Some adjustments to look for in the playoff games tonight.
Memphis Grizzlies (0-1) versus Los Angeles Clippers (1-0)
Even with out The Comeback, that might have been the most complete basketball game Blake Griffin has played as a pro. There weren’t any eye-popping numbers, but Griffin buckled down and did all the gritty things that helps teams win in the playoffs. Routinely (and rightly) criticized for defensive effort and performance, Griffin was very solid (especially in the second half) at that end Sunday night.
He battled Memphis bigs all game for post positioning, communicated and rotated effectively on defense. Griffin even switched out on a late pick-and-roll and forced OJ Mayo into a tough shot in the middle of the Clippers’ memorable run. Of course there were a few dunks, but there was no show-boating, no taunting, just a quiet, tough performance that got him something more important than a few highlight reel clips; a win in Memphis. If the “other” L.A. team wants to put a stranglehold on this series, they will need more of that from him tonight.
San Antonio Spurs (1-0) vs. Utah Jazz (0-1)
Playoff underdogs walk a fine line. On one hand, a team should always play to their strengths, but on the other, a team needs to adjust their identity at times in order to create problems or keep up with a more talented opponent. Ty Corbin, coaching in his first postseason, is trying to find where that line is.
To find it, he may want to examine his use of backup point guard Jamaal Tinsley. In Game 1, Corbin stuck to what seems to be his most recent rotation pattern, leaving Tinsley in for quite a long stretch in the second quarter. At the 10:03 mark in that period, Tony Parker re-entered the game for San Antonio and the Spurs promptly scored on 8 of their next 10 possessions as Parker abused Tinsley over and over. On one play, Parker actually had Tinsley so out of sorts that he spun the aging vet completely around.
Now the Spurs are good enough that they will go through stretches where they score on 80% of their possessions, but teams need to at least make them work for it. Tinsley, however, simply has no chance of staying in front of Parker, whether a ball screen is involved or not. Moving forward in this series, Corbin needs to operate under the assumption that the only rest Devin Harris receives is when Tony Parker comes out of the game. Harris hasn’t been much better himself, but he at least he has a chance due to his length and quickness. And if Corbin wants to stay competitive in this series, Harris needs to be shadowing every step Parker takes.
Orlando Magic (1-1) vs. Indiana Pacers (1-1)
Despite being low on aesthetically pleasing basketball, this Indy-Orlando matchup is high on intrigue. Perhaps the most interesting part of the chess match between Frank Vogel and Stan Van Gundy revolves around how each coach employs his respective big man.
Glen Davis seems to have found his niche as an undersized five and despite padding Roy Hibbert’s block totals, he has been highly effective this series. What he lacks in vertical height and length, he makes up for with his girth and ability to anchor in the low post. Hibbert, who relies on deep positioning for much of his success, has found himself unable to get that prime real estate near the paint when Davis defends him. It has seemed as if moving Davis is like moving a tree stump, if that tree stump also was chained to four sedan-sized boulders. Without getting to a more favorable operating area, Hibbert has shot just 31.3% from the field so far this series, a far cry from his 49.7% during the regular season.
Now Hibbert has always been a liability in pick-and-roll coverage, but his post dominance has made him a net positive for Indiana. But with no offensive production thus far this series, he found himself on the bench for much of the second half in Game 2. He watched as either Lou Amundson or Tyler Hansbrough paired with David West to hold Orlando to only 34 second half points. So in an odd twist, the Magic actually ended up hurting themselves by nullifying the the deep Pacers’ primary threat and forcing Vogel to make an adjustment.
However, that’s not all the Hibbert situation brings into play. Another factor in the Magic’s futile second half performance was that Glen Davis and Ryan Anderson simply looked worn out. Anderson has sparred with West all series and Davis has to constantly battle Hibbert the minute he steps inside the 3-point arc on defense, set ball screens and roll the basket on offense, and hunt down as many rebounds as possible. This took a heavy toll as he played with noticeably less energy as the game wore on.
But if Hibbert continues to find himself strapped to the pine for long stretches for better, but smaller, pick-and-roll defenders, Stan Van Gundy may counter with more lineups playing either Hedo Turkoglu (like he did late Monday) or even Quentin Richardson at the four. This could buy more rest for Anderson and Davis, leaving them with more energy late in the game.