Tag:2011 EC Conference Semifinals
Posted on: May 7, 2011 9:25 am
Edited on: May 7, 2011 2:35 pm
 

Playoff Fix: The Celtics' line in the sand

The Celtics need someone to step up in a big way, and for Shaq to make an impact, and to create more turnovers, and... you get the idea. 
Posted by Matt Moore




One Big Thing: The time for equal contributions has past. The Celtics need a hero. Someone has to step up and lead the way for Boston, because for the first time, Ubuntu may be outmatched. Offensive distribution and suffocating defense are both great plans in 99 percent of all matchups, but for whatever reason, the Heat have stormed the barricades in this series. Now the Celtics are going to have to fight them out and, to do so, someone's going to have to set the example. Whether that's Paul Pierce having a game befitting his status as one of the greatest true Celtics ever, a bully-in-the-schoolyard rampage by Kevin Garnett, or Rajon Rondo getting back to being the brilliant distributor and triple-double machine he can be, someone's going to have to put in a special type game. It's not that the other Celtics can't contribute. It's that they have been and the Celtics are still losing. It's time for someone on Boston to make a statement that says "We're still here, and we're not going down like this."

The X-Factor: Shaquille O'Neal is expected to play Saturday for the first time in the playoffs and what feels like the first time in a decade. O'Neal isn't going to save the Celtics. But he can come out and set the tone. In reality, O'Neal's no longer the defender or rebounder he once was. But he can, surprisingly, score. And there's no one on the Heat that can handle his girth. O'Neal's going to take more possessions than he really needs to, but if he can bring out the old bull in a china shop act for a few drop hooks, that could get the crowd, the energy, and the momentum on the Celtics side. O'Neal can't lead the Celtics through the gate. He can bust the gate open with his backside, though. 

The Adjustment: The Celtics' defensive principles all revolve around position. Get to the spot before your man does. Get a hand up where he wants the ball to go. Contest, contest, contest. But with the Heat having turned the ball over on less than 15 percent of all possessions in this series, the time may have come to start attacking the ball. The Celtics need to disrupt the Heat's offense and get easy buckets of their own. In short, things have got to come a little easier for the Celtics and be a little more frustrating for the Heat. 

The Sticking Point: The Heat are doing it. They're winning with huge contributions from the Triad, playing great defense, and getting the wins. We've yet to see a Heat team really close when down in the 4th to a great team, but the Heat are starting to change the narrative about them in regards to their ability to step up in big situations. Game 3 in Boston will be the stiffest test yet. 
Posted on: May 6, 2011 11:50 pm
Edited on: May 7, 2011 1:08 am
 

Derrick Rose and the definition of unstoppable

Derrick Rose in Game 3? Unstoppable.
Posted by Matt Moore




This wasn't the Knicks. Golden State's truly disastrous defense wasn't at work here. Sure, the Atlanta Hawks played badly in Game 3, mostly on account of their own penchant for bad offense encouraged by a defensive performance from the Bulls that was reflective of their regular season performance. But the Hawks are not a bad defensive team, and in reality, are only in the semifinals because of that defense. 

But Derrick Rose? The MVP? Derrick Rose was unstoppable Wednesday night.  

It takes a lot to be unstoppable in the NBA. Players can show and recover as far out as halfcourt. Doubles are constant, welcomed, and efficient when executed correctly. And you're talking about players, often with up to ten inches of height advantage and even more length contesting at the rim (though Rose is certainly taller than many guards).  There a way to stop 99% of all NBA players, even the elite ones. 

And even if the Hawks hadn't been a step slow on defense Wednesday, it wouldn't have mattered. Derrick Rose could not, would not be stopped. Take, for example, the floater. 

Rose's floater is right  there. Al Horford and Josh Smith have gone to block it probably a dozen times in this series, and at least four of those came Wednesday night. But his quick release combined with his absurd athleticism means you have to not only get crazy vertical, but you have to time it within a few nanoseconds, otherwise it's up, it's high, it's off glass, and it's in. But the killer for the Hawks Wednesday night was the jumper got going. 

