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April 27, 2009
Playoff Prospectus
Another Classic

by Kevin Pelton

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Chicago 121, Boston 118 (2OT - Series tied 2-2)
Pace: 91.6
Offensive Ratings: Chicago 110.2, Boston 105

What a game. What a series. The twists and turns were plentiful during a two-hour, 58-minute epic that lasted until nearly halftime of the Cleveland-Detroit game that was the second half of a doubleheader on ABC. In one game, we saw two game-tying threes (regulation and the first OT), replay needed to reverse an ejection of Brad Miller, a costly clear-path foul and a variety of oddball small lineups on both sides.

Let's take the last point first, since earlier in the series I suggested that Vinny Del Negro needed to embrace the lineup of Kirk Hinrich alongside the starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon. That group played sparingly in the Game Three loss, but was on the court together for basically the entirety of the fourth quarter and OT on Game Four (the only exception when Gordon was removed for defensive purposes). Hinrich forced Del Negro to keep him on the floor with a great game. In addition to D'ing up on Paul Pierce and occasionally Ray Allen, Hinrich also had 18 points and four assists. Del Negro went even smaller midway through the fourth, putting John Salmons at power forward to get more shooting on the floor. Salmons ended up salvaging his game with big shots down the stretch.

In truth, this game was in part a classic because both teams made some critical mistakes. The unwillingness to foul while leading by three points falls into that category. Chicago had a limited opportunity to do so in regulation, though there was still a lot of time left on the clock. Boston had a much better chance in the first overtime. With seven or eight seconds left, Salmons caught the ball with his back to the basket inside the arc. There was no danger of a three-point play or a three-shot foul, and the Bulls would have been out of timeouts for their subsequent possession. Yet Salmons was unmolested and Gordon tied the game with a three.

Allen's three-pointer late in regulation was the product of an inventive playcall by Doc Rivers, who had Allen sort of hanging around as part of a pick-and-roll. After screening, Glen Davis picked off the defenders going toward Allen, who were a little slow to pick up the play. That gave him a wide-open look, and Allen isn't going to miss many of those. He also benefited down the stretch from Gordon's unwillingness to fight through screens.

Del Negro did a good job of putting Rose in position to score. When Eddie House was on the floor, the Bulls wisely ran rare 1-2 pick-and-rolls, with Gordon screening for Rose to force the switch and make House--who is limited defensively, to put it kindly--have to stop Rose. While he had some inexplicable turnovers (and committed seven in all), Rose was the instigator for the Bulls, scoring 23 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out nine assists. Rajon Rondo was his equal at the other end, recording his second triple-double of the series with 25 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds and just one turnover.

There's still some moves to be made, even this late in the series. Rivers now has time to respond to Chicago's small lineup. Before Kendrick Perkins fouled out, Davis' ability to step away from the basket allowed the Celtics to play their normal starting frontcourt. They went next to Brian Scalabrine, then Eddie House and briefly Tony Allen. My vote would be for moving Pierce to power forward and putting Allen on the floor to provide another quality defender. Rivers fended off criticism of not playing Tony Allen in Game Two when Gordon get hot by saying he did not want to take either Ray Allen or Pierce off the floor--fair enough. The smallball gives him the option of having all three.

Cleveland 99, Detroit 78 (Cleveland wins 4-0)
Pace: 83.3
Offensive Ratings: Cleveland 122.0, Detroit 91.4

So this is it for the current incarnation of the Pistons, and it was insulting to whimpers everywhere. The guys who have been around the longest did not exactly distinguish themselves, either in Game Four or the series. In what was surely his last game as a Piston, Rasheed Wallace was scoreless in 29 minutes, missing all seven of his shots. Richard Hamilton was 2-for-12. A hobbled Tayshaun Prince scored two points. What's that line about the heart of a champion again?

To the extent the Pistons competed in this game, it was mostly because of the efforts of the young guys and veteran Antonio McDyess. McDyess had 26 points and 10 rebounds, while guards Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum combined for 36 points on 15-for-26 shooting. Overall, Detroit scored 93.3 points per 100 possessions in the series. Certainly, the Cavaliers defense is formidable, but that's terrible.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are rolling. LeBron James put together another LeBron outing--36 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists--and went 41 minutes as Mike Brown went hard for the sweep. Mo Williams added 24 points, and that's nearly as much as the Pistons scored as team. Assuming the Atlanta/Miami series goes as long as we'd expect it to, Cleveland will have plenty of rest by the time the next series tips off.

