Duncan. For a guy not known for his defense, he did a solid job on 2 of the best post players in the NBA (Yao & Tim) during these playoffs.

- The Jazz have to feel pretty good how the season turned out, don't think too many people expected them to end up in the Conf Finals. Also Utah has to be pleased with the emergence of Deron Williams into an elite-level PG, and maybe the best young PG in the league. Deron & Boozer have the potential to be a nasty 1-2 punch for years to come & could replicate the success of Stockton/Malone. The key for the Jazz brass is to find compliments to their 2 stars. Their main hole right now is at the 2-guard where they need a nice athlete in the 6-5/6-6 range who can hit the longball. Fisher is a solid vet, but he's better suited as a combo guard off-the-bench at this point in his career. Do have Ron Brewer who could be the answer there, but Sloan really didn't show him much daylight this year, and Ron ain't much of a shooter. They might have to decide to do something with Kirilenko. They are paying him a big chunk-o-change, and he seems to get lost in shuffle on the floor sometimes. Had a very inconsistent playoff season where he seemed to respond much better in an up-tempo game vs. the likes of the Warriors where he can roam around freely. Will see what they do in Salt Lake, though they don't need to make drastic changes, just some tweaks.

Reggie's TNT v ESPN Challenge

Well, then. I guess we now see the downside of having upsets in the NBA Playoffs. Instead of a Spurs-Mavs donnybrook like last year, I think I just witnessed the most predictable, least interesting Conference Finals I've ever seen. And it's not about the Spurs - I actually have no problem watching them. It's just that the Jazz didn't really belong on this stage, through no fault of their own - they just got a fortuitous draw. Oh well, we got a first-round series absolutely for the ages, so I can't complain, overall.

But I digress from the intention of today's post, which was meant to be a digression from the KobeMania which gripped the basketball world yesterday. My goodness, what a day.

Anyhow, in case you missed the end of Inside the NBA in the wee hours on Tuesday night, "EJ's Neat-O Stat of the Night" referred back to Reggie Miller's recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, when the chicken-fighting woman challenged the ESPN NBA broadcasters to a TNT v ESPN game.

Here's a link to the audio of Reggie's radio appearance:
They start talking about it at the 10:00 mark.

Then, on Neat-O Tuesday night, they did a pretty funny position-by-position scouting report, with some video from the archives for each matchup that must have taken some serious unearthing (I mean, they've got Steve Kerr drawing an offensive foul from Tim Legler - it's not like you can call that one up like it's Michael in Game 6 in '98).

I won't spoil it, but let's just say that Reggie (who narrated the scouting report), favored TNT in every one of these matchups except one:
Ernie v. Dan Patrick
Magic v. Kiki
Chuckster v. Jamal Mashburn
Reggie v. Greg Anthony
Kenny v. Mark Jackson
Steve Kerr v Legler/J. Barry

It's at the end of Inside, of course, which can be found here:
I recommend it, it's pretty entertaining, and not only because they re-ran the footage of EJ's dunk on the 8-foot rim in the disturbingly tight attire, which is probably their second-most bankable piece of footage behind Karl Malone's draft-day outfit.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cavs Tie Series With Strong 4th

East Conf. Finals (Game 4): Cavs 91, Pistons 87

- After another ragged 3rd quarter, it appeared that the Cavs could blow another halftime lead. But Bron & Co. soldiered up in the 4th quarter, rekindled their collective shooting touch, and held off the veteran-laden Pistons to tie the series at 2-2. Bron led the way once again, but he was aided admirably by his boy wonder partner, Dan Gibson. Gibson continued his strong play by almost single-handedly keeping the Cavs alive in the 3rd (scored 9 of the Cavs' 3rd quarter pts.).

- Been pushing for more Gibson thru-out the series, and with Hughes limping around, it made Coach Brown's decision easy. Gibson has been making his mark by stretching the defense, but tonite the Pistons were denying his outside looks. So Gibson did his damage off the dribble tonite. The rookie plays with a ton of confidence, and it led to a few tough pull-ups in the lane. And he topped it off, by driving the paint & drawing fouls at a high clip--Dan was 12/12 from the foul line to finish with 21 pts. Gooden was often left open and he responded with a handful of jumpers, especially a few big ones in the 4th. Deadeye Drew was 8/14 for a 19 & 8 night.

- Bron overcame a poor 3rd quarter by rediscovering his shooting stroke in the 4th & had 13 of his 25 in the quarter. Hit 3 big jumpers, including a tough step-back long 2-pointer with 3 mins. left. Though he was 8/19 overall, his jumper was on the mark when it mattered the most. Again when he was forced to give the ball up in the 4th, his teammates hit the open shot (mostly Gooden in this case).

- What's been overlooked about this series, is how good the Cavs' defense has played (Actually both teams have done a great job with their defense). The Cavs have only allowed Det. 81.8 ppg on 43.4% for the series. In Game 4, Detroit shot just 41% from the floor & 3/17 from 3pt. Rip was the only starter over 40%, and he only shot 9/21. McDyess gave the Pistons a huge lift in the 2nd half doing a little bit of everything: hit jumpers, some great passes, offensive boards, active defense, and one nifty up/under move for a dunk. Dice finished with 12 (5/9), 5 (3 off), 3 assts, & 2 blks.

- The Pistons kept their turnovers in check (13), but Chauncey still had issues individually with 5 TOs. He had 3 in the 4th, one with a 1:30 left that was costly, also made a questionable decision to pull-up for an off-balance 3pt. in transition with :45 secs left. Just some shaky decisions by the usually unflappable Billups in this game, not to mention this whole series--Chauncey is averaging 5.5 TOpg for this series. Just consider Chauncey only averaged 2 TOpg for the reg. season and averages 2 TOpg for his career (2.3 for playoff career). Billups did have 23 pts for the game, but he did most of his damage in the 1st half, and only scored 5 pts in the 2nd half--his last FG came 3 mins into the 3rd. He was 6/16 overall with only 2 assists after only 3 assts in Game 3.

- Going forward, Billups has to find a way to get his groove back. Thought his strong start today would solve his problems, but he seemed to peter out in the 2nd half for whatever reason. Think Flip needs to try the straight zone a little more, the Cavs went thru some major dry spells vs. Nets' zone. Also, the more McDyess, the better. The Cavs could run some more high pick/rolls with Bron & Big Z, also with Varejao because he slips well. Another thing we pushed for thru-out is more post-ups for Bron. They did it a few times, liked it when they cleared a side & let Bron work.

Rashard for Durant: A Downgrade in '07-08?

Let me make this clear to start with: I am talking about only the 2007-08 season in this post.

I would definitely rather have Kevin Durant than Rashard Lewis over the next ten years. There's just been so much chatter about these two things:
1) 2007-08 is perhaps the last chance to keep the Sonics in Seattle;
2) Kevin Durant could be the savior of basketball in Seattle.
I'm just wondering if Kevin Durant in his rookie season (he turns 19 in September) isn't a slight downgrade from Rashard Lewis in his prime (he turns 28 in August).

I fully expect that, if the Sonics end up with Durant, as I think is likely, they will let Rashard go as a free agent. The team is just losing too much money to pass up a chance to save circa $10M when there's a position overlap.

I also think it makes basketball sense for them to try to execute a sign-and-trade with Rashard. I don't think the Ray-Rashard-Durant lineup works. I agree with Jay Aych, who offered these thoughts while moonlighting as a commenter on The Big Lead:
    2 problems I see with trying to play Allen-Durant-Lewis together. First, the Sonics will just compound their current problems on defense with this lineup. Lewis & Allen already subpar defenders, if Durant has one weakness right now, it's his questionable defense. Think they would have some serious issues guarding some 4s, especially the ones out West. Second of all, I think you would definitely see issues arise with enough shots being spread around between the 3 stars. I just see no way that Lewis re-signs if the Sonics take Durant, unless it's for a sign & trade.

OK, let's go to the comparisons.
Here are Rashard's numbers:
2006-07: 22.9/6.7/2.5; .461/.390/.841; PER: 20.7

Rashard's PER has risen steadily since 2002-03:
2002-03: 16.7
2003-04: 17.5
2004-05: 19.4
2005-06: 20.0
2006-07: 20.7 (30th in the NBA)

[About PER: John Hollinger's rating of a player's overall per-minute productivity]

I see him still being on the uptick at age 28, probably around a 21.0 PER. Of course, the main weakness of PER is that it doesn't measure defense beyond blocks and steals, and Rashard is a weak defender. That said, although Durant can block shots, I don't see him being ready to be a good NBA defender overall at a 6-10/220 and 19 years of age.

