Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Category Archives: San Antonio Spurs

A Most Transformative 90 Days in NBA History; alternately 90 Days that Shook the (NBA) World

We were all so much more innocent back on April 13th, 2016. A historic NBA season was coming to a close with dual games competing for the main stage of national TV hoop audiences: In one corner, the final game of Kobe Bryant’s illustrious 20-year-career. In the other, Kobe’s antithesis, the record-setting, fun-loving, three-point-chucking Warriors of Golden State questing for their record-setting 73rd win. That sweet night back in spring may have been the end of the 2015-16 NBA regular season, but it was just the beginning of a 90-day stretch that has laid waste to forward and backward views of the NBA and culminated on July 11th with Tim Duncan’s retirement acting as an appropriate bookend to what Kobe started back in April.

It’s not a knock on Golden State that Kobe stole the show on that Wednesday night. The Warriors hosted a short-handed Memphis team they’d already whooped up on three times. The Grizz were without Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, etc. The game was a formality, a 48-minute procession that lead to crowning the Warriors as the greatest regular season team of all time. It was anti-climactic, but not without massive historical significance.

If Golden State embodied audacity in their pursuit of 73 wins, Kobe’s been radiating his own stubborn brand of nerve dating back to the first references to him in the history books as a competitive savant of sorts playing against grown men in Italy. That brashness is why people tuned in, hoping to get one last memory from Kobe – either something to solidify their notion of his greatness, reaffirm that he’s a ball hogging diva, or just say goodbye to an icon. In his most polarizing approach, he delivered to everyone.

In 25 years of watching basketball, Bryant’s final game with 60 points on 50 shots and 21 three point attempts; with his 37-year-old body gasping for air, visibly fatigued, committed to squeezing in as many shots as possible will always sit near the top of my memories. It was by turns hilarious and awe inspiring, predictable and incomprehensible. I don’t imagine I’ll ever see a player drop 60 in his last game, deliver what felt like a pre-planned speech, and un-ironically wrap it up with, “Mamba out,” but that’s what happened and it should’ve been a reminder to us all that this game, in all its beautiful bouncing and human fragility, is unpredictable.

90 days that shook the world

A few weeks the collective NBA world had shifted focus to the Western Conference Finals. Some people expected Oklahoma City to beat Golden State and maybe the events of May 24th aligned with their thoughts, but I think most of us were surprised to see OKC run the Warriors off the floor in game four: 118-94 to go up 3-1. OKC was faster, stronger, longer, more confident, tougher, better. Something like 10 teams had come back from 3-1 deficits, but OKC had just won back-to-back games by a combined 52 points.

If Kobe’s last game is a shiny performance that demands a place in memory, Klay Thompson’s game six against OKC was probably more impressive given the context. Down eight heading into the fourth, a historic season on the line in a hostile environment, the future of rival Kevin Durant at stake, and Klay comes out gunning with three threes and all nine of GSW’s points to open the period. He would end up scoring 19 in the quarter, 41 for the game. These weren’t just spot up threes or blown defensive assignments, but hair trigger releases against great defense and bombs from 30 feet.

Despite Klay’s classic game, it’s fair to look back at the game six and the subsequent GSW win in game seven as critical dominoes in the Durant sweepstakes. It’s not likely anyone will ever know what KD would’ve decided had OKC won the west, but they didn’t and before game summary stories had been filed, the KD exodus rumors were already trickling out.

About a week-and-a-half after GSW had given Durant an up-close look at what he was missing out on, they took their own 3-1 lead over the Cavs in the Finals.

I don’t know if it’s the omnipresence of connected media and the Twittersphere or the sheer improbability of it all that etched it in my mind so clearly, but the Cavs comeback feels like something that’s been drilled into my memories: the Draymo suspension, Bron/Kryie going batshit crazy in game five, Bron going HAM in game six, and the unceasing rising tension of the 89-89 tie punctured and punctuated by a cascade of hugely historic moments: the block, Kevin Love’s defense on Steph, Kyrie’s shot, Bron trying to jackhammer home the final nail in GSW’s coffin by dunking on Draymo but getting fouled and maybe, possibly hurting his wrist. It’s all there, so clear and incredible, so historic and memorable, but so so foreboding as evidenced by GSW’s owner Joe Lacob’s, “All I can say is I will be very aggressive (in the off-season)” post-game comment.

