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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Golden State Versus Houston Preview

Western Conference Second Round

#1 Golden State (57-25) vs. #4 Houston (53-29)

Season series: Houston, 3-1

Houston can win if…the Rockets shoot a very high percentage from three point range and if they play consistently engaged and aggressive defense. Two other keys to this series will be Chris Paul's health and James Harden's history of playoff choking.

This is the time of year that Paul typically gets injured and that Harden typically chokes. Paul's injury history is so consistently bad that I have heard several pundits say that the Rockets are better off facing the Warriors now than in the Conference Finals because this way it is more likely that Paul will make it through the entire series. I am not wishing injury on anyone but I do not expect Paul to be fully healthy for the duration of this series; by game three or game four, something will be wrong with him and if the series extends to six or seven games Paul will be out of the lineup or extremely limited.

As for Harden's choking, he has been his usual self in the 2019 playoffs. Last year, Harden averaged 28.5 ppg on .407 field goal shooting leading up to the Golden State-Houston showdown, while this year he has averaged 27.8 ppg on .374 field goal shooting in the playoffs. As I wrote in last year's Golden State-Houston preview, "In Harden's five previous playoff appearances with the Rockets (during only one of which the Rockets reached the Western Conference Finals), Harden averaged between 26.3 ppg and 28.5 ppg while shooting between .376 and .439 from the field. He has always been a high variance player, capable of dropping 40-plus points one night and then disappearing the next night, which is why his averages are deceiving--a player who consistently scores at least 20 points but is capable of erupting for 40 is more valuable than a player who averages 26-28 ppg by scoring 45 points one game and seven points the next."

In the first round versus Utah this year, Harden missed 17 straight field goal attempts over a period from the end of game two until deep in the second half of game three but the Jazz were not able to take advantage of Harden's meltdown. Harden missed his first 15 field goal attempts in game three and he finished 3-20, one of the worst high volume shooting performances in playoff history. This is not an anomaly for Harden; he shot 5-21 from the field--including 0-11 from three point range--in game five of the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus Golden State and the Rockets won anyway.

The Rockets will stay the course no matter what in terms of firing up a large number of three point shots and Harden is the poster child for Houston's strategic choice to go all-in on high volume three point shooting; the untold, or seldom told, story here is that the Rockets have assembled a strong, versatile team around Harden, a team that can at times overcome his choking and bricklaying. The Rockets led Golden State in both game six and game seven of the Western Conference Finals last year, only to ultimately be done in by historically bad three point shooting down stretch--which segues directly into why Golden State will win.

Golden State will win because…the Warriors are more than just a high volume three point shooting team. The Warriors, contrary to popular belief, do not represent the culmination of Mike D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" approach with the Phoenix Suns but rather they represent a melting pot of skill-set diverse All-Stars who are productive on offense and attentive to detail on defense. The Warriors' main weakness is that they sometimes get bored/careless, as seen in their game five loss to the L.A. Clippers a few days ago--which was followed by a 129-110 rout to send the Clippers home, during which Kevin Durant scored 38 first half points en route to a 50 point game that could have been a 60 or 70 point game if necessary.

The Warriors won one championship and also had a record-setting 73 win regular season prior to signing Durant but the Durant acquisition turned this team into one of the greatest dynasties in pro basketball history (we will not know exactly how great until the run comes to an end, but the Warriors on a very short list for sustained championship excellence already, alongside Russell's Celtics, the Magic/Kareem Lakers, the Jordan/Pippen Bulls and the Shaq/Kobe Lakers). Durant is a front-runner who left a perennial championship contender to put the final touches on the Death Star (not to say that the Warriors are evil but rather that they have the ability to destroy other teams the way that the Death Star destroyed planets)--but whatever one thinks of his personal/business choices there is no denying his greatness as a basketball player; he has won the last two Finals MVPs and he is off to a sensational start this postseason, averaging 35.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.2 bpg versus the Clippers with great shooting splits (.567/.400/.949).

