True Hoops

True Hoops

Sunday, June 15, 2014

On The Verge


So......how exactly did we get here?
Wasn't this supposed to be an evenly matched rematch between the two best teams in basketball...bound for another 7 games???


Instead, we have a 3-1 advantage for the Spurs and amazingly for the first time in 4 years, since Miami's big 3 inception, the Heat look completely overmatched. Can you believe that the Spurs have won by an average of ~18 points a game? And the only game they lost, was by 2 points. That seems like domination to me.

I guess a question you have to ask at some point is:
Are the Spurs really that much better than Miami?
Uh......... Yes.

The Spurs are averaging 106 points a game to ~93 for Miami in the Finals.
With these numbers, offensively the Spurs are 3rd best in points a game for the postseason while Miami is now not even in the top 10 teams for the playoffs (in the same realm as Atlanta and Charlotte).  Furthermore, it means that from a defensive standpoint, the Spurs in the Finals are 3rd best in allowed points per game (better than Chicago and almost as good as Indiana), while the Heat are again out of the top 10. What started out as a Finals between the two best teams in the NBA has turn into something along the lines of a 1 vs 7/8 seed. And Miami is the 7/8 seed!

Holy schnikies!!!

Look at some of the positions and team stats.
At point: 
Chalmers and Cole are averaging 7 points a game.....combined.
Tony parker is leading the Spurs at 18.5 points a game.
That's pretty unbalanced

Shooting guard:
Wade at ~16 a game, Allen at ~11 a game = ~27 a game
Manu at ~13 a game, Green at 11.5 a game = 24.5 a game.
Pretty much even

Power forward:
Duncan at ~16 points, 10.5 rebounds a game.
Bosh at ~14.5 points, ~5 rebounds a game.
Pretty much even for points, but not rebounds

Bench points:
Spurs ~35 points a game
Heat ~28 points a game
Edge to San Antonio

Assists:
Spurs, ~25 a game
Heat, 15.5 a game
Major edge to San Antonio

So, Miami is getting destroyed at the point position, pretty much even at the shooting and forward spot, but losing the bench and assists game. From the latter two stats, it's clear the Spurs are a better team over all. I guess the hope for Miami was that they have the better individual players. But without Wade and Bosh significantly better than Manu and Duncan (let alone having lower numbers) not only can't Miami compensate for the advantages the Spurs have holistically, but you can imagine how these games can turn into blowouts.

Of course Miami has the trump card - with LeBron James on their team.
So let's look at the numbers for his position:
~27 points, 7 rebounds a game for LeBron
17 points, & 5.5 rebounds a game for Khawi Leonard

Maybe that can make up for Parker dominating the point?

But......

What's interesting....and alarming for Miami.....
In games 3 & 4:
25 points, 6.5 rebounds a game for LeBron
24.5 points, 9 rebounds a game for Leonard


Yikes!!!

So you're telling me the Spurs are better offensively (both shooting wise and passing), are dominating the point, and are equilibrating LeBron, Wade, and Bosh.......
Yeah......
I guess it's not such a shock the series is 3-1 in favor of the Spurs.


Plus, beyond statistics the Spurs are beating the Heat in terms of the wow factor - as Khawi is doing other things typically reserved for LeBron:





Game changer 
How about with 8 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists in game 4, Diaw was + 15 for the game.
By the way, that's +60 for the series.
Sometimes a guy that does everything other than score is just as valuable as scoring.

Where are the game changers for Miami?
These used to be Shane Battier, Mike Miller, & Mario Chalmers. One is literally no longer on the team, the other two have only played that way in the Finals.


International ball
The Spurs clearly have a better all-around team and better offensive skills in terms of passing and shooting than Miami. For example, in game 4:
The Spurs shot 57% from the floor and had 25 assists.
Miami shot 45% from the floor and had 13 assists.

It's interesting to note that passing and shooting, considered finesse skills, are traits favored by international brand of basketball.
FYI: the Spurs have 6 international players on their team playing significant minutes in the Finals.

I can't help but wonder aloud if there is some sort of correlation.

In '92, America sent in the big guns to the Olympics.
We were overwhelmingly bigger, stronger, more athletic......pretty much dominant in every capacity.
In a little over 10 years, America lost in the olympics (to an Argentina team that won gold, lead by Ginobili by the way). In the past two olympics, America was forced to resend the best of the best to win back the gold. And even still, had fairly stiff competition in two consecutive gold medal games by Spain.

It's obvious that the Dream Team inoculated the international basketball scene with concepts, visions, and aspirations that rapidly evolved their playing ability. Kind of crazy that in ~20 years, not only has the international community caught up but it's now actually reshaping and evolving the NBA as well.

Consider the fact that there are not really any big men in the game today.
That everyone wants a stretch 4.
Even USA basketball has switched up their format to enable more continuity and team concepts for international competition.

But now, the Spurs on the verge on winning an NBA championships by using passing and shooting to take down the best player in the world? With their leading scorer, Parker, averaging less than 20 points a game? That's pretty significant.

Even more to consider, players like LeBron James and Tim Duncan come along very rarely.
Have to wonder if the Spurs win the title, how that will affect the way teams play basketball and try to win a championship. Very rarely, does a team win without 2 stars leading the way. Even more rare, with only one. Can the Spurs, and an international style of play, change that?


When the best isn't good enough 
LeBron's  is averaging 27.5 points a game, on 60% shooting (61% from three), to go along with 7 rebounds, ~4 assists.
By far, he has been the best player in the Finals and has had the most dominant performance.....
And it doesn't even matter!!!

This is perhaps the greatest achievement for the Spurs these Finals.
We're so used to individual players dominating and determining championships.
But San Antonio has managed to make it about strength of team - in which they have a decided advantage.

It's crazy, for the first time in recent memory the NBA Finals isn't about LeBron.
Critics are usually ready to pounce and point out that he hasn't done enough or hasn't come up big enough. I don't get that sense this time around. If Miami losses, I think there won't be much vitriol sent in LeBron's direction. I think people will feel as if he did everything he could have, but against these Spurs, it's irrelevant.

Ask yourself,  can LeBron do more?
If so, what more could he do......other than average maybe 40 points and 10 rebounds a game?

What does LeBron think?
Before game 5 this is what LeBron said:
"I've been telling myself that I need to do more. Is that too much to ask of myself? I don't know....I need to do more because what I'm doing isn't enough......(maybe) I need to get 32 and 65 and 65 from the field and three. It's just the pressure I put on myself."
Some food for thought.
In elimination games, LeBron's numbers are:
32 points, 10 rebounds, and 6.5 assists.

Would that be enough to win tonight?


Something in the air  
There appears to be something off with Miami right now.
I can't put my finger on it, but I'm not entirely sure what to make of LeBron's comments before game 5:

"It's just basketball."
"I'm a good place in my life right now."

He is absolutely right by the way. And probably more impressive than his actual play in the Finals has been the way LeBron has matured as a man and the ultimate professional he has become. It's great to see that he doesn't give a ish about the media and that clearly he has aspirations bigger and beyond basketball.
Of course, as he said:

"Two championships help that."

But, still. there is a bit of a different feel to this than let's say going into game 6 in Boston 2 years ago.
I wonder if all the mental (not to mention physical) fatigue of the past 4 years has finally caught up with this team.
Taking out the champs 
There might be a notion that there is no way the two-time defending champs can go down without a fight. But, if you look at how recent multi-championship winners relinquished the crown, that tends to be how things go down.

After the Pistons three trips to the Finals & repeat - they were swept in conference finals in '91.
After the Rockets repeat - they were swept in second round in '96.
After Lakers three trips to Finals & repeat - they were swept in second round in '11.

