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1 stat explaining every 2023 NBA Playoff series so far
Kings lead Warriors, 2-0
According to NBA.com, Kings’ backup guard Davion Mitchell has spent 10 minutes and 25 seconds directly guarding Stephen Curry across two games, the most by far of any defender.
In that time, Curry has gone just 2-for-6 from the field, a paltry number of field goal attempts, let alone makes, for such a prolonged duration. The Warriors as a whole scored less than a point per possession.
Mitchell has glued himself to Steph full-court; even Curry’s shadow thinks Davion is hanging around too often. The few times Steph thought he’d achieved some separation, Davion snaps back like a rubber band, spooking the normally unflappable Curry into ugly shots (watch Mitchell, #15, for the entire clip below):
The Kings are not blessed with a lot of perimeter defensive talent (although Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox have both impressed in stretches for these two games), so the Warriors will undoubtedly make a concerted effort to brush Mitchell off of Curry.
Expect a lot more Klay Thompson screens for Steph. Thompson is such a dangerous shooter that even a moment’s hesitation creates an opening:
Mitchell was programmed to lock-and-trail Steph no matter what, but Klay is a special case. Unfortunately, Mitchell was a second late recognizing the situation, and Thompson made him pay.
The Warriors will need more like that to galvanize their offense. Golden State is a vastly superior team at home, but the Kings have struck first and struck hard. Golden State’s ability (or inability) to separate Curry from Mitchell could decide the series.
Clippers lead Suns, 1-0
The Clippers’ bench outscored their Phoenix counterparts 34-10 in Game 1, immediately validating pundits' concerns about the Suns’ puddle-deep rotation.
Monty Williams made a somewhat surprising rotation change, starting Torrey Craig over Josh Okogie, who had started all eight previous games Kevin Durant had participated in for Phoenix. In one sense, it worked: Torrey Craig had one of his finest outings of the season, scoring 22 points and playing solid defense.
But the flip side is that Okogie provided nothing from the bench, finishing with just seven minutes played. Interestingly, Monty struggled all night to find a spark from his pine-riders, playing a whopping six reserves — only one of whom cracked double-digit minutes (Landry Shamet, who was a minus-14 on the evening).
Durant and Booker only rested for eight minutes combined; 600-year-old Chris Paul played nearly 39. That is an extraordinarily high burden to put on your stars in Game 1 and might not be sustainable over a full series.
On the other hand, the Clippers played four reserves for at least 13 minutes and gave nearly all of their starters ample breathing time (although Kawhi cracked 41 minutes). Each reserve was at least a +13 on the night.
Without Paul George, LAC appears vulnerable, but depth still is considered an advantage. If Phoenix can’t find some way to stabilize the brief moments when their stars aren’t on the court, this could be a surprisingly long series — and the longer the series, the more the minutes burden will pile up on aging stars like Durant and Paul.
Nuggets lead Timberwolves, 1-0
Minnesota had one of the worst shooting games in playoff history. The Wolves could’ve built some houses that not even they could’ve blown down with all of those bricks.
Minnesota had similar ancillary stats to Denver: they only turned it over one more time and committed four fewer fouls. But despite missing nearly everything they took, the Wolves could only snag five offensive rebounds, one of their lowest marks of the season.
Minnesota grabbed five or fewer offensive rebounds in 12 games during the regular season, but that was almost always because they had a superb shooting game (meaning fewer opportunities for rebounds).
When a team loses by 29, there aren’t many positive takeaways. Despite hopes to the contrary, Minnesota performed exactly how an eight-seed usually does when playing a one-seed.
Knicks lead Cavaliers, 1-0
The obvious answer here would be New York’s 17 offensive rebounds, but that’s too easy (and Cleveland had 11 of their own, so the offensive rebounding disparity wasn’t the sole difference-maker here).
Instead, I want to highlight New York’s transition play. The Knicks were an average fast-breaking team in both effectiveness and frequency during the regular season, but they hit the turbo button Saturday.
More than 21% of their possessions were transition attacks, per Cleaning the Glass, compared to just 14.7% in the regular season. The Knicks averaged a blistering 1.55 points per possession on those possessions.
For a team that struggled like hell to score in a halfcourt setting — they averaged just 73 points per 100 possessions, a number so bad it might raise questions of match-fixing in other countries — those transition points were a godsend.
The Cavs had the highest-rated defense in the league this season. New York’s offense has been successful all year but relies upon a heavy dose of offensive rebounding and isolation. As a result, there were fears that the Knicks could get bogged down by Cleveland’s help-tastic and elastic defense.
