Friday, May 6

And the band played on…

2005 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Round 2:
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #3 Seattle Supersonics
Game 1: Sunday, May 8, 5:00PM Pacific time

Bench & Starting matchups/comparison:
I don’t really feel comfortable doing one since these teams, the Sonics especially, actually have bench guys playing more minutes, and in at crucial minutes at the end of the game (at least I hope so.) For the Spurs I fully expect to see Horry taking over at the 4 spot & Duncan shifting to the 5 spot. For the Sonics I hope the finishing combination will include effective contributions of James, Radmanovic, & Collison. Lastly you can go to ESPN, Yahoo, CNNSI etc. and get a much more involved analysis than I’d give. Try Chad Ford; I think he’s got Vitaly Potapenko being the X-factor or something.

Here are the lineups that concern me:
Spurs finishing 5:
Horry with occasions with Rasho instead

Sonics finishing 5:
James with generous portions of Collison in an undersized rotation
Even distribution of Collison & Radmanovic

Ideal distribution of Sonics time (5 spots at 48 min = 240 minutes)
Ray Allen: 42 minutes (39min season average)
Rashard Lewis: 40 m (38)
Antonio Daniels: 35 m (27)
Jerome James: 25 m (17)
Nick Collison: 25 m (17)
Vlad Radmanovic: 25 m (30)
Reggie Evans: 15 m (24)
Danny Fortson: 14 m (17)
Luke Ridnour: 14 m (31)
Damien Wilkins: 5 m (-)

Plays I’ll be looking out for:

When Sonics have the ball:
1) Set play: Lewis and Allen on the wings, Evans slightly to one side of the key, James/Collison/Fortson setting the pick for Rid or A.D. at the top of the key. At onset of pick and roll, Lewis and/or Allen go to motion, using Evans pick to rub defenders off and find an open spot outside, usually on opposite wing they started at. Pick man rolls, PG drives and decides whether to 1) drive to the hole and shoot 2) drive & kick out to an open Lewis or Allen, 3) hit the rolling pick man or Evans.
2) Set play: Lewis and Daniels isolated on one side. Remaining players on other half with a typical configuration of Radman setup for a straightaway 3 and Allen for an elbow 3, with Evans or Fortson in position to chase an offensive board. Lewis and Daniels run a pick & post in which Lewis takes the PG to the block and sets up Calabro for a “there’s a mouse in the house!” call with a high percentage post up opportunity, or 2) defenders sloppily switch off pick and A.D. gets an open lane to the hole for an easy shot or 2 free throws, or a rotating defense which leads to an outlet pass to a waiting Radman or Allen.
3) The cat & mouse play (or the Reggie Miler special): PG with the ball at the top: 4’s and 5’s (and maybe Rashard as well) setting picks, SG running through both picks to rub his defender off of him for a catch and shoot. The effectiveness in which the Sonics will be able to get the ball to Allen off this play for a clear shot without Bowen still stuck on him like glue will speak volumes as to who’s winning the Sonics O vs. the Spurs D match up.

When the Spurs have the ball:
1) Parker and a big (Rasho or Horry primarily) executing a high pick and roll at the top of the key. The best defense against the pick and roll I’ve seen recently was from last year’s Pistons. Billups wouldn’t even have to call the switch and the big (Sheed) would AGGRESSIVELY use his mobility to close the gap on the speedy PG, and use his wingspan to prevent a quick pass out. PG would be forced to stop his dribble and/or reset the offense, allowing the defense to reset itself as well. It kinda helps when every guy on the team is a + on the ball defender. Now that I’ve mentioned Billups & Wallace… imagine Parker & Duncan/Rasho/Mohammed running this against Ridnour & James. That is a nightmare sequence. James does not possess the lateral mobility or the basketball IQ to stop Parker from driving off the switch, Ridnour does not possess the toughness to fight through the screens (just watch how many times he gives up on a screen due a lack of toughness, there are just so many hidden f**kups on Ridnour’s part that are attributed to other players it pisses me off), and or the PG will see the breakdown and pass to the cutting big man or the big man posting on Rid, which will cause defensive rotation, big man getting it a high percentage shot from a wide open teammate.
2) Duncan on the block, particularly on the left (or right?) side either facing his defender up and taking the 16-18 bank shot his defender gives him, or posting/getting by with a quick first step and driving into the key (almost never goes baseline) for a high percentage 4-8ft shot.
3) Spurs on transition: Because of the Sonics’ tendency to allow the 4’s and 5’s to go after an offensive rebound opportunity, it is paramount that Rid/Allen/Rashard and their bench counterparts stop transition penetration from Parker/Manu/Udrih and force them to setup their half court O, (and allow us to set up the D)

For the Sonics to win ALL of the following must occur:

1) Ray Allen & Rashard Lewis must come close to matching the offensive output of Tim Duncan & Manu Ginobili.

