The totals have been tabulated for the contestants after the completion of the second round of the NBA playoffs. Check where you stand and read my quick takes on the semifinal round action.
After a pathetic first round score that made Mario Menoza scoff... Kellan proceeded to fall even further behind in the standings. Fortunately for Kellan, though, suns68 has zero possible points left... so Kellan might crawl out of his last place dungeon.
That's what suns68 gets for trusting the Clippers. Never trust the Clippers.
The triumvirate of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Matt Barnes has to the most loathsome group on a single team in the NBA. I must confess I took a measure of sadistic glee in their heartbreaking ouster.
DeAndre Jordan, on the other hand, would look pretty good in purple and orange... especially if he can find a way to shoot better than 40% from the free throw line. How about shooting underhand next season? It can't possibly get worse... but selfish pride is obviously more important than winning.
On the other end of the spectrum is Austin Elmer. Dude had a perfect second round and has opened up a chasmic lead. Barring a Clipper-eque collapse Austin will be taking home the hardware... well, a shirt isn't technically hardware. I'm pretty sure it's in the bag if Cleveland beats Atlanta. He might still win even if they don't.
Austin and I actually picked the exact same teams throughout the bracket... with the exception of him picking the Clippers in the first round. Oh well, I'm still feeling good about my remaining picks and a solid top five showing in the final standings
On to the recaps...
Warriors over Grizzlies 4-2
Even after the Grizzlies pulled ahead 2-1 I was never concerned. The Warriors were able to beat the Grizzlies at their own game, holding Memphis to 86 points or less in three of their wins. The pace for the series was 91.5, well below Golden State's league high regular season mark of 98.3 (Memphis was 26th at 92.0). The Warriors defense is just that good.
The most interesting aspect of the series was probably the Brobdingnagian difference in three point shooting. The Warriors hit 68 threes on 39% shooting while the Grizzlies had just 25 on 27% shooting. Stephen Curry hit 26 by himself.
I also think it's funny that the Warriors are basically playing a seven man rotation... Suns fans should appreciate this.
The Warriors are going all the way.
Rockets over Clippers 4-3
Through four games in this series the Clippers looked ridiculously better than the Rockets. I had started to think that LA's impressive win over the Spurs might be a springboard. They looked very confident... until they didn't.
Watching the end of game six was almost surreal. The Clippers couldn't do anything right. Josh Smith was taking Josh Smith shots... but they were all going in. There was a palpable sense of impending doom in the building.
Since I generally despise the Clippers, it was schadenfreude at its best.
Now the Rockets are in big trouble.
Hawks over Wizards 4-2
The paper tigers continued their march to the Eastern Conference Finals. Seriously, how many trips to a Conference Finals appearance in recent history have been easier than beating the Nets and a depleted Wizards team? The Thunder didn't even make the playoffs and I think they could have managed that...
I really like the John Wall/Bradley Beal backcourt. If Wall doesn't get hurt I think the Wizards take that series.
Now Atlanta finally faces a real challenge... even though the Cavaliers are playing without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving may or may not be limited.
Cavaliers over Bulls 4-2
If you thought Memphis tried to muck up the game... I think it would be hard to play at a slower pace (86.1) without extending the shot clock.
Despite injuries and suspensions the Bulls still couldn't manage to beat LeBron James. James wore his cape throughout the series, willing his team to victory despite not really having a Robin. Tristan Thompson did an admirable job of filling in for Kevin Love, though, putting up an efficient 9.3 points and 11.2 rebounds in 37 minutes per game.
Now the Bulls will try to implement the change coaches to get to the next level strategy. I'm sure Tom Thibodeau would love to coach James, since he obviously can't beat him. Maybe a change to the Western Conference is in order?
Getting Irving back healthy for the next round would probably help Cleveland.
***Make sure to double-check your scores for accuracy!***
The conference finals matches are set! In the east it's the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers. In the west, we've got the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. I, for one, am excited that a Golden State-Atlanta NBA Finals is still alive. Lot's of good storylines here. I am pretty much OK with any of the following scenarios.
Golden State Warriors win - The team playing the NBA version of "the beautiful game" wins their first championship in 40 years.
Cleveland Cavaliers win - It's a storybook ending for Lebron James and a snakebitten sports city. Cleveland finally gets to win at something.
