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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why the Memphis Grizzlies Will Not Win the Championship

Many people consider the Memphis Grizzlies to be a team that is well-built for postseason play but in my column at The Roar I identify the fatal flaw that will prevent the Grizzlies from capturing the NBA crown:

Why the Memphis Grizzlies Will Not Win the Championship

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:51 PM

30 comments

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30 Comments:

At Monday, March 16, 2015 3:17:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Memphis will live or die in the playoffs based on whether or not Lee, Green, and Carter can shoot well under pressure. Those three guys represent a significant perimeter upgrade in terms of shooting vs last year's team, though they still lack a devastating offensive perimeter player (though Conley is criminally underrated, his greatness is almost entirely as a facilitator and defender).

Memphis is dangerous if healthy, but is rarely healthy* come playoff time. The combination of Gasol and Tony Allen makes them uniquely defensively qualified to deal with elite penetrators like Harden, Westbrook, or Paul, but David's right that they need to be able to score out of the double team and on that front they are unproven.

I thing Golden State's coming out of the West, but if they don't, Memphis has, in my opinion, as good or better of a chance as anyone else.

*"Healthy" in this case also assumes Z-Bo doesn't get himself suspended for any game 7s.

 
At Wednesday, March 18, 2015 1:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

On paper, those players may look like an upgrade but on the court Memphis still looks like the same team that faced packed-in defenses in the playoffs the past few years.

Golden State has been the best team in the West all year but if the Warriors falter I'd take the Spurs before I'd take the Grizzlies. I still believe in OKC if the Thunder can ever get Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka reasonably healthy at the same time, though that is looking less and less likely. I just can't see any team with sense allowing Randolph and Gasol to post up one on one; they will be double-teamed, they will have to give up the ball (or shoot low percentage shots) and Memphis' fate will be decided by perimeter shooting. Memphis is going to lose a lot of playoff games with scores like 94-89 (or 104-89 if they bench Tony Allen in favor of someone who they think/hope/pray can shoot).

 
At Wednesday, March 18, 2015 3:54:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't completely disagree. Like I said, IF- and it's a decent sized if, but IF- Memphis' perimeter guys can make their shots at even their career average rates when open (which they will be whenever Gasol's doubled, as he's as good a big man passer as we've seen in some time), Memphis is going to be a tough out.

I agree that a healthy SA is better than Memphis, but I'd be shocked if healthy SA shows up in April/May, as we're presently in March and they haven't showed up yet. Their best four guys are old, injury prone, or both, and the odds are not in their favor, particularly following two long playoff runs. That said, your nemesis Simmons made a slightly interesting point that this team has a more than passing thematic resemblance to the '69 Celtics, and even as an avid Spurs hater, I have to admit that narrative would be a pretty compelling one.

OKC as ever I'm less of a believer in than you are, but I agree that if healthy they're as dangerous as they've ever been. I likewise share your doubt that they'll be healthy, and I continue to believe that Scott Brooks- while excellent for chemistry/morale- has yet to develop a compelling offensive or defensive playbook and has a tendency to be out-coached in the playoffs. Even if OKC is healthy and somehow avoids/upsets GS in round 1, look for them to fall to a Popovich or even a Carlisle when Brooks leaves Kanter in for crunch time defensive possessions or plays Westbrook the entire second half without a rest.

I'm also skeptical that any team can win out from the 8 seed; '99 New York was an anomaly that got spanked in the Finals in a weird truncated season, and played in a much weaker conference than today's West. Also, Allan Houston did weird improbable Allan Houston things.

If healthy, it's almost certainly going to be Golden State. If it's not them, it'll be Memphis, SA, or, if pigs fly, LAC or Portland. Mayyyyyyyybe Dallas if everything breaks just right and Carlisle brings his A game. It won't be OKC or Houston, or NO if they sneak past OKC for that final spot.

 
At Wednesday, March 18, 2015 3:12:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

I like reading predictions, and then re-reading after Finals. Quite fun to read people with delusions, even more if one was right.

I'm not making any as I doubt I'm knowledgable enough to even try.
In my amateur eye though coaching is vastly underrated come playoff time and barring some key injuries I think better coached teams (SA, Mavs, LAC) will get further. But then Steve Kerr or David Blatt (looking to EC) are quite unknown quality, so I wouldn't discount their impact yet.

 
At Wednesday, March 18, 2015 9:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I don't think that Memphis is going to be that tough of an out, particularly as the second seed. Memphis could easily lose in the first round and I doubt that the Grizzlies make it past the second round unless they get a very fortunate matchup.

