Wednesday, June 07, 2006

NBA Conference Finals Wrap

Apologies for not keeping up on my game-by-game of the conference finals - stupid real life...

Anyway, just wanted to drop some last thoughts on the two series.

First, Miami-Detroit - I heard Rick Barry on the radio the other day, and he pointed to game 2 of the Cleveland series, where they beat the crap out of the Cavs for three quarters, fell asleep and let LeBron beat them. Barry says that they switched off at that point and "it's not like a faucet - you can't just turn it on and off." It's a cliche, I think he's largely right. The Pistons seemed satisfied and stopped doing the things that made them, well, the Pistons. Sheed kept losing his head; Big Ben shot 4% from the line; Rip stopped being the perpetual motion machine that he is (and really, to my mind the cause of the Pistons' offensive implosion was this simple factor - Rip stopped moving, so they where left with no offense except for endless high pick & rolls, which Miami could play pretty well - you couldn't really expose Shaq because he was guarding Ben Wallace, who was a complete non-threat due to his FT woes. And whoever was guarding Sheed [generally Haslem] was athletic enough to keep Billups from turning the corner and give Payton/Wade/Williams time to recover.) And really, the only Pistons who played with any sense of desperation were McDyess (who should have taken most of Ben's minutes once it was clear that he was a complete liability on O - you need to make Shaq work on D.) and Prince.

Too much is often made about 'wanting it more,' but there is a threshold of desperation that teams need to be succesful in the playoffs, and the Pistons, post Cleveland Game 2, simply did not reach that level. It has been suggested that at a certain point the confidence of 'having done it before' grows overwhelming and becomes overconfidence.

And that overconfidence is fragile - each player is so expetant of good results that when things start to go bad, you get attempts to play 'hero' basketball. Instead of doing what brung ya, everyone starts freelancing, trying to make the big play. It's very rare that attempting big play plays goes well - (this is part of what made Dirk's 3pt play at then end of game 7 vs. San Antonio so marvellous - he had to make that play. Of course, WTF is Ginobili doing fouling there, other than trying to make a 'big play' by getting the series winning block...) And the Pistons were doing this all series, Chauncey trying so hard to hit the 'dagger' shots for which he has becomed renowned that he just shot poorly. Rip trying to create off the bounce, not his strength. Lindsay Hunter trying to draw the 'big play' charge on Wade about 4 times too often a game, probably earning 1 foul but giving up 5 or 6 points via the line each game. Sheed both shooting has mouth and one-legged jumpers.

By contrast, the Heat were desperate. Shaq played harder than he has in 4 years (possibly helped by not having to guard anybody, see above). Wade was perhaps a little overaggressive but still effective. But the difference was the other Miami guys - Williams made shots, Walker's numbers may not have been great, but both he and Payton looked spry and played their roles well - Toine appears to have mastered the NBA Jams style 4 foot alley-oop to Shaq.

As far as the other series, there were three, possibly related points. First, Phoenix very visbily tired - the Bell injury hurt them here perhaps most of all in that they already had a short bench and asking 6 guys to play for 48 minutes at that pace (especially when 2 of them in Nash and Marion are a little nicked up) is just too much. Second, the killed themselves by not finishing around the rim consistently. At least 5 times each game Barbosa or Diaw or Thomas would be at the rim, shy away from contact, and either short arm it or get it blocked. My neighbors probably think I'm crazy from all the times I yelled "F***** FINISH!" Somewhat relatedly, Diaw needs a left hand very badly, or at least a turn around J over his right shoulder (turning baseline from the left block occassionally instead of always turning middle).

But the last, and most salient point is a demonstration of why coaching matters and why playoff games do tend to be lower scoring. After the first game, I posited that the Mavs needed to slow the pace down which they did in four ways - first just getting back better, even on scores. Second, the crashed the o-boards a little less. Third, the Dallas guards started 'jamming' Nash - not letting him catch the inbounds pass sprinting up court. Fourth was the insertion of Diop for Devin Harris which slowed Dallas down, forcing Phoenix to create all of their own momentum.

And once they got the game into the half-court, Avery Johnson did a fairly masterful job of taking away what Phoenix wanted to do

- he kept Diop on Diaw, and while Diaw made some shots, he missed a bunch around the rim, and, when he penetrated, they didn't need to help as much, so he couldn't throw those little oops to Marion or kick to Barbosa/House/Thomas for open trey.

- They also recognized that Nash wasn't totally comfortable shooting off the pick and roll, so they switched it and had the big guy sag just a bit, and made Nash really work to score (additionally, they didn't help nearly as often when he got into the lane - while he had some nice scoring nights, it was clear that he had to use a ton of energy on each possession, and he simply was worn out by the end.)

- Dalls recognized that Barbosa would dodged contact so they helped strong, and he repeatedly tried to go reverse, which he did not convert a high percentage.

In any sport, the offense has an advantage because they have the initiative - I know where I'm going with the ball before you do. However, as Dallas became more familiar (and with the coaches no doubt pointing tendencies out) with the intricacies of each Suns' game, they were able to make game-by-game adjustments to make Phoenix make shots that were just a little harder or a little longer or a little more contested, and combined with the slower pace, the 8-10 points that these extra misses saved where more than enough.

Finals preview coming soon.

Note I've been trying to post this for two damn days. Stupid blogger...


Icepick said...

Well, it doesn't matter what the basketball analysis says, Dallas will sweep Miami. It will be five games, max. I watched five minutes of Game Two, saw Shaq literally get picked up and thrown in front of an official (nice MMA move by the Dallas player, BTW) and NO call.

Wade looked at Stackhouse funny, they called a foul on Wade AND hit him with a T. The fix is in, and I'm am officially done with the NBA. If an owner can fix a game by threatening the officials publically, then fuck it. I'd rather watch the WWE. Or metric football. I'm not watching another NBA game. Now I remember why I quit watching years ago.

Pooh said...

Alternatively, Dallas is just a far superior team...(which was my thought after game 1. I was so bored with the series after three quarters that I can't really bring myself to blog it.)

Icepick said...

They may or may not be the superior team. But ever since Cuban went on his last bitching spreee, Dallas has gotten all the calls. There's no way to justify the ticky-tack nature of the fouls called on Miami when Dallas is getting away with GBH.

This isn't homeritis either. I am not a Miami fan, and other than Cuban I like the Mavs. But the officiating needs to at least TRY to be consistent within a game, and should be the same for both teams.

Now I remember that I gave up on the NBA not just because my team sucked, or because the game had gotten so damned ugly. It was also that the officiating had gotten so blatantly biased. (Last night, even the announcers where questioning the calls, in their muted "I really need this job" kind of way.)