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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sloppy Suns Fall Apart in the Clutch, are Eliminated by the Spurs

Either team could have won game five of the San Antonio-Phoenix series--and, as usually happens when these teams play a close game, San Antonio made just enough plays to win while the Suns squandered several opportunities. Neither team shot well from the field but when the Spurs needed to score they either made a shot or drew a foul and then sank the free throws. Tony Parker once again led the way for the Spurs with a game-high 31 points and eight assists. Tim Duncan added 29 points and a game-high 17 rebounds. No other Spur scored more than eight points; Manu Ginobili shot just 2-11 from the field, finishing with eight points, three rebounds and no assists. The Suns found one matchup that really worked in their favor: Boris Diaw setting up shop on the low block and going to work against various defenders, including Ginobili, Parker, Michael Finley and Robert Horry. Diaw finished with 22 points on 11-17 shooting from the field, plus eight rebounds and eight assists. Supposedly this threw Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire out of rhythm but no one had a satisfactory explanation for how a player taking advantage of mismatches hurts the team. Meanwhile, Nash shot 4-16 from the field, committed five turnovers and had just 11 points and three assists. Stoudemire had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Shaquille O'Neal, whose next nickname will probably be the "Big Scapegoat" after this series, had 13 points and nine rebounds but shot just 2-8 from the field and 9-20 from the free throw line. Critics are sure to say that his free throw shooting cost the Suns the game while ignoring Nash's three fourth quarter turnovers (plus some miscues that were officially charged as turnovers to other players) and the fact that Parker completely dominated the point guard matchup in this game and in this series. O'Neal averaged 15.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 2.6 bpg in the series, which is about all one can reasonably expect from him at this point--and that should have been enough paint presence for the Suns to beat the Spurs but the Suns simply could not overcome their terrible late game execution and the decisive fashion in which Parker outplayed Nash. As TNT's Doug Collins said of the Suns, "Game one and game five, critical mistakes down the stretch: they didn't handle their business."

This game and this series provide enough fodder for a book, so bear with this post because it is going to delve deeply into several different subplots (you can go to the big budget sites for the quick, superficial and incorrect analysis). Let's start with the "Hack a Shaq" strategy:

"Hack a Shaq": Brilliant coaching move or overrated strategy?

Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich resorted to the "Hack a Shaq" strategy on several occasions during this game and he even did the "Hack a (Brian) Skinner" a couple times. For those who don't know what this means, it refers to an intentional foul away from the ball. This can only be done prior to the last two minutes of the game, because after that point the fouled team can select any player on the court to shoot one free throw and then retain possession of the ball. The theory behind this maneuver is that the fouling team will gain an advantage after poor free throw shooters like O'Neal or Skinner miss one or both free throws; as I have explained several times, there are some problems with that theory:

1) An NBA possession is worth approximately one point; so if the "hacked" player makes half of his free throws then the fouling team is not gaining any mathematical advantage.

2) Fouling results in a dead ball situation that enables the fouled team to set up a half court defense. The fouling team is supposedly disrupting the other team's offensive rhythm but in reality they are most likely giving up a free point while ensuring that they will not have any fast breaks or easy scoring opportunities of their own.

3) The "Hack a Shaq" strategy did not work in the 2000 playoffs when Portland and Indiana tried it, nor did it work when Dallas Coach Don Nelson tried it against the Chicago Bulls in 1997 and Dennis Rodman responded by shooting 9-12 from the free throw line. That is why the NBA has never legislated against this strategy other than not allowing it in the last two minutes; it does not work and it has been proven to not work so the league office is not worried that it will become widely used.

Gregg Popovich and Don Nelson are very smart coaches but I have no idea why they believe in the "Hack a Shaq." The Clippers' Mike Dunleavy is another good coach who believes in this tactic and he defended the approach when I asked him about it more than two years ago. I respect all three of these coaches for their knowledge of the game but I think that they are wrong about the "Hack a Shaq."

