Tag Archives: playoffs

2015 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference, Round 1

Listen. Listen. Listen. That’s how I’ve been taught to get people’s attention—just repeating the word listen. Are you listening?

It’s been a while since I’ve written basketball things, but, like, it’s NBA basketball season 2.0, the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that ends the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that is the NBA season in a burning blaze of glory. And I should have plenty in the tank so to speak, since I haven’t exactly availed of the aforementioned idiomatic tank in a veritable long ass time.

Atlanta Hawks (1) v. Brooklyn Nets (8)

Alright, so Kyle Korver narrowly missed being the only dude ever to make the 90-50-50 club (with a paltry 89.8 FT%, 49.2 3PT%, 48.7 FG%), but let’s be honest and admit that back in November, this was what we, the basketball elite, and Hawks fans from Macedonia to Decatur were positive was going to be the most memorable thing the Hawks did this year.

Yet somehow Coach Mike Budenholzer has orchestrated a magical season, turning a watery (pretty muddy water at that) lineup into a fine, 60-win vintage with notes of juniper berry that finish with savory, peppery undertones (read: Coach Bud is Jesus, which makes Greg Popovich God). Four of the starters made the All-Star game, only the seventh time in the history of the NBA. Collectively, they balance the 10th best offense that assists the second highest total in the NBA with the 5th best defense—all without anyone averaging more than 17 points or 33 minutes per game (both: Paul Millsap).

The Hawks have given us shades of the Spurs-East, and at times have been the most entertaining team to watch in the NBA (sorry I’m not sorry, Steve Kerr). This has been in large part due to the revelation Al Horford has been, putting up numbers not unlike The Big Fundamental Tim Duncan, himself.

               Player A: 18.0p, 8.4r, 3.8a, 1.5b, 53.8fg%, 21.4 PER, 8.7 WS

               Player B: 17.3p, 11.4r, 3.7a, 2.4b, 51.2fg%, 22.6 PER, 9.6 WS

Hold the suspense. Horford is Player A. Let’s keep in mind, Horford played only 29 games last season and 11 games two seasons before that.

Lastly, in your NBA playoff bacchanalia that I’ve been assured other people do as well and is a perfectly normal ass thing to do in celebration of the greatest sports event ever, don’t’ forget to pour one out for Thabo.

PREDICTION: Give me the broom. Give me the broom. *sung to Biggie’s “Give Me the Loot.” Hawks sweep.

Toronto Raptors (4) v. Washington Wizards (5)

This will be the second most intriguing matchup in the East. 2 things to watch out for besides the backcourt battle:

  1. Toronto GM Masai Ujiri launching another f-bomb in a pre-playoff game hype train spinning off a geopolitical beef with Paul Pierce that may or may not include POTUS, launch codes, and chants of Buck the FlueJays till infinite.
  2. What banal and innocuous hygiene tool will DRAKE! turn into one of the most brilliant marketing schemes of the year? What could possibly be better than lint rollers? Floss? Toenail clippers (wait, Steve Ballmer, did we just stumble into something together?!)? Hair curlers? Those tiny paper cups that fancy people keep in a dispenser for rinsing mouthwash? Indentured servants? Lest we forget, since DRAKE! officially partnered with the Raptors organization as “Trill Ass Global Skrilla Ambassador” or T.A.G.S.A., they have gone from a 34-win team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 5 years to one of the best teams in the shitty Eastern Conference to get bounced in the first round.

PREDICTION: Toronto will make it to the second round for the first time since 2001 and for only their second time in franchise history. It will take all 7 games, a whole goddamn country’s sheer force of will, and a Jimmy Brooks type effort.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v. Boston Celtics (7)

Kyrie Irving has never played in a playoff game before. Neither has Kevin Love. The Celtics are surging. Brad Stevens is a wiz. All true statements. There’s also this:

Oof, harumph, and bazinga. Lebron James in the playoffs has averaged 28.0p, 6.4a, 8.4r on a crazy 48.2 fg% in an inhuman 42.7 playoff minutes per game. 2013 Finals, Game 6:

2008 First Round, Game 1 (LBJ first career playoff game):

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7:

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1:

2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2:

2014 Finals:

He may just eat your babies:

PREDICTION: Cavs in 5.

