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NBA Hot Take 10–19–18

AND DEEPER THOUGHTS AFTER GAME 2 OF 82

#1: Tonight, we had the good fortune to see Boston at Toronto followed by Golden State at Utah. It doesn’t get better than this.

Boston-Toronto seems like an absolute lock for the Eastern Conference Finals, and some people predict that Utah could make the Western Conference Finals. (I have them as #3 in the West, but Houston’s defense looked horrible, which only increases the odds that someone will replace them as the second best team in the Conference.)

Both games were fantastic, with multiple lead changes and comebacks, but finally decided by superlative performances by the NBA’s very best players.

Superstars matter.

It made up an unbelievable first week of basketball that will continue with Houston visiting the Lakers, and eventually dissolve into the unending trudge through March games that feature Sacramento and Brooklyn.

As excited as fans are about the beginning of the NBA season, the long season could really use some new ideas that would allow top teams more rest and bottom teams new opportunities and rewards not to tank. These are ideas aren’t mine, but they deserve to be shared:

  1. Top 16 seeding for the playoffs. No one is suggesting that Eastern team owners will vote in favor of a proposal where the playoff teams would be determined by the best record, as this could theoretcially eliminate one or two of the sub-.500 teams in one conference in favor of adding one or two teams from the other conference. But seeding the qualifying playoff teams from each conference would achieve the highest goal in sports, which is to see the very best compete in the championship. Also, it would set up some fascinating and competitive playoff series. Based on last year’s standings, the top 16 seeding would have given us playoff series like Boston vs Minnesota (Butler’s revenge against Ainge?), Philadelphia vs San Antonio (young superstars vs Popovich), and Cleveland vs New Orleans (LeBron losing in the first round?).
  2. A mid-season tournament. One of English Premier Cups best ideas is a tournament that runs concurrently with their regular season. Maybe the NBA’s equivalent would be the bottom four teams of each conference play an 8-team single elimination tournament with the winner getting a preferred place in the lottery, or some other incentive to stay competitive instead of tanking for a better chance at a top draft pick.
  3. Bill Simmon’s entertaining as hell basketball tournament. An interesting idea to give more teams a chance to make the playoffs and discourage tanking.

#2: I love it when someone else’s hot take blows up in their face a couple of days later.

On Wednesday, Colin Cowherd made the announcement that Boston had the next dynasty after watching the Celtics dismantle the 76ers. Colin was predicting four NBA titles over the next six years, including the possibility of beating the Warriors this year.

Hot takes are funny because they are usually ridiculous over reactions. I know because I’ve done it myself.

I recently realized the insanity of my hot take on the 76ers last year after Joel Embiid make history with a 45–16–7–7 game that Philadelphia trailed late in the 4th quarter. I mean, how stupid could I be not to have some doubts about a team that barely beat the baby Lakers (a team that went on to win 35 games)?

Stubbornly, I held on to that illusion through the 2018 playoffs (thinking Philadelphia needed more experience when threw away two games after having 4th quarter leads), and the off season (thinking that Simmons would come back with a jump shot). Then, I saw Philadelphia stumble and bumble against the Celtics in the season opener on Tuesday,and heard Joel Embiid say the 76ers aren’t close enough to the Celtics to even call it a rivalry.

I finally woke up. I wonder what Cowherd’s going to say the next time he talks about the NBA?

#3: But I’ve also made statements based on past performance and a little deeper analysis. When they seem to be correct based on today’s results, why not take the time to crow about it?

In June, Kawhi Leonard said he wanted to leave San Antonio and play in Los Angeles. Stories came out that Boston was one of the most likely destinations and because they had to most assets to do a deal. (The Lakers were hoping to get either LeBron or Paul George and didn’t want to give up all their assets as this would make it less likely to land a top free agent.)

Almost in unison, Boston fans (and apparently Danny Ainge) stated that they would never give up their young players. Some of the were arrogant enough to argue that Jayson Tatum was already better than Leonard. (I guess that could be true of Kawhi never returned to his past form.)

