Friday, May 31, 2013

Taking Washington's team name away from Daniel Snyder

The Washington Snyders
Earlier this week, I fired up a takeaway list following up on the effort by ten members of Congress to get the Washington NFL Franchise to end it's age-old practice of naming their team after an obvious and fetid racist insult. (In case you missed it, or the news that inspired it, team owner Daniel Snyder, in a response that surprises no one, has more or less said that a name change away from the current slur is never going to happen.)

So appealing to his better nature -- I just cracked myself up with that -- isn't going to get you anything but older. And means that we need to think more creatively about this.

So since Snyder isn't tractable, and the status quo isn't tolerable, let's look at the people who could actually affect change.

1) NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. From the fake refs to Saintsgate to neutered kickoffs to his utterly absurd contract, it's clear that the Ginger Hammer gets what he wants in this league. Getting this team name to change might be the first moment of decent PR that he's had in years. And a way to keep Congress from doing things like, well, digging into the concussion record and horrifying medical mistreatment of former players.

2) High profile NFL announcers. Imagine, for instance, a SNF telecast in which Al Michaels and Cris Collingsworth just spend the entire 3 plus hours referring to "The Washington Franchise" and "First and 10 for the home team" while using the other team's nickname liberally.

Or, better yet, "Washington R Words." That would be fun.

Now, imagine every telecast crew doing that, or it's own version.There's any number of ways around it, really: just refer to them as Opponents, Home or Away, Daniel Snyder's Franchise, etc. Hell, call them the Snyders, Name Withhelds, Occupants or Bleeps. Call them the Natives or Original Americans for all I care; there's a reason why no one's really giving the Kansas City Chiefs that much grief. (Besides the fact that no one cares about the Chiefs outside of the Kansas City area.) Heck, consider it a challenge; a new nickname every week until the team grows up and joins polite society. NAMBLAs works, too. Have fun with it.

See, that's the amazing little fact about team nicknames. They are just mutually agreed conventions, but that agreement and convention is subject to the participation of individuals. And big television people are individuals, and none of them really want to be on the same side as Daniel Snyder on, well, anything.

Just don't use their current name. It's your mouth, Giant Television People. Take control of it.

3) Opposing teams. This one's small but telling; imagine the franchises that are hosting the Snyders not saying the name over the PA. Ever. And how awkward and petty Washington's vengeance on those teams would be at their home games...

4) Gear sellers. It's one thing for the team to sell merch with this name. It's quite another for the providers that carry gear for all NFL teams to go there. Just pull them out of the list, and don't stock them. They are just one of 32 clubs, after all; you might lose some sales, but it won't be an overwhelming amount, and as this would actually cause Snyder to lose money, it might actually get his attention.

5) Individual fans with a social media bent, under the idea that this can go viral.

If we've learned anything about the world in 2013, it's this: going big on the Web can happen at any time, and things can snowball quite easily. Now, this poorly regarded and lightly read sports blog isn't exactly great tinder, but we do have some readers, and those readers have social feeds, and so on, and so on. It doesn't take that much.

So, if you feel the way I do, or just enjoy Snyder's growing discomfort, forward this link and join me in this simple little pledge:

I'm never going to say or type the Washington franchise's currently chosen nickname again.

Daniel Snyder can not make us all repeat a ridiculous and vile racial slur just because he owns a team.

I'm also going to ask any one I come into conversation with to also refrain from the word.

The same way that I wouldn't tolerate people persisting in other speech that I find pointlessly objectionable, and devoid of artistic merit or value.

And all of this might seem small and not very important and not a way to get actual change to happen.... well, sure.

But only if we don't act collectively.

If this becomes a movement, with actual public pressure on media networks and/or a public change at the network level, to the point of decreasing sales of merchandise and causing Snyder to withstand constant and intense public shunning and censure...

Well, maybe the stress kills him, or causes him to snap in a really entertaining way. Or he sells the team, preferably for a lot less money than he'd like to.

Or more people in the greater metro area become fans of the franchise that has won two Super Bowls in this millennium.

Either way, isn't it better than having to explain this name to your kids later, and how you were/are a fan of a team, league and sport that refuses to stand up to a ridiculous racist troll at a time when, well, nearly everyone knew better than to use that word?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Paces - Heat Game Five - Chris Anderson Uber Alles

At the highest level of pro hoop, you would think that the game would be like, well, other sports. In football, if you spend 1.5 quarters farting around in an NFL playoff game, turning the ball over and generally playing up to about 50% of your ability, you'll trail by 17 points to a good team and spend the off-season bemoaning the lost opportunity and the hill that was too much to climb. The games are too close, the talent and coaching levels too exact, to take time off and still win, home field be damned. In baseball, a bad inning or two against a quality opponent makes you lose all the damn time, really. But not hoop.

Which is why bench players are some of the most beloved by fans of the laundry. The guy that comes in and actually changes the game, gets his more talented teammates to care again, and infuses everyone else with his energy is the single player on the team that all of the scrubs can relate to. Even when he's a tatted out freak who the FBI ran out of Denver on what I presume turned out to be false pretenses. Since you never count on the bench player, you never blame him. And when he contributes, he seems damn near essential.

For the first quarter and a half, it looked like the Heat were just not that interested in working very hard. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were subdued, and it was only the work of the other Miami starters (another Udonis Haslem sighting? Good lord) and the grind it out nature of the Pacer offense that kept it close. There was one possession in particular that struck me, in which Chris Bosh and Wade posted and re-posted for a score, but with Bosh looking so allergic to contact that he might as well have been wearing flats. Particularly MIA were George Hill and Lance Stephenson, the wildcards of the Pacers, and the guys least likely to show up on the road. (Kudos also to Mario Chalmers for executing the signature Heat play of failing down on offense, never getting back, then draining the three while still being so, so hurt. There are reasons that people hate the Heat, beyond irritation of not getting to root for James in their own laundry.)

But the game was more or less snoozing until Chris Anderson came in and changed the vibe. He did it by getting into a thoroughly predictable tiff with Pacers irritant Tyler Hansborough -- honestly, I think Hansborough could get into a fight while feeding a parking meter -- and while the Miami energy mascot was clearly the instigator and bigger punk, drawing a reasonably justified Flagrant 1 for going after a guy that wasn't even the one that clipped him, the crowd got into the injustice of it all. Anderson then followed up with a block on Hansborough that felt like Karmic Justice to the Heat crowd, and suddenly the Heat were interested again in going inside on offense and fighting for loose balls everywhere. The half ended tied, but the Pacers had already lost.

The third quarter was the turning point, with James just more or less crushing the world in his fist, after calling out his team in one of those moments that look fake if you hate Miami, but at some point, you just have to give him his due. The MVP scored or passed on 25 of 30 points in the quarter, and it wasn't even as if he looked all that ungodly hot doing it. The defense swarmed. The crowd surged. The Pacers had no answer, because, well, they just don't have the talent necessary to withstand those kinds of runs. By the time it was all over, with James draining one of those 25+ foot straight on threes that just feel like poisoned darts from a diffident higher being, it was Heat 70, Pacers 57, and I started writing this recap in earnest. The Pacers scored one field goal -- one -- in the last 7+ minutes of the third. Just absurd. Men against boys. Angry men.

Starting the fourth, George hit a three to make you wonder if the Heat were going to go back into fugue state, especially with James on the bench. Hansborough scored to make Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decide that was enough of life without LeBron in a turning point game. Ray Allen shook off the small sample size of missed free throws, then Norris Cole showed some nice tricksiness with a ball fake and make. Allen's corner three looked like old-school Ray, and a turnover and Wade make gave the Heat one of those instant runs that only they seem to get. 13 point game with 8 minutes left, and we're not far from garbage time at this point.

Hibbert, for this team, is like Boxer from "Animal Farm"; no matter what, he will work harder. He cuts it to 11 on sheer run, plant and post before the defense can get there. Anderson makes from distance, putting  his streak on the line, and that's 18 for 18 now. Yeesh. Hibbert can't will it through Anderson again, and Cole spots up and drains it; 15 point game and counting. Stephenson stops James cold, and the MVP spends time yelling at the refs rather than getting back; the Pacers score to make it 13. Danny Crawford showing the rest of the world how to officiate an NBA game without making it all about you. James draws Stephenson's fifth, and that was inevitable. The Pacer guard gets the smallest measure of revenge with a steal and make, the first for the starting Pacer backcourt. With 3:08 left, Cole blocks West during a session of volleyball, and that might just be the killshot. Kudos to West, honestly, for being the first guy in this series to react to a great defensive play without ref puling. James misses down low, but Indy's 17th turnover of the game -- good heavens -- gives it right back. One minute to scrubs.

Haslem with another make, because, well, Satan's good to his word, I guess. Stephenson fouls out and you'd never know that there was 90 seconds left and a 12-point deficit when it happens. James makes, George responds, but there isn't enough time left in this one to matter. James finishes with 30/8/6; he'll get the credit for this win and should, but this game was won in a single quarter. That's how much more talented the Heat are; they played at peak for 12 minutes and won comfortably. It felt perfunctory, expected, ritualistic. And just like after Game 3, it becomes hard to see how the Pacers can turn back the tide.

