Randolph Returns, Durant Disappears!

by Jeff Fogle 14. May 2011 00:36

At halftime of Friday night's Oklahoma City Thunder/Memphis Grizzlies playoff game, the visitor held a 54-44 lead...and was 24 minutes away from advancing to the Western Conference finals against Dallas. I started writing my OKC/Dallas series preview because that's got to go up some time Saturday if they play Sunday. HA! Memphis had something else in mind, and stormed to a stunning 51-29 second half slaughter on the broad back of suddenly resurgent Zach Randolph.

Before Randolph found that second wind (though it might be a fifth wind given the grueling nature of this series), there seemed to be little hope for a Memphis rally. They had no zip in their 99-72 Game Five loss Wednesday. There was a point in the first half tonight which strongly suggested the tank wasn't going to be refilled.

I jotted down these numbers at one point in the second quarter on my legal pad:
Oklahoma City 10 of 15 on two-pointers (67%)
Memphis 10 of 31 on two-pointers (32%)

Oklahoma City was getting good shots and making them. Memphis still didn't have their legs back. Even short shots were hitting the front of the rim, or were off line, or had a flatter arc than needed. Whatever had been containing Randolph over the past few games (great defense, his own fatigue) was still working. The series seemed over.

At various times during the playoffs I've been watching the telecasts with the volume down. Writing something...dishwasher's running...whatever. The advantage of that is that your eye tends to catch when a team's energy level changes. For some teams, that's on defense. They just stop rotating or challenging drives to the bucket. For others, you see it with half-hearted offensive possessions and jump shots that fall short. It was clear in the third quarter that Oklahoma City lost their legs.

Memphis never found their legs when losing Game Five 99-72...immediately on the heels of a heartbreaking triple overtime loss a game earlier. Either OKC finally ran out of gas themselves in the second half tonight. Or, they started thinking about Dallas and lost the focus they needed to hustle all over the court. Regardless...

*Randolph would become unstoppable in the second half for Memphis. He was 7 of 13 from the floor, and picked up six more points from the free throw line to finish with 20 points in the last two quarters, and 30 for the game.

*Memphis as a team was 21 of 36 on two-pointers after the time I jotted down their poor start. Several other players took turns attacking the basket, which is characteristic of this team when it's clicking. 

*Oklahoma City suddenly stopped attacking, and settled for ill-advised three-point attempts. The Thunder were 4 of 25 from behind the arc on the night. In the three games in Memphis, the Thunder shot 4/21, 5/24, and 4/25 from long range (13/70 total). That's two overtime games, and possibly this delayed reaction fatigue spot suggesting that the Thunder must resist the urge to cross their fingers on treys when they get tired.

*Perhaps the most telling stat of the whole night, Kevin Durant only took FIVE two point shots in 37 minutes of playing time! He was 1 of 9 from behind the arc, 2 of 5 inside. This was either HORRIBLE decision-making, or the actions of a very tired player. For the series...

DURANT'S SHOT DISTRUBUTION
Game One: 16 two-point attempts, 5 trey attempts
Game Two: 16 two-point attempts, 2 trey attempts
Game Three: 17 two-point atempts, 7 trey attempts
Game Four: 14 two-point attempts, 6 trey attempts
Game Five: 10 two-point attempts, 4 trey attempts
Game Six: 5 two-point attempts, 9 trey attempts

Signs suggest he first started tiring in Game Three, the first overtime battle. Durant was 2 of 7 on treys in that game, and is 5 of 26 on treys in Games 3-6. Unless he sprained an ankle in practice and isn't telling anyone, the numbers above are showing you fatigue.  

And, THAT'S how you get a 51-29 second half. Randolph bullying a tired defense. No counterpunches from the fading foe.

MEMPHIS 95, OKLAHOMA CITY 83
2-point pct: OKC 55%, Memphis 46%
3-pointers: OKC 4/25, Memphis 5/16
Turnovers: OKC 16, Memphis 11
1's and 2's: OKC 71, Memphis 80

Oklahoma City had a strong night on deuces because of the hot start. When things went south, they reverted to three's...which means the two's didn't have much of a chance to slump in the final numbers you see above.

Other notes:

*In its victories, Memphis has won 1's and 2's by scores of 105-83, 92-81, and 80-71. Oklahoma City is plus +16 on 1's and 2's in its three wins.

*In its victories, Memphis has won turnovers by margins of 7-18, 9-13, and 11-16. Oklahoma City has neutralized turnovers in its wins.

