NBA

Spurs' adjustments for Game 2 are obvious

Jay Asser 3/05/2017
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Missing piece: LaMarcus Aldridge. Picture: Getty Images.

Somewhat surprisingly, the oft-prickly Gregg Popovich was in a joking mood after his San Antonio Spurs suffered the worst series-opening loss of his tenure.

Maybe it was Popovich taking solace in the idea that the rest of the series can’t go much worse for San Antonio than it did in the 126-99 blowout on Monday.

Or perhaps it was the effect of a man being resigned to the notion that if the opposition shoots as well as Houston did in the opener, there’s almost nothing you can do.

Considering Popovich, his demeanour could have been unrelated to the game altogether. Yet for as grim of a loss as the Spurs endured, the adjustments for San Antonio are clear heading into Game 2 tonight.

The Rockets’ 3-point shooting isn’t a fluke, but even for the most triple-happy team in the league, their Game 1 performance was an aberration. Houston connected on 22-of-50 3-pointers, tying their postseason franchise record and recording the second-most by any team in a playoff game.

While the Spurs’ defence appeared to be their most significant issue on paper, it was the other end of the court that set up Houston’s attack.

San Antonio’s offence attempted to match the Rockets’ up-tempo pace and beat them in a shootout, going against their nature. The Spurs are comfortable featuring a deliberate attack, as evidenced by their pace (possessions per game) of 88.16 in the first round against Memphis and 96.41 in the regular season, which was fourth-lowest in the league. As a result, San Antonio liberally fired away shots that led to Houston getting out in transition and scoring 27 fast break points.

“We disobeyed a lot of basic basketball rules that they could take advantage of,” Popovich said. “If we’re going to shoot quickly and shoot poorly, it’s going to be a fast-break deal all night long, and they were better at that than we are. So we’ve got to play a lot smarter than what we saw tonight.”

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What was also evident in Game 1 is the Spurs’ need for LaMarcus Aldridge to play a larger factor.

The forward finished the opener an astronomical minus-36 in just 25 minutes, providing little to nothing on both ends of the floor.

When Aldridge was the primary defender, Houston players scored 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field, including 5-of-10 from beyond the arc. Particularly when he was matched up against Ryan Anderson, Aldridge was slow on rotations when the ball found the Rockets’ sharpshooter on the
perimeter, yielding open 3s.

Aldridge’s defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) was 122.3, and yet his offence was somehow worse.

He contributed 4 points on 2-of-7 shooting and had a team-worst offensive rating of just 62.3 as he failed to take advantage of his size mismatch or make plays out of double-teams.

“I definitely have to help out Kawhi,” Aldridge said. “He did his part tonight. I have to take my time down there and make them pay.

“Once we started missing easy shots, I think after that, we all just tried to start searching and started playing too fast. We just kind of got frantic.”

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NBA

Jazz need Hayward to close the gap in match-up with Durant

Jay Asser 2/05/2017
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Poised for success: Gordon Hayward. Picture: Getty Images.

Gordon Hayward’s star has been on the rise for a while now, but with the often-overlooked Utah Jazz now in the playoffs, the swingman has a stage to show just how good he is.

Is Hayward good enough to give the Jazz any hope of upsetting the Golden State Warriors though? That’s the tall order facing the 27-year-old as Utah begin their second round series against the overwhelming title favourites tonight.

Hayward was fantastic in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers and flashed an efficient offensive game, averaging 23.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 46.9 per cent shooting, including 44.7 per cent from long range.

The Warriors, of course, are at a different level than the Clippers defensively and have given Hayward plenty of trouble recently. In his lone appearance against Golden State this season, Hayward managed just 6 points on 2-of-10 shooting. One game hardly makes a sufficient sample size, but even looking at Utah’s four meetings with the Warriors last season, Hayward shot just 33.3 per cent to average 17.3 points.

Much of those struggles, however, have been of Hayward’s own doing, with him converting 14-of-45 (31.1 per cent) uncontested shots in his past five games against Golden States. For comparison, Hayward shot 43.9 per cent on uncontested looks in 2015-16 and 49.4 per cent this season.

Aside from making open shots, Hayward will have his work cut out off the ball to find those clean looks as Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala are expected to shadow him. Both players are long, rangy and athletic enough to make life difficult for any offence’s top option, but Hayward will at least be somewhat prepared after dealing with a similar body type and defender in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in the previous round.

The Warriors would prefer not to use Durant on Hayward full-time to allow their own time to conserve his energy for offence. But when the two are matched up, Hayward has to make Durant work by running him through a maze of screens (granted it doesn’t draw a switch) and do his best to attack him with the ball without settling for tough shots. It’s a lot to put to Hayward’s shoulders, without even mentioning the test he’s in for on the other end when the match-up pits Durant on offence.

VERDICT

There’s no question the Warriors hold advantages at nearly every position against Utah, but if Hayward can play the duel with Durant closer to a draw than an outright loss, the Jazz have the potential to steal a game or even two.

Winning the series? That’s a whole different matter.

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NBA

Thomas' 33 too much for Wizards as they falter in game one

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The Boston Celtics beat the Washington Wizards 123-111 to take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals after making 19 3-pointers to tie a franchise playoff record.

The Celtics overcame a sluggish start as they trailed the Wizards 16-0 early in game one. The Wizards were able to jump out to an early lead only to see it dwindle as the Celtics made their run.

Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points and nine assists while the team tied a franchise playoff record making 19 three-pointers. Even through the adversity of a knocked out tooth, Thomas was able to make shots and prove his toughness throughout.

Al Horford had a huge impact on the game scoring 21 points, collecting 10 rebounds and dishing out nine assists in a near triple-double for the Celtics big man. The Wizards defense also had no answer for Jae Crowder, who scored a career playoff-high 24 points.

Washington played well through three-quarters of basketball but failed to defend perimeter shots throughout the game. The Celtics were pouring down 3’s and the Wizards defense could not weather the storm late in the fourth quarter.

Bradley Beal led the way for Washington with 27 points, John Wall added 20 points and 16 assists. Marcin Gortat had a solid outing with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Markief Morris had to leave the game due to a sprained left ankle in the second quarter. He only played 11 minutes.

VERDICT

Even though Boston had a great performance from beyond the arc, hitting 19 3-pointers is an aberration for this team. If the Wizards want to steal the next game on the road, they must defend the perimeter shooters more effectively. Thomas was picking their defense apart by penetrating and kicking the ball out to open shooters.

Adjustments will be made by both teams heading into game two but the Wizards need this game to swing home-court advantage in their favor. On the other hand, Boston will look to keep their shooting hot streak going and head to Washington with a 2-0 lead.

INJURY UPDATE

Power forward Morris is expected to play for the Wizards on Tuesday night despite his injury. The team is also missing their backup center Ian Mahinmi due to an injury he incurred in the previous series against the Chicago Bulls. His status is day-to-day.

Game two of the series is set for Tuesday night 3:00 AM (UAE) time.

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