 

Chicago Bulls (3) v. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

This matchup is super duper fun times for basketball wonks. The Bulls find themselves in a rare position where they’re facing a statistically superior defense come playoff time (although marginally so)—97.4 pts Bucks allowed per game v. 97.8 Bulls allow. Oddly, the Bucks score precisely the amount of points the Bulls allow—97.8. Jason Kidd has turned this band of long-armed avatars into the 8th best defense in the league with the most steals per game (9.6), all while sharing the ball at the 7th best clip with 23.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, the hustle J Kidd has inculcated into his young shapeshifters come at the cost of rebounds. They rank 24th in the rebounds while the Bulls tally the 3rd best rebounding rate in the NBA. Have I mentioned the Bucks height yet though? The starters come in averaging 6’9”, of which they’ll need every inch to corral Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, while staving off a deep and talented Bulls front court. The major storyline for the Bulls: emergence and resurgence.

Pau Gasol playing like it’s 2005, bumping Lil Wayne on his 512 GB iPod Shuffle on the way to a cool 18.5p on an alarming 49.5 fg% and even more alarming 46.2 3pt%—oh yeah, and there’s the career high in rebounding (11.8).

Nikola Mirotic making the case for Rookie of the Year and James (Harden) Beard Award honors averaging 20.8p, 7.6r on 44.1 fg% in just 30.8 mpg in March.

Jimmy Butler emerging as a go to offensive player in addition to the nightly guard-the-best-perimiter-player role he’s so dutifully filled the last few years; in addition to resurging this past month, following a few weeks of a bona fide injury scare.

Taj Gibson also coming back from injury in the last month to put up solid double-double-esque numbers.

Joakim Noah finally moving the floor like the 20something he is, running the floor, getting those assist numbers up from 3.5 in January to 7.2 in March.

Derrick Rose suiting up at all.

PREDICTION: Jason Kidd will find a way to get fined sans spilling drinks (though he’ll undoubtedly think about it), and it’ll be the most entertaining defensive slugfest you’ve ever seen. Bulls in 6

 

Doodads and Knickknacks

 

MVP for Lebron

Lebron James is a phenomenal basketball player and deserves the MVP award.

From a statistical standpoint, he scores more than Steph Curry but less than Harden. He assists more than Harden, but less than Curry. He outrebounds them all. He has the highest field goal percentage on the highest attempts. He is without a doubt the best defender of the group.

Then there’s the how-valuable-is-he-to-the-team wrinkle that gives blowhards like Colin Cowherd the leeway to say stupid shit on airwaves like Russell Westbrook is the second coming of Shaft and White Jesus.

But ultimately, I think it comes down to this: the Cavs we’re looking at now didn’t exist 12 months ago. The coach is new. Two of the three best players are new, and only four players remain from last season’s roster. Whereas the Golden State Warriors are effectively the same team. Even the Houston Rockets’ continued core brain trust of Kevin McHale, James Harden, Dwight Howard and those three other dudes that were also on the roster last season positively impacted this season’s record. If continuity establishes trust, which is the bedrock of the game within the game, the turnover and new environments must be considered. That James could perform comparably to Curry and Harden in brand new (old) conditions, points to his deservingness.

I tried to start this section with something like “Stephen Curry and James Harden have had prodigious years…” I really did try, and they totally have. But fuck that. I get it. Nobody likes to see the same person win everything for forever. But the shear amount of articles I get bombarded with about the closeness of this MVP race that don’t actually go into the argument for Lebron James is an insult. We only get Lebron for like another 5 years. Maybe. He deserves all of it. Everything.