As we get into the wrap-up stage, the TNT crew gives it up for the Miami defense, and, well, they should... but it's still such an erratic thing. In Game 6 on Saturday, Indy's going to get something out of their bench (not so much tonight), Haslem won't shoot lights out, and hell, Anderson might even miss. The Heat still aren't getting more than the faint rumor of Wade, and Bosh is the world's shortest big man against Hibbert and David West, but none of that may matter. Miami has two chances to advance, the best player on the planet, and an opponent that isn't explosive enough to run out to big leads when they aren't at their best.

The Heat are going to get to the Finals.

But I'm no longer convinced that they are going to smoke the waiting Spurs when they get there.

A Brief And Obvious Point About Tim Duncan's Divorce

Who gets the dogs?
Hovering around the periphery of the Spurs' run for the last couple of weeks has been the tabloids working the semi-secret personal life of Hall of Fame power forward and franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan, and his impending divorce from his wife of 12 years. There's been talk about how the suit is being delayed by the Spurs' long playoff run, how Timmy had a pre-nup and a PI following around his spouse since last year, and so on, and so on.

I've really tried to resist writing about it, just the same as I've tried to resist clicking on those stories. And as you can tell from the header and lede, I've failed. But hopefully for a good cause.

Part of the reason why I've failed to stay just in the realm of Game is, well, it's basketball: the sport that gives us the most face time of any of the majors, what with the 100+ regular and playoff games and the lack of helmets or pads. It's impossible to watch a team for any length of time and not get into pop psychoanalysis about them, and resisting that urge just makes you a numbers nerd. Duncan's game is so controlled, so consistent (let's face it, his signature move is a bank shot) and so reasoned, he just doesn't seem to be the kind of man who would be capable of making decisions that don't work out well, on or off the court. He's the NBA's Spock, the guy who could probably be mayor of San Antonio for a few decades without even running for office, and the worst complaint I've ever heard from NBA fans about him is that he's boring, since his interviews are perfunctory, his game is always the same, and he doesn't care to look hip.

Which means that a divorce gives every armchair jockey (yes, guilty) carte blanche to note how the congruence of personal hell and his rage against the dying of the light late-career resurgence to NBA First Team All-Pro must be related, as if playing pro hoop were basically the same as being a singer-songwriter, fine artist, or spectacular drunk or drug abuser. Which is all, well, grade A fertilizer; Duncan has been great this year because Duncan has always been great. In 2012-13, he's also been healthy and on a team that is so good, so deep and so well-coached that he's in no way gassed despite having already played an extra quarter of the season, and counting.

Sidebar: the Shooter Wife is my second. I was married for a little over 2 years and several decades in my mid-20s. I won't get into the details of the relationship because it is just not that interesting, but I will say this about it: nothing, and I do mean nothing, in my life improved or got inspiration from the experience, other than the long-term gain of not spending the rest of my life with the wrong person. I was a musician back then and used it for song lyrics, and all that did was make my songs dated and difficult to listen to later. I suppose I'm better at getting over depressive states now, since I've been through far worse times, but even that's a shaky benefit. Nothing from that time has anywhere close to the impact of, say, my youngest daughter in a hospital room. (She's had asthma episodes, and no, I have nothing to complain about compared to people who have kids with real issues. But you get the point.)

So if you find yourself needing to put Duncan's off and on the court lives together to explain this great season... just stop. You don't know the man, and neither do I, but killing the single thing in his life that may not be about profound sadness and regret is cruel beyond the telling. If you are a Duncan fan, you are also demeaning his achievement and giving backhanded credit to his ex. If you are a feminist, you are undermining your own cause by telling the falsehood that distance from women is a requirement for athletic greatness. And it's all so unnecessary.

Tim Duncan is good at basketball because Tim Duncan is good at basketball.

We don't really need to explain it more than that.

Or to know anything else about his off the court life to appreciate what he does on it.

FTT Off-Topic: Level Four Fear

On sale for $47; the biggest secret is Parents Are Marks.
Not really sports, so read or move along, you.

The Eldest, a teen for about six weeks and always a girl, is a Level 4 gymnast. If you don't know what that is, that's fine; basically, it means that you can do stuff on every apparatus, have probably been at it for a couple of years, and are on the cusp of being in a team or performing at a meet. You are better at gymnastics than 98 to 99% of the people on the planet, and acutely aware of just how many people are in the 1 to 2%, since you see them all the time, and have to get over that fact. A lot.

She's also on her third gym, having been jerked around and irritated by the two previous places, though to be fair, she's probably not the easiest kid in the world to teach. (Shockingly, my kid is a mite headstrong. Clearly, her mother's fault. We also didn't start her young enough, assuming that starting her at all was the right move, and, well, it was.) She also took a full month off while transitioning from the last gym, going on vacation and being in a school play, and for much of that month, she didn't talk about gymnastics.

I wondered, during that time, if we were done with the sport. Turns out that we're not.

I'm glad that we're not... except when I'm not. Let me explain.

My kid is, like me, a hobbit; she doesn't really look her age, and that lack of height plus her monomaniacal fitness level makes her a reasonable addition to a team. She's focused as well, though she doesn't really have the Crush Others edge that makes me think she's ever going to do this for more than fun and fitness. And that's fine, really; though I'd love for her to get more of a taste for competition as she rounds into adulthood, I've been her dad long enough to know that pushing when they need to pull just makes both parent and child frustrated with each other.

Anyway, she's now on the upswing, training four times a week, enthused about her teammates and coaches and routines, doing 12 hours of exercise over three nights and one morning during the school year without too much grumbling about the inevitable aches and pains that result from this work. Which is all good news, right? Well, sure... if you consider the borderline car payment that's involved to keep her in training, or that those funds could kick up the college fund savings by a fairly dramatic level, or maybe even (dare I dream) put something aside for my hopefully less than completely dependent dotage... good news.

But she's 13, ya know? And could decide to stop being a gymnast if the training goes south or the teammates get bitchy, and the grades are good and this has to be a nice addition to the resume for college later, and no, I'm in no way dreaming of even a partial athletic scholarship from this...

Doubt, FYI, creeps even into the Nice Moments of being the parent of a youth athlete. Tonight, I shopped with her online and ordered her three new leotards (these are not cheap, you will be shocked to learn) because, well, four times a week is four times a week, and I found a coupon code and yada yada yada. I could have just gotten two and kept her in the same stuff she uses now with more frequent laundry; once more with feeling, she could stop at any time. But that's not supportive at all, right?

And that is, honestly, what being a parent is like. Doing things for them with full outward confidence, while being completely convinced, in moments of low energy or esteem, that you're doing it all wrong. And knowing that they are learning from you all the time, and much of that time, it's not something that you are aware that you are teaching.

If all goes well, she might get into a meet in another 4 to 6 months. At this point, she just wants to stay on the team. And I just want her to... give her whole heart to a pursuit, while not getting her heart broken by it.

And to make the investment worth it, while never feeling like she has to make the investment worth it...

And to be there at some future date, when she or her sister struggles with the same decision for her child, if that's the path she wants to take in life...

And have no good advice, no good advice at all, on which way to go.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Top 10 takeaways from 10 members of Congress urging Daniel Snyder to change the loathsome name of his NFL team

Hat Tip, Stephen Colbert
10) If this somehow ends with Snyder in Gitmo, we may finally see positive public opinions of Congress

9) From what I've heard on cable news for the past week, Congress is overstepping their bounds into what is clearly a job for the IRS

8) The Congress members also sent letters to Roger Goodell and the other 31 NFL franchises, because they've got that free franking thing going for them

7) This is clearly going to hurt the Washington's team sterling public reputation, and finally give people a reason to dislike Snyder

6) If you really want this team name to be over, you should be going after the media networks that routinely repeat the slur name, and, um, don't have to

5) The only reason why I'd be against Congress subpoenaing Snyder is that it would take him away from ruining his team, which he's proven to be uniquely good at

4) For everyone who snarkily notes that Congress has solved everything else and clearly has time to waste on Snyder, um, seriously, it's a letter from 10 people to stop a douche bag from being a racist in the biggest league in the land, so lighten up

3) I really hate agreeing with Greggggggg Easterbrook about anything, but honestly, no one *has* to say the team name or buy the gear, so just don't and it will eventually go away, along with Snyder

2) If Robert Griffin the Third said that he'd like this team name to be over, this team name would be over, so please feel free to ask him about this until he snaps

1)  If Snyder caves, it's clear that Native Americans will then move on to Kansas City, miners will target San Francisco, African-Americans will go after Cleveland, and gays will picket Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Oakland and Dallas

Heat - Pacers Game Four: When Inevitable Isn't

West and Hibbert, mostly
The thing about the Heat is that while they are a dominant team (and as they are now 48-6 over their last 54 games, they are that good)... it's a very thin dominance, since it's so star-dependent. They are always a turned ankle or indifferent effort away from looking like, well, a team without consistent bench play or dominant bigs, dependent on getting in transition, and prone to getting smacked in the face in the paint by talented bigs. Tonight, the Pacers showed that what looked so inevitable and easy after Game 3 was not the true level of the series. Which means we're getting more games of what's turning out to be a great, great basketball war.