Observe: 



What are you going to do if Rose is hitting 10-18 on jumpers? You can't close on him, he gets to the rim faster than your rotation, and can explode to get airborne from nearly the elbow.  You have to hope he misses. Instead, Rose buried the Hawks with more range shots than layups.  The Hawks clearly weren't expecting it and, with his quick release, there wasn't any way for them to close. Rose's jumper isn't always going to be there. But it's going to be there on nights like Game 3, and when it is, the Bulls, for all their offensive weaknesses (which are numerous), are a juggernaut. 

The Hawks could have played better on offense, with better passing, less dribbling, the same things we always say about them. They could have hit the glass harder, gotten better bench production, got out in transition more. And it probably wouldn't have changed the final result, only the margin of victory. 

When Derrick Rose plays like he did Wednesday night, he's not only the Most Valuable Player. He's unstoppable. 
Posted on: May 6, 2011 10:08 pm
Edited on: May 6, 2011 10:56 pm
 

Bulls finally show that championship mettle

Posted by Royce Young



Hawks coach Larry Drew saw it just 49 seconds in to Game 3 as he called a timeout. Uh oh, the Bulls are starting to look like themselves finally.

Derrick Rose was spectacular (44 points, seven assists), the Chicago defense was great and the entire Bulls team put together a full 48 minutes of stellar basketball pummeling the Hawks 99-82 to take a 2-1 series lead.

Watching the Bulls this postseason, it was hard to really zero in at any moment where they looked like the dominant 62-win from the regular season. Game 5 against Indiana was the closest thing to it, but then again, that was against an overmatched Pacer squad.

The Bulls did the three things that they're very, very good at: They rebounded, they defended the perimeter and Derrick Rose was great. Add in the secondary players chipping in 34 points off the bench, and it's a recipe to beat pretty much anyone. Atlanta went just 1-6 from 3 and basically was limited to only scoring in the paint. The Hawks took Game 1 on the wings of excellent outside shooting. You could say the Bulls made a proper adjustment there.

Look at the Hawks by shot location and the percentages. They were 11-17 at the rim (only 17 attempts is insane) and 10-18 from 3-9 feet. The Bulls forced Atlanta outside where the Hawks shot just 9-25 from deep 2-pointer range. That's the Tom Thibodeau way. Seal the paint, force long 2s. Joakim Noah was terrific defensively with Luol Deng and the other Chicago wings playing a very good defensive game.

This was a big night for the Bulls. Not just for this series, but to figure out exactly where they stood. Were they really championship material? Were they really the best regular season team? Do they really have what it takes?

The opportunity was there Friday to answer some of those questions. The immediate task at hand was dispatching the Hawks to take a 2-1 series lead and regain homecourt advantage. But the broader mission was to re-discover themselves. To dig up that team that was so, so good the last three months.

I hesitate to announce outright that the Bulls are entirely back but, boy, they looked good on Friday. They were in a funk, no doubt, and Game 3 in Atlanta may have been just right thing to snap them out of it. Against Indiana, there never really was a sense of urgency. After the Hawks took Game 1 in Chicago, though, this Game 3 was the type of swing game that could potentially decide a series. If the Hawks were to win, they would have tightened their grip on the Bulls.

But Chicago showed up. It was mainly because Derrick Rose is awesome, but, also, the Bulls bench finally played like the best bench in basketball again. Finally, the defense was consistently good. Finally, there was a real, palpable energy throughout the game for the team. No, Carlos Boozer wasn't great. No, Deng didn't score the ball well. Those are two things almost everyone agrees needs to happen for the Bulls to truly compete.

And while I would agree with that, the Bulls team that dominated Game 3 is the type of team that can win a title. They found that balance of offense and defense that made them so dangerous during the regular season and, when Rose is scoring efficient like that, you're not going to be able to score enough to beat them.

Chicago intentionally slowed the game down to a crawl of just 82 possessions, executed offensively (120 offensive rating) and basically just drained the Hawks offense. The Bulls turned the Hawks into a painfully average offensive team in every way. Al Horford was non-factor, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford couldn't shake loose and the team shot the ball horribly. Exactly what Thibodeau dreams about.

