Saturday, May 17, 2008

This Post is for Manu

When talking about sports fans, you normally get 3 types:

1) The casual fan that has a favorite team, but doesn't really follow them during the year. They'll get together with a bunch of people to watch a game because of the opportunity to socialize, but most couldn't even name 3 guys on the team.

2) The fanatic- These are the fans that live and breathe based on how their team is playing. They entirely biased towards their own players, and they often spend as much time rooting against rival teams as they do rooting for their own team.

3) The sensible fan- I'm a sensible fan, and from the sounds of things, Manu, a frequent commenter of my blog, is also. Sensible fans have a favorite team, but can watch and evaluate them with little or no bias.

With that in mind, I'm going to give my sensible fans analysis of the Celtics/Cavs series. I might be a pharmacist, but I was a basketball player LONG before I even knew what a pharmacist was. It's the closest thing I have to a passion in life.

The Celtics' playoff woes I mostly attribute to Doc Rivers completely changing his substitution schemes from the regular season. In the regular season, Eddie House saw a lot of minutes. Leon Powe saw a lot of minutes. James Posey saw a lot of minutes. They all made big contributions to the team, but in the playoffs (with the exception of Posey, who is getting minutes but being used differently), these guys haven't been given an opportunity to help the team.

Game 6 was the first time in the entire playoffs that Eddie House played extended minutes. Doc Rivers has opted for Sam Cassell in his place for the rest of the playoffs. Cassell is great when he's hitting his jumpshots, but he's a very one dimensional player. He cannot guard a lamp post. He is simply incapable of doing anything off the dribble. Moreover, he's constantly looking for his own shot instead of trying to set up his teammates. It's not exactly a quality you're looking for from a point guard with a team that has 3 all-stars on it.

Eddie House gives the Celtics offense in an entirely different look, which makes him a great backup to Rajon Rondo. First of all, House is a very good shooter. The Cavs have to respect his shooting ability, so they can't slack off him on defense. That opens up the post for Kevin Garnett, and it also gives Paul Pierce a little extra space to drive to the basket. Secondly, Eddie House is a pretty decent defender, which is great because the Celtics are a defensive team.

As for the Celtics' all-stars... Kevin Garnett is going to be Kevin Garnett. There's really not a player who can take him out of his game. He's just too tall and too long for other power forwards to guard. He can step out and consistently make that 18-20 foot jumpshot, and his release is so high that there's really nothing anyone can do to even contest that shot. He can shoot it all day if he wants to, and I'm not saying he should. I would love to see Garnett get the ball on the block and make a few more moves towards the basket instead of fading away. However, that is the one weakness in KG's game. He's not really a scorer. He can get you 20 to 30 points on any given night, but he's not a guy that you can depend on to provide your offensive firepower. He's a complete player. He's a great defender and rebounder. He's just not a natural scorer.

This brings me to Paul Pierce. Now Pierce is a scorer. His primary function on the court is to put the ball in the basket as many times as he possibly can. He's very good at it... usually. The problem in this series is that he's being defended by Lebron James. Lebron James isn't a great defender (he's not bad though). He's just a really bad match up for Pierce. Pierce's offensive game is predicated on the fact that he's bigger and stronger than most of the players who are matched up against him. Against most players he can weave and spin his way into the lane and either finish at the rim or shoot his jumpshot over a smaller defender. Lebron James is his worst nightmare though. Lebron is quicker than he is. Lebron is taller that he is, and maybe most importantly, Lebron is much stronger than he is. When Pierce tries to use his body against Lebron, it's like he's hitting a brick wall. Moreover, Pierce isn't really good at curling off screens and moving without the ball. Most of his scoring is done through isolation sets where he tries to take his man one-on-one. Since he can't beat Lebron James consistently, the Celtics' offense kind of stagnates once it gets in Pierce's hands. Everyone waits for him to make an offensive move, but he's just not very succesful.