Indy came out like a house on fire with an 11-0 run; the Heat recovered, but far from fully. In the second, Dwyane Wade looked hurt at best or disinterested and hurt at worst, and the Pacers were up, running, hungry, young, the basketball equivalent of wolves feeding off the howls of the home pack. With LeBron James losing his blood thirst for post play, the offense that was absurdly dominant for Miami in Game 3 saw the field goal percentage chopped in half, and Lance Stephenson was meeting the Heat flop for flop. Paul George's foul trouble was not an issue, and Chris Anderson lost his mojo against Roy Hibbert, who was the best player on the floor in the first half.

But with so much going right for the Pacers, the half ended with the Heat chip, chip, chipping away. Especially with the Pacer offense having issues, and with a minute left to go in the first, Wade flashed the old form for the old-school three. After a comedic repeat of the take Roy Hibbert out and allow James to score play, Miami trailed by just a point at the half.

In the third, the teams traded the lead for a couple of minutes, and then the Heat went into Hyper Defense Mode, where every pass looks forced and Mario Chalmers looks a lot better than he actually is. By the time Vogel got the way too late timeout, the Heat were up six. David West kicked it up a notch with a make, a room service o-board, a make and and another o-board off a FT miss, leading to Chalmers' fourth and a Stephenson tap in; just a disastrous sequence for the Heat, capped by a bad Bosh miss from the arc and a cake baseline jumper for West. Spoelstra's time for the way too late timeout, and a fresh Pacer lead when Miami was starting to look inevitable.

With 5:05 left in the third, Bosh went down in a heap against Hibbert for his fourth foul and an ankle problem. After one Hibbert make and West getting the line against Shane Battier, the lead was four. With James still deferring, Wade ended the 10-0 run with a make that Hibbert answered easily. Stephenson trips James for a foul as Pacer Fan kind of makes an idiot of herself, and Allen's drive is slow motion old guy to make it three. Hill makes a three, which James answers, and the game starts getting good. TNT, sadly, is recreating their Spurs Fan mistake of not watching the ground sound. James with the block of the year in transition on Hill -- just an insane play -- and the scramble leads to Hill's fourth and a Vogel tech. That might have been one of the five best defensive plays I've ever seen. Wade gets a call on Sam Young as Pacer Fan loses her fudge; the Midwest polite serenade of "He's A Flopper" is not backed up by the basketball gods, who grace Wade with two makes. (Pacer Fan, the chant for ref hate is Bull Shit. Do not deviate from the chant.) Hill makes an old-school three with the get-even call on Allen. Wade misses after an ugly possession, Hill answers with an absurd three attempt, and James gets a cheap and dumb foul against West with 2 seconds left. Not a play befitting the MVP, and one that would cost him later. Stephenson's miracle rainbow three from the corner ends the quarter, gives the Pacers a 7-point lead, and ends a wildly entertaining quarter of basketball. Calling Stephenson a wildcard is an insult to wildcards. Pacers 77, Heat 70.

Starting the fourth, Allen is denied at the rim; he really has no business going there in traffic at this stage in his career. Ian Mahinmi takes a clear goaltend against James as Pacer Fan howls, then makes a clear push for the offensive turn. James wears down Stephenson for a foul, then misses; it looks like he's going to the block in this quarter. West gets a bailout rim touch that becomes a Mahinmi tap in. Miami needs to end this lead before they spend all of their energy fighting uphill, but Allen's open three stays out, and Hibbert owns Anderson again to push it to nine. James misses from the arc, and the Heat aren't going well with this pace.

Indy gets boned on a shot clock violation; the TNT guys giggle about the lack of home love, but that's a big blown call and the spark to a Heat run. Chalmers draws Stephenson's fifth with 8:09 left, and that's another major problem. Two makes cuts it to seven. Wade with a timely steal and D.J. Augustin's clueless transition foul means the Heat will spend the last 7:54 at the line; telling. Two more makes and it's a 5 point game. George makes a tough one; Chalmers gets it right back, and this might be his best game as a professional. James with another absurd block after a foul, and Wade finishes at the other end; three point game. Bosh blocks Hill for another de facto turnover, and James drains a three for the capper of an 11-2 run as visiting Heat Fan makes himself heard. Tie game halfway through the fourth, and for the love of God, TNT, control the crowd around your floor mics.

James with an easy steal off the inbounds, and Wade gets to the rim for a goaltend and one; Wade's rep as a new dirtbag prevents the refs from reviewing for flagrant there. George gets it right back with his own effort over James, and that's the MVP's fourth. Allen hits a miracle three bailout, but if anyone is going to make that, it's an all-time leader in threes made. Wade gets his fifth on West with 4:55 left, and this one really could end with a half dozen stars watching. One make makes it a 2-point Heat lead. Chalmers is denied on a drive; West and James go WWE to a no-call as the Pacers miss. Bosh's three misses, and Stephenson shakes, bakes, and makes for yet another tie. Lance has no fear, probably because fear involves awareness of the clock, situation, or his relative talent level. It's heartening, in a way...

With 208 seconds left to determine if this series will go long, the Heat settle for a long Wade deuce; no good and not good. The Pacers nearly lose it, then get George taking off paint for a board back from Hibbert. Chalmers and then Allen miss, with Hill getting the loose ball and timeout call. 142 seconds left, 2-point Pacer lead and the ball. Stephenson misses a three, but West gets an easy board for more clock. Hibbert misses a hook, but gets the board, make and foul, and that's just strong as hell. Five point Pacer lead with 90 seconds left; fifth on James... so LeBron just drains a three. Unfair, unreal, but the Pacers don't blink, with Hibbert getting another o-board and make. James then gets his sixth on what might be the shakiest call you'll ever see against an MVP in the final minute of a playoff game, and that should be it, really; just an amazing call for a league that usually lets stars decide things. I get that it's probably a foul, but still. Second time that James has fouled out in a playoff game in 128 games... and the other time was also Joey Crawford! So nice to have him in moments like this.

Indy just needs to not make mistakes at this point, and fails; turnover after a very long peep show with 36.7 left gives the visitors a chance. Wade blows that with a turnover; his reluctance to shoot the three is obvious at this point, though the travel looks a little dicey to me, and takes what could have been a made three off the boards. Hill makes one for yet another opening and yay, more screen time for Crawford on an obvious of bounds call. I love the Association, but man alive, the ref work is just way too noticeable.

Last gasp time for the Heat, and Allen's miss is to be expected; Battier puts George on the line with hurt feelings, because Shane Battier smells like onions. Hibbert leaves because Vogel has to do that, and several misses later, the horn blows. Pacers 99, Heat 92, and it's a best of three now, with Game Five on Thursday.

I can't help but feel a little cheated; not by the Pacers winning, but by James fouling it under highly dubious circumstances in what was still a winnable game for the Heat. The fact that they weren't on path to win that game, and were somehow in a road contest when they shot 30 for 77 from the floor and were -19 (!) on the glass, will all be forgotten about as you watch replay after replay of Foul #6, because we are not allowed to consider the entirety of a game.

 Indy didn't steal this one, or have it given to them by the refs; they took it, rebound by rebound and response by response. It wasn't Crawford that shook off that stunning block by James, or his no conscience three, or 3.5 quarters of Mario Chalmers playing out of his mind; it was Hibbert, Stephenson and West and George and Hill. You don't end a game 16-6 and steal it, or have it given to you.

We've got at least two more games of this series. I don't care if you don't like either of these teams, or any of these stars: this was, and is, great hoop, at a time of the season when you don't always get that. I'm hoping the Finals is half as good.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Top 10 takeaways from the Spurs' sweep of the Grizzlies

Sleep, sweet Zebo, Sleep
10) In retrospect, the Grizzlies' choice of playing "Don't Stop Believing" while they were being swept seems a little insulting

9) This is the 5th time the Spurs have reached the Finals, though you will be forgiven if you thought it was every other goddamn year since the early 90's

8) Perhaps trading Rudy Gay for the utterly useless Tayshaun Prince (worst +/- on the team) might not have been the best move for the Grizz after all

7) With the sweep, the Spurs have 10 full days off before the start of the NBA Finals, or just a week less than when the rest of the NBA has to report for preseason games

6) That Mike Conley Is A Great Point Guard train got a wee bit derailed by the fact that Tony Parker was the best player in the series by a wide margin

5) You can blame Marc Gasol for not having the killer instinct necessary to tend to a fallen Parker after hitting him in the eye in tonight's game, and for not doing it harder in the first place

4) His impending divorce, and the possible failure of his pre-nup, is clearly putting the bounce back in Tim Duncan's step

3) Several members of the Grizz made the all-defensive teams, not that they gave any indication of that in this series

2) Gregg Popovich now has a week and a half to prepare for his outstandingly curt and rude interviews with useless sideline reporters

1) Now that the Spurs have reached the Finals, we can all finally put to rest the idea that Tracy McGrady isn't a championship level player who should never, ever, get on the floor

Monday, May 27, 2013

Spurs - Grizzlies Game Four: Well, At Least That's Over

Memo to Memphis
I suppose that it's no news to anyone who reads this blog that I'm not a big fan of the World Wide Lemur, the Mouse that ruined sports, the only people on the planet that willingly give Skip Bayless money. I think ESPN is all that's wrong with sports: the gimmed up controversies, the frat boy snark, the jockocracy and homogenizaton, and the success that has made everyone think that this is the only way to do this. Maybe this is always the way it has to be, or always has been, but for 20-plus years now, I've liked ESPN a little less than did the previous year.

