District of Buckets NBA Finals: Way Too Simple Game 4 Keys to Victory

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The Milwaukee Bucks took game 3 of the NBA Finals at home in a 120-100 beat down of the Phoenix Suns to bring the series score to 2-1.

In a pivotal game 4, both teams need to make adjustments and play at the peak of their abilities to win a game that will be an absolute dogfight.

Featured image of the Larry O’Brien trophy courtesy of NBA.com

Key #1: Deandre Ayton Avoiding Foul Trouble

On paper, Deandre Ayton had a solid game. Ayton scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting.

Twelve of his 18 points came in the first quarter due to early fouls that pushed him to the bench.

Without Ayton on the floor, the Suns run a small lineup, or they play Frank Kaminsky.

In a smaller lineup and against Kaminsky, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks supporting cast have an easier time scoring in the paint.

Antetokounmpo punished the Suns in the paint in back-to-back games.

After a 41-point 13-rebound performance in game 3, the Greek Freak is forever linked with Shaquille O’Neal as the only other player in NBA Finals history to post back-to-back 40-point, 10-rebound games.

The Suns also lose significant offensive production when their best screener and post scorer goes to the bench.

Ayton-less lineups lack scoring prowess at the center position. So in pick-and-roll situations, the Bucks can commit more defensive energy to Suns’ guards and wings.

At this stage of basketball, Ayton is aware of his importance. Look to see if Ayton is conservative when contesting shots in game 4.

Tweet from Michael Gallagher explaining net rating differences with Ayton and Giannis on or off the court—a metric that shows how much better or worse a team is on the court with a specific player

Key#2: Bounce Back Booker

Devin Booker needs to have his shots fall if the Suns want to put the Bucks in a 3-1 series chokehold.

Booker is a talented tough-shot maker, and the Bucks are doing everything in their power to make each possession difficult for him.

However, Booker is settling for jump shots often in this series. He needs to find a way to score more points around the basket despite the tenacious Bucks perimeter defense.

In game 3, Booker scored just 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting from the field, 1-of-7 from three, and 3-of-5 from the foul line.

Booker has taken a total of five free throws in the last two games. A stark contrast to the 10 he attempted in game 1.

He doesn’t need to slash all game to get more calls, but seeing a close layup or floater go in the basket is beneficial to anyone in a shooting slump.

Predictions


I’m taking the Bucks in game 4. However, I do not think they win in a blowout.

Phoenix’s mistakes from game 3 are easily correctable, and they’re too talented to not put up a fight in back-to-back games.

Game 4 should easily be the most competitive in the series so far, and I’m looking for the contest to be decided by three points when the clock hits 0:00.

NBA Finals Game 4: Wednesday, July 14th 9:00 p.m EST.

Game 3 Box Score

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District of Buckets NBA Finals Review: Game 1

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Tuesday night, the Phoenix Suns bested the Milwaukee Bucks in game 1 of the NBA Finals 118-105. In what was an electric start to the series, we witnessed moving parts on both teams critical to success or failure in each game and the entire series.

This post is a brief look at storylines, matchups, and potential adjustments that may carry over into game 2.

Bucks-Suns NBA Finals: Giannis Antetokounmpo chase-down block reminiscent  of LeBron James vs. Warriors in 2016 - CBSSports.com

Solving The Pick-And-Roll

A potential Bucks defensive problem mentioned in the District of Buckets Finals Preview went from theory to fact early in game 1.

The Suns used Deandre Ayton as a screener early and often to create action on the pick and roll. Ayton (or whoever is being guarded by Brook Lopez) as the screener creates scoring opportunities for Phoenix and pressure for Milwaukee.

Ayton set solid screens that made it tough for Bucks defenders to chase Phoenix’s guards. Milwaukee also switched many of these screens set by Ayton and left Brook Lopez on an island against Chris Paul (32pts) and Devin Booker (27pts) all night.

The Suns’ first eight points of the game came from forcing Lopez switches. Lopez switches also open up a pass to Deandre Ayton in the paint after he rolls to the basket against a smaller defender.

Ayton’s finishing around the rim is stellar. He finished the game with 23 points and 19 rebounds on 8-of-10 shooting.

The Bucks played a small lineup to adjust to the play of the Suns’ guards. They sometimes ran Giannis at center. They also brought in Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton to put more athleticism on the court and allow them to switch. However, this couldn’t last long since Brook Lopez was one of the few Bucks scoring the ball in the first half.

Lopez ended the game with 17 points. But the groove that Chris Paul found after the early Lopez switches led to his domination of the contest. Chris Paul finished the game with 32 points and nine assists.

