Tonight in Detroit, despite some third quarter officiating that looked like the Association had ordered a Game 7 on Sunday, the Celtics crushed the Pistons in the fourth quarter and finished their series. And it was so captivating, with so much flow, that it made me want to channel surf, watch a DVD, or maybe do the dishes. Notes below for fans of either team, the Association, or relentlessly ugly basketball.
> The first half gave the Pistons crowd a taste of what was to come, as the grinding pace of most of the series was evident early on. The Celtics also spent far too many shots from their point guards than their stars, but the continued revival of Ray Allen gave them the lead.
> Say this for Rajon Rondo: he rebounds well. I'm pretty sure that Phil Jackson will exploit his weaknesses (no outside shot, questionable decisions under pressure, bad free throw shooting), and Derek Fisher is about to open a world of ancient Jedi point guard trickery on him, but for a game where his man (Chauncey Billups) was scoring, he didn't wilt.
> The Association can not start fining players for flopping fast enough. Most of the second half in this game had bodies on the floor on nearly every possession, both from the teams gearing up on defense, and also for the fact that with so many whistles happening, it seemed like the safest thing to do. It's getting very close to the point where this isn't basketball, and with the league taking out so much of the tension from hard fouls, it has next to no entertainment value.
> Every NBA analyst, when faced with a player getting a technical foul, feels like it's a time to sermonize on how selfish, silly, stupid, et al the player must be for getting hit with it. Rarely, very rarely, you'll hear someone rake the referee over the coals for it. But you never really hear the idea that (a) the single free throw isn't really that big of a deal, in the course of a game, and (b) maybe, just maybe, the technical is kind of the basketball equivalent of the pitcher hitting a batter, in that it isn't something they want to usually do, but might choose on some occasions to change the mood. Tonight, the subtext of "Rasheed Wallace could get a technical and miss Game Seven!" was high. Sheed didn't get that tech, but he's missing Game Seven anyway. The techs didn't really matter.
> Sam Cassel was on the floor tonight, and for the life of me, I can't understand why. He brings nothing to the Celtics now, unless you're so convinced that his veteran presence and yada yada yada is bringing something, when his bad on the ball defense, poor decision-making and bad shooting isn't a problem. I do not get what Eddie House did to stop getting run, but I hope it was worth it.
> There was a play in the third quarter, as the Pistons were building a lead, where Paul Pierce got his man in the air, leaned in and banked in a three... and was called for initiating the contact, a call that I've almost never seen made, and one that was completely out of kilter with the way the game was being called. Serious props to the Celtics for fighting through it.
> Sheed's night wasn't good, and the strongest memory for Pistons Fan will be watching him pick up his fifth foul, go to the bench, then toss a towel into the camera that had come over to get his reaction. For a team that's always in the Final Four, the Pistons are surprisingly bad in tense situations like this.
> How hard was this game to watch? At one point in the fourth, with the game on the line, Jeff van Gundy actually sad, "Post up basketball. It may be boring, but it's efficient!" and continued on his merry way from there. A rule of thumb... when someone tells you how great something is, it's not great. Believe your eyes.
> The Pistons seem to have a future, in that they've got good young players like Jason Maxiell and Rodney Stuckey, and Tayshaun Prince isn't old... but at some point, doesn't the three rounds of playoffs start to give these guys advanced injury issues, not to mention trust problems from past failures? It's not like they won't get in the playoffs again, but they've become the basketball equivalent of the '90s Braves.
> The Pistons had any number of three-point attempts to make the last few minutes of the game meaningful, and they not only didn't make one, they didn't even get close. They looked gassed to me, or at the very least, looking to get on the golf course.
> The Celtics get their rest now, and they also have home court. But even if I did like their chances with a superstar that's uncomfortable in clutch time versus one that thrives on it, here's the only thing I need to know to pick the Lakers... Phil Jackson versus Doc Rivers. Add that to the strong edge that is the Lakers bench, and you can guess where I'm going with the next round pick. But that's for another day...
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Tonight in Detroit, despite some third quarter officiating that looked like the Association had ordered a Game 7 on Sunday, the Celtics crushed the Pistons in the fourth quarter and finished their series. And it was so captivating, with so much flow, that it made me want to channel surf, watch a DVD, or maybe do the dishes. Notes below for fans of either team, the Association, or relentlessly ugly basketball.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Your link is here, and yes, I've been all of them. At the same time. That, my friends, is talent. (Well, OK, not so much on the drunk fighting guy, because even while intoxicated, I'm puny and cowardly. But the rest, hell yeah.)
Closing time in Los Angeles tonight, as the Lakers shook off a sluggish start and rode Kobe Bryant's 39 points (26 in the second half) for the kill shot. The Lakers go back to the Finals for the first time since Shaq, with a 100-92 win.
The Spurs blew two of the biggest leads in the playoffs in this series -- a 20 point lead in Game 1, a 17 point one tonight -- and there's a very good reason why: they are old, old, old, and even older than that, since they've got all of those playoff road miles on the tires as well. You can also talk here, if you must, about how the Spurs lost this series in Game 1, the same way the Suns lost their series in Game 1.
In the first half, the Spurs built their big lead on three point shooting, but that dried up with a vengeance in the second half, and the Laker bench cut the big lead down before the half. For the Spurs, Tim Duncan did everything he could to carry them up the mountain, but the simple fact of this series is that Manu Ginobili only played well in one game, and that was the only one they won.
If you're looking for a better Finals, root for the Celtics to finish things off in Detroit in Game 6, but it should not matter either way, simply because Bryant is just on another level right now. Tonight, he scored huge hoops over Duncan when they needed them, and he just seems to be playing at a different conditioning level than everyone else when the chips are down.
The Spurs still have Parker and Duncan, and maybe Manu gets back with rest and health. But they were always working harder to get the same results in this series, and it's hard to see how they're going to get better. They'll have cash to throw around, assuming they bow to reality and avoid some of the older vets on their roster, but there's suddenly a lot of holes here, and Duncan's not getting any younger or better. They are just one big injury away from missing the playoffs entirely next year. They just lost in five in a series where Bruce Bowen played his best ball in years; he's not getting younger either.
For the Lakers, it's just been lightning in a bottle, with the Gasol deal just the security blanket that made everything else fit. If the Finals turn out to be Lakers-Celtics, it will be a simple sign of what it takes to win -- taking another franchise in a ludicrous trade, so that you have two franchises worth of talent boiled down to one team. Nice work if you can get it.
And for the final note, tonight was the last TNT game of the year. How will I live without the obese laughter lampreys of Tyler Payne, Bill Engvald's milk-fed whore daughter, the never-funny shtick of The Closer, and the 15 years past her prime of sassy Holly Hunter? Oh, right. Easily and with great relief...
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Your link is here, and seriously... flopping needs to end in our lifetime, and it would if we had just a half dozen refs with any trace of balls. If they just spent a game or two calling fake flops technicals, I guarantee you'd see a better game. Within just one ballsy week...
I missed most of the first three quarters of tonight's game due to tonight's Colbertification, but I caught the important parts. The Celtics played their best game of the playoffs (adjusting for the degree of the opponent), getting big efforts from Garnett, Allen, Pierce and (!) Perkins, and held off some shaky crunch-time decision making to take the 3-2 series lead.
> I've never seen a player (Detroit's Rip Hamilton) get poked in the eye to the point where he looks like he's been permanently disfigured, and is lucky to get a timeout called before a turnover happens. Hamilton got a lot of cred from the refs from that call though, which came in handy when his arm was wrenched on a defensive rebound with less than 10 seconds left, again for no call. Boston-LA conspiracy theorists, start your engines!
> The fourth quarter began with the Celts up 14. After a nearly immediate 7-0 Pistons run, the teams traded turnovers and misses without a stoppage, and that's really where the Pistons failed to win this game. If this playoff season has taught us anything, it's that the trailing team has to break through and get the lead before the close, especially if it's the road team.
