Bulls Dominate Game One!

by Jeff Fogle 15. May 2011 23:44

After a first half feeling out process that saw the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat knotted at 48-all in Game One of their Eastern Conference championship series, the Bulls EXPLODED in the last two quarters on the way to a 103-82 rout...

Chicago dominated so many categories that it's hard to know where the begin.

*Three-Pointers: Chicago won this category 10-3, with the final victory margin representing the +21 points the Bulls netted from behind the arc. It's not fair to say this was the only thing that mattered though. Chicago attempted 21 treys, Miami only 8. The Heat were trying to emphasize inside scoring, hoping to garner enough points there to make up for a lack of long range production.

*Turnovers: But, that DIDN'T work because Miami turned the ball over 16 times! Chicago only lost the ball nine times themselves. That represents a Chicago blowout in this statistical category as well.

*Rebounds: And, it ALSO didn't work because Miami was getting killed on the boards. When they missed, they only grabbed 19% of their offensive rebound opportunities (6 of 32). On the other end of the court, Chicago had an offensive rebound rate of 41% (19 of 46).

*Second Chance Points: The board dominance for the Bulls led to a 31-8 slaughter in second-chance points. Amazing that a team can win three-point scoring 30-9, and win second-chance points 31-8. That's outside and inside. WHAT'S LEFT?!

What was left was basically Chris Bosh having a huge game inside for Miami with baskets that didn't matter. He erased the 1 for 18 regular season nightmare on this floor with a 12 for 18 gem. But, those were baskets Chicago was willing to allow as long as they kept LeBron James and Dwyane Wade under control. They did.

This leads us to the two-way and three-way battles I wanted to spotlight during the series. Hopefully, NOW, the world doesn't see Luol Deng as a defensive specialist who occasionally shoots...or the Bulls as a one-man team with Derrick Rose leading a bunch of stiffs.

Rose + Deng: 49 points
James + Wade: 33 points

Whoa! Now, this is far from a best expecation for the series. Deng won't go 4 of 6 on treys every game. Rose was 3 for 7 himself, and he's been known to do worse. Also, James and Wade deferred some to Bosh because he was scoring so easily. Chicago would be okay in this series if Rose and Deng can just hold their own in the matchup. They did a lot more than that tonight.

Rose, Deng + Boozer: 63 points
James, Wade + Bosh: 63 points

Dead heat for Ghidorah, even after you factor in Bosh's big night. Chicago has a much better bench, so Miami's three-headed monster has to do much better than this (unless somebody like James Jones or Mario Chalmers starts lighting it up).

It's only one game...and it's only a home favorite holding serve. Sometimes the first game of a series has little resemblance to the remaining games (Atlanta beat Chicago in a series opener by a dozen, Memphis beat Oklahoma City by 13 on the road, Dallas only beat the Lakers by two in a series opener when they would win the next three games by 54 points). Miami has plenty of time to regroup.

Of concern for the Heat:

*They're only 1-3-1 on the road at the end of regulation in the playoffs so far. They split with Philadelphia (a borderline playoff caliber team). They lost and went overtime with banged up Boston. Now, a loss here. If healthy Chicago is a lot better than banged up Boston, then it may be a lot more difficult for Miami to win a road game than many had been thinking.

*Nobody on the bench seems ready to step up. Some are capable of stepping up. Nobody's won the trust of the big three. Ghidorah took 50 of the team's 68 shots this evening. Hey, I forgot to do my percentage rundown!

James, Wade, and Bosh
Scored 77% of Miami's points
Took 74% of Miami's shots
Earned 82% of Miami's assists
Attempted 93% of Miami's free throws
Committed 63% of Miami's turnovers
Committed 40% of Miami's fouls

Still mostly a three-man team. Everyone else's job is to help commit fouls.

Let's run those same numbers for Chicago...

Rose, Deng, and Boozer
Scored 61% of Chicago's points
Took 66% of Chicago's shots
Earned 43% of Chicago's assists
Attempted 65% of Chicago's free throws
Committed 56% of Chicago's turnovers
Committed 31% of Chicago's fouls

It's not a three-man team. Running those numbers helped me notice that Chicago had 23 assists as a team even though point guard Rose only had six (great teamwork!)...and Chicago only committed 13 personal fouls on the night. The refs may not be as friendly in future games. But, the Bulls really did back off a bit when Bosh was in close figuring they can live with allowing a basket. No reason to give him a chance for a 3-point play and stick a personal foul on one of their bigs.