*In its victories, Memphis is +5 in rebounds. Oklahoma City is +12 in rebounds when they win.

*Even though Durant played poorly tonight, he still had a plus/minus of -2 in a 12-point loss. Russell Westbrook had solid numbers and maintained his composure. But, the Thunder were a stunning -19 with him on the court. Each guy played 37 minutes. Since Westbrook isn't in charge of guarding Randolph, it's hard to pin that big a negative on him. He was on the floor when the gas tank hit "E." He didn't drive the car into a tree.

What's a best expectation for Game Seven? Who's going to have their legs?! Its been a grueling series. And that's an afternoon game which means less preparation and rest time. If Durant plays like he did tonight, OKC is in trouble even with home court advantage. If Randolph plays like he did tonight, same thing. We've seen so much ebb and flow in this entertaining matchup that there may be at least two zigs and one zag left.

No games scheduled Saturday. Planning to post a series preview for Miami/Chicago before bedtime Saturday evening. Sunday night we'll look at numbers and notes from Game Seven in Memphis/OKC, and Game One of Miami/Chicago.

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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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Memphis, Miami Draw First Blood

by Jeff Fogle 1. May 2011 20:02

When LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach, many in the league imagined a team that would be very strong on both sides of the court. They would fly at the basket and score at will. They would guard with a passion. They would impose their physical will on opponents and nobody could do anthing about it. That's what we saw on the first day of second round action in the NBA playoffs. Except, we saw it from the Memphis Grizzlies!

Hey, Miami played great too. We'll talk about them in a second. But, the jaw dropper of the day came in the early game...when the Memphis Grizzlies simply manhandled the favored Oklahoma City Thunder. You don't often use the phrase "men against boys" in the NBA. And, we may not see anything quite like this again the rest of the way. But, for 48 minutes on the first Sunday of May, the Memphis Grizzlies pushed, and shoved, and bullied their way to shockingly easy 114-101 road victory.

MEMPHIS 114, OKLAHOMA CITY 101
2-point pct: Memphis 51%, Oklahoma City 45%
3-pointers: Memphis 3/8, Oklahoma City 6/14
Rebounds: Memphis 45, Oklahoma City 42
Turnovers: Memphis 7, Oklahoma City 18
1's and 2's: Memphis 105, Oklahoma City 83

Memphis became the first team in the playoffs this year to top the century mark on 1's and 2's. They were a force inside, the likes of which we haven't seen yet (except from them in the first round!). OKC just seemed to bounce off of them and fall by the wayside whenever Memphis needed a basket. Or, worse, Memphis passed the ball around well beore finding a guy all alone underneath the hoop for a dunk or lay-in.

BEST "1'S AND 2'S" TOTALS THIS YEAR IN PLAYOFFS
Memphis 105 today vs. Oklahoma City
New Orleans 97 in Game 1 vs. the Lakers (Paul's masterpiece)
Memphis 96 in Game 6 vs. San Antonio
Memphis 94 in Game 5 vs. San Antonio
Boston 92 in Game 4 vs. New York
Denver 91 in Game 1 vs. Oklahoma City

Memphis shows up three times on that list, sandwiched around Chris Paul's huge series opener in LA when the Lakers played some of the most passive defense ever recorded (3 forced turnovers). Boston is on this list against shorthanded New York after the Knicks gave up. Oklahoma City shows up defensively in that awful first game performance in the paint vs. Denver that they were able to salvage late.

It's good news for OKC that they recovered from that debacle to win the series. But, Memphis is much more physical than Denver...and, unlike the Nuggets they have a plan late in close games. The right word may be "relentless." Memphis just keeps pushing its way toward the basket daring anyone to deny them.

What was so interesting today wasn't just the bullying on offense. Memphis continued to show the value of forcing turnovers on defense. We've talked about this since first noting their off-the-charts excellence during the regular season. If you watched the game, you saw several strip steals and guys constantly darting into passing lanes. Memphis won the stat 18-7, meaning they had 11 fewer wasted possessions. You can do a lot of damage with extra opportunities when you've got bullies in the paint.

I'm trying to find the right metaphor. Maybe the Green Bay Packers offense from the Vince Lombardi era...and last year's New York Jets defense...all rolled into one basketball team. Brute force on offense, and a disruptive defense that takes the ball away.

Now, a team like that is a good bet to win a championship. But, it's tough to say right now that Memphis is truly that team. Oklahoma City made them LOOK that good today.