When Cleveland was down 3-1 after having been trounced in game five at home, a comeback felt so out of reach and improbable. The odds were less than GSW’s comeback over OKC. After all, we’d seen the Warriors break teams and were just a couple weeks removed from Klay and Steph’s bombs away act finishing off OKC. Trading Kevin Love was inevitable, and at times Kyrie looked like a great individual talent that just didn’t comprehend the level of effort required at this level. Obituaries were drafted, LeBron’s window slammed shut, Warrior pressers were jokey events offset by obligatory “the series isn’t over” statements. A comeback wasn’t possible until it was and a month later my mind is still blown by it.

Of all these moments, maybe the most seismic was Durant’s July 4th announcement on the Player’s Tribune that he’d be joining Golden State – joining Steph, Klay, Draymo, Iggy. But what, but how? The stories and the analyses flowed out: if OKC beats GSW then he doesn’t leave, if GSW beats the Cavs then he can’t go. It’s what-if conjecture that can’t be solved any better than generational NBA debates.

In our reality, it happened the way it did and now the 6’11”, jump shooting, all-position defending, long-limbed 27-year-old from DC is joining one of the greatest teams of all-time. All the pieces had to fall just right to even allow it and when I write allow, I mean the cap, OKC losing, GSW losing, the conditions being created that made it rational and acceptable to Durant to leave OKC and join its greatest rival. Amid all this great on-court achievement and drama, the possibility that Durant brings to GSW is what makes it the greatest plot twist of all. Who’s the real Keyser Soze here?

So if Durant-to-the-Warriors is the climactic event, it’s Duncan low-key retirement on July 11th that acts as a coda for this dramatic 90 days that shook the NBA. The turnover is radical; from Kobe going out like a roman candle to Duncan fading into the cold quiet darkness of Spurs space. Two all-timers who played with their franchises for the entirety of their careers retiring against the backdrop of one of the most historic Finals and Finals performances, and all while Durant trades in the blue and orange of the Thunder for the blue and gold of the Bay.

How did we get here and where do we go? Our familiar faces are changing places or leaving us altogether. I don’t have a clue what this new NBA looks like, with the exception of a divisive CBA negotiation next summer. It feels like we’re coming out of an exhausting whirlwind, and entering what? I never could’ve expected a 90-day span like what happened from April 13th to July 11th and I don’t know what I expect the ramifications to be. But where I originally tuned in for a game played between lines drawn on a 94×50 hardwood court, I stick around as much now for the drama that unfolds off the court; in its history and operations, in the shaping of histories and futures by actors who are owners, front office officers, coaches, and self-determining players.

Tim Duncan and Hard Times

A great chapter closed, an era ended, the ink is finally dry on the career of Tim Duncan. Of course, we’ll be arguing legacies and positions played until time immemorial because that’s what we do, but there is no next with Tim Duncan. In the early morning when I found out about his retirement, my mind was clear, not yet polluted by the noise of the day and corporate worries. I trust my morning mind and for some reason, my first thoughts of Duncan were his failures.

Back in 2013 when the Heat battled back from a game six fourth quarter deficit and eventually won the series in game seven, a major footnote of the series happened in the fourth quarter of game seven with Miami up 90-88 and less than a minute remaining in the game. Duncan, guarded by 6’7” Shane Battier, caught the ball on the left block and dribbled across the middle of the lane where he attempted and missed a driving layup. He perfectly timed his miss and used his great length to tip the ball back up, missing that as well. Miami rebounded the ball and went on to win the game. Duncan and the Spurs got the shot they wanted, but he missed. For a guy who’s considered by many to be the greatest power forward of all time, this was a low point.

After that game, Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports wrote of Duncan:

“To be at this point — with this team, in a situation where people kind of counted us out — [it] is a great accomplishment to be in a Game 7,” Duncan said. “Or to be in a Game 6 up one and two chances to win an NBA championship and not do it, that’s tough to swallow.”

But now that the world has turned and left Duncan here, so close and yet so far away from the fifth title he so desperately craves, the Game 6 meltdown isn’t what he’ll remember most.

