The NBA is a 3-point crap shoot. The best shooters of all time play for Golden State, but over the last 15 years, only the 73-win Warriors and the 2010 Steve Nash Suns have hit the 40% mark for 3-point shooting.
Denver was hot (14–30) from deep, and Portland was ice cold (6 of 22). If Portland just shot at their average for the season, they make 2 more shots and win the game by 5.
Denver is a good team, but they are not elite, mainly because they don’t have a true superstar who can close. The big shot by committee usually falls apart in the playoffs.
Big shots in huge situations can only be mastered with lots of reps. Star players eventually become comfortable enough in those situations so they perform closer to their seasonal averages. I read an interesting article about Kobe Bryant being one of the best closers in the NBA simply because his shooting averages were closer to his normal stats than the vast majority of other players. So, if he was a lousy 3-point shooter (career 32.9%), he was considered clutch because he shot close to his average in clutch situations.
Also, I’m not a fan of hot dogs. Jamal Murray is super talented, but he likes to try to punk other players when things are going his way. Instead of intimidating opponents, he just pisses them off and they come back on him with a vengeance. When he’s feeling pressure, like having to guard Lillard, he shrinks from the pressure.
Speaking to the crap shoot nature of the NBA, Denver is 4–2 in games decided by 2 points or less. Reverse those games, and they are the 7th seed.
Having said all that, if Houston and Utah can’t recover last year’s form, that Denver high altitude home court advantage might be enough to earn them a top 3 seed in the West. So far, their only conference losses are against Houston, Memphis, New Orleans and the Lakers, and each of those teams still need to answer a lot of questions. Denver is pretty much at full strength with a roster in harmony — maybe the introduction of former starters like Barton and IT will produce the same kind of chaos from which Boston currently suffers.
I agree about Denver’s defense. Jokic is never going to be a true defensive stopper, so that interior defense will always be vulnerable. What I look for is how well teams rotate in coverage and how often they run out to contest 3-point shooters.
Portland destroyed Denver on points in the paint (66–44), with only a 1-point advantage in fast break points, so the lack of 3-point shots could be the result of two possibilities:
- Was this a conscious decision by Mike Malone to sacrifice easy 2-point shots because he was afraid of what happens to the Portland crowd and the team’s energy when Lillard gets hot from deep? (This has been Portland’s formula in winning big games in the past.) Or,
- Was Terry Stotts happy to concentrate on 62% shooting and all those buckets at the rim to work his way back into a game they tied twice in the last minute and had a chance to win on the last shot of the game?
I think both teams will be in the playoffs and Portland figures to be a 6th seed. Last year, the margin was so thin between #3 (49 wins) and #9 (46 wins) gives these games a lot of meaning in term of the final standings. But having the games turn on the chance of one team hitting their last shot while the other team misses theirs really makes these two teams interchangeable.