(David Looks at the Playoffs so far)
More than a week of the NBL Canada playoffs is in the books and we have one team moving on to the Division Finals, more in position to do so Friday and Saturday night and two first-place teams who have been getting more than they bargained for. Here are my thoughts on the playoffs so far:
1. It's Wally World and we're just all living in it- What if I told you a member of your bench who averaged just over 7 ppg and 3 rpg on 46% shooting overall and 35% from three during the season was going to give you 17 and 5 on 74% shooting and 87% from three during the playoffs? Would that be something you'd be interested in? If Wally Ellenson, Coron Williams (18 ppg on 62% shooting) and Desmond Lee (14 ppg on 55% shooting and 11 rpg) keep playing this way, no one's going to care that Grandy Glaze and Superman Johnson are struggling in St. John's, especially if Ellenson keeps giving us a highlight dunk or chase down block every game like he did in the Edge's three-game sweep of Windsor.
2. Can we send out a search party for Damontre Harris? - The Windsor big man had never been the Express' first option this year, averaging almost 10 ppg and 5.5 rpg while placing 6th in the league in blocks, but facing an Edge team that wants to keep anyone over 6'6"glued to the bench right now, having a big rangy guy like him could have been an advantage. Windsor barely tried to exploit his size in the paint however, and Harris ended the series averaging 3 points and 3 boards a game and didn't register a block in the last 2 games.
3. Does the London Lightning roster implode and wreck their playoff run…..or? - ……do they keep it together just long enough to repeat? Between Royce White, Ryan Anderson and Mo Bolden, London player twitter feeds have provided their fans plenty to wring their hands about recently, and a game 3 loss to Niagara sans Sam Muldrow didn't do much to ease anyone's mind. Will they come out and crush the River Lions in game 4 looking motivated and together? Will playing time beefs, hot tempters and, at times, mediocre defense result in a game 5 in London? Are the London players acting out some elaborate season-long piece of performance art meant to confuse and confound everyone, and they haven't let us in on the joke yet? Seriously….anything is possible here.
4. Can Niagara remain disciplined enough on the defensive end to force a nail-biter of a game 5?—Niagara did it in fits and starts through two games…..and still was crushed twice in London. But, if they get the series back there, anything can happen. The bad news is, London didn't shoot it well from beyond the arc in game three (Ryan Anderson only played 7 minutes), the River Lions were red-hot all night, and it was STILL a game late. The GOOD news is that London's defense can range from devastatingly good to completely disinterested and, in their current state of upheaval, disinterest in game 4 is on the table. Also, the strategy of putting Guillaume Payen-Boucard on White for long stretches, staying home and trying to bother him with length has produced lots of turnovers. Teams tend to shoot the ball well in their own place so if they can get some breaks there, game 5 is a distinct possibility.
5. Island is being asked to weather one storm too many- Like everyone, I've admired the cat-with-nine-lives existence this team has operated under for much of the year. Roster changes, injuries…..even more injuries, they persevered through it all. But asking them to overcome the departure of Du'Vaughn Maxwell in the middle of their first-round series with the league's overall number 1 seed is lunacy…..says the guy who picked them to finish out of the playoffs in his midseason report. Down players already and likely throwing guys out there who are still banged up for key minutes, just how many bodies will Coach Kendrick have at his disposal on Saturday night? Will colour man Gordon McNeilly be in uniform at the end of the bench? There's a lot to appreciate about this Storm season, but I think it will end in its home arena in game 4……ummmm….did I mention they've made me look silly before?
6. Is depth suddenly an issue for the Hurricanes, or am I being a…..wait for it……blowhard?- Down perennially underrated big man CJ Washington, there are suddenly reasons to question whether the Halifax roster matches up favorably with the Magic/Lightning/Edge's of the world. Rhamel Brown is a very capable starting replacement, but Renaldo Dixon, while a good player, isn't fit for big minutes as a backup night in and night out. Also, newly crowned 6th –man of the year Ta'Quan Zimmerman was shooting just 32% in his last 6 from the field going into last night's game. Let's not go crazy here. If they'd showed up to play against the Storm from the jump in game 1, we'd likely be talking about them sweeping the series. And both Dixon and Zimmerman played well in game 3. However, the Hurricanes climbed ALL the way back in the first game, only for Island to outplay them in the big moments AND they trailed at the half in game 2. The third quarter of that game was a show from the Hurricanes, and they dominated game 3, but they were doing it against a pretty exhausted group. Not saying it's panic time, but there are cracks in the foundation here.
7. Riptide fans are chanting "what if…." In their sleep- Throw a scorer like Gabe Freeman back into this mix of three-point shooting and fly paper defense and you'd REALLY have something. As it is, they are scrapping and clawing and making life as tough as possible on the Moncton Magic in their opening round series. However, very little comes easy at the offensive end of the floor for them. Their bench played 50 minutes in game one and gave the team only 2 points. Even one more shooter/playmaker would open things up once those units hit the hardwood. As constituted however, they lack that guy who can get whatever shot they want no matter his partners on the floor. Malcolm Miller is awesome and comes close, but he needs a running mate. Mr. Freeman would have been perfect. On the other hand, Miller did practically steal game 3 all by himself while the bench outscored the Magic's 23-14, so….
8. Speak of the devil….- Mr. Miller leads a group of the most underrated players in the league. He, Horace Wormley, Jeremiah Mordi and Mariek Isom all shoot 45% from the field, 40% from three, 80% from the line and play stellar defense. Miller and Wormley should be up for the All-NBL teams if there is any justice and all four should be candidates for All-Defensive teams. And since I'm ALWAYS listened to….
9. Speaking of underrated- I'm of two minds when it comes to Denzell Taylor. Every time he takes the floor he does a hundred things that don't show up in the box score to make the team better and I want EVERYONE to know since I'm the president of his fan club. However, I'm also afraid other people will listen to me, join the club, blow him up and in a couple of years I'm watching him do all the dirty work in Boston Garden instead of the Moncton Coliseum. When Taylor and Al Stewart guard a screen/roll, the offense often takes on the look of those with temporary amnesia (how did I get here and what do I do now??!!). There was a period during game 1 where they were joined on the floor by Terry Thomas, Marvell Waithe and Jason Calliste or Corey Allmond and it was a miracle the Riptide even attempted a shot. When this Moncton defense gets rolling, it's a torture chamber.
10. The sleeping giant has awoken- Now THAT is the Juan Pattillo Magic fans have been waiting for. Sorry, you like what characteristics in your starting big man? A soft touch from the perimeter? Juan gives you those big, rainbow jumpers facing up that seem to drop straight out of the sky. A power game? He'll drop his shoulder on you and suddenly he's laying it in at the rim. Bring the crowd to its feet with a big finish? I'm still hearing a couple of his dunks from games 1 and 2 in my ears. Aggressive on the glass? How's 10 offensive rebounds in 3 games? His teammates say they've been in his ear about deferring too much and playing his game and something has clicked at playoff time. He's averaging 21 ppg on over 70% shooting through 3 games and also has 6 steals just for good measure.
GAME 4 SATURDAY TONIGHT!!! Find the matchup at monctonmagic.ca starting at 7 PM sharp people!!
Story: David Tingley