NBA Playoffs Shootaround: Opening Statements

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.

Maximum Entropy Achieved

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Steve McPherson: Tallying up the sad emojis of the Pacers this season — whether you date the beginning of their struggles to this karma-baiting picture or this worryingly gigantic dunk, which may have opened a portal through which whatever meager offense the Pacers once possessed passed and is now hurtling through space end over end like the bad guys from Superman II — has become its own sport. As an entire package, their Game 1 loss to the Hawks on their home floor may represent the nadir (or zenith, depending) of this pastime, but this single possession from the fourth quarter of that game is something else altogether.

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Trailing by 20 points, David West sets a down screen for Paul George, who pops out to the top of the arc to receive a pass from George Hill. And then nothing happens.

Nothing.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer holds his arms straight out as if instructing his team that if they JUST DON’T DO ANYTHING, if they just DON’T MOVE, this will probably work out all right for them. Hill points near Kyle Korver’s right side, maybe to tell West to set a pick. This is a guess, because then George looks at West like, “Excuse me, sir? The thing? Can you do the thing?” and West looks back with HIS arms straight out as if to say, “Me? Which thing?” Hill points to Lance Stephenson like, “Hey maybe that guy wants the ball” and then George is like, “Fine, I’ll dribble into three defenders and turn it over. How’s that?” And then DeMarre Carroll is all, “COOKIES!”

The Pacers have never had the most elegant, intricate, or efficient offense, but this is the null set of offense. This is dark matter. This offensive possession is a glimpse into what holds everything else apart, a reminder that complete chaos is not frenetic, but a total thermodynamic equilibrium where nothing can happen. This is the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers. This is heat death.

EVANNNNNNNNNN

It’s My Party

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Jason Gallagher: Remember your first real party? You were still young and super nervous, while the other kids had already been doing this kind of thing for a while; they were more or less seasoned vets in the party department. And you showed up in a polo tucked into khakis and said a total of two words as everyone shot a look of “Who invited this doof” your way. And later on people played Spin the Bottle, and everyone was allowed just one “pass” they could use if the bottle landed on someone they didn’t want to kiss. And a grand total of nine girls used their passes on you. So you called your dad, crying, asking him to come pick you up early while swearing to never go to another party again. REMEMBER THAT?

That’s what I imagine it would feel like to be in your first playoff game.

That’s not the case for the young and carefree Damian Lillard. Dame showed up to his first playoff game with a confident strut in his step. Not only did he get his 31 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, he also helped lead two comebacks late in the game, made clutch shot after clutch shot, and managed to cough up only one turnover against the Human Headache, Patrick Beverley.

Sure, the load is a bit easier when you’ve got LaMarcus Good Gaw-ldridge putting up a franchise-record-breaking performance (46 points, 18 rebounds on 54.8 percent shooting). But when Aldridge fouled out, that meant only one thing: LILLARD TIME. Duty called and the Dame answered with five points to close out overtime, including the game-winning free throws — on his opponent’s floor — in his first playoff game ever.

I bet Lillard would’ve killed it at his first party.

You Are Starting to Believe

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North of the Wall

netw3rk: The seeds of inter-franchise animosity are being sown in Toronto, in ways both expected and not. It is glorious theater, if not quite always beautiful basketball.

The Raptors, fresh off the team’s best regular season in its 19-year history, came into this series absolutely feeling themselves. During his Reddit AMA a month ago, Terrence Ross targeted the Nets as the team he’d most like to face in the playoffs.

This distracted Andray Blatche long enough from his Philippines immigration paperwork to say, essentially, that Ross should be careful what he wishes for. If there’s anything Blatche knows, it’s how to set conservative goals.

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On game day, the Toronto Sun compared the age of Brooklyn’s players unfavorably to that of the dinosaurs. Raps GM Masai Ujiri did his best Suge Knight at the 1995 Source Awards impression for the thousands of overflow fans outside the arena. On the local Toronto broadcast, Drake — in his capacity as Raptors brand ambassador — impugned the baller cred of former Nets fractional owner Jay Z by suggesting he was somewhere luxuriating in the rich culinary embrace of fine melted cheeses and chocolates. We’re talking about a variety of multi-front beefs being nurtured before the normal on-court postseason intensity boost even came into play.

