Yesterday, we took a look back a the second round results from the Eastern Conference playoffs, and today we’re doing the same with the Western Conference. We’ll get to the league-leading Phoenix Suns and their surprising flop out of the playoffs after blowing a 2-0 series lead, but first:
Golden State Warriors over Memphis Grizzlies, 4-2
People say that Game 5 of a series almost always determines the winner. When teams are tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 wins the series 82% of the time. This means the Warriors were lucky to have a 3-1 lead in the series, because they lost Game 5 by 39 points, 134-95. If they go all the way, I am fairly confident Golden State will be the first NBA champion to have lost a playoff game by 39 points — or trailed in a game by 55 points, as the Warriors did in that same game. (If you are wondering, the Celtics’ “Boston Massacre” win over the eventual champion Lakers in 1985 was by 34 points: 148-114.)
The knee injury suffered by Ja Morant was a big story in this series. A side-story of that injury is that Ja’s absence helped the Grizzlies’ defense and hurt the Warriors’ offense: Golden State had no one to attack, as the rest of the Grizzlies players are solid defenders. We also missed the opportunity to refer to Morant’s performance as Ja-normous, as we could have after Ja’s 47 point performance in Game 2.
One of the fascinating sub-plots of this old vs. young match-up was the coaching decisions. After not playing Steven Adams at all for the last few games of the Grizzlies’ first round win over the Timberwolves and the first two games of round two, the Grizzlies decided “what the hell, let’s start him,” in Games 4 and 5. Adams responded by getting 15 rebounds (5 offensive) and 13 (6) in those two games.
In response, the Warriors resurrected Kevon Looney for Game 6, deciding “what the hell, let’s start him”. Looney responded with 22 (!) rebounds, including 11 (!!) offensive boards. As a team, the Warriors had 25 offensive boards on 63 misses in the close-out game, more than offsetting their 17 turnovers. Many of those offensive boards resulted in open three pointers for the Splash Brothers — the easiest three-pointers are after your team gets an offensive rebound because the shooter is often facing the basket when he catches the pass back out while the defense scrambles. (I had 11 threes in a game once, largely on passes after offensive boards. Thanks again Glenn!)
Age and treachery beat youth and exuberance once again. As a result, the Warriors advance to the Conference Finals for the first time since the Death Star Kevin Durant squad. This Warriors team is much easier to root for than that one.
Dallas Mavericks over Phoenix Suns, 4-3
Everyone picked the Suns to win this series. They were far and away the best team in the NBA during the regular season. They had a better road record than every other team’s home record. The Suns also finished 12 games ahead of the Mavericks and had home court advantage. On the other hand, the Mavs have Luka Doncic.
By the time they got to Game 7, Doncic’s career playoff averages were 32.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game. Only Michael Jordon had similar playoff stats: 33.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game in the playoffs. A fun bar debate to have — what type of numbers would MJ have put up if the Bulls ran the Mavs’ offense, with MJ running pick-and-rolls from the top over and over and over? And would the Bulls still have won six titles?
Going into Game 7, the Suns had to be concerned about their 37-year-old point guard Chris Paul. After a stellar start to the series, CP3 did this:
Game 3: 12 points, 7 boards, 4 assists with 7 turnovers.
Game 4: 5 points, 7 boards, 5 assists, fouled out.
Game 5: 7 points, 2 boards, 10 assists
Game 6: 13 points, 2 boards, 4 assists with 5 turnovers.
The Suns lost three of those four games. And now the Suns have lost four out of five. CP3’s line for Game 7:
10 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists — team lost by 33, at home.
The Suns were outscored by 39 points in the 31 minutes Paul played. His backcourt mate Devin Booker was even worse, with a minus 41 in Booker’s 37 minutes, not making a three and going 3-14 from the floor with more turnovers (4) than assists (2).
Dallas played a truly remarkable game, scoring 123 points despite having only 14 assists on 46 made baskets. While some of those baskets came as a result of pure iso-ball, many more came after spreading the floor and good ball movement, which then allowed the Maverick player to beat his man for a great shot at the rim or a three-pointer. At the same time, the Mavs defense was impeccable, leading to Booker and Paul’s numbers above.
There is so much one can write about this game. Or we can go with “one picture is worth a thousand words” and leave it at that.