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Brief 2017 NBA Playoff Recaps: Volume 1 (Opening Weekend)

Four games in each day, to launch the 2017 NBA Playoffs. One paragraph per game, that’s all time will allow.

Saturday, April 15

Cleveland Cavs 109, Indiana Pacers 108 (Miles To Go Before I Sleep…)

(CLE leads, 1–0)

LeBron very good, rest of Cavs looked rusty…Kyrie 1 of 9 from deep…Cleveland dodges bullet when C.J. Miles misses fade-away at buzzer. Paul George is mad at C.J. Miles for taking a good look. Too bad Sir Lance couldn’t steal one for Indiana, that would’ve made things dramatic. (Lance is bringing it back to 2013, by the way)…Kevin Seraphin got 16 playoff minutes! Don’t wake the monster…

Milwaukee Bucks 97, Toronto Raptors 83 (Sir Brogdon At Your Service…)

(MIL leads 1–0)

Giannis in attack mode, such a beautiful sight. Half court to the rim in 3 strides. 28 on 18 shots…President Malcolm Brogdon ain’t a rookie, he’s a savvy vet! What do you need? I got your defense, your timely shooting, your smart passing. Just tell me what you need…Khris Middleton is the only human on the planet who can shoot 4 of 15 and finish +27 on the night. Three blocks by Maker made me squeal with delight. Lowry 2 of 11 and 0 of 6 from deep. Wrist rust be a problem. Casey needs to get Valanciunas more than 5 shots. This is going 7.

Dwayne Casey needs to figure some things out before Game 2


San Antonio Spurs 111, Memphis Grizzlies 82 (Kawhi Can’t This be a Forfeit?)

(SA leads 1–0….soon to be 4–0)

When we heard Tony Allen was out for the series, we stopped holding out any hope that this would be competitive. The Spurs were ordered by Adam Silver to wait until the 2nd quarter to annihilate the Grizzlies, so they cooperated, ending the first with a 5 point deficit. Then San Antonio won the next three quarters by 34. When you want to watch every series, it helps to have one like this.

Utah Jazz 97, Los Angeles Clippers 95 (Win One for the Gobert!)

(UTAH leads 1–0)

17 seconds after tip and The Gentle Giant, Gobert the Great, was on the ground, crawling and shaking his head. It was a painful, deflating sight. Anyone who was rooting for the Jazz felt hollow inside. Quin Snyder’s expression was more than concerned. Not exactly panicked, though. He held himself together, and the Jazz held themselves together. Players like Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles, George Hill, and Derrick Favors…pulled this one out. What a wonderful game. The Clippers have all the talent and the Jazz have all the grit. The Clippers are an empty vessel, with a ferocious point guard at the helm. They are less than the sum of their parts, while the Jazz are more than just a couple of Joes. What sweet music, Game One brought us. Joe Johnson has been reborn. Joe Ingles is the best YMCA gym rat in the NBA.

Slow-Motion Joe Goes With the Flow


Sunday, April 16

Golden St Warriors 121, Portland Trail Blazers 109 (McCollum Merely One Man…)

(GS leads 1–0)

C.J. McCollum was Golden State’s Gollum, they were never sure which way he’d go. Dropping 41 points on 28 shots, McCollum and his pal Lillard kept the Blazers afloat until the 15–2 Warrior avalanche began the 4th. Defensive Draymond opened the gates and the unassuming Ian Clark chipped in 7 of those 15. The first 36 minutes of the series may be the closest, though it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Blazers backcourt pull one out in the Rose Quarter.

Washington Wizards 114, Atlanta Hawks 107 (Chief Markieff Offers Relief)

(WAS leads 1–0)

The Wizards are probably the better team, and certainly the more interesting one of the two, but with time slipping away at the end of the half, the Hawks led, 48–42, and Washington’s Markieff Morris missed a contested corner three. The ensuing review showed that Morris had been fouled as time expired on the shot. Three free-throws and the lead was cut to 3, as they strolled toward the locker rooms. After the half, Morris opened up by hitting a 3, and the game was tied. Sometimes a game swings when you least expect it. The Hawks have little margin for error. The Wizards bench came up completely empty (except for Mr. Oubre). A few Tim Hardaway threes (0 of 6) and the Hawks might have pulled it out. Instead, Washington still holds home court for now.

