The Western Conference Finals: Game One Recap and Predictions

The Oklahoma City Thunder VS. The Golden State Warriors: GAME ONE

Oh boy, oh boy. Game one is the in the books and we’re already in a crazy predicament.
Where there’s lightning, there’s Thunder, and the Oklahoma City Thunder clawed back from 14 down to win 108-102 vs. the Warriors. Exceptional performances from all the usual cast but down the stretch the Thunder take it to lead the series 1-0. The Thunder have now won 3 straight road games against the Warriors and Spurs. The rest of the league only took 3 for the season.

The Thunder did a tremendous job of switching defensive assignments and having their guards fight over the screens of Golden State to keep within striking distance of the W. The shift in momentum occurred in the third quarter and continued onward from there. Westbrook goes off for 19 and the Warriors kept missing shots and turning the ball over, and OKC’s defense remained steady while the Warriors seemingly played like they were coasting.

Steph Curry went for 26 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and… 7 turnovers. The two time reigning MVP had a solid night up until the 4th quarter where his shot disappeared. Curry’s last made shot was 4:28 of the fourth quarter. Talk about a drought. He went 1-6 in the 4th and had 7 turnovers. Steph looked human this game and the Thunder took advantage. Meanwhile, the Warriors did weird things like chuck up early shots and they also got dominated on the boards.

As a side note, the Andre Iguodala foul with no continuation shouldn’t be a big deal. He’s not a good free throw shooter. I think the Warriors were better off with the in-bounds play instead of sending him to make 1 of 2 (statistically).

Klay Thompson, aka. Splash Bro #2, went for 25 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. He had a pretty good night but all his three’s were in the first half. He solid defense on Westbrook as well. He took a few ill-advised shots in the last 2 quarters but let’s hope he bounces back next game.

Draymond Green went for 23 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. He shot decently but missed all 4 three point attempts. He played pretty well overall but needs to grab more boards if he’s gonna be out there in the forward position.

Now to clarify some things with the last minute or so of play.
According to Royce Young of ESPN, the Thunder were already calling timeout before Westbrook’s travel. Yes, he did travel for sure, but at the same time there’s so much going on, it’s difficult to completely pin this on the refs. Klay looks like he’s bodying Westbrook, Thunder coaching staff yelling at the same refs for a timeout, and the intensity of the game was at an all time high. This does not excuse the refs for the botched call but at the same time, the blame can’t be solely placed on them.

Notably, Westbrook went on a TEAR in the third. Dropping 19 points in that quarter alone, ending the game with a 27 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, and SEVEN steals. The Warriors team all together had 8. Westbrook had 7. Not only that, through either scoring or assisting, he accounted for 56 – FIFTY SEVEN – of the 108 points the Thunder scored that game. Westbrook also did a great job at trusting his teammates and deferring to KD and his bigs despite being on fire in the third quarter. We’re really starting to see Bestbrook come into form these playoffs. What a treat number 0 is for the Thunder.

Kevin Durant went for 26 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. He did do damage throughout the game but did go cold as the clock ticked down. As a lowlight, Durant shot 1-8 in his last nine attempts of the game but still hit a clutch mid-range jumper to seal the Warriors’s fate. Durant still has the clutch gene, and hits the shots when they need them.

I also want to highlight the New Zealand up and comer, Steven Adams. He was +19 in plus/minus and had a busted hand. What a beast. Honestly, he’s been the best big in the West these past two series and he went for 16 points and 12 rebounds while playing stellar defense. He even made more than his season average of 60% FT shooting. He’s really coming into this own especially alongside fellow twin tower Enes Kanter. This big lineup will continue to do damage vs. Draymond, Bogut, and Ezeli.
Keep your eye out for this guy, he’s tough as nails and is only getting better. He’s the Thunder’s new enforcer and has so much more potential in my opinion.

