Wednesday, June 13, 2018

NBA Nonsense

It's blathering time for NBA talkers and writers.  How smart do you have to be to know that LeBron James is not staying in Cleveland, and is not going to Golden State?  Nor are the Warriors going to be trading any of their major players for anybody--who thinks like this?  Beyond that, it's a long summer.  Most likely for LeBron, though: the Lakers.


Saturday, June 09, 2018

Sweep

The Golden State Warriors swept the Finals for their second championship in a row, and third in four years.

A few particularly good pieces on game 4, on Steph Curry, and FiveThirtyEight on the Warriors culture contributing to a dynasty, similar in some ways to the ESPN piece before the finals started.

Kevin Durant got his second Finals MVP in a row, though many observers thought it should have gone to Steph Curry.  But today's sportswriting is enthralled with stats, and KD's were arguably better.  That doesn't make him the MVP.  It was Steph.

Everybody's got their narrative, especially now that LeBron James revealed that he played the last 3 games with a hand he injured in frustration after the first game. But here's mine.

In these playoffs LeBron has often spent the first game feeling out the opposition, but in the first game of the Finals he came out firing.  The Dubs were good defensively but not quite keyed in to LeBron and the Cleveland players they'd never seen before.  At the end of the game, GS unquestionably got the breaks to keep the game tied in regulation, and they blew Cleveland away in overtime.

Another factor in game 1 was how to compensate for Andre Igoudala still being out.  Coach Kerr solved it by starting JaVale McGee, who jumpstarted the Warriors energy, especially in the second game.  The Dubs upped their defense, especially on James, and Curry caught fire late, pumping in a Finals record 9 three pointers.

Iggy came back for the third game but the Warriors had some difficulty integrating him again early, and his rust showed.  The Cavs decided to trap Curry, and Steph had an off night shooting as well.  But it was Iggy's presence on defense that freed KD from responsibility for James, and the combination of that with the Cavs obsession with Steph gave KD openings on the offense.  He responded with a magic touch on short, mid-range and especially long range shots, and carried the offense.

Statistically Steph had a bad shooting game but he made key buckets--especially his only three in the fourth quarter, which gave the momentum back to the Warriors.

Game 4 saw the Warriors take defensive intensity to a new level, while the Cavs sagged.  Numerous commentators saw the Cavs give in, but the Cavs weren't that good on defense the entire series.  It was their lack of defensive skills and defensive energy vs. Golden State, and the Warriors tremendous defense that made for the sweep.

At least one commentator criticized the Warriors bench before the Finals started, but even though starters always play more minutes in the Finals, the Warrior bench contributed mightily.  It was a team effort that won the championship, again.  Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors, 2017-18 NBA Champions!

Monday, May 28, 2018

After All That It's..Warriors v. Cavs

The seventh game of the western conference finals was as schizophrenic as the first six, but this time--and perhaps earlier-- it was likely due to the attrition of fatigue.  The Rockets set a record for 3 point futility--they missed 27 in a row.  It's still amazing to me that teams shoot as many as 27 threes.  As in game 6, they were energetic and sharp in the first half and fell apart in the second.  The Warriors had their monster third quarter, and kept the pressure on in the fourth.

The key to the Rockets taking this game--though nobody would ever say it--was to get at least one of the key Warriors in foul trouble early.  The likely candidates (because of their defensive responsibilities) were Green and Thompson.  They succeeded with Thompson, who was guarding Harden.  They limited him to 31 minutes and 19 points.  But a lot of those points--especially 3s--came at big moments in the game.

However they didn't succeed otherwise: KD, Steph Curry and Green all played exactly 44 minutes.  Green was a defensive beast, and chipped in 10 points.  Steph went off in the third, finished with a loud 27.  Kevin Durant redeemed himself with a quiet but lethal 34.

James Harden took a ton of shots, missed three quarters of a ton and ended up with 34, not many of them in the second half.  Chris Paul missed his second game in a row with the hamstring injury he suffered at the end of game 5.  Andre Iguodala was also out again for the Warriors.

By purist standards, it's amazing that either team won.  Golden State started with what their coach called "the worst quarter I've ever seen this team play" and Houston had a historically cold shooting night.  Which is why it was reasonably close at 101-92.

But credit the Warriors: it's the first game 7 they've ever won on the road, and their defense kept the mighty Rockets offense below 100 points most of the series.

So the Warriors meet the Cavs, beginning on Thursday at Golden State.  It should not be a close series, but this Warrior's team has become unpredictable.  They could lose the first game on sheer soreness and exhaustion, although LeBron is likely fatigued as well.

Anyway, it's the series that nobody wanted to see again: the pre-season favorites that as late as last week, didn't look like they would be meeting again, the fourth consecutive time for the championship.  I'm willing to bet that no game in the finals will eclipse the ratings for the game played tonight in Houston.  But it's LeBron and Steph and KD, so game on.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Remains of the Conference Finals


Update: After game 6, the Warriors titanic second half demonstrates which is the better team.  The question for game 7 Monday is will the better team show up.

Two games in a row in which the Warriors lost by 3 and 4 points, and didn't score 100 in either game.  One game can be nothing but itself.  But two games in a row starts to look like a pattern.  It starts to look like the Rockets have found something that works.

The Warriors must win their next two games to make the finals.  It is their test of character as a team, and it is specifically a test of Kevin Durant.

LeBron James has taken Cleveland to a seventh game in the East.  If he succeeds in carrying the Cavs to the Finals and Durant does not contribute to winning the West, the debate over who is the best player in the league is over.