Let's look at how the "Hack a Shaq" played out in game five. Popovich first did it with 2:56 remaining in the first quarter and the Spurs leading 21-17. Collins explained that while some coaches try the "Hack a Shaq" when they are trailing (in order to stop the clock and lengthen the game), Popovich thinks that the strategy works even better when the fouling team is ahead. O'Neal split his pair of free throws. On the next possession, O'Neal blocked Duncan's shot but Duncan gathered the ball and scored. The Spurs hacked Shaq and he again split his pair of free throws. On the next possession, Parker tripped over O'Neal, who was called for his second foul. Parker made two free throws and Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni sat O'Neal down because of his foul trouble (D'Antoni has stated that he will not pull O'Neal to avoid the "Hack a Shaq," a wise choice because benching O'Neal late in game one hurt the Suns defensively and played a role in costing them that very important game). Parker made both of his free throws and then the Spurs hacked Skinner, O'Neal's replacement. Skinner made one of two free throws and then Parker scored on a drive, something that he was not so easily able to do with O'Neal patrolling the paint. The Spurs hacked Skinner again and this time he made both free throws. Horry made a three pointer but the Suns scored twice while the Spurs missed their last three shots of the quarter. The Spurs led 30-26 after the first quarter, so all that hacking did not gain them a single point on the scoreboard; the Suns shot 5-8 on the resulting free throws but they made just 39% of their field goals in the first quarter. Do the math and you will see that the Suns scored five points on four possessions while being "hacked" but if the Spurs had just played straight up and continued to hold them to 39% field goal shooting the Suns would have only scored three points on those possessions (39% x four possessions= 1.56 made field goals x 2 points per shot= 3.12 points). Maybe Popovich is doing this for some kind of psychological effect, because the raw numbers show that the "Hack a Shaq" is not effective.

With 4:09 remaining in the second quarter and the score tied at 43, Popovich went back to the "Hack a Shaq." This time O'Neal missed both free throws, which obviously makes the strategy look good. The Spurs answered with a jumper to take a two point lead. Here is where the psychological aspect may come into play: Raja Bell rushed up court and turned the ball over before the Spurs had a chance to foul O'Neal (if you watch closely you can see the Spur closest to O'Neal doing the universal "I didn't touch him" gesture once he sees the ball heading out of bounds). If the Suns would have kept their cool they probably would have gotten one point out of that possession just by letting the Spurs foul O'Neal. Why panic when the other team is giving you a chance to score free points? The Spurs did not capitalize on Bell's gift and the next time the Suns had the ball they fouled O'Neal but not as part of the "Hack a Shaq"; O'Neal had the ball in the paint and was going up for a shot, a situation where it definitely makes sense to foul him to prevent an easy two points. O'Neal missed both of those free throws. Then the Suns went through a stretch where they got stops but could not get the defensive rebounds. A Kurt Thomas tip in put the Spurs up 47-43 and the Spurs once again hacked Shaq, who split a pair of free throws. Parker missed a jumper, the Spurs hacked Shaq and he again made one out of two free throws. This business had been going on for almost three minutes and even with O'Neal shooting worse than his average (2-8, including his 0-2 on non-"Hack a Shaq" free throws) the Spurs had gained just two points to lead 47-45. Then, D'Antoni took O'Neal out for the last 1:20 and the Spurs closed the half on a 7-0 run. If you are looking for where the game was lost please don't buy the idea that "Hack a Shaq" won the game for the Spurs; look no further than the decision to take O'Neal out right before halftime plus Nash's turnover meltdown at the end of the second half (which we will examine more closely soon). Parker scored five of those crucial seven points, four of them on a pair of driving layups and one of them after splitting a pair of free throws that resulted from a strong drive to the hoop. The Suns' defense was not perfect when O'Neal was in the game but it certainly did not improve when he left; at least when O'Neal was in the game he discouraged some of the dribble penetration and he forced Duncan to shoot jumpers for the most part (Duncan made just six of his 15 field goal attempts in the first half, with a lot of his shots coming from outside of the paint).