So, can Durant be a 21.0 PER player in '07-08? Well, let's take a look at some other All-Star caliber players - in all cases, I'll look at their seasons one year removed from high school (remember that PER is a per-minute rating):

LeBron (2004-05): 27.2/7.4/7.2; .472/.351/.750; 42.4 mpg; PER 25.7
C Paul (2005-06): 16.1/5.1/7.8; .430/.282/.847; 36.0 mpg; PER 22.1
T-Mac (1998-99): 9.3/5.7/2.3; .436/.229/.736; 22.6 mpg; PER 20.6
Amare (2003-04): 20.6/9.0/1.4; .475/.200/.713; 36.8 mpg; PER 19.8
Howard (2005-06): 15.8/12.5/1.5; .531/.000/.595; 36.8 mpg; PER 19.3
Kobe (1997-98): 15.4/3.1/2.5; .428/.341/.794; 26.0 mpg; PER 18.5
KG (1996-97): 17.0/8.0/3.1; .499/.286/.754; 38.9 mpg; PER 18.2
Melo (2003-04): 21.0/6.1/2.8; .426/.322/.777; 36.5 mpg; PER 17.6
Dirk* (1999-00): 17.5/6.5/2.5; .461/.379/.830; 35.8 mpg; PER 17.5
Bosh (2003-04): 11.5/7.4/1.0; .459/.357/.701; 33.5 mpg; PER 15.1
*using Dirk's second season, when he was vastly improved at age 21.

Trying to slot Durant into the list above, I'd say the following:
1) I do not think he is a LeBron-quality player;
2) Guys who came out of high school and were in their second season generally ranked higher than guys in their rookie year after one year in college (with the notable exception of Chris Paul);
3) Guys who came into the league with exceptional physical strength seem to fare better, quicker - and Durant is rail-thin.

I know that Durant was a dominant player in college, but so was Melo. And even though the college season was warm and fuzzy with Oden and Durant in school, the NCAA talent ranks are still vastly depleted compared to 10-20 years ago due to players leaving early for the league. You might say that players learn more on the floor in college than they would in more limited minutes in the pros, but I don't believe Durant learned a whole lot about the game from Rick Barnes, after watching the clueless offense that Texas ran.

I'm going to slot Durant in at about a 19.0-20.0 PER player for 2007-08.

Don't get me wrong, I love Durant's potential as a player, and I definitely think he *could* be a 21.0 PER player in his rookie year, possibly a little better. But, even so, the Sonics would be getting a player who is about the same as the player they'd be giving up in Lewis. So I think it might be asking a lot for Durant to be a "savior" as some are expecting.

That said, I do think that the Sonics can be an improved team because of these two factors:
1) They lost a ton of games due to injury to 3 starters (Allen - 27 games; Lewis - 22 games; Swift - 82 games) in 2006-07. Staying healthy could go a long way.
2) What kind of piece do they get in return for Rashard in a sign-and-trade? This could be as important to the Sonics' prospects in '07-08 as the introduction of Durant.
But man, life sure doesn't get any easier in the Western Conference.

I'll continue to support the efforts of Save Our Sonics and Storm, and I sure hope I'm wrong, because I don't want my commute to the closest NBA venue to change from a 10-minute walk to Key Arena into a 3-hour drive to the Rose Garden, but I have trouble being irrationally exuberant in the face of the data.

Thanks to my favorite Bug and Crank, Jeff Schwager, for making me think of this topic. On an unrelated note, Jeff wonders: "Is that the missing circle of Rasheed Wallace's hair on the back of Drew Gooden's head?"

Monday, May 28, 2007

Spurs One Win Away from Finals

West Conf Finals (Game 4): Spurs 91, Jazz 79

- Very physical game, and the difference in this game might have just been the free throw line. Both teams played tough defense and the rebound margin was basically equal. The Jazz actually were better on Def.FG% with 40.6% to 47% for S.A. But the most glaring disparity between the 2 teams had to be free throw attempts--Spurs had 41, Jazz 20. The Spurs ended up with 16 more points from the free throw line. The Jazz also did not help their cause with 17 TOs.

- Spurs overcame their previous 4th quarter issues by outscoring the Jazz 28-17. They had been outscored by an average of 11 in the 4th for the first 3 games, and allowed the Jazz at least 30 pts in the 4th in each game.

- Manu took over down the stretch scoring 16 of his 22 in the 4th. He banged a big 3 with 9:00 left that put the Spurs up by 4, and the Jazz would never get closer. For the rest of the quarter, he was camped out on the foul line by flinging his body wily-nily into any Jazz player close enough--Manu was 12/15 from the free throw line. His Argentine compatriot, Oberto, had another solid performance finishing around the basket (even few little post moves) for 11 pts. Fab was also a major nuisance on the offensive glass tapping out multiple shots for extra possessions, including a big tip-in in the 4th (though it looked illegal)--Fab had 11 boards, 6 off.

- Parker got some his patented deep drives for 17 pts, but had some issues with his jumper which led to a 6/19 night. Duncan had somewhat of a ragged game where he continued to have issues protecting the ball--5 TOs, after 8 in Game 3. He missed a handful of foul shots but did find a way to pitch in 19 & 9. And most importantly, he returned to form on the defensive end with 5 blocks after having his hands tied by foul trouble in Game 3.

- One thing you can count on in the NBA, rarely do you see the Spurs string two poor defensive game in a row. After one of their worst def. efforts in Game 3, the Spurs were suffocating tonite. Their help defense was excellent, and they were digging down on the post & recovering perfectly. They held the Jazz to 17 pts in the 4th quarter, and some of those points came on uncontested shots after the game was decided. Made Boozer take mid-range jumpers, and Duncan got back to being a force on the baseline after having his presence severly limited by fouls in Game 3. The only minor sorepoint was the Spurs let up 18 fast break points, sure Pop let his team know about this.

- Think we used up all the superlatives we could think of for Deron already. Deron continued to be nearly indefensible for the Spurs--27, 10 assts, 3 stls for Deron. And he was doing a ton of damage with his pull-up jumper. Boozer had an alright game with 18 (9/16) & 9 rebs, but he was contained fairly well and was forced to take a lot of jumpers, instead of doing much damage down low.

- The Jazz had trouble again getting much offensive support around Deron & Boozer. After getting nice support from the bench in Game 3, the bench did not offer much more then some rebounds in Game 4. And Okur continued his disappointing post-season run offensively--only 7 pts. Memo is only averaging 7 ppg, 5 rpg on 26% shooting for this series. Not acceptable from a guy who was a borderline all-star (last-minute add to West All-Stars) averaging 17 & 8 rebs in the reg. season.

- Although Okur & Kirilenko brought little to the table offensively, both were key to the strong defensive effort by Utah. Memo once again did a solid job defending Duncan on the ball & managed to cause some of Timmy's 5 TOs. Tonite AK47 showcased some of the roving ability he let loose in every game of the Warriors series-- AK had a solid game with 4 blks & 8 rebs (3 off).

- Can't really blame the Jazz defense in Game 4, did a admirable job containing Duncan & keeping Parker on the perimeter. The Spurs only shot 40.6% overall & were held to 13 pts in the 3rd. What came back to haunt the Jazz in this one was their major flaw--Utah had 27 fouls which led to 41 FT attempts for San Ant. For Game 5, the Jazz have to obviously count down on the fouls, but also need their role players to step up offensively.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cavs Hit Jumpers, Win

East Conf Finals (Game 4): Cavs 88, Pistons 82

- The key to victory was the Cavs just shot the ball well. 49% overall, simple as that. The Cavs, including Bron, hit their open looks from the perimeter, basically what the Pistons are willing to give up. Many people will point to Bron being more aggressive taking the ball to the hole as the key, but all his buckets in the 2nd half came off of jumpers, besides one vicious slam on Sheed's head. Bron's jumpshot was on the mark tonite, and he hit a bunch off-balance & up against the shot clock. And when he was trapped in the 2nd half, his passes either directly led or eventually led to open looks, which his teammates buried tonite (Bron had 32, 9 rebs & 9 assts).

- Coach Brown made some adjustments in Game 3 that we suggested in our Game 2 recap. First off, Brown had 2 shooters in the game with Bron at the same time more often tonight. Mentioned the importance of this before because the Pistons D will not be giving up the lane easily. Another thing we pleaded for since the series preview & Brown finally figured out was Gibson saw major minutes in place of Hughes & was left in the game down the stretch. We thought Brown made a big mistake taking Gibson out of the game in the 4th in Game 2, because he spreads the floor much better than Hughes. Gibson hit a big 3pt off a Bron skip pass in the 4th & finished with 9 pts. Gibson has shown in this series that he's not a defensive liability (has active hands), and Pistons could not take advantage of him in the post. We also wanted to see Bron on the post more, and we saw Brown go this route more often.

- The Cavs got the rest of the support staff to hit their shots as well. Pavlovic was 5/8 for 13 pts, Big Z was 7/14 for 16, & Gooden was 5/11 for 12. And all those guys hit some big open looks in the 2nd half that opened up off all the attention Bron drew. The Cavs shot 6/13 from 3pt.

- Did not think the Pistons' defense was that bad in Game 3. Thought they did a good job denying the lane to Bron & forcing him into jumpshots, many late in the shot clock. It's just today Bron & his teammates found the range on their shots. One issue that is a little alarming is Det. still had problems taking care of the ball--15 TOs, after 18 in Game 2 & 16 in Game 1. What's troubling is the Pistons were the best team at keeping TOs down in the reg. season, and something they've done well the last few years. The biggest culprit for these TOs is Billups, who continues to have problems getting into any rhythm in this series. Chauncey had 5 TOs in Game 3 to go along with 5 in Game 2 & 7 in Game 1. Surprising since Billups is one of the best PGs at keeping TOs to a minimum.