My prediction for game 2 is that the Warriors win and get their act together. They’ll come out with a fire lit under them and expect to see them much more focused and ready to go. The Warriors bench needs to also step it up their production. They didn’t look like the 73-9 team from the regular season and they’ll look to step up their game tonight in order to advance to the finals.

The Thunder are the first real threat this Warriors squad has had to face this post season, and we’re all in for an amazing back and forth series.

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Unpopular Opinion #1: Kawhi Leonard

Unpopular Basketball Opinion #1

Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs is not a Top 10 player in the league.

But Jeff, that’s absurd and the Spurs are one of the best teams in the league and he’s touted as one of the best defenders in the league?! Why all the hate?

I’m not trying to hate on Kawhi, in fact, he embodies much of what I love to see in a player from the eye test.  Plus, he has all the advanced analytics to back up his game.

Through four and half seasons, Kawhi’s growth from an offensive standpoint is admirable.

From the beginning, he always had good length and was a great one-on-one and help defender. His on-court +/- is 15.2 for this season. His shooting numbers have gotten better and his PPG this season is 20.0 up from 16.5 last season. His rebounding is only slightly down from last season and his assist numbers are about even. His eFG% is the 2nd highest of his career and that’s with a higher usage rate and more shot attempts.

Defensively, his steals are down this year and his defensive rating is lowest of his career while his ORtg is the highest it’s been. That’s normal, he’s a focal point in the offense and that takes a lot out of you. At least, it’s not a “James Harden defensive juggernaut” act. Overall, he’s more efficient and playing some of the best ball of his career. So this all begs the question, why is he not a top 10 player currently?

I firmly believe it has to do with peoples’ perception of his offense, defense, and San Antonio’s great system.

SYSTEM:


Kawhi operates within his role and expands that role every season. The Spurs are no longer Parker and Duncan’s team. It’s Kawhi’s team.

You take him and shove him on the Rockets last season, and he would not carry them to that 2nd seed and the Western Conference Finals like Harden did. Most of this obviously is influenced by the offensive schemes, team chemistry, and skill set fit, but I don’t see Kawhi being a top 10 player without the Spurs system. It’s effective, efficient, and caters well to whoever fits their role. Put any of these 10 players and they’d put up similar if not better results.


In no particular order:

1.Paul

2.Durant

3.Griffin

4.Harden

5.Curry

6.Butler

7.Davis

8.Westbrook

9.George

10.James

This doesn’t mean Kawhi can’t become a top 10 player, rather having a core which includes 3 Hall of Fame players in Parker, Duncan, and Ginobli, and a multi-time All-Star in Aldridge, makes it pretty easy. However, he loses in this category simply due to the fact that he’s inconsistent on offense.

OFFENSIVELY:

He’s the first option on one of the best offenses in the league and he only puts up 20 points per game? There’s twenty other players who put up more PPG in their teams and some of them are second options. Kawhi’s offense leaves much to be desired at the moment if he’s their first option.

His game isn’t that varied and that limits his offense and keeps it inconsistent. Almost all his three’s are assisted, and his isolation game doesn’t live up to his fellow peers who are top 10 players. His post game is pretty pedestrian, and he doesn’t create too well for his teammates. So overall, his offense seems just above average to me.

Playoffs wise, that offensive inconsistency rears its ugly head. Sure, he played well in their championship run and got Finals MVP, but he was all over the place versus last year’s Clippers. People know he’s the first option and now there’s way more focus on him defensively. Sure, this might be a little nit-picky and opinionated on what I think a top 10 player should have but I think it’s totally worth noting.

DEFENSIVELY:


Defensively, he is definitely up there in the top echelon but his defensive capabilities are accentuated by the fact that Tim Duncan, this season’s leader in DRtg, is his help side defender. Like I mentioned before, Leonard is spectacular on defense and I think he does rank in the top 10 as a wing defender and definitely locks down on everyone not named Steph Curry but that’s not without having a teammate in the paint who is an all-time great.

