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On the Spurs Game 6 collapse (or lack thereof)

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San Antonio Spurs approach bench during a timeout.

San Antonio Spurs approach bench during a timeout. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The finish to Game 6 of the Finals will go down in history, due to the likelihood of the Spurs winning when headed to the FT line up 4 with 28 seconds left. A extra FT or defensive rebound closes the game. The Spurs losing that game will haunt them and those players forever.

However, I wouldn’t call it a historic collapse for this reason. The Heat led by 3 points with 1:27 left in the game and after charging back from the 10 point deficit to storm the 4th, felt as if in control of the game, playing at home, having the momentum and with Lebron James playing perhaps the best quarter of his career to that point. From there Tony Parker hit a crazy 26 foot 3pter, followed by a Chalmers turnover turning into a Parker score, then Lebron turning it over on the next 2 possessions, both ending in Ginobili at the FT line, where he hit 3 of 4. In all, the Spurs scored 8 points in a row in less than a minute, turning a 3 point deficit at 1:27 to a 5 point lead at 0:28. For the Spurs to have this sudden surge took a combination of clutch play by their stars scoring or forcing turnovers, fortune and devastating decisions in succession by Miami. In other words, it’s the inverse of what Miami needed to erase their 5 point deficit in the last 28 seconds. For the crushing misfortune the Spurs suffered in the last 28 seconds, they had just as much good luck in the 1 minute before then to shockingly get to that point, if not more. The Spurs in fact outscore the Heat by 3 in the last 1:27. To me, heading into the last 28 seconds the Spurs were about to steal a game they hadn’t controlled all quarter. That’s why I wouldn’t call it a historic collapse.

For the Spurs, I would consider it as big a criticism that a lead that was 13 late in the 3rd and 10 heading into the 3rd, was lost midway through the 4th. The lack of Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan in the last half minute of the 3rd and the first 2-3 minutes of the 4th, may have allowed the Heat to get a grasp on the game. In particular I’m shocked Leonard came off for those 2-3 minutes considering his athleticism and endurance at his age, with Duncan off they really needed Kawhi’s help defense and activity.

Interestingly, in 2011 even though in retrospect it felt like Dallas’ Game 6 win was inevitable, Dallas led by 9 heading into the 4th and, but Miami scored 5 straight points to start the quarter to cut it to 4. This was followed by 8 straight points by Jason Terry and JJ Barea with Miami not scoring for 3 minutes, to push the lead back to 12. In the Spurs Game 6, it was the Spurs who didn’t score from 3 straight minutes as their 82-77 lead went to a 82-85 deficit. In many ways, this game was Lebron’s reprieve for Game 6 of 2011. In that game he couldn’t provide the energy to turn the game to Miami’s, while in this one he not only did he dominate the 4th, but he shut down Tony Parker and the Spurs offense at the same time.

Although it was relatively successful for the Spurs, I still think taking the Tim Duncan-Tiago Splitter pairing out of the series, was a fascinating decision by the Spurs. Splitter is a blue chip center and the combination of him, Leonard and Duncan together was a devastating combination of defensive size. The Spurs took away a potential advantage in the post and on the glass by eliminating their big lineup. It’s unclear whether this was a good thing or not. Although there’s reason to be concerned about bigs guarding Miami’s small lineup, Indiana proved they could compete with a traditional David West-Roy Hibbert lineup. Playing big puts their bigs in defensive problems, but it also throws Miami’s gameplan off. Although San Antonio almost won the series, on paper it seems a smallball series is the way Miami wanted to play. It’s hard to beat a team like Miami at their game.

When looking at Miami’s 2 titles, I really have to credit them for winning big games on the road. There have been a remarkable amount of series for the Heat the last two series where the opponent team ‘had’ homecourt advantage at some point during it. Meaning against the 2013 Spurs, 2013 Pacers, 2013 Bulls, 2012 Thunder, 2012 Celtics, 2012 Pacers, the other team were at a point where they just had to win all their remaining home games to close out the Heat. But in Game 4 against the Spurs, Game 3 against the 2013 Pacers, Game 3 against the Bulls, Game 2 against the Thunder and Game 3 against the 2012 Pacers, (with the exception of the lay-up Bulls series) the Heat avoided either elimination or a very perilous state by going into the other team’s building and beating them, usually in dominant fashion.