Bouncing back in the series doesn't involve any mysteries. The Thunder have to get tougher inside (which they did vs. Denver). Russell Westbrook has to get over his Kobe complex and stop trying to force everything before getting frustrated at the drop of a hat.

GETTING TOUGHER INSIDE VS. DENVER
Game One: 57% allowed on 2-pointers
Game Two: 38% allowed on 2-pointers
Game Three: 42% allowed on 2-pointers
Game Four: 36% allowed on 2-pointers
Game five: 47% allowed on 2-pointers

That was three stellar games in a row after the soft performance they survived in the series opener. OKC started to slack back off in Game Five, but that was okay because they outrebounded Denver 35-4 in the defensive zone that night. Today, they only outrebounded Memphis 26-17 in the defensive zone. Awful.

Westbrook's patience? Let's create a "patience index" for him and see what develops. For now, I'll add missed shots, turnovers, and personal fouls, because those things seem to follow him around when he gets frustrated.

WESTBROOK'S "PATIENCE INDEX"
Game One Denver: 18
Game Two Denver: 21
Game Three Denver: 15
Game Four Denver: 26 (loss)
Game Five Denver: 18
Game One Memphis: 26 (loss)

Obviously mid 20's is awful. And, it's hard to be impressed with some of those others even though OKC was winning. Westbrook hasn't topped 40% from the floor since Game One. And, he's got a "Shoot first, tell me what a great scorer Kevin Durant is later" mentality at the moment...which is a big problem if you're not breaking 40% from the floor!

Game Two is Tuesday night in Oklahoma City. After the service break, the ball is clearly in the Thunder's court.

MIAMI 99, BOSTON 90

2-point pct: Boston 39%, Miami 47%
3-pointers: Boston 12/24, Miami 9/19
Rebounds: Boston 39, Miami 39
Turnovers: Boston 13, Miami 16
1's and 2's: Boston 54, Miami 72

Odd game. It's dangerous to draw conclusions from odd games. Both teams shot lights out from long range in a way that's not likely to be replicated often. Both teams will probably do that at least once more. But, you don't know when and where it's going to happen. Yes, Ray Allen is a majestic shooter. But, if he could lead the team to 12 of 24 on command he'd do it every game. James Jones of Miami going 5 of 7 on the way to 25 points? Talk about a wildcard hitting the deck.

Let's give both teams 7 treys today and see what it does to the score. That would make it Miami 93, Boston 75...with the edge triggered by Dywane Wade's huge performance (12 of 16 on two-point shots), and a big edge in free throws. Didn't run those earlier. Let me fix that now.

Free Throws
: Boston 14/18, Miami 26/32

Is that a fair assessment of expectations going forward. Miami controls the fundamentals and Boston has to hit a bunch of treys just to stay in the game? NO!

Rajon Rondo only played 8 minutes of the first half because he got into foul trouble (3 fouls in those 8 minutes). Boston dug a hole in his absence. Rondo played all 24 minutes of the second half, and earned a plus/minus of +7 for the game.

So, Boston won by 7 Sunday with Rondo on the floor.

I read a lot of previews in various places for this series. Everyone was saying the same general things regardless of whether they picked Boston or Miami. This game doesn't really change anything. Boston fans can take solace in the fact that Rondo will get more minutes from now on, and Jones probably isn't Robert Horry just yet. Miami fans can be happy that they won despite LeBron James and Chris Bosh having sub-par games (the two were 11 of 30 from the floor).

Miami draws first blood. But, it many ways, it doesn't feel like the series has even started yet. Chapter One introduced a few red herrings.

Back late Monday night as the second round continues...

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Griz Join Mavs in West Final 4

by Jeff Fogle 30. April 2011 00:07

The Memphis Grizzlies continued their superior play Friday night and finished off a stunning upset of #1 Western seed San Antonio. Late Thursday Night, the Dallas Mavericks preceded them into the Western Final Four with an impressive victory in Portland. Let's crunch the numbers from the last two games of the opening round...

We'll take the games in the order they finished...

DALLAS 103, PORTLAND 96
2-Point Pct: Dallas 55%, Portland 52%
3-Pointers: Dallas 6/18, Portland 5/21
Rebounds: Dallas 39, Portland 41
Turnovers: Dallas 9, Portland 7
1's and 2's: Dallas 85, Portland 81

You'll recall from the beginning of the series that Dallas was concerned about committing turnovers...and letting Portland get too many cheap baskets off those turnovers. The Mavs only had 9 giveaways here, and only dropped fast break points 10-9 (second best performance in the series in that stat).

