John Hollinger: You Can So Win Playoff Series Playing Fast

ESPN's John Hollinger crunches the early numbers for Shaquille O'Neal in Phoenix, and it's pretty damning for the Suns.

For instance, with Shaquille O'Neal and without Shawn Marion, the Suns might rebound more, but not enough to make up for the fact that they will likely always turn the ball over a lot more and they will not be nearly as good at keeping opponents from running. There's a lot to read there.

But one little interesting point that Hollinger makes addresses one of the most cherished adages of basketball pundits of all kinds: you can't win in the playoffs playing fast-paced Phoenix Suns-type basketball.

Hollinger points out that the Suns have done just that:

They haven't played much slower in the playoffs than they have in the regular season. For instance, according to 82games.com, last year they took 73 percent of their shots in the first 15 seconds of the shot clock in the regular season, and 73 percent in the playoffs. And rather than slowing things down, their opponents actually played faster, launching 35 percent of their shots in the first 10 seconds compared to 30 percent in the regular season.

A similar thing happened in 2004-05, when 75 percent of Phoenix's shots came in the first 15 seconds of the clock in both the regular season and the playoffs.

The only season where the Suns' numbers slowed noticeably was in 2005-06, and that was entirely because of a single tactical decision by one opponent. The Lakers essentially sabotaged their own offense to slow the pace to a crawl in a seven-game series in the first round that year. I argued at the time, and continue to believe, that the tactic cost them the series.

That brings us to the next point: It takes two to tango. When the Suns have played slow in the postseason, the opponent has been the main reason. In 2005 they lost to San Antonio, who played the league's eighth-slowest pace. In 2006, they lost to Dallas, who was the fifth-slowest. San Antonio continued the progression last year, playing the fourth-slowest pace and knocking Phoenix out of the playoffs.

I wonder if these losses caused Phoenix to internalize the idea that they lose to slow-paced teams in the postseason. However, a far more important differentiating factor was that they lost to better teams.

Hollinger then goes on to point out that, now that Phoenix has made the trade to make themselves better-suited to a slow game, plenty of likely playoff opponents play almost as fast (Lakers, Jazz) or faster (Golden State, Denver) than the Suns do.

Also, I should point out that in conversations with various stat geeks over the last few weeks, everyone seems to be looking at numbers that echo what Hollinger writes: after this trade, the Suns might not even make the playoffs. Others add that if they do make the playoffs, they are not likely to make it out of the first round.