April 23, 2009
We can get into cross-matches or the way Denver has the athletes to chase the Hornets out of their plays, but I'd like to start with Carmelo Anthony, if you don't mind.
In Game 2, and for the first time in a good spell, Carmelo looked like Carmelo to me. He's had an off year from the get-go, even with Allen Iverson on board, and you can't pin it on statistics going down because the Nuggets aren't shooting a mile-a-minute anymore, or because he doesn't have to shoot as much personally. With less responsibility, your shooting percentages tends to usually go up. Carmelo's went down this year.
His assist ratio (the amount of possessions you use up that end in an assist) went up slightly, but his turnovers stayed the same, and his rebounding dropped per-minute even with board-hoarding Marcus Camby in Los Angeles. These are things you can't blame on Chauncey Billups, nor call a byproduct of success.
But on Wednesday, he was back. And just in time, especially after a poor shooting performance in Game 1. 10-20 shooting overall, and while he didn't get to the line, this seems partially because he was forced to score as an afterthought (no isos to use to try and get hammered). Also, nine assists for the 24-year old forward. Three rebounds, which stunk (Denver was out-rebounded by seven), but two steals and only one turnover. A good restart.
I know the Hornets got it together late from behind the three-point arc. I know that NOLA's mark of 109 points per 100 possessions is right at where they were in the regular season, which is a big deal (pulling that off in the playoffs, on the road, in Denver? Nice.) But you still have to toss so much credit at the Denver D the way they absolutely took Chris Paul out of things.
Paul had no angles, he had nowhere to go, no corners to efficiently turn, he was never in control, and it was about as good as a defensive spin on CP3 that I've seen in years. The ability for those Denver big men to move their feat ... beautiful.
And Tyson Chandler? He was absolutely dragging out there. At one point in the second quarter he was just killing the Hornets in a way that's usually reserved for 12th men or rookies soon to be on their way out of the league.
Whiffing on screens, not cutting hard defensively, failing to find his man or box out on defense. I know he's hurt, it's obvious that he's hurt, and I'd never thought I'd say this, but Hilton Armstrong has to get more minutes. 4:23 is not enough for Hilton, if only for him to come in and do some stuff that doesn't show up in the typical box score, like setting a good pick to start the play, or boxing your man out so your teammate can collect the rebound.
Seven points and 11 rebounds for Tyson, in 35 minutes, but it just wasn't happening. And it's not going to get better unless the team finds a way to get Paul off. Peja Stojakovic and Rasual Butler combined to hit about four of 11 shots behind the three-point arc per game this season, so you know they're not going to replicate Wednesday's 8-10 (combined) output. And though David West came back to form with a 21-10 game, what does it matter if Paul is dropping just 14 points (with 13 assists, and five turnovers)?
Things will change in New Orleans. They have to. Paul and Byron Scott have been squeezing so much out of this limited team all season that the Hornets have to get a few licks in, no matter how poorly they appear to be matching up with a Nuggets team that just seems to get better week by week.
I mean that last bit. Chauncey Billups was dragging up and down the court at the end of the 2008, 2007, and 2006 postseason, but his white-hot start to the playoffs thus far (33.5 points on 60 percent shooting, six assists a game, ZERO turnovers in 70 minutes of play) should have Nuggets fans giddy. Nene has kept up his regular season knockout play, Kenyon Martin hasn't stabbed Rasual Butler yet, Dahntay Jones can D-up, and nobody wants to wring J.R. Smith's neck, yet. A smashing start. Keep it up.
Anyone who says they have a handle on this series is a fool -- a fool, I tell you!
It's not that anything shocking happened on Wednesday night, or that Miami returning home with a 1-1 series tie is surprising, it's just that these teams are so pell-mell in their structure, their execution, how they're coached, and in terms of whether or not the shots are going in or if there will be someone to contest the shots that do or don't go in. You in?
Miami gets the stink of an overachiever, but they're really not. You should be getting at least 40-45 wins out of a team with a player who contributed as much as Dwyane Wade did this season. Meanwhile, Atlanta gets the "underachiever" tag applied to them quite a bit, and that can be fair, but they're also an incredibly thin team that is put behind the eight ball quite a bit due to some odd, odd coaching decisions.
Miami or Atlanta could win out, I wouldn't be surprised. By 20 a game, or in three one-point wins. Or it could go seven. You just can't find a vein with these teams.
Lights-out three-point shooting from Miami in the win, Daequan Cook and Dwyane Wade combined to hit 12 three-pointers (including one desperation, banked-in heave from D-Wade) and there wasn't much Atlanta could do about Wade's pull-ups.
