Some thoughts after the Spurs’ Game 2 win over the Clippers on late Wednesday night — late Wednesday night — in the NBA playoffs …
1.) Wow, that was late. Worth it. But late.
2.) If the Clippers ever try to turn the tables on Greg Popovich, strategy-wise, I’d suggest they stay away from Hack-a-Mills.
3.) Damn, Blake Griffin. Just. Damn.
4.) If I’m a Spurs fan, I’m encouraged that my squad squeaked out a win in Game 2, evening the series, without any meaningful contributions from two of their starters and their sixth-man star. Tony Parker (who is injured, it seems, every year and on every part of every lower extremity) had a point — one — in 30 minutes of hobbling around, although he did have five assists; Tiago Splitter had just two points in 19 minutes, though he did have seven rebounds; and Manu Ginobili managed, somehow, nine points in 22 minutes, though His Leftiness continually looks like he’s about to get pushed off the Tilt-a-Whirl and sent into oblivion. But if I’m a Spurs fan, I do wonder this, too (as I have for, say, the past 10 years or so): How can they keep this up?
5.) If I’m a Clippers’ fan, sure, I’m worried. My team just lost on its home court to the defending champs, and lost in the worst of ways. My guys made a strong comeback from 10 points down in the fourth, but … well, the Griffin turnover that led to the tying free throws (Patty Mills, who else?) in regulation was the most obvious screwup. But Mills released early and caught the Clippers napping for an easy layin in overtime. And Matt Barnes let Kawhi Leonard deke him out of position (video below) for another easy layin in OT.
6.) The Spurs are old, yes, but it’s funny — isn’t it? — that one of the strategies of the old guys is wearing other teams down. Helps to have a bench with Ginobili, Mills, Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw.
7.) Helps, too, to get the 3s to start falling. And the Spurs had some wide-open 3s. With 34 seconds left in the third quarter, down a point, San Antonio was shooting only 23.5 percent (4-for-17) from outside the arc. Then — ta da! — Mills stepped up to drain two treys and the Spurs finished the night going 4-for-7 for 3s. (I’m not counting a desperation one than Tim Duncan fired up at the end of a shot clock. So sue me.)
8.) Speaking of old guys, and speaking of curses: Damn, Duncan. Just. Damn.
9.) This is turning out to be, after just two games, the most compelling of the first-round series, as just about everyone expected it to be. It’s the only series that is tied after two games. Not sure what that says exactly. It’s probably not good. But this series … like I said, worth it.
10.) On Hack-a-Shaq/Jordan/whatever bad shooter: Yeah, the NBA needs to look into a way to combat this “strategy.” Not sure the league can find a way. But it definitely needs to look, hard, because this “strategy” clearly runs counter to how the game is played at its best. (I can see the point here where it does perhaps bring some tension into the situation. I would counter, though, that if you want that kind of no-action tension, baseball might be your game.) The suggestions on eliminating this “strategy” range from allowing a team to turn down the free throws, to giving the fouled team another one, to giving the team free throws and possession, to giving free throws only if the foul occurs in the backcourt.
I put the word “strategy” in quotes because the practice is, at best, a little dubious. The fine number-crunchers at fivethirtyeight.com looked at this last season (so, remember, these numbers are from last year):
The basic math of the “Hack-A-DJ” strategy goes like this: If DeAndre Jordan shoots 43 percent from the free-throw line, fouling him yields two shots and 0.86 expected points. Compare that to the Clippers’ average points per possession this season — 1.12 — and it becomes clear that an intentional foul strategy is, on its face, a savvy one.
Except it’s not, once you factor in all the things that happen before and after a free throw. With a big data assist from ESPN’s Stats & Info group on the Clippers’ and Jordan’s performance over the past two seasons, my calculations make clear that Hack-A-DJ is not a clear-cut winning strategy.
One of the major points author John Ezekowitz makes in that post is that one of the reasons the strategy is so inefficient is because the Clippers are so good at rebounding Jordan’s misses. We certainly saw that last night. I’m going to go lazy on you and not break down every one of Jordan’s missed FTs — no time, folks, no time — but I will point out that the Clippers grabbed 16 offensive boards last night.
11.) Love Chris Paul’s game. His on-court demeanor … well, not so much. There’s a fine line between being fiery and competitive and just being a jerkwad. Paul has crossed that line — flopped over it, probably — a little too often.
12.) Time to send his “brother” Cliff out to pasture, State Farm? Please? I can’t take another playoffs full of those inane commercials.
13.) I’m not convinced that Austin Rivers can be considered a strong backup.
14.) Explaining my light cursing: I love when a player shows other sides to his game, and Griffin has been doing that the past two years. Again, if you’re not watching the NBA regularly, you may know Blake only as a Kia shill and a dunker. And, for sure, he’s pretty good at both of those. But he’s a sure shooter now from mid-range and the free-throw line — much better than he was in his first couple years — he’s added some wicked spin moves on the block, he can pass the heck out of the ball and, yes, he can handle it, too, last night notwithstanding. This guy still may have an MVP season in him.
15.) And Duncan … he looks awkward as hell sometimes, with that line-drive shot and those slow-motion moves. Jordan made him eat one of his patented jumpy hooky things with inside of a minute left in regulation of Game 2. But, yep, no one on the court last night on either team was as clutch. Well, maybe Mills was.
Here’s a nice slo-motion recap of some of the plays last night from NBA Entertainment (Barnes getting burned by Leonard is about 1:02). The whole recap is here: