Welcome to The Rotation, our daily playoff wrap-up of our favorite stories, large and small, from last night’s NBA action.
Don’t worry, you’ll find it
By Daniel Rowell (@danieljrowell)
During the first half of the Cavaliers-Pacers game, as the Cavs gave up a historic 72 points to Indiana, I wrote down a list of ideas for finding that pesky switch everyone keeps talking about:
Did you check the bathroom sink?
Between the sofa cushions?
Did you leave it in the car?
The kitchen table?
Did you leave it in your locker with that Godfather book you carry around everywhere?
Maybe it’s in your cryogenic chamber?
Did you check J.R.’s shirt?
Stay calm, maybe it is in the restricted area.
You know, the one where you’ve been outrebounded 21-12?
Maybe retrace your last steps.
Where did you see it last?
Is it underneath that pile of bricks that Kyrie and Kevin laid?
Are you sure you had it with you?
Did you lend it to Mo Williams?
It’ll find you eventually.
Maybe, pray to St. Anthony
Sometimes I’ll lose my glasses and then I’ll realize they are on my head.
Hey, speaking of which… LeBron, where did your headband go?
And, as it turns out…….
There is no switch, there is only LeBron
By Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg)
J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver set a double high screen for LeBron James, who went left and passed the ball to Smith, who went around the Korver pick, found some running room toward the rim and then kicked it out to Channing Frye, who hit a 3-pointer to put the Cavaliers up 114-107 with 54 seconds remaining.
That was about all LeBron’s teammates contributed in the second half.
The Cavaliers went into halftime down 72-49 to the Pacers, which led to a bunch of switch jokes and Larry Bird drinking water like this:
But here’s the thing about the switch: There is no switch, there in only LeBron.
A switch implies there is some sort of mechanism that makes the whole team better, but that’s not what happened Thursday. LeBron happened.
LeBron finished with 41 points (28 of which came in the second half), 13 rebounds and 12 assists, as he pushed the Cavaliers back into the game. He took it upon himself to guard Paul George and Lance Stephenson when no one else could. The Cavaliers came back to win 119-114, completing a 25-point comeback — the biggest single-game comeback in postseason history.
The other two musketeers — Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — combined to make just eight of their 29 field goals for 26 points. No other Cavalier scored more than 13 points. LeBron played 45 minutes — 14 more than any of his teammates, and at full tilt.
The Cavaliers took a 3-0 lead in the series, but nothing has changed since the regular season. It’s still LeBron or bust. If there is a switch, it hasn’t been flipped yet. But odds are there isn’t a switch. There is only LeBron. The good thing for the Cavs is that usually enough.
Play of the Day: The Bucks drop a defensive meteor on the Raptors
By Jeff Siegel (@jgsiegel)
The Milwaukee Bucks, having already stolen a game in Toronto, came home and promptly suffocated the Raptors with their tremendous length, athleticism, and, most of all, their willingness and ability to switch defensive assignments as easily as they breathe the air in the arena. Milwaukee has constructed a roster full of lanky, quick, and ultimately interchangeable defenders and it makes the game absolute hell for their opponents.
In the third quarter, already up by 30 points, the Bucks’ defensive principles were on full display as the Raptors once again exhausted the entire shot clock without a single good opportunity:
To combat the Bucks’ ultra-traptastic pick-and-roll scheme, the Raptors have been running their screeners first off of what are known as ram screens, a close relative of a standard down screen. In the clip above, Norman Powell sets a screen for DeMar DeRozan before he comes to the top of the key. If DeRozan had stepped up to screen for Delon Wright, Matthew Dellavedova — DeRozan’s defender — would have been behind the play and unable to execute the hard trap. In this instance, DeRozan doesn’t set the ball screen, instead catching the ball at the top of the key for what looks like an isolation against Dellavedova.
Wright moves into the corner to set what would have been a down screen for Powell, but the Bucks don’t bother with defending these actions, they just switch and are done with it. This means that neither Malcolm Brogdon nor Jason Terry is preoccupied with anything else and their full focus is still on DeRozan. Powell sprints into a ball screen for DeRozan, but once again, the Bucks just switch and DeRozan is not any closer to scoring than he was before. With just nine seconds left on the shot clock for the notoriously tortoise-like Raptors, they now have to create something from nothing in a very short amount of time.
DeRozan passes to Wright in the corner, who has a favorable matchup with Terry. The Raptors have cleverly designed this play to get a matchup with Terry in the hopes that the Bucks will have to over-help on the drive. Watch Powell’s path again after he sets the screen for DeRozan—in an attempt to confuse the defense, Patterson sets a hammer screen for Powell, hoping that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dellavedova will either be distracted by the movement or help too much and leave Powell open in the corner. As is the Bucks way, Antetokounmpo and Dellavedova execute another switch and when Wright’s pass finds Powell in the corner, Antetokounmpo is able to close out to a specific location, rather than having to find his man. Antetokounmpo runs Powell off the 3-point line and Monroe steps into Powell’s path to briefly hold him up as Antetokounmpo flies back into the play and swats Powell’s shot to Sheboygan.
The communication is flawless. The length is terrifying. The foot speed is lightning quick. And the Bucks are up 2-1 as a result.
The Joy of Giannis
By Daniel Rowell (@danieljrowell)
With 2:15 seconds remaining in the third quarter of Thursday’s Raptors-Bucks game, Giannis Antetokounmpo blocked a layup from Norman Powell, twice. No, really:
In realtime the block just kind of looked like a roadrunner and coyote bit, where the fabric of time and space are pulled away, the object evaporates, and in it’s place is a strange long legged bird oscillates back and forth as it re-enters reality. In phantom cam, it shows Giannis had jumped so high he hit Powell’s shot with his elbow before even releasing the full stride of his blocking hand, in fact setting and spiking the ball like a one armed beach volley ball team. It’s wild. Giannis accidentally salt BAE’d a basketball.
The best part of the replay is that DeMar DeRozan is captured in the frame, watching the block from a safe distance like a kid in a Kaiju movie that goes: “Oh, sh–!!” and then runs. DeRozan isn’t even facing the camera but you can see his defeat in the way his shoulder fall as Giannis overnights a Spalding to Toronto. And to be honest, that isn’t far off. DeRozan was shook, 0-8 from the field (0-7 at the time of this shot). ALL eight of his points came from the free throw line, a point that was not lost on Giannis after the game (see: 1m36s).
But perhaps the visual that sticks with me the most is just the distance between the ball and Giannis’s hand while he is still at the apex of his leap. It’s looney-toons-esque in the best of ways. Like you could almost imagine a small dust cloud accumulating where Powell had once layed the basketball.
At this point in the game, almost through three quarters, the Bucks led the Raptors 74-44. Through 34 minutes, the Raptors had scored just 44 points and were down by 30. Which is pretty remarkable. A complete defensive shutdown of one of the better backcourts in the Eastern conference. Just like this five second clip, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s emergence in the opening round of the playoffs is pure joy. It’s witnessing at once something that has never been seen before and someone who may never be matched. It’s whimsical, it’s queer, it’s joy. He’s 22 years old, he has no idea where his potential may take him, and he’s accidentally setting volleyball spikes with his elbow. You could drop one of the NBA’s “This is why we play” slogans on the end of this clip but it almost wouldn’t fit, because I don’t think WE can do that, but Giannis? He can. And that’s joy.
The new model Grizzlies
By Chris Manning (@cwmwrites)
During the third quarter of Thursday’s game against the Spurs, the Grizzlies drubbed San Antonio. It had all the elements of a classic Grizzlies run, too. Zach Randolph was there, bashing people in the post. Mike Conley was there, pulling all of the strings. And Marc Gasol was there doing Marc Gasol things.
But this was different. A few years ago, when the grit-and-grind Memphis identity was just being forged, the Grizzlies won games with physicality. If they blew you out, it didn’t come in burst of points. It came over four quarters and it most definitely battered you.
That’s not what happened Thursday. And these are not the same old Grizzlies.
Randolph did this damage in a similar way; he went down on the the block and bludgeoned the Spurs into submission. But Conley, who seems to realized just how good he is lately, zoomed around the court, darting into the lane and creating. Gasol pick and popped for 3-pointers and whipped full court outlet passes like he’s Spanish Kevin Love. Vince Carter chipped in too, dunking despite being roughly 1,000 years old.
This Memphis team is different. Under David Fizdale, the outline of the prime grit-and-grind years still remains. But this team has embraced the parts the modern NBA that fit their personal. Gasol, in all forms, is a modern center. Conley is just really good. Bit pieces like JaMychal Green chip in and help with the adaption; imagine if Chandler Parsons was healthy and contributing. On nights like Thursday, where everything is clicking, the Grizzlies are blend of the old and new, highlighting the best of both worlds.
Will Memphis ultimately win this series? Probably not. Kawhi Leonard remains the best player on the court any moment he’s out there. And the Spurs remain the Spurs. But they have a chance when they play like they did in the third quarter Thursday. It’s grit-and-grind with a pinch of pace-and-space added in.