Griz Bite, Boston Bounces Back

by Jeff Fogle 7. May 2011 23:56

Quite a Saturday on the NBA hardwood, as Memphis rallies from 16 points down in the third quarter to stun Oklahoma City...before Boston converts a must-win over Miami in impressive fashion. Let's look at the numbers...

MEMPHIS 101, OKLAHOMA CITY 93 (in ot)
2-point pct: OK City 42%, Memphis 39%
3-pointers: OK City 4/21, Memphis 3/10
Free Throws: OK City 21/23, Memphis 30/44
Rebounds: OK City 53, Memphis 55
Turnovers: OK City 13, Memphis 9
1's and 2's: Oklahoma City 81, Memphis 92
Regulation score: OK City 86, Memphis 86

Another wow finish. I thought Dallas did something special when they rallied from eight points down in the fourth quarter with a 27-13 stampede. Memphis trailed 70-54 with 3:30 to go in the third quarter, but would win the last 15:30 by a 32-16 margin. And, they did that without having many threats from long range, in a low tempo game.

It's REALLY hard to come from that far back two points at a time in a slow game!

The Griz then popped a 15-7 overtime on the Thunder, making it 47-23 over a 20:30 span.

I spent most of the first three quarters thinking that Oklahoma City was exposing Memphis as a pretender in terms of moving forward. This was a big game with a long build-up. Who was going to thrive and who was going to gag now that everyone had time to think about what was at stake? The answers flip-flopped before our eyes.

With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, OKC was supposed to be able to close! That's what helped separate them from Denver in the first round. The offense just disappeared today with the game on the line. Memphis kept attacking the basket in their normal relentless fashion. Note how it WASN'T Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol doing the damage when it mattered most. OKC was so worried about them that the other guys were getting fairly easy baskets:

MEMPHIS IN THE FOURTH QUARTER
Darrell Arthur short shot
Mike Conley short shot
Sam Young slam dunk
OJ Mayo makes 4-footer (four different Griz so far)
OJ Mayo 3-pointer
Tony Allen dunk (make it FIVE different Griz)
Mike Conley 3-pointer
Zach Randolph makes 3-footer (there he is, SIX)
MIke Conley makes 19-footer
Tony Allen makes 1 of 2 free throws
Tony Allen makes 1 of 2 free throws
Mike Conley makes 1 of 2 free throws

Memphis would end the game with a big free throw edge (+9 makes on +21 attempts). But, it wasn't free throws that brought them back. In fact, if they had done better than 50% in the fourth quarter, the game wouldn't have gone overtime!

A 23-10 fourth quarter saw no points from Gasol, and only two from Randolph. That's gotta scare everyone.

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook was seemingly doing what he could to take teammate Kevin Durant out of the game down the stretch for Oklahoma City. Westbrook re-entered the game at 9:55 of the fourth quarter, with OKC up by 9...

WESTBROOK'S FIRST TWO 4TH QUARTER MINUTES
9:44 Westbrook misses 3-pointer (after 11 seconds!)
8:55: Harden makes layup
8:40: Westbrook offensive foul
8:11: Durant makes 19-footer
7:43: Durant dunk

Working out great for OKC to this point even with a missed shot and a turnover for Westbrook. He shot immediately upon entering the game, but then got out of the way for a minute after his offensive foul. Durant's dunk made it 82-71, a comfortable lead.

WESTBROOK CRASHES THE VAN
7:07: Westbrook turnover (bad pass)
6:24: Westbrook misses 17-footer
5:28: Westbrook makes 18-footer
4:41: Westbrook misses layup
4:24: Durant has a shot blocked
4:07: Westbrook misses 15-footer
4:03: Perkins has a shot blocked
3:21: Sefolosha misses trey
3:03: Durant misses trey (second shot in 4 minutes)
2:25: Westbrook turnover

We're tied at 84-all now. That's 13-2 for Memphis, with Oklahoma City's dry spell keyed by Westbrook miscues. He made one shot, missed three, and had two turnovers. Durant didn't shoot the ball from 7:43 to 4:24, then didn't shoot again until 3:03. Tough to maintain a shooting touch when you're not getting any looks.

