Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Effective Age Snapshot: Dallas Would Be Second-Oldest NBA Champs Ever

• Also today: Heat-Mavs Preview Thoughts: Dallas Zone, Defending/Deploying Dirk, Synergy Numbers

Hello and happy Finals opening day. We unveiled our pick of Heat in six games in yesterday's edition of 5-on-5 on ESPN.com.

Today, we wanted to follow up on a piece by Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus from last week, which evaluated teams by "effective age". Effective age is simply a measure of a team's average age, but weighted by minutes played, rather than a straight average (which artificially inflates the average number for a team like Miami, for example, if vets like Juwan Howard (37), Erick Dampier (35) and Zydrunas Ilguaskas are given the same weight as the Big 3 (all under 30)).

Pelton's piece specifically examined how the Thunder were the youngest team by effective age to make the conference finals since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, yet history had shown that achieving such a feat at such a young age often did not prove to be a precursor of continued success.

Below, we offer the effective ages of every NBA championship team, plus a few selected teams from 2010-11. Note that our numbers differ slightly from Pelton's, as his were more precise, based on player age to the day. We based our calculations on Basketball-Reference's rounded age number, set to the player's age on February 1 of a given season. Also, minutes-played data is not available prior to the 1951-52 season, so we weighted the first five champions by points rather than minutes.

While not precise to the day, we still thought these effective age numbers were worth sharing. In particular, they illustrate how remarkable the sharp contrast of the Western Conference Finals was, and how remarkable Dallas' run to the Finals has been, as they would become one of the oldest teams to ever win a championship. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, Oklahoma City would have been the youngest team ever to win it all, quite easily, by this measure.

See below the list for some brief notes and analysis:
    1998 CHI 31.7
    2011 DAL 30.9
    1997 CHI 30.7
    1969 BOS 30.5
    2007 SAS 30.4
    2011 LAL 30.2
    1999 SAS 30.1
    1996 CHI 29.9
    1990 DET 29.5
    1972 LAL 29.5
    1968 BOS 29.5
    1986 BOS 29.3
    2006 MIA 29.2
    2001 LAL 29.2
    2000 LAL 29.2
    2011 MIA 29.0
    1976 BOS 29.0
    1988 LAL 28.9
    1966 BOS 28.8
    1973 NYK 28.7
    1989 DET 28.6
    2010 LAL 28.5
    2005 SAS 28.5
    1995 HOU 28.5
    1974 BOS 28.5
    2003 SAS 28.4
    1984 BOS 28.4
    1964 BOS 28.4
    1965 BOS 28.3
    1963 BOS 28.3
    1961 BOS 28.3
    1994 HOU 28.1
    1993 CHI 28.1
    1962 BOS 28.0
    1958 STL 28.0
    1948 BAL 28.0*
    2008 BOS 27.9
    2002 LAL 27.9
    1987 LAL 27.8
    1951 ROC 27.7*
    1992 CHI 27.6
    1960 BOS 27.5
    2009 LAL 27.4
    2004 DET 27.4
    1985 LAL 27.4
    1978 WAS 27.4
    1954 MIN 27.3
    1959 BOS 27.1
    1981 BOS 27.0
    1970 NYK 27.0
    1967 PHI 27.0
    1957 BOS 27.0
    1991 CHI 26.9
    1982 LAL 26.8
    1979 SEA 26.8
    1983 PHI 26.7
    1953 MIN 26.5
    2011 CHI 26.4
    1980 LAL 26.2
    1971 MIL 26.1
    1955 SYR 26.1
    1975 GSW 25.8
    1952 MIN 25.8
    1947 PHW 25.8*
    1956 PHW 25.7
    1949 MIN 25.7*
    1950 MIN 25.1*
    1977 POR 24.5
    2011 OKC 23.7
* Effective age weighted by points rather than minutes

-- On a certain level, it's not altogether surprising that the Mavs would rate as one of the oldest championship teams ever, given that a 38-year-old, Jason Kidd, leads them in minutes (2653 total/33.2 per game).

Here's the complete list of players aged 37+ who've started for championship teams:
• 1988 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 40 yrs, 2 mos (2308 min/28.9 mpg)
• 1987 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 39-2 (2441/31.3)
• 2003 David Robinson: 37-10 (1676/26.2)
• 1985 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 37-2 (2630/33.3)
• 1998 Dennis Rodman: 37-1 (2856/35.7)

All bigs other than Kidd. Kidd will become the oldest guard to start a Finals game, the oldest player other than Kareem, period. And if the Mavs win it all, he'll become the oldest title-winning player to lead his team in minutes. All as a guard, where speed should matter more. Just amazing longevity from the Hall of Famer.

-- Oklahoma City's place on this chart emphasizes how crazy some of the over-the-top criticism of Russell Westbrook has been. The dude is 22, and still learning how to run a team and play point guard. He's going to be fine, and doing something rash like trading him would be a ludicrous idea.

We still have our doubts about Scott Brooks as a championship-caliber coach, and think he desperately needs to add some experienced X-and-O assistants to his bench, but similarly, he's done so much and advanced so far with such a young team that he's earned the right for patience to grow into the job further.

We know Pelton's numbers showed that young teams often don't make it back, but we still think Oklahoma City is in great shape for the future, barring catastrophic injury.

-- Take a look at how the Lakers have progressed on this chart: from 27.4 in 2009 to 28.5 in 2010 to a whopping 30.2 in 2011. These numbers only strengthen the belief we've been asserting in these pages: standing pat is not an option for the Lakers if they want to get back into championship contention. They are just too old. Their effective age number would stabilize next year with a larger share of minutes for Andrew Bynum, but even with that, L.A. needs to get a heckuva lot younger.

-- Miami's number seemed a bit shockingly high, given that this is intended to be the first year of a long run. It's a reminder of how important veterans have been to their supporting cast, and also, after all, that Dwyane Wade is 29 years old.

The main concerns would be the commitments through 2014-15 to Mike Miller (31), Udomis Haslem (about to turn 31) and Joel Anthony (28). The Heat are really going to need to get younger around those guys to sustain this run past 2012-13 or so.

-- The younger end of the list is heavily populated by teams from the NBA's early days, and it makes sense. Careers were shorter, as it was harder to make a living in the game, and training regimens were much less rigorous or advanced.

That's what makes it fairly remarkable that the '60s were just a whisker away from ranking as the second-oldest decade for average effective age of championship winners.
    '90s: 29.1
    '00s: 28.6
    '60s: 28.5
    '80s: 27.7
    '70s: 27.3
    '50s: 26.6
-- It's really kind of painful to see that 1977 Portland Trail Blazers down at the bottom of the list, far below other teams from the post-'50s era. Back in November, we wrote about how no NBA team has left as many potential championships on the table as the Blazers, and this really brings it home starkly.

Portland was the youngest team to ever win a title in 1977, and were cruising toward a repeat when they were 50-10. Then Bill Walton went down and everything changed. The '78 Bullets (44-38) and '79 Sonics (52-30) were two of the weaker teams to ever win it all. That absolutely should have been a three-peat for those Blazers.

-- Random note: during six straight championship years from 1961-66, the Celtics had an effective age between 28.0 and 28.8 - right in the sweet spot - every single year. It speaks to how well Red Auerbach managed the evolution of his roster, both from the bench and the front office.

• Also today: Heat-Mavs Preview Thoughts: Dallas Zone, Defending/Deploying Dirk, Synergy Numbers

Monday, May 30, 2011

Heat-Mavs Preview Thoughts: Dallas Zone, Deploying/Defending Dirk, Synergy Numbers

• Also today: Effective Age Snapshot: Dallas Would Be Second-Oldest NBA Champs Ever

Not a ton of stock can be placed in the two regular-season matchups betweem Dallas and Miami (both won by Dallas - 106-95 in Dallas on Nov. 27, and 98-96 in Miami on Dec. 20). The Mavs had the services of Caron Butler in the regular season meetings, and have added sharpshooting ace Peja Stojakovic since these teams last met. The Heat had Arroyo starting at PG, now they have Bibby (not sure if that's better). Udonis Haslem was not available for either game and Mike Miller missed the Nov. 27th game.

Still, we went back to the film to glean what we could about two X-and-O factors: how did Dallas' zone affect Miami, and what was the strategy around Dirk Nowitzki on both sides of the ball. Here's what we found:

Will be interesting to see what the Mavs have up their sleeve when they're on the defensive end. Dallas might have the most effective zone alignments in the league and Miami is a team you want tossing up as many perimeter jumpers as possible. Wall off the painted area, make Bron & Wade jumpshooters and keep them off the FT line. Miami struggled when faced with Dallas' zone in both regular season meetings.

In the two reg. season games, Miami managed a total of only 44 pts on 56 possessions vs. Dallas' zone. Those 56 possessions resulted in seven TOs, seven drawn shooting fouls, two drawn fouls and 14-for-40 (35%) shooting.

In general, Dallas likes to implement its zone late 1st Q and will go with a heavy diet of zone in the 2nd Q. And they did this vs. Miami--in both games, played zone for most of the 2nd Q. Basically no zone in the 3rd Q and mixed in some zone in 4th Q in each game. Like to go zone on out-of-bounds plays.

Expect to see plenty of zone looks from Dallas in the Finals. They sometimes go with a more traditional 2x3 set with some matchup principles. Then sometimes they will go with a matchup zone in which they will move out of their respective areas to follow an offensive player. Tough to decipher Dallas' defense sometimes because they will pass off offensive players even when in a man-2-man set. Chandler and Haywood are effective backstops in the zone and when Anthony is on the floor, their ability to help becomes easier.

Overall, the Dallas defense (zone or man) was effective vs. the Heat--Miami shot roughly 41% overall in both games. LeBron had two uneven games vs. the Mavs, in which he shot the ball poorly and coughed up the ball too many times.