For whatever reason, ESPN got the Western Conference Finals this year; usually they take the East. And despite two of the four games going to overtime, it was a squash, which means that we have the bare minimum amount of ESPN work.

And that's about all that I can say in terms of basketball artistry. In the first half, San Antonio took the crowd out of the game with alacrity, helped by the shocking continuation of Zach Randolph, Offensive Liability. (He and Marc Gasol combined to go 2 for 12 in the first half. Woof.) Memphis couldn't put the ball in the ocean, but when every possession requires a half dozen good passes and moves just to get a mid-range jumper, you aren't going to score a lot. The Spurs, in counter, shot lay ups, and only the absence of Manu Ginobili and a few free throws kept this as a six point game. How bad was it? I love hoop and there's likely less than a dozen games left before late October, and it was an effort not to switch over to a not very close regular season MLB game. One where I didn't have any fantasy players.

In the third, Memphis was able to trade hoops and look a little better, but that's not terribly helpful when you start the second half from behind, and the crowd stayed as hot as a mid-week game in February. You got the feeling, watching this, that with the exception of guys like Quincy Pondexter, the Grizz and their fans were just ready for this to be over. Parker was particularly devastating; when the point guard shoots 12 for his first 16, you're going to win an awful lot of games. A 5-point QP run got it back to six, reminding the crowd to cheer, but o-board volleyball failed, leading to a Manu run out at the end of the run. It also led to the always tiresome Jeff van Gundy ranting about how Manu should have flopped, as if that's advice that Manu really needs to hear. Have I mentioned that I'm glad ESPN isn't getting extra games?

Pondexter drained another deep one as Boris Diaw was fouling Randolph, which got it back to six and allowed Drama once more. A crazed Manu drive failed at the line, leading to two more QP FTs, but he missed one. Zebo got a steal and score to make it three with 1:07 left, but the Spurs always answer, and this time it was Kawhi Leonard from the arc. Six point game for the Spurs at the end of three.

Starting the fourth, Darrell Arthur cut it to four, but Leonard got a steal and eventually scored in transition against Jarryd Bayless as the rest of Memphis didn't run back; telling. Randolph's old-score three got it to three and More Drama, but Tony Allen's fourth foul was on Manu outside the arc, and that's just inexcusable. Allen was a defensive hammer before this playoff and one of the reasons why I got fooled into thinking Memphis would advance; he's been a big problem, and hasn't done much to stop Parker at all. And just to prove the point further, Parker hits a three. Ye gads.

Even more telling: with six minutes left, Parker goes down heavily with an apparent eye problem after an uncalled touch foul... and Gasol tends to him, rather than join in for a 5-on-4, or force a Spur timeout. On the one hands, applauding the sportsmanship is a nice moment, but it also speaks to a certain lack of blood thirstiness from the Grizz. The get-even call comes immediately, with Allen getting his fifth, and Duncan converting. Leonard steals, Duncan runs, the Grizz don't, and it's 10 with 5 minutes left.

Parker returns; Pondexter scores on an awkward drive, but the Spurs' PG just can't miss tonight, or shoot anything but an open shot. QP's 2 of 3 FTs don't distract ESPN from Grizzly Bench Drama, because ESPN is all about whatever is not on the court. Duncan misses, but so does QP. Two awful possessions ensue, and Manu turns it over again; game got really ragged there for a solid minute. Allen was stopped at the rim by Manu and Tiago Splitter for the inevitably praised no call.

Randolph with a terrible turnover out of the timeout, and that might be it. Duncan misses a key jumper and a killshot. Bayless misses from the perimeter, and it looks like the Spurs are going to win with their current point total. Parker misses; Gasol boards, but can't get the runner. Duncan's second puts Randolph to the line for a chance to shine his goat horns some more, and he does not disappoint; after 1 for 2, he's 12 for 24 for the series. Parker runs clock and turns it over; 6 turns for the Spurs in the fourth are the only reason we have drama in the final minutes. Bayless to Gasol makes it a three point game. Parker gets to the rim with way too much ease for 30 seconds left in a season, with Bayless putting him on the line; the Spurs don't miss, and it's a 5-point game. Splitter blocks Bayless at the rim, just a great play, and that should be it. Bayless puts Parker on the line, which gets him to 99 points for the playoff and 37 for the game. The post-mortems will blame Gasol and Randolph, but Parker owning Conley has been the bigger issue. Conley misses from the arc, the Spurs run out the clock, the Grizzly PA redefines unintentional comedy by playing "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, and that's a wrap.

San Antonio now has an absurd 10 days off before the Finals begin, just to make sure that the sweep hurts them with the most rust ever. I don't like their chances against the Heat, but I haven't liked anyone's chances against the Heat all year, and I thought they were going to lose to the Grizz. They'll have all the time in the world to prepare.

A Small But Telling Moment In My Sixers Fandom

Not so much, Sean Casey
The other day, I was flipping through channels and saw that Comcast in my area, as part of what I assume is a pretty standard regional move, was replaying Game Seven of the Sixers-Raptors playoff series of 2001.

You know, the one where Vince Carter took grief for caring more about being at his UNC graduation ceremony early in the day, then missed at the buzzer to allow the AI / Mutumbo / McKie / Snow Sixers to escape into the third round against the Ray Allen / Sam Cassells / Glenn Robinson Bucks.

And as I watched this game, in which I knew the outcome in advance and lived with the sad knowledge that was Jumaine Jones' career, and having never really gotten into the whole phenomenon of watching rerun games...

Well, I was still more entertained than by any game the Sixers played this year.

Or, in all likelihood, next.

Top 10 takwaways from Adrian Peterson's stance against marriage equality

Separate, Not Equal
10) The RB doesn't believe in gay marriage, which means that he doesn't believe in something that will be the law of the land in his state in about 65 days

9) He knows that the Vikings didn't release Chris Kluwe for his support for the issue, because the Vikings always tell him why they release players

8) AP loves and respects his gay relatives, except for, you know, treating them like the rest of society

7) He's not biased against gay people, despite, well, showing this bias against gay people

6) Peterson says to each his own, assuming, of course, that some don't get to have the each

5) Judging by the past history of public figures who have come out against marriage equality, you are more than justified in assuming that Peterson is closeted, not that there's anything wrong with that

4) Since there are no gay people in the NFL, this won't cause Peterson any problems in pile-ups or team meetings

3) No, seriously, there are no gay people in the NFL, honest, no fooling, move along now you, nothing to see here

2) I don't know about you, but as a white guy, I always find it oddly uplifting when African-Americans engage in bigotry against a minority

1) At no point during the interview was Peterson struck mute by the  cognitive dissonance of what he was saying, or bathed in the warm glow and love of an intolerant God, because that's just the way the universe works

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Heat - Pacers Game Three: Sixth Gear

Udonis and Umakethis
In the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, at home, the Heat didn't look like, well, the team that had won an absurd percentage of games for the past 4+ months. Indy led for long stretches, crashed the boards, forced turnovers, and had their best player fight the Heat's best player to something akin to a draw. If you wanted to tell the story of how the Heat were a paper tiger who took advantage of two DOA playoff opponents, you had your chances.

Tonight, the dominant Heat showed up. And they played a game that made them look like a club that can't possibly be beat.

Starting the first quarter, the Heat threw doubles at Roy Hibbert, which is one of those between game adjustments that make you wonder, well, why that couldn't have been an in-game adjustment. Miami clearly ratcheted up the defense early as well, but didn't get the game into the up and down pace they prefer. Chris Bosh hit a three, which is usually not such a big deal, but given how Hibbert in the lane tends to discourage Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, I guess it matters. Miami treaded water early without much from James (Bosh, you have to expect a little, but Udonis Haslem?), and the Pacers hit open threes; it was also telling that there seemed to be no shortage of Heat fans in the building. Curious. They also combined to go 16 for 20 in the first 5.5 minutes, which is crazy high for any playoff game, let alone one in this series.

Tyler Hansborough came on for the Pacers in the first quarter, and honestly, I don't know how any fan base roots for the guy. He's just so ungainly, so whiny, that even the positive contributions seem too dearly bought. For the record, I also kind of hate Chris Anderson, so this isn't a matter of bias towards one team or the other. Anderson is a better player, for what it's worth, though he's also playing in the cushiest role in the NBA.

The Pacers ended the first quarter with turnovers, which is deadly against any good team, but especially against Miami. They were fortunate to be just down 4, though perhaps fortunate is too strong of a word to use when you shoot over 70% from the floor and give Haslem multiple looks.

In the second, the Heat were able to keep up the defensive pressure and build a lead, with the Pacers rarely getting a good look or shooting before the end of the clock. James started to use his strength against Paul George and in a blink, it was a 10-point Heat lead. David West and Wade traded solid and-ones with missed FTs, and Anderson picked up his second; the Birdman can't hang with West, but West can't usually carry a team, so it's something of a mixed bag. James drew a whirling knee from Lance Stephenson to enrage Pacer Fan some more, but the bigger point is that the MVP was posting and delivering consistently, leading to 70 first half points without the game being a lay-up fest. Efficiency is an amazing thing to watch, especially when it comes with athleticism. The Heat kept the lead for the rest of the second quarter, with Wade in particular looking solid, but there wasn't a player in black who looked bad in the half. James hit a floater at the buzzer, and the Heat led by 14 at the whistle. Just dominant offensive basketball there.

