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Friday, June 01, 2012

Notes on the Eastern and Western Conference Finals

Both Conference Finals have gone according to form so far and it seems likely that San Antonio will face Miami in the NBA Finals. Here are some stats and notes about the 2012 edition of the NBA's "Final Four":
  1. During ESPN's telecast of Miami's 115-111 overtime victory against Boston in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals, Mike Breen mentioned that LeBron James has led his team in scoring, rebounding and assists outright 23 times in his playoff career, more than any other player in NBA history. The usually astute Jeff Van Gundy said that this stat provides an indication of how weak James' supporting cast was in Cleveland. Superficially that seems logical but consider who ranks second to James in this category: Larry Bird, who led the Celtics in scoring, rebounding and assists in 13 playoff games. Bird played alongside two other Hall of Fame big men (Robert Parish, Kevin McHale) and two Hall of Fame point guards (first Nate Archibald, then Dennis Johnson). Bird's supporting cast certainly was not weak and yet he often led the Celtics in scoring, rebounding and assists during playoff competition; a versatile, MVP level player shoulders a lot of responsibility to be consistently productive. Tim Duncan, who ranks third with 11 playoff games as his team's sole leader in points, rebounds and assists, also has had an excellent supporting cast throughout his career. James' often impressive playoff statistics are a tribute to his capabilities but they do not somehow prove that he had a weak supporting cast in Cleveland. However, James' demonstrated ability to impact a game in several ways means that there is no excuse for the two times in his postseason career when his numbers and effort level demonstrate that he quit: the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals versus Boston and the 2012 NBA Finals versus Dallas. James cannot be expected to always shoot well but he can be expected to consistently play with a high energy level.
  2. Rajon Rondo's 44 point, 10 assist, eight rebound performance for Boston in game two was a truly stunning all-around display: he played all 53 minutes, he hit jumpers (the one part of his game that is normally a weakness), he drove to the hoop, he guarded James on the final play of regulation and he did everything humanly possible to lead the Celtics to victory. In my Miami-Boston preview I predicted that Miami would win the series but said that Boston could prevail if "Rondo goes nuts and is the best player on the court for significant stretches of time." It is a good sign for the Celtics that Rondo proved that he is capable of being the best player on the court despite the presence of three-time MVP James but it is a bad sign for the Celtics that they lost despite Rondo's incredible effort. It would have been very interesting to see how James and the Heat would have reacted to losing home court advantage in the series but now the Celtics face the monumental task of beating the Heat four times in the next five games.
  3. The Oklahoma City Thunder's impressive 102-82 game three victory over the San Antonio Spurs ended perhaps the "quietest" (in terms of relative media coverage) long winning streak in NBA history, if not in the history of professional sports. The Spurs won 20 straight games, which is tied for the third longest streak in NBA history behind the 1971-72 Lakers (33) and the 2007-08 Rockets (22); the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks also had 20 game winning streaks. The Spurs were incredibly dominant, winning 15 of those 20 games by 10 or more points. The Spurs' winning streak is the longest combined regular season/playoff winning streak in NBA history and the first 20-plus game winning streak in NBA history that spanned both the regular season and the playoffs, beginning with the last 10 regular season games and then extending through the Spurs' first 10 playoff games; the 2000-01 Lakers won their last eight regular season games and their first 11 playoff games. Did the Thunder merely prevent a sweep or did they take the first step toward extending this series to six or seven games?

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:11 PM

19 comments

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19 Comments:

At Friday, June 01, 2012 7:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

larry bird played way more playoff games first nine years than lebron same with duncan. so jeff van gundy was exactly right the supporting cast for james was very weak compared too bird and duncan. he had 17 with cleveland in 71 games bird had 13 in 145 with boston. lebron got six with mimi in 35. even people u respect david no that cleveland supporting cast was very average to weak david i know u think it was a great supporting cast but it wasnt. kenny smith jeff van gundy hubie brown all said similar things very atute basketball people with no bias. also lebron last two years i cleveland he was in confernce finals and east semi finals. in miami in two years he been to finals once and on verge and will probably be in finals agian with good chance of winning championship it is cler lebron made the right decision.

boston probably gon get swept they played there a game lebron and wade had a off game and they lost max a five game series. there too old

thunder spurs may go seven it depend what happen tomorow but spurs look like a diffrent team in okc. and it is very hard to win in that building only place tougher may be miami 43-6 last 49 games two of those lebron wade didnt play. but i like sprs in seven. it can go either way sefaloosha on parker changed the series. but i expect spurs to adjust

 
At Saturday, June 02, 2012 3:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

My point is that the stat cited during ESPN's telecast does not prove (or disprove) the relative quality of LeBron James' teammates. James led the Heat in PPG, RPG and APG over the course of the entire 2011-12 season, much like he used to lead Cleveland in those categories, yet you say that James "made the right choice." The reality is that in order to win a championship James will have to consistently play hard and put up big numbers. He did those things early in his career, though at that time he still had some skill set weaknesses. He has eliminated some of his skill set weaknesses but he has also shown a propensity to quit when things get tough in the playoffs (2010 versus Boston, 2011 versus Dallas). The fact that the two players behind James in the category cited by ESPN are Bird and Duncan shows that, whatever this stat proves, it does not tell us much about a superstar's supporting cast.