*Chicago's energy level is likely to matter the whole way. Possibly the key to this series long term is who gets tired first. Does Derrick Rose wear down trying to do too much...reducing his impact in later games? Or, does Miami's three-headed monster wear down from trying to win 3-on-9 or 3-on-10? Chicago's cavalry made it 3-on-10 tonight...which is a very good sign for the Bulls' hopes in this series.

*Miami falls to 0-4 this season against Chicago, failing to truly impress at any time.

Miami can take solace in knowing:

*LeBron James isn't going to go 5 of 15 from the floor in every game.

*Chicago isn't going to go 10 of 21 on treys in every game.

*They're going to get more calls in future games, meaning a lot more than 15 free throw attempts most nights.

Is that enough to make up for a 21-point deficit? Four times in six games?! That's a stiff challenge to be sure. A quantum of solace. A quandry from concerns.

But, it's only one game. Summarizing points we've already discussed...

CHICAGO 103, MIAMI 82
2-point pct: Miami 48%, Chicago 42%
3-pointers: Miami 3/8, Chicago 10/21
Free Throws: Miami 15/15, Chicago 17/20
Rebounds: Miami 33, Chicago 45
Turnovers: Miami 16, Chicago 9
1's and 2's: Miami 73, Chicago 73

Game Two isn't until Wednesday because Oprah needs the building for a couple of days. Miami's hopes for a championship this year may hinge on those next 48 minutes of game action.

In earlier playoff action Sunday...

OKLAHOMA CITY 105, MEMPHIS 90
2-point pct: Memphis 41%, OKC 53%
3-pointers: Memphis 5/15, OKC 11/28
1's and 2's: Memphis 75, OKC 72

No need to go into all the categories. Once it was clear that Russell Westbrook was finally going to get out of the way of Kevin Durant, the stage was set for a comfortable Oklahoma City win.

Westbrook only took 12 shots (shooting a disappointing 4 of 12 for 33%). Durant took 25 shots on his way to 39 points. Durant started attacking the basket again (mysteriously missing from Game Six, which we theorized was from fatigue). Back in form today, his ratio was 16-9 on two-point attempts to trey attempts. He also added nine points from the free throw line because of that aggression.

To Westbrook's tremendous credit...he channeled his energy and passion into rebounding and assists. This led to a triple double that may have been a bit overhyped. Well, let's say it this way. Westbrook's 14 assists were huge, because it meant he was getting out of the way and helping everyone else score. HUGE! His 10 rebounds were also very big coming from the point guard position. Six of those were on offense...and many seemed big at the moment...giving OKC an extra chance to score when a basket was needed. Scoring 14 points on 4 of 12 shooting was barely worth talking about.

Earning a "triple double" was trivia. His dynamic complementary role was much more worthy of celebration in my view. Rings matter more than trivia. Westbrook today looked like a player who had moved closer to trusting his teammates and grasping the moment.

Also worth noting for OKC:

*James Harden was 6 of 10 from the field, and had a +24 in plus/minus in a 15-point win.

*Nick Collison off the bench put a roadblock in front of Zach Randolph. Joe Treutlein has been tweeting often about Collison's criminally overlooked impact on this team (and I'll cop to a misdemeanor myself). Collison was +26 in plus/minus in 33 minutes today.

*Only Durant and Westbrook played 35 minutes or more, which gives the team a fighting chance to have its legs Tuesday night in the series opener at Dallas.

There are no games Monday. I'll try to have a preview up for OKC/Dallas by Monday evening just in case there are readers who are considering continuing their karma by commenting...

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Miami-Chicago Preview

by Jeff Fogle 14. May 2011 17:40

The much anticipated Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls is finally here! Going in, it looks like very little separates these two teams. When you dig trough the data, the similarities are even more striking...

Let's run through some of the similarities gathered from the regular season stat pages here at HoopData...

*Great Defense: Both teams ranked in the top five this year in defensive efficiency.