Stephen Curry is a great player in his own right, but Size--Specifically, Height--Matters in the NBA and Durant is nearly seven feet all while Curry is 6-3; Durant can literally and figuratively reach heights that Curry cannot. Curry averaged 24.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 5.2 apg versus the Clippers while shooting .500/.500/.973. He tweaked his right ankle during the game six win, which could easily be the greatest damage caused by Golden State's careless approach to game five; by not putting the Clippers away when they could have and should have, the Warriors had to play an extra game and Curry got hurt in that extra game. Mess around with the "basketball gods" and the "basketball gods" may mess around with you. The Clippers are a scrappy and well-coached team but there is no way that they should have won a game against the Warriors, let alone two games at Golden State. Carelessness and/or injuries are the only things that could derail Golden State versus Houston.

If the Warriors are focused and relatively healthy, they will win in five games, max; if they lose focus and/or if more than one of their main guys are limited (the Warriors can survive the loss of DeMarcus Cousins and can even win with a hobbled but still active Curry) then this series could go the distance. If the Warriors lose focus, lose two of their main guys to injury, Chris Paul stays healthy and James Harden does not choke at all then the Rockets can win.

In other words, do not count on Houston winning this series.

Other things to consider:  The Rockets have made it abundantly clear for quite some time that their primary organizational goal is to construct a team to beat the Warriors. Thus, by virtue of their own beliefs and statements, we know that Harden's gaudy regular season numbers are meaningless, as is Houston's regular season winning percentage. This team was put together to (1) beat Golden State in the playoffs and then (2) win a championship.

I still do not believe that Harden will win a championship as his team's main player, so there is a fundamental flaw in the basis of how Daryl Morey constructed this team. That being said, Morey has done a very good job of surrounding Harden with players who complement Harden's skills and minimize Harden's weaknesses. The Rockets are loaded with tough guys who can make three pointers, play gritty defense and not mind that most of the shine and dollars go to Harden, with most of the remaining shine and dollars going to Paul. Morey has pushed his chips to the table and gone all-in on the Harden-Paul duo, which means that the Rockets will be paying Paul max money well into his declining years. If Houston wins at least one title, Morey is vindicated--but if Houston does not win at least one title, then Morey will have spent an incredible amount of money just to tweak conventional wisdom by showcasing a gimmicky All-Star/gimmicky style of play.

The way to beat the Warriors, as shown by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals, is to go big, slow the game down and pound them in the paint. The Warriors have too much perimeter talent to beat them in a fast paced game featuring a lot of three point shooting.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:29 PM


Player Evaluation, Media Bias and False Narratives

Media coverage of the NBA is either amusing or pathetic, depending on your perspective and sense of humor (the same is true of media coverage of the world in a broader sense but that is a story for a different day and a different platform). For instance, here are the 2019 first round playoff statistics of two players, one of whom is portrayed as a clutch performer and the other of whom is portrayed as a player who did not perform well at all:

Player A: 21.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 7.7 apg, .8 spg, .2 bpg, .433/.333/.829 shooting

Player B: 22.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 10.6 apg, 1.0 spg, .6 bpg, .360/.324/.885 shooting

Player A is Lou Williams and Player B is Russell Westbrook. It should be noted that the above numbers represent, by far, the best playoff performance of Williams' 14 year NBA career; his brief 2019 playoff run is an outlier, not his typical level. This is not meant as a knock against Williams, who is a very good player and a top sixth man. The point is that many media members craft narratives that suit their purposes and biases, regardless of the truth. Williams is a soft-spoken, well-liked and well-respected player. It is understandable why media members like him. Williams had some strong performances as his L.A. Clippers battled valiantly against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors before losing, 4-2.

Westbrook is a brash, outwardly confident--if not arrogant--player who treats many media members with outward contempt. In the pre-internet days it used to be said that one should not pick quarrels with those who buy ink by the barrel. Westbrook is engaged in active combat with the people who write/tell the stories that define his career; those same people also vote for awards such as MVP and the All-NBA Team.

