Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Poker Diaries: A Chip, A Chair, A Cliche

We've All Been Here
Last night at the home game, we're playing a mixed game. No limit hold'em, then no limit Omaha high only. The latter is kind of fascinating, since Omaha is so often a hi-lo and pot limit game, but since tournaments are inherent limit games, it actually works out well. In my opinion, at least.

I got up a bit early, but succumbed to the temptation to go for a triple up on a draw in the last hand before rebuys ended. A reasonable gamble, but it still made the event twice as expensive, and put me at a relatively short stack. Through all of this, I was pretty card dead and not catching much, but able to use position and a bluff or two to stay near the starting stack, and survive to the final table. But with some poor luck and tentative play, that survival wasn't pretty. I probably had the second or third shortest stack, and less than what you start with on a table of survivors who had also fed off five rebuys.

And well, that's when things got new.

As I continued to bleed out chips, a stack of just under my size went all-in on my big blind in Omaha. I had a pair and a suited ace, and when two others called, the decision more or less made itself; the chance to quad up and get deep was too much to pass up, even though I doubted I was ahead pre-flop. I wound up catching two pair, which was good enough for the side pot... but not the main, which went to the slightly shorter stack. So with the blinds at $1,500 and  $3,000, my stack was... $1,500. Woo.

Now, we've all heard about Chip And A Chair, the idea that any player in a tournament isn't really out of it, since all you need is a quick run to get back to parity... but the thing about that level of chips is that, well, you are usually mentally ready to check out at that point. Either you've been disciplined and card-dead and beaten down by life, or you've gotten caught in the cookie jar or outdrawn; the last little bit is more coup de grace than brutality. It's hard to look at the game at that point with anything approaching humor. But none of that described my situation. Hell, I was joking about 3-way eliminations on the hand I folded, so that I could suck out into the first money payout. I had been relatively disciplined, played reasonably well, and just was bunching all of my bad draws and flops early. So the Poker Gods changed things up, and just in time.

K-7 suited right away; well, sure, ship. I catch a king, everyone else misses, and we're up to 2 big blinds. A pair of queens; well, sure, ship. One caller and everyone else, even the blinds, stay out. The caller flips over 5-9 suited, because he's kind of like that, and was expecting three other caller behind him. He catches one nine but nothing else, and we're back to near the starting stack. A pair of 7s get called by 3s, and wow, poker is fun again. The run falters and I lose a hand, but I'm still at $20K in the big blind with 2-5 off suit, and no one raises... so I'm looking at bottom two pair after a 2-spade flop. The small shoves for less, I call, and so do two others. No one has trips, the straight and flushes stay unmade, and in 10 magical minutes, I go from DOA to borderline chip leader. Chip and a chair, folks, chip and a chair.

From there, the game goes more traditionally. I play well in the small table, catch a little more, and hit the fantastic moment of taking down a big pot by betting first with a marginal hand, then watching the opponent fold the identical hand. At heads up, it's me against the other deep odds survivor, and after five minutes of fighting, I misread an out of position shove as a bluff and shove first with overs and a nut flush draw. Top pair calls and is ahead, turn and river misses, and that's that -- but a tidy little payday even after the rebuy, and better yet, something new to file in my brain for the next time I'm holding a super light stack. Chip and a chair, chip and a chair...

Friday, June 28, 2013

Sam Hinkie Razes To Rebuild: Jrue Holiday, Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams

Rim, Defended
Tonight, in his first draft as Sixers' GM, Sam Hinkie took the sole reason for watching the 2012-13 Sixers and sent it packing.

Jrue Holiday is 23 years old. He's 6'-4", 205, cares about defense, tried all year despite being on a going nowhere team, and was an All-Star in his fourth season. He threw down a 17.7/4.2/8.0 slash line on a team with no consistent interior threat, that was coached by a man who seemed sexually attracted to open long 2-point jump shots, and he's durable, too. Potentially alone among the Sixers, he ranks in the top 10 in the league at his position.

Hinkie sent him packing. And it was the right move.

I love Jrue, I really do. I'd love to have him on my fantasy team. I think he's going to post 20% more in New Orleans and make that team his, and save them from the eternal health tease that is Eric Gordon. But the thing about the NBA is that, with very rare exceptions, the Main Guy on a terrible team isn't usually there by the time they get good. Bad habits develop (mostly around Hero Ball), they get paid too much to stay, they have shorter careers due to killing minutes to just keep their teams close, and they get worn to a nub by good teams who throw the kitchen sink at them to prevent upsets.

With the sixth pick, New Orleans took 6'-11" Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel, who posted a 10.5 / 9.5 / 4.4 line as a 19-year old freshman, and who could have easily been the #1 pick in a pretty weak draft, had he been healthy. (Noel has, sigh, knee issues.) So the deal is Noel and a 2014 first round pick for Holiday, and while the price seems pretty high and will be slammed by some as All Star And Pick For Skinny Health Risk, it's the reality of life in the NBA. You don't get a big with #1 pick potential without giving up major assets.

When he's right, Noel is a defensive hammer with the potential to become a top 5 modern center -- which is to say a mobile guy who can guard all over the floor and remain relevant when teams go small. He's all of 201 pounds right now, but he's crazy young, so there's every chance that he can add 20-30 pounds of muscle with sane conditioning and workouts and have a long and effective career. His offensive game is trifling at best, with free throw issues, but there are building blocks here. He can catch the ball, run, doesn't freeze like a deer in the headlights on ball pressure, can finish by jumping out of the gym, and makes his team better. This is the kind of guy who helps his team early with defense, then gradually gets to the point of having a few post moves and put backs. He rebounds and gets steals without fouling, and that is huge. There's a lot to like here.

(Oh, and one last thing? If Noel going sixth makes him good and determined and angry for his entire damned career, I could live with that. It's done wonders for Paul Pierce.)

The elephant in the room, of course, is the knee. Sixer Fan, assuming he exists, wants to spend his time waiting for a center with a knee issue like he wants to donate both kidneys... but that move didn't come down on Hinkie's watch, and assuming Noel has He Who Must Not Be Discussed Because He's No Longer A Basketball Player's lack of health and heart is just kind of sad. But there's a much better reason to like the move.

Noel sends the perfect message: we are building something, and it's going to take a long damn time. (Don't kill yourself about the 2014 first round pick: it's top 3 protected and the Pelicans are going to be a playoff team next year.) Holiday's got a $41 million contract that is more than fair, but by the time this franchise is ready to compete, Jrue would be 26 with an absurd amount of minutes on the odometer, because that's what happens with guards on terrible teams. And winning games in 2013, assuming that you win enough to give yourself a poor chance at not getting a top 3 pick, is a bad idea.

Oh, and one more thing. By going all-in for Noel, Hinkie showed that he had zero interest in going for He Who Must Not Be Discussed. That alone thrills me to no end.

With their other first round pick at 11, Hinkie then grabbed Michael Carter-Williams from Syracuse. I've seen as much of CW's game as anyone in this first round, and like Noel, he's a defensive ace; the steal numbers are off the charts (2.8 a game while playing zone is crazy). He's also big and young (6'-6", 185, won't be 22 until October) with a taste for rebounding. And the bummer here is the jump shot, of course; 39.3% from the floor and sub 70% from the line as a sophomore isn't going to do it, and he wasn't taking and making so many threes that it's a mirage. He's got handle and hustles, looks like a guy capable of a lot more, and went from an afterthought in high school to a starter on a Final 4 team... but on a club that looks starved for offense, he might be more of the same.

Personally, I think it's a great pick, because I think he's barely scratched the surface of what he can do as a pro, and there was no one else on the board with more long-term potential. When you watch him drive and finish, he looks elite, and when the shot is dropping, there's all kinds of stuff to like. With Holiday gone, he's also got a clear path to starter minutes, so we're going to find out in a real big hurry whether he's worth Contract #2. And assuming that the club doesn't move Evan Turner, it also gives that asset a last chance year with Jrue gone to see if he can be worth future consideration.

So Hinkie didn't stand still, didn't set up his club to stay on the 30 to 38 win treadmill, wasn't afraid and shuffled assets like a man who fully understood just how big this job is. Oh, and he got Spurs assistant Brett Brown, who has spent the last 7 years at Gregg Popovich's elbow helping to develop players better than everyone, to take the plunge as coach.

Nothing that was done tonight was a short-term win. That's all good, even if this team loses 60 games in 2013... so long as they lose with heart, while finding pieces. For once, the plan here looks like it exists for more than a few dates in next year's playoffs.

Aaron Hernandez Is Not, Actually, Good TV

Two fairly small asides on a case that I really hope I don't feel compelled to discuss too often...

First, inde- pendent of the merits of the case involving ex-Patriots tight end and burgeoning murder suspect of everyone Aaron Hernandez... just how little do you have to have going on in your life to go down to a court house to protest the innocence of a celebrity?

Honestly, what exactly do you think you are going to accomplish here, other than maybe getting yourself on the tee vee to confirm the worst stereotypes about your demographic class? You are not going to influence the jury; those people are getting shunted off by security and will never, ever see you. The attorneys involved will pay as much attention to you as ball players might to tail gaters. Even if you someone get yourself into the court room, you are either going to sit quietly or you are going to be removed. There is not now, nor has there potentially ever been, a court case where the crowd outside shouting for the benefit of local television news crews has had an impact on, well, anything. Wait for the verdict, then riot, if you feel so strongly about this.

And oh by the way... why, exactly, do you feel so strongly about this? Hernandez does not play for the Patriots anymore. Your Hernandez game jersey is not going to regain its cachet. If he skates on this charge, he's going to go down on some other one, and he will not come outside and pass out hundreds to all of the loyal boys and girls. The only people who should have any cause to be at this thing are the people who are getting paid to be there, and the relatives of the victim and defendant. (And as a dark aside... they are all getting paid too.) I get that unemployment is high and being on television is a motivation for people without goals, but have some pride. Stay the hell home.

Secondly, a columnist discussing the coverage today went into the details of how the local sheriff is becoming something of an ESPN star with his candid and detailed answers to riveting questions about prison diets and procedures. You see, unlike the principals, the sheriff is actually answering questions and giving information, and seems to care about being a good interview! And it's such good TV!