- One positive sign for the Pistons was Tay Prince finally found the range on his shot after struggling mightily in the first 2 games--Tay was 6/13 for 13 pts some off of tip-ins (4 off. boards). Looking ahead to Game 4, the Pistons have to cutdown on their turnovers. The Pistons turning the ball over at an uncharacteristic clip is an underrated factor in why the Cavs have been close in every game. The Cavs have to continue to hit their perimeter looks like this again for the rest of the series, especially Bron because the driving lanes ain't gonna be there with any consistency.

Utah Rolls to Win With Big 2nd Half

West Conf. Finals (Game 3)-- Jazz 109, Spurs 83

- Not sure what you can take away from Game 3 since its seemed like the Spurs were in a collective fog. The Spurs just seemed to fall apart in the 2nd half. They were outscored 66-36 in the 2nd half, and the Spurs continue to have issues with their 4th quarter play--they were outscored 34-16 in Game 3. In 3 games, the Spurs are allowing the Jazz to average 34 pts in the 4th, and are being outscored by an average of 11 in the 4th. Not to mention the Spurs committed 20 TOs,

- The Jazz defense was much improved from their first 2 games, where they let the Spurs get what ever they wanted. The Spurs didn't really get the crisp ball movement today that they got in the first 2 games. They cut down on the points in the paint to 26 after allowing 56 & 46 in the first 2 games. Even though Parker had a pretty soild game, he didn't finish in the painted area with impunity like he did in Game 1 & 2. Even though it would appear that Memo Okur was a non-factor with 0 pts, he did manage to be a presence on the defensive end by containing Duncan pretty well. He had active hands on Tim, and forced a handful of Duncan's TOs.

- I think it's safe to say that Deron Williams can be mentioned on the same level as Chris Paul now. We have thought Deron was pretty close to Paul all season, but there seemed to be some hold-outs who thought Paul was clearly on another level than Deron; hopefully they changed their tune now. Deron was all-around spectacular, but maybe the best part was 4/5 from 3pt, which is known as his weakness. Deron shredded the Spurs' defense for 31 (10/19) & 8 assts, and was a big key for the Jazz racking up 50 pts in the paint. His tag-team pick/roll partner, Booze, provided the Lacey to Deron's Cagney by punishing the Spurs in a variety of ways for 27 & 12 (4 off). Boozer once again showcased his refined offensive game, including his sweet baseline turnaround on a few occasions for a 12/19 shooting night.

- The Jazz bench came up big in Game 3. Giricek led the way with 11 pts mostly via his jumper, and added 6 assist as well. Harpring & Millsap both did some damage down low, and both ended with 8 pts. Jarron Collins even pitcehd in with 7 pts and some solid defense on Duncan.

- The Spurs' defense was pretty piss-poor (by their standards), especially bad in the 2nd half. Probably their worst defensive performance of the post-season, besides Game 2 of the Suns' series. What was similar with that game, was the Spurs were way slow on their help rotations and were not contesting shots with their normal tenacity. Having Duncan in foul trouble surely did not help the defense. After Duncan picked up his 4th foul with 6 mins left in the 3rd, the Spurs defense seem to go downhill until the final buzzer.

- Parker was the only Spur who could find any consistent success offensively vs. Utah. Though the Jazz did a better job of containing Parker, he still managed 25 on 9/18 & 7 assts. Duncan had a very ragged nite and could never get any sort of rhythm in this game partly because of foul trouble, but also solid defense by the Jazz bigs. Duncan was having some major issues handling the ball and ended up with 8 TOs to go with 16 & 8 rebs in 26 mins. Manu brought good activity on both ends, but could never really string much consistently together on offense like he has been doing lately. None of the Spurs' complimentary staff added much to the table on offense.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

NBA Lookalikes

Taking a little break from straightforward playoff analysis for some holiday weekend frivolity. The Rudy T-Bryan Ferry pairing is sort of our seminal lookalike, which got some love from Page 2 in its infancy, when the Murph was the biggest draw not some guy from Beantown named Simmons.

Bryan Ferry, singer (Roxy Music & solo) and Rudy T

Rachel Bilson, Actress (The OC) & G-State's Pat O'Bryant

Charlie Murphy, Actor (Chappelle's Show) & Chauncey

Michael Jace, Actor (The Shield/Boogie Nights) & Orlando's D-Howard

Tim Legler (ESPN NBA Analyst) & Ken Shamrock (Ultimate Fighter/Wrestler)

MC Rob Base ("It Takes 2") & ESPN's Steven A. Smith

Pistons Barely Sneak Away With Game 2 Win

East Conf. Finals (Game 2)-- Pistons 79, Cavs 76

- If you notice the headline it's basically the same as the Game 1 recap, all I did was change "Game 1" to "Game 2" (I'm super clever like that). Anywho, just like the West Finals, Game 2 was eerily similar to Game 1 in the East Finals as well. The score was exactly the same, both teams continued to struggle offensively, and the Pistons pulled the game out in the 2nd half similar to Game 1. Cavs had lead at halftime, but the Det. defense really tightened the screws in the 2nd half, same as Game 1. The Cavs could only muster 13 pts in both the 3rd & 4th after throwing up 34 pts in the 2nd quarter. Another game where two superb defenses dictated the action.

- Thought Bron was fouled on his left arm during his spin move. Usually I'm a proponent of the refs swallowing the whistle late, but I thought the hit on the arm effected his shot. Pavlovic had a pretty soild game hitting some jumpers, driving the ball surprising well and even some steals (3), including a big one which led to a big lay-in late--Sasha was 7/10 from the field for 14 pts. But Sasha will be remembered mostly for the his costly late-game indecisiveness. With about :40 secs left, Bron started to penetrate, and a play similar to the one that freed up Donyell in Game 1 started to materialize. Sasha was left open on the right side behind the 3pt. line, but this time the Pistons rotated out to the shooter a little quicker, and Sasha split-second hesitation to take the shot caused him to travel.

- When they needed Sheed to step up offensively, he responded: He hit a big 3 with 7:00 remaining, then they milked him down the stretch on the block, and after a few miscues, Sheed came thru with an incredibly tough baseline turnaround to give the Pistons the lead for good--Sheed had 16 (7/10), 11 rebs, 2 stls & 2 blks. He also made a big block on the perimeter that he gathered & raced to the other end for a lay-up that came right after his big 3 to put the Pistons up 3.

- Tay Prince had another rough nite where he could not find the range on his shot (0/8, after a 1/11 Game 1), but his defense on Bron was the reason Flip left him on the floor. Jason Maxiell was the Pistons' version of Varejao tonite. Was an instant jolt of energy off the bench with either ferocious dunks or block shots. Pretty much all of Maxiell 15 pts were on dunks or point-blank shots--Jason added 15 (7/9), 6 rebs, & 2 blks. The only thing Jason did not do well was shoot free throws--he was 1/6. Even though he was forcing up some shots, CWebb had a quietly effective game keeping the Cavs of the off. boards, and setting up teammates with his deft passing skills--CWebb had 9, 7 rebs (3 off) & 5 assts.

- Just like the Spurs needed to close the board margin vs. the Jazz after a Game 1 mauling, the Pistons had to find a way to keep the Cavs of the offensive glass as well. The Pistons were only -2 on the boards tonite and this afforded them to get by with 18 TOs and not get hurt.

- The Pistons' defense shifted all their attention toward Bron once again, almost playing a mini-zone when he had the ball. He was a little bit more aggressive today, went quicker on his moves and drew some fouls today (5/7). But it's just not gonna be easy for him vs. Detroit's savvy defense, especially when it's geared toward having multiple guys following him. And I'm sure he will get crap for the next few days about not "taking over", and it will be mostly unwarranted, as it was after Game 1. The Pistons' defense is surrounding him at every turn, (which was to be expected), and he does not have the lanes to operate. Though his teammates shot the ball somewhat better (particularly Gibson), the Cavs really never got into a consistent groove offensively to really make the Pistons' defense change strategy. The Cavs shot 6/19 from 3pt, better than their 1/10 in Game 1, but has to be improved for them to break thru. Bron finished with 19 (7/19), 7 assts, 6 rebs, 3 stls, & 6 TOs.

- Why did Coach Brown bring Hughes back in the 4th? Gibson was playing well, even doing some nice things on defense, and most importantly, he spreads the floor better than Hughes. Gibson was 3/7 from 3pt. for 9 pts, not to mention 4 rebs, 3 assts, 2 blks & a steal. I think you need to put at least 2 shooters around Bron a lot, and even think the lineup of Varejao, Marshall, Gibson, Jones or Sasha, & Bron needs much more time on the floor (Mentioned this in series preview). Coach Brown went with the shooting lineup late 3rd/early 4th, and I thought it really spread the floor well, and Marshall got a 3 to end the 3rd because the Pistons' defense could not cover ground as well. Also, Bron had one of his best open lanes to the rim early in the 4th with this lineup, and he was able to finish on the left side. Why he ever re-inserted Hughes (who had 4 pts on 2/9, by the way) late in the 4th, I'll never know. It allowed Billups to sag more, which didn't helping Bron's game any. Just a bad move.

