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April 20, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Shorthanded Jazz Get Even

by Bradford Doolittle

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Utah 114, at Denver 111 (Series tied 1-1)
Pace: 99 possessions
Offensive Ratings: Jazz 115.3, Nuggets 112.2

We thought that the Denver-Utah series would be fast-paced, high-scoring and would feature plenty of free throws. Game two featured all of those things in ridiculous quantities. The Jazz evened up the series in a game that went nearly three hours—with no overtime—and featured 67 fouls, 99 possessions, 91 free-throw attempts, 225 points.

Utah came in even more shorthanded than they were entering the series after finding out that starting center Mehmet Okur would be out three-to-six months with a torn left Achilles tendon. The always stoic Jerry Sloan more or less shrugged off the injury, noting that the Jazz has to keep playing anyway. The beauty of Sloan's offensive system was on full display on Monday. Utah general manager Kevin O'Conner finds pieces that fit the system; Sloan plugs them in. It seems like no matter who is on the floor, Sloan's version of the motion offense just keeps churning out high points-per-possession totals, with plenty of free throws and lots of open layups resulting from the simple, but elegant, design of the offense. Set good picks. Cut hard to the basket. Move without the ball. UCLA-style slip screens. Be unselfish when a teammate has a better shot. Lots of high picks, but that's just where the offense starts. It's just a great brand of basketball to watch.

Utah was 12-of-12 in the paint in the first half while building a 12-point halftime advantage. Sloan more or less played seven players in that opening half, with Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver coming off the bench. Say what you will about the Jazz's missing weapons, but Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer are still playing and they dominated the Nuggets during the first 24 minutes. Williams put up 23 points on eight shots and handed out 7 assists, while Boozer had 16 points on 11 shots. For Denver, Carmelo Anthony had a poor half, going 5-of-15 from the field. While the teams were about even in turnovers, the Nuggets had a 15-8 edge in points off of those miscues, which helped keep them within hailing distance.

The Nuggets closed the gap in the third quarter by finally getting some stops on the defensive end. Utah was 7-of-19 from the floor. On the other end, Denver was attacking the hoop and went 14-of-17 from the line in the period. All told, there were 23 fouls called in the quarter. Towards the end of the period, Kyle Korver started to heat up for the Jazz, hitting three straight shots, setting up a key facet of the final quarter.

Denver's J.R. Smith went on one of his patented hot streaks early in the fourth quarter of game one, but this time, Korver was able to keep him under wraps, while hitting some big shots of his own. The matchup between these two bench players, two of the best perimeter shooters in the league, is turning out to be one of the wild-card confrontations in the series. Korver and Smith both played the entire fourth quarter; Korver outscored Smith 5-2 in the period and Smith had only one field-goal attempt in the quarter.

The game went down to the final minutes. The Jazz went ahead for good with 1:28 to go on Korver three-pointer. A flurry of offensive fouls calls ensued--one each on Anthony, Korver and Chauncey Billups. All appeared to be good calls. C.J. Miles, Williams and Korver combined to go 6-of-6 from the foul line in the last half-minute, while Billups missed a pair of threes in the last 10 seconds that could have tied the game.

The teams now have a chance to catch their collective breaths as the series shifts back to Salt Lake City for Friday's game three. So far, this has been the most entertaining opening round series.

at Cleveland 112, Chicago 102 (Cavaliers lead series 2-0)
Pace: 86 possessions
Offensive Ratings: Cavaliers 129.6, Bulls 118.0

I'm not sure what's gotten into Joakim Noah. I've been around the Bulls all season and Noah is as likeable a player as you're ever going to find. He's friendly, he gives good quote, but he's still soft-spoken, he busts his tail on the floor and works hard in the offseason to improve the weak points in his game. Derrick Rose is the star of the Bulls and the heart of the franchise; Noah is its soul. Both are beloved by the fans at the United Center, but Noah may be the more popular of the two. It's close. Rose gets extra credit for being a Chicago native. All this said, Noah has managed to become one of the more despised players in the league outside of his home arena simply because he can't seem to turn his mouth off during the highest-profile part of the season. Why trash the city of Cleveland? Makes no sense. It's sort of like when I was in junior high and someone would beat me playing one-on-one (didn't happen often--must have been someone older) and my only retort would be something like, "Yeah, well your girlfriend is ugly." I only touch upon all this because, sadly, I think this series is actually more interesting off the court than it is on it.