Not sure if you can count the Bulls 2 three-peats - since Jordan retired the following year both times.
The other three-peat team? The Shaq/Kobe Lakers  lost in 6 games in the '03 second round.
By the way, they lost to the Spurs.....who had Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili......


More than a parenthesis
Think about it.
The Spurs and Duncan won after Jordan retired.
They then survived and helped bring about the demise of Shaq/Kobe.
They were supposed to serve as a bridge to LeBron, especially with last year's Finals loss.

With a a championship this year over LeBron....they are actually cutting into his legacy and preventing another dynasty. How many generations of best players in the world can these guys survive and take down?

At least, with another win in the next week, we'll have to reconsider their place in history, right?


Adjustments


For Miami:
Regardless of the situation, there is always something that a team can try to do to survive.
So, what can Miami do to stop the Spurs incredible shooting and regain some offensive fire power of their own?

1) Speed up the game
San Antonio is in an comfortable comfort zone by playing at the pace that they want. They are picking apart Miami in the half court.  So, it would seem to be in Miami's interest to change that by maybe picking up full court on defense and putting pressure on the ball. Maybe it will cause some turnovers that can lead to easy points in transition.
Maybe.
At the very least, it will dictate the pace of the game and force the Spurs to adjust and play at a different tempo - and at this point, let's face it, anything different is good for Miami.

Also, it's interesting to wonder if having a traditional point guard in necessary for the Spurs offense, considering they run their offense through 5 players and in the past two games 9 players have had at least 1 assist.
But.....
Maybe pressing the Spurs requires them to have playmakers that can handle the ball under pressure. Seems to me, having more traditional points guards would be beneficial in that sort of situation. And maybe that's something the Spurs don't have.

2) No point guards
What lineup has worked for Miami?
I would say the one they used at the end of game two:
LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Allen, and Lewis.

That's 3 scorers and 2 shooter to space the floor.
Why not give this another go? Especially at the end of the game (if it's close) and have Wade or LeBron bring up the ball.

Another thing that might be an option is playing Shane Battier more. Lewis has made threes, but that's something Battier can do as well. Also he can provide some more perimeter defense to try to stop the Spurs from scoring.

As for match-ups, how about:
LeBron on Parker (full court)
Wade on Leonard
Allen on Ginobili
Battier on Diaw
Bosh on Duncan

The cool thing is in that defensive lineup, that Heat can pretty much switch everything, with maybe the exception of Bosh onto perimeter players. But even if the Spurs put Bosh in a pick and roll defensive position, that's fine. Have him double Parker or Ginobili coming off the screen to force a ball reversal to Duncan on the perimeter. DON'T leave shooters on the weak-side, rather, make Duncan become the play maker.

Additionally, if they run their offense through Diaw on their post (because Battier is guarding him), then that's great! You want a player who excels at facilitating and making others better trying to score more. If anything, it disrupts the Spurs offensive flow in a half court set.

3) The big two
At what point should Bosh become the second option on the team?
Maybe tonight. How about featuring him more in the post and off down screens, and maybe even off the dribble? How about having Wade point run point and get his buckets off pass and cuts and/or screens on the ball?

And maybe, if Bosh posts/attacks more and Wade gets to the rim off cuts more they can open the floor for shooters. And maybe they can get some of the Spurs in foul trouble. That's what slowed Leonard down in the first two games.

Plus, out of everyone on the Heat - Bosh is the only won that guaranteed Miami would win tonight.
This dude wants it.

To consider:
The Spurs offense is their best defense.
Can the Heat improve their defense, to help their offense?

For San Antonio:
How often do you get an opportunity to make a championship adjustment a year after the fact?
So, I would say, this time around the Spurs should:
1) Make free throws down the stretch
and
2) rebound the ball with less than 10 seconds to go

******

"Live in the moment, so you can change the future."
"History is meant to be broken."
These were words LeBron said before game 5.  And I dig them.
And they'll have to break history/change the future in the next week, considering no team has come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals.

At the beginning of the Finalse spoke about execution of plays, adjustments and opportunities.
The Heat, with proper adjustments certainly have an opportunity to make history.

But on the flip side, consider history and changing the future from the Spurs perspective.
They have a chance to change the future as well.

30 seconds away from winning a championship over the Heat a year ago....aren't they in a position with  with an opportunity to change the ending to the Finals? Haven't they been yearning for this for an entire year???

Well, there is certainly an opportunity to make it so tonight.









Thursday, June 12, 2014

Advantage: 70% shooting from the floor!!!





My GOODNESS!!!
You thought it was hot in Texas???
Broken ACs ain't got nothing on the Spurs shooting!

How is it possible that a team can shoot ~76% from the floor in one half of a basketball game (let alone an NBA Finals basketball game)?
Or, how the heck can a team shoot ~87% in the first quarter...... or an absurd 90% mid-way through the second quarter?

Just how crazy was the Spurs first half of game 3?
Let's make a list:
.758 from the field is the highest shooting percentage for a half in the NBA Finals......ever.
.867 from the field in the first quarter is the second highest shooting percentage for any quarter in the NBA Finals......ever (Second of course to the .875 percent the Spurs shot in the 4th quarter of game 1!).
71 points in a half of the NBA Finals, that's the first time it's happened in 24 years!
Oh, and the measly .594 percent that Spurs shot for the entire game....that's their best shooting percentage for a game in the entire 2014 playoffs (second of course was game 1 of these Finals!).

So yes, the shooting display that the Spurs put on, on Miami's home court, against a team that was (but not anymore) allowing the second fewest points in the playoffs..... was nothing short of amazing.

I have to ask......Boris Diaw....did you guys do anything different?

"We didn't change anything from a game plan standpoint from game 2 to game 3. We just had to go back to what we were doing and play Spurs basketball."
Wait, really?
Well, did you guys focus on getting anyone in particular the ball to shoot?

"The ball was moving. There was no way to know who was going to shoot the ball."

I see.
But, I mean, that was pretty amazing. How did you guys do that???

"Like I said, we didn't do anything special. We made shots from the outside.....some nights you make them, some nights you're going to miss them, but nothing special."

Well then.
I'm sure Miami would hate to see them actually play special.

(by the way - that's really what Boris Diaw said).


Different looks
Okay, maybe the approach wasn't different, but starting Boris was.
And why not start a guy that was on the floor during your previous best stretch of basketball in the Finals (last 6 minutes of game 1) and was third on the team in assists (5.5 a game) for games 1 & 2?

And, Boris Diaw was a +25 on the floor during games 1 & 2 (+30 in game 1! Highest on Spurs!).

Maybe putting Boris in the starting lineup wasn't an adjustment per say, but it certainly was a tweak that enabled the Spurs to dictate the tempo from the jump.

By the way, Diaw was +20 in game 3.....making him a +45 for the Finals thus far.
Yes, the highest on either side. Interesting how someone that is averaging only 6 points a game can have such a huge impact on the series (money ball?).

But he rebounds (over 8 a game) and moves the ball, plus he can defend Bosh fairly well.
And one thing about ball movement - it's contagious.
The Spurs had 21 assist in game 3.....but no one had more than 4 (9 players had at least 1 assist).
That's what you call team basketball.

Offense is the best Defense
How do you stop LeBron???
Score the ball!
It's the great equalizer. Who cares how great greatness is - if you have more points than him.

That's right! No need for double teams or zone defenses. All you need to do is not miss a shot (or at least no more than 30% of your shots in a half).

You might say that LeBron only scored 22 points for the game...so maybe if he scored more Miami could have won. Well - he did have 14 points in the 1st quarter to carry the load (on pace for 56), but Miami was still down 16 when he subbed out to start the second. By the time he checked back in with ~9:00 to go in the half - Miami was down 21.

Game over man.

