The Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors finished the regular season being two of the best five teams in the leauge and one of the few teams actually capable of winning an NBA championship. Both now sit in a tied series against inferior opposition. For Toronto, they lost game one to Paul George's Indiana Pacers in a pitiful effort, while they always looked in threat of losing the lead in game two. OKC on the other hand, man-handled Dallas in game one, putting them to the sword on both ends of the floor and then came out flat in game two, losing out to the magical powers of Rick Carlisle and KD's mysterious shooting slump.
Now, all the Mavericks and Pacers need to do is hold serve at home. It's easier said than done, especially considering both Toronto and Oklahoma City have two all-stars each and a vastly superior roster in basically all parts. But I believe that there are a few things that both teams can do to knock off their regular season juggernaut matchups.
How The Pacers Can Do It
1. Have Monta Ellis Hide On Someone Else
Monta Ellis sparked the offense today, especially in transition and on that side of the ball, the Pacers need him to be successful in order to win this series. But his defense today, made him look unplayable. Honestly, Frank Vogel gave him the easiest defensive assignment possible whenever he was on the court and he still couldn't succeed. From the opening tip, Vogel had Ellis guarding the least threatening offensive wing threat, so Paul George and George Hill could guard DeRozan and Lowry.
What Vogel would've found from this, is that even in the easiest of assignments, Monta Ellis is a really bad -- like Enes Kanter bad -- defensive player.
Time after time, we would see Monta just starting at the ball, not remotely aware of what his man (usually DeMarre Carroll, Norman Powell or Cory Joesph) was doing. I can't find any clips that I can link or embed here, because apparently the internet doesn't find Ellis' defense as hillarious as Harden's, but I promise you, that if you watch the tape, you will see whoever Ellis is guarding, can make a straight-line cut in the general direction of the rim and get an open layup.
How do you stop these easy buckets? Well, you have to do a better job of hiding him. Given how badly Ellis did guarding Cory Joseph on-ball, you can't just have him guard Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, so maybe putting him on Luis Scola, when he's on the court, is the answer. Toronto have been so unwilling to give the ball to him so far, so I doubt that Casey and his squad would go out of their way to bully Ellis in the post with him. The only problem with this strategy, is that Scola spent just 10 minutes of time on the court and for the rest of the time, Casey had either Patrick Patterson or small-ball DeMarre Carroll at the four spot.
The simple answer to this is just to tell Monta to maybe... I dunno...maybe look at his man for more than 3 seconds without his eyes being mesmorized by the sperical orange and black thing that his man doesn't have in his hands? #FoodForThought
2. More Myles Turner
Ian Mahinmi has been great all year. He has emerged as one of the better defensive centers in the league and should have stronger consideration for most improved player of the year. But he has been rag dolled by Jonas Valanciunas so far this series. JV has averaged 17.5 points and a collosal 17 rebounds through 2 games and his impact in game 2 couldn't be dismissed. From memory, he had like 11 points and 7 rebounds within the first quarter. Not all of this can be blamed on Ian and to be honest, there should be barely any of it placed on him, as I'll get to in my next point.
But maybe, just maybe, it's time to bring in Myles Turner. Turner played just 16 minutes all game, this is extremely surprising given how well he played. People will point to his 5 fouls, but he only had two after the first half and didn't pick up his fifth until late in the fourth. So...why was he mysteriously burried on the bench? Myles was effective on both ends, don't let his 8 point, 2 rebound stat line fool you. As soon as he entered, he was a breath of fresh air. He was tremendous defensively, extending his arms, making himself long and on offense, he ran the floor, got into great positions and was energetic. He deserves some more minutes.
Vogel even gave some of his center minutes to Lavoy Allen, who provided a limited option at the five spot on both ends of the floor.
I would even like to see Coach Vogel double down on his bigs and go with both Myles Turner and Ian Mahinmi, who formerly started together. This could prove to be a great lineup change, as the Pacers were out-rebounded by 11 and were out-scored in the paint by 16.
3. Go Under Or Switch On All Kyle Lowry/Jonas Valanciunas Pick & Rolls
Basketball Twitter was amazed at how frequently Jonas Valanciunas was left open under the rim and how successful the Lowry/Valanciunas pick and roll was, especially in the early stages. Well, I've got an answer as to why it was and how to limit its effectiveness, but first, watch this clip:
Your immediate reaction is probably, "Why is Ian Mahinmi stepping up too high on the pick and roll?" It's a fair question, but one that can be answered fairly easily. You see, George Hill went over Valanciunas's pick and Lowry did a magnificent job of getting in front of Hill and making it impossible for him to interject on the 2-on-1 that manifested. If Mahinmi doesn't come up on the PnR help, Lowry has got an open layup, or at least a kick-out to an open three if the weakside help comes. Instead, Mahinmi did come up and left JV open for the lob, it was the logical and correct option for Mahinmi to take.
But this shouldn't happen in the first place, the Pacers shouldn't be running over the top of screens like that. Lowry is too smart of a point guard to find holes and exploit them with ease. Instead, go under the pick and make it so Mahinmi doesn't have to step up. Sure, this will give Lowry a few more acres of space to pull-up, but that is far better than the alternative. Lowry might be stroking it from deep at a rate of 39% this year and may have been a three point contest member, but on pull-ups this year, he has been surprisingly inefficient. Lowry, off the dribble, shoots just 35% from the field and 31% from deep. Those numbers are far worse than what Jonas's alley-oop percentage would be.