Finally, this brings me to Ray Allen. Ray Allen is having a HORRIBLE series. He just can't seem to get into any rhythm on the court. Wally Sczerbiak is guarding him, so it's not like he's got some lockdown defender on him. Ray's just not in the flow of the offense at all. I blame Doc Rivers for this. It almost seems like Doc never watched Ray Allen play before this season. What seems to be a little known fact by most fans of the NBA is that Ray Allen is much more than a spot up shooter. Yes, he's one of the greatest shooters to ever touch a basketball, but that ability overshadows just how complete of an offensive player he's been for the last 7 or 8 seasons. The guy has averaged around 24 points per game over that span. You don't average that many points simply by shooting 3's. Ray Allen is a great penetrator. He can shoot a variety of pull up and fade away jumpers in traffic. His best trait though is that he's extremely good at coming off screens. If you go and make it a point to be constantly setting screens for him, he'll really come to life. The guy is constantly moving. He's very good at curling off screens not only for pull up jumpers, but also finding cutters and dishing out for open jumpshots.

I honestly think that if the Celtics want to be successful in these playoffs, Doc Rivers needs to take the handcuffs off Ray Allen. Just let him go out there and do his thing. He's one of the best clutch performers in the league, but you have to give him a chance to show it. Let him create his own shots. Let him pull up for 3's on a fast break. Give him an isolation set where he can freeze his defender with a dribble move, then step back and knock down a jumper. People love to compare him to Reggie Miller, but the fact of the matter is that he's closer to a Kobe Bryant in terms of all-around offensive ability than he is to Reggie Miller. Ray can, and has many times in the past, carry a team. Just make it a point to get the guy at the very least 15 to 20 shots, and you'll see that confidence and that swagger come back. Once he becomes a scorer again, the Cavs all of a sudden don't have any way of guarding the Celtics. Everyone else will start to open up, and the offense will really start to click.

I just want to say one thing about Lebron James now... I love watching Lebron play because in every single game, he'll do something that no other human being on the planet could ever dream of doing. The man is a freak of nature. He's 6'8" and 260 pounds of pure muscle who's as quick as a point guard and can jump out of the gym. He's like a run away freight train when he gets on a fast break or gets a full head of steam driving to the basket. There's nothing you can do but foul him, and you almost have to tackle him to ensure that he still won't finish the play on you. That's why it's scary for any team to play the Cavs, and that's especially why Boston is fearing game 7. At any time, Lebron could get hot from the outside, and there's absolutely nothing anyone on the entire planet can do to stop him. We saw it in the Detroit series last year when Lebron scored 30 of his teams last 32 points. Three's were falling. Pull-up jumpers were falling, and of course, if you decide to take away that jumpshot, he's always going to be able to drive and dunk all over your team. He's a force of nature. Luckily, his outside shot isn't that consistent yet. If that consistency ever comes, he could score 40 per game without breaking a sweat. There'd simply be no way to guard him.

Anyway... that's all for now. I just felt like talking about basketball.


Manu said...

Hell yea, my own post! Have you read this article from Bill Simmons? It's hilarious.

But you're right, I love my Spurs but I know they are not invincible. Right now, they're getting old and I just can't see how they will win championships after the next couple years. Can you believe they had to rights to Leandro Barbosa and Luis Scola? They also had Turkoglu who wasn't doing exceptionally well with the Spurs but now is top-calibar with the Magic. Imagine Barbosa, Ginobili, Scola, and Turkoglu as a BENCH for the Spurs. Oh, my goodness.

I was suppose to start my own blog about life and being a pharmacy student. But I just keep putting it off . . .

Pharmacy Mike said...

I read the Bill Simmons article. I always read Simmons.

I disagree with him when he says Ray Allen is more like Wally Sczerbiak at this point in his career. Doc Rivers just doesn't know how to use him. He scored 54 points in a game last year and averaged 26 points per game. In the span of one year, he's suddenly washed up? I don't buy it.