And intense it was. The Toronto fans, decked out in T-shirts bearing the team’s Thrones-ian playoff slogan, “Northern Uprising,” sounded legitimately like a video game sound effect. This crowd was thirsty, and, at least early on, that clamor seemed to hinder the young Raps as much as help. The Raptors had 11 first-half turnovers, and DeMar DeRozan in particular played like a guy who couldn’t get the lid off a jar but wouldn’t ask for help. Shaun Livingston’s all-enveloping wingspan, the stout Brooklyn defense, and, perhaps, a bit too much of an awareness of the moment forced DeRozan — who averaged 22 points on 50 percent shooting in three regular-season games versus the Nets — into a 14-point, 3-of-13 shooting performance, with one assist and three turnovers.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, Paul Pierce is like some kind of bioorganic troll engine that runs on the energy generated when the cheers and optimism of opposing fans are sublimated into groans and muttered curses.

When Pierce was asked about the game being played without shot clocks after an electrical problem in the third quarter, he answered, “I don’t remember if I’ve ever played without a shot clock. Since I’m a dinosaur, it’s been so long.” Should be a fun series.

That’s Why They Got Me Here

Corban Goble: In last year’s first-round series against the Bulls, it was clear that the Nets lacked a player capable of pulling off what I’m going to label “Paul Pierce–type shit” late in games. So, correcting their course, the Nets acquired the player most capable of doing “Paul Pierce–type shit.” It’s still Paul Pierce.

“That’s why they got me here!” Pierce bellowed after hitting a turnaround jumper from the elbow with less than a minute left in Brooklyn’s Game 1 victory in Toronto (a.k.a. “The Fondue Game”). It was a moment eight months in the making, and it was sweet.

Though it’s one game into the first series, Pierce’s memorable crunch-time performance offered a glimpse of what the Nets’ short-term, veteran-fueled gambit could yield. In Saturday afternoon’s brick-fest, the Nets showcased good team D — buttressed by Pierce’s always surprising versatility on the wing — to stifle the Raptors’ scorers, playing with a poise that wasn’t present in Brooklyn’s bloodless 2013 playoff run.

Watch Out Now

Older Gods

Kevin Lincoln: Kevin Garnett has always been scary: A screaming, long-limbed pharaoh in basketball shoes, he’s one of the few things aside from clothes shopping that is able to induce nightmares in men who are 7 feet tall. But age, that great mollifier — case in point: Nick Young made fun of Kobe Bryant in The New Yorker and Kobe let him live — has only made Garnett more horrifying. Like when in Game 1 of Nets-Raptors, after being T’d up for bear-swiping Kyle Lowry one too many times, Garnett unleashed a Cirque du Soleil of facial contortions upon the top of the ref’s head.

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Garnett’s Clint Eastwood–circa–Gran Torino rageface is part of a vibrant element of the NBA playoffs: old dudes. Professor Andre Miller’s Wizards dared the D.C. faithful to dream by taking one from the Bulls in Chicago. Grizz sharpshooter Mike Miller, by his own admission “a 34-year-old right now with about a 30-year-old body, 28-year-old body” — “about 30, 28” is the new 22 — has become an essential piece of any Memphis upset hopes; he was the team’s only player to appear in all 82 regular-season games. (He’s also the only guy on that roster who has ever made a 3-pointer.)

Because we’re a country that shortsightedly prizes “youth” and “excitement” and “ability” and “effectiveness” in our athletes, we sometimes underappreciate this old guard, the crotchety vets who, through their wisdom and experience, are able to master the most bizarre, dad-ish forms of basketball. (Except for the Spurs, who are basically the patron saints of old dudes; it’s hard to forget about them.) But as the playoffs march on, we shouldn’t take Garnett or the Brothers Miller for granted. First of all, we don’t know how much longer they’ll be with us; even Noah retired from building arks eventually, and he lived to 950. Second, don’t be surprised when one of these old dudes decides a game, or a series, or a championship. They certainly won’t be. You can’t surprise an old person.

The Night of Nene and the Professor

NENE

Andrew Sharp: For a few minutes, it looked like the game was over. Nene dominated early to carry the Wizards, but once he sat down the Bulls took control, and eventually Chicago was up 12 midway through the third quarter. I was ready to give up at this point.

Everyone who’d made the Wizards their sexy upset pick and the dark horse for the Eastern Conference finals had forgotten how good the Bulls were. Or how crappy the Wizards were.

But then … just as I was all set to grumble through the next 45 minutes of the night and break things around my apartment, Nene hit a few jumpers to stop the bleeding, continuing his role as MVP of the Wizards’ offense. The lead went back to three.

