NBA Playoffs: Lessons on and off the court

There is a lot to learn and unpack from the NBA Playoffs. The setup of the Bubble eliminates the home-away format, and players need to learn how to play without depending on their “sixth man” (not Montrezl Harrell) in the stands. Top players have struggled like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. They really made efforts to be the top seeds, and these all went for naught.

It became a good venue for breakout players like Luguentz Dort of the Oklahoma City Thunder. All the theatrics and politics aside and with less media exposure, coaches can experiment more and play to their instincts. The Thunder crowd would not have been as patient with the Dort experiment, as they would want Andre Roberson or Terrence Ferguson getting the minutes instead of an undrafted player.

In the Philippines, we call this the magic “hugot” and most coaches would have one. But under the scrutiny of a home crowd with lots of “lobbyists” in the form of relatives, fan clubs and even underground gambling aficionados, even an NBA coach would be bothered. It’s easy to see how Billy Donovan got tired of it and decided to move on.

Small ball supreme
In the last minutes of the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics Game 6, veteran bigs Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol were not around. Only the Celtics had a “big” in Daniel Theis, himself an undersized center.

The LA Lakers has two centers, primarily because Anthony Davis openly declared that he does not want to be a center. They have Javale McGee and Dwight Howard, and both played beyond expectations. But you would hardly see them in the Houston Rockets series.

In crucial points of the game, the centers are taken out. As plays become faster and more complicated, teams resort to small balls, and the floor is littered with 3-and-D players. This is the trend of the NBA with the fast switching. If you have just one player who can’t shoot the three, your team is at a disadvantage since his man will just sag off him and help to defend the real offensive threats.

You can be a stud on defense and still be a 3-and D guy. PJ Tucker plays the role of Chito Loyzaga in the Pinoy Dream Team of 1990. He defends the best big man on the other side. Even if he is not the tallest on the team, he is the toughest, so he takes the task.

We need someone like PJ Tucker who can be tough as nails on defense, with no regard for height mismatches. When the ball turns, Tucker can blend in with his small-ball mates since he can shoot the three. The only problem for Houston is that Tucker is checking on Anthony Davis, when he is also the best match the team has for LeBron James. They have Eric Gordon for LeBron, and he can only do so much.

Trade winds are early
The Milwaukee Bucks are gone fishing, and they need to get a good one if they want to keep their Big Fish. They have Giannis locked next season, and more than ever, it’s title or bust. Giannis was quoted that he won’t ask for a trade demand. That, I can give the benefit of the doubt.

The thing is, this is not a reassurance, it’s an ultimatum. Reading between the lines, the Greek Freak is saying that “I won’t demand a trade; you have to convince me to stay or else you get nothing.”

The Bucks need to sell a future for Giannis so he can re-sign. If Milwaukee stinks, then they need to convince Giannis that they will be better in the future. If they can’t, the facts won’t lie, Giannis was the best player in the league and the team failed him. You cannot fault him for not shooting well, because this is already a given.

The Bucks need a floor leader, and Chris Paul has shown what he can do with much less. The math is easy, you don’t need to calculate this.

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