1 Hashtag to Sum Up Every Still-Alive NBA Playoff Team
What, you didn't think the first round of the NBA playoffs would end without hashtags for each of the surviving teams, did you?
Some people (probably) say stories can't be told in hashtag form. These are life's official anti-fun-havers. And they're wrong. If an epic Emoji War can break out over a single free-agent debacle, we can certainly summarize postseason pushes in Twitter-speak.
Every hashtag will touch upon a pivotal aspect of a team's playoff performance that can be applied to the rest of its first-round matchup or forthcoming best-of-seven set. The breakdowns that follow them are seriously serious. We never joke about hashtag synopses. That would be criminal.
But the hashtags themselves are fun! And sarcastic! And sometimes corny! But mostly fun!
So lighten up, enjoy and let's get these babies trending.
Atlanta Hawks: #WhereTheBleepityBleepBleepIsThabo
That's how many minutes Thabo Sefolosha has played across three appearances in the Atlanta Hawks' first-round sparring with the Washington Wizards. Something is wrong, or off, or just plain weird. But what?
Lingering injuries don't appear to be the force behind Sefolosha's court time, even though he dealt with a rash of groin issues during the regular season. A Google search turns up nothing new, while a Twitter dive reveals only a surprising number of Andre Roberson-related thoughts.
Surely Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer isn't shackling one his most effective perimeter defenders to the bench by choice. There's no—oh, never mind. That's exactly what he's doing.
"It’s good to know that Thabo is there and I’m sure he’ll have a role and he’ll stay ready," he said after Game 1, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore. "To go more than 10 deep is not easy but he’s a heck of an option to have at 11. We continue to consider what is best for our group.”
Defense isn't the Hawks' issue. They're fourth for the playoffs in points allowed per 100 possessions, and Sefolosha, going on 33, won't do much to beef up their pick-and-roll coverage against John Wall. That Atlanta leans on Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr. for secondary ball-handling duties makes it even more difficult to squeeze Sefolosha into the wing rotation.
Still: With Hardaway Jr. shooting under 30 percent from three and the Hawks unable to keep the Wizards from running them ragged after grabbing defensive rebounds and forcing turnovers, you'd think Coach Bud would turn to a proven pest for some added stopping power—if only to try tilting the series' play style in his team's favor.
Boston Celtics: #AlHorfordIsNotOverpaid
"We're thrilled [Al Horford] chose to be here," head coach Brad Stevens said after the Boston Celtics' Game 5 win over the Chicago Bulls, per Vice Sports' Michael Pina, as if such clarification was necessary.
Er, actually, forget it. This was a requisite disclaimer. Why, you ask? Because sometimes people stink.
Boo birds came out in droves after Boston's Game 1 loss. Horford, after all, only almost had a triple-double (19 points, seven rebounds, eight assists). Someone truly worth $113 million would have racked up those extra three boards and two diimes.
Well-actually misanthropists returned, in equal hordes, after Game 2, their stance buoyed by Horford's seven-point effort and Boston's 2-0 series hole. The recurring theme through all this: Can this dude grab a defensive board? Or at least stop being outplayed by Robin "Did the New York Knicks really trade him for Derrick Rose" Lopez?
Defensive glass-crashing is a good, and valid, place to start when criticizing Horford. It's also where the verbal floggings have to end. There's not much else on which to harp.
No big man has played better than Horford since the postseason tipped off—unless you count the 6'7" Draymond Green among human spires, in which case Horford is the Robin to his Batman.
Go ahead and call for him to jack more shots. It's not going to happen. Nor do the Celtics want or need it to. They have Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley. Horford is most valuable to them for his ability to excel while doing a lot of everything.
He sets high screens for Thomas, plays the part of rim-runner, spots up from behind the arc, zings passes to the corners on the run, drops dimes out of the post and is a low-key defensive hub inside the elbows. Thomas is Boston's offensive lifeline and Bradley is playing dogged defense, but to date, Horford has been the team's most valuable postseason performer.
In fact: According to NBA Math's Total Points Added, no one on the Celtics has contributed even half as much of his overall value.
Chicago Bulls: #SaveUsRondo
Who'd have thought Rajon Rondo would ever be the difference between the Bulls pulling off a first-round upset and bowing out of the first round after jumping out to a 2-0 series lead?