Starting the third, Mario Chalmers had a nice moment of punkery by spiking the ball off the back of Hibbert's head to save a possession; that's so Mario! Miami extended the lead early before giving up a three and just their second turnover, and George hit a three after an uncalled foot shuffle to bring it back to 10... but Wade just looked rocking chair cozy on the answer. Hill's old-school 3 continued the run, and James missed an open look for the Stephenson run out; that's Bosh's fourth foul and a full-throated comeback for the Pacers, who cut it to seven after a 1-for-2 trip. Haslem made a run-breaker, but the Pacers were clearly playing better ball. Chalmers rolled his ankle badly, but stayed in to make the FTs and remain in the game. Hibbert's o-board, make and old-school 3 was deeply dependent on Stephenson running, and that's Chalmers' fourth, too. Troublesome for the favorites. The point guard got very lucky that he didn't get his fifth on the and-one push on Hill, and it was still 10. Haslem ended an absolutely perfect possession -- Wade pulling it out instead of going 1 on 3, four passes in quick succession to the open baseline shooter -- and the game was for all intents and purposes, over.

Going into the fourth, it became apparent that the Heat weren't going to fold, and that the Pacers weren't going to reach a sixth gear to close the gap. James in the post was a machine, the ball movement was just crisp as hell, and the last 16+ minutes of game time was more or less Garbage Time. Wade took a flop for the ages that isn't going to do anything for his rapidly deteriorating Thug Rep, the Heat had every starter in double figures and finished with five turnovers, and Haslem and Anderson combined to shoot 12 for 13 for 26 points and 16 boards in 45 minutes. Not too shabby, Miami. For the Pacers, Hibbert had 20 and 17, but shot 4 for 12 in doing it, and West's 21 and 10 were mostly forgettable. Your final is Miami 114, Indiana 96, and the Heat now lead 2-1.

Can the Pacers even this up? Well, maybe; the Heat can't play this well again, and even in a blowout, the Pacers owned the glass, 45 to 36. (That's less impressive than it sounds, really: the Heat had precious few chances for o-boards, what with all of those made shots.) If the Pacers can get the defensive pressure back up and get back the dozen-odd turnovers that were present in the first two games, it gets close again.

But what we saw tonight was the Heat going to sixth gear, where they are the best basketball team in the world. The Pacers didn't even play bad, and they weren't even able to stay in the rear view window at home. The team that was going to end all suspense just showed up again.

FTT Off-Topic: Clubland for Kids

Get your bounce on
As always with FTT O-T, not sports and not sorry; read or bail.

This may seem like a commercial endorsement, but it's really not. Rebounderz is a franchise indoor trampoline arena, and a place I took the kids on vacation in Florida last month. With the holiday weekend happening and my girls having a really solid day on a lot of levels, I found another franchise location and rolled them over on a Saturday night.

Unlike our Florida experience, the place was packed and catering to a tween to teen audience, though there were tons of littler kids there, too. My girls immediately got into the swing of things, so I found a bench and sat down to wait out their hour. (Why didn't I join them on the trampolines? Because they have both benefited from years of gymnastics experience, and, well, I have not. Besides, the Shooter Family Knees are not good things, despite the years of running and weight work.) And as I sat there, it hit me: there's really not much that's stylistically different between this place and a dance club.

Both places have a volume of house music that is designed to alienate people beyond the prime demographic. Both are venues where you don't get to set foot unless you have a basic competence, as well as the confidence to get over yourself if you look bad. Both rooms appeal to both genders, but in both situations, you see more girls than boys. Both seem wildly profitable and devoid of appeal if you aren't ready to participate, and both places are a lot less fun when they are empty -- and equally intolerable if overcrowded. And both places have to bounce people who don't follow the rules, since it's a relatively easy play to get hurt if someone doesn't know what they are doing, or not taking the activity seriously.

Having said that, of course, there are huge differences; girls aren't getting dressed in ridiculous ways to go bounce on a tramp, and there's nothing in the way of drink, smoke or drugs that is the more or less necessary appetizer to the dance club meal. You don't feel bad about your kid liking a tramp arena; you actually feel more than a little pride, especially when she's hitting her flips and exercising for the full hour, rather than gasping like a beached fish and/or bailing out for the arcade and snack bar.

But in both places, you are watching the present rapidly becoming the future. Tonight, I saw a girl that was more or less the same hair, hair color, posture and clothing style sense as my youngest, but just a few years down the road.

It goes fast, folks.

It goes very fast indeed.

Spurs - Grizzlies Game Three: Tim Duncan Does Not Follow The Script

Tim Duncan Will Also End This
It was obvious how this one was going to play out: the Grizz, desperate for the game and back at home after the big comeback fell short in Game 2, were going to win. They were going to ride the emotion and the home crowd to a big early lead (29-13 after the first quarter), stave off a comeback, and go wire to wire. Maybe they'd get a mess of calls from the ref, or profit from the Spur bench having Grindhouse Willies, but the Game Three win for the home team is just what happens in series that go long. And the second half of Game 2, not to mention the past history between these teams, said this series was going to go long. It's one of the reasons why I picked the Grizz to win; I was expecting the younger team to wear out the Spurs, and just wasn't imagining it ending quickly. Teams are too close, right?

Well, Tim Duncan was part of that early script; all of the Spur starters looked bad early, as you might imagine from that score. But he wasn't going to be part of the full.

So Memphis raced out to an 18 point lead, and this looked deep in the list of That'll Happen... but the Spurs didn't just come back to tie it up, but take a two-possession lead and look like they were just going to end it. And they just might of, if Mike Conley doesn't hit a bailout three for all kinds of utility. And when Quincy Pondexter hit from the corner with 8:10 left, the lead was gone and the crowd started to breathe again. Without Conley's make at the end of the clock, maybe the Spurs extend the lead, and the game starts to get out of hand. Instead of, well, later. But back to Duncan.

With four minutes left, Pondexter had a transition chance with Duncan back. The big man didn't block it and didn't foul, but he clearly got in the head of the bench guard, and the front rim bunny miss was positively Jedi-esque. Sure, Timmy shorted a corner jumper and followed it up with a bad foul on Tony Allen... but that might have been his last bad basketball moment of the night, and even that only cost the Spurs a point, since the Grizz were in 50% Mode from the line.

Getting into the nitty gritty of what decided this one... Allen was called for a terrible foul on what should have been a turnover, but Danny Green's 3 stayed out (Ball Don't Lie!) for an Allen board. Conley missed in traffic on a good look, and the Spurs got the board after a silly peep show. Duncan hit Manu Ginobili perfectly after the timeout for an easy back door cut, but Marc Gasols answered for the lead with a minute left; that might have been Gasol's last good moment of the game. Pondexter fouled out on another Manu move to the hoop, and it seemed like the reserve didn't know the count. Ginobili doesn't miss FTs that matter, so the Spurs got the lead back. Allen got a call on Manu back with 33.9 and split a pair to make it even again; those misses by the Grizz at the line in the fourth were inexcusable. Manu missed from the arc; he had a clean shot at it, but just didn't get it done. With 19 seconds left, the Grizz were in the win or overtime moment, assuming you can avoid the disaster turnover. Conley and Gasol burned clock, but the point guard missed at the buzzer as Jeff van Gundy swore fealty to the idea that only Big Stars With Size can win games late and close. Guess they should just quit then, right?

Well, no, but it would have saved everyone five minutes of Tim Duncan Will End You.

The second overtime of the series (seriously, Memphis PA, you probably deserve much misery with your embrace of Journey) began with Duncan making his forever line jumper, with Randolph answering Moses Malone volleyball style. Duncan then went old-school and one with Gasol's fifth; the Hall of Famer got away with an elbow to the face that was the equivalent of a knockout punch. Gasol missed on the other end, and a Tiago Splitter hook gave the Spurs a 5-point lead early in the period: trouble. Conley ended a bad over-dribble possession by getting absolutely mauled by Duncan for his fifth foul, and only made one of two. Parker's easy lane pull up made it six. Gasol missed an easy one down low, and Splitter connected again for an 8-point lead with 2:19 left. You really don't expect a great defensive team to allow 5-for-5 to start overtime at home.

Conley connected at the end of a long clock. Duncan finally missed, but Gasol's nightmare OT continued with a back-iron miss. Parker ran clock, then got the series-ending and-one on Randolph, and wow, this is so not the Grizzly team that played the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Spurs' largest lead of the game game with a minute left in overtime, and the Grizz, for some reason, didn't foul; a Parker miss led to an easy Duncan follow for the signature closeout putback over Conley. Your final was 104-93, and honestly, it wasn't that close. The Grizz's first home loss of the post-season now puts them in the position of trying to overcome that 107-0 record of NBA teams with a 3-0 hole. The Grizz just haven't shot well enough to win, especially in overtime.