And, well... what ratchets through my mind is the same thing that whips through whenever I'm engaged in the consideration of any truly regrettable human being, and in this case, it's not the warden. It's the journalist. Both on TV and on screen.

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god!

Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2. Because every time it goes through my mind, I feel a little sizzle of smug happiness, that I know the quote and haven't forgotten it even in my advancing years... and despite the fact that I keep giving my mind the soft food of junk journalism, it might still have something approximating teeth.

So, for the record: the Aaron Hernandez trial is not good TV.

It's a multi-level tragedy, and a train wreck, and a mirror reflection of the worst aspects of American life. Good TV is better written, takes less time, and doesn't involve people with no lives whooping because they are on camera.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: Liberty For Some

You Get What You Pay For
Not sports, and given the events of the week, I think I get a pass. It's also more than a little cynical. Hope you are sitting down for that.

Unless your devotion to sports is several light years beyond unhealthy, you are probably aware of what happened in the news today. The Supreme Court struck down portions of the Defense Of (Heterosexual Only) Marriage Act, putting the onus on the states and creating a whole new end-game stage to America's rapidly changing cultural landscape. This happened a day after portions of the Voting Rights Act was shut down, which has led many to wonder about the cognitive dissonance involved in taking away rights from one group (minority voters, who will, let's not kid ourselves, find the act of voting a lot harder to do as soon as inhumanly possible), while granting rights to another (gay men and women who want to be treated like, well, adults with property and valid relationships). It's particularly striking when one reads the work of one Antonin Scalia, who would be suffering from whiplash if his neck was not constructed of reptilian tissue.

There is, however, a commonality about this that's a lot less nice and prosaic than the teeth gnashing of Tuesday, and the celebrations of Wednesday (at least on my side), would cover.

And here it is.

I do online advertising for a living. I work on creatives for dozens of clients every month, for hundreds of clients every year, and have probably worked for thousands of clients over the past fifteen years. I know more than I ever thought I would about demographics, household incomes, who spends and how much and on what. I consider myself as something like hired counsel, making the best possible case for whoever is paying the bills that day. I put my whole heart and mind into the exercise. I'm good at what I do. And from all of that experience, I can tell you this, and it's not exactly a secret.

Gay people have, as a general rule of thumb, as much disposable income as any demographic class in the country.

They work in all aspects of life, of course, but they tend towards more education, in more affluent areas. They don't spend as much on childcare, and they spend more on travel, entertainment, dining, clothing, high-end furniture, apparel, etc. It's a heck of a lot easier to make a buck selling to these folks, well, than African-Americans and Hispanics.

They also donate more, at least on a per capita basis, to political campaigns.

So if you want to look at this through the most base possible level...

Rich people, especially those who live in more progressive parts of the country, get rights. (Here's a fun aside: they also get the "right" to use recreational drugs with astoundingly less risk of going to jail. At least unofficially, and if they are white.)

Poor people lose rights.

So, um, yay?

Top 10 takeaways from Aaron Hernandez's Arrest

Assume The Position
10) While it seems tacky to talk about the football implications of a murder, it's also the only reason why anyone in the country who isn't related to the victim or suspect gives a damn

9) It's really just a shame that Hernandez and Tim Tebow never got to be teammates, since Tebow would have clearly saved lives

8) There's no way that the Patriots can get past the Mark Sanchez Jets, Kevin Kolb Bills and Ryan Tannehill Dolphins without receivers that people have heard of

7) Now that the Patriots have released him and he's no longer in the NFL, the media are going to give this case the same level of attention that they do for any other homicide

6) If we've learned anything from this, it's that obstruction of justice requires a little more diligence than just quickly breaking stuff

5) In case you are wondering if there's any question of racism here. ask yourself why Hernandez took a perp walk without sleeves, and why bail for a guy who made millions under constant media scrutiny isn't an option

4) If only Massachusetts had a death penalty, none of this would have happened

3) Even if Hernandez isn't found guilty of murder, he may have to live with the unending shame of gun violations

2) This is the first time that something awful and sordid happened in a rented car

1) The sub-Sahara is going to have a fairly large number of Hernandez jerseys in 3, 2, 1...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: Reboot This

More Nina, Less Reboot
Not sports, and I should stop intro- ducing these the same old way, right?

Here's something you probably didn't care to know about me: I really like Stephen Sondheim's work. I'm generally not a big fan of musicals, but Sondheim is so good, it doesn't matter. I've seen "Into The Woods", "Sweeney Todd", "Company" and "Sundays In The Park With George", and I'd love to see "Assassins." The first two I could recommend to anyone at any time. "Company" is too arch but still worthwhile, and "Sunday" has the best song ever written about the creative process ("Finishing the Hat"; I'll embed it later.)

I haven't been lucky enough to see any of them live, but DVDs of the original Broadway casts exist, and there's nothing lacking from any of those performances. Particularly the work of Bernadette Peters, who was born to do the range-spanning gymnastics and near rap-speed lyrics that Sondheim loads up on his stars.

There are, as I mentioned, DVDs of these shows... which means that, of course, Disney is going to remake one of them ("Into The Woods", because we're required by modern law to hump folk stories until that meme is dry as dust) into a movie, and as ESPN and Pixar prove, Disney Is Here To Ruin Everything. They are going to throw a slew of Big Big Stars At It (Meryl Streep! Tracey Ullman! Chris Pine! There's no way I can't see this, if for no other reason than the Wife loves Pine), because that's how these things are done. The Shooter Wife sent me the link for the casting, and asked, well, we loved the original. What do I think about the casting?

And here's what I think, and the miracle of my marriage is that I even got to tell her this without pissing her off too much: these works already exist. As de facto movies, since they are on video, and we watched them the same way we would a movie. As much as I've appreciated Streep and Ullman over the years, they are making a ridiculous mistake to take Peters' roll while she's still, well, alive and capable. But most importantly...

Until people start making the principled and definitive decision to JUST FREAKING IGNORE REBOOTS, no matter how much we like the original and maybe the actors of the "new" movie... that's all we're going to get.

You know what I'd prefer to see instead of a reboot of "Into The Woods"? "Artemis Fowl", a YA series with a tween criminal mastermind that's clever and original. It would also make my eldest squee. If not Fowl, perhaps a treatment of "The Miraculous Journey Of Edward Tulane", written by the same writer who did "Because of Winn-Dixie." It's the story of an inanimate china rabbit that grows despite a series of misfortunes, has odd Christian allegories that would make it a ton of money in the heartland, and could work as animation or a voiceover live story. That would thrill my youngest.

I read Tina Fey's "Bossypants" while traveling a couple of months ago. It's not as laugh out loud funny as some would have you believe, but there's a movie in that, and Fey has proven she's got a sizable audience by now. Drew Magary's "Someone Could Get Hurt" would be a movie that people haven't seen before, since it's unflinchingly honest, poignant by turns, and ribald about parenting in a way that would make Louis CK blush. Filming whatever Elmore Leonard wrote in the last six months is always a good idea, as the man still hasn't lost the fastball.

I'd be highly interested in seeing an adaptation of "Assassination Vacation" by Sarah Vowell, which did more to make dry American history live for my eldest than anything we've read before. Neil Gaiman's "The Cemetery Book" could be astoundingly great, and Gaiman's a proven money maker with his "Sandman" work, along with "Coraline." Tim Burton was born to make that movie, and goth kids would absolutely inhale it. "Venus In Fur", which I saw off-Broadway a few years ago, should reach a much larger audience, and won star Nina Arianda a Tony. If that made it to video and made Arianda a star, American culture would be better, and we'd all have a new and ridiculously skilled actress to drop into stuff.

So that's seven different movies, off the top of my head, that I'd be genuinely enthused to see. I'd bring people to them. I'd organize movie nights around them. Depending how well they were made, I might even spring for the DVD. I came up with that list in 20 minutes, just thinking back to what I've read and really liked in the past six months, and pulled out the real niche stuff.

If you're counting, that's one YA comedy / adventure, a folk story for kids, two very different biographies, a documentary, an American anime and a psycho-sexual character study; all very different films with lots going for them.


Life is short. We might only have the one time to go around.


And until they do, everyone please stop going to the old things that are fake new.

Or else suffer the wrath of another half dozen Batman, Superman and Spiderman origin reboots in the next ten years...

The New Normal Is Riot

Spoil Sports
This started being about sports, and then Events Blind Sided me. So let's start with the sports.

In the news this month, much sturm und drang in Brazil over public uprisings for government support of the World Cup and Olympics... and it leaves me with these questions.

Why did this take so long, and when can we do it here?

There is no good reason -- none -- why stadiums should enjoy a single dollar of government spending. There is no public good to be gained from the existence of professional athletics; they are neutral at best to the community as a whole, and we'd be far better served, on a macro level, to work on our infrastructure and social welfare issues. That's on the metro level.

On the local one, there is no benefit -- none -- to the long-term health of a neighborhood from the importation of a stadium. For every Inner Harbor success story in Baltimore, there many more Comiskey Parks in South Chicago, where the new yard does nothing other than get a major construction company fat and happy. All for a yard to replace something that didn't need to be replaced, so that the teams could sucker the swells into paying more money for less ball.

Next, let's get into the staggering waste involved here. MLB franchises at least have the piddling excuse of getting used on over 22% of the days of the year. NBA and NHL arenas usually double up to get to that level or better, and also are far more likely to be used as entertainment venues. And then we come to the big daddy sport, the NFL.

NFL stadiums set the fraud bar to astounding levels, given that they get used less than 4% -- 4%! -- of the year, assuming they aren't hosting college or high school games. There's also this: no one in the history of the nation have ever decided to go see every NFL stadium because of the poetry involved with the exercise, the way people do with MLB yards. With the possible exception of Lambeau Field -- a yard with modern retro fittings, but whose charms come from the fact that it is, well, freaking old -- it does not matter what the yard looks like. Even the Jerruhsoleum in Dallas isn't attracting dramatically different crowds than any other stadium. It's a football game; you are there for about 3 hours, 8 times a year at most. It just doesn't matter that much if it's all that nicer than anywhere else. If the team is winning, it's a great place to be; if they aren't, it's shared misery.

