Category Archives: NBA Playoffs

NBA Playoffs: Wizards vs. Raptors Game 5 — a look at the BIER numbers through four games

How do you like me now? John Wall has stormed thru the playoffs, dishing out 13 assists/game and scoring 26.8 ppg. Game 5 of the series tips off tonight in Toronto. AP photo by Nick Wass. License: Standard non-commercial use.

There weren’t many NBA wags who gave the 8th-seeded Wizards (43-39) much of a chance to win their first round series against top-seeded Toronto (59-23); and now that the series is knotted up 2-2 the Wiz are still the underdog in Game 5 Wednesday in Toronto, if only because the Raptors hold home court advantage.

John Wall, healthy and rejuvenated for the playoffs and the best player in the series so far, may have other ideas.  Wall got into a groove in the two Washington D.C. games, piling up 55 pts and 28 assists in the Wizards’ victories. The Raptors’ Demar DeRozan tried to keep up, but reverted to old habits in Game 4, throwing up 29 shots and making just ten, while an officiating crew chiefed by Derrick Stafford bailed him out early and often (Derozan shot 14 of 18 from the line).

It was ugly basketball for the most part, very much what the Raptors used to do in the playoffs — rely heavily on DeRozan and PG Kyle Lowry while center Jonas Valanciunas worked underneath to pull them along as far as he could. That was all the way to the Eastern Conference finals in 2016, though they lost as much as they won on the 20-game run (the Raptors won 10, lost 10, needing Game 7 wins to push past the Pacers and the Heat in the first two rounds).

Though DeRozan leads the series in scoring with 28 pts/g, his per game BIER is a pedestrian 6.25. Wall leads the series with a 12.82 BIER/gm, while Valanciunas in limited minutes (just 21.3 minutes/gm) is leading the Raptors with a high impact 10.72 BIER/gm. If this series could be billed a “Battle of the All-Star guards”, Wall and Bradley Beal are winning the battle, though not the war — not yet anyway.

Regular season BIER vs. playoffs BIER/gm for the guard match-ups in the Wizards-Raptors series. For the basics of the BIER model go to BIER Basics page. Also see BIER season leaders post at the outset of the playoffs.

Wall and Beal are averaging 49.5 pts/g and a combined BIER/gm of 20.23 — a ton of efficient production for a pair of guards. It’s also the inverse of what Wall and Beal vs. Lowry and DeRozan looked like in the regular season (13.73 BIER/gm vs. 17.55).

On the other Washington wing, Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre have been relatively quiet, which means the Wizards still have options to exploit in the final three games. On paper, if Wall is healthy and at the top of his game (which he is), the advantage at guard and on the wings should go to the Wizards.

The Raptors may rationalize that Wall can’t play much better than he did in the first four games, and yet the series is tied. DeRozan, on the other hand, certainly can play better than he has, and the series is tied.

The Raptors advantages are in the front court, where Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka and Jakob Poeltl are matched up against Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Ian Mahinmi. The Wizards are tough, Gortat’s constant complaining aside, but the Raptors bigs are simply better players; and Valanciunas’ ability to step out for the occasional 3-pointer (40.5% from 3 this season) has presented a new problem for defenses this season. The combined BIER numbers through 4 games for the bigs in the series:

  • Valanciunas, Ibaka and Poeltl: 24.93 BIER/gm, up from 24.34 in season
  • Gortat, Morris and Mahinmi: 21.03 BIER/gm, up from 18.12 in season

Memory can be short when one is bombarded with new images and information every day, but it wasn’t too long ago that the Wizards were on the verge of the Eastern Conference finals. They were, in retrospect, a more competitive opponent for the Cavs than the Celtics (the officiating in Boston in Game 2 of the Wizards vs. Celtics series played a role in the C’s winning the series).

The 2018 Wizards are the same cast, plus a stronger bench thanks to Thomas Satoransky and the ever-improving Oubre.

The Raptors bench was the talk of the NBA earlier this season, and the keys there are 2nd-year center Poeltl and guard Delon Wright, 18 points on 7-10 shooting in Game 1.   3-point specialist C.J. Miles also shot well in Game 1 (12 pts on 4-7 shooting from three), so the Raptors bench rescued Game 1, despite the great series Wall is having.

My early prediction that the Wizards would take the series didn’t look so good. And now?

I’m looking forward to a great Game 7.

Sourcerole

  • Wizards vs. Raptors official scorers’ report, Game 1, 04/14/18 – http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180414/0041700101_Book.pdf
  • GAME 2 – https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20180422/0041700104_Book.pdf
  • GAME 4 – https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20180422/0041700104_Book.pdf
  • Series stats at basketball-reference – https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2018-nba-eastern-conference-first-round-wizards-vs-raptors.html

NBA playoffs: Tied 2-all with the Celtics, Bucks eye first playoff series win in 17 years . . . Whatever happened to Indianapolis?

Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson drives on Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Brown in the 2001 playoffs. License: Standard-non-commercial use.

The Bucks dumped the first two games of the series in Boston; Jabari Parker talked about his lack of playing time and role on the team; and Bucks fans lost their minds on twitter and everywhere else in the city. The knives were out in Milwaukee between Games 2 and 3.

The Bucks won the next two games in Milwaukee (with Parker’s playing time doubled), but Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t get timely service at trendy East Side restaurant after tipping in the game-winning shot in Sunday’s Game 4. The fans lost their minds again in shock, awe, disbelief.

Welcome to Milwaukee, where we’re far out of practice and shape for this NBA playoffs thing, and so starved for a winner that all faults and slights, real and imagined, are met with outraged howls of indignation. The last time the Bucks won a playoff series was in 2001, when the Bucks prevailed in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the original Charlotte Hornets, who would end up in New Orleans a couple of years later.

Seventeen years is a long time. The Big Dog Glenn Robinson was barking in those days, out-dueling Hornets All-Star forward Jamal Mashburn to lift the Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the first round series, Robinson lost the “Wee-Mac” (Tracy McGrady) vs. “Puppy Dog” challenge — but the Big Dog had the last laugh as the Bucks took the series 3-1 and would run all the way to Game 7 of the East Finals, a controversial defeat to Allen Iverson and the Sixers.

McGrady’s in the basketball Hall of Fame now, as unlikely as it seems given his notable lack of success in the playoffs. And the Bucks haven’t won a playoff series since the days of Wee Mac and Dog and Mashburn. But they’ve got the momentum against the Celtics heading into Game 5, and the best player, Giannis, averaging 28 pts – 8.5 rebs – 6.5 asts per game in the series.

Khris Middleton has been shooting the lights out all series long (15 of 24 from three, 40 for 65 overall — 73% true shooting!!). Parker has found his playoff game. Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker — everybody with a job but injured John Henson — are playing well and on the same page.

What could possibly go wrong?

Whatever happened to Indianapolis?

Still from the 1975 film, Rollerball. James Caan as Rollerball hero Jonathan E.

The question was raised in the original Rollerball film. Our hero, Rollerball sensation Jonathan E., and his assigned companion, Mackie, relax in between Rollerball matches with Jonathon’s trainer, Cletus. As they recline on floor pillows sedating in the glow of synthetic drugs, they talk of the harsh and uncompromising corporate realities of their world. Indianapolis has apparently disappeared from their sphere of knowledge or understanding. The city is gone. As Cletus drifts off into his high, he wonders again, “Whatever happened to Indianapolis?”

As the Pacers prepare to face the Cavs in Cleveland tonight (Wednesday) in pivotal Game 5 of their first round series, they may be asking the same question Cletus did. Or more specifically — what happened in Game 4? The Pacers had it all — a 2-1 series lead and playing on their home court in Indy, a golden opportunity to put Lebron James and his inexperienced new teammates in difficult 3-1 hole, where there would be little room for error to avoid defeat. The Pacers even had the lead in Game 4, 92-89, halfway through the 4th quarter. But not all of Lebron’s teammates are so inexperienced. James made plays, Kyle Korver hit threes, and . . .

“Just like that, it was 101-95. From there, it was a few more bricks from the Pacers and too much Stephenson sideshow, wrestling Cleveland’s Jeff Green to the floor in yet more antics gone too far.” —  NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner on Pacers-Cavs Game 4.

That says it all, it seems. Now the advantage is back in the King’s court, and while the Pacers may battle and Lance Stephenson and Domantas Sabonis may scrap and claw and bully and earn their Ts, Lebron and his Cavaliers will prevail. Sorry Pacers fans — many of whom truly believed, even when it was tied 1-1, they would win the series and end James’ 7-year reign in the East,

But then Pacers fans truly believed not such a long time ago in Paul George‘s stardom.

Now they don’t.

