Court Vision: Playoff lessons and looking ahead, 4/23

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Here's what we learned from the playoffs on Wednesday, April 23rd, as well as a look ahead to Thursday's games. 

  • LaMarcus Aldridge's first two games: 89 points on 35 of 59 shooting, plus 26 rebounds and five blocks. 
  • James Harden's first two games: 45 points on 14 of 47 shooting, included 5 of 19 from 3 plus nine turnovers. 
  • Back to Aldridge: He's a monster. And the Rockets have absolutely no answer for him. Terrence Jones is too little and Dwight Howard is too slow. Omer Asik could be the proper adjustment and did some decent work on Aldridge, but still, 43 points isn't exactly slowing a guy down much. 
  • Take five minutes to look at Aldridge's shot chart. He's having his way anywhere he wants it:
  • Can't ask much more from Dwight Howard. He completely dominated with 25 in the first half and while he finished with 32 and 14 rebounds, meaning only seven in the final 24 minutes, Howard gave the kind of performance the Rockets had to have. 
  • Aldridge was a beast, but Dorell Wright's performance off the bench was almost equally important. In 18 minutes he hit 4 of 5, including 3 of 4 from 3 and finished with 15 points plus three blocks and four rebounds. Huge impact.
  • Here's what we've really learned after two games: The Rockets can't guard the Blazers. Start with Aldridge and go down the line. The Blazers are going to have their pick of great looks and as long as Harden struggles, the Rockets don't have any chance. They basically have to resign themselves to outscoring the Blazers and the only way that's happening is for Harden to get back to his efficient self as well as spreading the ball around and involving his teammates. 
  • I wouldn't rule the Rockets out yet, but here's what they have to do: Beat the Blazers twice in Portland. That's quite a thing to ask.

• We learned that you can feel good about what Charlotte's done while accepting they're just outgunned. This doesn't feel like Milwaukee-Miami or even New York-Miami, despite New York stealing a game two years ago. They just don't have the weapons to close. The Cats would go down by double-digits, push it back to two possessions. Go down by 17, come all the way back to down two-possessions. They just don't have the one scorer to close, not with Al Jefferson on one extremely bad wheel. 

• For Miami, it was Chris Bosh. This is the third time in three games that Bosh has killed the Cats. They keep sagging off to try and double LeBron James in the pick and pop, and with Bosh extending his range to three, he just splashed all day. 8-of-11 shooting for 20 points for Bosh. 

• Can't live with that. 

• The Cats did do a great job of responding in this game, though. MKG had 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting and 10 rebounds. Al Jefferson shot 9-of-23 but did finish with 18 and 13 on one very badly injured foot. 

• I said Bosh was the story, and that's true, only because we're used to this: LeBron James 32 points, six rebounds, eight assists, four steals, on 11-of-17 shooting. That's insane that I barely even register that. For what it's worth, the Cats can survive the James onslaught. They just can't live with eight assists and Bosh getting loose on top of his onslaught. 

• This, apparently, is not a flagrant foul. I would expect the league to review this play very closely in the next 24 hours. 

• This block was absolutely ballistic. 


• We learned that somehow, someway, Rick Carlisle, who received no votes for Coach of the Year, has built a Mavericks defense only for the playoffs. The Mavericks were one of the worst defensive teams of all playoff contenders all year, and against the Spurs, they have become pure defensive beasts. Cutting off perimeter penetration, attacking dribble, turning the Spurs over constantly, creating fastbreak opportunities, and rebounding effectively. It's truly one of the best coaching performances we've seen. 

• What happened to the super-duper, amazing, wonderful, work-of-art Spurs offense? Not only did they turn the ball over at a superhuman rate (24 turnovers!), but they're just not creating the same kind of dizzying stuff you're used to. They look... like any other team. They're just average. And it's not just this game. It's been two games now that they've looked like this. The only reason the bench wasn't destroyed again is that Ginobili went off for 27. But the rest of the bench scored just 16 points. 

• And the bench wasn't all the problem. Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green took 15 shots combined. The Spurs always look for the best shot, but the Mavericks are funneling the ball to unproven, unreliable (so far) shooters, and making them pay for it. 

• The lone bright spot was Manu Ginobili, who filled it up with 27 points and made play after play on the offensive end. 

• Of course, this also happened to Manu: 

Yeah, that's DeJuan Blair stripping him and going coast to coast like an offensive lineman scoring a touchdown on a fumble return. Stumbling, bumbling, rumbling . 

Marco Belinelli was -31 in 29 minutes. Talk about small sample size and single-game noise all you want. That's bad. 

• Another sign of Rick Carlisle's genius? Going away from starters you've ridden all year is hard for most coaches. They always trust the guys who brought them. But he continues to trust Devin Harris and Harris' ability to defend and manage the offense has paid huge dividends. Carlisle played Jose Calderon more in Game 2, effectively able to hide him defensively on Patty Mills

Shawn Marion and Vince Carter continue making huge plays. Carter has been quietly effective everywhere and simply doesn't make mistakes. Marion had 20 points (!) on 8-of-10 shooting (!!) with five boards, two assists and three steals. Monster game from Matrix. 

• Can we talk about Monta Ellis' defense? No, seriously, his defense. He made plays like this all night: 

• The Spurs' defense has been just as bad. They usually fly to spots, anticipating rotations. Instead, they've been a step behind this entire series. Brandan Wright is making passes before they can anticipate. 

Tony Parker only played 25 minutes, which is weird, even with the fourth quarter essentially blowout time. He was super-engaged early but the Mavericks kept working to disengage him in the pick and roll, and it worked. 

• In the second half, the Spurs allowed a 1.22 points per possession mark defensively, which is pretty much the basketball equivalent of what happens when you hit a balloon filled with paint with a sledgehammer. 

Looking ahead to Thursday

  • The Pacers gave away home court advantage in Game 1, but seemed to sort of find themselves a bit in Game 2, especially with that impressive third quarter. Game 3 is going to swing this series one direction in a big way, and really, could be the defining game of it all.
  • The Grizzlies now have home court advantage, despite Kevin Durant's magic nearly preserving it for the Thunder. The big question: How do the Thunder respond in freeing Durant from the vice that is Tony Allen? Oklahoma City's offense has been disrupted and while Russell Westbrook was electric in Game 1, he was a bit erratic in Game 2. Which guy shows up in the madhouse in Memphis?
  • A tale of two games. It seemed almost as if the Warriors were completely satisfied with stealing Game 1, and accepted the fact they were going to lose Game 2 and just invited it to happen. The Clippers seemed to grab all the momentum back with their blowout in Game 2, but still, the Warriors have home court advantage and the series heads to Oakland where things will be wild. 
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