No need to worry about what he scores in the second half (which was 6 points).

Leonard hits his high 
What was an adjustment that San Antonio needed to make before game 3?
How about getting Kawhi Leonard involved? Remember that one?
Last year in the Finals, he averaged ~15 points, on 51% shooting, to go along with 11 rebounds per game. Through games 1& 2 this year...... 9 points and 2 rebounds.

Game 3?
29 points on 10-13 shooting.
And in case you were wondering, yes that is a career high for him.

Again, one way to slow down LeBron is to make him work defensively.
But would you have guessed Kawhi would outplay LeBron (as well as everyone on the building) in game 3?



By the way, this guy is only 22 years old!


Green adjustment
Remember when I asked if "these teams are past the point of making adjustments?"
Well guess what? They're not!

Case in point:
Danny Green shot 7 for 8 in game 3....but only made 1 three pointer!
This becomes fairly mid-blowing when you consider, in last year's Finals Green made 32 field goals the entire series.......and 27 of them were three pointers! Holy schnikies, you mean to tell me that Danny Green's 6 two-pointers in game 3 were more than he made ALL of last year's Finals?
Wowzers.

And by the way, 4 of his 6 field goals in games 1 & 2 were three pointers.
So in other words, in the 9 NBA Finals game against the Heat prior to game 3, 18% of his shots made were two-pointers. In game 3, 86% were two-pointers.
Talk about switching it up.

But for good cause.
The thing is, when you are a specialist, you are fairly predictable. Everyone knows why you are in the game, and it should be fairly obvious how to take away your strength. Clearly, Miami should chase the Spurs, and in particular Danny green, off the three point line - even if it means giving up two point shots.

But for every action, there is a reaction. For every defensive adjustment, there is a counter offensive adjustment. And the thing with being a great shooter, like Danny Green, is that every defender is always running towards you to close out on your shot - so it gives you a tremendous advantage and opportunity to get by your defender simply by executing a pump fake and then driving around them.
And this is what Green did in game 3, which was something D Wade acknowledged himself.

Defenses are always trying to take away your strength and push you towards doing something you're not comfortable with. But what happens if you become comfortable at it? Then maybe the defense is in trouble.

By the way, after making 13 & 12 three pointers in games 1 & 2, respectively, The Spurs actually made a Finals low 9 three pointers in game 3. So, it may not be so much that Miami didn't try to take away the Spurs strengths - it's just that the Spurs destroyed them in spite of Miami's attempts.

Even minor adjustments - such as making twos instead of threes, can have huge impacts on games between teams that are fairly evenly match.
It just goes to show that evolution, even for an NBA player, even in the middle of an NBA Finals, never stops.....well at least if a player and their respective team wants to survive.

Green reward
Sometimes you have to stop to think about how far a player has come.
Like how Danny Green has become a major factor for the Spurs.

And this isn't lost on coaches as well. In fact, as it turns out, seeing players develop is one of the more enjoyable things for a coach, at any level.

With regards to developing players, coach Pop said yesterday:

"It's one of the most enjoyable parts of the the business, I think. You take somebody like Danny Green, who we've worked with for a long time and actually cut him twice. When you see somebody develop and come into their own, you feel like you did something worthwhile. So it's one of the sources of satisfaction in the business, if you can see a young player grow and become confident."

Seems like growing is a continuing process.....
.....even for coaches themselves

The Evolution of Pop
Coach Pop has a reputation for being a bit recalcitrant with reporters during interviews.
But there is no denying he is one of the greatest. And someone that has had such success and longevity, especially with regards to continuously incorporating new pieces into his team and getting the best out of both his role players and starts, warrants risking a chance of getting embarassed in order to find out more about what he values as a coach.

So, I gave it a shot, which you can watch on NBA.com (2:55 mark).

In response to how he has evolved as a coach and what he's learned about himself and the game during the process:

"I think I've learned to shut up more. And that is probably due to Manu Ginobili. When he first came I was going to make him a heck of a player. And after 20 minutes I realized that he didn't need me to do that. He was already a heck of a player. Sometimes being quiet and letting the player play is much more important than trying to be Mr. Coach and teach him this or that."
There is more:

"So I think as time evolves and you get older in the business you figure out what's really important, and you don't waste time trying to make people what they're not going to be....you've just got to figure out who people are and what they can give you and take advantage of their positives. " 

......How amazing was that?
Perhaps part of being knowledgable is knowing that you don't know everything.
Perhaps part of being a great leader is knowing when to listen.
And perhaps part of being a great coach is not trying to change everyone to your liking, but understanding a players strengths and weaknesses and then working on them.

Thanks for elaborating coach. I can only hope that one day you'll hit me with more.

The 2 month grind
Speaking of evolving and making adjustments. Just for a moment, consider having to do that every single night for two months straight, with the entire world watching you.

That's the NBA playoffs for the Heat and the Spurs.

LeBron what's this process like?

"You never get comfortable in a playoff series ever. You're always on edge throughout the whole series.....so you're never comfortable."
Wow, for two months straight?

Coach Spoelstra, how do you mange that?

"You don't want to get caught up in the wild swings between each game. It's competition, elite competition, so you have to figure out how you're going to win the next competition....You have to deal with that mentality and managing those emotions. You have to manage all the emotions in a very competitive series."

Never too up, never too down. Learning to handle the wild swings between victory and defeat. Sounds like it can be exhausting. Coach Spoelstra, what's it like dealing with a loss?

"It's painful. It's frustrating. It's painful. You have to go through all these emotions of seeing the things that we could have done better."

 And you only have a day to make those adjustments.....
Never comfortable, always on edge, and managing wild emotional swings.....for two months straight.
Now imagine doing that for the last 4 years......

Still think the only strength NBA players posses are physical?


Losing the ball
Talk about painful.
The Miami Heat committed 20 turnovers in game 3.
7 from LeBron and 5 from Wade.

And when Miami cut it to a 7 point deficit in the third, and trailed by 11 going into the 4th???
They then committed 6 TOs in the 4th quarter.

Things usually don't well when you can't stop the other team and can't take care of the ball offensively.



Adjustments
For Miami:
1) Maybe a little defense?
What's concerning is that these crazy offensive outbursts by the Spurs are becoming a trend more than an aberration. The last 6 minutes in the 4th quarter of game 1 and the first quarter of game 3. In those 18 minutes, the Spurs have put up historic performances and outscored Miami by 33 points.

Kind of crazy, that in only ~13% of the total minutes of the entire Finals thus far, the Spurs have won two games.

The good news for Miami is that they held the Spurs to only 40 points on 42% shooting in the second half of game 3.  So, in light of this, it seems like the biggest adjustment Miami needs to make is stay focused and intense defensively for an entire game.

Maybe it's finding a way to not let one shot turn into an avalanche.
And just simply, stay in front of their man.

But, I would say, look for the 100 point mark.
If San Antonio reaches it - that doesn't bode well for Miami.


2) Star power
No, not for the super friends, but for super Mario (Chalmers).
He scored 19, 20, & 14 points in Miami's game 2, 6, & 7 victories last year, respectively.
He's averaged 3.3 points and 3 assist a game thus far these Finals.

I don't know if you runs play for him.
But perhaps you need to in corporate him better - maybe on weak side spot ups....

Either that or you go without a point guard altogether.

3) Keep Bosh involved
After averaging over 21 points in Miami' s 5 previous games, Bosh only scored 9 points in game 3 (even though he was 4 for 4 from the field).

It seems like whenever Bosh plays and scores well - Miami has a good chance of winning.


4) Some offense please?
Maybe this concern is addressed in the offseason when they bring Carmelo Anthony down to South Beach. But to win this year, they could use some more offense by players currently on their roster.

Are 94 points a game gonna get it done?





