NBA Playoffs: From Fizdale's rant to JaVale's arrival, 20 things we've learned
It's not all about Stephen Curry and LeBron James being awesome -- we knew that already
The NBA playoffs have been going for 10 days, with two series finished and others completely up in the air. Now that we have had a bit of time to step back and look at what has happened, here's what we've learned:
1. Life comes at you fast
Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey recycled one of his favorite quotes Saturday after his team tied its series with the Milwaukee Bucks at 2, bouncing back from an embarrassing 27-point loss two days earlier:
With how the Raptors have fluctuated between Chicago Bulls went up 2-0 on the Boston Celtics, it was easy to start judging Boston coach Brad Stevens through the lens of a first-round failure. Now that the series is tied, largely thanks to , no one is making fun of his playoff record anymore.to the past week and a half, this is particularly appropriate coming from Casey. There are a number of other coaches, however, who can definitely relate. After the eighth-seeded
2. Loudness is overrated
The Kawhi Leonard and Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, two of the league's most understated stars. This was one of the , defined by the best postseason performance of Conley's career and the fact that the team didn't get flustered when Leonard suddenly started making difficult shots with no one seemingly able to defend him. This was very Spurs-Grizzlies, and it wouldn't have been improved by more flash or trash-talking.was highlighted by a duel between Spurs forward
3. Sometimes you have to win ugly
Every now and then during the playoffs, I think about this tweet from ESPN's Ethan Sherwood Strauss:
The Warriors' pretty stuff absolutely worked in their of the Portland Trail Blazers, but the point applies to other teams as well. In the postseason, scouting is so sophisticated that teams often have to completely change their approach from the regular season when plays don't work. It's not about using the strengths you have in comparison to the rest of the league; it's about exploiting matchup advantages against one team.
Look at how the Houston Rockets won Game 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder despite a and a poor performance from James Harden, who was dealing with an ankle injury, or how the Raptors against the Bucks on the strength of excellent defense and opportunistic isolation play. Look at how Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick has been essentially taken out of the series against the Utah Jazz.
This also is why having players who can get buckets in difficult situations is important. Joe Johnson has become a playoff hero for the Jazz, coming up big in crunch time in and .
4. Never doubt LeBron in the first round
The Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Indiana Pacers, and LeBron James continued his incredible season. This , but his numbers remain staggering: averages of 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, nine assists, three steals, two blocks, 54.3 percent shooting. 45 percent from 3-point range. James' teams have won 21 consecutive games in the first round, and 40 of 47 in his career. Let's go ahead and predict another sweep for Cleveland in the opening round of the 2017-18 playoffs.
5. Health is a fragile thing
Here's a non-exhaustive list of people we wish weren't sidelined during this first round: Steve Kerr, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gobert, Blake Griffin, Jusuf Nurkic, Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen and Chandler Parsons. Some of these absences have swung series in obvious ways, and others are just disappointing because everybody wants to compete this time of year. This is a reminder that health often determines whether a team gets as far as it can in the postseason.
6. Shooting and versatility rule the day
Here's a huge surprise: You need spacing, athleticism and quickness in today's NBA!
Seriously, even though the league has been trending smaller for years, it's worth noting adjustments teams have made to their starting lineups in the first round. Boston replaced Amir Johnson with Gerald Green. Toronto replaced Jonas Valanciunas with Norman Powell. Indiana replaced Monta Ellis with C.J. Miles. All of these moves were made in order to space the floor and have more similarly sized players on the court so they could be interchangeable defensively.
7. The Warriors aren't necessarily invincible, but …
It sure feels that way at times. They had to deal with a lot in their first-round series -- the emotional toll of Kerr's symptoms from his spinal fluid leak worsening, Durant getting banged up again, the absence of Shaun Livingston after Game 1 and Matt Barnes for the whole series -- and yet they managed to look like themselves against the Blazers. There is no doubt about the best team in the league, and it is going to take something astonishing to beat them.
8. The Rockets are no joke
Houston is averaging 111.7 points per 100 possessions against Oklahoma City. They averaged 111.8 per 100 in the regular season. Every time Mike D'Antoni takes a team to the playoffs, there's some doubt about whether it can keep its pace-and-space system flowing, especially when matched up against a defense-first team like the Thunder. Even with Ryan Anderson struggling with his shot, Houston has had little trouble doing that.
9. Thunder vs. Rockets is not just Harden vs. Westbrook
Here are four things more fascinating than the Harden vs. Russell Westbrook dynamic in this series:
- Nene is playing some the best basketball of his career as a backup at the age of 34.
- Andre Roberson is defending Harden better than anybody, yet remains a somewhat polarizing figure because of the way Harden ignores him on the other end and the way Houston intentionally fouled him in Game 4.
- Patrick Beverley is competing like crazy with Westbrook on every possession and gave the Rockets an offensive boost in the first two games.