The Bulls needed this game. They've been needing it for about two weeks now. They needed to play the way they're capable of. They needed to show not us, but themselves, that yes, they're still good. They had yet to play a completely solid Chicago Bulls style game this postseason. They got it Friday night. And, in the meantime, put their foot on the throat of the Hawks.
Posted on: May 6, 2011 10:15 am
Edited on: May 6, 2011 10:20 am
 

Championship teams suffering emotional issues

Lakers, Celtics dealing with emotional upheaval in the midst of biggest playoff challenge outside of Finals. 

Posted by Matt Moore




You'd think that being the older, more experienced teams would grant them some perspective on the ups and downs of the NBA playoffs. You'd think having walked through the fires of the championship forge would grant them a solidarity. You would think that all the talk of chemistry and how much the team members like one another wouldn't be affected by a few losses or some bouts of poor play. 

You'd be wrong. 

Wednesday night, the Lakers were dealing with what Andrew Bynum referred to as "trust issues." This from a team that won the title eleven months ago. What, did the reality show really change Lamar all of a sudden? Is he just not the down-to-earth player he was when he was younger, as in, 12 months before? Maybe Pau Gasol's let the bright lights of Los Angeles change him from his small town ways. You know, Barcelona, Spain being such a quaint little village. Regardless, apparently it's an epidemic of championship-caliber teams needing some therapy and special quality time. 

From the Boston Herald:
The effect can be so disruptive, Doc Rivers even has a name for those times when squabbling and finger pointing mar one of his timeouts. 
“Emotional highjacks,” the Celtics [team stats] coach said after yesterday’s practice. “And they always happen when you’re down or in the Heat of battle. It always happens, but once you let it get to a point where it highjacks your team, then it’s never good. But it’s part of the game, in every sport and on every team.” 
The Celtics, though, looked as if they had been boarded and highjacked by Captain Jack Sparrow’s entire crew during several timeouts on Tuesday night.In perhaps the most blatant instance, Rajon Rondo [stats] stormed away from Paul Pierce [stats] as the Celtics captain attempted to make a point at the end of a timeout. Not long after, Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen appeared to be holding their own conference outside the greater team huddle.
via For Celtics, outbursts no shock - BostonHerald.com.

Ray Allen told the Herald that it's nothing new for the team, that they've always argued and "debated" more than any other team he'd been on. But it certainly comes off differently when the team is down 0-2 and looks largely helpless to counter the talent in the red and white unis. 

Emotion is a good thing. But bickering and squabbling isn't going to help a team that has a heavily rumored fracture in its chemistry since "the trade" to get itself back together. The Celtics have always fed off their emotion, but right now it needs to be aimed at increasing their intensity and intimidating the Heat, not punishing one another over pointless arguments. There's a thin line between fiery and disruptive, and the Celtics are dancing all over it right now. 
(HT: Red's Army)  

Posted on: May 5, 2011 11:23 pm
Edited on: May 6, 2011 12:51 am
 

Playoff Fix: A big swing coming in ATL

Posted by Royce Young



One Big Thing: Tied 1-1, a Game 3 obviously swings things greatly one way. For the Bulls, a win in Atlanta reclaims homecourt advantage. A loss, and the Hawks take even more control of this series. We all get pretty carried away calling a certain game big because in a seven-game playoff series, they're all big. But something says to me that if Atlanta really wants to seriously challenge in this series, Game 3 is very important.

The Bulls re-established themselves a bit in Game 2, playing stronger defense, rebounding well and getting enough from Derrick Rose. It was an ugly 48 minutes of basketball, but it's the way the Bulls win. Replicate that in Game 3 and the somewhat fragile Hawks may be ready to wilt a bit.

The X-Factor: The Hawks' X-factor all season has been Jamal Crawford. He only had 11 points in Game 2 and the entire Atlanta bench, normally a strength, had 13 total. But my X-factor for Game 3 is Jeff Teague. He played so well in Game 2 and in the first two games of the series he only has one turnover against the Chicago defense. That's huge. He's done well on Rose, handled the offense well and if he can score the ball well once again as Joe Johnson and Al Horford reassert themselves, Atlanta will be right there.

The Adjustment: The Hawks kind of relied on shooting the ball well from outside and that worked in Game 1. Not as much in Game 2. Johnson wasn't able to free himself in the second half and the team struggled to get anything good going from the pick-and-roll. The Bulls properly adjusted to Atlanta's perimeter high pick-and-roll attack, so it's up to Larry Drew and the Hawks to find a way to make things work.