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Next game, I expect the Bucks to find more scoring outside of Lopez and work to keep more athleticism and quickness on the court if they plan to switch everything on the pick-and-roll.

Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo

Plenty needs to happen for the Bucks offensively to keep pace with the Suns. First, they need more out of Jrue Holiday. Holiday finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists but the issue Tuesday night was his shooting. Holiday was 4-for-14 from the field and 0-of-4 from the three-point line.

Holiday is a better offensive player than he showed in game 1, and in game 2 he needs to use his size advantage over Chris Paul and attack the basket.

Giannis Antetokounmpo proved the hyperextended knee that kept him out of two Eastern Conference Finals games is healthy enough to make LeBron-Esque chase-down blocks and power through Deandre Ayton in the paint on offense.

However, by the end of the third quarter, he looked gassed. Coming back after an absence is hard to do in an NBA playoff series, so it may take a few games for the Greek Freak to play with his usual motor for four quarters.

Antetokounmpo finished with 20 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block. A solid stat line for anyone who played 35 minutes. Despite shooting an efficient 6-of-11 from the field, there were times that the superstar looked passive on the offensive end.

A PASSIVE GIANNIS WILL NOT WIN GAMES IN THE VALLEY. I expect by game 3 of the series—assuming his knee holds up—Giannis will play with an offensive motor that matches what he has on the defensive end.

Lastly, for Milwaukee, All-Star Khris Middleton—who led the Bucks scoring with 29 points last night—needs to have the scoring outburst he displayed in the second half earlier in the game. Middleton’s scoring allows the Bucks to keep pace and even helped cut a 20 point Suns’ second-half lead to single digits.

Booker and Crowder 3pt Shooting

Almost everything went right for the Suns last night—except for Jae Crowder and Devin Booker knocking down their long-distance attempts.

Booker (1-for-8) and Crowder (0-for-5) shooting poorly is something I don’t expect to continue, but as the series progresses and changes location in game 3, establishing a rhythm beyond the arc to prepare for the road is crucial for Suns success.

A Shift In Foul Calls

One thing to look for in future finals games, especially game 2, is a potential shift in foul calls. At home in game 1, the Suns were 25-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Bucks were 9-of-16. The Suns receiving 10 more free-throw attempts is rooted in some questionable no-calls against the Bucks.

When this happens, a righting of the wrong by the officiating crew is due. The free-throw attempts for both teams should be closer to even in game 2.

Game 2 Predictions

I’m predicting a closer finish down the stretch—within five points *wink*—and still taking the Suns in game 2. I think Phoenix will ride the energy of the crowd in the Valley and will be difficult to stop offensively.

The silver lining for the Bucks is they can figure out exactly what works well for them and use it to capture some wins when the series switches location to Milwaukee.

We will find out if I’m right when game 2 tips-off Thursday night on ABC at 9:00p.m EST

Game 1 box score: LINK

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NBA Finals Preview

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It is finally time for the annual meeting of the NBA’s best from east and west. The 2021 Finals will deliver fans an entertaining fight for NBA immortality.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns tip-off the 2021 NBA Finals Tuesday night, so here is DoB’s preview to get you ready for the series.

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William Hill Sportsbook Series Odds

The Milwaukee Bucks

The Eastern conference representative in the NBA Finals dealt with a fair amount of doubt, criticism, and adversity this season. Adversity only strengthened this team, and they are more than ready to fight in a seven-game series for the NBA’s top prize.

NBA: Middleton and Holiday send the Bucks to their first NBA Finals since  1974 | Marca
The Milwaukee Bucks celebrating after winning the Eastern Conference Finals

The Bucks(46-26) finished the regular season as the 3rd seed in the East. Milwaukee’s playoff run includes series victories over the Miami Heat (4-0), The Brooklyn Nets (4-3), and the Atlanta Hawks (4-2).

Key Stars: Milwaukee

The engine of the Mike Budenholzer coached Milwaukee Bucks is two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis this postseason has seen his fair share of tests. Skill-wise, his free-throw and jump shooting issues are highlighted by opposing defenses. Physically, the Bucks star is dealing with pain stemming from a hyperextended knee suffered during the Atlanta Hawks series.

I fully expect to see Giannis early in this series, and even though he’s questionable for game one, I would confidently say that if he doesn’t suit up and the first game goes in Phoenix’s favor, we should expect to see Giannis in game two.

With Giannis ailing, we’ve seen the other talented Bucks step up and do what they do best. Two-time NBA All-Star Khris Middleton has strung together a few impressive playoff series’ and has scored 30+ points three times in his last eight games.

