Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Hater's Guide to the NBA Finals

I love basketball. I'll watch any basketball at any level. Pros. College. High School. My buddy Erik looks like a bear cub trying to jerk off with boxing gloves on when he shoots hoops and I'd even watch that (my buddy shooting hoops, not the other thing).

So, yes, I am very excited for the NBA Finals. We are about to witness the game played at its highest level, and it's going to be electric. But its no secret that my cup does not runneth over with affection for the Lakers or Celtics. Yes, I've said I don't hate this particular Lakers team, but their rivalry with the Spurs as well as the institutionalized arrogance that comes with being from Southern California lands them solidly on my "most hated franchises" list.

Joining them on that prestigious list are the Boston Celtics. I actually don't historically hate the Celtics, although I do harbor blanket animosity for all Boston sports teams and Boston sports culture as a whole. They have several dominant franchises and yet they continue to act as if they are the underdog, or worse, complain that they are no longer the underdog because they have several dominant franchises. That sounds rough. The euphoria that I experienced when the Patriots lost the Super Bowl rivaled the euphoria I have felt when the Spurs won championships or when the University of Texas defeated USC in the Rose Bowl. Ah, Schadenfreude.

But historically I hate the Celtics the least out of the whole bunch (I'm kind of ignoring the Bruins here, as I no next to nothing about hockey. Sidney Crosby, that's a guy who plays for somebody, right?). Let's be honest with ourselves, Red Auerbach is a pure and unadulterated bad-ass. The most baller move in the history of hoops is Auerbach's on-court victory cigar. Pure Swag. And my respect for Bill Russell, despite those heavy-handed Russell-KG pieces on ESPN, knows no bounds. But this particular collection of Celtics is an unsavory mixture of entitled and moody, and I really don't like them.

So what's a Hater to do?

Well, Let's take a detailed look at both the history of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry and the specifics of each squad in order to determine whom to root for:

8 of 10: The Celtics and Lakers have played in the NBA Finals 10 times and the Celtics have won 8 of them. This could really go either way. A gloating Boston fan is the worst, but even if the Lakers win the championship the Celtics would still lead the all-time Finals series 8 to 3. So I say the opportunity to have the Lakers experience even deeper embarrassment is of higher value. Point goes to the Celtics.

Magic v. Bird: I'm not looking at the specifics of the 80's rivalry but rather whether Bird or Magic is the cooler/better player. Bird's combination of hustle and white guy fundamentals is admirable, and those McDonald's commercials where he plays horse with MJ for a big mac are of world-historical importance, but for me this category is an easy victory for Magic Johnson. Despite the catastrophe that was the Magic Johnson show, Magic was and remains the man. I'm not sure any other player in the history of the NBA could have have played the 1, 2, 3 or 4 position and legitimately been one of the best players in the league at that position. His unrivaled versatility as a player gets the nod. Point goes to the Lakers (just FYI this isn't actually based off a point system, its just a suggestive phrase).

Chamberlain-Russell: OK, I dig Wilt and Bill. But eleven championships in 13 years. Damn, yo. Point goes to the Celtics.

Kurt Rambis-Kevin McHale: McHale was the better player, although Rambis may have been the better defender (although that's certainly debatable). But McHale was clearly the better offensive player, even if he was, in the words of Danny Ainge, a bit of a "black hole." But Rambis' spectacles are the best on-court accessory in the history of the game, and McHale looses ground for his role in the KG trade. That's right, he looses ground. Rambis takes this round. Point goes to the Lakers.

The Kobe-Shaq Lakers: The Celtics don't get a point for this one, but the Lakers sure as hell get one taken away. This team was the height of Laker arrogance. Shaq was (and remains) a self-involved fat prick. Kobe was brash and moody. Derek Fisher was (and remains) a prick. Rick Fox was a prick. Deduct one point from the Lakers for ever bringing this group of men together.

So looking back historically, I'd say the Celtics have the slight edge (although I didn't include it in the breakdown, Auerbach's aforementioned swagger is really what gives them their lead going into the "current squad" category). But few of the people I've mentioned so far will be putting on a uniform in the NBA Finals, so let's stop living in the past and focus on the now.

Kobe Bryant: He remains moody, although he's no longer brash. His arrogance is beyond belief. As previously noted he was on that early 00's Lakers squad. But he is the best player on the face of the earth. His game is calculated but elegant, and he is not only the most creative scorer in the game today but also an excellent distributor of the ball and defender. I can't believe I'm saying this, but he is a plus for the Lakers.

Paul Pierce: Pierce is a prick. He is cocky and chippy, and much to easily made the transition from embattled loner to entitled asshole. He reminds me of Hillary Clinton in a lot of ways. Pierce is one of the best players in the NBA at drawing contact, and his defense has really improved this post-season, but those hardly make up for his personality. He is a big negative for the Celtics.

Pau Gasol: Does anyone really care about Pau Gasol? I mean, obviously Gasol has helped this team immensely, not only with his ability to score in the post but also (here's something you've never heard before) because he allows Odom to switch to his natural position out on the wing (You're right, I hadn't heard that before!). But he lacks any charisma whatsoever, and although the trade with Memphis for Brown is dubious, Its not enough to make me dislike him. No points awarded to either team.

Kevin Garnett: I used to really love Garnett when he was on the T-wolves. I mean, how couldn't you, the man was bat-shit crazy. But, as Bethlehem Shoals has correctly pointed out numerous times, he has become a little institutionalized since he started donning the white and green. For me, I just don't like all the belabored invocations of history and guilt that have surrounded him all season. I'm also increasingly less convinced that the whole "intensity" thing isn't a bit put on. But there's no way I could give the big Ticket a negative rating, so no points are awarded to either team.

Lamar Odom: I've always loved nebulous wing players, and Odom is no exception. I'm not as joyous as a lot of people that Odom has come into his own, as there was something I kind of appreciated more about his potential than the actualization of that potential, but that's not really being fair to Lamar. Point Lakers.

Ray Allen: Allen is a softy, and the aesthetics of his stroke, although pleasant, are way over-hyped. Deduct a point from the Celtics.

Derek Fisher: I've always thought Fisher was smug, and I still do. Plus, the "o.4" moment wasn't clutch, it was lucky. Deduct a point from the Lakers.

Rajon Rondo: I like Rajon Rondo. I liked him when he was at Kentucky and I was glad to see him develop into a savvy combo guard this year. I give a lot of credit to Garnett for his tutelage of Rondo. Point awarded to the Celtics.

Sasha Vujacic: Well, I didn't particularly hate Vujacic before the Western Conference Finals, but taco or no taco, his final 3 pointer at the end of game 5 was a dick move. A small deduction from the Lakers.

James Posey: I like the socks, but I don't like the swag. It just rubs me the wrong way. Small deduction from the Celtics.

Jordan Farmar: I think this guy is way to arrogant for his skill level. He is actually my least favorite player on the Lakers, maybe even my least favorite player in the NBA Finals. A notable deduction for the Lakers.

Luke Walton: Its not fair of me to dislike him because of his father, but I do. Every time I look at him I hear the hyperbolic commentary of Bill in my head. Plus I don't like the Grateful Dead bears tattoo. I think its stupid. Deduct a point from the Lakers.

Doc Rivers/Phil Jackson: Jackson is megalomaniacal, but he not only approaches the game from a unique theoretical standpoint but also is a crack-shot with the X's and O's. Rivers, on the other hand, is a good coach in the way that Bill Simmons is a good writer, i.e. people may think he is, but he isn't. I think his personnel/clock management in late game situations is when this is most noticeable. Point Lakers.

So where does that leave us? Well, the Celtics may have won the historical round, but I think the Lakers really separated themselves given their current squad, particularly if you give more weight to each team's "big three." Bryant and Odom both got positive ratings but Allen got a negative rating and Pierce is a massive asshole. Really, I just don't think I could root for a team that Paul Pierce plays on. I really don't like the Lakers role players, but they're just role players. It would be perfect if the Lakers won but Farmar played the worst basketball of his life. I would be more than happy with that. I'm sorry Coach Auerbach. I'm going with the purple and gold.

Lakers in 7 (I actually think the Lakers will win in 5 or 6, but a game 7 loss at TD Banknorth Garden would be so crushing for the city of Boston. Again with the schadenfreude).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Final Defense

I want to begin by congratulating the Lakers for playing an excellent series and having what is so far been an undeniably impressive season. They were the superior team throughout this series and have undoubtedly earned their trip to the NBA Finals. Popovich has always said that the better team usually wins a seven game series and it would be hard to argue that isn't what happened this evening.

I also want to congratulate the Spurs. Although unable to defend their title, they played valiantly and never gave up despite the odds. They didn't play their best basketball but as champions the Spurs can admit that is not an excuse. When the season is on the line you either step up or you don't. Its easy to be spoiled when you have won 3 of the last 5 championships, but there is nothing about a 56 win season and a Western Conference Finals birth to be ashamed of. People may pass around fallacious logic about how "2 in a row" is the key to being labeled a dynasty, but I think few who seriously know basketball would argue that this core squad isn't one of the better NBA teams of all time.

I think this evening showed how close this series has been. Despite the lopsidedness suggested by a 5 game series, 3 of the 5 were thrilling to watch. I think its telling that the Lakers won all 3 of those "thrillers." Traditionally I have counted on the Spurs to perform well late in a close game. I have oftentimes pronounced that I am more worried about blowing a big lead because of the relaxation factor than I am about closing out a tight game (a concern this series would seem to prove is well founded). Either way, the Spurs were consistently unable to finish the job. Poor free throw shooting, an overabundance of Laker offensive rebounds and open looks that just refused to drop had suggested the inevitability of failure far before they occurred on this evening.

Its unclear to me whether my fanaticism for the game itself or for the Spurs in particular takes precedent, but to channel the former briefly, it has been a pleasure to watch this Lakers team so closely. I kept an eye on them all year, but obviously in this series they have commanded my undivided attention. And as I watched I beheld a team that is both focused and lyrical, athletic and intellectual. This team is running the triangle as well as its ever been run and that is both beautiful and frightening. No matter what happens in the NBA Finals, in the upcoming years the Los Angeles Lakers are the team to beat.

Beautiful and frightening are two adjectives I would also bestow upon Kobe Bean Bryant. He played with poise and aggression throughout the entire series and displayed a disdain for failure that perennially has been the mark of a champion. He is without question the best player alive right now but in order to cement his legacy there are mountains still to climb.