Then it was the end of the third quarter, and it was Professor Time. Because when you think Professor Andre Miller in 2014, you think:

A. Basketball PhD from South L.A. who looks 47, plays like he’s 57, and hasn’t combed his hair since Bill Clinton was president
B. Strange footwear traditions from the 1970s (Drew Gooden: “I’m like, yo, that’s some type of setup there”)
C. An offseason diet — “hamburgers, hot links on the Fourth of July, all that” — that’s exactly what you imagined Andre Miller eats
D. INSTANT OFFENSE

And with a combination of slow-motion drives to the rim and midrange jumpers, Grandpa Dre scored 10 points to carry the Wizards’ offense through the middle of the fourth quarter. The Bulls’ bench, which had taken over the game in the first half, had no advantage this time. When his eight-minute run was finally over, Miller was dry-heaving at half court and the Bulls’ lead was one point. It was anyone’s game again.

Which meant it was Nene’s game again. He fed the Hammer down low, he nailed a jumper to make it a two-possession game, and he continued controlling the Bulls’ big men on both ends, just like he had all night long.

Look at Nene up there. That’s the Smiling Brazilian Sex God who will haunt Tom Thibodeau’s dreams for the next 48 hours. Chicago had no answer for him and Marcin Gortat all night, and thanks to dry-heaving magician Andre Miller, it was close enough for Nene and the Hammer to finish down the stretch. It will be a long series, but Game 1 is done, and it didn’t even matter that John Wall and Bradley Beal went a combined 7-of-25 from the field. The Wiz had Nene and Gortat and Grandpa Dre. What more could anybody need?

Turn of the River

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Jared Dubin: In Game 1 of the Mavericks-Spurs series, Rick Carlisle got weird. For much of the afternoon, Carlisle had Shawn Marion guard Tony Parker, and he also had his team switch assignments nearly every time Parker came around a screen on a pick-and-roll, even if it meant that Samuel Dalembert or Dirk Nowitzki wound up guarding Parker on the perimeter.

The goal, crazy as it sounds, was to turn Parker into a scorer and shut down everybody else. If Parker drove to the basket for a layup, so be it, but the Mavs were going to switch those picks rather than send extra help and give up open 3s.

In the first half, Carlisle’s gambit worked. Parker shot 7-of-10 and scored 17 points, but the rest of the team was just 12-of-34 and the Mavs led by one at the break. Pop responded by essentially abandoning Parker pick-and-rolls in the second half; the Spurs ran their offense almost exclusively through Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard in the post, while Manu Ginobili operated as San Antonio’s primary pick-and-roll ball handler. Parker took only three shots in the first 20 minutes of the second half and didn’t make a basket until a fast-break layup gave the Spurs a two-point lead with 3:25 to go.

After Vince Carter missed a 3 on the next possession, the Spurs came down and ran what seemed like only their third or fourth Parker pick-and-roll of the half. Nowitzki switched onto Parker once more, but this time he laid back slightly too far, Parker nailed a 15-footer, and the Mavs never got closer the rest of the way. Even when you play a wild card and it looks like you’ve got the winning hand, the Spurs still find a way to beat you.

Get Well Soon

You Can’t Stop What’s Coming

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Shea Serrano: The Spurs won on Sunday, but I saw it, lurking in the shadows, waiting for the most debilitating time to attack, waiting for juuuuuuust the right moment to crumple the city of San Antonio.

The Spurs won on Sunday, but it’s there, and eventually it’s going to swallow them whole. It’s going to turn the postseason into a space shuttle cockpit of flames; eventually it’s going to fling them into the abyss, eventually it’s going to rip them apart atomically.

The Spurs won on Sunday, but it’s so very clear that, despite the brilliance of Gregg Popovich or the infinity of Tim Duncan or the tornado-isms of Manu Ginobili, it will, and I say this with absolute faith, turn the Spurs’ 2014 playoff run into a sleeping bag full of brown recluse spiders.

The Spurs won on Sunday, but it’s right there and I know it and you know it and they know it and there’s nothing to be done about it except wait to die and go to heaven and hope that heaven doesn’t get NBA TV because, I’m saying, bro, there is no way at all the Spurs can outrun last year’s non-championship.

I wish it wasn’t this way but it is. I wish there were a way to sidestep the collapse that’s coming, but there isn’t. We are all tied to this railroad track, and the only choice we have in the matter is whether or not we scream before we are cut in half by the train.

I’d hoped that we’d not see signs of it this early, but that was selfish.

Early in the second quarter, right about the time the Dallas Mavericks decided they wanted to try to score some points (they’d managed only 12 in the first quarter), there was a moment when the camera cut to Duncan. And his face, otherwise a statue for the last 100 years of his career, showed a very clear emotion.

Basically, it said: Fuck, man.

Basically, it said: We have to win SIXTEEN of these games.

Basically, it said: Nah.