Pitchforks for Michael Jordan

I had the good fortune of stumbling onto the below beauty of a quote from the G.O.A.T., His Royal Airness Michael Jordan. In a 2010 interview with CNBC, Jordan prophesized, “Ultimately, if you can say that I’m a bad owner and we’re winning championships, I can live with that. But if we’re not making the playoffs and we’re spending and losing money, then I have to look in the mirror and say maybe I’m not taking the necessary steps to doing what it takes to run an organization.” If by some miracle, MJ ever happened upon this paragraph (he won’t), I want to maintain a semblance of respect and dignity (a first), so I won’t say the thing I really want to say (also a first). I wouldn’t venture to say eat crow, but maybe the lackluster performance as owner is having disastrous effects on the legacy of MJ? Pish posh and thimbles and stuff. We love you anyway, you gambling, self-aggrandizing, conceited, arrogant, bald, beautiful old-ladykiller, you.

Bitterness and Glee Reign, Man

Last night, Shawn Kemp hosted a party in celebration of the Thunder missing the playoffs. It was amazing. Or at least, I think it was. I have kids and was building a bunk bed from IKEA while everyone was getting turnt at Neumos. Thank god for Twitter:

The Mariners, luck and overcoming adversity

So here we are.

Coming into the season, if you were to tell me that the Mariners would be a mere half game back from the Tigers in the Wild Card spot in September, I would have likely told you to politely go fuck yourself. That being said, now that the Mariners are in this situation, expectations have skyrocketed and the whole “at least we were competitive” argument doesn’t work for me anymore.

This Mariners team is good. Over the course of a season, many things can go right and many things can go wrong. Baseball mitigates some of this statistical chaos by virtue of having 162 games a season and with it, pretty enormous sample sizes. Despite this, there is a luck factor that inevitably worms its way into any conversation regarding professional sports and the Mariners are not exempt from this motif. Roenis Elias has been far better than anyone could have predicted as an untested rookie making his first starts above AA to begin the season. Chris Young has been astronomically better than his status as a last-ditch reclamation project would have indicated at the year’s beginning (though of late some chinks in the armor have revealed themselves). Both of these circumstances can be portrayed by nay-sayers as being instances of “luck” insofar as players wildly exceeded what would have been tepid expectations from even the most optimistic of fans.

Yet, cherry-picking feel-good stories as a means to discredit a ballclub that has been, if not play-off caliber then at least something approaching it, is fucking whack. There have been far more disappointments for the Mariners this year then there have been surprise contributors. At the beginning of Spring Training, we were looking at having Taijuan Walker and James Paxton in the rotation at year’s beginning. Taijuan found himself hurt at the beginning of camp and struggled to regain his form following an extended absence. James Paxton began the season with the club only to injure himself for the vast majority of the season following a dick-tickling display of early-season dominance.

While untested—a guy with Taijuan’s stuff could have undoubtedly made this team better. Recent history shows that untested pitching prospects with great stuff, while not always measuring up to their full potential, trend towards being at least serviceable guys which, when following proven veterans Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in the rotation is certainly enough to assemble a solid rotation.

Paxton, on the other hand, has picked up right where he left off at the beginning of the year. The rotation this year has been a strength. I shudder to think what it could have been like with a full season of healthy James Paxton pitching the way he is presently.

On the position side of things—remember the insane MDMA-fueled optimism regarding Brad Miller at the beginning of the season? He has lost his job to a guy drafted in the 6th round labelled as a glove-only shortstop with some speed being his only serviceable offensive tool. While I think those reports regarding the aforementioned shortstop (Chris Taylor) were largely unfair, it does little to change the reality that the Mariners were forced to compensate for Brad Miller losing all semblance respectability at the plate and cratering in a way that most deemed, if not impossible, then comically unlikely.

Remember our starting centerfielder? Which one(?) you may ask if you are one of the few people who hasn’t amnesia-fucked Abraham Almonte out of your brain-cube by now. The Mariners have had several starting centerfielders this season including the aforementioned Almonte, non-prospect James Jones, Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders and now the far more reliable Austin Jackson. Of those players (disregarding recent acquisition Austin Jackson who I have coveted for years) Michael Saunders is the only player better than replacement level. Michael Saunders, who could be one of the better players on the club, has not been healthy all year and is presently mired in an extended rehab stint with no definitive date of return.

