NBA Four Quarters (12/9/16)
Game of the Week | Boston-106 @ Houston-107
The story of Monday night was justifiably all about Klay Thompson's 60-point game, but the game of the night featured two of the upper echelon teams in each conference – Boston and Houston. From tip to horn, the action was back and forth featuring an abundance of three-pointers and small, skilled lineups. Both teams scored at almost exactly the same efficiency overall, in the half-court, and in transition, with the major difference being the distribution, which swung heavily in Houston's favor – a consequence of the key to victory for the Rockets: the free throw line. Thanks mostly to James Harden and his 18 free throw attempts, the Rockets shot 31 free throws overall, meaning Boston spent almost the entire night playing offense in the half court, about 70 percent of their possessions by my estimations. Meanwhile, Houston was closer to a 55 percent clip of time spent in half court offense. While that difference isn't dramatic for a single game, in a game decided by one point, it can be the deciding factor on the margin.
Player of the Game – James Harden
Another night, another 30 points and a near triple double for James Harden. Usage rate hardly begins to tell the tale of his responsibilities on offense for Houston. With but a few exceptions, Harden is the initiator of all Houston scoring actions when he's on the floor. Nothing that Boston did to stop him worked. Whether it be pressuring in the backcourt, forcing him to his right, going under screens, switching, it all failed. He got to the free throw line at will and hit some incredible three-point shots including what would be the back-breaker with just under a minute to go. As much good his free throws did for Houston on both ends, he nearly negated the benefit by turning the ball over, rather carelessly at times, en route to the shameful double-double via points and turnovers.
Entering the fourth quarter down six points, Houston faced the daunting task of mounting a comeback against the league's highest scoring fourth quarter team. Still down six with about 4:30 left to go, the Rockets put in the lineup of Harden, Beverley, Ariza, Anderson, and Harrell for the first time and they went on a 10-2 run to reclaim the lead. It was the defense that catalyzed this run starting with a great switch by Harrell onto Isaiah Thomas, ending in a Thomas three-pointer that hit nothing but air. The hits kept coming, as Beverley's intense ball pressure forced two consecutive Boston turnovers and a hurried shot attempt – all of which lead to great shots and baskets for Houston on the other end. Five possessions on the floor together was all that unit needed to put Houston over the top for good.
Play of the Game
Even though Boston lost and thus this play didn't work out in reality, Coach Brad Stevens drew up a very nice baseline out-of bounds play for the final shot. Marcus Smart nearly had a layup if Jae Crowder could have found a way to get him the ball and Al Horford got a great mismatch onto Beverley and drove right down the lane for an easy layup that he simply missed. It's not the first time the ball hasn't bounced Coach Stevens' way at the end of a game.
It is very easy to forget that it was but two short years ago that Lou Williams was the 6th Man of the Year. If the award were handed out today, I would be shocked if he weren't the winner. Lou is putting up career bests across the board – three-point percentage, steal rate, points per game, usage rate, you name it, the Lakers are getting the man they paid for last offseason. With the Lakes short handed this week, Lou Williams took over, averaging 29 points on 40 % shooting from beyond the arc and nine free throw attempts per game – including a 40-point outburst against Memphis followed by 38 points in a comeback charge versus Utah. The Lakers stock may be falling under the weight of their injuries and youth, but Lou Williams is still a shining star off the bench and our 6th Man of the Week. Please enjoy a few clips of the Lou Williams Special from this week. Now that Kevin Martin is retired, Williams is the king of dribbling into defenders and drawing shooting fouls, a truly special skill.
You Can't Score 31.6 Points
I once heard someone recall something that Kobe Bryant said to the effect of most guys who play in the league are 50-50 players, meaning in half their games they play well and the other half they underperform. For example, a player might score 16 points one night and four points the next, leaving him with an average of ten points per game. However, he never actually scores ten points in any given game, so that statistic is misleading if presented alone, which is how it always is. Put it another way, scoring average says nothing about the player's consistency. Without some measure of variance, you don't know whether you have a 50-50 player or closer to a 100-0 player.
I took a look at the top twenty scorers in the league this far into the season and tracked how many times they met or exceeded their scoring average through Wednesday night's games. Unsurprisingly, most of them hit their average or above about 50 % of the time. However, I wanted to bring up a couple players who could see their scoring averages adjust to reflect their true consistencies as the year goes forward.
Isaiah Thomas is averaging 26 points per game, yet has only met that mark eight times through 21 games, meaning his five 30 + point games are inflating his average. While he has been remarkably consistent at reaching 20 points, failing just once this season, you can expect his average to drop without the aid of sporadic scoring outbursts throughout the season. On the flip side, Gordon Hayward has reached his average of 23.1 points ten times in only 17 games. His scoring average is being depressed by two poor outings where he failed to reach ten points early upon returning to the lineup from injury. I would expect Hayward to see his scoring average rise as he continues to get back to 100 % and reach his true level of consistent scoring.
The Airing of Grievances
On Thursday it was the Jazz, Friday the Spurs, Saturday the Sixers, and Sunday the Pistons. What do all these teams have in common? They wore dark, road uniforms at home. I don't think I'm old enough to be considered old-school, but I don't like tuning in to watch a game and have to spend brain cells deciphering which team is the home team and which one is the road team. For instance, while I understand the Warriors have their Slate Saturday gimmick where they wear their dark sleeved uniforms no matter what on Saturdays, it was jarring watching the Wolves-Warriors game tip-off in Oracle thinking the team in white was the Warriors. Home teams should wear white or lighter colors at all times. I'm not sure when this trend of flip-flopping jersey colors originated, but I hope that when Nike finally gains control of the uniforms next year they will dump this silliness along with the sleeved jerseys and ushe in a new era of pure, unsullied basketball attire aesthetics.