Three Takeaways from the Playoffs
By John Krolik, @krolikjohn August 16, 2022
We’re one week from the conclusion of the BIG3’s fifth season. Here are some things I noticed:
1 – The Aliens Look Human After All
I’ll confess that I spent a lot of time this season talking about the Aliens’ unique playstyle. For much of the season, they really were something we hadn’t seen in FIREBALL3 before. There were back-cuts, there were off-ball screens, there were fake screens into cuts, and their best plays always seemed to involve one more pass than everyone else’s. Defending them was like trying to figure out how a close-up magician knew what your card was.
I don’t know if the rest of the league adjusted, Deshawn Stephens’ emergence as the team’s best player caused Rick Mahorn to switch things around, or if the Aliens decided they were being too fancy. What I do know is that somewhere along the way, the Aliens looked less and less like a revolutionary experiment and more like a more conventional collection of players who happen to be really good at FIREBALL3.
The Aliens remained a great team and still moved the ball a lot, but those signature “Aliens moments” were less and less frequent as the season went on. Their plays generally involved a playmaker getting an on-ball screen while the third player kept things spaced, which is your general FIREBALL3 set.
Things still went well for them, because Dusan Bulut is a great shooter and playmaker, the aforementioned Stephens is one of the most versatile bigs in the league, Karlis Lasmanis is always going at 100 miles an hour, Tomislav Ivosev is very skilled and very big. Adam Drexler didn’t get much of a chance to shine this year, but he’s a skilled swingman who showed off his athleticism with a spectacular block on a James “Flight” White dunk attempt on Sunday.
The Aliens can play a “straight-up” game as well as any team in the league, and it took Trilogy’s best game to send them home. Still, I miss those first few games of the season, when the Aliens were stretching our imaginations with relentless man movement and ball movement. We’ll see if they can get back to that next year.
2 – The Monsters Could Use More Heads
Kevin Murphy had a heck of a season. He finished as the league’s leading scorer, and is likely about to be the BIG3’s first MVP not named Joe Johnson since 2018. He’s clearly a superstar in this league, and I imagine he will be for a long time.
However, at some point in the season 3HM lost any semblance of balance and were far too content to simply play Murphy-Ball. This didn’t happen randomly. Jonathon Simmons did not return to the lineup this season after getting injured in Week 4, and Team Captain Rashard Lewis never quite got back in rhythm after missing a significant chunk of the regular season.
Also, just to be clear, the 3 Headed Monsters were a possession away from going to the Finals, and it took a Herculean effort from Glen Rice Jr. for Power to survive and advance. (Rice’s effort was quite literally Herculean, as one of Hercules’ 12 labors was slaying a multi-headed monster. A lot of Greek mythology applies to this 3HM team.)
Still, the 3 Headed Monsters became your run-of-the mill one-headed beast, and I think it ended up hurting them. Even though he put together a spectacular display of shotmaking in the second half, Murphy ended the game shooting just 11-27 from the field, and he took over half of 3HM’s 50 shots while finishing with just one assist. That’s simply too much of a burden for one player to shoulder, even one as talented as Murphy.
This offseason, Coach Reggie Theus and Co. might want to look into ways to spread the wealth just a little bit more on offense while still giving Murphy plenty of freedom on offense.
3 – On Any Given Sunday…
Trilogy spent the season establishing an identity as a team who relied on relentlessly attacking the paint in order to find success. Against the Aliens, they advanced by going 4-7 from three-point range and getting a healthy dose of deep two-point jumpers from Earl Clark.
Power came into the semifinals as a team that relied on its frontline and its passing. Against 3HM, they had just six assists all game long, got beat up on the boards (3HM had 14 offensive rebounds to Power’s 14 defensive rebounds), and TJ Cline and Royce White combined to go 7-17 from the field. However, they punched their ticket thanks to Glen Rice Jr., who straight-up went into isolation mode for most of the second half and finished with 26 of Power’s 51 points, including the game-winner.
We will spend the next week looking at the Trilogy-Power matchup from every conceivable angle, but it is important to remember that anything can happen in a game of FIREBALL3.