Atlanta Hawks win - Small market franchise with no "stars" overcomes decades of ownership strife to win its first championship since 1958.
Houston Rockets win - James Harden and Dwight Howard are basically the Anti-Michael-and-Scottie. Daryl Morey is finally vindicated, the rest of the NBA sells its soul to algorithms, the Knicks and Phil Jackson become even more irrelevant. To be honest, this one's kind of a mixed bag.
Also happening this week:
* Mad Max: Fury Road blew some minds.
* Game of Thrones continues to deviate from the Gospel According to George.
* Adios, Mad Men. What you got, Madhousers?
The NBA's highest scoring, fastest paced team, the Golden State Warriors, made the Western Conference Finals by going 8-2 in their playoff run so far. In the WCF, they'll face the second fastest paced team, the Houston Rockets. Meanwhile, slow, grinding teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies watch from home.
There are many pieces to the conventional wisdom of what it takes to win playoff basketball. "Defense wins championships," "post play is what a team needs," "slow, grinding play is required in the playoffs." Fortunately for us fans, those things aren't quite true. Run and gun teams can and do win big when they construct their teams correctly.
Case in point: the Golden State Warriors. The highest scoring and fastest paced team in the league is destroying all opponents in their path. They won 67 games in the regular season, then swept a Pelicans team led by elite big man Anthony Davis and wiped out the old school, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph fronted Grizzlies.
Style isn't as important as talent. The Steve Nash, Seven Seconds or Less Suns didn't lose to the Spurs due to style; they lost because the Spurs were a better and more talented team. As great as Nash, Stoudemire and Marion were, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili were better.
Let's review some of this conventional wisdom regarding "playoff style basketball":
Partly true. Championship teams play well on both ends. The Warriors are 15th in the league in points scored against, but that's not the important stat. Because of their fast pace, they allow their opponents more possessions, so more points. The important stat is point differential, where the Warriors register at 110-100. When a team beats their opponents per possession, more possessions for each increases the advantage. So yes, defense is obviously important, but that doesn't mean your team has to play with a slow, plodding style. "Keep away" isn't the same as defense.
Three point shots are essential to a team's success in the modern NBA. It's true that the success rate is more variable than shots closer to the basket, but the conference finalist Rockets lead the league in attempted and made 3s, while Warriors MVP Steph Curry makes a living with the 3 point shot. A team can and will prosper behind the arc with great shooters, even in the playoffs.
Here's how the four conference finalists rank in made 3-pointers this season:
I cannot stress this enough. Giving up more points doesn't necessarily indicate poor defense. This is the biggest difference between the current Warriors and the 7SOL Suns. The best the Nash Suns were able to do was 13th in the league in D-Rating. Those Suns played fast and scored, but couldn't stop opponents at anything close to an elite level. It's about points per possession, not overall points.
People might perceive these Warriors as an offensively-oriented team because they lead the league in scoring, yet are only 15th in points allowed, but that's not actually the case. Mark Jackson built the foundation of this squad on defense. Last season with Jackson, they were 4th in D-Rating and 12th in O-Rating, one of the reasons Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry were brought in. Gentry cranked up the offense to championship level, but defense is still what drives the team. In fact, defensive stops fuel the Warriors' lethal transition offense.
The Warriors starting lineup features three players shooting over 40% from behind the arc, including possibly the best shooting backcourt in basketball history, and a PF in Draymond Green who is enough of a threat at 34% (111 made 3s this season) that their floor spacing is impeccable. Indeed, inserting undersized stretch PF Green for David Lee was one of the most impactful changes Kerr made for this season's Warriors. Remember the benefits Channing Frye provided for the Suns offense, even when his shot wasn't falling? Stretch bigs and a spaced floor are valuable assets. Yes, even in the playoffs.
It remains to be seen if the Warriors style will win them a championship this season, but the West is certain to be won by a fast-paced, 3 point shooting team while more old-fashioned, "built around big man post play and defense" teams like the Grizzlies watch from home.
Pro basketball is constantly evolving. What worked in the past will not always work but, more importantly, talent wins out most of all. It's no surprise that the WCF features the League MVP and runner up, and the ECF includes legendary LeBron James. On the one hand, this works for the Suns, who have the makings of a fast, jump shooting team. There's just that nagging, pesky problem of finding the elite talent to succeed at the highest level.