Friday, May 9, 2008

Conference Semifinal Thoughts Through 5.8.08

  • At about a billion times last night on the liveblog, I found myself saying "Wait. The Hornets are UP in this game? Really?" Then it was "The Spurs haven't put them away? Really?" So when the Spurs managed to put it away thanks to Manu squeezing into the lane a few times and Bowen having another insanely hot shooting night, I wasn't surprised. I picked this thing to go six games, with the Spurs winning. And I'm not ready to say that's absolutely not happening. But here's the issue I have. The common thought this morning (in articles I could have written yesterday) is that "THE SPURS ARE BACK, BABY!" And all of a sudden the Spurs have "figured out" the Hornets. Not so, my friends. The Hornets still got exactly what they wanted on offense for three and a half quarters, with the mid-stretch of the fourth being the only time the Spurs' defense, homecourt crowd, and the refs' "What, we're in San Antonio and Manu Ginobili is falling down? Quick, blow the whistle!" act all came together to force New Orleans into a bad stretch, which they were due for. The Spurs want to shoot three pointers about 20 times a game, and they hit about 37% of them. Last night they shot 25 times and hit 44% of them. And that's a solid improvement from Games 1 and 2 where they shot more, and worse. We'll get to what the Spurs did right last night in a second. But this strategy of taking more three pointers and praying they go in? That's suicide. Bruce Bowen averaged 3 three pointers this season and hit 40% of them. Last night he shot 9 of them for 44%. What's more likely to happen, Bowen continuing his hot shooting from the first half of Game 1 and his excellent performance last night? Or the 25% he shot in Game 2 and the 0-fer he pulled in the second half of Game 1? This is not something you want to rely on. What I'm trying to get at is at no point last night did I feel like this was the Spurs' game and they had it on lockdown. They seemed to be frantically kicking at New Orleans, trying to shrug them off, even though the Hornets were shooting badly from the arc (18%!), committing more turnovers, getting outrebounded and out-assisted for the first time, and generally making bad plays. This is the exact opposite of the Spurs-Suns second round series last year. Every time the Suns would win one, I would let my hopes rise, thinking ,"Okay, they don't necessarily have to be better than the Spurs, as long as they win four games." That's not how the playoffs work. If you want to win four games, you have to be better than your opponent. The Spurs played better last night, but weren't able to exert their will when they wanted, and are still not playing their game. I've said it before, I'll say it again. There's no reason to suspect that the Spurs will lose this series until they're down by 10 in an elimination game with a minute left, and even then, you might want to keep your thoughts open. But to say that the Spurs get to suddenly feel good is wrong. This is like a horror movie, where the girl keeps flailing on the ground (how appropriate), kicking at the monster, and then running away, only to find that the monster is still right behind her. The Hornets didn't walk out of that arena disappointed, frustrated, Sun'd. They walked out angry at their own mistakes and confident. They still have the advantage. Now, all that said...

  • In the liveblog, Trey from the Blowtorch said that this game felt very Spurs-y, with the resiliency the Spurs showed. And while I don't necessarily agree with that, because really, they're the 4 time defending champions, at home, against an untested Hornets team, in a building where apparently their team plays in heavy gravity that results in them always falling down. But here was one way he was right. They just won. I can talk about the matchup issues, the shooting anomalies, the disgrace-to-the-game that is their flopping strategy, but the Spurs just got it done. When we entered the playoffs, after watching more basketball this season than any other in my life, I resolved to make my picks not based off of statistical evidence, quality of talent or play, coaching, or momentum. I decided to make my selections based on the sum of those things, combined most importantly with their ability to get things to go their way. I've spoken at length about how the Lakers have a better talent for this than any other team in the league, and I stand by that. But there's a reason I said that the Spurs would be the team the Lakers beat to get to the Finals. Because the Spurs are the second best team in the league at that. What? Need an aging undersized small guard who can no longer use his wide range of cheap moves to destroy the bodies of his opponents to start shooting phenomenally from outside? No problem! Need Michael Finley to dust himself off and hit 3 of 5 from the arc? Here you go! It's a testament to their "winning spirit" blah, blah, blah. When I blah, blah, blah that, I mean that you can read that crap at ESPN, SI, or Express-News. And it's all true. It's just not very interesting. They had things stacked against them last night, needed improbable things to happen for them to get things under control, and thankfully this time didn't need to cheap shot a superstar into a wall in order to get it to happen. Of course, there's always Game 4.
  • One of the great adjustments that San Antonio made was where they put their players on the floor and how they fed Duncan. They pretty much scrapped what they've been showing all year and went to a whole new set. They put Duncan in the right block, and instead of Parker, had Ginobili feed him. If Manu's defender went to double, Tim kicked it back out to Manu for either a three or a drive if the man tried to get back. Trying to get from Duncan to the block means that when Manu starts to drive, there's too much momentum to turn with Ginobili on the drive. If Manu's man stayed home, the top side defender comes down. Problem. Duncan dishes to top side defender. Wing defender rotates. Top side passes to wing, corner defender rotates. Wing passes to corner. It's at this point that the man guarding Oberto/KT/Horry is somehow supposed to spin around, abandon their position down low, and get to the perimeter in time to defend Bowen's corner three. That's not really happening. And the corner defender (now on the wing) is in the same problem as Manu's man, trying to reverse direction in a game of keep away that results in an open Bowen three. Great adjustment by Popovich.