The finals could be nothing like what everyone expected.  How weird if neither Golden State nor Cleveland is in them.  How much weirder still if Cleveland is, but the Warriors are not.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Going Into (and Out of) Game 5

The Western Conference finals enter the usually crucial fifth game, which the Houston Rockets made crucial again by winning the fourth game, topping the Warriors by 3 points at Golden State.

By doing so, the Rockets made it a series, and could take control of it with a game 5 win at home.  Because of home court and the short duration between games 3, 4 and 5, Houston will be the favorite.

The won't win, though.  If game 4 was a test of James Harden's legacy, game 5 is a test of the Warriors, and specifically Kevin Durant.  Durant had chances to nail down the win in game 4 but rushed his shots and failed to play Warrior team basketball.

The team that wins game 5 has two games to win their fourth, with both teams having a home game remaining.  They both won a game on the road.  By winning the first game, the Warriors still have an advantage in the game to game adjustments, going into game 5.

They should have Iguodala back, a crucial player against this Houston lineup.  The first three games were blowouts.  In game 4, the two teams alternated dominating quarters: the Warriors won the first and third, the Rockets won the second and fourth.  Game 5 may finally be the game that is close from start to finish.  Or not. These two teams are unusual.

The Rockets are hungry.  They know that the winner of this series is a prohibitive favorite to win the championship.  But the Warriors are champions, and more than in any game in the past two playoffs, they must prove it in game 5.

The Warriors will win game 5 on the road, and game 6 at home to wrap up the series.

There is not much to say about the Eastern conference, except that with both teams winning their home games, the advantage still lies with Boston.  The likely remaining question is whether they win it in 6 or 7.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Going Into Game 4

The Golden State Warriors won game 3 at home by the historic margin of 41 points, and set a new NBA record for consecutive wins at home in the playoffs.  Best of all for the home team, Steph Curry had a monster third quarter, hitting 7 of 7, including four 3s.  He became the game's high scorer with 35.

As one commentator observed, when Steph gets hot at the Oracle Arena, for fans it's like a religious experience.  It envelopes that building in wonder and joy.

But as the Warriors know, this is half of what they must do.  Houston must win game 4 to have any reasonable chance in the series, and the Warriors must win it to stay in control of the series.

The anomaly of the series so far is that there hasn't yet been a game in which both teams play at a high level.  We haven't yet seen that game that comes down to the last minutes.  If we are going to see one, it's probably going to be game 4.

James Harden's likely MVP won't be worth much to his reputation unless he can lead his team to a victory in game 4.  Chris Paul must be hearing the talk that he doesn't look right on the floor.  Can he counter that talk, as Steph Curry did?

 But the Warriors at home know this is their best shot at avoiding the uncertainty of a game 7 in Houston.  It's usually game 5 that is the most significant, after game 1.  But in this series, it's game 4.  The situation suggests it will be a brutally physical game, and the final score will be close.

The fly in the ointment for the Dubs is whether Andre Iguodala is healthy enough to perform well in game 4.  On Monday he was listed as doubtful because of a bruised knee.  However, X-rays came back clean, so it will all depend on how sore his knee is on Tuesday morning.

Game 4 is at 6 pm at Oracle.

In the East, Cleveland won their home games and the series is tied at 2-2.  So it's still a series.  It was all LeBron in game 4, so it seems the series is up to him. Boston doesn't have to win anywhere but in Boston.  Cleveland has to take one on the road--even if it's game 7.

In baseball, Brandon Belt is on a home run tear.  He's hit 5 homers in the past seven games, including a three run shot that provided the winning margin on Sunday for the San Francisco Giants.  Brandon Crawford is also having a terrific month at the plate.  After winning streaks, losing streaks and splits, the Giants head out on an 8 game homestand at .500, and in the hunt.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Going Into Game Three

The first two games of the western conference finals fit the playoff pattern: each team has a blowout win, and conversely a loss that makes them look very vulnerable.  If this pattern holds, the rest of the games to be played will be closer, including at least one decided in the last minute, or the last few seconds.

With their commanding win in game 2, the Rockets have confidence in their game.  The Warriors, who frightened fans with their regular season tendency--different from the past two seasons--to fall apart and get beat big, have rattled their fans for sure with this game, and perhaps impressed themselves with what they need to do every game.

What the second game showed was what I proposed as the Rockets path to victory: the Rockets made adjustments, then played at the top of their game, while the Warriors played at the bottom of theirs.  Two games with a day between on the road is as hard as the playoff schedule gets.  It seems unlikely that Steph and Klay will miss so many shots at home.  It seems unlikely that the Warriors play as badly again--but given the regular season, there's some doubt.

Steph Curry will need to have a big game to silence the questions about his recovery from his latest injury.  He denies that he's not as quick physically, but he did that two years ago also, when he was in fact not fully recovered.

Now the Warriors must win their two home games in order to stay in control of this series.  They then have the luxury of not needing game 5, and taking the series with game 6 at home.  Anything short of taking the next two games is dangerous.  That has to be their mindset.

In the eastern conference finals, game 3 is an obvious must-win for Cleveland at home.  Having lost the first two games on the road, they must win all their home games plus one in Boston.  They don't seem to have the firepower or the defense to make up this deficit, as they made up a 3-1 deficit two years ago in the finals to win the championship.  Not if the Celtics stay as healthy as they are now.

The East plays game 3 Saturday, the West on Sunday.