As for the Spurs this year will still be an important and memorable part of their history despite the loss. But they aren’t done either even if Tim Duncan dips sharply from here and Ginobili retires or makes Spurs fans wish he had. With a few more Tony Parker prime seasons expected to come and the Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, along with potentially more draft additions by that scouting staff, they have the horses to contend next year, if not ones after that. Leonard may be following the progression of Rajon Rondo, who started off as the 4th wheel for the Celtics in 2008, before in a short period of time surpassing them all to be the star and face of the team by 2010. Leonard could be the guy on the Spurs as early as next year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if San Antonio is the 2014 champions, following in the footsteps of the late 80s Pistons, probably the best comparable for an agonizing loss of the title in Game 6 and 7 in 1988 followed by winning in 1989 and 1990.

This series was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It was exceptional both on a game by game entertainment level with massive historical consequences. This was a Finals, Game 6/7 and playoff series that will stand out in the annuls of history and the NBA will be missed for the summer.

Written by jr.

June 21, 2013 at 1:43 pm

NBA Finals Thoughts

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

When predicting the Finals or previous rounds, I try to take a perspective of “How would you feel about this match-up if you’d heard about it before the playoffs?”, meaning not to fall prey to overreacting to previous rounds. Clearly most would have greatly favored Miami going into the playoffs over San Antonio or anyone else.

With that said, the Spurs defense has impressed me far more in the playoffs. The Spurs have not been able to win games “ugly” and with defense in the playoffs for years like they did against Memphis and Golden State and now they can. The development of Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter has brought the Spurs defense back to relevance. On the other hand the Heat’s switch to a smaller lineup phasing Joel Anthony out of the lineup, has prevented them from consistent elite defensive results. If the Heat were a shut-down defensive team the Pacers series would’ve been much shorter because like the Grizzlies, the Heat could’ve just exposed the Pacers flawed offense. Although at times the Heat defense stepped up such as in Game 7, overall I trust the Spurs defense more.

One of the reasons the Grizzlies went down so easily to the Spurs is predictability. The Grizzlies leaned far too much in 3 players in Mike Conley, Jr., Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol. The Popovich defensive game-planning were able to key on them. The spacing, passing and off ball play of the other Heat players aside from Lebron, will make it difficult to push the Heat into the flat offensive gameplan they want them to.

The Spurs players’ production has largely been expected compared to regular season play. However the Heat have had different production. Wade and Bosh have been worse, Chris Anderson has been better, and Battier hasn’t been playing. The Heat with Wade and Bosh playing back at regular season level can make a step up as a team compared to what we’ve seen. The biggest way they get worse is if Lebron’s play drops off. For the Spurs to step up their play it’d be by Manu upping his play, albeit he’s been off all year.

If the Heat role players match the Spurs’, the Heat likely win the series just because of Lebron. Lebron and equal help probably doesn’t lose. The way the Heat lose is either Lebron disappoints like in 2011 or he gets no help. The Spurs need to decide whether to shut down the Heat role players while letting Lebron do what he wants, or trying to stop Lebron.

Although it’s unfair, if Lebron loses the Finals twice in three years at his apex as the favorite and with home court advantage it will be hard to live down. Nevertheless making 3 straight Finals puts the Heat in a rare and proud class. I see the Heat losing next year. This Heat team reminds me of the 2010 Lakers where making the Finals 3 straight years was showing on them. Even if they grinded out a 2nd title, that run showed signs of how it’d end the following year. The reason the Heat losing the 2011 title hurts them so much is that their window would never run into infinity with their big 3 running into double digits for seasons played, which is usually when players decline. As superhuman as he is, even Lebron’s prime may end sooner than people believe. Lebron has played over 36,000 minutes in the regular season and playoffs combined and is set to tack on 3000-3800 a year from now on. Normally 40,000 thousand is a dangerous number for when players start to slip. Put it this way, if Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison retired right now, Lebron would pass them by the end of next season with minutes played similar to this season. He’d take about 2 seasons to catch Steve Nash and 3 seasons to catch Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce if they all retired now. Like recent Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, Lebron will likely be a fantastic player deep into his 30s, but the apex version of Lebron racking up MVPs, may only last 1 or 2 more years, with 3 seeming the absolute max.