COUNTER ARGUMENTS:

Spurs play team ball, last year no pleyer averaged over 17 points per game.

Gregg Popovich has all his players play within themselves and limits having a player carry too much of an offensive burden.

The addition of LaMarcus Aldridge as their star-studded free agent power forward limits Kawhi’s shot attempts and spreads the offensive load. This explains how Kawhi’s points per game has dropped steadily each month of this season.

The Spurs are a completely different team and their record suffers when he’s injured. They would not have the record they do without him on the court.

CLOSING:

To me, a top 10 player in the league is considered more than just a star, but a super star (and this is where things get opinionated) and Kawhi Leonard is not a super star. He’s shown flashes of being great but only flashes. If you asked me, he’s in the top 15-20 tier of players in the league, not top 10.

His limited offensive game is the biggest factor for this argument, and the system that has bred him makes it even harder to put him in that top category.  He has a good case as a top defender in league but in the end, just ends up as a star player clawing at the super star doors. (His “Claw” nickname really works well here)

Thanks for reading my unpopular opinion! Comment below on what you think!

2016 NBA Playoff Predictions, Opinions, and Thoughts

Disclaimer: These predictions are from someone who has too much time on his hands and are strongly opinionated. I didn’t really proofread this but it’s really, really stream of consciousness. Typed up as of 4/25/16.

With that out of the way, here’s my late playoff predictions for the first round of the playoffs.

WEST:

GSW beats Houston 4-1, OKC beats Dallas 4-1 , Portland beats Clippers 4-3.

GSW/HOU: 4-1 GSW

To be brutally honest, Houston’s lost their will to fight and there’s gonna need to be some serious changes after this series. I’m almost positive we lose Dwight and we might just see Daryl Morey and J.B Bickerstaff replaced after this loss (ALL ABOARD THE JEFF VAN GUNDY HYPE TRAIN). To be fair, I liked Morey’s approach using analytics and  focusing on efficiency, but his asset viewing mindset with players makes it hard for us to really even pick up good free agents after this season. Especially if Dwight leaves. In my opinion, it might be a good idea to blow it up (I swear I’m not mad, but I’m pretty disappointed).

Harden got his game winning shot off of a push off no call with Iguodala to claim their sole win this series. Dwight’s probably checked out by this point and our defense once again devolved into easy cuts and weak coverage. The Rockets don’t even look like they want to be there on the court. Meanwhile, Golden State still plays with that hunger and intensity which we are all used to seeing in the playoffs. Illegal screens or not, GSW would have cruised by this sputtering Rockets team. We need to really get the players to buy back in or possibly, dare I say it, blow it up. But keep Harden and D-mo please.

This Golden State team is on an all time great team type of level and yes they beat the record for wins in a season with Curry as the cog that runs that machine. Draymond is the energy that makes it go but without Curry the offense is not at that elite level that you are all used to. They’re a 4th-5th seed without Curry and a 1st seed with him. This isn’t suppose to underrate the team or overrate Curry, but what he brings to that team and his unique skill set definitely make a difference. They should hope the Clips/Blazers series drags out else they might get an early second round exit and lose their chance to try and repeat.

OKC/DAL: 4-1 OKC

Oh boy, oh boy. If you wanna see gritty, angry, salty playoff basketball, this is the series to watch. All in all, it’s just OKC being “playoff” OKC. They play with more edge, they yell, they scream, and they play with much more physicality.Steven Adams pisses off people every year and Westbrook and KD are one of the best duos in the league.

Dallas is injury-riddled and Dirk can’t carry them this year. Barea has been a bright spot but he’s definitely their best guard and that’s not good vs. playoff Westbrook. Oh, another bright spot – that Anderson guy is gonna be somebody once he develops more. Enes Kanter has been great offensively and the Mavs can’t stop him. Oh, and Serge will do Serge things.

The Mavs are a team that’s playing better than expected but we can’t expect too much beyond that. The Mavs squeezed out a win and credit to them but there won’t be much past that. On a random sidenote, OKC has a legit shot at the championship if Curry doesn’t come back in time but I can never count out the Spurs.