NBA Playoffs: Coaching, Discipline, Rebounding and 50/50 plays . . . Bucks vs. Celtics Game 2 . . . Sterling Brown does not have slow feet . . . Bledsoe becomes twitter fodder

2nd Chance Points after two games of the Bucks-Celtics series: Boston 42, Milwaukee 13.

The Celtics have hauled down 20 offensive rebounds in all, plus four additional chances on team rebounds, converting 17 of 24 total opportunities. How do you score 42 points on 17 made shots? Three-point plays — which means the soul-crushing reality of Games 1 and 2 is that on 8 possessions the Celtics made the Bucks poor rebounding pay out big with and-ones and 3-pointers.

(Click HERE for the Game 1 official scorers’ report, and HERE for the Game 2 report).

The Bucks in Boston relied heavily on their starting front court — John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Giannis has been on the court for all but 13 of the 101 game minutes in the series, while Middleton and Henson have played 78% of the available playing time at small forward and center, respectively.

  • Giannis has grabbed 22 rebounds on his own.
  • Middleton and Henson have come up with 12 boards apiece, with Henson’s 10% rebounding rate a lower than low number for a starting NBA center.

What else is there to say? The Bucks’ need for help in the middle for the playoffs shouted at Bucks GM Jon Horst all season long and every time down the stretch the Bucks ran into a team with a good center. It’s too late now, and the Bucks are in dire need of professional help, perhaps divine intervention from the basketball gods. The editorial board at Bob Boozer Jinx recommends the following instructional video by the legendary Red Auerbach.

There you have it. Only shooting the ball is more important, yet the Bucks have outshot the Celtics 58% (eff. FG%)  to 54%, only to fall into an 0-2 hole. The rebounding problem has been that bad, and the Celtics too opportunistic for the Bucks to beat.

The reliance on Henson has been curious. Henson has played 74 of the 101 total minutes of the series, unheard of playing time for the J-Hook, who’s career per game playing time average is  20.4. This season he played 25.9 mpg, and the Bucks should go back to this — the “10 more minutes of someone not John Henson” strategy.

Interim coach Joe Prunty has all but benched Tyler Zeller, the undersized big man Horst managed to acquire before the 2018 deadline. Zeller wasn’t the best option by any means, and he’s more of a power forward who doesn’t shoot threes; but the trade — for little used 2015 draft bust Rashad Vaughn — was a good one. 

Thon Maker, the Bucks tree-like, still-developing project, has been benched. I had hoped Thon would see some minutes in the series, at least for the experience and the extreme hustle Thon busts into the game.

Are these lame-duck coaching decisions by Prunty or the dictates of the front office and GM Horst? Bucks fans may never know. What we do know is that it isn’t working.

Sterling Brown is not slow-footed

In the 8:47 Sterling Brown played in the 4th quarter Tuesday, Brown impressed (as usual) with his defense, quickness and foot speed on the wings. The latter — the foot speed — viewed in juxtaposition to Tony Snell and Malcolm Brogdon in the first three quarters, was a good lesson on what ails the Bucks defense. If this series has emphasized how soft the Bucks are in the middle, it has also exposed the slow feet of the Bucks rotation players on the wings — and this includes Middleton.

The long arms and good shooting are great. But if they’re not blocking shots (they’re not) and slow off the bounce, getting beat to the spots on the wings, what then? The result is the poor defense that has plagued the Bucks for three seasons now — and open shots and drives for the Celtics quicker, more athletic wings, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Hopefully, we’ll see more Sterling in Milwaukee.

Then there’s THIS.  The natives are restless in Milwaukee. Eric Bledsoe‘s being outplayed by Kyrie Irving‘s backup, Terry Rozier, and the world is letting him know all about it. Charles Barkley, too.

Ouch.

J.D. Mo’s gotta run, not much time to dwell on the Bucks this midweek. The truth about this Bucks-Celtics series holds — the Bucks only needed to win one game in Boston to win the series. The one win could have happened in Game 1 as the Bucks headed to overtime; it can come in Game 5 or Game 7.

But the Bucks cannot lose at home. Game 3 in Milwaukee Friday is MUST-win or the season’s all over and done but for the angry tweets. Here’s more from Red: “Did you see that rebound?”

Sourcerole

  • Official Scorer’s report, Bucks-Celtics Game 1, 4/15/18 –http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180415/0041700111_Book.pdf
  • Official Scorer’s report, Bucks-Celtics Game 2, 4/17/18 –http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180417/0041700112_Book.pdf
  • Series Box Score and Advanced Boxscore at Basketball-reference – https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2018-nba-eastern-conference-first-round-bucks-vs-celtics.html

NBA Playoffs: Bucks vs. Celtics notes

Eric Bledsoe was a step behind Celtics pg Terry Rozier Sunday in Game 1, as Rozier hit three big 3-point shots with the game on the line. Boston Herald photo by Christopher Evans. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Notes from the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs, Eastern Conference.

Bucks-Celtics – The Bucks need win only one game in Boston to take this series, so Sunday’s overtime loss can be filed for what it was — a good effort, a tough loss, in which Celtics point guard Terry Rozier (23 pts, 4 for 9 from three) hit three big threes in crunch time, one with barely a second left in regulation to put the Celtics up three, 99-96. Rozier struck again in the overtime, hitting a contested three to get the Celtics on the board and a 104-103 lead.

The Game 1 heroics of Kyrie Irving‘s backup should ensure that Rozier’s Bucks counterparts, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, won’t fall a step behind the rest of the series, not that the Bucks switching defense makes match-ups predictable. Brogdon was often found trying to check Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (19 pts, 10 rebs) on Sunday, just one of many unfortunate outcomes of the Bucks defensive schemes throughout the game. Jaylen Brown, the other Celtics wing forward added 20 points and Marcus Morris dropped 21 on the Bucks off the Celtics bench.

Can the Celtics count on 83 points per game from Rozier, Tatum, Brown and Morris the rest of the series? The quartet averaged a combined 53.3 per game during the regular season, and tend to go through stretches where they struggle to score. You’ve gotta like the chances of the Bucks, finally playing with their full roster for the first time this season, prevailing in this series.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton – The Bucks forwards combined for 66 points on 50 shooting possessions (shot attempts + trips to the FT line), terrific offensive efficiency. They only turned the ball over 7 times between them while dishing out 13 assists (6 for Khris and 7 for Giannis),

generating a whopping 86% of the Bucks offense, in addition to hauling in 21 rebounds — monster numbers that begged for a hot hand teammate to help them out.

Bledsoe and Tony Snell were 0 for 5 from three, and Jabari Parker — 2 points in just 14 mins of action — missed the only downtown look he had. Middleton said he should have been an All-Star this season, and he certainly played like one on Sunday.

Discipline, 50-50 plays and rebounds – Tatum scored 19 pts on 18 shots Saturday and Brown missed 10 shots, so the Bucks weren’t too bad there — they outshot the Celtics 48% to 41%. The Celtics won by winning the 50-50 plays and taking advantage of an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers by the Bucks. The Bucks can cut down on turnovers and sloppy play and expect better games from Bledsoe the rest of the series, but the 50-50 plays and rebounding may be a different story. The young Celtics were just quicker to the ball than the Bucks, beating the guys in dark green to the one more offensive rebound, one more loose ball, they needed to win. The Celtics and Jazz led the NBA in Defense this season (103.9 pts/100), so the 50-50 hustle is habit for the C’s.

The Celtics scored 22 second chance points off of their 11 OREBs (plus a team rebound), a destructive scoring rate — and those plays killed the Bucks. Bucks center John Henson was credited with six blocked shots but grabbed only 6 rebs in 37 mins — unheard of playing time for Henson and terrible rebounding for a big man. To paraphrase Red Auerbach and countless coaches through the ages — “If you didn’t get the rebound, you didn’t play defense.”

Giannis vs. Al Horford vs. the referees – Giannis shot 16 free throws (made) in Game 1, but there were calls he didn’t get, including a charging call drawn by a clearly moving Marcus Morris in the 4th quarter, the 4th foul on Giannis in a game he would foul out of in the overtime. Jason Phillips, the referee who kicked Steph Curry out of Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals, made that call and a few others that were questionable.

Phillips, in his 19th NBA season, missed last year’s playoffs due to injury. Nothing really stands out about Phillips’ stats at basketball-reference.com. Game 1 crew chief Mike Callahan, in his 28th season, is one the 5 most experienced refs in the NBA, but has appeared slow and out of shape this season, at times laboring to keep up in a league where the pace has picked up in recent years. Both Callahan and Phillips were Finals refs in 2016, and Callahan refereed the 2017 Finals —

so the Bucks and Celtics, ostensibly, got the cream of the crop of NBA officials in Game 1. Yet somehow, both teams could hope for better officiating in Game 2.