I am losing faith in OKC this season. It does not seem like they will ever get Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka healthy at the same time, let alone fully integrate all of their new pieces with that trio. It's a shame, because OKC is a fun team to watch when they have all of their pieces.

I agree that it is very tough for an eighth seed to make it to the Finals. If OKC could actually get all of their guys healthy then they are the type of team that could do it; their top trio has been to the Finals before and they are a proven 60 win caliber team, the type of team that can win big road playoff games if necessary.

 
At Wednesday, March 18, 2015 9:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

Predictions based on sound analysis tend to be correct more often than not, though injuries can always throw a monkey wrench in the works.

I agree that coaching is important. I think that the Cavs will be at a disadvantage because Blatt has zero NBA playoff experience. At least Kerr has played in the NBA playoffs and been an executive for an NBA playoff team.

 
At Wednesday, March 18, 2015 11:44:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I really don't think Houston or Portland have much of a shot against a healthy Memphis in the second round. I'd pick Memphis over Dallas or LAC as well though I wouldn't feel great about it.

I've learned the hard way enough times not to bet against SA, though, so Memphis I think (assuming matchups stay vaguely what they are) is more likely to lose in the first than the second. If SA is insufficiently healthy (somewhat likely) I'd be at least a little surprised to see anybody but GS beat (healthy) Memphis.

I keep mentioning health, though, and that's a flaw as much as anything. Memphis isn't especially deep and all their best guys are injury prone. Perhaps I've overvalued them just by virtue of expecting them to be 100% in the playoffs.

I agree that health is an albatross for OKC, but also think even a healthy OKC needs either an elite perimeter defender at the 2 and/or a coaching upgrade to be a truly elite contender. They didn't have either of those the the year they made the Finals, but they had such a profound athleticism advantage against the teams they played in the West that year that they were able to run teams off the court (San Antonio particularly), but their competition has gotten younger, quicker, and stronger in the four years since, and while Westbrook/Ibaka/Durant all remain athletic specimens, it's perhaps on that front as much as any that they miss Harden most as their fourth banana; very few teams have the luxury of bringing a guard that big, strong, and fast off the bench.

Adding a strong wing defender would allow Wesbtrook and/or Durant to save some gas on that end instead of chasing around the Parkers/Pauls/Lebrons of the world. Heck, Westrbook's great at exploding into passing lanes and occasionally taking him off the primary ball handler would provide him a lot more opportunities to create those kind of turnovers in the half court.

A coaching change could help diversify the offensive play calling and perhaps better hide Kanter, Waiters, and the rest on D. The sticky wicket there is that Brooks by all accounts is invaluable in the locker room and beloved by his players, so perhaps it's not worth risking a B hunting for an A on that front.

Obviously OKC is very good even without those upgrades, but in my opinion they do need that one more thing to truly contend, even if healthy.

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 3:52:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

David:

I think Blatt's Euro playoff experience matters actually. It's not the same as NBA level, but it's not like he never coached during high level playoffs either. He is at little disadvantage not having experience in NBA, but on the other hand he may surprise with out of the box thinking. There're NBA coaches with playoff experience who do poorly regardless.

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 10:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I think that Portland would have a shot against Memphis.

OKC could use a healthy Sefolosha; I liked his impact defensively before they parted ways with him.

I don't think that Brooks is nearly as bad of a coach as you suggest; I think that he is a good coach, in fact.

If OKC ever gets completely healthy (which will not happen in time this season) I think that they are a legit championship contender as presently constructed. Durant's foot is the biggest concern, because of the history with Bill Walton, Grant Hill, Andrew Toney and other great players who never could shake various foot injuries (though Durant's specific problem is different, foot injuries can be troublesome for a basketball player).

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 10:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

I see very little connection between Euro playoffs and NBA playoffs; the rules are different, the NBA players are MUCH better and the NBA game is much more sophisticated strategically. Guys who star in the Euro leagues cannot even make it in the NBA (Trajan Langdon is just one recent example). Strategies that work for/against Euro league players and teams just will not cut it in the NBA. When I spoke with Hubie Brown once he said that the college game is played at the rim, the FIBA game is played above the rim and the NBA game is played above the box; basically, the levels of talent are disparate and one thing (among many) that this affects is defensive rotations: a good rotation in FIBA play leads to a dunk or a wide open shot in the NBA because of the speed and explosiveness difference. I know from my own rec league experience that when you add more talented players to the mix it changes things; a wide open three in one league gets swatted into the third row in a different league because a superior athlete can close ground so much more quickly.