On Nov. 27th, Bron recorded 23 pts, 8 rbs, 4 asts & 15 FTAs. But he shot 5-for-19 and had 5 TOs. On Dec. 20th, Bron had 19 pts on 6-of-17, 10 rbs, 7 asts, 7 FTAs & 5 TOs. Wade and Bosh fared better in the regular season--both shot near 50% in both games.

Overall, Dirk only shot a combined 40% vs. the Heat. Dirk had 22 pts on 9-for-23 shooting and only got to the line three times on Nov. 27th. He had 26 pts on 8-for-21 on Dec. 20 and got to the FT line 10 times. Compare that to his overall reg. season numbers vs. the Thunder: 47 pts on 13-of-21 shooting, including 19 trips to the FT line.

Wanted to focus on how Miami chose to defend Dirk but have little info to work with from the reg. season games. Found it curious that the Mavs rarely chose to post/iso Dirk vs. Miami. In a total of 73 minutes for Dirk, counted only 13 total post/iso calls in the two reg. season matchups. By contrast, counted 21 post-up plays over Dirk's two reg. season games vs. OKC in 50 minutes of total floor time.

Dirk set up shop mostly on the perimeter. It seemed Dallas was using him more as a floor-spreader and screener than as a playmaker in their two games vs. the Heat. Actually chose to run Dirk off screens and allowed him to cut or cut off screens into the paint a little more than usual.

Bosh was the primary defender on Dirk and Miami let him handle the German without help. Joel Anthony got some cracks at Dirk and also went solo on him.

Dirk really did not punish the Heat on posts/isos like he did vs. the Thunder in the reg. season. On isos, Dirk shot 4-for-12 and drew only one foul. On post-ups plays, Dirk managed to produce 22 pts for himself on 5-of-9 shooting, six drawn shooting fouls (12 FTs), 3 TOs and three kick-outs.

Have to imagine we'll see many more post-ups for Dirk in the Finals. Dirk has been punishing all comers with his post game or extended posts/iso game in the playoffs. Expect Bosh to be the primary defender with Anthony, Haslem and even LeBron getting some reps on Dirk. Going to assume they will try to single-team Dirk as much as possible.

Haslem did a terrific job on Dirk in '06--bodied up Dirk very well, especially on the perimeter. Don't think it's fair to expect Udonis to repeat his '06 Finals defensive performance since he's still working his way back into form. On top of that, Dirk's game is less high-post oriented than it was in '06 and Haslem might have trouble dealing with him down low.

The data from detailed play-by-play breakdowns from Synergy Sports Technology also suggests that Dirk's post-up game could be pivotal.

This Finals offers a matchup of no. 1 offense (Dallas) and no. 2 defense (Miami) in terms of points per possession on Synergy. Here are some key play types for this matchup, comparing numbers in the playoffs and regular season:

Spot Up 23.1% 1.19 1 | 0.97 9
Pick/Roll 20.6% 0.92 3 | 0.69 2
Post Ups 10.6% 1.01 2 | 0.99 16

Spot Up 22.8% 1.04 8 | 0.92 3
Pick/Roll 17.9% 0.90 10 | 0.84 6
Post Ups 9.8% 1.01 1 | 0.81 2

Dallas has been one of the most efficient post-up teams in the league all season, no surprise with Dirk running the show. Miami's defense was one of the best at stopping the post game in the regular season, but they rank as the worst team in the playoffs in points per possession (PPP) in defending that play type. Small sample size likely explains some of that, as they certainyl didn't see much post-up action vs. Chicago.

The exceptional success Dallas has had in the Spot Up and Pick/Roll areas in the playoffs illustrates two other areas where Nowitzki's mere presence has helped his team. Miami needs to be able to single-cover Nowitzki to help limit the spot-up shooting game, and they need to find a way to shut down the pick-and-roll game in which Dirk often serves as a dangerous roll man. J.J. Barea, in particular, has obviously been hard to contain in the pick-and-roll in these playoffs.

Beyond Nowitzki, Barea and Jason Terry have had the biggest jumps in production in the postseason. Terry's PER has jumped from 15.9 in the regular season to 19.7 in the playoffs, while Barea's has increased from 14.8 to 19.1. Whether Terry can keep knocking down shots and Barea can continue his devastating play in the pick-and-roll could be decisive factors in the series.

On the other side of the ball, a key area to watch is Miami's pick-and-roll game, which has been particularly strong in the playoffs, ranking first in the league with 0.97 PPP (accounting for 22.3 of its offense). That's up from 0.93 PPP in the regular season, which ranked fifth.

On D, Dallas has allowed 0.86 PPP on pick-and-rolls in the playoffs (ranked 7th), an improvement over the regular season, where the Mavs ranked just 23rd, allowing 0.91 PPP per PnR.

In terms of matchups related to the "Four Factors" statistics which correlate most directly with winning, the big one to watch is effective field-goal percentage between Dallas' O and Miami's D.

Dallas ranked 3rd (52.5%) on offense and Miami ranked 3rd (47.5%) on defense in this category over the course of the season, and both teams have continued to excel in this department in the playoffs.

The Mavs have easily led the league at 52.2%, even though league eFG% has dropped sharply from 49.8 to 47.6 in the playoffs. The Heat's 46.2% eFG defense in the playoffs ranks just 5th, but it's just a shade below the top mark of 46.0% allowed (OKC).

The other key Four Factor to watch is Miami's free-throw rate, which has been strong in both the regular season and the playoffs, against Dallas, which was among the league leaders in fewest FTA allowed in the regular season.

Finally, last and least, a random note to finish this off: two of the three qualified players with the lowest PERs in the playoffs are both starting in this series, Mike Bibby and DeShawn Stevenson, both with the robust production of a 2.2 PER. Only Landry Fields, with an 0.3 PER in his four-game run, has been worse on a box-score stat basis.

• Also today: Effective Age Snapshot: Dallas Would Be Second-Oldest NBA Champs Ever

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thoughts on Mike Brown and the Lakers

I'm somewhat amazed that there's been so much backlash and even vitriol in the reaction to L.A.'s hiring of Mike Brown, as I think the guy's a heckuva coach. Though I guess I'm not surprised, considering he was an easy scapegoat for the Cleveland Cavaliers falling short of a championship in the LeBron era.

But I credit Brown for helping the Cavs become as good as they were, for developing LeBron as a defensive player, and for creating outstanding defensive teams out of decent personnel overall. The jury's still out on his offensive acumen, though it'll be interesting to see Cleveland's perceived offensive shortcomings were a function of LeBron hijacking offensive sets at all (though LeBron was of course primarily responsible for Cleveland's offensive numbers being as good as they were, and the Lakers have a guy who might be prone to doing same once or twice). I'm also intrigued by the rumors that Brown is considering bringing exceptional European coach Ettore Messina, a longtime Painted Area favorite, over to serve as an assistant.

In many ways, I think that Brown accepting this job might be even more of a dice roll than the Lakers hiring him. There's one big X-factor, and that's if L.A. acquires Dwight Howard, in which case, I think it'll be a perfect fit for both Brown and the Lakers.

If not, I think this'll be a poor fit for both parties. Brown is inheriting a roster in decline. As we mentioned a couple weeks ago, the Lakers' big problem is that they have only four good players, and only three of those players can realistically be on the floor at the same time (and three of them are 30+, to boot). Beyond that, the Lakers have no players that anyone wants, and they're capped out and locked into multi-year deals with declining players.

Without Howard, this is a team in decline, and frankly, I think that the Golden State job would have had more upside for Brown's career, largely because of the vast difference in expectations.

In L.A., Brown is inheriting an aging roster, replacing Phil Jackson, and working for an unproven new owner (Jim Buss) who may be a big downgrade from the previous one (Jerry Buss). Yet, the bar for success will remain astronomically high - championship or bust - and if they fall short, as they will without an overhaul, I can pretty much guarantee Brown will be a scapegoat no matter how he performs, simply for not being Phil Jackson, in the same way Mitch Kupchak was initially scorned, largely for not being Jerry West.

In G.S., Brown would have inherited a young roster, with tons of room for growth following the defensive void of the Nellie/Smart era, plus a new ownership group (Lacob/Guber now plus Jerry West to add cachet) which may be a big upgrade from the previous one (Chris Cohan). And the expectations are obviously much lower in the Bay Area, given what those fans have suffered through for a generation. I believe Brown could have easily delivered a 10-15 game improvement and a playoff berth immediately, and been widely lauded and appreciated for it.

So, in many ways, I respect Mike Brown for accepting the *risk* of the Lakers job. Certainly, there's far greater chance he can win a championship with the Lakers, considering that they are a legitimate player in the Howard sweepstakes. But, in L.A., there's also a far greater chance that the perception that he's incompetent because he falls short of a championship could be perpetuated and magnified.


Back to the idea of the Lakers standing pat for a second. It's simply not a viable option if this team wants to win another championship. This group is done as a title-winner, locked into too many weak and declining supporting players. After their exit interviews, many Lakers players and personnel said they believed they could come back and contend with the same group, which is what I'd expect they'd say.

I saw a couple comparisons to 1985-86, when the Lakers were bounced in five games by the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers - who had been to the Finals from '82-85 and won it all in '85 - kept their group together and won back-to-back championships in 1987 and 1988.

A couple key notes... First, here were the ages of their players in 1985-86:
    Magic   26
    Kareem 38
    Worthy 24
    Scott 24
    Cooper 29
    Green 22
    Rambis 27
Here are the ages of their players in 2010-11:
    Kobe    32
    Pau 30
    Odom 31
    Bynum 23
    Artest 31
    Fisher 36
    Blake 30
    Brown 25
As presently constructed, this Lakers team is getting worse, not better, whereas 25 years ago, they were still a team on the rise.

And let's remember one major thing that happened between 1985-86 and 1986-87: the keys to the team were handed over from Kareem to Magic.

In 1985-86, Kareem's usage rate was 26.6, Magic's was 21.6.