Memphis obviously deserves credit for denying Durant. But, good teams get the ball in their star's hands down the stretch.

Our frustration numbers for Westbrook (missed shots, turnovers, personal fouls) ended up totalling 28. They've been at 26 or higher in OKC's three postseason losses (granting that it took five extra minutes to make it past 26 on this occasion). And, this isn't the first time Westbrook has gone overboard immediately after Derrick Rose made big headlines for Chicago. The intense inner drive that makes Westbrook want to be the best also makes him dangerous to his own team in pressure situations. This is something OKC just has to deal with if they want to live up to their current potential.

To this point in the series, it looks like Memphis is going to win 1's and 2's:

Game One: Memphis 105, Oklahoma City 83
Game Two: Memphis 90, Oklahoma City 87
Game Three: Memphis 92, Oklahoma City 81

That puts OKC in the position of having to make treys to win. They were just 4 of 21 today. Game Four is Monday night.

BOSTON 97, MIAMI 81
2-point pct: Miami 52%, Boston 50%
3-pointers: Miami 5/23, Boston 9/18
Free Throws: Miami 14/19, Boston 14/17
Rebounds: Miami 36, Boston 39

I know Celtics fans were happy to see this strong performance. And, everyone had to be impressed with Rajon Rondo's toughness after the elbow injury. But, I learned long ago not to place too much weight on results or stats in a Game Three home opener for a team trailing 2-0.

It hasn't happened so much this year.  It was almost automatic there for awhile for the trailing team to have a huge home performance, followed by the series favorite re-taking command from that point forward.

Maybe Boston is back in the series. Or, maybe all the banged up key players will have trouble bringing the same level of performance in quick turnarounds Monday in Boston and Wednesday in Miami. What we saw tonight was a Celtics team after a long rest break. Now the fatigue spots come up quick...with Rondo more hurt now than he was before...and Shaq making it clear to everyone tonight that he's not game-ready for anything other than taking up space on defense for a few minutes.

I'd rather wait until after Monday night's game to make some estimates about what the stats may or may not mean. This was positioned to be Boston's best performance. Credit to them for coming through. Serious challenges are two and four days away. 

Sunday's Mother's Day schedule: Lakers/Dallas at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC. Chicago/Atlanta at 8 p.m. ET on TNT. Back late Sunday to review those two games.

Saturday's expanded boxscores: OKC/Memphis is here, Miami/Boston is here.

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Friday Night Notes

by Jeff Fogle 23. April 2011 00:29

It felt like old times Friday night in the NBA playoffs...with the Boston Celtics reminding everyone why they represented the Eastern Conference in two of the last three league finals...and the Los Angeles Lakers reminding everyone why they're the two-time defending champs.

Here are some notes on the three Friday games, and the late starter Thursday between Dallas and Portland...


BOSTON 113, NEW YORK 96
Boston jumped out to a big lead. The Knicks got within striking distance before halftime. But, then Boston just obliterated them in the third quarter and that was the ball game. Some quick notes:

*Amare Stoudemire continued to be bothered by a bad back. He tried to work through it...but he played like a guy with a bad back! Amare was 2 of 8 from the field. He only had 3 rebounds in 33 minutes. And, he had a staggering plus/minus of -34 in a game New York only lost by 17. The Knicks might as well have put a scarecrow a few feet off to the side of the basket. Very bad luck for Stoudemire and the Knicks that the back became an issue so early in the series. The loss of Chauncey Billups was a big enough blow. Stoudemire's inury basically ended the series. It's not like Carmelo Anthony could score 40 points every night.

*During the day I put together some notes on Carmelo's past high's and low's in big playoff series. He has very high peaks, but he tends to blow hot and cold. No reason to run those now. He was just 4 of 16 tonight, and had a plus minus of -27 in 35 minutes. Now I'll only add that the great thing about stars who play defense is that defense generally doesn't blow hot and cold in the playoffs.   

*Boston was 14 of 24 on treys. Fantastic performance, but not something teams can really do on purpose. They got open looks and shot a bit over their heads.

*Rajon Rondo had a triple double highlighted by 20 assists. This is a catch and shoot team. He was flying all over the court. New York's defenders were a step slow through most of the first half...then got demoralized once the game got out of hand. Boston's frontline starters made them pay.