Popovich revisited the "Hack a Shaq" with just 4:56 left in the game and the Spurs leading 79-76--and this time the strategy almost cost San Antonio the game. O'Neal made both of his free throws, ending a 6-0 Spurs run. Parker missed a jumper, the Spurs hacked Shaq and he split a pair of free throws to tie the score. The Suns had now gone more than three minutes without making a field goal yet they were able to tie the score because Popovich essentially gave them three free points with the clock stopped. The Suns played good defense on the next possession but Duncan bailed out the Spurs with an off balance running jumper that just beat the shot clock. The Spurs did not hack Shaq this time but ended up fouling him anyway to prevent an easy shot; O'Neal split the free throws to pull the Suns to within 81-80. The Spurs failed to score and then the Suns took the lead when Nash--who was largely invisible for most of the game--drilled a jumper. Then things got strange. Diaw fouled Kurt Thomas and Popovich subbed in Horry for Duncan; it became evident that Horry was in the game merely to foul O'Neal and that Duncan would then check back in after Horry delivered the foul. So D'Antoni responded by taking O'Neal out of the game. Then Popovich tried to sub Duncan back in for defensive purposes but by rule once a player checks out he cannot come back in until time has run off of the clock. The two coaches and the referees talked for a bit but Duncan and O'Neal both had to stay out of the game. Thomas made his free throws, Nash missed a jumper and Parker made a jumper to put the Spurs up 85-82. Nash answered with a three pointer to tie the score. Stoudemire blocked Parker's jumper but Nash lost the ball and then fouled Parker, who split a pair of free throws. Now O'Neal and Duncan both returned to action. The net result of this round of "Hack a Shaq" is that the Spurs lost two points on the scoreboard and ended up playing a few possessions without Duncan, their best player. Thanks to Nash's turnover and foul, the Spurs still had a one point lead but if the Suns had executed just a little better they not only would have gained ground during the "Hack a Shaq" period but they would have taken and kept the lead. We'll look at what happened in the last 1:25 a little later.

Manu Ginobili is not an MVP-level player and he is not as good as Kobe Bryant

Some of the stat "gurus" love to crunch numbers and then declare that Manu Ginobili is an MVP-level player who is on par with Kobe Bryant. I love Ginobili's game. He is one of my favorite players to watch. He has fantastic skills and a huge heart. That said, he is not on the same level as Kobe Bryant; nobody is designing their whole defense around stopping Ginobili the way that every team focuses on containing Bryant. Ginobili scored eight points on 2-11 field goal shooting in game five and he did not have an assist in 27 minutes of action.

The stat "gurus" need to answer two questions: (1) When is the last time Bryant had eight points in a playoff game? (2) Does Bryant have enough talent around him for his team to win a playoff game if he plays that badly? In case you are wondering, the answer to the first question is June 16, 2000 in the NBA Finals; Bryant's Lakers lost to the Indiana Pacers in that game five before clinching their first championship in game six (when Bryant had 26 points, 10 rebounds and four assists). Bryant sprained his ankle in game two of that series, sat out the Lakers' game three loss, saved the Lakers with his great play in a game four overtime win after Shaquille O'Neal fouled out and then had the subpar game five before bouncing back in game six.

If Bryant put up a stat line like the one that Ginobili did on Tuesday can you imagine how much criticism he would receive? No assists? 2-11 shooting? Ginobili's line will be overlooked because his team won anyway and because he is not truly an MVP-level player so he is not expected to have MVP-level numbers on a nightly basis; in contrast, if Duncan--who is an MVP-level player--comes up with a 2-11 night then the Spurs are in big trouble unless he also has about 20 rebounds and six blocked shots.

The line for returning undeserved MVPs begins right behind David "Mr. 1995 MVP" Robinson

David Robinson is a fine gentleman and a great NBA player but he was not really the most valuable player in the NBA in 1995 even though he has a 1995 MVP trophy with his name on it. After Robinson received that trophy, Hakeem Olajuwon undressed him about a million times in the ensuing playoff game before demolishing him throughout the entire series. Olajuwon and his teammate Clyde Drexler had a nice chuckle about that at the post-game podium when someone asked if Olajuwon should have won the MVP that year. Kobe Bryant dropped 50 points on Nash's Suns in game six of the first round of the 2006 NBA playoffs but Bryant could not really have an Olajuwon moment at that time because he did not have a Drexler-like sidekick or any kind of real team around him; as he puts it, he was going into gun battles with "butter knives." However, every year in the playoffs we are getting the slow, drawn out version of the Olajuwon moment as we find out that Nash is not the best player in the league, that he cannot take over playoff games down the stretch against top teams--let alone an entire playoff series--and that even though he a gentleman and a fine player, just like Robinson, he should not be on the roll call of NBA MVPs.

