|Posted on May 14, 2012 at 8:50 PM|
A lot happened in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, so I'm going to cut to the chance and break down each series.
Miami Heat defeat New York Knicks 4-1
The Knicks averaged 12.6 assists per game in this series (six fewer than every other team averaged this season), shot an abysmal 41.7% from the field (only 0.3% higher than the Bobcats this season), and were so dependent on Carmelo Anthony’s ability to create a shot, that when ‘Melo wasn’t in the game, they shot only 34%!
(a) I’m convinced that the Monstars from the movie “Space Jam” stole Landry Fields’ talent before this season started.
(b) The Knicks’ best offensive player in this postseason was arguably Mike Bibby, who repeatedly tried to back down Mario Chalmers from the half-court line.
(c) Why were the Knicks not running plays for Steve Novak (league leader in three-point percentage), as opposed to having him stand in the corner? He wasn’t on the court to shut down Lebron James, he was on the court to shoot… so run plays for him to shoot!
I know Mike Woodson is known for being a defensive coach (and New York did do a nice job on defense in this series), but I really wonder what he was telling his team during huddles. Just imagine him saying, “Come on, we need to waste more time trying to get Carmelo the ball in the post with the best defender in the game guarding him. I want no fewer than 15 seconds on each possession trying to accomplish this! Baron, do whatever you have to do to have to do to waste the first 15 seconds of the shot clock, but at all costs, don’t give Amaré the ball in the paint with a chance to score! J.R., I want you to dribble around as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to take that extra behind-the-back dribble when you’re double-teamed, okay? Also, I want no picks on offense. Do you understand me? NO PICKS!”
Indiana Pacers defeat Orlando Magic 4-1
This was the annual "Dump every game on NBATV" series. I didn’t watch a single second of this series, so I have nothing to say, but I feel like I’m not the only one who elected to watch OKC vs. Dallas over this. I bet Dwight Howard didn’t even watch this series (he didn’t even attend the games)!
Anyhow, the Pacers didn’t really impress me in this series, but neither did their second round opponents, the Heat, because they both faced weak opponents. The Pacers did beat Miami once during the regular season, which is a good sign, but they also gave away a game at home to the Magic, so I don’t love their chances in this matchup. However, I love Indiana’s coach Frank Vogel pulling a Phil Jackson by getting in the referees’ heads. He said, “[The Heat] are the biggest flopping team in the NBA… Every drive to the basket, they have guys not making a play on the ball, but sliding in front of drivers. Often times they’re falling down even before contact is even being made” (he’s completely correct, by the way).
Oklahoma City Thunder defeat Dallas Mavericks 4-0
It’s amazing how the Mavericks couldn’t figure out by the trade deadline that, besides Dirk Nowitzki posting up, their best offensive weapons were…
1) Jason Terry coming off the bench with irrational confidence
2) Vince Carter attempting hang-time moves that he lost the ability to finish three
3) Shawn Marion shooting threes with two hands from below his waist
Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban couldn’t possibly have thought that Dallas was going to successfully defend their championship without Tyson Chandler (averaged 10 points, 9 rebounds, 59% shooting in the Finals last year). He simply didn’t want to bring in a high-profile center because he was going all in on the 5% chance that he’d bring in Dwight Howard in free agency this offseason. It also didn’t help the Mavericks’ cause that their fans were wearing shirts that were the same color of their opponents’ jerseys.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, proved something. Before this series, it seemed that when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant weren’t able to go one-on-one and knock down outside shots, the Thunder couldn’t survive. However, Durant and Westbrook each shot under 46% from the field against Dallas, but other guys stepped up. James Harden averaged 18 points, 4 assists, and 6 rebounds per game on 50% shooting from the field, 46% on threes, and 87% on free throws (WOW!). When Harden wasn’t in the game, Dallas outscored Oklahoma City by 22, but with him on the court, the Thunder outscored the Mavericks by 48 points. Serge Ibaka stepped up as well, helping hold the Mavericks to only 42% shooting in the paint while he was on the floor. I feel much more confident about picking the Oklahoma City Thunder to win it all than I was two weeks ago, and that’s why I’m picking them.
One more thing to understand about this series: Stop criticizing Russell Westbrook! If you think he makes the Thunder’s offense worse then you’re wrong. The guy was fifth in the league in scoring this season (on better scoring efficiency than Kobe Byrant, Deron Williams, and Carmelo Anthony) and, not to mention, the Thunder shot 7.4% better from the field against the Mavericks with Westbrook in the game, as opposed to when he was on the bench.