And then we get to World Cup and the Olympics. Here, assuming you don't have existing faculties -- and, well most places don't -- you get to make stadia (plural) for the incoming swells... and after they leave, once again assuming that you don't have another traveling roadshow coming to town any time soon, you get to stare at them. But hey, I guess velodromes (that's bicycles) and luge runs make for totally awesome unused facilities? Especially with the World Cup, where you get the exact same thing in series. (I'm assuming, for sake of argument, that Brazil does not have a half dozen soccer palaces up for hosting six figure crowds. Seems safe.)

Now, no one ever ran on a platform of promising big stadia and/or making sure that the local team oligarch got all that he possibly could. Am I'm also reasonably sure that no one ever kept or lost their job over it; it's a short crisis. Which is why, if you really want to stop the public getting fleeced to fund this stuff, you need two things.

1) A public referendum, which rarely works in the favor of the new pleasure palace, and is why California hasn't had a new stadium paid for with public dollars in decades, or

2) Relegation, so that owners don't have the hammer of upping and leaving to another town that wants to be Major, since all towns have the ability to just, well, get their on their own

Anyway, back to the blindside.

I pulled up Twitter tonight -- note, not cable news, because, well, covering news is difficult or something -- and caught the end of the Texas filibuster brouhaha. For those who weren't aware, Texas' Republican governor, noted presidential flameout Rick Perry, called a special session so that his party could ram through the nation's most over the top anti-choice legislation. Rather than, well, run on it, or do it as part of normal operations. The rules were that the vote had to happen by midnight tonight, and thanks to the filibuster efforts of pro-choicers, it didn't... so the R's just ignored their rules and ran it through anyway. On the same day that the Supreme Court also decided, on a straight party-line vote, that we no longer needed to protect the voting rights of minorities in areas of the country that persistently deny voting rights to minorities, because, well, things are different now. According to the people who, um, aren't minorities, aren't poor, and don't live there.

The point, in that it's closing in on 2am EST and I've got work in the morning?

I, personally, would not riot. I've got kids, I believe in voting and paying my taxes and being patient and that in the marketplace of ideas, good beats bad if you have faith and respect and so on. I'm that kind of sap; the one that does the job until it's done., and thinks everything yields to effort.

But the people that do riot, when faced with the denial of their rights just because they happen to live in a place where entrenched interests work to deny theirs?

They aren't wrong.

And with the media more corrupt and irrelevant than ever (seriously, while hundreds of thousands of people were watching a live feed and hitting Twitter with a vengeance in the middle of the night. CNN was covering the breaking news that muffins make you fat, while MSNBC and Fox were knee-deep in the George Zimmerman train wreck that will run for weeks, if not months)...

They are going to do it. More and more and more...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Brief And Obvious Point About The Miami Heat's Victory Parade

Make sure to leave early
Parades are not games.

Real sports fans prefer to watch games over things that are, well, not games.

So if you find yourself watching footage of, reading an account about, or paying any attention at all to what happens in a parade...

Well, um, OK.

But you do know there's (a) a game on, and (b) better Not Games available?

Top 10 consolations for Boston / Bruin Fan

It's OK, we'll burn it all
10) You really do have a lot of experience in processing this sort of thing

9) There weren't going to be any more Bruins home games anyway

8) By choking big late, you avoided that long and tense overtime choke

7) Perhaps now you'll learn the important lesson of not chanting "We Want The Cup" with an insurmountable 1-goal lead

6) With this epic fail, you made many people who do not care at all about hockey achieve a solid moment of joy

5) Let's face it, after having to root for their third-string basketball players, the Cubs, White Sox and Jay Cutler, Chicago Fan had well and truly earned this

4) Unhinged superstitious Bruin Fan won't be tempted to ruin the Marathon every year to give the team inspiration

3) You can blame this on Jaromir Jagr, and continue your lifelong pattern of pretty much hating that guy

2) Winning your second Cup in three years would have just filled your stadium with hateful front-runners who desperately need to be grabbed by their ankles and swung like a sledgehammer into a brick wall, over and over again, until that hateful bleating accent is forever si... perhaps I've said too much

1) Your remarkable resilience means that no one is going to milk this failure for unbearable attempts at Literature for decades to come

Monday, June 24, 2013

Top 10 reasons why Charlie Manuel is questioning whether the Phillies can make a run

Um, Were
10) Have not done much with the momentum gained from the thrice-annual return of Chase Utley from the disabled list

9) Should actually have a worse record based on run differential and the number of times they've already played the Marlins, so they've actually been lucky so far this year

8) Philly Fan is already starting to look past this team for the option of looking past the Eagles, Flyers and Sixers

7) Unlike anyone else in Philadelphia, Manuel is still watching this team on a daily basis

6) With Domonic Brown not having hit a home run since June 8, the team hasn't had a highlight on a national sports network since, um, June 8

5) Ryan Howard has one less home run than Marlon Byrd, the same amount as Nate Schierholtz, and one more than Coco Crisp

4) Roy Halladay is making excellent progress following surgery, and could pitch again this year

3) Carlos Ruiz hasn't been the same since he stopped getting Sky Blue from Walter White and Jesse Pinkman

2) Jonathan Papelbon is no longer perfect, the second and third best starters this year have been Tyler Cloyd and Kyle Kendrick, and they are longing for the results from last year's terrible bullpen

1) Manuel knows, from an ever-increasing amount of experience, that his general manager has no clue, that his farm system isn't going to save the day, and that winning a World Series a while ago ain't going to make anyone pay top dollar to see a sub-.500 borefest

FTT Off-Topic: Monsters University is fine, and Pixar is doomed

Scared? They should be
Not sports, obviously. Hey, it's late June. Going to be a fair amount of this.

So I took the daughters to go see the latest from Pixar this afternoon. It was early enough to avoid full price, hot enough that the AC was of value, and came after about 15 hours of yard work this weekend; I earned some sitting time where I didn't have to entertain the spawn. But the fact that these qualifications came along tells you, honestly, just how far Pixar has fallen. Instead of a widely anticipated event, it was a good excuse for a couple of hours out.

Pixar has been around for a couple of decades now, and has honestly done more to reinvigorate G-level entertainment that anything in the history of American cinema. Their attention to detail, commitment to quality, and protection of the brand has been outstanding. And ever since I became a dad, 13 years ago, they've been a welcome part of my parenting entertainment mix. I knew I was forever changed when I found myself fighting off tears in the opening of "Finding Nemo" (Mom's dead!), and that I was looking forward to seeing the movie more than my kid.

Unlike Universal / Dreamworks, Pixar did not cram in ridiculous adult asides for cheap jokes. Unlike Disney, they didn't crank out direct-to-DVD sub-par sequels to cash in on equity. And unlike everyone else in kid land, they used technology to raise the bar on quality, rather than lower the price on production. They've been one of the finest American corporations of this generation.

And, well, their latest film is fine. It's got really nice moments of comedy. It worked for my 7 year old, my 13 year old, and me. It still has wow factor on the animation for the art majors; fur still looks good enough to pet. The voice cast is rife with people who make you happy to see cashing a check (Nathan Filion! Dave Foley! Charlie Day!). And yet...

Well, it's a prequel. Not exactly rife with the challenge of "Up" or "Wall-E". Playing before the movie is a preview for "Planes", the utterly by the numbers spin-off from "Cars", which might be the worst thing the company has ever made. The animated short ("The Blue Umbrella") is highly reminiscent of other, better shorts (Disney's "Paperman"). Everything looks and feels, well, pretty derivative.

You know, like they were owned by Disney (they are now) and putting profit and short-term decisions in front of the brand.  Or as if they were no better than their competitors now.

"Wreck-It-Ralph" was the last movie that I took the kids to; it's a better movie than "Monsters University" in, well, just about every way. Pixar didn't make it. There's nothing about "Planes" that makes me want to see it. "Despicable Me 2" comes out in a few weeks, and my kids are more enthused to see that (for the minions, naturally) than they were to see this movie.

And, well, remember that I liked it. The central message of having to use flexibility to achieve your dream, and that it's not just a matter of trying really hard, isn't a bad thing for kids to hear. Also, that inherited talent without effort won't get it done, either. I'm a little less in love with the idea that college isn't very necessary to be good at your job, but given the cost of "A" level schools versus "B", OK. The humor is smart without being off-putting or broad, and the nice little subversive moments don't make little ones feel like they need something to be explained to them. It doesn't feel unnecessary or gratuitous. Just not, well, very necessary.

In the final analysis, and Pixar will make worse movies than this, very soon... You don't get to take Disney's money without eventually becoming Disney. And no one needed another Disney. But at least by being Pixar for so long, they got others up to their level.

The Clippers Get -- And Keep -- Their Man

Go stand somewhere else
Tonight, in what has to be one of the longest rumored trans- actions in NBA history, the Clippers pulled the trigger on getting coach Doc Rivers from the Celtics for the price of a first round pick.

In regards to the compensation, this is fair. First round picks in the mid range, which is where the Clippers should be for the terms of this deal, are crapshoots in modern NBA life. If you have a solid organization, this can be a star-level player, but for the most part, these wind up as rotation guys with a mild chance of greater things. As a rule of thumb, I'd trust the Spurs pick deeper in the first than I would for the Clips 10 spots later, and after watching Fab Melo struggle to stay out of the D-League this year, you have to wonder how much the Celtics and Danny Ainge can do late in the first. But since Ainge seems to have finally moved beyond the One More Year phase of his GM tour, it's what he has to do. More on that later.

This isn't, of course, the best reason to make the move for LA, though Rivers for paperweight Vinny del Negro has to be an upgrade. Rivers might be the key to getting Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce to be willing to come to LA despite noise about the NBA not liking the quid pro quo. (Seriously, if the Celtics want to do something, the NBA agrees.) But the bigger point is that this move locks the door on Chris Paul wanting to leave. He gets a championship level coach now, and the possibility of veteran help that knows how to win ugly in the playoffs. It might not be the best move for the franchise in the long run, but you don't get to next year without taking care of next week.

Speaking of next week, this opens up the floodgates for who will come to the Clippers next... and so long as there is someone, this should work out for them. Garnett is still an elite level defender, and quick and dirty enough to live for another couple of years as a fake five. Pierce isn't efficient any more on the offensive end, but he bodies up well on defense. Both men would be reinvigorated by working with an elite point, and could help to give Blake Griffin the spine he so desperately needs to make the Clips an actual contender. (Rivers withholding minutes until the power forward starts consistently rebounding or blocking shots might help, too.) And the upgrade from DeAndre Jordan and Lamar Odom to Garnett is kind of crazy; you go from a guy that can't be on the floor later to, well, a guy that needs to be there. Especially if you aren't counting on him for offense.

