Hawks advance to Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 44 seasons of basketball.
Game 6 between the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington Wizards was a hard fought battle from start-to-finish, but in the end, Atlanta emerged victorious by a margin of three points. Jeff Teague was the leader down the stretch, but like most Hawks’ games, it was a team effort that got the W.
Teague finished Friday’s game with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting (2-of-2 from the stripe) to go with five rebounds, seven assists, two 3-pointeres, one steal, one block and three turnovers through 36 minutes of action. Teague has had an up-and-down postseason run, but when he’s hitting his shots and initiating the offense, Atlanta is a tough team to beat.
DeMarre Carroll bounced back from two rough outings, and got back to his cannot-miss ways, going 9-of-14 from the field for a playoff career-high 25 points while adding 10 rebounds, two steals and three 3-pointers. He’s been absolutely fantastic this postseason, often times picking up the opposing team’s best player, while knocking down shots at an extremely efficient rate. His ability to consistently contribute on the offensive end without having any plays drawn up for him is reminiscent of Kawhi Leonard from last season, and he’s come a very long way since his rookie season. So far through this year’s playoffs, DeMarre is averaging 17.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.1 three-pointers, 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the field. He has LeBron James waiting for him in the next round, and that figures to be a thrilling battle to watch. It’s worth noting that during the regular-season Atlanta went 3-1 against the Cavs, with the only loss coming when DeMarre was on the sidelines. Health is going to be a pretty major factor in that series, but I expect Carroll to spend some time guarding both Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Fun.
Paul Millsap was the other 20-point scorer for Atlanta, and he also went to work on the glass, ripping down a game-high 13 boards while handing out two assists and swatting away two shots. While the Hawks don’t necessarily have a true go-to guy on offense, Millsap is probably the closest thing that fits the bill. When Millsap was able to shoot 49.8 percent from the field and score at least 17 points, Atlanta came out on top 55 times out of the 73 games that Paul was in uniform.
Al Horford continued to go to work on the defensive end, and he was a big reason why the Wizards only managed to shoot 38.5 percent in the paint. He finished the game with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting, adding seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and three turnovers while posted a plus/minus rating of plus-14. Horford has been playing some spectacular defense throughout the playoffs, limiting his opposition to just 35.3 percent shooting from the field. In fact, through the second-round Horford has been the league’s best defensive center, posting a Diff% of -17.0.
However, it wasn’t all good for the Hawks, as Kyle Korver struggled yet again going 1-of-8 from the field, missing all seven of his 3-point attempts, to finish with just two points, two assists, four rebounds, one steal, one block and three turnovers through 40 minutes of action. Bradley Beal basically took Korver out of the series, playing some suffocating defense, and keeping Korver off rhythm. However, even when Korver was open, he only connected on 31.2 percent of those attempts (far removed from his 52.9 percent shooting on open looks during the regular-season) and it looks like he’s in a bit of a rut right now. Although he does have a much more favorable matchup waiting for him in the Eastern Conference Finals, as the Cavs ranked in the bottom-tier of teams at defending the shooting guard position (compared to Washington’s top-2 ranking), so perhaps he can bust out of his slump in the next round.
The Truth ready to hang it up?
Washington fought hard the whole game, and Paul Pierce nearly sent it into overtime with yet another buzzer-beating 3-point heave, but unfortunately for him and the Wizards, the ball left his hands just a few tenths of a second too late. There’s no denying that Pierce is one of the most clutch shot-makers in the league, but he really struggled in Washington’s series ending loss, finishing with just four points on 1-of-7 shooting (2-of-2 from the line), five rebounds, one steal, one block and one turnover through 24 minutes of action. Pierce has a player option worth $5.5 million for the 2015-16 season, but did not sound like a guy ready for another season during his postgame interview. “I don’t even know if I’m even going to play basketball anymore,” Pierce said. “These seasons get harder and harder the older you get. It’s tough rolling out of bed every year, every day.” At 37-years-old, Pierce has completed his 17th season of NBA basketball, and while he clearly has something left in the tank, I wouldn’t blame him for not wanting to go through the grind of yet another NBA season. If he decides to hang it up, Otto Porter would be looking at a much larger role next season.
