Posts Tagged ‘SportVU’

Numbers notes: Thunder get stagnant with the game on the line


VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s 33 points lift Warriors past Thunder

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Oklahoma City Thunder had some problems down the stretch of games against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. The Thunder were outscored 18-7 in the final 4:33 of the fourth quarter against Golden State and 22-3 in the final 4:59 at L.A.

Ugly endings, of course, put the Thunder’s late-game offense under scrutiny. It was the story when Scott Brooks was coach and it’s still the story with Billy Donovan now on the bench. In those two games, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot a combined 3-for-16 in the clutch (last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within five points).

The Thunder rank last in passes per game overall, so it’s not like they play like the Spurs before the game gets late. But it sure seems like things get even more stagnant with the game on the line.

The numbers back that up. According to SportVU, the Thunder were averaging 2.68 passes on non-clutch possessions, but just 2.23 on clutch possessions through Wednesday. 3. Only three of Westbrook’s 33 clutch-time baskets and only 16 of Durant’s 42 clutch-time baskets have been assisted.

Both those passes per possession numbers (clutch and non-clutch) rank in the bottom two of the league, but the drop-off of 17 percent is about the league average. Other teams see a greater reduction…

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The Jazz are that team that throws 2-3 passes at the beginning of most possessions that do nothing. So ball movement is definitely going to go down when they’re more purposefully looking to get the ball into the hands of Gordon Hayward or Rodney Hood to run a pick-and-roll.

The Cavs? Yeah, you can see that.

On the other end of the list are the Spurs, of course. They move the ball whether the game is on the line or not. They rank third with 3.50 passes per possession on non-clutch possessions and first with 3.36 on clutch possessions.


VIDEO: Dissecting OKC’s late-game woes

Bench issues in OKC

Though the Thunder are 2-6 since the All-Star break, their starting lineup has been the league’s best five-man unit that has played at least 250 minutes, having outscored its opponents by 18.9 points per 100 possessions. In their two games against the Warriors in the last week, the OKC starters were a plus-23 (outscoring the champs 81-58) in 32 minutes.

But all other OKC lineups were a minus-41 and Dion Waiters was a minus-42 in 51:34 in the two games. No other Thunder player was worse than a minus-17.

Donovan has been staggering the minutes of Durant and Westbrook over the last six games, keeping one of them on the floor at all (non-garbage) times. Instead of playing the entire first quarter like he typically had done through the first two games after the break, Durant has been taking a few-minute break midway through the period.

It’s too early to tell if it’s working, but Thursday’s game seemed to be lost in 7:43 stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters, where only one of Durant or Westbrook was on the floor. When Durant subbed out at 4:38 of the third, OKC led by nine and by the time both were on the floor together again with 8:55 to go in the fourth, the Thunder were down five.

Would things have been different if they both stayed on the floor together longer and the Thunder played a few minutes of the fourth with neither in the game? Who knows.

In the six games that Donovan has been staggering his stars’ minutes, the Thunder are a plus-4 in 159 minutes with both on the floor and a plus-6 in 130 minutes with only one of the two on the floor. The offense has been great and the defense has been terrible no matter who has been on the floor. More study is needed.

55-5, playing at a disadvantage

There are plenty of numbers to explain how good the Warriors have been this season. Here’s another data point that makes their ridiculous 55-5 record look even more impressive than it looks on the surface…

Thursday’s win over the Thunder was just the sixth game this season in which the Warriors had a rest advantage, where they didn’t play the day before, but their opponent did. Only the Boston Celtics (5) have had fewer such games.

The Warriors have played twice as many games (12) with a rest disadvantage, where they played the night before, but their opponent didn’t. That’s the biggest negative rest-advantage-to-rest-disadvantage differential (-6) in the league.

Of course, they haven’t lost in either situation. The Warriors are 6-0 with a rest advantage and 12-0 with a rest disadvantage. All five of their losses have come when both teams were on the second night of a back-to-back (2-1) or when both teams didn’t play the day before (35-4).

The champs’ differential will be reduced a bit before the end of the season. They have seven games remaining with a rest advantage and five remaining at a disadvantage.

Not taking advantage

On the other end of the spectrum are the New York Knicks, who have played eight more games with a rest advantage (14) than they have with a rest disadvantage (6). No other team has a positive differential of more than three. But the Knicks are just 5-9 with an advantage, having allowed 108.1 points per 100 possessions in those 14 games.