*Great Defensive Rebounding: Both teams ranked in the top four this year in defensive rebound rate. Limiting opportunities for opponents is at the heart of what these teams try to do. Chicago also adds in forcing turnovers. They ranked 11th in the league in that stat, while Miami was way down at 26th. To the degree there is a difference on defense, it comes from Chicago squeezing out a few more positive possessions because of takeaways (and they're also a bit better at guarding the perimeter).

*Offensive Trey Production: Both teams attack the basket, and kick it out for treys at similar rates. Miami averaged 6.7 made treys per game this year. Chicago averaged 6.2.

*Offensive Turnover Rate: Both teams had virtually identical turnover rates this year (13.45 for Chicago, 13.52 for Boston) playing those similar offensive styles.

*Dynamic Scoring Threats: Both teams are led by players who are virtually unstoppable one-on-one. Chicago's Derrick Rose won the MVP award this year. Miami's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are MVP caliber talents. It might seem like Miami has the more dominant offensive potential because of that 2-1 advantage in scoring superstars. Well, there's only one ball! That creates diminishing returns for the Heat, particularly if Chicago is able to put up a brick wall on defense.

Let's talk some more about this. The high profile scoring threats are a big part of why this series has been so anticipated. It's important that we try to understand what's going on when they're on the floor. Miami does have the offensive statistical edge based on regular season rankings (#3 in offensive efficiency for the Heat, #11 for the Bulls). They also had that heading into their three regular season meetings. You remember what happened there:

REGULAR SEASON MEETINGS
Chicago 99, Miami 96 (in Chicago)
Chicago 93, Miami 89 (in Chicago)
Chicago 87, Miami 86 (in Miami)

That's what I mean about dimishing returns. Miami couldn't turn an offensive advantage into victories in three tries. Oh, LeBron missed one of those games. Can you tell which one by the score? No. Diminishing returns. Putting superstars together doesn't help as much as it would seem. Losing one doesn't hurt as much either. It's like trying to find a true image of reality in a funhouse mirror.

Here's one way to get at the dynamics in play. Do you think of Luol Deng as being in the same class as LeBron or D-Wade as a scorer? The media insists he's a defensive specialist who sometimes shoots. Rose and Deng would certainly take the worst of it heads up against LeBron and Wade? Right?

MOST RECENT MEETING
Rose and Deng: 19 of 38 shooting, 45 points
James and Wade: 18 of 37 shooting, 46 points

The first meeting of the season was the one that LeBron missed. D-Wade took a more prominent role scoring-wise. Chris Bosh stepped up his usage and got many of the shots that LeBron used to take.

FIRST MEETING (no James)

Rose and Deng: 17 of 41 shooting, 46 points
Wade and Bosh: 17 of 38 shooting, 50 points

Rose and Deng combined to score 46, 46, and 45 points in the three games against Miami. If you're thinking of Miami as holding a 2-1 edge in superstars...and that's going to show up as a dramatic scoreboard advantage...the evidence just doesn't suggest that's going to be the case. Rose isn't surrounded by zeroes. Either LeBron or D-wade will be standing and watching (a temporary zero) when his teammate shoots. The tag team battle is surprisingly close because there's only one ball. It doesn't hurt that smart, high quality defenses know how to use the 24-second clock as a 6th defender against superstars trying to figure out what to do in a hurry with that one ball.

What if you throw in Chris Bosh to finish off the three-headed Ghidorah? Hey, it was all three of them partying with the crowd at "Pose-a-Mania" after "The Decision." Let's add in Carlos Boozer for the Bulls to counteract Bosh. James-Wade-Bosh faced Rose-Deng-Boozer only twice because of the game James missed.

MADE FIELD GOALS (meetings 2-3)
Game Two: Ghidorah 25, Rose-Deng-Boozer 23
Game Three: Ghidorah 27, Rose-Deng-Boozer 25

Would you have guessed that? The guys who got a virtual parade before they played a game together only made two more baskets per game than the three main weapons on the other side.

Don't be lured into marketing hype about Miami's Goliaths facing little D-Rose and his slingshot. Top defenses have a way of imposing their will on a game. That squashes perceived differences in offensive potential into a relatively minor issue. And, the perceived differences are partly marketing hype in the first place. Marketers don't want to be bothered with diminishing return issues.

