Saturday, April 21, 2007

Nets Take Game One (Thanks, Sam Mitchell)

Despite facing a lathered-up Toronto crowd (as Bill Walton would say, they were "surging toward the court") and getting woeful shooting from Carter and Kidd (8-for-30 combined), the Nets stole Game One on the road.

How does such a thing happen?

Well, Richard Jefferson was certainly a big factor as he scored 28 points, including 17 in the first half. And Bostjan Nachbar (who is apparently called "Bogie"?) continued to be the New Jersey X Factor with 16-5-4 off the bench. And despite his shooting issues, Kidd had 10 boards and 15 dimes as he controlled the game from the point.

However, the New Jersey MVP of this game was Toronto coach Sam Mitchell. The guy that is supposedly the coach of the year in the eyes of many experts absolutely mangled his first playoff game. For starters, he didn't play Juan Dixon nearly enough. Dixon is one of the few guys on the Raps that can stretch the floor and he has a track record for hitting big shots that goes back to his days at Maryland. It is inexcusable that when both teams went small and the pace picked up, Dixon wasn't on the floor. Mitchell's second big error was in letting Jose Calderon finish the game. Calderon played very well for most of the fourth quarter and dropped a couple of enormous threes, but when New Jersey callled a timeout with 2:49 to go, it was time to go back to T.J. Ford. You see this all the time in college hoops - a guy will pleasently surprise off the bench, but then the coach will try to ride the hot hand for too long. In the NBA you have to finish the game with your best guys. Sure enough, Calderon sputtered down the stretch and Ford (who was 8-for-13 and getting to the rim against Kidd with ease) watched from the sidelines. Finally, there is Mitchell's biggest error, which was sitting Bosh for most of the first half with two fouls. Once again, this isn't college basketball. A third foul would not have been the end of the world. Play your best guy! The Raptors were +10 with Bosh on the floor in the first half, but -20 when he was on the bench. Not only that, but he clearly never had his rhythm in the second stanza, a byproduct of cooling his heels on the pine for 15 of the game's first 24 minutes.

The Nets won the series opener because Lawrence Frank dominated Sam Mitchell on the sidelines. It is as simple as that.

But go ahead, give Mitchell coach of the year.


lightninghank said...

Uh... hmm. I think you're being too hard on Mitchell here. Call me a homer, or just call me a guy who's watched every game Mitchell has coached, but yes, Xs & Os are the hole in Sam's game, and the strongest part of Frank's. Having conceded that, let's praise Sam for (a) having improved tremendously in that regard this season, (b) being a guy who has done an AMAZING job of developing young talent (see Ford, Bargnani, and Bosh, who has spent the last two years blowing past any ceiling I thought he might have reached), and (c) instilling an ethic of selflessness and trust in teammates.

So, Bosh gets in foul trouble and hits the bench, and TJ thinks, "Our big guy is out, I've gotta turn into Kobe Bryant". However successful his effort might have seemed on TV, this is highly detrimental to the team gameplan and totally at odds with point (c) above. TJ is a young guy who's still learning to resist this tendency he has, and it was entirely appropriate to hand the team over to the steadier Calderon at that point. The Raps can't win if they're not involving the entire team in the offence, and minutes are Sam's carrot'stick for getting that point across. Also, I've seen on a few occasions what happens when Ford sputters, Calderon leads the team back, and Sam re-inserts an ice-cold Ford for the final two minutes, and it's NOT pretty.

Sam is not a perfect coach, and my attitude towards whether or not he should be back on the Toronto sideline next year amounts to a shrug - "Colangelo will make his decision, and it will be the right one". And I suppose the fact that he's winning the COY is going to bring out the haters... but I think you're being too hard on him here.

Adam Hoff said...

Good points, especially regarding Ford. I still don't think Mitchell should be COY, but I am officially giving him another chance. You are right; I was being too hard on him.