Jrue Holiday is one of the most underrated two-way guards in the league. Jrue has more than done his part to propel the Bucks to their first Finals appearance since 1974. The underrated aspect of Holiday’s game is his offensive contribution. Forever known as a defensive stalwart, Jrue’s offensive game is an afterthought amongst many casual fans. Jrue showed in the Eastern Conference Finals (22 points and ten assists per game vs. ATL) that his offensive game is as good as any guard in the league.

Holiday will be depended on to help the Bucks thrive with a hobbled Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Matchups I’d Love to See: Milwaukee

Jrue Holiday vs CP3/Devin Booker:

I expect Holiday to be primarily matched up on Chris Paul, so it will be interesting to see how he fairs against the ‘Point God’ but I also expect that there will be instances when the Bucks will throw him on Devin Booker. Both matchups will be tough for Holiday, as CP3 and Booker are easily one of the most talented backcourts in the NBA. Offensively, I expect Jrue Holiday to take advantage of his size over Chris Paul and his strength over Booker to effectively score and navigate through the Phoenix defense to make plays all series.

Brook Lopez defending the pick and roll:

Lopez has done a great job defending all postseason, and his effectiveness at defending the rim is one of the key reasons Milwaukee is in the finals. Lopez’s deficiency on defense is his lateral quickness. To avoid exploitation of that deficiency, the Bucks will have Lopez play a drop coverage.

Drop coverage in the pick-and-roll is when the defender of the screener (Lopez in this example) “drops” away from the action to defend the roll and a potential drive. Simultaneously, the on-ball defender fights through the screen to stay with his man.

The issue with drop coverage in this series is that CP3 and Booker have three-level scoring abilities. Scorers who can attack the rim, mid-range, and shoot from deep, challenge the drop defender in so many different ways. This series should be difficult for Lopez, but he is more than able to compete.

Note: CP3 this season shoots 51.6% from mid-range and that’s where Lopez’ coverage will be tested.

Mike Budenholzer vs. playing Bobby Portis:

This is as simple as it gets, the Bucks have enjoyed Bobby Portis’ versatility, but sometimes throughout the playoffs, his minutes have been hard to come by. I’m watching to see if he gets around 15 mins per game minimum as the Bucks seem to be more successful the more he plays.

The Phoenix Suns

Almost a year removed their 8-0 2020 NBA Bubble finish to an otherwise disappointing season the Phoenix Suns are now the NBA Finals representative for the western conference.

The Phoenix Suns turnaround has many leaders. The media rightfully gives Chris Paul plenty of attention but, general manager James Jones, head coach Monty Williams, and franchise scorer Devin Booker have changed the culture over the past few seasons. A culture change so strong it seems like CP3 changed it overnight.

Phoenix Suns, after "being lengendary," are heading to NBA Finals.

The Suns (51-21) finished the regular season as the 2nd seed in the West. Phoenix’s playoff run includes series victories over the Lakers (4-2), the Denver Nuggets (4-0), and the Clippers (4-2). The Suns’ regular-season record gives them a home-court advantage in the Finals.

Key Stars: Phoenix

In their first Finals appearance since 1993, The Phoenix Suns will rely on 24-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker to lead the way. Booker is averaging 27 points per game in the playoffs and takes the lion’s share of the offensive responsibility for the Suns. Booker has a mid-2000’s scoring mentality (he can score on all three levels and isn’t afraid of the mid-range) and will once again be put to the test against Milwaukee’s defense.

In the Western Conference Finals, Booker shot 38.2 percent from the field while playing through a broken nose. In the Finals and despite Milwaukee’s defense, I fully expect Booker to progress to somewhere around his average playoff field goal percentage of 44.4 percent in this series.

Devin Booker's nose following win vs. Clippers is not what noses are  supposed to look like | Sporting News Canada
Booker after breaking his nose in the Clippers series

Suns’ maestro “Point God” Chris Paul will play in his first NBA Finals in his 16-year career. CP3 has done a great job commanding the Suns since his return from a shoulder injury he suffered in the first-round matchup against the Lakers. Chris Paul will have his hands full with Jrue Holiday on both ends of the floor.

The third key star for Phoenix in this series is big man Deandre Ayton. Ayton has grown before our eyes this season, and is a walking double-double. Ayton’s performance will be the X-factor for the Suns as he will see plenty of time guarding Giannis and the Bucks’ size on the defensive end.