To this point in the discussion, that's a lot of similarities! That's why the games were so close head-to-head. The only meaningful differences seem to be:

*Miami has a higher free throw rate, because they have more guys who attack the basket and draw fouls. In the regular season, Miami was at 36.3, Chicago at 30.5. (In the Ghidorah/Rose-Deng-Boozer matchups above, Miami would win total scoring in the 3-on-3 challenge 70-62 and 69-57 because of their additional free throws...but that still wasn't enough to put them over the top)

*Chicago makes up for that with more aggressive offensive rebounding. The Bulls registered at 29.4 in offensive rebounding rate this year, compared to 25.2 for Miami. If the Bulls miss, they often get a rebound and a put-back. If Miami misses, the ref often just blew his whistle and a star is going to the free throw line.

*Chicago has the better bench, with guys who are able to come in and provide an energetic boost.

All of that added up to close wins for Chicago in the regular season. That doesn't mean they'll keep winning. It means Miami has to find a way to squeeze out a few more points.

Let's also note that it's fully possible that the 2-1 edge in superstars for Miami WILL pay off in a series of consecutive games more dramatically than it might in random regular season meetings. If you figure all the stars will take turns running into a lion's den to get mauled...Rose is likely to show signs of decline first because he's carrying the heaviest individual load, and because he's much smaller than James and Wade.

The ridiculous Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday spacing of the first week should help Rose stay fresh at first. The second week could be a real grind for him. I'll try to remember to pay special attention to Rose/Deng vs. James/Wade, and Rose/Deng/Boozer vs. James/Wade/Bosh in that first week. Regular season performance isn't a guarantee of playoff performance (and that means the pressure's on YOU Luol Deng!)

The series starts Sunday night, after Oklahoma City and Memphis finish their epic battle with a Sunday afternoon Game Seven. Back Sunday night with numbers and notes from both games. Then, Monday night, I'll run some preview notes for Dallas and their foe in the Western Conference finals...

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Bulls Rout Demoralized Hawks

by Jeff Fogle 12. May 2011 23:49

The Chicago Bulls went for the jugular early in Thursday night's playoff game on the road against the Atlanta Hawks. They led by 10 points after a quarter, and gradually pulled away to a comfortable 20-point victory that saw little opposition or intensity from an increasingly disinterested foe...

How passive were the Hawks?

*Atlanta allowed 59% shooting on two-pointers, which is basically standing in the paint in matador outfits. For the series, Chicago shot 45%, 45%, 46%, 47%, 53%, and 59% inside the arc (in that order). Once the dam broke, the buckets just gushed through.

*Atlanta committed only 12 personal fouls on the night. TWELVE! That means Chicago was getting their looks without drawing contact. As passive as it gets.

*Atlanta let the Bulls put on a Globetrotter's passing clinic, as 35 of Chicago's 41 baskets were assisted. So, it wasn't a case of Chicago taking turns driving straight to the basket for layups. It was pass-pass-pass open look. Half-hearted rotations AND not hitting anybody from the Hawks. 

*Derrick Rose of Chicago only shot 3 free throws on the evening. He also had a low number in Game Three of this series versus another passive Atlanta effort. He was moving fine, and seems to be back near full speed. This wasn't a case of Rose playing it safe with his ankle. He was an important part of the passing sequences, leading the team with 12 assists. (Nobody else had more than 5, which tells you what great team chemistry this group has...everybody was sharing the ball on the way to 85% assisted baskets.)

*While trailing most of the second half by double digits, Atlanta still played incredibly slow on offense. No sense of urgency. No "we've got to get back into this thing" mentality. Patiently work for a shot to see if you can cut a 16-point deficit to 14...then go back and move around slowly on defense.

It's a bit dangerous to draw conclusions about Chicago from a game like this. They are definitely back in good form. We won't really know how good that form is until the Miami series starts on Sunday. This was a scrimmage much of the night. Miami wont' be in the mood to scrimmage!

CHICAGO 93, ATLANTA 73
2-point pct: Chicago 59%, Atlanta 41%
3-pointers: Chicago 3/13, Atlanta 1/11
1's and 2's: Chicago 84, Atlanta 70

Not going to run a bunch of numbers from a laydown. But I do want to update the data on Chicago's strong perimeter defense.

