Moore’s NBA Playoffs Reset: Trends, Analysis and Adjustments For All 7 Series

Moore’s NBA Playoffs Reset: Trends, Analysis and Adjustments For All 7 Series article feature image
Credit:

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

What a first round this is turning out to be in the NBA Playoffs. The Pelicans — the Pelicans! — were the first team to advance to the second round with their stunning sweep of Portland. Meanwhile, three of the East series are knotted at 2-2, and both top seeds lost a game over the weekend to give life to the underdogs.

With how wild it’s been, let’s do a playoff reset and take a look at where these series are, where they’re trending, what we’ve learned and what you need to know going forward about the series still in play.

 

WOLVES-ROCKETS

  • Series: Rockets lead 2-1
  • Game 4 odds: Rockets (-5)
  • Series price: Rockets (-5000), Wolves (+1500)

Game 4 will tell us if this is a series or not. Minnesota hung around in Game 1, and Houston needed an unreal performance from James Harden to get the win. In Game 2, it was more of what we expected from this series, as the Rockets outpaced the Wolves dramatically from beyond the arc and Minnesota’s offense ran headfirst into a wall.

Game 3, obviously, has created a little bit of tension. If the Timberwolves had won Game 1, they’d be up 2-1 with a chance for the daunting 3-1 lead with a Game 4 win at home.

But this is really the best way to look at this series:

Game 1: Rockets shoot poorly, even for them — they’re actually not a great-shooting team contrary to optics — and hit only 10 threes, but Harden carries them.

Game 2: What you would expect.

Game 3: The Wolves made 15 three-pointers, five higher than their season average, and the Wolves lost the 3-point battle by only two makes. That’s the Rockets’ big advantage in this series. Throw in an outlier Derrick Rose performance (17 points), and you have a model for a Wolves win, but one that seems difficult to replicate.

Still, there are some reasons for concern for Houston. In the regular season, Houston sported a 53.7 effective field goal percentage on isolations. In the playoffs, that number has dipped to 47%. Their points-per-possession mark is actually higher, so it’s not costing them, but it’s something to monitor.

Houston averaged 11.4 fast-break points per 100 possessions in the regular season; far from the league leader but a decent amount. That’s down to around 10 per 100 possessions in this series, and in the Game 3 loss? The Rockets had two fast-break points.

Two.

This is equally stunning considering the Wolves finished as the 29th team in points given up in transition per game this season via Synergy Sports. Suddenly, they’re getting back and shutting down plays such as this:

 

They locate threats, Karl-Anthony Towns commits hard to the closeout to force the pump-fake and reset, they were there to stop the ball. All this stuff was missing in the regular season, and it’s a big deal. It’s also contributed to the under hitting in two of the three contests. The Rockets were middle of the pack in pace this season, and this series has been slower than that by about two possessions per game.

Pick and roll? Same deal. Jimmy Butler blows this up (despite a super-illegal screen from P.J. Tucker) and then Taj Gibson makes a hard recovery to force Tucker to drive … where Butler once again blows it up.

 

Per Synergy Sports, Houston is generating just 8.3 possessions logged as “unguarded catch-and-shoot” shots per game in this series, compared to 10.3 in the regular season, and Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Tucker are a combined 8-of-28 on spot-up shots.

There are two things happening in this series. The Wolves are forcing Houston out of its rhythm and keeping the Rockets in front of them at all times, and Houston is just missing a ton of good looks.

Where you land on which is more sustainable should guide your investments and what you think happens as the series moves on.


JAZZ-THUNDER

  • Series: Jazz lead 2-1
  • Game 4 odds: Jazz (-5)
  • Series odds: Jazz (-350), Thunder (+275)

I don’t mean to hammer this point into the ground or pummel the deceased equidae, but man, does OKC miss Andre Roberson. When guarding pick and roll this series, Corey Brewer (who has gotten the most minutes of any 2-guard option) has given up 21 points on 19 possessions. The overall defense is actually slightly better with Brewer on the floor, but because Brewer plays with the starters, the Thunder aren’t winning the minutes they need to win in this series.

