Tag Archives: The Truth

At Long Last, It’s Miami vs. Boston

Finally, it has come to this. Those pesky Bulls had to crash the party, had to make this series take place one round early, but never mind them. While Chicago sweeps the Hawks, all eyes will be on this.

Heat vs. Celtics, Evil vs.Good, free agency vs. the trading market, tampering vs. a little help from your friends, individual Rucker Park basketball vs. championship-level synergy.

Sunday afternoon, it begins — and all we have to do is sit back and watch, pens drawn, narratives abound.

That said, those of us who want to watch a basketball series and not the ultimate battle of clashing basketball philosophies that don’t clash at all are in for a treat as well. Seven All-Stars will take the court Sunday for the start of a four-to-seven-game series. At least 6 future Hall of Famers will play. And if we’re lucky, Hubie Brown will be in the announcing booth, pointing out every important thing we’re watching.

But what exactly do we need to be watching when they tip-off?

I’m glad you asked.

Who’s Guarding Lebron James?

I’ll let Tom Haberstroh take this one, because he’s much smarter than you, me, and everybody.

According to Newmann and Oliver, Pierce checked LeBron 69 percent of the time, with Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Marquis Daniels (no longer with the team) filling in the rest. But against Pierce, LeBron shot just 43 percent from the field and his efficiency plummeted to depths rarely seen from him. In fact, LeBron scored 75 points per 100 possessions with Pierce covering him, down from his 93 points per 100 possessions when guarded by all other Celtics defenders.

We’ve seen this going on in previous Lebron vs. Boston series. Though Boston guards Lebron in a team-wide manner, having Pierce spearhead the defensive effort is key – more than ever when the defensive monstrosity that is Jeff Green is the primary second option. Boston needs Pierce in prime shape, hoping that working on Lebron won’t take the same toll it has taken on his offensive game in the past.

Where’s Dwyane Wade?

In four games against Boston this year, Dwyane Wade is shooting 28% from the field. His true shooting percentage isn’t much better, at a disturbingly low 38%. He registered 21 turnovers to 21 assists, and got to the line only 5.8 times a game (after averaging 8.6 for the year). The narrative dictates that Wade is clutch and Lebron is not, that Wade shows up for the playoffs and that Lebron does not, and that Wade is a good person and Lebron is not, but with Lebron’s averages against Boston on par with his season numbers (29, 6.5, 6.5 on 56.2 TS%, albeit 5 turnovers), the onus to show up will be on the former Finals MVP.

Will Rajon Be Rajon?

In three wins against the Heat, Rajon Rondo had 43 assists. In one loss, he had 5. This is obviously a very cut-and-dry way to look at things, with millions of other factors going in to every one of those 4 regular season games, but the difference is simultaneously astonishing and extremely logical. When Rondo is at the top of his game, penetrating at will and finding his teammates, this Boston offense is a completely different beast. When Rondo is not well, the offense boggles down to a 9-7 March or a 4-4 April.

Who Plays Center?

Joel Anthony has risen from national punchline to cult hero, and with good reason. The handless +/- monster has had a strong effect during the regular season series between these two teams, playing fantastic defense on Kevin Garnett in Miami’s blowout April win. In fact, the Celtics have only scored 89.7 points per 100 possessions with Joel on the court, compared to 99.6 when Zydrunas Ilguaskas is out there.

The picture flips on offense. By replacing Joel’s dunk air-balling goodness with Z’s pick-and-pop acumen, the Heat’s offense vs. Boston jumps a staggering 14 points per 100 possessions. Balancing the two centers (perhaps occasionally playing centerless when Boston trots Garnett out to the pivot) will be key for the Heat.

(Just for kicks, in case one of you still thinks Erick Dampier is a valid NBA center: Miami has scored 54.4 points per 100 possessions against Boston with Damp on the floor. It should be noted that this took place for only 6 minutes all season, but hey, why take notice of sample sizes when making fun of Erick Dampier?)

