Episode 1 : Kyrie Allays Ongoing Duke Apprehension (or: A “Toe”tal Blowout)
Pretty much the only questions going into this one were a) How much would Kyrie Play? and b) How would he look when he was in? I was expecting something along the lines of 10 minutes or so, but it turns out that that was the amount of time Kyrie needed just to get his legs underneath him and shake some serious nerves. In the second half, with Duke up by about a jillion points, Kyrie came in with the second squad and looked like, well, Kyrie. He dopped in 12 of his team high 14 points over the last 6 minutes of the game and did it in a variety of ways. After hitting his first three as the game wound down he turned to the bench with a big smile and said ” I’m back” while, at the exact same moment across the country, every Duke fan was wearing a similar smile and saying ” He’s back” to whoever they were watching the game with.
As for the game itself, there isn’t much to write about. Duke had 7 players with over 20 minutes and nearly had 7 players in double digits in scoring, totally overwhelming the Pirates just like a #1 seed ought to.
Episode 2 : How Not to Play With a Lead (or: Clock Sucking Rears Its Ugly Head)
Well fans of Dear Old Duke, we all lost several thousand of years off of our collective life spans yesterday, as Duke took a game well in hand and, through the effective and heart stopping methodology called “stall ball’, or cacophemistically “Lead ( as in maintaning a ‘lead’) Burning”, or the still more pejorative “Clock Sucking”, nearly gave it away to a tenacious, resilient, smart, and very well-coached Michigan squad.
On paper this looked like a mismatch, particularly given Duke’s height advantage, something the Devils seemed ready to exploit early on as they dominated the Wolverines on the glass. The Devils compensated for this with 2-6 shooting and 3 turnovers in their first 6 posessions. The Devils shot the ball extremely well in the first half ( 10-13 from two but only 3-11 from three. idem above height advantage.), but Michigan was able to keep pace ( never falling behind by more than 5) by using some timely 3-point shooting and an uncharacteristically poor showing by Duke at the free-throw line. Duke held a 37-33 lead at the half, aided in large part by Kyrie Irving, who the Wolverines seemed to be able to stop only by fouling. Kyrie scored all 7 of his first half points at the line.
In the second half, Duke started cold again , going 1-6 from the floor with a turnover in their first 5 posessions. Thankfully, the defense really picked things up, holding Michigan to one field goal over the first 4 minutes. Still, Coach K was unsatisfied with the team’s overall energy and was forced to call an early motivational timeout, during which he removed his jacket and energetically demonstrated what he wanted out of his team. Apparently Nolan was listening closely, as he proceeded to go on a personal 10-0 run to put Duke up 49-37 with 14 minutes left. The lead swelled to 15 at the 10:51 mark and it was feeling as though the Devils might have the game in hand. Not so. Michigan answered with a 9-0 run over the next two minutes to cut the lead to 6, frustrating the Devils on offense with their 1-3-1 matchup zone ( which limited driving opportunities for Nolan) and forcing Duke to play a 4 guards + Ryan Kelly lineup in order to limit Michigan’s 3 point opportunities. Duke recovered and pushed the lead back up to 10 with 6 minutes remaining thanks to 6 straight from Nolan. That’s when the fun started. Duke, largely ineffective against the 1-3-1 even when attacking with a full shot clock, was NOT, as it turns out, MORE effective against it when attacking with only 10 seconds remaining. It’s a time honored and tested Coach K Strategy ( i mean, who am i to argue with 900 wins?) to use the clock to his teams’ advantage, but going “passive” against Michigan’s D in those final 7 minutes did nothing good for Duke. The Devils managed only 2 field goals in the final 7 minutes, one off an amazing pass from Kyrie to Ryan and the other from a skillful Kyrie drive. Meanwhile, Michigan ( and in particular Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris) was taking advantage of Duke’s worried-about-the-three-high pressure D, by taking Duke’s players one-on-one and driving to the bucket to score seemingly at will. The final shot of the game, taken by Darius Morris after an untimely Nolan Smith missed free-throw, probably goes in about 8 times out of 10, but fortunately for Duke, it was one of the other 2.