Teams with a rest advantage (160-115) have the same winning percentage (.582) as home teams (530-381) do this season.

Point differential per 100 possessions…
Rest advantage: plus-2.2
Home court: plus-2.3

The Value of Ice


VIDEO: GameTime: The top training camp questions around the league.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — If you watched any Chicago Bulls game over the last five years with the TV volume on, you heard Tom Thibodeau screaming his favorite word over and over again.

“Ice! Ice! Ice!” was the call whenever the Bulls’ opponent ran a pick-and-roll on the side of the floor, instructing the ball-handler’s defender to keep his man from dribbling toward the middle by almost defending him sideways.

Here’s Derrick Rose “icing” a Dallas side pick-and-roll, trying to direct Devin Harris toward the baseline. Other teams call this “downing” a pick-and-roll.

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Thibodeau believed that, if his defense could keep the ball on the side of the floor, it was more likely to get a stop. And the numbers back him up.

SportVU tracks every pick-and-roll, no matter when it happens in a possession. It knows where the pick-and-roll happened, what direction the ball-handler went, and what happened afterward.

Data from last season tells us that pick-and-rolls that start on the side of the floor and go toward the middle yield more points per possession than those that stay on the side or those that start in the middle.

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So the value of “Ice” is more than 2 1/2 points per 100 possessions, the difference between being an elite defense and being an average one.

A pick-and-roll is generally not designed to get the ball-handler a shot. No matter where a pick-and-roll occurs or in what direction it goes, the ball-handler passes the ball about 2/3 of the time and scores about 1/4 of his team’s points on those possessions.

But he’s a little more likely to hold on to the ball when he stays on the side of the floor than when he goes to the middle. If he gets to the middle of the floor, all four teammates are one pass away. If he stays on the side, some passes are more difficult (or impossible) to make.

And when the ball-handler does shoot the ball off a side pick-and-roll, he shoots worse and shoots fewer 3-pointers when he goes toward the middle of the floor.

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Those shooting numbers are pretty bad – Dion Waiters territory – either way. Good shooting on pick-and-roll possessions comes after a pass. And there are more passes available from the middle of the floor than from the side.

Fairly simple stuff, but it’s the basis for the way a lot of teams defend the floor.

Not surprisingly, the Bulls were the best team in the league at keeping side pick-and-rolls on the side last season. Those “Ice! Ice! Ice!” calls are hard to ignore, apparently.

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The five teams above were all above-average defensive teams. There is a correlation between defensive efficiency and keeping pick-and-rolls on the side of the floor in last season’s numbers.

Thibodeau was fired by the Bulls in May, of course. New coach Fred Hoiberg is expected to bring more offensive creativity to the Bulls, but changes on defense could be just as important. Those “Ice! Ice! Ice!” calls might not be missed by those of us watching Bulls games, but the lack of them could make Chicago a worse defensive team.

The anti-Bulls were the Toronto Raptors, who allowed side pick-and-rolls to get to the middle more than twice as often as Chicago did last season.

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All of the five teams above were below-average defensive teams. Four of the five (all except the Heat) ranked in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency.

Here’s DeMar DeRozan squaring up on Monta Ellis as Dirk Nowitzki comes over to set the screen…

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Patrick Patterson is hedging the screen to keep Ellis from getting into the paint on a straight line, but isn’t necessarily directing Ellis toward the side like downing a screen does.

The Raptors didn’t down screen two seasons ago, when they ranked ninth in defensive efficiency. But their defense fell apart last season, they went from top 10 to bottom 10, and they couldn’t stop John Wall and the Wizards in the playoffs.

Here’s Wall getting into the middle of the floor on a side pick-and-roll and finding Marcin Gortat for a layup. He also had the option of hitting Bradley Beal in the opposite corner.

The additions of DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph will certainly help the Raptors’ defense this season, no matter how coach Dwane Casey wants them to defend side pick-and-rolls. But a change in scheme could also be in order.

Of course, keeping the ball on the side of the floor is a lot easier said than done. First, the big defender has to let his teammate know that the screen is coming.

The real work starts with the guy guarding the ball, who has to put himself between his man and the screener. If he’s just a little late in doing that, his man will get to the middle of the floor, he’ll get caught up in the screen, and the screener’s defender won’t be in position to cut off the paint.