  • The Hornets let Manu go left. Five times. That and his three point shooting are the only reasons he played better. He still seems frustrated and has doubled his flopping efforts, but credit him for taking the lane when Popovich managed to open it and going to the rack.
  • I noticed a play exactly like this one Grange noted. Paul came around the front side, and everything happened as Grange noted, except for instead of a bounce pass, Paul was feeling ballsy. So he lobs it, right past Duncan's face for a Chandler slam. It was amazing. He looked away at West, and tossed the lob to where Chandler was supposed to be. Amazing.

  • Okay, enough about that series, what about the rest?
  • Okay, we're done here!

  • No, okay, we'll talk a little bit about the horrid other series going on. I am enjoying Detroit-Orlando. It's teetering on interesting, and Game 4 will prove whether this thing has legs or not. A Detroit win pretty much seals this up as predictable, inevitable, and devoid of interest. A Magic win sets up just what I want. "Maybe the Magic can hang with these guys. It's easy for people not paying attention to see the boxscores and think this is pretty cut and dried. But it hasn't been. Detroit won Game 2 under questionable circumstances and the Magic blew them out in Game 3 without needing to throw the kitchen sink at them. The Magic team is still trying to get its legs under them. Granted, the Pistons are experts of landing the haymaker when you're trying to balance yourself, sending you sprawling to the mat in a mess of blood and sweat. And that's just as likely to happen in Game 4 as anything. But if Hedo Turkoglu finds his sweet spot, if Rashard Lewis keeps his ever-warming hands hot, if Howard continues to work smarter and not harder to get around the Pistons, and if Keyon Dooling and Jameer Nelson can pick their spots and make the most of it, this Magic team can be better than the Pistons. The hard part then becomes convincing the Pistons that.
  • The Lakers are better than the Jazz. In every facet. I cannot stress this enough. The Jazz were a paper team last year, they're a paper team this year. Brewer matching up on Kobe is just silliness. Seriously. Put AK on the guy. So what if he blows by him. He's blowing by Brewer! You've got two guys to cover Gasol and Odom. Let Brewer take Radman. There's no reason to let Brewer get abused like this. Boozer has become worthless. And what's worse? All the talk of Deron Williams and how good he is? He's inconsequential in this series. That's why he's not better than Chris Paul, okay, Jazz fans? Because as talented as he is, he can't win you a game against a better team. He can fill the stat sheet. But he can't do what Paul does. Sorry. You can think about it during your summer, which starts in a week. I don't mean to be overly harsh, and our whole MO here is waiting for teams like the Jazz to make the jump to being legitimate. I hate dynasties. Hate them. I love new blood. But the only thing that bothers me more than dynasties are false prophets. And the Lakers have played two of them this postseason.

  • If the Jazz are going to have any shot at this at all, they need to get out of the idea of outscoring the Lakers. Because that's not going to happen. Their best bet is to let Kobe get his but limit his rebounds and assists, shutdown Odom, limit Gasol, and force the perimeter shooters to hit shots. That's hard, but that's really their only option.
  • For what it's worth, I like LA by 7 tonight.
  • I noted this in my preview for LA-Utah over at FanHouse, but
  • Cleveland-Boston, or as we bloggers have come to know it, the Scourge of Our Collective Existence. The biggest thing that bugs me about this series is that we knew this was who Cleveland was. It was obvious in the regular season! And if they'd played like this in the first round, we'd have a much more interesting Wizards-Celtics series. Look, say what you want, but sometimes matchups mean more than the quality of the teams. Do you really think the Warriors were a "better" team than the Mavs last year? I love upsets as much as anybody else. But not when it nets something like this abomination. The Wizards played pretty good defense in round 1, and the Cavaliers decided to play like they actually had an offense, and get our hopes up about them actually being worth a damn. They were liars. Dirty, rotten liars, faking their way through that series. And now we're faced with Anderson Varejao taking fadeaway jumpers. Seriously? I don't think I can forgive Cleveland for a. depriving us of a genuine series and b. depriving us of Boston v. DC.
  • While we're on the subject of Anderson Varejao, I said when he was sitting out like he was a legitimate star that it was ridiculous. He has no offensive game, he's an above average rebounder, but who cares if you can't do anything with it, he can't finish on the break, he can't pass effectively, and his hair is stupid. Throw in the fact that he wanted MORE money and um. Yeah. Let him walk. But no, they waited and threw a bunch of money at him. And then he produced! They were winning more often with him! Maybe I was wrong! ... Not so much. He's the big problem for the Cavs right now. It's one thing when Wallace is out there. Well, he shouldn't be out there, but I accept that he was doing a pretty good job on Garnett. But when Wallace goes to the bench? Andy is supposed to bring energy offensively off the bench. Not so much. The Varejao signing may have been the biggest mistake they've made. And it's a long list.

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