I don't know if Tony Parker will eventually be a Hall of Famer or not but if he makes it they probably will be playing highlights from this series at his induction ceremony. He only scored 30 or more points in a game four times during the regular season but he had three 30 point games in this series alone; Parker averaged 29.6 ppg in the series while shooting .523 from the field. He completely outplayed two-time MVP Nash. Doug Collins said at one point, "Tony Parker has such confidence against Steve Nash." Parker's confidence in this situation is not like the false bravado displayed by Gilbert Arenas or Carmelo Anthony before their teams annually lose in the first round; Parker is confident because he knows that he can go by Nash at will and there is nothing that Nash can do about it. Name another two-time MVP about which that could be said while he was at or near the top of his game.

We cannot even exactly call this an Olajuwon moment because Parker is not the best point guard in the NBA, let alone an MVP candidate. I realize that the Olajuwon analogy does not work 100% because Nash is most likely not going to win the MVP this year but the fact is that his statistics this season are basically the same ones that he put up when he won his MVPs. He's the same player now that he was then--and just like he is not the MVP this year he should not have been the MVP in 2005 or 2006 either.

Let's look at what happened in the last 1:25 of the game after O'Neal and Duncan returned to action. The Spurs led 86-85 and the Suns had the ball. Nash drove to the hoop but made a bad pass to Stoudemire that Parker stole. Duncan missed a jumper and the Suns went to Diaw in the post. Note that with the game on the line their best matchup does not involve using their two-time MVP but focuses on a guy who might not even have been in the game if Grant Hill were healthy. Diaw backed down into the lane but instead of shooting he inexplicably jumped in the air and threw a pass to no one in particular that sailed out of bounds. Parker made a jumper to put the Spurs up 88-85. The Suns again went to Diaw in the post and this time he scored. Ginobili left the door open by splitting a pair of free throws but on the ensuing possession Nash fumbled Raja Bell's inbounds pass out of bounds. On the play by play sheet, Bell was officially assigned the turnover but Nash had both hands on the ball before he lost control of it. Ginobili then iced the game with two free throws and Duncan wrapped up the scoring by splitting a pair of free throws after the Suns missed some desperation three pointers.

Parker and Nash did not always go head to head but that is mainly because Nash cannot guard Parker. In the last 2:13 of the game, Parker scored five points and stole the ball from Nash once; Nash made a three pointer but he committed two turnovers, lost the ball a third time (after Bell's pass) and was not his team's primary go-to option in an elimination game.

One thing Nash deserves credit for is that he is a stand up guy who does not avoid the microphones after losses. He answers questions and accepts the blame for defeat. Here is what he said after game five: "I think on paper we have more talent than they do but I think their experience and their commitment and understanding of what they are trying to do is greater than ours." Nash is right on both counts: on paper the Suns have a more talented team than the Spurs do but the Spurs are more poised and focused during critical late game situations. Nash took the blame for the Suns' late game miscues: "We should have probably calmed down a little bit. I'll take responsibility for that. I know I made a couple key turnovers that cost us."

This should have been an epic six or seven game series. Game one showed that these teams are pretty evenly matched and we saw that again in game five. The problem is that the Suns went into a funk after their mental breakdowns cost them the first game and that funk resulted in them falling down 3-0 before they really started playing up to their capabilities for extended stretches. Can you imagine the Spurs falling apart that way if they had lost game one?

It will be very interesting to see what the future holds for D'Antoni, O'Neal, Nash and the Suns franchise as a whole. I agree with Collins that this series was a very significant moment in Suns' history.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:18 AM



At Wednesday, April 30, 2008 10:03:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Nash shouldnt have been the two-time MVP anyway. There are plenty of point guards who can go by Steve Nash with no problem. Nash gets a lot of credit because he is white. People act like Nash is one of the best point guards ever. Parker playing well against him is no surprise at all.

The Suns window has shut. D'Antoni will be probably be gone. I think he and Steve Kerr had an obvious difference in philosophies. There is no reason to get Shaq unless you feel that you need to change the way your team is playing. There is no way D'Antoni was going to win a title with just playing offense. They couldnt even take the Spurs to a seventh game in the 4 playoff series they played against them.

