The playoffs are in full swing, so unless I am drunk, hungover, binging/purging, involved in a domestic dispute, creeping, negotiating a CBA on behalf of the NBA owners, arrested, or just plain lazy, expect a column every couple of days with notes on the 2012 NBA Playoffs, a “Realist Point Of View”.
Heat vs. Pacers
The biggest beneficiary of Lebron James’ historical 40-18-9 performance in Game 4? The ESPN public. For at least a 48-hour period, we are spared from the “Lebron is not clutch” nonsense that has enveloped the Sports World for nearly 5 years. Don’t get me wrong, Lebron has had his share of stink bombs throughout his career, but as I have repeatedly argued on this site, certainly no more than nearly all of the top 15 legends that he is continually compared to, including Kobe Bryant, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, or Magic Johnson. The only difference is that Lebron has yet to win a championship, which then becomes an exercise in ring counting – something that everyone knows I abhor.
But enough rehashing of a tired, old, Chasing 23 debate. While Lebron and Dwyane Wade were fantastic in Game 4, the real GOAT for the Pacers was not their players – it was their coach, Frank Vogel, who never quite understood how to take a hint as Wade and Lebron executed a layup line for nearly three and a half quarters. Did it really take him that long to realize that the middle of the paint was wide open EVERY TIME Lebron/Wade executed a screen roll? Or that backing up Roy Hibbert 3 feet from the basket off screen/rolls still allowed Lebron and Wade the opportunity for easy floaters- shots that they are more than capable of making?
By the time Vogel made his adjustments during the middle of the 4th quarter, and forced the Heat supporting cast to beat him, guess what happened? They beat them, with Udonis Haslem looking like the Haslem of old, and knocking down open 15 foot jumpers.
So, a couple of suggestions for Vogel heading into Game 5:
1.) Trap Lebron and Wade off the Screen/Roll: Learn from your mistakes and trap Wade and Lebron off the screen/rolls more frequently, forcing the others to beat you. You may get burned in the end, but given that the Heat only have 2 playmakers, you can sleep easy knowing that in the end, Norris Cole and Udonis Haslem beat you instead of the Big-Two.
2.) Wade almost never passes to Lebron in the half-court: Has anyone else noticed this? Lebron will pass to Wade, but Wade will almost never pass to Lebron in the half court. No joke, the over/under per game is literally 1.5, and usually occurs with the shot clock winding down. Knowing this, Vogel may want to incorporate this into his defensive game plan, perhaps having Danny Granger shade off Lebron more than usual?
As for the Heat, the question that everyone continues to ask is whether Lebron and Wade can sustain their Game 4 level of production for the rest of the playoffs, or at least until Chris Bosh returns. And why not? The 2001 Lakers had 2 stars in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal that averaged nearly 60 points per game (30 ppg each) during the 2001 playoffs. Can Wade and Lebron do the same despite Wade’s ongoing knee injury?
Spurs vs. Clippers
Speaking of the 2001 Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs are beginning to invoke memories of one of the NBA’s most dominant playoff runs by remaining undefeated in the playoffs, closing out the Clippers by winning their 8th consecutive playoff game, winning their 18th straight game including the regular season, and winning 32 of their last 35.
Are you kidding me? The San Antonio Spurs? This has to be one of the biggest under-the-radar runs of dominance that the NBA has ever experienced.
By comparison, the 2001 Lakers rattled off a run that included a 15-1 record in the playoffs, 19 consecutive wins before losing Game 1 of the NBA Finals to the Philadelphia76ers, and 23/24 wins to close the season.
The major difference? The Lakers had 2 of the Top 15 players to ever play the game in their prime (or near their prime), while the Spurs have a cast of past-their-prime All-Stars and role players. Any doubts I had when Gregg Popovich won COY have officially been eradicated.