For the whole game after that, that seemed to be all that his face said, all that Tony’s face said, all that Manu’s face said, all that Pop’s face said. It’s to their unending credit that they did not lie down on the floor for the rest of the afternoon. They are champions for not doing that. But even they cannot hide their pain, and that’s all I could notice from them.

I felt the same way watching them Sunday that I feel when I look at my iPhone’s cracked screen or the way that I felt looking at Gemma after she was attacked by the white supremacists on Sons of Anarchy. We can all pretend that what happened didn’t happen and that’s natural and that’ll do for a while, but eventually the hurt will chase us down.

I wish it wouldn’t but it will.

We are in this together.

Go Spurs Go, forever.

:’(

Spin Cycle

The Adjustment Bureau: Pick Your Golden State Poison

Brett Koremenos: After their disappointing Game 1 loss to an Andrew Bogut–less Warriors, the Clippers have to take a long look at their defensive approach. L.A’s default pick-and-roll coverage has been an aggressive scheme, requiring their big men to jump out and push the opposing ball handler toward half court. For much of Game 1, the Clippers used this scheme to make life difficult on Steph Curry. It worked. Curry finished with only 14 points and turned the ball over seven times.

But thanks in part to the simple, selfless passes out of pick-and-rolls made by Curry, L.A. was at the mercy of his supporting cast. With two defenders committed to Curry near half court, the rotating Clippers defense behind the play was torn to shreds by both David Lee and the Warriors’ “short” action — basketball jargon for when the opposite big flashes near the free throw line to receive a pass and immediately drops the ball off to the rolling screener. Here’s an example of short action from the second quarter between reserves Hilton Armstrong and Marreese Speights.

The other problem for the Clippers is that their pick-and-roll coverage also allowed Lee to showcase one of his greatest strengths. Lee is one of the best big men when it comes to catching early on a roll to the basket and using his mobility and handle to either get to the rim or kick out to an open teammate. His play out of pick-and-rolls in the second half was a huge factor in the Warriors securing the victory.

Moving forward, Doc Rivers can move to a more conservative pick-and-roll defense, but such a move could also release Curry to pile up points. On the other hand, sticking with Game 1’s high-risk scheme likely keeps Curry in the role of facilitator and lets his supporting cast exploit the holes in L.A.’s defense. Whatever choice Rivers makes could ultimately decide the series.

Cup of Plenty

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Three Unexpected Playoff Moments

Danny Chau: 1. In his 20 regular-season games, James Jones attempted a total of four shots around the rim. Yesterday afternoon, Jones attempted another. How he got there sort of defies explanation. Jones, doing nothing in particular, gets Cody Zeller to drop to the floor and do a six-step of shame, while Jones gets all the way to the hoop for an uncontested layup. In Zeller’s defense, there is no way Jones was even on the scouting report, let alone there being any mention of him dribbling the ball.

2. I thought we’d reached the end of days on Saturday when Kyle Korver blocked Roy Hibbert, twice.

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(Via @MarcusD_)

Twitter exploded. So did my heart. All the while, Hawks fans stood by the wreckage, McKayla Maroneying at us simpletons. They, unlike the rest of us, are kind of used to this. Korver was third among active Hawks in blocks in the regular season. More than 40 percent of his 24 blocks came against big men — a list that includes Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, and Tyson Chandler. Hell, it wasn’t even the first time this year he blocked a big man twice in a game — that deed was done back in March against Al Jefferson. Kyle Korver: The Bizarro Raef LaFrentz we never knew we needed, never thought we deserved.

3. It’s true what they say about Father Time. He is undefeated. But if he steps to you prematurely, there are ways to make him back off. Father Time is terrifying, but not more so than any other creature capable of taking your life and ripping your limbs apart. In that sense, Father Time is really just a bear. And like a bear, in order to make him turn away, sometimes you have to pretend that, in that precise moment, you’re bigger than you actually are. In the fourth quarter of Thunder-Grizzlies Game 1, 34-year-old Caron Butler confronted Father Time by doing just that.

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(Via @JDonSports)

On his fearless drive to the hole, his stance widened. He extended his arm to its limit, splayed his legs out, and obliterated Time. After Butler stuck the landing, you could actually see Father Time push him over for being a jerk.

Filed Under: NBA, NBA Playoffs, NBA Shootaround, Steve McPherson, Indiana Pacers, Paul George, netw3rk, Corban Goble, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Paul Pierce, Jason Gallagher, Andrew Sharp, Danny Chau, Caron Butler, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Brett Koremenos, Kevin Lincoln, Kevin Garnett, Washington Wizards

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