If the ball-handler’s defender is successful in downing the screen, there’s still pressure on the big defender to cut off the paint. According to SportVU, side pick-and-rolls that stay on the side result in a drive by the ball-handler more often (19 percent of the time) than those that go toward the middle (15 percent).

And once he does, he has some work to do to get back and challenge a pick-and-pop jumper if the screener was Dirk Nowitzki or Chris Bosh.

Here’s Dennis Schroder downing a screen and Mike Muscala cutting off the paint, leaving Nikola Mirotic (who never set much of a screen) wide open.

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That’s why offenses that can put four shooters on the floor are generally better than those that can’t. But the only pass that E’Twaun Moore could have made on that play was to Mirotic, and the Hawks could have been quicker with help from the weak side, preventing such a wide open shot.

Defending the whole floor for 24 seconds is hard work, no matter what scheme you employ. But the numbers say that it’s better to push that screen toward the baseline, which is what most good defenses do.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 18


VIDEO: Recapping the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket semifinals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: NBA looking into wearable GPS devices | Green knew he wanted to be with Warriors | McCollum ready for big opportunity

No. 1: Report: NBA looking into wearable technology for players in games — In recent years, the NBA has been looking for ways to use technology to both measure on-court performance and provide data to teams, fans and players about the game that was once unattainable. From SportVU cameras in every NBA arena to the rise of advanced stats, looking at the game from a deeper angle is more and more a regular occurrence in the league. Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe reports the next step in this trend may be GPS technology players would wear in games to further track their movement and health:

The NBA is putting its own money into the study of wearable GPS devices, with the likely end goal of outfitting players during games, according to several league sources. The league is funding a study, at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, of products from two leading device-makers: Catapult and STATSports.

The league declined comment on the study. Most teams already use the gadgets during practices, and Catapult alone expects to have about 20 NBA team clients by the start of the 2015-16 season. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants wore Catapult monitors during D-League games last season in an obvious trial run for potential use at the parent league.

Weighing less than an ounce, these devices are worn underneath a player’s jersey. They track basic movement data, including distance traveled and running speed, but the real value comes from the health- and fatigue-related information they spit out. The monitors track the power behind a player’s accelerations and decelerations (i.e., cuts), the force-based impact of jumping and landing, and other data points. Team sports science experts scour the data for any indication a player might be on the verge of injury — or already suffering from one that hasn’t manifested itself in any obvious way.

The devices can show, for instance, that a player gets more oomph pushing off his left leg than his right — evidence of a possible leg injury. They will show when players can’t produce the same level of power, acceleration, and height on cuts and jumps. Those are typical signs of fatigue, but there is near-total consensus among medical experts that fatigued players are more vulnerable to all sorts of injuries — including muscle tears, catastrophic ligament ruptures, and pesky soft-tissue injuries that can nag all season.

At a basic level, the NBA wants to be absolutely sure the products work before going to the players’ union and arguing players should wear them during games as part of a push to keep players safe — remember, this was why the league reduced the number of times a team plays four games in five days. Having data from practices and shootarounds is nice, but there just aren’t enough of those during the dog days of the 82-game slog for teams to compile a reliable database. The league can plop this study on the table and say, “We paid for this, and now we know for sure these things do what they are supposed to do.”

Several GMs and other team higher-ups have privately pushed for in-game use, but they understand the league has to collectively bargain that kind of step with the players’ union. Team executives want to know as much as they can about player health, and also whether guys are going as hard as they can during games.

*** (more…)

Narratives, depth and shots that go in


VIDEO: The Warriors’ offense comes alive in Game 4

CLEVELAND — The 2015 Finals just may be a series of attrition.

The Golden State Warriors are the deeper team here, especially with the Cleveland Cavaliers losing three opening-night starters to season-ending injuries. And Game 4 may have been the point where that depth really showed up.

There were a few other narratives coming out of the Warriors’ 103-82 victory. But they don’t hold much water.

Narrative No. 1: Steve Kerr’s lineup change got the Warriors back on track

The reality?: There may have been some intangible benefits to the change, but the new starting lineup was outscored by the Cavs, 36-35, in its 14-plus minutes in Game 4. Golden State played its best with at least one reserve on the floor.

Narrative No. 2: The Warriors moved the ball more (thanks to the lineup change)

The reality?: While the Warriors have been markedly better in the series when they pass the ball three or more times on a possession (see below), they averaged fewer passes per possession in Game 4 (2.86) than they did in their loss in Game 3 (2.92). They passed the ball three times or more on only 51 percent of their possessions, down from 57 percent on Tuesday.