Game four is Monday, and I'd expect the Grizz to respond with some heart, but hell -- I picked them to win in six, and wasn't all that unhappy with the pick even after they fell behind 2-0. When you are giving up 24-10 to Duncan at this point in his career, anything is possible. Except, well, a long series.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pacers - Heat Game 2: Closing Out The Only Quarter That Matters

Steal This Series
One of the things that just drives you nuts, if you watch NBA playoff games, is how analysts emphasize the importance of closing out quarters. Points at the end of a quarter, we are told, matter very very much, and you are told this so often, it starts to feel like you are in the presence of a child with special needs. If points at the end of quarters really mattered that much, there would never be counter-runs at the start of quarters, and a team would never have to decisively win more than one of them. Points are points; if you get more than the opponent, you win. It's really not necessary to fill up a b-roll with highlights before the commercial to do that.

There is, of course, some small kernel of wisdom to the closing quarters school of thought, which is why it has persisted to this day, and that is this: if both teams are playing harder and faster, because they are operating under the human impulse to pay more attention when the clock is running down, you can call points at the end a leading indicator. One that's routinely fooled since the star who closes the first three quarters might be out of gas in the fourth. Which gets us back to, as every Heat game must, to LeBron James.

Tonight, he had 36/8/3 on 14 of 20 shooting... but he also had five turnovers, two in the final minute that were absolutely disastrous for the Heat in the kind of neck and neck game that the defending champion and home team should win, and nearly always does in the midst of a championship run. And in the middle of telling a story of how James is now clutch and the best closer in the game on top of everything else, that minute would get you right back into the LeBron's Not Clutch silliness.

So the Heat closed out three out of four quarters brilliantly tonight. Just not the one that mattered. And the reason why was that the Pacers actually played their best players (hint: those would be big men), rather than adapt to what the Heat wanted to do. Had they done that in Game One, we'd have a very different series right now.

Speaking for the Pacers, Roy Hibbert went off for 29 tonight, and if he keeps doing that, Indy is going to win this series. At some point, you have to stop giving Chris Bosh and Chris Anderson credit for being nice pieces and point out that Hibbert and Paul George owned them at the rim. Combining Bird and Bosh gets you get 24 and 8, which seems fine... but not so much in 52 minutes, and really not so much when the Pacers get 7 more rebounds. And it's hard to see how the Heat are going to suddenly turn that around, unless James wants to give guard centers now. (Don't think he won't. The block he had on Hibbert in the fourth tonight was absurd on multiple levels.)

The more telling point is that George has given his team everything they could ask for. Through the first two games, he's been the rare guy who's gone head to head against James and given similar value, in that he doesn't seem to let the half-dozen No One Can Stop That plays get to him. That kind of thing hasn't really happened to James since early in his career, when Paul Pierce could play old man Jedi mind tricks on him, or other teams just thugged him.

There's also this; I think that Heat opponents are actually served when James hits from behind the arc, because I'd much rather have him out there then down low, tonight's turnovers notwithstanding. The big thing that happens when James is the shooter, rather than the distributor, is that the Heat bench doesn't get the room service looks and dunks that usually make them such a happy crew. Tonight, they scored 19 points in 71 minutes tonight, and if you want to toss Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers in that mix, it's 26 in 114, on 8 for 25 shooting. Not exactly getting it done.

So the Pacers have taken home court advantage, and could easily be up 2-0 and going back home. They are 6-0 at home in these playoffs, though the Heat are a different order of opponent than the Hawks and Knicks. My guess is that we're going to see these teams tied at 2-2 after the next two games, but that involves Miami getting more guys involved, especially from the bench... which doesn't usually happen as well at home. And it's not as if this Heat team has actually faced adversity this year. We've officially gone into the Very Interesting part of this series. See you Sunday.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pacers- Heat Game One: Bailout Ball

First off, the only thing anyone is ever going to remember. For a long damn time.

Before we get into a wildly memorable game... had you forgotten all about the Eastern Conference Finals? I almost had, and I care about pro hoop more than anyone I know. But the Heat's playoff series have been forgettable, and the Pacer games have been only a little bit less so. So when this one came across my TV, more by habit then by anticipation after a ridiculous six day layoff, and the game was close after three, I felt like I had missed, well, nothing. And I hadn't.

(Tangent 1: I, for one, applaud the NBA's desire to approximate the worst aspects of college football in this fashion. Why should playoff games be decided by the full complement of a team's players, when it can be just about the 5 to 7 guys that are going to get real minutes in game situations, with rust to boot? Back to it.)

As for this game... the reason why the Heat are going to win this series, and a second straight NBA crown, shows up routinely in the fourth quarter of close games. That reason, not to put too fine a point on this, wears #6 for the Heat. He's too strong to guard down low, too fast to guard from distance, too unselfish to not get clean looks for his teammates, and too driven to let games slip. And his teammates know it, and so so the refs, which makes every close game an exercise of Can He Do It Again.

I had the same feeling, back in the day, watching the Jordan Bulls, and while I always marveled and respected those teams, I also kind of hated them. Some people get off on dynasties and want to be able to say how they saw true greatness, but true greatness has the same ending, over and over again. Tonight, the Pacers were right there, unafraid and unapologetic, and yet I was writing these words when the game was tied with eight minutes left in the fourth. There's only so many times that the football gets pulled away before you stop letting Lucy Van Pelt be your holder. (Or, better off, just kicking her in the freaking head and ending your torment. But perhaps I've shared too much.)

In tonight's game, once we got into the money quarter, James kept getting Iverson Assists -- soft missed shots where multiple Pacers overplayed him and left bunny offensive rebounds for his teammates -- when he wasn't converting on his own. You have to play better than Miami, and not just by a little, to overcome that, because it means that they don't even have to make shots or free throws to keep scoring points. It's a dimension that no other team has. If I were going against him, I'd spend the first three quarters doing nothing on offense or defense other than trying to get him in foul trouble, but that's not how NBA players work; they want to win by playing ball, not chumpery. It's also why intentional hacking schemes are rare.

(Tangent 2: Special credit for this one goes to Chris "Birdman" Anderson, who was a presence on both ends and kept Miami's energy up, since he seems to be the only Heat player who is truly excited about this winning thing any more. To the others, it's more relief from losing, or grim satisfaction at annoying the Pacers. He was perfect tonight, and they needed him to be.)

Beyond the game-ender, which I'll get into in a bit... the signature play for me was a made three by James after a spectacular block by Hibbert on Dwyane Wade. While it was only three points, you usually see plays like that spark a run, because the way of hoop is that some points are more valuable than others, in that they convince players that they are going to win or lose. The Pacers are single-minded enough to overcome that, with a made three and one of the most painful stops ever (Norris Cole hooked David West in the jewels) before Hibbert turned it over in the paint to stop the mini-run and kill the lead change chance. James to Wade at the rim was beauty for the 3-point lead, and Chris Bosh got another make to push it to four, before Hibbert volleyballed up an o-board to keep it close. James had a terrible possession and miss, and West tied it again with 54.6 left.

In the money minute, Wade got to the rim for the surprisingly easy layup around Hibbert at the rim; maybe Indy coach Frank Vogel saw that as Foreshadowing, or something. Indy then called timeout, another rough move given the ability of the Heat to swap defense for offense and clamp down in halfcourt. Wade got a piece of a miss, and Miami got a turnover off the o-board. There's a reason why the Pacers don't win close games, folks. Miami got the ball into Ray Allen's hands to make the killshot free throws, and he actually missed one to keep the game in doubt. Wade nearly stole an inbound, then Vogel called his final timeout with 11.9 left. This is not a team that looks comfortable in close and late. Without a timeout to advance, Indy looked bound to a tying three attempt...

And George utterly bailed out a horrible possession from 30 feet to tie it with 0.7 left. Wow. The Heat could have fouled West late in the clock and more or less ended it, but that's not something that players ever do. Allen's heave at the buzzer never had a chance, and hey, free ball.

(Tangent 3: This is going to get lost in the history, but Indy shouldn't have made it to overtime, and also shouldn't have gotten the lead at the end of overtime.) The last minute work was weak at best, and George's heaves are low percentage shots that maybe goes in about 20% of the time. Had either of those clanged out, there's no time for the put-back or anything other than the Heat leaving with a more or less ordinary win. But that's not how ball goes.)

Early in the overtime, Batitier missed and then picked up his fifth while defending West, but the Pacer PF missed both FTs and the Heat kept the ball after a peep show. Anderson got an o-board and Wade spiked the ball off Lance Stephenson for another shot, but James turned it over with an awful play. Wade took his fifth rather than give up a layup, but George hit both to give the Pacers a 2-point lead. Anderson, of all people got to the line for Hibbert's 5th, then continued his perfect night to tie it again. Hibbert scored off a nice entry pass for another lead, then George punched the ball away from Wade to force a shot clock violation; another great play. West missed something quite make-able, leading to a Wade runout for the tie; the Pacers should have been up by 4. George answered with an old-school and one for James' 5th foul -- and at this point, everyone started noticing just how amazing he's been -- and the 3-point lead with 2:05 left.

(Tangent 4: Frank Vogel is going to get the goat horns for benching Hibbert in the final minute, but West was the real reason why the Pacers lost the overtime. Two missed FTs, a missed FG that led to a runout and another miss late; that's 6 to 8 points in a 1-point overtime period. He's got to be better if Indy is going to have any chance in this series, but there's a reason why he's, well, not a star. Moving on.)