In 1986-87, Kareem's usage rate was 22.3, Magic's was 26.1.

To a lesser extent, that's what needs to happen now for the Lakers: they need to start to transition this team, ever so gently, from Kobe Bryant to Andrew Bynum. Obviously, Andrew Bynum is no circa 1986 Magic Johnson, so I'm not suggesting such a sharp change in focus. But they definitely need move in that direction.

In 2010-11, Kobe had a somewhat ridiculous usage rate of 35.1, while Bynum's was 17.6. Those numbers need to start to get closer.

Yet these comments by Kobe following his exit interview show just how delicate this situation will be:
    "Ultimately, [Bynum will] have to fall in line because I’m gonna shoot the ball – we all know that. Pau is going to get his touches; he’s No. 2. And then [Andrew] will have to fall in line."
This is why I think Mike Brown might not be a good fit for the Lakers, and why I thought Brian Shaw was the only man for the Lakers if they decide to largely stand pat. Shaw, in my opinion, is the only guy who has a chance to successfully transition the Lakers from Kobe to Bynum over the next couple years, and again, I don't think there's anything more important for this group, as presently structured.

I think there's a good chance this will lead to an exacerbation in relations between Bryant and Brown, and again, the easy contrast for media and fans alike will be how well Kobe and Phil worked together in their second go-round.

Should be some fascinating times, as they usually are, in Laker Land.


One last Kobe note.... In Game 3 vs. Dallas, cameras caught Kobe mouthing the words "Get in the %$&#@ post! Post his ass up!" to Lamar Odom.

In fact, I think it's time for Kobe to be directing those remarks fully at himself. Bryant can't get to the basket with any consistency anymore. It's time for him to make the low post a primary weapon in his arsenal, a la MJ circa '96-98. I have no doubt he has the skills and strength for it.

Kobe should be inspired by how Dirk Nowitzki has brought even more of a low post game into his arsenal, and hunker down with some film of the '96-98 Bulls over the summer. It's time to head down to the low blocks as a primary option.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

LeBron: Still The Best Basketball Player Alive, Plus Musings on Clippers Trade, Welts, Kareem Movie

Let's quickly review what LeBron James did defensively in Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

In Game 3, with the score 78-74 Miami midway through the fourth quarter, Udonis Haslem hit a layup to put the Heat up six. Here's what happened in the three following Bulls possessions:

-- 80-74 Miami - Closeout: With a Rose-Boozer pick-and-roll about to be run on the right side, LeBron positions himself on the right block to help out, even though his man, Luol Deng, is stationed in the left corner behind the line.

The ball gets swung around to the left to Deng, and LeBron flies across the court to close out Deng (and, as John Hollinger pointed out, James closed out specifically to Deng's right side to cut off his driving lane).

Deng tries to run a pick-and-roll, but - due to a hard hedge by Udonis Haslem as well as good D from James - the PnR gets pushed toward the perimeter, and a turnover ultimately results. Dwyane Wade hits two free throws on the other end.

-- 82-74 Miami - Basket Protection: After Noah misses a driving shot, Carlos Boozer grabs the offensive rebound and gets his shot blocked by James in the restricted area. Add this to a fairly spectacular denial by Boozer at the rim earlier in Game 3, and a block on Joakim Noah at the goal in Game 4, and that would be three blocks against the other team's starting power forward and center by LeBron James.

And these weren't crazy, flying weakside blocks; these were straight-up denials at the rim. If there's one thing that amazes me about this Heat team, it's that James and Wade are relied upon to provide basket protection so often - and that they're able to do so.

LeBron's block on Boozer led to a transition run by Wade which created two FTs.

-- 84-74 Miami - Help & Steal: After playing consummate help defense, James anticipates a pass inside by Derrick Rose, makes the steal, and takes off downcourt for the KorverKrusher and-one play which effectively seals the game.

In Game 4, James completely shut down Derrick Rose (who went 0-5 with LeBron guarding him, 0-4 in the fourth quarter) while also contributing three blocks and two steals.

To review, James - at 6-8/250+ - played on-ball defense to shut down a point guard who happens to be the MVP and probably the most feared perimeter one-on-one cover in the game. He closed out on shooters at the wing. He provided basket protection in denying power forwards and centers on multiple occasions. And he had five blocks and four steals in the two games to help ignite Miami's transition game.

*That* is an all-around defensive performance which is nothing short of Pippenesque, with Dwyane Wade providing a similar effort. And pair that versatility with Lebron's offense. In Game 3, he was the maestro with a 22-6-10 line - several of his assists were gorgeous cross-court passes, including a few which set up open shots to pitch in to Chris Bosh's big night. In Game 4, he was the closer with a 35-6-6 line that included 14 points in the fourth quarter and OT.


Not going to belabor this, but let's just say I'm feeling pretty comfortable with my pick of LeBron James for league MVP right about now. I felt it was very close among James, Rose, Dwight Howard and Wade, and ultimately went with LeBron simply because I felt he was the best player. I also felt like the Eastern Conference playoffs were going to focus a spotlight on who the most valuable player truly was, and I think that's what's happened.

I know, I know, this is playoffs, that was regular season. I'm reluctant to rehash this stuff, as I have nothing against Derrick Rose or Bulls fans, and think the league is in great hands given the way the 22-year-old performs both on- and off-the-court. Also, I think that Rose was a defensible MVP pick - lots of people I really respect picked him - and not a bad choice at all.

The main thing that bugged me, however, was the sense conveyed by some people, with demeaning undertones, that anyone who didn't reflexively jump on board the Rose narrative bandwagon was some sort of stat geek who didn't watch the games.

Yet much of the evidence was available expressly by watching the games, such as:
• James is a much better defensive player, with much greater defensive responsibility, who doesn't have the luxury of multiple mobile bigs behind him to run the D and the boards.
• James had to deal with key injuries of his own, to Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, as we now see (and given Carlos Boozer's "statuesque" defense, his absence to Chicago may have been overstated).
• The idea that Rose was one superstar vs. two or three in Miami vastly understates how solid Chicago's bench is, especially defensively, and how sharply Miami's roster declines outside the Big 3, especially when Haslem and Miller were out.

Also, the sense that Rose was far superior to James in clutch situations seemed a bit overstated, first because it's enough of a small sample size to be ephemeral, and second because LeBron has actually proven himself to be a strong clutch performer for several years now.

And now, by *watching these games*, the evidence has been laid fairly bare: LeBron James does more for his team than Derrick Rose does for his. LeBron James is still the best basketball player alive, and he will be even if Dallas beats Miami. And, for that matter, neither LeBron James nor Dirk Nowitzki will be soft nor lack clutch ability if and when one loses in the Finals next month. One will win, one will lose.

As someone who's been a big supporter of the Clippers' trade with the Cavs, I have to eat some crow now that the deal has cost them Kyrie Irving, who would slide in perfectly as their point guard of the future.

However, I stand behind the belief that the trade was a gamble worth taking. The *only* pick which could have hurt L.A. was the no. 1 pick, as the main candidates at no. 2 are power forwards who would overlap with Blake Griffin (namely Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter, though Bismack Biyombo may have been intriguing as a defensive complement), and there was a 97.4% chance that that result wouldn't happen.

I would also argue that the Clippers are still in really good shape moving forward. By holding Minnesota's unprotected no. 1 pick in 2012, they should be able to plug in a small forward for the future with one of three extremely promising prospects at the position: Michael Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes or Quincy Miller.

And this trade still has to be considered incomplete at worst, as it depends upon what the Clippers do with the cap space they cleared in 2012 by dealing Baron Davis (though an amnesty clause which would have allowed them to drop Baron from their cap without harm would really be a bite in the butt). If Chris Paul, for example, should decide to move on from New Orleans, I don't think he'll find a better supporting roster than Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and one of the aformentioned future SFs TBD. A huge, crazy, enormous hypothetical, yes - but this trade story is not over yet.

Phoenix Suns CEO Rick Welts made headlines last week for becoming the first openly gay senior executive in major American men's team sports. I would note that, long before Welts' brave step, I've believed that he's deserved to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a Contributor.

The Hall of Fame uses the Contributor designation to induct people like owners or broadcasters or others like Tom "Satch" Sanders, who will be inducted this year for his role in developing the NBA's Rookie Transition Program, in addition to being a defensive stopper on several Celtics championship teams.

Also inducted as a Contributor is Danny Biasone, the Syracuse Nationals owner who invented the 24-second shot, and in doing so, helped make the game of pro basketball much more popular.

Along those lines, I very strongly believe that Rick Welts deserves to be a Hall of Famer for his role as an expert marketer in helping revive the popularity of the game in the '80s, most notably for inventing the concept of the All-Star Weekend, now a major tentpole, and an event which has helped propel the popularity of basketball forward around the globe.

I think that my favorite thing about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's statue-related tweeting last week was how he followed several sharp, fairly sensational, missives at Lakers management with the gentle reminder that the documentary movie he recently produced, On The Shoulders of Giants, was becoming available on Netflix streaming.

I just wanted to close with a quick thumbs-up for the movie, which I caught On Demand a couple months ago. The centerpiece of the story is a 1939 matchup at the World Pro Basketball Tournament between the New York Rens (a black-owned team based in Harlem, which was one of the legendary pre-NBA pro basketball teams) and the Harlem Globetrotters (which was actually a white-owned team based in Chicago).

I guess I'd never put two-and-two together and realized that there was a natural rivalry between the two teams and their fans, centered around the fact that the Rens (short for Renaissance) had a much more legitimate claim on Harlem.

I thought the story was well-told overall. The brief footage of the Rens was something to behold - oh, the ball movement! It was tricky to deal with the fact that there's no footage of the Rens-Globetrotters game (at one point, the key moments are depicted via Kareem telling the story to Chuck D, sitting across from him), though the animated artistic renditions of the game (and other elements throughout the movie) are pretty cool stylistically.