I said Shaq should have retired after his 4th title but whose going to turn down 20 million. And Nash will get older and lose a step but it will be interesting to see how he plays when the new coach comes in with a more traditional offense. Nash's greatness is shown through this type of offense which is smart on D'Antoni's part. But you plug in Williams, Paul, Davis, Parker and whose to say they wouldnt florish just as well in a fastbreak offense. Because before D'Antoni no one really mentioned Nash. He had decent years at Dallas but not like he has the past 4.

At Wednesday, April 30, 2008 10:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Statistically, hack-a-Shaq doesn't work, but against a frail team like the Suns? He made D'Antoni bench Shaq, making them play like the old Suns minus Marion!
That also made the rest of the Suns tighten up a little: the rest of the Suns shot a collective 64% from the line. Amare, Nash, and Shaq are not used to having long stretches of not touching the ball.
The effectiveness of hack-a-Shaq is seen by the Suns reaction to it. Popovich didn't use this strategy on Phil Jackson. I don't remember hack-a-Ben either.
I think the Suns are particularly vulnerable because they have a very efficient offense otherwise. I don't know the exact numbers, but I think they're near the top in points/possession.
Shaq splitting his freethrows, plus the Spurs defense puts their offensive output far lower than what they're used to seeing.
I also think it really ticks D'Antoni off knowing that he can't try the hack-a-Bruce because he only has 7 guys.

I stand by my initial (game 2? 3?) assessment that giving the ball to Diaw is a pretty decent strategy.
We agreed that while it does seem to make sense, in reality, it doesn't seem to work. In this article, you nailed it, Amare doesn't know what to do.
Whose fault is that? Well Diaw didn't play well in the regular season. D'Antoni didn't try to develop a set of plays for him.
As stated above, Amare doesn't like to play without the ball. They never went to Diaw in late game situations this season, so the mistakes are not surprising.

"Can you imagine the Spurs falling apart that way if they had lost game one?"
You can go back to the old days when the Spurs were the team making critical mistakes at the end of games.
Back in 2003, Don Nelson used hack-a-Bowen to win a game against an easily rattled Spurs team.
A team that has repeatedly taken its lumps will either be stronger for it, or collapse. It will be interesting how the Suns handle this.


At Wednesday, April 30, 2008 3:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you placed too much of the blame at Steve Nash's feet. Yes, he was outplayed by Tony Parker but the majority of Parker's offense was generated from pick-and-roll action.

Whose responsiblity was it to deter Parker on those plays? Shaquille O'Neal's.

It was Shaq's man that set the man for Parker the majority of the time.

I knew Shaq's inability to defend the pick-and-roll would come back to haunt the Suns.

Wasn't Shaq traded to defend Tim Duncan?

Well, Duncan averaged 24.8 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in the series.

At Wednesday, April 30, 2008 5:33:00 PM, Blogger khandor said...

Anyone who thinks that Steve Nash is somehow over-rated as a PG is completely missing the boat ... when the fact is someone like Mark Jackson (an astute NBA observer and a former elite level PG himself), amongst others, will readily acknowledge that,

"Steve Nash runs the Pick & Roll/Pop better than any player in the history of the NBA."

Nash is a relatively weak individual defender & rebounder, of this there can be no doubt ... but there has never ever been a PG who, if you place the ball in his ambidexterous hands, in the half-court, line up in a 4 out/1 in alignment, make the Center set a pick for him, and then, as a basketball coach, get the heck out of his way, can do the things that Steve Nash can do going to his right or left, passing or shooting the ball. Never.

Likewise, in the full-court, there has never ever been a PG who could do the things that Nash can do, going at his TOP SPEED, either to his right or left, dribbling, passing and/or shooting the ball.

At Wednesday, April 30, 2008 5:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More on hack a shaq:
It was strange to see a comment from you on this strategy only based on statistics, whereas you often claim not to be to fond of them. I think you missed the point, and that Hack a Shaq was brilliant coaching. Here's why:
1) it played with D'Antoni's brain. At first, when Shaq missed the free-throws, he followed his (unprepared) instinct and took him out. The Suns lost the game, and he must have listened to comments such as yours pointing to the fact that the strategy didn't work (indeed, it never prevented Shaq from winning championships)
2) so what happens is that on the second occasion (if i recall) they use it, it's after the Spurs have built a big lead. In the second quarter, they resolve to this strategy, because they want to break the Suns' predictably upcoming momentum. It is well known that the Suns score by outbursts, and most probably they would have tried a come back based on run n gun. By implementing this strategy, coach pop prevents them to play offense, gets into their heads, and colds the players down. Although the spurs' lead got reduced a bit, it had great effect on the suns players, taking their confidence down.
3) after all that, Pop kept on using the strategy only to increase the confusion in D'Antoni's mind, to (seemingly, at least in the suns' mind) take control of the game, and prevent other offensive outbursts from the Suns.