Allen got George Hill's 4th on undue exuberance. James continued to defer, leading to Battier missing from 35 feet at the end of the clock; mind-defying bad possession, and Miami was on the ropes. Stephenson missed early in the clock. Bosh missed from three, and then Battier from the arc again, but Bosh saved the game with an o-board, make and old-school 3. The Heat PF got away with a shove, but that's what happens at home, really, and that might have been the biggest play of the overtime that you won't see a million times in highlights. Tie game with 49.7 left in the extra.

West missed again, and Wade beasted up for the board. With 24.6 left in the first overtime, Miami had another chance to win... and Indy coach Frank Vogel inexplicably took Hibbert off the floor for it. So James went to the rack and scored with 10.8 left, because, well, why the hell not? I guess you can just get another bailout three off another terrible last possession...

And that's more or less what happened.

Hill nearly turned over the inbounds, but got it back to George after the melee. Wade fouled out while guarding George on a heave with 2.2 left, after a scramble / near turnover; I'm amazed that the Heat didn't get that no-call at home. George made all three for the lead, as calmly as if he were in warm ups, and that was just unreal. The Heat's last possession, after the usual back and forth chess piece timeouts, was a shocking moment of Pacer Fail, as James got the step on George from the catch and went to the rim for a layup for the win. George overplayed the pass, James turned the corner, and that was just stupid easy.

Hibbert was on the bench for both of James' lay-ups in the final seconds of overtime, when he was deferring; the lack of the stopper clearly inspired James. I have no idea what the hell Vogel was thinking, or why the TNT media stepped over themselves to excuse the move, as if James was just going to make both of those shots without a shot blocker in the game.

Oh, and by the way? Vogel took Hibbert off the floor to get the immortal Sam Young on the floor. If you don't know who Sam Young is, don't feel bad; Young barely knows by now, seeing how he's on his third team in 3 years, having washed out of the SIXERS. Yes, a guy who wasn't good enough to get burn in Philly was someone who Vogel wanted on the floor in the final moments of a had to have it defensive stop. I get that maybe Hibbert isn't an ideal guy, that he's had issues guarding Bosh on the baseline, and that he wasn't dominant in the fourth at the rim... but really? You'd rather have a 6'-6" journeyman swingman on the floor instead?

Can the Pacers shake this off and somehow steal Game 2? Of course; Miami is not, this year's playoff record notwithstanding, a true juggernaut, and this game hinged on a handful of plays that could have easily gone the other way. Without the Bosh save, or with a West make, they would have lost this game in overtime, and if they actually play defense on the final possession, they win it in another way that never happens in those Dynasty DVDs. James had a triple double in this game, but with overtime minutes and his usual game, that's nearly containment, especially given how much George got in the last 2+ periods.

But as we've seen time and again, when you fail to complete the road steal early against a favorite, you generally regret it. And with the time off between games, you get to wallow in it for a long damn time, too...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Top 10 reasons why the Clippers aren't bringing back Vinny del Negro

Oh, The Pain, The Pain
10) Just realized they were, in fact, employing Vinny del Negro

9) Have to make sure that we continue to distract the world from the fact that Blake Griffin, despite being a very well-paid commercial spokesmodel and well-known superstar with hops for days, does not get rebounds or block shots

8) del Negro failed to give Chauncey Billups the memo that he's, well, not very good any more, and shouldn't shoot so much

7) Team feel that he didn't get enough out of DeAndre Jordan and Lamar Odom, who, shockingly, did not combine to be a championship level center

6) Winning the Pacific Division crown used to seem like a much bigger deal, really

5) Needed to fire him quickly before the world started calling him what he really is, which is the most successful coach in Clippers History

4) Desperate to do anything that makes Chris Paul like them and stay, up to just making him the official, as well as unofficial, coach

3) Vinny just isn't racist or repulsive enough to be trusted by management

2) Like every other franchise in the NBA, the Clips are convinced that if they just have an open spot, Phil Jackson will magically appear

1) Just like in Brooklyn, this team is far too talented (just ask them!) to ever lose on its own, so it must be all about the coach

Grizzlies - Spurs Game Two: After Six Quarters, Memphis Arrives

My Head, I Say, My Head
This one was why you don't stop watching Game, just because it's stinking up the joint. This game was never pretty to watch, but it did get pretty good.

For the first 2.5 quarters of this one, the Grizz replayed the script of fall behind big early, make a middling run, then get taken out like a load of bad laundry. Tony Parker was dominant, with 16 of his 18 assists coming in the first three quarters. It was not making for Very Compelling Ball, and I was wondering if there was some way we could get the Clips or Thunder back in the playoffs instead. Even when Zach Randolph started to show signs of being himself again -- albeit a guy who couldn't make a FT -- I wasn't ready to buy in, but the Grizz kept grinding, and the Spurs kept missing. Memphis would up eating the lead and forcing the extra session despite shooting horribly and not playing clean ball down the stretch; they could have easily won it had Randolph made his freaking FTs.

The Spurs looked horrible on offense late in the game. Tony Allen's makes with 26.1 from a flagrant foul that seemed legit to my eyes despite the over the top sell job (Allen grabbed his head like a WWE jobber, which is all you will hear about for days, but the refs called it a flagrant due to the possible dislocated arm that Manu could have given him) were huge, and helped to set up a pretty Mike Conley make for the game-tying bucket. Old-school Memphis defense locked down the final possession to force extra ball, and this started to feel very much like the road team's game.

The overtime was really ragged, as both teams looked spent from tension, if not the minutes. Duncan and Gasol both had five fouls, but neither man looked aware of the situation, and Timmy took full advantage of his relative freshness. First was a block on Gasol at the rim to keep the lead with 90 seconds left, then he got a shooter's roll on a runner with 68 seconds left to make it four. Jarryd Bayless, an all-or-nothing contributor who looks like a much better idea in this series than Tayshaun Prince, made another mid-range shot to make the end game matter. Parker missed from the line with 14.6 left to keep things in doubt. Hollins, oddly, took both time outs, and then watched Bayless miss from the arc badly. Cory Joseph got the board from the Spurs and kept it interesting for a moment by missing the first free throw, but the second make salted it, especially after Bayless took time and missed from the arc to end it. The Spurs lead 2-0, and retain home court.

Credit where due: Gregg Popovich is playing Lionel Hollins like, well, the way Randolph played Kendrick Perkins in the last round. (Poor Kendrick. Even when he's out of the playoffs, he still manages to look worse and worse.) Zebo was actually better tonight, in that he didn't have the worst game of his life and got the free throw line. It would help if he started to actually make them. For the first 36 minutes, the Spurs' bench players, after indifferent contributions in the first two rounds, were just beasting. Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw are both giving the Spurs more than Randolph is giving the Grizz. Danny Green is having one of those unconscious streaks that makes you wonder if he can take the Manu role in the next few years. Kawhi Leonard was supposed to have a hurt back that was going to be a big factor in why the Grizz could win; instead, he's shooting the lights out. But then the fourth quarter happened, the Grizz held the Spurs to nine points at home, and it feels like an escape for the team that led the vast majority of the game.

Game three is in three days for some fool reason; plenty of time for Popovich to come up with something new, and for Parker to get the rest he needs to go deep minutes. Without him on the court, the Spurs look like a very different, and not very good, team. I suspect the Grizz will win Game 3, and maybe even Game 4... but this seems more like a first round series to me now, which is to say, a series between two teams with big flaws and high unpredictability. That's what I call fun, and we'll take every ounce of it we can get this late in the year.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Top 10 reasons why the NFL is pushing back the draft

Later Draft = More Commish Nooky
10) By having it in May, they better space out the calendar so that no one has to acknow- ledge the existence of other sports

9) Six full months of wondering who your team will draft is the perfect gift to give to fans of terrible franchises

8) Less time in OTAs means that the games will be crisper, since fewer spots will be taken by emerging rookies

7) This will spike interest in the draft combine, aka the annual reason to question the life choices of people who visit Indianapolis unless forced to by work

6) As with everything else involving the NFL in 2013, has to be somehow better for concussion diagnosis and treatment

5) With the planet's ever-increasing wacky weather, May for the draft means slightly less chance of a running into a blizzard that would impact the exercise

4) More time before the draft will give more free agents a chance to find, and then get cut by, new teams in the waiting period

3) With the draft happening later in the year, Jets Fan is more likely to be back in the stir for various crimes against humanity, which makes Roger Goodell's life easier

2) More time for the least useful columns of the year, the mock draft

1) It's what Goodell wants, and as we've seen with Scab Refs, the lockout, SaintsGate and a thousand other petty moments, What Roger Wants, Roger Gets

Top 10 reasons why Dwight Howard might leave the Lakers

What, Me Leave?
10) It's just team #2 in his league-wide quest to become the most hated NBA player ever

9) Team might not go along with his need to collect the fresh coaching scalp of Mike D'Antoni

8) Doesn't want to be with a team that has a rich history of big men who actually succeed in the playoffs

7) Wants to become the first big man in NBA history to publicly bitch about playing with Steve Nash

6) Would rather not play with an aging superstar on the downside of a legendary career, which is why Dallas is such an attractive destination

5) You can't expect him to want to stay in LA when multiple towns in Texas, Cleveland and Atlanta come calling

4) Team keeps pulling him from late and close games, just because he shoots free throws about as well as a drunken Shaquille O'Neal

3) Knows that the franchise would never let a star player get a coach fired, unless that player was Magic Johnson, Nick Van Exel, Kobe Bryant  or Smush Parker

