Friday, May 11, 2007

Why They Can Win

Bill Simmons, one of my favorite sportswriters (not that that takes much since most of them stink, but he's really good), has a great piece on his 'blog' today about the NBA Playoffs. He's referring to the Warriors, but this applies to all teams:
Well, the basketball playoffs are just as simple. If you made a list of the top five things that invariably kill playoff teams in May and June, it would look like this in some order:

1. Can they control the boards when it matters?
2. Can they bury their foul shots in crunch time?
3. Can they get a defensive stop when they absolutely need one?
4. Can they maintain their poise at the most crucial times?
5. Can they get quality shots when it matters?

He then proceeds to show how the Warriors can't really do any of the above. Meanwhile, I thought it would be good to apply that to the Cavs, whom he notes can beat the Pistons and he "wouldn't want to face now".
  • 1) Yes. They've out-rebounded the Nets 100-69 in the first 2 games of the series, and that's why they won despite shooting terribly and the Nets shooting lights out.
  • 2) Um, no. This is their Achilles' heel, though it has drastically improved (particuarly Lebron) over the last month or so.
  • 3) Yes. They've shut down the Nets in the 4th quarter, holding them to 37 points combined in the two games in the final quarter, 84.5 per game overall. They did that to a lot of teams to end the season, too... and as Simmons noted, having Lebron, Hughes, and Pavlovic (who worked all year on his D) on the court at once makes perimeter passing really tough for other teams. The three have 13 steals over the first 2 games.
  • 4) Yes. Though they have allowed all six games this playoffs to get interesting, they've succeeded when they needed it the most and won every single one.
  • 5) Yes! This is possibly the most important difference from last year, where they did against the Wizards but not against the Pistons in Games 6 & 7. They've done a much better job at either freeing up Lebron or having everyone else not just stand around but get their own open looks.
Will their free-throw shooting sink them? I don't think so. Granted, the Pistons are a better FT-shooting team than the Nets, but they're not spectacular; and their rebounding is actually only in the middle of the league, behind New Jersey, while the Cavs are only behind Utah. Both the Cavs and Pistons hold teams to a low FG% (44.5 and 44.8), but the Cavs hit more threes and give up very few while the Pistons aren't quite as good at either. The Nets are slightly worse than the Pistons in those except own 3's, where they're one of the better teams in the league.

Assuming the Spurs hang on in the West (granted, not an easy assumption), they're actually only 17th in the NBA in rebounding, but make up for it with better shooting and better defense. The Cavs did beat them both times this season, however, shutting down the Spurs' offense and holding them to under 30 FG's in each game - a total of 79.5 points per game. Can they do the same in the playoffs? We'll have to wait and see... first come the next couple wins against the Nets.