Now that I've waxed poetic, let's talk about the game:

The Spurs Offense: The Spurs Offense came out looking beautiful. A potent combination of well placed passes and decisive jump shots sent the team ahead by 17 in the 1st half. But a subtle combination of Laker hustle and frenetic energy seemed to send this team off course. One has to assume acquiring a player that can score reliably for 48 minutes is on the Spurs off-season checklist.

Ginobili: At a certain point the idea that he was injured seem to overtake him. I don't believe his injury kept him from missing open 3-pointers or makeable layups. But it takes little for the seed of doubt to bloom, and 3-9 from the field for 9 points was its flower.

Age: I am less convinced that age was as much of a factor in this series as the world would like to claim it is. Aside from Kobe, the Lakers were not consistently taking their defenders off the dribble. They were not consistently overwhelming us on the fast-break. They consistently out hustled us on the boards but I think that was just as much a matter of positioning as anything else (is hustle genuinely an age related factor or merely a psychological one? This is a serious question, not a rhetorical one). This series wasn't won with youth. They just nailed their open looks and we didn't.

Ed. Note: I'm not saying age wasn't a factor in this series. Obviously it was. But I just feel like there has been this overarching theme of "youth vs. age" that is, although not inaccurate, only a piece of why the Spurs lost this series.

Personnel Decisions: I think part of the problem the Spurs faced this series was their inability to settle on a meaningful rotation. In game one Udoka saw a lot of minutes and did a legitimate job containing Odom (that, disappointingly, was his only notable game of the series). He saw little PT in games 2 through 5. Obviously the minutes Barry saw escalated drastically as the series progressed, which is a undeniably a good thing. What's frustrating is Popovich's inability to see his value earlier. Horry's minutes in the first 4 games are more confounding than the riddles of the Sphinx. On the flip side, why did it take so long for Thomas, the obviously superior back up power forward (in fact he started a couple of regular season games) to make his way solidly into the rotation. I have the utmost faith in Popovich and his ability to make intra-series adjustments is unparalleled, but honestly, I think this was not his finest hour.

On the other hand, Jackson managed his bench very well. In particular his management of Bryant's minutes were superb. He consistently rested Kobe heavily during the 2nd quarter and this inevitably gave way to a fresh and fundamentally unstoppable offensive flurry from Bryant somewhere in the late 3rd or throughout the 4th in all 5 of the games.

Random Lakers Questions: First, what the hell was Phil Jackson talking about when they interviewed him between the 3rd and 4th? Thomas only took one free throw on the "and one." I know his assistant tipped him off about this phantom second shot but you should clarify something like that before you act rather foolish on national TV.

Second, I am glad that Doug Collins called out Sasha Vujacic for taking a bullshit three pointer in the closing seconds of the game. The Spurs had conceded. The sportsmanlike thing to do is merely shake hands and allow the game to expire. The Lakers in game 2 also ran a play as time closed out in an attempt to get a final 3 pointer to send the score to triple digits. Both instances strike me as classless. It seems indicative of a vibe I generally got from the Lakers bench this series. They always struck me as rather cocky given their secondary role. As I've said before I don't hate this Lakers squad as a whole but I find it quite easy to despise Vujacic, Walton and Farmar.

Third, does anyone think its weird that Jerry West, a crucial player on the other side of the Gasol-Brown trade, gave out the Western Conference Finals trophy? If Kevin McHale is at the Celtics Eastern Conference trophy presentation ceremony you're going to hear some shit from me. (A big shout out to Andrew McCaughan for predicting the McHale scenario).

OK, its late. I'm tired. I could talk about this forever and inevitably will be back with not only more Lakers-Spurs thoughts but extended musings on the draft, a cohesive statement on Doug Collins in Chicago and coverage of the NBA Finals. So whether you're a Spurs fan or not, just because their season is done isn't a reason to not stop by. I'm gonna continue to keep at it for the rest off the playoffs and into the off-season. Thanks everyone. Have a good night.

The Grind

I've got to admit the playoffs have worn me down. The regular season, for all its flaws, has such a whimsical quality to it. There's nothing on the line. I can watch the Timberwolves take out the Suns on a Wednesday night and just casually bathe in the schadenfreude of it all. Then somewhere along the way I remembered that not only am I infatuated with basketball but with a particular basketball team. And that team has a tendency to make deep playoff runs. Then some combination of vanity and anxiety led me to start writing about the NBA on a daily basis.

So now I spend my days trudging home from work so I can use alcohol to suppress the wild fluctuation between anger and ebullience that inevitably accompanies the ugly teleology of May only to ignore some girl at a bar so I can half-drunkenly scurry back to my apartment and furiously compose some eschatologically tinged but fundamentally unthoughtful analysis of what I've just seen. That's right, I just suggested that my non-existent love life is a result of the playoffs.

But you know what? I'd do it all over again. I may be tired, but I'm loving this stuff.

So there's a game on tonight. And its kind of important. All types of cliches could describe the Spurs current situation but I am going to tenderly choose "backs agains the wall." Ahh, fits like a glove (hey, there's another).

I have another admission. I'm pretty excited. This is either going to be the end of a good season or the beginning of a great comeback. Either way I'm ready. And I think the Spurs are too. Let's give'm hell.

The "F" Word

As I'm sure you already know, the NBA has announced that it will be imposing fines for "flopping" next season. Its unclear how large the fines will be or whether or not there will be increased fines for serial floppers. Needless to say, the Spurs jokes have come out of the woodwork.

I must admit, I have mixed emotions about the league's approach to this. I, even though a Spurs fan, can't stand the flopping. It runs completely counter to my aesthetic preference for tough, physical play. But I just don't believe fines are the appropriate response to this league-wide epidemic (because let's be honest, people like to pick on the Spurs for this but everybody does it).

Its an in-game problem and I think it needs an in-game solution. I personally would have preferred they make it a technical foul to flop egregiously. I'm pretty much basing this off of Soccer's use of the yellow card to punish over-the-top flops. I understand that flops may be hard for referees to correctly identify during a game. Even more of a problem is correctly distinguishing between "selling a foul" which most people seem to think is just playing savvy basketball and "flopping" which most people seem to think is cheap. I'm not sure I have a good answer for how to solve that issue but the league said it would impose fines via a team of arena observers and video reviewers, which could at least ensure a technical would be given to the player even if the opposing team didn't receive a foul shot. Post-game technicals would still carry weight because the accumulation of technical fouls leads to an automatic suspension.

I'm glad the league is dealing with this, but I think its taking the wrong route. Either way, Now seems like as good a time as any to take a look back at some of the best flops from recent years.

First, to Oak-town, where Boom Dizzle knows how to take a dive:

Next, to the city of more moms, where Andrei Kirilenko puts some effort into it:

At least one of Raja Bell's many theatrical masterpieces has to make it onto any "greatest flops" list:

You didn't think I'd forget the master, did you?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Moving On: Conspiracies, FreeDarko, and Ronny Turiaf.

OK. I am officially done with the whole Barry/Fisher foul controversy. I spit my flames, I got over it. If you want to whine about the call or bitch at me for complaining about the call thats fine, but I couldn't care less at this point. Obviously he was fouled. Obviously the game was poorly reffed, something both teams have reason to complain about. What matters now is game 5, not game 4. If anything I find both sides of the argument to be indefensibly obnoxious at this point.

The only part of the issue I want to address is the conspiratorial aspect to the whole affair. A lot of people have criticized Spurs fans for falling back on the belief that the playoffs are rigged. I have seen a lot of comments questioning how a team that has won 4 of the last 9 NBA championships can legitimately claim to be discriminated against.

I myself have made numerous references to Stern's "puppeteering," so I figured my readers deserve a frank and honest discussion of what I believe is the relationship between the league and major-market teams.

OK. I don't believe Stern is actively trying to bring about a Lakers-Celtics Finals. I may suggest such a reality, but I don't genuinely believe it. That being said, when asked, Stern said his ideal finals would be "Lakers vs. Lakers." This, for me, is an inappropriate and highly problematic answer. The correct answer is that the ideal finals would be the best team from each conference taking on one another. That is the only answer that does not subject the game to any type of suspicion regarding the relationship between league profits and the success of certain teams.

With that in mind, Stern has always forwarded the notion that the league is as much entertainment apparatus as it is sporting venue. Never once has Stern acted without a concrete conception of entertainment and its relationship to profit in mind. I don't blame him, but I think it is unrealistic and probably disingenuous to act as if certain players and teams aren't disenfranchised/supported by such economic logic (I think this manifests itself most flagrantly in the inability of Jordan/Kobe/Lebron to commit an offensive foul or travel).

So where does that leave us? Fundamentally nowhere. I don't care about 4 championships at this point and neither should you. I also don't care if the games are rigged (I don't believe they are). Either way all you can hope to do is go out there and compete with vigor and valor.

Moving on to other topics:

Amazon has finally made it available to pre-order FreeDarko presents The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac: Styles, Stats, and Stars in Today's Game. You should do so. I will unashamedly admit that the primary impetus for my present writing is FreeDarko. Its unique conception of the way aesthetics, politics and sports can collide not merely in the culture of the game but within the game itself set a standard for me as a writer. I'm clearly not an FD writer. I don't approach the game from the same angles or values, but that doesn't mean I don't hold those gentlemen in the highest of regards. Buy the book. Read it. Believe in the basketball gods.

Lastly, I'm very frustrated there wasn't a more wholehearted attempt by TNT to show Ronny Turiaf on the bench during his yellow cam quarter. I may have been frustrated this last 24 hours, but my appreciation for Turiaf's Dionysian elasticity while on the sidelines knows no bounds. The man is crazy and TNT, in its boorish corporate mindset, robbed so many of us of the type of eccentricity that makes the NBA so flavorful. I am willing to try I again, but my general sense is the moment has passed us by.

I'll be frank: I don't expect the Spurs to win this series. Nobody reasonable does at this point. But we are the defending champs and I expect us to go into LA and give the Lakers hell. Let's shock the world. Let's go Spurs.

Zebra Dialectics

So I huffed and puffed and didn’t blow anybody’s house down in the last 24 hours. I’ve come to grips with what happened last night and I want to move on to a topic that is either perfect or completely inappropriate for the present moment: Refereeing.

Wait, before you run away screaming, I want to assure you that what I am about to say has nothing to do with the final moments of game 4, or even any specific calls that occurred last night. But last night is hardly the first time NBA refs have come under heavy scrutiny (now that’s what I call an understatement). In fact, an ESPN voluntary poll showed that the vast majority of those who voted believed NBA refs are the most suspect of any of the four major sports. So while watching the 1st half of the game I had a hearty debate with a good friend of mine about refereeing in the NBA, and I felt like our little back-and-forth deserved to be recorded.