“For me, no. Game 7, missing a layup to tie the game … Making a bad decision down the stretch. Just unable to stop Dwyane [Wade] and LeBron [James]. Probably, for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me.”

Tim Duncan’s greatness has never been up for debate. Since he stepped onto the court as a rookie and averaged 21-points with 12-rebounds and 2.5-blocks, he’s been firmly entrenched as a top player in the league. And yet, I’ll always remember his early career bugaboos from the free throw line. He never reached Shaq-level struggles, but battled the yips on multiple occasions over the years; most notably against the Pistons in game five of the 2005 Finals when he went 0-6 from the line in the 4th quarter including 0-3 in the final minute. It was remarkable to see a player who was otherwise so fundamentally sound lose focus or over-focus at critical points in big games. He was a 7-foot expressionless (except when disagreeing with calls) tactician with his own flaws and struggles.

07-11-16 - TD retired

I assume I’m attracted to Duncan’s failures in part because as a Lakers fan during the Shaq/Kobe era, Duncan and his Spurs were a fear-causing foil. If Shaq was a human wrecking ball patrolling the paint, Duncan was the Excellence of Execution, a player whose overall game was so refined as to appear pre-programmed, Terminator style. Some guys are so great that you that their success is assumed. If you root against these players or their teams, you become conditioned to them snuffing out your hope by just doing what they do.

But it was never just about Duncan. In some ways, Duncan and the Spurs were too good to be true, too good to resist. Part of the indelibleness of his and their failures is rooted deeply in the 19-year-long crush of a narrative that trails these Spurs around as a model of virtue and righteousness. It’s this unbudging narrative (and lack of questioning it) that pushed me to write this in 2014 and drove my friend Jacob Greenberg to write this a few months later. Duncan isn’t guilty of crafting these narratives, but Spurs and Popovich exceptionalism have always generated incessant storylines that made any deviation from the flawless particularly enjoyable.

But as I look back and re-watch some of these old misses, there’s no longer any joy. Removed from the passion that accompanies being a fan fully engrossed in the live moment, it’s empathy and feeling that stand out. For all the descriptions of being a stoic and being a robot, Duncan is composed of the same moondust that makes up all of us. And in seeing his failure and the weights of those disappointments, I can’t help but feel some of what he feels even if I only ever hoped his team would be defeated.

So in my pettiness, it’s failure that stands out and it isn’t just the free throws I remember. As has become a theme of this blog, my own personal fan experience is one that relishes the defeat of true foes as much as it celebrates my own team’s victories. May 13th, 2004 delivered an iconic basketball moment and Duncan was a significant figure in the memory. I was at my apartment in Iowa City, a fifth-year senior grinding through his final classes, watching a Lakers/Spurs Western Conference Semifinals grinder from bed while my wife (then my girlfriend) studied or worked or just chilled next to me. The game unfolded on my crappy 19” TV, a low-scoring affair in the 70s of which I remember little except two shots.

With just over five seconds on the clock and a 72-71 Lakers lead in San Antonio, Duncan caught Ginobili’s inbounds at the right elbow and with a 7’1”, 350lbs-plus Shaq draped over him, took a couple hard dribbles to his left and elevated with his momentum carrying him that direction and flung a shot at the basket. He didn’t follow-through, it was just a quick trigger of a line drive that seemed to be magnetically pulled into and through the hoop.

The Spurs, their fans, and of course Duncan erupted. The camera zoomed in on Kobe, on Shaq. They’re stunned, disbelieving. The clock read 0.4 seconds and in my room as a 23-year-old, I am deflated. Even re-watching it now, a stain of disappointment is still there, just barely, but there it is; knowingly bested even if by a fluke shot. Even if it didn’t play out that way, the likelihood of defeat was all too real to the point I still carry it with me more than 12 years later.

The Lakers come back down with Gary Payton inbounding. Shaq peels back checking for the lob, but Rasho Nesterovic denies it. Kobe tries to break away north of the three-point line, but it’s Derek Fisher making a hard cut to the ball, catching and barely turning and shooting all in one motion. From a sitting position, I jumped off my bed, nearly hitting my head on the ceiling. I shrieked or screamed or yelled and my wife nearly had a heart attack. And all those Spurs, Kevin Willis, Bruce Bowen, Hedo Turkoglu, and of course Tim Duncan are struck down by their own incomprehension which is only made more agonizing by the review process that confirms it all: shot is good, Lakers win.