If Portland isn't getting cheapies...and they can't stop Dirk Nowitzki from scoring...the equation pretty clearly swings in the Dallas direction! Dirk would finish with a plus/minus of +12 in this game with a true leadership performance. He would end with the best plus/minus in the series for the Mavs at +41 (Terry was next at +40, with Kidd at +38 by my count). 

Outside of one horrible quarter last weekend, Dallas mainted a very steady control of this series. It's kind of amazing how consistent it was, particularly since many analysts saw Portland as having the better form coming into the matchup (Dallas had a string of late season losses to playoff caliber teams).

We mentioned the other day that Dallas basically had a "standardized" win that equated to 93-84 over the first 19 quarters in the series that weren't the 35-15 Brandon Roy debacle. The 93-82 win at home in Game Five was a microcosm (11 points rather than 9 in terms of victory margin). Move to Portland, and Dallas was doing the same things adjusted for home floor differential. The Mavs in fact led 91-85 with four minutes to go in a game that saw better combined shooting and fewer combined turnovers than prior games (highest scoring game of the series, best two-point shooting of the series, fewest turnovers of the series). The same relative margin distance that we'd seen the whole way ended with a 103-96 Dallas road victory.

Regular Season Margins: Dallas +4.2, Portland +1.5

That's +2.7 for the Mavericks on a neutral court if you accept the 82-game numbers at face value and don't adjust for late regular season form. That would mean 6 to 7-point wins in Dallas or the Mavs if you allot 3-4 points for home court, and toss-ups in Portland (the prediction markets, by the way, saw these teams as even, generally giving 4-5 points for home court).

Dallas was even better than the regular season differentials had suggested. The Mavs would win their home games by 8, 12, and 11 points, then finish with exact scoreboard equality in Portland. The final average margin in the series was +5.2.

In terms of holding a consistent advantage, Dallas did to Portland what everyone was expecting Chicago to do to Indiana, or Miami to Philadelphia.

MEDIANS (margins listed from worst to best)
Dallas: (-5), (-2), 7, 8, 11, 12 (median 7.5)
Miami: (-4), 6, 6, 8, 21 (median 6)
Chicago: (-5), 4, 5, 6, 27 (median 5)

Miami and Chicago did a lot of late-game grinding, but did score one big blowout apiece. Dallas had stability at a higher level outside of an extreme outlier quarter.

If you're wondering what the other series looked like in median form...

LA Lakers: (-9), (-5), 9, 9, 14, 16 (median 11.5)
Boston: 2, 3, 12, 17 (median 7.5 vs. injured opponent)
Oklahoma City: (-3), 3, 3, 4, 17 (median 3)
Atlanta: (-25), (-6), 3, 3, 4, 10 (median 3)
Memphis: (-6), 0, 3, 3, 8, 18 (median 3)

I used 0 for the overtime game to keep everyone at 48-minute samples.

Quick note that medians are generally better for telling you what a "typical" game is in a series than averages are. An outlier game can warp an average in a short sample size. Medians are less warpable. In this less warpable stat, Dallas reallly shines. Finishing off the first round...

MEMPHIS 99, SAN ANTONIO 91
2-Point Pct: San Antonio 51%, Memphis 58%
3-Pointers: San Antonio 5/22, Memphis 1/9
Rebounds: San Antonio 32, Memphis 43
Turnovers: San Antonio 11, Memphis 13
1's and 2's: San Antonio 76, Memphis 96

Memphis established in Game One that they were the better team right now in terms of "playoff style" basketball. San Antonio couldn't do anything to convince them otherwise! It was amazing to see game after game. The #8 seed showing sounder fundamentals...patiently working for baskets inside...and generally outplaying the conference's top seed.

Here are the game-by-game scores looking only at 1's and 2's...

SCORING ON 1'S AND 2'S
Game One: Memphis 83, San Antonio 80
Game Two: Memphis 78, San Antonio 72
Game Three: Memphis 79, San Antonio 82 (only Spurs edge)
Game Four: Memphis 89, San Antonio 71
Game Five: Memphis 94, San Antonio 89
Game Six: Memphis 96, San Antonio 76

Even with Tim Duncan at the post, slasher Manu Ginobili able to play five of the six games, and healthy Tony Parker still able to penetrate...the Spurs couldn't match up with what Memphis brought to the table inside the arc. As the series wore on, San Antonio wore down inside. Memphis was a stunning +43 points over the last three games inside the arc.

