20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Day Two of the 2020 NBA Playoffs

Day one of the 2020 NBA playoffs featured a record-setting scoring outburst by Donovan Mitchell in a thrilling overtime game, a blowout win by the defending champion Toronto Raptors, some empty numbers posted by Joel Embiid in a loss, and yet another understated brilliant performance by two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

Here are recaps for each game from the second quadrupleheader of the 2020 NBA playoffs. Spoiler alert: One game does not make a series, but it sure is interesting that the two number one seeds who coasted through the eight seeding games both got upset by inferior teams.

Orlando 122, Milwaukee 110

Orlando started the game by shooting 7-8 from the field, taking a 17-10 lead, and the Magic extended that margin to 33-23 by the end of the first quarter. The Magic shot 14-22 from the field (.667), while the Bucks shot 9-22 from the field (.409) and committed five turnovers. The Magic continued to be sharp and the Bucks continued to be sluggish in the second quarter. Orlando led 62-52 at halftime. Nikola Vucevic topped the Magic in both points (16) and rebounds (seven). Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists while shooting 6-11 from the field but his teammates shot just 13-35 from the field (.371).

As one would expect when the number one seed is trailing the number eight seed after 24 minutes, the number one seed played with great focus at the start of the third quarter, quickly narrowing Orlando's lead to 64-61. Khris Middleton had a chance to tie the score at the 8:33 mark but he only made two out of three free throws, so Milwaukee still trailed by one, 69-68. Orlando did not fold, though, and the Magic rebuilt their lead to 92-79 by the end of the third quarter. Vucevic scored 14 points in the third quarter, and Antetokounmpo nearly matched him with 11 third quarter points.

Kyle Korver provided a boost for the Bucks with a four point play to start the fourth quarter, nailing a three pointer off of an assist from Antetokounmpo and then making a free throw after he was fouled on the shot. However, the Magic struck back, and midway through the fourth quarter they enjoyed a 109-95 lead. The Bucks never mounted a serious threat the rest of the way.

Vucevic led the Magic in scoring (35 points, a playoff career-high) and rebounds (14). He shot 15-24 from the field, including 5-8 from three point range. Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points, a game-high 17 rebounds, and a team-high seven assists but the 2019 regular season MVP did not take over in the fourth quarter even after his team cut the deficit to just one point.

This is an impressive win by Orlando but keep two things in mind: (1) This is not the NCAA Tournament, so Orlando has to do this three more times to eliminate Milwaukee; (2) Orlando won game one in the first round last year versus Toronto, and the Raptors were so devastated by that setback that they beat the Magic four straight times and then went on to win the 2019 NBA title.

However, the Bucks cannot be complacent and just assume that they are going to win this series; their defense was awful, and they have looked lethargic since the NBA restart began. The Bucks must refocus quickly to avoid being victims of a huge upset, and it is important to remember that if this series lasts seven games then the Bucks will not have the huge advantage of playing game seven at home.

Miami 113, Indiana 101

Miami has dominated this matchup recently, but Indiana was more than competitive from the start of this game, and the Pacers led 33-27 at the end of the first quarter despite 2019 All-Star Victor Oladipo leaving the game late in the quarter after being poked in the eye. Oladipo did not return to the game.

Jimmy Butler scored 14 points and Bam Adebayo added 12 points as Miami led 56-52 at halftime. Indiana closed to within 81-80 by the end of the third quarter, with T.J. Warren and Malcolm Brogdon spearheading the Pacers' attack. At that point, the Pacers had shot 29-57 from the field (.518), including 7-17 (.412) from three point range.

Goran Dragic scored 10 points in the first three quarters and then he scored 10 points in less than three minutes to help push the Heat's lead to 101-93 midway through the fourth quarter. Then, Butler--not known as a high percentage long range shooter--nailed back to back three pointers to put Miami up 104-95 with 3:26 remaining. Butler scored 10 of the Heat's final 12 points, and he led all scorers with 28 points on 8-15 field goal shooting. He also had four assists, three rebounds, four steals, and two blocked shots. Dragic finished with 24 points. Adebayo contributed 17 points, 10 rebounds, a team-high six assists, and a team-high three blocked shots.

