Basketball, Basketball, Columnists, Sports

The 2-3 Zone

The “2”

What are the two best words in sports? Game 7. And that is what we got Friday night between the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors.

Not only did the series live up to our wildest expectations by going to Game 7, but the final two elimination games were thrilling enough to shave a few years off my life.

The Game 6 double-overtime slugfest saw four players from both teams eclipse 50 minutes played. The Raptors smothering box-and-one defense on Kemba Walker, along with a missed call just before the regulation buzzer, also helped keep the team from up North alive in the series.

But the Celtics forced 18 turnovers in Game 7, while Jayson Tatum served up a superstar level performance to literally send the Raptors packing. Marcus Smart also got some much-deserved national attention in this series and in Game 7 itself, showing off his All-Defensive First Team abilities with a crucial late-game block to help the Celtics seal the series.

The Houston Rockets have been eliminated from the playoffs. Mike D’Antoni will be leaving Houston this offseason. And with a desperate lack of assets and super max-level money wrapped up in James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the Rockets’ future looks dim.

This offseason, the Rockets might be able to find a coach ready to lean in to the small ball movement, and with a top-five player at the helm, the league’s perennial biggest disappointment can try to contend for a championship yet again.

But Houston has a bigger problem: they have a roster built on two things, which could arguably be boiled down to one thing. They play Iso ball on the perimeter with their stars and hope to generate looks at the rim with those stars or shots on the outside for the supporting cast.

When Harden spearheads that playstyle, it can be effective for 82 games. But when it comes to the playoffs, great coaches and great teams will be able to dispose of that simplistic offense too easily. 

The Rockets need to make a major change this offseason, which likely means trying to move Westbrook or getting a coach who can force Harden to take on a different approach.

The “3”

I am writing this column before the Los Angeles Clippers-Denver Nuggets Game 7 Tuesday night, but the Clippers are proving something to everyone this series and doing it painfully so.

The Clippers lack whatever imposing willpower it is that the Los Angeles Lakers seem to have. They just do not seem to have the right effort level when their shots aren’t falling or when they are up big. Leading the series 3-1 against the Nuggets, the Clippers embarrassingly squandered 16- and 19-point leads in Games 5 and 6. 

The Clippers have thus far been unconvincing as contenders, despite having the talent to be the best team in the league. They need to kick up their effort or they will have no chance of winning it all this year.

The NBA coaching carousel is already spinning at full throttle. The two teams in New York have already secured new coaches in the past two months.

Meanwhile, the Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans are all still searching for a new head coach. 

I see the current list of vacancies as an opportunity to increase the diversity of the NBA coaching pool before next season. 

With Nate McMillan and Alvin Gentry gone from their positions, the NBA has lost two Black head coaches. But with Tyronn Lue, Sam Cassell and Ime Udoka on the market, we could see more Black head coaches in the NBA than last year.

This column typically focuses on the NBA, but at the end of the day, it is broadly about basketball. With that in mind, I just want to give a massive shout out to the Las Vegas Aces. 

As a Las Vegas native and Women’s NBA fan, it has been awesome to watch the Aces’ performance this WNBA season.

On Sunday, the Aces beat the Seattle Storm by 2 points to clinch the No. 1 seed in the playoffs over the Storm. More impressively, the Aces enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed despite not having former second-overall pick Liz Cambage on the court this season.

A’ja Wilson has been the most destructive force in the league this year. With her leading the team, I expect the Aces to win it all this year.

 

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