Thursday, June 6, 2013

2013 NBA Playoffs Review - East


The Bulls are a bad matchup for Miami. They are long, fast, and physical, unafraid of confrontation. Their defense is beautiful, especially how they move as a unit, credit to Coach Thibodeau. But they didn't have the horses. I'm glad Derrick Rose sat it out-they were never beating Miami this year. Which is sad given they were so close two years ago. But you don't lose by as much as the Bulls lost by in Game 2 and have a chance. It reminded me of the Bulls blowout of the Jazz during their second Finals-at that point, the series was over. 

Pacers over Knicks though was hugely entertaining. I don't know why people kept writing Indiana off; I know Carmelo went ballistic over the last month of the regular season, but did anyone think that would last? Indiana really bothered New York with their size. When NY goes small, they are small everywhere, compared to Miami, which gives up size at the 4/5 spots but is huge on the perimeter. And Indiana's length made all those contested jumpers the Knicks love that much harder. 

And Roy Hibbert. He already affects most possessions defensively, but holy hell he really took it to the Knicks offensively. In the process, he exposed a dirty secret about Tyson Chandler. I love Tyson. I think he has a great attitude, plays with passion, and is a smart defender. He is great at sealing the paint before slashers get there, contesting, and dishing hard fouls as necessary. Dallas absolutely does not win the 2011 title without someone of his caliber. But I've also watched too many games of Tyson Chandler getting swallowed by other post players. Especially in international play, where the bigs are more skilled and better passers, he just gets swallowed, unable to prevent positioning and unable to contest without fouling. He is big and strong in the chest and arms, but just doesn't seem to have the base to prevent crafty players with good footwork to have their way with him. In the 2012 gold medal game against Spain, Marc/Pau Gasol ate him for lunch (until Marc got into bogus foul trouble), and the USA's best strategy against them was actually LeBron fronting. In this series, Roy Hibbert carved him with a sweet array of post moves and the ability to finish over either shoulder.
On offense, Tyson Chandler just wasn't enough of a threat to get Hibbert into sticky situations and the perimeter players' propensity to pull-up for jumpers further let him breathe. All of that changed against Miami. Indiana is so shallow that when any of their starters got into foul trouble against Miami, they were basically doomed for the rest of the game. The Pacers starters actually dramatically outscored the hobbled Heat starters, but over seven games, you need at least two bench guys to contribute. It is unfortunate that the Heat can win games because calls can go their way, but that's why they are the Heat: they get the calls, they know that, and they play with aggression accordingly. Don't get me wrong: a lot of those calls are 50/50 whistles that you don't get if you never force the issue. Over seven games, an aggressive team is eventually going to get the calls.
Outside of the calls, though, both defenses were a spectacle to behold, with the constant shifting, movement, well-defined rules, and ability to recover. It was really difficult for Indiana to compete with Miami's perimeter length and perhaps harder for Miami to deal with Indiana's size inside. Both offenses worked hard. The Heat did a great job of running the same sets five different ways, with all five players getting the ball.  They also utilized the roll-the-ball up the court approach more than any other team I can remember, giving them extra time to run the offense. Why don't more teams do this? Two years ago I criticized the Bulls for not getting into the offense quick enough, walking the ball up the court, and I feel the Pacers did the same here.
What Indy did well was a great job of making the Heat pay for trapping by swinging the ball and pounding the post. Lance Stephenson was maddening for stretches, but overall, he belonged. Until Game 7, Paul George, showed the confidence to take LeBron off the dribble and demolish smaller defenders. The problems came for Indy during end-of-quarter and end-of-game situations. Again and again, they'd go on a run only to let Miami back into it. Just little things like the 4 FTs LeBron took in 3 seconds at the end of the 3rd quarter in Game 6: if Indy is up by 17 instead of 13, maybe they close in the first few minutes of the 4th and the starters get some much-needed rest. And the end-of-game plays were catastrophic. Paul George bailing them out aside, there was too much indecision, too many direction-less plays, and too little passing. And that's just the offense! I'm not even going to get into the Game 1 defensive blunders. Frank Vogel showed he's not on par with Rivers, Spoelstra, Carlyle, and especially Pop, but he should get there with time.
And Indy's bench: what a debacle. DJ Augustin couldn't start for the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats. The same team that set a league record for lowest season winning percentage. That is not a record you want. Sam Young looked "meh" on defense and invisible on offense. Tyler Hansborough I actually liked: he works hard and did a good job on the offensive glass against lazy Heat defenders. But like Magic Johnson says: talent always beats effort, because when talent tries, effort can't keep up.
The Pacers' bench killed them and they only have themselves to blame. Look, I also laude them for landing Danny Granger with the 17thpick, Paul George with the 10th, and Lance Stephenson with the 40th, all picks that were questioned at the time. The ability to get value with low draft picks is valuable and rare. But what about these other picks? 17thpick in 2006, Shawne Williams, out of the league. 2008: Jerryd Bayless with the 11thpick, flipped after with Ike Diogu for Jarrett Jack (would have made a difference), Josh McRoberts, and Brandon Rush (13th pick). Rush (also would have helped the bench, especially with shooting) was then flipped for Louis Amundson (no longer with the team) because they had George ahead of him. What an asinine decision. 2009: Tyler Hansborough with the 13th pick, career bench big with a good motor. 2010 Paul George, then 2011 Kawhi Leonard with the 15th pick, traded for George Hill. And the most egregious of all: 2012, the 26th pick for Miles Plumlee, and athletic big that plays like a stiff and couldn't be trusted at size/athleticism-challenged Duke. It's a bad pick, but they passed on Bernard James, Jae Crowder (why is Dallas so smart?), and Draymond Green. So outside of George, Stephenson, Hill, and Granger (not bad), they turned three lottery picks and a 6th man of the year candidate in Jack into… nothing. Cap space. With which they signed Gerald Green, Ian Mahinmi, and the immortal, DJ Augustin. As Simmons would say: imbecilic.
What a shame. They really competed against Miami. Paul George submitted a "leap" performance the whole series. Roy Hibbert was beautiful when he was on the court. David West abused Shane Battier. They just didn't have the horses to beat the league's premier team, especially when Dwyane Wade finally got that cortisone/deer antler shot before Game 7. Miami, deep down, can reach a gear that nobody else in the league can. That is something the best player in the world can do for you. The only question now is, given injury and health, how many times can they get there?

Finals preview and pick to come.

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