Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Buddy Ryan Legacy

Horse and Horse's...
Sorry to be late to the party on Buddy Ryan giving up the mortal coil, but so it goes.

To a certain percentage of the Eagle fan base, Ryan is the best coach in the team's history. He did things that we all desperately want our football coach to do -- run up the score on the insufferably self-righteous Tom Landry, unleash four quarters of massive pain and hell on division rivals, knock out quarterbacks to the point where punt returners were taking snaps, and give Randall Cunningham free rein to be the most exciting player in the NFL -- and presided over the greatest defense in franchise history. (From a talent level, that unit was just a little foot speed at safety away from being damn near perfect.) When you watched a Buddy Ryan team, you were clearly and proudly in the presence of someone who hated the other team, and wanted them to die in pain. There's something immensely satisfying about that, honestly.

Ryan belonged to an era of football coaches that will, sadly, never come again. Hiring savants and self-made psychos had a brief vogue in the late '80s / early '90s, with Ryan, Sam Wyche, Jerry Glanville and June Jones all getting shots, and none of them really working out all that well. From a sheer entertainment perspective, all of these guys made for more fun regular season games, though.

A few words about that defense. It has spoiled those who saw it for life. The routine series was a comically inept first down run, a second down pass into the flat that was incomplete or stopped for no gain because it was obvious that the opponent was terrified of the Eagle pass rush, and then a third down scramble into a sack or uncalled grounding, with whatever member of the Hall of Fame level defensive line was closest to the QB getting his dance on. This would happen until the Eagles got a lead and won the game, or until the offense was even worse and exhausted the defense into submission. Any player on the defense could be blitzing at any time, and that, too, satisfied on every level.

It was simultaneously the best and worst time to be an Eagles' fan, because the unit was the most fun ever, and also the worst, because we knew something great was being utterly wasted.

Ryan went to the playoffs three times while the coach, and never won a playoff game. The defeats were jarring, intolerable, and yet entirely predictable, because Ryan in a single game as head coach had the reactive powers of a thrown brick. As an assistant or defensive coordinator, he was in his element, but when given the keys to the whole operation, he was out of his depth.

He was also, of course, famously belligerent and blunt, which people also loved... but the problem with guys like that is that they wear out their welcome. Especially when they do things like refuse to adjust in a playoff loss (Washington just played zone all day, leading to Ryan's hit or mostly miss offense doing squat), or wantonly insult the owner, just because they felt bullet-proof from winning more games than they lost and getting to the playoffs.

If we are to give Ryan credit for finding and developing the Eagle defense, we also have to give him the blame for squandering it. My memories of his era were as much about the losses as the successes, so I've never missed him,even in the worst days of Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes, Andy Reid and Nero Kelly. (Speaking of a guy that was basically the Ryan of offense...)

As a final point of Yeah, That Was Buddy, this... Ryan died at age 85. Which was, seemingly, a number that he hid from the NFL, who seemed to have him at 82. And honestly, how did he sneak that past anyone? Dude had to provide a social security number to get paid, didn't he?

Monday, June 27, 2016

We Are All Iceland

You Beautiful Long Named Bastards
So I don't know, or even much care, what your reaction is to Brexit. I'm going to keep this basic, and pretty much throw the morons who voted to leave the EU under the bus because my 401K has lost all of the gains that it had slowly recovered over the past six months of relative peace and prosperity.

And sure, maybe it will all come around and work out in the long run, especially for Americans who'd like to go to Little England on the cheap, because their currency has gone through the floorboards. Also, if all kinds of foreigners with money leave London, you'd have to think that we're going to get downright unseemly amounts of customer service when we come visit. Are you ready for Brits to really, seriously pretend to care about American sports? You haven't begun to see pandering until you've seen Brits doing everything they can to keep making enough money so they can avoid eating their native cuisine. It's what has fueled centuries of cultural hegemony, folks.

But that's in the long run. In the short, we had a David Vs. Goliath sports moment in the Euro 2016 soccer / football championship, where a bunch of people with bonus point Scrabble names from Iceland -- Iceland! -- took them out in the round of 16.

How bad is this for England? The coaching staff resigned immediately afterward. The people who know and care about this kind of thing say that it will go down in history as one of their worst defeats. And in classic English fashion, they are making the defeat all about them, which means that even in defeat, they are going to be hated. Instead of giving due to an amazing Cinderella team that played a great game. Instead, it will all be about English keeper Joe Hart's mistakes, Wayne Rooney being as useless as ever in a game that mattered, and Harry Kane, the player that England supposedly wants in a touch situation, well, blowing it.

I don't generally go for game as more than game, because the Internet is filled with all of that idiocy, and players don't care about that nonsense story. Game is Game, and if that's not enough for you, there's plenty of Not Game out there that will fill your little mind with Stories.

But when the world (and the Almighty?) give you a lay up like this one?

You take it.

Because schadenfreude, the German term of taking delight in the misery of others?