Admittedly I don’t have a great feel for who wins this series. I don’t feel the matchup favors one team or the other. So I’ll predict this – The first two games in Miami are split. San Antonio wins 2 of 3 at home, which leads the Spurs to have a 3-2 lead going back to the 2 games in Miami. From there it’s probably a toss-up whether San Antonio closes out the series or if Miami wins back to back at home.

Prediction: Miami in 7 games

I pick Miami because of home court advantage favoring them in the 7th game if they get there and because of the greatness of where Lebron’s game is right now.

Written by jr.

June 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm

33pt Thursday: Was “Feel for the Game” the secret to the Red Auerbach era Celtics and Greg Popovich era San Antonio Spurs legendary drafting?

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Tony Parker and Greg Popovich

Tony Parker and Greg Popovich (Photo credit: Tiago Hammil)

I believe feel for the game is ultimately under-represented in NBA personnel decisions, particularly in the draft. However that does not mean nobody has ever considered the subject. When I look at two incredibly eras for franchises, feel for the game stands out consistently in draft picks/decisions – and that’s Red Auerbach’s Celtics and Greg Popovich’s Spurs.

Now, this could be simply a matter of the Celtics and Spurs being fantastic at finding great players and it just so happening that most great players excel in feel for the game, therefore their successful acquisition correlating with feel for the game friendly players rather than being a cause of it. But for fun, let’s look at the histories of some of their picks:

Auerbach joined the Celtics in 1950. Bob Cousy was actually passed on by the Celtics, but ended up with them anyways after his team the Chicago Stags folded. Cousy was the Celtics’ first player with supreme feel for the game, the first truly great offensive mind in the game at the guard position. Bill Sharman, a draft pick soon after was another with a strong feel for the game offensively.

In 1956 the Celtics made arguably the biggest history changing NBA trade ever, trading for the rights to Bill Russell for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan. Bill Russell of course is in the conversation for greatest feel for the game of all time. His awareness of the court makes him the greatest defensive genius in NBA history, while his elite passing game for a big proved his awareness offensively. Read the rest of this entry »

The top 50 players of all time (by my standards)

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Bill Russell posing with other NBA Legends and...

Almost there, Bill (Image via Wikipedia)

If you’re a RealGM member, you probably know about this project, attempting to rank the top 100 players of the post shot clock era. (which among other reasons, allows us to avoid the impossible task of ranking George Mikan against everyone). We just completed the top 50, (note: Chris Paul made 50th, the thread hasn’t updated yet). I have some greivances about the overall list – let’s just say it’s 90% right and 10% wrong, but that 10% sticks out to a perfectionist. But shortly after it started I decided to update my own list one at a time in coordination with the main one, it is found halfway down the linked thread. This is my analysis in short at the halfway point, with 50 spots finished:

Tier 1 – The Greatest of All Time contenders

1. Michael Jordan

2. Bill Russell

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

These are the 3 players I primarily consider for greatest of all time candidcy. None need much introduction if you are a basketball history fan. Read the rest of this entry »

The NBA’s 50 Most Interesting People of ’10-11 (Part I)

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A countdown of the 50 most interesting people in the NBA this year based on what they have and have not

Image via nba.com

done. This post will count down from 50 to 31.

50. Joel Anthony

Who’d have thunk that the 4th most important player after Miami’s Big 3 would be an undrafted guy who spent more time on the bench than on the floor in college? Dude’s become a living symbol of team balance. The Heat have so much focus on scoring with their 3 stars that not only can they afford to have a 2 PPG guy as stater – they STILL are putting too much emphasis on scorers even with a guy like Anthony.