As an added bonus, there are a few scenes of Kareem walking around Harlem talking with the good doctor Cornel West, which is probably worthy of a documentary in its own right.

I don't know that it's going to change your life, but if you're interested in the roots of basketball history, then On The Shoulders of Giants is definitely worth your time and money.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mavericks vs. Thunder: Will OKC Double Dirk?

On Tuesday we focused on how Dirk attacked the Thunder defense in the regular season and how OKC defended him. And a lot of the same things popped up in Game 1 that happened in the regular meetings between these teams, except Dirk was even more destructive on Tuesday than he was in the regular season.

In the two regular-season games in which Dirk faced OKC, he scorched them for a total 47 points on 13-of-21 shooting, including 19 trips to the FT line. In these two games, Dirk set up in the post quite a bit and was quite a handful for the Thunder.

One of the things we chastised Dirk for back in '07 was his reluctance to work out of the low blocks. He seemed much more content to work around the foul line area. Thought he hurt the Mavs in '07 vs. G-State because he didn't fight for position and failed to attack the bad interior defense of the Warriors.

But now, Dirk seems much more comfortable mixing in more low post-plays. He actually rarely set up at the high post in Game 1. In Game 1, counted 28 post-ups or isos on the sides. Also, Dirk had three isolation plays up high that all happened late in the game.

One of the tenets of post defense is to push your man off the block--make your man catch the ball further away. Most bigs want to make their post moves closer to rim.

But in Dirk's case, it doesn't matter if he has to start his post-ups 15 feet away from the rim. And in Game 1, most of Dirk's post-ups were of the extended variety. The lines kind of get blurred when determining if Dirk is posting or isoing. He's like Carmelo in that fashion.

On his post/iso plays, Dirk managed to generate 32 pts on 9-of-11 shooting & 2 TOs. He drew seven shooting fouls (12-for-12 FTs) and drew three non-shooting fouls. Dirk drew fouls at a high rate vs. OKC in the regular season as well.

Dirk did most of his damage on the right block. Carlisle really milked Dirk on the right side of the floor in the 2nd half--16 right block post-ups in 2nd half to only one left-side post-up.

In general, he likes to face-up on the right block. And he did work down there on Tuesday with a few face-up jumpers (mostly over Ibaka) in Game 1, including draining two clutch back-to-back face-up jumpers late in the game.

Also, Dirk pulled out his sweet patented one-dribble step-back over his right shoulder a few times to great effect--three makes (including a sick banker) & one drawn shooting foul. Dirk also hurt OKC putting the ball on the deck out of posts/isos (his spin moves were effective).

Serge Ibaka had the main assignment of checking Dirk. Things did not go so well for Serge. Dirk dropped 18 pts on Ibaka on 7-of-9 shooting. Dirk hurt Serge with face-up jumpers, turnarounds and baseline drives. Though give Serge some credit, he was in good position to contest a lot, it's just that Dirk made 'em anyways.

OKC tried to take some pressure off Ibaka in the 2nd half by checking Dirk with a combo of Collison, Durant, Sefolosha & Harden as well. None of them faired much better.

In the regular season, OKC rarely doubled Dirk on the block with an immediate, hard double. If the doubles came, they came after Dirk made a sharp move toward the basket.

In Game 1, Coach Brooks decided to keep with this strategy of rarely doubling Dirk early/hard. I noticed maybe two times where you could consider the help semi-urgent. The doubles came after Dirk put the ball on the deck. He was forced to kick out of doubles on posts/isos eight times. These kickouts led to four 3pt. makes and a total of 14 pts.

Some tweaks should be in order for the Thunder defense. Make the shooters prove they have their touch working before you let Dirk make a living at the FT line. Realize Peja and Terry are tough to leave, but shouldn't hesitate to test Marion, Stevenson, Barea and Kidd.

Definitely need to explore the option of sending immediate doubles on Dirk. Mix up your doubling pattern--keep him off balance like G-State did so well in '07. Send doubles on the baseline one time, the next time, let a guard dig down. Try fronting him sometimes.

Obviously, Dirk won't shoot 80% every night. But he will likely shoot around 50% every game in this series and draw fouls constantly if OKC tries to basically leave Ibaka alone on Dirk.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mavericks vs. Thunder: Thoughts on Defending Dirk

The Mavs and the Thunder met three times this season with Dallas holding a 2-1 edge. The road team won each game and the key thing to remember about OKC's win is that Dirk Nowitzki was out with injury. Though, the Mavs had Caron Butler's services in their two wins and he's doubtful for this series.

Keep in mind, a lot has changed since these teams last met on Jan. 6th, so can't put too much stock in these reg. season games predicting the outcome of the Western Finals. The Mavs have added sharpshooting ace Peja Stojakovic, who's been huge for Dallas in the playoffs. On the side, the Thunder have added Kendrick Perkins. The defense has improved by exchanging a starting frontline of Krstic/Green for a frontline of Perkins/Ibaka.

In this piece, we wanted to pay specific attention to how Dallas used Dirk vs. OKC and how the Thunder chose to guard Dirk. The sample size was limited by the fact that Dirk missed the Jan. 6th meeting and only managed 11 minutes in the Dec. 27th meeting because of a knee injury early in the 2nd Q. Dirk did light up OKC on Nov. 24th with 34 pts in 39 minutes.

In Dirk's 50 minutes of total floor time over the two games, he scorched OKC with 47 pts on 13-of-21 shooting, including 19 trips to the FT line. Dallas made a habit of setting up Dirk on the post vs. OKC.

Counted 21 post-up plays over Dirk's two games vs. OKC. On post-ups plays, Dirk managed to produce 22 pts for himself on 5-of-9 shooting, six drawn shooting fouls (12 FTs), 3 TOs and three kick-outs.

Dallas preferred to set up Dirk on left block. He's generally very dangerous with his fadeaway over his right shoulder on the left block. Also, had a couple of isolations at the free throw line, sometimes set up after pick/roll switches where he either had Westbrook or Harden guarding him.

Most of the time, Jeff Green had the honor of checking the German. OKC rarely doubled Dirk on the block with an immediate, hard double and usually let Green fend for himself. If the doubles came, they came after Dirk made a sharp move toward the basket. The few times Dirk did kick out of doubles were because he had guards switched on him and OKC felt compelled to help their smalls. Even then the doubles were not urgent.

The main difference between the reg. season meetings and this series: Serge Ibaka will be the primary defender vs. Dirk instead of Green in this series. I'm not sure if this will lead to better results. Nick Collison will see some time (imagine Dirk will try to draw him away from painted area) and might see Durant get a couple of cracks at Dirk.

We all know Ibaka is a tremendous defensive presence as a basket protector but his normal defensive duties will be totally different in this series. Dirk will force Ibaka out deeper than Zach Randolph and Serge will have to deal with Dirk's ability to make plays off the dribble. This could also possibly hurt the integrity of OKC's defense as Ibaka's menacing help defense will be compromised by him following Dirk all over the floor. When Dirk's off-the-ball Ibaka needs to stay close to him, he won't be free to roam for blocks. Ibaka will definitely be out of his comfort zone on defense, not sure as a relatively inexperienced player how he'll adjust.

In the regular season, only counted roughly 5-6 possessions where Ibaka lined up on Dirk. Surely limited data but thought Serge did do a decent job getting in Dirk's space on posts/isos. Forced a miss on a turnaround on the left block and made Dirk cough up the ball on high isolation. Though, Dirk did knock down three 3-pointers over Ibaka on spot-ups (two of those makes were over quality close-outs by Ibaka).

Could possibly see Coach Carlisle choosing more isos or extended post-ups in this series to move Ibaka away from the basket. No doubt Dirk makes things tough for his opponent down low because he's adept going left or right. On the right block, he can face-up, hit turnarounds over both shoulders or drive the ball middle to finish with his left hand.

Thought it was interesting that OKC's main strategy vs. Dirk was to primarily allow him to work one-on-one. Interested to see if Coach Brooks decides to send more hard doubles in the series than he did during the season. He might stick with his regular season tactics after seeing how Dirk punished the Lakers when they brought extra defenders early.

*--(Thanks to fine folks at Synergy Sports for providing data for this post.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bulls vs. Heat: Isolation Games

When exploring the Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat matchup via the detailed play-by-play data offered by Synergy Sports Technology, one particular factor stood out to me: in terms of points per possession (PPP) on Isolation plays in the regular season, Miami ranked no. 1 in the league on offense with 0.93 PPP, while Chicago ranked no. 1 in defense with a stifling 0.74 PPP.

In Game 1, a key part of the story of Chicago's dominant defense was that they held the Heat to just 0.64 PPP on Isolation plays. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told his team in one time-out huddle: "Isolating this team will not work."

However, despite their ineffectiveness, Isolation plays actually accounted for a higher percentage of Miami plays (15.4%) in Game 1 than in the regular season (12.2%) - many of these isos came after pick-and-rolls (another Miami offensive strength) yielded nothing, often due to aggressive switches by Chicago bigs.

One play that's stuck in my head as one of the best individual plays of the regular season was this one - on the game-deciding play with the score 87-86 Chicago on March 5, Joakim Noah switches out on a pick to cover LeBron James, gets down in a defensive stance and plays superior individual defense to deny James at the rim:

That play foreshadowed what happened in Game 1, as the ability of Chicago's bigs - especially Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, plus Omer Asik - to cover LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on isolations was a major factor, and really continues to be nothing short of remarkable.

In all, Miami had 14 plays which were tagged as Isolations by Synergy. They scored on just 4 of these possessions - 9 points in total on 3-11 FG, with 2 turnovers. Let's go through them quickly, as it illustrates how well Chicago's bigs defended.

James vs. Gibson: 0 points
On a switch after a PnR, James settles for a 22-foot miss.

James vs. Boozer: 1 point
On a switch after a PnR, James draws Booz into the air with a head fake on a 20-footer, and draws the foul. LeBron made 1 FT.