That's as EU as it gets right now...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Top 10 takeaways from the 2016 NBA Draft

Trust The Sign Process
10) Jalen Rose did most of his draft prep by looking up the career earning of comps that only basketball nerds remember, which is in no way indicative of his own NBA career

9) Boston will win the NBA Championship just as soon as the Association makes teams play all 15 guys

8) Milwaukee drafted Thon Maker in the top 10, despite concerns about his uncertain age and that his last name means Tuna in French

7) The ESPN telecast officially marked the end of the use of the word "wingspan" for anything other than comedy

6) Kris Dunn went to Minnesota, leading some to wonder how Andrew Wiggins will transition to small forward, as if Ricky Rubio doesn't suck out loud

5) Dragan Bender went 4th overall, because the NBA is so much about physical potential and getting the next Porzingis that it doesn't matter that a guy couldn't get playing time in the Israeli League

4) Buddy Hield went to New Orleans and Wade Baldwin to Memphis to be the new Eric Gordon and Mike Conley, which probably offended the hell out of the old Eric Gordon and Mike Conley

3) Boston Fan freaked out over drafting Ante Zizic at the 23rd pick, as if stashing an athletic big man late in the first isn't pretty much a total Spurs move

2) By the time you finished reading this, another foreign guy got drafted, much to the chagrin of Americans in the Green Room who look like kids in detention

1) Jerry Colangelo showed that it's a new era in Philadelphia by refusing to take guys who might play in the NBA next year, ensuring another year of Ish Smith / TJ McConnell / Isiah Canann / Hollis Thompson / Clawing Our Eyes Out Because The Last Good Guard On The Roster Might Have Been Andre Freaking Iguodala

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NBA Draft Eve: Watchable Sixers Hoop Starts Now, Please

Ben, Meet Joel
Tomorrow night, my Sixers are going to draft first and take Ben Simmons from LSU, and I'm all for it. Simmons comes with some questions because of course that happens when my laundry gets the first pick, but a legit 6'-10" guy who can handle it in transition and has elite level passing will have to suffice... and sure, jump shots get better in time, and bad franchises always luck out with high draft picks showing heart and staying healthy. (Oh, Lord, we're doomed.) Anyway, he's the guy in the draft that might be dominant later, and while Dookie Brandon Ingram is clearly better now and has a higher floor, fah. We didn't just spend three years and an ungodly number of losses to go with the safe floor guy.

With Simmons set to play 3/4 (and maybe 5 if the team wants to try small ball for same idiot reason), this is where the world thinks that the Sixers have to make a trade, because their five best assets are all big men. Plus, having an actual tolerable guard on the roster seems like something that should happen more than once a decade. But here's the thing about the Sixer bigs; no one really has any idea what any of these guys are going to do, including the big one... Stay The Hell Healthy.

But if that actually happens, Actual Fun Might Happen. C Joel Embiid would be the first pick in this draft if he were coming out and healthy, and still could be the best player on this team. Put him next to Simmons, and the club might have the most intriguing power duo in the league. I'll happily slot Nerlens Noel in between them for defense, or Jahlil Okafor for offense, and if and when someone doesn't work out, maybe Dario Saric comes over and gives them something else of serious utility. Especially if he's got the usual Euro skills of being able to hit some threes. But with all of these guys, we really have no idea what they are yet. Noel seems like an energy and defense guy, but he's still crazy young and could develop another offensive skill beyond dunking. Okafor looks too small afoot to defend, but maybe he gets quicker with actual pro nutrition and becoming of legal drinking age. No one really knows what to make of Saric, let alone Embiid and Simmons. Realistically, one or more might wash out or get hurt, and trading before you are absolutely certain which should stay to the next era of relevant hoop seems more sensible to me than racing to deal for mediocrities.

Besides, three slots for 48 minutes divided five ways gives them all a little under 30 minutes a game -- plenty of time, especially since none of them are ready for major NBA minutes -- , and that assumes they are all healthy, which experience tells us they won't be. The point is that there is no immediate need to make a trade, especially since it's not as if the fan base is demanding a .500 record and a playoff seed.

Which seems a little nuts. It's the lEast, after all, and winning half of your games doesn't seem like the biggest upset in the history of sports. Besides, this team has destroyed eyeballs for years with terrible guard and bench play, and the guards on the current roster scream Bench At Best; you also don't want to hurt the development of the bigs with terrible guard play. There's also the sense that Robert Covington and Jerami Grant could give you some minutes at forward as well, but honestly, little from last year's roster, outside of Noel and Okafor, absolutely has to see more time in the NBA.

As for the guards that are here, roll call.. TJ McConnell, Ish Smith, Nik Stauskas, Hollis Thompson and Isaiah Canaan. Um, well, they all have some small measure of use, but the emphasis is on small, and if they were all out of the NBA in two years, no one would lose any sleep over that.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure there's an obvious trading partner upgrade that makes sense. Rumors have floated for months on how Jeff Teague or Dennis Schroeder could come here for Noel, but with Teague going to Indy today, that's over. Boston seemingly won't pull the trigger on Okafor for the #3 pick, which would allow the team to go for Kris Dunn, the Providence PG that's probably not the third best player in this draft, but at least would be a guard with promise. I'd love to see a veteran or three with professionalism and a winning tradition (JJ Barea? Pay through the nose for Mike Conley? Import a retread with some use, like Mario Chalmers or Ramon Sessions or Darren Collison?), but here's the thing about that thinking...