In his 2019 exit interview, Westbrook made it clear that he does not care what those people think, write or say:
If you want to determine my career and what I've done over two, three games, you go ahead. That don't mean [anything] to me. It doesn't. I'm going to wake up, like I told you before, three beautiful kids, I'm going to wake up and smile, be happy, enjoy my life. Doesn't change anything about--talk about if I'm playing bad or who's better, who's not. I know who I am as a person, and that's the biggest thing I can say about myself. I know who I am. I know what I'm able to do. I know my capabilities. I know what I've done. I know what I can and can't do. So I'm OK with that. I'm OK with who I am. I'll just be blessed to wake up every day and enjoy my life. The talk about--I don't even know what talk you're talking about, but whatever that is, you guys can keep talking about it, and I'm going to keep living my life...
There used to be conversations if I was a ball hog, but now I lead the league in assists for the past three years or whatever it is, that's getting squashed out. So now the conversation is about shooting. Next year I'm going to become a better shooter. After that it'll be probably [be] my left foot is bigger than my right one. Who knows. So that's why, back to your point, I don't really care what people say, what they think about me, because it doesn't really matter. I know what I'm able to do and know what I'm able to do at a high level every night, and nobody else can do what I can do on a night-in, night-out basis, and I truly believe that. If they could, I'm pretty sure they would. But I know for a fact that nobody can...
When you do so much at a high level, a lot of haters come. That's how life is, man. That's life, man. When you do so much, people going to try to pull and take away and try to take that away from you. But nobody can take away from me. I've been blessed, and I stay prayerful, stay thankful to be able to do what I'm able to do, and nobody can ever take that away from me, regardless of what it is, how many stories are written, how many stats are put up, how many numbers are put up.
Westbrook was asked if he has made the triple double "passé" by averaging a triple double for three straight seasons and he replied, "If it's passé, so be it. Let somebody else do it, or try to."

Here is Westbrook's resume:
Two notes:

1) Any attempt to suggest that the triple double is watered down now--or was watered down when Oscar Robertson became the only player to average a triple double in a season even once--is refuted by the simple fact that no one other than Robertson has come close to matching what Westbrook is doing. If the triple double were easy or watered down, then other players would be averaging triple doubles.

2) The NBA is designed to encourage and create parity--not to the extent of the NFL, but to a large extent nonetheless. Thus, 13 of the 15 Western Conference teams advanced to the Conference Finals at least once between 2000-2018 (only the Clippers and Pelicans failed to do so). However, just four teams made it that far at least four times: Spurs (nine), Lakers (seven), Warriors (four) and Thunder (four). The Thunder is the only team from that group that did not win a championship, but what Westbrook accomplished alongside Kevin Durant should not be blithely dismissed, because that is a level of team achievement that is rare in the NBA. The best and most dominant players from those teams--Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook--are a cut above just about everyone else who played in the NBA during that era. LeBron James, whose teams advanced to eight straight NBA Finals and nine NBA Finals overall while he played in the Eastern Conference, can be added to that list as well but few--if any--other players from that era combined that degree of high level team success with individual statistical dominance.


Westbrook is a 30 year old, 11 season NBA veteran who has already established himself as a first ballot Hall of Famer. He has also endured multiple knee surgeries that have clearly taken away some of his explosiveness and flexibility and those physical issues have affected his shooting percentages: he cannot finish at the rim like he used to, nor can he get the same elevation on his jump shot.

All great players need help to win a championship, and they need the right kind of help to mesh with their (many) skill set strengths and their (few) skill set weaknesses. The Warriors have dominated the NBA for the past four years by accumulating more star power than anyone else and then just overwhelming the opposition, though the Warriors have also featured good to excellent benches as well. LeBron James only won championships when he was surrounded by excellent shooters, plus big men who were willing to do the grunt work of setting screens and playing defense. Kobe Bryant won three championships alongside a dominant big man and then two more championships with a very good--but not great--big man. Tim Duncan won championships with ensemble casts containing a good mixture of shooting, defense and high basketball IQ.

