The Conference Finals Journal: J.R. Smith Is For The People

Admittedly, I didn't get to watch last night's game until the fourth quarter. I stayed at work 45 minutes longer than expected, talking about feminism and identity with the other nerds in the office. I drove home trying to listen to the game on the radio (more on this later). What I did get to see was fun J.R. Smith, Paul Millsap entering god-mode on the defensive end and Kent Bazemore almost bring the Hawks back from a fourth quarter double-digit deficit.

Go basketball.

I’m Here For Good J.R. Smith

Shooting .667 from three isn’t sustainable — at least not shooting the shots that Smith took. Smith drilled some unbelievably tough shots and, naturally, missed the two wide-open looks that he had. While there were some shots that you can argue that Smith shouldn’t have taken, there wasn’t a single outlandish shot of the bunch. Smith took an isolated step-back three, which was very much a heat-check, but following the touch shots that laddered up to it, you can allow that as a coach — and as the NBA’s biggest fan of heat checks, I’m all the way here for it. With all of that in mind, though, the looks Smith saw in Game 1 could have easily turned into a 6-for-16 shooting night instead of his 10-for-16 performance.

Contested step back 17-footer (good)
Catch and shoot three (good)
Double-teamed 20-footer (good)
Contested 3-pointer (good)
Catch and shoot three (miss)
Contested 8-foot floater (miss)
Forced shot at end of shot clock (miss)
Contested step-back three (good)
Catch and shoot three (good)
Contested ISO three (miss)
Contested step-back 18-footer (good)
Catch and shoot three (good)
ISO step back three (good)
Contested catch and shoot three (good)
HEAT CHECK (!) ISO step back three (miss)
Catch and shoot three (miss - blocked)

So I take that back, Smith had one outlandish shot — a double-teamed 20-footer in the corner — but it was evened out with the Cavaliers’ ugliest possession of the night ended with LeBron James forcing the ball to Smith with less than a second left on the shot clock. If you remove these two possessions, Smith had a great night, but it’s hard to imagine him replicating this performance shooting the same kind of shots.

I’d love to be proven wrong, though. Not sure if any story line would make me happier the rest of this postseason than a “J.R. Smith is the ECF MVP” headline. Totally aspirational, somewhat unrealistic, but there’s a sliver of a chance that it can happen, we just need four more games of good J.R. Smith. Also, this quote is everything:

Dunks Happened

I shed a mini thug tear when I got home and saw the dunk Kent Bazemore threw down. Baseline dunks give me all the feels because they combine aesthetic and brawn in a way that dunks from any other angle fail to provide — extra points when they come off two feet. After Dennis Schroder entered the paint and kicked it out to an open Bazemore in the corner, Matthew Dellavedova was a bit overzealous with his closeout and left the help defenders in a compromising position — give up the bucket or risk getting embarrassed (more on this in later). Tristan Thompson went with the latter, and had Bazemore’s lefty throwdown punched down his spine.

On the other end, LeBron did one of those LeBron things. Soared down the lane, untouched, and threw down a monster dunk to extend the Cavaliers’ lead to six, after four consecutive isolated possessions without a bucket. The “untouched” part is what we’re going to discuss here. Just like the Bazemore dunk, the Hawks help defenders were given an option: give up the bucket or risk getting embarrassed. This time, the risk was escalated as it was a steamroller with 675 horsepower, rotating katana blades, and a track record for ending lives. Kyle Korver was the help defender tasked with this business decision. He cut his losses and lived to see another day.

I have mixed feelings about Korver here. On one end, he’s alive and well. And if I were presented with the same decision, I’m getting the hell out of the way every single time. On the other end, the Hawks had all of the momentum. James had been stopped on four consecutive possessions by Paul Millsap and the one time he got beat, Korver wasn’t there to pick him up. What’s worse is that Korver was in the right position to, at the very least, change LeBron’s route. Had Korver committed to just standing at the dotted line, maybe James has to Euro-step around him and is forced to convert a difficult lefty-layup. Instead, Korver moves back to his primary assignment (Iman Shumpert), then throws his hands up in disgust after Bron throws down the monster jam as if it were the fault of the other four guys on the floor.

