Wow...OKC Bench Stuns Mavs!

by Jeff Fogle 20. May 2011 00:52

Just when you think you've seen everything. On the verge of falling behind two games to none in the best-of-seven Western Conference championships, Oklahoma City let four backups join Kevin Durant on the floor for the fourth quarter...and that energetic, inspired lineup won the game.

The difference between the OKC backups and the starters is best seen in the plus/minuses. Remember that the Thunder won by six points...

OKC Plus/Minuses:
Maynor +18 (backup point guard...20 minutes)
Harden +14 (backup shooting guard...32 minutes)
Cook +11 (backup shooting guard...16 minutes)
Collison +10 (backup post...26 minutes)
Mohammed +5 (backup, but only 2 minutes)
Ibaka +3
Durant -2
Perkins -8
Sefolosha -9
Westbrook -12

Down at the bottom of the list, the player who needed to be humbled perhaps more than anyone. Russell Westbrook. He exited the court very late in the third quarter with that scowl we've seen on his face too many times. We've seen that arrogant glare aimed at teammates. This one was aimed at his head coach, along with a few choice words. From a 22-year old who's best helped his team in the playoffs BY STAYING OUT OF THE WAY of more consistent scorers. Perhaps sitting there while has backup helped engineer what may end up being one of the biggest wins in the franchise's OKC tenure will help bring some perspective. HoopData's expanded boxscore shows Westbrook's usage rate (ball-hogginess) was a ridiculously high 40.3 before he was benched. It was only 30.4 during that glorious Game Seven triple double against Memphis when he was more focused on the needs of the team.

It's frustrating following the Westbrook story because steps forward seem to be followed by steps backward. Just when you're ready to give him the benefit of the doubt, the immaturity rears its ugly head again. Fascinating that this continuing drama played out this way on this evening.

OKLAHOMA CITY 106, DALLAS 100
2-point pct: OKC 62%, Dallas 49%
3-pointers: OKC 7/18, Dallas 9/27
1's and 2's: OKC 85, Dallas 73

We talked about the issues Dallas was having with two-point defense in prior rounds. Clearly they haven't yet figured out what they can take away in this series. Oklahoma City is dynamic in all facets of play. Dallas isn't slowing down any of those facets.

TWO'S: Oklahoma City is shooting 55% on two-pointers, to 54% for Dallas. All those baskets Dirk Nowitzki made in the first game were followed by 10 of 17 tonight. Yet, OKC is still winning this stat.

THREE'S: Oklahoma City is 14 of 34 (41%, equivalent of 61.7% on two's), which is helping to neutralize what Dallas had hoped would be a big edge behind the arc. Dallas is 18 of 50 for 36% (equivalent of 54% on two's). That's more raw scoring volume for the Mavs, but on a lot more attempts.

ONE'S: Oklahoma City has more makes on more attempts...58 of 70 to 55 of 60. A better percentage from Dallas...but it's clear that Dallas is going to have trouble keeping OKC off the line (as do all OKC opponents!)

That's all there is...1's, 2's, and 3's. Dallas did create some dysfunction amongst the grouchy guys in the OKC starting lineup (Westbrook and Perkins). The Mavs were so surprised by the OKC bench taking command of the fourth quarter that there wasn't time for an effective on-the-fly adjustment.

Chess in sneakers. Except the rooks are pushing and shoving. And, one of the bishops turned around to yell before being sent to confession.

What do we have moving forward?

On the bright side for Dallas:

*It's still a series that goes every other day. That should favor Dallas. Is the OKC bench ready to do THIS every night?

*Dirk is still very difficult to stop, which is likely to matter late in close games no matter what city it's in. Don't assume OKC is going to sweep their home games.

*Jason Terry was only 0-2 on treys tonight, and 3-9 from the floor overall. He's going to be better than that most of the time.

*To the degree experience and maturity matters in the playoffs, that's likely to favor Dallas in later games. OKC was ironically helped by their blow-ups tonight. That's far from a sure thing to happen the next time there's a blow-up.