So I’m sitting at a bar in Chicago with my good buddy Andrew and I happened to make a snide comment about how Joe Crawford shouldn’t be refereeing this game. I don’t remember which of us decided to take the comment seriously, but quickly we began discussing whether Crawford, because of his history with the Spurs, should in fact be allowed to referee their games.

So I decided to contend that his history with the Spurs makes him unfit to serve as an impartial judge. It’s not merely that he threw out Duncan on an entirely bogus technical last year in Dallas, but more so that he threatened to engage in fisticuffs with Timmy. “How could such a man fairly judge their game?” I asked.

Andrew responded by saying that it undermines referees to say they are unfit to ref one team but not another. They should either be qualified to referee any game or unqualified to ref any.

I quickly suggested that Crawford shouldn’t be refereeing at all, but I didn’t honestly believe that at the time. Yes, what happened last year with he and Duncan was absurd but he was properly suspended. I don’t actually think his actions last year merited his banishment from the NBA.

And, although I noted that Stern should have the good judgment to prevent such a pairing, you need a systematic way to restore faith in the refereeing.

I pointed out that in the American judicial system you are allowed to request that a judge not try your case without questioning the overall ability of that justice to successfully try a case. If you can establish a conflict of interest, that is grounds for judicial dismissal.

Andrew noted that part of the reason Judicial appointments are so heated is because Judges have such substantial freedom of interpretation, and in the NBA, although interpretation is necessary, it shouldn’t vary as greatly as legal thought does. He put the NBA in the middle of a sliding scale of other sports, citing football as the most concrete set of rules and baseball (in particular the pitch) as the most highly interpretable.

I felt Andrew had incorrectly applied my metaphor. I would compare the wide range of judicial thought to the difference between refs that call game tight or loose. If you, as an attorney, are pursuing a legal argument with a liberal basis, let’s say equal protection or labor’s right to organize, if the presiding judge is conservative that is not grounds to request his dismissal. You’re just screwed. Let’s say you’re a team, take the Utah Jazz for instance, that relies on hacking as a decisive element of its defense but the ref is calling the game very tight, well, you’re screwed.

But if you can prove that there is a conflict of interest, let’s say for instance that the plaintiff has a meaningful economic relationship with the judge, then that is grounds for dismissal. If you can establish a conflict of interest, for instance the ref threatened to fight one of your players, than there is a conflict of interest. (If a judge had threatened to fight a defendant, that would also be grounds for dismissal, just FYI).

I suggested that the league establish some sort of appeal process so that franchises (I pretty confidently believe that every front office should serve as an initial filter for all the absurd appeals players would request) could request certain referees not ref their games for whatever reason.

Andrew noted that, if such a process existed, it would most cost large amounts of time and money, or possibly even encourage fans and players to approach referees with even greater scrutiny rather than more respect. He also mentioned that in baseball you are not allowed to argue whether a pitch is a ball or a strike or else you are ejected.

I told him I have no problem if the NBA cracks down on in game complaining, but his point about whether this would hurt or help is probably the crux of the issue for me. If this process were used sparingly, it would be a huge step forward for the league. If it became a release valve for all the mindless whining that goes down in the NBA it would be a nightmare. And that’s about where it ended. Sometime during the next hour and a half is when I decided to go hunting for zebras.

But either way, I think the NBA has to be realistic about the nature of human relationships and the way they play out during games. It’s important to recognize that referees both need respect but are in fact imperfect. I think the NBA should not merely fire, suspend or apologize when little problems arise, but also attempt to restructure how the league handles referees in a way that restores fans’ faith in their play calling ability. But then again, if they did that, how would Stern skillfully dictate the outcome of the post-season? In order to have puppets, you got to have puppet strings, now don’t ya, David?

The Morning After

So last night was the first loss of this post-season after which I was genuinely pissed off (if you happen to check out the sizeable invective I wrote last night, its not hard to tell). That not only derives from the refereeing (which, don't worry, I'm done discussing for the moment), but also from the fact that being down 3-1 is easily the worst position we've been in the playoffs so far. It's definitely more difficult than either of the instances in which we were down 2-0. So from here on out every game is an elimination game, which is what it is.

I want to reconsider some of the thoughts I had last night. First off, no matter what one's opinion of the refereeing may be, the Lakers actually put together a reasonably complete game. Odom struggled in the first half but managed to get to the line in the second in order to protect his team's lead. Gasol was pretty efficient on the block (4-7). They just played well for 4 quarters and, while the Spurs didn't play poorly, they definitely were scrambling to get back in it from the early goings. Even when we tied it up we quickly slipped back behind. Obviously I believe we should have had a chance to win, but maybe its appropriate one call doesn't make up for 48 minutes of superior play.

Mostly, I want to take this time to talk about Tim Duncan. This year Ginobili and Parker have seen an increasing amount of good press come their way and within the last twelve months have both received prestigious awards which they were highly deserving of (NBA Finals MVP and Sixth-Man, respectively). But despite all the talk of Tim passing on the reins to one of the two, he is still the foundation of everything the Spurs have done this season. Last night: 29 points, 17 boards, 3 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks. He is the best power forward of all time. A legend continuing to produce masterpieces before our eyes. The Spurs haven't given him the pieces this year to get it done (Robert Horry and Michael Finley are just not championship caliber players at this point in their careers), but for me it makes his achievements all the more notable. Even when his brothers-in-arms fail him, Duncan marches forward nonetheless. He may be derided as a boring player but I found his bounding dunk in the 1st half or his commanding block of Bryant in the 2nd to be about as electrifying as any basketball I watch.

Somewhere in the haze of arthritic ankles, bad knees, and unreliable offensive output we lose focus on what we're actually looking at. Horry won't make it to the hall of fame, who knows about Parker and Ginobili. But every night when I tune into the Spurs game I get a chance to watch the most dominant player of the last decade continue to practice his craft at a level which, despite his decline, is still staggering to behold. Obviously a lot about last night's game is frustrating to reflect upon, but when looking for a silver lining, look no further than number 21.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

There is no title to this post

So I've dealt with some very severe personal struggles about how to accurately analyze this game. Personally I feel some very strong emotions about the the final 5 minutes of game 4 and how the game was refereed. I traditionally have chosen not to comment on refereeing unless doing so under some sort of "impartial" guise, but in this instance that may be impossible. Rather than toy with some unachievable mask of objectivity which would inevitably be drenched in disingenuous posturing, I've decided to let the full extent of my feelings flow freely. Let's get down to business:

I think the refereeing in the final 5 minutes of game 4 between the Lakers and Spurs was bullshit. B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T. Bullshit. Every single time a Spur drove into the lane, a Laker made body to body contact with him. The Spurs never received a foul call and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. The injustice (or what I have so originally renamed BULLSHIT) occurred when every Laker that drove to the lane and drew body to body contact with a Spur received a foul call. This reached its breaking point when Lamar Odom blatantly reached over the back for an offensive rebound and drew a defensive foul nonetheless.

Listen, any NBA realist will admit that Stern and the Association have an economic interest in seeing certain teams succeed. The Spurs have been a part of several of the least watched NBA Finals in the history of the league. But at a certain point the preference for profit over principle becomes unbearable and I believe that point is now. There is something rotten in the House of Stern. I will, at least for the time being, make no mention of the fact that Joe Crawford, in his enduring wisdom and unassailable impartiality, was chosen to referee this crucial game. I, for one, can't think of a single instance in the history of the Spurs franchise which would disqualify him from being fit to serve in such a capacity.

But I am picking at the scraps of Stern's table. If I am to gnarl at the meat of the issue, I must address the final shot, taken by Brent Barry. In the NBA there is a precedent. When a Shooter pump-fakes and causes a defender to leave his feet, and that defender, out of control, brings his body down on top of the shooter, a foul is called. Continuation is granted according to the motion and intention of the shooter, but at minimum a foul is called. During the final moments of the Spurs-Lakers game this evening, Brent Barry pump faked, causing Derek Fisher to rise into the air. Fisher, unable to avoid Barry, brought down his torso and elbow on Barry's body. Barry, unable to avoid contact, was physically restricted from taking a shot. In every single NBA game I have ever witnessed, what transpired in the final moments of game 4 between the Lakers and Spurs is called a "foul." Spell it with me now. F.O.U.L. That's right, a f-o-u-l. Take your time if you have difficulty pronouncing it.

Now many players traditionally receive a foul in that situation. Some where purple and gold. Others green and white. Unluckily the individual shooting in the play just described was wearing silver and black, which disqualifies him from actually getting a fair call. There is a player presently, of the purple and gold variety, with the surname Bryant, that would receive such a call repeatedly and without question. I assure you if anybody made as much contact with Kobe as Fisher made with Barry the call would have been automatic. But then again, a Spurs-anybody final isn't going to bring in the big bucks now is it? So we can't have that, now can we?

Well, congratulations Lakers. You played a decent game and were launched solidly over the hump in Sterns booster chair. I'll be honest with you. I think this Lakers team has more talent than the Spurs. I think this Lakers team is better than the Spurs. I have said for sometime that if the Spurs were going to make it out of the Western Conference it was going to take a victory over a superior squad and the squad I was referring to was none other than the Los Angeles Lakers. But, I'm sorry, I give them no credit on this evening. If they take this series, I will be a gracious loser. I will commend them on their poise and their focus, and wish them luck in the NBA Finals. But on this evening they will receive no such commendations. They didn't deserve to lose tonights game, but they sure as hell didn't deserve to win it either.

On that note, lets discuss the type of things that traditionally are supposed to determine the outcome of a game, like how each team actually played:

Rebounding: The Spurs got absolutely hammered on the boards in the 1st half. We did an excellent forcing the Lakers into tough 1st shots, but we killed ourselves by allowing so many trash buckets off of offensive rebounds.

Ginobili: Well, way to not show up Manu. Listen, I know your finger is messed up and you have an arthritic ankle, etc... but a 2-1 game at home down in the Western Conference finals is a must win game and its important that your top scorer put up more than 7 points on 2-8 shooting.

Barry: the white Jesus played tremendously this evening. He shot 7-14 from the field and his 23 points were a classic example of the type of gutsy veteran play that has put this team over the top time and time again. But it wasn't just his shooting. His 5 rebounds and 2 steals also played a crucial role in the the ability of the Spurs to stay competitive in this game. Sadly, his heroic play wasn't enough.

Lakers Role Players: In a first half in which Odom decided to disappear again (can we officially put to rest this idea that Odom is some huge match-up problem for the Spurs even though they have held him to his worst numbers of the playoffs?), Luke Walton and Vladimir Radmanovic stepped up to ensure the Lakers maintained the lead. Role Players don't need to win it for you, but the effort those guys put in during the first half is crucial to the chemistry that creates a championship team.