For San Antonio:
......
......
......
Still computing......
......
......
......

What adjustments need to be made when you put on one of the best offensive performances in NBA Finals history....and you held LeBron to 22 points, and Bosh to 9 points, and forced Miami into 20 TOs. And when your players say that they didn't do anything different to begin with?

I would say:
Eat the same meal you did before game 3.
And dress the same way you did before game 3.

Maybe the only thing I would say is to close out and find Rashard Lewis better. Lewis has averaged ~13 points a game this series, on 54% shooting.



Now think about this for a second.
We're (and by we I mean me) saying that Miami needs to change everything (offense and defense) while the Spurs don't have to change anything. That would seem a little concerning for Miami.

I know, I know. They have been in this situation before, having won their last 13 playoff games coming off a loss. But does that mean it's going to hold up tonight?

At this point, it seems fairly obvious the Spurs have the better team....but Miami has LeBron.
In year's past and even before these Finals began - I think everyone (including myself) always felt that Miami's chances were all up to LeBron. But for the first time in the past 4 years, I wonder if that's simply not enough. The Spurs, with their team dominance in game 3 have managed to make it seem as if whatever LeBron does is inconsequential.


Is that possible?
Is the best is not enough?

Can anyone else on Miami help????

I guess we'll find out tonight!









Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Advantage: #Twitter



Do you think it was a good idea for social media to make fun of LeBron James for cramping (i.e. #LeBroning) during the end of game 1 of the Finals? Or what about sport beverage conglomerate Gatorade poking fun at LeBron?

Didn't they see what happened to Lance Stevenson and the Pacers when they tried to taunt/blow in LeBron's ear??? Don't they know that these sorts of antics don't end well for them or their favorite team?

Coach Frank Vogel, what do you think about trying to incite/get under LeBron's skin?

"I don't think it's ever good....to tug on superman's cape.....I don't think that's ever good....I just don't think it's good to tug on the cape."

So, what happens when you "tug on the cape?"
You get this face:


And then you get these results:
35 points on ~64% shooting, to go along with 10 rebounds.
Oh, and a Miami win to even the series.

When are opponents and fans of opponents going to learn - you play with fire you burn.
Stop testing this dude!

Heat Check 
Speaking of responding favorably to pressure, how about the fact that Miami has now won 13 striaight games following a loss in the playoffs?

Heat Cake
Speaking of surviving the heat and blossoming through it, how about coach Mark Jackson with the quote of the Finals thus far:

"Went in flour, came out cake. Something about the Heat makes you great."

And 1
Superstars can win you a game, especially on the road.
But they often need some support to win a series.
Thankfully for the Heat, Chris Bosh came through with the hardest (in terms of nasty) play of the series:





And 3
And then he stepped outside and did this:



And handle
And then he finished the game off in style:


Yes, that is Chris Bosh, in the course of the game dunking on Spurs defenders, hitting a clutch three late in the fourth to give Miami the lead. And then breaking down the defense off the dribble to find Wade for the game clinching basket. Kind of versatile, no?
18 points for the game 2 on the road, but by the way, he has averaged `21 points a game over the last 5.

Flop cake 
Speaking of last 5, 
D. Wade was just fined 5K for doing this last game:


Maybe not so good that Wade has only averaged ~16 point per game in the last 5.

Elbow room
This looked real though: 



Physical point
Is Mario Chalmers dirty?
Perhaps the Bad Boys of the late 80's/early 90's wouldn't think so.

No point
Maybe it doesn't matter what Chalmers does anyway.
The heat went without a point guard on the floor during the home stretch of game 2. 
Instead, they used a lineup of:
LeBron
Wade
Bosh
Rashard Lewis 
Ray Allen.

Seems like everyone on that list can handle the ball anyway.

The turning point
How about with ~6:30 in the 4th when Chalmers was called for that flagrant foul, which awarded San Antonio two foul shots and the ball. Tony Parker missed his two free throws, then Duncan was fouled and missed two free throws as well. The Spurs missed out on a chance to go up 6 with half a quarter to play. Instead, on the next possession, LeBron hit a three to put the Heat up one.

Wow, it's rare that you see a 7 point swing in basketball.

Interesting point
LeBron James switched on to guarding Tony Parker late in the 4th quarter. The result?
Parker, who scored 18 points through three quarters, finished the game with 21.

James has a tendency to take opposing point guards out of the game (3 years ago with Derrick Rose, last year with Tony Parker as well). 

So, in light of this trend, Jeff van Gundy wondered aloud, "If LeBron is guarding Parker, why don't the Spurs have Ginobili run the point and come off on the ball screens?"

There may be something to that. 
Ginobili is averaging 17.5 points a game and is averaging as many assists a game as Parker away, both with 7.5 a game through the first two.

Besides, how essential is traditional point guard play in these late game situations anyway?
The Spurs run their offense through all five guys and the Heat run their offense through LeBron.
And maybe having LeBron chase Parker off multiple screens away from the ball would be more beneficial for the Spurs.

Random thought
Do other NBA players watch the NBA Finals?
Do they root for anyone?
Who is Kevin Durant rooting for?
What about Russell Westbrook and Paul George?

Curse of accomplishments
Speaking of random, did you know that in game 1 LeBron joined Kobe and Jordan as the only players in NBA playoff history to score at least 4,000 points with at least 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists?
And guess what? they lost that game!

Did you know that in game 2, Tim Duncan tied Magic Johnson for the most double doubles in NBA playoff history??? 
And guess what? They lost that game!

Please, leave the historical stats for after the Finals!


Adjustments

For Miami:
1) Keep chasing the Spurs off the three.
The Spurs still had 12 last game, but that was one less (3 points) than the 13 the Spurs made in game won. FYI, Miami won by two points.....one three point can make a big difference.

It kind of feels wired to say this, but Miami may want to make Tim Duncan beat them. Or at least the Spurs as a whole by shooting twos.

Conversely, 
2) Exploit Duncan on defense. Who is he going to guard when Bosh and Lewis are on the court? As we saw towards the end of the Indiana series and game two of the Finals, Bosh is really effective coming off down screens and using his dribble against opposing team's bigs. Why not continue to do so this game? Even if Diaw guards Bosh, can Duncan guard Lewis on the perimeter?

3) How about switching everything on defense? The Spurs are able to break you down coming off of screens and then reverse the ball to open three point shooters. This happens by weak side defenders needing to leave their man to help on ball handlers coming off a screen getting into the paint. With Lewis and Bosh as your bigs - why not just switch? They can defend on the perimeter. And even if they get beat off the dribble - at least it's for only two points.


For San Antonio:
1) Maybe it's time they get Kawhi Leonard involved. I'm not sure if they feature him on offense, but having him play to a similar level as he did last year in the Finals might be critical. How about running him off some down screens to get him active?

2) What about trying a zone defense as a different look? This way they can focus multiple defenders on LeBron and not allow him to have an isolation at the top of the key or in the post. Dallas did this effectively in 2011.

3) And why not just straight up double LeBron and force the ball out of his hands?
This may be equally as weird to say as with Duncan, but maybe the Spurs force Wade to beat them. At least that way the Heat are going away from their strength.




But after all this, let me ask you an honest question:
Are these teams past the point of making adjustments?
I mean, they've played each other 13 times in the last two years and the record in 7-6 in favor of the Heat. These two teams are so evenly matched that really I don't know what there is to adjust to anymore. They know what each other's strengths and weaknesses are at this point.

Just minutes ago, coach Pop said in the game 3 pre-game media session that at this point the games are more about who can execute their stuff. And Wade just said minutes ago in the Heat locker room that both games this series came down to a few plays at the end - in other words, which team was able to take advantage of the opportunities to make shots/plays down the stretch.

