Short Corner: 12 things you might have missed from the first round of the NBA playoffs
Welcome to the Short Corner, a celebration of the NBA in the pithiest form possible. Below are a collection of notebook-style items, laid out for your buffet-style enjoyment -- all drawn from the first round of the postseason.
• Shawn Marion, who has done thankless defensive work his entire career, deserves particular credit for taking whatever assignment necessary to keep Dallas' defense credible this series. He drew the primary assignment of guarding Tony Parker until Rick Carlisle needed him to slide down to guard Manu Ginobili or further to stop Kawhi Leonard in the post. Marion handles switches expertly; it's telling that, despite the Mavs' strategic willingness to switch in this series, no Spurs big man has made hay against Marion on the block. He's long, he's competitive and he's doing a miraculous job of keeping a flawed defensive team afloat.
In fact, not enough can be said about the way that Marion navigates those switches in general. When a team builds switching into its game plan, its players can sometimes become too willing to commit to a switch when none is needed. The strategy is taken as an excuse to surrender on every screen, a flaw that facilitates mismatches and then encourages defensive overreaction. Marion, though, has the situational awareness to quickly determine which screens merit switching and which do not. You'll see him trail Parker around a screen soft enough to allow it, particularly when the Spurs attempt to free up Parker by running him off the ball. That's such a small component of a what has been a broadly exciting series, though it's one that keeps the Mavs' defense sturdy at the point of attack.
• Tony Allen (3.5 per game) and Russell Westbrook (3.2) currently lead the Grizzlies and Thunder, respectively, in postseason offensive rebounding. Best of luck to any player tasked with keeping a body on them when the shot goes up.
• Among the more curious developments in these playoffs: Damian Lillard's fairly dramatic improvement as a finisher. During the season the area immediately around the basket proved uncomfortable for Lillard; while athletic enough to get to the rim, Lillard converted just 46.9 percent of his shots from the restricted area -- a pitiful percentage relative to other star guards. In this series, though, Lillard has converted 63.6 percent of his attempts from that same range, many over the likes of Dwight Howard and Omer Asik. This version of Lillard is more confident in attacking the basket than any we've seen previously, which in Portland's case has helped steady a jumper-heavy offense.
• A summary of Marcus Thornton's postseason thus far, as captured by two possessions just a few minutes apart:
• A smart play by Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger: Saving Mike Conley's legs by having him defend unthreatening players like Thabo Sefolosha when possible. Conley is one of the better defensive guards in the league -- just the kind of player that many coaches would use as a full-time cover for Russell Westbrook. Memphis is in a position, though, where it can reasonably assign Courtney Lee to guard Westbrook for a spell while having Conley catch his breath. We can't exactly quantify the impact of that periodic rest, but it seems safe to say that buying even a few possessions' rest is likely helpful when the majority of the games in this series have stretched beyond regulation.
On a related note: Conley has made more field goals in overtime than any other Grizzlies player, thanks in part to his 50 percent shooting from the field in the extra frame.
• In every one of the Raptors' playoff games, Dwane Casey has been forced to choose between allocating reserve minutes to Landry Fields, who has yet to score in the playoffs, or John Salmons, who is shooting 18.2 percent in this series. I do not envy him.
• The sports world tends to make huge, sweeping judgments with the result of every playoff game, but consider for a moment this play:
As Paul Pierce's shot comes up short, Andrei Kirilenko darts down the lane to claim prime offensive rebounding position on the near side of the basket. The ball then bounces and rolls off the top of the backboard to Kyle Lowry on the other side of the lane. That's a big swing -- from potential put-back to easy defensive rebound -- in what was a one-point game, and it was decided entirely by luck. Skill matters. Savvy matters. Athleticism matters. Winning a series, though, requires all three along with quite a bit of good fortune. There's not much room for illumination in a game dictated by chance, though it's an unmistakable component in all of this.
• One aspect of the Wizards' defense that doesn't get enough play: The threat of a John Wall close-out. To line up a jumper while a player that quick, that long, and that springy charges toward you is a challenge -- so much so that Wall's rotation to the ball prevents an impressive number of three-pointers from even being attempted.
• Should the Hawks close out the Pacers in Game 7, glory will go to Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap -- both of whom have been terrific. Some slice of the credit, though, is owed to DeMarre Carroll. Not only has Carroll done a solid job of defending Paul George in this series, but over the full run he ranks fourth among Hawks in per-game scoring and has hit 52.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
• At present, Nicolas Batum ranks in the top 20 in postseason touches, passes and assists per game. He also, in an amazing display of ball control, has committed a grand total of four turnovers through five games.
Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.
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