So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
I kept replaying the video over and over again, but every time I paused, backtracked, and pressed play, LeBron would already be a step away from the hoop, about to win the game for Miami. I wasn’t looking for the result, obviously. I was looking for anything that could help explain how he did it. With the power of DVR and YouTube, I should’ve had the upper hand. But even when I had complete control over his movement, I couldn’t keep up with LeBron.
His game-winning layup was unbelievable. Maybe if he had caught the ball while he darted to the basket after a curl, maybe it would’ve made sense then. That’s not what happened, though. He caught the ball with his body facing away from the hoop. His left leg was planted far out, and he took half a beat, probably less, before making his move. Just as Paul George came up close with a little too much velocity, LeBron turned and bulleted to the hole. The entire play took two seconds. It took LeBron less than two seconds to recognize where George was, where he was going to be, and where his lane would open up once George made the inevitable mistake. Game 1’s fate was sealed (let’s be honest here: with or without Roy Hibbert’s presence) the moment that left leg, planted back behind the 3-point line for leverage, propelled LeBron forward on the drive.
This news cycle will be brimming with criticism over Frank Vogel’s decision to sit Hibbert on the final play, because with LeBron, it’s a lot easier to rationalize what didn’t happen than to rationalize what did. That’s just how we respond to LeBron. It was awfully fun picking at his psyche last season. The convenient narratives helped distract us from the inexplicable wonder of his game. But now those safety blankets are gone. All that’s left is LeBron’s unfettered greatness, which is so omnipresent it's often taken for granted, like nature. Have you ever tried to explain nature?
This concludes our look at the sets and actions integral to each NBA playoff team's success. Read about the Knicks, Celtics, Heat, and Bucks here; read about the Nuggets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Warriors here.
Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams and the UCLA cut
Brook Lopez has emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the block this season, but it’s still Williams who makes this team go. Thanks to improved health, the Nets star guard has been on a tear lately and has transformed the Nets from first-round fodder to an intriguing wild card in the Eastern Conference playoffs. To slow Williams down in the coming weeks, opponents will have to defend an action dating all the way back to the days of John Wooden — the UCLA cut.
The UCLA cut is a simple, straightforward movement that involves the ball handler throwing an entry pass to the wing before making a vertical cut off a big man waiting at the elbow. Though it seems relatively simple, this can be incredibly tough to defend on the NBA level because of the sheer talent of a player like Williams. The Brooklyn guard is adept at taking advantage of any defender who doesn’t display solid technique while navigating the screen.
The last time I had seen Roy Hibbert at Madison Square Garden, in mid-November, he was as dejected as any player I’d ever seen. Hibbert is a candid, funny guy — he was on Parks and Recreation, after all — and he admitted to enjoying Grantland’s long profile of him last season. But he just wasn’t up for talking that day. He was in the middle of a horrendous slump that had him shooting below 38 percent well into December, unacceptable for any big man, let alone one who had just signed a post-rookie maximum contract. He had no explanation for what was going on back in mid-November. He just stared at the floor, barely making eye contact, shrugged, and said he was missing the same shots he was making last season. He had no clue why.
He figured out what was going on in mid-December, and he’s been shooting about 48 percent since — not great, but plenty good enough, considering what Hibbert brings on the other end. A much happier Hibbert sat down with Grantland before the Pacers’ loss Sunday in New York. Here’s an edited transcript of our chat.
You were so dejected the last time we talked at length. You had no clue why you couldn’t make shots. But you’re basically fine now. What changed?
Injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried have George Karl understandably scrambling for healthy rotation parts, but I’m not sure the world is ready to watch the Wild Child front line play heavy minutes. On their very first possession as a duo against Houston on April 6, Jeremy Lin blew by McGee’s overly aggressive and off-balance help defense on a pick-and-roll and launched a layup that Anthony Randolph, helping from the weak side, blatantly goaltended.
Randolph and McGee have combined for at least a dozen moments of sublime chaos since, including a half-dozen alone in Denver’s wild and very necessary win Monday night in Milwaukee — more silly goaltending infractions, two completely out-of-control offensive fouls by a stumbling Randolph, and at least one McGee into-the-stands rejection so dumb McGee expressed immediate regret that he didn’t just catch the ball.
It’s hard to come up with an anecdote that encapsulates David West. It’s not because he isn’t worthy of one, though. It’s more that his yeoman-like approach rarely contains standout moments. His production from game to game has the consistency of a metronome and, unfortunately for West, the appeal of one, too.
Consistency can be a dirty word as far as branding is concerned, but there’s no denying that West’s ability to churn out points on a nightly basis has been invaluable for the Pacers all season. As his teammates — most notably Paul George and Roy Hibbert — struggled to adjust to the absence of Danny Granger during a dreadful first month, West was there to pick up the slack. According to NBA.com, through December 1, Indiana’s offensive rating without West on the floor was 88.3 — a number that would have made last year’s Bobcats, a historically bad team, look like a collection of offensive savants. Needless to say, the team’s 8-9 record over that stretch could have been much worse without West’s steadying hand.
George Hill dropped his second game-winner of the season Tuesday in Los Angeles, sparing the viewing audience five additional minutes of ugly basketball and dropping the Lakers to 7-8. The sub-.500 record has predictably inspired panic around the Lakers, even though they are one of just four teams ranked in the top 10 in both points scored per possession (no. 9) and allowed per possession (no. 4). The other three members of this ever-changing crew — Memphis, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City, the last playing surprisingly good defense that will merit some in-depth attention if the Thunder maintain it as their schedule gets tougher. The Clippers, at no. 11 in defensive efficiency, are basically in the club, and the Knicks, still tied with Miami at no. 1 in offensive efficiency, were heading it up until their defense started slumping a week ago.
Three weeks into the season and it’s become clear the Indiana Pacers are in big trouble. An offense that ranked in the top third of the league last season has completely slid off the rails, ranking 29th in offensive efficiency, just ahead of the woeful Wizards team they defeated last night. It’s been a rather startling development for an Indy team many considered to be a solid, up-and-coming team, capable of making a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Watching the team squeak past the Wizards, it’s hard to imagine they are even remotely capable of winning a game in the postseason much less an entire series. So what went wrong exactly?
As the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers prepare for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday, a handful of TV and Internet analysts have noted that the Pacers match up well against the favored Heat. Indiana has the size and talent to slow Miami’s march to the conference finals, they say, and perhaps pull off a stunning upset. And for all of Indiana’s athletic wings and plucky role players, the team’s chances to advance past the second round rest on one Pacer: David West.