History  -  Irish May 13, 2015

NBA Playoffs Update

We are just past the midpoint of the Conference semi-finals and have been witnesses to some incredible post-season basketball.  From the late-game heroics of Derrick Rose, Paul Pierce and LeBron James to the villainy of hack-a-whoever in the Rockets-Clippers series, these playoffs have had it all.

We’ll begin with the aforementioned Rockets-Clippers series which has seen the Clippers frankly outclass the Rockets right up until last night’s 124-103 victory at the Toyota Center in which the Rockets finally seemed to realise that they are going to have to try to beat this team, an odd decision to come to give they had plenty of opportunity to assume a commanding lead in the temporary absence of Chris Paul.  The Rockets have come back from 3-1 down in a series before, indeed they went on to win the NBA title that year, but this isn’t your Dad’s Houston Rockets.  This team is pathetically weak, strategically speaking.  By all accounts, no opponent spends much more time preparing for the Rockets than to say “stop James Harden, don’t let them run on you”.  The gaping absence of the third superstar that Daryl Morey was so keen to add last offseason, coming closest to Chris Bosh, has been all-too evident with Dwight Howard’s occasional on-court petulance and inability to hit free throws proving damaging.  On the other side, DeAndre Jordan’s inability to hit free throws hasn’t cost the Clippers at all.  Expect the Clippers to close this one out tomorrow night at Staples.

 

 

Elsewhere in the West, the Grizzlies and Warriors are locked at 2-2 with game 5 tonight in Oakland.  The Grizzlies seemed to finally have figured out the Warriors, until rookie head coach Steve Kerr added the wrinkle of “not guarding Tony Allen whatsoever” and it worked!  They also hit 44% of their attempts from three and kept every Grizzlies player under 20 points.  Dallas proved that a jump shooting team can win the NBA title, but the past couple of games have shown that the Warriors might not quite have the experience to go all the way.  Might.  Whoever comes out of this series, assuming they do so physically unscathed, looks a strong contender for the title.

In the East, the Cavaliers took advantage of Pau Gasol’s absence to open up a 3-2 advantage on the Bulls, who endured a slightly sub-par game from Derrick Rose, despite Jimmy Butler’s 29 points, to lose.  For the Cavs, LeBron was imperious with 38 points and 12 rebounds, and Kyrie Irving, fighting through all manner of tendon issues in different parts of his body, scored 25.  Perhaps the key plays, however, came from backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who hit a big three to push the lead into double figures right before Nikola Mirotic hit a half-court buzzer beater to end the third quarter.  The Bulls never got closer than 10.  Dellavedova also managed to get Taj Gibson tossed for lashing out after he had hooked Gibson’s legs as the two got tangled under the basket.  If LeBron is going to play like he has been the last couple of games, the Cavs will win this series, indeed probably the East.  The Bulls will need Derrick Rose to get back to his form of earlier games.  They might be able to grab the tying game at home, but game 7 back in Cleveland will be very tricky.

 

 

Finally, the Hawks and Wizards are tied at 2-2 as the series moves back to Atlanta for game 5.  The Wizards have suffered badly with the loss of John Wall, who has five non-displaced fractures in his left (non-shooting) hand.  Wall has been upgraded to “questionable” for this game, but how effective he can possibly be with such an injury remains to be seen.  The Wizards attack was balanced in game 3, with five players scoring in double figures but the Hawks were only 30% from three, improving that to 47% in game four.  This is a finely balanced series as well, though it is hard to see either team getting through the Cavs, should they meet them in the Eastern Finals.

Playoffs Round One: Latest

The best in the East and the best in the West are both through, with Cleveland and Golden State having swept Boston and New Orleans respectively.

The Warriors triumph was not without struggles and they overcame significant deficits on the road to close out the series and give their stars a full week of rest ahead of their second round series against, most likely, Memphis.

The Cavs also enjoy a week of rest, but their victory came at a significant cost with the dislocation of Kevin Love’s shoulder in this tussle with Boston’s Kelly Olynyk.

 

Now, most of us have played basketball at some level and understand that grappling along these lines is common in the game.  If you’ve played at a higher level, perhaps in college in the US or for North Star, then you understand even better.  It seems far-fetched to assume a player is going to deliberately injure another player, particularly in such a severe way as to put their career in jeopardy.

Anyway, it wasn’t that long ago that the two were close friends:

 

Or something.

Cleveland can probably still win the East, even without Love.  They have only ruled Love out for the next round, but the severity of the dislocation, with the inherent damage to the joint, and the necessity of a fully functional shoulder to compete (particularly on defense) in the NBA playoffs, will surely see Love sit the remainder of the season.  At a stretch, one could imagine him returning during the Finals, should the Cavs get there.

In front of them seemed to be the Chicago Bulls, but the Bulls just cannot put the Milwaukee Bucks away.  A game four loss thanks to Derrick Rose’s terrible defense on Jerryd Bayless was followed up by more Rose problems late in game five.  The Bulls are another team that could well use some rest, even if they do have match-ups that will trouble Cleveland: Butler vs LeBron and Rose vs Kyrie both particularly interesting potential battles for this as-yet-hypothetical series.

In the upper half of the Eastern bracket (because everything is done in brackets now), the Atlanta Hawks are somehow even with the Brooklyn Nets after a couple of disappointing losses in games three and four.  In game three, the sharp-shooters were blunt and the Nets were led by Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, with Joe Johnson also contributing heavily before Deron Williams gave a throwback performance in game four, scoring 35 and looking a bit more like the guy the Nets gave a $100m contract to back in 2012.