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Furthermore, their two biggest baskets were unassisted Stephen Curry step-back threes — one over Matthew Dellavedova to put them on the board after an 0-7 start and another over Tristan Thompson that put them up six at the end of the third quarter after the Cavs had pulled to within one possession with a 20-10 run. He hit a third over James Jones as the Warriors put ’em away in the fourth.

Also, in 102 regular-season minutes, the new starting lineup assisted on only 50 percent of its buckets, a rate well-below the Warriors’ overall rate of 66 percent (which ranked second in the league). And in the playoffs, the Warriors’ assist rate has been highest (66.5 percent) when Andrew Bogut (among rotation regulars) has been on the floor. Replaced in the starting lineup by Andre Iguodala on Thursday, Bogut played less than three minutes.

So, while a smaller lineup can provide more floor spacing, it doesn’t necessarily result in more ball movement.

Narrative No. 3: The Warriors picked up the pace

The reality?: Not really. They had the ball just 90 times, the same number of times they had it in Game 3 and one fewer than they had it in Game 2 (through regulation). And the fastest-paced quarter on Thursday (the third) was the quarter that the Cavs won.

The Warriors averaged 11 shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock through the first three games. In Game 4, they took 12 shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock.

Narrative No. 4: The Warriors forced the ball out of LeBron James’ hands

The reality?: James did take just 22 shots, after averaging 36 through the first three games. But the Warriors weren’t demonstrably more aggressive in defending him.

Kerr: “I think we were just more active. It wasn’t a strategic change.”

Cavs coach David Blatt: “They didn’t play him significantly different. I think we were a little bit slower into our sets, and I think we didn’t always get him the ball in great spots. And that made it a little bit more arduous for him to get into position to score the ball.” (more…)

Film Study: The Roll of David Lee, Part 2


VIDEO: Sekou Smith, Lang Whitaker and John Schuhmann recap Game 3

CLEVELAND — In early January of 2014, the Golden State Warriors beat the defending champion Miami Heat, scoring 123 points on 101 possessions. The Warriors weren’t an elite offense last season, but they chewed up the Heat’s aggressive pick-and-roll scheme in their only visit to Miami.

David Lee was a big key to the Warriors’ success that night. When the Heat took the ball out of Stephen Curry‘s hands with hard hedges, Lee was the guy who made plays and took advantage of the resulting four-on-three situations.

The San Antonio Spurs did similar damage against the Heat defense in The Finals each of the last two seasons, with Boris Diaw in the role of playmaking roll man. Diaw would get the ball from a trapped Tony Parker and keep the ball moving so that it eventually found an open layup or 3-pointer.

Lee was supposed to be the Warriors’ starting power forward again this season, but he suffered a strained hamstring in the final preseason game. Draymond Green took the job and never gave it back, finishing second in both Kia Defensive Player of the Year and Kia Most Improved Player voting. Lee came back to the fringe of the rotation (behind both Green and Marreese Speights) and played in only nine of the Warriors first 17 playoff games, receiving DNPs in Games 1 and 2 of The Finals.

The Cavs are defending the Warriors much like the Heat did, bringing their bigs out high to take the ball out of Curry’s hands on pick-and-rolls. They’ve also done a good job of locking and trailing on off-ball screens to keep both Curry and Klay Thompson from getting clean looks off the catch. That has put pressure on the other three Warriors on the floor to make plays and make shots.

Green coming up empty

Green can be a solid playmaker and has more range than Lee on his jumper, but has been ineffective offensively through the first three games, dealing with back pain since the middle of Game 2. He has shot 8-for-30, he has almost as many turnovers (6) as assists (8), and he’s lost confidence in his jumper, shooting 1-for-8 from 3-point range and passing up other open looks.

The Cavs don’t seem to mind leaving him open beyond the arc…

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According to SportVU, Green has shot 2-for-16 on passes from Curry in the series, not exactly Dirk Nowitzki on the pick-and-pop. And his 15 drives to the basket have produced just 12 points for the Warriors, and more turnovers (2) than assists (1) from Green himself.

So Warriors coach Steve Kerr had no choice but to dust off Lee in Game 3 on Tuesday. Lee played 2:47 in the second quarter and 10:30 in the fourth, and he made a big impact.