It's a lesser move in terms of drawing new free agents to Clipperland. Dwight Howard was always a long shot, given that Laker Fan would spend their days and nights trying to ruin his life, and he just doesn't seem like that big of a fan of not being the biggest star, and having to answer to a strong coach to boot. Andre Iguodala might not be anyone's idea of a top-line stud given his lack of jump shot or free throw stroke. Josh Smith is going to cost nice cash and plays Griffin's position. If the Clips wind up with a starting lineup of Paul, Pierce, Garnett, Griffin and the aging grinding duo of Matt Barnes and Caron Butler...

Well, it's not as much fun as last year's lobfest, but it's a heck of a lot more dangerous in the Western Conference playoffs. And it keeps the Clippers relevant, unlike their stadium mates. That last part might be the sweetest part of the deal of all.

But to me, the sweetest point is that we are well and truly into the Rebuilding Era for the Celtics... and if history is any indication, the building is going to to half-filled and dead by mid-February. The dirty little secret of Celtic Fan is that he's really not into it when the team isn't any good. I actually kind of like the Rajon Rondo / Jeff Green pairing, since when you add Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger, it could develop into something approaching defensive hammer status. Hell, I'd gladly take that instead of the current Sixers roster. But the much more likely scenario is that they won't score enough points or get enough calls, and have utterly unsolvable late game situations with no one on the floor having a go-to one-on-one game, or experience. They also aren't going to attract a top-tier free agent, since those guys avoid Rebuilding Situations like the plague, and they really don't have enough assets on hand to luck into a James Harden-esque situation.

And no playoffs means quick irrelevance in the market, and a panicky trade and/or front office instability. So maybe no playoffs next year, or the year after that...

Between them and the Lakers, I'm liking the Association more and more these days.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Some Brief and Obvious Points about the Aaron Hernandez Situation

The Daily Visit
Unless you are living under a rock, you've probably heard: the Patriots TE2 is a suspect (the suspect?) in a murder. And more or less the focus of round-the-clock coverage despite not being, well, arrested. Leading me to think...

1) Will the Patiots really regret drafting this guy? Well, um, sure; it's never a good thing when talent auto-aborts their career in ways that are truly horrific. And even if he someone skates on the charges here, Czar Goodell will put him in the penalty box for a good long while.

But they've also gotten several years of elite level production out of him, and aren't on the hook if he winds up going to jail. They didn't pay free agent wages for him, and the character issues meant his starting salary was cheap. This isn't a case where they are going to be on the hook to keep paying him, or that a lot of people are going to stop going to Patriots games or buying jerseys because one of their guys turns infamous. (Actually, more jerseys will sell, since turnover means a new name to buy.) No one is going to stop being a Patriot Fan over this, and if anyone cites it in a couple of years, it will only be as an anniversary. This is modern times and speed and the #1 through #10 sports in the U.S.; nothing stops it. Or even slows it down.

2) And as good as Hernandez can be (note: it's only can, he's hurt way too frequently and lost a lot of explosiveness last year, and NFL history is writ large with guys who were good young, got hurt, then never were all that good again), it's not like he's the difference between them making the playoffs and staying home. New England plays in the AFC East, the easiest division in the NFL, and wins the division every year. They aren't all that different with or without him.

3) There is, of course, only one opinion to have about Hernandez right now; that he's a murderer that destroyed evidence, and if he gets away with it on the lesser charge, it's an utter travesty.

But there are two things about this to keep in mind. First, infamous murderers don't really get away with anything, at least not for long. The inevitable civil suit doesn't have the same burden of proof as a criminal case; a majority decides, rather than a universal matter. This more or less bankrupted O.J. Simpson, not that being bankrupt and free is a bad choice on going to prison. Spending the rest of your life being treated as a pariah, not to mention being at liberty, also means that every police department on the planet has you on high attention forever. Rest assured that if Hernandez doesn't go down for this for good, he'll go down for something else later.

Second, as utterly cut and dried as everything appears to be right now... well, um, either you believe in trial by jury and the rule of law, or you don't. Personally, I do. It's not perfect and it's corrupted by money, but it's the best system we've got, and as this is the best country in the world, that more or less makes this the best system in the world.

What we've heard so far is incredibly damning, but it's not a conviction or a confession. Telling your opinion on that, or going off at length about Hernandez's past or how the Patriots should have known he was a terrible human being... is basically saying that you are just OK with making a decision based on one side of an argument, that you're ready to rush to judgment, and that there's something clear about people who make terrible choices.

There isn't. Or else murder would be a heck of a lot less common. Along with assault, domestic abuse, and every other form of big crime. You don't have to be stupid, or non-observant, or wowed by fame to be a victim of a crime. You just have to be a victim.

4) So, since it sounds like I'm arguing for the player, right? Not really. I'm just, well, imaginative. So how could Hernandez be innocent? The cops could have falsified the evidence. Someone other than Hernandez could have destroyed the security system, called in the cleaners and wrecked his cell phone, without his say so, because it incriminated the real murderer. (Heck of a set-up, don't you think?) Someone near and dear to Hernandez may have done the deed, and he's taking the hit for them. Maybe after an assault. Starting to see how, well, you could even find yourself in a spiraling nightmare where you aren't, well, guilty of murder and deserving of pitchfork and torches?

Finally, one last thing. If this really is so cut and dried and obvious, why is Hernandez still at liberty as I write this, and the cops have been to his place for five straight days? Maybe because the case isn't so airtight?

If I had to bet on a resolution to this situation. Hernandez goes down.

But I don't.

No one does.

So let's just let the system we all pay for work, OK?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Will The Heat Threepeat?

Remember, they promised more
Normally, I try to avoid questions like this for at least a few days, because it's just unseemly, as well as the purview of people who don't really enjoy watching games...

But, well, it's interesting, and the question that everyone is going to be asking. So let's have at it.

The reasons for winning again:

1) They will have the clearly best player on the planet, and the gap between him and the others who would contend for that title got wider, not smaller, this year. Kevin Durant got exposed without Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Chris Paul got beaten for much of his head to head matchup by Mike Conley. Dwight Howard just had the worst season of his professional life. Kobe Bryant is ancient and increasingly ineffective. Derrick Rose sat out the year. Stephen Curry had a magical year, but it's not like he's a defensive hammer and/or durable. He just he ate Tim Duncan's lunch, and Carmelo Anthony's MVP vote was a bad joke.

James is healthy, in the prime of his career, on a team that doesn't need him to go full guns in the regular season, and might be the best player in the history of the game. (Heresy? No; Jordan had a better wingman in Scottie Pippen and coach in Phil Jackson, and doesn't have the numbers to compare. Russell had better teammates and played in a far more stat-happy era. Chamberlain wasn't better than Russell. And that's the whole damn list, really. The list is getting shorter every year.) Any year he isn't the MVP is an upset.

2) They have some players that are still on the ascent. Mario Chalmers has his detractors, but he also has two rings, and brings elite level defense. Norris Cole might be better than Chalmers soon. Chris Bosh isn't old, and is adapting to the role of defensive stopper; he's one of the few bigs in the league you can leave on the floor when the game goes small. And James did more on the blocks this year, and from mid-range, then ever before. They might be better next year, even with Allen, Miller and Battier deep into their careers.

3) They are surprisingly deep for a team that should have cap issues from multiple stars. In every game of the Finals, the Heat was able to roll out an elite level three-point shooter, and if that guy didn't have it going, just go to the next gun in the locker. Mike Miller, Ray Allen and Shane Battier all took turns making big shots, and they don't need to run any guy for major minutes. Heck, they could even run Rashard Lewis, James Jones or Cole and Chalmers for those looks. The only place where they suffer, interior defense, is relatively cheap to staff, as Chris Anderson showed. And after Allen's smash and grab ring, they aren't going to get less competitive for quality role players.

4) Erik Spoelstra. He isn't that great. I think his timeout use is weak, that his rotations are relatively static, and that it takes him too long to get past a role player in the wrong series. But he's also got two rings, and a roster that has roared back to win many times when they looked to be in trouble. They play hard for him, and he's gotten enough results so that he can do things like bench Wade for big minutes without having a star level mutiny.

5) Continuity. This has been a relatively stable roster, and that wins in the Association. They know where they are going to be on defense, they share the ball on offense, and they police themselves so that knuckleheads and sad sacks walk the straight and narrow. Despite living and working in the biggest pleasure palace in the NBA schedule.

OK, enough happy talk. 

The case against:

1) The margin for error shrank this year. Indiana nearly had them, and that was without Danny Granger. San Antonio was a board or FT make away from winning in six. They only won two series against teams of actual merit this year, and in both cases, it took them seven games and home court to get it done. Without Anderson, an afterthought bench signing, they don't make it to the Finals. And those stars that lost ground to James last year will likely gain it back in 2013-14.

2) Dwyane Wade really took a step back this year. Whether it was a recurring knee that just needed rest or a deteriorating confidence in his mid-range game, the Heat were frequently a better team without him on the floor, at least on offense. Time off didn't seem to solve the problem, and if he's no longer a top 20 player, the Heat become a lot easier to manage, especially in transition.

3) Wear and tear. They've played four seasons in the last three, what with the three straight Finals trips. Unlike past champions, none of these trips were easy, since they have no "easy" ways to score via a consistent inside scoring presence; they win on defensive effort and speed. At some point, someone's going to have to get hurt and not get better. Even on a a roster that has the single best prescription for health in the NBA -- that is, a constant chance to win a championship -- it's just physics. And from a purely psychobabble level, they didn't play with the same joy this time. Repeating is hard for one more, little said reason: it's not as much fun when you do it again. It becomes more like your duty.

4) Deteriorating public image. You saw this a lot in the Finals, where the Heat didn't get a lot of calls from the refs or trips to the line on contact. Between James and Bosh getting fined for flopping -- and keep in mind that they were the only star level players to get those slips -- and Wade becoming increasingly known for cheap shots and dirty play, they don't get the same benefit of the doubt from the refs that they used to. And their incessant Globetrottery also means that, well, they put their bodies at risk, sometimes against shock troops and second-tier players that might be tempted to make a very big impact. 