On the bright side for OKC:

*If sustained fatigue from the Memphis series was an issue, four starters were given extended rest tonight. That will help them deal with the every-other-day format...as will what should be newfound confidence in the bench.

*Durant is just as difficult to stop as Dirk is.

*The refs have established that they're not going to favor the more veteran team in this series. OKC can expect to be rewarded for their aggression on a continuing basis. Especially at home. And, three of the next five games would be at home if it goes the distance (three of the next four as the crow flies). .

*The Thunder won rebounding in the first two games...on the road. That's usually a good indicator in a playoff series.

*They now have the courage to deal with Westbrook when he gets his "bull in a china shop who won't share the ball unless he absolutely has to" mentality.

No game Friday. Back late Saturday with numbers and notes from Game Three of this series in Oklahoma City. Chicago-Miami resumes Sunday.

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Oklahoma City-Dallas Preview

by Jeff Fogle 16. May 2011 16:59

Try to forget everything you've watched on TV the past two weeks. Dallas is about to face an opponent that's nothing like the Los Angeles Lakers. Oklahoma City is about to face an opponent that's nothing like the Memphis Grizzlies. And, the Mavs and Thunder are about to do that while facing a level of pressure neither team has seen recently. It's a whole new ballgame!

The first thing that needs to be said, I believe, is that Dallas will be facing a completely different defense this time around. This may sound a bit silly...but it's as if they just got to play against a team of giraffes...with an approach that was very well suited to beating giraffes if you could make your long shots. It sure didn't hurt that the giraffes had leg injuries they were dealing with, and didn't particularly like each other any more. Now Dallas is facing a team of gazelles. You're not going to get as many open looks on three-pointers against gazelles.

This isn't Oklahoma City's first playoff go-round this year against a team that can make treys.

Denver: 8.1 treys per game in the regular season
Dallas: 7.9 treys per game in the regular season
Oklahoma City: 5.9 treys per game in the regular season

Denver was supposed to have an edge from long range in their first round meeting with OKC. The Thunder neutralized it.

Denver: 4-7-6-9-8 (average 6.8, median 7)
OKC: 9-10-6-7-6 (average 7.5, median 7)

Denver only reached its season average twice in five tries. Oklahoma City actually won long range scoring for the series. Dallas may need to win long range scoring to win the Western Finals. The Dallas "record" in the 1's and 2's category was a combined 3-7 vs. Portland (3-3) and the LA Lakers (0-4).

This three-point element is very important because it's influenced so many perceptions of the Mavericks heading into this round:

*The Mavericks are playing GREAT. Look at how they crushed the Lakers!

*The Mavericks bench is GREAT. They keep bringing in shooters who can hurt you!

*The Mavericks are UNSTOPPABLE because Dirk Nowitzi is an inside threat and he'll kick it out to the perimeter if you double team him!

True vs. a shorthanded team of dysfunctional, aging, sore-legged giraffes playing under the pressure of trying to three-peat. Probably less true against a young, fired up group of gazelles with nothing to lose. Dallas is very dangerous from long range, and dealing with Dirk in the middle is a challenge. I'm not suggesting Dallas is any sort of pretender. The personnel matchup is different in this round. This opponent has a better chance to neutralize their strengths.

Another concern from the Dallas perspective would be on the defensive side of the ball. The Mavs got a lot of credit for their defense in the earlier rounds. There were a few reasons for that:

*They really are better defensively than they used to be
*The tempo's were much slower than people realized
*Portland had four lousy three-point shooting games
*The Lakers had four lousy three-point shooting games
*Kobe didn't drive to the basket much to earn free throws
*The Lakers bigs were living various reality shows

Some of the problems from long range for Portland and LA can be attributed to good Dallas defense. But, those teams had trouble making open looks too.

Portland's 4 bad games: 15 of 72
LA's entire series: 15 of 76

It's tough to "force" opponents to make only 20% of their treys.