> Tonight was Rasheed Wallace's best effort of the series, with many made 3s, and even when he's effective, I still kind of hate the play. When Sheed isn't making those, it's just a layup line the other way, and it seems to take him out of the mix. He also got his sixth technical of the playoffs, and if and when the Pistons go down, expect him to get his money's worth on the seventh, which will get him an automatic one game suspension.
> Rajon Rondo will eventually lose a playoff series for the Celtics. He's got this weird habit of throwing up lazy lob passes out of traps to players who are 30 feet from the hoop. I don't know what gets into his head in crunch time, but when you add that to his 60% free throw percentage, you've got some bad attributes for a point guard.
> In future years, Pistons Fan will remember this as the start of the time when Rodney Stuckey was a better idea than Chauncey Billups. The rook's 3 with 90 seconds left cut the game to 1 and was Big Shot-esque, but when the Celts answered it with a shot-clock buzzer beating baseline jumper from Allen, nothing else good happened for them for the rest of the night. (Also, to be fair, Stuckey's missed and then made free thows late took Detroit out of their last chance to close the gap.)
> I'm not sure what's gotten into Allen in this series, but what was supposed to be a solid advantage for the Pistons (Hamilton over Allen) hasn't materialized enough for Detroit to have the edge.
Does Boston close in six? Considering that they are 1 for the playoffs on the road, um, no. Besides, Detroit has come back from every defeat in this playoff season with a win, and we've got to ensure that the Lakers have not only the better team, but also the rest advantage. The Finals are not looking climactic.
Tonight in New York, the Shooter Wife and I were in the studio audience for the Colbert Report taping. Here's All You Need To Know.
> The Colbert studio is in a relatively unassuming part of Hell's Kitchen, on the western side of Manhattan, near the southern part of Central Park. It's a pretty residential area, and if it weren't for a few awnings with the Colbert markings, you could easily walk right past it.
> Tickets are free, but are pretty murderous to get; I just happened to be on the site a couple of months ago when one lonely day opened up. Go to the site today, and you'll most likely see the tickets reserved for year in advance.
The reason why is simple: there are only 107 seats in the place, and Colbert has about 1.3 million viewers every night. I haven't talked to a friend yet about this who hasn't expressed profound jealousy.
> The line begins forming around 3pm, with conflicting e-mails that tell you to be there early, that your tickets might be revoked if you aren't on line before 5pm, and yada yada yada. We got there around 3:30 with stuff to read, and queued up in a dedicated concrete area, under an awning. It can't be pleasant when the weather's nasty, but yesterday was beautiful, so it was all good.
> Line tidbits... Daily Show guests can't appear on Colbert for two weeks after their appearance. I'm betting that if you are local to the show, getting in via stand-in seats isn't impossible.
> The audience is 90 to 95% slacker kids in their low '20s; it wasn't until we got inside that we saw anyone that looked evern remotely close to our age. The group that was in front of us was obsessed for some reason by the '70s Manfred Mann song, "Blinded By The Light," and kept singing the refrain, but with the word "douche" substituted for "deuce." I think their version works better, really.
> Colbert could easily charge for seats -- there's no one on line that wouldn't have given up a $10 or $20 spot to see the taping, and the income would help them pay junior production people, who are basically young NYC near-homeless -- but the decision is to keep crowd goodwill up as much as possible, for reasons we'll see later. At least two of the kids were chowing down on Americone Dream, the ice cream flavor that Ben and Jerry made for Colbert.
> Around 5:15, security came out to tell the crowd that the taping is a no drugs, no metal, no weapons, no food or beverage kind of place. Over the next half hour, we are led into a holding area that looks like a dingy passport office, or a beaten down post office, where security sends everyone through an airport-style checkdown. The room has a single monitor showing a Colbert DVD, and a restroom for each gender. Not exactly chi chi.
> Security, at this point, asked me to give up the FTT Garment of Greatness that I had brought to the show, in the longshot hope of a Colbert Bump for the site. I give it to a production assistant, who promises he'll put it in Colbert's mailbox. As good as I can hope for, really.
> After another half hour or so of standing around and wondering how long we'd have to wait, the production assistant who took the Garment clued us in on status (rehearsal just ending, seating imminent, bathroom now or never). VIPs are seated first (they have different colored passes), then the regular members of Colbert Nation. (We were seated stage left, in the third row or so; I think you can see us on the wide shot at the start of the show for a second. I'm wearing a red shirt, and the Shooter Wife is wearing a bluish-purple one.)
> The Colbert Studios, while small, are nice; it's pretty cool to be in the room you've seen a million times. It's also kept pretty cool, so if you ever go, prepare.
> After another 10 to 15 minutes of listening to pretty good alternarock, a warm-up comedian came on and did some improv insults of the audience. (Sorry, but my Crackberry was off by then, so no notes for his name.) That's a tough gig, because his time has to be incredibly flexible, and he's punctuating his act with show updates. The guy was a white insult comic with a shaved head; he punctuated insults of wealthy and douchey looking audience members (he also baited some lacrosse players, which made my day) with self-hate. It worked well enough.
> The "toss" is the little quasi-improv aside with Stewart and Colbert at the end of The Daily Show. It's touch and go as to whether it's done or not, and the Daily Show tapes first, a couple of blocks away. When the toss is done, the anchors are actually talking to each other via satellite, just because that's the tech they've got. Tonight, it was expected to happen, but didn't, to the audience's dismay.
> The studio has a permanent chalk outline where Colbert fell and broke his wrist, leading to the Wrist Strong bracelet gimmick that has led to a nice charity boost for the troops.
> Finally, the man himself emerged to take a few questions before the show began. Having been prepared for this from the Five Tool Ninja, who has also been to a show, I got the first question in. I stood to address him, leading Colbert to say, "How polite!" (Well, I'm short, and wanted to make sure to project.) My goal was to see if I could make him geek out. It worked.
"We know you've played Dungeons and Dragons, but Colbert Nation demands to know -- were you a thief, fighter, cleric or magic-user, and what was your alignment?" (I was going to also ask him about his opinion on half-races and half-classes, and didn't really want to use the word demand, but frankly, I was pretty damned nervous, and just happy to get the question out without tripping over my tongue.)
Colbert was clearly tickled by the question, and thought for a few seconds on the answer. "My last character was a Wizard variant from Dragon Magazine, a Witch. Her name was Lulu -- yes, I'm very comfortable with my gender orientation, and she was a 13th level Witch." Here, he threw me a curve. "She died from the breath attack of a black dragon, which is..."
Thinking hard and quickly, as it's been decades for me since I played the game... Red was fire, White was ice, so Black had to be... "Acid?"
"Correct! That's fantastic!" Smiling widely, he waits a beat. "I think I'm having a nerdgasm! Also, that we've alienated the entire audience." He then turned with comic derision to take another question, which was about the Saginaw Spirit. Deferring from hockey, he then talked up his new love of timbersports, rattling off names and tech for a few seconds, then finishing off with "Now, we've alienated everyone that we didn't take care of with the first question."
I can't tell you how happy I was to get the black dragon question right. Made my year, it did.
> Colbert flubbed the open on two different occasions, so if the crowd sounds particulaly overblown on the final film, it was simply because we were rooting hard for him to get it down. (You can also see a little fist pump from him on the first joke as he tries to get through it.) On the subsequent takes, Colbert moved lines around and changed the timing, and once he got past it, he was able to get through the second and third segments without a stop, though the second segment seemed close to wiping out.
> During breaks, Colbert talks to staff, dances around, and sings along to the music like he's the lead singer in a band, with eye contact to the audience as if he's expecting them to know, and sing, the words. (They played REM's "End of the World As We Know It" -- yes, the same tune that we had on the site earlier this week to honor your first place Rays -- and he pointed to the audience to have us yell, "Leonard Bernstein!") He's got the charisma of someone who simply seems to love his job, and that's why the show taping is genuinely fun.
> The interview with Sen. Claire McCaskill was OK, but the best part of it didn't make the air. Before the commercial break, Colbert whirled in his chair, pointed at his guest, and screamed, "You're going down, McCaskill!" As the Senator has clearly seen the show before, she laughed it off.
