Finals preview? Don’t count on it

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When you pair the team with the best record in the Western Conference with the team with the Eastern Conference’s best record, the temptation is to bill the matchup as a preview of the NBA Finals.

But with the Boston Celtics’ 105-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs last night, previewing the Finals based this game would be a lost cause. Forget the fact that this game was played in January, even if both the Celtics and Spurs end up in the Finals this June, you’d be better off using NBA 2K11 to preview the series instead of this particular game.

Nevermind the 61% shooting in the game for Boston, or the 22 assists for Rondo (that actually doesn’t shock me much). This game game had so many quirks and anomalies that I’m sure I’ll be forgetting some.

Graydon pretty well covered the calamity that was crunch time for both teams, including the back-to-back (that’s two!) missed free throws by Ray Allen with just seconds remaining. You also have to think that Manu won’t bungle up a game-tying or winning shot in the same way he did on Wednesday night.

The last few days, I’ve been calling attention to San Antonio’s strategy to run shooters off the 3-point line and stop them before they get to the rim. Against Boston, the Spurs succeeded in that by forcing Boston into 39 shots from 16-23 feet away, generally thought of as the most inefficient shot in basketball. This season, the Celtics are averaging less than 22 shots per game from that area.

Problem is, thanks to 13-16 shooting from Ray Allen and 7-10 from Paul Pierce, Boston made 22-39 shots from that range. Their 56.5% shooting is obviously better than the 41% they average from that area, and is much better than the 39% shooting the Spurs typically allow from there.

Another statistical anomaly caused by Ray Allen on Wednesday night was how effectively the Celtics scored coming off of screens. For the season, the Spurs have held teams to .92 points per possession when shooting coming off of screens.

And just a side note, shooting off of a screen and shooting off of a pick are different. Picks are set for the player with the ball, screens are set away from the ball.

San Antonio sees teams shoot off of screens about 5% of the time, but Allen and the Celtics effectively shot off of screens 15% of the time on Wednesday night and scored an astonishing 1.86 PPP. If the Spurs were able to hold to a still-fantastic 1.5 PPP, they probably win this game. But alas, Ray Allen went all Pop-A-Shot on the Spurs and it was just enough to put Boston over the top.

Now I’ll admit, saying that this game could in no way be considered a preview of the Finals should these two teams meet is said slightly in jest. There is enough of between the two teams to notice trends and tendencies. But the number of aberrations in this game can’t definitively tell us which team has the upper hand.

  • rangerjohn

    last nights game is a prime example of why the spurs need more wing defense and not another big. manu couldnt handle ray allen (not a lot of people can) but having an additional wing whos primary focus is defense (bowen?) is whats missing hands down.

  • Hicksman

    See I think this game (and the Knicks game) were a couple of perfect storms on how to beat the SPURS and yet we still had chances to win both games with poor games from important SPURS (Manu/Hill) and great (and man I mean GREAT!!) Mid range shooting games from Boston I mean come on a 105-103 game SPURS v Celts, lets not get too far into these 2 losses played 2 good teams on the road BTB. If Ray Allen doesn’t go into Manu mode and drop 13-16 on us we STILL probably win. Hopefully these sort of losses will give the coaching and playing group some things to work on.
    GO SPURS GO!!!

  • BigJ

    @Hicksman

    I agree and will add, “what’s the point to winning all of the games?” Meaning, of course we would love to see the Spurs win all of the games, yet traditionally this team learns just as much from losses as it does form victories.

    A couple of losses in early January may be the kind of bitter medicine which helps a winning team keep perspective.

    GO Spurs GO!

  • DorieStreet

    Despite the changes @ South Beach & Disneyworld, that team the Spurs lost to last night was one quarter away from being champions last season, and won the title 2 years before that (which happens to be the season after we won it all). It happens every year-a sports media outlet will comment “possible finals preview” when an the best record teams in each conference face off against each other, regardless who the squads are. If the Mavs and the Magic were in that position, we would have heard the same thing about them from someone.

  • The Beat Counselor

    Don’t fool yourself. The only reason we came close to winning that game was because of wild last minute hi-jinx. We were down 10 with a minute left.

    AND Boston didn’t have their defensive anchor, Garnett.

    We were exposed last night. It might have been better for us if they blew us out; at least we wouldn’t have this illusion that we should have won that game because we definitely didn’t deserve to.

    Apparently Manu and Hill cannot fight through a screen to save their life. Allen was wide open for a majority of those shots and I would have been surprised if he didn’t make those.

    Rondo almost went for a quadruple double and had more assists than our entire team.

    The score hides the true story here.

  • Jimbo

    @the beat counselor,

    I don’t think the Spurs as currently constituted have a good chance of winning the title. That said, they were not outclassed last night. The Celtics meltdown in the last minute was preceded by the Spurs own meltdown. The game was tied with 3 to go I think, and was close throughout. True, Garnett was out, but the Spurs are on the second leg of a B2B and the game is in Boston. I wouldn’t read too much into a regular season game. Teams shoot well some nights.

  • The Beat Counselor

    @Jimbo

    True, the game was surprisingly close throughout.

    And you’re right, it is just the regular season.

  • The Beat Counselor

    @Jimbo

    Thanks for reigning me in a little there :)

  • rj

    jimbo…..anderson? anyways, i thought hill fought through screens poorly, or maybe they were well….picked? i suppose if hill fights over the top of screens that would leave allen room to penetrate. i also remember duncan stepping out on allen after his man swallowed hill in another pick. how would we defend this better? i would say boston has an edge over us in team chemistry and interior muscle.i think we can overcome the chemistry issue and our bigs are no slouches either. i’ve been seeing bonner get inhe trenches more often as of lateand tiago could be a sleeping giant..

  • TD = Best EVER

    Problem with saying I wouldn’t read much into a regular season game is what else do you have to go on when judging teams and how capable they are come playoff time. So these game get us ready for the playoffs. And as it is now – we need a lot more work. Problem is these things usually don’t happen with in a season w/o additions to the roster. Our D will only improve vastly if we stop playing defensive liabilities like Bonner/Blair for large minutes. We can live with them getting 25 minutes or so combined and more if they are really playing well or we are just crushing the other team. But in close games they need to stay parked on the bench. I think Dice should begin starting again and we have to make a trade or get Tiago in the line up.

  • lvmainman

    How is it that no one is concerned/panicked other than TD=Best Ever??

    The WORST 2 defensive games that Duncan has been a part of in his ENTIRE CAREER, just happened on consecutive NIGHTS!!

    (vs Knicks 128 pts – Most ever surrenderred by a Duncan led team in 48 minutes, vs Celtics 61% shooting – the highest % vs a Duncan led team)

    Either Splitter gets more playing time or the Spurs orchestrate a trade for a shot-blocking big.

    How about JaVale McGee and Al Thorton for Splitter and Blair.

    Better yet Emeka Okafor and Chris Paul for Jefferson and Splitter and Parker. We’ve got friends in the Hornets front office with Dell Demps, ala McHale/Garnett and West/Gasol trades. Hornets don’t have to worry about Paul leaving with Parker locked up for 4 years. They get 3 starters for 2 starters. Spurs get a REAL center that avg 1.8 career blks, that hasn’t missed a game in 3+ yrs and a better all around PG.

    Spurs are not currently made for a championship run without a trade. Mark my words.

  • lvmainman

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=28nnxx7

    I tried to link the trade on ESPN trade machine.

  • BayAreaSpursFan

    I have a feeling that Pop is going to suprise us after the all-star break.

  • Dorgondator

    Hi everyone,
    Newbie here and following spurs from Europe.
    I admit not to be a specialist but 2 things pop up from the celtics games:
    1st the celtics needed .61 to win
    2nd the spurs forced/anticipated a lot of shots

    So losing by 2 pts only should not be considered so badly

    But it’s a loss and 29-6 now

    Any views on this “good” loss

  • irongiantkc

    @TD=BE
    “Problem is these things usually don’t happen with in a season w/o additions to the roster.”

    What about Anderson? Could he be the lift you’re looking for? Maybe, his return to the lineup would be an addition w/o having to give up anything? Also, Splitter may still contribute. Which do you think is easier? Making a quick contribution on offense or defense? I don’t know myself, but if you say defense maybe Splitter still has a chance to make a real difference this year. Obviously, he doesn’t have to contribute even that much on offense.

    @NYC (and others) I know that your opinion is that a win is NOT just a win. If that’s the case, would you say the loss the other night to the Celts was a good loss because the Spurs played a tough, motivated team that played other worldly basketball. Or would you say it was a bad loss b/c we couldn’t even beat the Celts w/o Garnett and our defense must have been poor to give Rondo the trip dub and Allen the 13-16 night? Just trying to gauge where you think the Spurs are following two tough road losses.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ lvmainman
    +100
    Great trade – It will never happen but who cares, way to make it work anyway. I’m going to have to play around with that trade machine to come up with something that works as well.

    @irongiantkc
    “What about Anderson? Could he be the lift you’re looking for?”
    Neo – if he can defend w/o needing help and somehow start to get 20+ min a game maybe. But i don’t see him getting enough burn to make a difference on his own, and I haven’t seen the ONEvONE D out of him that the Spurs need right now. So we will still need one more addition.

    Here’s the thing folks, in this league you have to be able to reasonably defend the position that you play. And I know that there are elites players out there that no one can guard, but Big Baby, Drew Gooden, Will Chandler, Caron Butler(30) and Shaun Marion(20+) aren’t tho type of guys good teams are gonna struggle guarding. And there are the type of guys we used to Shut down in the past. Now I know that we are trying to change up our D a little, which worries me most. Mainly because our D has worked well for us and this new thing not so well for the other teams that have tried it. Suns, Magic, Denver, and GS.

  • LPspursFan

    Fellas, fellas, fellas…I can’t believe you guys are freaking out like this after these 2 losses; a fluke where Wilson Chandler has a career night throwing in 31 from long-range jumpers and a close loss to a Celtics team that shoots 61% on jump shots.
    These teams didn’t beat us at the rim, they hit unusually high percentages of jumpers.
    I mean, everybody is so quick to jump on these 2 games over the 4 previous games where we held teams in the 30s percentage wise.
    I like our team; I’ll like it better when Anderson comes back and as the playoffs near and Tiago starts getting more minutes. I think we can match up and compete with any team in the league this year, while healthy, which is different from how I felt last year.
    Just my 2 cents, and let’s get serious at Indy tomorrow night. Go Spurs Go!!

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  • NYC

    @ irongiant

    I think it was a good loss. That statement is conditional because 1) I didn’t actually get to watch the game, and 2) it is good provided that we learn from it and make needed adjustments.

    I don’t think we’re in terrible shape, just not playing at our full potential. What’s most valuable with this loss is that 1) it’s got everyone focused on defense now, and 2) it gives us info on playing Boston.

    The fact that Timmy blasted the team indirectly in his quiet Timmy way through his statement to the media leads me to believe that the players will follow the lead of their captain and make improving their defense their top priority. (Kobe should take lessons from Timmy on how to properly motivate his teammates.)

    Coaches can scream about certain things all they want (as Pop has already done about defense), but it takes the players themselves policing each other to really effect change. These two Ls may be the “moment” that finally gets through to the players. I expect to see slowly but steadily improved defense (in increments) from here on out. If we don’t see that, THEN I will be worried.

    I think the real gauge of whether this was a good L comes the next time we play Boston. Let’s see if we make any adjustments on a) how to limit Rondo, b) how to fight off screens, and c) how to attack Boston on offense. If we see no improvement in terms of strategy and focus, then this L was wasted.

    But I don’t expect that to happen. I trust the Spurs organization to learn from losses and thereby make them “good losses.” That’s why we have 4 rings and Dallas, Phoenix, Cleveland have none.

  • NYC

    See, my whole things is consistency. It’s why the Spurs are my team, and Tim Duncan my man. People say he’s boring, but his consistency and dependability thrills me.

    Just like the Spurs organization, I’m not going to panic after any single L, but by the same token I’m not going to get delirious after any single W either. It’s the trends that I look out for.

    As it pertains to our defense, I was bothered by the lack of a clear and consistent trend in the past few games. We blew out LA (that’s good!), but I didn’t think we played as well as we should’ve/could’ve against DAL, even though we won (that’s bad). Then we came back and played magnificently against OKC (that’s good!), but now we’ve dropped the following two games (that’s bad). The NYC game
    exhibited horrible defense. The BOS game perhaps not the same case. (I say perhaps because I didn’t see it myself, I have to rely on what I’m hearing from you guys.)

    It seems that we put in a good effort and executed our plan to make them take jumpers (that’s good!), they just happen to hit all their jumpers [ :-( ]. Again, through the lens of consistency, they will regress toward the mean in a 7 game series and not consistently shoot lights out every game. However, Manu and Hill not fighting over screens concerns me. Fortunately, this is something within our control to change. How we decide to play Rondo is also within our control to change.

    I’ll be happy when the team defense has improved to the point that it becomes consistent and dependable. I’m not going to get too excited by one W over LA when in the same stretch we also lay an egg against NYC. That’s why I was very critical of the DAL game. It was nominally a W, but really it was a mediocre performance, and I expect better out of this team. If what you all say about this BOS game is true, then it may be a L in name only. I won’t get too excited until I see a more consistent trend one way or the other.

  • ed

    We get to play Boston and NY at home so we can make amends. The Spurs still haven’t played up to their potential. Yes they’ve been winning but haven’t played great for a long stretch. Just ask Pop. Anderson will be a plus when he comes back, will add depth to the roster. Tiago can contribute more if Pop decides to let him play. Maybe a trade on the horizon. I would like for the Spurs to trade for Marcus Camby. The guy can play defense and block shots. How about Blair and a #1 draft pick for Camby. That could get us over the top. Let’s do it.

  • J.Saul Joubert

    I still havent watched Sportscenter since the Spurs lost this game, if they cant baet the Celtic’s without Garnett,West & Perkins they wont beat them in the NBA Finals, it’s true Bowen is missed they could get someone like Steven Jackson and that would change the odds…..

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