Chicago Bulls 106, Boston Celtics 102 (Tragic Turn for Cs but Baby Please…)

(CHI leads 1–0)

What an awful turn of events for Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics. A tragedy clouded what should have been an exuberant first round home game in Boston. Despite it all, Isaiah showed up and did what he always does: scored. 33 points on 18 shots, 10 of 12 from the line, and 3 from deep. Isaiah finished with a +12. So did Bobby Portis, the Bulls 22 year-old who came off the bench with a fury. Those ten minutes without Isaiah belonged to Portis, who scored 19 on 8 of 10, grabbing 9 boards, dishing 3 assists and blocking 2 shots. After the Bulls sent Gibson and McDermott packing, Portis has seen his minutes grow. Once he started knocking down threes at the end of the regular season, his confidence apparently grew as well. Boston’s 53-wins and home court advantage are in the rear-view now, as they fight off Jimmy Butler and Bobby Portis, looking to even things on Tuesday night. Bradley and Horford did their parts, along with Isaiah. Crowder, Smart, Olynyk, and Jaylen have to give more.

Houston Rockets 118, OKC Thunder 87 (Roll the Thunder, Hear Their Cry)

(HOU leads 1–0)

No more debates, no more MVP concerns, just throw the ball up and play. The better team won. The better team has Patrick Beverley, whose offensive contributions (21 points on 13 shots) pale in comparison to the impact of his Westbrook-hounding. Russell can rampage all over the regular season, but he won’t rampage all over Mr. Beverley, who has never known the concept of fear or intimidation. Westbrook’s 6 of 23 line, and 9 turnovers were a big part of the problem. His sidekick, Victor Oladipo, was a dreadful 1 of 12 from the field, misfiring on all 6 three-pointers. OKC’s only hope is to contain Houston’s relentless attack, in which James Harden dissects their defense and makes life simple and breezy for Clint Capela and Nene, who shot a combined 14 of 17, feasting on lay-ups and dunks. Either redirect Harden away from the paint, or Westbrook has to play three times as well as he did tonight and Oladipo needs to wake up. This could be over in 5.


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Will update on a weekly basis.

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Celtics Gaining Momentum as Calendar Flips (Dec 27-Jan 3)

Russell Westbrook went on yet another rampage on Friday at the Garden, single-handedly delivering a road win for his Thunder. It would have been Boston’s fifth straight victory. Instead, it was a difficult to swallow loss. There was no defending Russ. Smart and Bradley took turns harassing Mr. Westbrook, but he may as well have been playing in his own driveway. The season has gone like that for Russ. He gets where he wants, when he wants. The three-point shooting is what made Friday so tough. Avery’s hand straight up in Westbrook’s vision did little to distract the flight of the ball. 45 points on 25 shots. 11 assists and 11 boards. Five of seven from deep. That fourth quarter.

So, instead of heading into Tuesday night’s match-up with the Grizzlies riding a six-game streak, the Celtics head in on the heels of their Christmas Day matinee win in New York. Five of their next six games will take place at the Garden. Boston has played 19 of its 31 games away from home. Only the Lakers (20) have played more.

Signs of Encouragement

  • Boston is 17–10 with Isaiah Thomas in the lineup
  • Isaiah continues to dominate, leading to East player of the week honors. In four games, not only did Thomas average 33 points and 6 assists, he did it while getting to the line at will. Free-throw numbers last week: 17–17, 8–9, 8–9, 6–8. His individual performance in Memphis was flat-out ridiculous. 44 points on 16 shots, 6 assists to 1 turnover. Clearly, Mike Conley is still working his way back into game shape, but my goodness. Despite the team’s ugly first half, IT brought Boston back and pretty much won the Memphis game by himself.
  • Boston is 12–4 with their healthy starting lineup (Thomas-Bradley-Crowder-Horford-Amir)
  • Of their 51 remaining games, the Celtics will be home for 29 of them.
  • Kelly Olynyk is finally warming up, having connected on 8 of his last 17 from deep. Olynyk adding 16 points in 23 minutes off the bench Sunday was a big plus. When Olynyk and Jerebko are knocking down their jumpers and in rhythm, the bench can sustain Boston’s leads.

Upcoming Schedule

Tue, Dec 27: vs Memphis (20–13)

If last week’s game was any indication, this will be another physically-demanding, bloody match-up with playoff intensity. Hopefully Zach Randolph keeps his elbows away from Kelly Olynyk’s neck. Marc Gasol’s always heady passing is complemented by Marc Gasol’s newfound willingness to take a 24-footer (and make it 43% of the time!), but Brad Stevens was able to scheme Gasol into an 8 of 22 shooting night last week. Mike Conley is questioning the health of his toe as I type this, which would have a serious impact on the evening’s proceedings. Aaron Harrison isn’t quite as capable.