Even when the Thunder had Durant along with Westbrook, there never was a season during which the team had the best or most suitable roster to complement Westbrook's game. The previous iteration of the Thunder was built around Durant and came very close to winning a title. The post-Durant version of the Thunder has been cobbled together year to year and is less than the sum of its parts because those parts, some of which may appear to be good in isolation, do not fit together properly.

Looking specifically at the first round series during which Portland beat Oklahoma City 4-1, Eddie Johnson of Sirius XM Radio correctly noted, "The Portland Trail Blazers have a better team around their two guards."

The Thunder's supporting cast is not well designed for the modern NBA playoffs. They do not shoot the three point shot particularly well, nor do they defend the three point shot particularly well. With each passing year, the NBA is becoming more and more like FIBA. As I have noted in many of my articles about Team USA's participation in FIBA events, it is not essential to shoot a high percentage from three point range to win at the FIBA level but it is essential to limit the opposing team's three point shooting percentage.

Portland made 12 more three pointers than Oklahoma City while shooting .405 from three point range compared to .331 for the Thunder. Paul George led the Thunder by a wide margin with 47 three pointers attempted but he made just 15 (.319). Meanwhile, Damian Lillard shot 26-54 (.481) from three point range and C.J. McCollum shot 17-38 (.447) from three point range. The Thunder could have survived George's subpar three point shooting if they had defended better.

NBA defense is not about one player or one matchup. It is about five players being, as coaches put it, "on a string." If that string breaks at any point, the whole string collapses. The Thunder put up good team defense numbers during the regular season but those overall numbers hid inconsistencies and flaws. The Thunder were prone to lapses and to giving up big runs; those things tend to be washed out when looking at 82 games' worth of numbers but they are magnified in a short series.

The Thunder either need a better defensive game plan, or they need players who are more committed to consistently executing the coaching staff's game plan.

At the other end of the court, the Thunder need an offense that consistently generates shots that are high percentage shots for the personnel that they have on the roster. That is largely on the coaching staff. The Thunder also need to surround Westbrook with a complementary supporting cast. That is the front office's responsibility for the most part, though the coaching staff plays a role in terms of developing the players who are on the roster to their maximum potential.

Ignoring the realities described above, it has become fashionable to blame most or all of the Thunder's problems on Westbrook's shot selection. It is true that his shot selection could be better. He does not shoot well from three point range but he attempts a large volume of three pointers.

Shot selection, particularly at the NBA level, involves a multi-factor analysis. The 24 second shot clock looms large. When teams pack the paint and the clock is ticking down, sometimes there is little choice but to launch a three pointer--and when that happens, the team's star player is stuck with the "hand grenade" (shot clock that is about to explode) more often than the team's other players (unless, like LeBron James and James Harden, he is skilled at ducking his responsibilities by chucking that "hand grenade" to one of his less-skilled teammates).

OK, one might answer, but why does Westbrook shoot them early in the clock? The point is that there is a chain reaction happening here; poorly run offenses often generate "hand grenades," and then the star may adjust by electing to shoot earlier in the shot clock because he knows that if he waits until late in the shot clock then he is going to end up with a shot from the same location that is more contested because the defender can crowd him, knowing that there is not enough time to drive.

Thus, while it is true that in an ideal world Westbrook would either (1) shoot fewer threes and/or (2) shoot a better percentage from three point range, the realities of the situation are more nuanced than most media members are capable of understanding and/or willing to report. On deadline, writing about a player who you don't like who just shot 6-20 (or whatever), it is much easier to write, "Westbrook is killing his team by shooting too much" as opposed to analyzing the game at a deeper level.

Looking at this issue even more deeply, there are many often repeated fallacies about shot distribution and about the capabilities of various players. A player's shooting percentage is affected by the defensive attention that is paid to the other players on the court. Thus, a player who shoots 4-8 on a particular diet of shots may not shoot 8-16 on a different diet, but media members love to count field goal attempts, look at field goal percentages and then draw broad (and wrong) conclusions. Think of Mike Wilbon and Jon Barry breathlessly counting Kobe Bryant's field goal attempts while also breathlessly ignoring everything else that happened during the game.