Turnovers: The Lakers had a lot more turnovers than the Spurs (14-8), but something about the fact that several of the Spurs TO's ended in an open Kobe Bryant dunk felt more significant, didn't it?

Ime Udoka: One rebound, one assist, one personal foul, 0-0 from the field in 8:25 of play. We could have used a tad bit more from you there, Ime.

Finley: Whatever tonights outcome, the argument of who is a more effective part of this Spurs squad, Finley (who had a +/- of -18) or Barry (+24), should be over.

Farmar: I'm really glad Jordan Farmar went 1-6 for 2 points tonight. I hate that guy.

I may or may not be back with extended thoughts on tonights game. I will be back with a debate a friend of mine and I had during the game about the nature of refereeing in the NBA (the debate occurred during the 1st half, far before I was in the mood to spew such venom, and is in no way related to the particularities of tonight's refereeing). I'll be honest, for the Spurs to climb out of their present circumstance it would take an unheralded amount of talent and will. I'm not saying its impossible, but certainly the odds are against us from here on out.

My Obligatory Crossing of the Aisle

So I've tried to cultivate the image that I, although a Spurs fan, am willing to recognize brilliance wherever it arises across the NBA landscape. I spoke highly of Chris Paul even when the Spurs were immersed in a knock-down, drag-out series with the Hornets, and I... wait, I actually never said anything nice about the Suns (I may have made a few gracious remarks about Steve Nash). Either way, I want to point out that Upside and Motor is running a campaign to make Ronny Turiaf the target of the Yellowbook cam during tonights Spurs-Lakers game. This is pure genius. Turiaf, aside from being a hard-working glue guy, is also a hilariously spastic man prone to bouts of wild dancing along the sidelines. If you don't know what the yellowbook cam is, online you can vote to have cameras follow one player from each team during a quarter. Obviously Bryant has been receiving most of the votes so far, but the Turiaf movement is gaining steam. So go out and vote, Mr. Turiaf has earned it.

If you are unconvinced of Turiaf's merit, please check out the clip below:

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bald Spot Don't Lie

You gave’m hell Spurs. You made me proud. Let’s get down to business:

Ginobili: I’m not even sure where to begin. Manu’s style was infectious, his will indestructible. Nailing three-pointers in transition. Elusively dropping acrobatic “and-one’s” in the paint. A wild-eyed and awkwardly contorted blur of indefensible terror. For me, no man symbolizes the creative potential that lies within the game more than Manu Ginobili.

Parker: Anything positive I say about Tony is going to sound mild because I just went ape-shit over Manu last paragraph, but I’ll give it a whirl. Parker actually played a very good game, despite his mild stats. He was having difficulty in the paint but he stayed aggressive nonetheless. He had a good sense of when to push it and a good sense of when to pull back, and he distributed the ball in a responsible manner. He’s a great point guard, the best left in the playoffs in my opinion.

Duncan: Well the GPFOAT got it done. He struggled offensively early in the game but got it together as time went on. A friend I was watching the game with noted Duncan’s early struggles around the hoop, and inquired what I thought was going on, as Duncan’s game is touted as automatic. Well, first off I said nobody’s game is robotic. But I pointed out that, even though we were still in the early 2nd quarter, Duncan already had 9 rebounds and numerous defensive stops around the bucket. Its not like I don’t know it every time I sit down to watch the man but I allow myself to continually be surprised by what a complete game Duncan plays.

Barry/Finley: Both Barry and Finley played well, which just means they made their shots. But I think you could just see that Barry is, at least currently, a more dynamic offensive player. He made several well placed passes and his off-the-ball movement consistently left him very open, while Finley, although he also moves very well off the ball, just consistently felt more peripheral to what was going on offensively when on the floor. Barry was part of the machinery of the offense but whenever Finley touched the ball there was kind of this “he’s in the game? I hadn’t noticed” feel. Either way, we only rely on them to make their 3-point shots, and anything else they do well is just a bonus. I actually kind of like how Popovich balanced their time out there. I think it gave both of them a simultaneous sense of purpose and of their own limitations. Matt Moore at Hardwood Paroxysm very correctly pointed out that whichever Western Conference team has shot better from beyond the arc inevitably has won. However odd it seems, the shooting percentage of this duo will be a very large factor in the success of the Spurs.

Horry/Thomas: Why does Popovich bring in Horry as his back-up power forward, not Thomas? Horry has actually been doing a decent job guarding Odom in the paint (I have no idea how), but not only is Thomas a better low post-defender, he’s also an existent offensive weapon. By “existent” I don’t mean he’s a good offensive weapon, I just mean he knows how to make a 8-10 foot shot, while Horry doesn’t actually know what to do with the ball inside the 3-point line and outside of it is increasingly racked with doubt because he isn’t actually a good shooter anymore. I’ve never minded Popovich’s deep rotations, even in the post-season, but I believe he’s messed up the pecking order on this one.

Lakers Offense: The Lakers didn’t run their offense. Do you remember an instance in which they passed it into Gasol and cut and moved around him to get an easy look? Because I don’t. Do you remember instances in which either Odom or Bryant set up on the wings and tried to make something happen by themselves? I do. The truth of the matter is the triangle offense when run frequently and effectively is just shy of indefensible. But some combination of ego or lack of focus gives birth to brief moments where this Lakers team reminds me of the same squad before Kobe got all into the “trusting-his-teammates” thing. They had 3 assists in the first half. That being said, the Spurs did an excellent job filling passing lanes, cluttering the paint and closing out on shooters, but in general I thought the Lakers made it easier on them than previous games.

Lakers Defense: I think last night exposed 2 things about the Lakers defense. 1) They haven’t actually been “shutting down” Ginobili, Manu was just in a funk/injured. 2) They haven’t actually been stopping our offense, we just couldn’t buy a bucket from the 3rd quarter of game 1 to the 1st quarter of last night. Manu gets open looks, as do Barry and Finley. Duncan has to work for his buckets, but he gets them. And Parker gets into the lane consistently. The real difference between this game and the other two was our 3-point shots continued to go in the basket for 48 minutes.

Kobe Bryant: Kobe doesn’t like to lose. When he came in during the fourth he did his damnedest to prevent a Lakers loss. His barrage of 3’s, however ineffectual they may have been, struck me more as a warning than a legitimate attempt to win though. The man can takeover. If we can defeat this team, with Kobe playing like he is, it will rank as one of the Spurs more notable achievements.

The Lakers Organization: Aaron Stampler at Pounding the Rock noted how he actually doesn’t hate this Lakers team anymore, and I have to admit, I’m in the same boat. I tried to muster some amount of self-righteous fury for this series, but I just don’t hate these guys, at least not collectively. I hate Derek Fisher. His quiet arrogance pisses me off. I hate Jordan Farmar. I think he is a mediocre player at best but acts like he’s the shit. But I don’t hate Kobe. Stampler pointed out how, in the Kobe-Shaq feuds, he was always on Kobe’s side, and damn it, so was I. I genuinely enjoy watching Kobe Bryant, because he is the best player on the face of the earth. I don’t hate Phil Jackson, he’s a brilliant basketball mind, and although a bit megalomaniacal, Popovich is our coach so what are you going to say. I kind of like Lamar Odom, he’s just too big and goofy for me to hate him. I don’t like Luke Walton but I think that’s mostly residual frustration based off of his father’s atrociously hyperbolic color commentary.

The Lakers organization, along with the Suns, Heat, and Celtics, still ranks up there with my least favorite NBA franchises. But I just don’t hate this squad as much as I have past manifestations of the Lake Show. I’ll point out that Shaq has played for 3 of my least favorite franchises, and that is not a coincidence.

However fulfilling last night’s victory may have been, we are hardly out of the woods yet. We have to send this series back to LA tied up. So let’s get it done.

(A big shout out to Andrew McCaughan for coming up with the title of this post)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rise Up

Alright, Ladies and Gentlemen. The time is now. We are back in our house, where we are undefeated this post-season. We must be focused, and determined. We must play smart, aggressive basketball for 48 minutes. We must never let up. This isn't just about rings; its about pride. Its about looking into the eyes of our greatest rival and refusing to be intimidated. Our rival is young, talented, and deep. Our rival is commanded by one of the greatest basketball minds not just of this generation but of any. Our rival is beyond confident; our rival is cocky. And our rival is led on the hardwood by the most inventive, egotistical and cold-blooded player in the game today.

But we are the defending champions. We remain the team to beat. We are led by one of the greatest basketball minds not just of this generation but of any. We are a collection of men whose hunger for victory knows no bounds. We are Promethean in our style and Caesarian in our dominance. We are a dynasty, and just beyond the city walls lurks an irreverent band of barbarians looking to take our place. And although the entire world may hungrily await our demise, we are unswayed by public opinion and unhindered by the wild emotions characteristic of a team who hasn't been here before. This is a road we have traveled many times, and we must proceed without fear. We must reach down and discover the cold ferocity that has smothered the ambition of so many young warriors time and time again. Rise up, San Antonio. For 48 minutes, let's give'm hell.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

When does it become appropriate to bring up the Alamo?

Obviously the Spurs are in a tough situation. In order to win the series we have to win 4 of the next 5 games. I fully believe we can do that, last round testifies to as much, but it will be more difficult than before. As this game unfolded it became increasingly clear how costly Wednesday's collapse was. We had a chance to steal one in LA and we blew it. The Lakers will not easily allow that opportunity again.

So we're back in a familiar spot, down 2-0, headed back to San Antonio. Several teams, including the Jazz last round against the Lakers, have gone home 2-0 and left town 2-2, although the Spurs were the only team of those to successfully complete the series comeback.

I guess the first hope has to be that the Spurs can get a little rest. I know we only have one day off, but hopefully being asleep in their beds, which they haven't seen since Sunday I believe, will do them a little good. So aside from obvious factors like fatigue and the imperative to take every game in SA, what needs to change for the Spurs to bounce back?

Well, I'd say a couple of things. First off, and this going to be both obvious and the most difficult to bring about, is hit their jump-shots. There is no substitute for making your open looks. Our shooting percentage this last game was awful. I actually think we are doing a decent job defensively against this Lakers squad, but we're going to need some guys to step up. I'm not talking about the big 3. I'm talking about some combination of Finley, Barry, Udoka, Bowen, and Horry. By no means am I advocating we start heaving it up from beyond the arc. All I'm saying is that a 10 point night (produced by a high shooting percentage, not a high amount of field goal attempts) from one or two of those guys spreads the defense out a little bit, allowing Parker and Ginobili to get to the hole, and gives the offense a little bit of unified rhythm. I just think everyone plays more confidently when a couple of shots from Finley or Horry drop, and that has an unmeasurable but easily noticeable affect on the entire team.