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 10:28:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't know how ranking him a "B" means I think he's a bad coach... I do think his strengths lie more in player development/chemistry/ego management than on-court strategy, though. Most of their offensive sets- of which they have relatively few to begin with- don't have a secondary or tertiary action if the defense stays strong through the first action, which is why so many OKC possessions involve Westbrook or Durant resetting from the top of the key halfway through the offense. Their defense often seems to boil down to "hope Ibaka can stop whatever they're doing."

I still think he's a top fifteen or so coach, but generally- although not exclusively- title teams have a top five coach. I also think having a predictable offense in crunch time can be death against smart playoff defenses (as great as Kobe was, Phil sometimes ran game-winning plays for guys like Fisher, Horry, Fox, or even Artest).

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 3:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Yes, you gave Brooks a "B" in this particular thread but even here--and certainly in previous comments--you seem to believe that Brooks is not quite good enough to lead a team to a title. So, in that particular sense--whether Brooks is so bad that he cannot lead a team to a title--I disagree with you. I think that Brooks is not that bad or, expressed the other way, I think that Brooks is good enough to lead a legit contender to a title.

The interesting thing about evaluating whether or not someone is a top five coach is that I think perceptions change even when the reality stays the same. For instance, did Spoelstra really improve dramatically the first year that Miami won a championship with him at the helm compared to his previous seasons? I am sure that he improved, as we all hope to do in life, but did his strategic acumen really make a big jump? If you place Spoelstra among the top five coaches now did you also do so prior to 2012? If not, what changed your mind?

Doc Rivers is another coach who was slammed in the media--by Simmons in particular--right up to when Boston won a title under his direction. Now Rivers is almost universally hailed as one of the league's best coaches.

Switching sports, Bill Belichick was routinely derided by the Cleveland media even as he lifted an awful team into a playoff squad (the last Browns team to win a playoff game was Belichick's 1994 squad). Supposedly, Belichick was a great assistant who did not have what it takes to be a head coach. Now Belichick is considered one of the greatest coaches of all-time. Was he really that bad in Cleveland or is the media just incompetent? I think that the media in general--and, based on my experience, the Cleveland media in particular (based not only on Belichick but also on Mike Brown)--has very little idea of how to evaluate whether or not a coach knows what he is doing.

So, if OKC wins a title under Brooks will you interpret that to mean that Brooks improved, that Brooks was better than you thought or that some other factor outweighed Brooks' alleged deficiencies? If Harden had not played so terribly in the 2012 Finals, OKC could very well have won that series. Was Harden's performance Brooks' fault and/or could Brooks have made some move to compensate for it?

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 4:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Spoelstra's an interesting case in that I feel he may or may not be a top five coach now (I'd certainly take Pop or Carlisle over him, at least, and probably Thibs. It's too soon to say on Kerr or Budz but they also seem to know what they're doing) but I also feel like he improved pretty gradually over the last four years. I acknowledge that there are exceptions, but more than anything else having a top tier coach seems to be the closest to a universal factor in who wins the championship. Phil Jackson and Greg Popovic alone have accounted for 16 title since 1991, which is more than the other three hundred or so coaches who worked in the NBA during that span combined.

As for Rivers, I've never been very high on him; I think that the '08 Celtics, in addition to being an astonishingly talented team, benefitted from Doc turning over the defense to Tom Thibodeau (who I'd argue is an excellent coach, albeit one that maybe needs to trust his bench a little more and stop running his starters into the ground). Like I said, there are exceptions, but for every year a Doc wins the title, there are five where a Pop does. I agree that winning a title seems to automatically put a coach into the "great coaches" club, but I don't necessarily agree that it should.

If OKC wins a title under Brooks, it could be because he improved, because I was wrong about him, or because of some other factor, but I won't know until that happens. Lucky for me, it's probably not going to happen, so I can keep on doubting his underwhelming playbook to my heart's content. A team as talented as his seems to be really ought to win more than they do.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 12:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's really hard to rate coaches sometimes. Doc did nothing before big 3 in BOS. And now he basically has 3 AS players with LAC, and they can't get out of the 2nd round. I think it would've been hard for any coach not to win at least one title with those BOS teams. I'd say he's a good coach, but certainly not great.

