Moore: Game 1 NBA Playoff Lessons from 76ers-Nets, Warriors-Clippers

Apr 15, 2019 05:49 PM EDT
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Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Steph Curry

  • Matt Moore breaks down lessons from Game 1 of the Philadelphia 76ers-Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors-Los Angeles Clippers series.

Opening weekend of the 2019 NBA playoffs is in the books. The under went wild, the favorites got shook and, all in all, it was a fascinating slate of basketball (outside of the Warriors’ game).

Here’s a look at my big takeaways — basketball-wise, action-wise, everything-wise — from the weekend and specifically for the Sixers-Nets and Warriors-Clippers series ahead of Monday night’s Game 2s.

3-Point Shooting Really Matters

This stood out most to me from the Game 1s.

Every single team that made more 3-pointers than their opponent won Game 1 of their series.

Winning teams this weekend:

  • 9.7 3-pointers made
  • 33% 3-point shooting

Losing teams this weekend:

  • 7.25 3-pointers made
  • 25% 3-point shooting

Both the winning teams and losing teams averaged 29 3-point attempts per game. The Clippers were the only team to shoot better than 35% from 3 and lose, the Bucks were the only team to shoot worse than 35% from 3 and win.

We saw OKC shoot 5-of-33 from deep, Denver shoot 6-of-28 and Utah shoot 7-of-27. This is a key distinction: It wasn’t necessarily great shooting that carried teams — it was epic, unbelievably horrible shooting that sunk teams. The Thunder and Jazz combined to shoot 3-of-22 on unguarded catch-and-shoot shots in their respective Game 1s.

Denver generated more unguarded catch-and-shoot shots than San Antonio did, and hit three fewer in a game within one point late. Philadelphia created the most of such shots (17) and hit fewer (5) than Brooklyn made contested shots (6), when all of Brooklyn’s were logged as contested.

There’s a difference between good shots and bad shots. The Rockets are happy to let Jae Crowder try and beat them (0-for-5 on catch-and-shoot). The Nets are happy if Joel Embiid is taking those shots than ruining them in the post (Embiid was 0-for-5.)

But a little bit closer to a standard performance by some of the losing teams, and things change. And if nothing else, this shows the absolute importance of the 3-ball in these playoffs — tactical adjustments, superstar play, rotations, rebounding … nothing matters if you don’t hit your 3s.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets

  • This was one of two Game 1s in which the shooting performance didn’t feel like it skewed things. (Utah being the other.) We identified this as a key element going in: The Nets were top-5 in 3-point makes per 100 possessions in the regular season and the Sixers were 19th. That creates these variance elements — the Nets needed to get hot, which they did, and the Sixers needed to get away from a better game plan, which they did.
  • J.J. Redick in particular was targeted by the Nets. They just shot over him in isolation:
  • Joel Embiid played despite knee soreness, which had him doubtful until gameday. He finished 5-of-15 for the game and a minus-17. The Sixers will win zero games in which he has a negative net rating. Z-E-R-O. He took five first-half 3-pointers and missed all five despite putting Jarrett Allen in foul trouble in the first 45 seconds of the game. Embiid can’t settle for those shots against a Nets team with absolutely no counter for him.
  • The guards for Brooklyn were just bonkers. D’Angelo Russell came out cold and then went lights out in the third. This play was an absolute dagger, slicing past Ben Simmons and getting to the rack past Embiid:
  • Caris LeVert was sensational — so poised and so complete in his attack — and Spencer Dinwiddie tore up every individual matchup he found, like this switch against Boban Marjanovic:
  • Ben Simmons had a weird Game 1. Four deflections and I thought his activity off-ball was really good. He had an absolutely insane close-out for a block in the fourth. But I also noticed several key plays like this where he just gave up on offensive rebound 3-point attempts. Embiid calls out his assignment, he goes to the corner for some reason, and then just hangs out:
  • His offense was a trainwreck, too. I’ll say for the 100th time: The Sixers need to run Simmons as the screener in pick and roll with Jimmy Butler. Get him on the move, attacking and then catching to finish or pass.
  • Expect a little bit of adjustment in shooting from Redick and a few others, but don’t be surprised if Brooklyn hangs around, either. The Sixers are completely at the mercy of the rims in this series, more so than other teams. Their defensive performance should improve. But as I wrote in series price rankings before Game 1 and after, the best value is on Brooklyn.

Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers

  • I don’t have much for you, here. This series is largely useless. I believe the Warriors are more vulnerable than they have ever been, but this is an easy matchup for them.
  • The data all suggested trusting the Warriors to cover, and despite a big number, they did — though it was a little hairy toward the end.
  • DeMarcus Cousins a minus-17 in a 17-point win did catch my jib a bit. It might be a blip, it might be a warning sign, but it’s something to monitor because it shadows what we saw in the regular season.
  • Steph Curry is ridiculous. The end.
  • Kevin Durant had 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting, was a plus-17, got ejected and still wasn’t the story in any way because of Curry. He’s just kind of there, getting buckets and winning while no one can really appreciate him.
  • Overreacting to Game 1s is bad, but I do have a fear that the Clippers were good because they benefitted from a few schedule breaks in March, combined with the Lakers and Kings falling off the map and some regular-season chicanery. The fact that their best players all posted huge negative plus-minus numbers and they were blown out despite hitting 37% from 3-point range is huge. I don’t have any tactical adjustment recommendations. I’m just not really sure this roster is ready to battle anyone, much less Golden State, in a playoff series.
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