If the bigs are good and healthy, you can be pretty flexible with the guards, at least for now. This isn't the West, where Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and James Harden destroy you on a nightly basis; it's the lEast, where a guy like Kyle Lowry makes an All-Star team. (No offense to Lowry, but honestly, he's just a guy.) You might not be in crying need for a true point if Simmons is what he's supposed to be. Getting the best available shooting guard (Nicolas Batum would be great, Aaron Aflalo maybe tolerable, and guys like Monta Ellis and Courtney Lee always seems to be available) might be almost as useful, and if everyone is collapsing on dominant bigs, and Covington, Canaan and Thompson spend 2016 doing nothing but shooting wide-open threes, I think they might actually, you know, Be A Basketball Team. (This is also where I wonder why the hell the team couldn't make room for Jordan McRae. Also, if McRae will get a championship ring and full share from the Cavs, what with his four postseason minutes and nine points. Seriously, Ty Lue, the man couldn't get more burn with 9 points in 4 minutes? You do realize that Mo Williams is garbage, right? Well, whatever, you won. Moving on.)

There's also the very real possibility that the club will get useful guard possibilities with their two late first round picks at 20 and 24, with possibilities like local St Joe's swingman DeAndre Bembry, Notre Dame PG Demetrius Jackson, or trading down for intriguing second rounders like Gary Payton II from Oregon State, or waterbug Tyler Ulis from Kentucky. Honestly, so long as the team doesn't draft foreign bigs to stash, or injury-prone bigs, I'm good.

Bring on the draft! Hope springs eternal! Because the only other option is booze!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Cavaliers - Warriors Game Seven: The Only Game Ever

Here's how good this game was.

I'm not a Cavs fan. I think the NBA messed badly with this series with the Draymond Green suspension, with Adam Silver losing his innocent image for good. I think Dan Gilbert is an utter asshat, and I feel bad that he's happy.

But, well, it's all OK.

Because the game, the actual game, was just so God-damned good.

I don't remember a better basketball game than this, and it didn't go my way. That's how good of a game this was.

It had the best play in NBA history, in James' chasedown block of Andre Iguodala at the rim late in the fourth quarter. It had a career-saving redemption for Kevin Love, so bad for so much of this series, but essential for his team tonight. It had Kyrie Irving outplaying the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, with the go-ahead three happening on near perfect defense. It had Tristan Thompson punishing the Warrior bigs time and again, and James somehow winning despite his jump shot mostly deserting him again.

They overcame Draymond Green playing out of his mind. They overcame a 3-1 deficit against a team that had the best record in NBA history. They overcame the loudest and best crowd in the NBA, a vastly more experienced coach, a roster with a problematic at best bench, and so much more. They overcame some of the best defense you will ever see in an NBA game, because the Warriors did everything tonight, with the exception of securing enough rebounds. That was enough of an opening to give the game to Cleveland.

This might have been the best game I've ever watched, in four-plus decades of watching the NBA. It was so good, that I'm OK with the result, the next 4.5 months of sports oblivion, the inevitably clueless takes of how the Warriors choked, how Stephen Curry is overrated, and any other nonsense you might want to hear. The Warriors were almost lucky to be in it, given how little they got from their back court tonight.

This game had, what, 20 lead changes? After six games that barely had any?

Anyway... I hope you saw it. I hope you were able to watch the game for what it was -- an utter war with nary a possession wasted, with the spread never getting out of touch. For all four quarters, I could not look away.

Cleveland Fan got their championship, and don't have to be cursed any more.

I'm glad for them, but happier for the world. Because we all got to see this game.

And because basketball is just the best.

The NBA Finals Storyline, or FFS, Media

In another 24 hours or so, we'll have the result of the Game Seven finale of the least entertaining long Finals in NBA history, and the end to several different bullsquat meta narratives. Among them:

> That the Warriors have somehow "turned heel", as if basketball teams are WWE characters, and as if the Cavs don't employ a half-dozen wildly regrettable human beings, along with being owned by the largest man-baby this side of the Republican nominee for President,

> That LeBron James is unstoppable and clutch and unspeakably macho, because being 2-4 in the Finals is just good enough for us to forget anything in the pursuit of a meta-narrative

> How Andrew Bogut is now seemingly the Most Important Warrior and the team can't possibly overcome his absence, which somehow lets Festus Ezeli off the hook for going strongly backwards in the past 12 months

> Steve Kerr's devolution into Mean Crotchety Spoiled Coach, because no NBA coach works the refs when his superstar who is never in foul trouble gets ejected on three consecutive blown calls late

> How Stephen Curry's wife having a negative reaction on Twitter is somehow a thing that anyone should really give a fig about, or gives us some big insight into Stephen's True Character

> That losing your patience with an officiating crew that was in the magical middle ground between breathtaking incompetent and actively biased is some kind of character flaw

> How all of this allows us to call Curry overrated, because we are contractually required to call someone overrated, regardless of whether or not he's actually compensating for injury

> That Andre Iguodala's back spasms, combined with Bogut's injury and Green's obvious reluctance to play at full intensity given the way the refs were calling Game Six, had no impact on James' second straight heroic performance

> And that, finally, we should all feel bad for ever considering these Warriors to be the equal or better of the Jordan Bulls, because it hasn't all been sweetness and light for them in the playoffs.

To which I have just one question... would it be OK for all of you aspiring screenwriters to, you know, pay attention to the actual games instead, rather than the fever dreams you are having while trying to connect sport to the crap movies that you like?

There was never, at any point, an inevitability about a repeat Warrior championship. There is never an inevitability about any basketball championship, because all it takes to derail any team is a turned ankle or a busted knee. But there's really not an inevitability around a team that's built on a previously injury-prone point guard, jump shots that would be a terrible idea for every other team in the world, and ball movement that usually evaporates when defensive pressure cranks up to playoff levels.