How about Cory Hart and Justin Smoak? Hart, a player who I had tabbed for a big-time resurgence has been utterly worthless. Smoak, a player who I had tabbed to remain a waste of the space he occupies continued to be himself, which is to say, bad.

The replacements? Logan Morrison who has yet to raise his head above the stagnant nether-regions of his sub-0.700 OPS and Kendrys Morales who has yet to return to the form we saw last year when he was the most consistent offensive producer on the team.

Despite all of this, the Mariners are a good team. We have had our fair share of disappointments and despite them, have felt like a team that is capable of winning games without them seeming like wild flukes. We have one of the best run differentials in the league, a bullpen that has been largely lights out and a rotation headed by two of the best pitchers in the game. We have 2 position players in the middle of the order (Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano) who are, as we stand right now, worth more than 5 WAR apiece.

Now we head to a 4 game series against the Rangers. While the Mariners are an example of a team that has exceeded expectations by responding favorably to adversity, the Rangers are an example of a projectably superior club at season’s beginning that has been subsequently sodomized by injuries and negative regression.

On paper, this is an opportunity for the Mariners to do some damage and firmly entrench ourselves as leaders in the playoff race. Now we just need to do the damn thing.

Go M’s…

…and Seahawks too. By the way HOW FUCKING SICK would it be for the Mariners to sneak their way into the playoffs during the NFL season? If I could watch the Seahawks continue their dominant run in the regular season while also getting the privilege of watching playoff baseball with something at stake…needless to say work, responsibility and human interaction may have to be reduced to beer, pizza, hot dogs and escapism. Oh and what a sweet escape it will be. I’m gonna live forever.

Why We Play: NBA Finals Coverage Pt. 2

“There is another world, but it is inside this one.” –W.B. Yeats

“It makes last year okay.” –Tim Duncan

»«

The pinnacle of basketball achievement. The crown of buckets. The chef-d’œuvre of the hardwood. The Pink Panther diamond for the Inspector Clouseaus of the NBA world. The highest holiness of hoops.

Last night capped a thrilling—if somewhat surprising—2014 NBA Finals.

For the casual observer, Tim Duncan hoisting his fifth Larry O’Brien trophy and the youngest player ever to win the Bill Russell Finals MVP was just another cool thing that happened in the landscape of the ever-cool NBA. And it was. Cool. Really, really, really cool.

But it was also more than that.

From the moment the NBA Finals ended last year, the San Antonio Spurs have diligently, unwaveringly been working to craft all of what this past season would be about for them (if this sounds familiar, read: crush a narrative, little narrative, roll a narrative, take a narrative). Like a mantra or a basketball bouncing in an empty gym, you could hear it reverberating with every pass, every swish, every bank: Run it back.

Since June 20th, 2013: run it back. After watching the Heat celebrate on their court: run it back. For 361 consecutive days: run it back. From the start of training camp: run it back. For every practice: run it back. To every reporter’s question: run it back. The 20 regular season games they lost: wait till we run it back.

Last night the Spurs finally paid off that promise uttered countless times on pick up courts the world over.

As the simple three word phrase flatly implies, “run it back” is a statement of ego. A dare, a provocation, a challenge to the opposing player, the opposing team to score on me, win it all—again.

Anyone with half a brain, who has seen any Spurs games over any period of time in the last 12 months could see in the way they played, they were “Run it back” mode.  And until Tim Duncan’s post-game sideline interview with Doris Burke, I never gave much thought to the Spurs’ reaction—other than the almost obligatory, “This team is ridonkulous. They’ll probably get what exactly what they want and make the Finals again.”

But in Tim Duncan’s disarming quietness, in his unflinching and somehow original expression of trite sports clichés in the face of an aspirationally awkward first question, he unearthed something deeper than ego, truer to the condition of humanity, necessary to the human psyche.

          Burke: How does your team climb the mountain back to NBA Champion?

