Working/Not Working is a new daily HoopSpeak feature that will keep you updated on the major trends throughout the playoffs. Come back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day!
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER vs. DENVER NUGGETS
Working: In the first half, James Harden poured in 14 points while Serge Ibaka netted 10. That sort of production from the ancillary Thunder players–Thabo Sefolosha and Eric Maynor were also aggressive and effective– hints at serious post season potential. The Thunder’s first bench unit blew the game wide open, crushing the offensive glass and being active in the passing lanes. The whole Thunder team played with excellent energy, out-Nuggeting the Nuggets in every facet of the game.
Not Working: With everything working for the Thunder role players, Westbrook’s shot selection seemed even more indefensible. As Harden and Ibaka blossom into players who can give the Thunder 20+ points on any given night, Westbrook should look to penetrate and facilitate ala Chris Paul rather than getting his Monta Ellis on.
Working: The Nuggets felt they ran too many pick and rolls in game one, and tried to work more of a passing/cutting offense in the opening quarter. However all this did was allow the great length of the Thunder wings to disrupt ball movement and induce contested two point jump shots. Oklahoma City did a great job of rotating to Nugget big men curling into the middle and kept them from getting their balance and finishing around the the rim. Then, all the sudden the Nuggets went back to the pick and roll game late in the second quarter and started creating better offense. Their pick and roll attack forced the Thunder defense to sink into help positions and opened up passing lanes for ball rotation. The Nugget big men do a good job of passing inside, and avoided getting jammed up as they were in the first quarter. Expect to see lots of that Felton-Lawson line up in Game 3.
Not Working: When everything was going wrong, the Nuggets responded by taking jump shots early in the shot clock. This is about the worst thing you can do against a team that loves to rebound and run like the Thunder do. The Thunder need to slow it down a bit in the half court to work for better shots, instead of settling for their 4’s and 5’s taking 18-footers.
Aside from X’s and O’s the effort from the Nuggets was awful. They were pulverized on the glass (losing that battle 31-54), and did not have the emotional energy necessary to handle the Thunder’s home court advantage. One wonders how Aaron Aflalo might have affected that aspect of the Nuggets’ game. In final weeks of the regular season, Denver put a scare into the Western Conference by playing harder and faster than their opponents. I expect them to be fired up and ready for Game Three at home.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS vs. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Working: That defense crowded the paint, smothered Zach Randolph, and put the onus on perimeter shooting. Against Memphis, that’s the best play, and it worked to the tune of 39% on field goals.
Not Working: Defending Gasol. This sounds crazy because Marc went 2-of-9, but MG simply was off last night. Gasol had plenty of open looks and was the main reason Duncan and Bonner combined for 11 fouls. A slightly better shooting night from Marc and the Grizz take this one.
Working: The defense was magnificent, especially on closeouts. San Antonio shot only three corner threes, which is as difficult to pronounce as it is hard to believe. Memphis also was great at keeping the Spurs from the painted area.
Not Working: Shooting contested, long twos. Mike Conely and OJ Mayo were the main offenders, sometimes in the worst moments. Conely’s decision making vacillated between “questionable,” and “inept” for much of the game. If San Antonio’s going to pack the paint, Memphis guards need to create or shoot more open threes.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS vs. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
Working: The Lakers are never going to shut down Chris Paul, but they did the next best thing: slow him down. They defended Paul with multiple, big defenders like Kobe Bryant and even Ron Artest, then pestered him with Steve Blake, who whore a headband to mask what I can only assume are terrifying chicken pox scars. If Chris Paul is a speedy boxer, the Lakers decided to lean on him all game, hoping to lessen the pop of his punch. Mission accomplished. Paul was able to make a number of outstanding plays, but all the bumps reduced his ability to score and put more of the onus on his less talented teammates. As an added little benefit, the cross-matching also forced Paul to occasionally defend a bigger, stronger player on the other end, sapping his energy even more.
Not Working: Boy, what in the world is going on with Pau Gasol? The Hornets are doing a good job of shoving him off his favorite spots, but he should still be able to score effectively against single coverage from the likes of Carl Landry. After all, this is the guy who outplayed Dwight Hoard and Kevin Garnett in consecutive Finals. Bynum buoyed their inside attack, but Los Angeles needs to find ways to get Gasol a couple deep catches, perhaps off of cross screens from Artest or Fisher, instead of “getting him going” by isolating him on the mid block.
Working: Chris Paul, taking contested end of shot clock threes. This should be the new offense. The old offense was predicated on the idea of a competent surrounding roster. The new offense is predicated on the idea that Chris Paul>Jason Smith.
Not Working: Being short. The Hornets should work on growing a bit between now and Game Three. When neither team is playing particularly well, it’s hard to watch, because the inevitability of the Lakers’ eventual victory becomes painfully clear. The Lakers two best players were atrocious, but two tall dudes–Bynum and Odom, simply overwhelmed the shrimp-y Hornets. Trevor Ariza needs to chill on those fadeaway pull ups, too. The Hornets need wing-to-wing ball movement and drives to the middle, not Ariza taking two dribbles toward the baseline then jacking up an off balance 17-footer.