Brogdon and Warren led Indiana with 22 points each. Brogdon also dished a game-high 10 assists.

Indiana shot 7-19 from the field (.368) in the fourth quarter. The Pacers are scrappy and well-coached, but they are outmatched versus Miami, particularly if Oladipo is not able to return to action.

Houston 123, Oklahoma City 108

James Harden and Chris Paul are both perennial All-Stars but they are also both known for their checkered playoff resumes, so a head to head postseason battle between the rivals turned teammates turned rivals raises intriguing questions: When will Harden choke? Will Paul stay healthy for the whole series?

Harden scored eight points on 2-5 field goal shooting with three turnovers as Houston took a 19-13 lead late in the first quarter. Meanwhile, at that point Paul had shot 0-4 from the field with just one assist. Houston led 28-20 after the first 12 minutes. The Rockets shot 9-21 from the field (.429), while the Thunder--under the direction of Paul, who Charles Barkley repeatedly calls "the best leader in the game"--shot 6-20 (.300)  from the field against the short-handed (and short in stature) Rockets. Paul shot 0-5 from the field in the first quarter. The Thunder did not punish the undersized Rockets in the paint, nor did they take advantage of the Rockets being without the services of the injured Russell Westbrook.

The Rockets opened the second quarter with a 9-0 run to take a 37-20 lead. The Thunder briefly settled down after that and pulled to within 11 (39-28) but then the Rockets started connecting from three point range to extend the margin to 21 (58-37). Of course, in the NBA (almost) every team makes a run, and that goes double for any team facing Houston's inconsistent defense. Oklahoma City ripped off nine straight points to cut Houston's advantage to 58-46. Houston led 68-52 at halftime.

The Rockets shot 22-42 (.524) from the field in the first half, including 11-25 (.440) from three point range. Oklahoma City shot 17-42 (.415) from the field in the first half, including 5-16 from three point range (.313). Eric Gordon scored 16 points on 5-9 field goal shooting, while Harden added 15 points on 4-12 field goal shooting. Jeff Green topped Houston in plus/minus (+20) while contributing 13 points on 5-7 field goal shooting. Danilo Gallinari did his best to keep Oklahoma City in the game, pouring in 18 points on 5-7 field goal shooting. Steven Adams, who did not receive enough opportunities to exploit Houston's undersized lineup, scored 10 points on 4-9 field goal shooting. Paul scored nine points on 3-9 field goal shooting, and he was whistled for a technical foul as the teams headed to their locker rooms for halftime--a boneheaded act by the leader of a team that was struggling to stay in the game. James Harden made the technical free throw before the start of the third quarter.

The Thunder made no progress during the third quarter, and they trailed 98-75 after Harden drilled a three pointer at the 2:43 mark. Houston led 104-83 heading into the fourth quarter, and the Thunder never mounted a serious threat the rest of the way. Oklahoma City's defense was pathetic--giving up drives to the basket and open three pointers while also committing senseless fouls--and their offense was not much better.

Harden finished with 37 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists. He shot 12-22 from the field, including 8-10 in the second half. Jeff Green made a significant contribution, coming off of the bench to provide 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Green shot 8-12 from the field, and he had a game-high +28 plus/minus number. Gordon had 21 points and four assists. The Rockets shot 20-52 (.385) from three point range.

It is surprising that Mike D'Antoni, who usually has a short rotation during the playoffs, utilized his bench, and it is surprising how much production his bench provided. It is also surprising that the Thunder did not more effectively utilize their size advantage in the paint.

Gallinari led the Thunder with 29 points. Paul padded his totals after the game was decided, finishing with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Adams ended up with 17 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. He is one of the strongest players in the NBA and a high percentage scorer in the paint, so it is mystifying that he had just 13 field goal attempts.

The Thunder squandered a tremendous opportunity to beat the Rockets without Westbrook.

Portland 100, L.A. Lakers 93

Much like the Milwaukee Bucks--their number one seed counterpart in the East--the L.A. Lakers started sluggishly and sloppily. In the opening minutes of the first quarter, LeBron James scored two points on 1-3 field goal shooting, though he did finish the stanza with six points on 3-6 field goal shooting while also accumulating three assists. Anthony Davis scored nine points on 1-8 field goal shooting and 7-7 free throw shooting in the first quarter; Davis' ability to draw fouls is valuable, but an MVP caliber player should shoot better than 1-8 from the field. Portland led 36-25 as Damian Lillard paced all scorers with 15 points on 5-6 field goal shooting.