Execution of plays and opportunities?
Sounds familiar.

So who will impose their will tonight and make the necessary plays in the last few minutes of the game?

Probably the team that wins the game!!!





Sunday, June 8, 2014

Advantage: Hot Air




Didn't someone say recently, with regards to basketball:
"There are no what ifs in basketball."
"Things happen. Crazy things happen."

I guess you can classify the AC breaking down in game one of the NBA Finals, producing "extreme" conditions" of heat and in turn forcing LeBron James out of the game with cramps under the "crazy things happen" in basketball umbrella.

But there is no use in debating whether or not Miami would have won the game if LeBron stayed in. Instead, it's interesting to discuss what it revealed about both teams.....

How valuable is LeBron?
Cleveland in many ways has served as the perfect control for this sort of question.
The last two years with LeBron they had the best record in the NBA.
The last 4 years without him they have won the number one overall pick in the lottery.
It doesn't get more stark in contrast than that.

We wouldn't expect Miami to display such an extreme in phenotypes +/- LeBron, considering they have Wade and Bosh, right? But dig this:

When LeBron first left the game with ~7:30 to go in the 4th quarter, Miami was up 2 points....
They lost the game by 15.
That's essentially a 17-0 by the Spurs.
With LeBron out of the game a defensive battle that Miami was close to pulling out almost instantaneously transformed into a offensive onslaught blowout by the Spurs.

What's crazy is how much it hurt Miami defensively. The Spurs scored 26 points in a little over half a quarter. Danny Green, who was without a field goal for the first 42 minutes of the game, made three threes and scored 11 points in the final 6 minutes.

Over Miami's run the past 4 years we've seen multiple times just how essential LeBron is.
Whether it's the 2011 Finals, last year Finals games 1-3, or the final 7:30 in game one the other day.
Compare that with Miami being able to stay afloat and win the last couple of years with injuries and lack of production affecting both Wade and Bosh at times.

Yes, the supporting cast is essential.
But it's clear, without LeBron, things fall apart......fast.


Pulling an Ibaka
Speaking of fast, how about the recovery time of Tony Parker?
He went from serious ankle injury forcing him out of the clinching WCF game to questionable health for the Finals to scoring 19 points, on 53% shooting, with 8 assists in game one....within less than a week.

Perhaps making injuries seem worse than they are is the new trend these playoffs.
Let's see what LeBron looks like tonight.


Die by the three
In last year's NBA Finals, the Spurs shot the lights out from three in the first 5 games.
Case in point, through the first 5 games alone Danny Green set a record for most threes in an entire NBA Finals by making 25 three pointers (remember there was talk of him being Finals MVP?).
Also, Gary Neal wasn't so bad either - making 12 threes through the first 5 games.
That's 37 threes = 111 points = ~22 point a game....which made up almost 25% of the spurs offense through the first 5 games!!!

Guess how many three pointers Danny Green and Gary Neal made in games 6 & 7 last year, combined.

4

That's 12 points total = 6 points a game..... which was ~6% of the Spurs offense.

That's a big difference, and an adjustment (that I actually asked Coach Spoelstra about) that had a major affect on the championship.

Now go back to game 1 the other night.
The Spurs made 13 three pointers = 39 points = ~35% of their offense!
But, interestingly (though maybe not surprising):
First 41 minutes: 7 three pointers made
Last 7 minutes: 6 three pointers made

This seems like something worth following......


Live, by allowing points in the paint
In addition to shooting the lights out at the end of the 4th quarter in the game 1, the Spurs also put in work in the paint - scoring 49 points. Tim Duncan had 21 (all in the paint) and Splitter had 14.
A defense never really wants to yield high percentage shots around the rim.

But.....

The Spurs scored only 6 points in the paint during their 7 minute run to blow the game open at the end of the 4th. Which means, that their points in the paint helped them stay in the game, not actually win it.

Again, consider last year's Finals.
Tim Duncan averaged 19 points a game (& 12 rebounds).
But in San Antonio's losses Duncan averaged ~21 points while in San Antonio's wins he averaged ~16 points. Wait, so you're saying the Spurs actually fair better when Duncan scores less? Seems counter-intuitive. But actually, think about it from the Heat's perspective, they have been able to survive getting beaten the crap out of by Roy Hibbert and David West for the past three years.

But maybe they don't so well when you spread them thin and take away their on ball pressure defense/athleticism?

So, you're saying when the Spurs run and gun it's to their advantage?
And when it's a slower grind it out game it's to Miami's advantage?

I mean, I think the Heat like to run in transition.
So, to clarify:
If it's a fast full court game, maybe Miami likes that.
But if it's a fast half court game - with a lot of passing, San Antonio likes that.

In other words: the Spurs win by offense, the Heat win by defense.
It's an interesting evolution for these teams.

Taking Offense
Maybe I should reconsider my statement claiming the Heat move the ball and share the ball as well as the Spurs. 30 assists for the Spurs in game one compared to 16 for Miami.

Yeah....

Perhaps a couple confounding factors for both teams having similar assist percentages (as well as total number of assists) are LeBron and Miami's points off turnovers.
Maybe, on average, total numbers for assists and passing are similar. But there is a difference between accumulating assists from LeBron orchestrating and transition buckets versus all 5 players touching and moving the ball in a half court set.

Doing the Diaw
Did you see Boris move the ball last game?
Of his 6 assists, here's one where he's doing his best Magic impersonation:


He also had a Nash assist in there as well.
With 10 rebounds as well, Diaw was a +30 on the court.
But he didn't even lead the Spurs in assists!
No, that was......

Ginobili!!!
16 points, 11 assists, and 5 rebounds (+22 on the court).
Not to mention 9 points in the first quarter.
Seems like he was able to shake off whatever ailments, and bad memories, he had from last year.

It was just a dream
Ginobili was great.
But Wade also held his own for a good part of the game as well (particularly early on).
Did you see that Olajuwon dream shake he displayed in the first quarter?


Two questions:
1) Wasn't LeBron the one that worked out with Hakeem?
2) Why do Spurs centers continue to get doped by that move?

He's (still) got game
Just when you thought Ray Allen was relegated to being a Finals (and in turn history) altering three point specialist, he pulls out a throw back:


My goodness, the stiff arm might have been the best part of the play!
Nothing like getting thrown out of the way by a 38 year bball player. Yes, that's officially a grown man move. And Danny Green, I see you getting some too!

By the way, Ray Allen used to do that on the regular.


Green game
Speaking of Danny Green, that record for most threes in a Finals that he broke last year? It was previously owned by Ray Allen. Therefore, considering Green's penchant for usurping Allen, it's probably not surprising that after Jesus Shuttleworth's dunk, this happened:


Any chance this was Ray Allen's facial expression again?


It certainly was mine (in a good way).....because that is something Danny Green DOES NOT do on the regular!

Feeling the Heat? 
Are the Heat in trouble?
Well, maybe not if you consider that during the previous 3 Finals of the big three era, they lost game one each time they won the championship (and conversely, lost the chip when they actually won game one).

Not to mention, they have won their last 12 games following a loss in the playoffs.

Maybe that's why LeBron and Co. have seemed incredibly relaxed these past couple of days.
I guess practice makes perfect:


It's kind of amazing these guys can joke and still have fun in the Heat of the battle.
Makes sense considering this group has seemingly faced everything......

.....Well, except a 0-2 in the playoffs.


Adjustments

Russell's assessment 
Bill Russell, winner of 11 NBA championships (8 in a row) wrote an interesting piece about how he'll be watching these NBA Finals and what he'll be looking for. Check it out.
A couple of things that stood out to me:

"Intelligent adjustments. Ultimately, this NBA championship will come down to intelligent adjustments."