As far as Ginobili goes, he's mostly just difficult to watch. The man is a wild-eyed fighter but his ankle and finger have clearly calmed the thunder. I don't think at this point we can afford to sit him a game, to lose one at home now is to practically cede the series, but he is just not himself and what's most frustrating for me is how much its probably killing him inside. But on a less personal, more general level, a team prone to such offensive droughts as the Spurs cannot afford to have its best offensive player be as banged up as he is. Looking back it makes me more appreciative of the heroism he showed in the Hornets series, in particular in game 7, when his ankle was not much better.

We could also use a little more steady aggressiveness from Duncan and his little French friend. I thought Timmy's footwork was off, and I thought Parker should be a little more willing to go to the hole earlier in a possession, before it becomes a necessity and the defense collapses. Either way, needing the big 3 to play big is not some sort of huge revelation, but after last night's offensive catastrophe, It kind of needed to be restated.

I'm gonna take a look back at the game and try to offer some more specific suggestions as everything I just wrote was pretty vague, but to be honest I just kind of watched the game in a sickened haze induced by our impotent offensive showing. It all kind of blinded me from having any concrete thoughts and mostly I just spent the evening staring blankly at the TV while arguing with my friends about whether or not the NBA's strict policy on in-game fights and pre-game dress code had anything to do with race. I think it does but we can save that for another day.

Friday, May 23, 2008


So I have absolutely nothing meaningful to say about tonight's Spurs-Lakers game. What should the Spurs do? Win, I suppose. Ya, that's about where I'm at. I would like it if we closed out a little more quickly on their shooters, I was a little frustrated with the open perimeter looks they were getting, particularly in the 2nd quarter. I also would like it if we made a little more of an effort to create space for Ginobili on the perimeter. Buck Harvey very correctly pointed out yesterday that Ginobili needs a lot of time to setup his shot, so trying to get him that would be an improvement. I am also officially on the "play Barry over Finley" bandwagon. I'm sorry, Fin-Dog, I stood by you this whole season, but its the playoffs and I just can't take you shooting any more 3-pointers from 4 feet beyond the arc 4 seconds into a possession when we're up by 5 with 3 minutes to go. I just can't take that. Ok, so maybe I did have a couple of things to say about tonights game. But I am in need of a little distraction nonetheless, so....

Let's mindlessly postulate about the draft. Come on, it'll be fun.

The Bulls: I've already been over this, but as time goes by I feel increasingly less confident about my initial "pick Rose" declaration. I still lean in Rose's direction, mostly because I think the Bulls are going to try to nab Tom Thibodeau as their coach once the Celtics lose to Detroit in 6, and I'm not sure Thibodeau has the offensive expertise to help Hinrich develop at all. I'm not sure even Phil Jackson would, but I'm pretty positive Thibodeau doesn't. I'm not saying Rose is absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt gonna be a marques point guard (even though, actually, yeah, in the past I may have said that), but I'll take his potential over Hinrich's clearly visible ceiling.

That being said, there are Point Guards out there. Both Baron Davis and Monta Ellis with GS would be completely legitimate pick-ups. As would Gilbert Arenas, but Agent Zero claims his future will be based upon any moves Jamison makes. Also, if Phoenix decides to blow it up, maybe you could nab Leandro Barbosa, but I think Barbosa is ill-equipped to actually dictate an offense. He'd be an improvement on Hinrich, but only because of his speed. He's still a combo guard with a decent jump-shot and poor court vision and let's just go ahead and say that's not what the Bulls need.

So...being that they're may be PG talent available, maybe you want to pick-up the guy who could legitimately be a 1st option for the next decade? I do think, if you're in the midst of rebuilding (which the Bulls are in a bit of denial about, but the sooner they realize this isn't a playoff squad that had a bad year but in actuality is a unit with some serious flaws, the better) just straight up taking the guy with the most talent makes a lot of sense. I don't think you need Michael Beasley, Drew Gooden, Tyrus Thomas, and Joakim Noah in your frontcourt, but I don't think anybody is gonna shed too many tears if one of those three current Bulls get shipped out of town. (Actually, I would be a little sad about Thomas. He has a lot of potential, but I think Paxson, or at least the fans, realizes that and in most trade scenarios wouldn't put him on the table).

One thing Beasley won't be is a solution to both problems. People in Chicago are obsessed with the is whole concept of the "point-forward." First of all, it takes not merely a special player but a sophisticated coach to implement such an offense and right now the Bulls have neither. Even if they make a good coaching decision and take B-Easy, I'm not sure Beasley has the basketball I.Q. to be that guy. I'm not saying he doesn't, but its a serious gamble (and just plain lazy on the part of a front office) to say a 19 year old kid is gonna not only put up points in the paint and on the wing but simultaneously distribute the ball effectively. All I'm trying to say is not every versatile Power Forward is the next Scottie Pippen.

The Heat: Well, I don't buy the "Mayo may slip into the top 2" rumor. I watched that kid this year and although talented, I think 99% of people would agree Beasley and Rose are more talented. So I'm sticking with the "whoever the Bulls didn't take" scenario for South Beach.

So what would a Miami Heat with Rose look like? Well, a healthy D-Wade, a healthy Matrix and a so far uninjured Rose would be a serious 1-2-3. Although, I must admit I believe the Marion trade rumors, and think he may end up in Dallas, with Howard coming over to Miami. And, although I really despise the Miami Heat, as a basketball fan I would look forward to a Rose, Wade, Howard 1-2-3. Somewhere in between his admissions about marijuana and his lousy first round performance, people stopped digging Howard, but I still like his style. I just have an affinity for loose, relaxed guys who float out on the wing. Either way, any combination of those 3 could be a good show.

I also think Beasley would fit in well with that squad. In fact I think he would fit in a lot better than Rose. Really this is all entirely based off of the dubious proposition that I believe Rose should come back to his home town and Beasley would look good in black. Well, not entirely, but I can envision it, and just ask Kelly Dwyer how important "visions" are.

Minnesota Timberwolves: I think the T-Wolves should take Brook Lopez. I don't think he is the 3rd most talented guy in the draft, but I think once you're no longer talking about guys with transcendent talent that you can legitimately build a franchise around, the "pick for talent" argument falls to pieces. Past Beasley and Rose, we are squarely in the "pick for need" category. And the T-Wolves need some height. I don't think anybody on that team is 7 feet tall.

Plus I like the fact that Lopez is athletic (quickly becoming my second favorite vague adjective behind "tough") and can get up and down the floor with Jefferson, Telfair, McCants and Brewer. He's probably the second most "athletic" big man behind Dorsey, who doesn't have his height, and Matt Moore very astutely pointed out the other day on Ridiculous Upside that you can't teach height. Although I don't think he came up with that.

Seattle Supersonics: I am about to be wildly hypocritical, but here's a team that should pick O.J. Mayo because he's the most talented guy left in the draft. This all goes back to my "teams completely rebuilding don't need to pick for necessity because who truly knows what their necessity is going to be" theory. I'm working on a more concise name for that theory. Either way, this team has been in full scale house-cleaning mode for a while now, and with Durant as the 1st option the Sonics have made a nice first step towards a return to relevance. Other than at SF where don't you need to improve? So I say take Mayo. His aggressiveness will fit nicely with Durant's easy-going trigger happy style. That is the beginnings of a tough backcourt.

Memphis Grizzlies: Since Gasol fulfilled his manifest destiny and made it to Hollywood, the Griz have been a bit in need of a big man. But to be honest I don't think any of the remaining big men, whether it be Kevin Love, Roy Hibbert, Robin Lopez, or Joey Dorsey really strike me as a number 5, much less a top 10 pick. Although if you're going to take any, I'd say take Kevin Love.

I use to be all about Roy Hibbert, but after watching Georgetown a lot this year, hoping to see him develop, I increasingly found him to be soft. He reminded of Tim Duncan if you replaced his quiet focus with a quiet timidity. I still believe Hibbert could develop into a very good post player (I think he has the highest basketball I.Q. of any of the big men in the draft), but he's going to need to get a little bit more fierce to make that happen. Robin Lopez reminds me too much of Anderson Varejao, and its not just the hair (he's the one with the fro, right?). No matter who has what haircut, Robin is a good defensive player (he's just a lot scrappier than his brother) but has no idea what to do with the ball in his hands, and that's why he reminds me of Varejao. Joey Dorsey is just a more flammable version of Ben Wallace.

Kevin Love, although he screams "Warning, Warning, Unathletic White Big Man!", kind of reminds me of Turkoglu or Sheed, which is a good thing. At the end of the day he's got a nice jumper and a little bit of an attitude, and those combined with his height can get you far in this league. So if I'm the Griz I stick with Love.

Wow, I made a lot of very reductive player-to-player comparisons in those last two paragraphs.

I may or may not be back with further draft thoughts. To be honest, it takes a lot of my focus away from wildly obsessing about the Spurs, and I don't want to jinx anything by not being completely petrified with anxiety 24/7. I'll leave you with a pretty hilarious quote from my friend Ben, who emailed me earlier about the difficulties of watching the NBA in Manhattan during baseball season:

"why are the nba playoffs so difficult to watch in the village? every bar in this area is obsessed with mets and yankees unexemplary baseball than the nba playoffs. its terrible. my friend and I had to request the game in a bar (with about 8 tvs), and they put it on in the most remote corner of the bar next to a band covering toto and rick springfield."

Ah, the difficult life of an expatriate Texan trapped in the big city. I couldn't empathize more.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Playoff Commercials Have Eaten My Soul

There Can Only Be One: When they came out, I was all about these guys. I thought they were elegant, intense, and articulate. I have also never had such an acute sense of how wildly ear placement on the human skull varies. But somewhere between an inevitably atrocious Adam Sandler movie, and Chris Paul talking about undiscussed playoff fears despite being amidst his first post-season sojourn, I got off the boat. These would have been great if they had taken the time to tailor the text a little more specifically to each teams’ unique psychology/history, or even if they had just evolved as the playoffs went on. But the repetition of the same monologues just made me feel uncomfortable, as if all my love and attention is being bastardized by a bunch of jersey-popping millionaires who disseminate myths about “dreams that never die” when really they’re just reading from the script. I have nightmares. Kobe nightmares. If NBA players are sleeping soundly at night but my dreams are haunted by the Black Mamba, that’s not ok.