Put it this way: James or Wade rises to catch one of those half court lob dunks against the Paces next year. Lance Stephenson is back to defend, with the memory of last spring's playoffs in what passes for his mind, and the knowledge that he's going to have to go play them again next spring. Does he make, well, a poor choice? 

Of course he does. He's Lance Stephenson. 

And every team has one of those guys.

5) The East will be better next year. Well, it could hardly be worse. But Chicago will have Rose back, and can't possibly be as unlucky with health issues for guys like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, with tons of experience for guys like Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. The Pacers should be better, as they are young and have Granger coming back. The Nets are hungry, with committed ownership. Boston gets back Rajon Rondo, an emerging Jeff Green, some quality young talent and the knowledge that just doing more of what they were doing isn't going to cut it. New York isn't going to fall off a ledge. Atlanta is run by smart people. Cleveland or Orlando or Washington could make a real step up this year to Dangerous Low Seed, as they all have promising young talent. There are major free agents on the market this year, some of whom will go East. There will be, well, more than 3 to 4 tolerable teams in the East in 2013-14, and the Heat will actually have to make an effort to get past the first and second rounds next year.

So, final analysis right here and now... they have to be the favorite. 

Just like this year. But likely to be less of one. 

And if they keep playing series like the last two, we might not even mind if they keep winning them.

Top 10 Consolations for Spurs Fans

Sad Manu Is Sad
10) It really does not matter how old your stars are, since you don't get older when you are undead

9) Kawhi Leonard is an absolute beast right now, and going to get a lot better

8) From what I've seen of your fan base, you are very good at eating through your emotions

7) If they had won, many of the guys you really love to watch might have retired

6) Now that Tim Duncan has finally learned what it's like to lose an NBA Finals, he's really going to work hard at improving his game in the off-season

5) Danny Green still holds that all-time Finals three-point shooting record, so, um, that's good

4) Tony Parker won't be more susceptible to injury as he gets older, because he's French

3) Next time, Gregg Popovich will know not to remove Duncan and Parker in the last seconds of close games

2) The NBA is a copycat league, so every other team is going to sign fat Frenchies to wear LeBron James out before he gets to the Finals

1) For a very brief period of time, your team was actually popular in the parts of the United States that are not San Antonio

Top 10 takeaways from the Heat winning back to back NBA titles

Dan Gilbert Is Still An Idiot
10) Dan Gilbert now looks twice as idiotic as last year

9) Shane Battier's strategy of saving a month's worth of three point makes for one game paid off

8) After telling Heat Fan to stay home for Game Seven, Chris Bosh took his own advice

7) Erik Spoelstra's strategy of actually defending Danny Green at the three-point arc was genius

6) Dwyane Wade said this was their hardest series ever, which has to be seen as one last dig at Dallas, who, you might recall, beat them

5) Imagine how much of a home court advantage the Heat would have if their fans stay for all 48 minutes more often

4) Before we get too much into All Time Yada Yada, the Heat lose in six if the Spurs hit a free throw or grab a rebound in the last 30 seconds of Game Six

3)  The Spurs are so classy, they managed to play the Heat for seven straight games with neither team getting a technical or a flagrant foul

2) Mario Chalmers sticking the 30-foot bank shot to end the third quarter didn't officially clinch this, but you can be forgiven for thinking that it did

1) On some level, it warms the heart to see Ray Allen win another ring due to his astute decision to tell the Celtics to go pound sand

Spurs - Heat Game Seven: Boots Up

This Was Awesome.
Jokes and what it all means later; game diary now. It's gonna go long and sloppy.

No Julia Dale jokes tonight. THIS IS GAME SEVEN, DAMMIT. The pre-game highlight reel seems preordained for a Heat win; alert the conspiracy theorists! LeBron James enjoys calling his teammates Dog, and being filmed while being inspirational. Man, do I hate this trend in sports. Blame Ray Lewis and Drew Brees.

The refs blow the opening tip. CONSPIRACY! Danny Green misses, but steals it from a poor Mario Chalmers pass. Chalmers gets it back, but James can't convert and probably gets away with a missed turnover. Dwyane Wade misses from distance; Manu Ginobili tries to find Tim Duncan on a dangerous pass, and Chris Bosh picks up a foul. Weak first minute. Tony Parker gets to the rim on Mike Miller and scores. James converts off a deep pass. Duncan tips in Green's miss as James misses a steal, then steals and goes the ungainly distance. 6-2 Spurs. Bosh misses from the top of the key, but Parker misses a floater badly. Manu gets a weak call as James bodies him down low. Both teams look a little spent and tentative. A Chalmers make, and then another near steal and foul. Manu gets to the rim but can't finish; that's what happens now. Chalmers is stopped by Ginobili and hits the backboard. Ginobili hits a three, and that's kind of huge. Miller's jumper stays out, and Kawhi Leonard bulls his way to the cup. 11-4 Spurs, and Miller misses a bad long three. Manu misses a reasonable look, and Leonard can't convert the o-board. James with the hold and miss jumper; what you want him to take. Wade cross Manu and gets his second, and he might have been set up by Bosh. James gets to the line off good Wade penetration deep in the clock. He makes both, and it's 11-6 in what feels like the first 40 seconds of the 15th round of a heavyweight fight. Everyone looks a little spent, and Miami is playing that low commitment offense that makes them vulnerable. They also haven't forced the turnovers that make them go.

Leonard's three stays out, Wade hurts Gary Neal in the post for an easy one. Neal another miss, but Wade turns it. Bosh blocks Parker for the chasedown block. Leonard for a nice sneaky inbounds hoop. Duncan blocks Bosh as the tin, but the Spurs can't convert, and Wade gets another to go. 13-10, Heat, but Duncan feeds Diaw down low; great pass. Ray Allen can't get a call on Leonard, but sloppy ball-handling in the half court gives it back. James settles for mid-range on Diaw and misses. The Spurs run, but Parker isn't getting by guys tonight. Manu back in with two fouls. Chris Anderson owns Duncan for a block, but Chalmers turns it back on bad Globetrottery. Duncan owns Anderson but can't get the roll; Diaw gets the board, but Ginobili's third turnover of the game ends that. After six games of beautiful basketball, ugliness is taking over, or maybe just over the top fatigue. At least it's close. 15-10 Spurs.

Shane Battier in and gets the three; big shot, and bigger when Ginobili misses. Anderson tips in a Miller miss and it's tied. Neal misses and the Heat look runnerish, as Battier Dukes Diaw into a weak call. Battier hits off an Allen pass, and that's an 8-0 Heat run with Parker and Duncan (and Wade) away. Leonard drives on James and gets a call for the push, but he misses one as ESPN fellates him. James holds for one, and Chalmers can't make; Anderson's tip is clearly after the buzzer. Heat 18, Spurs 16, Artistry 0. If we can't get great basketball, at least give us close basketball.

Doris Burke no longer asks Popvich questions, which is sad; I enjoy him when he's rude. Green misses a three, and he was blanketed. Loose ball foul on Tiago Splitter as Anderson sells it. Battier hits a third three, and he's the MVP now. Well, he might be the only guy on the floor who is fresh. Splitter misses and looks awful doing it. Wade turns it, and Parker gives us his first flash on a nice layup. Neal forces and Allen turnover, Splitter gets a great feed from Parker for the dunk, and we're back to a 1-point game. Looks like everyone is saving Overdrive Effort for the fourth quarter to me.

Duncan's second foul, stays on the court. Miami plays volleyball until Chalmers can get to the rim, and that's a game changing possession. Parker blocked, but he gets a crafty entry at the cup, and draws the call on Bosh. Parker spins in both, and Wade gets them right back. Leonard gets to the lane and doesn't get the and-one. Green misses a runner, and he's looking over-matched. Parker gets one in the lane, but Wade gets it back. Bosh gets his third. I miss a few perfunctory minutes, and get back to see James make a three. Green gets two free throws, and Leonard gets his 10th board as the Spurs sag off James and make him a shooter only. Duncan finishes to tie it, then the same thing happens; James miss from deep, Spurs run and fun. Manu gets to the line on another Haslem foul, and makes both for a lead. Wade makes in the lane to go to 12, and he might be the best Heat player tonight so far. Parker with a couple of makes as the Spurs continue to live at the line. 13 to 1 FTs for the Spurs in this quarter. Wade misses, but James skies for the board and tip. Green misses, and is now 0 for 5 from the floor. Wade makes from mid range, Green misses from 60 feet, and the half ends with a 2 point Heat lead. If you skipped out on watching the half, you really didn't miss much.

As school is out, I get to wallow in the ESPN halftime show, and at least they keep it about this game for once. Spurs shot 35% from the floor in a road Game 7 and are only down two; hard to do, but the Spurs are up 15 to 3 on FTs. And they wouldn't be down at all if it weren't for Battier. Why doesn't every player just be more aggressive? It solves everything!

Leonard with a board on defense, than a jump hook on offense. As the series goes on, he just keeps looking better and better. Chalmers gets a runner to take back the lead. Leonard on Miller is Iso Hell for the Heat, and I'm not sure Miller can defend anyone in black. Old school three, but a FT miss; tie game again. Miller misses from the arc as ESPN gets into the weeds of how Leonard has big hands. James has all day to hit a three off chaos, and makes. Manu with a nifty make off Fake Chaos; Duncan throws amazing screens. Chalmers goes on Parker and gets to the line, but misses one. 2 point Heat lead. Leonard makes as the Heat stupidly double Manu outside. Chalmers misses, but Green makes a terrible turn in transition, and the James-Wade Highlight Dunk is inevitable. Green wilting in the Game Seven spotlight; if only he was man enough to Be More Aggressive!