Buying into small-sample theater is always dangerous. Rondo, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade aren't a legitimate Big Three just because things clicked for, like, a second. But the impact Rondo has compared to his point-guard brethren is so real that it's unreal:
The Celtics have figured a lot of things out since Games 1 and 2—like how to field five-out lineups against which the Bulls can't hang. But Rondo adds a layer of improvisation to the offense Chicago won't replicate by overworking Butler and Wade. His decision-making off the dribble is less predictable, and he proved more than adequate at checking Thomas on the other end.
If only, for the Bulls' sake, Rondo could play through the fractured thumb on his shooting hand in time to save the season. A first-round return certainly seemed possible when he took the practice court, but head coach Fred Hoiberg isn't holding his breath for any miracles in advance of Game 6, per ESPN.com's Nick Friedell:
Nothing's changed as of now. We had a film session in the hotel this morning. Obviously we didn't do anything on the court before we left. Rajon, most likely, will come in and work out tonight, but like we talked about [Wednesday] at the game it's still a long shot that he's back on the court, at least in this series.
Win or lose (probably lose), the Bulls will leave this best-of-seven set knowing Rondo could have improved their fortunes—something any reasonable person wouldn't have thought possible a few weeks ago.
Cleveland Cavaliers: #LeBronDidWUT
Almost 15 years into his NBA career, at the age of 32, as he pursues his seventh straight NBA Finals appearance, LeBron James shows no signs of slowing down.
His first-round display against the Indiana Pacers was a work of art. He averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 3.0 steals and 2.0 blocks. He shot 54.3 percent from the field. He put down 45 percent of his triples. He led the Cavaliers out of a 25-point halftime hole in Game 3. He made chase-down blocks a thing again.
He played all but 17 minutes of the entire series.
This last point should a problem. Cleveland didn't do the best job monitoring James' playing time during the regular season—he was 10th overall in minutes played—and he's already fourth all time in total playoff spin. All this is bound to eventually take a toll on him.
Except, this is James we're talking about. Convention doesn't apply to him. He's at his most healthy, apparently, when he's least rested. As head coach Tyronn Lue said, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin:
Bron today just said he feels worse when he doesn't play. Like right now, he said he feels worse, so, we just got to gauge it and see how he feels. Everyone else's minutes were great outside of LeBron. He said he feels great. He didn't really have a defensive assignment. He was able to roam off guys during the series and, so, it was good for him.
James could be wheezing something awful, and the Cavaliers still wouldn't have the option of not playing him. They went from outscoring the Pacers by 9.3 points per 100 possessions with him in the fold to posting a minus-37.5 when he stepped off—a 46.8-point belly flop.
Forty. Six. Point. Eight.
In the long run, as James gets even older, this dependence is a problem. But right now, with the four-time MVP bending the will of those around and against him to his own, it's just good basketball.
Golden State Warriors: #ThatsFutureNBAChampJaValeMcGee2You
Kevin Durant missed 20 of the Golden State Warriors' regular-season games, and two of the four first-round tilts with the Portland Trail Blazers. Head coach Steve Kerr is sidelined from the sidelines while once again tending to back pain. Andre Iguodala has missed all of this three-point attempts.
And somehow, despite all this, the Warriors are still in a position to make sure another team overpays JaVale McGee this summer.
This a joke. Mostly. There is a chance McGeen prices himself out of blue and gold upon reaching free agency, but only because he's become an asset for the championship favorite.
Not every big can hang within Golden State's lightning-quick system. McGee can. He is. And as Yahoo Sports' Malika Andrews wrote, the team is asking him to do more than you think:
The Warriors have chosen to play McGee in five- to six-minute stretches because, unlike most 7-footers, he is active all over the floor, running its full length. In pick-and-roll situations, the coaching staff instructs McGee to be up the floor and then, as soon as the offensive play is over, the bench is yelling at him to get back down the court. [Mike] Brown says he has a guard’s quickness, and his hands are soft and fast.
Though he cleared 15 minutes off the bench against the Blazers just once, McGee is third on the Warriors in postseason field-goals made. Correct: It goes Stephen Curry (37), Klay Thompson (26) and then him (18). That is a real stat.
It helps that McGee is surrounded by All-NBA talent left and right, but his role consists of more than lobs. He's leaving a dent on defense. Portland shot 23.5 percent against him at the rim—by far the best mark among the 57 players who have challenged at least 15 shots around the basket. He is second on the Warriors in defensive points saved, according to NBA Math, trailing only Draymond Green.