Horford shot 14 free throws and missed only one. Horford is a tough defender, a 10-year veteran who knows how to work the refs. Horford, the Celtics and the referees offer a good test of Giannis’ mettle, if not quite a test of his greatness, and challenges Giannis will have to figure out to get his team through the series. . Whether or not the 23-year-old star can lift the Bucks into the next round is THE question in this series; the answer will either cement or cast doubt on his status as superstar in the NBA.

(Note that Bucks nemesis Mark Davis isn’t scheduled to work tonight’s games, so there’s a chance he could be in Boston for Game 2 on Tuesday. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, as Davis’ m.o. is to balance games for the visiting teams while inciting the rage of home crowds).

Tyler Zeller and Thon Maker — While Henson logged 37 minutes, Zeller played all of 4:28 seconds and Maker got a DNP from interim coach Joe Prunty. Henson was visibly exhausted in the 4th quarter and played just 13 seconds of the overtime, as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Al Horford went head-to-head at center. No, Bucks GM Jon Horst didn’t help his team out by acquiring a real big man down the stretch, but there was no need for Prunty — who in all likelihood won’t be coaching the Bucks next season — to emphasize this problem in Boston. If only for the playoff experience, Thon should play in this series.

Heat-Sixers correction – From last weekend’s preview post:  “I doubt they make it back to Miami Philadelpha for a Game 6 Game 5.”  The way the Sixers are rolling, winners of 17 games in a row, I don’t see the Heat winning a game in this series. Sixers center Joel Embiid is expected to play in Game 2 tonight (Monday), which should at least give Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a reason to play Hassan Whiteside, who saw only 12 minutes of action in Game 1. The Heat weren’t sure Whiteside was going to be ready to play at all in the game.

Gamebooks and other links

  • Bucks vs. Celtics official scorers’ report, Game 1, 04/15/18 - http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180415/0041700111_Book.pdf
  • NBA Official – official.nba.com
  • Referees index at http://basketball-reference – https://www.basketball-reference.com/referees/

Eastern Conference playoffs preview . . . Nursing an unspecified injury and up in the air . . . Heat vs. Sixers . . . Bucks vs. Celtics . . . May 17, 1987

The NBA playoffs began this afternoon with the Spurs in Oakland against the defending champs with the Wizards vs. Raptors, Heat vs. 76ers and Pelicans vs. Trailblazers series’ also set to open today. Let’s get right into it then and take a look at the Eastern Conference match-ups, with a little help from the full season 2017-18 BIER ratings for the eight East playoff teams, which J.D. Mo finally finished Saturday morning. (Dig into the basics of BIER HERE.)

Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers – “Whiteside is nursing an unspecified injury and his status against the Sixers for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round is up in the air.”

So says the Miami Heat’s injury note on center Hassan Whiteside, who’s been warring again with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra over playing time. (Think Greg Monroe and Jason Kidd, only on the more less* unprofessional side, with Udonis Haslem in the mix to smooth things over in the role assistant coach Greg Foster played with the Bucks). With the 6th-seeded Heat in Philly getting ready to take on the Sixers in their series opener, the note speaks volumes for the character of the Miami Heat organization and its GM, Pat Riley.  *please see note below

“Nursing unspecified injury status up in the air” spells “may or may not play depending on whether coach Spoelstra feels like using him in a game where we know we won’t be playing against Joel Embiid.” Enjoy the game, Hassan, we’ll give you a nice courtside seat, call you if we need you (and we’ll have fun with the injury report whether you like it or not). — Insert thoughts on how this contrasts with how the Milwaukee Bucks organization handles things these days —  There’s no room for players questioning the dictates of the coach in Miami, nor any doubt about who’s in charge.

2017-18 BIER leaders on Eastern Conference playoff teams only. * Irving’s season is finished due to knee trouble, but I decided to leave him in the chart to show how much production impact the Celtics are missing in his absence.

The crazy thing about the injury note, other than the really amusing deadpan absurdities of it, is that the Heat are so fully prepared to play without Whiteside. When he does play, there’s no higher impact big man, no more dominant player in the East, as the BIER chart at right shows. The Heat just don’t care about the numbers.

The Heat went through a lot of trouble on the last night of the regular season to set up the Philly series, winning in overtime in Miami against the Raptors. It was a game they would have and should have lost had 3-point gun Wayne Ellington not caught fire in the 4th quarter. Ellington drained 6 out of 7 threes for 18 points in the 4th to force the overtime, then put the game out of reach with an old-fashioned layup with 1:53 to play to put the Heat up by six as Spoelstra stuck with his 2nd unit players in the overtime. If not for Ellington, the Sixers would be playing the Bucks this evening and the Heat preparing for the Celtics in Boston tomorrow.

Which is another funny thing about the Heat. Spoelstra’s bench crew — Ellington and Kelly Olynyk (Whiteside’s backup at center), along with forwards Justise Winslow and rookie big man Bam Adebayo — are the guys responsible for the Philadelphia series. Not Whiteside or Dwyane Wade or All-Star point guard Goran Dragic. Forwards Josh Richardson and James Johnson were the only Heat starters to see any action in the overtime.

And that’s just fine for the Heat, who are expected to trade Whiteside in the offseason. D-Wade is expected to retire, enjoy the ride. This isn’t their year, the Heat know it, no reason to worry about who their first round opponent was going to be. I doubt they make it back to Miami for a Game 6.

Sixers center Embiid, mending a quite specified fractured orbital bone around his left eye, is not expected to play in the opener Saturday and may not play at all against the Heat, depending on how competitive the series is. The Sixers streaked into the playoffs on a 16-game winning binge that started with Embiid in the lineup and has rolled on since he was cracked in the face against the Knicks March 28.

The Heat aren’t likely to be able to produce enough offense to keep up with the Sixers, while Philly’s defense is rated 4th best in the league. The Heat play good defense, too, and are rated 7th (106.3 pts/100) but it shouldn’t matter, especially if Spoelstra’s not going to rely on Whiteside to anchor the D.

Bucks vs. Sixers in the second round while Cleveland and Toronto face off in the other East semifinal?  It seems a likely outcome and the best of all worlds for Milwaukee and Philly, who won’t see Lebron James and Kevin Love or the 59-win Raptors until the East Finals. But first the Bucks must get past the Kyrie-less Boston Celtics, who can’t be too pleased that the Bucks so obviously tanked their final game in Philly in hopes of dropping down from 6th into 7th to play them.

Bucks vs. Celtics

No Kyrie Irving means a good matchup for Bucks point guards Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon against Terry Rozier, who’s played well in Irving’s absence. Celtics middle linebacker Marcus Smart is still out nursing a torn tendon in his thumb, so the Celtics are woefully thin at point. A nice edge for the Bucks.

Greg Monroe leads the Celtics scoring off the bench. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Bucks big men John Henson, Thon Maker and Tyler Zeller will be disassembled by Aron Baynes and Greg “Moose” Monroe, who saw a lot of action off of Boston’s bench down the stretch. They will be reassembled after the playoffs as the Bucks organization puzzles what to do with them. For development purposes, I hope Thon plays a lot in this series, even though Monroe knows Thon’s every weakness and bad habit, having played a full season and two training camps with him in Milwaukee.

With the further development of young forwards Jaylen Brown (left) and Jayson Tatum as top priority for the Celtics goal in the Bucks series, they’re playing with house money in Boston. Photo: Boston Globe. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Khris Middleton and Tony Snell will have their hands full with the young Jays on the wings, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Middleton has had a decent, generally efficient scoring season (3-pt shoting % was down this year) while posting career highs in rebounds and assists. Khris got better in 2017-18 and posted a 7.65 BIER/36, a nice improvement over his career BIER of 4.96 (which isn’t all that great for a forward). The difficulty here is that 20-year-old Tatum posted a 7.50 BIER/36 in his rookie season and Brown, in his second season, bested Khris’ career mark. (Edited from original – much like the Bucks, I got the two Jays mixed up on the wings).

What this means in the world of BIER is that both the Jays are already better all-around impact players than Khris has been for most of his career; and that Middleton’s career-best season at age 26 was business as usual for Tatum at age 21 in his rookie year. This should trouble Bucks fans and front office people alike — and what happens in the wing match-ups in this series should prove instructional for anyone taking notes. It’s a good “see how we are”*¹ test for all involved, while in Boston they’re viewing the entire series as a “Jaylen and Jayson show” development exercise.