Duncan over Bosh; that works until he gets tired, clearly. Tie game. Chalmers is awkward and misses on a three. Green front rims a clean look, and Wade turns it while snarling at Bosh. Green gets trapped, and Parker calls a 20 to avoid a turnover. Halfway through the third, and we've got a close game that has felt like all prelude so far. Duncan with a look down low, but Wade alters it; best shot blocker ever for a 2-guard. Deep clock and a Green miss; not good. Wade makes to re-take the lead, and Miami looks run-ish. Leonard's three stays out, but Green gets the easy board and clean look from the arc; it finally goes in. Chalmers with a careless turn with his foot out of bounds. Green out, Diaw in, bad Spurs possession ends with Parker turning it. James makes his fourth triple, and that's very worrisome for the Spurs. Parker front rims from mid-range, but the Spurs get the board. Bosh gets away with a goaltend on Parker's next drive, and Neal fouls James to stop Transition Train from converting. James makes again from the arc, 5 point Heat lead and Danger Time... so Leonard makes an absurdly good drive and back to the hoop lay up. Allen with the foul, Leonard with the make. 2 point Heat lead. James now feeling it; drives on Leonard and gets the call. The best player in the world is playing like it. Two makes and the lead is four. Diaw makes a three, and that's found money. James doesn't get the roll on a long deuce, and Diaw feeds Duncan as they charge at him; make at the rim gives the road team the lead again. We just saw Diaw stop a run more or less by himself, and I'd like to remind the world that he couldn't get playing time for the worst team in recent NBA history, before he found his way to Popovich. Money time as the pressure mounts.

Leonard steals it from Chalmers, and Manu with the good body control to get to the line on Anderson. If Manu had played this well in Game Six, there would not have been a Game Seven. Miami can't keep the shot clocks running, because everything about Florida is horrible. But that does give us the chance to see Bill Russell yawn. Two makes, 3 point Spurs lead, 7-0 run. James makes the too-easy pull-up, and he has 28. Neal misses, and Diaw is called for a clear out foul. Allen misses from deep. Neal misses in return. James with a hop in his step, but can't make. Neal with a running hook. Good Heat ball movement ends in a Battier three; resurgence in a big way for him tonight. Manu with a great make. Chalmers banks in a 30-footer at the buzzer to give the Heat a 1-point lead, and this is the series everyone has loved. Big action, back and forth, no team ever leading by more than seven. Heat 72, Spurs 71.

Erik Spoelstra, shockingly, talks about defense. Duncan and Parker out as per usual, but no Splitter. Battier makes his fifth -- good grief -- and he's been absurd. Duncan right back in early. Manu misses from the arc. James misses at the end of a bad Heat possession. Manu misses another three, but Leonard with the putback. Chalmers misses an easy one, but Anderson gets the board and call on Duncan, his third. Anderson gets one, 3 point Heat lead, Parker back in. Leonard gets a call on James as Heat Fan cries. Spurs turn it on Manu's third foul; poor pick and roll execution. Heat showing tons of hops on the o-board, with Wade and James taking turns; a great block by Duncan goes for naught. The MVP gets a call on Leonard and makes one, but the second is negated on a lane violation by Birdman. Super ragged Spurs possession ends in a jump ball, Parker on Wade, Miami wins that all day. Leonard saves a transition hoop. Spurs look spent to me. James to Battier, and he finally misses; Leonard's 11th board. Parker runs, gets it to Duncan for a clever make. Once again, the Spurs claw the casket open. It's what they do. 2 point Heat lead.

Chalmers finds a wide-open lane, takes, makes. Green misses from the arc. Chalmers misses from the corner. Green turns it, Wade hurt on the play, and I'm sorry, UNC fans, but Green vs. Battier tonight is a TKO for Duke. Odd clear path call with Wade crawling on the floor, and it's overturned. Wade wants Duncan, and makes over him, 6 point Heat lead. Manu with a careless turnover, and Popovich looks ready to strangle him. Bosh with a moving screen, his fourth, and his terrible game is the only thing keeping the Spurs close right now. Manu with another tough runner, again with the casket thrown off. Bosh turns it, so does Manu. Ye gads. James on Duncan, makes over him. That's becoming a meme. 6 point Heat lead, 5:37 left.

Duncan on Bosh, can't make, Manu with the loose ball foul. This doesn't work in the fourth, especially when Bosh can foul without calls. Bosh's three is terrible, and the Spurs run. Duncan gets to the lane where Chalmers hacks him. These are must makes, and Duncan gets both. James with Hero Ball, and it works from deep. Ginobili hits a rainbow three, then Green steals one, but misses a tying three attempt. Miami looking a little rattled. James misses the long three. Parker misses, Duncan boards, but turns it; ends in a Battier three. It should be a kill shot, but the Spurs just run back, get Duncan on Bosh, and it's an old-school three. The guts of this Spurs team, just unreal. Bosh's fifth foul, a get even for the one that was missed. Three point game, and Spoelstra calls time. 3:06 left as everyone in the building could use a new pair of underwear.

This. Is. Awesome.

Battier feeds Wade, a big make. Spurs ragged, Duncan misses as the refs won't foul out Bosh on something marginal. Kill shot potential here. James on Leonard, can't get it. Green boards. Leonard nails a three, and every time this seems like it might end, the Spurs claw back. Chalmers nearly makes on a bad reach by Green, bail out foul. Mario can't get the first, and that's big; also the second, and Bosh blows the board. Leonard goes for a go-ahead three, but it rings off and out of bounds.

The end of game is so fast, I can barely stand it.

Wade goes Hero Ball and misses; terrible. James skies for the board and feeds Battier, whose killshot three stays out. Manu boards, nearly turns it on a killshot James steal, but Green gets it up court. He doesn't take an open three, because there are 40 seconds left in an NBA Championship Game. Instead, Duncan gets it down low and misses from five feet. and a tip, against Battier. I'm so sad for him. Sincerely. Heat ball with 39 seconds left and a lead.

James runs clock, makes a 20-footer like the season isn't riding on it. Cotton. Four point Heat lead with 27.9 left. James with 35/12/4. Dagger, dagger, dagger.

Parker on the bench. Wow. Ginobili turns it, and unless Parker's no longer able to walk, I don't get that move. As for Manu making the turnover, well, that's what happens with him now. James with the easy makes, Parker back on the court, so that's just Popovich out-thinking himself. Manu misses by five feet from 30, and that should be that. Green fouls. Wade makes one, Battier tips it, Miami runs out the clock, and that's that. Miami's won in seven.

Well, this played out exactly as I predicted, but I'd rather I was wrong. Wade cites this as the hardest series they've ever had to play, and I wonder if that includes ones that he's lost.

More later. I need to clear this diary up and get to shorter and punchier things. But again, what a series, what a playoff, what a game. My favorite sport.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Five People Who Do Not Deserve Spurs - Heat Game Seven

Bring It
On the off day between Game Six and Game Seven of an NBA Finals that's so good, even people who don't watch pro hoop are watching pro hoop, there are several classes of people that I'd like to un-invite from the party.

1) Felon Tim Donaghy. Aren't 15 minutes of fame supposed to expire over, what, the decade since this guy went to jail? Seemingly not, at least not if Gawker/Deadspin has anything to say about it. So far, I've been able to resist the urge to read any of these

If today's desire for train wreck clickbait had been in place throughout the ages, would Hal Chase have been commenting on fixes over the decades? Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin on which current players are drunk? Pete Rose for gambling advice, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry on how to snort... well, enough.

There's no reason to think that anything involved in the NBA Finals isn't on the up and up. The refs have been mostly ignored, which means they've been pretty great. We can all stop paying attention to him now.

2) Pathetic Miami Heat fans. Look, we get that Florida is America's cesspool, the repository of the worst among us, the indirect reason why 9/11 and two wars happened, and the go-to state for every freakish crime story. That's why sinkholes happen there, along with the direct route for hurricanes and flying cockroaches. But for the love of God and country, can you people actually stay in your seats until the game is actually no longer in doubt? Or, failing that, continue to skulk away from the arena in shame and misery, rather than trying to get back in after your unconscionable decision?

I get that the games run late. I get that sitting in traffic, late on a worknight, is really irritating, especially when you have the possibility of stewing in your own juices over a loss. And you paid your money, and this is America, so you get to do what you want.

But for heaven's sake... you are the only people on the planet who got to watch NBA basketball. You were watching the final minute of the year, for a team that had given you three straight Finals appearances. You have the MVP of the league, and the best player of his generation. They had made a ridiculous comeback to get close enough to put the game in doubt. And you... got up and left.

This is the defining moment of your life, but thankfully, you aren't self-conscious enough to realize it. So try, please, not to do it again in Game Seven?

3) Narrative junkies. Flags fly forever, but for the love of math, reality and intellectual complexity that's beyond old-school pro wrestling... just because one team won and one team lost, that does not mean that God's Will Be Done, and the right of Divine Combat has been further affirmed. The Heat did not man up, stay calm, or show grit and an indomitable will; they took advantage of opportunities presented to them by a very good team that, well, gave them just enough daylight to suck out. The Spurs did not choke; they got caught by a supremely talented team that did everything they had to get to overtime, then took advantage of superior legs. And the refs did not force a Game Seven by not making any call you can name, because they clearly had many more opportunities earlier, before the whole thing was on a knife edge.

I get that you people can't just watch the game and be happy without turning it into a soap opera. You know what you'd be happier watching? Soap operas. It's OK to leave sports to the rest of us.

4) ESPN. Speaking of narrative junkies, this was an actual topic of "debate" the morning before Game Six: Should Gregg Popovich rest his starters? At which point you have to have to seriously wonder whether or not, despite Congressional gridlock, if there is any way we can get bipartisan agreement to revoke their broadcast license, or just place anyone involved into Gitmo for a few corrective weeks. It would help heal us, as a nation.

5) Haters. I don't care if the Spurs have bored you in the past (and, well, they have; those Finals against the Pistons were utterly unwatchable), or that their Benetton Nation of Floppers makes your skin crawl. I don't care if you think the Heat are flopping dirtbags (and, well, they are, though at least the second part hasn't been so bad this series), or that the way they built their team is a threat to the nation. My own personal Dream Finals would have somehow had the Warriors in it, and they'd be beating the Heat in a David v. Goliath underdog beatdown for the ages. Also, Mark Jackson would have somehow stopped being the Dub coach. Anyway, I digress.

This might be the best NBA Finals ever, and while that sounds like hyperbole, it's really not. Most of the time, the Finals validates a clearly better team; this year, there isn't one. So I'd judge this series to be right up there with the Barkley Suns vs. the Jordan Bulls, or the Payton Kemp Sonics vs. the Jordan Bulls, or the Moses Erving Sixers vs. the Crushed Lakers, because that series convinced me that my team doesn't always have to lose. Those are the ones that come to mind when I think Great Finals, and this one is right up there, despite only two of the games being close in the last minutes.

