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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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NBA Thoughts, Vol. 83 (Isaiah is an All-Star)

Celtics Thoughts

  • Isaiah Thomas is clearly deserving of an All-Star spot. And so is Jae Crowder…except defense is never equally valued and is still very tough to quantify, despite RPM, on-off numbers, and all the Synergy sports numbers you can find. Regardless of who makes the team, Celtics fans should appreciate both Isaiah and Jae. It’s fun to have the shortest All-Star in the NBA on the team I love.
  • Thomas takes 6.4 free-throws per game (and makes 5.7, 89%). As a team, the Celtics take 22.5 (t-16th). When Isaiah is out of the game, it becomes obvious how tough it is for Boston to create in the half-court.
  • Chris Forsberg (ESPN Boston) wrote a short piece about how casual Boston sports fans should enjoy the next few months of Celtics basketball. These types of articles annoy the shit out of me. I understand that promoting the local sports team is important, but the people need to be cajoled into caring about the team are the same ones who will boo when the team doesn’t play well in the first half of a playoff game. Having to beg non-hoops fans to enjoy the final three months of the regular season, instead of the last couple of weeks in April, heading into the playoffs feels cheap and ugly.
  • The Celtics are one of seven teams who will likely be fighting for The 5th through 8th playoff spots in the East. The other six: Miami, Detroit, Indiana, Washington, New York and Charlotte. It’s certainly possible Orlando could turn things back around, which would make it 8 teams for those 4 spots, but it doesn’t seem likely.
  • Marcus Smart‘s knee injury (out from 11/20-12/27) not only kept him off the court, but affected his conditioning. As one would expect when dealing with a somewhat serious knee injury, Smart was not in basketball shape upon returning. Watching him in late December and early January, as Stevens gradually increased his minutes, you could see the energy was there, but the crisp movement wasn’t. You could also see it in his shooting. Three-pointers were short, and his rhythm wasn’t there. As shooting coaches will tell you, it’s all in the footwork and the legs. After going 1 of 12 in his first five games back, it didn’t get much better in the following six games he was 4 of 22. During the recent snow day (the Sixers game was postponed on Saturday due to Weezer’s song “My Name is Jonas”), Smart said he planned on shooting threes in the gym all afternoon. In the two games since, he has made 5 of 11 from deep. Celtics fans hope that continues.
  • Kelly Olynyk (thanks, Eric) has been on a tear from deep since December. He’s up to 43.4% for the season. Olynyk provides much needed bench-scoring. In 44 games, Olynyk’s splits are noticeable.
    • 23 wins: 12.1 pts, 5.1 reb, 1.9 ast, 49.8 FG%, 45.3 3-PT%.
    • 21 losses: 7.8 pts, 3.6 reb, 1.2 ast, 41% FG, 41% 3-PT%
  • Olynyk‘s three-point percentages by month:
    • October 20%
    • November 35.6%
    • December 46.3%
    • January 51.1%
  • After experimenting with David Lee as a bench-unit facilitator early in the season, Stevens has given Jonas Jerebko and recently, Tyler Zeller, some minutes. In the last couple of weeks, Jerebko has found a groove (it seems like 15 minutes per game allows for getting into a flow, whereas 8-12 minutes per game doesn’t). Zeller, who shot 55% from the field last year, has made 10 of his last 16 shots.

 