> All in all, the show was pretty good, and while we were both a bit hoarse from whooping and over laughing (he's funny, but when you are in the room, you're really trying to help him have a great show), it's a pretty good time. (But after acing the Black Dragon Breath Test, what do you expect me to say?)
And that's All You Need To Know...
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The recent spate of blown home run calls in MLB has led many to call for instant replay on those calls, since they are so important in the course of a game, and no one wants to see a playoff game ruled in error.
The problem that I have with this isn't that it would emasculate the umpires (even though, of course, it would). Rather, it's far simpler than that: I don't trust MLB to find it's junk with both hands and a map, let alone do this well.
Review of home run calls seems to be the obvious and easy first step... but what about the tag play at home? That's as important as a solo home run on the runs count, and it's even more important in the larger scale, since the blown home run call doesn't result in an out.
Once you've established the need for replay on plays at the plate, well, you've got the technology at place, and you've established the idea that we need to review for outs, since outs are precious. So with the elephant in the room, you'll want to review stolen base tag plays, and bang-bang plays at first, and fair/foul plays down the line, since you already go the extra mile in playoff games to put umpires in the outfield for just that purpose. The slippery slope of reviews on two strike (and maybe three ball) counts is next, and once that Rubicon is crossed, well, any hitter or pitcher worth his salt will tell you how much easier it is to hit when the count is 2-0 or 0-2, so boom goes the dynamite -- defensible review needs for over 400 moments in a 3-hour period. And you thought those post-seasongames were already too long.
A small aside to the folks crying for replay now, under the idea that no one should suffer the horror of a blown game over a home run call, or the 25-year memory of Donn Denkinger costing the Cardinals the World Series.... jeez, it's like you've never really gotten the gist of what being a sports fan is like. There can be only one team that wins at the end of the season, and the odds are exceptionally high that it won't be yours. How your team lost doesn't really make your pain any more noble or meaningful than anyone else's. You see Dennkinger in your nightmares; I see Mitch Williams. And by the way, in the time since then, your team has a trophy, and my time doesn't. So get over it.
If you were to look at MLB from a future perspective, the reality is that neither fan nor player really wants a human umpire, and the technology exists to eliminate them today. All you'd really need is a Questec-like system to show balls and strikes, and a uniform technology set-up for every park, so that you could ensure quality control. You would also, of course, need a core majority of players that accepted the situation, and a slow end to human umpiring, perhaps with lifetime buyouts for the current labor force. You'd accomplish this over a 5 to 10 year period, starting in the minor leagues and working up, so that when you are finally ready to throw the switch to a robo-game, it would be a simple matter of evolution.
That's not, of course, how MLB will do it. First, it will be used only for playoff games, because those are Important, dammit. Then, it'll be brought in only in places where there is suitable technology, which gives us the same issue as NFL games that don't have the benefit of SNF/MNF extra cameras... so right away, we've got game inequities. When it is ready, it won't be beta-tested for long in the sticks, because it will be expensive to implement, and the Lords of Baseball don't do anything for the long-term (witness the steroid era, the lack of meaningful revenue sharing, the work stoppages, and on and on).
In the hands of a competent organization, the slow road of human progress that will eventually lead to robo calls with dramatically higher accuracy (and, dare I dream, shorter game times) would be more or less smooth, with a plan in place to take us every step of the way. MLB will half-ass and debate and half-measure and pule and cry all the way there...
And if you don't believe me, I have only one thing to say to you: Designated Hitter. 35 years of different rules for different teams, arbitrarily enforced for no real purpose. So why would you think replay would be any better?
Your link is here, and independent of the merits or demerits of Willie getting the big pink slip, you have to love how New York runs a manager deathwatch. I'm betting on helicopters by the weekend, assuming the Mets don't go on a winning streak.
Tonight in San Antonio, the Lakers won despite a nearly historic choke job in the last minute. It's 3-1 Lake Show, and the defending champions are officially on life support after a 93-91 home loss.
> The sports world will look at nothing but the last play, where Derek Fisher joined the parachute club on Brent Barry on a 3. Fisher got contact on Barry, who then missed the 3 at the buzzer. If the call is made, it's 3 free throws, where Barry, a good shooter, could have won it at the line, or at the very least, forced overtime. Barry didn't sell the contact enough, because he's not a star that knows how to do that, but still, it was a foul.
Spurs Fan will scream long and hard about the non-call. He's right. It was a foul. And that "Ha Ha!" Nelson Muntz laughter you hear is coming from Phoenix... (Oh, and Spurs Fan? You were outplayed all night, and you were unconscionably lucky to have been in the position to win at the buzzer. So stop crying.)
> The Spurs were lucky not to be buried at the half -- and, you could argue, most of the game. They were destroyed on the offensive boards, with the Laker bigs -- especially Radmanovic and Walton, surprisingly -- punishing Ginobili repeatedly. You wonder why more teams don't attack the Argentinian on defense, especially given that the Spurs are not a great shot-blocking team.
> It really is striking, how much more athletic the Lakers are. When the game gets up and down, they routinely pull away from pursuers, especially when it comes to the bigs. That's true of just about every team they play, but it's especially true against the older and slower Spurs.
> When Gasol and Odom are passing well, it really is remarkable to watch. If they can stay healthy and develop, they could be the best passing big man tandem since Divac and Webber for the turn of the century Kings.
> If Tim Duncan is slipping -- and until the Spurs are dead and buried, that is purely theoretical -- it's most notable on his bank shots. That used to be absolutely automatic, but it isn't anymore, at least not this year, and this series.
> The Lakers really have cornered the market on goofy but effective white guys. When they run Vujacic, Radmanovic, Walton and Gasol. It's positively Celtics-esque.
> With 3:30 left in the third, the Spurs could have taken the lead on a wide open Barry 3. He missed it, Manu didn't get back, and it led to Kobe adding to the highlight reel for a new Lakers lead.
In every tight game, there are small and quick turns that further the plot, and in this game, that was significant -- as it was one of a half dozen opportunities to take the lead that the Spurs didn't capitalize on. They lost this game at the buzzer, but they also lost it on many occasions before that.
> Similarly, after a Vujacic 4-point play late in the third, Kobe was able to get bench time... and after two Duncan misses where he looked visibly uncomfortable when faced by Gasol, it didn't cost them. The Spurs simply have to work harder than the Lakers in this series, and since they're older and have had a harder road to get here, that starts to make for some easy math.
> In the fourth, the Lakers had a fresh Kobe. The Spurs had tired legs, and that, combined with a suddenly effective Lamar Odom, got the Lakers the lead they almost gagged.
> Brent Barry picked an amazing time to have the game of his life. The 36-year-old bench guard had five three pointers and should have been on the line to win it at the end. The Spurs needed all of it, because Manu was absolutely, positively horrible.
> It really is a shame that the only thing that anyone will remember about this one is the finish... but it's also kind of great, in that it's going to give the Spurs the oomph they need to make Game Five a war, rather than a coronation. Besides, Popovich is too good of a coach for this to be a runway, and the Laker team that played the last two minutes of this game could keep anyone close. I think LA closes it, but it'll be a good game... and if the Spurs can somehow get a good game out of Ginobili, it's not like the Spurs can't prolong this. Either way, it could be the best game we see for the rest of the year, and it tips off in 48 hours.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I don't know if these quotes are legit, or if it's just that the man has a mischievous translator, but the world needs to hear more of the comedy stylings of Ichiro, the star outfielder for those moribund Mariners. (Ever notice how moribund is only ever used by hacky sportswriters reaching for alliteration? I'd say more about this, but it's a rainy day list idea for the Carnival.)
After Friday’s error-filled loss to the previously puttering (see? Alliteration!) Yankees, Suzuki told Seattle reporters that the team seemed to be falling apart.
"If I was objectively watching this team and what’s been happening, I’d be drinking a lot of beer and booing," he said.Somehow, I suspect he'd also be doing some kind of rhythmic yoga as he did it, so that he could drink more beer, more quickly than anyone else....
When last we left our favorite small college, the Jimmies of Jamestown College in North Dakota, they were bursting through their conference and refusing to be denied in the manly art of college football.
