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Monday, May 11, 2015

Blatt's Blunders/Houston's Predictable Collapse

Thanks to a buzzer beating jumper by LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers won game four against the Chicago Bulls to tie their series at 2-2--but only after the Cavaliers survived some potentially disastrous coaching by David Blatt. First, Blatt almost did a Chris Webber, confidently walking on to the court and attempting to call a late game timeout when his team had no timeouts left. Assistant Coach Tyronn Lue dragged Blatt off of the court and saved the day. Then, when the Cavaliers had possession with about one second left and the game tied, Blatt instructed LeBron James to inbound the ball. James replied that unless he could shoot the ball over the backboard he was not going to inbound the ball but that the Cavs should give him the ball and he would win the game--which is exactly what ultimately happened.

Blatt's first mistake is inexcusable. A coach has to know clock, score and game situation at all times. Blatt haughtily insists that is not a rookie because he coached overseas for many years but the reality is that in the NBA he is a rookie and he is in over his head. Coaching in the minor leagues is not the same as coaching in the big leagues. 

Blatt's second mistake could be debated/discussed a bit. In game three of the second round of the 1994 playoffs, the Chicago Bulls--sans the retired Michael Jordan--were set to inbound the ball with less than two seconds remaining in a tied game versus the New York Knicks. Hall of Fame Coach Phil Jackson, who had already won three NBA titles en route to capturing 11 championships, drew up a play for MVP candidate Scottie Pippen to pass the ball to Toni Kukoc. Pippen disagreed with the call, could not persuade Jackson to change his mind and then elected to sit out the last play. Pete Myers inbounded the ball to Kukoc, who drained a game-winning jumper as time ran out. Pippen was clearly a better player than Kukoc but Jackson later explained that since this was a catch and shoot situation he felt that Kukoc was the better option; Kukoc is taller than Pippen, is a better pure shooter than Pippen and had already hit several game-winning shots that season. Jackson emphasized that if there had been more time left on the clock then he would have definitely put the ball in Pippen's hands, which is what the Bulls tried on the previous play (the ball was deflected out of bounds by the Knicks, setting up the scenario for the final play).

LeBron James is a great player but not necessarily a great catch and shoot player--and he shot just 9-29 from the field prior to making the game-winner. It is not clear who Blatt intended to take the last shot but perhaps Blatt was thinking that a cold-shooting James is not the best option for a catch and shoot opportunity. However, since Blatt cannot even keep straight how many timeouts he has left I am disinclined to credit him with Phil Jackson-level strategic capabilities. In general, the optimum call is to give the ball to your best player and rely on him to win the game. Kyrie Irving is hobbling and J.R. Smith is inconsistent, so it is not like Blatt had Toni Kukoc waiting in the wings.

In the second game of yesterday's doubleheader, the L.A. Clippers took a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets with a convincing 128-95 win. Chris Paul is still hobbled by his hamstring injury but Blake Griffin (21 points, eight rebounds) continues to play at a high level and the Rockets made DeAndre Jordan (26 points, 17 rebounds) look like Shaquille O'Neal. The Rockets repeatedly fouled Jordan on purpose and he made 14 of 34 free throws. Even if the target of intentional fouling misses his free throws, the strategy still often backfires because it lets his team set up their half court defense and it puts free points on the board, taking pressure off of his team and putting pressure on the fouling team to make field goals. In this game, the strategy also extended Paul's minutes because he did not have to endure the strain of running up and down the court.

I think that intentional fouling betrays a lack of faith by the coach in his team's defensive capabilities. If you can just stop the other team mano a mano then why resort to a gimmick like intentional fouling? If the fouled player makes even half of his free throws then the fouling team has to average a point per possession just to keep pace and that is not necessarily going to be so easy to do in a half court set in a playoff series.

This series is being decided primarily based on the fact that Blake Griffin plus Austin Rivers/fractional Chris Paul is better than Dwight Howard/James Harden. All season long, we have heard that James Harden is a legit MVP candidate. We have also heard that the Clippers have no bench and are completely dependent on Chris Paul to create offense. This series is providing convincing refutations of all of those notions. Harden is not even close to being the best player on the court in this series (that would be Blake Griffin), let alone being the best player in the NBA. If you contest Harden's jumpers and refrain from committing silly fouls when he throws his body into the lane, it is easy to throw Harden off of his game. Harden's box score numbers in this series are not terrible but they are also a classic example of putting up meaningless statistics that are devoid of impact. Harden is supposed to be the best player on the second best team in the West but his team is getting killed by a squad with (allegedly) no bench, a one-legged point guard and a center who cannot make free throws. Furthermore, the L.A. Clippers are not exactly a team with championship pedigree; their recent playoff resume is not much better than Houston's, so it is not like an all-time great squad is pounding the Rockers into submission.

Some people might say that Harden's postseason struggles have nothing to do with the regular season MVP race but I think that the MVP award should go to either the best all-around player or the most dominant player (someone like prime Shaquille O'Neal). Harden can put up numbers in the regular season and he is obviously an All-Star caliber player but when he faces good teams in the playoffs he cannot get the job done because all of his skill set flaws are exposed. Perhaps the same thing is happening to 2015 MVP Stephen Curry in the other Western Conference series as well but Curry's Warriors still have a chance to tie the series tonight and head home for a pivotal game five. We will see how that turns out before pronouncing judgment on Curry; in contrast, Harden has three years' worth of disappointing playoff performances as an allegedly elite player for the Rockets and his team is already down 3-1, which is typically tantamount to elimination.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:56 PM


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At Monday, May 11, 2015 2:08:00 PM, Anonymous CR said...

