Anatomy of a Play: The NBA Restart and a Tale of Two Endings

Erik Drost
The Utah Jazz played the New Orleans Pelicans and the LA Clippers played the LA Lakers when the NBA returned on Thursday. Here’s a bit of a dissection of, and comment on, the endings of both games.

Two close games both decided by the final possession is exactly what everyone wanted when the NBA came back, and that’s exactly what the NBA delivered. The Jazz beat the Pelicans 106-104, and the Lakers beat the Clippers 103-101 – with Brandon Ingram and LeBron James showing how games can be both won and lost.

As Utah and New Orleans played first, let’s start there.

Rudy Gobert made two free throws to give the Jazz the lead with 6.9 seconds left, and the Pelicans called a time out. Pelicans Head Coach Alvin Gentry ran a nice looking play to get J.J. Redick an open shot at the end.

It starts with Lonzo Ball (#2) inbounding for the Pelicans. Jrue Holiday (#11 for the Pelicans) sets a screen for Brandon Ingram (#14 for the Pelicans) who runs to the left wing to collect the ball. At the same time, J.J. Redick (#4 for the Pelicans) is running along the baseline towards the left block.

Ingram gets the ball on the left wing. Holiday and Redick stop at the left block and Derrick Favors (#22 for the Pelicans) stands at the top of the key.

As soon as Ingram gets the ball he moves towards the right wing, apparently about to use the screen Favors is setting at the top to get open and away from the Jazz’s Royce O’Neale (#23). At the same time, Ball runs towards Holiday who are both about to set screens for Redick to get him open at the three point line. Notice where Favors is looking.

Watching the left corner, Favors knows that it’s time to move away from the screen he’s faking to set, and move just inside the three point line. Redick uses the double screen to run towards Favors, and Ingram carries on towards the right wing. Gobert (#22 for the Jazz and circled) is obviously concerned with a drive towards the basket, so wanting to protect the paint he watches Ingram.

Favors is now in position to screen Joe Ingles (#2 for the Jazz), who is fighting through the initial screen set by Ball, for Redick. Ingram stops his run to the wing short.

This is where it all comes to naught.

Favors has screened Ingles, getting Redick open, and Gobert (circled) is still frozen from anticipating the Ingram drive. Redick (also circled) is second in the NBA in three point percentage this year, so Ingram passing to him for a simple catch and shoot makes sense. He doesn’t need much time, and he’s been finishing these kinds of plays his whole career.

But Ingram doesn’t pass the ball.

Maybe he’s concerned with a deflection, but instead of passing, Ingram carries on towards the right wing. He side steps, and takes his shot.

The ball rims in and out. The buzzer sounds. The Pelicans lose.

Ingram was New Orleans’ leading scorer in that game with 23 points, and had a brilliant first half – so he must have been feeling it and didn’t want to pass. Gentry set up a great play to get a great shooter, in Redick, open – but it all went to waste.

It was interesting that the first game ended like that, and then the second game, in the Clippers vs the Lakers, ended how it did. Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel opted not to call a timeout and run a set play, but instead chose to let LeBron James dictate the possession.

The Clippers’ Paul George just hit a three pointer (as he had been doing all game) to tie the game at 101 points each. LeBron (#23 for the Lakers) walks the ball up to the left wing for the Lakers and is met by Kawhi Leonard (#2 for the Clippers). After LeBron ran the clock down, Danny Green (#14 for the Lakers) comes out to meet Leonard.

This gets LeBron the switch away from one of the best wing defenders in the NBA, and onto Marcus Morris (#31 for the Clippers), and so he drives to the basket. Notice how every other Laker is beyond the three point line. LeBron surrounded by three point shooters has been unplayable for years.

Is Anthony Davis (#3 for the Lakers) a shooter? Maybe? You have to respect him, and the other Lakers, from that distance, and if he gets the ball his legs are so long he can take a single step and be at the rim anyway. The Clippers can’t afford to leave the shooters open and collapse in on LeBron.

LeBron takes a tough shot just by the free throw line, expecting a foul. Nothing’s called. But despite being surrounded by every Clipper on the floor, LeBron follows his own miss and puts the ball in the basket for the win.

Nothing is ran from a timeout to get anyone an open shot. It’s all LeBron James.

And It worked.

LeBron followed that with some fantastic defence on Leonard and then Paul George on the Clippers’ final possession. He stopped Leonard’s initial drive and fake, then when Leonard had to kick it out to George, LeBron switched and moved his feet to make George drive to his left. As George is right handed, going to his left makes the shot harder, and as such he misses his three at the end.

The lack of Zion Williamson down the stretch for the Pelicans was curious. Even though he was only playing in short “bursts”, and was on a minutes restriction, you would have assumed he could manage the final few minutes of the game. Plus, with him on the court they probably would have been able to score a couple of extra baskets and win. As they were 4 games behind the eight seeded Memphis Grizzlies before tip-off, they needed to win as many games as possible to get into the Playoffs. An odd decision, but if Ingram hits that final shot none of this even matters.

The Clippers didn’t have Montrezl Harrell or Lou Williams, so maybe at full strength they could have won that game against the Lakers. Anthony Davis was superb, leading all scorers with 34 points and also played some great defence – stopping, and altering, all kinds of shot attempts. The prospect of an all Los Angeles Western Conference Finals is still as exciting as ever.

So there were two games, two endings, two strategies and two outcomes. The parallels are interesting to see.

Maybe it mirrors the fact that the Lakers are number one in the Western Conference standings, and that the Pelicans are number eleven.

Or maybe it shows one of the best things about basketball. You can draw up the perfect play and have your tactics spot on, but sometimes it all comes down to one simple question.

Who’s got the better player?

This “Anatomy of a…” topic might be something I carry on, I’m not sure, I’ll see how it goes. Although I am aware with the LeBron ‘analysis’ it’s just drawing circles around things. It really is that simple at times I guess. These NBA posts I’m writing might be a little delayed due to time differences and the like, but I hope someone reads them!

What I’m Looking at When the NBA Season Restarts

The Come Up Show/Harrison Haines
You could talk me into thinking that almost anyone has a chance at winning the NBA Championship this year – from the Raptors repeating, to Kawhi or LeBron winning a ring with their third different teams. With 22 teams heading to Orlando, here’s a few other things I’m looking at as the NBA goes Disney.

As the National Basketball Association becomes the National Bubble Association, and that bubble floats on down to Orlando, I’ve got an eye on plenty of things in the Sunshine State.

The league was suspended at the beginning of March and finally comes back on the 30th of July, when the Utah Jazz play the New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angles Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite the obvious excitement surrounding the situation, I want to touch upon a few topics before the opening tip.

Will the season be finished?

The biggest (and most obvious) problem surrounding any sport right now is Coronavirus. What will happen if someone tests positive, and then, a whole team? I’m sure the NBA has plans in place, but it’s still a scary prospect nevertheless.

According to Google, as of the 24th of July, Florida have almost 390,000 confirmed cases. New York and California are the only American states with more. That makes it a strange place to hold the remainder of the NBA season. I’m not sure that when Vesuvius erupted the people of Pompeii wanted to jump straight into the volcano as their city was getting covered in ash and lava (was there lava? I’m not sure but I like the analogy).

Richaun Holmes was quarantined after leaving the bubble to get some food, and you know people are going to come into the bubble, or leave it, for… other things.

But as time has gone on, I’ve become more and more optimistic at the thought of the season being completed, especially after this:

Will there be a high number of injuries?

Obviously, no one has played competitive basketball since March, so it’ll take them a while to get back up to speed – I don’t think anyone would be surprised at that or would criticise anyone for it. Everyone will be well rested but rusty, and it will be interesting to see how many minutes of game time players get to begin with. I know there are preseason scrimmage games (being played right now, actually) but they aren’t the same.

Someone like the Lakers, with the number one seed all but theirs, will probably ease LeBron and Anthony Davis into the remaining regular season games. Then they’d ramp up their minutes so they peak, in terms of conditioning, for the playoffs. Someone like the Pelicans however, need to win as many games as possible. So do they want to try and to claw their way into the playoffs through the play-in tournament (more on that in a moment), but risk injuries to Zion Williamson (who has only played 19 games this season anyway)? Injuries happen, I understand that, but do you really want to risk your young superstar?

There were rumours that Luka Dončić wasn’t in the best shape, but they were quickly refuted, and James Harden and Nikola Jokić have both seemingly lost weight before the restart. Maybe the stars are ready to go after all.

As explained by Tifo, in the Bundesliga the number of injuries per game in post-lockdown matches almost tripled – albiet in a small sample size, and with a very small number of injuries per game anyway. They also point out that after the NFL Lockout in 2011, preseason was cut dramatically. This led to 10 players rupturing their Achilles tendon in the first 12 days of training. The injury rate was twice the normal level for the first month of games also.

It wouldn’t be strange therefore, for something similar to happen in the NBA. This may lead to teams being overly cautious with players, especially with Kawhi Leonard for example, who is known to miss games due to “load management” (basically managing his health by avoiding injury and fatigue to be fresh for the playoffs).

But will fitness and seeding mean (from teams at the top of the standings, all the way down to teams at the bottom) that we’ll see more of the young guys, and possibly some worse basketball? We’ll see. They need to get their legs under them yes, but the playoffs are all that matter.

It’s the classic ‘rest versus rust’ – do you rest and stay fit, healthy and fresh, or do you play, keep playing, and maintain your rhythm?

Will we get a play-in tournament?

The bubble sees a new addition to the playoff system. It allows the possibility of the number eight and nine seeds in each conference having a mini-tournament for the final playoff spot. According to the NBA itself:

“If the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, no play-in tournament will be necessary. The final playoff berth will simply go to the team with the eighth best record (regular-season games + seeding games).

But if the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, then we’ll have a battle for the final spot between those two teams.

The tournament will basically be a best-of-two series — where the No. 9 seed will have to win two head-to-head matchups to take over the No. 8 spot.”

So if the number eight seed has less than five wins more than the number nine seed, we get an extra two games.

Looking at the standings in the West, the prospect of this is actually pretty tasty:

The Suns are only six games back with the final eight “seeding” (or regular season) games left to play. This means that if any team puts a decent run together, and a team ahead of them stumbles, they could trigger the tournament.

This opens up a whole host of possibilities and storylines. Will the young stars Ja Morant or Zion Williamson get playoff reps in their Rookie years? Will the Spurs keep their 22 year playoff streak alive? Can Damian Lillard drag his Blazers into the playoffs?

Expect fireworks if the Blazers do get in. Lillard has a chip on his shoulder, Jusuf Nurkić is back from injury and some are even picking them for a first round upset if they do get into the playoffs. But the Lakers are still overwhelming favourites, and 99 times out of 100 they will get out of the first round.

The East isn’t so tasty:

Yes, the Wizards are six games behind the Nets, and five and a half behind the Magic. But they’re without their best player in Bradley Beal, and they’re missing David Bertans who had a great season up to the suspension. So even if they do make the play-in tournament (which they won’t) and beat the Magic (which they won’t), they get the dubious honour of being swept by the Bucks in the first round. The Nets might slip down the standings and be caught, considering half their team isn’t going – but the Wizards have been garbage this year and don’t deserve that playoff spot anyway.

It’s a little bit of added fun I guess? Who are we to turn down more basketball at this point?

What will happen in the Eastern Conference?

Honestly, I could talk myself into thinking that any of the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics or 76ers could win the East this year. Allow me to try and talk you into it also.

The Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the NBA, the best Defensive Rating in the NBA (101.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, almost 3 points higher than the Raptors), the best Net Rating in the NBA (meaning on average they’re 10.7 points better off than the other team, per game, per 100 possessions), score the most points per game in the NBA (118.6) and probably have the league’s MVP for the second straight year in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Giannis is clearly the conference’s best player, and has no Kawhi Leonard to slow him down this year. They have to go to The Finals.

The Toronto Raptors have the third best record in the NBA (behind the Bucks and the Lakers) the best defence in the NBA in terms of opponent points per game (106.5), the second best Defensive Rating in the NBA (104.9) and arguably the NBA’s best coach in Nick Nurse.

They’ve done all of this with a heap of injuries this season, with Nurse getting the best out of players no-one has ever heard of, like Chris Boucher (exactly). The only worry is that they may lack that go-to scorer who’s needed at the end of a tight playoff game. Lowry is great but he’s not that player, and never has been, so Pascal Siakam has to step up.

Siakam has been a first time All-Star this year and will get some deserved All-NBA votes (probably third team) – but he’s got to prove he can be the scorer they need. 23 and a half points a game is great (the best of his career by a mile) but his shooting percentages have gone down from last season. However, that’s to be expected if he’s taking more shots as Kawhi isn’t there anymore. The Raptors will win with their defence though, so 23 and a half might be all they need.

If Siakam has a good playoff run, the Raptors will go deep. They have to be the dark horse for the title.

The Boston Celtics are no strangers to making deep playoff runs under Brad Stevens, taking LeBron’s Cavaliers to seven games in the Conference Finals in 2018. Boston have the second best defence in the NBA in terms of opponent points per game, behind the Raptors by .3 points. Similarly to those Raptors, they’re going to win games by defending well. Both teams score 113 points per game, 11th and 12th in the NBA.

The difference between the two is that the Celtics have stars. Kemba is cold blooded, but Jayson Tatum is the big baller in Boston. All-Star, probably All-NBA, and a field goal percentage just under 45% at 21 years old. The sky’s the limit, but this year he could really take over.

He has done before.

The Philadelphia 76ers are the most interesting team in the East. Defensively they’re a top 10 team, but offensively they’re pretty average. The lack of any home playoff games is a huge loss for them too, as their home record of 29-2 is the best in the league. The 76ers’ hopes rest upon the shoulders of their star players.

If Joel Embiid plays to the level he’s capable of, and to the level that had some people pick him for MVP before this season, he’s unplayable – there’s no player in the NBA quite like him. I’m a huge Ben Simmons fan, he’s a brilliant defender (he leads the league in steals) and has the capability to defend players one through four. His issue of not shooting from the outside and it clogging up the paint is well documented. Even though he’s shot threes this season (and to be honest, the form looks pretty good) he’s not doing it enough. If they can solve the Al Horford conundrum, and not have a player earning $28 million this year coming off the bench, he would solve so many of their offensive problems and drastically improve their title chances.

Philadelphia will be worth keeping an eye on. Especially because, in my opinion, anything less than a Conference Finals appearance and coach Brett Brown will more than likely be fired.

I can’t really see the Heat or the Pacers doing any real damage in the playoffs – my money’s on Giannis and the Bucks.

What will happen in the Western Conference?

The West is more Don Broco this year – come out to LA.

The Lakers and Clippers are everyone’s pick to meet in the Conference Finals, and they’re currently first and second in the conference respectively. Both are fantastic defensively, but the Lakers hold a slight edge. Opponent points per game are 106.9 for the Lakers, to the Clippers’ 109.7. The Lakers have a 105.5 defensive rating and the Clippers’ rating is 106.6. Offensively they’re very close, Clippers score the 5th most points per game, and the Lakers the 7th (116.2 to 114.3). The Battle of Los Angeles is pretty evenly matched.

LeBron’s revenge tour, that isn’t really a revenge tour because no-one doubted him, but is a revenge tour because he was injured last year and wasn’t in the playoffs (I don’t get it either, but his Instagram is flooded with revenge tour hashtags), continues in Disney Land. What a tour it’s been. This season he’s averaging the most assists per game of his career (which also leads the league) with 10.6 – all at the tender age of 35. Averages of just over 25 and half points and just under eight rebounds per game mean he’s been an MVP candidate all year. He has his best teammate since Dwyane Wade in Anthony Davis, who is the possibly the Defensive Player of the Year. No Avery Bradley is a huge loss, but his replacement, J.R. Smith, does have Finals experience.

In terms of the playoffs, LeBron’s been there, done that, got the t-shirt and the ring – but so has Kawhi.

Leonard (averaging essentially 27 points and seven rebounds per game this year) has defended LeBron brilliantly in the past. His run to the title with the Raptors last year reminded everyone how good he is. He had averages of 30.5 points and just over nine rebounds per game. The issue with the Clippers is chemistry. Their best lineup (Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams) has played just 56 minutes together all season. But they are +13.8 (meaning they’re 13.8 points better off than the other team, per 100 possessions) when they do play. So they might be fine. If any coach can figure it out, it’s Doc Rivers.

All in all, the Western Conference Finals should be fun.

Who’s going to win it all?

It’s down to three teams – Bucks, Lakers and Clippers. No fans in attendance would mean that no one would see the Clippers’ first ever title, or the Bucks’ first title in almost 50 years.

If I had to pick conference winners, I’d say that the Bucks would beat the Raptors four games to two, and that the Lakers would beat the Clippers four games to three.

In the finals, Bucks vs Lakers, the Lakers win in six games. I can’t bet against LeBron.

Basketball is nearly back!

I got all of my stats and numbers from Basketball Reference and I would try and write something witty, funny, or something about what’ll I’ll write next here, but I’m still upset about Forest.

An Englishman’s Ode to Kobe

(AFP/Getty Images)
I thought I’d write a few words about how, even though I never realised, Kobe Bryant got me into basketball.

Kobe Bryant sounds weird. It was always just Kobe.

Kobe got me into basketball and the NBA.

I remember playing as Kobe on NBA 2K9. I had no previous interest in basketball, or really knew anything about it – but I played a demo, enjoyed it, and bought the game. At 16 it got me interested in the sport, but I eventually found out that in England it was always kind of hard to watch the NBA. In-between the time difference, school, and University, watching games was near impossible. I’m not going to go into how I managed to end up watching games, but the 2010 Finals were the first time I truly followed the NBA.

Kobe was MVP of those finals when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 4 games to 3. I didn’t really know what I was watching to be perfectly honest, but I bloody loved it. Kobe got buckets in those finals too:

  • Game 1 – 30
  • Game 2 – 21
  • Game 3 – 29
  • Game 4 – 33
  • Game 5 – 38
  • Game 6 – 26
  • Game 7 – 23

He averaged almost 30, but, I just remember it captivating me – and Kobe was the star of the show. Even when Ray Allen was going off for all those threes in Game 2, I just vividly remember (and it might not even have been in that game, but that’s not the point) Kobe sticking his hand right in front of Allen’s face, daring him to shoot. I was thinking: “What on earth is that?” The notion of it was just so weird to me, because I was so new to the game. That, alongside him stood on the scorers table, are what I remember from those finals.

I was hooked. Kobe was considered the best in the first series I’d ever watched. The man would do whatever it took to win, and I saw it for all of those 7 games.

Mamba Mentality.

Now I’d like to take you to the 2012 Olympics.

This was really the first time I was able to watch basketball at a reasonable time (I know, woe is me). I knew who the players were. I knew LeBron, I knew KD, I knew Chris Paul, and of course I knew Kobe. I remember him and LeBron from those Olympics. Not much of a story here, but Kobe’s what I remember.

People always talk about how the 2008 Olympics were his magnum opus.

They went to him down the stretch. But I didn’t watch that. I remember them doubling Pau Gasol and they still couldn’t stop him, and I thought: “Woah boy, here comes Kobe time!” He had some big shots in 2012, a big offensive rebound and put back, but no real take over. Not knocking him, the game didn’t need that.

But the point is that’s what you expected from Kobe. You expected him to take over. You expected him to do whatever it took to win.

Mamba Mentality.

The man tore his achilles tendon literally CARRYING his team into the playoffs. The Lakers (who were supposed to be a ‘Super Team’ that season with him, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol) were average heading to the 2013 playoffs, but Kobe became more of a passer, and they won games. They lost in the first round, but that’s neither here nor there – no Kobe. That season I remember so vividly. I remember him tweeting about taking the ball into the post (or something like that) really aggressively because that’s how he saw the Lakers winning the series.

He did whatever it took to win.

Mamba Mentality.

I’m not here to talk about his famous work ethic, the fact he has 2 numbers retired at The Staples Centre, or he scored 81 in a game against the Raptors. I’m not here to mention his rings, his MVP, or his All-Star appearances. I don’t really know what I’m here to talk about.

I just wanted to say thank you to Kobe. He got me into Basketball, and I never even knew it. He was there when I grew an interest in it, and helped turn an interest into love. He made it fun to watch. He was fun to watch. He’s the reason I’m here, trying to write about the NBA. He started it all.

I never really thought about it until last night.

Thank you Kobe.

Mamba Mentality.

All info from Basketball Reference and my Kobe reflecting memory.