Much attention is paid to what happens late in games, but those who understand NBA basketball realize that the game is often won in the first quarter; James and Davis did not do enough in the first quarter, and as a result the Lakers had to battle back from a double digit deficit. The Lakers eventually came back and even took the lead, but playing from behind all game can take a toll, and the Lakers had nothing left in the tank to finish the game.

In the second quarter, the Lakers woke up and started shredding Portland's Swiss cheese defense. James made some scintillating passes, racking up seven assists in the quarter, and finishing the half with 12 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds. Davis shot 4-7 from the field and 4-6 from the free throw line, finishing the half with 21 points and seven rebounds. However, even though Davis' numbers looked good superficially, Kenny Smith noted during TNT's halftime show that Davis too often hesitates when he catches the ball in the post, passively waiting for the double team as opposed to attacking the primary defender before the help defender arrives.

I will expound a bit on Smith's observations, because what he talked about is one difference between being an all-time great as opposed to being a talented player who can score 21 points in one half of a playoff game; all-time greats Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant understood how--and when--to attack a variety of different defenses. It is not enough to just attract a double team or to be able to score in many ways; Davis can do those things, but there is another level to basketball greatness. As Smith emphasized, when Davis just waits for the double team and then makes a pass that does not threaten the defense, the defense is able to recover and Davis has not created an advantage for his team.

For Portland, Lillard added eight points to his total, leading both teams with 23 first half points. Jusuf Nurkic already had a double double at halftime (14 points, 12 rebounds) as the Trail Blazers clung to a 57-56 lead. Those who are tracking Carmelo Anthony's comeback should note that he scored eight points on 2-7 field goal shooting, and he was the only Portland starter who had a negative plus/minus number (-10).

The Trail Blazers maintained their small lead through the third quarter, and headed into the fourth quarter up by three, 78-75. James gave the Lakers an 80-78 lead with a basket at the 8:46 mark of the fourth quarter, but the Trail Blazers reclaimed the advantage, 89-87, on a C.J. McCollum drive. James missed two free throws that could have tied the game with 4:24 remaining but a few plays later Danny Green's driving layup tied the score at 89.

It cannot be emphasized enough that every play matters, not just the plays at the end of the game, or the plays that certain media members choose to talk about. Remember that the Lakers, with the demonstrably superior team--they are a #1 seed playing a #8 seed--trailed by 11 after the first 12 minutes. Remember that James missed two free throws that could have tied the score late in the fourth quarter. After James missed those free throws, the Trail Blazers closed out the game by outscoring the Lakers, 11-6.

Lillard had a great start to the game, cooled off during the middle, and then had his fingerprints all over the decisive final few minutes, either scoring the key baskets or else drawing the double team to create an advantage for a teammate (as opposed to waiting for the double team and then making an ineffective pass just to get rid of the ball, as Davis did far too often). Lillard led all scorers with 34 points, and he led all players with a +19 plus/minus number. He shot 9-21 from the field overall, which is not great, but he shot 6-13 from three point range and he made all 10 of his free throws.  McCollum added 21 points, and Nurkic finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Anthony hit a clutch three pointer late in the game after Lillard drew a double team, and he had 11 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, but he shot just 3-11 from the field and finished with a -2 plus/minus number. Anthony was Portland's inefficient fourth option who made a solid role player contribution, but there will no doubt be breathless media coverage inflating his impact while implying (or directly stating) that his previous teams were wrong to get rid of him when he refused to accept his limitations and fill a role suited to his current capabilities.

Davis led the Lakers with 28 points but he shot 8-24 from the field and he had a -20 plus/minus number. Kenny Smith's halftime observations--discussed above--are apt, and Shaquille O'Neal is correct that there is a difference between putting up good numbers and being a superstar. Davis did not do enough in this game, and he was not efficient enough.