Kyle Korver shrug

Both dunks were fun in their own way. Bazemore gets the slight edge because of the baseline factor, LeBron kept it close because his was hilarious.

Paul Millsap Still Deserves Some Love

With 3:30 left in the game, the Hawks trailed by 11 points. Paul Millsap picked up LeBron James at midcourt and committed a relatively stupid foul considering the situation. There really wasn’t a need to defend James that far out, but Millsap continued on, undeterred. These were the next four possessions:

i. LeBron runs high P&R with Thompson. Korver shows hard enough to allow Millsap to go under the screen and pick LeBron up at the top of the key. LeBron takes six dribbles that lead to nothing before a seventh that he uses to go toward the rim. Millsap stays in front of James the whole time and forces a difficult, swooping layup that caroms off the rim and starts an Atlanta fast break the other way.

ii. LeBron receives the ball on the right side of the floor, about a yard inside of the half court line and Millsap picks him up from there. It’s 1-4 low ISO set for James who uses nine dribbles to shoot a 13-footer that hits the front of the rim. Millsap finishes off the defensive set by boxing out James and pulling in the rebound.

iii. The lead is now down to six points with 1:57 left to play. LeBron receives the ball on the right wing right around the 3-point line, much closer to the basket than either of the previous two possessions. Again, it’s an ISO set, and James decides to become a bit more deliberate. Head down, two dribbles and a lefty layup. But again, Millsap stays with him the whole way, contests the layup, which James is too strong with. It comes off the glass on the other side of the paint and the Hawks have the ball going the other way.

iv. 1:12 is left on the clock, and this time James receives the ball on the left side of the floor just inside of the halfcourt line. Millsap is close enough to smell James’ frustration. LeBron takes a dribble and pushes off a bit with his right hand as he crosses over. Millsap falls as James heads toward the rim. Instead of giving up on the play, Millsap gets up and recovers quick enough to contest James’ layup along with Al Horford and Korver. This triggers another Hawks fast break that ends with Kent Bazemore cutting the lead to four with just under a minute to play.

We discussed what happened next, Korver decides he’d rather give up the bucket than die, LeBron finally gets his first basket in five tries with Millsap defending him. The Cavaliers eventually end up winning, but Millsap’s effort shouldn’t go without mention. He and Bazemore essentially fueled a Hawks comeback that fell just short.

Hodge Podge

DeMarre Carroll’s injury was a scary moment last night. It was literally the 1st thing I saw when I got home and turned on the game. The scene of him being carried into the locker room looked very much like we wouldn’t see him until next season. MRIs this morning showed that there is no structural damage and should return this series. His status for Game 2 is day-to-day, according to multiple sources. If the Hawks are going to win this series, they’re absolutely going to need Carroll on the floor...

...Listening to basketball on the radio is difficult when you don’t necessarily have a rooting interest. I listen to Lakers games on the way home from work all the time and my mind doesn’t wander often because I have a reason to care. The radio was made for baseball, I flipped over to the Dodgers broadcast during a timeout and was greeted by Vin Scully and storytelling, a stark contrast from the chaotic banter from ESPN’s radio crew who couldn’t quite pull me in the way that I wanted. So instead, I thought about poop. More specifically, dog poop. And even more specifically, what happened during the dog evolutionary track that made them walk in a circle before pooping? Yeah, basketball radio broadcasts need to do better...

...The All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive teams were announced. Going to spare you the details, but I was kind of fascinated with the prospect of the All-NBA 1st Defensive team playing together.

Chris Paul
Tony Allen
Kawhi Leonard
Draymond Green
DeAndre Jordan

All Western Conference guys. All guys on playoff teams. And if all on the same team, good luck getting buckets. Chris Paul already has a synergy with Jordan on the offensive end. Neither Leonard or Green are guys who will stretch the floor out, but you also don’t want to leave either open. There are a lot of really creating things you could do with a group like this because of their shared and individual skill sets. Someone make this happen for me. Preferably on the Lakers.

Until next time, go basketball.

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