ATLANTA'S TREYS THIS SERIES
Game One: 7/13
Game Two: 3/13
Game Three: 1/6
Game Four: 4/11
Game Five: 1/12
Game Six: 1/11

That's 2 of 23 in the last two games, and 6 of 42 in Atlanta's four losses. After a sluggish start for the Chicago perimeter defense in the opener...or maybe just a lights out performance from the Hawks...Atlanta would register only 10 for 53 the rest of the series.

So, if Miami's hoping guarded treys in the final minutes are going to keep winning games for them, they may be dealing with a tougher challenge this time around.

I'll write up a deeper preview of Miami-Chicago over the weekend. For now, I wanted to go over some stuff I was playing around with today regarding defenses...

I wanted to get a read on how playoff defenses were performing so far. Chicago's had some great games, but some unimpressive ones too. And, those came against Indiana and Atlanta...which didn't have quality offenses by playoff standards. Did Chicago have the best defense in the playoffs once you accounted for their opponents?

I like using medians rather than averages in short samples because you can toss the outliers (or non-efforts) and focus on the best expectations. I looked at the remaining playoff teams in these areas:

*Their defensive efficiency medians thus far in the playoffs
*The combined regular season offensive efficiency of their opponents

This would help get a sense of best expectations adjusted for context. If you're new to the site, defensive efficiency is points allowed per 100 possessions (pace adjusted defense).

PLAYOFF DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY MEDIANS

Chicago: 96.7
Miami 98.9
Dallas: 101.7
Oklahoma City: 102.4
Memphis: 105.8

If you're not adjusting for quality of opposition, Chicago looks like it's well clear of the field. And only Chicago and Miami are down below a point per possession. None of the Western teams are below 100. Memphis looks like they're playing crappy defense by playoff standards.

OFFENSIVE CALIBER OF OPPONENTS IN REGULAR SEASON

102.6 for Chicago's opponents (Indiana/Atlanta)
104.0 for Miami's opponents (Philadelphia/Boston)
106.8 for Dallas' opponents (Portland/Lakers)
106.9 for OKC's opponents (Denver/Memphis)
109.0 for Memphis' opponents (SA/OKC)

Suddenly it's not so clear. Chicago has the best defense, but faced the weakest offenses. Miami's right behind them in both regards. In fact, the teams follow right in order. Dallas holding the Blazers and Lakers down to 101.7 looks great now. And, given what Memphis is dealing with as a defensive challenge in the brackets, even their 105.8 represents good defense. They're holding teams below regular season norms.

To create a level playing field, here are the percentage decreases from regular season standards.

DEFENSES IN CONTEXT
Chicago: 5.7% reduction from standards of Indiana/Atlanta
Miami: 4.9% reduction from standards of Philadelphia/Boston
Dallas: 4.8% reduction from standards of Portland/LA Lakers
Oklahoma City: 4.2% reduction from standards of Denver/Memphis
Memphis: 2.9% reduction from standards of San Antonio/OKC

So, Chicago IS playing the best defense. But others are within striking distance. Miami and Dallas are almost in a dead heat once you adjust for who they played. Oklahoma City is still close to Dallas, and in a range that suggests they can compete for a championship given their offensive punch. Memphis is battling, but isn't quite up to the standards of the others.

Fun to play around with the numbers on a rainy afternoon.

Might as well take a quick look at what those numbers might mean for Miami-Chicago.

REGULAR SEASON OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
Miami 109.3
Chicago 105.5

*If Chicago holds Miami 5.7% below its regular season norm, then the Heat would score 103.1 points per 100 possessions.

*If Miami holds Chicago 4.9% below its regular season norm, then the Bulls would score 100.3 points per 100 possessions.

Basically a 103-100 win for Miami over 100 possessions on a neutral court. Most playoff games don't have that many possessions without overtime.

92 possessions: Miami 95, Chicago 92
88 possessions: Miami 91, Chicago 88

Both teams peaked at 92 possessions in the prior round, and an 88-possession grinder will probably be normal for the series. Those may or may not be a tad optimistic for Miami. They at least suggest a classic battle since Chicago will have home court advantage in four of seven games if it goes the distance. As I write this, the prediction markets are expected to favor Miami to win the series...and are likely to have Chicago as a small favorite at home, with Miami a slightly bigger favorite when the games are in South Beach (those are the early rumblings anyway).

