A Memorable Saturday

by Jeff Fogle 24. April 2011 00:51

In a sense, this was one of the most exciting Saturdays in the history of the NBA playoffs. I'm writing this midway through Oklahoma City/Denver. The three games that are in the books were extremely tense after dramatic comebacks. Ultimately everyone will remember Brandon Roy's stupendous fourth quarter heroics because Portland's come-from-behind efforts made it the distance. But...even with all the excitement...man that was some ugly basketball!

The last second nature of the first three games had me thinking back to that huge college basketball day in March of 1981 Some consider it the day that "March Madness" was born as a true TV showcase because US Reed hit a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to lead Arkansas over Louisville (a game in Austin I was lucky enough to attend in person as a college student, with 5th row seats back when it was easy to just order great seats!), Rolando Blackman hit a buzzer shot to lead Kansas State over top seeded Oregon State, and Mark Aguirre's DePaul squad lost at the buzzer to St. Joseph's. Wanted to make sure my memory was right on the teams. Here's a link with a few more details.

Chicago/Indiana was a thriller in the final moments. Portland/Dallas was too. San Antonio/Memphis made it a perfect three for three. No buzzer conversions. But, edge of the seat drama that captured the intensity of playoff basketball.

Except...

*Indiana was AWFUL in the final few minutes, blowing a 16-point lead with 4:16 to go and a 13-point lead at the two-minute mark. Indiana was outscored 18-3 to finish the game.

*Dallas just disappeared in the last 13 minutes of action, blowing a 23-point lead with 1:15 left in the third quarter, and a 10-point lead with 3:32 left in the game. Dallas was outscored 14-2 at the finish.

*Memphis didn't quite make it to the same stratosphere in terms of lead margin. But, they were up by 11 with 1:15 left in the third quarter before surviving a nailbiter finish.

If you're a glass-half-full guy, you focus on the heroic comebacks and whoever converted baskets in the final seconds. If you're a glass-half-empty guy, you've been yelling "CHOKERS!" at your TV set all day. If you're a stat guy, you marvel at the fact that:

*Chicago rallied from way down in a game where they would end up shooting 38% from the field, and 3 of 20 on three-pointers.  How can you rally from that far behind when you can't make any shots?!

*Portland rallied from way down in a game where they would end up shooting 42% from the field and 4 of 19 on three-pointers. Portland's offense was so bad they scored 11 points in the first quarter and needed a late trey to finish with 14 in the third quarter!

*San Antonio rallied from double digits down in a game where they would end up shooting 41% from the field and only 2 of 15 on three-pointers.

That's 9 of 54 from long range for the teams making valiant comebacks! What???

Like a good dream and a bad dream all rolled into one.

Oklahoma City/Denver will finish too late to comment on this evening. Here are some notes from the earlier starts.

INDIANA 89, CHICAGO 84
2-point pct: Chicago 45%, Indiana 41%
3-point shooting: Chicago 3/20, Indiana 5/16
Free Throws: Chicago 19/24, Indiana 22/34
Turnovers:  Chicago 13, Indiana 11

Chicago started out flat, and never really got rolling until the last two minutes. Derrick Rose struggled, then sprained an ankle. He did come back, but played with a little limp most of the way. He kind of walked off the court after the game like a young Fred Sanford. The impact this had on the game was most clear at the free throw line.

ROSE'S FREE THROWS
Game One: 19 of 21
Game Two: 12 of 13
Game Three: 13 of 15
Game Four: 2 of 4

He couldn't attack the basket in his normal fashion. His free throws are a big part of the Chicago offense right now. If you subtract those points from the final scoreboards, Chicago scores 85, 83, 75, and 82. That's an average of 81.3 and midpoints of 82-83 for the Bulls outside of Rose at the charity stripe. Consistent, but not good enough if Rose can't add about dozen extra points.

Chicago has now lost the turnover category in all four games. They haven't lost rebounding yet, but it was close in Indiana (88-87 in two games). They haven't reached 40% shooting from the field since Game One (39%, 39%, 38% the last three games).

There's plenty of time to get things figured out on the offensive end in terms of playing championship basketball. But, the main attack is still launching Rose into a lion's den to get mauled. It's taking its toll already on the smallest player on the floor.