Coaching and discipline  could well define the match-ups on the wings. Tatum and Brown play in the NBA’s No. 1-rated defense and Brad Stevens has everybody’s attention in Boston. This can’t be said of Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty, as the Bucks showed an undisciplined streak as the season wound down — the ridiculous 46 points they gave up in the first quarter in Philly; the final two minutes of the loss in Denver; an unexpected loss at home to Brooklyn — the list since the All-Star break could go on. The Bucks defense (rated 19th in the NBA at 110.1 pts/100 poss.) is good in spots, but not for entire games. It’s not better to be lucky than good, but if the Bucks had played with greater poise and discipline, they’d probably be playing Cleveland in the first round.

Giannis vs. Al Horford – Other than Lebron James, who isn’t always 100% dialed in on defense, Al Horford is the toughest head-to-head match-up in the East side of the playoffs for the Giannis Antetokounmpo. Horford is the model of consistency at power forward and shoots 43% from three, but it’s his defense that will make Giannis work. Horford’s a very solid fundamental defender, knows all the veteran tricks, dirty and otherwise, and has been getting All-Star treatment by NBA referees for nearly a decade now. A good, tough test for Giannis, who loves a challenge. He’s the No. 2 rated BIER player in the Eastern Conference, behind only Lebron (J.D. Mo hasn’t crunched the full season numbers for the West yet, but he’s pretty sure Anthony Davis finished with the league’s top BIER number).

The benches: The Bucks bench got a boost in the final week of the season with the return of Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova to complement Jabari Parker, Brandon Jennings, Zeller, Sterling Brown, Maker and Jason Terry. The Maker-Zeller combo will have their hands full with the Moose but this is a good Bucks bench group. The Celtics are just too shorthanded with Smart not available until April 27. Monroe will produce in the middle and create offense around him (the Celtics like to run cutters and hand-off plays off of Monroe in the high post to take advantage of Monroe’s passing game). There may be no center in the East who’s as good with the ball as Monroe is. But there’s nobody to stop Parker other than Semi Ojeleye, another Celtics rookie, who’s somewhat of a liability at this point. Look for Parker to break out a great game or three in the series.

Prediction: #BucksIn6

May 17, 1987

The last time the Bucks and Celtics met in the playoffs was Game 7 of the 1987 Eastern Semifinals. The series has been dubbed “the forgotten” series because the East Finals the Celtics would play after surviving the Bucks has loomed large in both Legend of Larry Bird and Bad Boys Pistons lore (“Bird steals the ball!! – D.J. lays it in!!!!”). The 1988 Celtics-Hawks Eastern Conference semifinals series has loomed larger, too, partly because it was the pinnacle of Dominique Wilkins career, and partly because Bird’s exploits were, again, legendary. Now that I think about it, I’m not exactly sure why that Hawks team gets talked about more than the Bucks, who played in three Eastern Conference Finals in the 1980s. The Hawks never made it out of the semifinal rounds.

There’s a lot of online content about “the forgotten series” now but for my money (it’s actually free) head for the Sports Illustrated vaults and dig into SI’s feature on Game 7, published May 25, 1987 and posted HERE.

The full CBS Broadcast of the game with Dick Stockton and Billy Cunningham is up on youtube at Karol K’s NBA channel. Nobody knew these teams, these players better than Billy C, who coached the Sixers (1979-1985) during the great 3-headed Celtics-Sixers-Bucks Eastern Conference rivalry in the 1980s.

The referees are Ed Rush and Hugh Evans. Final score: Celtics 119, Bucks 113.

*¹ “See How We Are” is a great song by the band X, written by John Doe and Exene Cervenka. It’s not about basketball.

*Ed. note: this was a typo – Monroe didn’t vent in the media like Whiteside did. The Moose very publicly during a game early in the 2017 season, when Moose was playing less than John Henson and losing minutes to Thon Maker, got into a heated hollering match with Foster; the maintained a solid, mutually respectful working relationship. The first thing Monroe did after learning last fall he was traded to the Suns was walk over to Foster and shake his hand. Foster will not likely be coaching the Bucks next season, but he deserves credit, as Bucks big man coach, for getting the most out of a very limited John Henson, who’s had his best pro season this year) 

Sourcerole

  • Raptors vs. Heat official scorers’ report, final game of the regular season, 04/11/18 – http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180411/0021701221_Book.pdf

Things to do in Washington D.C. when you need the Celtics to beat the Wizards . . . Updated Bucks playoff scenarios

The Bucks dispensed with the Orlando Magic 102-86 last night and the Heat fell to the Thunder in Miami, setting up the next stage in the Bucks playoff seed watch: the Celtics-Wizards game in Washington D.C. tonight.

Lose at home to the Kryie-less Celtics and the Wizards will be relegated to 8th and a first round playoff match-up against Toronto. The Bucks would then have the luxury of deciding whether to go all out against the Sixers on Wednesday in a bid for the 6th seed, or bow out in Philly and take the 7th seed and a Round 1 series against Boston.

The 6th seed opponent would almost surely be the Cavs, who close their season against the injury-depleted Knicks in Cleveland after beating the Knicks 123-109 in N.Y. Monday to stay a half game behind Philly. The Sixers have won 14 straight games, and will look to extend their streak to 15 tonight in Atlanta. A loss to the Hawks — or to the Bucks in the season finale — would flip the Cavs and Sixers in the final standings. (OK, anything is possible in the Knicks-Cavs game Wednesday, but really? Lebron and Kevin Love racked up 54 pts, 11 rebs and 12 asts against the Knicks Monday, and the Cavs are all but fully healthy and resting no one in this final week).

Luxuries are nice; the odds against beating Lebron and the Cavs in a first round playoff series are not so nice. All eyes in Bucks-land turn east to Washington, where the Celtics-Wizards are set to tip off at 7pm CST on TNT. A Wizards win means all remains in flux for the bottom three East seeds going in to Wednesday’s regular season-closing games.

The Wizards – have lost eight of their last 10 and four straight since John Wall came back March 31 from knee surgery. They’re murmuring about a sudden lack of chemistry in D.C., but had lost four of the six prior to Wall coming back and haven’t won since Boston announced that Kyrie Irving was done for the season. Truth is, the Wizards schedule was like a Rob Zombie Films gauntlet of terror — the Wiz didn’t catch a game against a lottery bound team for a month (Feb. 24 – March 24).

I’d say the Wizards are more burnt out than anything else, and occasionally suffering post traumatic stress from their schedule. Now that Wall’s back, nobody’s ailing except backup center Ian Mahinmi, who suffered a concussion in Cleveland and missed the Wizards’ loss to Atlanta Friday. They haven’t played a game since then, a well-timed and badly needed break before the battle against Boston.

Greg “Moose” Monroe has been getting a lot of work off Boston’s bench down the stretch, and posted a triple-double against the Bulls on Friday. Photo by Brad Mills, USA Today Sports. License: Standard non-commercial use.

The Celtics – Word out of the Celtics camp (and the Boston Globe) is that they’re not going to cooperate by resting Al Horford or anybody else not injured — and they don’t need the rest. Their young Jays, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier, Jabari Bird and Semi Ojeleye will sup on the playoff-like atmosphere of the game, though all the pressure’s on the Wizards. And Greg Monroe just likes getting the work with his new team. The C’s have been running plenty of sets for Monroe in recent games, and he’s averaged 17.7 pts, 7 rebs and 5.7 asts in 24.4 mins per game in his last three. 

The Moose’s BIER rating was good in Phoenix (13.51) but in Boston it’s up to 15.06 — an all-star level per36 for a center. Of course Monroe has played just 19 mins per game since joining the Celtics in February, but that’s still a ton of production to throw at opponents off the bench (Aron Baynes starts at center for the Celtics while Al Horford’s has shifted to his natural role as stretch power forward).

Moose put up a triple double vs. Chicago last Friday, as he and Bird (of course the Celtics took the only guy named Bird in the draft last summer) dropped 34 pts on the Bulls off the bench in the Celtics win.  “When he gets the minutes, he’s often going to get a double double (points and rebounds),” C’s coach Brad Stevens said of Monroe. “He’s an underrated passer.”

Yep. Bucks fans knew all that, though it didn’t stop former Bucks coach Jason Kidd from undervaluing Monroe. Kidd was never going to make the most of Moose and his skills, which is why trading Moose for Eric Bledsoe has worked: 32 mins of Bledsoe usually beats 20 mins of Monroe (in the world of BIER, anyway), though not at the production level Monroe’s been contributing in Boston.  If it seems the Bucks are no better than they were last season — and probably worse considering they won 20 of their last 30 on their run to the playoffs — remember that Kidd was playing Monroe 25 mins or more during that stretch, and that this season they’ve been without Malcolm Brogdon since early February.