Speaking of Porter, while he didn’t exactly finish his season on a high note, hitting just 3-of-9 shots in the loss for seven points, eight rebounds and two steals, he put together a very strong postseason run. He was a negligible factor throughout the regular-season, but he emerged as a regular part of head coach Randy Wittman’s rotations during Washington’s playoff run, putting in averages of 10.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.2 three-pointers and 1.2 steals per game on 44.3 percent shooting from the field over 33.1 minutes of action. He displayed an ability to knock down shots in the clutch, and also played some elite-level defense, posting a Diff% of -7.2. He’ll be worth a flier in next year’s draft after this year’s coming out party, and he could climb even higher on the draft boards if Pierce decides to call it quits after 17 years in the league.
Washington’s loss was every synonym of ‘sad’ you can think of
Bradley Beal had a great quote after the game, summing up the feelings in Washington’s locker room saying: "It's frustrating. It's depressing. It's sad. It's probably every synonym of `sad' you can think of." It’s tough to lose, especially when you put up a game-high 29 points, but aside from Beal and John Wall, Washington just didn’t get much from their other guys. Beal is a tough guy for me to like in fantasy basketball. I love watching him play, but the fact that various left leg injuries have forced him to miss a significant amount of time in two out of his three NBA seasons, I think I’m going to pass in next year’s draft. If you know me, I stay as far away from the injury prone guys as a possibly can, and while Beal is certainly a fun guy to own while he’s healthy, I’ve seen him in business attire far too often to really enjoy the good times.
Wall was phenomenal, and you’d only know he had five non-displaced fractures in his hand and wrist if someone told you. He was sacrificing his body, diving for loose balls, stealing the rock away with his broken hand, and driving to the rack finishing through heavy traffic. He finished the game with 20 points (7-of-21 FGs, 6-of-7 FTs), 13 assists, six rebounds, two steals and an unfortunate six turnovers. Beal and Wall basically put the Wizards on their back, going on a strong fourth quarter run, but ultimately it was not enough. While Wizards’ fans are probably a bit morose right now, Washington has a very bright future ahead of them if Wall and Beal can remain health. Wall took another step this season, finishing second in the league in assists with 10.0 assists per game (just 0.2 assists per game behind Chris Paul), while also contributing 17.6 points, 1.7 steals and 0.8 three-pointers per game on 44.5 percent shooting from the field. If Wall could become more of a threat from beyond the arc, while cutting down on his turnovers (3.8 TOs per game), he could crawl into the top-5 conversation. For now, he’ll be a fine first-round selection.
Golden State advances to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since the 1976 season.
Golden State closed out their second-round series against the Grizzlies convincingly on Friday with a 108-95 victory behind MVP Stephen Curry’s 32 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and a playoff career-high eight 3-pointers. Curry’s night was capped off by a 62-foot heave that hit nothing but the bottom of the net to close out the third quarter, and that shot really took all the life out of what was a decent second-half run by Memphis. An interesting factoid you may not know about the Warriors, is that they begin each shooting session by jacking up crazy full-court/half-court heaves, so when Steph was asked after the game how often he practices that shot, he simply responded, “every day.” The crazy thing about Curry is basically no one was really that shocked it went in. It’s just a part of his game now, and that speaks volumes to the kind of shooter Curry has become at the NBA-level.
Steph wasn’t the only one to have a good night, as the Dubs shot a collective 50.6 percent from the field, and everyone (aside from David Lee) posted a positive plus/minus rating. Golden State took the lead early, and never looked back (zero lead changes) and Steve Kerr has really elevated this club to a championship level.
Klay Thompson got his, scoring 20 points on just 13 shots, with eight rebounds, three assists, three treys and three turnovers. Draymond Green double-doubled with 16 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer. Harrison Barnes banged with the big boys and finished with 13 points on 6-of-13 shooting, five boards, three assists, one block and one turnover; and Andre Iguodala gave some quality minutes off the bench, posting nine points, six rebounds, seven assists and three 3-pointers.