And, the various soap operas going on with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom weren't of the Mavericks' making. Dallas certainly applied pressure to the sore spots, and deserves credit for maximizing that pressure. I'm trying to find the balance for what Dallas truly deserves in an analysis of defense, and where they caught some breaks. The truth still comes out pretty good...just not as good as some of the hype you've been hearing or reading about. 

Let's talk about tempo for a moment so you can see what impact that had. Bugs in the process prevented HoopData from having the expanded boxscores posted on a daily basis through the first round. That meant hardly anyone realized how really slow the Dallas-Portland series was. Everything's been past-posted for several days now for your research pleasure. Let's get caught up with the pace Dallas is playing.

Standards
94.5 is average for the NBA in the regular season
93.1 is what Dallas played in the regular season
88-89 is more typical for playoff style basketball

Numbers in order from Dallas-Portland:

83-83-87-84-87-83 (average 84.5, median 83.5)

Slow as molasses. Miami-Boston was a slow series that went 92-89-84-88-89 in regulation (average 88.4, median 89). Chicago-Atlanta went 89-90-82-92-83-87 (average 87.2, median 88). The slow methodical games you just watched in the East were a good bit faster than Dallas-Portland. And, Dallas-Lakers went 91-89-85 until the garbage time blowout landed on 94.

When Dallas held Portland to 81 points in the series opener, it looked on paper like fantastic defense. With only 83 possessions in the game, it's a different story. Good. But, not fantastic. For the series, Dallas posted a defensive efficiency of 104.3. Much higher than most would have guessed I imagine.

When you look only at what Dallas allowed on two-point shots in the first two rounds, it gets kind of scary.

Two-Point Shooting
Portland: 55%, 48%, 46%, 50%, 48%, 52%
LA Lakers: 48%, 51%, 52%, 45%

Kobe Bryant didn't attack the basket, possibly because of his bum ankle and bad knees. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are going to attack the basket.

So, it all adds up to an improved Dallas defense...where a bit of good fortune has helped pumped some air into the adjectives. Think of them as "improved." Don't think of them as "great" unless it becomes clear that they really have figured out how to force 20% shooting on treys on a regular basis.

In the prediction markets, Dallas is currently a relatively prohibitive favorite to win the West because of its recent results...and because the Mavs have a huge fatigue advantage to start the series. Then, an every-other-day schedule with a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday-Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Sunday rotation may be another gift from heaven. That helped them against the Lakers because LA had no time to rest its short, banged up rotation. Here, Oklahoma City COMES IN TO THE SERIES tired, and won't get a few days off unless they just decide to take a game off out of self defense.

That makes Game One very important for OKC. If they can steal a win against a rusty Dallas team who hasn't seen game action in more than a week...the Thunder could phone in Game Two, rest, and still be up a service break heading home. If OKC can't strike early and create a rest opportunity, it will be tough to keep their legs over a full series challenge. There's no let-up. And, there's a lot of floor to cover if you're trying to protect the perimeter.

Or, maybe OKC concedes the opener and tries to break serve in Game Two...then plays it out from there without a rest break. Wouldn't be the craziest strategy ever devised for a team that just played a seven-game series with four overtime periods against a bunch of bruisers.

Keys questions
:

*Can Dallas keep getting 8-10 treys per game (or more), or will OKC neutralize that stat?

*Can Durant and Westbrook wreak havoc inside the arc four times in seven games?

*Can OKC maintain an energy flow that gives them a shot to stick around and stay competitive?

If the answers go the way of Dallas, this could be another four-game sweep. Treys trounce tired legs. We've discussed that a few times this year in the regular season and playoffs. Here, the fresh team is also on a mission to cement the legacy of its stars. Big emotional intangible. If the answers go the way of OKC, this could be a terrific series decided by a few key plays in crunch time moments.

Back Tuesday before midnight to see how those questions were answered in Game One of the series...