Back late Friday with numbers and notes from Game Six of Oklahoma City/Memphis...

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Bulls Improving

by Jeff Fogle 11. May 2011 00:38

In the first nine games of the Thibodeaux/Rose playoff era, the Chicago Bulls rarely looked like the best team in the East. The pieces are starting to fall into place, exemplified by tonight's 95-83 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game Five of their best-of-seven series...

It was far from a perfect performance. The Bulls blew all of a 15-point first quarter lead. And, Chicago's internal defense was repeatedly exposed for easy buckets to the tune of 56% shooting on two-pointers from the Hawks. Derrick Rose isn't great at stopping penetration from fast point guards (which may not matter against Miami, but would if the Bulls reach the Finals). Chicago's bigs rotated poorly after penetration, though that issue seemed to disappear when Joakim Noah spent the entire pivotal fourth quarter on the bench.

Those problems aside...

*Derrick Rose is BACK! He continued is free throw climb through the series with his highest totals yet:

ROSE FREE THROWS
Game One: 0-0
Game Two: 4-6
Game Three: 8-9
Game Four: 9-11
Game Five: 10-13

And, those are essential points because nobody seems to pick up the slack in this category if Rose isn't drawing fouls.

CHICAGO FREE THROWS

Game One: 13-16 (non-Rose 13-16)
Game Two: 15-18 (non-Rose 11-12)
Game Three: 15-18 (non-Rose 7-9)
Game Four: 21-27 (non-Rose 12-16)
Game Five: 21-28 (non-Rose 11-15)

Game Three didn't need free throws because the Bulls were 10-20 on treys. And, Atlanta was so passive it was hard to draw contact anyway!

Chicago's a few points better when Rose can draw fouls. Those few points are the difference between being a generic playoff team and a title contender because point differential is so tight in the postseason.

*Execution is cleaner. Chicago had their playoff low turnover total Tuesday with only 9 giveaways.

Turnovers vs. Indiana: 14-21-15-13-14
Turnovers vs. Atlanta: 11-13-11-10-9

The nervousness and slop of the early games vs. Indiana are a distant memory. Some of that is Atlanta's relative passiveness. But, you can still see incremental improvement over the last four games. That corresponds to Rose's improving ankle as well. Giveaways turn into free throws when he's in command of his speed.

*Luol Deng is attacking the basket. The Bulls desperately need somebody besides Rose flying at the rim and doing damage. Deng made that a point of emphasis tonight after losing initative mid-series.

DENG ON THE DRIVE
Game Three: 6 two-point shots, 1 free throw, 42 minutes
Game Four: 8 two-point shots, 2 free throws, 45 minutes
Game Five: 14 two-point shots, 7 free throws, 46 minutes

Deng is almost always on the floor. He can't be an innocent bystander on offense. He mattered tonight with a plus/minus of +15 in a 12-point win. Chicago needs him to matter on offense every game.

If you combine those recent signs of improvement with elements that have always been there...

*Rebounding Edge: Board victories in the last four games, and double digit totals in offensive rebounds in all five games.

*Limiting Perimeter Damage: only 1 of 12 allowed on treys tonight, and 9 of 42 the last four games.

*Youth and Energy: I won't list the ages because you know this is a young team. But, to the degree the playoffs are a war of attrition, the Bulls are currently pretty well suited to hang tough for a long time.

This is a team that is at least on the verge of rounding into the form everyone was expecting from the get-go. The middle quarters were still a disappointment tonight (outscored 47-37). The Game Four loss in Atlanta can't be dismissed just yet. But, the signs are promising if you're a Bulls fan.

CHICAGO 95, ATLANTA 83
2-point pct: Atlanta 56%, Chicago 53%
3-pointers: Atlanta 1/12, Chicago 4/14
1's and 2's: Atlanta 80, Chicago 83

Chicago can't be counted on to win treys on command...but they've actually made more treys than Atlanta in four of five games in this series.

Game Six is Thursday in Atlanta.

One of the understatements of the year came last night when I said Oklahoma City/Memphis was running late. I think I typed that in the third quarter, and the article went up in the fourth quarter. The fun was just beginning!