Not much reason to run team stats in a game like this. The fourth quarter was garbage time. Boston's going to look super-efficient because of the 58% mark on treys. They're a known quantity, and what we saw tonight was the high end of the known quantity.

ATLANTA 88, ORLANDO 84
It's possible to love this series because of the drama. It's possible to hate this series because it's not pleasing to the eye. Kind of fitting that the clincher for Atlanta was a banked in three-pointer in the final seconds.

Not going to post any team numbers here either. Too ugly! And, too inconsistent. If I saw something that told the story of the series, I'd run it. More clues might be in the shot location data, but Joe's had problems getting those to convert into a usable form this week.

Worth noting I think that Orlando is 19 of 73 on treys for 26% in the series. Atlanta is doing a good job of guarding the perimeter (as our pre-playoff defensive profiles suggested they might--second best in the East and third best of all 16 playoff teams in that regard). If Orlando isn't making treys, they're not much of a team.

A surprise based on regular season data that Orlando is trailing two games to one. They ended the season with a +5.5 margin average. Atlanta was at -0.8. Neither team was greatly impacted by moves at the trade deadline, so those were regarded by many to be reasonable representations. Atlanta matches up well, and that's tossed the math out of the window. Orlando's been favored in every game, but has yet to establish any meaningful statistical or naked eye superiority.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS 100, NEW ORLEANS 86
Sharp form from the Lakers on offense, as their main six guys all shot near 50% or better from the field.

Kobe Bryant: 10 of 20
Pau Gasol: 7 of 13
Andrew Bynum: 6 of 13
Ron Artest: 4 of 8
Lamar Odom: 4 of 8
Derek Fisher: 3 of 4

It's a bit of a shame that Kobe took 20 shots and had only 2 assists on a night where his teammates were shooting so well. But, he definitely had some high impact baskets when things could have gotten interesting (and was 4 of 7 for the night on treys). And, this was really the first time in the playoffs (and the first time in a few weeks!) where the Lakers looked like championship material. This was the Lakers of the 17-1 run after the All-Star Break. Kobe was the authoritative leader of that team tonight.

Defense was a bit of a concern during a relaxed third quarter stretch. New Orleans scored 12 points in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the period (the same pace as a 40-plus point quarter) to cut a 12-point halftime deficit to 60-54. The Lakers refocused, and would hold the Hornets to just three field goals over the final six minutes of that stanza...then only 18 points in the fourth quarter.

Of note:

*The Lakers have won rebounding in all three games.

*The Lakers have won treys by a combined 17-10 margin.

*The Lakers have forced 16 and 14 turnovers after the ridiculously passive series opener where they only forced three.

*Chris Paul was 9 of 13 from the floor Friday night, but it still wasn't much of a game.

It's now hard to see this series going past five games. The sleeping giant is awake again...

From the late game Thursday...

PORTLAND 97, DALLAS 92
Dallas had its third straight sharp game from long range, which has helped throw a monkey wrench into perceptions that Portland was in better form entering the series.

THREE-POINTERS
Game One: Dallas 10/19 for 52.6%, effective rate 78.9%
Game Two: Dallas 8 of 19 for 42.1%, effective rate 63.1%
Game Three: Dallas 9 of 22 for 40.9%, effective rate 61.4%

Well, they are gradually cooling off...

It is good news for Mavericks fans that it's different weaponry making the treys each night. If one guy was shooting over his head, you'd have to assume a statistical crash was imminent.

Game One: Jason Kidd 6 of 10
Game Two: Peja Stojakovic 5 of 10
Game Three: Jason Terry 5 of 7

Having variety spreads out the defense and keeps them honest because they don't want to give any of these guys an open look (though the Blazers may just start crossing their fingers with Kidd based on his career curve). That's enough to clear out some room for Dirk Nowitzki to go to work inside the arc too. Dallas has shot 51% and 57% on two-pointers since that dismal inside performance in the series opener.

Of course, Dallas lost Game Three! So, even with Terry's heroics, it was Portland who finished on top to hold serve in what looks like it's going to be a very entertaining series.