POR/LAC: 4-3 POR

The controversial statements start here. I want the Clippers to lose. I want Damian Lillard and CJ to carry this projected bottom 5 in the West team to the second round. Maybe it’s the constant, consistent year after year disappointment of seeing this stacked Clippers roster never really amount to anything outside of the first or second round. Maybe it’s the ever-growing annoyance with a  perception of this team being a bunch of whiners and floppers. Maybe it’s just me being a hater.

Regardless, I can see the Clippers losing. Blake still doesn’t look like Blake and he’s still warming back up and readjusting to the team that played more than half a season without him. CP3 and DJ have played 47 games without their All-Star forward and the adjustment is gonna be more than just a few games. That being said, Portland’s bigs are all pretty good. Aminu, Davis, and Plumlee trump the lone DeAndre Jordan, and I guess that Cole Aldrich guy, but Portland’s front court is more loaded.

They won game 3 due to rebounding and they were the 5th best rebounding team during the season. Portland has the tools to win and they can definitely out hustle the Clips.

Granted, the Clippers are still a top tier team and their players are still dangerous. Three-peat 6th man of the year Jamal Crawford aka J-Crossover is still that 14-16 point spark off the bench and can create his own shot and break down most defenders with ease. J.J. Reddick still makes no sense to me but I do think people may underestimate how good he actually is and how athletic he is. Dude makes the opposing shooting guard RUN. Like, all over the floor, just watch any Clippers game and you’ll see J.J. tires out other guards and still gets to his spot and drains it. Regardless, he’s injured so maybe this doesn’t apply as much.

Onto the man of the hour, the point GOD, Chris Paul. He is without a doubt a top 3 point guard in the league and he’s always been effective and efficient. He’s makes the Clippers who they are with all the dishes and lobs as well as being a great on court floor general whose not afraid of taking that clutch last shot. Sure, he whines and complains but his skill is not to be undermined. Let’s hope he doesn’t get injured again this year and we get a full Clips squad vs. Golden State.

So the guards on this LA squad put up a strong resume versus the Portland duo of All-Star snub Lillard and winner of this year’s Most Improved Player in C.J. McCollum. The thing about Lillard that I love is that he plays with a definite chip on his shoulder. After the All-Star Game, he dropped 51 on the Warriors, and dude has ice in his veins. He’s one of the more lethal scorers in the game and I can definitely see him shoot lights out and steal a game or two. It’s 2-1 in favor of LA right now but I think Portland can steal this series.

EAST:

Charlotte beats Miami 4-3, Atlanta beats Boston 4-3, Toronto beats Indiana 4-2.

The East is way more fun to predict this year. Yes, I want the East to be super close. please.

CHA/MIA: 4-3 CHA

I really wanna believe in Charlotte. They’ve been a treat all year and without their arguably 2nd best player in Michael Kidd Gilchrist, and Nic Batum whose been their key pickup from free agency and 2nd option on offense. Game 3 of the series was great to see. Everyone contributed, Frank Kaminsky was used correctly. Kemba and Lin did work, and Charlotte’s defense was pretty good.

Speaking of defense, Marvin Williams is a beast. He’s  definitely come into his own this last season and is a decent anchor for this Hornets squad. He’s come up pretty big defensively this series. I also wanna mention Courtney Lee, he’s been great for the Hornets since he got there and he hustles.

The reason I’d say the Heat could lose this series is mostly momentum and the fact that Charlotte’s guards are mismatches for Wade and Dragic. Lin has a quick first step and thrives in pick and roll. Neither Wade or Dragic are great at defending PnR. Kemba is just a beast in his own right (and a snubbed Eastern All-Star) and I don’t see them containing him for much longer in this series. This series for Miami lies on if Hassan can stay on the floor and if Wade can go off. Deng has been pretty good, but I expect Linsanity to show up a few of these games alongside Kemba and add anyone else on the Charlotte team who can score 10-15 and Charlotte’s offense is fine.