The Grizzlies are attempting to work Chandler Parsons back into shape after lingering knee problems have kept him out all season. So far, Parsons has shown quite a bit of atrophy in limited minutes. Parsons has the range and passing to fit nicely into their playoff hopeful-lineups, but he’s clearly in rough shape at the moment. He’ll sit out tonight (back-to-back), which makes you wonder if 12 minutes on a Monday lead to 0 minutes on a Tuesday, how many minutes can he play in April?

After beating the mighty Rockets (snuffing out Eric Gordon), Memphis lost in Orlando last night. Aaron Gordon discovered how to hit a jumper and the long arms of Biyombo, Ibaka and Gordon made life tough for the Grizzlies.

Thu, Dec 29: @ Cleveland (23–7)

Any game against the Cavs feels like a game to circle on the calendar. Early in the season, the Celtics went into Cleveland without Horford or Crowder, and managed to put up a solid fight, thanks to 56 points from IT and Avery, and some inspired Jaylen Brown activity. Though it’s only 1 of 82, this game will either cement Boston’s status next to Toronto as the early-season contenders in the East, or it will remind Celtics fans that we’re still one-trade away (Bogut?), despite the gaudy 12–4 record with all starters in place. No J.R. Smith means the lengthy and pesky defense of DeAndre Liggins, but less-than-ideal spacing for Kyrie and LeBron. Expect more Channing Frye, and hope that the perimeter defense can run the Cavs off the three-point line.

Fri, Dec 30: vs Miami (10–21)

On the one hand, Miami is 10–21. On the other hand, they’ve had next to no depth because of injury for much of the year. On the other hand, they don’t have enough shooting. On the other hand, all they have is Whiteside and Dragic on offense. On the other hand, they have Whiteside’s ridiculous length to disturb any penetration. What should be an easy win will be made more difficult by the the fact that its the third game in four nights and that the battle in Cleveland just took place the night before. Threes in the corner instead of drives in the lane, whenever Whiteside is on the court.

Tue, Jan 3: vs Utah (18–13)

From Whiteside’s enormous wingspan to Rudy Gobert’s gadget-arms. Same plan. Get the big men in foul trouble, or you better find ways to score outside the paint. Utah has been heralded as the next rising team in the West, and for good reason. The addition of George Hill was a smart one, adding stingy perimeter defense and steady shooting from the point, which provides Hayward and Gobert more room to operate the pick-and-roll. Like Whiteside, Gobert catches lobs at the 12-foot mark. It changes the game plan from a horizontal defense to a vertical defense. How do you defend that? Like a defensive back in football, you play tight and jab him at the point of attack. Easier said than done. Often leads to foul trouble. Rodney Hood has been rising over the past twelve months, with his 25-foot range. George Hill’s absence (toe) over the last 13 games has forced Shelvin Mack into bigger minutes. Despite injuries to Derrick Favors (lingering knee issues), Alec Burks (ankle), and Hill, the Jazz are fighting for home court in the West. Why? Rudy Gobert is absurd, and Gordon Hayward has help in Rodney Hood.

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Halfway There: The Juicy Middle of the NBA at Midseason

We have arrived…sort of. Welcome to the halfway mark of the NBA season. 41 games. All 30 teams have played between 38 and 43 games, so we’re as close to the midpoint as we’ll get. The All-Star Break is a few weeks away. As always at this time of year teams are dealing with multiple injuries and only three (Golden State, San Antonio, and Cleveland) have anything resembling a firm grasp of their playoff situation. That leaves 27 teams jockeying for 13 other playoff spots. In reality, more like 20 teams for 13 spots, which is a few more than usual this year.

This stretch of the season (six weeks between New Year’s and the All-Star break) is by far the most grueling. In an ideal NBA-schedule-world (70-game season), these six weeks would include 3 games per week maximum; 18 total). Instead, many teams will play 22 and 23 games in this stretch. Not only is the product on the court worse, injury-risk becomes magnified. Players are usually battling through injuries at this time of year as is. Back-to-backs and 4-games-in-6 days stretches compound things. As the NBA moves fully into a faster-paced, ball-movement-focused game, and as coaches look toward maintaining the health of their stars and restricting playing time to 32-34 minutes per game, the mid-year January stretch becomes a test in endurance, depth and the luck of health.