The biggest stat of the night in terms of making a difference looks to be in the turnover category. Portland only lost the ball 9 times, their best effort thus far. Dallas got sloppy and lost the ball 16 times in a low-tempo game. Portland had a 16-11 edge in points off of turnovers, in a game they won by exactly five points. Mark Cuban has mentioned that category was a concern. Portland was second best in the regular season among the 16 playoff teams in forced turnover rate.

Back early Saturday evening to look at the afternoon results. The Chicago Bulls have a chance to be the first team through to the second round in an early tip at Indiana...

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Celtics Win Ugly

by Jeff Fogle 17. April 2011 23:37

The New York/Boston game was so ugly to watch...that it just didn't seem right sticking it in the same post as Denver/Oklahoma City. I didn't want to offend the hustling playmakers of Denver/OKC. It's halftime of that game as I write this. BEAUTIFUL BASKETBALL! It's like Denver and OKC were the only top teams who got the memo that the playoffs started this weekend. New York/Boston? It felt more like Charlotte/Milwaukee on a cold night in January...

BOSTON 87, NEW YORK 85
Shooting Pct: New York 42%, Boston 44%
Three-Pointers: New York 8/23, Boston 5/13
Rebounds: New York 34, Boston 44

(Expanded boxscore is here)

It all added up to a nailbiter. Boston did it's "defense and rebounding" thing fairly well, holding the Knicks to 42% and winning rebounds by 10. They were very sloppy with the ball though (16 turnovers in a slow 88-possession game...compared to a poor 14 turnovers for New York). There were stretches so ugly that Butler/UCONN called and wanted royalties. The last few minutes were compelling...and Ray Allen hit another clutch three to put the Celtics over the top in the final seconds.

Some notes:

*Carmelo Anthony lived down to the worst comments of critics. He was just 5 of 15 from the floor. He turned the ball over 5 times. He managed only 4 rebounds in 34 minutes. He kept shooting treys after they stopped falling (2 of 8 from long range). Defensively, he committed 5 fouls while not doing much of anything productive. Then, with a chance to tie or win at the end, he put up a prayer from well behind the arc when the Knicks had time at the start of the possession to get a better shot. You know, from a guy like Amare Stoudemire who was 12 of 18 on the night. Or Toney Douglas who had just made a clutch trey seconds earlier. Or, Carmelo himself from a better spot on the floor if he hadn't burned a few seconds realizing he didn't actually have a plan.

*Chauncey Billups made it a dismal Denver duo with a 3 for 11 night from the floor (2 of 6 on treys), 3 assists, and 2 rebounds in 35 minutes. All that from Anthony and Billups and the Knicks still led almost wire to wire!

*Stoudemire looked and played great. It's as if he got his legs back, and was trying to take his leadership role back too. You could see why the Knicks were playing so well in the early stages of the season before he wore down from the load. He was WAY too quick for the Celtics inside. Amare was 6 of 8 at the rim. When he settled for jumpers, he was a very strong 6 of 10 from 10 to 23 feet.

*We talked a few weeks ago about New York's troubles in the fourth quarter and/or second halves of games vs. quality opposition. That was certainly in play here.

Fourth Quarter: Boston 28, New York 21
Second Half: Boston 48, New York 34

Once opposing defenses clamp down, the Knicks kind of disappear. And, the fourth quarter play-by-play log shows a lot of Stoudemire. So, it was the others disappearing this evening.

*The Celtics can't be too happy that they had so much go right in the numbers yet they barely won. Rondo didn't quite have his Superman cape on. But, he had 10 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists...which is almost a triple double from a point guard. Ray Allen was 9 of 15 from the field, and 3 of 5 on treys. Paul Pierce made a couple of treys too. Yet, they still trailed all night! This was still the Boston team that was outclassed pretty badly by Chicago and Miami in recent games.

*Did want to note that Boston focused on offensive rebounding tonight. They generally blow that off and get back to play defense (as Steve Kerr was great at explaining in the first half). Here they had a huge 41.6 offensive rebound rate (15 offensive rebounds compared to 21 Knicks defensive rebounds). That suggests a lack of respect for the Knicks fast break, and confidence in their own edges on the board.