That's all well and good; we can all see how it takes some major pipe to have gridiron success. But what do our wondering eyes do perceive... but the existence of Lady Jimmies... getting scholarships for wrestling?
Not to go all royal on you here, but we're not sure how to take this news. Should we be oddly aroused, in a good-looking American Gladiator / UFC / WWE Diva sort of way.... or just completely terrified?
As it seems the Jimmies are importing Hawaiian spam-eaters (I know of what I speak here, my fellow haoles), it seems to split right down the middle. As with many things in this world, weight will decide many things, and liquor will be the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.
Upon further review, we welcome our new Artic Overpeople (see how I avoided the whole lords / ladies thing there? that's good PR), and wish them well as they defray the high cost of a quality Dakotan education in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Singlet.
Distaff Wrestling Jimmies, show us your love! (But first, it would probably help an awful lot if you got us drunk. And greasy.)
The new Weezer single brings in way too many YouTube phenomenon to count. Fun, and the band's good, as always.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Tonight in Detroit, the Eastern Conference Finals went back to form, with a two-bagger game. That's one where you put a bag on her face, and one on yours, just in case hers falls off. The Pistons never trailed, and won 94-75. This series is tied at 2.
Do not believe any analyst who tells you how chock full of drama this game was. Detroit couldn't get separation, but unless you are a Pistons or Celtics fan, this was just too slop-tastic to sustain interest.
How ugly was it? Half of Boston's points, for most of the night, came from the line. The best point guard on the floor might have been Lindsay Hunter, in that no one expects him to be anything but terrible. ESPN's analysts, despite this being a game that was absolutely crucial to whether or not the series was going to go long, were actually talking about the Florida Marlins and Tampa Rays. The biggest plays involved flops. Kevin Garnett was badly outplayed by Antonio McDyess. Every possession involved bodies on the floor. We saw copious amounts of Big Baby Davis and Theo Ratliff. I really wanted to turn it off. And I love hoop.
Anyway, the big play was Chauncey Billups finally doing something good with 2:53 left, as he hit the first (!) Pistons three-pointer of the night, which gave Detroit a 10-point lead. Given that the Celtics offense in this one consisted of driving into the lane and falling down while giving the referees an evil look, that was massive. But if Detroit wants to win the best-of-3 that this series has boiled down to, he's going to have to show up in the first 45 minutes, too.
If you are a Pistons fan, maybe you take solace in your bigs -- McDyess and the strong bench work of Jason Maxiell, who also completely punked Garnett on a hustle block in the first half -- and the fact that you shot 51% from the floor. As I've said before, when Detroit plays at a high level, they've got more ceiling than Boston. Also noted: despite getting badly outshot at the line, the Pistons' only technical tonight was for Coach Flip Saunders.
For the Celtics, the night was summed up by Ray Allen missing two free throws with two minutes left when they desperately needed them. Look, there isn't much that Allen does at this point that is at an NBA level, but shooting free throws is something that he's among the best in the Association at. By missing those, he failed to take any of the rush out of the Pistons' closing run that made the final score seem a lot easier than it was. Their Big 3 shot 11 of 38 from the floor. Gahhh.
After watching a game like that, you don't really want to pick a winner for the final three games. You just want to go back to watching the Lakers and Spurs, public access notices, or German scat porn.
Game Five is Wednesday in Boston. Can't say I'm looking forward to it.
Your link is here, and just to ensure that I've got your full attention, please note that the entry does include Jerry Jones with a tranny hooker, and Jeri "7 of 9" Ryan in a catsuit.
Yes, it's one of Those Posts, really... and yes, Lax Honk, I do know a (very little) about the game, having had to cover it as a sportswriter back in the day. Nearly 50,000 people came to the game today, ESPN telecasted it, and I Still Don't Give A Flip. Moving on...
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Tonight in San Antonio, the Spurs got the game they had to have to make this a series. Spurs 103, Lakers 84, and it's 2-1 in the series.
The Lake Show didn't seem into this game at any point tonight, with their bigs (Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom) looking tentative and out of sorts, and Kobe Bryant unwilling to go for the 50+ night that his team needed to stay competitive. The Lakers have been the best team in the Association in this playoff season on the road, but they didn't play worth a damn tonight, and the Spurs are very much alive. (Again. In the words of Charles Barkley, they're cockroaches.)
Will the Spurs win Game Four and continue to buck the odds? No. Remember, Phil Jackson's teams never lose a series when they get Game One, and even though the Lakers played horrible tonight, it wasn't a complete blowout, and the road team has to hit more from outside in the next game then they did tonight (which is to say, any). The Spurs got unconscious three-point shooting tonight to keep a comfortable margin.
In the context of a 7-game series, tonight's game felt like rope-a-dope, with the Lakers continuing to feed Lamar Odom to try to get him to feel a little bit better about himself, rather than letting Kobe try to drag them back into it. Besides, the Lakers can advance without a road win in San Antonio, and Bryant won't let Manu Ginobili (30 tonight, including 19 of the Spurs 28 in the second quarter, when they built the lead they never lost) get off in Game Four, the way he did tonight. (Tim Duncan's 20/20 night is going to be a harder thing to prevent, though.)
Also to be noted...
> Bryant did not shoot a free throw until halfway through the fourth quarter tonight, and that was on a made 3. You can be sure that he'll (a) be more aggressive in Game Four, and that (b) Coach Philip will let the refs know all about this before the next game. He's good at that.
> The Lakers have had a strong advantage in every series when the game goes to the bench. They might have the best player in the Association in Bryant, but it has helped -- a lot -- that he's never had to play a game where he's had maximum minutes. And that goes double for their bigs, who rely more on quicks and length to get it done. Tonight, they were crushed, and that's why this wasn't a close game.
> You can usually tell, early in a game, who has a better chance at wining... because they are the team that is hitting their free throws, and getting points out of bad possessions, with shots late in the shot clock. Tonight, the Spurs got a made 3 from Manu on a miracle heave in the second quarter; when that happens, it's just not your night. Game Four is Tuesday.
Your list is here, and while I'm happy to see MLB taking some action, what they've proposed isn't going to be remembered or imposed a month from now -- if even a week. If you want to speed up games, you're going to actually have to take steps that the players *and* owners won't be happy with. It's not going to happen.
A recent piece in the Times talks about how booing at Mets games has been on the upswing, and how sad and regrettable this is, and getting into the details of why this is. As an old hand at denigrating the efforts of the home team, let me weigh in.
It's really not about people expecting to become famous for booing, or even for holding up a sign. Booing is a communal act; it takes thousands of people to do it to be noteworthy.
> No lovable losers. When I was growing up, there were fan bases -- plural -- that prided themselves on rooting for the home team whether they were good or bad. Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, New York Mets... they were all bad much more often than they were good, and it didn't seem to matter. Now, when any of these teams struggle, it's a great hue and cry from the fan bases, because they've paid big money to stink. The only teams that can stink are the ones that don't have big or famous fan bases, which is to say, MLB-.
> Demographic change. It's harder to boo in front of your kids. But it's easier to boo when you've paid a huge amount of money to be there, or you're on some kind of work-related thing where someone else is paying for your multiple beers. So look at the crowd composition now, and you'll see where this is going, has been going, and in all likelihood, will contine to go...
> Road crowd. This isn't something you'd experience in MLB+ markets, but in any stadium that's close, you're going to get the road team's crowd making the audience a less than partsian experience. When I'd go to A's games in Oakland where they played the Yankees or Red Sox, at least a third of the crowd was there for the opposition. When the home team would get on a player, the road fans happily join in.
> Rising irritability. Games are over three hours routinely. Inning breaks take longer due to more commercials. Late innings take forever due to one-batter pitching changes. And the audience is supposed to be as happy as always. This does not compute.
> Acceptable hate and profanity. Blogs. Sports radio. Entertaining rants. Let's face it... it's easier to write angry than it is to write happy, and if you don't believe that, go and look at the lyrics to pop songs about love.
As for profanity, hearing chants of Bullsh*t has become more or less common, especially in connection with NBA games, since the mics are close and the fans really do impact the games. And no one, really, feels bad about the coarsening of the culture in this regard.