Tyler Perry’s House of Payne: Ok, which one is Tyler Perry? Is he the fat guy? I know Perry is the guy at the end of the commercial smiling in front of the show’s logo, but is he actually in the show. Is the fat guy Perry in a fat suit? Can’t be. He’s too short. Although they did get John Leguizamo to look about 4’9” and weigh 350 pounds in Spawn, so you never know. But more importantly, why do TBS and TNT even produce original material? No one will ever watch this show, although I would watch a thousand episodes of Tyler Perry rather than even once gaze upon that other middle class show about the white people. I don’t remember the name of it, but you know the one.

McDonald’s Chicken Sandwich: Two very serious questions come to my mind during that McDonald’s chicken sandwich commercial. First, why is McD’s trying to appeal to hipsters? And second, are hipsters actually watching the NBA playoffs? I know somewhere in Greenpoint there’s a kid with a turquoise head band and some Nike Dunks who reads FreeDarko and has heard of Toni Kukoc so he thinks he’s the shit, but is this really the programming that reaches that demographic. My fear is that somewhere between Vlade Divac smoking cigarettes and Josh Howard smoking weed, this league actually got cool. I mean, it was always and will forever be cool in the way that listening to P-Funk and getting on fire in NBA Jam are cool. But now I’m worried it’s going to become listening to Mission of Burma/smoking P-funks cool. And that ain’t cool. I’m just overreacting right? I do have a tendency to do that.

And no offense to FreeDarko, Nike Dunks, or Toni Kukoc. Or head bands for that matter. Or Mission of Burma. All of those independently are very cool. But so is Joy Division and look what hipsters did to them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Satan and His Minions Strike the First Blow

Well that was frustrating. I typically associate blowing a 20 point lead with a team like the Suns, not the Spurs. Despite how belabored and obnoxious that comeback was, I think this game offered a lot of reasons to be optimistic.

First and foremost, I don't think this Lakers team stopped us because of a uniquely impressive defensive effort in the 2nd half. They had a couple of nice stops, in particular a few memorable blocks here and there, but for the most part I just think the Spurs started missing their shots. Or worse, I think the Spurs stopped trusting their shots. How many times did you see a Spur step into an open look and either hesitate, dribble into a worse situation or pass into a worse situation? I can think of instances down the stretch in which Parker, Duncan, Udoka, and Bowen are all guilty of such moments of self-doubt. We played like a team trying to protect a lead, not a team trying to continue to build one, and against a team as potent as the Lakers that's not going to work. We're going to need to score consistently for 48 minutes to take this series.

That being said, a lot of things about this game left me confident. I am confident Parker can take Fisher off the dribble whenever he wants. The problem is Parker has a tendency to disappear in the 2nd half, like he did tonight. If he plays aggressively from 12:00 in the 1st to 00:00 in the 4th I have no doubt we will win this series. But that's up to him.

I am confident Bowen can slow down Bryant. Obviously Bryant's going to score points. A lot of points. But I think an important thing to notice is that he isn't consistently beating Bowen off the dribble, even though Bowen has lost a step this year. Mostly Bryant was scoring by stopping short and using his craftiness to get the open look. Over the course of a game, Bryant's cerebral calculus will out duel Bowen's insidious intellect, but its clear Bryant's going to have to work a little harder than normal. And that's all the edge the Spurs may need.

I am confident that we can slow down Odom. Coming into this series, a lot of people (myself included) identified Odom as the key match-up issue for the Spurs, and I recommended that we put Ime Udoka on him. Low and behold, Popovich followed my advice and Udoka consistently did an excellent job denying Odom on the perimeter and going pound-for-pound with him in the paint. I believe we have a solution to our Lamar Odom problem.

I am confident that our bench can out-perform their bench. This is probably a point where a lot of people disagree with me, and tonight only weakened my argument. Fundamentally I see it like this: The Lakers have a potentially excellent, but inconsistent bench, while the Spurs have a savvy, highly specialized, but inconsistent bench. Neither are going to show up every game, but I personally prefer the smart, focused role-playing of guys like Horry, Barry, Udoka, and Finley, to the momentum driven production of the Lakers bench. I imagine this argument will be settled by the end of this series.

I am confident Duncan can guard Pau Gasol. A couple of people (not Spurs people) have identified this as the series where Lakers fans get over their Gasol high. I agree with them more after tonight. I increasingly believe Gasol doesn't have strong moves to the basket and is less inventive with the ball in his hands than he initially seemed to be. Kobe will consistently draw the double and this will get him easy buckets. But open layups from Gasol are not my problem (or at least have little to do with guarding Gasol straight up. They are in fact, a huge problem). Duncan understands the task before him. I will humbly note that I was completely wrong; Popovich brought out Duncan on Gasol from the beginning.

I am confident Gasol cannot guard Duncan. Let's just be honest. Duncan commands the double and its up to Jackson whether he's going to give into it our not. Just because Tyson Chandler did a good job slowing down (not stopping) Duncan does not mean every team can afford to leave a single defender on him. Yes, Duncan had to earn his points tonight, but leaving him in a one-on-one scenario is a gamble to say the least.

I am confident Ginobili will not play abysmally the entire series. Because let's be honest. I love Manu. The man lights up my life. But he was awful out there. I understand that everybody has a cold shooting night. What really kills me is the turnovers.

I sat down to watch this game fully prepared to watch my Spurs lose by twenty. And although its gut-wrenching to watch us blow such a significant lead, I am confident.

Notes from Across the Association: Pistons/Celtics, Rose/Beasley, Spurs/Lakers

Well, the Lakers and the Spurs meet this evening in game 1 of the Western Conference finals (that has to be in the running for the most often written sentence over the last decade). I don’t really know how much this “the Spurs had to sleep on the plane” business will affect the outcome but I sure hope it doesn’t. It could only affect the Spurs negatively, but even more so I just hate it when the press scrambles for off the court excuses like that. Anyways, before we get to that I wanted to discuss some other NBA matters:

Despite last night’s game, I still think the Pistons are going to take this series, and I still think they can do it in 6. It’s much too early to jump on the “the Celtics are back to their old-selves!” bandwagon. The Pistons were unfocused and played poorly on the offensive end of the ball. Boston’s defense was good, but mostly I thought the Pistons offense felt forced and lacked energy. Hamilton was trying to create in situations where a little ball movement would have sufficed, and every shot Sheed took down the stretch didn’t really seem to be there. I just think the Pistons have the match-ups in almost every situation. I like Prince guarding Pierce. I like the Billups-Rondo matchup (although Rondo did outperform Chauncey last night), and Ray Allen is a ghost out there, so you can’t really compare him to Rip Hamilton.

Really the best thing about this series for me is the Garnett-Sheed matchup. I am not sure there are two players who I find to be more dynamic and engaging when on the court. Certainly no other NBA player is as comically loquacious as Wallace. I just think you have two guys with high basketball I.Q.’s who can get it done on both ends, and have very distinct but equally charismatic hardwood styles, and for me that’s a recipe for exciting basketball.

As a resident of Chicago, I am pretty pumped that the Bulls nabbed the number one pick in the draft. The only thing that could have made it better would have been if Miami had slipped further down than just second. And I’m pretty unequivocally on the “pick Rose” train. I’m not historically a Bulls fan, but while living in the Chi, I’ve watched more WGN than Carl Winslow and have subsequently become pretty familiar with their current squad. Simultaneously I’ve grown to believe that Kirk Hinrich cannot run an offense. I toyed with the idea that he could work in a D’Antoni led system, thinking that maybe his days in Lawrence might serve him well in such a scenario. But alas, D’Antoni decided the calm, relaxing waters of Madison Square Garden would be more his style.

Ok. Wait. Before I go on, can we just talk about how unbelievably hilarious it is that D’Antoni chose New York and then the Bulls nabbed the 1st pick? God continues to prove time and time again that he has a wonderful sense of humor. Although I must admit, even though I thought, like the rest of the global population with the capacity for reason, that D’Antoni should choose Chicago over New York, the media love-fest that would go down if D’Antoni were in Chicago and the Bulls had the first pick would have been unbearable (After that run-on I am thoroughly convinced I need an editor).

But let’s get back to Rose. I watched the Memphis Tigers a lot this year, and I believe this kid is the real deal. He could really develop into one of the NBA’s premier floor generals. The kid is tough (an unspecific adjective you know I love) and his diverse offensive arsenal and eyes-on-the-back-of-his-head court vision lead me to believe that he could be one of the best PG’s in the league. Let’s be honest, a really reliable point guard is hard to come by.

Beasley, on the other hand, although extremely talented and very potentially a franchise player, reminds me a little too much of Lamar Odom for me to be confident in him. Not in any psychological or personal way, but in the way his game has this nebulous inside, outside air. I could easily see him being trapped in a system where a coach has consistently got him on the block when in fact he’s more productive when given space to work out on the wing. See why I make the Odom comparison? He clearly has all the talent in the world, but the combination of player potential and current roster necessity makes believe Rose is the better choice.

It also frees up the Bulls to toss around some pretty sizeable bargaining chips. Now that you know you will have a PG, you can automatically include Hinrich and either Gordon or Deng in a deal for someone who can actually score off the dribble, something nobody on this Bulls team can do consistently. No NBA franchise has as many off-season questions and consequently has more next-season potential than the Chicago Bulls.

Alas, we have finally made it to the Spurs-Lakers series. No offense to the Jazz, Nuggets, Hornets, Rockets or Suns (maybe a little offense to the Suns), but looking back doesn’t this conference final feel like it was a bit of an inevitability? Is that the least original thing I have ever said? No, but it’s in the running.

Close on its heels is the comment I’m about to make: You cannot judge this series based off of regular season meetings. That is generally true for the Spurs, but it’s especially true for this series. First, any pre-Gasol Lakers-Spurs meeting is just shy of completely irrelevant whatsoever. Second, in their fourth and final meeting, the Spurs were a) in a particularly bad slump and b) didn’t have Ginobili on the floor. Plus I watched this game at a bar that is packed with anti-Spurs mojo, so that’s the real reason we lost.

I’ll get this out on the table now rather than let it lurk in the shadows of everything I write over the next two weeks. I think this Lakers team is the best team in the NBA right now. I absolutely believe the Spurs can take this series, but it’s going to take some serious soul excavation to find the level of fight we’re going to need to do it. The Lakers are an incredibly impressive squad on the offensive end of the ball. Their combination of savvy veteran leadership, clever and confident ball movement and clutch scoring ability makes them a very potent unit.