*Let me throw in some of the other stats we've been looking at for everyone this weekend. Both teams shot 45% on two-pointers for the evening. Both teams were exactly 16 of 33 for 48% on shots inside 10 feet. The final score on 1's and 2's was Boston 72, New York 61. New York has a 9-5 edge in made treys per game this season. It was 8-5 tonight. That extra trey they didn't make was the difference-maker in the final tally.  

This was a playoff game because the teams qualified for the playoffs. But, it didn't measure up visually to anything else we've seen this weekend. NY and Boston combined for the second worst shooting percentage (behind only Philly/Miami) and the most turnovers (a total of 30) of all the series openers. It was Charlotte/Milwaukee with bigger name guys on the floor. Boston didn't lift its game from recent form vs. the Eastern contenders. New York had the expected problems with "playoff style" basketball that many were expecting.

Back after Denver/OKC ends... 

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What Bulls/Celtics Says About the Playoffs

by Jeff Fogle 7. April 2011 23:39

Chicago defeated Boston 97-81 Thursday night on TNT. The boxscore showed all sorts of numbers that may loom large come playoff time. But the most important numbers may be these...

Boston: 25-32-33-34-35
Chicago: 22-25-26-29-30

Those are ranked from low to high for each team. What do they represent? And, is it better to be lower or higher?

There's actually some debate about that for the playoffs. The numbers by each team are the ages of Thursday night's starters. Boston is much older across the board. And, if you do it by position instead of from low to high, it's the same story.

Starters' Ages (Bulls listed first):
Point Guards: Rose 22, Rondo 25
Shooting Guards: Bogans 30, Allen 35
Small Forwards: Deng 25, Pierce 33
Power Forwards: Boozer 29, Garnett 34
Centers: Noah 26, O'Neal 32

Experience is supposed to be a plus in the playoffs. But, at some point, teams get too old to keep winning. Has Boston reached that point? It sure looked that way Thursday in Chicago...

*Derrick Rose is fast to begin with. He's even faster on the floor with a bunch of guys 33 and over.

*Boston suddenly looks too old to make three-pointers. It's like Pierce and Allen are putting a little extra oomph behind their bombs because the basket seems so far away. Oomph isn't touch. The Celtics were 2 of 10 on treys Thursday. Pierce was 1 of 5, and didn't make one until the game was out of reach. Allen was 0 for 3. (Note that Pierce is 37 of 118 for 31.4% on treys since the end of January, while Allen is 12 of 38 for 31.5% over his last 10 games)

It's been noted elsewhere in cyberspace this week (in a great article at Basketball Prospectus) that Boston is shooting fewer treys this year than in the past. Will they be able to make up projected deficits against the other main contenders?

Made Treys Per Game:
Miami 6.6
Chicago 6.2
Boston 5.1

If the legs start to go for Boston in a long playoff series, that differential might get even worse. Tonight, Chicago won the battle of treys 9-2, more than accounting for their 16-point victory margin.

*In other bad news for the Celtics, they were outclassed badly inside the arc too.

2-Point Shooting: Chicago 50%, Boston 41%
Rebounds: Chicago 44, Boston 35

Boston still gets respect from the refs. And, Chicago may be a little hack happy inside given their youth. So, the Celtics won free throws 23-14 (on 26-15 attempts) to help lessen the carnage.

Refs are known to swallow their whistles as a playoff series progresses. The only good news Thursday for Boston was at the charity stripe. It's not news they can count on late in a playoff series down the road.

It's only one game. And, we know Boston is more worried right now about having healthy bodies in the playoffs than they are about their seed. We did at least see why the Bulls would be a very troublesome matchup for the Celtics should the two meet a few weeks down the road. That may not be an issue anyway given the Celtics lack of mojo since the Kendrick Perkins trade. Rajon Rondo will need his Superman cape nightly in the postseason...and he'll have to overcome the lack-of-confidence Krytponite that was in plain view Thursday during a 3 of 10 shooting performance.