The Sticking Point: If the Bulls are truly going to be a championship level team, it's time to show it. If they're serious about winning something, they've got to show up in Game 3. They've got to handle the Hawks and snuff out any belief Atlanta might truly have right now.

And I don't think it comes easy. This has single possession game written all over it. Who executes? Can Rose regain his form? Or can Joe Johnson show up again. The Bulls need to find more help whether it's with Carlos Boozer or Luol Deng and Game 3 is a fine time to start. Lose this one and things get a bit more iffy. The Bulls are better than the Hawks. Now's a good time to prove it.
Posted on: May 5, 2011 6:33 pm
Edited on: May 6, 2011 10:13 am
 

The Lakers, the Celtics, and a question of change

Are we seeing a changing of the guard? We discuss whether the conference champs of a year ago have seen the present pass them by, and reach a strange conclusion. The body is willing. The hunger? That we're not sure about. 
Posted by Matt Moore



Few saw this coming. Sure, you could have said the Celtics didn't look like themselves after the Perkins trade, or that L.A.'s penchant for blasé, uninspired play would eventually bite them on the back end. But to think both conference champions from a year ago would face not just must-wins, but "No, for real, lose this game and you might as well forfeit Game 4 and start enjoying your lockout" games in the semifinals? That's just preposterous. How could that happen? The Celtics took three straight from the Heat this season. The Lakers are two-time defending champions. 

And yet, here we are. So the question we ask now, in advance, is whether we're witnessing a changing of the guard, a one-year slip for two teams formed in the iron of the industry, or the setting of the stage for the two most successful and blessed franchises in professional basketball to once again take the shovel from those would bury them and brain them with it.

More on the Lakers and Celtics
Analysis
Royce Young Royce Young
History isn't on the side of the Lakers right now. Read More >>
Ben Golliver Ben Golliver
The Dallas bench came up big in Game 2's Mavs win. Read More >>
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There's ample evidence to support all three theories. But why waste time with it? Why not just wait to see how Games 3 and 4 go? We're not just providing filler or overreaction to add volume to headlines, I assure you. It's that if this is the end, we need to acknowledge it while it's happening so we're not left in stunned silence, shellshocked by the absence of the teams most lauded over the past three years. If it's a slip, we need to examine why, and if any changes need to be or can be made going forward. And if they're setting us up for the rope-a-dope, well, we should take note of that as well.  If we want to watch these playoffs, we should try and suss out what's happening. After all, the first round left us struggling for comprehension as the top seed fell in one conference and struggled with a playoff bottom feeder in the other. So let's begin with the defending champs. 

Lakers

Most concerning for L.A.? The fact that both losses were not the same. Their deviation from success and development of bad habits in the pattern of failure are indicative of a team that not only is struggling, but is failing to recognize that. 

Game 1: The "we let it slip through our fingers" game. This obviously was the less damaging of the two. A few plays here or there and the Lakers win. Make more than a couple and it's a comfortable win. Surrendering the game in the manner they did, however, was about as "un-Laker-like" as you're going to get. They didn't close out the game. They didn't finish with poise. They did collapse, and the Mavericks did take it from them. This game actually looks worse in the aftermath of Game 2. They not only gave the Mavericks confidence, but it was the kind of loss that allowed the Lakers to pass it off as nothing to worry about.  That laziness was fine in previous years. The Lakers were younger, the competition not as fierce, and the matchups were avoided. They needed to respond after Game 1 with a ferocity befitting of a team of their talent, their payroll, their legacy. Instead they simply came into the game with the same lack of urgency they went into so many regular season games and even playoff games in previous years (the Rockets, the Nuggets, the Suns). Only this time, it turns out the other team not only wanted it more... they were just better. 