That meant the Spurs would have to make a lot of treys to advance. That wasn't supposed to be a problem because they averaged 8.4 per game during the regular season. They wouldn't reach that season average a single time. 

MADE THREE POINTERS
Game One: San Antonio 6, Memphis 6
Game Two: San Antonio 7, Memphis 3
Game Three: San Antonio 2, Memphis 4
Game Four: San Antonio 5, Memphis 5
Game Five: San Antonio 7, Memphis 3
Game Six: San Antonio 5, Memphis 1

The two times San Antonio made seven treys, they won the game. Not enough otherwise.

SAN ANTONIO'S TREY PERCENTAGES
In wins: 12 of 39 (30.7%, 46.2% equivalent)
In losses: 18 of 70 (25.7%, 38.6% equivalent)

Amazing that Memphis can have such a strong inside presence while also guarding the arc so well. And, as we mentioned before the series started, Memphis was best in the league at forcing turnovers.

Let's check the regular season margin averages for a sense of the scope of this upset. San Antonio was +5.7, Memphis was +2.3. That's +3.4 points on a neutral court. Through six evenly distributed games in terms of home floor, Memphis ended with an average playof margin of +4.3 at the end of regulation. They more than reversed the regular season differential.

Back late Saturday with a stat preview of the Boston-Miami series that starts Sunday. Will also do stat previews for the other matchups before they get started...Atlanta/Chicago, Dallas/Lakers, and Memphis/Oklahoma City.

You know, to keep his karma going, Mark Cuban should really post a comment in the Dallas-Lakers preview...

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Spurs Survive...Sixers, Nuggets Don't

by Jeff Fogle 28. April 2011 00:45

What a night! San Antonio needed a near-miracle to stay alive in their first round series with Memphis...and GOT that near-miracle with a 3-pointer at the buzzer when Memphis failed to fully protect the arc. Miami blew most of another 10-point late lead by failing to make field goals down the stretch before finishing off Philadelphia. And, in the Wednesday nightcap, Oklahoma City rallied from a late deficit and dodged a buzzer trey from Denver to wrap up their series.

Let's take them in the order they finished, since that's the order I wrote down notes!

MIAMI 97, PHILADELPHIA 91
2-point Pct: Philadelphia 51%, Miami 40%
3-point Shooting: Philadelphia 2/10, Miami 12/30
Rebounds: Philadelphia 41, Miami 47
Turnovers: Philadelphia 7, Miami 10
1's and 2's: Philadelphia 85, Miami 61

Miami finally had a big game from behind the arc (4-3-4-5-12 in the series), but they really fell apart in several other areas.

*Miami allowed 51% on two-point shots, their worst performance in the series by a mile (42-32-44-39-51).

*Miami was outscored by a whopping 24 points on 1's and 2's. This after winning that category in the first four games by 17, 30, 21, and 5.

*Miami only forced 7 turnovers, continuing a theme of trying to grab misses rather than take the ball away (8-12-6-13-7 takeways in the series).

*Miami scored a field goal at 5:11 of the fourth quarter. Then, they didn't make another field goal until Dwyane Wade ran in for a dunk rather than running out the clock when Philly had conceded in the final seconds. The Heat did pick up late points at the free throw line. But, they saw an 86-76 lead at the 5:11 mark turn into 90-89 and 92-91 before pulling out the win.

After three games, Miami looked like championship material except for their late game tendencies. Now, not so much! I think I mentioned the other day that they played over the weekend like they were hoping half-speed would be enough to get the job done. Tonight, it was more like three-quarter speed given the soft internal defense and the lack of takeaways.

The good news is that they finally made some treys. The upside is very high if and when everything clicks at once. The regression in 1's and 2's was startling though. We've got a lot to get to tonight, so I'll try to put together some notes on that for a Boston-Miami series preview in a few days.

SAN ANTONIO 110, MEMPHIS 103
(in overtime)
2-point Pct: Memphis 49%, San Antonio 51%
3-point Shooting: Memphis 3/10, San Antonio 7/22
Rebounds: Memphis 50, San Antonio 45
Turnovers: Memphis 16, San Antonio 15
1's and 2's: Memphis 94, San Antonio 89

It ain't over til it's over. Memphis learned that the hard way tonight. Their announcers were pleading with them to flood the 3-point zone to deny shots. I'm sure there are pundits out there who say they should have tried to force a short pass and then foul on contact. San Antonio's buzzer shot to force overtime will no doubt be replayed all day Thursday, and discussed in depth on the competetitive banter shows. We focus on data here, so I'll stick with numbers for now.