- Can't complain about the Cavs' defense, thought they performed pretty good today. Thru-out the game they consistently caused chaos with very active hands, getting a bunch of steals & deflections--the Cavs had 11 steals, and forced the Pistons into 18 TOs. Thought their rotations were soild for the 2nd game in a row, although Varejao made their only glaring defensive lapse when he left Sheed to double Billups for too long; Billups was contained on the perimeter, Varejao stayed with him too long, which opened up Sheed for a big 3 with 7 mins remaining. But can't really complain about Varejao because he brought his patented instant energy for 14 pts & 14 rebs, including 7 off. rebs.

- Think Coach Brown should try to post up Bron more. More than likely doubles will come often, so Cleveland should try to send some cutters down the lane or to open spots. It's worth trying a different look, than just giving Bron the ball on the perimeter & letting the entire Piston defense set up for him. Like we stated in our series preview, Brown has to play Gibson more in place of Hughes. Hate to pick on Hughes, but he's just not that good of a spot-up shooter, which is needed next to Bron. Also mentioned above, the smaller, shooter-friendly lineup of Varejao, Marshall, Sasha/Jones, Gibson & Bron has to be explored more. It worked great in Game 6 vs. the Nets, and it worked alright tonite. For the Pistons, they have to get back to their normal ways of taking care of the ball.

Random NBA Lottery Thoughts

-Unsurprisingly, one of the main themes of the reaction to the lottery is how one of the league great fan bases - the Celtics' - was snakebitten again, but it shouldn't overshadow the fact that another great fan base, in Portland, has now been completely revitalized. Not only are they compiling an impressive base of young talent, but with guys like Roy, Aldridge and now Oden/Durant, the specter of the "Jail Blazers" is finally gone, and the unique bond between players and fans that's historically existed in Portland may well get restored.

-I respect the passion and the pain coming out of Boston, but really, the odds that the C's would end up with Duncan or Oden/Durant were relatively small in the first place. I know that failing to win the Duncan lottery was a big blow, but I don't think it's "doomed" the franchise nearly as much as gross front-office mismanagement has.

-Again, I respect the passion and the pain, but this kind of stuff from Bob Ryan is on the far side of insufferable. With the introduction of the C-word, Celtics fans have officially become the new Red Sox fans.

-With the chatter that Portland might not automatically take Oden, you start to realize that how the 1-2 picks end up going could really have major repercussions on how the entire offseason transpires. Take a look:

If Portland takes Oden...
For the Blazers, you'd have to think that Zach Randolph is a goner, and that they'll be prime players in the hunt for Rashard Lewis.

Meanwhile, if Seattle gets Durant, you'd have to think Rashard is gone - hopefully, from the Supes' perspective, in a sign-and-trade (for Z-Bo, maybe?).

If Portland takes Durant...
Here's where things get a little more interesting. From the Blazers' perspective, you'd no longer be after Rashard, and would probably keep Zach. This is kind of what it could come down to for Portland: do you want Oden and Rashard, or Durant and Randolph? Personally, I think I prefer the former.

If the Sonics were to get Oden, I think you'd actually want to try to go younger - maybe keep Rashard and look to deal Ray Allen for that reason? Then, you'd also have a nice chip in Robert Swift (I'm high on the young 7-footer). I'd at least try to see if he and Oden could play together, but in this smallball era, you'd probably want to deal Swift, and he'd probably bring back a quality piece or two in return, esp. b/c Seattle could afford to trade big-for-small at that point.

-I have to go on the record and say that I'm not a big believer in Yi Jianlian. While I'm impressed by his skills and athleticism as a seven-footer, I was really underwhelmed by his performance for China in the World Championships last year.

Check out China's team stats from the Worlds. Yi averaged 6.2 points and 5.7 rebounds in 18 mpg - I know that those stats are not necessarily indicative of anything, but it was more than that. Yi just lacked a certain assertiveness. Team China has some of the worst guards in the history of the universe, and desperately needed someone on the perimeter to take charge as a complement to Yao, but Yi just kind of passively drifted through the tournament, occasionally making a play but never really becoming a factor at all. The real age matters so much in evaluating this kid: if he's 19, I like him as a prospect; if he's actually 22, not so much at all.

-I have to say that I really found Jerry West's comments about the lottery being "grossly unfair" to be fairly rich. As much as I respect The Logo as a talent evaluator, the bottom line is that the single biggest thing he did to build the recent Lakers three-peat was to pick up the phone in 1996 when Shaquille O'Neal's agent called to say that Shaq wanted to come to L.A (and ultimately accepted less money than Orlando offered). Was that particularly "fair" to the Magic, or the 27 other teams in the league, for that matter? I'm just saying. Merely being in L.A. put Jerry on the right side of fortune much more often than not.

-The worst thing about the lottery results to a non-partisan is that the Western Conference continues to get stronger and stronger. Even thought the East has won 2 of the last 3 titles, for most of the past decade, in my opinion, the most anticipated playoff matchup of the year has been in the Western Conference playoffs rather than the NBA Finals:

My Highly Subjective List of Most Anticipated/Best Marquee Playoff Matchups in Recent Years
2007: San Antonio-Phoenix, West Semis
2006: San Antonio-Dallas, West Semis
2005: Hard to say: SA-Det (Finals), Det-Mia (East Finals), SA-Pho (West Finals) were all close, with none being huge standouts
2004: L.A. Lakers-San Antonio, West Semis
2003: Prob L.A. Lakers-San Antonio, West Semis
2002: L.A. Lakers-Sacramento, West Finals
2001: L.A. Lakers-San Antonio, West Finals (though Finals matchup was somewhat compelling with Iverson in there, even though Philly was overmatched)
2000: L.A. Lakers-Portland, West Finals
1999: Hard to say, but prob "None" is the best answer in this lockout year....
1998: Chicago-Utah, NBA Finals

-For those of you who like to peddle in NBA conspiracy theories, please remember this last week. The league not only made a wildly unpopular decision which helped lead to a Spurs-Jazz TV ratings disaster, instead of rigging things for a Suns-Warriors series, but they also missed out on a golden opportunity to revitalize the Boston Celtics. Freeze-dried ping-pong balls apparently don't work. The NBA is not rigged.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The LeBron Decision

I can barely believe that we even need to discuss the situation about whether LeBron should have taken the last shot in Game 1. His job is not to take the shot or make the pass; his job is to make the play. And that's exactly what he did - sucked in the defense and got a fantastic look for a v. good shooter, instead of taking a tough shot in traffic. Sometimes guys miss shots.

I mean, the supporting examples are so obvious and blatant, and I know I'm not the first one to bring these up:
-1991, Game 5: Jordan trusts in Pax, continually drawing doubles and feeding him for J's that allow Chicago to break away from L.A. and clinch their first title
-1993, Game 6: Jordan draws the D and gives up the ball, which eventually lands in the hands of Pax - again, setting up a great look for a great catch-and-shoot shooter
-1997, Game 6, Jordan draws the double and finds Kerr for the wide-open championship-clincher.

It's completely ridiculous to me that this is even an issue. Honestly. If you want to criticize him for not getting to the line, that's very fair, but this is ridiculous.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Spurs Repeat Game 1 Performance

West Conf. Finals (Game 2)-- Spurs (3) vs. Jazz (4):
Spurs 105, Jazz 95

- Game 2 was pretty much a mirror image of Game 1. The Spurs' offensive execution was nearly flawless again in the 1st half, they opened the game up in the 2nd quarter just like Game 1, and the Jazz made a mini-rally in the late 3rd/early 4th to pull within 7-8 pts, but the Spurs kept them at bay until the final buzzer. The Spurs outscored the Jazz 32-17 today (in Game 1 it was 31-16) and Spurs let the Jazz score 31 pts in the 4th, while they allowed them 38 in the 4th in Game 1.

- Once again, the Spurs' offense basically got anything they wanted for most of the game. They picked the Jazz apart with great overall passing and dribble drives by Manu & Parker. Parker was masterful tonite, his dribble penetration directly led to points for himself or teammates & he hit some jumpers to boot. Parker did major damage coming off the pick/roll either hitting his patented tear-drop floaters or pitching out to the Spurs' 3pt shooters. The Spurs were ripping from the 3pt line (13/26) all game, and most of these shots were opened up from Parker's lane penetration. Tony had 14 assists (way above his average) & 17 pts on 7/12, but did have 7 TOs.

-Manu was instant impact off the bench once again, and his hectic energy caused issues for his opponent (17 pts), and sometimes for his own team (5 TOs). Oberto replicated his Game 1 production of 14 & 7 again tonite usually from his unparalled off-the-ball movement for lay-ups.

- Mentioned the Spurs' stellar outside shooting tonite, which was set up by Parker, but the sweet part was that 4 Spurs each hit 3 3pts: Finley (3/6), Barry (3/4), Bowen (3/4), & Manu (3/7). Bowen hit some big 3s in the 4th to stem Utah's rally attempt.

- A thing that Pop is doing lately, which I like, is moving Duncan off the block more. The last few playoff games, Pop has moved Duncan around the floor on offense more, and particularly in this series, it has opened up the lane & created some nice passing lanes. I think it's really helped Oberto get involved & it seems to have given Manu wider driving lanes. Duncan has taken advantage of the different positioning by threading a few sweet passes in the lane himself. Tim led the Spurs with 26, 14 rebs, 4 assts, & continued to be a major impediment in the lane defensively with 5 blks & countless changed shots.