And

"The team that is most successful in exploiting the other team will win. Make the other team make adjustments and the team that has to make the most adjustments always falls behind."

Those two statements kind of seem at odds.
But, I guess the essence is that championship teams are the ones that impose their will, and when needed (but maybe not too often) they successfully make the proper game to game as well as in game changes.

Basically, to win, a team needs to dictate how the game will be played, forcing the other team to follow and change what they are comfortable doing. But when they change to make you change what you are doing, make sure you can intelligently change what you're doing......

You got all that?

So

Adjustments for Miami:
1) Make sure the AC works
2) Don't give up the three! You can live with the Spurs scoring in the paint.
3) Need more from the bench (besides Allen)
Maybe more minutes overall.
But certainly more threes (and defense on Green?) from Battier.
More rebounds from Bird.
And more points (and defense on Parker) from Chalmers/Cole

***
Not sure this is an adjustment, so much as an observation: Have LeBron attack the rim.
Interestingly, the Spurs went away from their dare LeBron to shoot defense from last year by not giving him a pocket when guarding him. Consequently, LeBron can drive by his defender at will - kind of like he did against Boris Diaw on his last play....even with cramps. It also was effective at getting Leonard in foul trouble.


Adjustments for San Antonio:
Not really much except
1) Take better care of the ball! Can't commit 23 TOs against Miami and win too often.
2) Get the three going early - especially Danny Green. Maybe set some down screens for him if LeBron or Battier is guarding him.



Well, let's see what Crazy thing will happen tonight!







Thursday, June 5, 2014

Finally, Back Again


Have we returned so soon?
Weren't we just here?
It feels like the 4th time in 4 years
Or maybe the 6th time in 15 years.....

Oh, you meant the rematch......of course!
What else did we expect (even after the most competitive first round in NBA history)?
More importantly, what more could we ask for?

From all the emotions associated with revenge/redemption to all the grander implications this Finals will have on legacy....where do we even begin to start?
How about....

What's different from last year?
Forget the regular season, according to ESPN.com,
Last year San Antonio was 5th best in the league during the playoffs defensively, allowing over 93 points a gameThis year, during the Playoffs, the Spurs rank 8th at almost 99 points per game.

Miami was 3rd last year at ~91 points per game allowed and this year are second, allowing 92 points per game.

Last year, San Antonio was 3rd in the league during the postseason, scoring ~100 points a game.
This year, they rank 3rd at ~107 point per game.

Miami, was 7th last year at 97 point a game, and 8th this year at 99 points a game.

In other words, one team stayed essentially the same while another is scoring and allowing more points per game at an equal rate (negating each other)......an 8 point positive differential for the Spurs and a 7 point positive differential for the Heat this year, compared to a 7 point positive differential for the Spurs and a 6.4 point positive differential for the Heat last year. And guess what??? They rank #1 & 2 in this regard during the playoffs....the past two years!

So you're telling not much has changed.........

So, what's really different?
How about health?
Last year Wade limped into the Finals, and essentially had a good game....every other game (he did manage to muster up 32 points in game 4 and 23 points in game 7).
This year, after Miami essentially sat him for a third of the season, he's coming in looking fairly spry.
Check the numbers:
Last year during the playoffs: 16 points on 46% shooting
This year: almost 19 points on 52% shooting

Difference!!!!

How about Tony Parker?
Last year Tony averaged ~21 points and 7 assists during the playoffs (and presumably, those numbers went down after the Finals).
This year? Tony is averaging 17 points and 5 assists a game (leading the Spurs).
But more importantly, what affects will the ankle injury that forced him out of the WCF game 6 have on his play in the Finals? I think it's fair to say Parker having a hamstring injury last year in the Finals affected his and the Spurs performance.

Difference!!!!

To be fair, if Wade was a shell of himself last year, so was Ginobili.
Last year: 11.5 points (40% shooting) & 5 assists.
This year: 14.3 points (42% shooting) & 4 assists.

Did we have to wait a year just to see a true to form Wade vs. Ginobili matchup?

******
By the way, last year Duncan averaged 18 points & 10 rebounds.
This year, 17 & 9.

Bosh last year: 12 points & 7 rebounds.
This year 15 & 6.
******


Off the bench
Everyone is quick to mention that the Spurs have a much better and deeper bench.

But how about this as food for thought, provided by the Sports Rabbi no less:
The Spurs have 9 players that play 10 minutes or more per game.
The Heat have 11 players that play 10 minutes or more per game.

Think about it.



Getting offensive
And I know, I know.
The Spurs offense is a sight to behold for basketball purists.  It is equal opportunity that places an emphasis on ball movement (as opposed to Miami's top heavy scoring).



I get it.

But, what if I told you that the Spurs assist percentage in the postseason this year is 53% (21 assists per game).....and that Miami's assist percentage is.....53.5% (19 a game). Which means.... despite population notion to the contrary, Miami's offense is just as team oriented, or at least shares the ball, just as well as the Spurs.


The what if factor
What if Kawhi Leonard OR Ginobili made one extra free throw?!?
What if Duncan was in the game for the final Miami possession of game 6 last year?!?
What if the Spurs secured that rebound after the LeBron James miss?!?

Then maybe this wouldn't have happened:



The Spurs were less than 10 seconds away from winning the championship! They should have won!

Let me turns things around for you.
What if Tony parker didn't do this:


(The good old crazy off the backboard/off the knee jump shot).

What if, out of nowhere, Danny Green didn't set the record for most three pointers made in a NBA Finals (in only 5 games)?

What if LeBron didn't average less than 17 points a game for the first three games of the Finals last year????

Then, there might not even have been a game 6 to begin with.
(I mean, what if LeBron didn't average 19 points a game.....in the 2011 Finals?).

There are no what ifs in basketball.
Things happen. Crazy things happen.

In series with more or less equal talent, there is only execution of plays, adjustments, and opportunities.


Beware: team of destiny
Speaking of crazy things happening,
Remember the last time a team from Texas, with an all-time great big man & point guard, that excelled on ball movement and shooting threes played Miami in the Finals seeking redemption?

......how did that work out again???

I guess will also counts for something.

Adjusting to adjustments
After not being able to score in double figures against Indiana, Chris Bosh averaged over 20 the last three games.

By making moves like this (at the 14 second mark):


Holy schnikies!!!
That's a 4/5 coming off a down screen and making a jumper off the between the legs bounce!

Will we see more of this if Tiago Splitter or Duncan is matched up on Bosh?
But then will this be taken away if Diaw is switched on to him?
But then what happens when the Heat play Rashard Lewis and Bosh at the same time?
Who does Duncan guard?
Do the Spurs then go small with Leonard at the 4???

....maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

Individual defense vs. team offense
There are perhaps two players in the NBA that LeBron can't guard:
Kevin Durant & (at times) Paul George.

The Spurs don't have those two players and therefore, LeBron can guard anyone on their roster.
But, perhaps this doesn't matter when no one on your team scores 20 or more points a game anyway.
How can you locate and stop the biggest opposing threat when 5 players (almost 6) average 10 points or more a game?

Think about when the heat looked their worst these playoffs: game one of the ECF, when Indiana had 6 players score in double figures. Isn't that what the Spurs do on a regular basis?

The rubber match
Forever we wanted but didn't get Kobe vs. LeBron
We can only hope we get more Durant vs. LeBron
So is it okay if for now (and potentially ever) we have to settle for Duncan vs. LeBron....

......A third time in 8 Finals.
Maybe not quite Bird vs. Magic 3 times in 4 Finals.....but perhaps close.

And maybe even better (or perhaps more bizarre) than pitting contemporaries of equal power against each other, this is a battle of teams seemingly from different eras.
Perhaps this is the closest thing we have to a real life version of a computer simulated match-up between champions from different decades.