PORTLAND 84, DALLAS 82
2-point pct: Dallas 42%, Portland 50%
3-point shooting: Dallas 10/26, Portland 4/19
Free Throws: Dallas 10/10, Portland 22/23
Turnovers: Dallas 14, Portland 10

Dallas built a big lead thanks to defense and jump shots. That was working great for almost three full quarters. They were doing well on three-pointers again until a ton of late misses. When things went south though, they couldn't pick up any points at the free throw line because they just weren't attacking the basket enough. Dirk Nowitzki fell in love with his "schaden-fade" jumper (because it makes opponents trying to guard it miserable). It stopped falling. A few miscues led to easy Portland points (Blazers win fast break points 12-0 and points off turnovers 16-4). Suddenly, Brandon Roy was telling reporters about a 2-2 series instead of Jason Kidd telling reporters about a 3-1 series.

Here's a list of Dallas' offensive possessions in the fourth quarter:
Terry bad pass (leads to Portland layup)
Barea misses 3-pointer
Stojakovic MAKES a 19-footer
Terry MAKES a 16-footer
Terry MAKES two free throws
Nowitzki turnover (leads to shooting foul and 2 Portland FT's)
Kidd misses 3-pointer
Nowitzki misses 19-footer
Nowitzki MAKES a 10-footer
Stevenson misses 3-pointer
Stojakovic misses 3-pointer

(We're at the 6-minute mark now, 6 of the first 7 shots of the quarter were at 16 feet or longer)

Nowitzki has shot blocked
Nowitzki MAKES two free throws
Chandler misses 6-footer
Terry misses 19-footer
Terry MAKES three-pointer
Terry misses 17-footer
Nowitzki offensive foul
Kidd turnover
Marion makes short jumper
Terry misses 3-pointer
Kidd misses 3-pointer (almost shattering glass)
Terry misses 3-pointer at buzzer

There was more inside in the final minutes, but still five additional shots of 17 feet or more before the desperation trey at the buzzer.

Stunning.

MEMPHIS 91, SAN ANTONIO 88
2-point pct: San Antonio 48%, Memphis 43%
3-point shooting: San Antonio 2/15, Memphis 4/11
Free Throws: San Antonio 24/32, Memphis 21/29
Turnovers: San Antonio 13, Memphis 10

I thought coming into the series that Memphis was going to have trouble matching up behind the arc. San Antonio was averaging 8.4 treys per game in the regular season. Memphis only made 3.8. Yes, Memphis was great at forcing turnovers. Would that be enough to make up for about a dozen points a game? Probably not, against a team with ballhandlers.

Well, it hasn't been a dozen points a game!

Made Treys thus far: San Antonio 15, Memphis 13

That's just two points per game over three games. Turnovers have been almost a dead heat (41-40 favoring Memphis). Actually, the total scoreboard is a dead heat!

Total Score: Memphis 279, San Antonio 279

The Grizzlies have done more in the final moments in two of three games, and that's why they're up 2-1. San Antonio needs to lift its game, and needs to do so quick if they want to get out of the first round.

Back Sunday with notes on OKC/Denver and the Sunday Slam.

PS:
Should I lobby to officially name Dirk's fallaway the "schaden-fade?" He kept shooting the shot today, so I tried to think up a name for it that would work. How many German words do American's know? "Schadenfreude" jumped out. Had to google it to make sure I had the definition right. Hey, "schaden" means "misery." That works! This shot makes opponents miserable when it goes in. Missing it makes Mavericks fans miserable because Dirk isn't going to draw many fouls when he's moving away from contact.

So, for five minutes I thought I had a breakthrough term. Sure, I waited too long to suggest "Snooki-Rana" after seeing Wrestlemania clips of her tumbling run (and it's not really a rana anyway). But, "Schaden-fade" was going to work!

Except, if you say it out loud it starts to sound like "shake-n-bake" which is slang for a dribbling move. And, who the heck is going to know that "schaden" means misery except Germans? And, even "schadenfreude" is one of those terms you may hear tossed around, but not that many people know what it means.

So close...

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Portland Grabs Sixth, Bynum Grabs Knee

by Jeff Fogle 13. April 2011 00:44

Just as Portland answered a question about the NBA Western Conference playoffs with a relatively easy 102-89 win over Memphis, new ones were raised when injury-plagued Andrew Bynum of the LA Lakers went down with a hyperextended knee against San Antonio.