Here's a quick trivia question for all of the baseball fans out there... name the third basemen who are in the Hall of Fame (without looking at Google).
I'll start. Schmidt, Brett, Brooks Robinson, Pie Traynor... and I'm stumped. (And it's not just third base; try it with any other position; with the possible exception of relief pitcher.) It's not a question that anyone outside of Cooperstown freaks can answer, even if you're down with MLB history.
And this, along with dozens of other reasons, is why we need to destroy the Hall of Fame... because it doesn't really mean anything anymore.
Let's go down another path. When I say Hall of Fame, what do you think of? For me, it's Pete Rose. Buck O'Neill. First ballot voting. Veterans Committe abuses. Yankee over-representation.
And then, finally, we get down to how nice Cooperstown is, and how I've enjoyed my trips there, despite the fact that the management of the Hall does unreal cheap nonsense like keeping O'Neill out of the Hall because he was involved in a Negro League Hall of Fame.
We can do better. Eventually, we will, because there's too much money tied up into MLB to keep doing it badly. So...
1) Make each position a Top 10 list.
Right there, we've got something meaningful to discuss. Each year, there's a ranking, and players that are no longer in that go to a Auxilliary or Alumni ranking. And everyone starts to know (or care) who is in the Hall.
Plus, and this is a huge win... we no longer have the tedious "First Year" debate. Hell, you could even name active players for all I care. Just so long as we can stop hearing why Greg Maddux isn't a first-year pick from some honk that wants attention.
2) Blow up the old Hall.
Right now, Candy Cummings is equal to Walter Johnson, Willie Mays and Cal Ripken. Who is Candy Cummings? A 19th century pitcher who might -- might -- have invented the curveball. No, really. And he's far from the most egrigious example, given that Charlie Comiskey, the skinflint owner that helped create the conditions for the 1919 Black Sox scandal, is in there for his contributions as a player. (He was the first guy to play off the bag at first base. In the immortal words of Derrick Coleman, Whoop De Damn Do.)
3) Forget the old rules.
By the Hall's own rules, there can be no more players from the Negro Leagues; it's all over now. Why? Because they're trying to avoid the big problem of the Veterans Committee, which was that they just kept adding players who weren't really all that good, but knew somebody.
By moving to a Top 10 list for every position, we eliminate this artifice, and get back to the real gist of what the Hall should be about -- a living document of the game. And, well, an argument. Which is more than what we've got right now -- a lot more.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Your link is here, and there's nothing quite like two home runs lost in the same week at Yankee Stadium to make everyone want to throw aside 120+ years of MLB history. And this from an organization that still hasn't figured out revenue sharing, what the hell to do with the DH, meaningful steroid and HGH testing, a Hall of Fame that gets more laughable every year (no, I'm not letting Buck O'Neill go -- it's the straw that broke the museum's back), a de facto extra farm system in Japan for MLB+ teams... but by all means, let's add instant reply for home runs.
And maybe plays at the plate.
And that ball down the line.
Perhaps that bang-bang play at first, too.
And on 2-strike calls...
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Recently in the Gray Lady, you've got a nice enough piece on Lamar Odom, arguably the Lakers' best player in the Jazz series (in that he made Carlos Boozer disappear and didn't cost them a game, unlike Kobe in Game 4). It's a good read, in that it takes a guy whose existence in the NBA has been one long case of the same story getting new chapters.
The only thing that anyone ever knew about Odom before this year is that he was talented, a multi-category guy for your fantasy team, a joint away from expulsion, and that you couldn't count on him in big games. Well, maybe there's a reason for that... in that May and June have been the scene of every major hardship in Odom's life (the death of parents, grandparents, and just a year ago, his infant son). As always, a little charity goes a long way.
The story about Odom failing in big games is that it's just that: a story. We all have them about people in our lives, and when the stories are negative, they can't escape them. Let's say you have a co-worker who is known for being cheap with a buck. What do you think if and when they spend loosely? Wow, Big Spender, who are you trying to fool? Your story of them doesn't change, or if it does, it only does so very, very slowly.
Because Odom's game is based around his freakish length (he's 6'-10", with arms like a condor) and his ability to see the floor, he doesn't leap out at you when he has a good game. It's just what someone with his gifts should be doing. But he's a matchup nightmare at the small forward slot, an underrated defender on penetration, and maybe the one Laker who you can really actually root for. I'd like to see him get there, if only to make us find another guy to pin the Choke label on.
Just when you had the Eastern Conference pinned down as a cover your eyes grindfest, a wildly entertaining game breaks out... and for the first time in 15 games and 2 months, and the entire post-season, the Boston Celtics lost at home. Your final is 103-97.
It's a cliche, but this was simply a heavyweight fight. Both teams really brought their "A" game. After a crisp first half that ended with a Pistons lead, the Celtics came out with a 15-4 run to take a 4 point lead. For the first time in a while, Ray Allen was a positive, but the Pistons just kept responding, mixing in good bench play from the emerging Rodney Stuckey with better free throw shooting from just about the whole team. And while the game was wildly even, you just got the feel that Boston was always working a little harder for their points.
Many, many heroes for the Pistons tonight. Rasheed Wallace hit some big 3s. Tayshaun Prince made his customary game-changing blocks. Hamilton got worked a little by Allen, but also came up with 25 of his own, including a crucial runner at the buzzer to give them a 6 point lead with 48.2 left. Antonio McDyess had some highly important offensive boards in crunch time.
If you have to point the finger at any Celtic for the loss -- and frankly, I just don't see the need -- maybe it's Rajon Rondo, who not only didn't hold his own against Chauncey Billups, but also was in the mix for Stuckey's instant offense. As always, you wondered where KG was in the fourth quarter, as Sheed delivered more big plays than the defensive player of the year.
The killer play to my eyes was Billups getting loose for an uncontested layup off an inbounds play. With 20 seconds left, the Pistons up 4 and three seconds on the clock, how can that happen? A miracle rainbow 3 from Allen at 10.7 made for some pressure free throws and inbounds plays, but the easy bucket by Billups gave them the margin for error.
Celtics Fan might howl about the officiating -- there was a KG goaltending call that was the right call, and Allen and Rivers were both howling on a block by Hamilton at the 2:30 mark -- but it didn't seem like it was a factor to me. Tonight, Boston had 75 points from Allen, Garnett and Pierce, shot 48% from the floor, had the crowd in full throat, and still lost. It was the first time in 14 straight home playoff games that Boston gave up 100 points, and it showed the world that when both of these teams play at full throttle, the Pistons are better.
Oh, and one last moment from the game... with 11 seconds left, no timeouts, and the Pistons needing to inbound and make free throws, the cameras clearly caught Sheed singing along to Guns and Roses' "Paradise City" as the Boston public address tried to pump up the crowd. Sheed is, just in case you haven't realized by now, a Piece of Work. And he's going home with home-court advantage.
You know, you can have your posses, your trophy wives, and your penile substitute sports cars. I just want to have a rapt audience that moves to my whim, and ridiculously costumed women who are quite likely to be contractually obligated to provide service. A man's gotta have dreams.
Theatre Exile presents a return engagement of its hit show The Philly Fan by Bruce Graham, starring Tom McCarthy, and directed by Joe Canuso. A one-man tour-de-force in which two-time Barrymore Award winner Tom McCarthy takes audiences on a hilarious journey through the frustrations of the past fifty years of Philadelphia sports. This production is an in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is romp through the memories of a hard core fan used to seeing sure-thing victories turn into oh-my-God-they-blew-it defeats. June 10-15 at The Playground at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street. Tickets are $25 - $30 ($50 for the Opening Night Gala); call (215)922-4462 or visit www.ThePhillyFan.netIf you go, by all means mention FTT, and/or wear your Garment of Greatness. I'll be watching this show closely in preparation for my own one-man show, "Mr. Cranky Pants Writes In His Basement." It's a love story.
