If you’re a die-hard NBA fan with a strong sense of a history of the game, then you may be noticing a changing of the times this postseason.
For decades, the playoffs were always about slowing the tempo down and grinding matters out in a halfcourt game. Size was always paramount as the postseason began.
Well, not anymore.
Three of the four teams left in the playoffs today desperately want to play at a fast pace because, admittedly, uptempo is when they’re at their best. The fourth team, Boston, also wants to get out and run when they have a chance. These old Celtics are the only team with a “short” 8 man rotation in this Final Four of the NBA Playoffs. Remember when every team shortened to an 8-man rotation in the playoffs? That was once the norm in the day of Jeff Van Gundy and Pat Riley. Now such a rotation is the sign of a weak team.
The C’s lost game 2 of the Conference Finals due to exhaustion as much as anything else. Rajon Rondo played the entire game (including OT) and Kevin Garnett played 40 minutes, himself. Had Paul Pierce not fouled out his legs may have fallen off.
It’s all about depth and pace today.
The NBA playoffs, in the day of the Knicks-Heat-Pacers-Bulls were once a war of attrition….today it’s a track meet. I even heard a rumor that the Spurs were so intent on running that they made the trip to Oklahoma City for games 3 & 4 on foot.
Another major shift evident today, one that’s been coming for years, is the end of the power forward position.
The first substitution on most nights in the league is a ‘small’ coming in for a ‘big.’ The second quarter in a typical NBA game is full of guards and swingmen, as coaches are desperate for movement and spacing out on the court.
The Miami Heat, with Chris Bosh out, are starting Shane Battier….a small forward. Okay, so Lebron James has more, um, girth but he’s no PF either. Even their starting center, Ronny Turiaf, is really a ’4′. The Boston Celtics, meanwhile, turned their season around when they moved Garnett, one of the best PFs in history, to the center spot.
Out West, Tim Duncan (despite what the boxscore says) is NOT really a power forward…..don’t believe what the television screen says. He’s been playing center for years. Antonio McDyess, Dajuan Blair were only labeled as the starting center to perpetuate this NBA conspiracy and allow him to continue to make All-Star teams at the 4-spot. Sorry folks, but ’Timmy’ has been manning the middle for years down in south Texas. The reality is, Coach Pop is starting Boris Diaw at PF today…hardly a power player. The man is just a bigger, plumper point guard. It’s like somebody morphed Magic Johnson’s vision into Charles Barkley’s body (pre-weight watchers). The Spurs are a small team, period.
Lastly, we have the Oklahoma City Thunder who actually have a traditional ‘bigman’ rotation with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. However, the problem they’re having in this series is they can’t hang when both are in the game. Scott Brooks’ small lineup was one of the keys to beating the Lakers and their ’Twin Towers’ last round. In this series, though, he’s going small in the 4th quarter for fear of getting blown out by a team who is even better with the small lineup…San Antonio.
Just look at the list of starting centers who were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs this season: Andrew Bynum, Roy Hibbert, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Hawes…all legit seven-footers and 2 are even All-Stars. Even the PF’s were impressive last round: Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol, David West, Elton Brand.
10 years ago I would have put my money on the Lakers, Clippers, Pacers, and 76ers advancing this year. Those teams all had the size and strength that was once a necessity in the playoffs.
The league is truly changing. It’s all about the ten-man rotation. You gotta go small and try and out-run your opponent.
“Four guards n’ a big” seems to be the new modus operandi for head coaches.
Karl Malone is somewhere out on the bayou, logging…..and laughing…at this new NBA.