I get that humans need to tell stories about facts, and treat these stories as facts. I get that Bill Simmons and ESPN has permanently ruined sports. And finally, I get that this series, with its games without drama and its constant blowout action, lends itself to spectacularly long times to come up with crap theories as to why things are the way they are.

But can't we just, you know, wait until the series is over to stop watching the games?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Warriors - Cavaliers Game Six: The Worst Long Series Ever

Get Inspired, NBA TV
I am, without reservation or condition, one of the biggest NBA marks on the planet. I love the regular season. I've played a fantasy league for longer than many of you have been alive. I defend the schedule, stay up late to see games all spring long. The talent here is unbelievable; the best players from six continents work in this league. The modern rules make for a more entertaining game to watch. You can view it with a clear conscience, unlike football, because the Commish isn't an utter asshat and the players aren't going to die in their 40s.

And after six games of a Finals that has been seemingly nothing but blowouts and referee malfeasance... man alive. I'm not going to say I feel stupid for caring so much about this league, but it's pretty damned close. That heroin hoop seems like a very long time ago.

There hasn't been a close game in these Finals. There hasn't been a well-officiated game in these Finals. The entire tone and tenor of the series has been changed by a wildly questionable suspension in Game 5. Tonight's game was marred by constant and questionable foul trouble for the reigning Most Valuable Player, who was given his sixth and final foul with four minutes left. Just to ensure that nothing stopped Game Seven from happening, and that the end of Game Six was as drama-free as the other games.

And I *loathe* conspiracy theories, honestly, I do. It makes you sound like the worst kind of sports talk radio fan. But there really isn't that big of a drop from rolling to rocked, especially when the other team has the best basketball player on the planet when he's got his jump shot working. And even more so when the Warriors suddenly lose their best defensive big man in Andrew Bogut, and have to run with a hobbled Andre Iguodala, who played tonight with a back problem that made him look like a guy who usually plays at the YMCA.

I can't say that I'd love this series if the refs were not treating it like third-rate wrestling; basketball games where one team pretty much does a wire to wire job are just depressing. Having to spend this much time with Jeff van Gundy and Mark Jackson is also grounds for a class-action lawsuit, honestly. And the Cavs won the last two games by enough points, with remarkable work by LeBron James especially, that we were probably always going to Game Seven.

But that's not the feeling you got from this. The feeling you got from this is that the series is on the take, that the results of the last two games were pre-scripted, and that you are a full-time mook for watching, let alone caring. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and that the rules of hoop -- best team wins in a best of seven -- might not apply any more. Especially with the cast of characters seemingly in flux.

And yes, Cleveland was always going to win this game. The Warriors got absolutely nothing out of Harrison Barnes. Iguodala has to either get healthy or get off the floor. Draymond Green seemed to play this entire game with an eye to not be suspended for Game 7, with the possible exception of the last minute of play, when he seemed to want to get suspended. As good as Golden State is, they have to be better mentally, or they will end the best season in NBA history with the worst collapse.

Game Seven is Sunday night in Oakland. I have no idea what is going to happen, because I have no idea who is going to be healthy, or who will show up, or who the NBA wants to win, because that last factor seems to be the most important.

I know I'm going to watch, because it's the last meaningful hoop that I'm going to get for 4.5 months. With luck, we'll finally get a game that's worthy of the title. And officiating that's finally not an active detriment to your viewing...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cavaliers - Warriors Game Five: The Limits Of Small

Wrong Room
Tonight in Oakland, the Cavaliers extended the NBA Finals behind two of the best old-school hero ball games you'll ever see. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were insane tonight, much of it from flat out isolation sets that made the ESPN announcing crew swoon. Both men had 41, making up for the fact that there really wasn't a third best Cav tonight (J.R. Smith was OK in the first, and Tristan Thompson had some moments, but otherwise, well, meh).

This was the game where you remembered that, oh yeah, LeBron James with a functioning jump shot is the most terrifying basketball player on the planet. For all of the flack this guy gets, and all of the artificial huddles under mics and bullspit antics in the final minutes of Game Four, he's still probably your best choice for Guy To Start A Franchise With, because he's just a freaking beast. Tonight he had everything going for him, from makes behind the arc to old-time chasedown blocks, and he didn't lose fire in the final quarter. Maybe he doesn't get off like this if Green's on the floor, but give the man his due. One of the best players in the history of the game had one of his best games ever. You should win when that happens.

Irving was another matter. I've never loved his game -- too much hero-ball and too many miss moments on defense to be worthy of his numbers, and he's learned some bad habits on bad teams early in his career -- but when it's working, man, he's talented. Time and again in the second half, Irving would just take and make bad shots, looking as good as any guard has against the Warriors since Damian Lillard in the early rounds. I don't know if he can do it again, but when you get 41 on the road in an elimination game, give it up. Two more games of that, and the Cavs have a prayer of getting one of the more improbable titles in NBA history.

The first half of this game was the best hoop we've seen in the Finals. 61-all, with James, Irving, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston all taking turns to make the hoop special. My thought in watching it was that it was unlikely that James and Irving would be able to keep up the pace in the close, with Cavs' coach Ty Lue continuing to have very curious ideas about the use of a bench... but with starting center Andrew Bogut going off with a knee injury and possible series MVP Draymond Green suspended under suspicious circumstances, the Cavs were able to get away with Hero Ball all night long. It's a 3-2 series, with Game Six in Cleveland on Thursday.