Tonight in Los Angeles, a Spurs team that slept on the plane, survived a Game 7 on the road, and is dramatically older than its opponent found themselves up 20 halfway through the third quarter. Kobe Bryant had 2 points. The Staples Center crowd was booing. TBS seemed more interested in showing celebs than the game.
And then the tide turned, and most likely, so did the Spurs' chance to win the NBA Championship.
Independent of who you were rooting for -- and frankly, at this point in the NBA Playoffs, there isn't a team left alive that I'm going to be really happy about getting rings -- it was great hoop. Tim Duncan was magnficent in defeat, and Kobe Bryant (27, 5 and 9 -- 25 of it in the last 18 minutes) exerted his will, more or less abusing Bruce Bowen late. It was back and forth, and when it was all over, you got the feeling that the Spurs had just missed an opportunity that they aren't going to get again.
Here's the stat of the night, if not the millenium: Coach Phil Jackson is 40-0 when his team wins Game 1. Let that roll around your head for a second. 40-0.
Adding to Spurs Fan's worry is that the move that they had to make to get past New Orleans -- more minutes for the well-managed resource that is Manu Ginobili (3 of 13, 10 points, 3 assists) -- looks like it's taking a toll now. Manu has rarely enjoyed his games against the Lake Show, and he was just awful tonight, with big turnovers and Korver-esque defensive efforts on Bryant. There really isn't a player in the Association that can stay in front of Bryant when he's on his game, and for the last 18 minutes of this game, the Mamba was in the house. Combine it with Manu's struggles in the fourth in New Orleans on Monday night, and he's looking at a half dozen sub-par quarters at the worst possible time.
The turning point in this game, for my money, was in the Laker run to end the third. Instead of the Spurs having a cushion, the Lakers were able to turn up the defensive heat and get the game to 7. So even when buckets were traded later, there was never that tense "have to have it right damn now" moment for the home team, who took their first lead of the night with just under 3 minutes left.
When it came to crunch time for the Spurs, there were two consecutive bad Ime Udoka misses (Manu really wasn't feeling it). You also had Duncan giving up a 12-footer at one point so that Udoka could try from 20. (Yeah, I don't quite get the Udoka Fascination, either.) And while Lamar Odom did his level best to match Manu struggle for struggle, he still had a big hoop when the Spurs tried to guard him with Michael Finley, a couple of made free throws, and the final board of the night.
The Spurs should be better with more rest. But the Lakers should be better with less rust. Game 2 is Friday night, and I'm smelling 40 from the Mamba and an easy Lake Show win. You underestimate the Spurs at your peril, but they've had a hard road to get here, and the Lakers just seem to have a higher ceiling.
Oh, and one final point... Marv Albert really is the best play by play guy in the Association, but what was he smoking when he said that Sasha Vujacic's free throws with 7.3 seconds left, and the Lakers up 2... that only the first free throw was important? The second one, Marvalous, gave the Lakers a 4-point lead, and prevented the possibility of overtime. It's kind of an important point, too. Sheesh.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
We all want to win our weekend hackfest, but who wants -- or even can -- actually get better at golf? In terms of pure competition, let presidential politics be your guide. The first person to go negative has an exceptional advantage, along with the abiding, potentially life-long hatred of his victim(s). Use the following tactics at your body and soul's peril.
The driving of the cart is really an art form all to itself. From the subtle parking issue (do you put it right on top of the guy and mess up his light and maybe even his back swing, or drive it a quarter of a mile off to kill his legs?) to the surreptitious passenger seat spill ("How did that get there? Jeez, you smell like a homeless guy now"), there are any number of possible effective gambits.
Personally, I'm blessed -- yes, blessed, I tell you -- with a lack of depth perception, due to non-binocular vision. Which means that I'm very likely to get a little too close to that line of bushes that's just on the passenger's shin or (even better) face level. I believe we have a clip as to the final effect. Skip to the 1:05 mark.
This medical condition is totally legitimate and a Darn Shame. As far as you know. Or your opponents.
Who doesn't appreciate a little advice?
Wow, you're really getting some distance off the tee there. That's nice. But I just thought I should mention that you are really not clearing the hips -- see, like this, where you are more like this -- on the follow-through.Lost ball help
You know what's good for that? Changing the speed of your back swing. Yeah, you're going too fast/slow. Don't go crazy with it -- as I said, you really don't want to lose that distance -- but if you can change it just a hair, I think it will help.
Oh, and you are teeing the ball way up / down. That's an easy fix. Now, try not to think, and just swing easy. Yeah, you know, that looked worse, but it felt better, didn't it? No? Well, I'll be damned.
It's the only neighborly thing to do.
Shame about your swing going so off -- you were hitting it so well earlier! You should definitely go back to what you were doing. Oh, right, we're trying to find your ball. Is that it, way the hell over there, beyond the out of bounds marker? I really do think you were hitting a... Slazinger 5. Yup, this is your ball -- the ground is really uneven here, it'll carry a long way. You sure? Oh, OK. Um, I hate to rush you, but those guys are right behind us. Better take a drop and pick up the pace.A little lubricant
This one works even better if you have a higher alcohol tolerance, or the sleight-of-hand skills to be drinking something with a whole lot less proof. Remember, winners have a game plan.
Damn, you need to relax -- you're just all over the place now. Come on, you're drinking a light beer? I've got some 40s here. Don't wuss out on me now -- we've got hours to sober up before we have to drive. Are you some kind of pussy?Pace Setting
Pitchers work the rosin bag. Hitters step out of the box. Basketball and football teams call timeout. It's all done to break the rhythm, and it all works.
Can you believer how fast / slow these guys are going? It's like they've got dinner plans / all day. You should definitely slow down / hit up on them and show them who's boss. Hey, is that guy flipping you off? He is totally flipping you off. You going to take that?Try my club
But only if it is dramatically different.
Hey, I just got these -- yeah, I know they look old, but they just need a little polish. Why don't you take a shot with my 1 iron? It won't mess up your own swing or nothing, and it's really not a club you should miss.(And add them to someone else's.)
Wow, that didn't go well. No big thing. Oh, I know -- these have been custom-sized to my swing and height. You should totally look into doing that. It'll take strokes off your game.
Why are you out here if you aren't spending time with friends? And what kind of friends don't help each other out -- especially when they are a little light in the wallet right now. We're all good for it!
And the seething resentment and/or worry that the unwilling borrower will feel, especially if they then blame themselves for being so cheap as to worry about it... why, that won't distract them from their game at all. Nope. Not a whit.
Too Much Information
If you're this deep in for the pot, the betting minimums just do not apply. Go for the gusto.
I had to change my swing after the hernia, and again after the vasectomy. Here, come take a look at this scar -- it's a nasty one. Now, if I don't clear my hips the way I was telling you before, I'm bleeding. And not from a good place. It's like a fricking menstrual flow, and I pretty much have to drop trou then and there to apply direct pressure. Boy, you try explaining that to the Ranger. But that's golf. You going to hit?Pay the Homeless
This one actually happened to me. (Or at least, I'm pretty sure it did.)
I was playing at a once-great, now tragic, course for hackers in the Philly area called Cobbs Creek. It's on the edge of a rundown neighborhood and run by the city's Park Department, so the price is right but nothing else is. My buddy and I played there a lot, since it was close to his house, cheap and long (7000 yards from the blacks). If you caught it on a good day, in good condition, with low crowds, it was great. If you didn't, Magic Happened. This one of those moments.
I'm in the fairway on the 18th, down a couple of shots. My guy is on the green but has putted like a blind man with a nervous condition all day, so there's hope. If I can get up and down from 80 yards, I'm going to make him sweat hard. So I need the wedge shot badly.
Cobbs, being on the edge of a bad neighborhood, frequently had kids, people with dogs, just dogs, or worse wandering the course or the road that bisects it. And as I'm over the ball for my shot, one of their number pipes up with a collection of fearsome animal noises and grunts that would startle cattle a mile away.
I look up, and it's some random homeless guy, just babbling into the air, waving his arms around like there were bees in his head. My opponent is shaking with laughter, and I pretty much know right then that I can pick up the ball and go home now. But Homeless Guy eventually quiets down to a low geeble, so I get over the ball again... and it starts anew, in mid-back swing.