Way to end on a bum note, dude.

Sorry man, I couldn’t help it — thinking about the Bucks and their politics this season just has that sort of effect.

Celtics-Wizards tips off at 7:05 CST tonight on TNT. 

Spoiler Hawks – In the course of writing this, I noticed that the most recent games for both the Celtics and the Wizards were against the Hawks, and that the Hawks played spoiler and beat them both. Just an odd factoid, perhaps. The Hawks opponent tonight in Atlanta happens to be Philly. Can the Hawks make it a hat trick? And would it change anything for the Bucks? . . .  nope.

Things to do in Milwaukee when you might not have to play Toronto in Round 1 . . . Meanwhile in Miami: Heat vs. Thunder tonight kicks off 3 days of NBA madness

The Bucks hopes of finishing anywhere but 8th, it turned out, didn’t die last week in Denver, and neither did Denver’s hopes after the Bucks gave them new life (the Nuggets beat the T-Wolves and the Clippers last week to all but eliminate the Clippers and give themselves a shot at 8th in the West). The Bucks and Heat are tied with 43-37 records, the Heat holding the tie-breaker and 6th seed in the East. Both teams are in action tonight: The Bucks face Orlando in Milwaukee while the Heat host the Thunder in Miami. The Wizards are 8th at 42-38 after losing to the spoiler Atlanta Hawks Sunday. In the East, 8th means a Toronto series and is to be avoided.

The turning point in the Bucks outlook had nothing to do with the Bucks or their temporary coaching staff, and everything to do with Kyrie Irving‘s infected left knee and the news that his inaugural season in Boston was over.

Chances are, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a better all-around player than the small forward on your favorite NBA team. RHJ played 37 mins in the Nets 119-111 win over the Bucks in Milwaukee 04/05, grabbing 11 rebs to go with 14 pts and 5 assists. NY Post photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

With the injury news April 5, the Heat and the Wizards joined the 7th seed sweepstakes to play Kyrie-less Boston, locked in at No. 2 in the East. Both teams dumped games to lottery teams while the Bucks were doing the same in Milwaukee Thursday under a barrage of Brooklyn 3-pointers (19 makes, 19 misses by the Nets). Then the Wizards lost to the Hawks, and not on purpose. John Wall‘s back from knee surgery but his teammates had grown accustomed to playing without him. A Kobe-style drama may be playing out in D.C., with the immediate beneficiaries the Bucks and their playoff seeding.

In this race in the bottom rungs of the Eastern Conference playoff ladder, if you run too fast you could end up playing Lebron and the Cavs in the Round 1 — and nobody wants that with the possible exception of Giannis Antetokounmpo who would consider it an honor, a challenge, a learning experience and a chance to pull off an incredible upset. The rest of the Bucks? Let’s just say Giannis would be resting his knees and ankles and watching Toronto Raptors games had his teammates not had some fun winning in New York Saturday. He is expected to play tonight against Orlando. (Not anymore – Giannis was a game time scratch).

So now the trick is to somehow wedge into 7th between Washington and Miami while avoiding the mistake of winning too much and becoming Round 1 fodder for Lebron and NBA refs. It’s better off said — the last thing the NBA wants is Lebron out of the playoffs after only a few games. If the Bucks were good enough to upset the Cavs (which they’re not), the refs would be sure to make said task so supremely difficult that only someone like Giannis could possibly succeed without help from one of the Avengers (preferably not “arrow guy” Clint, who’s No. 1 on the “will probably die in the next movie” list).

First up, the Bucks host the Orlando Magic tonight in the last regular season Bucks game that will ever be played at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, a building that saw a lot of losing by the Bucks over the years and only two playoff series wins, yet houses two generations of nostalgia for those who came to know, love and routinely regret their uncharted fates as fans of the Milwaukee Bucks. We waited years for the criminal investigation into the crooked refereeing in Game 4 vs. the Sixers 2001, to no avail. All we got is Jim Rome yelling about it on TV, a Ray Allen trade only George Karl loved, and a bunch of fledgling bloggers invested in Michael Redd for no reason they could explain. It was weird, weirder even than the drama of this season — and that’s only the stuff that happened after the internet. The 1990s were often weirder but usually a lot more fun despite the Bucks needing the entire decade to build a winner in the BC, where once upon a time everyone knew how to stay on beat for the DEFENSE chant. Who let the dogs out, indeed!

What’s killing Bucks fandom now is the idea that the Bucks are supposed to win. It’s a pretty dumb idea, looking up and down the roster and the payroll. But there it is, this idea that the Bucks time has arrived with Giannis. Now that time is here, the fans tip-tap their smart phones and wonder when. 

Bucks need a win tonight – Can the Bucks beat the 24-win Magic in this final Bradley Center game? The last time the Bucks played Orlando, Jonathon Simmons and D.J. Augustin rained 13-21 threes on the Bucks and the Magic held off the Bucks in the 4th to win 126-117 (funny, same thing the Nets did to the Bucks on Thursday). Simmons isn’t likely to play tonight due to a “right wrist contusion”, the Bucks are at home and the Magic closer to wrapping it up with a primo lottery pick. The Magic won’t be as tough as Brooklyn, and Malcolm Brogdon is expected to play (not sure if this sarcasm or not).

But who am I kidding? The Bucks will beat Orlando tonight because most folks around the NBA have little more than a vague awareness the game is being played at all, and — more importantly — because a win by the Bucks could quite possibly create a dilemma for the Bucks in Philly on Wednesday in the season finale. Dilemma, conundrum, Hobson’s choice — to win or not to win — a fitting way for the Bucks to end this rather Shakespearean season of theirs.

Dispense with the Magic, beat the Sixers and the Bucks could quite possibly find themselves in 6th. Unfortunately for the Bucks, handing the Sixers a loss will almost surely vault the Cavs into 3rd, which means the Bucks would head to Cleveland over the weekend to begin the playoffs. The Cavs finish their schedule with back-to-back games against the Knicks, who, as the Bucks found on Saturday, don’t have a lot to work with right now other than Michael Beasley (half the roster’s on the injury report). The Sixers are on a 14-game winning streak which should run to 15 games in Atlanta Tuesday, barring another spoiler win by the Hawks.

Meanwhile in Miami – The Heat tonight host a desperate OKC team that still hasn’t clinched a playoff birth in the West. Russell Westbrook cast as desperado in Miami, rocketing all over the court, raging at every injustice seen and unseen, demanding sublime efforts from Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to nail down the playoff berth. This will be great TV tonight, and there’s more ahead Tuesday and Wednesday in the West match-ups. Pity the Heat, who could be looking to avoid the 8th seed on Wednesday against 1st place Toronto. I don’t see how the Heat win the OKC game, with Hassan Whiteside and Erik Spoelstra warring again last week over Whiteside’s playing time and the wags talking off-season trade (attention: Jon Horst). OKC plays center Steven Adams full-time minutes, so Whiteside should get his PT tonight.

While the Thunder have yet to clinch a playoff spot, the Pacers, who traded Paul George for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo in the offseason, locked up the #5 seed over the weekend. Addition by subtraction and teamwork, a breakout year for Oladipo, and a few smart moves by the GM; “trust the process” in Philly — the Pacers and Sixers are where the Bucks thought they’d be this season.

Meanwhile in Washington The Wizards host those shorthanded Celtics on Tuesday. There’s a lot of silver in the clouds for the Celtics, no matter what happens in the playoffs. The Celtics have nothing to play for in D.C., except to run offense for recent acquisition Greg Monroe — 17.7 pts, 7 rebs, 5.7 asts avg. for Monroe in his last three games, and a triple-double against the Bulls on Friday) — and build experience for their young forwards, 19-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown. A Bucks win over the Magic coupled with a loss to the Celtics Tuesday would lock the Wizards in 8th.

A Wizards win against the Celtics would mean the Wizards would have to lose in Orlando or the Heat would have to lose both of their remaining games for the Bucks to end up 7th. (Assuming the Bucks beat the Magic tonight.) Don’t ask me if Toronto will be resting players and taking the night off in Miami Wednesday.

And don’t ask whether the Bucks can beat the Sixers in Philly. Let’s see if the Bucks can take Orlando first.

Baiting Draymond Green: Overlooked in wake of Kawhi Leonard injury, Game 1 technical was foul

Referee Marc Davis got the call right on the biggest play of the 2017 playoffs so far: the “slide under” close-out foul by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia that re-injured Kawhi Leonard‘s bum left ankle, which Leonard had tweaked just 1:50 earlier. At least one of Davis’ bosses was watching — Senior VP of replay and referee operations Joe Borgia, who noted on his “Making the Call” NBA-TV segment Sunday that “the referee, luckily, stayed on the play all the way until the shooter landed and the foul was called on the play.”