That the most controversial aspect of Duncan’s career is whether or not he was a power forward or center is the vanilla of NBA controversies. He made no waves, just dominated. He won two MVPs, three Finals MVPs, an All-Star MVP, and five NBA Championships. I guess people want to debate if he’s the best power forward ever or how he stacks up against Kobe as the best player of their shared generation, but there’s not much to argue for me. I’ll always remember the failures and even if I understand how and why my memories drift that way, I can’t help but feel that in relishing the losses, I missed out on some great moments from one of the greatest basketball players of my lifetime.

San Antonio Blues II

It was somehow over five years ago, almost to the day that I wrote my first post, titled (with conviction no doubt) San Antonio Blues. It was the opening round of the playoffs and the Spurs, led by a 34-year-old Tim Duncan, were in the process of being unceremoniously dumped by a resurgent Grizzlies team that was making its first playoff appearance in four years.

Back in 2011, I wrote:

The incarnation of the Spurs that we know: the systematic offense (even you, Ginobili, with your behind the backs and violent head fakes, are systematic), constricting defense, the method, practiced and refined, perfectly improvised; this version is gone. It’s the same group of guys wearing the same jerseys and coming up with the same regular season results (61 wins and a number one seed in the west), but with different method.

To look back now, it feels so improbable that in a five-year span San Antonio took that “different method” to its zenith, won two titles; then cut back again and managed to win 67 games with a historically dominant defense. I have no feeling about being right or wrong, but I lacked imagination and an inability to see the possibility of reinvention and regeneration – even though it was in front of my face. (re re re – it feels like Duncan, Manu, Parker and Pop are case studies for pro sport re-imagination which is a fantastical leap of the will of the mind triumphing over ego.)

When I made my first post in 2011 it was with some sense of finality, some foreboding feeling that the book was closing on the Spurs. But it was a two-pronged failure of a prognostication: First, that the Spurs as a Parker-Duncan-Ginobili core were finished, but there was no ending, just a chapter closing. The Spurs layered in Leonard, built Green out of his own best basketball self, seamlessly integrated Boris Diaw, and developed guys like Patty Mills and Cory Joseph. Whether it was R.C. Buford or Pop or both of them ideating on a porch swing on some San Antonian veranda, the Spurs collective hatched an idea and executed against it. My second failure was just an inability as a 30-year-old (was I just 30 then? It feels like another plane of my life.) in 2011 to foresee the inevitability of change without death. As a 35-year-old writing this now, it’s easy to look back at my growth as a human, a man; growth on mental and emotional levels with the comprehension of deep and honest loss and clearly see an inability to transpose that onto athletes or a team. Yet that’s exactly what happened with this group of Spurs – existential growth in the midst of physical decline.

Aside from the past, these playoff Spurs glided into a clumsy landing to the 2016 season. In 2011 I compared their defeat at the hands of a hungry, aggressive Grizzlies team to Biggie’s “Things Done Changed” track off Ready to Die. I’m fresh out hip hop metaphors, but these past six games in the Western Conference semifinals have been reminiscent of that decimation five years ago. Even though they’ve become Western Conference staples, OKC is still a younger, more athletic collection of talent than most of their opponents – particularly the Spurs – but they’ve grown into a more brutally bludgeoning version of themselves. If it was the hunger of Tony Allen and Sam Young symbolizing the fearlessness of those original Grit & Grinders, it was Steven Adams and Enes Kanter in this series. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the thoroughbreds gallivanting through the halls of basketball glory, but it was the thumping insistence of Kanter and Adams that acted as human body blows to Duncan, Aldridge, West, and even giant Boban Marjanovic. Where lesser players may have flinched at the snarls and glares of West, Adams and Kanter treated him like another speed bump on their way to rebounds and the Western Conference Finals.

It wasn’t just victory and defeat, but the manner of victory. It was physical, not executional. It was strength and endurance, not just mental fortitude. I don’t know or care if the Spurs were better prepared because it doesn’t matter now. OKC had too many horses or dogs or Kanters or Adamses. They were unrelenting and somehow inevitable.

