The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.
Kobe Bryant goes home
Game 1 of the Los Angeles Lakers' first-round series against the Denver Nuggets was dominated by big men; both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol held a considerable advantage over the Nuggets' undersized defenders, and L.A. utilized those advantages to great effect on both ends of the court while coasting to an easy victory.
Denver double-teamed Bynum more precisely in Game 2 in order to force him out of the post, but effectively only transferred L.A.'s post efforts elsewhere. In light of the heavy pressure facing Bynum, Kobe Bryant returned to the low block—one of his most effective zones on the floor, and the space in which Bryant truly does channel his inner Jordan. The Nuggets have a number of skilled perimeter defenders to throw at Bryant, but in the post, many of them lack the strength to reasonably contest his patient descent. Bryant slowly works his way deeper and deeper into position, begging for a double team. If it doesn't come, he cues a fading turnaround jumper—a delicately balanced shot made steady by years of repetition. And if the Nuggets decide to commit another defender? Around and around the passes go, often concluding with either Bynum or Gasol open at the rim.
Bryant can still force things from the post at times, but for him—and the vices of his game—it's a sanctuary of sorts. It allows Kobe to satisfy his alpha instincts in a much more efficient way; rather than isolate off the dribble at the top of the key, Bryant works from a place of immediate advantage and victimizes his opponents without putting the offense at risk.
Paul Pierce settles in
Paul Pierce is both Boston's most talented scorer and most capable reserve playmaker. Avery Bradley and Keyon Dooling each provide on-court value, but neither is the passer that Pierce is, and serve as a point guard in name only when they take the court. That's not an indictment; some players are skilled passers and others less so, and whether or not their height correlates with a certain skill is actually fairly irrelevant in these eyes. So long as Bradley and Dooling can serve some function on the court (and they do), they can find a home within a more correct usage.
But because of their limitations, Pierce typically takes control of the offense when Rajon Rondo has missed games this season due to injury—a strategy that could undoubtedly prove troublesome over a large enough sample, but can certainly work for stretches—or even games—at a time.
Pierce certainly looked to establish his teammates on Tuesday night when Rondo served the term of his league-imposed suspension, but it was obvious from the opening tip that his greater focus was on the rim. Pierce drifted toward the elbow at the game's beginning and end, granting the Celtics' iffy offense some stability at two crucial times. Isolation offense isn't always evil; it merely requires the correct moderation, the right player and the appropriate moment. Pierce—a skilled iso scorer, particularly from this particular spot on the floor—fits the bill and navigated the situation effectively.
Larry Drew again overestimates his reserves
The Atlanta Hawks really do have a legitimate shot of beating the Boston Celtics and making it to the second round of the playoffs, but Hawks head coach Larry Drew is doing his team no favors with his occasional usage of certain barren lineup configurations. Atlanta is among the shallower teams in the playoffs this season, and yet as an effort to get his best players back on the court at the same time, we've thus far seen Drew utilize lineups of extremely limited players that allow the Celtics to make up considerable ground.
The collective of Kirk Hinrich, Jason Collins, Tracy McGrady, Willie Green and Marvin Williams should not share the court at any point during the game. There's a dearth of shot creation, of ball-handling, of defensive acumen and of skill-based cohesion in that group, just as there's a lack of rhyme or reason as to why they were used in such a way in the first place. Obviously Drew is right to find time for Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague to rest, but I'm not sure that's a reasonable excuse for using such miserable lineup formations—particularly when they've been outscored thus far by a ballpark figure of 50 points per 100 possessions (over an extremely limited sample, mind you), per BasketballValue.com. Drew has already done well to shift Jannero Pargo in the rotation, but we'll have to see if he cuts down on these kinds of doomed units going forward—or if Smith's injury leaves him any other choice.