          Duncan: Great coaching. Persistence. Drive. Love for the game. We remembered what happened last year and how it felt in that locker room. And we used it and built on it and got back here, and it’s amazing. It makes last year okay.

Did you hear that? It makes last year okay. He hesitates, then lets it spill. It makes last year okay.

Up until that moment, I had never thought forgiveness (true forgiveness, not the good-sportsmanship-I’ll-help-you-out-after-that-flagrant-foul-slash-flop-city forgiveness) had a place in the world of sports—professional or amateur.

In the testosterone driven, ultra-competitive sporting arena, it’s no surprise we use the metaphors of war: our athletes are warriors and we expect them to battle. Yet Duncan—demonstrating true bravery and more than any other professional athlete today—stands as a vanguard for the kind, the loving, the sensitive—the warrior with feelings. He has always been a great teammate. The way he holds Tony after a victory, or goes forehead-to-forehead with Manu speaks volumes on Duncan’s passion and reliability.

What makes this particular confession from Duncan so startlingly profound though is the subject of his forgiveness: himself and his team (but mostly himself).

If forgiveness is “the release of all hope for a better past,” then that moment, that hesitation was the release. And without the past driving his actions, Duncan was finally able to  (perhaps for the first time all season) be present, live and experience that moment of joy.

Even in that definitive moment of triumph, wherein he had all the right to say some shit about We The Champs or Being King of the World (read: Kevin Garnett), Duncan—as he has consistently, and more so as of late—acquiesces into an apparently honest expression, letting slip the profound humanity of basketball.

Basketball is the most team of sports (I’m pretty sure I’ve written that a dozen times now), and within these lines, positions and roles, there is and always has been another game happening (the most important one). That game within the game relies, fundamentally and absolutely, on the relationships and understanding built from the players involved.

It should come as no surprise that feelings, aspirations, being sensitive to others needs and desires play a critical role in the formulation of a basketball team. After all, they mean a lot to our day-to-day lives and the narrative we impose on them. They—along with ego, forgiveness, joy, heartbreak and the like—are a necessary part of navigating the world, and being, you know, human.

Yet yesterday, thanks to Tim Duncan, I discovered—maybe re-remembered—yet another layer of this sport that I have loved for so long. Every facet of humanity has a place and, more importantly, belongs out there on the court—even forgiveness, self-forgiveness.

And so it was with an ambivalent heart that I celebrated a San Antonio victory last night.

Despite my fanatical impulses, I still feel like I managed to take this NBA season for granted—as if I hadn’t milked every possible triumph and tragedy, small or large, out of it. I had expected the Finals series to last at least six, probably seven games—I would milk another couple blog posts and few more thousand words out it.

But that wasn’t the case, and as giddy as the season began, it ended.

Here are the five things from the five games worth remembering in five years:

The Spurs Were Better Than the Heat

It seems so obvious. But all too often in our headline-driven sports world, the biggest characters dominate the narrative—even if they don’t deserve it (see: Johnny Manziel, Jimmer Fredette). Maybe this time will be different (it won’t) but I hold out for the 2014 Finals being remembered as one of the greatest demonstrations of excellence exhibited by any team ever, not the Finals were Lebron cramped, Wade showed his age, or the last run of Miami’s big three.

In the last three games, the Spurs played the kind of basketball that makes coaches wet themselves. Ball movement, team defense, ball movement, excellent shot selection, ball movement, off-ball screens, ball movement, fantastic shooting, ball movement.

They passed so much, it made heads spin. In last night’s stupor, I did manage one coherent thought: I will not spend the off-season disparaging the Miami Heat for their generally crappy play.

They lost their losses badly—by the margins of 15, 19, 21 and 17. Their only victory came by one possession.

In a twist of fate architected by the forces responsible for Benjamin Button, the Heat looked older, slower, and unfocused down the stretch.

Pretty much the exact opposite of Brad Pitt:

Lebron seemed to the only player who was trying—until Michael Beasley came in. Thank God for Michael Beasley, I remembered thinking.