So if you can't watch tomorrow night without telling me how happy you are that someone lost because you hate hate hate them so much... well, better to remain quiet and be thought a fool, rather than open your mouth and remove all doubt. History will not be with you, that Good Triumphed and Evil Failed. One great team will win, and one great team will lose. An unconscionable number of players and personnel involved are eventually going to the Hall of Fame. (The list: James, Dwayne Wade, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley.) You'll be seeing documentaries and highlights from this one for decades. And all of that is good, and correct, and as it should be, because these teams play beautiful basketball against each other, and with luck, will inspire more and more of it.

Tip off in 20 hours, last game for 4 months, one you might remember for the rest of your days. Let's hope it's worth it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Top 10 takeaways from Spurs - Heat Game Six

Omigod No Shoe!!!
10) We were so, so close to the narrative of how LeBron James choked away a Finals

9) Tim Duncan's first three quarters were an inspiration to middle aged guys everywhere to do more, and the fourth and overtime, to drink more

8) It's not like anyone on the Heat will let this stop them from tearing him a new one at the next opportunity, but without Mario Chalmers, Miami isn't close enough to make a comeback late

7) If you were to give me a list of 200 guys who I might think might cause James trouble as a defensive stopper, Big Fat Frenchie Boris Diaw wouldn't be on the list

6) Erik Spoelstra has Jedi Mind Powers that cause opposing coaches to pull their best defensive big men late in games, to disastrous effect

5) Perhaps Manu Ginobili should have retired after Game Five

4) I'm not prepared to live in a world where Chris Bosh is a late game defensive stopper and clutch player

3) Luckily for people who can't focus long enough to watch a game, James took off his headband and Mike Miller made a shot while only wearing one shoe

2) We can all feel good for Heat Fan, many of whom stayed for the entire game

1) In all seriousness, having one more game of this series and playoff season is nothing but a win for everyone but Spurs Fan

Spurs - Heat Game Six - A Game For The Ages

Hint: Don't Leave Ray Allen Open
The next NBA game that matters, after this series, isn't until Halloween. I'm not ready for the layoff. This is the best playoffs of my memory, and I'm not rooting for either of these Finals teams. Here's the full-scale diary from 3+ riveting hours that was more opera than game.

A 12-year-old girl comes out to sing the anthem, because Miami has no celebrities. No, wait, I've got another: because she's the oldest living continuous Heat fan. No wait, one more: because she's the only person to come to Heat games early. One more? Sure, she won a contest to name the most Heat players, and was the only person in the building get more than seven. That's probably enough, right? I'm here all week.

Chris Bosh hits to start things, and Tim Duncan responds; encouraging for both sides. Mario Chalmers misses from the arc, and so does Kawhi Leonard. Mike Miller's long three makes his presence in the starting lineup easier to take. Tony Parker burns his man and gets to the rim for a Bosh goaltend, but the world's shortest 7-footer gets it back with a tap-in. Duncan worms his way down low for an easy one, then Dwyane Wade turns it to Leonard, who rips through James at the rim for the old-school three; aggro, and a fairly weak call on the MVP. Chalmers sticks a corner three, so does Leonard off a nice look from Parker, and we're back to Great Ball. Chalmers from James, over Duncan at the tin, to tie it. Parker misses badly from 20, a poor choice, and Wade from 18, also not great. Parker to Duncan for the flush, and that was pretty. Wade runs into Ginobili and hurts himself, knee on knee; ouch. Duncan turns it and Wade looks like he's moving OK. James with a catch and make, and it's 14-all on first money.

In the early going, James looks much more involved, but so does, well, everyone. Very solid ball all over the court, and when the road team can overcome the initial burst in any sport, a tie isn't a tie.

Duncan over Bosh with Veteran Calm, but Wade hangs and stuffs over him for a big play. Parker with a miss, and Wade misses a room service look from the baseline. Leonard gets out in the open court and slams while slapping Miller in the face, and Spur Fan just got very strongly aroused. That was all kinds of awesome, really; Leonard now with 8 points.

I'm ready to revoke the idea that Chris Rock was ever funny, because he keeps making Grown Ups movies with Adam Sandler. Every year, Sandler has to punish me by making another film and running heavy rotation ads for it during the NBA playoffs. Honestly, this needs to stop. If I paid more to watch the games, could it stop? Perhaps if we all just sent Sandler a check, or chipped in for a contract killer?

Boris Diaw in early; he's the LeBron Stopper! And he gets a make with a borderline hop. James gets one back, then makes a long deuce; Duncan responds with yet another make, and he's 5-for-5 now. Leonard with a strong board, and Diaw is looking positively spry in drawing a foul, but not in airballing a 20-footer. Gary Neal's make is wiped by a Shane Battier foul draw. Duncan makes one more despite contact; maybe he's the MVP, for old time's sake? Chalmers makes another. Duncan turns it, and Battier misses so badly from three, it banks in to tie the game at 24. Chris Anderson will return to the series after money.

Early and liberal subs from both sides as we continue at a 120-point pace. Neal misses off a Manu pass; no big highlights from either of these guys so far. Ray Allen misses, and Tiago Splitter boards; Danny Green actually misses from three, Chalmers does not, and the Heat guard has been huge for them so far. Splitter gets the blocking foul on Anderson, and he just looks gun-shy on drives ever since LeBron ended him earlier in the series; it's like every Heat player wants to add him to his Block Reel. Two FT misses are predetermined, but the second rolls in. Chalmers finally misses, but even that works out, as the Heat hold for one. Allen misses an easy bank, James boards but gets blocked by Diaw, and if James isn't going to get the falling down after contact call next year, he's going to start scoring a half dozen less points per game. The first quarter ends with the Spurs shooting 61% and trailing; hard to do, but they've turned it and missed their threes. Heat 27, Spurs 25, both teams giving the A game.

Apple would like you to know their products are designed in California. Manufactured? Not so much. Taxes paid where? Even less so. I guess what I'm saying is, um, Apple can go pound sand. (And yes, I do have an iPod and love it. Cognitive dissonance comes easy.) I love Pro Hoop very much, and I do not know, or am excited by, anyone in the NBA draft. That can't be good, can it? Doris Burke has given up on asking Popovich questions, and who can blame her, really?

Ginobili turns it; surprised he hasn't left the game. He makes it worse with a bad flop, and Battier cans the wide open three. Danny Green drains one, and the groan from Miami Fan when he rises up is downright funny. Bats misses his "heat" check, and so does Manu. Wade with a great drive and make. Splitter turns it to Anderson, and he looks overwhelmed by this series. Birdman sits for Bosh, who draws a foul on the hapless Splitter. Bosh does his guard impersonation and misses; he'd be so much happier if he was 6'-6". Manu with another miss and looks like Every Game But Game Five Manu so far. Splitter with yet another foul; Duncan better be up for 40 minutes tonight. Chalmers extends the lead to six from the line. Parker meep meeps past Bosh; pretty. Wade replies with his ersatz Nowitzki one leg shot kick, and if he's making that, the Heat are winning.

So far tonight, Miami has brought the defensive pressure on the ball handlers, but when the Spurs make a pass, the looks are easy. Especially inside. It's no wonder they've shot for such a high percentage, or that Duncan has been dominant.

Neal with a tough make to cut it to three. Wade with a circus miss, then screams at Joey Crawford for what should have really been a technical, but since we're six games into a clean series, no call. Chalmers again for a 7 point lead, but Duncan calmly taps in an easy one; it's amazing how bad the Heat can be on big man defense, and still be playing for championships. To prove the point, Duncan owns Bosh again to cut it to three, and the Hall of Famer then racks up multiple fouls on Birdman because he's forgotten more about basketball than Anderson has ever learned.

The WNBA has an app! Remember this as the moment that mobile technology jumped the shark.

Duncan finally misses, but Leonard gets a great board, and Timmeh puts in another off a Parker miss. James then does the same thing, with Anderson helping to extend the possession. Duncan misses again, and James dives into Duncan for a bad foul on the Spurs. I'm fine living in a world where everyone hates James for diving, rather than personnel moves. Manu's horrible half continues on an Anderson save, but Chalmers walks. Van Gundy praises Birdman's post defense, as if Duncan hasn't been eating his lunch all night. Duncan misses one, makes another, has 19. Birdman's defense! Diaw back to body up James and gets a miss, then feeds Duncan at the rim for Anderson's third foul. Heat Fan freaks out and ignores the waltz arm around Duncan's midriff. Well, it's not like they've been watching basketball for very long. Ginobili with yet another turnover, and he's killing them. James turns it on Leonard, looking like Gerald Wallace. That was kind of amazing, really. Commerce and a 2-point Heat lead.

Radio Shack now sells dildos. With speakers inside. Coors has scientists working on beer cans, because, hey, science.

Duncan with 21 and 6 in the half; 50% of their total. Ye Gads. Ginobili with his fourth turn, and it only feels like 20; the pass keeps Green from an open three. James' jumper stays out. Parker returns and Manu sits. Duncan gets the roll to tie it up. Bosh misses as it looks like James does not want to shoot. Diaw to Duncan for the flush, great pass and wow. Bosh misses as James continues to pass, rather than go at Diaw, and then the fat man drives and scoops for the tear drop. Good Lord. James misses from the arc, Parker runs clock and feeds Diaw, who misses from the arc, but Leonard tips it in.

A 17-4 Spurs run to end the half, they are up by 6, and the Heat crowd sounds funereal. America Has Had Worse Times. Off to put the daughters to bed.

I make it back in time to see Parker make two and give the Spurs a 5 point lead. Wade turns it against Green and pules. Parker nearly makes a dervish drive, but it stays out, and Wade hits from mid-range. Leonard tries too hard and misses a drive. Miller gets to the rim -- odd things are afoot! -- and makes it a 1-point game. Perhaps if James isn't going to drive any more, Miller will?

Diaw's magic runs out, but Duncan boards over Miller, and the Heat swingman gets his fourth foul. Diaw is lucky to avoid a turn, and chaos ends with a Parker floater and Wade foul; big, big play to escape defensive pressure. James misses what seems to be an easy drive, and Anderson gets his fourth foul in eight minutes. James has 12/5/7 so far, and such is his level, it seems really bad. Erik Spoelstra calls time, and this is the Spurs team that ended the Lakers, Warriors and Grizzlies, all on the road. Really long way to go, of course, but Miami is only in reach due to guys like Chalmers and Miller.