Making this time of year even more difficult to examine is the parity that exists throughout the NBA. As of January 17th, 10 teams—1/3 of the Association—are within four games of the .500 mark. Seven of those 10 teams are in the East. With few teams in obvious selling position as the trade deadline nears, questions abound. We have one month for teams to figure out how likely they are to make the playoffs (and, in the East, how likely they are to make the top 7 in order to avoid Cleveland in the first round).

It’s time to take a stroll through the Association. We’ll go from the bottom to the top, splitting this into three parts. Here’s the juicy middle, by current win pace.

20. Charlotte Hornets (pace: 37 wins)

Al Jefferson does not deserve this fate. Big Al has played in 14 playoff games in his 12 year career. Seven of those came as a 20 year-old rookie in Boston over a decade ago. Jefferson is one of the last of a dying breed: the low-post pivot big man without the foot-speed to survive in the modern pick-and-roll, pace-and-space era. Jefferson helped lead Charlotte to the playoffs in 2014, and promptly went down with a foot injury. Now, Big Al is recovering from right knee surgery. At age 31, and with too many miles on his old tires, it’s highly unlikely Jefferson will receive much interest in the off-season…which is why I’m secretly hoping the Celtics offer Big Al a one-year deal, hoping he has just enough juice left in the tank to give their bench a jolt of offense. It’s nice to dream of things coming full circle with Big Al.  After all, he was the building block which enabled the Celtics to land Garnett in 2007. Meanwhile, Nicolas Batum has exploded in a primary role with Charlotte. As a key supporter in Portland, Batum’s decision making was rarely highlighted. With Jefferson out, Batum has emerged, averaging nearly 16 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 5.5 apg. Sadly, without the defensive wizardry of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (out for year after shoulder surgery) and the post-presence of Jefferson, the Hornets have run out of steam, losing 9 of 10.

19. Utah Jazz (pace: 37 wins)

Record with Rudy Gobert in the starting lineup: 11-8; record without Rudy Gobert in the starting lineup: 7-14. From here on out, record needed to get to 40 wins: 22-20. After losing Dante Exum before the year started and playing stretches without everyone except for swingman Gordon Hayward, the Jazz have been surprisingly resilient. As Brooklyn fans consider the mistakes that led to what is now likely the least optimistic future of the 30 franchises, despite the free agent magnetism of New York City, the emergence of 3rd overall pick Derrick Favors has to cause severe intestinal pain. Favors, much like departed Jazz power forward Paul Millsap, has worked himself into one of the top young bigs in the league. Jazz fans can’t wait to see what Favors and Gobert can do with an actual point guard, once Exum returns next year.

18. New York Knicks (pace: 39 wins)

Kristaps Porzingis is fun to watch. All arms and legs and with nimble feet, he is nearly impossible to box out, which often leads crowd-pleasing put-back slams. Carmelo has turned a new leaf, embracing the role of wise elder. The Knicks are an interesting amalgamation of veterans (Lopez, Afflalo, Lopez) and young fellas (Kristaps, Grant, Gallaway). Still, the Knicks have a relatively tough stretch over the next few weeks, which may dim their playoff hopes slightly as the deadline nears.

17. Washington Wizards (pace: 40 wins)

The Wizards without Bradley Beal (stress reaction in leg) and basically without Nene (one knee, 10-15 minutes per game) are just as volatile as the Pacers. The Wizards attack focuses on racing past defenses in order to beat them and playing small ball around Marcin Gortat. John Wall’s blinding speed is most effectively used that way. The trouble: sustaining that pace and reserving enough energy for defense. John Wall has improved his jumper considerably over the years, and his offensive aggression has taken on new levels of importance without Beal (newly returned, with limited minutes) and Nene, but the lack of balance makes them vulnerable. They don’t have enough energy at ends of games (and not enough Beal and Nene) to play the top-level defense that they have shown over the last two years. Beal is one of the more polished under-25 two-way players in the league, and shown the ability to raise his game in the playoffs. All of this makes his injuries that much more troublesome to the Wizards franchise.

16. Orlando Magic (pace: 42 wins)

The Magic are playing defense, thanks in part to Scott Skiles’ preaching the gospel of rotations and physical play. The Magic are young and uber-athletic. The Magic started 19-13, before dropping 6 of their last 7. Two of the six losses came to the Wizards, and the other four came to East teams with better than .500 records. The Magic have improved, but now they have to deal with the reality that the East is filled with decent teams. Orlando’s offense is the problem. They can’t get to the free-throw line (18 FTA per game is last in the league), and they don’t take as many threes (22 per game is 23rd in the league) as they need to. The Magic are hoping Elfrid Payton gradually develops into a decent shooter. In the meantime, Orlando will do its best to claw their way to a playoff berth in the crowded East.