And at the five-year anniversary of starting this blog, I find myself impressed by those still blessed by the sliver of youth (Durant and Russ have been in their mid-20s forever it seems) but relating to the unrelenting nature of change and age. I sit often with my leg propped up and an ice pack around my hamstring, going on six weeks nursing an injury that happened in a pickup game – half court no less. And though I don’t have title rings or banners, and though I rooted for OKC, I’ve never before been so capable of relating to the Spurs, that aging core with its calm, but confident acceptance of the passage of time. There isn’t any sadness in this defeat; there’s plenty of that outside basketball. It’s just change, one foot in front of the other, one day after the next with time offering endless opportunities for context and reflection.

The Courts are Alive (Playoff Edition)

What a night. What a fucking night for the NBA, for the game of basketball, for Nate Robinson, Steph Curry and Manu Ginobili. What a night for Twitter and the screaming woman at the Spurs game. What didn’t happen? Game ones of the second round: Bulls @ Heat in the early game and Warriors @ Spurs in the later game.

The Heat were 11.5-point favorites and for good reason. Coming into tonight, Miami was 39-4 at home (counting playoffs) and was mostly healthy with the exception of Dwyane Wade’s nagging knee injury. We all know about the Bulls: Kirk Hinrich’s out with a calf injury, Luol Deng’s dealing with fallout from a spinal tap gone wrong and we’re all depleted from the media throwing Derrick Rose on repeat and forcing us to listen over and over. So the Bulls rolled out Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. They did everything. Every damn thing you could ask for from a group of rejects (Robinson and Belinelli), outcasts (Noah), overlooked (Butler) and scorned (Boozer) players.

Down the stretch of this game, with Noah compulsively hustling and diving, scowling at opponents and teammates alike with long tendrils of hair stuck to his sweaty face, the Bulls stared up at a slight fourth quarter deficit of four points; but if felt like a Miami’s game all the way. How many times this season have we seen the Heat cruise through three quarters against lesser-talented teams only to turn up the intensity late in the game and walk away with easy victories. And when Jimmy Butler, all 6’7” and 220lbs of chiseled Jimmy Butler, attempted to wrap up LeBron on a fast break, but was overpowered by Bron’s lefty layup, I was impressed and relaxed, thinking Miami was just closing out another victory against another helpless victim. But I was oh-so-fortunately wrong and had no idea what was about to happen. The Bulls hit three threes (two by Belinelli and one by Butler) in the final five minutes, they shot 9-10 from the line and they frustrated the defending champions into missing all five of their shots in the final 97-seconds of the game. Somehow, the Bulls went down to the hardly hostile American Airlines Arena and beat the Heat 93-86 including a 35-24 fourth quarter.

For all that happened (Nate Robinson) and didn’t happen (Miami scoring points—they had their lowest point total since an 86-67 victory over these same Bulls on 2/21), what stood out most to me was Dwyane Wade’s irrationally selfish decision, coming out of a timeout, to chuck up a contested three at the 1:07 mark of the 4th quarter with his team down two points. On so many levels this was a bad shot. Many of us have become accustomed to the “hero ball” or “toilet bowl” offense where we get Paul Pierce or Kobe or Melo pounding the air out of the ball followed by a contested three. We all know it’s a bad shot, but there’s a level of latitude for the players I just mentioned. And Wade’s earned plenty of latitude in his career as well, but not enough to pull the shit he pulled on Monday night. Miami couldn’t have possibly drawn up the Wade-from-the-top-of-the-key special, could they have? Let’s look at some Dwyane Wade stats:

  • Dwyane Wade shot 25.8% from three this season
  • He was 2-18 from three over his previous 33 games
  • Wade was one of the least accurate three-point shooters in the league; finishing just a few percentage points better than only three other players (Lamar Odom, Reggie Jackson and Kevin Love) who made at least 17-threes this season

 

No Threes Allowed

No Threes Allowed

I’m elated for the Bulls. It feels good and I don’t want to take away from their resilient victory, but I can’t get over Wade’s three; just a baffling, baffling shot.