Updated Eastern Conference Standings:
1...Chicago 58-20 (at Cleveland, at Orlando, at NY, NJ)
2...Miami 54-24 (Charlotte, Boston, at Atlanta, at Toronto)
3...Boston 54-24 (Washington, at Miami, at Washington, vs. NY)

Boston owns the tie-breaker with Miami...but I put the Heat in the #2 spot because they'll be favored to win out, including Sunday's home game with the Celtics that should be the difference-maker in determining the second seed. Note that Chicago will be the #1 seed unless they finish 0-4 while Boston finishes 4-0. 

Transition Points

*Nice to hear Reggie Miller of TNT talking about the "nuances" of the Western Conference playoff picture during Thursday's Portland/Utah game. Many networks/announcers don't want to delve into the possibility of teams "not" wanting to win for various reasons. Miller's telling it to you straight!

*Want to make sure everyone's clear on the West tie-breaker. Should Oklahoma City and Dallas end in a tie for the #3 seed, Oklahoma City wins the tie-breaker as the winners of the Northwest Division even though they lost the season series to the Mavs 2-1. Winning a division trumps heads-up records in the tie-breaker sequence. Thanks again to a reader who pointed out my error in the first version of Wednesday's article. I had forgotten that heads-up record doesn't always rule the day.

*Back to a monster schedule on Friday. Highlights from the 12-game card include Denver at Oklahoma City and the LA Lakers at Portland. Other games on the schedule could influence the postseason picture if playoff-bound teams get upset. We'll try to sort things out again (sorta) before midnight Friday. Saturday will be a day off because no meaningful games are on the schedule. Sunday's schedule is very interesting, so we'll have a bonus report that night. Thanks to all of you who pop in every day for a dip in the data...

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Welcome Back Rajon Rondo

by Jeff Fogle 1. April 2011 00:01

It turned out Thursday's Boston-San Antonio game was VERY relevant as a potential indicator for the playoffs. All of San Antonio's big three (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) were on the floor, as was key contributor Antonio McDyess (until he stepped on Ginobili's foot and didn't return). For Boston, Jermaine O'Neal made his first appearance in eons. Both teams were taking this one seriously. The most important development? The re-appearance of the dynamic Rajon Rondo...finding the form that was so important in the Eastern Conference playoffs last year.

Rondo Thursday vs. San Antonio:
22 points (on 11 of 20 shooting)
14 assists
5 rebounds
+10 in plus/minus

Rondo's Season Averages:
10.4 points (on 4.4 of 9.0 shooting)
11.3 assists
4.4 rebounds

If you watched Boston's 107-97 victory, you know Rondo was the difference maker. He was flying all over the court. He was attacking the basket. He was making jumpers instead of passing them up. When the Spurs sunk in, he dished to teammates for open jumpers (and Boston is great at making open jumpers!). For the night, Boston was 44 of 73 on two-point shots, a sterling 60%.

Or, in other words, he was the Rondo we saw last year when Boston was beating Miami and Cleveland in the playoffs (though not so much Orlando).

Last 3 Games of Miami series:
17 points on 16 shots, 8 assists, 5 rebounds
23 points on 17 shots, 9 assists, 4 rebounds
16 points on 16 shots, 12 asists, 8 rebounds

All 6 Games of Cleveland series:
27 points on 10 shots, 12 assists, 6 rebounds
13 points on 10 shots, 19 (!) assists, 4 rebounds
18 points on 17 shots, 8 assists, 5 rebounds
29 points on 21 shots, 13 assists, 18 (!) rebounds
16 points on 12 shots, 7 assists, 2 rebounds
21 points on 15 shots, 12 assists, 3 rebounds

How do you score 27 points on 10 shots? Rondo was 12 of 14 from the free throw line.

Rondo looks like he ran out of gas after Game Two of the subsequent Orlando series. I'll do an abbreviated version here with the sum of points, assists and rebounds because you can see the drop off easier that way. The sequence for the nine games leading into Orlando with that sum was: 30-36-36-45-36-31-60-25-36 (median of 36, and only one game below 30)

Points+Assists+Rebounds in 6 Games vs. Orlando:
20 in Game 1
38 in Game 2
26 in Game 3
20 in Game 4
28 in Game 5
23 in Game 6

Cleveland played very physical defense last year, as did Orlando. It took its toll on a point guard playing his heart out. He would only reach 30 one time in the Orlando series after doing that in eight of his prior nine outings. The midpoints vs. Orlando were 23-26...well off the 36 median vs. Cleveland.