So yes, the Warriors are living George Karl's dream: McGee having an actual impact on the Association's most frightening superpower.
Houston Rockets: #7of27
It is not a stretch to say the Houston Rockets made it through to the second round thanks to the Oklahoma City Thunder's complete inability to survive without Russell Westbrook. On the contrary, his mid-game respites, however brief, proved to be their undoing.
In the 32 minutes Westbrook spent on the bench, the Thunder registered a minus-58. Had they kept him on the floor at all times, or at least nixed his fourth-quarter breathers, the series would still be going, perhaps even tilting in their favor.
Or maybe not.
Patrick Beverley looms large in any pro-Thunder should've-could've-would've campaigns. James Harden drew a ton of fouls, Lou Williams didn't fall apart and Nene overshadowed Clint Capela's disappearing act, but it was Beverley who limited Westbrook to 7-of-27 shooting as his primary defender. And his impact went even further that.
Merely having Beverley in the game sent Westbrook's efficiency into a downward spiral:
|Beverley on floor||28||82||34.1||17.9|
|Beverley off floor||31||70||44.3||38.1|
Westbrook's shot selection and crunch-time hijackings no doubt simplified things for Beverley, and he wasn't the only one thrown into the fire. But his body of defensive work against the MVP frontrunner has to leave the Rockets thinking about their capacity to steamroll the Memphis Grizzlies or San Antonio Spurs in the second round and hang tough in a prospective Western Conference Finals battle with Curry and the Warriors.
Los Angeles Clippers: #StayCP3
Chris Paul's importance to the Clippers has never once come under siege. He doesn't need to average 27 points and 10.4 assists per game with a 53/44/91 shooting slash, as he is now, for head coach/team president/generous-contract-giver Doc Rivers to spin the point guard's next max deal as a win.
But when the Clippers fall, be it against the Utah Jazz or in the second round versus the Warriors, there will be calls for change. Their Big Three has been together for more than a half-decade without making it to the Western Conference Finals. People will demand to see something different, if only for the sake of curing bystander fatigue.
Paul cannot be collateral damage of any pivot. He remains the lifeblood of the organization—the best shot it has at staving off a full-scale reset.
Which means this isn't about the Clippers getting the itch to cut bait with Paul. Letting top-15 players walk for nothing is detrimental. They won't seek to end this marriage. Rivers told USA Today's Sam Amick as much.
This postseason, however it ends, is about the Clippers hoping they've done enough to prevent Paul from cutting the cord. They have an inherent edge in negotiations. They can offer him a fifth-year now that the over-36 rule is toast, and most importantly, they can pay him his max at all.
Veterans with 10 or more years experience, like Paul, are eligible for deals that pay them 35 percent of the 2017-18 salary cap in Year 1—$35.4 million against a $101 million cap. Few teams have a clear path to that much room. The ones that do—Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers—don't profile has real threats.
Another early playoff exit, though, might compel Paul to exhaust all his other options. What happens if Pau Gasol opts out of his contract (very unlikely) and the Spurs decide to take the subsequent steps to manufacture $35 million in spending power? What if the Nuggets pitch Paul on their ability to trade for Butler or Paul George? These scenarios, unlikely as they are, matter.
Here's hoping the root of this hashtag works better for the Los Angeles Clippers than it did for the Los Angeles Lakers.
San Antonio Spurs: #KaWhyWasntHeHigherOnTheMVPBallot
Final MVP results won't be released until after the playoffs, so this hashtag could end up being too presumptive. But it's probably spot on. The cases for Harden and Westbrook were too popular, and a wider-than-usual field gives way to voter parity.
That doesn't bode well for Kawhi Leonard, the NBA's silent superstud. He was the against-the-grain pick to begin with. The Spurs' depth hurt him. They remained a net plus without him during the regular season, which detracted from his indispensability factor.
But those arguments are no more. San Antonio's offense has cratered without him, and the overall result has been ugly:
Leonard's irreplaceability has been on display even when the Spurs' supporting cast shows up. He received more help than ever during their Game 5 win, and they were still a noticeable minus when he took a seat.
