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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Cleveland Defeats Boston 93-88: No LeBron or Pierce--but a lot of Cousy!

Larry Hughes (21 points, six assists, five rebounds, five steals) led the Cavaliers to a 93-88 victory over the Celtics in Boston on Monday night. The Cavaliers rested LeBron James for the playoffs and Paul Pierce did not play for the Celtics--but NBA TV viewers received a real treat, as Celtics legend Bob Cousy filled the analyst role (subbing for an under the weather Tom Heinsohn) alongside play by play man Mike Gorman. Cousy made a number of interesting comments and observations during the course of the game, providing insights that have significance beyond this particular contest. Here are some key points that he mentioned:

1) Cousy stressed that players must place a great value on the ball and not commit careless turnovers. Boston outshot Cleveland 51.4% to 43.8% but this advantage was blunted in part because the Celtics had 21 turnovers compared to 15 for the Cavaliers.

2) Cousy said that he thinks that LeBron James will not duplicate his regular season averages in the postseason due to the increased intensity level of the playoffs.

3) Cousy stated that Stephon Marbury is a potential Hall of Fame candidate; at first I thought that he was sarcastically mocking Marbury's declaration that he is the best point guard in the NBA but Cousy seemed to be serious. Cousy added that Marbury is not a 1 but that he is a very good 2, explaining that when a 1 crosses midcourt he is thinking about "creating something wonderful for his teammates" and only shoots if he can't do that, while a 2 crosses midcourt thinking about creating a shot for himself and only passes if that is not possible.

4) Cousy believes that Delonte West has the skills and mindset to be a good 1 but needs more confidence.

5) A fascinating glimpse at Cousy's court vision happened when a Tony Allen drive resulted in two foul shots for Allen. Cousy immediately exclaimed that Allen should have passed the ball and during the replay Cousy pointed out that if Allen had made the right pass at the right time it would have resulted in a likely three point play. Instead, Allen missed both free throws and the Celtics had an empty possession as a result.

6) After a flurry of Celtics turnovers in the third quarter fueled a 19-0 Cavaliers run that swelled Cleveland's lead to 75-55, Cousy said that the Celtics were running "desperation offense as opposed to offense by design" and noted that committing a lot of turnovers is just as bad as shooting a low percentage.

7) Cousy noted that one of a point guard's responsibilities is to know his personnel, adding that on a fast break it is better to pass to a good jump shooter than to hit a cutter in the lane who is a poor finisher at the basket. This reminded me of something that K C Jones, a former teammate of Cousy's, told me once: the Celtics would not pass the ball to a non-shooter or to a player who was not in position to shoot a shot within his range, even if that player was wide open. Some might call this "old school" but I would call it simply "championship level play."

8) After Larry Hughes drained a top of the key three pointer with the shot clock winding down, Cousy commented that the top of the key shot is the easiest shot--particularly for a good shooter--and that the defender must make every effort to contest that shot, even if the shot clock is winding down and the shooter seems to be off balance. Cousy explained that the corner shot is more difficult because the shooter cannot use the backboard as a reference point to "frame" the shot.

9) The Celtics did manage a late flurry to make the score close at the end but Cousy lamented Boston's lack of a transition game. He explained that when a team has a good transition game it is able to score layups and create three point play opportunities. Without that capability, a team is forced to rely on hitting a lot of perimeter shots. Of course, Cousy's Celtics were legendary for their fastbreak execution--Bill Russell controlled the glass, Cousy made impeccable decisions with the ball and the rest of the players filled the lane.

10) Talking about the Celtics' options in the draft, Cousy emphasized that a team should always take the best available player regardless of position. Cousy argued that talent is at a premium and, as long as the General Manager's assessments are correct, it will always be possible to make a deal later. In other words, if you end up with six really talented guards, you will be able to trade some of them in exchange for quality players at other positions. Of course, if your talent evaluations are wrong, then you end up with a bunch of mediocre players who play the same position and it will not be easy to trade them.