Pop seems clearly great. But, how many titles would he have if he didn't have Duncan? Most likely none. And some coaches do well with bad teams elevating them to even mediocrity could be phenomenal jobs, while other coaches do well with great teams. And if you switch coaches, neither might not do as well.

Spoelstra still seems like a below average coach to me. Not that any coach could make 4 straight finals, winning 2. But, given his personnel and playing in the East, that should've been a given at the very slightest, and they were fortunate to even accomplish that much.

Not sure how to rate Brooks exactly, but I can't see any other coach winning a title if they were OKC's coach for the past 6 years or so. Their best chance was 2012, but Miami finally were playing up to their potential then. Some bad calls hosed them in one game, but Miami was just better. Westbrook goes down in 2013, no chance. SA was just better in 2014, and injuries again in 2015. What is he supposed to do about all of that?

Durant/westbrook have been amazingly healthy for most of their careers. However, Durant is frail, and maybe now his body is starting to break down some. Westbrook, while big for a PG, is small by nba standards. And he plays extremely recklessly. I'm surprised he isn't injured more.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 3:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick/Anonymous:

I think that Rivers deserves credit for creating (or recreating) a winning culture in Boston. Many teams have great talent but fail to win titles; Rivers figured out how to get his veteran HoFers (and the younger players as well) to buy into his system. He deserves credit for hiring Thibodeau; the best coaches are smart enough and confident enough to bring in outstanding assistant coaches.

I don't think that Spoelstra is below average. His teams consistently meet or exceed what one could reasonably expect, dating back to before LeBron's arrival and continuing through this season.

I agree with the point that the injury problems, not anything that Brooks did/failed to do, are why OKC has yet to win a title.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 5:15:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

If a flaw of the grizzlies is their outside shooting, that's one thing.
Marc Gasol is their best player but he's most likely not a guy that's good enough to make up for that flaw the team has.

I believed Doc was great. He was just lucky that Boston chose to hold on to him in the summer of 2007 when they acquired Garnett and Allen.
Realistically he could have been fired. I believe some people were calling for him to be fired.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 8:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't buy the injury argument for OKC- they were as healthy as a team can reasonably be expected to be in the playoffs last year- but even if injuries are the problem, isn't the ability to deal with injuries one of the major things that makes a coach great?

Andrew Bynum barely played in '08 and '09, but Phil got them to the Finals both years (and won once). Scottie Pippen's back was basically made of balsa wood in '98, but Chicago found a way. The '83 Lakers didn't have James Worthy and still made the Finals (though admittedly they got curb stomped by Doc and Moses when they got there). Bosh missed a decent chunk of the playoffs during one of Miami's title runs. The Knicks famously beat the 70s Lakers with Willis Reed on a broken leg.

So, the injury excuse buys you X amount of leeway. I think if your top two guys are healthy, you thank your lucky stars and play through whatever else.

More specifically, I don't think two extra games of Ibaka is enough to beat the Spurs; OKC wasn't smart enough on offense or defense to deal with the '14 Spurs (nobody else was, either), and the longer a series goes the more coaching matters- I'm not taking Brooks over Pop across seven games. OKC lost two road games without Ibaka, then won two home games and lost a road game and a home (elimination) game. I don't see a ton of evidence that having Ibaka would have given them two road wins against SA- especially since one of them likely would have had to have been in a Game 7. Whether the problem that year was talent or coaching, reasonable men can differ on (I say a little of both), but saying it was injury based is, at the very least, optimistic.

 
At Saturday, March 21, 2015 3:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Bynum was, at best, the fourth most valuable player on those Lakers' teams behind Bryant, Gasol and Odom.

Pippen did not hurt his back until late in the '98 Finals; in fact, he was in line to be the series MVP until he injured his back with a couple games to go. Even injured, he still played and made some key contributions. The point is that the Bulls did not have to go through a significant portion of the playoffs without Pippen.

The Thunder lost the first two games of the San Antonio series without Ibaka. It is difficult to win four out of five against a top level team regardless of the circumstances. If Ibaka had played in the first two games and OKC had earned a split that would have changed the whole complexion of the series. As it turned out, OKC won games three and four with Ibaka and then got blown out in game five before losing a close game six. Ibaka gave the Thunder a huge lift in games three and four but he was coming back from injury and did not have his stamina/health completely back. I don't know what would have happened if Ibaka had been healthy but it is not a huge reach at all to picture OKC splitting the first two games, winning both games at home and closing out the series in six games. That scenario requires one road win, not two, and is very plausible.