Los Angeles Lakers defeat Denver Nuggets 4-3
Two things concern me about the Lakers going forward against Oklahoma City in the second round:
1) Ramon Sessions allowed Ty Lawson to score 19 points per game on 51% shooting from the field; shouldn’t Los Angeles be a little worried about his ability to guard Westbrook?
2) Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were held in check (29 points per game combined) by Kenneth Faried and Javale McGee. Aren’t they going to become even more ineffective when Serge Ibaka (NBA leader in blocks) is defending the rim?
Philadelphia 76ers defeat Chicago Bulls 4-2
An asterisk has to be put on this series in the history books due to Derrick Rose’s injury, and here’s why. Chicago had way more assists, outrebounded Philadelphia, shot a higher percentage from the field, and shot much better from behind the three point line. The only two statistics in the 76ers’ favor are free throw attempts and free throw percentage. However, if Derrick Rose is playing, are the Bulls only getting to the line 18 times per game? NO. Is Omer Asik taking clutch free throws? NO.
Boston Celtics defeat Atlanta Hawks 4-2
When the Hawks won game 1 and Rajon Rondo got suspended for game 2, I actually thought Atlanta was going to win the series. Shame on me for thinking the Hawks were going to make noise in the playoffs. Shame on me for not trusting Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to come through when it matters (“In the clutch” during this series, Pierce shot 7-11 from the field, 2-2 on threes, and 3-3 from the line. In the crucial game 6, vintage KG exploded for 28 points, 14 rebounds, 3 steals, and 5 blocks.)
Here were the two plays that defined this series. With 30 seconds remaining in game 6, the Celtics down by one, Ray Allen came off two screens and fed Garnett in the post, who calmly nailed a 10-foot turnaround. On the other end, the Hawks quickly settled for a 20-foot fade-away heave from Josh Smith (Smith shot an abysmal 26% from outside the restricted area of the paint in this postseason. His entire career, he has chucked up mid-range garbage shots which have prevented him from being a great player).
Two amazing statistics stood out to me. (1) When Garnett was on the floor, the Celtics outscored the Hawks by 74 points, and when he was on the bench, the Hawks outscored the Celtics by 46. (2) Rajon Rondo averaged 17 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3.4 steals per game. The point is, multiple Celtics played at a high level in their first round series, while the 76ers survived by playing mediocre basketball, which is why Boston is going to take care of business quickly in the second round.
San Antonio Spurs defeat Utah Jazz 4-0
San Antonio has won a ridiculous 39 of their last 44 games this season in which they’ve been healthy. The main thing the Spurs have working for them going forward in the playoffs, is that their second unit (Gary Neal, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter) will have the advantage every time they step on the floor versus other elite teams. For Oklahoma City's backups, after James Harden, there's a STEEP drop-off with Nick Collison and Daequan Cook, and then an even steeper drop-off with their ninth and tenth men, Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed (Derek Fisher hasn’t played the point guard position competently since… well, never. Seriously, try to find the last season in which Fisher averaged at least four assists per game and shot at least 42% from the field. [Hint: You won’t find it]). The Lakers have similar woes, featuring Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts, and Matt Barnes as their first three guys off the bench (yikes!). Even the reverses for the overwhelming favorites, the Miami Heat, are weak: Udonis Haslem (the only element of his game is the 15-foot open jump shot, and even that is shaky), Mike Miller (did you know that he won the Rookie of the Year back in 2001? The NBA is really weird sometimes), and Norris Cole (shot 39% from the field this season).
With a championship, Gregg Popovich coaching and Tim Duncan have a chance to become the third most successful player-coach combination in history. In their 15 seasons, they have never had a winning percentage of less than .610! Would a fifth championship this season ensure Duncan a spot in every fan’s list of the top 10 players of all time? And what about Popovich’s legacy? Even though he wanted to get away from his well-deserved Coach of the Year Award like it was a bomb about to explode, nobody can deny that his teams have overachieved more than those of any other coach ever.
Los Angeles Clippers defeat Memphis Grizzlies 4-3
Chris Paul (read this column to find out why Paul should have won the MVP award this season) single handedly won games 1, 3, and 4 for the Clippers, shooting 60% from the field “in the clutch.” He didn’t have a great game 7, but that game was as close to guerrilla warfare as you can get on a basketball court, because there was an uncalled foul on nearly every single play.
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