(WHAT THE HELL! AT ONE POINT, I ACTUALLY FOUND MYSELF WONDERING IF MICHAEL BEASLEY IS THE ANSWER TO ALL THE HEAT’S PROBLEMS. THAT’S HOW BAD IT GOT, THAT WE’RE WRITING SENTENCES LIKE THAT!!)

No. The Spurs played a brand of basketball barely conceivable by a single human mind. They made honest yet another trite sports cliché: that a true team of solid players can beat one truly great player. This off-season shall remain a celebration of San Antonio.

The Duncan Shot

I’ve already waxed poetic on Tim Duncan. I could almost certainly continue for another thousand words, but instead:

(How many words are gif worth?)

Duncan was among the first to criticize his missed “bunny” shot in last year’s Finals that would have sealed the deal. Given the weight of the last eleven months, this prevails as the only Duncan shot in the Finals that matters.

The Karowning of Kawhi

At the start of the month, Greg Popovich told everyone, Kawhi Leonard was the “future of the Spurs.” Pop failed mention, however, that “the future” meant two weeks from now.

Heralded now and for the rest of his life as the youngest NBA Finals MVP ever, Kawhi took over games four, five and six. No doubt, Kawhi led the Spurs team, and he did it entirely in deed, averaging 23.6 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals on a ridiculous 69% shooting over the least three games. In that stretch he also lead the team in both minutes played (112) and +/1 (+59)—an incredibly difficult feat.

More impressive than Leonard’s obvious statistical effort was his abrupt lack of deference. It was as if he suddenly flipped the switch for a well-spring of confidence. On two-on-ones (which he earned fairly often post-steals), instead of passing the rock up, or worse, hesitating, Kawhi would determinedly put his head down around the free throw line and take it to whoever happened to be in his way—if there was anyone there at all:

His hand checking defense is almost as fun to watch:

Then there was this…

I was holding my six month old son when Sugar K Leonard happened all over that put-back. It may have been the metric ton of baby food he just ate, but he literally shit his pants.

Another angle (including Duncan’s reaction—only adding to the list of reasons he’d be fun to play with):

Ultimately, the question with Kawhi going forward will be what kind of leader will he become?

In his first two NBA seasons, even in his last three games, he didn’t have to be the vocal leader. With the triumvirate of mentors and Pop at the helm, he only had to bring the passion, meet their words with play (which is, alone, an incredible feat for anyone, much less a 22 year old).

Sugar K clearly has the skill set, but the person he chooses to be on the basketball court will most likely be the biggest self-determinant to his hoops success. Will he continue the tradition of the quiet and sensitive Duncan? Will something snap in the depths of his psyche that turns him into Gary Payton? What happens if, somehow beyond reason, Kawhi changes teams, changes coaches?

Fortunately with Pop on the side line, K’s got quiet the safety net to experiment with.

Old man got game, not old man game

I’ve written a lot about old man game. I have a special affinity for old man game. That’s because I have never played near the rim, much less above it, so I only know how to play with old man game.

My fault in talking about NBA practitioners of Old Man Game is that I often cheer on their methods, forgetting entirely that those players didn’t come into the NBA ancient. Fortunately, a couple almost-40-somethings wore their Marty McFlies and reminded the world that the 90s were not that long ago. I swear.

First there was Ray #Jesussaves Allen:

Then Manu turning back the clock—clearly inspired by fellow Argentine Lionel Messi’s goal earlier that day:

Then again there’s Duncan. He’s 38. And I’ve already written a novella about him in the last month.

Zero to hero: A Spurs Rite of Passage

In the 2013 Finals before the Heat went nuts, I thought the Spurs had found the future big three in Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, and Danny Green. Silly me.

Neal parlayed a pretty okay playoff run into a $3.25 million check signed the Milwaukee Bucks. Green returned to Earth and saw his production and minutes decrease (which is sort of a non-sequitur for the Spurs).

Entering the off-season as a free agent, Mills is poised to follow in Neal’s footsteps.

  2013 Finals Neal: 9.4 p, 0.9 a, 2.4 r, 47% 3pt, 41% fg

          2014 Finals Mills: 10.2 p, 1.6 a, 1.4 r, 57% 3pt, 54% fg

Make it rain, Patty. Make it rain.