- In Game 1, the Spurs could never really pull away from the Jazz because they could not take care of their defeensive boards. Tonite they took care of their boards, it was their turnovers that allowed the Jazz stick around in Game 2. As good as they were executing in the half-court, they could never really blow the doors off the Jazz because of 14 TOs in the 2nd half, 24 total. After gettinng pounded by 15 on the glass in Game 1, it seems Pop got the message across--the Spurs were +9 on the boards.

- The Jazz did a better job of getting looks in the painted area today. Boozer mixed up his looks often--baseline turnarounds, elbow jumpers, some nice drives--and it helped his shot was on: Booze had 33 (14/23) & 15 (4 off.), a decent amount vs. Duncan. Deron came on strong in the 2nd half once again to score 19 of 26 in the half. Deron did it with runners, lay-ins, and few pull-jumpers.

- Repeating my Game 1 recap, the Jazz have to tigthen the holes in their defense. They had some success in the 2nd half by showing hard on pick/rolls & trying to push Parker up, so maybe will see more of this strategy. I totally agree with Van Gundy's assessment that you have to lay off of Parker, go underneath screens, encourage him to shoot. Yes, he has an improved jumper, but by no means is he a deadly shooter. To me, you just have to keep him out of the lane at all costs because he's so dangerous in the paint creating shots for himself or pitching out to others. Utah also has to light a fire under Okur some way to get him going. Spurs have to be slightly concerned that they are having some trouble finishing off games, and letting the Jazz make runs in the 4th.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Pistons Barely Sneak Away With Game 1 Win

East Conf. Finals (Game 1)-- Pistons (1) vs. Cavs (2):
Pistons 79, Cavs 76

- Pistons really escaped with a win in a game where they really could not string much consistently together on the offensive end. And the Cavs have to be kicking themselves that they let a great opportunity at a road win slip away. A game where both defenses dictated the action, and this type of grind-out affair is what you should expect for the rest of the series. Some people have mentioned that the first team to 90 pts win, maybe we should change it to first team to 82 pts.

-I'm sure there will be some idle chatter that Bron should have taken the last shot & he should have looked more for his shot in Game 1. But that palaver (just had to use it, thanks Mr. Stern) is just from watching the game on a casual level. There is a pretty good explanation for Bron's game if you care to look deep enough, and it has to do with the Piston defensive gameplan. Could have Bron been a little bit more aggressive looking for his shot? Sure, a little bit, but can't really fault him much considering the Pistons had multiple guys waiting for him anytime he initiated a move toward the rim. Bron usually made the right decision and found his open teammates; he had 9 assists, could've had 5-6 more if the rest of the Cavs weren't off the mark so much. And on the last play I felt he made the right play, Sheed was rotating over to possibly snuff his shot, and it left a wide-open 3pt. for a 3pt. specialist in Donyell. Can't ask for a better look.

- Rip was the only reason the Pistons were close in the 1st half with his deft mid-range shooting. He was the only Piston who had any type of consistency in the 1st half--Rip was 7/11, while the rest of Det. was 8/27 in the 1st half. And when the Cavs started to send extra guys at Rip coming off his curls, he found open teammates (7 assts), did it with Sheed a few times (Rip finished with 24 & 7). Sheed hit few big jumpers of his own down the stretch to round out another superb all-around game for him--15 (7/13), 12 rebs, & 7 blks.

- Chauncey had somewhat of a rough night. The Cavs were hedging hard on screen & rolls with Billups which seemed to keep him off-balance all game, & was a factor in him uncharacteristicly throwing the ball away too much--7 TOs for a guy who takes care of the ball all well as any PG. But still kept his Big Shot rep intact by hitting 2 big 3pts. in the 4th.

- The Pistons didn't play as much straight zone as I thought they would, but really did not need it since they were still able to bottle up Bron's driving lanes. The other Cavs were given ample open looks but could not find the mark--Det. held the Cavs to 37% overall. Sheed continued to be a major deterrent in the lane, and only Tim Duncan has probably been a better defender than Sheed this post-season.

- We knew the Cavs could do damage on the offensive glass, and their off.rebound assault allowed them to stick in the game while missing a ton of shots. Cavs grabbed 18 off. rebs for a 38% Off. Reb. Pct., which is real good. Big Z was the biggest culprit of this damage with 7 off. rebs, including a sequence where I believe he got 3 in a row; Varejao had 5 himself.

- Varejao was instant energy the moment he stepped off the bench & he continued to be a nuisance the whole game. He even threw a few nice little hooks on offense to pair with his 8 rebs for 13 pts. BIg Z was the main offensive weapon for the Cavs in Game 1. He did a little of everything: hits some big face-up jumpers, had a couple post-ups, and had a handful tip-ins. We mentioned the terror he was on the off. glass above, but he was just as big hitting some big perimeter jumpers in the 2nd half usually off of doubles on Bron (Though Big Z could not connect on a 15-footer that would have tied the game with :20 secs left).

- Thought the Cavs' defense was pretty good in Game 1, and their rotations were very good for the most part. They frustrated Billups with their pick/roll coverage, never letting him get into a comfortable groove all game. Though they overhelped on some plays in the 4th, and one time it eventually led to Billups being wide open on the right side for a 3pt.

- Pistons have to try to find a way to keep Big Z & the rest of the Cavs off the offensive glass. Obviously for the Cavs, Bron's support staff has to start knocking down their open looks with more consistently. This starts to happen, then possibly Bron can look for his shot more often. Cavs shot 1/10 from 3pt. and when you do this, you just encourage Det. to clog driving lanes. The Cavs have to start hittng from outside soon to have a shot at this series.

East Conf. Finals Preview (Pistons-Cavs)

- Rematch of the surprisingly competitive East Conf. Semifinals of last year. Some folks might see a repeat of last year's series where the Cavs extended the Pistons to the limit, but I'm not really seeing it. Last year the Pistons seemed disinterested with the Cavs and after they won the first 2 games, it seemed like the Pistons went on cruise-control mode for the rest of the series, and it nearly cost them. This year they seem to be much more focused, and they have played as well as they ever have on both ends of the floor lately.

- The Pistons' defense has played extremely well all year, and are probably playing better than they were at the same time last year, even without Big Ben. And they've been playing a lot of zone lately, and probably play the best zone in the NBA. And this should be a key factor in this series, since the Cavs have some major problems vs. zones/packed-in man (See Nets series).

- For any team playing the Cavs, the M.O. is to pack the defense around the lane to cut off Bron's driving lanes. Combine this formula with just doubling/trapping Bron to get the ball out of his hands. Both strategies put the onus on the other Cavs to hit their shots. And this is something that is a big question mark for Cleveland.

- The Cavs have not been shooting the ball well lately--43% overall (32.3% from 3pt) for their 10 playoffs games, 41% (33%) vs. the Nets. Right now their main outside shooting threat, Sasha Pavlovic, is shooting only 30% from 3pt. (38% overall) for the playoffs. Even though his 3pt. numbers aren't bad, Larry Hughes has been really been bricking his jumper lately & shooting 36.5% overall for the playoffs, 32% vs. the Nets.

- The Cavs have to consider giving some of Hughes' minutes to Dan Gibson because he's a better pure shooter. Coach Brown has to consider playing Marshall because this can open up more space for Bron as well. Brown has to try a lineup like Gibson, Sasha, Donyell, Bron, & either Varejao/Gooden/Z at the 5. A lineup like this got them out of trouble in Game 6 in the 2nd half while the Nets were packed-in, much like the Pistons plan to be. The only issue for Brown going with his better shooting lineup is it could cause problems on the defensive end.

- The Cavs are the stronger rebounding team, but Detroit should be able to keep the margin reasonable. The Cavs started off the Nets' series crushing NJ on the boards, but the last few games the Nets basically neutralized Cleveland's board superiority.

- It's imperative that the Cavs supporting cast hit their open jumpers to keep this series close, plain & simple. Just think the Pistons are locked in right now, look more focused than last year & I think they are actually playing better defense than they were last year at this time. The only reason the Bulls stuck it out in the Conf. Semis is they got hot from outside, especially Game 5. The Cavs don't have the natural shooters like the Bulls do. Can't really seeing the Cavs consistently shooting & executing on offense to put enough pressure on the Pistons. The Cavs are a great offensive rebounding club, and might need to thrive on the off. glass to make up for their probable ragged offense. The Pistons are just a more balanced team than the Cavs. Both teams are a wash on the defensive end, but the Pistons are clearly more effective on the offensive end.

*--M.H.'s pick: Pistons in 6

S.A.-Utah: The Ultimate Anti-Conspiracy Series;
What *Should* The Fighting Rule Be?

With all of the crap that the NBA takes in terms of every bad call becoming grist for the mill for a new conspiracy theory, it's worth noting that this year's Western Conference Finals proves they either really screwed things up (I wouldn't put it past Stu Jackson to screw up even the conspiracies) or the whole concept is perhaps, you know, a load of b.s.

To wit, you do realize that we could have Phoenix and Golden State playing first-one-to-150-wins games of unbelievably relentless up-and-down basketball right now, in games that would have drawn in tons on casual fans and sent ratings through the roof, right? It would have been a nearly perfect series at a time when the NBA is desperate to curb a seemingly endless ratings slide.