The center position is just as important from Boston’s side as well, if only because of the increasingly unlikely scenario that Shaquille O’neal ever takes the court again. Shaq was a key part of Boston’s torrid start to the season, which included two closer-than-the-score-indicates wins over these same Heat. Miami has no one on it’s roster who can handle Shaq.

Sadly, it seems as if 39 years of humongousness have finally done the Diesel in.

The Supporting Casts

Miami is the big 3 and nobody else, while Boston is a TEAM. Right? Anybody?

This line of thinking should probably go down the drain at this point. Beyond Boston’s 4 all stars, the team has been absolutely atrocious. Adding on to the Jeff Green outlash is just plain cruel at this point, but Glen Davis hasn’t looked much better, and Jermaine O’neal looks about as creaky as the frequent and generic punchlines make him out to be. Delonte West is shooting 27% in these playoffs so far, and while this probably improves considerably, he’s hardly been the model of consistency these past few years. Boston’s fifth  best player might be Nenad Krstic at this point, which says a lot.

Meanwhile, Joel Anthony has been fantastic defensively, and the James Jones/Mario Chalmers combo are shooting a combined 39% from three. Hardly spectacular, but with rest between games and enabling Lebron, Wade and Bosh to play upwards of 40 minutes a game, the Heat don’t really need spectacular. All they need is to drag Boston’s supporting cast down with their’s, which at the moment, seems very plausible.

Who Shows Up?

A simplistic question, without much analytical standing.

Yet, this will decide the series.

Miami has shown a disturbing lack of urgency throughout this season. The reasons as to why now become completely irrelevant – from here on out, Miami runs the risk of it’s season ending. The urgency should accompany that prospect.

Similarly, we have no idea which Boston arrives. The Celtics aren’t as bad as their post all-star play indicates, but expecting them to flip the switch all the way back up, even if they did it last year, is an extreme leap of faith. And as impressive as they looked in the final 2 games against the Knicks, they were also very close to losing twice on their home floor, to the Knicks.

Prediction, Just Because It Has To Be Done

The Heat are not going to blow the Celtics out. Boston is too proud, the defense is too good, and Miami still lacks the cohesion to pull it off. And Boston is not going to blow Miami out, because Miami has the two best players in the series, in a sport where this sort of thing matters. (Don’t give me the “New York had the two best players in the series too!” bit, because we know better.) It will be a close series, with low scoring and high drama. But this Boston team needs too many things to go just right, and unlike last season, when everything did go just right, I don’t think Lebron skips Game 5.

Heat in 7.

Best Finals Shooting Performance Ever + Martian Point Guard = Tied Series

 ray-allen-three-finals-record

As long as you remember that formula, you should be good to go in life.

The best finals shooting performance ever? That would belong to Ray Allen, who made his first 7 three-point attempts before missing one to end the half. 7 threes, which — just in case you were abducted from earth 2 days ago and hadn’t seen this — tied an NBA record for an entire game. Ray, ever the humble minimalist, needed only 1 three-pointer in the second half to break the record and got just that.

Yes, Ray bounced back perfectly from his foul-plagued Game 1, single-handedly keeping the Boston Celtics in the game in the first half. It might be weird to read the words “kept in the game,” given how Boston had a 6-point lead at half time, but make no mistake – without Ray’s ridiculous first half, Boston isn’t close. The Cs had no first-half offense other than good ole Jesus Shuttlesworth, who weighed in at exactly half of their points (27 of 54 after two quarters). None. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

And they paid for it. All game long. They paid for it in the first half, when Ray going nova was just enough for that 6-point advantage, and nothing more; and they paid for it in the second half, when the Lakers suffocated Ray, limiting him to just 5 points, with no other Celtic in enough of a previously established rhythm to count on.

