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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Hawks Extinguish Heat in Game Seven

Joe Johnson bounced back from a subpar series to outplay Dwyane Wade in game seven as the Atlanta Hawks built a 29 point lead and defeated the Miami Heat 91-78. Johnson shot 10-19 from the field and finished with 27 points, five rebounds, four assists, five steals and just one turnover, while Wade shot 10-25 from the field--including 4-14 in the first half when the outcome of the game was still in doubt--and had 31 points, three rebounds, four assists, one steal and four turnovers. Neither team shot well from the field--Miami actually outshot Atlanta slightly, .413 to .408--and the Heat outrebounded the Hawks 39-30 but Atlanta dominated in two areas: forced turnovers (17-7) and three pointers made (11-4). For some inexplicable reason, many commentators--ESPN's Jon Barry being perhaps the most vocal--insist on describing Miami as a one man team but the reality is that both teams used seven man rotations in this game until garbage time.

While the Heat could have used a healthy Jermaine O'Neal--post-concussion symptoms limited him to just one ineffective minute in game seven--and Jamario Moon (who missed the last four games of the series due to a sports hernia), the Hawks were without the services of starting forward Marvin Williams and starting center Al Horford was hobbled by a sprained ankle. Each team has one All-Star plus a collection of good, solid players and that is why they posted similar won/loss records this season and why this series went seven games. Would I take the Hawks' overall talent versus the Heat's overall talent? Yes, but it is inaccurate to suggest that Miami is simply a one man team, and instead of beating that dead horse repeatedly during and after the game, Barry should have focused his attention on the fact that in game seven Atlanta's one All-Star outplayed Miami's one All-Star. In 2006, Kobe Bryant was clearly the best player on the court as his Lakers lost a seven game first round series to the Suns but I do not recall commentators saying that he was a one man team, even though that assessment would have been far more accurate than Barry's assessment of this year's Heat; instead, commentators incessantly--and inaccurately--evaluated every single pass/shoot decision that Bryant made and used pretzel logic more twisted than a contorionist's body. For the record, Bryant averaged 27.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 5.1 apg in that series while playing 44.9 mpg and shooting .497 from the field, .400 from three point range and .771 from the free throw line; Wade averaged 29.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 5.3 apg while playing 40.7 mpg and shooting .439 from the field, .360 from three point range and .862 from the free throw line. Bryant shot .500 or better in five of the seven games, while Wade shot .500 or better just once. Bryant scored 23 first half points on 8-13 shooting in game seven but his team trailed by 15 because, well, he truly was a one man team; Wade scored 14 first half points on 4-14 shooting in game seven (and committed three turnovers) but his team trailed by 13 because, well, Wade missed a lot of shots: the Hawks only led 20-18 after the first quarter but pulled away as Wade shot 0-6 in the second quarter. The issue here is not really about Bryant or Wade; the issue is why do so many commentators do such a poor job of properly analyzing how players and teams perform? Are these commentators biased, incompetent or both?

Another example of "commentators gone wild" is all of the hype about Boston-Chicago being the greatest first round series ever and Atlanta-Miami being the worst first round series ever. The Boston-Chicago series certainly featured several exciting games and many thrilling moments but most of the people who are spouting off about this series being the "greatest" don't know enough history to be qualified to make such a judgment in the first place. For one thing, the NBA playoffs have been expanded several times since the league was founded, so the current format--with a seven game first round series--is of recent vintage, making direct comparisons with previous eras an inexact science; Detroit and Milwaukee played a three game mini-series in the first round in 1976 with each game decided by exactly three points. Do any of the current commentators honestly know if that series was more or less exciting than Boston-Chicago this year? In 1981, a 40-42 Houston team knocked off the 54-28, defending champion Lakers 2-1 in a first round series in which every game was decided by five points or less. In 1984, Bernard King averaged over 40 ppg for the Knicks versus the Pistons in round one, including a 44 point outburst in a 127-123 overtime road victory in the clinching game five; that same year, Dallas beat Seattle in a closely contested five game series that was decided by a one point overtime win. Michael Jordan's famous series-winning shot over Craig Ehlo enabled his 47-35 Bulls to upset the 57-25 Cavs in round one in 1989; that series featured several close games, including an overtime contest in game four. In 1993, the Suns lost two games to the Lakers at home but rallied to win their first round series in five games and then made it all the way to the Finals; three of the five games in that series were decided by five points or less and the fifth game went to overtime before the Suns prevailed by eight points. In 1994, the eighth seeded Nuggets needed back to back overtime wins to knock off the top seeded Sonics. I am not saying that these series were definitely better than Boston-Chicago but I am very confident that all of the people who are babbling about this subject are not familiar enough with NBA history to make informed comparisons; they are just caught up in the hype about what is going on right now. Boston-Chicago was a great series but it is not necessary to call it the greatest of all-time in order to appreciate it. I am just glad that most of the hype-drunk commentators have enough sense to not compare a first round series with some of the epic Conference Finals and NBA Finals series from past years; Paul Pierce struggling to outplay John Salmons in the first round does not quite measure up to Julius Erving and Larry Bird battling for seven games in the 1981 and 1982 Eastern Conference Finals.