Leonard steals on James, muscles his way to the hoop and scores in transition, as Allen goes down hard; great play by the Spurs' young buck, and that's Wade's fourth foul. So much for Joey Crawford guaranteeing a Game 7. James misses the deep 3, Parker is a racehorse that doesn't get the roll, but Duncan gets the old-school tip and 3, and wow, he's been flat out awesome. 12 point Spurs lead, 11-0 run, and there's all kinds of doubt in Heat Fan right now. And perhaps an all-time high in Duncan's popularity. Just hope he's got enough legs to finish this. 30/12 in 26 minutes; insane.

Wade gets the roll on a lane make. Battier gets his third foul wrestling with Diaw, and the Frenchman hits one. 11 point lead, 16 minutes left. Wade misses, the only guy on Miami who seems eager to shoot, Leonard with the board. Parker blows by Allen and gets a bailout call. Two more makes push the lead to 13; San Antonio will not give up points here. Wade misses, no one in Miami moving without the ball. It's a clinic in how to defend them right now. Wade blocks Neal, ball movement gets it to Battier for a big three. Parker right by Bosh for an open look, but it stays out. Wade feeling it on Diaw, shakes, bakes, makes. It's Hero Ball, but it's working for now. Neal misses a three, the Heat tip it around and get lucky, and James falls down on offense as Heat Fan loses his fudge. James now on Duncan, gives to Wade, misses, and the Heat are screaming at the refs on every miss. Neal makes a runner, pushes it to 12, and the home team is not showing composure. James on Diaw, passive on the double. Allen hits Parker for an offensive turn as Heat Fan get organized in their Ref Hate. This is what flopping reaps, Heat Fan. Parker with a miss, James walking it up for some reason. Um, LeBron? You're behind. James trains into Spltter, gets a call, and Heat Fan erupts for the whistle. Loser play, lower crowd. James now 3 for 12 from the field, and it's really not the ref's fault. Shock troops in for the last 10.3 seconds; James makes both. Parker forcing it on Bosh, can't get it to fall. At the end of three, it's Spurs 75, Heat 65, and a clinic on many levels... but you get the feeling that if the Heat can get past this game, there's no way the Spurs can bounce back after three nearly perfect quarters.

Spoelstra answers a single question, because no one wants to deal with Doris Burke after two weeks of this. James feeds Chalmers for the easy baseline three; big possession. Too much Diaw for a miss; no ball movement for the Spurs. Crowd fully into it, and James gets to the rim easily and makes. Splitter stops the bleeding on a nice make; Duncan getting up. Miller hits a three with only one shoe; wow. I think that actually helped him, in that Neal seemed like he was anticipating a timeout. Big start to the quarter for the Heat, and no rest for the starting Spurs. I love Popovich, but he might have bought himself a close game by going to the shock troops here, rather than the kill. Credit also to the Heat, who have hit the threes they needed to get back into this; if Chalmers or Miller miss, the run doesn't happen.

Popovich stays stubborn with the subs; Splitter gets a bank to go, but James slams it home and it still feels like a run. Manu bailed out on a drive, and Duncan comes in for Splitter, who can't get out of this game fast enough. Manu misses one, now has four points. Retirement's still an option, Manu. James looking dangerous with the ball. He collects a heave from Chalmers for a slam, but Leonard saves a turn with a make; Spurs still holding water but the legs are wobbly. James blocked by Duncan at the rim, no call, but Green can't make at the other end. Manu elbows James hard, and that's an uncalled flagrant foul; first moment of dangerous elbows and chippiness in the series. James owns Leonard, finally, to cut it to three. Manu nearly turns it to Duncan, who is tied up by Miller for a jump. I can't put into words how badly Ginobili looks tonight.  Duncan wins the tip and the Spurs miss twice, Leonard and then Green. James to Anderson down low, and Duncan is called for Manu's foul. In five minutes, the Spurs lead has gone from 10 to 2; Duncan's 15th (!) board.

James blocks Duncan at the rim off a great Green pass, and that might be a game changer; he gets it back on the other end and ties it. Amazing play by the MVP. Green's three stays out. Allen with a baseline make, Miami leads, and this has the feel of Sixth Gear for Miami all of a sudden. We'll see if the Spurs have an answer after the money.

Duncan on Bosh, turnover, and the momentum of the game has changed to the point where the Spurs aren't getting bailout calls. James somehow winds up on Parker, drives immediately and falls down one more time on Ginobili's help defense, and the cumulative flopping has worn the refs down. More money.

If Popovich's faith in Ginobili was borne out in Game Five, it's cost him tons in Game Six. If it's my team, I have Diaw or Neal on the floor here, because at least they've done something tonight. James misses a free throw; it's a 3 point Heat lead. Diaw in, feeds Leonard, who makes on a run. James finally drives on Diaw, and makes easily, as Heat Fan wonders why that hasn't happened all night. Ginobili with Yet Another Turnover. James settles for jumper over Diaw and misses. Chalmers with a blocking foul on Manu, and Wade returns with full rest, probably too much. Parker misses, not really himself with the mid-range tonight. James called for his third on a shove on Parker, and the Spurs got away with one there on many levels. Duncan takes too long on Bosh and doesn't get the roll. It's not surprising, but still sad, that he hasn't been able to finish his throwback game at the same level. Spurs with just 9 points in the fourth, and I'm not sure where they go for more, with Parker 4 for 16, Duncan looking spent, Manu a week from retirement...

Wade with a bad miss over Green. Manu with a drive and suddenly the lane opens on Duncan contact as Bosh self-slams himself on the pick. Wade fouled by Green, and he's fortunate to make both. Manu's hero three clangs, but Wade's showtime tip attempt to James is a de facto turn, and Green calls timeout while trapped. I suppose that's a defensible risk by Wade, since the transition game is an auto make for James, but I'd still rather have the ball and run clock. Parker at the end of a terrible possession drains a three; wow. Tie game. Parker steals it from Chalmers, then does his Matrix stop and auto-correct lane make, and holy crap, is Tony Parker a beast. With the championship on the line, having a terrible game by his standards, he just made three huge plays in 20 seconds to turn a 3-point hole into a 2-point lead. Spurs are one good minute away from a trophy, all thanks to their point guard.

James nearly turns it on carelessness. Hero Ball possession, terrible basketball, ends in a turnover. If you are a LeBron James hater, that was porn. Spurs drive, Manu gets to the line and makes two. 4 point game, 37.2 left. James again, airball, Manu gets the ball and goes to the line. James jawing at someone for something; Manu misses a FT, and that's adding drama. Second one is good. 5 point game, 28.2 left, last Heat timeout, 8-0 run in a minute, and James' failures on the last two drives can not be oversold. Just huge on this stage.

Heat still have outs, but a miss will end them. James with 4 shooters. Diaw in for Duncan, and I kind of hate that. James' first three is a horrible miss, but without Duncan on the floor, Miami gets the board out of a scramble, and the MVP hits a three off a clean look. Suckout luck for James there; 2 point Spurs lead with 20.1 left. ESPN trying to whitewash James, as if he didn't nearly end his team in the last minute. Duncan back in to inbound; he does a great job to find Leonard off tough pressure. The young buck is fouled immediately. Must have makes, and the first stays out; tough spot to be 21. He looks beaten for the second, but makes it. Duncan out again. James misses, but Bosh boards, feeds Allen on the baseline, and despite the lack of timeout, the refs call time to review the clearly made three. Popovich is justly furious, but his move to remove Duncan twice in the end game cost his team dearly. 5.2 seconds left for the Spurs; what a game. Parker can't make on a haphazard end to end run that ends in a baseline miss, and the Spurs failing to get a board, twice, late... well, it could cost them a championship.

What. A. Game.

Allen miss, Leonard board. Parker to Leonard for the early make and lead. James misses, Manu board and near turn. Parker misses. Bosh leaks out and gets the old-school three attempt as Manu can't defend. Another terrible play by the Argentine; Manu to bench, finally. Bosh misses to keep it tied. Duncan miss, Diaw board, Leonard make, it's as if the Heat have no bigs. (Um, the Heat have no bigs.) Leonard gets his third in near turnover chaos by Allen. Wade and James turn in, and Parker gets to the line on an Allen foul; not a flagrant. Bosh rolled on Duncan behind the play, and that could matter a lot. Parker with a miss, third for the Spurs in the last few minutes, all of which mattered. Allen scores off a James feed, runner in the lane. Parker's bad three at the end of the clock shows fatigue. Wade to James for a make. Spurs want to push, but look gassed. Shot clock violation on a Parker heave as the Heat look like they've finally worn the Spurs down. 78 seconds from Game 7, Miami with a 1-point lead.

Parker on the bench, offense for defense. James misses on Manu, Leonard with the board, Spurs with a huge stop there. Manu turn, just awful, James steals it, but Green saves the game as the MVP cries to the refs yet again. Amazing defensive play and luck for the Spurs, though it looks on the replay like both men fouled.

Reset for the huge possession. Bosh blocks Parker (!), and Miami gets the loose ball and instant Spurs foul. Parker out again. Spurs playing defense rather than fouling, of course. Wade with the terrible fall away jumper miss, Spurs push, and Allen fouls Ginobili for no call. Inexcusable. Allen ends up with the ball, gets to the line, makes both. 3 point Heat lead with 1.9 left. Splitter in, and Duncan; guess the Spurs are running the picket fence. The inbounds goes all the way to Green in the corner, and Bosh eats his jumper alive to end it. Ball game; the series will go seven. That's a foul every minute of the game except the last seconds, and had the teams been reversed, I'm pretty sure the Heat would still be crying about the no-call. Your final is Heat 103, Spurs 100.

Game Seven is Thursday... and it's hard to see how the Spurs can recover, but I might have thought that about the overtime, and they had their chances there, too. Part of me is sad that the Heat escaped and won a game they had no right to win. Another part is thrilled that I get one more game to tide me over for the summer. But it's hard to see how this one can be anywhere near as good as tonight, so I hope I'm wrong yet again. See you then.

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