Sunday, April 24, 2005

Day One-NBA Playoffs
By Zach

So, a 10+ hour basketball marathon has finally ended. Of course, as a huge NBA fan, I'm just pumped about the chance to do nothing but watch more basketball come tomorrow.

Game 1: Detroit 106, Philadelphia 85
The first in what turned out to be a series of fairly uninteresting basketball games today looked like it might be a huge upset early. One Sixer fan friend of mine even confidently predicted that the boys from Philly would win the series. Whoops. The Pistons showed that their front line will steamroll virtually everyone else in the playoffs. Philly and the perpetually choking Chris Webber were overwhelmed by The Flying Wallace Bros, not to mention the amazingly healthy Antonio McDyess. Look, if the Sixers get 30 points and 10 assists from Iverson, 27 from Webber, and 10 points and 18 rebounds from Sam Dalembert and still get waxed, they're toast. This series goes five games, max. Plus, Tayshaun Prince is turning into one of this generation's most consistant playoff performers.

Game 2: Houston 98, Dallas 86
This one was all about the Magically Missing Maverick, aka Dirk Nowitzki. Kinda makes you wonder whether or not all that MVP hype was just that, hype. Now, most people will point to the 34 from Tracy McGrady and tell you how great he is, but the fact is that if I was a Rocket fan, I'd still be worried. Yes, you won a Game One on the road, but if you look at the stats, they don't look too good for the Spacemen. I mean, they got outrebounded, and gave up 19 offensive, and the Mavs got to the line 42 times. Do the Rockets deserve credit for holding the Mavericks to 35.3% on their field goals? Yeah, to some extent. But they still had no answer for Dirk on the long term. And the rest of their supporting cast (beyond Mike James) was pretty much mediocre. Dallas has a lot to work on, but I'm not about to turn on them quite yet.

Game 3: Boston 102, Indiana 82
I never understood all the buzz around Indiana heading into the playoffs. Their best player, Jermaine O'Neal, was still not at full health. Their second-best player hasn't been on a basketball court since November. Their third best player doesn't understand the phrase "shot selection," nor many other words. And their fourth best player is 39, but still gets their shots down the stretch. In other words, they're lucky to be the 6th seed. Meanwhile, the Celtics were consistantly good for the second half of the season, and had a number of guys they could turn to for scoring. Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, and to a lesser extent Gary Payton, Raef LaFrentz, Ricky Davis, and Al Jefferson can carry the scoring load for stretches for the Celtics. The problem for Indy is that Boston can throw more athletes on the court than anyone else in the East, and Indy probably can't couteract that with enough frequency to win this series. Plus, I think Boston can really capitalize on the fact that Indy might press to hard to give Reggie Miller a fitting sendoff.

Game 4: Seattle 87, Sacramento 82
This game proved what I've been saying (and what the rest of the people who really follow the Sonics have noticed), which is that contrary to popular national opinion, the Sonics aren't a "fast-paced, high-scoring, jump-shooting" team that only wins when they shoot the rock well. The Sonics shot 36.5% from the field, 26.7% from 3. But they won because they are the most efficient offensive team in the NBA. Look, I'll let Sonics radio guy, and occasional columnist, David Locke, express it, as he wrote in Saturday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The Sonics play the fourth-slowest game in the NBA -- 90.7 trips a game. Most importantly, when the game is slow, the Sonics are better. In their 20 slowest games, the Sonics were 17-3; in their 20 fastest games, they were 8-12.

Before the injuries, when the Sonics were under the league average of 93.7 trips a game, they went 40-11, but if the game exceeded the average, they went 10-13.

A slower game allows Ridnour to get help from the big men on the pick and roll. In a transition game, he will be on an island. The Sonics are a vastly better rebounding team in the halfcourt then when the game gets fast.

Lastly, Lewis has mismatches the Kings will have to adjust to in the halfcourt, freeing his teammates. In the open floor, they will be able to hide their deficiencies.

Next time I hear someone on ESPN/TNT/ABC/Oxygen say that the Sonics can only win when they shoot the ball well (which will be tomorrow), I'll be very tempted to shoot the TV, Elvis-style. Sure, they can shoot the ball well. But their success this year isn't just due to their shooting. It's because they're efficient, and maximize their shot attempts by A) not turning the ball over (9 turnovers today), shooting the ball well (the part they struggled at today, at 36.5%) and rebounding their misses (22 total offensive rebounds, and an offensive rebound on an astounding 41% of their misses). The Sonics play a vastly different style of basketball than the Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics, and the Sacramento Kings, and it's a testament to how good they were offensively this year that their grind-it-out style still made them one of the top scoring teams in the league for most of the year, before injuries to Rashard Lewis and Vladimir Radmanovic inhibited their play.

All of this goes to show that I'm fairly confident that the Sonics should take this series in 6 games, max. As my good buddy Aaron pointed out, it's not hard to win a series when you're the better team.


Blogger David Arnott said...

Some things you haven't addressed, as perhaps they might be more appropriate for a different column: How much does a coach matter at this point? Any more than in the regular season? Are rotations different in the playoffs? For instance, will the advantage the Suns have gotten all year from their refusal to ever play any of their scrubs be muted by, say, the Nuggets not playing Buckner and Person nearly as much? Will Andres Nocioni throw a haymaker at any point during the playoffs? On his list of accomplishments, where would Shaq rank carrying Stan Van Gundy to the Finals compared to carrying Brian Hill to the Finals? Skip Bayless picks on Chris Webber all the time, basically saying that he's the perfect loser... except that it's way top easy to pick on CWebb at this point. Skip also picks on Garnett and (I think) has continued to argue that Kobe is more valuable than Shaq. Will Terrell Owens shoot him during a Kings game? How soon until teams start using the second round to draft guys like the Lakers' 2003 draftees: Brian Cook and Luke Walton, very good college players who don't have a tremendous upside (because no one in the draft has upside at that point), but are sure to be halfway decent players in the pros (FUCK upside! Draft TALENT!)? How long before another team's GM buys "Basketball On Paper" and buys into the Dean Oliver gospel?

7:59 PM  

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