Around the Association

  • Injuries continue to mount and the 82-game season is rarely mentioned lately. It’s obvious that the season should be shortened. We’d take 76, even though 70 or 66 makes more sense.
  • Tim Duncan not playing tonight in Oakland (sore knee that has been sore for all 44 games so far this year) is in keeping with Pop’s sourpuss, always-keep-your-hand-hidden philosophy of the regular season. Regardless of the outcome, Gregg Popovich can’t lose. If the Warriors win, the Spurs have an excuse. If the Spurs win, the Warriors have no excuse. In addition, the 7’3″ Serbian giant Boban Marjanovic and the well-rested David West get ample opportunities to audition.
  • The Toronto Raptors might not appear much different on the surface. DeMarre Carroll in (before he went out with a knee injury, probably connected to last May’s knee injury in the playoffs), Amir Johnson out, some bench help added in Biyombo, Scola, and Joseph. They may not appear entirely different, but their core has improved individually.
    • DeMar DeRozan is a scoring machine impersonating McGrady with his in-between game and attacking the rim;
    • Kyle Lowry‘s conditioning and patience on the court have improved.
    • Despite averaging only 14.8 assists (27th), the Raptors have an Offensive rating of 105.2 (tied with Cleveland for 5th overall, and best in East).
    • With Jonas Valanciunas healthy and scoring at will in the paint, the Raptors have gone 18-9.
  • Toronto has won 8 in a row, though they’ve had the luxury of mostly avoiding the top teams in that stretch (Celtics, Clippers without Griffin). If Toronto has truly taken a leap, they’ll need to show it against Chicago and Cleveland, who they face at the end of February.

Listen: The Vertical, new podcast with Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Woj).

No Defense for this Defenselessness

  • The bottom half of the Western Conference can’t play any defense. Of the NBA’s worst 9 defenses, 7 come from the West. Here they are, in order from completely awful to bad:
    • Lakers (108.4 rating): We knew going in that Kobe should have retired. We know going in they were full of rookies. We knew going in that Lou Williams and Nick Young haven’t heard of defense. We knew going in that Byron Scott was the coach.
    • Pelicans & Suns (106.2 rating): The Pelicans were not supposed to be this awful defensively. Omer Asik’s early retirement (while still playing a few ugly minutes each game) has contributed. Injuries certainly contributed. The Suns were supposed to run up and down the court really fast and then Tyson Chandler was supposed to save them. Tyson can’t play defense for the other four guys with Suns jerseys, can’t run like that, and probably isn’t exactly fired up. Then Eric Bledsoe got hurt and the Suns went up in flames.
    • Nuggets & Blazers (105.9, 105.6 rating). Emmanual Mudiay hasn’t exactly gotten off to a tantalizing start. More Muddy than anything. The Nuggets have offense-first players (Gallinari, Faried, and the surprisingly lithe Will Barton). Sadly, defense hasn’t come second. The Blazers are terribly young, and C.J. McCollum, though he seems like a nice young gentleman, should probably be sparking the bench, rather than trying to defend taller shooting guards.
    • Rockets & Kings (105.5, 104.9). Both teams are too busy trying to score points to worry about defense. Kevin McHale is probably still wondering what happened. George Karl is afraid of getting his hopes up…he’s been around too long for that. But don’t look now, the Kings have won 8 of 11, and DeMarcus Cousins is the hottest big man in the game in January, averaging 32.5, 13.7 rebounds while shooting 50% overall and 47% from deep (!).
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Halfway There: A Stroll Through the Bottom Third of the NBA at 41 Games

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 bottom third, by current win-pace.

  1. Philadelphia 76ers-Gypsies (pace: 10 wins)

We can only hope that the 76ers actually lose 76 games. Since entering the NBA in 2010, point guard Ishmael Larry Smith (17 ppg, 7.8 apg, 3.4 rpg after trade to PHI) has now played on 9 teams. We can only hope Ish will add four more teams to his resume, and set the NBA record with 13 before retiring.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (pace: 18 wins)

The Lakers have won 4 of 10, but as the season progresses, they have to ensure they finish with a bottom 3-record in order to keep their top-3 protected lottery pick from the Sixers. The Lakers will be sure to sit any of their useful veterans (Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert, and possibly create fake-injuries for Jordan Clarkson or Julius Randle in order to ensure those losses. What a wonderful way to go out, Kobe…in a tank.