Put more simply, just because a star player shot 6-20 from the field and a different player on the same team shot 6-12 from the field one cannot necessarily conclude that the star should have shot less often and the other player should have shot more often. In many cases, those 12 "good" shots were created by the presence and skills of the star, while the star's 20 "bad" shots were a result of the overall functioning of the offense.

Perhaps the oddest thing about the coverage of the Portland-Oklahoma series is that George--a dark horse MVP candidate according to many media members during the regular season--shot worse than Westbrook on three pointers and free throws while also accumulating fewer rebounds, fewer assists and fewer blocked shots. If George is supposedly an MVP level player and supposedly the best player on the team then why do all of the media narratives blame only Westbrook for the Thunder's loss?


All of this overreaction to one playoff series is reminiscent of the hack who wrote, 10 years ago, that game seven of the Lakers-Rockets series would be the defining moment of Kobe Bryant's career. That hack was no doubt eagerly anticipating that the Rockets would beat the Lakers; the media's decade-long love affair with Daryl Morey and the Rockets had just begun, while the media also loved to take unwarranted shots at Bryant.

Not surprisingly, after the Lakers beat the Rockets and went on to capture the first of their back to back titles in the second half of Bryant's career, that hack had nothing to say about the Lakers' game seven win over the Rockets or Bryant's subsequent Finals MVP.

Prior to the Houston series, Bryant had won three titles and had distinguished himself numerous times in postseason play. That game seven against Houston was important--all elimination games are obviously important--but by no stretch of the imagination would that one game define his career, win or lose.

Bryant won two of his five titles at the back end of his career with some of the weakest championship team supporting casts in recent memory, but the media consensus is that LeBron James--who has won three titles during his entire career--not only surpassed Bryant but is on par with Michael Jordan.

Perhaps the funniest thing about all of these comparisons is that the media purports to be ranking players by championships and then selects Jordan, who won six, as the standard, ignoring other all-time greats who won at least six titles. Bill Russell won 11. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won six. Neither of those players had losing records in the Finals, let alone a mark as bad as James' 3-6.

If putting up elite individual statistics while winning the most championships are the benchmarks for being the greatest player of all-time, LeBron James is not even close to the top of the list; after Russell, Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan, there is Bryant (five), Tim Duncan (five), Magic Johnson (five) and Shaquille O'Neal (four), not to mention players who also won three titles and have to be in this conversation as well (Julius Erving, Larry Bird). There are also players who, while not quite individually on par with James, were great players in their own right who made significant contributions to multiple championship teams; that list includes John Havlicek (eight championships) and Scottie Pippen (six championships).

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:49 PM


Friday, April 26, 2019

Toronto Versus Philadelphia Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#2 Toronto (58-24) vs. #3 Philadelphia (51-31)

Season series: Toronto, 3-1

Philadelphia can win if…the 76ers' star-studded starting lineup lives up to the hype. The 76ers have been touted--and tout themselves--as a championship contender but, despite adding Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris to a roster that advanced to the second round last year, the 76ers finished just fourth in the East, which means that they will have to win at least one road game to survive this series; they probably will need to win two road games, as the Raptors will likely win at least one game in Philadelphia.

Supporters of the so-called "Process" have been screaming "Mission Accomplished" for a while but the point of all of that tanking was to win a title, not lose in the second round of the playoffs. The reality is that Tanking Does Not Work, in addition to being bad for the sport in terms of not providing authentic competition and not providing full value to paying customers/sponsors.

The crown jewel of Sam Hinkie's Philadelphia tanking is Joel Embiid, who is talented, mercurial and injury-prone. Embiid has averaged 24.3 ppg, 11.4 rpg and 2.0 bpg in the regular season during his three year career but he has appeared in just 158 out of 246 possible games. Perhaps the most important "ability" is availability, but the 76ers rarely know for sure if, when, or for how long Embiid will be available; even when he plays, he often operates on a minutes restriction and he has barely averaged 30 mpg during his career.