OKLAHOMA CITY 133, MEMPHIS 123 (in 3 overtimes)

2-point pct: OK City 53%, Memphis 39%
3-pointers: OK City 5/24, Memphis 6/23
1's and 2's: OK City 118, Memphis 105

Rebounds and turnovers were about even. A lot of things have to be about even for a game to go three overtimes!

It always feels like old news when I write up a late finish the next night. Don't want to rehash stuff others have been talking about all day. Let me mention that Russell Westbrook largely kept his "frustration numbers" in check (missed shots, turnovers, personal fouls). They ended up totalling 26, which had been a magic number in losses. But, since it took 63 minutes of game action (of which he played 51 minutes) to get there, that can be forgiven.

I'm not sure yet if he can be forgiven for a sequence that happened in the first overtime. If you were watching the game, you know that Westbrook and Kevin Durant spent some time on different pages again. Durant needed consoling from the coaching staff at one point when he went several minutes without getting any shots. (This was a problem because he was 9 of 20 from the floor against a tough defense, and 16-18 from the free throw line for the game!) TV analyst Mike Fratello mentioned this as it was happening. You could see the fury and resentment in Durant's eyes. He's not the type to yell at a teammate. That's the way Durant yells.

In the final minute of the first overtime, Durant was given the ball in position to create (after he had just hit a three-pointer to give OKC a 105-98 lead, and a two-pointer to give them a 107-101 lead), and turned the ball over on successvie possessions. Memphis specializes in forcing turnovers (Westbook deserves a ton of credit for only losing the ball 3 times in 51 minutes). Durant wasn't as careful as he should have been...not as cognizant as he needed to be of the dangers.

They cut to a close-up of Westbrook...and he was just seething. I was trying to read his lips...and he said something like "that was terrible" under his breath.

THIS IS NOT GOING TO WORK LONG TERM!

Things might work out in the rest of this series. And, even in the next round vs. Dallas if OK City does get past Memphis. Kobe and Shaq stayed married for awhile. But, eventually, Westbrook must focus on the team's needs and not his own (as Charles Barkley has pointed out repeatedly on TNT). He has to be supportive of teammates in times of stress rather than part of what's causing the stress.  

You've seen a lot of Derrick Rose lately. Can you imagine him seething at a teammate with fire in his eyes? The teammate who would score 35 points on 20 shots (1.75 ratio) when he was scoring 40 points on 35 shots (1.14 ratio)? Rose credits his team and coach in interviews and his mother when accepting the MVP. Westbrook plays like he's mad he can't take 40 shots...and don't you dare miss if he throws you the ball because he's going to start taking your shots too if you hit iron.

This is such a tough issue to work through because his positives are dramatic. And, his negatives can partially be blamed on the structure of the offense. Let's keep watching. Volatile ingredients are percolating. The end result is likely to be dramatic one way or the other.

Back late Wednesday with more numbers and notes...

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Chicago, Dallas Take Important Steps

by Jeff Fogle 7. May 2011 01:08

The Chicago Bulls broke serve in dominating fashion Friday night in Atlanta to regain control of their Eastern Conference second round series. The Dallas Mavericks stared adversity in the face, and made adversity blink as they took a commanding (and stunning!) 3-0 series lead over the two-tme defending champion Los Angeles Lakers...

CHICAGO 99, ATLANTA 82
2-point pct: Chicago 46%, Atlanta 50%
3-pointers: Chicago 10/20, Atlanta 1/6
Rebounds: Chicago 47, Atlanta 34
1's and 2's: Chicago 69, Atlanta 79

It's dangerous to draw too many statistical conclusions from a game that features garbage time for this long. Chicago went for the jugular offensively in the first half,with a strong inside/outside mix that basically had everyone scoring at will against a passive defense. Atlanta had few forced turnovers in the first half, few personal fouls called, and few signs that they were treating the game with a sense of urgency.

And, that happened right after Derrick Rose had been hearing for a couple of days that he wasn't being aggressive enough. EXPLOSION! Rose, even though he still wasn't back to lightning speed, just kept driving past Jeff Teague to find that nobody else on the Hawks was very interested in getting in his way. As this was happening Chicago jumped out to an advantage on treys too. They led by as many as eight in the first quarter, and extended the lead to 19 with 2:49 left in the second quarter.