Matchups I’d Love to See: Phoenix

Suns wings on Khris Middleton:

Khris Middleton is the type of player who, once he sees a few shots go in, becomes incredibly hard to stop. However, Phoenix has the athleticism and length between guys like Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder to make things difficult for the Bucks All-Star. If the Suns can neutralize Middleton, the scoring pressure on the rest of the Bucks rises.

Booker vs. P.J Tucker:

I’m unsure of the amount of time we will see these two directly match up, but if there are moments that pit Tucker against Booker, keep an eye out for any extra agitation and physicality. After seeing Patrick Beverley get under Booker’s skin—outside of actually breaking his nose—it will be fun to see tenacious defender P.J Tucker attempt to get in the mind of the young star.

Overall, this NBA Finals matchup is one of the most interesting in recent history as only one player (Jae Crowder PHX) has previous NBA Finals experience.

Game one tips-off at 9:00p.m EST.

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The End of the John Wall Era

Wednesday night, The Washington Wizards traded franchise cornerstone John Wall and a 2023 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets in exchange for MVP guard Russell Westbrook.

To analyze this trade, we have to consider how this trade impacts the following.

1. The Basketball Court

2. The Fanbase

Rockets news: Russell Westbrook's decision that sped up John Wall trade

Before getting into the emotional impact, it’s time to look at how this move changes the way the team plays the game of basketball.

To keep this first part short and sweet, Westbrook’s domination of the basketball puts the fit in jeopardy in Washington, and while Wall’s pass-first mentality fits anywhere, we have yet to see him cede touches and play a bit more off the ball.

Due to injuries, Wall has not seen the floor in roughly two years. Assuming Wall produces similarly to when we last saw him—even when healthy, he is not the player Russell Westbrook is.

On almost a daily basis, you can pull up Twitter and see someone blaspheming about the abilities of Westbrook. However, he is more than capable of propelling a 25-win, ninth-seeded team in the East this past season into the playoff picture.

His skill set, albeit similar to Wall’s, is separated by his higher motor. Wall plays hard, but no basketball player brings more heart to the floor than Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook brings his best effort every night and expects the same for his teammates, and if you’ve watched the Wizards over the years, you understand that one of the biggest knocks on this team is that they often play down to the talent level of lesser opponents. Talk about his intensity all you want, but you know he isn’t holding back against anybody.

In Washington, Westbrook will be one of the primary paint attackers and will either draw extra defenders off the Wizards shooters or have an easier time in the lane—something that worked well in Houston.

One thing absent in Houston for Westbrook was coach Scott Brooks. This trade allows for the two to unite for the first time since their Oklahoma City Thunder days. The ceiling for their success is lower than it was in OKC when you saw the pair maximize one another, along with the talent of Kevin Durant and James Harden as they reached the 2012 NBA Finals.

However, in 2020 The Wizards are Beal’s team, adding Westbrook solidifies the starting five, and when coupled with the development of Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant, plus the re-signing of the Latvian marksman Davis Bertans, instantly improves the team in talent, and hopefully in win total.

On Houston’s end, they get a player returning from a multitude of season-ending injuries, but also a talented guard, who is feeling “110% healthy” and looking to remake his mark in a rapidly changing league and pair with James Harden.

The Rockets are going through a makeover of their team as well, and the trade is a move that looks to appease their current superstar and potentially bring in future young talent with a first-round pick in 2023.

Fan & Community Impact

Washington Wizards Ben's Chili Bowl Temporary Mural on Behance

This trade hits D.C sports fans incredibly hard due to the presence that John Wall had among fans in the area. Wall has given back to the community time and time again and even became a staple within the culture, whether by showing up in Shy Glizzy videos (NSFW warning: Language) or being forever linked with Rosebar.

Regardless of what anyone thought of him, John Wall’s connection to this city was deep, and he is forever a part of the D.C community.

On the flip side, the D.C community also gets a guy who has the potential to represent the area just as well in a short time. Westbrook’s intensity on the floor represents the area well, and he is also known along with his wife Nina to be incredibly charitable and embracing of his playing community.

Russell Westbrook speaks at Black Lives Matter protest in California
Westbrook marching in Los Angeles shortly after the death of George Floyd (p/c:USA Today)

Verdict

Adding Westbrook gives the Wizards a fighting chance to win 15-20 more games than the previous season, and Wall allows the Rockets to have a number two on the roster with a much lower usage rate.

Wall and Westbrook have roughly the same amount of money and time remaining on their contracts, but Wall has a 15% trade kicker—a trade kicker being the percentage of the salary that becomes a bonus for a player when traded.