In order to win this series we are going to need some serious offensive production out of our big three. In particular I think parker has a huge advantage against Fisher given his quickness. I think Parker can be intimidated by other point guards. I think Devin Harris used to intimidate him, and I think Chris Paul did a little as well. I don’t think he is intimidated by Fisher, and I hope his confidence will allow him to have a big series.

This is also a big moment for Ginobili. Duncan went up against Shaq. Last series was Parker’s chance to go toe-to-toe with the premier point guard in the league. Now it’s Manu’s turn to meet the man who perennially overshadows him. Bowen will probably cover Kobe, so it’s not really a face off in that sense, but it would make me oh so happy if Manu took it personally every time Kobe scored nonetheless. We’re going to need every bit of fight that fiery little Argentine has got.

Part of me wants to say I learned my lesson with David West and that Duncan, being our best frontcourt defender, should cover their best frontcourt scorer, Pau Gasol. But you and I and everyone knows that Popovich is going to start Oberto on him, so I’ll hold off until after game 1 to call for that move.

As far as guarding Kobe goes, and despite what I said about the irrelevance of our regular season match-ups, I’ll go back to some thoughts I had the last time we played:

“You cannot double Kobe when he goes to the hole from the wing. It is a trick, a clever rouse. He is not gonna dunk on Bowen, he wasn't beating Bowen to the hole, Bowen was consistently still square in front of him. At worst he was gonna pull up for a fade-away. If he goes through the middle of the paint, yes, clog the lane, put another body in front of him. But oftentimes (and Thomas had multiple offenses on this front) the weak side guy was collapsing on the drive from the corner and Kobe, with his excellent court vision, would find Gasol or Odom or Turiaf for the dunk or easy layup. It just leaves so much open space if you trap him once he gets to the low post. Kobe may be the best player in the league, but Gasol's percentage of open dunks made is still better than Bryant's percentage of circus shots made. I am not opposed to the trap, in fact I like it when we show a little bit of guts on the defensive end of the ball, but Kobe is gonna find the open man, so we have to be more judicious about when we double up on him.”

For other notes on successfully guarding Kobe check out Jeff Van Gundy’s interactive analysis for Play, the New York Times Sports Magazine.

My next remark is going to shock you, so buckle up: We should give Ime Udoka a lot minutes. I know, when have I ever said that before? But seriously, we need him on the floor because I think Odom creates match-up problems for us. Now that they’ve got Odom out on the wing we end up having either Ginobili or Finley guarding him oftentimes, and his size becomes a factor in those scenarios. Udoka has the foot-speed to stay with him on the wing, as well as the toughness to bang if Odom slides into the post. As I said earlier when talking about Beasley, Odom has a nebulous inside/outside game that Udoka’s defensive flexibility counters well.

I could go on about this for days, so I’ll just stop now. I’ll probably be back tomorrow with not only extended thoughts on game 1, but also some reflections on how to best counter the triangle offense, something I’ve been doing some research on for a while now. I'll also get back to you on the results from the refereeing analysis the guys at At The Hive and I did. I’ll leave you with some thoughts my pop had on the other Pop after game 7 of the Hornets-Spurs:

“Pop was brilliant last game. He put players in to contribute and pulled them before they thought they were so hot that they started to take bad shots. Guys hit two in a row and start to think it is their night (e.g., the Hornets final minute of play). There is a reason the Spurs bench is more effective and it does not stop with the players.”

UPDATE: Two quick things. First of, I totally forgot. Spurs in 7. Second, check out Dr. Lawyer IndianChief's preview of Spurs/Lakers over at Deadspin. Suffice it to say, knowing the boys over at FreeDarko, I was shocked this was the direction he went in.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

An Uprising from the Heartland

Many people think of the Spurs as some army of darkness preparing to march all over the face of the Earth, like R.C. Buford is that traitorous American guy who drinks from the wrong cup in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Popovich is an infinitely less attractive version of that deceitful Nazi chick. And much of the time the disdain others have for the Spurs only drives my passion. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved being the lone defender of the faith in a bar packed with people rooting for the Hornets last night. But its time, not just for Spurs fans, but for NBA fans, to focus on a bigger challenge. I am throwing down the gauntlet. For the good of the country we must defeat the L.A. Lakers.

I am sure this is a rallying cry many will reject, but my appeal is not to the nation as a whole, but to the ignored and the belittled, the underestimated and the unnoticed. This is an appeal to the fans of mid-market franchises.

I have always felt a special bond with the fans of teams who get little to no love from the media. It makes my blood boil every time the Eastern Sports Programming Network leads off with coverage of the Yankees, even when they are last in their division. Would the Baltimore Orioles ever get such generous coverage? I despise it when the people who call the “Byrd” years in Boston a dynasty even though the 80’s Celtics never won two in a row are the same people who say the Spurs aren’t a dynasty because they haven’t won it back-to-back.

The Spurs, like the Hornets, don’t get coverage because the league or the media slathers them with praise every time they successfully tie their shoes. They have had to earn it. But four rings later, they continue to push fallacious criticisms about our “boring” brand of basketball, despite the fact that Ginobili and Parker are two of the most dynamic players in the game. We could be a modern day manifestation of the Harlem globetrotters, but as long as we make our home on the Riverwalk, we’re not going to be an attractive franchise to corporate sports media.

Why the hell does the media drool all over the Celtics’ defensive-minded basketball, but quietly push the notion that the Spurs are “unwatchable?” The Celtics could be a .500 team and still get better coverage than the Spurs.

Or take the Knicks, for example. Awful seasons by Memphis and Milwaukee got no press whatsoever, but the turmoil in the house of Thomas was front page news 24-7. Minnesota only got press because of its long-standing relationship with Boston’s newest star. And Gasol’s trade to L.A. might as well be the only instance Memphis made it onto Sportscenter.

This is why I have always appreciated the Detroit Pistons as well. The color of their jerseys doesn’t automatically ensure them an SI cover; they earn every ounce of press they get. And how long did it take the country to wake up and notice the unbelievably astounding play of Chris Paul. Do you think it would have taken as long if he donned Laker Gold?

These conference finals aren’t just about two sets perennial rivals battling for bragging rights. It’s about conquering the best attempts of the NBA and ESPN to anoint the Lakers and the Celtics as teams of “destiny.” It’s about standing united in the face of a media apparatus that is ready to abandon New Orleans the minute it’s no longer chic to focus on its post-Katrina hardships*. It’s about every die-hard sports lover from the heartland who feels indignant because franchises supported by aloof bandwagoning fans get a leg up from the powers-at-be at every possible point along the way. This isn’t just about championships. It’s about respect.

*Ed. Note: My reference to Katrina is in no way meant trivialize the plight of the people of New Orleans or suggest that somehow basketball, much less Spurs basketball, has anything to do with the potential for a rejuvenated Crescent City. But in my frustrations I couldn't help but come across the fact that I find the entire corporate sports world's recent "support" of New Orleans to be disingenuous and condescending, and it saddens me to realize that such a beautiful city may go by the way side while the leagues and media pat themselves on the back for their generosity and successful P.R. campaigns. Just imagine how thorough the FEMA response would have been and how strong the relief effort would continue to be if a Hurricane hit a city in the Northeastern corridor.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Dream Lives On

First and foremost, I want to congratulate the New Orleans Hornets. They played a fierce and fearless series and, by not underestimating the Spurs in anyway, gave us the greatest compliment of all. I look forward to seeing this team progress in the upcoming years, and if Paul doesn't have a ring or two on his finger one of these days, I'll be shocked. Let's get down to business:

Perimeter Shooting: So I whined and complained about our perimeter shooting no matter how well we shot the entire series. We only shot .429 from beyond the arc in game 7 (I still act like that's something to complain about) but God bless every time that ball when through the net.

Duncan: Duncan came out strong but kind of flat-lined late in the game. I don't know whether his foul trouble made him hesitant or whether he just felt like he needed to carry us, but he wasn't making good decisions with the ball late in the game. In general I felt like he had a lot of opportunities to kick it out to the perimeter, in particular to Ginobili (who, as I've said, is the only Spur who I whole heartedly trust on the outside) but chose to force the shot. I'll be interested to see how his decision making plays out next series.

Parker: Tony was not aggressive this game. To be honest, I was disappointed in his offensive play, but he got the job done by distributing the ball well and only committing two turnovers (Chris Paul had 4 turnovers, by the way).

Ginobili: Manu took a lot of shots that didn't drop, but it didn't bother me because I saw the fearlessness in his eyes from the first moment. If you want to look towards one man for why the Spurs won this game, look no further than the wild-eyed Argentine. (N.B. 4-4 from the line the final minute didn't hurt, either).

Turnovers: The Spurs had 10 turnovers in the 1st half, and subsequently the Hornets kept within striking distance. The Lakers will not be so forgiving.

Role Players: Bowen, Horry, Finley and Udoka collectively went 8-16 from beyond the arc. Oberto, Finley, Thomas, Udoka, and Horry collectively had 27 rebounds. This victory was a team effort.

3rd Quarter: For once the Spurs retained their composure and tenacity during the 3rd, and it made all the difference.

Experience: There was a lot of over-emphasized discussion of "experience" in this series, but in game 7 it mattered for the first time. The Spurs ability to bounce back after allowing the lead to close to 3 emphasized exactly why this team has perennially gotten the job done in the post-season.

Chris Paul: We did a good job switching back and forth between the trap and going under the pick. Our defensive diversity made Paul think about everything an extra moment, and it lead to 4 turnovers (which oddly enough is high) and an 8-18 shooting night (his first instinct is to pass, and I think we took advantage of that). Although to a certain extent my proposed strategy worked out exactly opposite how I expected it to. Instead of go 25-8 (pts.-ast.), he went 18-14.

David West: I don't know how much West's back was hurting him but he played heroically nonetheless. He also kept his cool, which was a crucial factor in the first single digit game of the series.

Jannero Pargo: I guess if you're gonna show up, the 4th quarter of game 7 is as good a time as any. That being said, despite his spectacular 4th quarter, his idiotic toss-up with 30 odd left cost the Hornets not so much the game as even a chance at coming back. He may have lit it up in the 4th, but why the hell he thought it was his prerogative to take that shot is beyond me.

Ed. Note: I was looking back at some tape of the game, and man, did Pargo put up a lot of shots down the stretch. I don't know why he thought he was the go-to guy. I don't know why Paul put the ball in his hands so often, or why Scott didn't tell them to actually run their offense rather than let a guy who has disappeared all series chuck it up none stop.

Chandler: Tyson Chandler did as good a job defending Duncan this series as I have ever seen anyone do, and I think he deserves credit for it.