Lee’s first pick-and-roll with Curry resulted in a dunk (for Lee himself), even though his pass off the roll was deflected Timofey Mozgov. But he didn’t really get going until the fourth quarter.

Pivot and pass

On the first Curry/Lee pick-and-roll of the fourth quarter, Mozgov was out at the 3-point line to contain Curry …

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Curry gets rid of the ball quickly and (with Iman Shumpert out high to defend Thompson), and the Warriors have a three-on-two situation …

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James Jones slides into the paint to stop Lee, who pivots and finds Andre Iguodala wide open in the corner …

20150610_curry_lee_1-3 (more…)

Film Study: One-on-one with LeBron


VIDEO: Stu Jackson breaks down how the Warriors guarded LeBron James

OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors went with the “Don’t let the other guys beat us” strategy in Game 1 of The Finals. And though it almost backfired, it ultimately helped them pick up a 108-100 overtime victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

LeBron James scored 44 points, but J.R. Smith shot 3-for-13, Iman Shumpert shot 2-for-6, Tristan Thompson scored two points, James Jones could only get one shot off in 17 minutes, and Matthew Dellavedova didn’t take a single shot. All five of those guys went scoreless (in almost 78 combined minutes of playing time) after halftime.

It sounds weird, but James’ 44 points were good for Golden State, not just because it kept his supporting cast relatively quiet, but because those 44 points came on mostly tough shots. James’ true shooting percentage* in Game 1 was worse than that of the Warriors’ two leading scorers and his two primary defenders.

*True shooting percentage measures scoring efficiency. TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

Golden State’s defensive success — they held what was the postseason’s best offense to about a point per possession — was a combination of strategy and skill. (more…)

Who’s guarding the MVP?


VIDEO: Finals Media Availability: Stephen Curry

OAKLAND — When Game 1 of The Finals tips off on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC), we’re going to quickly get an answer to a key question: Who’s guarding Stephen Curry?

Keeping the MVP contained and contested will be priority No. 1 for the Cavs, because when Curry gets going, the Warriors are tough to stop.

Kyrie Irving, of course, is the opposing point guard. According to SportVU, Irving defended Curry for 13 minutes over the teams’ two regular season meetings, more than every other Cav combined (9 minutes and 24 seconds). But Irving might not be Curry’s primary defender in The Finals.

For one, Irving didn’t defend Curry very well in the regular season. The MVP scored 1.33 points per possession against Irving, compared to 0.81 against other Cleveland defenders.

Secondly, Irving is hobbled by a knee injury right now. He’s not a very good defender in the first place, so having him defend Curry in this condition might be like putting a hobbled zebra in front of a lion.

Most importantly, Iman Shumpert is now in the Cavs’ starting lineup. Shumpert was injured when these teams met in Oakland on Jan. 9. And he was coming off the bench when they played in Cleveland on Feb. 26. He guarded Curry for 2:24 in the game, holding him to just two shots (that both missed), two free throws and two points in that 2:24.

As a starter, Shumpert will share more floor time with both Curry and Irving, giving Cavs coach David Blatt an obvious alternative to a straight point guard vs. point guard matchup. J.R. Smith, the starting shooting guard in the February meeting, didn’t provide that.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday that he expects to see more cross-matching than there was in the regular season meetings.

“It usually happens in the playoffs when you have more time to prepare and you mix and match,” Kerr said. “You try different things and maybe try to throw the other team off balance a little bit. So we’re preparing for some of that.”

Shumpert wouldn’t say if he’d be Curry’s primary defender, but knows he’ll have the assignment at times.

“It depends on how the game’s going,” he said. “But I definitely expect to be on him.”

Of course, if Shumpert is defending Curry, Irving has to defend someone else, maybe Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes. That could be a mismatch if one of those guys wants to take Irving into the post. But the Warriors say that won’t divert from their offense to play matchup basketball.

“I still try to hunt the shots I’ve been getting all year,” Thompson said. “That’s what got us here. So for me, I don’t pay attention to who’s on me, because if I play within the offense, move without the ball, play a great flow and cut hard and stuff like that, I’m going to get open shots and make plays for others. So is Steph.

“You can’t make it an individual battle. You got to just do it as a team and we’ll make great shots.”