The play will surely stand in history, the video shared endlessly around the internet, as the point where the underdog Spurs lost any chance of winning this Western Conference Finals series against the Warriors. Pachulia’s “dangerous” foul will be remembered, and replays will show what Borgia and other NBA officiating execs strive for — an NBA referee unassumingly doing his job, signalling the call, getting it right. The guys in the light grey shirts look good on the most-watched video of the 2017 playoffs.

Very few will remember the call Davis made just 33 seconds before Leonard was injured.

Referee Marc Davis calls a technical foul on Draymond Green in the 3rd quarter of Game 1 of the Spurs-Warriors Western Conference Finals, 5/14/17. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson. Licence: Standard non-commercial use.

It was an innocuous enough play, and the Warriors’ Draymond Green is probably still wondering what he did to deserve the technical foul Davis called on him. Spurs guard Danny Green had fumbled the ball near the Spurs bench and Draymond was on him, digging at it, making sure he couldn’t recover possession. The ball went out of bounds off Danny Green, Warriors ball.

The D. Green in question clapped his hands once, let out a yell and looked downcourt toward the Warriors bench, hoping to energize his team. The turnover was the first empty possession for the Spurs in the 2nd half. The Warriors were down 20 and needed an emotional lift — on defense, especially — and Green, the emotional leader of the team, was trying to provide just that when Davis T-ed him up before he could inbound the ball.

“Maybe on the bend-over …” ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy tried to offer an explanation but paused. “Taunting?” it was suggested. …”I don’t know,” Van Gundy decided. Nobody else seemed to know either, and the boo-birds at the Oracle arena in Oakland circled for a moment and then flocked to Davis. They always find him, it seems, in Milwaukee, Houston, Oakland; the city doesn’t matter, they’re there. Sometimes he seems to invite them in.

Davis and those technical fouls

The technical issued to Green was the 8th individual technical foul Davis has called in his last five games. No other individual techs were called in those games. There was the team defensive three seconds Tony Brothers penalized the Raptors for in Milwaukee, but in those five playoff games, Davis was the only referee calling any Ts on players.

The NBA average over the last two seasons is about three technicals called per four games, according to figures published by The Sporting News in an article on NBA referee policies. The eight called by Davis alone in his last five games is more than double (2.13 times) the NBA average.

If the league sees this as a problem (and nobody’s saying it does), NBA officiating operations hasn’t responded in kind. Quite the opposite, in fact: Davis has been promoted twice since the 5-game technical streak began, first to advance to the semifinals officiating pool, and last weekend to the conference finals pool of 20 officials.

So here Davis was, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, interrupting an awesome display of hot shooting by both teams to open the 2nd half — 29 combined points in the first eight possessions of the half — to issue a technical foul on Draymond Green for, apparently, being Draymond Green.

Baiting Draymond Green?

Much about Game 1 has been overlooked in light of Leonard’s injury, which occurred on the Spurs next possession following the technical on Green. But Davis’ technical on Green was a huge call at a time when, 1) not only were the Spurs and Warriors putting on an incredible show of net-scorching shooting, but 2) the Warriors were trying to build some momentum to get back in the game. The call interrupted the flow of the game to draw the attention of everyone watching from the brilliant play on the court to the officiating, to Davis and Green.

It’s still not clear why, or what Green did, but the importance of Green being the transgressor should not be lost on anybody. Green has, to say the least, a fiery temperament, and his flagrant foul suspension in last season’s NBA Finals cost the Warriors dearly in their quest to repeat as champions. He plays the game with emotions fully charged. The Warriors feed off Green’s energy, and he is unquestionably the leader of the Warriors defense (the No. 2 rated D in the league behind the Spurs’).

The toxic byproducts of Green’s full tilt approach to the game are technical fouls — he had 16 during the season, the most of his career, and six flagrant fouls, according to ESPN stats. But while Green exceeded the flagrant foul points limit in last season’s playoffs, he has not accumulated any this post-season. The technical issued by Davis was the 2nd on Green in the 2017 playoffs (the first was in Utah, May 6), well under the limit of seven allowed before an automatic one-game suspension kicks in.

The only risk for Green in being T’ed up in Game 1 was the good chance that his next emotional outburst would be a second violation, and he’d be ejected from the game. Down 20 in the 3rd quarter to a team that won 61 games during the regular season, the Warriors could ill afford to lose him. They needed Green’s emotional energy to drive a comeback, and here Davis had given Green a technical for doing just that, providing a burst of energy on defense and showing emotion for the benefit of his team and the home crowd.

Davis had hit Draymond Green with a technical foul for being Draymond Green and, given his officiating track record in these playoffs, because he was Marc Davis.

It was bad refereeing, or worse — it could be construed as an official “baiting” a player, in this case an emotionally charged player indispensable to his team. Davis would call four personal fouls on Green in Game 1, plus the technical, shades of the game-long drama between Davis and Rockets star James Harden in Houston May 5. Green, to his credit, didn’t respond by escalating the situation (in contrast to how Harden handled, or was handled by, Davis’ officiating in Houston) and ended up playing nearly 37 minutes and making key defensive plays for the Warriors in crunch time.

Though the technical — and Davis’ focus on Green — did not turn out to be a major factor in the outcome of the game, this was the kind of officiating nonsense that gives the NBA a bad reputation, turns fans off and gives rise to all sorts of crazy theories about the league’s underlying motivations — just the sort of thing commissioner Adam Silver is trying to get away from in the new era of post-David Stern transparency.

Yet in all likelihood, Davis will be promoted again to work the NBA Finals, just as he was last season and the season before that; and this season from the first round to the semifinals and now the conference finals. Yes, there are new initiatives on the way and NBA Official claims to track every call and hold officials to “the most rigorous standards in all of sports” (see ref. notes). Yet there appear to be no consequences for bad officiating beyond the public embarrassment of having missed calls labelled “incorrect” in one of the league’s “Last Two Minute Reports”.

For what it’s worth, one of the refereeing initiatives underway is a “newly created post-game survey process for coaches to share officiating feedback.” Steve Kerr and the Warriors should use it. They have major cause to file a complaint regarding the technical foul, and the general “over-policing” of Green during Game 1.

Too many whistles: Game 1 officiating sketch

Spurs-Warriors Game 1 was in many ways, a difficult game to watch. The Warriors weren’t themselves coming out of a six day layoff following their sweep of the Jazz. Klay Thompson had a lousy shooting day (2 for 11). They turned the ball over six times in the opening quarter. The Spurs nearly matched them with five turnovers of their own. (Official scorer’s report).

The referees contributed to the off-key nature of the game by calling 48 personal fouls, about eight more than both the NBA season and playoff averages. Pau Gasol was victimized the most (a rare day) and has been outplayed by Pachulia in the series (another rare thing — Zaza has enjoyed a nice second life in the NBA since leaving Atlanta a few years ago). When did Zaza Pachulia become a better player than Pau Gasol?

The officials for the game were led by crew chief Dan Crawford, the senior official in the league (in his 32nd season and 29th playoff) who last worked with Davis May 5 in Houston. Davis was 2nd official. Third official Tom Washington had not worked a game since officiating with Davis May 2 in Boston for Game 2 of the Wizards-Celtics series, in which 50 personal fouls were called. The makeup of this crew seems like it may have been a “chemistry and composition” effort by the NBA to pair Davis (the bane of home teams) and Washington (a 65% homer this season) with Crawford, who likes to control a game — and that’s just what Crawford did in Oakland.

Source: Official Scorers Report, Spurs vs. Warriors, 5/14/17.

As you can see, the calls were even for the game, with an advantage to the Warriors through the 3rd quarter, then shifting to the Spurs in the 4th quarter when neither Washington nor Davis called a foul on the Spurs. This coincided with the flow of the game, too obvious to be good officiating. This was a prickly officiating crew, with bad calls, touch fouls and the nonsense technical on the Warriors’ Green giving the refs a larger-than-necessary presence throughout.

