*** Note to Frank Vogel: Play Darren Collison more! Collison averaged only 19 minutes per game in Indiana’s five-game win over Orlando, but he still managed to put up some of the playoffs’ most impressive numbers. The 6-foot point guard shot 54% for the series (including a fantastic 61% True Shooting and 59% eFG), tallied eight steals and, perhaps most impressively, dished out 23 assists to just one turnover. Collison’s offensive rating for the series was off the charts at 144; his defensive rating was a very impressive 92. Collison started the first 56 games of the season before he had to sit for a few games towards the end of the season due to a groin injury. Beginning on April 9, George Hill took over the starting PG spot, and even when Collison returned on April 16, Vogel kept Hill as the starter. Hill has played well in that span, and so have the Pacers (11-3 since Hill took over), but giving one of the playoffs’ most efficient players just 19 minutes per game doesn’t make much sense.
*** Philadelphia shot really, really poorly in their series against Chicago. The Sixers rank 12th among playoff teams in field goal percentage (the four teams behind them have all been eliminated) and 15th in three-point shooting (an ugly 25%). In fact, the only game in which Philadelphia shot better than 40% in the six-game series was a Game 2 blowout. Obviously, some credit has to go to the Bulls’ defense, which finished the regular season as the league’s No. 2 unit in points/possession. The question is, will the Sixers fare any better against the No. 1 team in that category, the Celtics—who just so happen to be the Sixers’ opponents in the second round? Doug Collins can spin the first round as a positive in that the Sixers were able to win ugly when their shots weren’t falling, but Philly will struggle against Boston if their shooting woes continue. Boston has more options on offense than Chicago—if Philly can’t pick it up, they won’t be able to hang around in games like they did against the Bulls.
*** In both the Indiana-Miami series and the Boston-Philadelphia series, people are going to be more focused on what’s happening when the starters are in—it’s only natural. But the bench matchups are important, particularly in the Indiana-Miami series, as dominating Heat’s second unit may be the best way for the Pacers to engineer an upset. Indiana’s point guard tandem presents a problem for Miami, because the Heat only use one point guard (Mario Chalmers). Chalmers, who played the second-most minutes on the Heat in round one, is going to get tired chasing Collison and Hill around. And when Chalmers (or Dwyane Wade) is off the floor, Frank Vogel could really shake things up by playing Collison and Hill together. That would give the Pacers a distinct speed advantage and wreak havoc with Miami’s defensive assignments. Apart from Chalmers and Wade, LeBron James is the only guy fast enough to defend Collison or Hill, but that would mean taking him off his man (probably Danny Granger), creating a mismatch at another position for the Pacers. For an underdog to win, it has to take the favorite out of its comfort zone. Playing Collison and Hill together would do that.
*** The bench matchup in the Boston-Philadelphia series also bears watching. At the beginning of the season, this would have been a huge advantage for the Sixers. Their bench was a huge part of their 18-7 start, while the Celtics had pretty much no idea who was going to be on their playoff rotation outside of the Big Four and Brandon Bass. Things have changed, though. Philly still has a good second unit, but the Sixers had a very uneven second half of the season, while the emergence of Avery Bradley allowed Ray Allen to come off the bench for the Celtics. Behind that, Mickael Pietrus is playoff-proven, and Greg Stiemsma (somehow) is a competent backup big man, though he has no offensive game to speak of. Behind Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams, Philly’s bench is still better, but Boston’s bench is no longer something that could lose them the series, impressive for how cobbled together it is.
Let me expand on that last point. I’m sure Danny Ainge did his scouting on these guys, but even he has to be surprised at how his bench turned out this season. Here’s a look at the players who have played (but didn’t start) at least three playoff games this season.
1. Ray Allen: Future Hall-of-Famer. NBA’s all-time leader in made three-pointers. Owner of one of the purest jump shots in the world. Has been with the Celtics since 2007.
2. Mickael Pietrus: Waived by the Suns three days before the season started. Signed by Boston the day before the season started.
3. Greg Stiemsma: Played four years at Wisconsin but didn’t average more than 10 minutes per game until his senior season (16 mpg). Undrafted in 2008. Spent last season playing in Turkey after stints in the D-League and South Korea. Began this year with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the D-League before the Celtics signed him less than a week before the season started.
4. Keyon Dooling: Acquired on December 9 from Milwaukee in exchange for a second-round pick and the rights to Albert Miralles (drafted in 2004). The Celtics are his sixth NBA team.
5. Marquis Daniels: Signed a one-year deal on December 9. Daniels was traded from Boston to Sacramento midway through last season, but he never played a game for the Kings.
6. Ryan Hollins: Released by the Cavaliers on March 20. Signed by Boston on March 23. Has played for five teams in six NBA seasons.
And the reason that Allen’s coming off the bench is because a second-year player who averaged five minutes a game last season took his starting spot. Now that is a patchwork bench.
*** LeBron James has taken flak for his failing late in playoff games, but what about late in playoff series? The last seven series that James’ team has won all lasted five games or fewer, dating back to 2008. The last four series James’ team has lost all lasted six games or more (James is 0-2 during his career in Game 7s). Obviously, you can’t say that it’s entirely James’ fault that his teams have failed in close series (especially the 2009 Conference Finals against the Magic, when James was outstanding). But it is interesting that his teams have had such an easy time of it when they’re clearly the better team and have struggled when the two teams’ talent levels are closer.
Predictions: Miami over Indiana in 5, Boston over Philadelphia in 7