Kind of cool and kind of weird at the same time.
But really, how are the Spurs still even here?!?!


Better than Kobe
Speaking of rivalries, think about this:
If Duncan wins, he'll have 5 chips - as much a Kobe.
Would the length of time during Duncan's run be more impressive (Kobe, chips from '00-'10.....Duncan, chips from '99-'14?)? And therefore would winning this year make us reevaluate who is the best from the Shaq/Duncan/Kobe era? Especially if Duncan wins a 4th Finals MVP (Shaq has 3, Kobe has 2). How is this guy still even relevant at 38 years of age?!?

Likewise, what if LeBron wins?
Kobe without Shaq, went to three straight Finals and won the last two. LeBron has already done that.
Would going to 4 straight Finals and winning the last 3 push LeBron past Kobe?

Perhaps more importantly, what does a win for each do for their all-time great discussions?
And more food for thought, if Wade wins a 4th.....is he now considered as great as Duncan?
.....and what if Ginobili wins a 4th???? 4 chips and a gold medal in the span of a decade?


The History of rematches
Since the 70's (after the 8-peat of the Celtics), here are the list of NBA Finals rematches in back to back years:

'72 - Lakers beat Knicks
'73 - Knick beat Lakers

'82 - Lakers beat 76ers
'83 - 76ers beat Lakers

'84 - Celtics beat Lakers
'84 - Lakers beat Celtics

'88 - Lakers beat Pistons
'89 - Pistons beat Lakers

(By the way, isn't it amazing that the Lakers are in everyone of these situations?!?).

Look at that!
Teams that lose in the Finals, but then persist and stay determined to fight their way back and face the team that defeated them the year before manage to overcome and find redemption!!!!

What a great history of inspiration!

Oh wait.....unless you consider:

'97 - Bulls beat Jazz
'98 - Bulls beat Jazz

So, maybe the redemption thing doesn't work out when you're going up against he greatest player ever (even when you have one of the best point guards and power forwards ever.....and home court).

But I mean, that's Jordan.
Miami doesn't have anyone like that......right?

Coach Frank Vogel, what do you think?!?



The exaggerated demise
We've heard a lot about how bad the Heat have looked at times. And that this may be in fact the worst of their 4 Finals teams. Certainly their regualr season records bear fruit to those claims:

2010-2011: 58-24
2011-2012: 46-20*
2012-2013: 66-16 (27 game winning streak)
2013-2014: 54-28

* = lockout shortened season, but their winning % was still higher than this years.

Okay. Maybe.
But, who cares?

How about this as a trend:
1990-1991: 61-21
1991-1992: 67-15
1992-1993: 57-25

Didn't seem like the regular season downward spiral of the Bulls in the early 90's affected their first three peat.

And in case you're interested:
1995-1996: 72-10
1996-1997: 69-13
1997-1998: 62-20

Yes, 62 wins is still pretty good in the last year of Jordan's second three peat. But it still fits the trend of diminishing regular season records during a three peat.

Not to mention the fact that Miami is 12-3 in this year's playoffs and weren't pushed to a game 7 (as opposed to the last two years in the ECF). Say what you want about the East and the Pacers, but Indiana still had the number 1 defense in the league, and home court advantage.

The extended excellence
There is something to be said about longevity.
How about during Duncan's time in the league, the Spurs have never won less than 50 games in a season (except for lockout shortened seasons - in which their winning percentage equated with 50 win seasons) and were never less than a 2 seed in the west.

Sounds like a definition of greatness to me.



Pick and Pop
Actually, do any of these teams still run this play?
Perhaps the Parker/Ginobili and Duncan/Diaw permutation
And maybe the LeBron/Bosh version.

But what about the non-canonical set-up?
If you recall, last year during game 2 of the Finals Spoelstra used a LeBron screen on Mario Chalmers to essentially turn that game around in a Miami win.

And then for the last play (the LeBron shot) of game 7, Spoelstra flipped it and had Chalmers set a screen on LeBron. More times than not, I don't think setting an on ball screen for LeBron is a good idea - as it will most likely result in a double team/trap with a big that forces the ball out of his hands. But having Chalmers set the screen forced a temporary Parker on LeBron defensive switch, which enabled a pull-up mid-range jumper off the screen to seal the chip.

Of course, these last two plays aren't really pick and pop. But they are variations on a theme....creative ones used with successful results.

Pop and Spo
Speaking of creativity and adjustments, isn't that what coaching is all about (in addition to managing egos)?

Certainly, it's extremely important.
But is there a decided advantage in coaching between the Spurs and Heat?
Last year, Pop and Spo played a chess match (which was comical at times). But ultimately, with ~3 minutes to go in the NBA Finals, Spo won that match.

How do you continue to make adjustments after 15 years, when your team is a well oiled offensive machine? Does everyone on the Spurs pretty much already know what to do out there?
Which team actually has to make more adjustments this series?

Pop champagne
I mean, why not.
These teams both have expensive tastes in drinks.
Only right that one will be drenched in it after making history these Finals.


The non-prediction
Okay, so what have we learned?
Stats mean nothing.
Regular season records mean nothing.
What ifs mean nothing.
Potential legacies mean nothing.

Both teams have been on this stage before and both teams have won multiple championships.

What really has changed?
I would say the Spurs having home court this time around - with a potential game 7 being played on their floor makes a difference. I don't think the Heat win a game 7 on the road......

But we saw how well that worked out for Indiana.
It just means that Miami will have to find another way to win.

So take a guess how they do that and what this series comes down to?
Thats right!!!!
LeBron James!

The reality is EVERY Finals LeBron plays in now until the end of his career is about him.
Whether right or wrong, realistic or not, this is just the way it is. Ever year from here on out is about history and legacy.

A chance to three peat and do something only three other franchises in NBA history have done?
I don't think that's lost on Miami or, in particular, LeBron.

I think people lose sight of the fact that in last year's Finals, LeBron averaged less than 17 points per game in the first three games of the series (Miami went 1-2) and at times seemed like he didn't want to shoot the ball - as the Spurs dared him to do so. He then averaged almost 32 points a game over the last 4 (Miami went 3-1). Something tells me that he won't wait as long this time around. And that he'll be able to able to make whatever adjustment is necessary facing San Antonio's defense.

This is no knock on the Spurs.
These teams are evenly matched and the series could go either way.
But, growing up a Knicks fan in the 90's, I learned the hard way what the best player in the world is capable of doing......

All I'm saying is, when getting into to these types of situations, You usually want the guy that is the best in the game and in his prime on your team.....


But, I guess that's why they play the games......especially the last 10 seconds of them.







Friday, May 30, 2014

Lance Speaks!


Forget the fact the game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals is tonight, with survival on the line for the Pacers and a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals on the line for the Heat.

Forget that Paul George is coming off one of his better games as a pro - scoring 21 point in the 4th quarter of game 5. And that LeBron, conversely, is coming off his worst playoff performance (ever), scoring 7 points in 24 minutes of play.

Forget Hibbert vs. Bosh.
Ray Allen being defended by David West......
Yada yada yada.

You must be thinking about the necessary adjustments to be made for tonights game.....right???
WRONG!

Of course, you're still thinking about this:



By the way, LeBron's facial expression is the best part of that whole exchange.
And his reaction to it after the game was pretty good too:


Ah yes, the old blowing in your opponents ear (in front of millions of viewers) routine!
Guaranteed to throw the best player in the world off their game!
(If only John Starks knew about this in the '90s).

May I personally say, thank you "Born Ready" for providing us with the most entertaining moment of the playoffs thus far (I mean, who knows what he'll do in game 6 tonight, right?).