49. LaMarcus Aldridge

With Roy falling on hard time, Aldridge has emerged as the Blazers’ star, as they continue to both disappoint and overachieve. Aldridge has yet to really capture our attention with star-like intrigue, but his new prominence is noteworthy.

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Kobe Bryant: the most overrated defender imaginable

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Kobe Bryant subs out vs the Washington Wizards

Image via Wikipedia

Alright, the 2010-11 NBA All-Defensive Team has been announced, and with Kobe Bryant receives his NBA record 9th 1st Team award by that voting body.

Let me tell you a story, about a player who has strong overall impact, great team success, and a kickass narrative that says he always gives 110% on both ends of the court when it’s quite clear that he let’s his defense slide a large chunk of the time.

I don’t enjoy singling someone out in hater fashion, but it needs to be pointed out how glaring things have become in this case. People are going to look at Kobe as one of the great perimeter defenders of all time because of this metric, and the truth is, it’s based almost entirely on reputation. It’s impossible for me to imagine a player in modern NBA history whose defense has been this overrated.

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Written by Matt Johnson

May 9, 2011 at 5:07 pm

The Retro Player of the Year Project

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I’ve just finished running a project on the RealGM called the Retro Player of the Year (RPOY).  I think it was one hell of a project, so I want to give y’all a summary of it.

–          The idea behind the RPOY was that the NBA MVP award isn’t good enough. It only factors in the regular season, and really, the award that everyone wants when they do comparisons of players is an all-season Player of the Year award.

–          Now, this isn’t strictly an MVP for all seasons, because that wouldn’t work.  If the guy who has the best regular season is on a mediocre team, he’s not going to contribute as much value to his team in the playoffs as the star of the champion, so you’ve got to be a bit less literal than that.  The need for some fuzziness opens the door to people voting with different philosophies, but really that happens with the MVP any way. And still, we kept a focus where voting had to be based on what a player actually did that year, not what he could conceivably have done in the right circumstances. If a guy has a down year in the middle of his prime, even he was dealing with a moron of a coach and a tyrant of an owner – he suffers in this project.

–          RealGM is a website that has a variety of things on it, but the flagship of the public facing end of it is the basketball message boards.  I strongly believe they have the best basketball message boards on the internet, which is why I’ve been a moderator for them for several years.

–          The voting panel was semi-open.   By that I mean, at the beginning of the project, I let in all established posters from the site who wanted to be included, but afterward I only let in posters who impressed me.  I won’t claim that the members of the panel were necessarily the most prestigious of folks compared to actual MVP voters.  However, there were some powerhouses in this project I feel privileged to have been able to work with, and if you look at the votes, I think you’ll find that there are less “crazy votes” than what you see in a typical MVP vote.

–          The project took about 6 months to complete, starting from the ’08-09 season, and going back to the beginning of the shot clock era, with one digression to evaluate ’09-10 after the Lakers won their second title in a row.

Without further ado:  Here is a site made for the project which displays and tabulates the results, and here is the main message board page for the project.

Now, some results, and some thoughts on all this:

Read the rest of this entry »

2010-11 NBA Predictions: ROY

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This is a tougher award to judge than I think anyone realizes.  Here’s the thing, if you asked most people how they judge the ROY compared to the MVP, I think they’d probably say they think about them similarly.  The MVP of the rookies if you will.  However, if you actually look at ROY’s from a +/- perspective, you start seeing some major problems.

Now let me elaborate for those of you not as stat-obsessed as I am.  +/- statistics simply measure how well how many points more than your opponent are scored while you’re on the court versus when you aren’t on the court.  It’s something that came from hockey, but in the last decade basketball statisticians have really taken it to the next level.

Analyze +/- data, and what you’ll find that pretty much any guy considered a strong candidate for the MVP does really well in the stat.  However, if you apply the same stat to ROY candidates, you’ll find chaos, and if you think about it, that makes perfect sense.  Rookies typically are not guys who completely turn around their team so much as they are guys considered to have great upside that the team decides to build around.  They’ve earned their primacy based on future value rather than present value.

If you don’t believe me, let’s consider LeBron James as a rookie.  Read the rest of this entry »