Garbage time started then for all practical purproses. But it was a slow as molasses garbage time with Chicago running clock before shooting...and Atlanta content to play slowly themselves even though they were way behind. There were only 82 possessions in this game according to the expanded boxscore. That's extremely slow, particularly when one team is down by so much. Again, no sense of urgency.

So, the full game stats make it look like Chicago got outplayed inside the arc and won a blowout on treys. If the game was "race to 110" rather than "be ahead after 48 minutes while saving your energy for Sunday"...this probably would have been a boxscore rout in all areas.

Remember to make a mental adjustment for pace when evaluating the Chicago offense. The Bulls scored 99 points in 82 possessions for a stellar 120.7 efficiency rate. And, that's with a quiet 19-point fourth quarter when they were sitting on a lead. Early in the third quarter, John Hollinger of ESPN tweeted that Chicago had complied a 150.0 efficiency mark to that point. That probably best expresses the combination of Chicago's aggressiveness and Atlanta's passiveness. 

I mentioned Rose still wasn't back to full speed. That might sound crazy given his career high 44 points! You could see this on defense though. He can't go well backwards yet, which is what happens as you're recovering from an ankle injury (unfortunately I have experience tearing ankle ligaments while playing basketball, then trying to come back to soon). Teague had 21 points with only 1 turnover himself. Rose can go forward adequately (but not at lightning speed yet). The side to side and backwards stuff will have to wait. But, if he's improving...maybe we'll start to see that in the next game. He's obviously already a dominating offensive force against the passive defense Atlanta put on the floor tonight.

Game Four is Sunday night on TNT. Atlanta has shown all season that they can bounce back from performance that lacked intensity. They won Game Six vs. Orlando after suffering a 25-point blowout in Game Five. That being said, tonight looked a lot more to the naked eye like the series most pundits were expecting before it began. Chicago's the better team. That's not going to change.

DALLAS 98, LA LAKERS 92
2-point pct: Lakers 52%, Dallas 50%
3-pointers: Lakers 3/13, Dallas 12/29
Rebounds: Lakers 37, Dallas 39
Turnovers: Lakers 10, Dallas 12
1's and 2's: Lakers 83, Dallas 62

Wow. The Lakers were up eight at 79-71 with 9:29 left in the game. They had shown up with a legacy to defend, and had dominated Dallas inside (for the night the Lakers would score 36 two-point baskets to just 19 for the Mavs). Crunch time. Kobe time. We've seen this movie before. Two minutes later, it was STILL 79-71. With 7:35 left, there was seemed to be a nervous sense in the arena that the series pendulum was about to swing toward Showtime.

THEN DALLAS WON THE REST OF THE GAME 27-13

That's 27 points in seven and a half minutes. At the heart of that fantastic finish were topics we've been discussing throughout the series:

*Dallas has so many three-point weapons that the Lakers just can't rotate to cover them all. Hitting treys down the stretch were Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovich (2), and Jason Terry. For the game, Dallas had a massive 12-3 edge from behind the arc, meaning 36-9 on the scoreboard. What had been an important edge in the first two games became a category blowout tonight.

*Dallas is getting more production and minutes off the bench, which was an even bigger factor tonight because of Ron Artest's absence. The Lakers starters, playing their third game in five days, ran out of gas defensively at just the wrong time. Remember that Stojakovich and Terry are bench players for Dallas. Dallas won bench scoring 42-15. 

*Kobe Bryant still can't get to the basket (as you can see in the expanded boxscore). He was 1 of 2 tonight at the rim, and 1 of 2 from 3-9 feet. Those are both below regular season norms. And, when something important is on the line, Kobe tends to soar past regular season norms. For the series he's 1 of 3 at the rim (6.9 of 10.5 wold be normal for three games), and 2 of 5 from 3-9 feet (4.5 of 9.3 would be normal for three games).

It was a late finish, so we'll save expanded analysis for another time (if it's needed). Game Four will be Sunday afternoon on ABC. Ron Artest will be back in the lineup and extremely energetic. Will that be enough to help cover the arc for 48 full minutes? Is Kobe getting to the rim just not going to be a part of the series this year? We'll see what happens Sunday afternoon, then talk about it here Sunday night.

Back late Saturday to crunch the numbers from Oklahoma City/Memphis and Miami/Boston. See you then...

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