So, do you think now would be a good time to unveil my interview with Lance when the Pacers came to town a little while back? Would you be interested hearing his thoughts on playing ball in New York, the street ball summer leagues, and how it helped prepare him for the NBA???

Okay:




You'll notice a bit of laughter during Lance's answer to my first question: "growing up, who did you watch play and is there anyone's game that you tried to emulate?" The laughter comes from none other than Rasual Butler himself, the man whom Lance claimed to watch growing up and tried to emulate......

If case you're wondering, Rasual has played for 6 NBA teams in 11 seasons and holds career averages of 7.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 0.8 assists a game.

Well, while we still don't know who Lance grew up watching and practicing like, we at least know that  Lance doesn't act like a knucklehead only to LeBron......he also acts like a knucklehead to biomedical scientist/NBA writers!!! Wow, what are the odds that I hold something in common with LeBron???
I feel so lucky to be in such great company!

But in all seriousness, after that initial response, the interview did become somewhat interesting and informative. In particular:

What about New York basketball culture, summers leagues...which is the best summer league?
Rucker Park, Gersh, Kingdome....so many parks.
Growing up and playing in the street ball gets you that edge, that toughness.
The crowd being there - they can say whatever they want. They're on the court, they try to get in your head. You have to be real tough to go through that and still play hard.
That's what I know, that's the type of way I like to play. I like to talk to the crowd and it just gets me motivated.

How has that helped prepare you for the NBA?
It definitely helped prepare me.
Playing with the older guys and learning the game at a younger age. Being big and strong enough to do that....playing with the older guys at Rucker Park.....it helped me learn the game more. 

In the summer, when you're trying to get better, what's a typical workout for you like?
Never really practice ball handling. I think everybody from New York has a handle.
The hardest thing to do was learn how to shoot, when I'm open.  I'm used to just catching the ball and going. I wasn't a set shooter. Learning how to shoot being set is the toughest.

I probably take 500 shots. I don't count, I just shoot and try to get a lot of shots till I get in a rhythm and feel I can make it every time.

Words of advice for young basketball players?
Just stay humble, work hard. Go to school, learn the game.
Stay motivated, try to word hard every night and try to be the last one on the court.




You can think whatever you want about Lance Stevenson's antics in game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but the reality is that Lance is 24 years old and is still not only learning to play/think the game, but also learning how to be a professional. That's not to justify what he did, but it kind of makes sense considering his background and the type of environment he grew up playing in. I've played in Rucker park. While I've never had my ear blown into on the court.....I have had people in the crowd talk trash to me, and even an opposing player pull my jersey over my head in an attempt to embarrass me (by a  dude named "White Chocolate".....and in turn I threw the ball off him on the next play).

There is definitely an edginess and toughness.....and holy sh*#! factor playing NY basketball.

And I guess, if that's what you grow up with, it becomes engrained in you. And if you learn how to survive that style of play, you then learn how to feed off of it. 
Lance even said himself: "That's what I know, that's the type of way I like to play. I like to talk to the crowd and it just gets me motivated."

I know, you're asking yourself: What type a player needs to talk trash to get motivated???
Especially when playing against the best in the playoffs?
Well, can you guess who said this:

"70% of me talking on the court, is personally to get me motivated and going. The other 30% of the time, it was to see if I could get in the opponents head."

That's Reggie Miller. 
The hall of famer that talked so much trash, he got John Starks to head butt him in a playoff game. He made Spike Lee the most famous Knicks fan. And even got Michael Jordan to lose his cool.
(By the way, this is great).

So trash talking, and doing things to get under an opponents skin are tactics that have been around a long time, and employed by some of the best in the game.

And consider this:
What would you do if your team was outplayed on the court for three straight games and currently faced elimination? What would you do if "basketball" adjustments proved futile? Would you not do anything in your capacity - including resorting to non-basketball taunting - to try and turn the series around?

Right or wrong, or whether this ultimately helps Indiana win the series is almost irrelevant at this point. What Lance has done has already worked because it's all we're talking about (rather than how much better Miami has been this series, how much Spoelstra has out coached Vogel, or the fact that Miami can become only the third franchise in NBA history to go to four straight Finals). And he's managed to turn this into a Lance-LeBron one on one matchup (at least in our minds).

That's NYC street ball at it's finest.

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Speaking of perpetuating NYC basketball mythology, I love how Lance further propagates the stereotype of NYC basketball players:

"I think everybody from New York has a handle. The hardest thing to do was learn how to shoot."

Man, ain't that the knock on every NY kid coming up, especially NY point guards??? I guess that's just the breaks of being from the city. But for you non-NYers out there, it's not like we're born with a ball in our hands - a "handle" is something we develop. Part of it is due to the flashiness associated with street ball. But, if you really want to know the impetus for developing ball handling skills - go watch a game of "21" at Riverbank state part in Harlem. You literally have 20 kids on the same court and the only way to score is by dribling through all of them. Form fits function.
Now, if only there was some sort of selection factor for learning how to shoot.....

Having this skill set certainly has it's benefits (there have been serval times in which Lance has had LeBron on skates defensively).  But it also has it's draw backs. As a coach, one of the challenges is teaching kids how to use their ball handling/one-on-one strength within a team framework - in particular to get their teammates open as well as get themselves open mid-range jump shots. Another challenge is teaching kids to stay involved in the game when they don't have the ball. You heard Lance say he is used to "catching the ball and going," and that learning how to shoot when he's playing off the ball is the toughest thing. Yes. This is hard. In fact, there have been serval times in the series in which Lance has kind of drifted into a corner and do nothing when he's not involved in the play. Lance, you were Born Ready, so you have to stay ready (and active) even on the weak side. Think about what Shane Battier does. It's important for young players to know that they can affect the game in many ways and help their team win even when the ball is not in their hands. And part of being an effective player is being able to make a play even when a play isn't draw up for you. 

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What's great about the Lance-LeBron matchup is that you have a young street baller going at and using street ball tactics against literally the best player in the world. That's kind of crazy when you think about it. I'm sure Lance is a hero back home in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

Using ear blowing is an interesting approach to take.......especially when you can't beat your opponent with basketball. But I'm not sure how effective it will be against a guy who has evolved to drown out all the the noise and distraction from millions of viewers and hundreds of media members that follow and critic his every move (including all the vitriol that ensued after "The Decision").

Actually, what's equally as enjoyable as Lance's immaturity, is seeing LeBron being the adult and ultimate professional in this situation. Think about how far he has come. Kind of cool to see LeBron transformed into the older vet that has to deal with all these petulant kids.
(By the way, in the interview there were signs of potential growth for Lance - I really enjoyed his comments directed towards young basketball players. And it's cool to note that during the all-star break, he was back home in Brooklyn watching his high school team. Seems like there is an opportunity to be more than a basketball player. What will Lance be like when he is 30?).

But before we go, waiting with anticipation to see what Lance will do tonight, let's consider the last two times in this year's playoffs LeBron has reacted to comments made by an opposing player.
1) Paul Pierce, after a BK Nets game 3 win says: "I want the responsibility of guarding LeBron."
Result: LeBron scores 49 in a game 4 win.

2) Lance Stevenson, after a game 3 loss, says LeBron talking to him is a weakness.
Result: LeBron scores 29 points in 3 quarters (32 for the game), in a blowout game 4 win.

I'm just saying.
Lance said the benefit of playing at the Rucker at a young age was competing against older players, enabling him to become physically and mentally tough while learning the game.
Sounds like he is primed for another lesson tonight.....

Unless you think these tactics really can be effective......

But rest assured. No matter who wins or loses tonight, both in the actual game or in the mind game........ Just by getting to see it play out, in real time, with so much on the line.........we all win!
Thanks to Lance!

BROOKLYN.....YOUR MAIN MAN IS BALLING TONIGHT!!!!!!