Those concerns proved true whenever the Cavs had time to get their defense set, which is why it was wise of the Knicks to push the pace off misses. Look how fast the Knicks, especially center Mitchell Robinson, get downcourt after this Isaac Okoro clank from the corner:
New York doesn’t usually run like they’re on fire, so we’ll see if they can keep it up on Tuesday. But it was a smart point of emphasis for coach Tom Thibodeau and his crew.
Lakers lead Grizzlies, 1-0
According to Synergy Sports, The Lakers’ ballhandlers finished 46 pick-and-rolls during their win against Memphis and scored 1.11 points per possession. On the other side, the Grizzlies sorely missed Steven Adams, their best screener, and Ja Morant (after his injury) on their own attempts at the pick-and-roll, as they finished 30 such plays and only averaged 0.83 points per possession.
For context, the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic-led attack led the league by averaging 1.03 points per possession on pick-and-rolls finished by the ballhandler. The Lakers were a bottom-10 team during the regular season by this metric.
But Austin Reaves, in particular, shined in several late-game sequences, with Anthony Davis paving the way:
You haven’t often seen LeBron James be a bystander in end-of-game crunchtime situations, but the Reaves/Davis duo was so effective that James’ usual heroics weren’t needed. Per Dan Devine, the Reaves/Davis two-man game accounted for 16 points on nine possessions in the fourth quarter alone.
Reaves’ late-season emergence as a legitimate offensive initiator was a major reason for the Lakers’ success down the stretch. It was great to see it carry over onto the big stage.
Heat lead Bucks, 1-0
Miami had an effective field goal percentage (which adjusts for the three-point shot) of 68.5%, in the 100th percentile for any games played this season. After an entire season of being popsicle-cold from the perimeter, the Heat finally lived up to their name.
They couldn’t miss from anywhere, hitting 60% from beyond the arc, 82% at the rim, and 61% on the short middies Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler love so much.
The Bucks, too, were uncharacteristically hot. Milwaukee was even better at the rim — an awe-inspiring 92% despite Giannis Antetokounmpo only playing 10 minutes. They also hit 73% in the short midrange and 57% from the deep midrange. But the Bucks were just 11 for 45 from beyond the arc on the day, which proved to be the difference.
Neither team is known for their marksmanship (although Miami’s offense had come on at the end of the season), so Sunday’s shooting outburst was surprising for both squads.
After breaking his hand, Tyler Herro is out for the rest of the series. As of this writing, we aren’t sure when Giannis will return, although it will likely be soon. It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from such a strange game, but it still counts as a big win for Miami.
76ers lead Nets, 2-0
The Philadelphia 76ers have squashed the Brooklyn Nets on the glass like so many ants, dysoning up 86.6% of available defensive rebounds (89.2% when soon-to-be MVP Joel Embiid is on the floor). The best rate for any team in the regular season was Boston’s 75.9%, so this is an absolute mauling on the glass.
Brooklyn has done some interesting things tactically (like aggressively fronting Embiid with 6’4” Royce O’Neale in Game 2), but their decision to go smaller means they will never have a shot at rebounding. Embiid had 15 rebounds (13 defensive) by himself at halftime in the second game.
The Nets have struggled to score against Philly’s physical, locked-in defense despite reasonable shooting from outside, and the lack of offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities has hurt. Of course, Brooklyn is already an undersized team, so this isn’t a massive shock, but the degree to which Philly has dominated the glass cannot be overstated.
This is a good tune-up for Philadelphia before their expected heavyweight bout against Boston in Round 2.
Celtics lead Hawks, 1-0
The Atlanta Hawks led the NBA in points from pull-up jumpers during the regular season, averaging 27.5 per game. But against a switchy, disciplined Boston defense, the Hawks scored just 14 such points (the fewest of any playoff team in any Game 1) while shooting 6-for-23.
Trae Young has infinite range, Dejounte Murray gets to his pet spots in the mid-range, and even the Hawks role players, like Bogdan Bogdanovic, like to rise and fire off the bounce. But the Celtics are overflowing with long-armed defensive magnets, and they fought hard to get over screens and crowd the airspace of the Hawks’ ballhandlers.
The Hawks missed a few shots they usually make, but nothing felt particularly special about what the Celtics were doing. They have the exact sort of defensive personnel to smother the Hawks’ talented but small backcourt.
Thanks to Peter L. for assistance with this article.
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