Instead, we have Utah vs. San Antonio, which will send the ratings down the toilet. Now, the Jazz did prove to be more fun to watch vs. G.S. than expected, especially when Kirilenko was flying around all over the place, but c'mon, they don't have any marquee stars and they are about 1/100th as appealing the wild Warriors.

As far as Spurs or Suns, there seems to be some sentiment that the Amare/Diaw suspensions were actually *proof* of the latest conspiracy, that David Stern and the league office actually *favors* San Antonio. To that idea, I merely point to this piece from Sports Media Watch, entitled "Anyone who thinks the NBA is rigged for the Spurs to advance is an idiot", which addresses that particular issue more directly and succinctly than I could ever hope to. Here's the first point:
    The San Antonio Spurs have played in three NBA Finals. Each year, the series the team played in saw monumental ratings declines from the previous year.

    The 1999 NBA Finals, featuring San Antonio versus the New York Knicks, was down 40% from the previous year. The 2003 NBA Finals, featuring San Antonio versus the New Jersey Nets, was down 36% from the previous year. And the 2005 NBA Finals, featuring San Antonio versus the Detroit Pistons, was down 29% from the previous year.

San Antonio vs. Utah instead of Phoenix vs. Golden State is about the clearest proof we've had that there are no conspiracies inside the NBA since Utah got all the calls in beating the Lakers in the playoffs in back-to-back years in '97 and '98. Even someone as blind as Bennett Salvatore ( i.e., an incompetent ref, but not a crooked one) can see that.

Slightly related to the conspiracy talk is the continued talk that the Spurs series win over the Suns is tainted by the Game 5 suspensions. Like most basketball fans, I was very disappointed that Amare and Boris were not able to play. But while I have some sympathy for Diaw's situation, I have none for Amare's. It was a clear violation of both the letter and the spirit of the rule - he ran far from the bench area, toward the altercation, and did not restrain himself, it was the coaches who had to do so. He *could* have escalated the situation, even though he did not. In my opinion, he has no one to blame but himself.

Last week, Henry Abbott asked this question on True Hoop about the rules which led to the suspensions: "It's the nuclear deterrent approach to peacemaking. Is there a better way?"

Amidst all the hysterics from people complaining about the injustice of it all and how terrible the rule is, I have yet to hear a suggestion for a change in the rule which makes sense, if the goal is to minimize fighting.

I thought this roundtable of answers on to the question "Should the rule about leaving the bench be changed or eliminated?" touched upon the multiple relevant sides of the issue.

My comments are below, as signified by "TPA >>>"

Henry Abbott: This rule has been a big part of the reason that the public doesn't think the NBA is a brawler's league anymore. If the public can stomach more fights -- like there used to be -- then sure, ditch the rule. But if everyone's going to stop buying tickets and moan about "thugs" whenever punches are thrown, they'll have to have this rule or something like it, because once everyone leaves the bench, things can get really ugly really fast.

TPA >>> This is an important point because it's the backbone of the rule. While the NBA has real motivations to minimize fighting for reasons of player safety (and fan safety, too, in this era of courtside seating), image-related reasons are obviously a major motivation behind these rules.

And I can't really blame them, after seeing the overheated reaction to the glorified slapfight between the Knicks and the Nuggets this season, treated like the scary sequel to Auburn Hills even though it was no more threatening than the average baseball beanbrawl which draws yuks and guffaws from observers. The public has clearly shown to have much less tolerance for NBA fights than for baseball or hockey fights.

The goal from the NBA's perspective has to be the absolute minimization of bench-clearing brawls.

Jon Barry: It definitely should be changed, because the way it is now, oftentimes the crime doesn't fit the punishment. Just stepping off the bench should not warrant a suspension, especially in this setting of the playoffs. It is clear the rule should be changed to a suspension if you enter the fray. If you stay away from the altercation you should not be suspended.

TPA >>> This opinion has been voiced a lot - Amare shouldn't have been suspended because he didn't actually fight. This misses the point to me: Amare *could* have escalated the situation by the way he approached the altercation. That is what the rule is intended to stop: any chance the situation could get out of hand.

If what Amare did is deemed legal, then the next time, 3 guys will approach the altercation, and the next time, 5 guys will approach it, and eventually, you will have more fights. If the rule is that there is no penalty as long as you don't fight, well, that just leads to more fights. If the redline is the outskirts of the altercation, rather than the bench vicinity, then that will eventually lead to more fights actually occurring.

John Hollinger: As with most things like this, it's the law of unintended consequences. The rule was put in as a response to a few incidents, most notably a Knicks player charging the court in a suit in Phoenix, but it doesn't cover every contingency and there's no nuance to it. Here's one idea: Make the suspension be for only a quarter or a half if the player didn't have any meaningful participation in the fracas.

TPA >>> Suspending a player for a regular season game instead of a playoff game if they don't actually fight is another variation of the rule that I've heard. I have the same problem with these variations as I had with the Barry suggestion above: if the rule is not strong enough, I don't believe it will actually deter guys from leaving the bench.

Tim Legler: The wording needs to be changed. There has to be room for a split-second reaction from the players on the bench. As long as a player or coach recognizes his transgression and quickly gets off the court before engaging in any physical contact with an opposing player, a suspension should not be warranted. The NBA office has a lot of smart guys. They should use some of their best judgment to avoid the most highly anticipated series of the year being impacted by great players not participating.

TPA >>> On balance, I agree with this suggestion, and it's the reason that I felt sympathy for Diaw's situation: he reacted emotionally, but then realized what he was doing, gathered himself, and stopped. In a perfect world, I think the rule should be altered to allow for an emotional reaction without a suspension, as long as the player gathers himself after he has time to think. And again, Amare did *not* do this. Even after a split-second reaction, he did not stop approaching the altercation until he was restrained. Even with a rule change such as this, a suspension would still have been warranted for him.

While I do agree with this kind of rule change, it becomes very difficult to adjudicate, because then you are trying to judge the intent of the player - did they leave the bench to potentially be a peacemaker or to join the fight? did they leave to check on their teammate or to get involved in the altercation? It really can become very subjective to judge intent (as D. Stern noted several times in his wonderfully contentious interview with Dan Patrick), which is why you get back to the red-line rule as it is written: don't ever leave the bench.

Still I personally believe that - considering intent is often judged in terms of calling technicals and the like - a rule interpretation which allows for an emotional reaction as long as the player catches himself is one which could be judged fairly. But, one more time: Amare did not do this. He deserved to be suspended, and would deserve to be suspended under any version of a rule which intends to keep fighting to an absolute minimum. I'm sorry that a great series was marred, but there is no need for an asterisk to be attached to the Spurs win, in my mind.

Note: I'm not comparing this to the Baron Davis-Derek Fisher situation, or whether Duncan should have been suspended, or the various Bowen incidents throughout the series. I fully realize that there have been major problems of inconsistency in terms of meting out discipline in the Stu Jackson era, but that's a separate topic, and it also shouldn't be surprising, considering that Stu was the worst GM of all time.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Flawless 1st Half Carries Spurs to Win

West Conf. Finals (Game 1)-- Spurs (3) vs. Jazz (4):
Spurs 108, Jazz 100

- Thought maybe that the Jazz could jump on the Spurs early and take advantage of the quick turnaround from Friday, but it was just the opposite. Spurs came out with a spring in their step and followed thru with a dominating 1st half--they shot 66% in the half, while holding the Jazz to 29%. Spurs' offensive execution was crisp for most of the game with great ball movement-- some sweet back-door cuts. The Jazz defense let the Spurs execute too easily for most of the game (54.3% for the Spurs) & let them produce in the lane way too much (54 paint points for SA). The Spurs pretty much got what they wanted all game while Utah had too many defensive breakdowns to count.

- I think Manu has officially re-found his offensive groove. Came out of the gate on fire with jumpers, one-handed floaters, & straight finishes in the lane--Manu had another superb all-around game with 23 (9/14), 10 assists & 4 rebs. Also, his vastly underrated passing skills were on display for the entire game (always felt Manu's passing goes underappreciated, might be the best pure passing SG in the NBA). He often hooked up with his Argentine partner, Oberto, who displayed his wonderful knack for getting lost in the open space (very few bigs do it better than Fab). Said the Spurs needed better production from their center spot in this series, and Oberto was huge overall--14 pts (6/8), 7 rbs & pretty solid job checking Boozer.

- Parker came out very aggressive looking to attack the rim and he found his way to the foul line often, though he was only 5/10 from the stripe. Duncan did basically anything he wanted, and it's clear the Jazz don't have a good matchup for him & will need to shuttle extra defenders his way more often. Timmy mixed his patented banker usually coming off of spins baseline with plenty of lay-ins off of feeds--Tim had 27 (9/15), 10 rebs, 5 assts & 2 blks. Liked how Pop moved Duncan away from the block a lot, and it opened up paint for some nice cutting & passing lanes; Oberto definitely took advantage of this.