And so it became that, with a bit over five minutes to go in the game, with the greatest three-point shooting performance in NBA Finals history on their side, Boston found itself looking up at a 3-point deficit, on the road, against the defending champs — the same guys who haven’t lost on their home court this postseason. Only this time, Ray was all dried out, and those Los Angeles Lakers came knocking on the Celtics’ door, saying “we’re going to take this game now.”

The only thing LA wasn’t expecting was for Rajon Rondo to answer the door, and say this:

I mean, he probably didn’t call them Dutch, and the crazy part was most likely directed exclusively at Ron Artest, but you get my gist.

Yes, Rajon Rondo took this game over in every which way and drove it home. It wasn’t just the 10 points in the final six minutes (though they surely helped) or the gaudy numbers (19, 12 and 10 – his fifth career postseason triple double). It was the game-long control of the tempo (somebody had to find Ray Allen on those semi-transition three point shots). It was the willingness to have the ball in his hands late in the game, poor free-throw shooting be damned. It was blocking Derek Fisher’s potentially game-tying shot. It was knocking the ball out of Kobe Bryant’s hands to seal the deal with 39 seconds left.

And most of all, it was the ridiculous — yet undeniably true — notion that in a game pitting a team full of savvy, experienced veterans who know how to win against another team full of savvy, experienced veterans who know how to win, the most savvy player, the one who knew best how to win, was the young point guard with arms as long as the Mississippi.

Ironically, the Ray and Rondo show had help from everybody except Boston’s other two stars. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were terrible yet again, with Pierce being a nonfactor on offense (2 of 11) and Garnett once again seeing limited action due to foul trouble (24 minutes in which he accumulated 5 fouls to 4 rebounds). In fact, KG’s only meaningful contribution came in a form we haven’t seen from him in a while: absolutely gorgeous passing. Garnett had 6 assists – 3 in the fourth quarter – and repeatedly found his teammates in the lane, taking full advantage of the space created by Allen’s early barrage. Even this comes with a hint of sadness, though, when one remembers that KG used to average 6 assists a game during his peak. Oh well.

The rest of the Celtics, though, were there all night. Nate Robinson had 7 straight points to set up Rondo’s final stretch. Sheed was arguably the best Boston big man on the court before fouls got the best of him. Glen Davis hustled like mad, occasionally getting him a basket. Kendrick Perkins recovered from trying to do too much in the first half, instead settling into a more fitting role of getting the ball near the rim and dunking it/laying it in. Tony Allen managed to play 12 minutes without turning the ball over even once. A fine all-around effort from the green supporting cast.

The Lakers missed that equivalent supporting effort very much. The “other” Lakers were atrocious, ranging from doing nothing (Lamar Odom had 5 fouls in 15 minutes) to taking simply awful shots (Derek Fisher: 2 of 8, JordanShannon BrownFarmar: 3 of 9, Ron Artest: Ron Artest.). Worse than those terrible numbers, they wasted a phenomenal performance by the ever-so-x-factorish Andrew Bynum. Bynum did everything one could ask from him. He scored 21 points without needing the ball in his hands, instead doing his damage off last-second lobs, loose balls and offensive boards. He blocked 7 shots and altered many more. And most importantly, he stayed on the court for an amazing 39 minutes. The Lakers cannot afford to waste games like that from Bynum. With the current state of his knee, you have to fully utilize anything he can possibly give.

Another Laker player who didn’t give his share was Kobe Bryant. Kobe was as out as he’s ever been recently, scoring only 21 points on 20 shots and adding 5 turnovers to boot. And while Laker fans will point to his bogus 3rd and 4th fouls — which clearly weren’t fouls by any stretch of the imagination – the truth is that he just wasn’t there. He didn’t make the shots that he usually makes and didn’t play the smart type of basketball that was there for the entire Phoenix series.

What smart type of basketball? That would be passing the ball to Pau Gasol — and fast.

Pau continued to dominate, scoring 25 points on 10 — TEN!!! — shots, throwing in 8 boards and 6 blocks for good measure. If you’re looking for an explanation as to why the best power forward in the game continues to watch his teammates run their offense without him, there is none. Nothing more to say on this subject.