It was more a mind victory than a statistical one.

At Thursday, May 01, 2008 9:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does this writer realize that Manu Ginobili is playing on a sprained ankle? Also, well I agree David Robinson was outplayed by a hot and very skilled Hakeem, Robinson also had statistically a pretty good series and played Hakeem 1 on 1 while Robinson was double or triple teamed. Hakeem is the better player no doubt but Robinson was also pretty darn good - I was at a regular season game that year when Robinson in Houston dropped 52 on a frustrated Hakeem.

The best point of the article is that Nash was never deserving of an MVP - his stats are grossly inflated by the style of play that the Suns did - more shots, more spacing and similar to Kidd some will consider him a all time PG = but Nash has a record in the NBA right now, i.e. most playoff games without a finals appearance. Fitting.

At Thursday, May 01, 2008 11:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Suns' offense was not operating very efficiently some of the times that Popovich went to the Hack a Shaq. That strategy seems to go against his core belief in playing solid defense.

Why couldn't D'Antoni bring in Marks or Strawberry to commit fouls just like Pop used Vaughn or Idoka? Both teams have 12 active players, so it's no problem to sub a guy in, commit a foul and then sub him out. D'Antoni apparently does not think that the strategy is effective--and, numerically, it is not.

Giving the ball to Diaw certainly was effective in game five. I still question giving him the ball as the primary option near the end of game one when the Suns had other matchups that were cooking that game. Diaw is a pass first guy; if you put in a game plan and tell him to shoot 20 times then he can adjust but if you take a pass first guy and all of a sudden ask him to take the last shot that is not smart.

I agree that the Spurs are mentally tougher than Phx, though I'm not sure that they only developed that toughness in 2003. I think that it has been an ongoing process that started earlier than that.

At Thursday, May 01, 2008 12:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Nash cannot guard Parker one on one at all, period. The Suns avoid that matchup at all costs and when it happens by accident it is almost always a disaster for Nash.

Hill and Diaw guarded Parker on the pick and roll plays in this series. Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy noted that they took poor angles and allowed Parker to get up a head of steam to attack the Suns' big men. Shaq has never been known as a great screen/roll defender but the Parker breakdowns were not his fault.

Shaq was brought in to fix Phx's rebounding deficit, shore up the paint and help guard Duncan. Phx rebounded much better after he arrived and he improved the team's paint presence at both ends of the court (look at all the easy dunks Amare got because Shaq's man did not want to leave Shaq to help on Amare). Also, Duncan did not put up all of those numbers head to head with Shaq. Shaq's one on one defense in the post was effective. Duncan made outside jumpers and also scored on feeds after Parker broke down the defense and forced Shaq to help.

At Thursday, May 01, 2008 12:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Manu had 24, 29 and 20 points in the first three games of the series, so the ankle is a non-factor. Kobe is playing with a finger on his shooting hand that will require offseason surgery and he never uses that as an excuse. Iverson is also (or was also) playing with a broken finger. A lot of guys are banged up. Manu is an All-Star, not an MVP-level player.

You are right that the Spurs did Robinson no favors by leaving him one on one with Hakeem but Hakeem was at a different level than DRob at that time, the one regular season game you cited notwithstanding.

At Thursday, May 01, 2008 12:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am actually quite fond of stats and have done a number of stats-oriented articles--but I am not a slave to them the way that some writers are.

