A survey of the players and coaches making moves last night in Brooklyn.
1. Joakim Noah
There will be a lot said about grit and heart and all that today, and while a good portion of the praise heaped on Noah this morning will really be subtweets about Derrick Rose, Noah really does deserve every key punched and bit of ink spilled. His plantar fasciitis kept him out for a majority of the last month of the season, and for anyone who’s watched the Bulls this year, it’s not hard to imagine what sort of injury it takes to earn a minutes limit.
Luol Deng should get some credit for again quietly leading the league in playing time, but it’s Noah who’s provided the life for this Bulls team all year. It’s no coincidence that Chicago got blown out with him playing only 13 minutes in Game 1, and it’s no coincidence that the Bulls were lifted by his presence last night. When Noah game came back in the fourth quarter, a 14-point Bulls lead had shrunk to five, and all he did, on consecutive possessions, was follow up a dunk with a diving-out-of-bounds save to Nate Robinson for the game-sealing 3. And let’s not talk about his reaction after sending back a Brook Lopez hook in the final minute. I might get too emotional.
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.
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.
Sleeping With the Lights On
netw3rk: The Boston Celtics exist in the minds of Eastern Conference playoff teams as something akin to the bogeyman. Even the Miami Heat — who certainly don't fear the Celtics — reach a pitch of intensity in their play against Boston, and a level of exaltation in their victories over them, that betrays a depth of hatred for the leprechauns unmatched by that for any other team.
When you put the bogeyman on his back, you stand over him and you do a dance. Every Eastern Conference team has a litany of Celtics grievances just waiting to be uncorked: the moving screens, the trash talk, the suffocating and gratingly physical defense that dared refs to blow the whistle every 10 seconds. And, yes, the winning. Because the KG-era Celtics didn’t just win; they stormed your arena, tore your relics out of their holy places, and gleefully salted your fields. That’s why, despite no longer being a truly elite team, the Celtics still have a sort of cultural hegemony over the Eastern Conference. The hatred they engender is the ultimate sign of respect.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Reggie Jackson
Robert Mays: Because Russell Westbrook was playing in a basketball game last night, the broadcast team was contractually obligated to engage in the Most Athletic Point Guard Ever discussion at some point in the telecast. Usually, Westbrook’s now unopposed run to that title is just the most depressing thing in the world, but last night, we found out it was just disingenuous. When Reggie Jackson finished two second-half blow-bys by nearly putting his head in the rim, Kevin Harlan casually dropped that Jackson had the highest vertical of any member of the Thunder. This was the last piece of evidence I needed to know that Westbrook’s anointment is a conspiracy that reaches all corners of the basketball world. Open your eyes, people. He’s not even the most athletic point guard on his team. It’s time for us to rise up against this. (Please come back, Derrick.)
2. Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant
Chris Ryan: I know Kobe was having some serious funny-bone issues last night, but there were a couple of plays — the above being a good example — where I seriously thought Kobe was going to reenact the Rob Riggle heart attack (deleted) scene from Step Brothers.
On the November 7, 2012, episode of Pardon the Interruption, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon interviewed Dork Elvis, a.k.a. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. During the interview, Kornheiser asked Morey the following questions: “Is there a specific statistic, Daryl, that you look for in a player that counts for more than any other statistic out there? Is there one thing that you might see that appeals personally to you?”
Morey hesitated, Kornheiser pressed, then Morey suggested that he loves guards who get to the rim: “We really like guys who can attack the hoop. Our point guard, Jeremy Lin, is a great example; so is James Harden. Point guards who are a little more traditional, a little more safe, and stay within their lane, I don’t think they impact winning as much as people think. I like having multiple attack guards and playing with pace.”
Good things happen when guards “attack” the basket. Aside from the obvious — layups and dunks — less apparent results like offensive rebounds, defensive fouls, free throws, and assists are also more likely to occur when attacking guards get near the hoop.
Going into last night’s mondo-hyped inter-borough showdown, the Brooklyn Nets boasted an 8-4 record — an admirable start for any team, but especially impressive for one that finished 22-44 last season. Nevertheless, the New York Knicks have captivated the imagination of the city, and in the process spawned a fledgling (but absurd) public campaign propelling Carmelo Anthony as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
And so, with slightly over a minute remaining in the first half of Monday’s game at the Barclays Center, Anthony was greeted at the foul line by an echoing “MVP” chant. Nets loyalists countered with enough baritone boos to partially drown out the visitors, but the message was sent. Even in Brooklyn’s new arena, this is the Knicks’ town.
On Saturday night, a national television audience watched the Brooklyn Nets defeat the Toronto Raptors in the transplanted franchise’s new home. From your soiled barcalounger, you may have heard the “Brooooooooooklyn” chants and seen Brook Lopez draw countless foul shots with his herky-jerky release. But you missed so, so much. Here’s an on-the-ground report of what really went down in the mean seats of the Barclays Center on opening night.