What happens next? Well, Cleveland Fan marks out for Green as much as Oakland Fan marked out for James. Steve Kerr might have to figure out some other way to guard James and Irving, because while it's unlikely that they do that for 8 more quarters, it's also unlikely that Kevin Love will be a total non-factor in a home game. For whatever reason, the Dubs were not able to make the Cavs pay on switches with ball movement -- maybe because their best passer due to size and the way the offense works was across the street at the A's game -- when the Cavs put weak defenders on the floor.

About the only problem I've got with this game was, that, well, yet again we didn't have a close game late, because that's just what the NBA playoffs are this year. Fifteen point wins might qualify as watchable in the thin gruel we've been getting this year, and that first half was giving me flashbacks to the heroin hoop of Thunder - Warriors... but dammit, this has been frustrating. I want to live and die with these games, want to lose myself in the action, want to do more than read my Twitter feed for entertainment when the game gets to closing time. Instead, we get Garbage. Guh.

Oh well. Maybe on Thursday. The season either ends then, or on Sunday. Hopefully with a good game; it's a long, long time until October.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Kevin Durant For Public Service, Or The Silly Season Is Upon Us

Building A Resume
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R-Obviously, as if there were Ds in Oklahoma) said she would be willing to give the Thunder free agent and seven-time All-Star a government post if he stays in-state.

No, seriously.

The position is said to be for a Cabinet position as a health and fitness minister, or some such stuff. I'm kind of amazed that Fallin gave that much thought to the concept, having already locked down the important part of Securing Media Attention, but there it is. And this is where we really need a Key and Peele-ish NBA-centric skitcom to show KD coming into the room hell-bent with ideas for longer recess, better nutrition in the school systems, taxes on sugary drinks and the like. (Feel free to launch a 12-point program of your own, Durantula.)

This sort of thing is going to keep on for the next 2-3 weeks, or until the "official" (as if such things wait for the deadline) start of free agency on July 1.

And the fact that it hit the air on a Sunday night before a Monday Game Five?

Tells you all you need to know about how hard everyone's watching these runaway Finals...

Draymond Green Out For Game Five: Yeesh

I realize that I may seem entirely in the bag for the Warriors at this point, but for heaven's sake, NBA... can you make your desire for an additional game or two of ad revenue more obvious?

Let's look at the context of the incident as it occurs. The Warriors are up in the fourth quarter, and nearly have the game fully in hand. The Cavs have spent much of the quarter unable, or unwilling, to move the ball on offense, and haven't been getting whistles on drives to the hoop; they've also been cold from the arc. The refs have botched most of the game, but since there is margin, no one one notices this.

James fouls Green; Green falls. James steps over Green despite the lack of a ball or anything else compelling him to do so. Green rises, flares his shoulder into James, and catches him in the undercarriage. It's such a devastating shot that James continues with the play, and both men eventually collide under the rim again, finally generating enough notice from the refs to stop play. They review it on replay, because the NBA does that far too often now, and the decision comes down: double fouls, no technical, play on. The game more or less ends soon after that, with Green continuing to provide top-flight defense, and James too gassed, with a jumper that hasn't been right most of the year, to do much about the outcome.

Now, I get that Draymond Green has become the poster child for Hate The Warriors Now That They Seem Dynastic. I get that he's borderline spastic at times, that he does things to draw ref attention, and that he's emotional and one good contract away from being a full-on head case. But FFS... context, people. If he had hit James that hard in the nethers, wouldn't James have sold it? Why is he going after James with a lead in the fourth, with his past technical issues, unless he's pretty much been punked twice in a 2-second interval? And why is it OK to suspend a man for a game when the in-game refs gave next to nothing for the interchange, without more or less saying that this ref crew deserves summary end of employment?

I love the Association, honestly, with full heart. But if there's one thing that isn't right in this league, beyond the fact that we're years into intentional fouling rules that make no sense, it's the uneven and intolerable state of the officiating. And the post-game refs aren't much better.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Warriors - Cavaliers Game Four: Trump Sucks, Indeed

At Least He's Not Fat
Golden State went up 3-1 in the NBA Finals tonight in the only game of the series, so far, that actually had things like lead changes and momentum swings and big plays. Well, kind of. Golden State wins by 11, and here's my thoughts about it.

> All night long, Warriors coach Steve Kerr got quality contributions from deep benchies, especially big men Anderson Vareajo on offensive rebounds, and James McAdoo with screens. In the fourth quarter, a fresh Shaun Livingston was converting on an increasingly gassed Kyrie Irving, leading to a stretch run where the Warrior starters were fresh as a daisy on recovery defense, and the Cavs were incapable of making threes on dead legs. Coaching matters in the NBA, and you'll never see a bigger discrepancy in coaching in a Finals game than you'll see in tonight's game.

> Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry finally got it going tonight, with the guards routinely trading 3s for 2s in the second half. By going 18 for 39, they also opened up the floor for back-breaking offensive rebounds and quality looks at the rim. It's not just that they make 3s; it's that they make 3s so often, the game just gets warped. They made more 3s than 2s tonight, something that's never happened in the Finals before, and yeah, they've broken the game. No wonder the old-timers hate them so much.