The Knicks overcame the loss of Reed for one game because they had a boatload of All-Stars/future Hall of Famers. OKC has Durant and Westbrook, which is a lot but not quite the same thing as having Frazier, Monroe, DeBusschere, Bradley, etc.

I agree that Popovich is a better coach than Brooks but I don't think that Brooks is so deficient that he cannot win a title, nor do I think that Brooks is the reason that OKC has yet to win a title.

 
At Saturday, March 21, 2015 10:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Doc certainly deserves some credit for BOS winning in 08, though the play of Kobe's inept teammates in the finals surely contributed to that, but the view of him greatly changed with that title. I fail to see anything before/after that as great coaching. He's not taking his star-studded LAC team very far yet.

I don't buy the Ibaka injury as an excuse for OKC losing to SA last year. There was no indication OKC could win in SA(losing all 3 in beatdowns), and SA won on the road in game 6. Even if OKC somehow splits the first 2 games, which is very unlikely, the series would go 7, and even more unlikely for OKC to win in SA in game 7. SA was just firing on all cylinders late in last year's playoffs. They were just the better team overall, which blaming Brooks for that is unfair. If OKC met in SA in the first round, OKC probably wins. Timing is very important.

Most of Nick's examples don't seem that good. The main thing to recognize is who's your competition. The Bulls still had the best team in 98. Pippen struggled some in games 5/6, but he was still playing and contributing in other areas. And the Bulls had already established a 3-1 lead. Though don't agree with David"s scenario about Ibaka, as I explained above. It's actually very unplausible that OKC could win even if he was healthy. And the Lakers were just better than the competition they face in 09/10, mainly because of Kobe. Phil was not able to motivate team much, outside of Kobe, in the 08 finals very well.

The 2013 finals were pretty evenly matched teams. Pop's 'genius' should've helped his team win that series. And Brooks deserves a lot of credit for the 2013 WCF. Pop didn't do his greatest coaching then either. I don't see a very likely scenario where any other coach could've led OKC to a title yet.

 
At Sunday, March 22, 2015 1:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Two possible indicators that Ibaka could have made a difference are (1) the last time that OKC was fully healthy they reached the NBA Finals and (2) after Ibaka returned a series that looked like it was going to be a Spurs sweep suddenly became very competitive. If OKC won one of the first two games in San Antonio that would have changed the whole tenor of the series and very well could have made it such that OKC did not have to win game seven in San Antonio because OKC could then have closed out the series just by winning at home the rest of the way.

 
At Sunday, March 22, 2015 12:11:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

"(1) the last time that OKC was fully healthy they reached the NBA Finals"

Yes, but at the time they had James Harden and San Antonio was a much weaker team (Leonard, Green, Splitter, and Diaw hadn't totally emerged yet, particularly Leonard). Harden was a pretty big factor in that series, shooting over 60% from three and scoring at the third highest rate in the series (behind Durant and Parker). He also helped combat the Spurs on the boards (5.5 rpg off the bench for a two guard's not nothing) and ran the offense when Durant/Westbrook sat. They also still had Sefalosha at the time, a much better perimeter defender than anyone they had on the 2014 roster.


"(2) after Ibaka returned a series that looked like it was going to be a Spurs sweep suddenly became very competitive."

For a broad definition of competitive, sure. The only SA home game in that stretch was a one-sided beatdown to the tune of 28 points, and OKC lost an elimination game at home. The 2014 OKC team was weaker than the 2012 version, and the 2014 Spurs were a lot tougher than the 2012 iteration.

 
At Monday, March 23, 2015 12:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

When healthy, OKC has posted an even better regular season record without Harden than with him. If OKC had been fully healthy since 2012 then I believe that they would have returned to the Finals. I can't prove this and you can't prove the contrary, so I guess we are just stuck with our own opinions and we will see what happens moving forward.

I believe that with a healthy Ibaka OKC would have won one of the first two road games and changed the complexion of the series. You disagree and that is fine. I don't know how to "prove" this one way or the other.

 
At Monday, March 23, 2015 5:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You kind of sound like Rivers saying 'when healthy, his starting 5 has never lost', referring to KG, Pierce, Allen, Rondo, and Perkins. He has a point to an extent, but lots of teams could say the same thing.

The fact remains that OKC, regardless if it was a good decision or not to not resign Harden, hasn't been to the finals since, while Harden has certainly improved HOU since going there and is a legit MVP candidate now. OKC has no backup plan if any of their top players are hurt even for a short time now, which is exactly what is happening. I don't think Harden was going to resign with OKC anyway, even with a max contract. He wanted and deserved a larger role. OKC giving him less than a day to decide made it an easy decision for him to leave.