Large basketball players who are injury-prone early in their careers rarely are able to have long, productive, injury-free careers; the likelihood is that Embiid's career will be short compared to other top level big men, and that he will not be able to lead a team to a title.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia's other young showcase player, had a reputation in college for not being a high energy player, and that reputation has held true for the most part in the NBA as well. Simmons is touted by some as the next Magic Johnson or a poor man's Magic Johnson, but Johnson was a better all-around individual player who also had a much greater tangible impact on team success.

Jimmy Butler is the only Philadelphia player who is consistently reliable in clutch situations but he will never be the main guy as long as Embiid is around. Butler knows this and does not like it, which could impact his decision to stay or leave after the season.

In short, the 76ers have assembled a lot of individual talent but it does not appear that they have assembled a legitimate championship caliber team.

Toronto will win because…Kawhi Leonard provides leadership, stability and production at both ends of the court that the Raptors have lacked during their recent playoff runs. He posted career-highs this season in scoring (26.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg). Leonard won the 2014 NBA Finals MVP and he is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year (2015, 2016). His playoff scoring average has increased each year that he appeared in the playoffs, starting at 8.6 ppg in 2012 and peaking at 27.8 ppg so far in 2019 (just a tick above the 27.7 ppg he averaged in the 2017 playoffs; he missed the 2018 playoffs due to injury).

Only Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs know what caused the complete breakdown in the player-organization relationship and since both player and organization have long held to a strict omerta code the rest of us may never find out the real story. Whatever happened in San Antonio has not hindered Leonard's performance with his new team.

The only negative with Leonard in Toronto thus far has been "load management." Leonard missed 22 games--more than a fourth of the schedule--primarily, if not exclusively, to rest. "Load management" is not as bad as tanking but it is bad for the league. Perhaps there is some legitimate science behind the concept but if that is the case then--in the interest of player health and safety--the owners and players should collectively agree to shorten the season, which of course would also mean adjusting the salaries downward accordingly on a proportional basis to offset the lost ticket and media revenue.

Kyle Lowry is a very good regular season player whose playoff impact is highly questionable; he just flat out disappears at times. Anyone can have a bad half or even a bad game but Lowry has too many of them in the playoffs for a player of his ability. He did not make a field goal in Toronto's game one upset loss to Orlando in the first round but he bounced back the rest of the way as the Raptors won four games in a row. Lowry averaged 11.4 ppg and 8.6 apg in the first round.

Pascal Siakam ranked second on the team in scoring during the regular season (16.9 ppg) and he increased that number to 22.6 ppg versus Orlando while also leading the Raptors in rebounding (8.4 rpg) during that series. He, not Lowry, is the team's second best player, but the Raptors will not go very far unless Lowry brings something to the table to supplement the efforts of Leonard and Siakam.

Other things to consider: The 76ers built their team by tanking and then stockpiling draft picks. Many people believe that the 76ers have the best starting lineup in the NBA; they narrowly missed becoming the first team in league history to feature five players who each averaged at least 17 ppg during the regular season (Joel Embiid 27.5 ppg, Tobias Harris 18.2 ppg, Jimmy Butler 18.2 ppg, J.J. Redick 18.1 ppg and Ben Simmons 16.9 ppg). Golden State has the best starting five in the NBA until further notice; let's see the 76ers advance to the NBA Finals at least once before throwing so many flower petals in their direction.

In recent years, the Toronto Raptors have been an outstanding regular season team that just not figure out how to get past LeBron James in the playoffs. With James out of the picture, the path is clear for the Raptors to at least advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for just the second time in franchise history.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:08 AM


Remembering John Havlicek: Ironman, Versatile Performer and Unselfish Teammate

Pro basketball lost one of its most legendary and accomplished players on Thursday with the passing of John Havlicek, a Hall of Famer and Top 50 player who won eight championships during his NBA career, trailing only his Boston Celtic teammates Bill Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10).