- The Thunder are unable to function like a normal pro team when Westbrook goes to the bench.
We could go on. This series will not settle the MVP debate, and that award is for the regular season, anyway.
10. Fizdale is a true Grizzly
One of the most memorable moments of this postseason happened in a press conference, not on the court. Grizzlies coach David Fizdale could not have endeared himself to the city of Memphis more than when hefollowing a Game 2 loss, permanently adding "take that for data" and "they're not gonna rook us" into the NBA lexicon. He was , of course, but the players -- and certainly the fans -- .
11. The Raptors are never boring
Some of us thought Toronto, with a deeper roster and improvement from its stars, would be past the point where it was losing Game 1s to lower-seeded teams and making people doubt whether its offensive formula translated to the high-pressure environment of the playoffs. The Raptors got to the conference finals last spring, after all. After falling behind 2-1 to Milwaukee, it became clear that they still had some issues.
Toronto then earned a gritty road win and blew the Bucks out at home, sticking to its strange identity of sometimes looking like a contender, other times looking like an also-ran. Watching this team can be confusing and frustrating, but it's always interesting.
12. Giannis and the Bucks might own the future ...
… and perhaps some of the present. Regardless of how its series with the Raptors ends, Milwaukee left a strong impression with the way its defenders flew all over the court and disrupted an elite offense. Now imagine Giannis Antetokounmpo with a consistent jump shot, Thon Maker after a few more years of development and Jabari Parker back in the lineup. The Bucks were inconsistent throughout the regular season, but they are building something that can be special. This is only the beginning.
13. It make sense that John Wall is a Wizard
The man is simply full of tricks. There has not been a more jaw-dropping play than when he raced downcourt at full speed, wrapped the ball behind his back and zoomed past the entire Hawks defense to throw down a left-handed dunk Saturday:
If only Wall were on a deeper team. As incredible as he has been -- he's averaging 28.8 points, 10 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals -- Washington is tied at 2 with Atlanta mostly because the Hawks' reserves have dominated and Wall's supporting cast has been quiet.
14. CP3 deserves so much better than this
It's easy to overlook the fact Chris Paul has been one of the best players in the playoffs, especially because there's a real chance his team again could be eliminated in the first round. He had 27 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds Sunday, and that might have been his worst game. If the Cilppers get past the Jazz despite losing Griffin and having no real backup center behind DeAndre Jordan, it will be because of Paul's all-around brilliance as a play-maker and defender.
15. JaVale is not just a regular-season phenomenon
The best story in the league right now might be how the Warriors obliterated the Blazers with JaVale McGee on the court, with an almost unfathomable offensive rating of 132.5 and defensive rating of 90.3. This guy was largely seen as a joke the past few years and some considered him a long shot to make Golden State's roster, so this is the most successful reclamation project the NBA has seen in some time. The Warriors never get sick of trying to throw him alley-oops, and he appears to have made real progress as a team defender.
16. The Pacers are who we thought they were
Translation: They are mediocre and poorly assembled with poor depth, a far cry from the Eastern Conference powerhouse of a few years ago. They will face serious offseason questions, starting with star forward Paul George. Can they make the kind of moves that convince him that he can win in Indiana? If not, they might have to entertain the prospect of rebuilding, which the franchise has gone to great lengths to avoid.
17. Celtics rebounding problems are real
Boston has done well to come back after a dreadful start to the series, but it has still grabbed a measly 44.2 percent of available rebounds against the Bulls. This was a major issue for the Celtics all season, and Chicago has exploited it, especially when Robin Lopez is on the court. If Boston doesn't make it to the second round, it will be because the Bulls were bullies on the inside.
18. Never overlook the Grizzlies
Swept in the first round, last season's Memphis team was an anomaly because it was so banged up. This time, even with Allen and Parsons sidelined, the Grizzlies probably won't beat the Spurs, but they deserve endless respect for how they have fought. The 40-year-old Vince Carter is starting. Rookie Andrew Harrison had a ridiculous chasedown block in overtime. Star center Marc Gasol hit perhaps the most important shot he has ever taken.
19. Apparently it's possible to get in a feud with Paul Millsap
Wizards forward Markieff Morris called the league's most mild-mannered perennial All-Star a " " Saturday in reply to Millsap saying that "we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA" in Game 1.
This whole thing is extremely weird, and my favorite part is that Morris initially responded to Millsap's comment by saying, "I guess if that's MMA, then what we do next might be double MMA." I'm still hoping to find out what double MMA is.
20. Extraordinary Joe
If Joe Ingles were younger, I would place a bet on the Brooklyn Nets offering him a huge contract next summer, which would be wonderful if only for the "Marks and Ingles" jokes. The Jazz forward has been indispensable against the Clippers, and it's not even mainly because of his 40-percent 3-point shooting. His defense has been unbelievable, and he dished 11 assists in Utah's big Game 4 win.
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