Tag:2011 second-round playoffs
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 7, 2011 2:38 am
Edited on: May 7, 2011 5:40 am

NBA Playoffs Mavs-Lakers: The Panic Button

The Lakers have never had a reason to panic, until now. 
Posted by Matt Moore

There's never a good time to panic. It does you no good to freak out, and the only way to solve a problem that would call for such behavior is to behave in the exact opposite manner; with poise and control.  And for a championship team like the Lakers, there's no such thing as a panic button. They've been victorious too often, overcome too many challenges, risen up and simply been better in too many series. They don't know what the panic button looks like. 

But maybe they should after Game 3's stunning loss to the Mavericks, to go down 0-3. Maybe then they'd have some level of urgency in their play, some level of commitment to closing games. The Lakers we're witnessing are in many ways the ultimate embodiment of the team we've seen for years in L.A. . They assume they'll be better simply by having the talent. Victory is assured once they step on the floor, even if Ron Artest doesn't step on said floor. Instead, they've found themselves on the brink, as Dallas has surged ahead in every fourth quarter of this series. And what does Kobe Bryant say after the game?

“I might be sick in the head … because I still think we’re going to win the series,” Bryant said. “I might be nuts.”

Bryant said he wasn't discouraged after the game. In the same calm, cool, collected manner, he exuded confidence bordering on arrogance, even after he started 5-5... and finished 3-11, with a key turnover late that may or may not have been Pau Gasol's fault. Bryant's not concerned because when he's had the manpower, he's never failed. 2005-2007? He could blame the roster. Not this one. This one is on the mindset, and that reflects its leader. So why is Bryant so calm, cool, and collected?
Because he can be. Because if any team can come back from an 0-3 deficit for the first time in league history, it's the Lakers, and if any team could cough it up, it's the Mavericks. It seems absurd that it has come to this, but it here we are. Bryant remains indignant to the idea that the Lakers should be concerned. After Game 2, Bryant told reporters that everyone was "trippin'" because they acted like no one had ever won two games before. In reality, they were talking about winning two games on the road after blowing your first two at home. Bryant never wavered from the script after Game 3, talking about mental mistakes like this was a game against Minnesota in February. There's maintaining your composure, and there's refusing to acknowledge your situation. 

There was discussion that the Lakers played "desperate" in Game 3, but we saw the same lazy rotations, the same deviation from effective strategy, the same failure to secure key plays. They are who they've been: a team with extremely talented players with superior physical attributes that doesn't respond when challenged. In years past, the Lakers would respond right when they had to in order to avoid hitting the panic button. 

Panicking won't help the Lakers win Game 4, or four straight, which is what they must do. But coming to terms with their situation may be the only way for the Lakers to really see where they've landed. There's a time for patience, confidence and even arrogance. 

That time has come and gone. If the Lakers can win this series, it will be the ultimate validator of their overconfidence. If they cannot, it will be the final verdict on a core that won two titles and yet infuriated its fans and too often played with the flame. 

Eventually you get burned. 
Posted on: May 7, 2011 1:30 am
Edited on: May 7, 2011 5:28 am

Mavericks stick to formula, go up 3-0 on Lakers

The Dallas Mavericks continue to play their game, taking a 3-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Lakers. Posted by Ben Golliver.

No team in the NBA playoffs is playing better than the Dallas Mavericks right now. 

After watching the Mavericks handle the Los Angeles Lakers, 98-92, to take an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the series, there's really no argument. 

We talk all the time about teams "imposing their will" or "imposing their style of play". But, usually, that boils down to one of two things. 1) The bigger team pounds the paint against the smaller team. 2) The more athletic team overwhelms the less athletic team. In both cases, the end result jumps out of the boxscore, usually in the form of things like a rebounding advantage or points in the paint for the bigger team, or fast break points or points off turnovers for the more athletic team. 

While the Mavericks' dominance of Los Angeles hasn't come from interior bruising or from open court cruising, it's been a sight to behold. Consider this: Los Angeles outscored Dallas 56-20 in the paint and neither team got out to run much, with the two teams combining for just 15 points (Dallas had 11) on the break.

The secrets to Dallas' success read like chapters from an old-school textbook: move the ball, outplay your opponent's bench, and maintain composure in crucial situations. Dallas clicked on all three of those cylinders during Friday night's Game 3, and for the third time in the three games. It has them on the verge of upsetting the heavily favored Lakers. Incredibly, it also has them on the verge of a sweep.