Points+Assists+Rebounds in 7 Games vs. LA Lakers:
27 in Game 1
41 in Game 2
22 in Game 3
18 in Game 4
31 in Game 5
21 in Game 6
32 in Game 7

One huge game vs. the Lakers, but a median of 27.

I know this is an extremely simplified way of looking at Rondo's production. There are a lot of complex stats out there. This paints the picture fairly accurately I think in terms of his energy, his passion, and...ultimately, his inability to be Superman the whole way through.

Thursday's sum vs. San Antonio: 41

Tonight we saw the Rondo from the Cleveland series...just in time to remind everyone that the Celtics aren't planning on making their Spring tee times any time soon. They've slumped during a very heavy schedule stretch. This was the first time they had two days off before a game since March 6th. Jermaine O'Neal now has a chance to contribute off the bench. Shaquille O'Neal is itching to return. As you heard the TNT announcers say multiple times...health is more important than seeding. Health and the whirling dervish version of Rondo just might vault Boston back into the favorite's role in the East regardless of how the seeds end up.

Eastern Standings
Chicago 54-20
Boston 52-22 (2 games back)
Miami 52-23 (2.5 games back)
Orlando 47-28 (fourth seed virtually certain)
Atlanta 43-32 (fifth seed virtually certain)
Philadelphia 39-36
New York 37-38 (2 games behind Philly for #6)
Indiana 34-42 (1 game clear of Charlotte for #8)

Seven of those eight teams are in action Friday night:
Chicago visits Detroit
Boston vists Atlanta on ESPN
Miami visits Minnesota
Orlando hosts Charlotte
Philadelphia hosts New Jersey
Indiana hosts Milwaukee

Transition Points

*San Antonio can't be pleased with tonight's result. It's true that the team may be a bit rusty given the recent absences of key players. But, they were outplayed up and down the floor by an opponent that's been dealing with issues of their own. And, the Spurs will probably be chasing some quick little scorers in the Western brackets. What Rondo did tonight was reminiscent of (but not as good as) what Derrick Rose did to the Spurs the night before the All-Star Break a few weeks ago.

San Antonio carries a 5-game losing streak into a Friday night meeting at Houston.

*Can update the New York pace factors now. After a six game stretch that registered at 92-92-92-89-92-93 in possessions per game, they've now played to 96-104-99 in the last three. That 104 was in overtime, meaning it was probably about 94 in regulation (subtracting 10 as a reasonable estimate is so much easier than actually counting them up!)

Cosmetically, that should at least help with complaints from fans that the Knicks were playing without energy. Fast paced Cleveland and Toronto are up next Sunday and Tuesday (New York is the only Eastern playoff team not in action Friday night).

*Miami's defense has completely disappeared in recent games. You get the sense they're saving peak intensity for the playoffs. As we've documented, and others have too, Miami has a tendency to get slow on rotations  when they're not breathing fire. This leads to a lot of open jumpers. Opponents have been hitting those shots lately, leading to horrendous efficiency numbers. Here's the data from the five games since the Heat's brutal gauntlet ended...

Miami's Defensive Efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions):
116.3 at Washington
113.3 at Cleveland
117.8 vs. Houston
102.1 vs. Philadelphia (not a bad game)
110.6 at Detroit

For the year, Miami is at 100.4, which ranks 5th in the NBA. The NBA average is 104.3. The Heat just allowed an average of about 115 to the horrible offenses of Washington and Cleveland!

Miami had just played six games under 104.5 in wrapping up their gauntlet. so, this is a noticeable change in defensive intensity. Looks like a conscious choice to back off for awhile.

*Might as well throw in an NIT note...Alabama was 2 of 14 on three-pointers Thursday in their championship game loss to Wichita State...continuing the college trend we've seen recently for victory to go to whoever avoids a trey debacle. The pomp and pageantry of touranment basketball helps hide this from non-statheads. Once you start looking for it, you're not as pomped up about the spectacle.

*Dallas/LA Lakers will finish late. Back Friday before midnight to run through stats and notes from the busy NBA slate. See you then...

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