The Jazz are also dealing in this series. Everyone focused on Ricky Rubio’s 9-of-18 shooting exploits in Game 3, but he also logged a triple-double, and his passing sliced up OKC’s weakside defense. The central problem is that the Jazz have two killer creators they are spacing on opposite sides of the floor, with a heavy-gravity center (Rudy Gobert) rolling to the rim constantly, pulling the defense in and opening lanes for Rubio to reverse the ball and catch OKC napping.

In the clip below, Rubio waits until Russell Westbrook tries to jump the screen, then reverses and goes back the other way. As Gobert rolls, Brewer comes all the way over to the far side of the paint. Rubio stops, pivots, waits and throws a ball-reversal pass that Donovan Mitchell catches and fires without hesitation.

 

Same deal here: Rubio gets the defense moving to the strongside, ball reversal, Brewer can’t recover and Mitchell is good enough to not only drive past the closeout but challenge and finish against Steven Adams at the rim.

 

This series has been much more centered upon the offenses than you’d expect from these two teams. The over hit twice in the first three games. If OKC can’t stay more disciplined with respect to floor balance, the Jazz will keep getting good looks.


BUCKS-CELTICS 

  • Series: Tied 2-2
  • Game 5 odds: Celtics (-2.5)
  • Series odds: Bucks (+100), Celtics (-120)

Boston looks like a good investment at nearly even money. The Bucks were at home, with a 20-point lead in Game 4, and still needed a late Celtics turnover and a tip-in by Giannis Antetokounmpo to win the game and hold on. It’s not shocking that the Bucks held serve; their role players made shots at home, which is to be expected.

But no lineup for the Bucks has consistently had success, nor have they found an individual matchup to exploit. Boston has won the rebounding battle and gotten big performances from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum (pictured above). There’s just no reason to believe Thon Maker will be as effective on the road as he was at home, and Milwaukee’s shooting — the best in the playoffs vs. the No. 1 defense in the regular season, mind you — should come back down to earth.


HEAT-SIXERS

  • Series: Sixers lead 3-1
  • Game 5 odds: Sixers (-10)
  • Series price: Heat (+1400), Sixers (-4000)

Philadelphia is just better. The Heat had ways to scheme together successes in the first four games, and at one point in Game 4, held a lead off 20 Philadelphia turnovers. The Sixers — who finished with 26 turnovers — aren’t without warts, but they are making up for their flaws in a variety of ways. The lack of a close has doomed Miami. Dwyane Wade can’t be expected to be a superstar down the stretch, and no other Heat player was remotely ready in the way Ben Simmons was in Game 4.

Philadelphia is picking up steam as a dark-horse East favorite. With how Boston and Milwaukee have both looked ragged in their first-round series, I’m eager to see what the second-round series price will be and how much the public will jump on Philadelphia, throwing the odds even further out of whack.

One important key: In Games 1 and 3, the Sixers rode huge performances from Marco Belinelli to wins. But in Game 4, they didn’t get any crazy outlier performances. They just chipped away and outplayed Miami. The Heat have no reasons to hang their head. They competed this season, earned the six-seed, played well and will eventually lose to a better team. But the questions about what to do with this cap-strapped team going forward — with a malcontent at center in Hassan Whiteside and so much money committed to marginal players — are going to be loud.

Big changes could await this franchise this summer.


SPURS-WARRIORS

  • Series: Warriors lead 3-1
  • Game 5 odds:  Warriors (-11)
  • Series odds: Spurs (+5750), Warriors (-14000)

San Antonio drew breath and staved off elimination in Game 4, giving the crowd one more special moment with Manu Ginobili.

Of note, made 3-pointers by San Antonio in this series:

Game 1: 9
Game 2: 4
Game 3: 7
Game 4: 15

There you go.

The Spurs made some 3s for a game. But with San Antonio headed back to Oracle, down 3-1, there’s a reason the series price is so steep.