Memphis is a tough defensive team, and they initially gave Golden State some trouble, but during those two losses the Warriors also missed a lot of shots that they usually make. The reason why I never felt Memphis was a legitimate threat to upset the West’s No. 1 seed is because 1) they don’t have the 3-point shooting to keep up with Golden State and 2) you should never bank on Curry consistently missing open shots.
Let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we? In the two games that the Dubs lost, Curry struggled with knocking down open shots. Now, I will give Memphis some credit, they play some very tough defense, limiting Curry’s overall shot selection to include just 37.5 percent of the “open” variety. However, of those uncontested shots, Curry only was able to knock down 33.3 percent of them. To put that statistic in perspective, during the regular-season 52.2 percent of Curry’s shot’s came on open to wide-open looks, and of those he knocked down 48.9 percent. Golden State’s ball-movement provides open looks to the wings, and there was no way Curry was going to continue to miss. The Dubs are playing some beautiful basketball right now, similar to last year’s Spurs, where all five guys on the floor are a threat to score. When everyone can pass, and everyone can score, you become a very tough team to beat, and that is why I’m calling for the Larry O’Brien trophy to wind up back in Oakland when all is said and done.
Mike Conley: Pain Level, Master
I still can’t quite believe that Mike Conley was able to play at all during Memphis’ second-round series. On April 27, Mike Conley had one metal plate and four screws inserted into the bone beneath his eye, another plate (and three more screws) fastened to his orbital bone, in addition to his jaw being realigned. In order to do any of this the surgeons had to make an incision just outside of his eyelid, and fold the skin back all the way to his eyebrow. The recovery time for this procedure was initially set at 4-to-6 weeks, but just eight days after going under the knife, Conley made his way back to the basketball court leading his team to a shocking Game 2 win. How anyone on planet earth could not have an unhealthy amount of respect for Mr. Conley is beyond me, and his grit and determination is really what defines the Memphis Grizzlies. Yes, their season ended on Friday, but now Mike can finally get some rest (although I imagine he won’t do much resting).
The entire Grizzlies team struggled on Friday, shooting a collective 37.4 percent from the field, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that Memphis doesn’t have the personnel to space the floor effectively. Conley finished the game with 11 points (3-of-13 FGs, 5-of-7 FTs), nine assists, two steals, one rebound and one turnover. Tony Allen (hamstring) only lasted 5 minutes before head coach Dave Joeger decided to pull the plug. Courtney Lee knocked down two of Memphis’ total four 3-point shots, finishing with 12 points, two rebounds, three assists and a steal. And Jeff Green rounded out the ineffective group with six points (2-of-8 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) seven rebounds, one assist and one steal over 31 minutes.
Oh where, oh where, will Marc Gasol land?
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph make for one of the best frontcourts in the league, and I can only imagine how amazing that pairing could be if they actually had someone on the perimeter capable of consistently knocking down 3-point shots. The Dubs just crowded the paint, daring anyone in Memphis to take a long-range shot, and that strategy panned out well for Golden State. Gasol finished Friday’s season-ending loss with a team-high 21 points on 7-of-23 shooting (7-of-10 from the line), adding 15 rebounds, four assists, five blocked shots and zero turnovers. Gasol is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and while he’s emerged as one of the best centers in the league while playing in Memphis, you have to wonder if the steady early-round exits have begun to wear on him. Gasol could really be a difference maker on a championship team, and with the way that Memphis is setup, they’re just not really that close to being elite. Yes, they play fantastic defense on a nightly basis, but they also have consistently lacked the personnel to score from beyond the arc, and that just doesn’t fly in today’s NBA. Seven of the past eight NBA champions have led all playoff teams in both 3-point attempts and makes, and of the five remaining teams in this year’s postseason, all of them ranked in the top-10 in 3-point percentage during the regular season. Memphis can offer Marc the most money, and an additional year on the max contract, so from that standpoint they do have the advantage. There are going to be quite a few big name free agents on the market this offseason, but not many of them can make the impact that Marc Gasol can.