On the surface, the game between Cleveland and Boston was "meaningless," but for a true basketball fan it provided quite an opportunity to look at basketball through the eyes of one of the all-time greats of the game.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:35 AM


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At Tuesday, April 18, 2006 2:27:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: #8

A shot from the top of the key may be easier for the shooter to "frame", but the target is 8% smaller than it is from the corner, and requires 4% more strength to fling the ball to the hoop. In a 3-point contest, I'll take the shooter in the corner every day of the week.

At Tuesday, April 18, 2006 2:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

How did you arrive at these calculations? Are you basing it on the three point line being 23'9" from the top and 22' from the corner? In that case, you may well be correct. I think that Cousy was referring to those areas of the court in general, not specifically three point shots, even though the Hughes shot was a three pointer. Cousy mentioned that he liked to shoot from the top of the key during his playing days, which of course predated the creation of the three point shot. It is well known that the corner three pointer is closer than the three pointer from any other area; Bruce Bowen loves the corner three. The top of the key is about 19 feet out and I think that Cousy meant that this shot is easier to aim than an equivalent shot on the baseline.

At Tuesday, April 18, 2006 2:52:00 AM, Anonymous igor eduardo kupfer said...

I have no doubt that if the distance is the same, then Cousy is right (hell, he may be right anyway). My calculations were discribed in a disturbingly complete thread posted over at the APBRmetrics forum last summer. (This is Ed Küpfer, btw. Blogger doesn't always let me leave my name in the comments, for some reason.) Too much time has passed for me to remember how to do those calculations, or even to remember what a radian is, but I still have the spreadsheet I set up for that post.

At Tuesday, April 18, 2006 3:25:00 AM, Anonymous igor eduardo kupfer said...

I should say that the 8% I mentioned above is the front-to-back difference in target size -- the side-to-side size stays the same, of course. I can't remember how to calculate the area of an ellipse, but I can simulate a bunch of shots from the corner vs the three-point line at the top of the key, using as inputs the velocities and angles that optimise the likelihood of a made shot, plus a random disturbance term (equivilant for both shots). The results are that the corner shot has about a 2% advantage on the top-of-the-key shot.

At Tuesday, April 18, 2006 7:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't find that to be a particularly good analysis at all. I wouldn't take any data from it.

It appears he does not take in to consideration release height properly. Also, he includes gravity in a horizontal component calculation, which is very incorrect. Very. Other things as well, for instance, Theta E will not always be less than Theta Z, I can think of several influences keeping that from being the case.

Considering the amount of factors necessary to determine a true analysis (does Theta E benefit from the backboard?), I think it would make more sense to trust someone with a career of taking the shots than a physicist.

Though, nicely presented and easy to understand.

At Tuesday, April 18, 2006 7:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, for a second there I doubted what I just said, but try putting in a Theta Z of zero, and Light Speed for the initial velocity for the Range calculation.

The ball goes nowhere. Something is wrong...I just can't see how to correct it.

At Wednesday, April 19, 2006 4:32:00 PM, Blogger tosh said...

Hey, DF: Ask Cousy, why he traded The Big "O" before "1", to Milwaukee, when he was coach of the Cinncy Royals? If he doesn't answer call me and I'll give you the "Big"o's", phone number if you don't have it.....tosh

At Monday, April 24, 2006 1:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tosh (for those of you who may not know, Tosh--Bill Tosheff--is a retired NBA player who has fought a long battle with the NBA so that pre-1965 NBA retirees receive the full pension benefits that they deserve for building the foundations of today's league), I interviewed Cousy a while back for a Basketball Digest article about Sam Jones but we did not discuss Cousy's coaching career. I've interviewed Robertson on a couple occasions but we did not talk about the specifics surrounding his departure from Cincinnati and his arrival in Milwaukee. Since Cousy and Robertson have each written autobiographies, their perspectives on that situation are already a matter of public record, so I opted to spend my time with them examining other topics. Is there a particular aspect of that story that you would like to share here?


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