Pilots One Win Away From Dream League Championship
The Pilots are one game away. Game 3 took place on Tuesday night (the first ever Tuesday night game) and came away with a five point victory, 62-57. This came after the Knights tied up the series at one game apiece with a 66-53 win in game 2. Both games were dramatic, closely contested and even a little heated. The Pilots now have control of this series, and I’m sure they want nothing more than to finish the job and walk away as Dream League champions on Monday night.
Before I look any further ahead, let’s revisit both games that took place this week. Game 2 was a much more even game than game 1, in terms of the box score. There were no glaring disparities in the turnover margin, rebounding totals or shooting percentages. This game was played at a much more even level, and the difference was the resurgence of the Knights’ stars. In game 1, the Knights got good production from Travis Johnson, and that was it. In game 2, the inverse happened. Antione Lynch and Jake Gave showed up big while Johnson struggled.
Gave specifically shined as he went off for 27 points on 9-17 shooting, a performance that we are much more used to seeing rather than his -0.4 PPR in game 1. It was clear that the Knights wanted to do all they could to try and get Gave open shots in the lane. The Pilots were physically imposing in game 1, and they almost always had at least two defenders to meet Gave when he drove to the basket. To fix that, the Knights let Gave handle the ball and set an on-ball screen for him to try and create a switch. Joe Drapcho has done a great job guarding Gave in this series, but it was difficult for him to fight past a multitude of screens set by Lynch and James Pinkett. These screens would set up Gave with a slower, or weaker, defender, and he feasted on those opportunities.
Once the Pilots put more attention on Gave, that opened up layups or threes for Lynch when he rolled or popped after he set a screen. Lynch finished with 17 points on 7-13 shooting and added two three pointers. He was great on the defensive end as well as he had the tough task of guarding Jonker. He did a pretty good job of handling Jonker one-on-one, but he was phenomenal at denying Jonker the ball getting four steals while denying entry passes to Jonker in the post. Through three games, Lynch has been the most consistent Knight in this series.
It is hard to say that the Pilots’ offense was worse in game 2 than it was in game 1. They cut down on the absurd amount of turnovers (18) that they had in game 1, but they relied so much on Jonker while everyone else seemed content with being passive. Jonker scored 26 of the team’s 53 points, and he was the only player who scored efficiently. He shot 56 percent from the field while everyone else shot 33 percent of worse (with the exception of Zack Bobick, who shot 50 percent on 1-2 shooting). The Pilots also put a lot of pressure on Jonker to carry them in game 1, but the rest of the team was much more efficient in that game as the Pilots shot 51 percent from the field.
Overall, game 2 was a game decided by the disparity of individual performances by both teams. All games are affected by individual performances obviously, but this one stood out to me because of the lak of production by the Knights in game 1. It just proves that they need to have good performances from more than just one of their stars.
Game 3 saw the Knights revert back to an unimpressive offense. Gave and Johnson were both mediocre as they both were forced to put up bad shots by the great defense the Pilots bolstered. That was a combination of good individual performances from Jon Christenson and Drapcho, but also a good team structure that executed their rotation perfectly. Whenever Johnson or Gave drove to the hoop, Jonker, Bobick or Grant would draw themselves into the lane to force Gave and Johnson into contested shots through a bit of contact. They also surrounded Lynch whenever he had the ball in the post or underneath the basket.
On the other end, it was the unexpected lights out performance by Christenson that jolted the Pilots’ offense and led them to the win. Christenson has built up a reputation as a shut-down defender, and it is well known that he can be a good spot-up shooter. His offensive explosion on Tuesday night though was not something we are used to seeing. He scored 20 points, and 18 of those points came from 6 three pointers. One he hit his first, it seemed as if his confidence sky-rocketed. Anytime he shot after that I thought it was going in.
Christenson’s shots from deep were vital in starting runs, and killing the Knights’ momentum. At one point, the Pilots held a 38-34 lead not too long after halftime. They would go on a 13-0 run in the following minutes and at one point Christenson hit back-to-back threes and it seemed as if the Pilots were on their way to a blowout victory.
They held a 51-34 lead when Ahmed Helmy called a timeout and calmed his team down after they jacked up a couple of terrible threes. The Knights settled themselves and went on a 13-0 run of their own. This game seemed like it was the first of the series that was going to turn into a blowout, but it actually ended up being the closest of the series. That’s the wonder of the Dream League finals.
With 37 seconds left, Izzy Elkaffas called the Pilots’ final timeout after Johnson made an absurd three-point shot over Christenson. Players on the Pilots, and specifically Grant, seemed upset with the decision, as it left them without a safety timeout on their inbound play in case they couldn’t get the ball in, Izzy used that timeout to set up a specific inbound play in order to set up an easy layup. It worked, as the Knights focused in on Jonker and Drapcho faked out Gave and ran free to the basket to ice the game.
