Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Eight Simple Playoff Rules

There are some basic rules that everyone needs to remember as we head through the playoffs.

Let's review, shall we?
1. Don't Overreact After Any Single (or Pair of) Game(s): Yes, the numbers suggest that a team that wins it's first two games has a phenomenal edge in winning the series. But too often, we see routs in Games 1 and 2 and everyone starts calling for the sweep. All of this on one team's homecourt, mind you. You know the cliche about the series starting when someone loses on their home floor, and it's true. The disconnect comes from not understanding the flow of a series. The first game is essentially a matter of feeling one another out. Things work in that game that won't work for the rest of the series. Either that game or game 2 is going to be an emotion game, and that's usually decided by homecourt. But playoff series between two evenly matched teams are going to come down to a series of adjustments, and you're not necessarily going to see those in the first two games. Now, at the same point, I think people are going back the other way. They see what happens in Games 3 and 4 and decide that that is a better indication of the true test of the teams. And that's not accurate either. Because you have a team with a two game lead, and the other with it's back against the wall and the crowd going nuts for it. None of that erases the fact that the other team smoked them in the first two games. Utah making some adjustments and banging up Kobe a little bit while making Pau look soft doesn't erase the two games LA spent running the Jazz off the floor with poise and talent. And San Antonio shooting 50% from the floor doesn't make up for the way the Hornets abused the Spurs when they were in their groove. Take each series in context, look at the whole picture.

2. The Referees Did Not Skew That Game: And yes, me, I'm talking you (me), me. The officials are not deciding the game, the series, the playoffs. You're going to get screwed on approximately as many plays as you're going to screw your opponent. Whining about officials is useless, boring, and something you can never trust your opinion on if you're in any way a fan. Don't bother with it, because you're never going to be able to make a convincing enough argument to convince anyone that doesn't already agree with you.

3. The Third Quarter Is The Wonder Quarter: It's not full proof. You can win a playoff game without winning the third quarter. But there's a reason that third quarter runs are a staple of Phil Jackson teams. And there's a reason that the majority of blowout form in the third quarter. There's just something about a huge run out of the locker room at the half that can just demoralize your opponent. It provides momentum into the fourth quarter and establishes your lead. Fourth quarter comebacks happen in the regular season. Playoffs are a different matter altogether. It's much easier to come back on a weak defensive squad in the fourth quarter, but those are hard to find in the playoffs. So while it's not a deadlock, winning the 3rd quarter can often time be more important than the fourth.

4. Defense Won't Do It Alone: If you can't play defense in the NBA Playoffs, you're sunk. It's just a basic fact. However, just playing defense won't do it anymore, either. Not in today's NBA which is more score friendly than any time in recent history. You're going to need to be able to put the ball in the basket on a consistent basis. And for that, you need big time players. Not just for the poise and leadership, but when you're in a drought, and you will be, you need big buckets. Those are the guys that get you them. Play smart, play balanced, and score more points than the other team, and um... yeah.

5. Coaching Does Matter: The Celtics are 0-5 on the road in the NBA Playoffs. The Spurs, after being down 2-0 and in a massive hole are not only tied in their series, but have all the momentum. Any questions? I blasted Mike Brown for getting outfoxed by Doc Rivers in Game 2, now it's Doc's turn. He got outcoached by Mike Brown in Game 4, after Brown used a tricky tactic of "I'm going to let my best player be my best player. Eat it." Meanwhile in the West, the four teams left are the four best coaches in the league, and they're all knotted at 2-2.

6. Youth Will Be Served Or Experience Will Rule: Over-reliance on aging veterans is a dangerous proposition that will either end in huge shots that put you over the top, or disappointing defensive effort against younger legs. Over-reliance on rookies and young players will either result in unconscionable turnovers or dynamic bursts of energy. Finding that balance is difficult. Sam Cassell's struggling, Ime Udoka is surging. Julian Wright is spotty but powerful, Jordan Farmar looks bamboozled. It's a delicate line to walk.

7. Clean The Glass: You can't win in the playoffs if you don't rebound. Giving up too many offensive rebounds means you're giving an already dangerous team another possession. If you don't rebound well, the odds of you winning a championship are greatly damaged.

8. Whether We Admit It Or Not, Homecourt Matters: In a league of per-40 minutes, PER ratings, defensive closeouts, star power and offensive efficiency, it's nice to know that there are still some things that are simply based off of heart. And for whatever reason, being at home, with thousands of crazy fans screaming their lungs out in support of the teams, gives them a boost. We can dismiss it all we want, but the effects are pretty obvious. At some point, human being respond to positive enforcement and negative enforcement. Some things are beyond explanation.

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