The Bulls played about as well as they could on offense on Monday without getting hot from the field. Chicago committed just four turnovers in 86 possessions and grabbed 13 of their 44 misses, outscoring the Cavs 21-7 on second-chance points and 56-38 in the paint. They moved the ball and were nominally more aggressive in pushing the tempo--though the Cavs still controlled the pace. Despite all this, Cleveland still cruised with another double-digit win.

There were a lot of encouraging signs for the Bulls. Cleveland needed a 169.4 Offensive Rating in the fourth quarter to break open a tight game. LeBron James and Jamario Moon combined for 24 points on 10 shots in the period and a lot of those shots were just ridiculous--well-defended looks that went in and nothing the defense could have done. Of course, that's what James does. There's a reason why he's about to win his second straight MVP. It's got to be very demoralizing for the Bulls to expend so much effort and do pretty much everything right on both ends of the floor and still come up 10 points short simply because there is no human being alive that can keep James from getting a shot from the perimeter or at the basket any time he wants. That said, if the Bulls are going to have any chance of derailing the L-Train, someone is going to have to step in front of James when he turns the corner off the dribble and put him on the floor. It'll probably just make him mad, but Chicago isn't doing itself any favors by letting him get to the rim and finish with a highlight reel dunk.

Shaquille O'Neal was limited to 15 minutes because of foul trouble and because the Cavs were better when he was out of the game. However, J.J. Hickson played just 10 seconds at the end of the first half and that was it. Mike Brown can't play everybody that deserves to play, but he can't let Hickson rot on the bench. He was a huge part of what Cleveland accomplished during the regular season and at some point in the Cavs' playoff run, they are going to need Hickson's explosive cuts to the basket.

Game three is Thursday in Chicago and is obviously a game the Bulls have to win. A quick start will be a must in order to push the energy in the United Center to a fever pitch. So far, the Cavs have outscored the Bulls 60-40 in the two first quarters and that trend can't continue on Thursday.

G2: Cleveland 112, Chicago 102 (Cavaliers lead 2-0)
CHI  22  28  27  25 - 102
CLE  28  24  25  35 - 112
BULLS         Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   24   89.9  .346  .267  .154  .082  5.07
Second Quarter  21  136.0  .538  .333  .000  .000  5.11
Third Quarter   21  130.3  .605  .143  .211  .097  6.45
Fourth Quarter  21  121.0  .386  .400  .364  .000  4.94
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      45  111.0  .442  .296  .077  .044  5.09
SECOND HALF     41  125.7  .488  .313  .293  .024  5.72
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           86  118.0  .462  .295  .172  .046  5.39
=======================================================
CAVALIERS     Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   24  114.5  .605  .000  .263  .164  6.20
Second Quarter  21  116.6  .647  .167  .118  .194  5.33
Third Quarter   21  120.7  .500  .333  .471  .145  4.35
Fourth Quarter  21  169.4  .778  .167  .389  .048  4.54
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      45  115.4  .625  .071  .194  .178  5.76
SECOND HALF     41  145.0  .643  .250  .429  .051  4.39
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           86  129.6  .634  .172  .310  .139  5.11
=======================================================

G2: Utah 114, Denver 111 (Nuggets lead 1-0)
UTA  33  30  25  26 - 114
DEN  30  21  31  29 - 111
JAZZ          Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   24  136.2  .833  .000  .533  .248  4.78
Second Quarter  25  120.9  .656  .222  .563  .161  7.17
Third Quarter   26   96.9  .395  .100  .526  .155  5.73
Fourth Quarter  24  108.1  .472  .333  .500  .166  5.64
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      49  128.5  .742  .154  .548  .204  5.97
SECOND HALF     50  102.3  .432  .267  .514  .090  5.69
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           99  115.3  .574  .188  .529  .182  5.83
=======================================================
NUGGETS       Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   24  123.8  .500  .125  .429  .083  6.00
Second Quarter  25   84.7  .375  .273  .300  .282  4.72
Third Quarter   26  120.1  .531  .143  .875  .155  4.86
Fourth Quarter  24  120.5  .583  .167  .444  .166  6.06
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      49  104.0  .439  .211  .366  .184  5.36
SECOND HALF     50  120.3  .559  .118  .647  .089  5.46
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           99  112.2  .493  .188  .493  .172  5.41
=======================================================

Follow Bradford on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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