  • Crawford called 21 fouls for the game, well more than the average (about 13 or 14) and tops in the four 2017 playoff games I’ve surveyed.
  • Crawford takes the lead in the 1st quarter, setting the tone with five fouls while the other two whistles are quiet.
  • The 17 personal fouls called in the 2nd quarter was quite the barrage — 9 on the Warriors and 8 on the Spurs while the Warriors were trying to stay in the game. It made for some difficult basketball, and difficult viewing.
  • Gasol’s first two fouls came in the 1st quarter and he went to the bench. This quickly turned into lucky misfortune for the Spurs due to the brilliant first half David Lee played.
  • 3rd foul on Gasol a questionable call by Crawford at 5:18 in the 2nd quarter. “That’s a tough call,” said ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy. Gasol was discombobulated the rest of the game, played only 16 minutes. His line: 5 points, 2 rebs, 5 fouls. Enter David Lee.
  • Davis finished the game with an 11-4 disparity in favor of the Spurs, made less remarkable by Washington’s 9-4 disparity the other way, which was actually better than his 12-5 disparity in favor of the Celtics the last game he worked.
  • Davis, despite his handling of Green, which seems to be something of a dramatic trend with Davis, was not the worst official in the game. Crawfords 21 fouls called were too many, too often, and too “touch-foul”.

Too many whistles marred this game. The Spurs on average in the playoffs had been called for just 18.2 personal fouls per game prior to Game 1; the Warriors average was 19.6. The combined 37.8 avg. makes the 48 personal fouls called just a bit more outrageous. This was not the Wizards vs. the Celtics, two teams in need of parental supervision in their series.

The Spurs (103.5 D-rating) and the Warriors (104.0 D-rating) are the elite defensive teams in the NBA, with the Warriors NBA-leading offense in need of no introduction and the Spurs in the top 10 in scoring efficiency. Coming into the series, it certainly looked like a classic match-up filled with future Hall of Famers and current All-Pros, and an MVP candidate (Leonard).

There was no need to muck up the basketball with so many whistles. One could say the refs didn’t have a good handle on the action or the teams, and were somewhat disrespectful to the game itself by, at times, becoming bigger than the game. The fault here probably lies with Crawford, the crew chief and senior official in the NBA, in his 32nd season and 29th playoff.

Game 2 of the series, refereed by Ed Malloy, Ken Mauer and Kane Fitzgerald saw only 36 personal fouls called and no technical fouls on either team. Imagine that.

Source-erole

Source for season stats, playoff stats, player links and advanced stats is basketball-reference.com. Source for all game stats are the Official Scorer’s Reports found NBA.com at the bottom of Associated Press “recaps”. The NBA has responded to this series with only stock “fan relations” PR quoted above, and to point to the March 2 announcement of new officiating initiatives at http://pr.nba.com/nba-officiating-initiatives/

  • ABC Broadcast, Game 1, w/ Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson
  • NBA-TV, “Making the Call w/ Joe Borgia”, 5/14/17: http://official.nba.com/making-the-call-may-14-2017/
  • Full quote from Borgia: Joe Borgia, Senior VP of NBA Replay and Referee Operations. “We see this quite often in the NBA where that defender they just go a little bit too far, and you’re not allowed to take the landing area away from a shooter. Obviously a very dangerous situation for players, and the referee, luckily, stayed on that play all the way until the shooter landed and the foul was called on the play.”
  • The Sporting News, NBA technical foul trends, 12/8/2016: http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/referees-policy-technical-fouls-ejections-nbra-adam-silver-bob-delaney/5bxteydvb19i1bxnomhbnd0l6
  • Technical foul points system, 2016 report: http://www.nba.com/2016/news/features/steve_aschburner/06/12/draymond-green-suspension-could-spark-changes-in-point-system/
  • NBA.com, “Draymond Green Walking the Fine Line”, 4/13/17: http://www.nba.com/article/2017/04/13/draymond-green-walking-line-fine-line-redemption-golden-state-warriors
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 5/6/17, “Green gets 1st technical”: http://www.sfgate.com/warriors/article/Warriors-Green-gets-1st-technical-foul-of-11127427.php
  • Draymond Green career stats, ESPN: http://www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/6589/draymond-green
  • Associated Press “Business Insider”, 2016 finals pre-game wire: http://www.businessinsider.com/ap-the-latest-green-aware-of-technicals-mum-on-the-topic-2016-6

The Bruce Bowen File, 10 years later: The incredible hypocrisy of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was “not a happy camper” Monday morning, having lost Kawhi Leonard, a 23-point 3rd quarter lead and Game 1 to the Golden State Warriors and center Zaza Puchulia, whose close-out defense on a Leonard 3-pointer caused Leonard to re-injure his bad ankle. So on Monday Popovich attacked Pachulia in the media, calling the play “unsportsmanlike”, “dangerous”, “unnatural” and leveled charges that Zaza has a history of dirty play.

“Follow-up questions?” Popovich asked, after his rant.  Apparently, none of the assembled with ipods and other recording devices thought to mention Popovich’s old defensive “specialist”, Bruce Bowen, the subject of controversy a decade ago about exactly the same type of illegal “step under” or “slide under” defense Pachulia used against Leonard.

Popovich had this to say back in 2006 when the NBA warned Bowen about Bowen’s crowding close-outs and the sprained jump shooter ankles that he sometimes caused.

“The people who cry about it are just frustrated about having to go against Bruce,” Popovich said in 2006, and complained that league officials were “trying to change the way my best defender plays.”

There was a reason for that. Bowen was as dirty as they come, and made it all too obvious that the shifting or “sliding” of his lead foot into a shooter’s landing space was an intentional defensive move meant to wreak an ankle or few, as you’ll see in this video.

Popovich went even further defending Bowen, and took a defiant stance toward the league directive on Bowen (from VP of NBA basketball operations Stu Jackson) and the efforts to clean up the game.

“The league is just trying to cover its ass,” Popovich said. “I told Bruce, ‘You be Bruce Bowen. You’re the best (expletive) defender in this league. You will NOT change the way you play defense.'” Bowen, when asked, said he was going to ignore what Stu Jackson and the league had told him, and do what his coach told him: “I’ve been given a command, so I’m going to keep playing hard.”

“Pop” and Bowen basically told the league to (expletive) off, a shame considering the bigger picture. The era in which Popovich and his Duncan-Parker-Ginobili trio won their first three NBA championships (2003-07) was an ugly era for the NBA — no Michael Jordan (for the most part); bigger, stronger players lacking in fundamental skills; the “Malice in the Palace” in Detroit; a feuding Shaq and Kobe; a referee betting scandal; slow, “dead-ball” pacing; one-on-one isolation offenses and low offensive ratings; and even lower TV ratings — the lowest since the league was young, if not the lowest in NBA history. The defense that Bowen played was part of the ugliness, and Popovich’s defense of it was just one of the league’s many problems.

It would culminate in the months following the Spurs’ rebuke of the league, in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Phoenix Suns and reigning two-time MVP Steve Nash. Bowen kneed Nash in the groin early in the series and was not suspended. Suns players accused both Bowen and Manu Ginobili of being dirty players. And — ten years ago the day of Leonard’s injury in Game 1 — Spurs’ forward Robert Horry hockey-checked Nash hard into the scorers table in the final seconds of Game 4, igniting a good scuffle on the court.

Defying all common sense and with the series tied 2-2, the NBA suspended Horry for two games, and two Suns for Game 5 — All-Pro big man Amar’e Stoudemire and forward Boris Diaw. Stoudemire and Diaw were not in the fray but had “left the immediate bench area” during the pushing and shoving on the court.

Popovich was less than contrite in 2007 about the dirty play of his team. “It was an end of the game foul,” he shrugged, pausing for effect. “And Steve fell down. I didn’t think it was such a big deal.”

Ten Years Ago to the Day

The historical symmetry here is too good, and if you made this stuff up, nobody would believe it. Ten years ago on this day, May 16, ESPN and other media were spinning about the wrongheaded suspensions of the Suns players and wondering that commissioner David Stern’s league had failed yet again, and now seemed incapable of levying even a simple suspension. The Spurs went on to win the Suns series and championship No. 4 in the Popovich era, sweeping a 22-year-old Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavs in the finals, a series watched by few. The 2007 NBA Finals was a an unqualified ratings dud, the first time since nearly every household in America had a television that fewer than 10 million people watched the finals. Dark times toward the end of a Dark Age for the NBA.

The league has come a long way since then, led first by the renewal of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry and then Lebron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant; and now by James, Steph Curry and other players — Kawhi Leonard — along with a change of style and a new commissioner, Adam Silver. The pace has picked up, the ball moves more quickly on offense, sometimes with astounding precision, and the game has opened up. It’s not all for the better, but much of the strong-arm play of the 1990s and 2000s is a thing of the past — though Popovich and Pachulia and the Celtics-Wizards series have taken us back there for a visit. Zaza may not be able to help it — it’s when and where he’s from as a pro basketball player.

