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April 24, 2009
Playoff Prospectus
Two Laughers and a Classic

by Kevin Pelton

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Boston 107, Chicago 86
Pace: 93.3
Offensive Ratings: Boston 116.6, Chicago 90.6

The Derrick Rose bandwagon sure emptied fast, didn't it? Less than a week after what I and everyone else described as his coming-out party, Rose looked very much like a rookie in Game Three. He had seven of Chicago's 22 turnovers, missed 10 of his 14 shot attempts and had just two assists. At the other end, Rajon Rondo continued his scintillating series with another stat-stuffing line: 20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals.

It's unfair to single out Rose, since it would be hard to find a Bulls player who played well in this stinkfest. Kirk Hinrich would be the guy if you had to pick one, having scored 14 points and hit three triples while playing his usual quality defense. Chicago was outscored by just seven points during Hinrich's 22 minutes of play. I suppose the Bulls also did a good job on the offensive glass, including five boards by Joakim Noah, and got to the free-throw line...except they shot 63.0 percent once there.

Paul Pierce set the tone early with his scoring, finishing with 24 points in a short 28-minute night. Ray Allen need just 13 possessions to score 18 points. Glen Davis' line, meanwhile, defies easy description. A power forward listed (perhaps generously) at 289 pounds finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, six assists and six steals. I'm not sure what the similarity of his line to Rondo's says, but it must mean something.

The most interesting aspect of the second half of the game was extended minutes for Stephon Marbury, with Rondo first in foul trouble and then calling it a night. Marbury's final line looks very strong--13 points, five assists and nary a turnover in 24 minutes. His shot selection was not nearly as impressive, but I'm willing to be encouraged.

Dallas 88, San Antonio 67
Pace: 85.1
Offensive Ratings: Dallas 105.3, San Antonio 77.3

At times the last two postseasons, the Spurs have looked vulnerable. It would be hard, however, to think of the last time they played this miserably. It was pretty much all an issue of shooting, as San Antonio actually won three of the Four Factors. When you shoot 32.1 percent from the field and 2-of-17 from three-point range, you're not going to win.

To get there required a little Dallas strategy and, frankly, a lot of bad luck. Let's start with the strategy. Rick Carlisle made the obvious adjustment and moved Jose Juan Barea into the starting lineup to give the Mavericks more quickness at both ends. Dallas was +36 with Barea on the floor as he and Jason Kidd combined for 13 assists and two turnovers. Barea and increased defensive attention allowed the Mavericks to keep Tony Parker very much in check. Parker shot 5-for-14 from the field, including just one non-layup all night.

Parker was able to create shots for his teammates; they just didn't fall. Matt Bonner was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, Roger Mason 1-for-3 and Michael Finley 0-for-1. When Dirk Nowitzki got going to power the Dallas offense after the break, the Mavericks quickly turned a comfortable lead into a laugher. Gregg Popovich, mindful of his team's age and Game Four looming on Saturday, pulled his starters early. Parker played the most of any starter, and his night was done after 21 minutes.

We can talk strategy all we want; at some point you have to hit your shots, and San Antonio certainly showed the ability to do so at home. The bigger concern for Popovich has to be matching up with Barea, whose quickness causes problems for the Spurs. Just as when these teams last matched up in the postseason in the 2006 semis, San Antonio struggles to combat Dallas' smallish backcourts of either Barea/Kidd or Barea/Jason Terry. The Spurs' options at two guard other than rookie George Hill (who hardly made a case for playing time with his effort once this game was out of hand) are bigger but slower players. Because they are all spot-up shooters, they lack the ability to make the Mavericks pay for their size with post-ups or isolation plays.

Utah 88, L.A. Lakers 86
Pace: 86.8
Offensive Ratings: Utah 102.6, L.A. Lakers 98.0

What a fascinating game. For 46 minutes, two offensive-minded teams played a defensive slugfest. Then, as the game became one of half-court execution, they came alive. On four possessions a side, the Utah Jazz scored and the L.A. Lakers answered. That left the game tied with just over 10 seconds to play. Utah went to a high screen-and-roll for Deron Williams. As Williams explained to Craig Sager afterwards, he told Carlos Boozer to slip the pick--roll to the basket before setting a screen--if the Lakers overplayed. That played out, leaving Williams one-on-one with a head of steam in his favor. He pulled up from just outside the lane and hit the go-ahead basket with 2.2 seconds showing on the clock.

The Lakers had enough time to tie or take the lead, and it was no secret where they were going with the basketball. Unexpectedly, Utah played screens straight up and chose to leave Ronnie Brewer one-on-one against Kobe Bryant. Bryant still caught the ball a good two or three steps beyond the three-point line. After the shot, Michael Lewis' Shane Battier profile popped into my head.

"Since the 2002-3 season," wrote Lewis, "Bryant had taken 51 3-pointers at the very end of close games from farther than 26.75 feet from the basket. He had missed 86.3 percent of them."

This one went in the play-by-play as a 30-foot try, and predictably it bounded harmlessly off the rim after banking off the backboard.

Actually, Bryant did play against type moments earlier. On the previous possession, Bryant set up Pau Gasol as the roll man on the pick-and-roll for a tying dunk. My friend David Locke, the Jazz's postgame radio host, pointed out that 82games.com records Bryant as having only one assist in similar end-game situations from 2003-04 through this January, including playoffs.

Overall, it was a night that Kobe-haters are bound to use as ammunition. With Ronnie Brewer playing tough defense and getting timely help, Bryant was 5-of-24 from the field, scoring 18 points on 28 shooting possessions. It was Pau Gasol (who did struggle at the free-throw line, where he shot 4-of-10) and especially Lamar Odom (21 points, 14 rebounds, and terrific cuts to get in position to score) who carried the Lakers offense, such as it was.

The Odom/Gasol frontcourt played together virtually the entire night because a foul-happy Andrew Bynum was disqualified after just seven minutes of work. His size was missed against a Utah team that has become very small without Mehmet Okur. Boozer and Paul Millsap were free to play together most of the evening, and Jerry Sloan even used Matt Harpring at the four for extended stretches. Boozer was playing free and easy on offense and powerfully on the glass, coming up with 11 boards in the first quarter and 22 for the game. Before Williams' game-winner, it was Boozer who was making the big scores down the stretch.

Credit Harpring with giving the Jazz a big lift off the bench when it was needed most. It looked like the Lakers had taken control of the game by starting the second half with a 10-1 run. They went up 13 with four-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter, at which point Harpring entered the game. He would leave nearly 11 minutes later with Utah having outscored the Lakers 25-12 during his stint. Harpring's vaunted "toughness" can be a double-edged sword for the Jazz; on this night it worked to perfection.

While Bynum staying out of foul trouble will help, Phil Jackson needs to find a way to get his bench involved. It's un-Zenmaster to be riding the starters so heavily early in the postseason, but Bryant, Gasol and Odom were all up over 40 minutes, with Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza playing 38 minutes apiece. Sasha Vujacic, in particular, has been a non-factor in this series. The Lakers will need more than five or even six productive players to get back to the NBA Finals.

--

Can't get enough of Kevin Pelton's analysis of the NBA postseason? He'll be taking questions today at 1 p.m. ET at Baseballprospectus.com on all of the matchups, looking back at Thursday night's action and ahead to a big weekend of NBA basketball. If you can't make the chat, submit your question ahead of time and check back afterwards for the transcript.

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

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