> Just because people will say this, no, Curry's still not himself physically, and likely won't be until November. He's smart enough to play great as Old Man Curry from time to time, but he needs screens and defensive lapses to get his points now, and he's still turnover-prone.

> I have no idea who your series MVP candidate is at this point. Maybe Kerr. But in all seriousness, it's a hard question. Green's turned into the NBA's Most Hated Player in this post-season, Curry and Thompson only finally showed up tonight, and no Warrior really stood out in the first two games. I can't imagine it's given to Andre Iguodala again, but he's been the team's best player. Hell, maybe its even Harrison Barnes. That would at least help break up this juggernaut, since he's a free agent after the year is over.

> The officiating tonight was just deplorable. Missed possessions, inconsistent calls on contact, blown non-calls leading to technical fouls and make-up calls... just as bad as it gets. It didn't result in a different outcome, but I would not trust Danny Crawford's crew to run a lunch truck, let alone a pivotal NBA Finals game.

> It seems knee-jerk and sacrilegious to say this, and I wouldn't put it past the guy to just call back a game from the ages and force a Game Six... but at 31 (and it's a very old 31 -- remember, no college and this is his 7th trip to the Finals, which means he's logged over 47,000 minutes already, with 21% of those minutes coming in the playoffs), LeBron James really seems like he might be entering a decline phase of his career. In tonight's game, he was unwilling to shoot from distance even when he made them. In the lane, he was pass-first, either because he was gassed or didn't see the refs bailing him out. Maybe it's just that his coach left him out there to die, but it's hard to give him credit for that when, well, he pretty much hand-picks his coach and roster. (Allegedly.)

> Kyrie Irving played a pretty good game tonight, but his man outscored him while also doing other things, and he wasn't able to keep it going in the fourth. He was the best player on the floor for his team tonight, and the only reason why they had a puncher's shot late, but he really doesn't know the difference between good and bad shots, and he's hopeless on switches. There's tons of talent here, but I'm not sure if growing up on losing teams really didn't help him.

> In re the tie-up between James and Draymond Green with the possibility that Green got James in the jewels and James stepped over Green like he was his coach in the Iverson Moment 15 years ago... well, that's what people who don't like basketball will care about. So long as it doesn't actually impact Game (aka, the NBA doesn't use it to suspend Green and try to prolong the series just to get additional games of commercials), I don't give a fig. This isn't exactly the heroin hoop of the late GSW-OKC series, but it's all the hoop we've got.

> I don't know why people come to games with plans to make it all about them, the way our message protester did, but kudos to security for not letting it take up too much time. If I lived in Cleveland.... well, I'd move. But I'd really not be thrilled with having the GOP convention in town soon. There's a storm coming.

I seriously doubt this goes beyond five, but maybe James surprises us. See you on Monday.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

FTT Off-Topic: Wilco with Richard Thompson

I had the great and good fortune of going to this show last weekend, and honestly... one of the five best shows I've ever seen. Judging from the reactions on social media from the faithful, I saw one of their best gigs on the tour. Here's the set list.

01 - More...
02 - Random Name Generator
03 - The Joke Explained
04 - I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
05 - Art of Almost
06 - Pickled Ginger
07 - Hummingbird
08 - Handshake Drugs
09 - Where Do I Begin
10 - Cold Slope
11 - King of You
12 - Via Chicago
13 - Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)
14 - Company In My Back
15 - Box Full of Letters
16 - Heavy Metal Drummer
17 - I'm the Man Who Loves You
18 - Dawned On Me
19 - Impossible Germany
20 - The Late Greats
21 - California Stars
22 - Red-Eyed and Blue
23 - I Got You (At The End Of The Century) [Alternative Version]
24 - Outtasite (Outta Mind)
25 - Spiders (Kidsmoke)
26 - I'm A Wheel
27 - Misunderstood
28 - Give Back The Key To My Heart [Doug Sahm cover]
29 - War On War
30 - I'm Always In Love
31 - Jesus, Etc.
32 - A Shot in the Arm

A few notes... Note the number of songs played, 32 in a 2.5 hour set that didn't have anything meaningful in the way of pauses or dead time. The sheer efficiency that this band brings to the fore, especially when you consider most of these songs lead to extended jams and ambient noise work, is pretty amazing. It's not just the band; the roadies are absolutely aces, too. Very little stage patter or silliness. When you've got a past catalog like these guys, you want to get to a lot of it, and they do.

"Random Name Generator" is the "hit" off the new album, and it holds up better than you might expect of such things. Stuck with me longer than you'd generally expect.

I can't get enough of "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart." My good friend who is more into their accessible stuff, and was more into the opener (the fantastic Richard Thompson, who guested on guitar on "California Stars" later), started to drift here, but was brought back in later. And now wants to give "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" another try.

"Handshake Drugs" is, IMO, the modern answer to Lou Reed's "I'm Waiting For My Man". I don't have much in the way of finer praise, really.

Jeff Tweedy, the band's fantastic frontman, notes that he always points out that "Box Full Of Letters" is from their first album, and that he always points this out. It still holds up, and points to the fact that the band could have just been an accessible hit machine for their entire run, and no one would have blamed them. I'm glad they didn't take that route, because, well, we already have the Jayhawks, and this song sounds more like them now than Wilco.

"Heavy Metal Drummer" is the song for people who aren't really into Wilco. It's fine anyway.