Wade vs. Korver: 2 points
Great matchup for the Heat here, as Wade drives into the lane from the wing and spins for a relatively easy shot from about 8 feet. (Note: Noah was guarding James Jones on this play, which opened up the lane; Miami's lineup was Chalmers/Wade/Jones/James/Anthony at the time.)

Bosh vs. Noah: 0 points
Isolated at the foul line, Bosh can only get off a rather awkward, contested shot. No dice.

Bosh vs. Noah: 2 points
Bosh again gets the ball at the foul line - this time he makes a nice drive left around Noah to score.

James vs. Noah: 0 points
After a PnR switch, LeBron backs up a little bit before attacking. He ends up trying to head fake and draw a foul from Noah on a 17-footer. Close to a foul, but looked like a good no-call, and more than anything, it was probably a travel by James. In any event, no bucket. (Note that, after the PnR switch, Bosh had Deng on him in the post.)

Wade vs. Bogans: 0 points
Wade drives from the wing into the lane, before getting stripped by Bogans for the TO in lane, on a play with lot of traffic inside. (Note that when Wade was on the wing, Bosh had Rose on him in the low block right in front of Wade.)

Wade vs. Noah: 0 points
After a PnR switch, Wade drives middle and gets into the lane, but Noah stays in front and ends up blocking the shot. (Note that Bosh has Bogans on him after the switch.)

James vs. Deng: 0 points
On a quick possession in transition, pressure from Deng causes LeBron to dribble out of bounds - a combination of Chicago's ball pressure (as noted by the TNT crew, Chicago is a rare team that pressures James and Wade on the perimeter) plus the carelessness which characterized several Miami turnovers in Game 1.

James vs. Gibson: 0 points
After a switch, LeBron is iso'd at the top of key. He backs up, attacks, dribbles forever - it's a situation in which we're used to seeing James settle for the long jumper, but on this possession, he gets into lane. However, Gibson still blocks the shot. Great defense. (Note that with all these empty iso possessions, the score is still just 67-61 Chicago late in the third after this play.)

Wade vs. Brewer: 0 points
Miami meanders around and wastes the shot clock. Wade ends up with an off-balance contested long two against a short clock. Brewer plays some very solid one-on-one D.

James vs. Deng: 0 points
At the end of the third quarter, LeBron settles for a three off the dribble with Deng in his face. It's the type of hero shot he made in Games 4 and 5 to close out the Celtics, but the percentages catch up with him here.

James vs. Asik: 3 points
After a PnR switch, LeBron makes a 3 at end of the shot clock, over a decent contest by Asik. (Note that Bosh had Deng on him after the switch, though he stayed on the wing on this possession.)

James vs. Asik: 0 points
After a PnR switch, LeBron settles for a step-back 20-footer with Asik contesting. (Note that the switch left Jamaal Magloire covered by Deng; Tom Thibodeau himself might be able to effectively guard Magloire.)

All told, there were six possessions on which James or Wade were matched up one-on-one vs. Chicago's bigs, and they scored on exactly one of those, yielding three points. Superior performance, especially by Noah and Gibson, and the isolation game is one to watch as this series progresses.

As you saw above, a lot of Miami's isos came after pick-and-rolls were thwarted. The Heat also ranked no. 1 in plays tagged "PnR Ballhandler" (i.e. plays made by the dribbler on the pick-and-roll) - LeBron in particular was fourth in the league in this category.

It seems that part of Chicago's strategy in having its bigs switch aggressively is to thwart these PnR Ballhandler plays as well. All in all, it was certainly an extremely effective game plan, as the Bulls shut down the dribbler on the pick-and-roll (keeping James and Wade out of the lane, off the free-throw line, and unable to draw the defense in for open three-point shot opportunities for teammates), and forced them into iso situations, in which Chicago won the battle of the team strengths.

The Bulls conceded a big game to Chris Bosh, as the aggressive play on the pick-and-rolls opened up the roll man several times, but overall, Chicago reigned supreme on defense. Bosh will continue to be an important player - if the Bulls continue to switch pick-and-rolls, Miami needs to use Bosh as a screener more often, and get him the ball when he draws mismatches.

Miami might also want to try Wade-James PnRs to avoid the Chicago bigs, but that just means the bigs will likely be able to stay near the basket. There are no easy answers against this Chicago defense under the masterful direction of Tom Thibodeau. Mobile bigs rule.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Pau Gasol: MVP Candidate to Trade Bait in Six Months?

*-Also today: check out Jay Aych's analysis of Sunday's Euroleague Final

So far, the 2011 NBA Playoffs have delivered just about everything one can ask for in the event: competitive games and series, with some unexpected results; superior individual performances and plays; compelling storylines.

In particular, the main overarching storyline which continues to develop is a thorough changing of the guard, as eras of championship contention appear to be ending for the Spurs, the Lakers and possibly the Celtics all at once. As Nate Jones noted on Twitter, this could be the first season since 1998 in which the NBA Finals have not included at least one of Shaq, Duncan or Kobe.

What's shocked me is the stunning swiftness with which it's all transpired. On January 15, around the midway point of the season, the top three teams in the standings were San Antonio (34-6), Boston (30-9) and the Lakers (30-11). The Spurs and Celtics, in particular, were playing beautiful basketball and looked like the clear favorites of their respective conferences, while the two-time defending champions were certainly still lurking dangerously. Now, less than four months later, two of these teams are dead and unceremoniously buried, while the banged-up Celtics need to win Monday night to avoid putting their backs up against the proverbial wall.

That sharp trajectory matches what Pau Gasol experienced this season. Way back in mid-November, when the Lakers started the season 8-0, there was a fledgling narrative building around Gasol as an MVP candidate, after the big man averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists on 55% FG shooting in those eight games. Now, six months later, Gasol is the whipping boy of the basketball world after producing just 13 and 8 on 42% shooting in the Lakers' disappointing playoff run.

While Gasol clearly underperformed this spring, I think that the venom with which he's been targeted by some has been excessive and unfair, in part because every single Lakers rotation player let them down at some point in the playoffs.

Nothing that Pau's done this year negates what he provided as the key second piece who lifted the Lakers over the top to two championships, and it doesn't negate the unquestionably Hall-of-Fame-worthy resume that he's built. He's not soft, and I'm confident he'll come back strong.

All that said - and somewhat amazingly - it's now time for the Los Angeles Lakers to trade Pau Gasol.

I write this while trying to retain as much level-headedness as possible. I try not to overreact to playoff results, and feel like I have a pretty good track record in that regard with the Lakers in this space. The last time the Lakers absorbed such a devastating beating - Game 6 of the 2008 Finals vs. Boston - they were eviscerated (Gasol in particular for being too soft). I wrote that the Lakers could challenge 70 wins in 2008-09 by simply staying the course. (They won 65.)

Now, times have changed, and it's really the circumstances around Gasol which make a trade seem necessary, more than anything the big Spaniard has done himself.

Most notably, it's been the roster management around the Lakers star players which is catching up with them. Ron Artest, Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and Luke Walton are all declining players over 30, each overpaid for at least two more years. (It could have been even worse if Raja Bell had accepted the roster spot which went to Matt Barnes.)

As a result, the Lakers are an old, slow, capped-out team with very few desirable assets. L.A. essentially has only four good players, with a major problem being that only three of these four can be on the floor at any given time, due to the Gasol-Bynum-Odom lineup being untenable for anything other than small stretches.

Kobe Bryant isn't going anywhere, and the Lakers don't have anything else that anyone wants. One player out of the Gasol-Bynum-Odom needs to be traded, ideally to balance the lineup and add youth and athleticism at the point guard and wing positions.

At 23 years old, Andrew Bynum must be retained. Bynum will be either the Lakers center of the future, or the asset who attracts Dwight Howard via trade.

[First, let's note that Dwight has taken umbrage with any suggestions that he wants to leave Orlando, as he's never said that. Still, talk persists that the 2012 free-agent-to-be would like to end up with the Lakers, Knicks or Nets.

There's been some early speculation that it would require Bynum *and* Odom to pry Howard away from Orlando. I believe Bynum plus draft picks would be sufficient, as all the leverage would be held by Howard (who could threaten to sign with the Nets, who should have cap space, for no compensation) and the Lakers (a worst-case scenario of retaining Bynum is not a bad one), as opposed to the Magic, who could end up with nothing.]

Even if the Lakers acquire Howard, they'll likely still need more. The Fisher/Blake combo would make Dwight yearn for the halcyon days of Gilbert Arenas. Also, as Gasol ages, he's going to have more trouble playing the 4 (see: his defense vs. Dirk Nowitzki). I'd prefer to retain the more versatile Odom, who also has a much smaller salary - Gasol can bring back more in return.

The Lakers need to make a move, and have so few options, that it's really something of a process of elimination. The bigger trick would be finding the right trading partner for a Gasol deal. At almost 31 years old with 3 years/$57 million remaining on his contract, Gasol really only appeals to teams on the cusp of true championship contention, and very few of those teams have a need for him, or the right assets to return.

One team which stands out is Denver, with Ray Felton seemingly available, though rising young star Danilo Gallinari could be the sticking point. Felton and Gallinari seems like it might be more than Denver would be willing to give up; Felton and Wilson Chandler (a restricted free agent who would have to be signed-and-traded) might not be enough for L.A.

Of course, a sexier scenario for Lakers fans would involve Chris Paul forcing his way out of New Orleans. If we've learned anything over the last few years, it's that anything is possible, though it would be interesting to say the least if a league-owned team ended up shipping Paul to the Lakers for what would inevitably be less than a full return on the dollar.


After the loss, Jeanie Buss tweeted that Dr. Buss knows how to fix things.

Indeed, Lakers owner Jerry Buss has never been afraid of the bold move, such as trading Shaq to Miami in 2004, which looked disastrous for the first couple years, but is still paying dividends, both directly with Odom and indirectly with Gasol (via Caron Butler via Kwame Brown). I fully expect the old poker player to continue to try to pay it forward and flip his asset anew.