4. Play *Gulp* C.J. Miles
After being lava hot for the first two months of the season, C.J. Miles went sub-zero. In January he drained only 22% of his threes and in February, just 32%.
This has led to him being dropped from the starting lineup, almost out of the rotation and just about out of Pacers' fans hearts. So, don't yell at me too much for saying this, but I think Indiana needs to play him more.
Alright, get over yourselves, I'm not saying to run the offense through him or even start him, all I'm suggesting is a little bit more of small ball with C.J..
Miles adds a three-point threat to a Pacers team that is bereft of them. He adds another demension to a lackluster offense and can be a viable option when the Pacers go small, unlike Solomon Hill, who was frankly terrible today and I'm not sure what he added to the team. The problem with the regular small-ball group with Hill in there, is that the Raptors don't have to adjust and bring on their small-ball unit. Hill isn't enough of a threat, so they can hide Patrick Patterson on him without too many consequences.
Putting Miles in there, even if he's not firing, changes the whole equation.
My guess is that Casey would have to change is plan and go small with either DeMarre Carroll or James Johnson at the four, to stop an up-tempo Pacers team with bundles of shooting in hand. I think Pacers fans would agree that this is preferable to having Patrick Patterson in the lineup, dropping another 14 points and 6 rebounds off of the bench.
How The Mavericks Can Do It
1. Justin Anderson, Justin Anderson & More Justin Anderson
I was tempted to just put, have Kevin Durant miss 26 shots again in the title for this point, but that seemed lazy.
Instead, they should play their awesome, athletic, long rookie by the name of, Justin Anderson.
For those that haven't watched this series closely, Justin Anderson is the guy that blocked Kevin Durant's last gasp layup attempt, basically saving the game from the clutches of defeat. But it isn't game saving blocks that I want Anderson to deliver for this Mavs team.
While Wes Matthews was great defensively today against Durant, you'd think at some point, Billy Donovan will figure out that Durant is like a good 7 inches taller than Matthews and will take him down to the post. When this happens, the Mavs can be ready with all sorts of goodness involving Anderson, a guy that is only 6'6'' or 6'7'', but has a 6'11'', bordering on 7'0'' wingspan. He's the best chance that the Mavs have of defending Durant for the entire course of the series and should continue to jack up his minutes throughout the 7 games.
Anderson can't shoot yet, but he isn't much of a liability if you factor in all of the other snipers on the Mavs' team, the fact that Billy Donovan won't figure out that he can leave Anderson open and his freakish athleticism, making it possible, to get offense out of things like this:
2. Keep Injecting Raymond Felton With Whatever You're Giving Him
Ray Felton is shaped like a baloon, scored 7 points on 20% shooting in game one and hasn't been good since the Knicks last made the playoffs. Yet somehow, he managed a clinical 21 point, 11 assist performance, on 50% shooting, with decent defense.
Whatever it is, Rick Carlisle, keep giving it to him. It's working.
3. More Mejri Minutes
Another short one, as it is relatively obvious, so you know what, I'll just leave the comparison of Zaza Pachulia and Salah Mejri here:
Pachulia: 19 minutes, 1/6 shooting, 2 points, 6 rebounds, plus/minus of -16
Mejri: 28 minutes, 5/7 shooting, 12 points, 3 rebounds, plus/minus of +18
Clear enough for you? Good.
4. Stagger Dirk's Minutes A Little More
Just in case you think I'm saying reduce Dirk's minutes, I'm not. All I'm suggesting is that the Mavs would be better off if the Mavericks changed some of his substitution patterns.
Rick Carlisle is already pretty wily when it comes to saving Nowitzki's legs and making sure Dirk's not at a physical disadvantage on his matchups, but he struggled a little bit today, going 7 for 19 from the field and scoring just 17 points. After examining a lot of Dirk's shots closely, I have come to the conclusion that the Thunder are the perfect matchup for Nowitzki. Both Adams and Ibaka are capable defending him. When the Mavs get into their screening action to get Dirk open, the Thunder switch between Ibaka and Adams and are at no disadvantage, as they always have one of them at home to protect the basket and one of them crowding Nowitzki with their length, instincts and athleticism.
The starting pair of bigs is a living nightmare for Dirk, he finds it hard to get free as the Thunder often switch between the two and when he enters the post, both are long enough to defend his patented one-legged flamingo fadeaway.
But when both or one of the two are off the court, Nowitzki is able to roam free. The Thunder can't switch due to only one of them being on the floor and the first big off the bench is almost always Enes 'the turnstile' Kanter, who couldn't defend my grandmother.
Carlisle needs to have Nowitzki against this group a lot more, it means that the starting offense can run more through their slew of guards and Nowitzki gets easier matchups to score on. All Rick needs to do is bring Dirk off a little earlier than usual and sub him in a little earlier too, just breaking up his minutes enough so he gets the likes of Nick Collison and Enes Kanter more.
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