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Playoff Prospectus (04/29)

April 29, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Closure in the East, Wildness in the West

by Bradford Doolittle

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at Boston 96, Miami 86 (Celtics win 4-1)
Pace: 90 possessions
Offensive Ratings: Celtics 106.2, Heat 95.1

In the end, Boston's big three was just too much for Miami's big one. Of course, to refer to the Celtics as being a big three is an antiquated notion. After all, point guard Rajon Rondo is probably Boston's best player and he's not even part of the big three. Consider it a metaphorical designation. Miami's Dwyane Wade put up another big night of raw numbers, but the Celtics limited his efficiency, while Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen eased into a second-round showdown with Cleveland.

Wade got some help from reserve guard Mario Chalmers, who scored 20 points on 13 shots, but no other Miami player reached double figures. Wade's 31 points came on 36 possessions and he committed seven turnovers. Time and again in the second half he demonstrated that if he's not getting it done, then Miami is in trouble. So now of course the focus shifts to Wade's summer vacation and whether he'll be searching for a new team. Probably not. However, there is no question that next year's Heat are going to look a lot different, one way or another. Michael Beasley, who only last season was drafted to become Wade's long-term running mate, may be on his way out. He scored two points, didn't make a field goal and earned just 13:35 in court time during Miami's season finale. Word is that the Heat now consider his greatest potential to be that of a bit more cap space. You can't really blame them.

The Heat were able to hang close during much of the second half by virtue of hot shooting from Chalmers, who scored 14 points in the half, and good work on the glass. The Celtics failed to get a single offensive rebound after halftime. Boston was saved by Ray Allen, who scored 20 points on nine shots and was 5-of-6 from three-point range in the half. The Celtics assisted on 15 of 16 second-half field goals and averaged 5.7 touches per minute in the last two quarters, a sterling total. The ball movement led to a .594 second-half eFG% that offset Boston's lack of second-chance points and excessive turnovers.

Glen Davis has pretty much supplanted Rasheed Wallace as Doc Rivers' preferred big-man reserve. Davis played 24:29 in game five; Wallace saw just 9:08 of court time. Rivers really rode his first unit hard on Tuesday; Pierce (46:14), Rondo (44:10 despite being under the weather) and Allen (40:18) all played till their tongues were dragging.

So now the Celtics move on to play the Cavaliers, the matchup we thought we were going to get last season in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics, at times, looked like they were on top of their game in the Miami series. Other times, they looked vulnerable, falling into the same habit of letting the opposing team's star go off, a problem that plagued the Celtics late in the season. Doing that against Wade is one thing--he didn't have much help. Doing it against LeBron James is another because the Cavs have roster built to win the title, and Boston now stands in their way. Game one is Saturday in Cleveland.

at Dallas 103, San Antonio 81 (Spurs lead 3-2)
Pace: 94 possessions
Offensive Ratings: Mavericks 109.6, Spurs 86.2

We've seen the Spurs' offense executed so many times over the years that NBA fans can easily conjure the images. Tim Duncan sets a pick, Tony Parker takes off on the dribble, Parker kicks to the wing, ball rotates to the corner for an open three. Or Parker goes to the hole for a layup. Or he gives up the ball to rolling Duncan who hits a soft bank-shot off the glass. It's not all the Spurs do, but they do it a lot. Sometimes its Manu Ginobili, not Parker, handling the ball out top. Sometimes, they simply dump the ball into Duncan and everyone else spreads around the three-point line. Sometimes the Spurs even push the ball in transition. Nonetheless, the foundation of the San Antonio offense is the pick-and-roll. Stop that and you probably have stopped the Spurs. Dallas stopped it on Tuesday.

In 39 pick-and-roll situations, the Spurs averaged just .64 points per possession, as Dallas held San Antonio to an 86.2 Offensive Rating, by far its lowest of the series. Duncan was 3-of-9 from the floor, Ginobili was 2-of-7 and the Spurs assisted on just 11 of 28 made field goals. What's more, the Spurs turned the ball over on 19 percent of its possessions, the same total as their loss in game one. San Antonio has been under 14 percent in the other three games. The missed shots and the miscues allowed the Mavericks to get out and run. Dallas enjoyed a 23-8 edge in fastbreak points.