James had 23 points, 17 rebounds, and 16 assists. Those numbers look fantastic, and it is true that James made some wonderful passes--but James shot 9-20 from the field, he was invisible during the first quarter when the Trail Blazers set the tone for the game, and James did not put his imprint on the game down the stretch when the outcome was up for grabs. This game is symbolic of James' career: the boxscore numbers--and, presumably, the "advanced" numbers--are tremendous but are they connected to team success? James is often touted as the greatest player ever. He has spent roughly half of his career with deep teams that may have lacked a top level co-star, and he has spent roughly half of his career on super-teams with tremendous top level talent, yet he has three championships--half as many as Michael Jordan or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and two fewer than Magic Johnson or Kobe Bryant, not to mention eight fewer than Bill Russell. James is without question an all-time great, but when he is compared to other all-time greats it is important to not forget or disrespect their accomplishments.

Also, contrary to what you may hear, James is not the first player to post at least 20 points, at least 15 rebounds, and at least 15 assists in a playoff game; Julius Erving had 26 points, 20 rebounds, and 15 assists in a 47 point playoff win as a rookie--and then he had 38 points and 20 rebounds the next game in another win!

Media spin is fascinating to watch: if the Lakers lose this series as the number one seed, it can be predicted that James' teammates will be blamed, not James--and if the Lakers win this series then it will probably be portrayed as some great accomplishment for James to advance to the second round as the top seed while playing alongside another MVP caliber player.

Think about it this way: do you think that Anthony Davis is more or less talented than Pau Gasol? Kobe Bryant made three straight NBA Finals appearances and won back to back titles with Gasol as his sidekick, and in the 2010 Finals the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics, a super-team featuring three future Hall of Famers--the same super-team that essentially prompted James to quit on Cleveland and run to Miami to build his own super-team. Is there any universe in which a sub-.500 Portland team is remotely as good as the 2010 Boston Celtics, or even the 2009 Orlando Magic squad that the Bryant-Gasol Lakers beat in the Finals?

This was just one game. Maybe James and Davis are poised to lead the Lakers to multiple NBA titles. If that happens, then I will give them all of the credit that they deserve, as I have done each time James played dominantly en route to the three championships he has won--but if James and Davis fall short of reasonable expectations, then I will write about that, just like I wrote about the numerous times that James' teams have previously fallen short of reasonable expectations.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 1:24 AM



At Wednesday, August 19, 2020 12:08:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

I remember in the 2018 Playoffs Lebron was lauded for making it to the Finals with a supporting cast of Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson. It was his eighth straight Finals which was historically great but the point that was being driven home by the media was that he achieved an unprecedented feat by carrying a depleted supporting cast to the Finals. I know that many people would scoff at comparing Bryant's teammates from 2008-2010 to the players mentioned above but a supporting cast of Pau Gasol,Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza/Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum is absolutely comparable to LeBron's supporting cast in 2018 so it was very bizarre that Bryant was accused by many of playing with a full deck while James was commended for going into a gunfight with a knife.

A large portion of the media seems oddly protective of James and his legacy. One of the biggest signs of this are the highlights of the Finals over the years before every Finals game. When they get to the 2016 Finals they show LeBron's block on Iguodala from several different angles but they do not show Kyrie Irving's three pointer that put the Cavs up 92-89. LeBron was without question the MVP of the entire series but that was one of the biggest shots in the history of basketball and it's unfortunate that Irving's role in that championship gets trivialized in an effort to protect or enhance LeBron's legacy.

At Wednesday, August 19, 2020 1:27:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, this has been a pattern throughout LeBron's career: many media members are unable or unwilling to objectively assess LeBron and his supporting cast. I think that some of this started with the local Cleveland media fawning over him during his first stint there, with the hope/expectation that he would spend his whole career in Cleveland, but national and international media members succumb to this as well.

I have said without reservation from the start of LeBron's career that he is an exceptional player. I wrote about his "accelerated growth curve" early in his career. However, I have also pointed out the flaws in his game, and the excuses that he too often makes, and the fact that he has had a lot more help alongside him than many people are willing to admit.

I have tremendous respect for what James has accomplished, but I am also puzzled by his attitude at times, and I am baffled by the fawning media coverage that he has received.


Post a Comment

<< Home