Overall, both sides needed to make this deal. The move appeases the superstars on both sides and both teams can compete in their respective conferences.

It’s sad to see John Wall go, but at the same time, all we can do in life is pick up the pieces and keep going.

Officially, this is now a Russell Westbrook defender blog.

No Asterisk, The Winners of the NBA’s Orlando Reboot Are Legit

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This past Friday, the NBA released the schedule for its reboot in Orlando.

While it has been a pleasure to discuss upcoming NBA action, a developing argument about the legitimacy of a 2020 NBA Championship has gained popularity over the past few weeks. More specifically, an argument stating a Finals win in the Orlando bubble would not hold the same weight as any other championship.

As with most basketball arguments, the name LeBron James comes to the forefront.

There have been arguments made that if his Lakers win it —due the circumstances surrounding the reboot (COVID & social justice concerns)—the championship should not be viewed in the same light as his other rings.

I am vehemently against that idea, and anyone who wants to debate it can mention me personally, I have time to hear it all.

If you think the accomplishment of winning an NBA championship in the midst of a once in a lifetime pandemic somehow DIMINISHES the value of the win, you are just flat out wrong.

After teams complete their seeding games, they enter a relatively normal-looking playoff period. (based on number of games played)

Even though the optics around the game will differ (no real home games, no fans, etc.), every team will have the same chance to take the Larry O’Brien trophy home as even if play never stopped—However, this is all assuming that there are no hiccups and the reboot plan runs smoothly.

If the NBA’s plan alters course, and changes occur en route to a championship, the door is wide open to discuss a lack of legitimacy.

Until that happens, the last team standing is the rightful champion of the league, as always.

Please feel free to share your opinions on the platforms listed below.

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Flashback Friday: The St. Louis Hawks

The Hawks hold one NBA Championship -won in 1958- and while we associate the Hawks with their current location in Atlanta, Georgia, their time as the crown jewel of professional basketball occurred in America’s gateway to the west, St. Louis, Missouri.

The Hawks’ time in “The Lou” lasted from 1955 to 1968, and in that time frame, they were home to several legends of the game and one of the most questionable trades in NBA history.

The team flourished on the court, but in a fashion that would become familiar to pro sports fans in the area, the Hawks would eventually succumb to poor attendance and relocate to Atlanta.

The First MVP: Bob Petit

The most successful player to take the court for the St. Louis Hawks is easily Hall of Famer Bob Petit.

Bob Petit is one of the pioneers of the NBA, and during his time in the league, averaged an impressive 26.4 points and 16.2 rebounds per game.

Petit was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player twice, once in 1956 and again in 1959. His MVP award in 1956 was the first time the league named an MVP, forever linking St. Louis to one of the top accomplishments basketball players aspire to attain.

Bob Pettit Hawks Legend - Detroitsportsfrenzy.com in 2020 (With images) | Bob  pettit
A battle between two Hall of Famers, Bill Russell and Bob Petit

Bill Russell Trade

In the 1956 NBA Draft, the Hawks held the 2nd overall pick. With the 2nd pick in the draft, the Hawks selected the University of San Francisco standout and immortal basketball legend Bill Russell. However, they traded their selection to the Boston Celtics for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan.

Short term, the trade worked for the Hawks, The acquisition of two Hall of Fame level talents for one player, and THEN using both players to win a championship against the team you traded with, in most cases is an undisputed win.

However, long term, the Hawks lost out on having a player who would go on to change the game of basketball forever. Bill Russell’s legacy with 11 NBA Championships in a Celtics uniform (3 against the STL Hawks) is untouchable for players in the modern game, and his successes in “Beantown” were the building blocks of the expectation of greatness for Celtics franchise.

The magnitude of the mark Bill Russell left on the game leaves us wondering, what would his legacy look like if he played in St. Louis? Would the team still be there today if the trade never happened?

Unfortunately, we’ll never know, but we can acknowledge the Hawks’ success as they reached the pinnacle of the NBA in 1958.

1958 Champs

The 1958 St. Louis Hawks won the Western Division with a record of 41-31. In the playoffs, they beat the Detroit Pistons in 5 games and then would go on to beat the Celtics in 6, capturing the only NBA championship in Hawks history.

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Note: Bill Russell was hobbled with an ankle injury for most of the series.

Overall, the Hawks’ time in St. Louis bred basketball success, and due to the legacy of players such as Bob Petit, it was also impactful in shaping what the league would eventually become in the future.

Hopefully this post left you with a few small tidbits of knowledge and hey, who knows, one day some of this might show up on a trivia question and you never would’ve known if you didn’t check out District of Buckets.