NBA Four Quarters (04/28/17)
Wizards v Hawkzzzzzzzz
I'm doing my best to care about this series. Several of the games have been close-ish and John Wall is captivating, but the NBA isn't making it easy. They shipped game six not to ESPN2, but to ESPNU. It doesn't get much lower for a televised NBA game than ESPNU, but then again, they might be able to squeeze a potential game seven in between Impractical Jokers re-runs on truTV, maybe. In case anyone happens to tune in for tonight, there is one important stat to keep an eye on – turnovers, specifically live-ball turnovers. The winner of each game has had fewer overall and live-ball turnovers than the loser. Because both teams are struggling mightily to score effectively in the half court, coughing the ball up is especially costly in this series because the difference between scoring in the half-court (excruciating) versus in transition (excellent) is so exaggerated. In a series where the team leading 3-2 has a negative point-differential nothing is surprising, but it is interesting to note, contrary to my thinking before the series, the Hawks have actually been deadlier after steals than the Wizards. They need to generate more of those opportunities if they hope to stage a comeback.
Celtics v. Bulls : The Luck of the Irish
What a turnaround. After the first two games, the series was looking like it was over. The Celtics old ghosts, defensive rebounding and Rajon Rondo, came back to haunt them; Brad Stevens had the worst playoff record ever; and the Bulls' others were threatening to take down the number one seed in historic fashion. Hard to believe any of that was true after game five where the Bulls were held to five offensive rebounds; Rondo sat with an injury; Coach Stevens is back to the good graces of the basketball universe; and the Bulls' others are looking like they did all year, underwhelming (Mirotic, Zipser, and Portis combined for 14 points in game five). As I type this, I reserve the right to retract everything I'm about to say if Rondo returns on his three-legged horse to will the Bulls to victory, but irrespective of any Bulls' adjustments short of the ghost of Michael Jordan taking the court on Friday, the Celtics have this series in the bag. The reality is this series always came down to one thing: three-point shooting. As a premier member of the three-point shooting club, the Celtics wane and wax with their conversion rate from downtown. Three times this series the Celtics have shot well below their season average, managing to win two of those games. Without much three-point shooting themselves, the Bulls rely upon free throws (they lost this battle in game five) and offensive rebounds (which have suffered in the absence of Rondo) to keep themselves in games. Even worse, the successful three-point defense of the Bulls thus far is based in luck, not skill – the Bulls are allowing 29.6 open three-pointers per game, four more than the Celtics' already sizable 25.6 regular season average. The Bulls can only fight the luck of the Irish for so long.
Clippers v. Jazz : The Only Constant is Change
If you are looking for an in-depth breakdown of the Clippers-Jazz series before tonight's game, make sure to listen to Utah radio broadcaster and podcast mogul David Locke on The Lowe Post podcast. They do a great job covering the lineup quirks and the individual matchups chess game as the series finally enters roster equilibrium. Even though the grand shifts in star power presence across the games draw into question the relevance of series-wide statistics, the nature of the series matches that of the regular season for both teams, offering an interesting point for comparison. In the table I have the shot distribution for each team along with field goal percentages in each zone for the playoffs and the regular season. Allow me to extract a couple key points from the numbers. First, as was the case in the regular season, the Jazz are lighting up the Clippers from deep, expanding their assault without dipping in efficiency. Size and skill on the perimeter will always be a tough matchup for the Clippers (cough cough Warriors). Despite this, DeAndre Jordan and their excellent team defense are forcing Utah into more middle-ranged shots than Coach Snyder would prefer. As for Los Angeles, the style of defense the Jazz utilize plays right into the Clippers midrange-heavy offense. Typically playing soft in pick-and-roll, Utah concedes the midrange jump shots Chris Paul has made a career on. Trading a few threes for some floater-range shots in the mezzanine is where Utah has tampered with the Clippers offensive machine (JJ Redick has been largely silenced from the outside). As expected, Rudy Gobert's return is adversely affecting the numbers in the restricted area for the Clippers. Finding ways to turn up the pace to get some easier shots before Gobert can set up shop and fostering the three-point fire they displayed down the stretch of game five will be key for the Clippers survival in this series.
Was there any better storyline these playoffs than vintage Lance Stephenson squaring off with LeBron one more time? Sure, the Pacers were not an immovable object against the unstoppable force of LeBron, swept out of the way in short order. But it was not for lack of trying on the part of Lance Stephenson. Nominally the back-up point guard for Indy, in reality, Lance was simply Lance when he was on the floor – setting the tempo, dictating the emotional energy on the floor, handing out improbable assists, and, of course, getting buckets. After an amazing performance in game one to bring the Pacers back from a double-digit deficit, many thought it was too good to be true, a fluke. Wrong. Again part of a second-half comeback effort, Stephenson paced Indiana with 22 points in game four. An incredible return home and unlikely performance against his nemesis, particularly considering he was sitting at home just a month beforehand, earn him our 6th Man of the Week award. Never has anyone deserved this award more.