Since Tony Parker was sidelined for 14 games and Mills stepped into the starting lineup, all he did was play out of his mind.

In a blind player comparison for these Finals:*

Player A: 24.2 p, 3.8 a, 3.3 r, 57% 3pt, 54% fg

Player B: 15.9 p, 2.7 a, 4 r, 34% 3pt, 44% fg

Player C: 18.4 p, 4.7 a, 0.4 r, 42% 3pt, 48% fg

Player D: 18.1 p, 5.5 a, 3.8 r, 42% 3pt, 50% fg

*per 36 minutes

Can you guess which one is Patty Mills? In order: Patty, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

By all accounts, Mills seems to be a pretty funny Aussie, too, so he’ll probably end up sticking with the Spurs. Let’s hope so.

 

#BREAKING: ADAM SILVER FIXES GAME ONE OF NBA FINALS, INDUCES CRAMPGATE

Sources working in the Samsung Galaxy S5 maintenance department of the AT&T Center recently revealed that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was single-handedly responsible for the suspiciously high temperature on court for game one of the NBA Finals.

The conditions resulted in Lebron James’ inability to finish the game due to cramps, and the subsequent stupid people party on Twitter (as per the norm). #crampgate

Widely lauded for his recent swift and decisive action against raging racist team owners, an apparently half-naked Silver was found in one of the facility’s air vents in possession of a monkey wrench and “an unnatural look in his eye.”

Reportedly, Silver was only discovered after he had banged away the entire bass line to Katy Perry and Juicy J’s “Dark Horse.”

Upon being discovered, Silver screamed “Gotcha motherfuckers!” and sprinted off muttering something about cocktails with Bill Belichick and the Chinese Minister of Sports…

Basketball Geometry: Does it really matter?

After a thoroughly riveting first two rounds in the NBA Playoffs, the Conference Finals gave us what we thought was going to happen 10 months ago. For the last week, the one-two matchups in both conferences have each been exactly what you’d expect. Until last night.

The Miami Heat and the Spurs have been on cruise control for weeks. Even with the Indiana Pacers’ surprising burst in game one (read: the juries back, the Indiana Pacers aren’t that good), the Heat smoldered onward.

With the San Antonio Spurs crushing Portland and charging out the gates in the Western Finals, almost everyone would have concurred 2 hours ago, we’re getting a Finals rematch.

Then Russell Westbrook decided to do Russell Westbrook things. Kevin Durant sneezed a 31-5-5. And Serge Ibaka built a 25-foot wall, a moat and draw bridge around the paint.

Enter intrigue.

Gregg Popovich has spent the last weeks fine-tuning his Spurs, yet for all the carefully laid out scheming, the unfolding geometry and beautiful cuts and rolls he’s been orchestrating, the Oklahoma City thunderous Supersonics, like a scorned child high on cotton candy and pixie stix, came in and kicked, squashed, spat and generally disrespected every facet of the Pop code.

Geometry is critical to basketball execution. Spacing, movement, passes, threes and layups all have their place. In any given basketball scenario, there is a right time for any one of them.

OKC doesn’t care about that.

»«

Like most hoop fanatics that don’t have a membership to a gym with hoops, that live to recreate their glory days, I’ve picked up a rhythm of pick-up games around town—an elementary school on Sundays, a church on Tuesdays, another church on Thursdays and any hoop (Fisher-Price or fiberglass) any time in between.

Usually, guys are clamoring to play indoors. Shielded from the inconsistencies of inclement weather, 17 people to two hoops is not uncommon. For die-hards 100 minutes in a gym for 20 minutes on the court is part of the game. If anything, it adds to the incentive to win. The more you win, the more you play.

Last night only six people showed up at the local church gym, and only two of us had ever played organized ball. It was some of the best ball I’ve played in months.

