Last year at about this time, I wrote a piece highlighting — or more accurately, lowlighting— some brutal individual performances in the early rounds of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Perhaps because I am in a better mood this year, this first piece after the start of the 2022 Playoffs will be more upbeat. Or perhaps there have been fewer brutal performances that should be lowlighted and more that deserve to be highlighted.
That being said, I will start by addressing a play that happened in Game 1 of the Nets-Celtics series. Long-time readers know I often point out that a steal or a basket in the first half counts just as much as the play that theoretically wins or loses the game at the buzzer. In the Nets – Celtics Game 1, the Celtics had a great defensive sequence starting with about 40 seconds left while down a point, and then smartly didn’t call time-out after a well-defended Kevin Durant miss with 12 seconds left. This led to a basket at the buzzer, after every Celtic touched the ball, with Jayson Tatum spinning and scoring as time expired. An exciting end to the best game of the first weekend.
But no one is talking about a play early in the third quarter. On that play, whichever player on the Nets was assigned to inbound the ball to Kyrie Irving after a Celtics basket failed to do so. Kyrie grabbed the ball, and saw that all four of his teammates had gone to the front court, which led to this play.
When that play happened, I turned to super-son Pablo and said “If the Nets lose this game by two points, that play will be the difference.” I only missed by one point — the Nets lost by one, not two. But that play was the difference in which team won and which team lost, just as much as Tatum’s twisting buzzer-beater in the fourth.
- When I was coaching, we scouted which players on the other team were Shooters, and which were not. Part of that included which players were shooting well at that particular time we were going to play that team. I mention this because the Utah Jazz clearly had scouted the Dallas Mavericks during March 2022. During that month, Mavs power forward Maxi Kleber shot 19% on three-pointers. He made a total of 5 threes during March. All of which leads to the Mavs’ win over the Jazz without Luka Doncic Monday night. Kleber made 8 threes on only 11 attempts — without making, or even attempting, a single two-pointer and taking only two free throws. I loved Kleber’s comments after the game about what he told his teammate before the game: “I was talking to Dorian Finney-Simth before the game and I told him ‘Doe, I’m going to let 10 threes fly tonight’. And he said ‘That’s my dog’. And that kind of set the tone for the day... We’ve just got to let it fly.”
- I like to think Kleber was channeling Gregg Popovich: During his team’s Game 3 rout of the Miami Heat in 2013, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was shown on TV talking to his players while they were in the process of burying the Heat with a stirring offensive display. “When you’re open, let it fly,” Popovich told them. “Put your name in the paper.”
- Maxi Kleber was not the only player to have an excellent shooting performance in an early playoff game. Should-Have-Been-A-Spur Duncan Robinson went 9 for 10 overall, and 8 for 9 from three — leading to 27 points on 10 shots — in Miami’s opening game blowout of the Hawks. In a much closer game in Game 2 of that series, Jimmy Butler put up 45 points on 15 for 25 from the floor, making 4 of 7 threes after shooting 23% (!!) from three for the season. I guess Butler saw Kleber’s comments and decided to Let It Fly.
- The Warriors have a player much more likely to Let It Fly than either Butler or Kleber. The best shooter ever, Steph Curry, came off the bench for the first two games of their series. After a fairly underwhelming game in the first game against Denver, Curry scored 34 points on 17 shots Monday night. The game before, newest Splash Brother Jordan Poole scored 30 points on 13 shots, including 5 of 7 from three.
- Not everyone who we would expect to Let It Fly successfully did so. Most notably, Trae Young’s performance in Game 1 against the Heat was either forgettable or memorable, depending on your point of view. He went 1 for 12 overall, 0 for 7 from three, with more turnovers (6) than assists (4).
- Let’s look at Rudy Gobert’s offensive performance in Utah’s Game 1 win over the Mavs. Rudy played 35 minutes and took one shot. He missed it. He had one more shot that he had assists: None. Hey, Rudy — Let It Fly!!
- Finally, we have to look at the Chicago Bulls’ offensive performance in Game 1 against the Bucks. 32% overall, 7 of 37 from three. All from actual NBA players. Ouch. As I warned last week, you can root for the Bulls if you want, but you should have a back-up plan.