Don't Look Now, the C's Are Coming

Kyrie went full Pepsi; LeBron probably still doesn't know who Marcus Smart is; the Celtics almost turn around a 20 point deficit. Damn, the regular season's fun.

I'm a big texter during basketball games. If you're anything like me, your messages are full of "oh, nah"'s and "(insert name here), you dog"'s and "they can't hold him!"'s. Narrating games in real time is an outlet of sorts. Without it, I'd be splayed out on my couch talking to a pillow while my imaginary friend looks for a therapist. The point being, if you're anything like me, last night's Celtics-Cavaliers game was an absolute goldmine. I mean, it was all that I could have hoped for: a measuring stick game for a potential contender; Kyrie Irving cooking every which way; a late missed free throw from LeBron. Everything.

Measuring Stick

For anyone who forgot Kevin Durant went to the Warriors, let me remind you.

He's on the Warriors. Anyway, most of us imagined that the season was simply a wash. We were just waiting for the Warriors-Cavs Finals and we weren't sure that even that would be a good series. The two Finals teams met on Christmas and we forgot all about our griping because guess what: the game was an instant classic.

The Celtics-Cavs game wasn't all that different. The defending champs went up big in the third quarter, starting the 4th with an 18 point lead. The Celtics half court offense was stagnant and lazy, taking threes early in the shot clock without any of their patented ball movement. Thing about the Celtics, though, is they're never out of it. They play a gritty brand of Marcus Smart inspired defense—getting key stops and giving hard fouls—that keeps them in games. They turned LeBron over 8 times en route to cutting the lead down to 1 on several occasions in the fourth quarter.

Boston simply had no answer for Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving. Brad Stevens looked like he'd just been cock-blocked by Irving and Love in cop uniforms (that's already been copyrighted so f*ck off Foot Locker). The Celtics were outrebounded 46 to 29, Love grabbing 15 for the Cavaliers to go along with 30 points. Horford was an absolute non-factor on the night, grabbing only one board to go along with 4 assists and 3 blocks. Kyrie, who's been knocked for his lack of playmaking ability for others, finished the night with 12 assists and 32 points on 71% shooting from the field. And every time the Celts got close, Kyrie just dropped in another mid-range fallaway.

Boston now has to be painfully aware of their limitations and if Trader Danny doesn't have something cooking, I'll eat a $200 Foot Locker shoe. Rebounding has been an issue all year, and part of the reason they haven't separated themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference pack is because they've been abused on the glass. The other issue is scoring the half court. Towards the end of the game, Isaiah Thomas was bailing out the Celtics half court offense, attacking the paint relentlessly and getting rewarded. Perhaps the most Isaiah play of the game was all 5'-9" of him drawing a double team in the restricted area and instead of kicking to a wide open Jae Crowder in the corner where Love had left him, he went barreling into a double clutch move and drawing the foul.

I've already written about how DeMarcus can fill some of the Celtics' gaps, defensive rebounding and post scoring in particular, but the other name that's been linked to a mid-season move is Andrew Bogut. An intimidating rim-protecting presence, Bogut's found his niche on the offensive side of the ball as a savvy passer and teeth-rattling screen setter. The Mavs probably can't ask for much for him considering his age and injury history so he'd be a bargain get for the Celtics if they decide to pass on Cousins. He fits their scheme perfectly on both sides of the ball. He challenges shots at the rim as well as anyone in the league, cleans up on the defensive glass, and is a willing and skillful passer. And Ainge won't have to break the bank for him. The only question for me is if they need another scheme guy. More than someone who fits their identity, I think the Celtics need another Isaiah. They need another scheme breaker. They need someone else who's willing and able to be the hero and the scapegoat. They need someone who'll disregard the corner shooter and get to the basket. F*ck it, they don't need Bogut. They need DeMarcus.

Uncle Drew Knows

(That's Brad Stevens' "I was about to nut!" face in the thumbnail, by the way)

LeBron Doesn't

Absolutely pettier than Westbrook.

Special Shout-Out: DeAndre Liggins' Lawyer

Liggins has stumbled into an opportunity with the Cavaliers. Not many Kentucky guys play for Calipari for four years, and fewer make it to the NBA. J.R. Smith is injured; Iman Shumpert is successfully pretending that he knows how to come off the bench; Kay Felder is shorter than Isaiah; Mike Dunleavy has never been the same since Giannis plastered him into the first row. As such, Liggins has been starting at the 2, picking up the opposing team's best guard. For most players, starting an NBA game is the biggest opportunity of their life. For DeAndre Liggins it's a far second.

A brief look into my Facebook Messenger—

Rohan: Klay leads the league in catch and shoot fga per game. Kevin love is second.

Me: Yeah I bet

Rohan: I think he's just realized that he needs to play a different role now and finally is ok with just being a shooter basically.

Me: But he takes advantages of his opportunities to crash now too. Which is big.

Marv Albert and Chris Webber start discussing Liggins' troubled history with the law prompting…

Me: Damn DeAndre Liggins is a savage.

Rohan: 7 felonies? And somehow still has custody of his kid? Someone get that lawyer a new contract.

People got paid this off-season. I hope Liggins did right by his attorney (for more on Billy Bock and Liggins' xbox assault).



What Happened to the Manimal?

He's always had the talent, the athleticism, and the body. So where'd it all go?