And actually, it's a reminder that the most vital personnel question for the Lakers going forward is at the position of owner. The Lakers have been the dominant NBA franchise of the last 30 years not by destiny or divine right, but because Dr. Jerry Buss has been the greatest owner in league history.

Now 78 years old, Buss said last year that "eighty percent of the basketball decisions are made by [his son] Jimmy." How involved will Jerry Buss be in the upcoming summer? A lot, I'd expect, with several major decisions looming. But changes to the ownership chair are coming sooner rather than later. Will Jimmy Buss be up to the task? Will he be able to share power amicably with sister Jeanie (who runs business operations)? More than anything involving any individual player, these are the vital questions regarding the future of the Los Angeles Lakers.

[Thanks to the indispensable Larry Coon for answering a CBA-related question I had.]

*-Also today: check out Jay Aych's analysis of Sunday's Euroleague Final

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Panathinaikos Captures Sixth Euroleague Title

Panathinaikos (PAO) outlasted Maccabi Tel Aviv, 78-70, on Sunday in Barcelona to secure their sixth Euroleague title. PAO keeps their odd-year pattern of titles intact ('07, '09) alive to win their third title in five years.

Tightly contested game in 1st half but PAO took ownership of it in the 3rd thanks to some timely outside shooting. They drilled four 3pts. (three by Romain Sato) in the quarter to help extend the lead to 11 to start the 4th. They did a similar thing in the '09 final vs. CSKA by taking control of the game thanks to 3pt. barrage in the 2nd quarter.

PAO's help defense on the baseline was superb and had multiple bodies sucking into the painted area anytime the ballhandler approached. Seemed like nearly every shot was contested.

A main objective of the Maccabi offense is to keep the basket area clear and initiate the offense up high. They try to get the defense to overplay on the perimeter. But PAO rarely bit and stayed disciplined by having the backline stay at home.

PAO held Maccabi to a paltry 37% from the field--Maccabi came into this weekend leading the EL in FG pct. at a 49% clip. On some possessions it was hard to tell if PAO was in a matchup zone or some kind of switching man. Whatever the case, it seemed to work.

Maccabi spent plenty of possessions in their matchup zone but still could not consistently contain PAO's vaunted high pick/roll action. PAO shot 48% overall and 66% of their shots were assisted.

Dimis Diamantidis won the Euroleague MVP trophy Saturday and he backed it up by leading PAO with 16 pts, 9 assts, 5 rebs & 2 stls. He only shot 5-for-15 with four TOs, but Dimis still ran the offense with a deft touch--half of his 14 pick/roll plays led to made baskets & 17 pts. Had a key role in setting up Sato & Batiste for a chunk of their buckets. Great job as usual letting passing angles develop and nobody better at making passes back against the grain.

Dimis would've have been the perfect answer to the Lakers PG woes. Phil would've love him--a better version of Ron Harper. Dimis would fit nicely in the backcourt with Wade & LeBron as well. It's just too bad he seems to have no interest in the NBA. Have to think this win puts Dimis in the running for entry into the Naismith Hall of Fame: three EL titles, one EuroBasket title, one Worlds silver, EL MVP and one of the best defenders ever in Europe.

After Dimis, Romain Sato was next best all-around player of the day. Sato was huge to PAO's 3rd quarter run, nailing three 3pts. (including two in a row to push the lead to seven pts.) and finished with 13 pts & 7 rebs. Plus, Sato was a help defender deluxe all game, particularly along the baseline.

Anytime PAO need a big shot, Drew Nicholas would oblige in the 2nd half, netting 12 of his 14 pts in the last 20 mins. Drew hit a long pull-up 2pt. off high pick/roll to regain the lead midway thru 3rd (PAO would never trail after this), a transition 3pt. early in the 4th, running banker with shot clock running down in the 4th and drilled a big pull-up 3pt. off of isolation with 3:20 left in game.

Per usual, Mike Batiste (18 pts on 7-of-10, 6 rebs) did most of his damage rolling to bucket off high p/r or cutting to the rim. But his biggest bucket of the game came off a quick flash cut post-up on Pargo to give PAO a 71-64 lead with a minute left.

Antonis Fotsis (5 pts, 7 rebs) capped off his quality EL season with a great defensive display on-the-ball and as a helper. Often was switched onto perimeter players and did a fine job staying in front and contesting.

Nick Calathes once again played a heady floor game and ran the offense with a steady hand (4 pts, 6 assts, 1 TO). Maybe just as key, Calathes did a commendable job staying with Pargo. Don't ever remember him getting burned by the more explosive Pargo. Thought Nick defending Pargo could be a problem for PAO, but Calathes held his own. He has really stepped up this year in V. Spanoulis's absence and showed he could hang at the highest level of basketball outside the NBA. I think he could be a solid reserve in the league and potentially pairs well with a player like Roddy Beaubois.

Jeremy Pargo rarely found much space to operate as PAO's guarded him well and the bigs were always ready to help. When Pargo tried to get in the lane, he had a guard riding him and extra bodies were coming to protect the rim. He did finish a couple drives at the rim but they were all tough shots under duress.

Pargo was held to 4-of-12 shooting with 6 TOs, but did manage 12 pts, 9 assts, 5 rebs & 2 stls. This loss shouldn't take away from Pargo's strong EL season and have to believe he's got the goods to be at least a reserve combo guard in the NBA.

Lior Eliyahu (Rockets hold rights) was a non-factor during the first three quarters, then helped Maccabi stay around late in the game by scoring all his 12 pts in the last seven minutes. Multi-purpose wing Chuck Eidson kept Maccabi involved in the 1st half by tossing in 12 of his 17 pts, some were from his patented off-balance repetoire. David Blu (14 pts) did what he does--knock down jumpers, 3-of-6 3PA.

Maccabi's 2nd-leading scorer Sofo Schortsanitis only managed four points after 16 pts in the semis. Not surprising he picked up his second foul six minutes into the game and only managed 14 mins. of floor time. This is the danger of having Sofo as your 2nd scoring option, especially in a one-n-done scenario--he's too foul-prone for that role to be counted on every game.

Anytime Sofo touched the ball on the block, PAO defenders were quick to collapse around him. Sofo did not have too many opportunities to score because of the doubling, but thought he did a decent job of passing out (3 assts), something he's improved on.

Expect both teams to be serious contenders for the title next season. Maccabi still has the Israeli league playoffs to look forward to, where they are the fave to win the title. Panathinaikos just advanced to the Greek league semis and are likely headed for a showdown with rival Olympiacos in the finals, where Oly is the slight fave.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

2011 Euroleague Final Four Preview

The best Final Four in basketball begins on Friday in Barcelona with Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos facing Montepaschi Siena of Italy in the first Euroleague semifinal at 12pm EST. Maccabi Tel Aviv squares off with Real Madrid in the second semi at 3pm EST. Both games can be viewed live or on replay at ESPN3. The final is scheduled for 10:30 am EST on Sunday (May 8th) which can also be viewed at ESPN3.

Not much separates these four squads, and any team is capable of taking home the hardware. All four teams have deep rosters and, in typical European fashion, each coach likes to spread the minutes around.

Suppose Panathinaikos is the slight favorite, but by no means an overwhelming fave. Last time Panathinaikos was at the Final Four, in 2009, they raised the trophy. They won it in '07 as well, so the odd-year pattern works in their favor.

NBA fans should keep their eyes on free-agent prospects like Maccabi's Jeremy Pargo and Siena's Bo McCalebb. Also a handful of players who have their rights held by an NBA team will play key roles this weekend: Real's Sergio Llull (Houston) & Ante Tomic (Utah), Pana's Nick Calathes (Dallas), Maccabi's Lior Eliyahu (Houston) & Sofo Schortsanitis (L.A. Clippers) and Siena's Milovan Rakovic (Orlando). And the only future draft prospect to be concerned with is Real's Nikola Mirotic. Though, Mirotic likely won't be coming over this year as he recently re-signed a long-term deal with Real.

Let's take a deeper look at teams below:

Semfinal #1: Panathinaikos (PAO) vs. Montepaschi Siena
Panathinaikos' hopes of a sixth Euro title could be in some danger because of the health issues for Dimis Diamantidis and Drew Nicholas. This is Siena's fourth Final 4 appearance and they're seeking their first Euro title. Two veteran teams who shoot the ball well and but are both below average on the boards.

Key Players: Dimis Diamantidis; Mike Batiste; Drew Nicholas; Antonis Fotsis
NBA prospects: Nick Calathes (Mavs hold rights); Romain Sato (free agent)

PAO reached the Final Four by defeating the defending champs, Barcelona, 3-1 in a tightly contested quarterfinal series. PAO has done a nice job this season filling the offensive holes left by the departure of Nikola Pekovic and Vassilis Spanoulis.

Dimis Diamantidis is having his best all-around season and will likely be voted Euroleague MVP. Continues to be a defensive force but he's raised his offensive game this year--the most aggressive we've seen him looking for his own shot. Dimis is averaging 12.6 ppg, 6 apg (#1 in EL), 4 rpg, 1.6 spg, 3 TOpg, 53% on 2PA & 38% on 3PA.

Dimis runs the show with a deft understanding of the pick/roll game. Dimis is effective with his back-to-basket and could see him setting up down low plenty if Siena decides to guard him with Bo McCalebb.

Former Maryland standout Drew Nicholas gives this team more offensive firepower on the perimeter. Nicholas is the primary sharpshooter (10 ppg, 42% 3PA), who will be run thru off-ball screens and will even do some ball-handling.

PF Mike Batiste leads PAO with 13 ppg on 58% and does most of his damage rolling off of high p/r. PAO doesn't really have a reliable post scorer anymore with Pekovic in Minnesota. Center Ian Vougiokas can score occassionally with a lefty hook, but his game lacks consistency.