I think if I were involved with anyone who thought "I'm The Man Who Loves You" was a good romantic gesture, I'd break off the relationship. Which means it's totally great.

Nels Cline is one of the best guitarists alive, and "Impossible Germany" is probably his showcase piece. You wouldn't think that you'd see virtuous shredding in a mid-tempo ambient rock band, but, well, here it is. Just an absurd amount of speed, power and emotion, and utterly captivating. If all guitar solos were like this, no one would mind guitar solos.

"Outtasite" is a good enough way to end a set, but I'd have preferred "Walkin'" -- probably the best song in their catalog that wasn't played tonight -- or "Monday", which is also a beast of a rave-up. In the relatively short electric encore, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" might have been my second favorite thing of the night (behind only "...Heart"), and "I'm A Wheel" is always fun.

At this point in the night, I was more than satisfied, and the roadies started to break down the set... but mostly to make drummer Glenn Kotche, who might be the best hitter in the game right now and just fascinating to watch on any number of levels, comfortable in front of his usual riser. Then the band played another half dozen songs on acoustics, with no drop in energy or proficiency. With Cline on pedal steel, they were even able to generate more than their fare share of weird noise-craft, which just seems like witchcraft, honestly.

Best song of the long encore to me is "Misunderstood", which  is one of those moments where Tweedy is just better at pleasing a crowd, and able to avoid mean attempts at humor. In the same position, I'm sure I'd have ended the night with "I'd like to thank you all / for nothing at all" and dropped the mic. Closing with "Shot In The Arm", with the crowd seemingly ready to go with a singalong moment that's just a little disturbing ("Something in my veins / Bloodier than blood"). But that's just what Wilco does.

Anyway, in case you've somehow missed it... great band, great show, great opener. Run, don't walk, and don't dwell on the overwhelming whiteness of the crowd. The band's great anyway.

Warriors - Cavaliers Game Three: More Of The Year Of The Blowout

As much fun as tonight's game
Tonight in Cleveland, the Cavs did what the home teams have done far too often in these playoffs: absolutely trucked the road team in a game that wasn't all that much fun to watch. 30-point Cavs win, and we're now at 2-1 Warriors for the Finals.

It's hard to overstate just how poorly the Dubs played tonight. Draymond Green was invisible. Klay Thompson took an injury in the first half and had his worst game in a month. Stephen Curry was in foul trouble in the first half, finally got going way too late to really matter, and added fuel to the conspiracy fire that he's nursing and/or masking injuries. None of their benchies looked particularly inspiring, and they've given the Cavs exactly what they need to make this a long series.

As for the Cavs, Kyrie Irving and JR Smith showed up after not playing worth a damn in the first two games. Tristan Thompson played volleyball in the second quarter. Timofey Mozgov gave them decent minutes and punished the Warriors' small moments. They played dramatically better defense and got better calls from the refs. Their ball movement looked like a basketball team. Had this team showed up in the first two games, we might have had people enthused to watch hoop.

I should be happy, but I'll be honest with you.... it's hard to stay awake for blowout hoop. Especially when the games start and end late enough in the day that passing out is a real option. Cleveland wasn't good enough to turn this into a runaway in the first half, but they were in the second, mostly because LeBron James was finally his own damn dominant self, and that was that.

Game Five is Friday, and maybe the Dubs show up from the jump in this one, and we finally get a good game. In a playoff year when good games have been an intolerably low percentage of actually fun to watch hoop, we can only hope. And if you want to use this as Moar Proof that the Warriors aren't one of the best teams in NBA history, well, whatever. They sure pull the chutes faster than you'd expect from a great team...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Cavaliers - Warriors Game Two: Change The Playoffs Already

Preach, Beavis, Preach
Not much to say that isn't obvious about this, other than wow, this doesn't look like it's going to be any kind of a series, and we really need to stop letting the lEast put a team in the Finals when they are rarely one of the two best clubs. But let's dig into it.

> When Draymond Green is the best player on the floor, the Warriors are going to blow you out. When Green is cooking, he does everything -- pass, score, defend -- in the one place that teams in this playoff season have gotten the better of the Dubs. And he usually does it all over the floor, rather than falling in love with the 3-ball, or turning the ball over. (See that Thunder series.) But it's not just Dray that's ending Cleveland.

> Andrew Bogut was an afterthought in the Finals last year, as the Warriors went small when they were down 2-1, then never looked back, with Andre Iguodala getting the MVP. Tonight, he was a block machine in Q1 when the game was still close, and gave Green all the room he needed to dominate. Without him, the Cavs take a big early lead and maybe change the whole narrative of the game. For two straight games, the Cavs have failed to convert at the rim, with Bogut on the scene for a lot of that, and it's killing them.

> The margin tonight was 33, and that was with Stephen Curry playing light minutes due to foul trouble, along with generally not being needed. So in 2 games, the Cavs are -48, with Stephen Curry only scoring 29 points. Maybe he's not capable of getting his usual right now, but if he was? The entire second half would be garbage time.

> This is the first time that a team has beaten the James Gang in 7 straight games. I have no idea what the Cavs could do to stop this. There's just an absurd number of matchup nightmares for them in this series, and there's nothing that's happened in either of these two games that's changed that mindset.