I interviewed Havlicek over a decade ago and the title of the article I wrote about him says it all: John Havlicek: The Ultimate Complete Player. Havlicek had no skill set weaknesses: He could score, pass, rebound, defend and handle the ball. He was a clutch player and an unselfish teammate who embraced the sixth man role early in his career before becoming a four-time All-NBA First Team selection and a five-time All-Defensive First Team selection. Havlicek played all of his 16 seasons for the Boston Celtics and he was the first pro basketball player to score at least 1000 points in each season of a career of that length, a feat later matched by Julius Erving.

The recent concept of "load management" would have been anathema to Havlicek, who missed just 33 regular season games during his career. "I'm ready to go 48 all the time. I get to rest on free throws and timeouts," he once declared. He retired as pro basketball's career leader in regular season games played (1270) and he ranked second (to Wilt Chamberlain) in career regular season minutes played (46,471) when he retired. During the 1976 playoffs, Havlicek played through a torn plantar fascia, missing just three games and playing 58 minutes in Boston's game five triple overtime win versus Phoenix in the NBA Finals, setting the stage for the title-clinching game six victory. "I don’t think you should mind a little pain if you’re paid to play," Havlicek explained.

Two years later, Havlicek scored 29 points in 41 minutes in his final game, which stands as the record for most points by a Hall of Famer in the final game of his career--at least until Kobe Bryant (60 points) is inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:47 AM


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Milwaukee Versus Boston Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#1 Milwaukee (60-22) vs. #4 Boston (49-33)

Season series: Milwaukee, 2-1

Boston can win if…the Celtics' defense can keep Milwaukee's high scoring offense in check to the extent that the games are close and then Kyrie Irving dominates in crunch time. Irving has many vocal critics but he is undeniably a big time performer in clutch situations and he made essential contributions to Cleveland's 2016 championship team. Irving led the Celtics in scoring (22.5 ppg) and assists (7.8 apg) during their first round sweep of the Indiana Pacers.

The Celtics have tremendous depth and a nice mix of young players/veterans but throughout the season they did not maintain a consistently high level of play. They looked very good in the first round but the Milwaukee Bucks pose an entirely different challenge than the Indiana Pacers sans Victor Oladipo. Maybe the Celtics are putting it all together at the right time but it is more likely that they feasted on a depleted Indiana team and will struggle to keep up with the Bucks.

Milwaukee will win because…Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best basketball player in the world and the Bucks perform at an elite level at both ends of the court, a rarity in an era that heavily favors offense over defense. The Bucks led the league in scoring during the regular season (118.1 ppg) and they increased their production to 121.8 ppg while sweeping the outmatched Detroit Pistons; the Bucks also ranked third in regular season field goal percentage (.476) and they shot .510 from the field versus the Pistons. The Bucks ranked 11th in regular season points allowed (109.3 ppg) but even that solid number is inflated by the Bucks' fast pace; a more accurate reflection of their defensive dominance is their league leading defensive field goal percentage (.433) and point differential (8.8 ppg).

Other things to consider: Last year, the Celtics beat the Bucks in a hard fought, seven game first round series despite not having the services of the injured Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward but the Bucks are a much improved team. One might have expected that the addition of Irving and Hayward would have made the Celtics the best team in the East but that did not turn out to be the case. The Celtics ran hot and cold during the regular season as they tried to integrate Irving and Hayward into a rotation that had advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals without those two stars.

The Celtics had no answer for Antetokounmpo during last year's playoffs, as he torched them for 25.7 ppg on .570 field goal shooting while also averaging 9.6 rpg and 6.3 apg. Antetokounmpo is even better now than he was a year ago and this series could be his national coming out party--but the Bucks are a lot more than just one superstar: Khris Middleton is a solid All-Star, Eric Bledsoe is a good point guard and center Brook Lopez provides a defensive presence in the paint while also spacing the floor on offense with his three point shooting.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:38 AM