“We’ve seen [cross-matching] through every series,” Andre Iguodala said. “We’ll do what we do. We’ve done such a good job of evolving into this team that can find a mismatch within our sets. It’ll just get found ‘in the wash,’ as we like to say.

“So if we see Harrison has a mismatch, we’ll still run our set and Harrison knows when to cut to the block. We’ll run a few misdirections to get into something, so we don’t get stagnant.”

Versatility is key. The Warriors are no one-trick pony. And while slowing Curry down will give the Cavs a better chance at winning the series, it will also give the Warriors opportunities elsewhere.

Cavs still face questions about their D


VIDEO: GameTime: Comparing Andrew Bogut and Timofey Mozgov

CLEVELAND — Is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defense good now?

That may be the most important question heading into The Finals.

The NBA started counting turnovers in 1977. Since then, no team had reached The Finals after ranking as low as 20th in defensive efficiency in the regular season … until now.

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Ranking anywhere outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency is not a good sign for your hopes of winning a championship. Only three teams — the ’01 Lakers (19th), the ’95 Rockets (12th) and ’88 Lakers (11th) – have won the title after ranking outside the top 10 in the last 37 years. And all three had won the championship (with a top-10 defense) the year before. (more…)

Hawks not hitting their open shots


VIDEO: GameTime: Korver out for remainder of playoffs

CLEVELAND — Diagnosing just what has gone wrong for the Atlanta Hawks is not easy.

Maybe they peaked too early, going 33-2 between Thanksgiving and Jan. 31. Maybe they lack a go-to guy to get them a shot when they really need one. Maybe they’ve been undone by untimely injuries. And maybe they just aren’t ready for this stage.

Whatever it is, the Hawks need to figure things out quickly. They’ve arrived in Cleveland for Game 3 of the conference finals (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) in an 0-2 hole, facing a team that is 24-2 at home since mid-January.

They were tied 2-2 with the 38-44 Brooklyn Nets and trailed 2-1 to the John Wall-less Washington Wizards, but this is obviously the most desperate situation the Hawks have been in. And never have they had fewer answers for what’s been going wrong.

The Hawks have had issues on both ends of the floor. But despite LeBron James‘ brilliance and some hot shooting, Atlanta has held the Cavs to almost five points per 100 possessions below a regular season mark that ranked fourth in offensive efficiency. It’s on offense where Atlanta has struggled most, scoring just 95 points per 100 possessions through the first two games.

In the regular season, 79.4 percent of the Hawks’ jump shots were uncontested, a rate which led the league by a pretty wide margin (New Orleans ranked second at 75.9 percent), according to SportVU. And their effective field goal percentage on those uncontested jumpers was 52.9 percent, a mark which ranked third (behind only the Warriors and Clippers).

The Hawks have yet to match those two numbers in any of their three playoff series. And they’ve hit new lows in the conference finals.

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The Cavs deserve some credit. They were a pretty awful defensive team early in the season, and even after showing improvement with the additions of Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert, they got chewed up by the Atlanta offense in their March 6 meeting. Cleveland finished 20th in defensive efficiency for the season.

Since the league started counting turnovers in 1977, no team has reached The Finals after ranking that low. But the Cavs been much improved defensively in the playoffs. In this series, they’ve denied the Hawks’ primary options, and have backed that up with multiple efforts and sharper rotations.

And while the Hawks are still getting a decent amount of open looks, it’s not hard to see that their offense isn’t nearly as sharp as it was in December and January. Open looks aren’t necessarily in-rhythm looks.

The bottom of the above table tells us that their success is less about the number of open looks they get and more about what they do with them. If you’re making a case that this is a make-or-miss league, you can start with the Hawks’ effective field goal percentage on uncontested jumpers in wins (52.1 percent) vs. losses (37.8 percent) in these playoffs.

Now, the Hawks have to play without their best shooter. In the regular season, Kyle Korver had a ridiculous effective field goal percentage of 74.8 percent on uncontested jumpers. And even if he was contested, he was the Hawks’ best option. He shot better on contested 3-pointers (43.4 percent) than any of his teammates shot on uncontested threes.

Korver has seen fewer open looks (per 36 minutes) in the playoffs, and he’s shot worse on them. But his presence on the floor and the attention he gets from the defense is still a huge key to what the Hawks are doing offensively. They’ve scored 102.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in the postseason, and just 95.8 with him on the bench. In this series, Korver is 7-for-15 from outside the paint, while his teammates are 13-for-64 (20.3 percent).