Caron Butler was instrumental in helping the Mavericks stave off elimination. Butler scored a career playoff-high 35 points on 29 possessions. Dallas was especially successful in isolations, averaging 1.44 points on 16 such possessions. Believe it or not, it was largely Butler doing the damage on isos, not Nowitzki, who had just three isolation plays in the game. Jason Kidd was also more active for Dallas, helping create spot-up opportunities for Butler and Nowitzki while scoring 10 points of his own. The Mavericks got to line, forced turnovers, pushed the tempo and grabbed 30 percent of their own misses. It's an aggressiveness Dallas will have to maintain as the series shifts back to San Antonio for Thursday's game six.

at L.A. Lakers 111, Oklahoma City 87 (Lakers lead 3-2)
Pace: 92 possessions
Offensive Ratings: Lakers 120.3, Thunder 94.3

The champs showed up on Tuesday. One game after getting blown out in Oklahoma City, the Lakers put up by far their most dominating performance of the series. L.A. jumped out to a 14-1 lead and the Thunder were never able to make a run. The Lakers led by as many as 32 points.

The Lakers pounded the ball into the lane over and over and over. Los Angeles was 29-of-48 in the paint, outscoring the Thunder 58-26 in the painted area. Pau Gasol was 10-of-16 and Andrew Bynum was 8-of-10 from the floor. Kobe Bryant was a willing accomplice to the inside-out scheme, taking just nine shots and scoring just 13 points, while leading the Lakers with seven assists.

On the other end of the floor, the Lakers shored up their transition defense in a big way. In the two wins in OKC, the Thunder averaged 16.5 transition opportunities and converted those to the tune of 1.4 points per possession. In game five, the Thunder tried to run--it had a series-high 22 transition plays. The Lakers limited them to .4 points on those plays. Breaking the 22 possessions down further: 11 missed shots, six turnovers, one foul drawn and four made baskets. The Lakers pounded the ball inside on offense while the perimeter players retreated to prevent the fastbreak. Simple formula, supreme execution.

The Thunder have to be a little dazed after thinking it had the Lakers on the run. Friday's game six will be a fascinating matchup of adjustments. Much has been made of the difference in experience between the young Thunder roster and the experienced Lakers. But what of the difference between 10-time champion coach Phil Jackson and upstart Coach of the Year Scott Brooks? Jackson made his approach pretty clear on Tuesday. What does Brooks now do to respond? Can't wait for Friday's game six.

at Cleveland 96, Chicago 94 (Cavaliers win 4-1)
Pace: 86 possessions
Offensive Ratings: Cavaliers 111.1, Bulls 108.7

You have to hope the Cavaliers were just doing what they had to do against Chicago, because you have the feeling that they'll have to be better against Boston and, certainly, in an eventual matchup with Orlando. Cleveland again coasted through much of Tuesday's series-clincher against the Bulls, but escaped with the two-point win.

I've got a longer piece on the Bulls coming up--pending any breaking news, wink, wink--so I'm not going to say much about them now except to say that if Cleveland had played as hard as Chicago did in this series, it wouldn't have been competitive. (The longer Bulls piece will also incorporate my story from game four, lost in the server switch.) From a strategy standpoint, Cavs coach Mike Brown used Anderson Varejao exclusively as his reserve big man, while Delonte West got 30 minutes off the bench, mostly at the expense of Anthony Parker. West's 16 points were needed because LeBron James scored just 19 points on 12 shots and ended the game with a gimpy-looking shooting arm. James has a mysterious numbness in his elbow, a malady which surely has Cleveland fans on tenterhooks. Perhaps he's just being coy.

One change from game four was a drop in the number of pick-and-rolls employed by Brown. It seemed like he'd found something in the previous game by having James and Antawn Jamison play a lot of two-man basketball. Cleveland ran a series-high 28 pick-and-rolls in that game, but that number fell to 12 in game five. So Brown may or may not recognize that as a go-to play. Or perhaps he realizes that Boston's Kevin Garnett defends the pick-and-roll a whole lot better than Taj Gibson or Luol Deng.