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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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Memphis Gassed, OKC Rolls

by Jeff Fogle 12. May 2011 00:17

Given the exhausting triple overtime marathon played between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies back on Monday, there was a danger that one or both teams would be out of gas tonight. By halftime, it was clear that the empty tank belonged to Memphis!

The game turned in the second quarter, when the Oklahoma City bench provided valuable production while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook rested.

11:26: Nazr Mohammed tip
9:07: Nazr Mohammed 8-footer
8:30: Nick Collison 20-footer
7:50: Daequan Cook three-pointer
7:09: Daequan Cook layup

With 6:46 left in the quarter, Durant and Westbrook re-entered with the score tied at 28. That's obviously a very low score 17 minutes into the game! (Looks like both teams started with empty tanks) But, the bench had treaded water for several minutes, and fresh legs were coming to the rescue:

5:09: Westbrook jumper for a 30-29 lead
4:41: Serge Ibaka scores after re-entering game for 32-31 lead
4:09: Westbrook makes trey for 35-31 lead
3:47: James Harden dunk for 37-31 lead
2:45: Durant 18-footer for 39-33 lead
2:15: Durant dunk for 41-33 lead
1:23: Kendrick Perkins layup for 43-33 lead
0:32: Ibaka dunk for 45-33 lead

That was pretty much the ballgame. The score was 17-5 from the point the OKC stars re-entered...and 13-2 from the 4:41 mark to the thirty second mark.

Memphis literally never found their legs. Their score by quarters was 17-15-17-20. Oklahoma City got that jet boost before the half and partied the rest of the night.

OKLAHOMA CITY 99, MEMPHIS 72
2-point pct: Memphis 37%, OK City 48%
3-pointers: Memphis 2/8, OK City 9/20
Rebounds: Memphixs 33, OK City 50
1's and 2's: Memphis 66, OK City 72

If you've watched a lot of playoff games in your life, you know that something like this isn't uncommon. If you're going to lose, call it a night and save your energy for the next battle. The stats here really don't mean that much unless Memphis is permanently out of gas (which is possible given the high energy they brought to the San Antonio series and the first four games here). If that's the case, OKC will coast in Game Six Friday. If Memphis was refueling, it will be back to the grinding nailbiters (unless OKC decides to take a night off if they fall behind early to save themselves for a seventh game at home--we've seen that too over the years).

It's worth noting that OKC has pretty firmly established its superiority in the series now. Home court means something, so taking both games in Memphis to overtime meant OKC was a few points better on a neutral cout. By that measure, they've been the "better" team in four of the five games. That doesn't mean Memphis can't come back. But, it means that the lesser of the two teams will have to lift its game if they're going to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Quick signs of fatigue:

*Westbrook only took 10 shots and had 6 assists. This after taking 33 shots with just 5 assists in the last game. Maybe this is a sign of maturity or listening to his coaches rather than fatigue. A lot of players were involved in the offense tonight, which is something this team really needed.

*Marc Gasol only had 5 rebounds in 31 minutes. His numbers in Games 1-4 were 13-10-7-21. Against San Antonio they were 9-17-9-9-17-13. Only rubbery legs would lead to a number that low. It's not like there weren't a lot of missed shots to grab!

Back late Thursday for numbers and notes from Game Six of Chicago/Atlanta. Game Six of Memphis/OKC is set for Friday. Thanks to everyone who's been checking in daily with us here at HoopData! 

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New Kids on the Block?

by Jeff Fogle 4. May 2011 00:35

The Los Angeles Lakers have won the West three straight years...but dropped Game One of their second round series with Dallas. Boston has faced those Lakers two of the last three years...but has fallen behind Miami 2-0 while auditioning for a remake of "M*A*S*H." Oklahoma City re-established itself as a rising force in the West with an intense 48 minutes against Memphis. We may be amdist a changing of the guard in both conferences, which means these next two weeks are going to be very interesting...