Helmy and Izzy both did a good job at separate times in this game, but it once again came down to the defensive strategy employed by the Pilots that outmatched the talent of the Knights’ offense. It seems like the Pilots have the Knights figured out, but the Knights now have six days to make adjustments and try to force a game 5. After their performance in game 2, I expect to be working on Tuesday night.
I’m changing up the format a bit this week considering I am covering two games that happened a day apart. There will be no ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ this week, and I essentially already revealed my player of the game for each game (Gave for game 2, Christenson for game 3). There are ratings for each player over the course of the past two games. I am using a 1-10 rating system, 10 being the highest.
Jonathan Christenson – 9: I’ve already highlighted his great performance from game 3, but his defense was equally impressive in game 2 as he held Johnson to 6 points. Over the course of these past two games, Christenson’s defense was near perfect, and his added offense in game 3 was the cherry on top.
Joe Drapcho – 6: Drapcho has not been up to par with his offensive production in the semifinals, but the work he has put in on defense has made up for that. Despite him not lighting up the scoreboard, he hasn’t been super inefficient either. In game 3 he shot 50 percent from the field, and he’s shot 6-16 over the past two games. Not near his best, but not terrible by any means.
Seth Jonker – 9: Jonker has consistently been the best player in this series for either team. There hasn’t been a game where he hasn’t been good on both ends of the floor. He has shot 57 percent from the field and averaged 21.5 points. Pair that with his solid help defense, and you have a stellar performance.
Dewan Grant – 4: Grant, like Drapcho, has not been playing his best on the offensive end in this series. He has 6 turnovers in the past two games and only 3 assists. Add that to his 33 percent performance from the field and you have a disappointing couple of games.
Troy Martin – 5: He has not had a good shooting performance at all over the past two games (25 percent from the field). He has made up for it in other ways though. He has 9 assists and 5 steals, helping his teammates and playing solid on-ball defense.
Zack Bobick – 7: Bobick is doing exactly what has been asked of him with the limited minutes he has received in the past two games. In only 10 minutes, he has 5 rebounds and 7 points on 3-5 shooting.
Peyton Dixon – 2: This series has been a struggle for Dixon. He has seen his minutes sharply decrease over the past few games for his lack of awareness on both ends of the floor. After hi two big threes that sparked a game 1 victory for the Pilots, he hasn’t had much of an impact on offense. Add the open three he let Lukitsch get in game 3, and it makes sense that Martin is getting considerably more playing time.
Alan Arlt – N/A: Arlt has not played in any of the games this series, so he does not receive a rating.
Jake Gave – 7: It has really been a tale of two games for Gave. His performance in game 2 was the best individual performance a Knight has had in the finals, but he shot 25 percent from the field in game 3. If he plays like he did in game 3 on Monday night, I expect the Pilots to be walking out with the championship.
Travis Johnson – 3: Johnson was good in game 1, but that feels like a long time ago now. He has been stranded on Christenson Island the past two games and it looks like it is severely frustrating him. Almost all of the shots he has taken in the past few games have come with either Christenson or a help defender in his face.
Antione Lynch – 8: He hasn’t been making too many mistakes in this series, and he has been consistent over the past two games. He has averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in that span, along with 4 steals and 5 offensive rebounds.
James Pinkett – 7: Much like Bobick, Pinkett has done his job in this series. He hasn’t scored at will, but he’s only taken 4 shots in the past two games, and he’s been a good defender in the post. He’s been used to set screens and to provide help defense. He’s done both o those well.
Aaron Lukitsch – 3: Lukitsch has been the most disappointing player in this entire series. All season we saw him stroke it from deep with little to no problems. The Pilots have figured him out a bit and have not given him any space to find an open shot. He has shot 6-17 from the field and 3-10 from deep in the past two games; that leaves a lot to be desired.
Tony DeBoer – 5: He really had a tough time getting his shot going at the start of this series, but he seemed to liven up in game 3 hitting 3-4 from deep. If he can add to that total in game 4 then the Knights have a great hance to force a game 5.
Dexter Watson – 2: He has had no impact on this series whatsoever. In 9 minutes, he has taken 1 shot and registered 3 personal fouls. That’s it. He has no other stats. He is not one to put up monster stats, but he’s not even doing the little things at the moment.
Michael Groves – N/A: He has missed the past two games, so no rating.
Adjustments for Game 4
Knights: Just like after game 1, the focus here is to increase offensive production. Going back to the Gave pick-and-roll on every possession may be a start. They need to attack the basket immediately to set the tone and hopefully that helps open up shots for Lukitsch. Also, I would have Johnson start most possessions without the ball and have running off a multitude of screens in order to get rid of Christenson.
Pilots: Keep doing the same thing. The only thing is they need to come out aggressive in game 4. Don’t play relaxed because you’re up, go for the kill.
That ends this remix version of the Game Notebook. Make sure you continue to go to uhlife.com for more awesome content from our other contributors, and, of course, listen to the Insider Podcast. Next week will be the last edition of the Game Notebook for the season, and by the time I will write it, a champion will have been crowned.