- The Spurs' defense was its usual clinical self in Game 1, barring a few rough patches in the 4th. When you force 50 missed shots, you're usually in good shape--the Jazz shot 42% overall. Spurs played more zone than I can ever remember & the zone was highly succesful taking the Jazz out of their comfort zone in the 1st half, especially in the 2nd quarter. The Jazz were having a tough time getting looks in the painted area, and were not helping themselves by clanking their outside shots (16 pts in the 2nd quarter). Not really sure why Pop did not switch back to the zone in the 4th when Deron & Co. were starting to find success with pick/rolls. Also, Deron was doing his damage on Parker while Bowen played him very effectively in the 1st half, so I'm curious why Bowen was not switched back onto Deron.

- Mentioned in the series preview the Jazz had the advantage on the boards, but didn't think the Spurs would let it get this out of hand--Jazz were +15 on the boards. Give credit to the Spurs for causing a lot of misses, but they still did a terrible job protecting their def. boards-- Spurs had a 54% Def. Reb Pct., about 20% points lower than it should. Boozer led the way with 6 off. boards, 12 total. Rookie Paul Millsap continued to be a force on the offensive glass (4) in limited minutes.

-Basically the only reason for the Jazz sticking around until their offense found some rhythm in the 4th, was because of off. boards & the Spurs' poor foul shooting--the Spurs shot 27/40 (68%) from the stripe. The good news for Utah is that they could possibly take advantage of these factors thru-out the series. Utah is a great off. reb team & putting their opponent on the free throw line is a main component of their def. philosophy.

- Deron Williams was a one-man gang keeping the Jazz alive offensively in the 2nd half. He really took off in the 4th where the Spurs were having a hard time containing the side pick & rolls--Deron had 18 & 5 assts in the quarter. The 2nd-year player is already a master at using screens and was hitting some of his patented step-back Js while also mixing in some close-in finishes. Deron probably had the best game of his short career with 34, 9 assts, 7 rbs & only 1 TO.

-Boozer was having a rough go of it for most of the game saddled with some foul trouble & finding it hard to carve out space vs. the packed-in Spurs' defense. But in the 2nd half, he started to rely on his mid-range jumper more & it open up the game for the Jazz (Booze scored 16 of his 20 in the 2nd half). But Utah got very little input from the rest of their starting lineup. Specifically Memo had a rough day not being able to connect on a bunch of open looks--Okur was 3/15 for 10 pts. Thought we'd see Araujo in limited minutes in this series, and he actually was pretty useful today. Did a solid job vs. Duncan, way better than Collins did, and picked up a few boards in roughly 10 minutes. Think we'll see a little more of the Brazilian Bruiser.

- Will see if the Jazz decide to send hard doubles onto Duncan in Game 2; rarely did it today. Also, they have to put the clamps down on all the wide open driving lanes that Manu & Parker had a field day with. Liked to see Sloan try to post Harpring a little more because none of the Spurs wing defenders can handle him working on the baseline. The one area that the Spurs have to concern themselves with is their def. boards. As well as the Spurs played, I'm sure Pop let his squad know that they need to do a better job on the boards.

West Conf. Finals Preview (Spurs-Jazz)

Posting this for Jay Aych, who is having major Blogger problems:

Spurs (3) vs. Jazz (4):

-- Might not be the most palatable series from the casual fan standpoint or from David Stern & Co.'s perspective: two small market clubs who play more of a traditional brand of bball & very little in the way of marketable starpower. But from a NBA junkie's point-o-view this series has plenty of sizzle: Should be great battles at the PG & PF positions. Two PFs with some of the best footwork & touch in the post that we have in this league. Two young PGs who like to get into the lane. Both teams have an all-purpose defender at the SF who is capable of a major impact on the game just with their defense. Two of the better halfcourt offenses in the league facing off. And you have two of the best tacticians in the NBA on the bench.

-- Utah is the stronger reb. team, but don't have a huge advantage over the Spurs, nowhere near the advantage they had over the Warriors.

-- Spurs need to get better production from their center position. Oberto has been alright, but Elson has been a non-entity for the playoffs. Maybe most importantly, the Spurs need some decent combined rebound production from Elson/Oberto/Horry. Their low reb. production allowed the Suns to hang on the boards.

-- Curious about the matchups, could see a lot of cross-matching in the series. Anticipate seeing Pop throwing Bowen on Deron for significant minutes. Parker can matchup well with Fisher. Maybe even see Duncan on AK47. Tim could sag off in the lane vs. AK47 & be able to help at the rim easier than if he was assigned to Okur. You can put Bowen on Okur as well since Memo rarely uses his height advantage to post smaller defenders. Interested to see if any these scenarios play out.

-- From Utah's point-o-view: Utah's best def. alignment might be Fisher on Parker, AK on Manu & Deron on Bowen on the perimeter. Utah's propensity for physical defense could come in handy vs. the Spurs. Expect the Jazz bigs to use their fouls on Duncan, make him earn it at the line. Jarron Collins will probably see more minutes, maybe even minor minutes for Araujo to use fouls. And how much will Sloan double Duncan? Not really sure.

-- Though Pop doesn't like to go to a zone much, vs. the Jazz it's always wise to throw some zone looks their way. Zones can mess with a flex offense, and even though they shot the 3pt. well vs G.S., the Jazz were not very good for the first 82 games.

-- The Spurs have the edge on defense. And should be able to contain what the Jazz like to run on offense better than the Jazz can contain what the Spurs like to do. What's underrated about the Spurs' defense is they are capable of playing shutdown D without fouling much, they averaged the lowest fouls per game. While the Jazz are at the other end of the spectrum, they foul more than any team in the league. If the refs allow for a more physical West finals then that could work in Utah's favor.

Spurs in 6

M. Haubs' pick: Spurs in 6

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pistons Earn 5th Straight Trip to East Finals

Pistons (1) vs. Bulls (5): Pistons 95, Bulls 85 (Game 6)

- The Pistons' defense did not seem to be messing around today. The Pistons' D was a nuisance in the 2nd half holding the Bulls to 37 pts on 33% shooting. The gameplan was to contain Hinrich on his ball screens and not let him easily turn the corner & do his Nash-like dribble-probe action. In the 2nd half, they contested many shots, and any action that came near the paint was thwarted by Sheed & Co. It also helped that the Bulls just missed their open looks at a high clip, that can always make a defense look better.

- Prince became the go-to-guy in the 2nd half using his deadly little hook from the right block to do damage. Tay added some pull-up jumpers & some strong finishes to close with 17 & 9 rebs. Rip pumped in 23 pts mostly off of mid-range jumpers, usually coming off curls into the lane. McDyess was once again highly productive off the bench, especially pounding the boards--10 rebs in 25 mins. Dice averaged nearly 8 rpg in 24 mins for the series. Sheed was the fulcrum of the Piston defense that held the Bulls to 37% overall, was a major deterrent in the painted area, and did a good job helping on screens for Hinrich. Sheed was an all-around stud with 16, 13 rebs, 4 assts, & 2 blks.

- Hopefully the Pistons' defense gets the praise now that they have deserved all year long. I felt that some folks just assumed that Detroit was not as good defensively this year without Big Ben, when actually they were very good in the reg. season and even better than last year. Pistons' D was excellent for most of the series, held the Bulls to 40.8% overall, and did not let the Bulls shoot above 37% in any of the Bulls' losses. The Bulls' defense was not too bad itself--the Pistons only shot 42.8% for the series.

- Pistons won the rebound battle in Game 5 by 13. Have to hand it to the Pistons for outrebounding the Bulls, who were 6th best in the reg. season, by almost 3 rpg. Another area where the Pistons won a key battle was defending the 3pt line. In our preview we pointed to the Bulls being only 2nd to the Suns in 3pt% and the Pistons were one of the best teams at defending the 3pt. line. Something had to give in this series, and the Pistons came out on top--the Bulls were held to 32.3% for the series, and if you take out Chicago's 10/16 nite in Game 5, the Bulls only shot 26.3%.

- After the Bulls couldn't miss anything in Game 5, the iron was not as kind in Game 5. They had plenty of similar open looks, but they just couldn't find the mark. Hinrich was having a mighty tough time with his shot (3/13), and Ben Gordon connected on some of his 3pts. (4/9), but overall was only 7/18. Kirk & Ben had somewhat of a rough shooting series vs. the Pistons--both guys shot 39% from the floor for the series. Kirk was garnering a lot of attention from Detroit defenders all game & this opened up space for his teammates, who Kirk found for 11 assists.

- Luol Deng was really the only Bull who lived up to his reg. season rep in this series. Deng had 17, 5 rebs & 4 assts in Game 5. In maybe his last NBA game, PJ Brown emptied out all his last bullets in Game 5 and had an offensive explosion in the 1st half. PJ was hitting jumpers, lay-ups & some bankers on his way to 20 pts on 7/12 in the 1st half. The Pistons were leaving him open while focusing their attention on Hinrich. But PJ used up all his ammo in the 1st half, because after halftime he scored 0 pts.