PF Antonio Fotsis has been quietly having a nice season averaging 8 ppg on 53% overall (40% 3PA) & 5 rpg in 23 mins/game. PAO spreads the floor very well with Fotsis at the 4. PAO is shooting 37.5% from behind the arc, 2nd best in Euroleague play.

PG Nick Calathes will also be called upon to handle the ball and he's done a solid job this year. SG Romain Sato has not been quite as productive as expected after terrific campaigns with Siena the last few years. Sato's still a valuable asset who provides defense, rebounding and decent shooting.

Role players like PF Kostas Tsartsaris, combo guard Milenko Tepic and Stratos Perperoglou should also see floor time. Perperoglou is solid role playing SF with a decent shooting stroke and sneaky driving ability. Tsartsaris is a wily vet who can guard multiple positions.

Key Players: Rimantas Kaukenas; Ksystof Lavrinovic; Bo McCalebb
NBA prospects: McCalebb (FA); Malik Hairston (FA); Milovan Rakovic (Magic hold rights)

Might consider Siena the surprise Final Four entry after their somewhat surprising dispatching of Olympiacos in the quarters. Shook off a 48-point drubbing in Game 1 to take the series 3-1.

Rimantas Kaukenas, Ksystof Lavrinovic and Bo McCalebb are all averaging roughly 12 ppg. Kaukenas is having a bounce-back year after struggling with injuries. The 6-5 Lithuanian is only shooting 32% from 3pt. range this season but he's a proven sharpshooter over his career.

Nikos Zisis, Marko Jaric, Kaukenas and McCalebb will share ball-handling responsibilities. Jaric was a savvy mid-season pickup for Siena and he gave the Tuscans valuable minutes in the quarterfinals. Jaric could be important in the semis since he might be the best matchup vs. Diamantidis.

Zisis and Kaukenas are very aggressive looking for their shot coming off of ball screens--both are capable pull-up shooters. Kaukenas is very crafty winding his way to rim going left or right. While McCalebb is an erratic shooter, he's terrific at attacking the paint. McCaleeb is still working his way back from a mid-season toe injury and did not have much impact in the quarterfinals.

Siena's likes to run plenty of pick/roll, which is wise since they don't have much in the way of post scoring. The bigs are constantly looking to set ball screens and will often see multiple ball screens on the same possession.

Main weakness is the lack of size which definitely plays into their poor rebounding ability. Lavrinovic and Rakovic are the only key contributors over 6-8.

The good news for Siena--PAO is not particularly good on the glass either. Also, PAO doesn't really possess a dominant post scorer.

6-11 K. Lavrinovic is having another superb Euroleague campaign. The mobile Lithuanian prefers to face-up and gives Siena a nice pick/pop option.

6-10 bruiser Milovan Rakovic is productive in his 16 mins. per game of floor time (8 ppg on 58% & 3.5 rpg). Not really effective as a post scorer, but his mobility allows him to finish on rolls and attack the off. glass.

Think of veteran forward Shaun Stonerook (Ohio St. alum) as a smaller version of Andy Varejao. He's a high-energy, all-purpose defender who gets boards and steals, Not to mention, favors the same Sideshow Bob follicle styling.

SF David Moss (7.5 ppg on 49%, 43% on 3pts.) gives Siena another reliable shooter on the wings. Former Oregon Duck Malik Hairston (8.6 ppg on 51%) is probably their best post-up option.

Siena is not quite as potent creating turnovers as in the past, but they still led the Euroleague in steals. Overall, a solid jumpshooting team.


Semifinal #2: Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Real Madrid

Should be a competitive game between two closely-matched teams. Both teams move the ball very well and are strong on the boards. Where they differ is connecting on shots--Maccabi's 49% FG pct. led the league while Real only managed to shoot 43.6%. Though, Maccabi was dead last in FT shooting (66%) while Real was the 2nd best FT shooting team (78.7%).

Key players: Jeremy Pargo; Sofo Schortsantis; Chuck Eidson; Lior Eliyahu
NBA Prospects: Pargo (FA); Sofo (Clips hold rights); Eliyahu (Rockets hold rights); Richard Hendrix (FA)

David Blatt's teams usually are successful because of their stout defensive principles. This year's Maccabi squad is no slouch on defense, but also compounds their opponent's pain with arguably the best offensive unit in Euroleague play. Lead the league in points (82 ppg) and shooting percentage (49%).

Though, Maccabi was dealt a blow in the quarters when Doron Perkins went down with a knee injury in Game 3. Perkins was having a quality season and he combined with Pargo to give Maccabi the most explosive backcourt in the Euroleague.

Led by former Gonzaga star Jeremy Pargo, who was one of the top Euroleague players this season. Pargo averaged 13 ppg on 47%, 4 apg, 3.5 rpg & 1 steal per in 29 mins per game.

Pargo might be the toughest guard to contain in Europe and is constantly getting into the lane. Pargo is the primary ball-handler, who doesn't need screens to get by his defender and Blatt will often let Pargo isolate. Pargo has been also knocking down his perimeter shots--38% on 3PA--to compliment his slashing ability

Big Sofo Schortsanitis is the second option and might be having his finest season. Once again, Sofo has been highly productive in limited minutes, averaging 12.3 ppg on 59% in 20 mins per. The colossal Greek carves out post position like no other player on Earth. And he just doesn't bull his way to rim--his nimble footwork is vastly underrated. He still has issues with offensive fouls, but he neutralizes this by drawing fouls and double-teams constantly.

No surprise Maccabi relies on Blatt's Princeton-influenced sets. The guards like to initiate the offense up high with bigs in the high post area. The bigs will look to make passes out of the high post. Dribble handoffs, backpicks for guards on perimeter, cutting are all staples of the offense. Also, when Sofo ain't posting, Maccabi likes to keep the basket area open. Not averse at getting out in transition.

Forward Lior Eliyahu's combo of athleticism and activity has been a great asset this season--averaging 11 ppg on 62% & 4 rpg in 22 mins per. Lior's not a perimeter shooting threat but is a strong finisher 10 feet & in thanks to his array of unorthodox runners/flip shots a la Antwan Jamison. Eliyahu mostly does damage cutting/rolling to open spots, though he will also drive the ball on occassion.

Not many American fans are likely familar with the name Chuck Eidson, but he has been one of the better all-around players in Europe over the last few years. The former S. Carolina Gamecock is a versatile combo guard with sneaky athleticism, who will help Pargo handle the ball. Eidson is probably more dangerous shooting off the dribble than when he has his feet set. Eidson's averaging 9 ppg, 4 rpg, 4 apg & 2.6 steals per.

David Blu (formerly Bluthenthal) and Guy Pnini add capable shooting on the wings--both shooting at least 50% on 2pts. & over 40% on 3pts. 6-9 Milan Macvan and 6-8 Richard Hendrix give Blatt quality bigs off the bench. Macvan is limited physically but makes up for it with terrific fundamentals--crafty post game. Former Alabama star Hendrix is highly effective in limited minutes (6 ppg on 58% & 5 rpg in 14 mins) thanks to athleticism--dangerous on the offensive glass.

Expect to see some of Blatt's patented off-kilter zone looks in the semifinal, especially vs. a shaky shooting Real squad. Likely see some matchup zone where defenders often follow their man out of their zone.

Key Players: Sergio Llull; Pablo Prigioni; Ante Tomic; Felipe Reyes; Nikola Mirotic
NBA prospects: Mirotic (draft); Llull (Rockets hold rights); Tomic (Jazz hold rights)

Not sure Real Madrid was expected to be in Barcelona after coaching change mid-season from the legendary Ettore Messina to Emanuele Molin, but Real regrouped and outlasted Spanish rival Valencia in the quarters to reach the Final 4.

Very deep roster that goes 10-11 deep and loses very little when calling upon its reserves. Ball movement is very crisp, they swing the ball swiftly and pass out of doubles well. The offense features a ton of off-ball screening.

Combo guard Sergio Llull leads Real in scoring with 11.5 ppg and has been one of the top Euroleague players this season. Llull punishes opponents with his speed either in the half-court or transition. Llull has seen more time running the offense this season and he does not always need screens to get by his defender.

Llull gets help running the offense from one of the best pure point guards in the world, Pablo Prigioni. Pablo's assist numbers (3.3 apg) aren't quite as gaudy as in the past, but he still sees the floor as well as any guard in Europe and rarely makes mistakes.

Former NBAer Sergio Rodriguez gives Real another potent playmaker. Sergio missed the quarterfinal series with a thigh injury but he seems to be back on the mend after scoring in double-digits in Real's last three ACB games. Sergio has been productive this season averaging 7 ppg & 3.3 apg in 19 mins a game.

Post-up action is a big component of the Real attack. They like to feed 7-2 Ante Tomic early in the game to get him going. Tomic (10 ppg on 50%, 5 rpg in 20 mins) is comfortable on either block and can punish the defense with a variety of post moves (can hit hooks with either hand). Tomic has a feathery touch and likes to finish off of rolls/cuts with a floater. But he can be taken out of his game if you get physical with him and his lack of strength gets him in foul trouble.

Veteran PF Felipe Reyes (8.4 ppg & 5.2 rpg) gets his fair share of post touches as well and his footwork is tight as well. Reyes is kind of the opposite of Tomic, as he revels in the physical side of the game.

The Real bigs are all capable mid-range shooters and often will squirt out from in the interior while the ball-handler is in motion. The bigs move to the open spots well, especially Tomic. Former West Va. Mountaineer D'or Fisher is a quality frontcourt reserve who is productive in his 18 mins on the floor--6.5 ppg on 58%, 6 rpg, 1.5 bpg (#2 in EL).

Real is very dangerous on the offensive glass--Reyes, Fisher & Tomic all average over 2 off. boards a game.