With forward Ron Artest sidelined due to a suspension, the Lakers were forced to play a bigger lineup that often featured Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the court at the same time. That lineup is a touch slower than L.A.'s usual starting lineup that features Artest, Gasol and Bynum, and quite a bit slower than the Artest-Odom-Gasol trio that the Lakers often turn to late in games. Dallas exploited this fact mercilessly, making the extra pass around the perimeter time and time again. "One of the things [Artest's absence] hurt was our rotations to the three-point line," Lakers coach Phil Jackson admitted after the game. "Covering that. It's a little bit tough for our bigger guys to get to that point."

Lakers guards Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant were left to chase the ball as best they could. Odom and Gasol gave good effort closing out to shooters, particularly in the second half, but it simply wasn't enough. The Mavericks -- Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic in particular -- didn't shoot the ball all that well early, but the open looks added up. The final perimeter numbers more than made up for L.A.'s dominance inside: 12-29 from three-point land, with the Mavericks outscoring the Lakers from deep, 36-9. The most telling stat: 22 assists on 31 field goals, an extraordinary number.

Stojakovic got things going in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 of his 15 points. More than anyone, his night encapsulated what's made the Mavericks so unstoppable of late. Despite starting 1-5 from three-point land, he continued plugging away, throwing in two daggers late to pull Dallas back into a game that Los Angeles once again thought it had won. 

Following Game 2, we pointed out just how deadly the Mavericks bench has been, and Stojakovic's heroics expanded on that trend. Dallas' reserves outscored L.A.'s in a 42-15 landslide, with Jason Terry leading the way with 23 points. It's worth noting that those numbers are skewed a bit by Artest's absence because Odom scored 18 in a starting role. Still, the Mavericks' depth advantage is clear as day, as is their collective poise. Not only can coach Rick Carlisle go nine deep, he can do so confidently. His reserves are rising to the moment rather than shrinking from it.

That depth advantage played huge down the stretch, where L.A. crumbled for the third time in three games. All five Lakers starters played 35+ minutes and they showed both mental and physical fatigue in the closing minutes. This time, the biggest culprit was Derek Fisher, who committed a huge foul to send Jason Terry to the free throw line (where he made it a two possession game) and then immediately threw the ball away on an inbounds pass on the next possession. Fisher wasn't the only scapegoat. Nowitzki was allowed to hit a number of open looks, something that can't happen on a night when he scores 32 points and continues to display MVP form.  The Orange County Register quoted Bryant: "Dumbest defensive mistakes I've seen us make all year." Those mistakes proved fatal. 

On the other end, Kobe Bryant threw a pass off Pau Gasol's back and the Lakers as a whole forgot to pound the ball to Bynum late in the game, despite a monster 21-point and 10-rebound performance from their center. All of that ugliness led Jackson to summarize it simply: "They finished better than we did, and they deserved to win it."

Game 3 was played at a Finals level intensity. Despite L.A.'s mistakes, this wasn't a meltdown akin to Game 1. Instead, this was about the Mavericks methodically playing their own game, possession after possession, missed shot or made, and not giving in to the pressure or L.A.'s increasing desperation. 

Put it all together and it's fair to make this bold statement: The Mavericks had the look of a champion on Friday night.
Posted on: May 7, 2011 12:58 am
Edited on: May 7, 2011 1:26 am

Playoff Fix: Adjustment bureau in Memphis

Posted by Royce Young

One Big Thing: The adjustment Scott Brooks and his coaching staff made for the Grizzlies in Game 2 was almost jarring. The Grizzlies went from a dominant inside force to a more perimeter-oriented attack. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph went from combining for 54 points to compiling just 28 together. Nothing came easy for the duo, as Gasol went 3-9 and Randolph 2-13, including 0-5 in the second half.

The Thunder were a dominant team after the Kendrick Perkins trade because of their interior defense. That was missing in Game 1 as the Grizzlies dominated the flow, feel and pace of the game. It's all about that battle again in Game 3.

The X-Factor: The Thunder won Game 2 behind two X-factors: 1) Big-time bench scoring from Eric Maynor and James Harden, and 2) excellent interior defense from Nick Collison. Harden, you can count on again to be a scoring weapon off the bench. He was the top scoring sixth man since the All-Star break. But, Maynor, I'm not sure you can bank on giving 15 points and 3-4 from 3 again. And again, Collison was excellent covering Randolph in the post.

The Grizzlies though, need to find some help again off the bench. O.J. Mayo gave good minutes as a reserve in Game 2, but the Grizzlies missed quality bench minutes. Greivis Vasquez was a non-factor. Darrell Arthur didn't give much. Someone has to find some baskets for Memphis in the second unit. Gasol and Randolph will be better, but the Grizzlies have to find extra points from somewhere.