And then there's the sheer unplumbed precedence of his own numbers. He's averaging 31.6 points with a 74.4 true shooting percentage—the highest mark, on record, for any of the 86 other players who've cleared 30 points per game in the postseason. Reggie Miller set the previous touchstone (68.7), in fewer games (four), with a usage rate (27.4) more than four points lower than Leonard's (31.6)
Regular-season awards aren't handed out based on playoff accolades. Nor should they be. But preconceptions can be reversed after the fact, and Leonard's in the process of overturning one that never should have existed.
Toronto Raptors: #NothingNormalAboutNorman
Norman Powell might have been the most important member of the Toronto Raptors through the first round.
Kyle Lowry struggled to find his shot. Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker forgot they're allowed to make a high percentage of threes in consecutive games. DeMarre Carroll still looks a beat or 50 off. DeMar DeRozan was fine. Jonas Valanciunas was somewhere between the same and overmatched.
Inserting Powell into the starting lineup proved to be the turning point for the Raptors' first-round escape. The quintet of him, Carroll, DeRozan, Ibaka and Lowry outscored the Milwaukee Bucks by 17.4 points per 100 possessions when on the floor. He gave them what Valanciunas couldn't: Length and explosion to combat Milwaukee's length and explosion.
Powell also became something of an offensive lifeline. The Raptors have never been dependent on three-pointers to get them by, but they were plagued by inconsistency beyond the arc. In came Powell to shoot 90.9 percent from long range. Yes, that's an actual thing. He was 9-of-10 from downtown for the series—a teeny-tiny sample, but absurd all the same.
Injecting more space—and another driver—into head coach Dwane Casey's five-man units would have been enough. But Powell battled through screens on defense, providing exponentially ball pressure than the Raptors delivered before.
Toronto finished as a plus-44 in the 120 minutes Powell spent on the court. No one else on the team was better than a plus-18.
As Beverley said: "Men lie, women lie, but the numbers don't."
Utah Jazz: #JoeksOnYouWeHave2
Who needs Rudy Gobert, or Gordon Hayward, or George Hill, or anyone else, when you have Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson?
The Jazz, technically. But you see where this is going.
Gobert's two-game absence—it was basically three—or Hayward's food poisoning isn't defining Utah's postseason. Hill's up-and-down play isn't, either. The Jazz are up on the Clippers, one win away from advancing past the first round since 2010, because they are deep, imposing and capable of winning in different ways. (And also because Hayward has been a monster.)
Both Ingles and Johnson are a part of this model—more so than expected. Ingles has hit some threes, sure, but he's been a nightmare for the Clippers' wings to deal with on defense. J.J. Redick couldn't get going until Game 5, in large part because Ingles has pestered him to no end and erased some of the off-ball actions Los Angeles forces its opponents to run through:
|Ingles on floor||11||29||37.9||6||18||33.3|
|Ingles off floor||6||12||50.0||1||4||25.0|
Johnson, meanwhile, is the Jazz's second-leading scorer. And a go-to option down the stretch. At the age of 35. In. The. Dang. Playoffs.
Through 17 minutes of crunch time—final five minutes of games in which no team trails or leads by more than five points—Johnson is shooting 8-of-10 from the floor. Leonard and Paul are the only players with as many makes, and Johnson's plus-16 in these situations ties him with James for the second-best mark in the league.
To think, certain teams don't even have one Joe. The Jazz have two.
Washington Wizards: #NotAllHeroesWearCapesButOursDoes
John Wall has never been a playoff bust. He shot under 40 percent during his first two go-rounds, but he's always jump started the offense with his usual flair while ensuring Postseason Bradley Beal kept eating.
Oh, how times have changed.
Wall is taking over for the Wizards. He's averaging 27.8 points and playoff-leading 10.8 assists per game. He's hitting 53.3 percent of his threes (8-of-15). A greater share of field-goal attempts are coming around the rim. He's dictating tempo and terms.
Add in the points he's generated off assists (126), and Wall represents 49.7 percent of Washington's offensive production—up from 42.2 percent during the regular season. Five games is nothing, but it's enough to see that Wall has found another gear, a relentless attack mode founded upon a clearly elevated sense of responsibility.
Sure, the Wizards are a net minus when Wall's on the court. Strike their Game 3 implosion from consideration, and he's only a marginal plus. But that has more to do with the time he spends playing beside non-starters.
Watching Wall, with the exception of some defensive lapses, there's no overstating how much he's trying to do. He's the Wizards' most steadying presence and potent force, a two-man job he has, for much of the postseason, made his own.