All in all, you get a series that is much, much closer than it was two days ago — and not just because of the scoreboard. The Lakers have yet again demonstrated a self-sabotaging tendency to waltz away from their optimal game, while 50 percent of Boston’s core stepped up its effort dramatically. This leaves us in a situation where we don’t really know what to expect anymore. The tight officiating, the inconsistent superstars and the wild bench fluctuations mean that this series could go absolutely anywhere.

Last time around, I said that the Celtics need to kick the door open if they don’t want it to close on them. Well, they didn’t kick it, but they applied enough pressure for the Lakers to open it for them. And tough as the 2-3-2 system is for the team hosting those middle 3, the Celts now have homecourt advantage. It’s on the Lakers to play to their strengths and take it back.

If not, they could be left in the dust, wondering why they didn’t give their shaggy Spaniard the damn ball.

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Mike Brown Is High on Life, Mo Will’s Dunk

He sure does have the giggles at least. Last time I heard this much uncontrollable, start-and-stop laughter there was a gravity bong, my dorm room and talk of a trip to IHOP in the mix.

Here’s how, earlier on Twitter during the press conference, I tried to transcribe Mike Brown’s reaction to Mo Williams’ out-of-nowhere, thunder dunk over Paul Pierce  — something that was oh-so difficult in just 140 characters. (And, yeah, I realized I didn’t get the question verbatim … was a little flustered by all the cackling.)

Reporter: “Did you even know Mo could dunk?”
Mike Brown: “Nah. Hehehe. Nah … That surprised me … I did not. Hehehehe”

Not quite as good, but also pretty sweet, was Mike’s later comment on the dunk.

Mike Brown on Mo dunk: “It mighta been the red shoes he had on tonight. The red shoes might have helped him fly a lil bit.”

It’s gotta be the shoes, Money.

As for Mo, the dunk was also the hot topic when he sat in front of the press. In explaining how it happened, he said that, normally in such instances, he will wait until the defender commits to him and then look to throw a lob to LeBron to help “get him going.” But Paul never fully cut him off. Even so, being that Truth is “6’7, 6’8,” according to Mo, he was just going to go up and do a little sweeping layup deal where he fades away a little and creates some space so that the taller guy can’t block the shot.

But in this instance, said Mo, “I was a little high. I was thinking ‘I might gonna try it.” (video via TrueHoop)

LeBron’s New Crew vs. the Former Champs

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Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

This series is not.

On paper, this should be a nail biter. The teams split the regular season series. Both won their first round series in 5 games. Both teams are as healthy as they will ever be (and yes, I’m assuming that LeBron’s elbow is fine, because he’s a cyborg and cyborgs don’t feel pain). And while the Cavs are deeper, and had the far superior regular season record, they are also employing a line-up that has played less than 10 games together, including in the playoffs, and lack the championship pedigree of their green opponents. All in all, this evens out.

Until you look at the fine print.

How did Boston got those regular season wins? Well, one was on opening night, against a Cleveland squad playing it’s first game with Shaquille O’Neal in uniform after a shaky training camp, without Delonte West who was battling personal issues. Since then, Cleveland acquired Antawn Jamison, got Delonte back, got Shaq in the mix, and gained two rotation players in J.J. Hickson and Jawad Williams (though the latter might be kind of a stretch), while the Celtics regressed to .500 ball from Christmas Day onward.

The second Boston win came 10 days before the end of the season, after the Cavs clinched the league’s best record, without the aforementioned O’Neal. Cleveland basically rolled over for 3 quarters, allowing Boston to go up 22, before LeBron decided he feels like trying and instantaneously made it a close game, only to lose the game on some questionable decisions – and missed some free throws – in crunch time.

How did Cleveland get their wins?

One was a late February game, one week after Jamison joined the team, which was close for three quarters before the Cavs turned it up in the fourth (notice a trend here?) and won by 20. The other was a mid-March, Shaq-less contest, an 11 point win that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.