Julian Wright: I thought Wright had played well this series and was surprised Scott didn't give him any minutes (he got a DNP-CD).

Hornets Bench: If anyone had any questions about which bench is superior, they shouldn't now. Despite Pargo's very solid 4th quarter, the Hornets bench consistently played awful this series, and Wells'0-1, Marvin Ely's 0-2 and Morris Peterson's (he starts, but he's a role player, so I'm including him) 2-7 tonight only highlighted that fact.

The next round: I will be back tomorrow with a preview to the Lakers-Spurs series, as well as some thoughts on Pistons-Celtics and a piece on the brotherhood mid-market teams should feel. I wrote a piece on the last time the Spurs played the Lakers, a game in which LA really took it to SA. Many of my reflections will be based off that meeting. Also look for articles both here and at At the Hive for the follow up to our game 6 research concerning the refereeing. Have a good evening, and let's rebuild and rejuvenate New Orleans.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Long and Winding Road: A Recap of the Spurs-Hornets Series Thus Far

Over the last few days several of my friends have asked me if the Spurs can go into New Orleans and beat the Hornets. Obviously my answer is yes they “can.” But what will bring that about is a more complicated question. As I said in my recap to game 6, I have found this to be one of the more “schizophrenic” series that the Spurs have ever participated in. 6 double-digit victories, five of which were blowouts. Its tough to look back at the ins and outs of the past 6 games and see any discernable pattern, aside from the consistent dominance of the home team. Tough, but not impossible. So I’m going to take a look back at the first 6 games and see if any prominent patterns arose.

Game 1: The Hornets make a statement

In some sense I think you can lump the first two games together, because it was only in the third game that we made the big changes that we have stuck with throughout the rest of the series. In the first game, the Spurs got to the hole infrequently, as well as lived and died by the long ball. Bowen's hot shooting kept us in it in the first half, but instead of using our outside shooting as an addendum to our ability to score in the paint we used it as a crutch. Shooting 57% from the free throw line didn’t exactly help either.

The Hornets, on the other hand, had a good shooting night. In particular Peja Stojakovic played very well. Paul oftentimes found him in transition and when open on the perimeter he barely ever missed. The Hornets were also decidedly more physical than the Spurs in game 1, and the whole game seemed to highlight their youth and athleticism. The Hornets dominated the boards, even on the offensive end of the ball, which was a point of frustration for me personally.

Also Ime Udoka didn’t get a lot of minutes, and you guys know how I feel about that.

All in all, the game was actually closer than the score suggested, but for me the Spurs relied far too much on their perimeter shooting, and paid the price once they lost their hot hand.

Game 2: The Spurs begin to worry

This game, although it ended with a similar score, had a very different feel to it. First of all, it felt like a more genuine blowout. At least the second half did. But the Spurs made some improvements despite the final score.

The biggest improvement for the Spurs came in our frontcourt. Take a look back at what I said in my recap about our frontcourt play:

“In game 1 Duncan, Thomas, Oberto, Udoka and Horry collectively had 8 points. In game 2 they had 38. We banged on the inside. A good adjustment.

In game 1 Chandler had 2 fouls. David West had 0. In game 2 Chandler had 5 fouls, West had 3. We banged on the inside, and drew fouls. Good adjustment.

Rebounds: Hornets 41-Spurs 40. Not bad. Plus we had more offensive boards than they did (9 to 7).”

The primary reason our improved post play didn’t produce a more favorable outcome was our continued reliance on outside shooting. We took 27 shots from beyond the arc and made 8. This is not the first time we had been overly reliant on perimeter shooting and it would not be the last.

The other critical, and I mean critical, distinction between this game and the following four is Bowen guarded Paul in game 2, not Stojakovic.

Game 3: The Spurs climb out of the hole

The Spurs unveiled a completely different game plan in game 3 and it worked. They moved Bowen onto Stojakovic and he subsequently went 2 of 7 from the field. Parker and Ginobili got to the hoop consistently and each put up 31 points. West had a strong game and showed a lot of offensive variety.

But really the Gordian knot of this whole series is Paul. In this game we went under the screen and chose not to switch but instead had our post players stay with the guy rolling to the basket (Tyson Chandler). This had varied results. Paul scored at will in the paint but we successfully denied him other options, leading the Hornets offense to increasingly hinge on his point production. I continue to believe this is the best way to stop (or at least limit) Paul.

Game 4: The Spurs make a statement of their own

This was the actually the biggest blowout of the series, although the final score didn’t show it (I think it’s the only game were a team flirted with the idea of going up by 30).

This was the game in which the “guard everyone else but Paul” strategy worked like a charm. The Spurs forced Paul to carry the team, and he did a good but not great job. We also saw great games out of Tim Duncan and Ime Udoka, as well as some positively prolific perimeter shooting.

You also saw a lot of combustibility out of West in this game. It had been their earlier, and it would come back again.

Game 5: David West goes nova

I thought this game unfolded very similarly to game 1. Aside from the Spurs being up at half and then losing by 20, a lot of other aspects of the game mimicked their first loss. Mostly, an over-reliance on perimeter shooting. It bailed us out in the first half, but in the second we much too easily shot from beyond the arc when their was still time and space to get to the rim.

The Hornets didn’t play very well in the first half either, but luckily David West had the game of his life, and that allowed the Hornets to get back on track in the second.

The Hornets also had their best game defensively against Duncan. I know it wasn’t Duncan’s “worst” game, but in those first two he was either sick or just playing poorly. In this game he was back in the groove and they harassed him into a bad game nonetheless, which I find more impressive. They did so by defending him one-on-one until he made a move to the basket in which instance they collapsed a second man hard one him. This is actually a pretty good strategy, although if Duncan is on his game the second man may be too little, too late.

The Spurs also chose to oftentimes switch on the pick and roll, as well as double Paul when he moved into the paint, both of which are crucial.

Game 6: The Spurs get the job done

A combination of solid perimeter shooting and lockdown third quarter D sent this series back to New Orleans for game 7. We also returned to what I clearly believe is the more effective way to guard Paul: Let him score, but take away his passing options. Our best games he has had 20-30 points, but less than 10 assists.

Again, West’s inability to remain calm in tough situations pushed a team teetering on the edge right over.

The Spurs also switch back and forth between Bowen guarding Peja and Manu guarding Peja, which will be of note in a second.

Looking forward to game 7:

We have seen teams go back and forth on a couple of adjustments, in particular defensive adjustments. Here are my thoughts on what will and won’t work in game 7.

Playing Duncan One-on-One: I think the Hornets need to double Duncan. Maybe not the second he touches the ball, but if he moves to the rim you need to collapse a man on him. If he makes the smart pass to the outside, so be it. The Spurs outside shooting his been too inconsistent and if anything it encourages them to take more shots from beyond the arc, which has been an important part of every Spurs loss this series. Obviously if the Spurs are draining it from 3-point land, make an adjustment, but I think they should come out doubling Duncan. I need not remind you that a 4 time NBA Champion and 3 time NBA Finals MVP plays very well in big games.

Bowen on Peja: As this series has gone on, and despite the success we have had putting Bowen on Peja, I have become more flexible regarding this matchup, not more solidified in my stance. Obviously in games 1 and 2 where Parker would end up guarding him was a nightmare, and when Parker, Manu, and Bowen are the Spurs backcourt, Bowen should be on Peja, Parker on Paul, and Manu on Peterson. But when Parker leaves the game, and Manu is running the point, we should shift Bowen onto Paul and Manu on to Peja. Stojakovic has been doing an increasingly better job of taking Bowen off the dribble, something he can’t do as easily against Manu. Manu is also a great lock and follow defender. But more importantly, Manu is a risk-taker on the defensive end of the ball and oftentimes goes for the steal, resulting in his either getting burned by a quick guy like Paul or committing a reaching foul. If Manu picks up a couple of quick ones, either at the start of the first or the third, it will put the Spurs in a bind.

Paul: It is critical that we continue take away Paul’s passing options, even if it means giving him space to roam in the paint. He will try his best to make us regret it, but he can’t do it alone. By taking away consistent passing options the Spurs induce stagnation in the rest of their scorers. Peja’s, Chandler’s, and many other Hornets’ ability to score is directly tied to Paul. West is the only one who can produce on his own, and we need to take advantage of that.

I also have some pretty concrete thoughts about what both teams should try to do on the offensive side of the ball:

Points in the paint: Both the Spurs and Hornets need to get points in the paint. The Spurs are at their best when Duncan is nailing the bank shot, and Ginobili and Parker are getting to the rim. If we get in a mode where we’re relying on outside shooting to keep us in the game, I will be concerned. Obviously a strong performance from Finley, Bowen, Udoka, and Ginobili from beyond the arc would put us over the top, but our main offensive focus needs to be slashing and scoring on the block, not finding open 3’s on the wing.

Same goes for the Hornets. This team looks most impressive offensively when Paul is scoring in the paint, Chandler is catching alley-oops and West is nailing mid-range jumpers. They look unimpressive when Pargo or Peterson are shooting from the outside. Initially Peja looked impressive but even in their game 5 victory, he has been unable to be as productive now that Bowen is on him. So I think their primary offensive imperative is to make safe, smart passes in the paint and create open, close shots.

Perimeter Shooting: I think neither of these teams is in a place to rely on its perimeter shooting. It has just been too spotty. Originally Peja was a sure thing from beyond the arc, but we’ve beaten that point to death. Keep an eye on how many 3-point attempts both teams are taking. I’d say a high number of attempts going into half shows will go hand in hand with an inability to follow through on my previous point.

Composure/Experience: For the most part, “experience” has not been a key factor in this series, at least not an obvious one. To a certain extent, the Spurs ability to keep their cool derives from a decade of post-season play, while many of these Hornets are playing in May for the first time. Obviously the guy to keep your eye on is West. I don’t even know if West is going to play (giving the importance of the game, I bet you he gives it a shot), but if he can’t remain calm out there, it could lead to unnecessary personal fouls, or even technical fouls, while possibly infecting the rest of the team with a certain unsteadiness. This game will be physical, and unlike games 1 through 6, I think it will be close. The Hornets needs to make sure that fouls late in the fourth, even if they are questionable calls, do not cause them to lose focus.

I’ve made many of those points before, but for the most part one or two of them get ignored (I say that like Popovich and Scott are rushing to read my every last word in order to glean some advantage, but something tells me that isn’t the case).

Anyways, I think this is going to be a great game. It has already been a great series. I’ll probably be back tomorrow with some other, more esoteric reflections in the import of game 7, but I hopefully I gave you enough to chew on for a while.