That was a pretty pathetic performance by the Bulls over the weekend. The Cavs were on the ropes and Lebron was throwing up bricks, but the Bulls couldn't score to save their lives in that second half.

Noah looks about 50% health wise and Derrick Rose is clearly not the same player anymore. A great player puts that game away in the 2nd half and he just couldn't do it.

The Eastern Conference is a complete train wreck. As crazy as it sounds I think the Clippers might be the favorites to win the title right now.

At Monday, May 11, 2015 2:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know. Rose isn't the same as he was in 2011, but he's playing very well. The Bulls overall missed a great opportunity. Very weird game. Quality of play in east looks quite a bit worse than in the wes. The officiating was very suspect at best, mostly going against the Bulls, but they still should've won. I don't understand why they put 1.5 seconds back on the clock. Not even sure if the ball actually hit the line when they initially said 0.8. Looked like the ball left James' hands with 0.2 or 0.3. 1.5 was extremely generous. I don't like how they don't allow for regular reaction time of the clockkeeper to hearing the officials' whistle. They shouldn't just do this at the end. James isn't even playing well by his standards or even somewhat MVP candidate standards either. The Bulls aren't slouches, and when firing on all cylinders, they look like the best team in the league, but their overall consistency leaves a lot to be desired, especially with Pau out. It's unfortunate whoever comes out of the East, and potentially could win it all, will be highly regarded in the aftermath, and even higher regarded than 1st round loser SA, which would most likely dominate in the East playoffs.

The difference in the LAC/HOU series so far are the casts and HOU's bad defense, which was actually pretty good during the reg. season. LAC's cast is dominating HOU's cast. Howard was solid in the first 2 games, but had a tougher game 3, and was a complete no-show in game 4. Harden is actually playing very well in the playoffs, only scoring/rebounding slightly down while he's doing everything else great. He could've blown up in games 3 and 4 and his team still loses.

Mchale doesn't know what he's doing. While the Hack-a-Jordan may have had limited success, overall it greatly failed. He had no bigs in there at times. If Jordan wasn't fouled, LAC scored easily most of the time, and HOU had to resort completely to a jump-shooting team on offense, no way will they work. It was a messed up game. Hard to make much of any of the stats in the game.

I thought the Clips were a predictable collapse in the 1st or 2nd round as well, especially with Paul out, and so far that doesn't seem to be the case. And that MEM wasn't very good either. A lot of games left, though.

At Monday, May 11, 2015 3:42:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

CR: I think Rose has actually played pretty well through most of these playoffs. He is not quite the same player obviously because of injuries but the idea that he is some sort of ghost of himself seems kind of ridiculous to me. There is less of a need for him to score 25+ every game with a Bulls team that has much more in terms of offense compared to years past, so he has not been that player consistently until the needs of the game have dictated it. Rose scored 31 on Sunday, made a shot to tie the game, and the Bulls only missed overtime on the basis of an incredible Lebron James shot.

Agree that Noah has hobbled offensively though. That along with Pau Gasol's injury has meant the Bulls essentially have only Taj Gibson as an effective contributor to their front court besides rookie Mirotic.

At Monday, May 11, 2015 4:39:00 PM, Anonymous Yogi said...

Blatt's timeout gaffe is simply inexplicable. I cannot fathom how a coach with 27 years experience and many championships loses track of timeouts at the end of a game, no matter where he is coaching.

On the other hand, Lebron has been shooting terribly for the entire series and they had trouble inbounding the previous play, so I can understand the decision. I imagine that J.R. Smith was supposed to take the shot because he was pretty hot in the fourth, but Lebron did not like the idea of playing second fiddle and simply changed the play.
It makes me wonder what influence Blatt has on the team at all - Lebron certainly doesn't seem to be playing Blatt's game.

At Friday, May 15, 2015 2:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Lebron best leader in the NBA. He carried this team to the title. Look at shumpert and smith wen they were in NY. They took bad shots wild and out of control. In clev both been productive and model citzen. That the diff between playing with Carmelo and playing with lebron. The rings command respect. He on his way to possibly a third ring and six eastern Conf titles in seven years.

On the other side. Derek rose doesn't love basketball enough for me. He just plays it cause he got a lot of talent. He doesn't seem passionate enough to ever be a player who can win u a NBA championship. I think chicago should look to trade him and see what they can get for him.

The clippers disappointed me. I thought they was gonna put the rockets away. Paul and griffin must play better. If we will ever consider them contenders. I given Dwight k Mac and josh smith a lot of credit. They showed a lot of heart.

I think the warriors will win title. They are the best defensive and offensive team in the NBA. They are deep and got the best back court in the NBA.

At Sunday, May 17, 2015 1:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Bulls' fade is pathetic.

However, I don't think that the East is quite as bad as you suggest. Cleveland-Atlanta should be a good series.

At Sunday, May 17, 2015 1:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Houston and LAC are two teams that each have collapsed in the playoffs but since they are paired with each other one of them will advance to the Western Conference Finals.

At Sunday, May 17, 2015 1:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


LeBron is the best player in the NBA. I don't know if he is the best leader or not. I agree that he is a better player and leader than Carmelo, but that is not really saying much.

He has not yet carried "this team" to the title, though that may happen.

If Rose did not love the game then he would have retired and kept his guaranteed money instead of fighting so hard to come back from injury.

The Warriors are a very good choice, for the reasons that you mentioned, and I agree with you that they will probably win the championship.


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