“Sure,” you could say, “but how about those first round series? Boston looked much better there!”

Well, the Cavs, playing at first gear, beat a Bulls team despite the Bulls playing two or three of their best games of the season. The Celtics, with extreme motivation, beat a Miami team that consists of Dwyane Wade … and … yeah.

Not to take away from the Boston’s win against Miami – they upped the defensive intensity, and managed to convincingly win a series that many, including yours truly, predicted would be very close. But how does that help them against Cleveland? Letting Wade get his and stopping the likes of Beasley, Chalmers, Haslem and Jermaine O’Neal’s dead body is hardly the same as letting LeBron get his and stopping Jamison, Mo, Shaq and an array of three-point snipers. Besides, just letting LeBron get his could be enough to lose.

Look, I might be selling the Celtics short. I pretty much declared their title chances – for this year – over once Kevin Garnett was ruled out from last season’s playoffs, and my stance didn’t change one bit even when they started the season 23-5. And while I still believe the Celtics as presently constructed to be all but done as far as a title contender, I may be letting that opinion get the better of me.

And yet, the question remains:

When have the Celtics ever given us any indication that they are capable of beating these guys?

Even at full strength, rolling towards a title, a much stronger version of these Celtics needed 7 games and a fourth quarter outburst from P.J. Brown to put Cleveland away. And this was when Cleveland had, maybe, 10% the supporting cast, the Celtics had James Posey (whom they’ve never adequately replaced), and Kevin Garnett was still one of the best players in the league.

So yes, Rajon Rondo will probably have his way with Mo Williams, weaving his way into the paint for numerous floaters and funny looking layups, just like Derrick Rose did before him and Jameer Nelson will do after him. Ray Allen will make some big threes, Paul Pierce will still be Paul Pierce, KG will yell at all sorts of things, be them opposing point guards or stationary objects. Heck, maybe even Rasheed Wallace will get off the bench and show the Cavs that even though he already mailed in a playoff series against them last year, he’s still enough of a bonehead to do it again. You know, all the those Celticy little things we’ve come to know and love.

And after all that is said and done, LeBron will get his ridiculous stat-line, Jamison will get his 18 points without releasing the ball from above his shoulder even once, Anderson Varejao will draw 5 charges and 8 technicals, some kind of dude with an unnecessary J in his name will score a big three and follow it up with a 5 minute hand shake/rain dance, and the Celtics will go home.

I know this sounds bleak, and not very fun. But I promise you, it’s not like that. It will be a fun series. The games themselves should be fairly close – not the defensive slugfest kind of close, but the entertaining kind of close, as these teams have quite regularly produced in the past.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that this series can’t affect the NBA title. In fact, this is the ultimate Cleveland gut check: for all of Lebron’s greatness, he hasn’t beaten a legit, top tier team in the playoffs since the Pistons in 2007. Unfair as that assessment may be, it’s on him to prove that he can hold up to that pressure. If he doesn’t against Boston, he won’t against Orlando/whoever comes out of the West.

As for the Celtics, this series can dramatically alter their future. If they somehow take this to 7, or even win (which I don’t see happening, at all, but you can never be sure in this league), then maybe they stay course, hope KG’s knee is better after yet another summer off, re-sign Ray Allen, sign another, strong mid-level bench guy (not like Sheed), and take another shot. If they lose in a blowout … well, then maybe it’s time to blow this thing up. (Fun side note: if Allen leaves in free agency, no team is a better fit for him than Cleveland. Nobody.) The whole Ubuntu, heart of a champion mentality of this squad will be put to the test here, even if it seemed like it abandoned them during the season.

And no matter what happens, whether this goes 4 or 7, we’ll get to see two very good teams doing what they do best. You can never go wrong with that. It’s just that at the end of the day, one of these teams is better than the other.

By quite a margin.

And they have Lebron.

Cavs in 5