Your theory about mind games is interesting and in my post I did allude to the possibility that Pop did this for psychological reasons. There is no way to objectively assess how the Hack a Shaq affected the Suns mentally. There is also no way to prove that the Suns were about to make runs before Pop "slowed them down" with the Hack a Shaq. I particularly doubt your theory in terms of the fourth quarter of game five, when the Suns had not made a field goal for three minutes and the Spurs were on a 6-0 run prior to using the Hack a Shaq. By stopping play and enabling the Suns to set up their defense I think Pop actually fueled the Suns' mini-run. The Suns took the lead before shooting themselves in the foot with miscues that had nothing to do with Hack a Shaq.

The sheer numbers--not doctored by EFF or PER or other formulas--show that an NBA possession is worth about a point. Doing the math concerning the Hack a Shaq possessions, the Spurs did not come out ahead, as I showed in this post. The Spurs won despite Hack a Shaq not because of it.

At Thursday, May 01, 2008 5:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Mark Jackson used to be a very good pg and that he is currently a very good NBA analyst. I heard him issue the praise of Nash that you mentioned here but I am not sure that he is correct about this. Is Nash really a better screen/roll guard than John Stockton was? Mark Price did not have as lengthy or as decorated a career as Stockton or Nash but in his prime he ran the screen/roll as well as anyone and he was a pioneer of "splitting" the coverage with his dribble. For that matter, even though he may not have the regular season numbers, Tony Parker has been an outstanding screen/roll guard in postseason play.

Of course, while the issue of who is the best screen/roll guard in NBA history can be debated, in this post I never attacked Nash's prowess as a screen/roll guard. My focus was on the fact that Nash is a huge defensive liability, to the extent that his counterpart overwhelmingly outplayed him in this playoff series.

Rather than a quote from Jackson that could be debated and is certainly a subjective judgment, I'd be interested to hear an example of a two-time MVP who was at or near his prime who was so decisively outplayed by his counterpart in a playoff series--especially when that counterpart has never been an All-NBA First Teamer, let alone a two-time MVP.

When people started clamoring for Nash to be the MVP, ESPN's Greg Anthony was perhaps the lone national NBA analyst who consistently made the point that there are two ends of the court and that you cannot be the MVP if your play is significantly detrimental to your team at one of those ends of the court. Nash's offensive prowess is so significant that he deserved All-NBA status anyway during those MVP years but he was not the MVP, particularly when his competition included a complete, all-around player like Kobe Bryant, whose game has no fundamental weaknesses.

At Thursday, May 01, 2008 8:43:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I think David Robinson's 1995 MVP is debatable, but it is not close to being as much of a travesty as Nash's two MVPs.

When the MVP voting took place, who knew Olajuwon would outplay Robinson in the conference finals? I agree Olajuwon was the better player that year, but based on the regular season, Olajuwon and Robinson were putting up the same stats while the Spurs finished 15 games ahead of the Rockets. It's not like Olajuwon was playing with scrubs compared to Robinson either (since the Rockets had just come off a championship). It's tought not to give it to Robinson in that kind of situation. Perhaps there were some extenuating circumstances that I'm overlooking and you can refresh my memory.

Anyway, I'm not sure a playoff series should decide an MVP based on the regular season. For instance, I think Dr. J deserved his 1981 MVP (even though Larry Bird significantly outplayed him in the conference finals that year), and Bird deserved his 1985 MVP (even though Kareem was the best player on the court in the finals).

To summarize, I would not have had a problem with Hakeem getting the MVP in 1995, but Robinson was also a decent choice.

At Thursday, May 01, 2008 8:58:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I'll never understand why the critics continue to overlook the Spurs year-after-year (I'm not referring to you in this case, even though you picked the Suns, since you have a history of picking the Spurs). It almost seems like the media wants the Spurs to lose so they'll have someone more "exciting" to cover.

I'm a Lakers fan and will always root for them, but the team whose style of play I admire most is the Spurs. I really appreciate their execution, focus, and unselfishness. Critics charge that the Spurs have never been able to repeat and weren't much of a problem for the Lakers to handle during 2000-2002. I'd respond by pointing out that the Spurs from 2005 to now have been much better than they were before then. It wasn't until 2005 that Ginobili and Parker emerged as legitimate All-Star level players (and Parker only rose to the level of a good, reliable playoff performer last year). Before then, they had to go through a transition from the 90s holdovers (Robinson, Elliot, etc.) to new blood, and it was basically Duncan and a bunch of good role players.