My squad was clearly the less talented one. I was the primary ball-handler, and that’s never been good for any team I’ve ever been on. Along with my out-of-shape midrange game, we had a nine-year old, four-foot, shoot-first point guard with penchant for bad decisions and a 6’4” 300 pound center who never strayed beyond 10 feet.

We faced the two most athletic dudes on the court. They came in together and had an obvious rapport.

We won every game.

Going into the game, we had no idea how special our play was going to be. As the only guy who could match up athletically, I knew that I was going to have to work harder than usual, helping out on defense and carrying the offense. If my teammates were as tepid as I was, they didn’t show it. On the other hand, the other team felt great about their chances, and didn’t hide it.

On the first possessions, I sent an entry pass to our big on the left low block. He gave up five feet on the catch, but got most of it back backing his guy down. Having used up most of his energy though, he couldn’t figure out how to finish, so he sent it back out to me.

pickup 1

I drove into the lane away from the bigs, drawing the little guy’s defender to me. Sensing the collapse, our nine-year old sidled back over to the  top of the arc for a wide open three.

pickup 2

 

He heaved every ounce of his 85-pound body into the ball, launching it 28 feet. pickup 3As I tracked the ball in the air for what felt like forever, I knew that the whole night and, subsequently, how I felt about myself and the people around me for the immediate future would be determined by our little guy’s ability to sink exactly this kind of shot.

He drained it.

Betraying the beautiful absurdity of sport, that single fabulous little man jumper lifted up the spirits of over 525 pounds and five decades worth of teammates. We were floating on cloud 9-year old all night long.

On the next possession, we ran almost exactly the same play. Swish.

That’s when I knew it was over. The rest of the night, we played what Bill Bradley and other philosophers of the game call “pure basketball.” Nearly every basket came off an assist. One-on-one plays never took our team out of rhythm. We played inside and outside. When the shot was taken away, we drove. When the drive was taken away, we shot. And we always passed.

«»

Among the array of things basketball is, basketball is a language. Like all languages, it has rules, permutations and its share of quirks. Due to its inherent physicality, however, communication happens quickly, and with the right chemistry almost instantaneously.

Our unlikely trio had never played together before. Hell, we’d never said more than three words to each other before we started. We may have said three words during play. Maybe. Yet we seemed to gel almost instantaneously. Part of it was the kid sank his first two shots, we took a 4-0 lead (which in pick-up can seem an unsurmountable lead).

Most of it was that we identified each other’s roles early on and allowed that to dictate our spacing. Our big was the biggest, stayed close to the rim. Our shooter shot the best, floated beyond the arc. Our skill sets were so limited that we never over extended ourselves, trespassed onto each other’s territory.

»«

The Oklahoma City Supersonics trespassed all over the Spurs last night.

The Sonics didn’t just exact revenge, they crushed the Spurs, left them rattling, and for the first time in weeks, looking vulnerable.

The reason San Antonio’s loss is so jarring, was because there was no game planning around OKC. The aberration of OKC’s game when it’s on (like it was last night) is supernatural. Their formula is a simple: 1) you take the best pure scorer ever, the most ferocious two-way point guard in the NBA and the most intimidating shot blocker with simultaneously intimidating range, and 2) you let them all loose on the same court at the same time (Scott Brooks occasionally points them in the right direction).

Last night, KD and Westbrook combined for 71 points. Ibaka blocked more shots in his two games back (7) than his whole team did without him in games one and two (6). Ibaka’s defense is somehow more reliable than both Westbrook and KD going off simultaneously like that again. When those points are coming off leaping steals and 38-foot threes, it’s enthralling, a wonder, unbelievable, but impossible to sustain for four games against the one the most prolific teams in recent history coached by the most prolific coach in recent history.

The Western Conference Finals has been an exercise in supreme strategy v. prodigious freeplay.

Will the Spurs be ready for game 5? Of course they will. That’s a question for lesser teams—like the Pacers. Confidence is on OKC’s side. They just held the Spurs to under 100 points two games in a row; San Antonio has only been held under 100 in three games prior this playoffs. Of more pressing concern: the next three games will be a referendum on Scott Brooks.