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.


  1. Simmons is a fun writer, but he seriously oversimplifies the game. Getting stops at crunch time is not as important as getting stops throughout the course of the game. Free throws are just as important in the second quarter as they are in the last two minutes.

    Teams win when they score efficiently, don't turn the ball over, and play good defense. If a team outscores its opposition, it'll win the game. The best way to ensure that happens is by scoring, playing defense, and not turning the ball over.

    It really doesn't matter who does better at "crunch time." A good team will make sure there is no crunch time.

    I see the Pistons beating the Cavs simply because the Cavs don't have a lot of options on offense and the Pistons will find a way score enough points to win.

  2. I agree that it's an "all-game" thing, not a crunch time thing per se, though I do believe that putting in that extra little bit near the end of a game (particularly rebounds, poise, and stops) demoralize the other team and have a bigger effect than the same during the rest of the game.

    That's why I pointed to total rebounds, freeing up shots in general, points for the whole game AND in the 4th, and FT shooting for the whole game.

    I'm not sure when you last saw the Cavs play, but because of how they play together, everyone is an option on offense. If anything, they're better off than the Pistons in that regard, having a "go-to" guy and seven others who can score. Plus, without Big Ben in the middle, the Cavs have a tremendous rebounding advantage.

  3. I have but 1 thing to say....CRAIG EHHHHHHHLLLLO

  4. Brain McCormick (on of MY favorite sportswriters) had a good post about an obvious fact that is too often overlooked: Talent Wins.


    The NBA, like most enterprises, is a copycat league. When MJ dominated the League, everyone wanted his own MJ & Pippen combination. Because nobody could stop him, teams tried to come up with ways to beat him, leading to the Pistons' "Jordan Rules" and the Knicks' notoriously thuggish style of basketball.

    When MJ retired, Shaq became the dominant player in the league. Teams preoccupied themselves with trying to find their own Shaq (impossible) or ways to beat Shaq. Which is where we are today: the best way to beat Shaq is not to try and play his game, but to force him to play outside his comfort zone. The Kings almost beat the Shaq-led Lakers with its high post-oriented attack. However, now it's teams with quickness who can put him in a pick-and-roll situation and make his size work against him.

    The Pistons over the last several years, and the Spurs to a lesser extent, have provided an alternate blueprint: they played five strong players and actually attempted to outduel superstars with a team effort. And today's "small ball" revolution builds from the Pistons (and Spurs) success.

    The Pistons won with defense, with the Wallaces, Billups and Prince, so people suggested that defense won championships and was the way to go. Coaches were fired because they did not play stifling defense as owners and GMs wanted to replicate the Pistons' blueprint because finding an MJ, Shaq, Duncan or Hakeem is much more difficult.

    But, these teams looked at the problem wrong. The Pistons won with defense because they had four great defensive players. Their scheme fit their personnel and they played their best players together. It just so happened that their five best players resembled a traditional line-up: PG, SG, SF, PF, C, even though most considered Billups more of a shooting guard before he landed in Detroit and neither Wallace is a "traditional" center. But, when looking at their size, they fit a traditional model. However, they won because they played their five best players in a system that fit their personnel.

  5. And I think Detroit has more talent than Cleveland, other than LeBron. So the question is can LeBron make up for the deficit... and I think he can't. Not without more help.

  6. DAG - Thankfully, this time the Cavs don't have him. :) btw, as discussed with someone over the week, Ehlo happens to have been a great defender, especially on Jordan.

    JA - I basically agree with most of that, to an extent... to some extent, a good team that wants to get over the top needs to add the pieces to counter the pieces their foes have. It's not so much a copycat as it is an adjustment.

    The Cavs last year almost had the Pistons beat, after a really tough series with the Wiz. This year, they've improved very nicely - not just by being one year older with more experience (esp. Lebron) but by figuring out what roles do and don't work for some players. Starting Eric Snow? Bad. Hughes at SG? Eh. Damon Jones? Inconsistent. Ronald Murray? Inconsistent. This year: Hughes at PG - great. Pavlovic starting - great. Snow, Gibson, Vareajo, Marshall as the rotation? Great.

    They even have guys to waste fouls with if they need to (pretty much against Ben Wallace or Shaq, so no longer applicable) or just to get one stop on a certain player (Newble, David Wesley), though they use them maybe once a month.

    Meanwhile, the Pistons seem to have had one thing in mind: Beating Shaq. Ben Wallace couldn't keep Shaq moving at the other end and wasn't a pick-and-roll threat, so they went with Nazr Mohammed then Chris Webber. But that same quality that would have helped against the Heat hurts against the Cavs. By taking Z and Gooden out last year inside, they could put Prince on Lebron and bring help. This year, they haven't been able to do the same. Look at the Cavs' 101-97 win in Auburn Hills in March: Gooden and Z went 17-29 with 20 boards... then Lebron went off and scored 41 when they tried to compensate (and that's when Pavlovic was just getting playing time and Gibson was hurt).

  7. Ezz...Ehlo is one of those unlucky players in sport..great player who will be overshadowed by an INCREDIBLE performance by Jordan forever.

    Ehlo blocks..or even succesfully defends that shot, he would be remembered very differently

  8. Oh..and it was fun to annoy Hudie with it for years

  9. No championship from a city in which the river spontaneously combusts.

    The Spurs will handle anything the East throws at them. It is not a contest.

  10. Jack - Eh. We'll see.

    DAG - LOL and yes, he always will be.