MIAMI 102, BOSTON 91
2-point pct: Boston 41%, Miami 46%
3-pointers: Boston 6/11, Miami 7/16
Free Throws: Boston 17/22, Miami 27/36
Rebounds: Boston 38, Miami 44
1's and 2's: Boston 73, Miami 81

Funny how two games between the same teams can have similar final scores but be so different.

Game One: Miami 99, Boston 90
Game Two: Miami 102, Boston 91

Among the differences:

*Rajon Rondo didn't get into foul trouble, and played most of the game (42 minutes) despite a sore back.

*Paul Pierce hurt his foot in the first half and wasn't much of a factor in 33 total minutes.

*Ray Allen went from shooting lights out to going just 2 of 7 in 34 minutes(he also missed some time after getting banged up).

*James Jones of Miami only took one shot in 19 minutes, after scoring 25 points on 7 shots in the opener.

*Tempo was slower, with our expanded boxscore showing 89 possessions down from 92. That means Miami's offensive efficiency went UP from 107.6 to 114.6 even though Jones was erased from the offense. 

*LeBron James was the alpha dog for the Heat instead of Dwyane Wade, though both took a few big bites out of the Celtics through the evening.

*The teams combined for 13 made treys rather than 21, but it didn't hurt scoring at all.

The biggest similarity is in the free throw category. Miami attacks the basket and Boston works for jumpers generally speaking.

Game One: Boston 14/18, Miami 26/32
Game Two: Boston 17/22, Miami 27/36

That's plus double digits in both makes and attempts in the two games...and you have to assume we're likely to see repeats in any remaining games on this floor. If Boston keeps getting out shot at the line by that much at home, then this series is over already.

Well, given all the injuries Celtics players are dealing with, that might be the case now. The good news for Boston fans is that there are no more games until Saturday night. If ever a team needed a few days off to recuperate, it's the Celtics. The latest rumblings are that Shaquille O'Neal is expected back for Game Three. Though, he seems to be an injury waiting to happen even when he's healthy.

There's not much more to say until we see what Boston brings to the table next time out. It's very tough to win four games in five in the best of times. These aren't the best of times.

OKLAHOMA CITY 111, MEMPHIS 102
2-point pct: Memphis 46%, Oklahoma City 52%
3-pointers: Memphis 4/11, Oklahoma City 8/14
Rebounds: Memphis 38, Oklahoma City 34
Turnovers: Memphis 16, Oklahoma City 16
1's and 2's: Memphis 90, Oklahoma City 87

Bradford Doolittle at Basketball Prospectus said something the other day about Lionel Hollins and Memphis that really stuck with me:

"In many ways, Hollins has crafted a squad that reminds me of the 1977 NBA champion Trail Blazers, on whom he was a starting guard. The team plays inside-out, with big men that can pass the ball. (And, yes, I can't believe I'm writing that about Zach Randolph 2.0.) They have a deep rotation, share the ball, play defense and, especially, are rising up from obscurity to make a stunning postseason run."

I've typed a at least a dozen times that Memphis doesn't do much from three-point land. Their per-game average during the regular season was 3.8. Most other playoff caliber teams are around six or higher...or can get there if they need to (Boston was at 5.0 for the season but they've averaged 7.7 in six playoff games). The artistic basketball Portland played in the Bill Walton mini-era came before the three-point line. What we're seeing from them is very much a "turn back the clock" style.

There's not a physical resemblance between Marc Gasol and Bill Walton. But, both have soft hands, great vision,  great instincts, and a nice shooting touch from a little further out than most 7-footers. Both have the respect of their teammates, as they're being supportive of their teammates.

I tried to dig up youtube footage of those Blazers tonight. Found a short clip that shows you how well they passed in traffic (more of that toward the end of the clip). Very reminiscent of how well Memphis passed in traffic this past Sunday. This clip also happens to show Hollins scoring (on a fast break after his team forced a turnover fittingly)...and has the side benefit of featuring a fantastic fast break pass from Pete Maravich of the then New Orleans Jazz. It's only 1:24 in length... 90 seconds that all basketball fans would enjoy.