Game 2: The "well, they just kicked our face in" game. That's a 12 point loss, kids. At home. And in reality, it could have been worlds worse.  The Mavericks only shot 42 percent from the field. You can argue that the Lakers defense was what kept that number low, except that same defense allowed a 106.9 defensive efficiency. That's not great. But it's not terrible, and had a few more shots fallen, you had a much more significant loss. The Mavericks played with urgency, with fire, with a killer instinct. You know, everything you associate with championship play. The Lakers on the other hand felt that they had no reason to execute with purpose. A few passes, a few dunks, and the Mavericks would fold. In many ways, it was a reflection of the crowd, which was first discontent, then frustrated, then downright glum. There's no shock, just petulance at the fact the Mavericks not only didn't roll over, but took it to the Laker's front door, then kicked in the frame. 

The post-game comments from Game 2 give us an insight into where the Lakers' heads are at. Andrew Bynum says there are trust issues. Phil Jackson is concerned. But Kobe Bryant? Kobe Bryant is calm as Hindu cows. It's an interesting reaction from the one player who most often calls out his teammates. Either this is the confidence that breeds his indomitable will, or it's an arrogance that is keeping him out of the reality. And the reality is that the Lakers face a challenge only three teams in history have ever overcome. 

So which is it? Are the Lakers done? Clearly not. Pau Gasol didn't age overnight to the point he's no longer useful. Kobe Bryant's largely the same guy he's been this season. Older, less explosive, occasionally brilliant, occasionally way too confident in his abilities. Derek Fisher's not any worse than he ever has been. Lamar Odom's reverting back to his space cadet persona, but you had to expect that at some point. The bench, though? The bench certainly seems to have wandered by a mirror and remembered, "Oh, yeah, I'm Steve Blake/Matt Barnes/Shannon Brown and not Robert Horry/Brian Shaw/Rick Fox." And those aren't great names to start with. But you can't look at this team the way we saw the Spurs fall because the Spurs tried to tell us all season they were not the defensive stalwarts they've been in the past. The Lakers have been the same team that won the title, just lazier than usual. 

So is Bryant right, and this is just a blip, nothing to worry about? No. The Lakers didn't lose these games because of fluke shots.  L.A. faced their own mortality and their response was to throw up 3-pointer after 3-pointer when they couldn't hit water from the sunken remains of the Titanic, instead of giving it to Andrew Bynum, who was actually playing well. The Lakers were lazy, that's certainly true. But the big key here is so much simpler, and so much more frightening. 

The Mavericks outplayed them. Just as we learned Memphis was simply a better team than San Antonio this year, the Mavericks have showed the same pattern in the first two games. That can just as easily be reversed with a flourish from the Lakers. But we can't simply walk past these two games, confident Los Angeles will right the ship. 

The good ship Mamba is not sunk. But it's taking on water, while the Lakers are arguing over silverware and Kobe Bryant is playing the violin. 

Celtics

If the Lakers' big problem is that their opponent is playing better, the Celtics are facing an uncomfortable reality: the Heat really are better. Don't misunderstand, this isn't to say that the Heat will win. But the facts that we thought would be present in preseason that escaped us the whole year through have returned in stunning clarity. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh play for one team. And that's just a ridiculous amount of talent. If the Celtics are going to win, they have to win with strategy, effort, and guile. Because the first two games have exposed a significant gap between the maximum gears both teams can operate on. Lakers fans can cling to a lack of effort and a series of bad games. But the Celtics don't seem to be playing badly or with poor effort. They're just getting beaten to the spot, beaten to the ball, and dunked over. Role players are wilting while James Jones hits from the outside, and Ray Allen's not getting the ball. 

There's age here. The Celtics knew this coming in. When the Big 3 were constructed, they knew the window was tight. The formation of the Heat, the formation of the Lakers' modern core, the rise of the Bulls all narrowed the window further, but the reality was always in the back of their minds. You can't compete into your late 30's in the face of the greatest rise of talent in the league, constantly teaming up with one another. You can, as long as you don't disrupt your chemistry. Which of course they did. 

The is not on the Perkins trade. But the advantages the Perkins team held in terms of chemistry, efficiency, comfort and continuity were questioned. And somewhere in the back of their minds, the players are aware: the front office decided to make a move in regards to a time when they were no longer in green. That has to shake your confidence, even if slightly. The Celtics still seem physically capable of making adjustments, playing at the level they need to, winning the games. But the overpowering swagger is gone, and the ferocity of play hasn't been there. They have given the vibe of exhaustion, of frustration, and of a restrained fear, which we've never seen before. 