I can (and do) respect Van Gundy, Hubie Brown and Kenny Smith without agreeing with everything that they say--and I am pretty sure that they don't always agree with each other, either.

We already know now that Boston will not get swept.

If the Thunder get too overconfident after their victory they could find themselves facing a 3-1 deficit. I originally predicted that this would be a long series so I won't be shocked if the Thunder win game four but it will be interesting to see how the Spurs react to being blown out.

 
At Sunday, June 03, 2012 7:13:00 AM, Anonymous spurs said...

you can throw out the 20 game winning streak for the spurs now. the momentum is clearly with the thunder.

 
At Sunday, June 03, 2012 12:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Spurs:

Contrary to popular belief, "momentum"--or at least the odds--still favors the Spurs; teams that take a 2-0 lead in a series almost always win that series, even if the opposing team wins games three and four at home.

 
At Sunday, June 03, 2012 1:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Boston wins tonight, I think James quits once again in the face of adversity, especially when he is not facing a young team like the Pacers, but a veteran Celtics squad. Put simply, the pressure will be too much for James if its 2-2 heading back to Miami.

 
At Sunday, June 03, 2012 1:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

That is certainly possible. James quit in a similar game five scenario versus Boston in 2008.

 
At Sunday, June 03, 2012 1:51:00 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Will be interesting to see how the Spurs adjust to guarding Durant in Game 5. Seemed like he was getting the ball too easily in good position, at which point his length and shotmaking ability took over.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2012 12:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ben:

Yes it will but the Spurs can tolerate Durant scoring 36 points, particularly if Westbrook and Harden are not scoring much; it is unlikely that the Thunder's three non-scoring big men will ever again combine to shoot 22-25 from the field: as Popovich said after the game, that kind of percentage is hard to match even in shooting drills when the players are not being guarded.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2012 1:29:00 AM, Anonymous Gil Meriken said...

The last play in regulation of Game 4 of MIA-BOS is what makes James so confounding for some of us.

He doesn't have to take the last shot, but it is clear that he doesn't have the mind set that he will make something happen ...

 
At Monday, June 04, 2012 3:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Gil Meriken:

Exactly. "Confounding" is a good word, because LeBron is indisputably a great player yet there is often something missing when he faces top competition in the NBA playoffs. My thought as I was watching the play unfold was "He's been their leading scorer all season long and in this game but he really does not want to take this shot." Kobe Bryant would have either taken that shot or else made such an aggressive move that it would have created a wide open shot for a teammate. LeBron just kind of meandered around and then threw the ball to no one in particular.

It is great to listen to Van Gundy continually poke holes into the "clutch stats" that Abbott regularly cites. I wonder if Van Gundy is intentionally going after Abbott or if Van Gundy is just targeting a certain kind of illogical thinking that happens to be advocated by Abbott. I think that Abbott interviewed Van Gundy and tried unsuccessfully to get Van Gundy to along with Abbott's half baked ideas about "clutch" play so it is not out of the realm of possibility that Van Gundy specifically has Abbott in mind when he keeps talking about how absurd it is to evaluate players based on their shooting percentages in an arbitrarily defined "clutch" situation. Van Gundy cited some of the exact objections that I have made, including small sample size and the fact that "clutch" shots can be anything from half court heaves to shots taken after a well executed out of bounds play.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2012 9:05:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

Yes, JVG was right about James hitting the 3 to tie as not counting as a clutch shot, and then james getting the offensive foul on KG, which was a bogus call, though there were bad calls both ways, and james 5th and 6th fouls were bad calls. However, I was disappointed in JVG not calling out james' bonehead pass to haslem forcing haslem to throw up a desperation, no-chance shot, as actually being non-clutch shot, which the clutch stats won't show either.

Lebron should get blame for that pass to haslem, but he did tie with a 3, so he gets some credit there. But, that play seemed different, since the c's left him wide open and forced him to shoot it. He had to shoot it then. Obviously, it was bad defense, but it's also the strategy against wade/james, which is to try to force them to shoot perimeter shots. Can't remember the last time that teams actually want the mvp to shoot the ball.

Wade at least took the initiative and shot the ball at the end of OT, however, why did he settle for a 3?

After the game, the commentators were trying to blame spoelstra for these late-game plays? What's your take on these? I know in the past that lebron would just not run the play and do his own thing. Is that still happening?