*Memphis has done an amazing job on 1's and 2's for an inexperienced #8 seed facing the Spurs. If the series was based only on 1's and 2's, they'd have won 4-1 already. Scores have been 83-80, 78-72, and 94-89 in favor of Memphis in the three games in San Antonio! 

*San Antonio didn't do enough on treys until making the buzzer shot to counteract their other weaknesses. They've gone from averaging 8.4 treys per game to sinking 6-7-2-5-7 in this series. I guess it's clear now but it seems worth repeating that San Antonio just isn't anything special when they're not making a lot of treys.

*Depth is going to be important in Game Six. There's a quick turnaround with a Friday Night rematch.

For Memphis tonight:
Randolph: 44 minutes
Conley: 43 minutes
Gasol: 42 minutes

For San Antonio tonight:
Parker: 44 minutes
Ginobili: 42 minutes
Duncan: 40 minutes

If the Memphis crowd brings "6th man" energy, that could be a difference-maker. But, if the Grizzlies are in a state of shock after blowing a win they were already celebrating on the sidelines...these next two games could get away from them quickly.

Amazing the twists and turns so far in the Western brackets. That brings us to the Wednesday finale that had twists and turns in the final minutes before Oklahoma City finished on top.

OKLAHOMA CITY 100, DENVER 97
2-point Pct: Denver 47%, OKC 41%
3-point Shooting: Denver 8/18, OKC 6/24
Free Throws: Denver 17/21, OKC 34/42
Rebounds: Denver 38, OKC 51
Turnovers: Denver 18, OKC 14
1's and 2's: Denver 73, OKC 82

Denver led most of the night because of superior shooting. But, the Thunder would ultimately come back almost on the sheer force of their energy.

OKC won:
*Free Throws by +17 in makes and +21 in attempts, meaning they were being very aggressive in attacking the basket.

*Rebounds by 13, including a 16-4 edge in offensive rebounds. So, OKC wasn't just attacking the basket, they were attacking the boards.

*Turnovers, with a whopping 18 forced against a Denver team that had committed just 11-11-12-8 in the prior four games.

*1's and 2's, making it four straight games where the Thunder won that category. You don't have to worry about "live by the three, die by the three" if you're consistently excelling inside the arc.

Probably the most important stats are these though:

*Russell Westbook was 3 of 15 from the field, continuing his distressing tendency to keep forcing up shots when they're not falling...on a team that has other scoring options.

*Kevin Durant scored 16 of the last 20 points in the game, basically telling Westbrook "GET OUT OF MY WAY SO I CAN WITH THIS SERIES FOR US!"

I talked yesterday about the potential influences that growing up in Kobe Bryant country had on Westbrook. Saw some other stories out there today about Westbrook's desire to be an alpha dog (including this one at Hardwood Paroxysm featured today at Henry Abbott's TrueHoop). This could have been a very important night for the immediate playoff future of the Thunder in terms of establishing the star hierarchy. Or, it could be a game that makes Westbrook say "Oh, yeah, watch what I can do" in a way that messes things up...the way things were messed up for about seven quarters before Durant's late explosion. Feel like we're jamming in a lot of topics on such a busy night. More on that when it's time to preview OKC vs. the winner of Memphis/San Antonio in the next round.

As promised notes on the late Tuesday finisher...

LA LAKERS 106, NEW ORLEANS 90
2-point Pct: New Orleans 50%, Lakers 53%
3-point Shooting: New Orleans 10/21, Lakers 7/18
Rebounds: New Orleans 25, Lakers 42
Turnovers: New Orleans 17, Lakers 15
1's and 2's: New Orleans 60, Lakers 85

The Lakers demolished New Orleans inside, winning rebounds by 17 and scoring on 1's and 2's by 25 points. You'd think this would be something they could do more consistently with their size and playoff experience edges in the paint. Remember when the Lakers only forced 3 turnovers on this court in the series opener? They've forced 16 and 17 the other two times in Staples.

The Lakers make it look so easy when things are going well. The mystery is why that's happened so rarely the past few weeks. Something else to discuss when the schedule dwindles and we have more time to go in depth with the contenders.

Back late Thursday...

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