ESPN...you're showing Game Three of Memphis/OKC Saturday afternoon. You have Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning to put together a package showing the similarities between this current Memphis team and those fondly remembered Trailblazers. You can intercut footage of passes from Walton and Gasol to teammates for buckets...shotmaking from both guys...and team wide passing in traffic (inside an arc that didn't exist back then). Hollins is listed at basketball reference as 6'3", 185. He was ages 22-26 when playing with Portland. Anyone on the current Grizzlies match that description? (I'm coughing the words "Mike Conley" into my hand)

The networks will be showing John Havlicek in the Boston crowd...Dominique Wilkins, near courtside in Atlanta...Magic Johnson in the Lakers crowd when that series is back in LA. Memphis doesn't have a historic backdrop that will resonate in the same way. The connections between this team and the championship Blazers shed light on this series while celebrating a highlight in the history of the league. Let's hope that connection is made (and that Bradford Doolittle is credited with getting that connection in print). TNT...get ready for next Monday if ESPN decides to go with a bunch of Elvis stuff instead (heaven forbid).

Since tonight's game was one-sided, figured that digression was more worthwhile. OKC evens the series at a game apiece thanks mostly to better internal defense (46% allowed on 2's instead of 51%) and more forced turnovers (16 instead of 7). The expanded boxscore is here.

(Late Monday)
DALLAS 96, LA LAKERS 94
2-point pct: Dallas 49%, Lakers 43%
3-pointers: Dallas 9/20, Lakers 5/19
Free Throws: Dallas 9/11, Lakers 17/20
Rebounds: Dallas 40, Lakers 44
1's and 2's: Dallas 69, Lakers 79

Quick notes:

*Joe Treutlein tweeted last night that Kobe Bryant didn't make any forays to the rim. He was shooting great from further away. But, he didn't fly at the basket in the way you'd normally expect. This suggests that ankle is bothering him to a degree that could loom large over the series in the games where his jumpers are less en fuego.

*We're looking at a series that could easily boil down to the treys of Dallas vs. the 1's and 2's of the Lakers. You can see above that the Lakers were +10 points inside the arc, while Dallas was +12 outside of the arc. Normally, this favors the inside team unless the outside team is abnormally consistent. Dallas has shown consistency relatively speaking (10-8-9-10-3-6-9 through seven games, for a median of 9). And, Dallas has a variety of long range shooters who can keep the Lakers defense spread out. Six different guys made the nine treys Monday. This could become an interesting dynamic.

*Andrew Bynum posted great stats in his last two regular season games against Dallas. He might have been a point of emphasis in the Mavs' preparation here. Bynum was just 3 of 8 from the floor in 29 minutes, and posted a stunning plus/minus of -16 for the night.

*We know that Dallas was hoping for its bench to get the best of its time on the floor. Non starters all had postive plus/minuses Monday. From highest to lowest: Brewer +11, Barea +8, Stojakovic +6, Haywood +6, Terry +2.

*I mentioned a few times in the last series that Dallas had a very consistent edge over Portland outside of a horrible quarter. Monday night, Dallas basically had another horrible quarter though it didn't last the full 12 minutes. From the 6:33 mark of the second quarter to the 9:56 mark of the third quarter, Dallas was outscored 29-8. That's only eight-and-a-half minutes. But, it was more ore less a replay of that fourth quarter nightmare in Portland. The Mavericks rallied to win a naibliter here, after losing a nailbiter in Portland.

Back late Wednesday with the next playoff report. Expanded boxscores have now been posted for the full playoffs. You can grab the first round summaries by going to the team stats page...clicking on your team of interest...then using the pulldowns right above the team name to request this year's playoff summaries. Click on any final score to get the boxscore for that game. There may be other navigation pathways too.

See you late Wednesday...

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