Eventually, I just put the ball in a bunker and take my double bogey like a man, but not before asking my friend, "How much did you pay him?" "Twenty bucks," is the answer, which if true is both sad (our stakes were not that high) and savvy (in that, well, he won -- and showed true imagination in doing so).
As we say in the business, golf clap, sir. Golf clap.
Add your own tips in the comments, and further the disease...
Your link is here, and while I don't really concern myself very much with Dolphin Football -- in that this blog mostly deals with teams that are actually in the NFL -- dumb team moves against players just always bother me. It doesn't matter how much Taylor's paid; this is a case of an employer being a douchebag, and not cutting any slack to an employee that has performed above and beyond the call.
(Full disclosure: I've never watched the show Taylor was on. Or "American Idol", or "Survivor", or any of the other reality television shows that are lowering the standards of what it means to be entertained. But that's a whole 'nother barrel of hate.)
Besides, Bill Parcells is the biggest media whore in the NFL. (And yes, it is a heavily contested title.)
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Your list is here, and if you didn't catch the Onion piece in which Bernie Williams makes the ultimate sacrifice, that's over here.
Oh, and the 12-2 loss tonight at the Stadium to the historic whipped animal that is Daniel Cabrera? The same Daniel Cabrera that never beats the Yankees, because he's got bad control and they make you throw strikes? The same Orioles that never show any balls, but watched Cabrera hit Derek Jeter and force him out of the game?
Heh. Like we're buying the idea that the Yankees won't just turn this on. Suuuurrrreeee....
Tonight in Boston, the home team got separation in the third quarter and made it hold in the fourth. They've won the Too Tired game, just 48 hours after surviving LeBron, and it's 1-0 Celtics after an 88-79 win.
If the Pistons lose this series, they'll be able to look back to Game One, where they just seemed flat. When they don't have good energy, they turn the ball over and don't get loose balls themselves, and that's more or less what happened tonight.
If you are a Celtics fan, you can't be entirely confident following this game. While Kevin Garnett ate Rasheed Wallace's lunch, and Paul Pierce was able to be effective even in the face of Tayshaun Prince's defense, the game was still close late on a night when the best Piston might have been Antonio McDyess. (And no, Dice wasn't that great.) For the home team to win so many matchups and yet still have to sweat out a home game in the fourth quarter, that's not a great sign. The Pistons didn't play their A game, and yet they were still within striking range for most of the fourth.
If you're a Pistons fan, you're wondering where your experienced and effective backcourt of Hamilton and Billups was tonight, and whether Good Sheed will show up soon. But when the winner of Game 1 wins 79% of the series, any loss is a bad one. If the Pistons don't win Game 2, I'm going to regret picking them to win the series.
Your list is here, and if you are getting the sense that I feel the same way about this franchise as I do about the Celtics (i.e., respect, fatigue and loathing in more or less equal measures)... well, guilty. And if the season ends with Spurs-Pistons again... gah. I'd rather have the week-long revisionist history wankathon of Celtics-Lakers than that. (Oh, and for the record, I think it's going to be the Lakers and Pistons, and that the trophy is staying west.)
Tonight in New Orleans, the defending champion Spurs put the kids to bed with a workmanlike, 91-82, Game 7 road win over the New Orleans Hornets. The champs built a big third quarter lead with their typical bone-crunching defense and cagey veteran bench presence, then held on down the stretch despite a terrible shooting quarter and some highly un-Spurs-like behavior.
Your Final Four is set, and it's the 1 vs the 3 in the West, and the 1 versus the 2 in the East. In the Association, you rarely go broke picking chalk.
Here's the points from my notes...
> You don't get the sense that the Hornets crowd or players really expected to win this game tonight.
There was never a sense of electricity, and the Bugs didn't help matters by playing nearly the entire game from behind.
Memo to any young team... it's not a given that you will be back here. Look at the Jazz. Look at the Cavs. Game Seven at home demands more of you than Jannero Pargo late. (And yes, one has to wonder if Robert Horry has thugged the Spurs to yet another ill-gotten win, since David West turned in a fairly ordinary 20 and 9 tonight, and didn't do much in the fourth.)
> Whose stock fell more in this playoff -- Wally Szczerbiak or Peja Stojakovic? The veteran sharpchoker gave 7 and 4 in 44 minutes tonight, and when he wasn't invisible, he was forcing it. The Bugs would have been better off with Morris Peterson on the floor tonight, or maybe even giving some of his bench players some run. Honestly, when you run three guys over 44 minutes, you're having none of it. No NBA team has so bad of a bench as what Byron Scott managed tonight.
> Here's the difference in the game tonight: 6 made 3-pointers from the Spurs bench (Finley, Horry, Udoka). The Hornets bench was Jannero Pargo, who alternated between hero and goat on alternative possessions in the fourth. The Pargo Virus is a nice little player, but he's not winning Game 7 against the defending champions for you. The Spur bench built the lead with Duncan on the bench. It's one of the few times in the past month that role players showed up on the road.
> Just as in the Cavs-Celts game last night, the trailing team had an open 3 to tie; the Cavs with Delonte West, the Hornets with Pargo. Both men missed, and both teams never threatened again.
> The Spurs held a 17 point lead in the third, and looked for all the world to be cruising the seventh and final drama-free finish in this series... and then the fourth started, and they forgot to defend and suddenly looked old. That's why I'm picking the Lakers in the next round. I think the Spurs are just running on fumes at this point.
> The reason why this series was a pleasure to watch -- even the Spurs part of it, and despite the fact that the closest final score was tonight's 9 -- is that basketball is meant to be driven by point guards. It's also why Celts-Cavs was such an eyesore for 6.25 games. The game I grew up with had points; Mo Cheeks is, and will always be, my model for a point. Paul and Parker are two of the best, and their teams feed off them. (And if you are looking for a villain as to why points were in hibernation for so long, and why everyone has to work the refs for every call... point the finger at Phil Jackson with his Frankenstein point guards, and Michael Jordan with his incessant refwork.)
> Spurs Fan doesn't get why the world hates their team. Let me boil it down for you: it's Manu. Sure, everyone hates Horry and Bowen, too, but Manu's got the magic combination of flops, elbows, and startling competence. And tonight in clutch time, he was awful, and kept the Bugs in it with early forces on offense, turnovers and misses.
He's a fourth quarter assassin normally, and they don't get here without him. But he might be getting run down. The Manu the world knows is not the one on the floor in clutch time tonight.
> For the most part, the refs weren't a factor tonight... but one call with less than four minutes left really stood out. Manu slips, falls, and is in the midst of a turnover, when the refs whistle Paul for a loose ball foul. It was just unconscionable, though it didn't really change the outcome of the game.
> The Bugs had to believe on one possession where they got 4 shots late, ending with a Pargo 3. But after a Duncan miss and the fateful Pargo open 3 whiff, it was Parker yet again, making it a five point lead with 50 seconds left. When you're running so far uphill all game, you have to break through when you get close, and it just didn't happen. Goodnight, Big Easy.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Staff writer The Truth and I compete in a head-to-head playoff predictions battle to see who is the bigger idiot. The loser has to do something that is deeply shameful and personally repugnant on this blog.
Rules: Pick all playoff series. 10 points for getting the winning team right, 10 more for calling the right number of games, 5 if you are one off. Each subsequent round doubles the points on each pick. That's it.
With the Spurs taking out the Bugs tonight, I'm now up 50 points (235 to 185, 10-2 in series versus 8-4)... but since points double every round and we've gone in very different directions for Round 3, it's still anybody's shamefest.
Shooter Picks / Truth Picks
Detroit in 6 / Boston in 7
Lakers in 6 / Spurs in 6
The Mets put the screws in during a 2-game Subway Series sweep. Yesterday was kind of expected, with Johan Santana winning... but tonight's 11-2 crush left the worst team that money is currently buying 6 games back in the AL East, and yes, last place.