I don't get why they have to switch everything. Atlanta, I mean. Billy Knight's not the GM anymore, so you don't have to try and justify having 12 guys who are 6-8 on your roster. It's a nice idea in theory, but it means that people like Mike Bibby and Flip Murray have to be aware and also quick enough to recover. They're not quick enough, defensively, and they're rarely aware. Try saying that last line like a Kennedy.
Mike Woodson won't double and take the ball out of Dwyane Wade's hands, which helps when Wade is dribbling too much and missing shots, but Woodson (as he often does) is making coaching decisions that "sound right," but have no basis in reality. After the game he mentioned not wanting to double-team Wade so as not to "expose us down low."
What? Jermaine O'Neal has next to nothing left, he started the game by half-heartedly giving a bonehead screen that resulted in an offensive foul, and he still wormed his way to 19 points. You're exposed down low, Mike. And your take-it-or-leave-it approach to defense has caused perhaps the biggest per-possession jump in points between playoff games that I can recall.
Miami scored 73.6 points per 100 possessions in Game 1, and 127.1 per 100 in Game 2. From about 30 points below the worst offensive team in the NBA to about 14 above the best offensive team. And a 44 points per-game swing.
That's an astonishing leap, and that's on Atlanta's inability to create something consistent defensively. In their own gym. Against the same team. With just a few days between games. Blame the players all you want, but you can't tell me this Woodson weirdness isn't setting his (admittedly, in some cases, slow and disinterested) players up to fail.
On Miami's side, the James Jones Experiment continues, for whatever reason. Jones didn't really do much by way of spacing, nobody was quaking at the thought of him going off from long range, and he managed five points in about 21 minutes. One rebound, zero assists.
Not to pick on him, or say that he was hurting the team ... but he's not doing anything! He's not giving you anything at that spot, and you need production. The point is to score more points than the other team, so you need to play individuals who either help with the scoring, or help with stopping the other side. James isn't doing either.
And while the idea of Jamario Moon (and his "energy" and his "spark") coming off the bench sounds correct in theory, just can it. Play the guy 35 minutes. He's your best option at small forward, he's not going to break down like a marathon runner following a race if he happens to play over 30 minutes a game, he can make Joe Johnson work, finish in transition, and make the extra pass.
The same five points for Moon, in eight more minutes, but he pulled in eight rebounds, hit each of his shots, and played terrific defense on Joe Johnson. He didn't stop Joe, but Joe didn't top 16 points, he turned it over four times, and he didn't register an assist.
There's no point in telling you that Dwight Howard wasn't on Philadelphia's minds, all the time, when Orlando had the ball. But the easy line about how Courtney Lee was allowed to go off because the 76ers were double-teaming Dwight? I'm not buying it. I just thought it was some bad defense that Lee took advantage of. He wasn't Terry Mills out there.
The Sixers did continue to try and trap the screen and roll, and Stan Van Gundy keeps going to Hedo Turkoglu to dominate the ball and run the Orlando offense, but it's obvious that Turkoglu still isn't close to fully healthy. Rashard Lewis had an off night, it happens when you shoot six of your 14 shots from behind the arc, and Lee took advantage. Burned Louis Williams, burned Willie Green. Burned the 76ers with 24 points on 17 shots and won the game for Orlando.
I whiffed on Lee in last year's Draft, knowing absolutely nothing about college basketball will do that to you, but though he's played well, he's long struck me as a little overrated. A 10.8 PER as a 23-year old isn't exactly setting the league on fire, the similarly-tuned Anthony Parker had a 14 in his rookie year at age 22, and though his defense has been damn good for a rookie, it's pretty average overall. And he was truly bad defensively in his first playoff game.
Tonight, he was fantastic. The jump back to form in defensive terms was what encouraged me the most. We knew this guy can fill it up, but he really made an effort to bring it on both ends. Good thing, because the Magic go to Philly down 0-2 if not for their big time rookie.
Philly has a lot of issues, but none more than usual. The team is so up and down, you don't know what you're going to get from quarter to quarter, though you can bank on Andre Miller getting his on Rafer Alston. 22.5 points, seven rebounds, and five assists a game so far for Dre.
Beyond that, Willie Green isn't helping. Matt Guokas did a great job delicately bringing this up during the game telecast, but Green can't be playing this many minutes. Or, a quarter of these minutes.
38 combined minutes over two games for Willie, four points, two rebounds, four assists, 2-11 shooting. And his defense ... not so much. These things matter. You can be happy with the split, but you have to find ways to improve.
I appreciated Rashard Lewis' game. He's paid like an All-Star starter, but we've more or less forgotten that by this point. His shot wasn't falling, but he made a point to get to the glass (eight rebounds) and find Lee among others. Six assists for Lewis, 16 points. Marcin Gortat played sound basketball after Dwight Howard split, and it turns out that the Sixers match up pretty well with Orlando, so we should see some close games in Pennsylvania.