This article is a facsimile of its original publication on The Basketball Writers (TBW), which recently closed its doors.
On Thursday night, the 2019 NBA Finals (finally) commence between two teams who took very opposite paths to arrive.
The Golden State Warriors are looking for their third consecutive championship and fourth of the last five years. The favorites, Golden State enters the series with questions surrounding the health and availability of superstars Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins.
That may not slow them. Their team is intact despite the absences, spearheaded by two-time MVP Stephen Curry and essentially the same group that won the 2015 NBA Finals.
Opposing them, the Toronto Raptors are newcomers to the stage and a team previously written off by their failures to stand up to LeBron James in the East. Instead of folding, the Raptors reinvented themselves on the fly and filled the vacuum once LeBron left for Los Angeles. They traded their best player for another superstar with injury concerns, fired a reigning Coach of the Year and took many calculated risks with constructing their roster.
All paid off in a big way.
This article is a facsimile of the original publication on The Basketball Writers (TBW), which recently closed its doors.
We all thought it was Jimmy Butler's arrival in Philadelphia, but it turns out the most important acquisition at the 2019 trade deadline was Marc Gasol heading to the Toronto Raptors.
During this Eastern Conference Finals against Milwaukee, Gasol has averaged a seemingly "not-that-important" 10.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, five assists and 2.5 blocks while shooting 39.1 percent from three. But he's also a center with 20 assists and six turnovers against the regular season's top defense in a series so deadlocked it may as well be played in Congress.
Offensively, Gasol plays third or even fourth fiddle behind Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry. His overall output has decreased since arriving north of the border as a result. He finished his 26 regular season games in Toronto with 9.1 points and 6.6 rebounds during only 24.9 minutes per game.
My colleague at The Basketball Writers Jeff Siegel argued two months ago that judgment on Gasol's effect in Toronto should be saved until the playoffs. Well, here we are.
Two games away from the NBA Finals, Gasol has established himself as the necessary chess piece for thwarting the Bucks' stylistic tendencies on defense. He's the stable veteran the rest of the budding roster can count on.
The series would not be 2-2 without him.
This article is a facsimile from its original publication on The Basketball Writers (TBW), which recently closed its doors.
The spring's first major Woj Bomb was dropped Monday: The Cleveland Cavaliers hired University of Michigan's John Beilein to be the organization's head coach. Beilein signed a five-year deal with the Cavs and broke the news officially before the West Coast was even awake. The announcement came out of left field after the Cavaliers reportedly interviewed several of the league's prominent younger assistants.
An accomplished college coach, Beilein is 66 years old and had considered NBA gigs in the past. He interviewed for the Detroit Pistons last year, losing out to the reigning coach of the year Dwane Casey. But Beilein made the jump now, presumably to take the chance on coaching at basketball's highest level before retirement and while his stock was still high.
There's no doubt Beilein is a phenomenal coach, an offensive whiz with a track record of success. As a manager of personalities and a "player's coach", few have consistently achieved as he has.
That does not mean his ascent to the NBA will be smooth, however. There are legitimate questions about how he will adjust to a different league and style based on both his teams' pace and the offensive system he has championed.
This article is a facsimile of an original publication on The Basketball Writers (TBW), which recently closed its doors.
If coaching is a chess match, then Brett Brown just took the Toronto Raptors' queen.
From Game 1 to Game 2, the Philadelphia 76ers made some of the most meaningful and important tactical adjustments I've ever seen this quickly in a postseason series.
The results were dazzling.
Philadelphia shut down the Raptors offense, allowing a mere 89 points, nine fewer than Toronto's previous postseason low. In fact, they hadn't scored fewer than 90 since December 28th.
More miraculous than the turnaround was how insanely dominating Philadelphia's first half was from a defensive standpoint. As ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz detailed in his Game 2 recap, the Sixers achieved something during that second-half that hasn't been seen in the NBA Playoffs for over twenty years: The Raptors were held to an effective field goal percentage below 36, achieved a free throw rate below 12 percent and corralled fewer than seven percent of their missed shots as offensive rebounds.
In essence, the Sixers defense hit a record level, did so without fouling and finished each possession without surrendering a second-chance opportunity.
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).