No. Literally. It's a picture of them rolling. Okay, not literally. This is more the moment before the rolling. This is another Team USA production of a film by Deron Williams (a.k.a. the Annie Leibovitz of the United States Men's Basketball Team). I think it was Hemingway who said the best way to see Barcelona is by Segway, right? Kevin Durant seems all in on the idea, but does The Beard? No so much. He looks like maybe he's had one or two Segway-based pranks pulled on him. Maybe Thabo and Royal Ivey put him on one that had a faulty gyroscopic sensor and it was ... I mean, that was funny. But not something Harden wants to repeat! Am I right?!
The Olympics are coming, and here to get us all giddy is the USA Men's Basketball Team. While it's been enjoyable to see the 12 men spending time together with "USA" written across their chests, one conversation has dominated much of the dialogue surrounding this team:
How does the 2012 team stack up against the legendary 1992 Dream Team?
The back-and-forth started off playfully, but as each player from the ’92 team has chimed in, it's started to feel like they’re just attempting to extend their Dream Team documentary buzz as long as possible. Really, they just sound like grumpy old men who are convinced they were the best that ever did it.
My vote: Let's stop comparing them to the Dream Team. Let's leave Michael, Magic, and Bird alone, and shift our focus to the important names. You know, like Charlie. And Averman. And Goldberg.
The initial collective reaction to the Joe Johnson–to-the-Nets trade was laughter. The Nets are taking on one of the worst contracts in basketball while seemingly limiting their chances of landing Dwight Howard. Let's look at how Johnson can fit with the Nets on the court.
Joe Johnson, or ISO-Joe, as he has been affectionately called by bloggers for a little while now, needs the ball in his hand and holds on to it, almost always to the detriment of the team. But there is still hope for a core of Deron Williams (assuming he stays, of course), Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, if Johnson is willing to play off of the basketball a little more. He never did that with any consistency while he was with the Hawks, though it's not clear if that was by design or not. Thirty-five percent of his total possessions were isolations (Synergy Sports labeled 22.7 percent of his possessions isolation plays and 12.2 percent as post-up plays).
But just because Johnson didn't play off the ball often (only 16.7 percent of his possessions were spot-up plays) doesn't mean he can't. Last year, he scored 224 points on 188 spot-up possessions, which translates to a PPP of 1.191 and the 94th percentile. Johnson is a big guy with a high release point on his quick shooting motion. He has range and the ability to find the open area when his man turns his back on him.
With the 2012 season winding down, the list of NBA free agents is here, and, well, it sure isn’t 2010 anymore. With enough Diet Coke and backroom talks to fill a lifetime, the biggest prize of this year’s free agent crop elected to stay at Disney World for another year. What’s left is a class that, while lacking superstars, is full of impact pieces for the right team. We sifted through the list so you don’t have to, and below are five types of free agents we think teams will be looking for this summer.
The Foundation (Deron Williams/Eric Gordon)
In a class that’s thick around the middle and light at the top, Deron Williams and Eric Gordon figure to be two of the major gets this summer. When Dwight Howard lost his mind earlier this spring, it left Williams as the top guy in the class. A superstar point guard who can both score and be an excellent facilitator, Williams will completely reshape any team that lands him. Dallas spent much of this past offseason working its way into some cap room to bring the local guy home, and the understanding is that Mark Cuban is ready to back the truck up. The problem is there’s a Russian guy in Brooklyn with a lot more money. My guess is that Mikhail Prokhorov isn’t too interested in showcasing his new $1 billion arena with Johan Petro and @blackboipachino, and the Nets will be throwing plenty of cash D-Will’s way. If Dallas does manage to coax Williams to Texas, it’ll be a great way to properly use the last few years of Dirk Nowitzki’s career. Williams isn’t the best player on a championship team, but paired with another star, he’s a major part of one.
1. Clint Dempsey, Forza Nacogdoches
He kicks in your voice, American! Brian Phillips nominates the USMNT/Fulham titan. I second that nomination. And you third it. Dempsey scored the match-winning goal against Italy in Genoa last week, giving the national side its first-ever victory over the Azzurri.
Meanwhile, back in England, Deuce has been on a tear, scoring twice against Wolves last weekend. But here's the best part
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Kobe Bryant, the Masked Mamba, scored 33 points as the Lakers avenged his broken nose with a 93-83 victory over Dwyane Wade and the Heat. "From this day forward, I shall never be seen without a mask," Kobe said after the game, "and it won't be this admittedly feminine Mardi Gras feather mask, either. I left my cool ones at home."