Even if OKC wins a game in SA, which is unlikely given every game in SA wasn't close, OKC still lose game 6 in OKC. Ibaka playing entire series could change things, but then again, I don't believe a guy who's never made an AS team as able to compensate for 15-20 points minimum. It's no surprise OKC is still very good without Harden. They have 2 top 5 players and a very good cast around them. If OKC kept Harden instead of Westbrook, they might not be as good, but they'd still be very good. But, there's always other good teams, and SA had 4 stars with a great cast around them the past 2 years, and were just the better teams.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 6:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

How many teams can say that the last time they were fully healthy they made it to the NBA Finals and then they followed that up by winning a West-best 60 regular season games before losing Westbrook in game two of the first round? The 2013 Thunder were most likely headed back for a return engagement in the Finals before Patrick Beverly took out Westbrook.

Harden is a good player, so of course Houston improved after he arrived--but Harden has also yet to advance past the first round in Houston.

If OKC wins one of the first two games in San Antonio, that changes the complexion of the series. You cannot just blithely say that it wouldn't matter because OKC was destined to lose at home in game six. You don't know what the mindset of both teams would be in the alternative scenario--and you don't even know if the series would have gone six. Maybe losing a home game early in the series would have demoralized the Spurs and made them believe that they just could not beat OKC in a playoff series after previously losing 4-2 to them in 2012.

I remember a lot of people saying that Ibaka would not make a difference after the Spurs went up 2-0 but when Ibaka came back the Thunder won two straight. It is hard to win four out of five against a championship caliber team, so those two games that he missed were critical.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 6:42:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

David:

Saying that a single home loss would demoralize championship caliber, motivated SA team coached by Pop is too much of a fantasy for me. I think you're severly underestimating SA motivation to get back and win those finals.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 11:22:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I've mostly said my piece here, but I do want to suggest that arguing that OKC's superior regular season record without Harden means that they wouldn't miss him in the playoffs is kinda silly; Dallas' 67 win team with Josh Howard lost in the first round, but their '11 team won 57 games and won the title. Regular season success is important, but it does not always correlate with how good a team is; clanging off a discussion from another thread, the 2000s Suns were almost always a top 2 team in the regular season, and they never made the Finals.

Moreoever, I'd suggest that their improved regular season record had as much to do with the improvement of Westbrook/Durant as it did with the absence of Harden. Finally, that year they had Martin, who as you've pointed out can give you 70-80% of what Harden can; last year, they didn't have a potent bench option, regardless of Ibaka's health.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 11:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it's possible OKC could've won the 2014 WCF if Ibaka played the entire series, but from my previous explanation it's very unlikely given that Ibaka is a 3rd wheel at best and not a star. And yes, winning one of the first 2 games in OKC could change the complexion of the series, but still unlikely. Actually, if that happened, I'd still be surprised if the series wasn't 2-2 going back to SA for game 5. SA couldn't afford to go down 3-1, they'd be extra hungry for at least one win in OKC in either games 3 or 4 or both.

 
At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 12:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

I said "maybe" losing a home game early in the series would demoralize San Antonio. No one can say for sure what might have happened. I just think that it is bizarre to suggest that a healthy Ibaka playing for the entire series would have had no impact. Ibaka shot .583 from the field and averaged 2.7 bpg when OKC beat San Antonio 4-2 in the 2012 Western Conference Finals. Ibaka was a major factor in that series, as OKC spotted the Spurs two games before sweeping them the rest of the way. If OKC wins game one versus the Spurs that would have been five straight playoff losses versus OKC. It would be odd to say that this would have no impact at all on the Spurs' mentality.

 
At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 12:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Whatever you believe to be the reason, the reality is that OKC did not miss Harden; when healthy, they played even better without him than they did with him. If OKC is ever healthy again in the playoffs then perhaps we can test your theory that OKC is like the 67 win Mavs but since OKC already made it to the Finals with Durant and Westbrook while that Mavs team lost in the first round I think that your comparison is flawed.

 
At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 12:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

San Antonio also could not afford o lose four straight games to OKC in the 2012 Western Conference Finals but that is what happened anyway. In 2012, OKC was a team on the rise and they made the Spurs look old and slow. It is too bad that OKC has not been healthy in the playoffs since that time.

 

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