With the Lakers — Rockets series starting Friday night, we are fully into the second round of the Bubble Playoffs. Unfortunately, the teams Spurs fans and I want to win it all are either out already or look to be in a various stages of trouble.
As a reminder, we ran a poll before the playoffs began asking which team Spurs fans most wanted to win in each conference. The favorites in the West were Portland and Dallas, who both lost in the first round. The least-liked team was Houston, at 3%, who now leads the Lakers (11%) after thrashing them in Game 1.
The other series in the West pits Denver against the Clippers, who were both favored by 16% of Pounders. As the tie-breaker, I want Denver to win, but the Nuggets were also thrashed in Game 1. As recounted in my piece about the Nuggets — Jazz series, I am very worried that the Game 7 injury to Denver’s star guard Jamal Murray may have doomed the Nuggets’ chances against the Clippers. As confirmation, Murray’s Game 1 performance was nothing like his first six games against Utah, and more like his second half against the Jazz after the injury. Against the Clippers, he scored only 12 points on 5 of 15 from the floor, 2 of 8 from three, with no fee throws. Once again, I did not hear the announcers mention his injury in evaluating Murray’s performance.
In the Eastern Conference, Spurs fans went strong for Coach Bud’s Bucks at 48%, with the former Spurs North Toronto Raptors second at 32%. Both teams are hanging on by a finger-nail, though the Bucks’ fingernail is more of a hang-nail at this point. Paraphrasing Dean Wormer from Animal House — Going down 3 - 0 with your best player injured is no way to go through life, son. I read this morning that the Heat’s 40 - 13 fourth quarter Friday night was the biggest margin ever in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Yikes. But just like it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, the Bucks are not dead yet, if you believe in miracles.
After the end of Thursday’s Toronto — Boston game, it was easy believe in miracles just a little bit. If you haven’t watched the last ten seconds of that game, you have to do it. First, Kemba Walker might have thrown the best game winning pass ever to put the Celtics up 2 with 0.5 seconds left. Kyle Lowry then challenged my last sentence with a cross-court pass to AG Anunoby for his game-winning three-pointer — shades of Derek Fisher’s 0.4 basket that broke the Spurs’ hearts years ago.
In the post-game interview, Lowry talked about the difficulty of throwing that pass over “7’12” Tako Fall. To deliver that pass, Lowry did what I told my in-bound passers to do: back up from the sideline, which makes it more difficult for the sideline defender to harass the passer. Of course, being in the bubble without fans on the sideline gave Lowry more room to back up away from Tako. It also meant Lowry couldn’t reach across the line to elbow Tako, like this.
Poor Tako (who is actually “only” 7’6’’) wound up with a remarkable -3 on the plus-minus for the game during his 0.5 seconds on the floor. As a result, the Raptors are only down 2-1, which is light-years more hopeful than the Bucks’ Animal House predicament.
But back to the Lakers — Rockets series. I realized in the first quarter that I might be able to root for the Lakers for the rest of the playoffs. First, against the Rockets is an easy choice. Next, Lakers over the Clippers is also easy. And if the Celtics make the Finals, I will be rooting for the Lakers to tie the Celtics for most championships. And for Danny Green to become this generation’s Robert Horry, with crowns on three different teams. (DG wining would also mean that LeBron James will have won with three different teams.)
Several other comments about the Lakers loss to the Rockets.
1. In one of my first pieces here entitled How a Coach Reads a Box Score, I talked about the importance of “live ball” turnovers:
National announcers also love to mention “points off turnovers’” This statistic tells us virtually nothing. Unless the turnover is a steal, it is actually harder to score off a turnover than a missed shot. The turnover that goes out of bounds, or results from a violation or offensive foul, stops the clock and requires the referee to handle the ball. This stoppage allows the defense to retreat and set up, which is the hardest time to score.
Last year in the NBA, teams shot an effective 61% after live ball turnovers, but only 46% after dead ball turnovers. While watching the game, watch for live ball turnovers.
Last night, the Lakers had 13 live-ball turnvovers which the Rockets turned into 27 points. Look at those numbers again. The Rockets scored over two points per turnover, which basically means they scored every time, plus one more point.
2. During the game, the announcers said that James Harden is one of two players in history with more free throws than made baskets. If you wondered why Rockets games aren’t fun to watch, remember that statistic. Unless you really like watching the best athletes in the world watch one of them shoot free throws.
3. And now for my weekly Marc Jackson questionable comment. On an early three point attempt, Anthony Davis was called for fouling Harden on a three pointer. The replay made it look like AD got all ball, and the call could have been overturned if the referees looked at it. Marc Jackson must be a big fan of Jeopardy, where correct answers (questions) in the second half of the show count more than those in the first 15 minutes. Jackson said it was “too early” to use a challenge. Harden made all three free throws, each of which was equivalent to a point scored in the fourth quarter.