As for Atlanta-Miami being the worst first round series ever, I think that the only reason this is even being mentioned is that people are trying to be clever and find something "horrible" to contrast with the greatness of the Boston-Chicago series. How can a series that goes seven games be considered the worst ever? That just makes no sense. Was this series really "worse" than the Lakers' 3-0 win over the Spurs in 1986, when each game was decided by at least 20 points? In 1987, the Lakers swept the Nuggets 3-0, sandwiching blowouts of 37 and 33 points around a "close" 12 point win. For that matter, why should the Atlanta-Miami series be considered "worse" than Cleveland's sweep of Detroit this season? What was so "great" about that series? Even if the Atlanta-Miami games were not close, the outcome of the series was in doubt until the final game and the teams were evenly matched to the extent that each team won a road game.

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:22 PM

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7 Comments:

At Monday, May 04, 2009 12:08:00 PM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

Boston-Chicago is definitely not one of the best series ever, but definitely one of the best first round series ever.

 
At Monday, May 04, 2009 4:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Free Cash Flow:

As I indicated, I can go along with that but it just amuses me to listen to people who don't know much about basketball history trying to provide historical context. Most of the people who are saying that this is THE greatest first round series or THE greatest series ever would struggle to remember or recite the details from other series to compare it to, so how much meaning do their declarations really have?

 
At Tuesday, May 05, 2009 3:15:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

Such "off the cuff" comments have little or no value. I don't see why they can't just say "a very good series" or "as good as it gets" without going into best-ever-mode. At least, they could frame their views properly: Kelly Dwyer did a list of the playoff series he considers the best, but within a defined time period. You can agree or disagree but at least you know what he is talking about.

PS: Somebody told me once that Jordan's "The Shot" was initially diagrammed by Doug Collins for Cartwright to take the shot, but Jordan changed his mind during the timeout. Is that true? I've never found a reference to it anywhere, and quite frankly Collins (who was a top tactician coming off timeouts) was not exactly famous for going to other players not named Michael.

 
At Tuesday, May 05, 2009 5:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JN:

As I've mentioned before, I don't pay any attention to what Kelly Dwyer writes, so I have no idea what article you are talking about.

I never heard that story about Cartwright and I find it hard to believe that Collins would draw up a play for Cartwright in that situation.

 
At Tuesday, May 05, 2009 11:51:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

I finally found the quote (google books is a wonderful tool): Jack Haley in page 82 of Sam Smith's "The Jordan Rules" claims Doug Collins intended to draw a play for Dave Corzine. Quite frankly, if I had to guesss I'd say it's a practical joke by Haley.

 
At Tuesday, May 05, 2009 1:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JN:

That definitely sounds like a practical joke. Do you really believe that with a series on the line Collins--or anyone else--would put the ball in the hands of Dave Corzine instead of Michael Jordan?

 
At Wednesday, May 06, 2009 3:22:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

Not even if Jordan, Pippen, Hodges, Paxson, Cartwright, Grant and Vincent had gone down with swine flu. Especially as Doug Collins knew his one chance to keep his job at that point was to keep on winning. I mean, even if you wanted to use Jordan as a decoy, you would not choose Corzine to shoot - Sellers considered inbounding to Pippen or Hodges, both reasonable choices. I can't understand why Sam Smith quoted Haley without any reservation. Then again, I've seen Smith write columns contradicting his own previous articles or books without offering any explanation.

 

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