The Adjustment: How does Lionel Hollins adjust to find space for Randolph and Gasol. The high pick-and-roll was snuffed out in Game 2 by the Thunder and OKC's defenders gave Randolph no space. The obvious adjustment is more minutes for O.J. Mayo, as he's one of the few players that can space the floor. The Grizzlies were last in 3-point attempts, and makes, this season. The Thunder dared them to take and make them in Game 2. Memphis didn't respond.

Either the Grizzlies change their game and look for more outside, or they just try and power through the Thunder's interior adjustment. That's basically where we're at right now. These teams have had three days off to think about it all. Lots of time to adjust adapt and work. Let's see what they come up with.

The Sticking Point: Obviously this game is big. Though, I think it's more important for the Grizzlies, who I see as shouldering more of the pressure. The Thunder looked very good in Game 2 and made the opening loss seem a bit like an aberration. So the Grizzlies need to re-establish and handle their home floor. Drop this one and the Thunder immediately have the home court back.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were good in Game 2, but not great. Again, the Thunder's role guys stepped up. This one is going to come down to which duo outperfoms the other. Is it Gasol and Randolph or Durant and Westbrook? The Thunder see a big opportunity to ride some momentum and take control of this series here. But the Grizzlies have been terrific at home. Something's got to give here. And that's why this is going to be one terrific game.
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. 


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 1:24 pm

Lakers blow it up if they bomb out of playoffs?

Will the Los Angeles Lakers blow it up if they are bounced from the NBA playoffs early? Posted by Ben Golliver. kobe-shaw

The Los Angeles Lakers are down 2-0 to the Dallas Mavericks, and the stress level is going through the rooof. Kobe Bryant has said he's concerned. Phil Jackson has said he's concerned. Andrew Bynum has said there's trust issues. 

Now, the Los Angeles Times reports that veteran point guard Derek Fisher and assistant coach Brian Shaw are playing the "Play better or you might not be here next year" card in an effort to spur some urgency. 
About two weeks ago, Derek Fisher gathered together his teammates and told them to look around the room. 
"We discussed that buttons will be pushed," Fisher said after practice Thursday. "That's the reality, and it's business with this team. You have to understand it and appreciate it for what it is. I think guys understand it."
"If [players] like the palm trees, the sunny weather and the pretty women in L.A. and the other stuff that comes along with it, if you want to keep it, then you better come with it," Shaw said. "If you don't, there are a whole bunch of other guys that would love to be in this position. And this organization is not going to sit around and wait."
If the Lakers are serious about blowing things up, it's going to take a lot of work. The team's 10 highest-paid players -- the team's starting five plus Lamar Odom, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown and Luke Walton -- are all locked in through the 2012-2013 season. Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Blake all on the books through 2013-2014.

In other words, a reshaping of the roster wouldn't just be about declining a player's option, refusing to extend a qualifying offer or letting him walk in free agency. True change in the rotation is only going to happen via trade. That's the button Fisher is talking about.

One other expected change that is worth noting: Shaw could slide into the head coach's chair next season.
Posted on: May 6, 2011 12:20 pm
Edited on: May 6, 2011 2:30 pm

Brown may start for Artest and Kobe slide to SF

Posted by Royce Young

Down 0-2 heading to Dallas without your best defender? Not exactly ideal if you're the Lakers.

And Phil Jackson, knowing something needs to change, isn't looking at your expected replacement for Ron Artest who was suspended for Game 3. Common sense says to go with Matt Barnes who plays that position and backs up Artest anyway. Except Jackson is actually leaning towards a shuffle, bringing in Shannon Brown to start at shooting guard and moving Kobe Bryant to small forward. The OC Register explains:
Brown is also at least healthy, whereas Barnes is still regaining his feel after missing the end of the regular season with knee soreness.

Barnes has not been sharp — fouling ahead of defending and rushing shots near the basket. Brown has been inconsistent in his decision-making but shooting OK. If Brown starts, Bryant would likely defend Shawn Marion after defending Jason Kidd to start Game 2.

But Bryant would have an easier time attacking the basket from a wing position at small forward — and he has very rarely gotten inside in the first two games vs. Dallas.
It would be an interesting move and one that might create some matchup issues for the Mavericks. Having Kobe on the wing might free him a bit more and having Brown in the starting five might just be a major spark. The Lakers are struggling to find offense right now and Brown is a pretty good scoring option.

Some suggested going with Lamar Odom at the 3, playing very big with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum next to him. Except that trio has played less than 25 minutes on the floor together this year, suggesting Jackson doesn't like it. However, Odom said at Lakers shootaround that he expects to start at small forward.

Barnes will obviously see heavy minutes, but Jackson is looking for some kind of combination to spark his group. Shannon Brown though? Or Odom? I guess we'll see.
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