2) All indications are that the Spurs will go with a game plan of Bowen on Allen. This will mean that:
a) The Spurs game plan will be to minimize Allen’s efficiency with Bowen, minimize the output of the other 3 players with 1 on 1 D, and force Lewis to prove his ability to reliably score against the likes of Ginobili or Horry. To reiterate: Lewis must decisively win any 1-on-1 matchup against Ginobili or Horry.
b) The game plan will be to passively or aggressively double team Rashard when he gets the ball and, unlike in the Kings series, prove that he’s capable of evading the double team by going baseline to the rim, splitting the double team, or making the correct outlet pass to rotate the ball to an open man/shot.
If the Spurs are still on one of these game plans come game 3 and 4, it will mean that Rashard failed to adjust to the defense and is not capable of providing a reliable enough offensive production/output to complement Allen. Translation: We’re f**ked. An ideal Sonics situation would be Rashard being crazy effective forcing Pop to place Bowen on him and Manu on Allen, and the Sonics duo capitalizing.

3) Tony Parker must be limited to 3 monster games min, meaning of course, in 4 of the games the Lewis/Allen duo will only have to contend/match the output of the Timmeh/Manu duo for the Spurs. This will require either one of the following or a combination:
a) Parker will pull his inconsistency act, not have a great shooting night, lack confidence in his shot to be effective on several nights. Maybe we can send Eva some lingerie and some Oysters the night prior to the game to weaken the Frenchman’s legs come game time…
b) A.D. or possibly Damien Wilkins will be effective in limiting the drives Parker takes resulting in open 6-8 floaters, lay-ins, passes to open players. Ridnour will be chained to the bench during this time and only allowed on the court when Brent Barry or Beno Udrih assumes the PG spot for the Spurs. And maybe one restroom break at halftime.
c) The Sonics will be marginal to above average in their defense of the high pick and roll.

4) Jerome James will NOT have to go Bizarro on us and chip in with 15pts & 10 boards a night. What is needed of him is to be defensively active, with fast enough footwork/reaction to stay out of foul trouble and be in proper position to alter Parker floaters & the maniacal-Manu lefty lay ins. Numbers wise the team will need a minimum average of 25 FRISKY, ENERGETIC, & SMART minutes, 8 or so rebounds, and several blocked/ altered shots a game.

5) The defensive rotation off of a Tim Duncan double team must minimize the number of wide-open Spurs 3-point shots. If the combined shooting stats from Parker/Bowens/ Udrih/Manu resulting from poor rotation results is 5 or so made treys at a 45% clip or greater, score this a failing grade. Also, proper rotation execution must be made by our 4's & 5's when our 2 & 3's go flying towards Manu/Parker/Barry beyond the arc, and they subsequently drive in. There's going to be a bunch of Supes running around like monkeys reacting to San Antonio ball movement/penetration/player movement, and its gotta play itself out like controlled chaos for the good guys.

6) Collectively, the production that the Sonics get from the 96 minutes at the 4 and 5 spots must give us a decided advantage over the Spurs counterpart sans Duncan. This means you Nick Collison, Reggie Evans, Danny Fortson, & Jerome James. You guys must at least double the output of Rasho Nesterovic, Robert Horry, & Nazr Mohammed.

7) The Radmanovic/Daniels/Ridnour trio will average roughly 22 pts/game. I’d specifically like to see this group counteract any production from Parker during the 4 Sonic victories.

For the Spurs to win:
Any scenario not containing ALL the factors stated above will provide the Spurs with a series victory.

O.K. Before you skewer me with statements like “Where’s No. 8: The kitchen sink?” please take a look each one of those addendums individually. None of them is a mountain moving request and they certainly fall within the realm of this team’s capability.

But for all of them to occur in the series? Indeed, the odds are staggering against the Sonics, and an application would need to be written for the hand of God to make a series appearance. Yes, the Spurs are that much better.

The odds are that grim for a Sonics victory. Almost as grim as… the odds of the Sonics entering the playoffs as the No. 3 seed… As slim as the preseason chances for the 2005 NW Division Championship banner to end up hanging under the Key Arena roof... As unlikely as the chances of a naïve high school kid, agonizingly watched by a nation having his lottery dreams crushed in the 1998 NBA draft, blossoming into that rarest of species: an All Star plucked from the 2nd round junkheap... As improbable as the Jerome James’ 1st round outburst coinciding with Lewis taking time to regain that unstoppable feeling & A.D. getting his legs back…

This to me is everything the playoffs are about. Dreaming the impossible dream. Seeing the mountain defiantly standing in the way of glory, and defiantly walking forward in turn. I’ll be watching this team doing the same from the nosebleeds of The Key in games 3 & 4. I’ll be in full denial mode of the task ahead of the Supes, screaming myself hoarse. I hope to see you there too. Game on.

Sonics in 7. Onward.

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