G5: Cleveland 96, Chicago 94 (Cavaliers 4-1)
CHI  26  22  23  23 -  94
CLE  27  28  18  23 -  96
CHI          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  113.2  .480  .083  .080  .000  5.73
Second Quarter 22   99.5  .556  .125  .111  .181  3.94
Third Quarter  20  113.3  .471  .444  .412  .197  3.80
Fourth Quarter 21  109.2  .375  .400  .688  .095  3.15
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     45  106.5  .512  .100  .093  .089  4.84
SECOND HALF    41  111.2  .424  .421  .545  .073  3.41
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          86  108.7  .474  .256  .289  .116  4.16
======================================================
CLE          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  117.6  .800  .000  .200  .174  6.08
Second Quarter 22  126.6  .521  .500  .125  .090  5.96
Third Quarter  20   88.7  .357  .286  .143  .148  4.74
Fourth Quarter 21  109.2  .538  .000  .692  .237  3.77
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     45  122.0  .628  .267  .154  .133  6.02
SECOND HALF    41   99.1  .426  .267  .353  .099  4.17
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          86  111.1  .534  .216  .247  .162  5.14
======================================================

G5: Boston 96, Miami 86 (Celtics 4-1)
MIA  21  17  27  21 -  86
BOS  29  19  23  25 -  96
MIA          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  24   87.9  .429  .100  .143  .167  4.82
Second Quarter 22   76.2  .273  .429  .227  .269  4.31
Third Quarter  21  126.7  .647  .143  .294  .235  5.14
Fourth Quarter 23   91.7  .395  .273  .316  .218  4.40
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     46   82.3  .349  .292  .186  .216  4.57
SECOND HALF    44  108.6  .514  .222  .306  .124  4.77
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          90   95.1  .424  .262  .241  .221  4.67
======================================================
BOS          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  24  121.4  .690  .333  .000  .209  7.56
Second Quarter 22   85.2  .263  .357  .474  .134  3.54
Third Quarter  21  107.9  .600  .000  .333  .188  4.89
Fourth Quarter 23  109.1  .588  .000  .294  .175  6.67
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     46  103.9  .488  .350  .225  .173  5.55
SECOND HALF    44  108.6  .594  .000  .313  .097  5.78
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          90  106.2  .535  .206  .264  .177  5.66
======================================================

G5: Dallas 103, San Antonio 81 (Spurs 3-2)
SAS  21  25  18  17 -  81
DAL  27  26  29  21 - 103
SAS          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  22   95.2  .556  .000  .056  .181  2.96
Second Quarter 25  101.2  .391  .286  .304  .162  4.79
Third Quarter  24   74.8  .300  .077  .300  .125  4.46
Fourth Quarter 23   73.4  .265  .333  .471  .302  3.21
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     47   98.4  .463  .182  .195  .171  3.87
SECOND HALF    47   74.1  .284  .200  .378  .116  3.84
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          94   86.2  .378  .191  .282  .191  3.86
======================================================
DAL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  22  122.4  .478  .231  .217  .000  5.37
Second Quarter 25  105.2  .550  .500  .200  .243  6.25
Third Quarter  24  120.5  .425  .333  .600  .083  4.88
Fourth Quarter 23   90.6  .452  .182  .095  .173  3.70
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     47  113.3  .512  .348  .209  .128  5.81
SECOND HALF    47  105.9  .439  .231  .341  .068  4.30
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          94  109.6  .476  .304  .274  .128  5.05
======================================================

G5: L.A. Lakers 111, Oklahoma City 87 (Lakers 3-2)
OKC  16  18  26  27 -  87
LAL  31  24  33  23 - 111
OKC          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  25   64.2  .261  .250  .174  .200  3.75
Second Quarter 21   85.1  .289  .357  .368  .189  4.11
Third Quarter  25  103.5  .525  .375  .250  .279  6.04
Fourth Quarter 21  128.3  .568  .182  .091  .048  5.08
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     46   73.8  .274  .300  .262  .195  3.93
SECOND HALF    46  114.8  .548  .263  .167  .096  5.56
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          92   94.3  .411  .286  .214  .184  4.74
======================================================
LAL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  25  124.3  .690  .143  .095  .160  7.69
Second Quarter 21  113.5  .656  .333  .188  .237  4.15
Third Quarter  25  131.3  .500  .455  .571  .159  6.04
Fourth Quarter 21  109.3  .450  .143  .250  .000  5.19
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     46  119.4  .676  .231  .135  .195  5.92
SECOND HALF    46  121.3  .476  .333  .415  .048  5.61
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          92  120.3  .571  .263  .282  .141  5.77
======================================================

Follow Bradford on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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