I think the Spurs will win the championship this year again (barring any key injuries). In fact, if the Spurs replenish their supporting cast with some good, young, athletic talent this offseason, they have a real chance to wind up with up to 7 championships in the Duncan era when all is said and done.

I'd be shocked if the Spurs lost to the young Hornets, and I think it's a very tall order for the Lakers to dethrone the Spurs this year. They have trouble stopping penetration, and I don't know who they have who can contain Duncan. Of course, with Kobe on the floor, the Lakers will always have a chance.

At Thursday, May 01, 2008 11:01:00 PM, Blogger khandor said...


I have no quarrel with you or anybody else saying that Steve Nash should not have been awarded the League MVP.

Personally, I would not have voted for hime either year myself because I value all three phases of the game (Rebounding, Defense & Efficient Offense) not just one.

The only point I made is that anyone who thinks that Steve Nash is over-rated as a basketball player simply doesn't understand just how good he actually is from an offensive perspective, at the position he plays, in the history of the NBA ... if you allow him to work exclusively in a 4 out/1 in alignment in the Half-court - emphasizing P&R/Pops - and at full throttle in the Full-court.

From an offensive perspective ... in that style of NBA game ... Steve Nash is the best PG (offensively) in the history of the League ... which includes an awful lot of very talented players.

That's how good Steve Nash is.

At Friday, May 02, 2008 6:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Nash is very proficient offensively in the situations that you described, although I hesitate to categorically say that he is the greatest player ever in those situations. In any case, your assertion--while interesting and worthy of discussion--is not directly relevant to this post, where I made the case that no two-time MVP in or near his prime has ever been outplayed this decisively in a playoff series, let alone by a player who is not even an All-NBA selection.

Whatever superlatives we bestow on Nash as an offensive player do not change the fact that he is not now nor was he ever the best player in the NBA; in fact, over the years when San Antonio has played Phoenix in the playoffs Nash is often the third, fourth or fifth best player on the court.

At Friday, May 02, 2008 7:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that D Rob's 1995 MVP was not "as bad" as Nash's pair of MVPs. You are right that the playoffs should not impact regular season MVP voting and you are also right that the Spurs and Robinson had a fine season that year. However, Olajuwon won the 1994 MVP, establishing himself as the best player in the NBA in the absence of the retired Michael Jordan (though I think Pippen should have won that year's MVP, but that is another story). As I have said repeatedly about recent MVP races, I think that the award should go to the best and/or most dominant player in the game. Houston did the Drexler trade mid-season and the positives from that deal did not become fully apparent until the playoffs, hence Houston's record. Olajuwon had a better back to the basket game than D Rob and was just overall a more complete player, in my opinion. That is reason enough that he should have won the MVP again in 1995. Instead, the voters selected D Rob, who Olajuwon undressed in the subsequent playoff matchup.

At Friday, May 02, 2008 7:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I've said all along that I expect the Spurs-Suns winner to make it to the Conf. Finals. I respect the Spurs greatly, even though I thought that the Shaq trade gave Phx enough ammo to beat them; actually, I still think that is true but the Suns proved to be mentally weaker than I expected, crumbling after the close game one loss, a game that essentially proved that the Suns did in fact finally match up well with the Spurs.

If Lakers-Spurs comes about it will be a very interesting matchup. I would say that the Spurs have a better roster but that Kobe has enough help now that I think that the Lakers can beat the Spurs if he puts up 30-7-6 per game. I think that Kobe needs a little less help to win a title than most other players because he has no weaknesses, because he is great at both ends of the court and because he can completely take over a close game down the stretch. Duncan will outplay Gasol but Odom should outplay Oberto. Fisher does not have to outplay Parker; all he has to do is contain him a bit and not let him get loose for 30 points. I think that Kobe will take the matchup with Manu as a personal challenge, but in a good way, not a way that detracts from team success.

At Saturday, May 03, 2008 3:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

manu giniobli is bootsie he not that great if i played with tim duncan i can be manu ginibilo yes kobe is alot better than he is. i think the lakers could win a game if kobe scored 8 points he nevers does a bad game for kobe is like 24 points so that is irelevant kobe is the greatest scoreing player in nba history to me i think jordan and wilt was alot better all around but i think kobe could outscore both of them which is saying something even lebron cant i think he is more complete but he cant outscore them.


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