- Bulls have to feel pretty good about their current status. They won 49 games, got to the 2nd round where they just lost to a better team, and if they would have beaten the Nets on the last day of the season, they could have avoided Detroit until the Conf. finals. They have a promising young core to build around on the perimeter, and some potential on the bench. Paxson's main priority is to find some sort of offensive post presence. This was the same priority last summer, but Pax threw all his money at a post presence who had no offense. Not saying the Big Ben signing was horrible, but the Bulls already had a superb defense, and a possible younger version of Ben in Chandler. The Bulls could possibly have a very good draft pick to work with (via the Knicks) if the lottery shakes out in their favor. They have to decide on what to do with Nocioni. The Argentine is a free agent who brings a great energentic punch, and is a fan favorite. But then again, you have Deng playing the same position and you have Ty Thomas who will demand more minutes at the forward slots, so Noce could be expendable. Maybe could be used as trade bait to grab that post scorer the Bulls need.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Spurs Steal Game 5 in the 4th

Suns (2) vs. Spurs (3): Spurs 88, Suns 85 (Game 5)

- Must say, this series ain't too shabby. Game 5 played out very similar to Game 4 where one team seemed to have firm control of the game but couldn't close the deal. The one key difference between Game 4 & 5 -- the Spurs got to play the spoiler tonite instead. It looked like the Spurs came out very tentative in the 1st half, and seemed like they almost felt guilty that the Suns were short-handed, and they looked confused at what the Suns were doing--the Spurs only scored 33 pts in the 1st half (a season low). But after halftime, it looked like they shook off the early game rust & reticence. Neither team really shot the ball all that well--both teams shot 40.3% for the game--but the Spurs came alive in the 4th much the same way the Suns did in Game 4. The Spurs scored 32 pts in the quarter (1 point less than they scored in the 1st half), and they shot 57% for the quarter, after shooting 36% thru the previous 3 quarters.

- The Spurs' perimeter players could not find the mark on their shots for most of the game, but they picked the last possible instance to start knocking down shots (Manu & Bowen in particular). The Spurs shot 8/14 from the floor in the 4th, not to mention 5/6 from 3pt in the quarter. The Spurs shot 8/16 from 3pt in the 2nd half after going 0/7 in the 1st.

- Manu gave them a huge boost when they needed it most. Manu, who has been erratic offensively thru-out the playoffs, looked out of sync like every other Spur in the 1st half. Manu scored 22 of his 26 pts in the 2nd half, and was huge in the 4th with 15 pts with 3 3pts. Manu also hit some big free throws down the stretch, including drawing a foul on a 3pt attempt for 3 FTs. But he almost erased his goodwill with a few careless turnovers late. Duncan's bankers were not quite as automatic as they have been, but he was huge at the start of the 3rd and ended with 21, 12 & 5 blks.

- Bowen hit some big corner 3s, including the one that gave the Spurs the lead with :30 left. Bowen hit all of 3 3pts. in the 2nd half to finish with 9, 7 rebs & 4 stls. Mike Finley also made some big jumpers in the 2nd half & finished with 13 pts. Parker could never getting going at all, and seemed to be in a fog for most of the game, but did manage to hit a big jumper to tie the game at 79 with 2:30 to go & it was his drive-n-kick that produced Bowen's big 3pt. Though the Spurs' center spot continued to be a costly void--the Elson/Oberto combo only produced 6 pts & 4rebs.

- The Spurs' defense really turned the screws the last 5 mins, where their coverage on the pick/roll was excellent & Duncan was his usual interior presence as he blocked 2 shots at the rim & changed a few more. Pop decided to go with a downsized lineup in the 2nd half since neither Elson or Oberto were very effective in the 1st half, not to mention Marion was causing matchup nigthmares for them. This move possibly was the reason for Marion cooling down in the 2nd half after 20 pts & 11 rebs on 8/11 in the 1st half (Marion only was 1/5 for 4 pts in the 2nd). The Spurs' transition defense might have had its best showing--13 fast break pts for the Suns, only 4 in the 2nd half--which was huge since it was assumed that the Suns would try to push the tempo with a smaller lineup.

- Some great coaching adjustments from both sides thru-out the game:
- Duncan was having some problems scoring on the block in the 1st half, so Pop started to set Tim up in different spots & Duncan started to use his quickness advantage vs. Thomas. Duncan started to face-up Kurt a little more & drive him, instead of trying to body him into his moves. Good move. Thomas is effective when he can use his body & forearm to defend, when you as an offensive player create a little space between him, now he has to use his feet more.

- Duncan started to go off early in the 3rd to draw the Spurs to within 4--he scored 7 & fed Manu for a lay-in in the 1st 3 minutes. Then D'Antoni called a timeout at the 9 minute mark, and switched to doubling Duncan, which worked wonders for the rest of the quarter as the Spurs could get no rhythm. The adjustment flummoxed the Spurs, and forced more jumpers, but the Spurs were still fairly cold from outside.

- Then Pop made a crucial decision to take out Duncan at the 10:00 mark of the 4th to try jumpstart their periemter players offensively, and it immdeiately paid dividends, the Spurs went on a 5-0 run. When Duncan was on the bench for 3 minutes, the Spurs went on a 11-4 run.

- D'Antoni also moved Marion onto Duncan in the 2nd half which caused some issues for Duncan defensively, because now he was stretched out to the 3pt. line to cover Marion, as opposed to only having to worry about Thomas out to 17 feet. The Suns started to pull up their high screens way high in the 2nd half, probably to drag Duncan farther away, but they did it to other Spurs as well

- Obviously, can't praise the Suns enough for pushing the nearly fully-stocked Spurs to the limit. And for this undersized lineup to hang in a low-scoring, methodical affair can't be underscored enough. The Suns' defense has to be commended for their scrambling scheme & their doubling on Duncan was very effective. They gave Parker a huge cushion all nite and can't remember too many patented Parker finishes, Tony's scoring was kept in check all game.

- Thought it would be imperative the Suns find some way to keep the rebound margin respectable. Not only did they keep it respectable, they won the battle by 3. And it was basically a 2-man affair with Marion getting 17 & Thomas had 12. Kurt had another underrated workmanlike-effort defending & boxing out Duncan as well as you can ask, especially in the 1st half. Kurt also added a nice wrinkle where he mixed up his mid-range jumper with a few drives that either led to a few points or trips to the foul line (Kurt had 15 pts, 5/5 FTs).

- Marion was a one-man wrecking machine in the 1st half hitting floaters, hitting some 3s, finishing, & a ton of boards. He scored nearly half (20) of the Suns' 44 1st half pts. Nash had a rough shooting night, but still managed to make some huge plays down the stretch. Again he made some great decisions off the pick/roll either setting up teammates or changing his angles coming off the screens to keep Duncan off-kilter. Nash had 19 & 12 assists on 6/19. A guy the Suns desperately needed to step up was Barbosa, but Leandro continued his series-long struggle vs. the Spurs. Barbosa committed some bad fouls & turnovers (4), and shot just 3/12 overall--Barbosa is shooting 36% overall for the series, roughly 10 pct. points lower than his season average.

- For Game 6, expect the Suns to double Duncan often. I think it's the right thing to do, force the other guys to prove they can make shots; if they hit those shots, live with it. Maybe occasionally D'Antoni should go ultra-small with Marion at the 5 to match vs. Duncan, then run Nash/Marion pick/rolls. Even run Marion in pick/rolls if Elson or Oberto is lined up with him. Not sure if Pop should go heavy with the undersized lineup in Game 6, because they Spurs got beat on the boards tonite without Amare. I think they need to get some sort of rebound production from their center combo, maybe a combined 10-12. It would make it easier on the Spurs if they could ever get their Big 3 to all play well on the same night.

Random NBA Links & Commentary

The Biedrins-Boozer-Baron Monster

Just some stuff we've liked and some random thoughts:
- SF Gate: Breaking down the many-splendored hairdos from the Warriors-Jazz series; Baron's beard compared to James Garfield, Memo compared to Mr. Big.

- Sports Media Watch: Great site, this particular story is about how TNT's ratings were up through the first round, but ABC/ESPN's were down. Allows me the moment to offer these two thoughts: 1) man, the decibel meter is Oakland was annoying and dopey - classic NBA on ABC/ESPN stuff, and 2) I can't believe they couldn't find anyone other than Jon Barry to call the primetime Spurs-Suns game last Saturday.

- Sports Media Watch: Another story from SMW from yesterday, about how strong the Jazz-Warriors ratings have been. More proof that California is where the heart of NBA support really is.

- Get Garnett: What a fantastic site, devoted to imploring the Lakers to acquire KG. The incomparable Larry Coon of Salary Cap FAQ fame breaks down what potential trades would look like, given salary cap rules.

- You know, I can deal with Reggie Miller on games, but I just can't deal with Reggie *and* Dick Stockton together (aka Team Malaprop). I loved the game last week where Reggie spent all game referring to referee Joe DeRosa as Joe Dellarossa.

- I love TNT's coverage in general, and Marv & Steve are the best team going, but are you really telling me - that with the entire universe of NBA play-by-play men out these - TNT couldn't come up with anything better than Dick Stockton and Matt Devlin as its No. 3 and No. 4 playoff men? Al Albert, as prepared and professional as his brother, and Kevin Calabro of the Sonics, even though he overtalks on TV after too many years of radio simulcasts, would have been two good places to start.

- I really thought that officials Bennett Salvatore and Kenny Mauer were awful in Game 5 of the Warriors-Jazz series, as they usually are, just wildly inconsistent throughout. How many games do these guys have to screw up before they stop getting high-profile playoff assignments???