NBA first-round prospect Nikola Mirotic usually comes off the bench to play 14-15 mins a game. His numbers are impressive for a 20 year-old--7 ppg, 3 rpg, 57.6 on 2PA, 44% on 3PA. Real will sometimes call a post-up or iso for Mirotic but his main job is to spot-up.

Mirotic has forced combo forward Novica Velickovic out of the rotation. Last year, Real would run a fair amount of offense through the multi-dimensional Velickovic, but he's basically an afterthought on this year's team. Though don't be surprised if he provides valuable minutes for Real this weekend.

SG Clay Tucker (9.3 ppg) is another capable scorer on the wing who can rub off of screens or hit quick dribble pull-ups. Carlos "Southbound" Suarez will likely start at SF and provide rebounding & spot shooting.

Real's overall shooting numbers are not very strong--43.6% from the field. And they struggled from beyond the arc in Euroleague play--32.6%. Though, Real is shooting 37% from 3pt. range in ACB play. Llull is only hitting 34.5% on his 3PA in Euroleague play, but is currently shooting his 3pts. at a 40% clip in ACB play. Like Llull, Tucker and Suarez both shot the ball poorly in Euroleague play but are shooting better in ACB play.


In the first semi, going to pick PAO. But If Diamantidis can't go, give the edge to Siena. Love the way Diamantidis is playing this year and not sure Siena can match up with him unless Jaric plays like he did ten years ago. PAO was great at drawing fouls while Siena tends to foul quite a bit. Still have concerns about Siena's shallow frontcourt rotation. Then again, they were able to get past an Olympiacos team that featured Ioannis Bourousis and Rasho Nesterovic.

Have to pick Maccabi in the other semi because of their strength on both ends of the floor. Think Maccabi's zone could be effective vs. a shaky shooting Real team. Also, think Maccabi can neutralize Real's rebounding prowess. And Maccabi has the ultimate tiebreaker in Coach Blatt on sidelines, a master tactician.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Celtics Breakdowns: Can't Take Advantage with James/Wade Out; Pierce Risks Suspension

Back during the Bulls' championship run in the '90s, I remember announcers sometimes commenting that Phil Jackson always liked to have either Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen in the game at any time, to help keep the team organized even with bench players on the floor.

I always think of that when Erik Spoelstra removes both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from the game at the same time - I'm always surprised by it, especially given the sharp dropoff in talent with the Heat's supporting cast.

As such, I thought that a underrated key point of Game 1 of the Heat-Celtics series came at the beginning of the second quarter when Coach Spo was able to sit his two superstars simultaneously for a full 4:23 and Boston couldn't make him pay for it. Miami ended up a +4 (9-5) during this stretch, with a 9-0 run included in there. The Heat really first took control of the game during this time with James and Wade both out, stretching their lead from 20-14 to 29-19 overall, and they really never looked back.

This just can't happen if the Celtics expect to win, and it shines a spotlight on how poor their bench - which seemed like a major team strength early in the season - has become. I was surprised at how much praise Boston received for its first-round sweep of the Knicks - I thought the Celtics had to work far too hard to dispatch a team hobbled by injuries.

I knew that Boston's bench had been subpar since the Perkins trade, but I was really shocked that they weren't even able to provide solid minutes against the likes of Roger Mason, Jared Jeffries, Bill Walker and Anthony Carter. For the series, Celtics starters Rondo (42 minutes per game), Allen (40) and Pierce (39) had to play at least as much as Melo (39) and Amare (39 in the games other than the one he left due to injury). Considering how bad I consider the Knicks' supporting talent to be after the Melo trade, I was truly shocked by this.

And certainly, in Game 1 vs. Miami, things weren't any better. So, what happened? Well, the contributions of James Jones were obvious, but I thought Mike Miller and Jeff Green were key players in this timeframe, as well. Let's take a snapshot of a few possessions, starting with the score 20-16 Miami at 11:17 of the second quarter, after Big Baby had hit a jumper to open the period, and Rajon Rondo then picked up his third foul and left the game (obviously a big key in this run, as well).

- Miami: Chalmers-Jones-Miller-Bosh-Anthony
- Boston: West-Pierce-Green-Davis-Krstic

11:17 20-16 Miami
Bosh comes up to set a high screen for Chalmers, and Davis flies up for a hard hedge before Bosh even gets there - Baby ends up 3 feet higher on floor than Bosh, who stops short before setting the screen. Chalmers swings the ball over to Miller on the left, who alertly hits a now-open Bosh in lane for a hoop. One could ask if it's really necessary for Big Baby to hedge so hard off of Bosh, onto Chalmers, with this lineup in the game.
22-16 Miami

11:06 22-16 Miami
Delonte West gets a good look at a 20-footer that goes halfway down and pops out. Bad bounce for the C's on this one.

11:06 22-16 Miami
Bosh steps out of bounds for a TO.

10:38 22-16 Miami
From the wing, Jeff Green drives by his defender, only to be stripped on the way to the goal by James Jones. TO.

10:13 22-16 Miami
Chalmers/Bosh run a pick-and-roll way up on the upper left side. Again, Davis plays the screen extremely aggressively - not sure why he's doing this against Chalmers. West goes over the pick, even though it's way up high, but is still able to mostly recover as Chalmers gets around the screen and drives into the middle.

The bigger question mark is why Jeff Green plays so far off of James Jones to help contain against the Chalmers drive. Yes, it ties into the Celtics' principles off loading up towards the strong side, but this is *Mario Chalmers*, not LeBron or D-Wade. James Jones for 3 is the bigger threat - Chalmers pitches out to Jones for an easy three, his first of 5 on the afternoon.
25-16 Miami

10:01 25-16 Miami
Pierce drives to the goal, but Joel Anthony provides tremendous help defense just outside the restricted area to force a missed shot.

9:37 25-16 Miami
Miller makes a shot fake from the left wing to draw Pierce into the air, and drives around him. Green is initially guarding Jones out on the right wing, but when Miller drives into the middle, Green totally loses sight of Jones, who drops down to the right corner, yet Green doesn't really provide help defense on Miller, either. He ends up essentially guarding air, and there was no reason for him to leave Jones, whom Miller finds wide open for a corner three and his second assist.
28-16 Miami

9:26 28-16 Miami
Boston calls time-out, and then Delonte commits an idiotic technical by tossing the ball to Chalmers as he's on the ground. Free point for James Jones. You just can't be committing dumb technicals like this in this series.
29-16 Miami

And there you have it, 9-0 run for Miami with LeBron and Wade on the bench. Miami didn't score again with them both out - here are the further Boston possessions:

9:23 29-16 Miami
Delonte misses a driving dunk in the halfcourt. Another strong challenge by Anthony may have helped force a miss.

8:45 29-16 Miami
Jeff Green can't convert after a lob pass is thrown in to him to take advantage of a mismatch with Chalmers guarding him. Green can't convert the 4-footer over him.

8:21 29-16 Miami
Pierce draws a double team, drives and collapses the Miami defense, and pitches out for an open corner 3 for Green... who misses. Jeff Green is just repeatedly killing the Celtics on both ends, when they need him to take advantage of Miami's reserves.

8:02 29-16 Miami
Delonte hits a 3, and Spo doesn't press his luck. He takes a TO with 7:37 left and gets James back into the game, after enjoying a +4 stretch with his two superstars sitting next to him.
29-19 Miami

For the game, Mike Miller was a +13 in just eight minutes despite not scoring a point, as he contributed three rebounds and three assists. Meanwhile, Jeff Green was a -9 in 22 minutes, and it would have been worse if not for some garbage minutes at the end of the game.

Th guy whose +/- was striking was Big Baby, who was -21 in 23 minutes, scoring just four points and playing overly aggressive on D, as described above.

Some conventional wisdom suggested that the Heat would need to play James and Wade 45 minutes apiece to prevail in their tougher playoff series. In Game 1, it was a relative walk in the park, as James played 40 minutes and Wade played "just" 37 minutes - and did so spectacularly.


A quick comment regarding the shenanigans involving Paul Pierce. The officiating in Game 1 regarding flagrant and technical fouls was pretty poor overall.

First, Danny Crawford called a puzzling flagrant foul on Jermaine O'Neal, for bumping James Jones as he cut through the lane. It ended up being a key call, as Mike Bibby followed the two free throws by Jones with a three to make it a 5-point possession and 14-point lead in the third quarter.

Then, Ed Malloy whistled Jones for a personal, and Jones and Pierce for double technicals on a play which seemed like it should have been a flagrant on Jones and a technical on Pierce for head-butting Jones, which - based on NBA rules interpretations and precedents I've seen - seemed to warrant ejection.

Finally, Malloy compounded everything by ejecting Pierce on a double-technical call after some jawing with Wade which didn't seem worthy of anything near a double-T/ejection in a major playoff game.

In any event, the more I think about it, the more I think Paul Pierce is likely to be suspended for Game 2 for his head-butt - again, based on the NBA rules interpretations and precedents that I've seen. The fact that Pierce's head-butt landed as a glancing blow which Jeff Van Gundy called a "face rub" is largely irrelevant - the fact that Pierce attempted a head-butt, and it connected, is all that matters, based on what I've seen in the past.

Who knows, we'll see what happens on Monday. Regardless, it's inexcusable that Pierce put himself in a position in which he *might* be suspended. I will always believe that the Celtics defeated superior teams in Cleveland and Orlando in 2010 due to superior mental toughness. It was really one of the most mentally-tough runs I've ever seen, both in Games 4-6 vs. the Cavs, and also in Games 1 and 3 against a Magic team which couldn't match Boston's intensity and desire.

Pierce never should have launched his head at Jones. Boston needs to be as mentally tough as they were last season if they want to beat Miami, and this was an inexcusable lapse by Pierce. If the league office does decide to suspend him, I'm sure there will be an outcry about whether interpreting the rules like that is justified, but there will be no one to blame other than Paul Pierce, who knows how the rules are called, and should know better, if he wants to win another ring.