Bynum won't make the trip to Sacramento Wednesday for the Lakers' season finale against the Kings. You will probably know more about his status for the playoffs when you read this than I do as I write it.

Memphis made it clear that Portland was a low priority game for them when they sat Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. Here's how the bottom of the Western totem poll looks at the moment:

6...Portland 48-33 (locked in)
7...New Orleans 46-35 (at Dallas Wednesday)
8...Memphis 46-35 (at LA Clippers Wednesday)

New Orleans owns the tie-breaker with Memphis because of a better divisional record. New Orleans is 9-6 in the Southwest Division pending their trip to Dallas. Memphis finished 8-8 in the Southwest Division. The teams split four regular season meetings against each other.

The Lakers game Tuesday night started even later than scheduled, which means it will end too late for expanded commentary. Should the now shorthanded Lakers lose in Sacramento Wednesday night, they can't be the #2 seed unless Dallas loses at home to New Orleans. LA owns tie-breakers if there's a knot at 56-26 or 57-25.

Let's make a note of this now. On TNT this evening Charles Barkley said the Los Angeles Lakers will NOT win the championship this year. Sir Charles isn't right about everything of course. But, he carries on Al Maguire's legacy of sensing from the basketball bloodstream what everyone else's brain hasn't fully registered yet. His instincts were right about 10 of 11 Big East teams (the 10 who didn't have a dynamic scorer who could take over a game)...as they were about Arizona at halftime of the Duke game during the NCAA tournament.

This was before Andrew Bynum hyperextended his knee.  Barkley emphasized after the injury that the Lakers won't win the championship with or without Bynum. Considering the game was tied 45-all at the half, and San Antonio was sitting Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, it was hard to argue.

Earlier in the evening, Chicago beat New York 103-90. Amare Stoudemire missed the game for New York, so it's dangerous trying to draw any conclusions from the result. Chicago kind of treaded water for a half...went on a 26-2 run to start the third quarter...then treaded water the rest of the game. During that 26-2 run, it was hard to imagine anyone threatening the Bulls until the Eastern Conference finals.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the "Rose for MVP" discussion since that's working its way toward conclusion. I'm wondering if the side you take in that debate comes down to how you watch the game.

*If you watch the ball, you see an extremely busy Rose on offense, and opponents that keep running into trouble against the Bulls' great defense.

*If you watch the schematics, you see perfect spacing on both sides of the floor, with intelligent play and hustle from everyone on the Bulls. The defense is beautiful to watch when they're really tightening the screws (like during that 26-2 run). Team rebounding approaches art. Chicago is 2nd in the league in defensive rebounding rate, and 3rd in offensive rebound rate (you can sort on either category here).

Looking at the ball makes it appear like Rose is badly outplaying whoever has the ball for the other team...hence he's an MVP if you've zoomed in. Pulling back and looking at the overall flow of the bodies makes Rose seem like a much smaller component. He barely registers defensively, or on the boards. On offense, he's doing what most point guards do...penetrating to either score or kick out to teammates positioned to catch and shoot...except he's much more adept at scoring and drawing fouls than other point guards.

So, best point guard in the NBA? Yes! MVP of the whole league? Rose's dynamism with the ball makes him seem like an MVP if that's where you're focused. Chicago's "beautiful game" as a team makes him seem like a component part who isn't that big a deal in their areas of strength (littlest guy on the best defense in the league, and the best rebounding team in the league).

Switch the conversation to Dwight Howard...and you're looking at a force of nature on defense (Defensive Player of the Year on the league's 3rd best defense) and on the boards (dominant rebounder on the league's 2nd best rebounding team). He's not very graceful with the ball though.

I'm okay with giving Rose some points for leadership. It's not like he's playing on a team of goof-offs though. And, he didn't design the schematics that have provided success for the head coach and main assistant wherever they've been.

Oh, wanted to mention this for awhile. You get the sense from players that it's CHAMPIONSHIPS right now that matter most to everyone's legacy. In interviews, it's like great players are saying "Why are you asking me about the MVP? It's CHAMPIONSHIPS that matter." Great sign for the league I think that stars are focued on rings (including Rose, who made that clear in his postgame interview on TNT). Would the sports world be a better place without MVP awards?

Back late Wednesday to tie up the lose ends in the Western brackets...

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