It feels like for as long as I can remember, I've been waiting for Kenneth Faried to put it all together. At 6'-8", 230 lbs, we fell for the physical tools, the passion, the high flying hooliganism.

Every year was the year the Manimal was supposed to arrive as a star. He started on the USMNT for the 2014 World Cup alongside Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Anthony Davis—which one isn't like the rest (hint: Stephen Curry is the only MVP and is not the odd one out)? Now, with rising star Nikola Jokic taking over the starting center position and coach Mike Malone going small, starting Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari at the forwards, Faried's stock is plummeting.

League Trend:

As the league doubles down on small ball, Faried has become a floor-spacing liability. Coach Malone and the Nuggets have found success surrounding Jokic with floor stretching forwards. Cutting and passing lanes open up when they space the floor with Jokic operating out of the high post; the screen and roll with Mudiay becomes more efficient with outlets planted along the three-point line. Already undersized to play the traditional power forward role, having Faried clog up the paint next to either big in Jokic or Nurkic is suicidal. Although he shoots 54% from the field, that number drops to 40% when he steps out further than 3 feet and again to an abysmal 33% from 10+ feet out (stats courtesy of Faried doesn't need to be a knockdown three point shooter to gain value. He just needs to not suck outside the paint.


Though the league seems to be trending away from board-crashing, paint-clogging bigs, Faried still has the potential to be a high pace, small ball 5. Think back to last year's Eastern Conference semi-finals where 6'-5" Justise Winslow matched up at center. Size clearly isn't the issue with Faried at the 5; his defense, however, has been porous to say the least. For a guy with the combination of lateral quickness and vertical, Faried has never averaged more than a block or steal per game. On top of that, asking a guy who allows opponents to shoot over 60% in the paint to anchor a defense is, well, let me put it another way; if Tony Allen is your go-to-scorer, you're probably in trouble. In the same vein, Faried is hardly a defensive cornerstone despite his athleticism and his effort.

Though the pick and roll is the most basic set in an offense's playbook, stopping the pick and roll is vital for a defense trying to stay out of rotation. Watch (above) how Chicago exploits Faried's pick and roll defense. Far too often, Faried is caught in no man's land: not close enough to attack the ball handler, not deep enough to box out the roll man. If you can't defend the first look out of a pick and roll set, you'll be hard pressed to put together a functioning defense.

Nuggets' Rebuild:

The Nuggets have loaded their team with young talent from Nikola Jokic to Gary Harris to Jamal Murray to Emmanuel Mudiay (yes, even Emmanuel Mudiay, whose funky double-clutch jumper might be his most developed skill). That being said, building on those pieces presents somewhat of a quandary. They're loaded at the guard and center slots, but the forwards present an issue. Gallinari and Chandler (who's playing the best basketball of his career) are starting caliber forwards, but will they still be when the Nuggets stocks peak? Moving either Nurkic or Faried is a must, but who's going to bite? Best case scenario, Malone gives one of them enough minutes to be productive and raise their trade value to flip them for picks or an emerging wing. The Nuggets have youth and they have talent, but their rebuild is far from over.


KD's Key to Efficiency

The quietly gaudy stat lines are nothing new for Kevin Durant—but he's never done it this well.

Watching this season's Kevin Durant might not look that different to the casual fan. Every move he makes is still long and sleek; his free throw form still looks like he's trying to pull his limbs back to his body; he still has a million and a half ways to score. But take a look at his stat line in a dominating win over Portland: 34 points on 11/13 shooting from the field, 4/5 from deep, to go along with 10 rebounds. Really, watching this season's Kevin Durant the difference isn't new faces and a new jersey. It's a new level of efficiency. Taking Durant off the Thunder and putting him in any sort of system—much less, one tailor made to his skill set—is like applying NBA Street: Homecourt's Freak skill to every skill.

The key has been getting Durant in space. Thinking of the league's most prolific scorer a secondary playmaker is odd, no doubt, but think about all the years the Thunder wasted underutilizing Durant. Getting to the finals in 2012 was a testament to Durant's individual ability, averaging nearly 31 a game on 55% shooting from the field. But far too often, Durant was the only reliable scorer—Westbrook and Harden shot 43% and 38%, respectively. Scoring in isolation over a 7 game series is no easy feat. Think of the Thunder as 2011 Tim Tebow; now imagine Scotty Brooks is Tebow's throwing mechanics (note: if you were able to do so, congratulations—you officially have more imagination than Scott Brooks). The man won a playoff game without knowing how to throw a ball. Freeing Durant from the late shot clock one-on-one and the man purrs.

And the Warriors haven't put Durant into just any system. He fills Harrison Barnes role as a catch and shoot threat and a mismatch threat; then he ups the ante. He's a playmaker in space (averaging a career high 2.1 assist to turnover ratio) and an absolute flamethrower. Getting Durant going down hill, coming off screens and getting a mismatch in the high post, is something that the Thunder were never really able to do. Brooks' insistence on starting Kendrick Perkins didn't help either. Spacing was always an issue for the Thunder. Aiding their Finals run was the emergence of Thabo Sefolosha as a legitimate 3-and-D guy, shooting a career high 44% from deep. Now, with spacing galore, Durant's shooting a career high in FG%, eFG%, and TS%. Durant isn't a volume scorer; he's a finesse guy who's finally getting to show it