Miami’s gonna need Dragic to be effective and for the Miami bench to contribute because Charlotte has the better bench. Joe Johnson is a veteran and a forgotten All-Star but he’s definitely not in that form at this stage of his career. Josh Richardson is pretty good but we’ll see if he can keep up that production. Winslow is also a good player but he’s a blackhole on offense for the most part think like Kawhi Leonard his first year. Miami’s a solid squad, but I can definitely see Charlotte pulling the upset this year.

ATL/BOS: 4-3 ATL

I’ll admit, this series is as close as they get with back and forths. Much like the Heat/Hornets series, this is definitely a toss-up. The funny thing is that between these last four teams, each team ended their season 48-34. The seeding fell to season series records but man that definitely explains why these two series are so hard to call.

For Boston, Isaiah Thomas is the next coming of Allen Iverson to the Celtic green fandom. He plays with a chip, undersized, and is pretty acrobatic and brimming with confidence. He plays his way and Brad Stevens gives him that green light. IT has lit it up these playoffs posting a 28-4-5 statline these playoffs and a 42 point game in game 4. Safe to say he’s their go-to guy. Jae Crowder, Evan Turner, and Marcus Smart are also all good pieces and fit well in their roles. Brad Stevens is a top 5 coach in this league but even then, the fact remains that Boston’s starters and bench basically can be interchangeable.

Contrast this to the Hawks who had almost their whole starting five become All-Stars and they basically emulate the Spurs in the East, it’s a hard toss up for whether or not Boston can pull this series out. Jeff Teague, Al Horford, and Paul Millsap all have their hands in this series but Mike Scott is doing some work and who can forget Mr. Kent Bazemore. The Hawks also have the former coach of the year Mike Budenholzer who matches up well against Stevens. I’d say the Hawks irk out the W for this one.

TOR/IND: 4-2 IND

Oh man, the Pacers.The three Hills of the NBA lodge their residence in Pacerland. George Hill, Solomon Hill, and Jordan Hill. The latter being much more deadweight than the others but you can’t win em all. Poor guy doesn’t even play more than 5 min and in this series has played a grand total of 12 whole minutes. Okay back to the actual stuff, Paul George is reminding everyone what a force he was and still is in the NBA. He’s boasting a 26-5-4 statline and he is the man in Indiana. Also Myles Turner has turned out to be quite the decent player and has played pretty well thus far.

Now for the Raps. Oh man, oh man, oh man, not again, the Raptors choked their first playoff game again. Are they gonna get that first round exit curse again? I don’t think so. but man have the All-Star backcourt of Canada stunk it up thus far. Shooting wise it’s been ugly. Well, Lowry’s been good and bad but DeRozen, come on man. I like ya as a player and y’all’s bromance is amazing but step it up bro. If your coach has to bench you so that your team can win, you know it’s bad. You did aight game 2 but after that it was like what? I feel that Demar has a big game in him one of these games this series and he’s gonna show up, it’s only a matter of time.

Anyways, caution to the wind I think Toronto will win it. I believe their backcourt will show up eventually and that’ll overwhelm the Pacers. Valancuinas is a great bigman and DeMarre Carrol is solid.  The Pacers can only live off the Hills and George for so long. They simple put are the weaker team and the Raptors have better options and their bench is deeper.

Thanks for reading this long and kind of stream of consciousness blog post on the first round of the playoffs. If I’m bored enough, I’ll do the rest but for now I’m just gonna stick to watching the games now that school is essentially over for me. Yay. Funnily enough, I had a 10 page paper due a week or so back and it amounted to around this blog post’s worth of words (~2200) and it just reminded me how long-winded I can get and why I don’t write these things often. It’s pretty scattered and I just kind of ramble on and on. Anyways, thanks again for reading and stay awesome.