Column: RICK SOLEM
Things are going to get ugly. They’re already that way, but that’s the NBA playoffs - Hard fouls, awful shooting. In other words: Defensive.
And it’s only going to get worse – or better.
Three outliers remain in the equation that will win an NBA championship – a defensive equation.
WARRIORS STILL KICKING
The Golden State Warriors keep defying the odds with David Lee out – though they may be better without him if that makes any sense – and Stephen Curry playing with a bum left ankle.
How they’re tied 2-2 with the San Antonio Spurs is baffling. Then again, Tony Parker has an injured calf, so the Parker-Curry matchup is kind of a push.
But that leaves Klay Thompson Golden State’s only real scoring threat – and he can’t get open – while the Spurs have Manu Ginobli, Tim Duncan and role players like Danny Green and Kwhai Leanard that are capable on offense.
Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, not so capable … especially after seeing the Warriors final possession before overtime Sunday - Jack dribbling at half court until the clock was down to 7 seconds before trying to drive left, then throwing the basketball toward the rim.
Nobody else moved. Nobody set a screen. This out of a timeout. Maybe they were trying to play it safe, but money would have been on the Spurs in overtime. Go figure, they still won.
Maybe they’re a little more defensive than anyone gives them credit for with Andrew Bogut manning the paint. Sure beats Monta Ellis out there.
THE NEW YORK ANTHONY
Speaking of offensive, the New York Knicks should slowly fade into the night as the Indiana Pacers continue to beat them into the ground. The way the Knicks play is offensive to the sport.
On paper, New York is far more talented, has a deeper bench and plays as good a defense.
In reality, talent and a deep bench mean squat when only two guys shoot the ball and the defense isn’t that good.
Carmelo Anthony is 29-for-70 so far in the series, led by the Pacers 2-1. He shot 50 percent in their lone win (13-for-26), and he’s shot quite awful the rest of the playoffs.
He’s 90-for-230 in the nine playoff games. That’s 39 percent. He’s only shot 50 percent in that one win. And he has 16 assists through the playoffs – 16 assists from a guy who is constantly doubled and has capable players around him that could make a basket or two if they got to touch the ball.
The Knicks roster isn’t so void of scoring that Anthony must shoot 25 times in a series that’s averaging 178 points a game. It could be argued that no player should ever shoot 25 times a game. In his 13 years in the playoffs, Michael Jordan averaged exactly 25 shots a game.
News flash: Carmelo Anthony is not Michael Jordan.
Jordan also averaged 5.7 assists. Anthony is averaging 1.8 assists.
Combine that with mini-Anthony, J.R. Smith, and what you have is a formula for awful.
Smith is 39-for-115 in the playoffs (eight games, he was suspended for one). That’s 34 percent. He also has 10 assists and 15 turnovers. Not good for the Knicks, but good for basketball purists, because they’ll be gone soon.
While the Knicks are seemingly two-dimensional with Anthony-Smith (not really by choice, but those two just keep chucking), the Pacers are even less talented offensively.
They’re only offensive threat, really, is Paul George, but somehow he doesn’t chuck 25 times a game. George isn’t shooting well, just 40 percent, but he’s also putting up just 12.6 shots a game. And the Pacers are winning. Winning with defense. Winning with guys like Roy Hibbert, Lance Stepheson and George Hill. Who?
Speaking of no talent, hello Chicago. They’re not going to beat the Heat, but they sure are giving them fits. Fits with grit and grit alone.
Remember, the Bulls are the team that ended Miami’s 27-game winning streak, shocked them in the first game of the second round and took them to the wire in Game 3.
All this without Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich at times and a hobbled Joakim Noah, who has plantar fasciitis. Nate Robinson is stealing the headlines. Nate Robinson people.
The Bulls continue to make things interesting for the Heat with defense and toughness … and Nate Robinson. That said, the Heat should win the next two games, because they’re as tough, as defensive, healthy and more talented.
Another team leaving the playoffs is the Oklahoma City Thunder. They’re a fringe team in being an outlier, because they do actually play defense, but they can’t win with just one scorer.
With Russell Westbrook, they were a two-dimensional team that got by on the superior talent of Kevin Durant.
Without Westbrook they’re a one-dimensional team that gets by on the superior talent of Durant … except they won’t anymore, because Durant isn’t Carmelo Anthony.
If Durant was injured and Westbrook playing, he would probably shoot 35 times a game. About half the Thunder possession would last four seconds, with him sprinting up, stopping at the elbow and shooting a 15-footer. And the Thunder would have lost by 35 points a game against Houston.
With Durant, they squeaked by Houston and they’re still in games against Memphis, but he doesn’t have the mentality to shoot every time he touches the ball, like Anthony or Westbrook … or Smith or Robinson. There’s a theme here. None of those guys are advancing.
Durant may be the only player in the NBA right now that should have the right to shoot every time, but that’s never going to win. No, LeBron James shouldn’t shoot every time.
Even if Durant were to shoot more often, the Thunder don’t run enough offense to get him the ball in spots. They simply give him the ball at the top of the key and step aside.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies, up 2-1, are an old-school, inside-out team with a balanced attack. They also have more than one capable scorer.
They do all those things you need to win: they play tough; they’re defensive minded; they’re balanced offensively.
They’re also the only team that truly relies on a post game with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
They’re an outlier themselves in that regard. There hasn’t been an NBA champion like that since the 2002-03 Spurs led by David Robinson and Duncan. The Spurs won it again in 04-05 and 06-07 but those teams were led by Duncan-Parker.