The Celtics can respond. They haven't surrendered home floor. And the common theme in the NBA throughout the decade, throughout its history, has been that you can't count out the established teams until they're dead and buried. We could be looking at this column as one of premature exasperation or naivety in a week. But the signs are there. 

The Lakers and Celtics have been confident, and elite for the past three seasons. But now they both face a blood-draining possibility. The talent may be there. The experience may be strong. The execution may be possible. But the hunger? 

More and more it looks like the hunger lies in the ones across the floor.

Posted on: May 5, 2011 4:44 pm
 

Noah wants Bulls fan to back off Boozer

Posted by Royce Young

That wasn't "Booooooooz" or "Boo-urns" they were saying. It was just straight "boo."

Long, loud boos directed at one specific player.

Bulls fans have grown increasingly frustrated with Carlos Boozer has he's been less than terrific in the postseason to go with a somewhat unspectacular regular season. The $80 million man is averaging just 10.3 points per game on 38 percent shooting in seven playoff games thus far.

The result? Not just some scattered booing, but loud, obvious booing when Boozer checks out and in from games. Fellow Bulls big man Joakim Noah told the Daily Herald that he's heard enough of it.

Noah asked fans to “support every one of us,” and it was obvious what he meant. The fans are getting restless with power forward Carlos Boozer…

“I love our fans. We have the best fans in the NBA, no question about it,” Noah said. “But I understand our fans are very demanding and that can be very good and in some aspects that can be bad, as well.

“Carlos is in a situation where he’s hurt and he’s giving us everything he can. I’ve been in the position where I’ve been booed before in the United Center and I know to get to where we want to get to, we need Carlos. We should be supporting him. I don’t understand that.”

Boozer of course has been battling a turf toe/ligament issue the past few games and appears to sort of be gutting it out. But as the Chicago offense continues to look pedestrian and centered entirely around Derrick Rose, Bulls fans don't care about valid excuses. They want results. And right now, the regular season's best team isn't giving them very good ones and a lot feel Boozer is to blame.

They're right in the sense that the Bulls need Boozer playing at a high level in order to challenge for a championship. Chicago had issues with Indiana and it's no sure thing that the Bulls are advancing past the Hawks at this point. A big reason is the output from Chicago's starting power forward. Just 10 points and long disappeances isn't cutting it right now.
Posted on: May 5, 2011 12:55 am
Edited on: May 5, 2011 1:11 am
 

NBA Playoffs Hawks-Bulls: Noah makes good

Joakim Noah provides the spark for the Bulls in Game 2. 
Posted by Matt Moore

The Bulls can't win if Derrick Rose plays poorly (he can play "not great" as he did Wednesday night, despite what the point total and narratives will tell you, just not badly). But more prevalent in Game 2 was this: the Bulls can't lose if Joakim Noah plays great. 

19 points on 6-8 shooting, 14 rebounds, 7 offensive, 3 steals and 1 block. That's a great line. And it doesn't even cover how big of an impact he had versus the Hawks. 50 percent of the Bulls' offensive rebounds were snagged by Noah. On a night when the Bulls' offense was only slightly less woeful than the Hawks', those seven extra possessions, full of putbacks and resets, were vital. Basically, if you can't produce efficiency with the possessions provided, create more possessions. 

Most notable was his dominance over Al Horford. Horford is generally regarded as the better player. He's more versatile, has better range, is more efficient and a better passer. But in terms of those key plays which make your team that little bit better than the other in key areas, Noah dragged Horford out behind the shed and taught him a thing or two. Which is odd since they both learned about those things at the same university. If Noah's going to get at those key rebounds at that rate over Horford and Josh Smith, the Bulls will simply grind the Hawks into wood shavings, as they did in Game 2. 

Noah's not particularly versatile, but he had the full array going on Wednesday, including the lefty hook early for the first points for the Bulls. It's that production that puts the Bulls at a level just high enough to overcome an inefficient game from Rose and a terrible game from pretty much every other Bull offensively. Noah struggled in the regular season with injury and the first round with energy. But his biggest performances coincide with the Bulls' strongest wins. The Bulls' win over the Hawks in Game 2 wasn't pretty. It was just very Noah. 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com