Scores and Series Updates:
Cleveland 119 – Indiana 114 (CLE -2.5)
Cleveland leads 3-0… Game 4 Sunday @IND… ABC 1:00
Toronto 77 – Milwaukee 104 (MIL -1)
Milwaukee leads 2-1… Game 4 Saturday @MIL… TNT 3:00
San Antonio 94 – Memphis 105 (MEM +3)
San Antonio leads 2-1… Game 4 Saturday @MEM… ESPN 8:00
Three Big Takeaways:
1) Lebron James defies logic.
Basketball is much more of a team sport than we ever give it credit for. It’s easy to think that it’s more of an individual sport. There are plenty of reasons to justify that believe – the foremost of which is that the best players tend to win much more than not. Through the first week of the playoffs there have been a number of series that support that claim. Jimmy Butler’s team is beating Isaiah Thomas’s team because he’s the better player. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s team is beating DeMar DeRozan’s team because he’s the better player. The team with the best player wins the series, so that means basketball is more of an individual sport, right?
Well… no. That’s a surface level analysis of the game for people who don’t like the NBA and want to find a reason to call NBA players “selfish” and who are probably not-so-closeted raci– you know what, you get my point.
What tends to go unrecognized in basketball is that, you know, there are ten players on the court. Even when the game seems as individual as ever, it’s not as simple as one guy beating another guy off the dribble. Contrary to what you think you’re watching, players are playing off of what the nine other people on the court are doing. Maybe the help defender can’t slide off his man… Because his man has been hitting shots off drive and kicks… because he got hot earlier… because his teammate has been setting him fantastic screens to free him… because they wanted to key on exposing that defender… because dragging that defender out on shooters messes with the timing of the other teams rotations. Or maybe the defender can help… because he knows the defense will slide and cover for him on that corner shooter… and he knows the big man can’t get over in time… because their backup center is more of a stretch five who can hit open shots. That’s like 5% of what’s going on when it’s simply iso ball. Start getting into real off-ball action and real offensive sets and you realize just how reliant even the most ball-dominant players are on the decisions of the nine other players on the floor at any given time.
I’m laying all this out because I think that gets lost when we’re talking about teams and individuals “flipping the switch”. You can’t just “flip a switch” and have things start working. Yes, shots can start falling – but that’s not “flipping a switch”. That’s a thing that happens within the flow of a game. You can decide to try harder, or to focus more, or to change a certain aspect of your game. But the other nine guys on the floor still dictate what’s going to happen. You can say “I’m going to get to the basket”, but if your defender is glued to you and moving his feet… if the big man is timing his rotations into the lane right… if the help defenders are comfortable sliding off of that guy who isn’t making shots… then there’s no switch for you to flip. Same with saying “I’m going to get my teammates involved” or
No matter how great you are, there are still nine other guys on the court who play a huge role in what you’re trying to do. “Flipping a switch” does not exist in basketball…
…except for Lebron James
Lebron can flip a switch, and he flipped that switch last night. When he wants to take over, he just takes over. Sure, his teammates hit some big shots. But if he wanted to just take it to the basket instead of throwing those outrageous passes out to shooters, he could absolutely do it. Lebron can take over, regardless of what the other nine players are doing, at such a different level than any other player in the league that it defies logic.
He discovered he had that switch in 2012 in Boston, but almost figured it out by accident. He got the switch the mostly work in the 2015 Finals, but didn’t have the right bulb (SICK metaphor there Ham). And then he finally figured it all out in games 5, 6, 7 last year. Now it’s as simple as, literally, flipping on a light switch. He doesn’t have to do it all the time. He’ll just do it when he needs to. He did it in Boston when he knew he could destroy and and all confidence the Celtics might’ve had. And he did it last night when he knew the Cavs needed a galvanizing win to get themselves locked in for the next two rounds.
We can talk more next week about the Cavs defensive woes. But for now, the biggest takeaway from last night has to be that Lebron not only has the switch, but knows exactly how and when to use it.
2) Milwaukee has Toronto on the ropes
I know everyone wants to talk about Toronto right now – but let’s give a little credit to the Bucks here. This isn’t as simple as the Raptors not showing up or not hitting shots. The Bucks are EVERYWHERE defensively. Every time these Toronto guards come off a screen, there’s help waiting. And the Bucks front like is so long and athletic that they can recover to the hoop with relative ease. They’re playing fearless and confident and it’s fun as hell to watch. And now they have this Raptors team — a team that a lot of people thought would be the Cavs toughest opponent — in pretty dire straits right now.
Also yeah don’t ever try this again, Norman
3) Mike Conley has the Grizz back in it.
I missed this game and am not gonna bullshit my way through a take here. I’ll catch the NBATV rewind today and have some extended thoughts if Memphis can pull out another one at home on Saturday night. Also that Lebron section was wayyyy too long so it’s probably time to shut it down.
Around The Association:
Rajon Rondo fractured his thumb and is out indefinitely
Before I saw that news I was gonna talk about how tonight’s Bulls-Celtics game is not on TNT. I even wrote it out on Wednesday. I wrote: “Tonight’s Celtics-Bulls game is on ESPN and therefore not on TNT and if you think that doesn’t matter then you just don’t know the TNT Bulls. I don’t care what this series has looked like thus far – if it’s not on TNT then they’re not the TNT Bulls and the non-TNT Bulls just can not beat the Celtics. C’s to win and C’s to cover. Book it. Also don’t worry Bulls fans you’re back on TNT Sunday and will go back to Boston up 3-1.”
Now? Now I don’t know what to think. I want to say Chicago is in trouble, but in my mind I can’t shake this idea that the two negatives (no Payoff Rondo, not on TNT) will somehow cancel each other out. I don’t know, it’s just the weird way my brain works. But the two negatives cancelling each other out is totally outweighing the fact that the X-Factor of the series is out indefinitely. And while I want to call myself stupid for that, I truly, genuinely believe Chicago is now going to win this game tonight. You know what… yeah… it’s definitely time to shut it down for the day.
Schedule for Friday, April 21st:
Boston @ Chicago (BOS -2.5)
Chicago leads 2-0… Game 4 Sunday @CHI… TNT 6:30
Houston @ Oklahoma City (OKC -2)
Houston leads 1-0… Game 4 Wednesday @OKC… ABC 3:30
Los Angeles @ Utah (LA -1.5)
Utah leads 1-0… Game 4 Sunday @UTAH… TNT 9:00