Here’s the jist of what I wrote back in June (ESPN suppressed their comment sections, so you’ll have to trust me here):

“Kawhi Leonard is the only player who has beaten Kevin Durant and LeBron James in consecutive playoff series. He would give the Celtics a real chance to beat the Warriors. Without him, they have no chance to beat the Warriors.”

In September, I expanded on those thoughts in a Quora article on the 2020 NBA Finals and wrote about the six keys to being a champion.

#6. Have one or more players who can slow down the other team’s superstar. For the last eight years, this basically meant can you slow down Durant and LeBron? Only two teams have had the answer to this question: San Antonio in 2014 (Leonard) and Golden State 2015, 2017–18 (Iguodala-Green).

Yesterday, I repeated and expanded upon that analysis to back up my pick of Toronto to win the East:

5. Have one unstoppable, high efficiency superstar. Kyrie Irving will try to take over games, but he will fall into patches where he depends too much on the 3-pointer. Kawhi Leonard can get to any spot on the floor, and score points off turnovers and offensive rebounds. Edge: Toronto

6. Have one or more players who can slow down the other team’s superstar. For the last eight years, this key is reduced to one simple question: “can you slow down Durant and LeBron?” Guess who is the only guy who has beaten Durant and LeBron in consecutive playoff series? Edge: Toronto

And today, this got in the way of Boston’s coronation:

Kyrie Irving played well, but in crunch time he dominated the ball and forced a couple of bad shots, while their best player, Jayson Tatum was shut out of the game. The sooner Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge recognize Tatum’s importance, the sooner they will get maximum value for Kyrie Irving before he, Hayward and Horford put Boston into the luxury tax by themselves, leaving no money to keep one of the young foundational players.

It’s good to be king, even if it is only for a day.

The amazing thing about this signature play is that both Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard blocked the shot. It made me think again about my words of warning to Celtics fans back in June, but it also made me realize how much smarter Toronto’s front office of Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster are than me.

They got Danny Green as a throw-in with Kawhi Leonard.

In tonight’s 113–101 victory over the Celtics, we saw 2014 Danny Green, not the washed vet who stumbled through last season with the Spurs. But even if he couldn’t shoot 3-pointers with the same accuracy, his defense is still there. And it was evident in the way he was able to guard Jayson Tatum as well as the Boston guards. For me, that is the hidden genius of the trade:

  1. Toronto traded one starter and got two back.
  2. Green fills the Raptors’ weakness of only having small guards (he’s 6'6", 215 lbs, their biggest guy is 6'5", but only 183 lbs, and their best two guards are 6'0" and 5'11").
  3. The two starters from last year’s team, Anunoby and Valanciunas are now part of the bench, which had the best point differential in the league last year.
  4. People forget that the difference between an NBA Finals MVP and an All-Star can be just as large, if not larger than the gap between an All-Star and an average NBA-level starter. Kawhi Leonard is still a top-4 NBA player, and perhaps the best two-way player in the NBA today, as he combines 30 points a night scoring with the best defender in the league.

So, for one day, at least, I will enjoy raining down abuse on Colin Cowherd, Danny Ainge and obnoxious Boston sports fans (this does not apply to the handful of rational and respectful fans with whom I have corresponded online, such as the Tribune of Medium.)

#3: What do you do for an encore? Answer: stare aghast at the brilliance of the Warriors.

The Golden State-Utah game was a marvel. Utah played the game of their lives. At 5:24 in the second quarter, Golden State led 50–49. Eleven seconds later, Donovan Mitchell hit a 3-pointer and Utah proceed to go on a 32–19 run. Let me repeat that.

In 5:39, Utah outscored Golden State 32–19

Utah set a franchise record with 81 first half points. They made 19 of 46 3-pointers (41.3%), carved out a 16-point lead with 5:36 left in the 3rd quarter, and clung to a 10-point lead with 8:53 left in the 4th…

And they still lost the game.

Golden State continues to show that they are one of the greatest teams of all time. We should appreciate their exploits while we can.

We just saw two of the best games of the year. Can’t we just skip directly to the Conference Finals?

What a start to the season. And for those fans who love to hate more than they actually love basketball, we’ve got the perfect storm for trolls: LeBron James, Lavar Ball’s son, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Enjoy!

Written by

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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