Zaza Pachulia is a down and dirty tough guy in the NBA, a squarish, slow-footed big man who passes well, doesn’t shoot much and makes up for his lack of athleticism by using his strength and low center of gravity to advantage; by making the right cuts without the ball; and by playing hard-nosed basketball, including the occasional nastiness. “You don’t mess with Zaza,” is a rule of thumb his fans and teammates in Atlanta, Milwaukee, Dallas and Golden State have enjoyed and opponents hated.

Pachulia was drafted as a 19-year-old in 2003, and is very much a product of that ugly era of NBA basketball, including the inherent dirty defense. He would have fit in well on the Spurs of the mid-2000s.

If one comes away with any conclusions watching video of Bruce Bowen stepping under jump shooters, note that there is a technique to it, in Bowen’s case more of a step than a “slide” of the right foot forward as the shooter descends from his shot. ESPN TV and radio analyst Jalen Rose, who played in the NBA 1995-2007, fully admitted on “SportCenter” after the Spurs-Warriors Game 1 broadcast that he had used the step-under on Kobe Bryant in the 2000 Finals, when Rose was starting for the Pacers and tasked with guarding the Lakers star. “If [Kobe] sprains his ankle, we win the championship,” Rose said.

There’s no question it’s a dirty play, despised by shooters and employed by the worst hacks on any team at any level of basketball (sorry, Jalen), guys like Bowen who don’t possess great skill but work hard and do the dirty work coaches like Popovich love and encourage.

Zaza Pachulia steps to Kevin Garnett in the 2008 playoffs. License: Standard noncommercial use.

Pachulia was a young, developing player of limited offensive abilities in the mid-2000s, and would certainly have put the Bowen “step under” technique in his defensive toolbox, knowing that dirty work and the occasional dirty play could lead to more playing time in a league where playing time is hard to come by. Zaza had been on three different teams by the time he was 21 and found a home in Atlanta, where he played for eight seasons.

Judging by the play that caused Leonard’s injury, Zaza’s technique is as good or better than than Bowen’s was, as Zaza did a very convincing job of selling his footwork as accidental, a little clumsy even. Try that on any playground or gym in America and you better be ready for a fight, or, in the very least, to defend yourself aggressively.

So do we take Popovich and Pachulia seriously?  Of course not.  Popovich is a win by any means necessary coach, a quality revered by fawning sports media types. By attacking Zaza in the press, Popovich is trying to gain an edge, any edge he can against the Warriors, the better team over the last three years and big favorites to win the series before Leonard went down (Leonard will miss Game 2 of the Series and is questionable for Game 3). He’s doing his job in the aftermath of Leonard’s injury, whether or not his hypocrisy flies in the face of the great basketball the Warriors usually play. Call it a “Popocrisy”.

As for Pachulia, It’s not the first time anybody accused him of being dirty; it comes with the dirty work role he’s occupied in his career. Ask Nikola Mirotic of the Bulls, who got into it with Zaza in the 2015 playoffs. Mirotic was largely absent from that 1st Round series against the Bucks following this incident:

For fans and players alike, for the NBA itself, we’ve all come full circle in ten years, back to a season (2006-07) when the “slide under” was hotly debated and Popovich’s dirty work defender was being fairly singled out. Popovich isn’t apologizing for the three championships he won with Bowen as his starting small forward, nor has he loaned his 2007 ring to Nash for walk-around purposes.

The league was and is a willing accomplice. The NBA might have outlawed the “slide under” ten years ago by invoking harsher penalties, but that didn’t happen. It’s considered a shooting foul, no more no less. As Sports Illustrated pointed out above a May 15 column by Ben Golliver, “blame the NBA, not the Warriors” for Leonard’s injury.

The Warriors may not be to blame, but Puchulia certainly is. Blame him. Better still, blame Popovich, too, and know that there are some Phoenix Suns fans out there getting a pretty big kick out of all this. #popocrisy

Source list:

  • Washington Post, 5/15/15, “Greg Popovich lights into Zaza”: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2017/05/15/gregg-popovich-lights-into-zaza-pachulia-for-play-that-injured-kawhi-leonard/?utm_term=.118e51bdf697
  • MySA.com, “Spurs Popovich says league crossed line with Bowen” 11/18/2006: https://web.archive.org/web/20080612112118/http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/basketball/nba/spurs/stories/MYSA111806.05C.BKNspurs.notebook.38e2352.html
  • TV By the Numbers, “NBA Finals ratings”: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/sports/nba-finals-tv-ratings-1974-2008/
  • NBA Finals TV Ratings wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NBA_Finals_television_ratings
  • NBA on Television, wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Basketball_Association_on_television
  • The New York Times, “Suspensions Have Suns Crying Foul”, 5/16/07: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/16/sports/basketball/16suns.html
  • Sports Illustrated column 5/15/2017: https://www.si.com/nba/2017/05/15/nba-playoffs-warriors-spurs-kawhi-leonard-zaza-pachulia-slide-under
  • NBA Official, “Making the Call”, 5/14/2017: http://official.nba.com/
  • NBA.com News, “Leonard to sit out Game 2”, other updates.

NBA promotes referee Marc Davis again – he’ll work Spurs-Warriors Game 1

He’s baack. NBA official Marc Davis.

Screw the Bucks in Milwaukee, throw out the rule book on flagrant fouls in Boston, get into it with James Harden in Houston, incite the home crowd in each city and get promoted to officiate in the NBA Conference Finals.

That was one message sent by the NBA today (May 14) when it released the list of officials for today’s Game 1 of the Spurs-Warriors Western Conference Finals in Oakland: Official Marc Davis is assigned to work the game with refs Dan Crawford and Tom Washington.

An hour before the game, NBA Official posted its conference finals pool of 20 officials. Davis made the cut despite, in three games worked April 27-May, actually doing all those things mentioned in the lead paragraph. This raises some questions about whether the evaluation process for playoff officials touted by the league amounts to anything but press releases and blog posts at NBA Official. Those questions can wait until after the Spurs-Warriors game.

Crawford, the NBA’s most experienced official — 32 years on the job — will be the crew chief. Crawford was crew chief in the last game officiated by Davis, May 5 in Houston for Spurs-Rockets Game 3. The 3rd official is Washington, who last refereed Game 2 of the Celtics-Wizards series in Boston May 2, with Davis as crew chief. This crew combines 77 seasons and 61 playoffs of NBA officiating experience. Seniority counts, obviously.

The mix of referees for today’s (May 14) game is interesting to say the least. While Davis had a visiting team win rate of 54% in games he worked this season and seems to have a habit of inciting the home team’s crowds, Washington trends the other way and had a 65% home team win rate in 2016-17, according to referee stats at basketball-reference.com. The home teams won 58% of the regular season games this season. Crawford’s in the middle, just 3% off the average. The NBA seems to have put some thought into the make-up of this crew. Maybe not, but they did issue a press release March 2 about a host of officiating initiatives, including plans to give more weight to the chemistry of its referee crews when assigning them.

In any case, Davis hasn’t worked since he incited the Houston crowd in Game 3 of Rockets-Spurs by making a couple of bizarre calls against the Rockets, which were contrasted by whistles few and far between against the Spurs (Spurs center Pau Gasol, didn’t pick up a foul until the 4th quarter, hard to believe). As the game wore on Davis engaged in an ongoing debate with James Harden over the injustice of things, which ended in the 4th quarter when hit Harden with a technical foul for arguing. He dispensed another T to Rockets guard Patrick Beverly before game’s end, bringing his technical fouls-called total in his last four games to seven in all. No other official working those games issued a single technical foul.

On the other hand, Davis didn’t issue a flagrant foul to the Wizards’ Markieff Morris after Morris threw Al Horford into the photographers row along the sidelines in Game 2 in Boston May 2,  In that game, Washington served as a counter balance to Davis, with his whistle blowing 12 times against the Wizards and only 5 on the Celtics. The Celtics enjoyed an overall 29-21 personal fouls disparity in their favor and won the game in OT.

Davis’ officiating in Raptors-Bucks Game 6 in Milwaukee belonged in the realm of the absurd, as the Bucks were denied a Game 7 in no small part due to the officiating. He called 0 fouls on the Raptors through the first three quarters despite how bad that looks, and then blew two calls early in the 4th quarter, leading to a rare technical on Bucks coach Jason Kidd (called by Davis) and another outraged reaction from the home crowd.

The NBA also ruled in its Last Two Minutes (LTM) Report on the Raptors-Bucks game that Davis and crew chief Tony Brothers missed a rather obvious shooting foul (Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled by Patrick Patterson) with the game tied at 82. Unfortunately, those LTMs are more for the public and the media than for the evaluation of referees, the accountability of referees being a nebulous thing that may or may not exist.

On the bright side, today’s game is Game 1 of the Spurs-Warriors series. Nobody’s being eliminated from the playoffs today.