15. Houston Rockets (pace: 43 wins)

After starting 5-10, the Rockets have slowly climbed back to above .500 at 22-20. This year’s Rockets remain a mystery after last year’s surge in April and May, surprising many with an improbable comeback in the West Semis against the Clippers, coming from 3-1 down. Those Rockets were propelled by Harden’s magicianship, and the versatility of everyone from the mercurial Josh Smith to the caffeinated Corey Brewer. Those Rockets finished 6th in defensive rating. This year, the Rockets defense is 21st. The return of point guard Patrick Beverley, after the firing of coach Kevin McHale has coincided with Houston’s upward climb. During a 10-game stretch without Beverley in the starting lineup, the Rockets were 3-7. These Rockets remain enigmatic. The chemistry that they found last spring doesn’t seem likely to return to the point where they have any hope of threatening Golden State or San Antonio.

14. Boston Celtics (pace: 44 wins)

Jae Crowder always seems to save these Celtics in the 4th quarter. Crowder’s play has been instrumental in that stabilizing role (see: West, David and Nene, Nene). Last night, Crowder did it again by tipping out an offensive rebound with Boston up 111-110 and 45 seconds left, and then again with four seconds left on a beautifully executed pin-down pass from Marcus Smart, to put the Celtics over the top 119-117 on a wild finish in Washington. Crowder saved the Celtics almost single-handedly earlier in the season against the Sixers. There have been two or three other games that likely would have swung from wins to close losses were it not for Crowder. He simply rises to the occasion when the Celtics need him the most. Need evidence, Crowder is 7 of 10 from beyond the paint in the 4th quarter with the Celtics down 6 points or less.

Though it’s easy to pick any sample and exaggerate its importance, there was a ragged stretch late in the recent Boston win over Indiana (four Celtics steals in the final two minutes) where the Pacers lack of a stabilizing force to replace their former-anchor/sage David West was so clearly evident. Paul George is running on fumes at the moment, with little help. The Pacers win represented the impact of defensive anchors, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder. The problem with these Celtics is how hard it is to consistently suffocate the NBA’s best and most-balanced offenses.

13. Indiana Pacers (pace: 44 wins)

see above. Also, Paul George needs some help in Indiana, as the leg which he broke 18 months ago has been sore lately. The Pacers have managed to play stifling defense yet again (tied 4th in defensive efficiency at 99.1) by running teams off of the three-point line, and closing off passing lanes. George Hill and Paul George remain a fearsome defensive duo. The attention that Paul has to pay to both ends of the court is going to be the issue as the season wears on. Paul George’s 3-point percentage has slipped by the month: 49% in November, 36% in December, and only 31% so far in January. Not surprisingly, the Pacers have dropped 6 of their last 10. Frank Vogel can’t get to the All-Star Break soon enough.

12. Memphis Grizzlies (pace: 44 wins)

Mike Conley deserves better than this. The Achilles has been plaguing him this year after the facial fracture that took him out in the first round against Golden State in April. Zach Randolph is now coming off the bench, destroying reserve power forwards. Marc Gasol is occasionally able to torch opponents, but seems to have settled into a distributing role. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough shooters to distribute to. As has been the issue in Memphis for years, there isn’t enough space, and there’s rarely much pace. The defensive-minded Grizzlies are now officially grizzled vets. It’d be fun to see Memphis match up with Oklahoma City if only to watch Tony Allen’s playoff defense on Kevin Durant.

11. Detroit Pistons (pace: 45 wins)

Detroit wants to make the playoffs very badly this year. After a rough stretch for the franchise, the Pistons officially have a new identity, crafted by coach and GM Stan Van Gundy. Center Andre Drummond is a rebounding force, who is learning the post-up game. As has been documented, Van Gundy’s success in Orlando with Dwight Howard hinged on three-point shooting surrounding the Goliath in the middle. Shooting guru Dave Hopla has been added to help spur the development of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Jackson, and rookie Stanley Johnson. The Pistons run a Jackson-Drummond pick and roll nearly every time down the court, which makes them more than a little predictable on offense. The benefit of this strategy is allowing Drummond to roll toward the rim on a huge number of possessions. This has led to the Pistons leading the NBA in offensive rebounding, an endangered species in the NBA. The Pistons and the Celtics are both one excellent shooter away from being a very tough out in the East.


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