> Kevin Love got hurt tonight, in what should be seen as a PR nightmare for the league, in that he didn't get checked out for concussion, then showed signs of it later. Dude did hit a 3 after the incident, though. Weird. Anyway, if he's out, it might actually help the Cavs, because they are just getting murdered at the rim on missed assignments and cuts, and not hitting nearly enough shots to mitigate the bleeding. Again, maybe this is different back in Cleveland, but so far, the only lineup that the Cavs have seen positive numbers with his been two bigs, neither of them Love. And that's got small sample size written all over it.

> Game 3 is Wednesday, and it's hard to see how the Cavs could hold serve at home and give us a series. A real shame, because blowout hoop has been far too common this year, and this is the last hoop we get to see before late October... and I so wanted more Good Hoop after that insanely great Warrior - Thunder series. But until the NBA goes 1 through 16 with seeding and forgets Conferences, this is what we get.

So, NBA?

Can we please forget about the conferences in the playoffs already?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Cavaliers - Warriors Game One: This Is The Series We've Been Waiting For?

Could It Also Be Close, Please?
Brief and obvious points from a 15-point Warriors win that, while fun at times, was only rarely must-see viewing...

> The idea that the Warriors could nearly go wire to wire in a game where their starting All-World back court had one of their worst games of the year has to give the Cavs (and ESPN/ABC) serious pause at the idea that the series is going to be long, lucrative and memorable. And while the road team might have some rust to kick off, and every game is its own world in a best of seven, especially one with this much time between games... still. An ordinary game from either guard, and this game is 20+. One from both, and it's 25. And if Klay Thompson plays like he did in the OKC series, it's 30+. Easily.

> I don't know about you, but the drop-off from TNT to ESPN is like night and day, and part of why this game felt less than top-shelf. Instead of analysts that seem excited to be there, and focus almost entirely on the game in front of them, we get people who have to see everything through the lens of their personal experience as failed coaches, or people who admire Grit, even if it's manifest as dirty and dangerous play. I mean, Reggie Miller is an asshat, and he'd be the best thing in the ESPN booth by a mile. It's honestly the only thing to be thankful for in a short series.

> While the Cavs can clearly play better -- lots of close misses at the rim tonight, though some of that is active defense by the Dub bigs -- the fact of this game tonight was that their runs only coincided with rough or disinterested play from the Warriors. This felt more like the regular season, in which the Warriors would get in trouble from overconfidence, than the playoffs where they've honestly been at risk.

> If Kevin Love isn't making shots, the Cavs are in serious trouble when he's on the court, because the sieve-like nature of their defense with both him and Kyrie Irving on the floor is remarkable. Especially in comparison with what the Warriors went through in getting past the Thunder. Draymond Green, in particular, looked like he got out of jail tonight.

> All season long, the Dub bench pushed margins and made every team fight uphill. In the playoffs, that's been missing for a while; even the Blazers made this bench look ordinary at times. Tonight, the benchies were better than the starters. Especially...

> Andre Iguodala, who seems like he wants to repeat as Finals MVP. His defensive work tonight was absurdly good, to the point where he seemed to will margin out of thin air. It's also telling that the Cavs never really got close again after Matthew Dellevedova inadvertently pawed him in the junk. (And yeah, probably an accident, but the fact that Delly didn't apologize immediately, and has a history of really questionable play, makes that play far from a common foul.)

> Make no mistake about it.... if you wanted a long series, this was the game the Cavs had to steal. The Dubs might have been tired (um, anyone that thinks Curry is 100% just because he's had some good moments and his team won is an idiot, which means qualified to work for ESPN) from the short lay off, and HC Steve Kerr usually does his best work later in a series, rather than earlier. Getting worked like this only helps the Cavs if they can get the Dubs to come into Game 2 over-confident, and prone to Confetti Bucket plays that turn into turnovers.

> One last really bad omen for Cleveland; how hard LeBron James was working on putbacks, and how little JR Smith was involved. If James gets tired and/or Smith doesn't come up big, Cleveland's path to victory closes to nothing. They certainly aren't winning this with depth or Ty Lue coming up with a genius plan.

See you for Game Two, sometime next week! (OK, Sunday night. Still, point taken?)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The NBA Finals Prediction

Bring It Already
I'm just underwater on personal stuff right now, to the point where just watching the games might be the only sports related thing I can do, so the usual Case For / Case Against column is going to have to miss.

There are reasons to pick the Cavs. They are full strength, hitting like hell from the arc, deeper than any James Gang team in years. They are 12-2 in the playoffs, and have LeBron James when he's not exhausted, which was good enough to go 2-1 in the Finals against the Dubs last year before the avalanche came. Stephen Curry isn't 100%, and when he's not 100%, the Warriors are too dependent on Klay Thompson, who is streaky in both directions.

But they don't have the defensive players that OKC does, which means they won't be able to sustain runs. They are always going to have one sieve on the floor, and maybe two, if Kyrie Irving doesn't have another gear. There's basically no coach, as always, and they are going to need JR Smith to be a net gain. They don't have home court.

I think it's going to go long, because I don't think the Dubs are going to be able to stop James either, and we might see some Questionably Lucrative ref work. And Draymond Green could over-amp himself into issues here. But not to the point of losing the series.

Dubs in seven. Heroin Hoop for all. The best end of NBA playoffs ever, to help us forget how much of this wasn't very good. And the shortest possible off-season. I'm picking what I'm rooting for, in other words.

Game on!

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