  1. Brooklyn Nets (pace: 22 wins)

Fire everyone! That usually solves all your problems. Celtics fans remain eternally grateful, sending pickled Russian delicacies every holiday to Brooklyn’s infamously wealthy Russian owner. The lingering question: Will Brook Lopez and/or Thaddeus Young be traded in the hopes of acquiring a pick in this June’s draft?

  1. Phoenix Suns (pace: 26 wins)

The Suns may actually threaten the Lakers for the bottom 3. They play Los Angeles twice in late March in what will certainly be fiercely contested games to see which can score fewer points. Eric Bledsoe’s knee injury means he gets to sit out the rest of this tortured season in Arizona. Perhaps Jeff Hornacek regrets that fact that misguided owner Robert Sarver (damn millennials!) didn’t fire him last month when Hornacek’s assistants were let go.

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves (26 wins)

Karl-Anthony Towns has a lock on rookie of the year, thanks in part to the tutelage of a certain Mr. Garnett. In a fascinating Q&A between coach Sam Mitchell and NBA writer Britt Robson you begin to understand why the Wolves shoot the most long two-pointers and fewest threes in the NBA right now. There’s no denying Towns’ polished game at the moment. Meanwhile, the rest of the young Wolves core (Wiggins, LaVine, Rubio, and Mohammed) need a year of pure shooting instruction (and leg lifting) before Minnesota has a chance to fully arrive. One more top-seven pick seems like a prize, but with such a young team, the Wolves might be wise to dangle the pick and a role player for a true stretch four like Ryan Anderson.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans (pace: 27 wins)

Sadness comes in many shapes and sizes, and with all kinds of disguises. Meet the 2015-16 New Orleans Pelicans, the only team in the NBA that wishes the season were 90 games long. Instead, Ryan Anderson will be discussed until February 18th in nearly every trade rumor. A truly injury-riddled November doomed the spring for Alvin Gentry, Anthony Davis and friends.

  1. Denver Nuggets (pace: 30 wins)

Two and a half years after firing George Karl despite a 57-win regular season, the Nuggets appear firmly entrenched in the bottom of the Western Conference. The time since has taught us: a) the overall value of Andre Iguodala; b) the effect of alcoholism on Ty Lawson’s career; c) Andre Miller will always be a wise and steadying influence on a roster.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (pace: 34 wins)

Pundits often talk about the most difficult step a team can make in the NBA is going from good (50+ wins) to being a legit contender. But what about going from decent (35-44 wins) to good (47-52)? With increased parity, that step is becoming increasingly tricky. The young Bucks (average age: 25) have struggled to incorporate post-presence Greg Monroe and compensate for the loss of bench depth (Dudley, Zaza). But here’s something more alarming: They won 41 games last year, despite finishing 8-18 after trading for Michael Carter-Williams. The future of the Bucks (Giannis, Parker, MCW) and the Wolves will both hinge on long-range shooting.

  1. Portland Trail Blazers (pace: 34 wins)

The post-Aldridge/Batum/Mathews Blazers have held things together with remarkable poise for such a young group. Allen Crabbe’s rise has helped the Blazers survive until now, but the team’s youth will make their modest success hard to sustain. Like the Kings, the Blazers have multiple offensive options, but struggle to play enough defense to win close games against the league’s better half. Unlike the Kings, the Blazers aren’t supposed to be winning 30+ games this year.

  1. Sacramento Kings (pace: 35 wins)

Vivek, Vlade and DeMarcus are praying for an 8th seed. The honor of being decapitated by the Warriors is too alluring for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006 and is about to wake up from their Sleep Train Arena slumber and move into the Golden 1 Center in November. Finishing 8th is a possibility if these things happen: a) Derrick Favors remains somewhat injured (backs are tricky) in Utah; b) Sacramento can win at least 2 of their 3 remaining games with Portland; c) Rondo and Cousins find a channel to their best selves for the 2nd half of the year…they did last night by ending the undermanned Clippers’ 9-game winning streak at Staples Center.

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Next up: Teams 11-20 (Most of the Eastern Conference).

 

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