The Warriors’ looming matchup with the Pelicans is fascinating, and we’ll have much more on it once Golden State wraps this up. But if anything, this series has shown that the Warriors without Steph Curry still struggle to find and maintain that high gear. They’re just a really great team, not an unstoppable juggernaut.

Curry will be re-evaluated on April 27th, and coach Steve Kerr said recently that the two-time MVP won’t be back “anytime soon.”


RAPTORS-WIZARDS

  • Series: Tied 2-2
  • Game 5 odds: Raptors (-7)
  • Series price: Raptors (-340), Wizards (+280)

In Games 1 and 2, Toronto’s bench averaged 42 points per game. In Games 3 and 4, that number plummeted to just 27. The fact that role players play better at home is certainly a factor, but there is an alarming trend occurring with the Raptors that should make the always-playoff-skittish Toronto fans even more high-strung.

Games 1 and 2 were defined by how badly the Wizards scouted Toronto’s role players. They failed to account for Delon Wright and OG Anunoby. But in Washington, the Wizards took a much more balanced approach, staying with the role players, staying home on shooters and making the Raptors’ stars try to beat them one-on-one.

In effect, the Wizards figured out how to take the new Raptors and transform them into the old Raptors. Watch the closeout here on Wright to force him off the corner 3 and Kyle Lowry’s subsequent ISO, which is blocked.

 

The Wizards stopped getting lost off-ball, and in the video below, they stayed with the action. With their wings staying home on the weakside shooters, DeMar DeRozan throws up this terrible look:

 

Will this sustain? That should guide your investment. It sounds less and less likely that Fred VanVleet will be returning in this series (or the postseason at all), and that is a major loss for Toronto’s bench, which could use a weapon the Wizards haven’t figured out yet. C.J. Miles has been lights out at home, especially vs. Washington, and two of the three remaining games are still in Toronto. The Raptors know they can win in Washington; they should have had Game 4.

But the old Raptors have made an appearance, and against the Wizards, who are a slot machine of performance. That means anything goes from here on out.


PACERS-CAVALIERS

  • Series: Tied 2-2
  • Game 5 odds: Cavs (-7)
  • Series odds: Pacers (+285), Cavs (-345)

The Pacers battled all the way back in Game 4, only to fall apart. Victor Oladipo hasn’t been the same since the opener, shooting 6-of-24 from 3-point range over the last three games. The Cavs are getting better and better performances from Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith; Jordan Clarkson had his playoff moment on the road in Game 4.

The Pacers could have won all four games. But they didn’t, and now, yes it does feel like momentum has shifted. However, I’m not ready to totally bail on the Pacers. As much as the Cavs are scheming against Oladipo, we’ll probably get one more big game out of him, and that may tilt the series. Remember that we’re getting phenomenal LeBron performances every night in this series, and the Pacers are still in this thing.

Cleveland as a 7-point favorite for Game 5 seems astronomical. I’m not sure if this team has a blowout in its DNA; the Cavs need big minutes from Jose Calderon and Korver every night just to hang on and not get run over.

Your investment from here on out comes down to what you think of the Cavs’ defense. They’ve been No. 1 in the playoffs, a shocking number considering how bad they were in the regular season. So has the switch flipped? Or has Indiana missed a lot of good looks? It’s both, but whatever percentages you assign to those two theories should drive a lot of what you think of this series.

Food for thought: Among teams in the playoffs, Indiana is getting the fourth-most unguarded spot-up looks per game, per Synergy Sports. But the Pacers rank 13th out of 16 playoff teams in effective field goal percentage. Most of those open looks have come from Bojan Bogdanovic (career 38% 3-point shooter) and Myles Turner (career 35% 3-point shooter).

If those numbers even out, this gets away from Cleveland. But then again, get a big game from Kevin Love, Rodney Hood or George Hill (who is battling a bad back), and this turns out well for the Cavs. The point? The margin between these two teams is razor-thin right now, and while losing home-court advantage will be disappointing for the Pacers, they know they can win in Cleveland.

We’re a long way from done.