The Washington Wizards shocked many pundits by sweeping the Toronto Raptors and, frankly, it wasn’t even that close, with the Wiz closing out the series in a 31 point victory.  They will definitely fancy their chances against whichever side comes through the war of attrition that is becoming the Hawks-Nets series.

Out West, Memphis lead Portland 3-1 after Portland took game four last night, and Houston also holds a 3-1 advantage over Dallas.  The Grizzlies will miss Mike Conley for a while after the point guard underwent facial surgery.  One has to anticipate that, unless Memphis loses game five, Conley will rest for a week.  If the Grizz lose, one would certainly expect Conley to mask-up and fight through the pain.

Tonight, the Rockets and Mavericks square off in game five with the Rockets fans who took brooms to Dallas on Sunday perhaps feeling a little foolish after watching J.J. Barea torch the visiting side.  A throwback Dirk performance also helped Dallas to a comfortable victory.  The Rockets, as much as it pains me to acknowledge, are frankly awful tactically.  Several sources within the NBA have commented on how easy the Rockets are to prepare for, with little in-game strategy beyond “give the ball to James Harden and react/shoot a ton of threes/lob the ball to Dwight Howard and Josh Smith”.  These are ideas a six-year-old could have come up with and make the contract extension given to Kevin McHale all the more surprising.  This strategy was, of course, good enough for the 2 seed in the West, no mean feat, but will surely not be enough should the Rockets get past Dallas and face off against one of the favorites out West in the Clippers or Spurs.  Especially because the Rockets are one of the few teams that the game-killing hack-a-strategy actually works against.

The LA-SA series is all-square at 2-2 and is incredibly hard to call at the moment.  I, like many, thought the Spurs might be a good bet for the title, after their late season run of eleven straight wins, but the Clippers, in particular Chris Paul, are giving them all they can handle.  The Spurs badly need Manu Ginobili to recapture his old magic to ensure their progression.  Even if this series goes seven, one has to imagine either side will have too much for Houston or, less likely but not inconceivable, Dallas.

 

What’s going to happen in OKC?

The Thunder missed the playoffs.  Not by much, but still missed out for the first time since their first season in Oklahoma.  The Thunder ownership, headed by Clay Bennett, is reportedly considering replacing former Coach of the Year Scott Brooks.  SportsNet New York reported that University of Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie, who played for the Thunder back in 2009-2010, could replace Brooks.

Should Brooks depart, it could mark the beginning of the end for the Thunder’s run at the top of the NBA.  Commentators and opinionators have long emphasized the struggles that small market towns have when it comes to retaining professional sports, with the ever present exception to the rule, the San Antonio Spurs.  That said, the Spurs will also have to restructure their team in the very near future, but the Spurs have never relied on big-name free agent acquisitions; rather their success is the product of a particular system and the near-perfect fit of those players acquired to that system.

For the Thunder, things are a little less assured going into the final season that they are guaranteed to have their stars on roster.

Kevin Durant is an unrestricted free agent in 2016.  Russell Westbrook is an unrestricted free agent in 2017.  Serge Ibaka is an unrestricted free agent in 2017.  Kyle Singler is an unrestricted free agent now.  Ok, only three of those are real problems.

Durant’s foot injury is problematic.  He looks light, but is listed at 240lbs, although I’ve always thought his 6’9″ listing is a little modest (Durant is taller than Dwight Howard, listed at 6″11″).  He’s also clearly taller than 6’10” Serge Ibaka:

Anyway.  The injury Durant suffered in October is known as a Jones stress fracture.  Stress fractures are a problem for athletes, particularly when they occur in a part of the body that undergoes a lot of stress, like the feet.  He had a screw placed in his foot, but then exacerbated the injury in a game against Dallas on 19 February and was ruled out for the season a month later.  Yao Ming suffered a similar injury in 2006 and never played a full season again, although Yao was physically a different beast from Durant.

Whether or not Durant recovers fully, and obviously everyone hopes he does, the question of whether or not the Thunder can persuade him to sign a contract that will take him into his 30s (Durant is currently 26 years old).  Can they offer him another shot at a title?  A lot will depend on their ability to also persuade Russell Westbrook to stay, but they face the exact same challenge with Westbrook (two months younger than Durant).  James Harden, the third members of OKC’s much vaunted “big three”, is long gone and contending for MVP awards in Houston, although not necessarily contending for titles.  Reggie Jackson, the dynamic backup for Westbrook is also gone.

Are Dion Waiters and DJ Augustin the replacements that Westbrook and Durant sought to help them continue to contend?

The 2014-2015 season saw the Thunder ravaged by injuries.  That might not be the last ravaging that they experience.

 

NBA Playoff Preview

The NBA regular season finally came to a halt this week, with the fans of a handful of franchises able to look towards the promise of the draft and the off-season acquisitions that might revitalize their teams.  Not least, the New York Knicks, whose miserable 17 win season was not quite enough for the worst in the league record that was pinched by a single game by Minnesota.  The Knicks do have big plans for the upcoming free agent class, headlined by Lamarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler.  A full list of free agents is available here

[VIDEO] Half Court Game Winner in Cup Final!

Live streaming has been a welcome addition to the Irish basketball landscape in recent years and this year the Basketball Ireland Colleges finals were streamed live on the excellent www.BrightSky.ie service.

There was a number of great games on the day but there is no doubt what the ultimate highlight was. After being down most of the game Carlow IT managed to get the score level with 5 seconds on the clock. They got the inbound to Jimmy Ward and ….

Ian O’Boyle: In Defense of Basketball Ireland

“I’ve read this article and thread with some interest. Although not knowing the exact intricacies of the situation with leagues/activities operating outside of Basketball Ireland’s jurisdiction, I have to come to their defense a bit on this one,” writes Dr Ian O’Boyle.