This should be the low-water mark, in that Alex Rodriguez is due back on Tuesday, which will allow the team to stop playing Morgan Ensberg, who might be the worst player in the American League right now. To give you an idea, Ensberg's combined on-base and slugging (.533) is less than just the slugging percentage of several other MLB players. That's, um, bad... and he doesn't even play a middle infield position. Right now -- still! -- the Yanks don't project to have a single player with 100 RBIs or 100 Runs.
(An aside... how many years will the Yankees manage to have sub-replacement level players in the wings? We're talking about a franchise with money and older players. There's absolutely no excuse for being so unprepared for an injury that you're reaching for the likes of Will Nieves last year, and Morgan Ensberg this year, for production. Honestly, the A's get more out of their AAA players.)
Pitching-wise, it's actually been better than you might have expected, given that Ian Kennedy and Philip Hughes have been utterly awful. They've gotten a couple of decent starts out of retread Darrell Rasner, Mike Mussina is actually 6-3 with a 3.99 ERA, and Mariano Rivera is quietly having one of his best starts. But you do get the sense that while the offense will pick up, the pitching isn't going to ever be that great this year, even when they do get Joba Chamberlain in the rotation. (Having Wang get torn apart by the previously struggling Mets tonight, of course, did not help.)
Besides, the usual Yankee path to getting over terrible starts -- i.e., pounding the stuffing out the sad sack Rays, Jays and O's -- might not be that easy. If the season ended today, Tampa would take the wildcard, and while it's hard to imagine that will continue, it's not hard to imagine they'll stay a .500 team.
So... is *this* the year when the Yankees finally miss the playoffs? No. And if this is a double jinx, then you are clearly too cynical, really. They'll be fine!
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Your list is here, and the amazing thing about today's game is that when you go into the numbers, James had even less help than you thought. Consider the numbers:
Szczerbiak: 1 board in 15 minutes
Ilgauskas: 2 for 8, 8 points and 5 boards
Wallace: 3 points and 4 boards in 30 minutes
West: 15 points, but 6 turnovers, in 45 minutes
The whole damn bench: 21 points in 72 minutes
And the final damning point... James was one Joe Smith rebound and a single blocked shot away from leading his team in every single category. That's points, free throws, three pointers, assists, boards, steals, and blocks. I can't remember a game where that was ever the case.
And if you're wondering about the Bird-Dominique game, in terms of relative support... For the Hawks, Doc Rivers had 18 points and 16 assists, Randy Wittman had 22 points, and the Hawks scored 69 non-star points in all. In terms of a Game 7, you've never seen a one-man act like today's.
An instant classic today in Boston, as the Cavs and Celts finished their best of seven second-round series with the only watchable game of the set -- but the entire second half was pretty damned fantastic. Paul Pierce and LeBron James conjured up memories of Bird-Wilkins with a duel for the ages, but at the close, the home team never trailed, though they were never comfortable. Boston 97, Cleveland 92.
A bunch of points from my notes from the game...
> Game started sloppy, with Pierce strong early in the first, and James keeping the Cavs in it. Notably early as well was the fact that Ray Allen never looked good, or even tolerable. If the Pistons beat the Celts -- and I'm picking them to -- it will be from Rip Hamilton eating Allen alive.
> People talk about how Kevin Garnett needs to be more assertive. Of course he does, but you might as well wait for Godot. He wants to make big rebounds, the right pass, and defend. Otherwise, he's not interested. He spent a Game 7 being defended by Joe Smith and Zig Ilgauskas, and took few shots. Give it up, Celts Fan -- your big 3 is a big 1, and his name is Paul Pierce.
> ABC / ESPN felt compelled to play Boston's "More Than A Feeling", while the Boston arena felt compelled to play "Rocky" music. Both can, um, suck a bag of something my advertisers would rather I didn't say. For the record, people, that's 30 years old and Philadelphia's Music, respectively. And you people wonder why people hate you?
> In the first half, in the middle of a scrum for the ball, suddenly Cavs coach and chief paste-eater Mike James was in the middle of the pile. Somehow, this wasn't a foul, or even worthy of comment from the Lemur announcing crew. And no, I have no idea how that happens, either.
> Wally Szczerbiak's day: 0 for 3 from the field, 1 rebound, 4 fouls, two turnovers, -14 in terms of plus/minus. His signature play of the day was getting out ran to a loose ball despite a five foot head start, failing to defend a pass from a man on the floor, then fouling and failing to stop the three point play. If he's an NBA player, I'm an airplane.
> The Celtics had any number of chances to take this game beyond drama in the first, but James simply wouldn't let the Cavs go away. He matched Pierce shot for shot for most of the day, but lost in the effort was that each man was the main defensive player on the other. In the NBA, good offense always beats good defense.
> Pierce went down hard late in the second and started the third slow, making me wonder if the Cavs were going to take the Spurs / Horry / Bowen path to victory today. He manned up, and while he was better in the first half, he was still pretty good in the second. Something to keep in mind for the next series, really.
> What turned the game up on the classic level was that a few of the Cavs -- very few, but some -- picked it up a little in the second half. Delonte West was the best non-James Cav, and Ziggy Ilgauskas shook off a useless first half to put up six unanswered. They still could really use a team; when you spend your day missing Boobie Gibson, that's not a sign of confidence for your GM.
> Ben Wallace... hoo boy. If there is going to be a worse contract in the league, I'd be amazed. You can't have him on the floor late because he can't shoot free throws. The Cavs felt compelled to double KG when Wallace guarded him, even though Garnett wanted no part of the ball late. His -15 was the worst of the day for the road team. He does nothing for you, at this point, that you couldn't probably get out of an NBDL kid, for 5% of the cost. Ye gads.
> As for the Celts, it's hard to see how they get past the Pistons with Allen being the worst player on the team, Garnett having big-game shyness that will only get much, much worse in comparison to Sheed, and a margin for error that says they have no chance in road games. But at least they showed some spine today, and were willing to keep driving to get to the line. Home crowd courage, that.
> If the Celts had lost today, the puling about the refs from Boston Fan would have been intense. James got away with a blatant jersey tug on one play, went to the line 19 times, and the flop posturing around drives was day-long. For the most part, however, it didn't detract from the game, and the players decided things.
> One of my constant harping points about the Association is how the teams are so close, that you can frequently win or lose games at the line -- and not just late, when everyone's watching. The Cavs missed 10 free throws today, while the Celts missed 6. Considering that Cleveland never led, and how the Celts have been such a front-runner team, those missed points were a killer. It's a simple game, really -- shoot more than your opponent by not turning the ball over, and make more free throws, and you're going to win a lot more than you lose.
> Oh, and here's one more sign that Cavs coach Mike James eats paste: James, who isn't great at the line, shoots the technicals. I have no idea why, and neither does anyone else, really.
> Is there a better crowd chant than "Bull S***"? I think not, really. It's easy rhythm, well understood, commonly used, comes through loud and clear on the game mics, and an easy respite for the home crowd. The Boston fans used it a lot today.
> When James is hitting from 3, he's got to be the scariest offensive player in the game. You give him that shot, of course, because he's away from the rim, not involving his teammates, and doesn't really make that many... but he's got an open look from there whenever he wants it, and if he starts making just a few more of them, he'll score 35 a game. Easy.
> Why the Celts won't win... well, when your coach goes to ice-cold guys (Allen and Eddie House) late in the game when he needs offense, that's just it, really. He also had ample opportunity to go Hack-A-Ben late in the game, and avoid watching James give the greater Boston area heart failure. On some level, Boston Fan, you really don't want to see what a Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich would do to your team. (To be fair, House played great in the first half... which makes you wonder why he sat for most of the second half before he was sent in late. Doc Rivers Is Special.)
> The big non-Pierce hero for the Celts today was PJ Brown, who added 10 and 6 in 20 minutes, including big baskets late when the home team looked like it was doing a collective windpipe job. All you need to know about KG in a clutch spot is that he passed up an open look to have Brown shoot from 20.
> Anyone expecting the next series to be more watchable than this one... well, I'm not holding my breath. Or expecting whatever team gets out of the East to win the Finals. But that's for another day. Today is the Celtics, who are now 29-0 in series where they were up 3-2. And adding more to it every few weeks.