Orlando 84, Philadelphia 81 (Series tied 2-2)
Pace: 83.7
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 100.8, Philadelphia 96.3

Hello, Hedo Turkoglu. After three dismal games, Turkoglu got some easy buckets in Game Four and got going. It was enough to convince Stan Van Gundy to go to the player nicknamed "Mr. Fourth Quarter" in Orlando for the biggest play of the Magic's season. After a pick-and-roll switched Andre Iguodala off Turkoglu and Thaddeus Young on, Turkoglu calmly dribbled out almost the entire clock before knocking down a three-pointer that sent the series back to Florida tied at two.

Really, this win should have been well in hand for the Magic, up 10 with four minutes left. Philly responded with a 12-2 run, and just like that we had a tie game. The stretch was similar to Game One, though with less fluky shooting, and somewhat the reverse of Game Three. No matter what, it seems games in this series are destined to come down to the last possession.

Orlando had its best shooting game since Game One, though it did not translate into an efficient offense in large part because the Magic's lack of offensive rebounds was even more pronounced than usual, going 40 minutes without a second chance. Philadelphia continues to do a phenomenal job of taking the three-pointer away from Orlando--in fact, that's been one of the most underrated storylines of the postseason.

The 76ers continue to shoot the ball well from distance, but inside the arc they were much less effective yesterday, hitting 37.7 percent of two-point attempts. Andre Miller (6-for-18) and Young (6-for-17) struggled to finish. They got more shot attempts because the Magic turned Iguodala into a passer; he had almost as many assists (11) as field-goal attempts (13). Given the way Iguodala has played in this series, that's a win for Orlando.

Houston 89, Portland 88 (Houston leads 3-1)
Pace: 80.2
Offensive Ratings: Houston 108.2, Portland 112.5

This was the Blazers' chance to steal a game at the Toyota Center and reclaim home-court advantage. Instead, they return home on the verge of elimination despite having played the Rockets essentially to a draw in two road games.

Brandon Roy was phenomenal; his stat line (31 points, 8-for-17 from the field, 13-for-13 from the free-throw line) doesn't even do justice to his calming presence on offense and activity on defense (OK, three steals and blocks apiece do just that). Roy knew what he wanted to do--get all the way to the rim and force the referees to make a decision or pull up from 15-20 feet--and executed it virtually all night. The lone exception was costly--a charge with 10 seconds left and Portland down two. That play illustrated the tough task Roy has in this series. Houston switched a Roy/Travis Outlaw pick-and-roll, which meant Roy went from having Ron Artest on him...to Shane Battier. Roy got to the lane, but Chuck Hayes rotated perfectly to draw the charge.

Still, the Blazers had another chance to tie when Aaron Brooks split two free throws. Curiously, Outlaw fired a turnaround immediately off the inbound pass, despite there being plenty of time on the clock. That's two straight games that Portland's best perimeter shooter (Rudy Fernandez) hasn't touched the ball with the team down three in the closing seconds.

Getting decent production from Outlaw and LaMarcus Aldridge as well as strong three-point shooting, the Blazers scored enough to win this game. Their downfall came at the defensive end, and specifically on the defensive glass. Houston came up with 16 offensive rebounds, eight of them in the final quarter alone. It was second chances that led to consecutive Shane Battier threes that put the Rockets ahead. The "No-Stats All-Star," for his part, had a pretty good line in the box score tonight: 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting (4-for-6 on threes), eight rebounds, six assists, no turnovers.

The box score doesn't tell the same story for Luis Scola, who somehow scored 17 points on 18 shot attempts despite apparently making every midrange jumper he got against a Portland defense willing to concede the shot. Scola did have seven offensive boards, and when he was out down the stretch with five fouls, Carl Landry had a critical score.

The weak link in the Houston offense, again, was Ron Artest. Artest had nine assists, but that's in part a measure of his dominant role in the offense. He also was perfectly willing to call his own number, hoisting a team-high 20 shots and hitting just five. Every time Artest shot, Blazers fans breathed a sigh of relief.

Foul trouble kept Nate McMillan from deploying the Greg Oden/Joel Przybilla frontcourt. In fact, Portland went the other way, briefly going with Outlaw at power forward for the first appreciable time in the series. Predictably, it got hammered on the defensive end, and didn't open enough up on offense to make up the difference. Much more effective for the Blazers was the big backcourt of Roy and Fernandez, which teamed up to end the third quarter on an 11-1 run. Surprisingly, McMillan went away from that pairing for the fourth quarter, playing Blake the entire 12 minutes.

The Rockets, meanwhile, re-focused on getting the ball to Yao Ming in the post. As Doug Collins illustrated during the broadcast, Houston effectively re-posted Yao when the double-team came, opening things up for him. He got 14 shot attempts, though Przybilla battled him well and limited him to 50 percent shooting.

It would be premature to write this series off. The Blazers bring decent momentum home and have shown the ability to be competitive on the road. However, after losing two in Houston, Portland now has zero margin for error against a very good Rockets team.

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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