2) If he goes back to the LEastern Conference, might go back to losing deeper in the playoffs

1) Gets him away from Mean Old Kobe, Lunatic Metta, Broken Down Nash, Mopey Pau and the rest of the going nowhere Lakers

Monday, May 20, 2013

Top 10 takeaways from the Pacers - Heat Beef

So Much Beef
10) I blame the NBA for giving us a 3-week layoff before the series begins

9) If this keeps up, America might actually get to know who is on the Pacers

8) Pacer Coach Frank Vogel says the Heat are just another team, which seems to irritate LeBron James, who would rather the Heat be known as a soul-killing corporation from a robotic dystopian future

7) Shane Battier says none of this matters, because when you are hundreds of years old, you lose the ability to remember a beef long enough to react to it

6) There is no truth to the rumor that this entire kerfluffle was invented by ESPN to fill up the next 72 hours of programming

5) It's OK to hate both of these teams and still like pro hoop, really, it is

4) We can look forward to a wildly over-officiated Game One, with technical fouls for mean looks and hurt feelings

3) The Heat seem very surprised that their opponents keep trying to play defense against them, and don't seem to like them very much

2) You have to admire how the Paces are refusing to let their underdog status, against a champion that many people personally dislike, make them become lovable

1) If porn and romantic comedies have taught us anything about what happens before this much bitchy dialogue, at some point, these teams will just look into each other's eyes and start rutting like feral pigs

Grizzlies - Spurs Game One: Team, Not Star

12 Inches Of Elevation
On one hand, you can safely disregard any Game One loss for the Grizz, since they do that sort of thing all the time, and all you have to do when you start on the road is get a split. But on the other, the way in which the Spurs won this game was new and unique, and reminds us, yet again, that every series is different.

In Game One, that difference was Matt Bonner. Unless you'd prefer Kawhi Leonard. Or Danny Green.

Bonner, the redheaded three-point specialist was all but useless in the Warriors series, but here, he's got a role and a use, and the four threes that he made in today's win are getting the lion's share of insider credit this evening. But of course, it's not just Bonner, since the Spurs hit 14 3's today, but you get the point. There's always been an element of Borg about the Spurs, who haven't just beaten teams with stars for a while now, but especially now.  Besides, Bonner doesn't make his first delivery until the Spurs are already up 23-12, and the first quarter is nearly over. People talk about how defense is more of a constant than offense, but today, well, it wasn't.

The biggest thing about games where you go out to a big league is not panicking if and when the other team makes a run, and the Grizz did just that in the third, using a Quincy Pondexter run from distance to get back within six. But a Manu Ginobili flurry got back the lead before the quarter was over, and the fourth quarter was mostly garbage time. Short of the opening Grizz hoop, this was a wire to wire job.

The Grizz can and will play better, of course. Zach Randolph is going to figure things out; he's too good to be held down by the likes of Bonner, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter forever. San Antonio isn't going to shoot 48% from the arc throughout the series, especially on the road. Memphis is going to do better at closing some passing lanes, and they are also likely to assert themselves more on the boards as soon as the Spurs cool down a bit.

But the Spurs' ball movement is unlike anything the Grizz have had to face so far this playoff series, and if they play this way again, they will lose. I don't think they will, but you never know, especially with 48 hours to think about it. Time for Lionel Hollins to answer the critics.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

NBA Conference Finals Picks: False Theory Choice

Roll Again
For years now, the NBA has legislated and plotted to be about Going Small. Three point shooting and statistical analysis has made the corner three the most desired shot on the floor. Long jumpers from inside the arc, even in the hands of a capable shooter with a clean look, have been derided. Transition scoring has become more important, since the world's best athletes from six continents play this game, and they all close out to shooters like mad. So it's about the small man virtues (avoid turnovers and making your threes) and less about the big man attributes (shooting a high percentage, controlling the boards, and getting your opponent's starters in foul trouble).

In the second round, that all changed back with a vengeance. Memphis, with its retro-cool under the rim big man pairing of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, is the new chic pick, having just ended the seasons of two of the best five players in the NBA. Indiana kicked past a New York team that was all about turnovers and threes, mostly because Roy Hibbert utterly destroyed Tyson Chandler.

So we're all clear here now, right? The Big Man has come back with a vengeance, as we all knew he would, and we need to start looking at series under the age-old adage of Good And Big Beats Good And Small. Right?

Well, not so fast. There were other factors at work in Memphis taking out the Clippers and Thunder -- mainly, that both teams were dealing with crushing injuries and/or rock-headedness from their coaches and bench players. Indiana caught a Knick team that was spent from age and injuries as well, and I can't help shake the feeling that Chandler played that series while hurt. In all of the games, you still had the corner three, turnover issues and transition scoring. The games aren't simple to predict now, and there is no New Old Wave at work where everyone is going to try to make their team look like the Grizz, any more than everyone tried to make their team look like the Thunder a year ago, or Miami and Boston the years before that.

There are many paths to greatness now in the NBA, beyond Have The Best Player. But all things being equal, I'm taking that one.

And with that... on to the picks!

Indiana vs. MIAMI

The case for Indy: Defensive stoppers all over the floor. Solid coaching. Ravenous fan base. Familiar with the Heat, and have had success against them this year. Can defend inside and at the arc in the half court game. Comfortable at any pace, though better at slow. Can win grind it out playoff games, which seems to be the only kind that Miami plays now.

The case against: This is the last team in the world that you want to have turnover issues against. If Hibbert gets in foul trouble, they have serious problems inside. David West seems to come up second-best at this stage a lot in his career. The guard play is erratic. Possible injury issues with George Hill's concussion. The bench doesn't tend to show up on the road.

The case for Miami: Defending champions with the best record and home court. Have the best player, potentially ever. Will defend at every position and can blow teams out when the connect from distance. Battle-tested with a bailout margin that no other team that's still in the playoffs has. Can go into defensive fugue states where the opponent never seems to score. Does not panic when down, and capable of making soul-draining comebacks.

The case against: Surprisingly indifferent for much of games; this is a team that allowed the Bucks to have leads, and for a Bulls team with a borderline overseas backcout to win Game One. Could have rust issues all the way into Game Two, given the NBA's absurd schedule and their own ability to close out series quickly. Home court does not intimidate, as their crowd is Lakers East in terms of cosmopolitan cool. If Dwyane Wade remains hurt, loses a lot of margin. They are getting a lot out of Chris Bosh and Chris Anderson, and both guys are mercurial. May be facing their first actually good team of the playoffs now, and may be a paper tiger.

The call: It would not shock me, though it would shock the world, if the Pacers win this. They are the only team in the East capable of giving the Heat a run for their money, and if they didn't have turnover issues, I'd be seriously tempted to take a stab at them. But they do, and when this series gets late and the Heat decide to just go to the rack and win it at the line, they are going to get those calls.

The pick: Heat in seven.

San Antonio at MEMPHIS

The case for San Antonio: Have the best coach in the business. Actually have quality front court depth, a first for a Grizzly opponent in this playoff. PG Tony Parker is capable of winning his matchup against Mike Conley, a must if a team is to advance against the Grizz. Home court helps, as does the best coach working in the NBA today. In Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, have quality young players that can provide closeouts and help down low on the Grizz big men. The bench is useful and capable of providing surprise contributions from little-used guys (Boris Diaw, DaJuan Blair, Patty Mills, Kris Joseph). Have been at this level before and really do not panic when behind in a series.

The case against: Aging stars (Manu Ginobili especially, though also Tim Duncan) have not looked good late in games. Will need Tiago Splitter, who has been hurt, to play the series of his life. Got wrecked by a younger and worse version of this Grizz team as a high seed a couple of years ago. Might be running on fumes at this point, especially after a very taxing series against the Warriors. No matter how well he manages the minutes, Gregg Popovich is having to get more and more out of guys who are not capable of it.

The case for Memphis: Best defensive team, one through five, on the planet. Lockdown in halfcourt and good in transition. Perhaps the best defensive small in Tony Allen, and the best defensive big in Marc Gasol. Gets bailout shots from mid-range, which is unique at this point in the NBA, and prone to volleyball-style offensive board rallies that sap the will and drain the legs of their opponents. Might be playing their "easiest" opponent to date, in that there is no game-changing superstar around to steal early games. Have those good memories of bouncing the Spurs before. No auto-hack candidates for Popovich to take advantage of with intentional fouls.

The case against: Prone to dumb fouls and ref baiting. Not great from the arc; not explosive because they are not great from the arc. Coaching is pedestrian at best. Have never gotten this far, and might find the air a little thin. If you make Conley a shooter, and he's not hitting, can be relatively easy to defend, since the boards are going to go long. I'm not a big fan of their bench, especially in road games.

The pick: If the Spurs win this, we can pretty much revoke George Karl's coach of the year trophy and send it to Popovich with all apologies. They just might, given how smart and tough they are, and if this becomes a whistle-fest, the odds go up. But there's a reason they've won their series with more ease than the Spurs have won theirs, and it's because they've got a defense that turns their opponents into hamburger. The Spurs don't have the means to compete against that, and there's only so much that coaching smoke and mirrors can do to compensate.

The pick: Grizzlies in six

Year to date: 10-2

Enjoy the games, everyone.

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