There is no easy answer with Korver out, not that there was one if he was perfectly healthy. What was the Hawks’ strength in the regular season has failed them when it matters most.

Raptors need to respond in Game 2


VIDEO: A behind-the-scenes look at the Raptors getting ready for the playoffs

TORONTO — Home teams are 9-1 in the postseason through Monday. The one defeat belongs to the Toronto Raptors, who lost Game 1 to the Washington Wizards on Saturday and have put themselves in a hole for the second straight year.

Last year’s series against the Brooklyn Nets taught the Raptors that there’s an opportunity to recover. They took a 3-2 lead in that series before losing in seven games.

But the pressure is still on the Raptors to get a win in Game 2 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV), before the series heads to Washington. Over the last 12 years (since all rounds went to best-of-7), teams that lost Game 1 at home are 43-8 in Game 2. But only one of the eight teams that also lost Game 2 came back to win the series. Furthermore, the Raptors’ opponent had the biggest discrepancy in the regular season between how well they played at home (plus-7.1 points per 100 possessions) and how well they played on the road (minus-3.5).

It’s not hard to figure out where the Raptors have the most room for improvement. They scored just 86 points on 98 possessions in Game 1, shooting 13-for-50 from outside the paint. Their three leading scorers – DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams – combined to score just 32 points on 12-for-46 from the field.

The Wizards have to feel that they can play a lot better in Game 2 as well. They couldn’t crack a point per possession on Saturday either. They shot worse from outside the paint (13-for-53) than the Raptors did, and John Wall and Bradley Beal combined to shoot 11-for-41.

Here are five things to watch in Game 2…

1. Cleaning the glass

In an ugly Game 1, the difference was Washington’s 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. Four of the former and five of the latter came in overtime. The Raptors ranked 25th in defensive rebounding percentage in the regular season, and their issues in that regard obviously carried over into the playoffs.

In some cases, the Raptors just got beat up underneath the basket. See Drew Gooden vs. Patrick Patterson on this fourth-quarter tip-in.

But other Washington offensive rebounds were a result of the Raptors’ defense on the perimeter. By sending two to the ball on pick-and-rolls involving Wall and Beal, Toronto got caught in rotations and out of position when it was time to secure a rebound.

So in regard to the glass, it will first be interesting to see whether or not the Raptors are hedging hard on pick-and-rolls.

2. Transition game

According to SportVU, just five (6.5 percent) of the Raptors’ 77 initial-possession shots came in the first six seconds of the shot clock on Saturday. Toronto isn’t a particularly fast-paced team, but that rate is about half of their regular-season rate (13.0 percent).

“Our tempo has to be different,” Lowry said Sunday. “I need to start the game off with a faster pace, getting up and down a little bit more.”

Earlier shots are typically better shots. In the regular season, the Raptors had an effective field-goal percentage of 61 percent in the first six seconds of the shot clock and 49 percent thereafter.

3. Pierce at the 4

Despite the 19 offensive boards, the Wizards’ offense was still pretty bad. Wizards coach Randy Wittman can get more shooting and spacing on the floor by continuing to use Paul Pierce at power forward.

Pierce played 17 minutes with less than two bigs on the floor next to him in Game 1. The Wizards were actually a minus-1 in those minutes, but playing small helped them turned the game around in the second quarter.

We’ll see if Wittman goes to that look even earlier in the game on Tuesday.

4. James Johnson?

James Johnson could be thought of as a counter to Pierce at the four, especially by those who were chanting “We want James!” in the second half of Game 1. But the Raptors aren’t comfortable playing Johnson at power forward, and would have a hard time taking minutes away from Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson, Patterson or Jonas Valanciunas.

Pierce’s points weren’t necessarily about his individual matchup, either. They were more a product of the attention paid to Wall and Beal.

Still, there may be minutes at small forward for Johnson, who had a positive impact on the Raptors’ numbers when he was on the floor in the regular season. Bonus: He’s a better rebounder than any of the team’s other wings.

5. Who can make a shot?

Both teams played strong defense in Game 1. And both teams missed a lot of open shots.

According to SportVU, the Raptors shot 8-for-27 (30 percent) on uncontested jumpers on Saturday, while the Wizards shot 10-for-35 (29 percent). In the regular season, both teams were better, and Game 2 might just come down to which team can make a few more jumpers than they did in Game 1.