For the OT play, wade seemed to take his time too much, and seemed to want his shot be the final play, higher risk/reward pla.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2012 1:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

The three by LeBron is a clutch shot by any reasonable definition. You are right that the opposing team wants LeBron to shoot perimeter shots instead of shots in the paint but I don't think that the opposing team wants him to shoot uncontested perimeter shots; that was a defensive breakdown.

I think that LeBron should have driven to the hoop on the last play and either scored, got fouled or drawn a double team that would have created a wide open shot for someone else. Perhaps he was afraid of being whistled for his sixth foul. LeBron's pass to Haslem looked more like a guy wanting to get rid of the ball than a guy trying to make a play; compare that weak, feeble pass attempt to the strong, direct crosscourt passes that LeBron regularly fires in the first 46 minutes of most games.

I think that with LeBron having fouled out, Wade decided to go for the win instead of trying to tie and have a second overtime. Many teams have a philosophy to go for the tie at home and the win on the road.

I don't know what Spoelstra called--and neither do most if not all of the critics--so I cannot give him blame or credit at this point.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2012 8:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marcel

This celtic team would get swept by either west team. So miami playing terrible in particular dwade been all star not superstar he been an other in the first half of every game lebron put up 15-20 he putting up like five to eight. If he would play at high level thos series would be over already. No one can blame lebron wade been a joke. If miamj lose this series they should trade wade or amnesty him. I don't like rondo but he a Great player in this series against chalmers.


The last play lebron went the wrong way he should of went left rather than middle. If go middle past the ball to battier who was open if ur not gon take a shot. He messed that one up as a fan that was tough to watch.

Boston got fifteen point lead last three GAME then fade in the second half. If miami have lead in first half tommorow They should win. Two of those three boston was at home which was big for them Because miami role players cant make shots. So its all about lebron and wade especially on the road. I figured it was a five Game series cause I figured wade would play like he did last three games vs indiana. The role players give u thirty five to fourty lebron and wade thirty a piece. Celtics have trouble scoreing so I figured it would be quick series, gotta to give Celtic credit they playing Great takeing expose wade for not being able to do anything but drive. They got no answer for bron but he need more help on road. Heat should cloe it in six but I didnt think it would Take this long personaly as I told u david

 
At Monday, June 04, 2012 9:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bottom line is that James is the MVP of the league and needs to make a play at the end of game. For whatever reason, he consistently shows he doesn't want to be the guy -- which is why "confounding" is the right word. Hard to pinpoint what causes it, but something clearly isn't right.

Wade has been catching some blame today for not coming through at the end of games lately, but it doesn't seem quite given that everything seems to fall on his shoulders at the end b/c James simply doesn't want to even make an attempt.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2012 10:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

We agree about James. As for Wade, he made some clutch shots and clutch plays early in his career but recently he has not particularly distinguished himself in that area. I agree that this should primarily be James' responsibility now but when James is out of the game or double teamed Wade should be able to create something. The three pointer that Wade attempted was not terrible but since he is not a great outside shooter it probably would have been a higher percentage play to drive to the hoop and either score, get fouled or pass to someone who shoots threes better than he does.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2012 10:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

As I indicated in my series preview, the Celtics have the right personnel and right game plan to give the Heat trouble but it is questionable if the Celtics are young enough/healthy enough to execute that game plan over the entire course of a seven game series. Now, though, all the Celtics have to do is win one road game and then defend home court in game six. I still expect the Heat to win the series but the Celtics have given themselves a puncher's chance. It will be very interesting to see how James reacts to the pressure of an important game five at home. Just two years ago in the exact same situation against the Celtics he quit.

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2012 1:16:00 AM, Blogger Ben said...

Pretty amazing how unclutch Miami consistently is. I wonder if that is what Spo is drawing up on the sidelines, but why not get these guys going towards the basket. Not like they were down by three.

At least Wade got a decent look at the basket, James either gets a highly difficult shot or passes off instantly.

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2012 2:49:00 AM, Anonymous spurs said...

spurs have lost three in a row now. you still think they have momentum?

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2012 3:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Spurs:

No, I think that the idea of "momentum" in a seven game series is about as stupid as your question. The Spurs led 2-0 but that clearly did not translate into any sort of "momentum." The Thunder then won two in a row before winning a back and forth game five that went down to the wire. My response to your previous question was based on historical fact: teams that take a 2-0 lead generally win the series even if the other team wins the next two games. However, game five winners who return home for game six overwhelmingly tend to prevail, so the history/odds now favor the Thunder. I picked the Spurs and I still think that they have a chance but in my series preview I also wrote, "I would be surprised but not shocked if the Thunder pull off the upset; I definitely expect the Spurs to win this series and then go on to capture the championship but the Thunder have to be respected as a legitimate championship contending team that is capable of beating the Spurs (and any other team) in a seven game series."

 

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