It took a while to get over that first game. There was a sense of low-level adrenaline running through my body after the Bulls withstood the Heat’s meager comeback attempts. But during the NBA playoffs, there’s no time for dwelling on the past. I opened my celebratory beers and was pleasantly surprised seeing the Warriors confident and comfortable on the Spurs home court. Up four at the half in the AT&T Center? Well yes, yes of course.

All hell broke loose in the third though. Steph Curry started raining fire from the skies like a light-skinned basketball-playing Zeus firing bolts into the round cylinder. The Spurs crowd cringed with every blow, flinched at every shot release. At one point, the camera showed Gregg Popovich standing still, his eyes closed, his head hung down, but far from out. He looked like he was attempting to visualize the solution to this problem and for a split second I imagined Popovich taking the law into his hands Tanya Harding style and whacking Curry’s knee with a baton of sorts. We both snapped out of it though and after a patented succession of Warriors mistakes to end the third quarter, the dust had settled and Curry’s third looked like this:

  • Minutes: 11 minutes, 56 seconds
  • FG/FGA: 9/12
  • 3p/3pa: 4/6
  • Assists: 3
  • Turnovers: 0
  • Points: 22

Golden State 92, San Antonio 80 (end of third)

There was a sense, I think, in many of us who had been here before, who had sat through the Warriors’ near collapse on Thursday night in game six against the Nuggets, that trouble loomed ahead, that all the Curry-fueled momentum in the world wasn’t going to make this any easier. And it wasn’t. The Spurs used every ounce of savvy and veteran poise and whatever other cliché you want to dress them up with to outscore the Warriors 26-14 in the fourth quarter.

The Curry third quarter, the Spurs comeback; it all evolved or devolved into some kind of brilliant basketball game that etched itself deeper into our minds and stomachs, intertwining itself within the gray matter of our brains and the slimy coils of our intestines. Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Kent Bazemore, Andrew Bogut, Steph Curry, Jarrett Jack … a professionally-trained youth movement apparently oblivious to the fear that rides shotgun on their road to fate. On the opposite side, it was the familiar faces that have stalked the league so patiently with their secretive wisdom and insider humor: Pop, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and a strange cast of characters that plug into roles that feel tailor made: Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green. They came and they came and they came. The old men with their flu bugs and bald spots and interchangeable pieces; a group of calm Texans embodying the same ethos of the Bulls. And somehow, after being down 18 points in the third quarter, the Spurs won in double overtime. Do you believe in Boris Diaw corner threes or nights where Manu Ginobili shoots 5-20, but hits the one that really matters? Fuck man, I don’t know, but I saw it happen.

Some notable items from this insane game in San Antonio in May:

  • Golden State shot 14-24 (58%) from the free throw line
  • Golden State is a 79% free throw-shooting team on the regular season (good enough for fourth in the league)
  • Boris Diaw: The big Frenchman had a series of big plays that helped this Spurs team achieve victory:
    • He somehow became the only Spurs player able conceive of not leaving his feet to guard Steph Curry. At the 1:22 mark in the fourth quarter, with GSW up five, Curry attempted a little shake move and pull up on Diaw; likely underestimating his defender’s length and discipline. Diaw blocked the shot without leaving the ground.
    • He went to the line and hit a pair of FTs to bring the Spurs to within one late in the 4th.
    • Diaw set the screen to free up Danny Green for the OT-forcing three.
    • He was on the floor for all of both OTs, contributed rebounds, screens and a clutch three.

There were heroes on both teams. Ginobili, Parker and Curry were special tonight, but in the thick history making moments, Diaw’s hand never shook. He played intelligent, confident basketball and is a big reason the Spurs are up 1-0 in this series.  

I’ll close this with a line from Jim Morrison that embodies unknowing excitement of tonight and hopefully the days to come: I don’t know what’s gonna happen man, but I wanna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames…Alright!

what we can't see

Guess Manu’s Strange

Trends and their meanings and sources are always insightful in sports, but I’m just as interested and sucked into the completely random stat line or statistitical accomplishment like the one that occurred on Friday night in the whipping the Spurs applied to the Kings. After dropping a stunner to the Suns in overtime a few nights before, the Spurs took out their frustrations on the Kings in the form of a 130-104 victory where San Antonio shot just over 60% from the field and scored 130 points on just 84 shots.

It was this environment of cleanliness and efficiency that Tony Parker went down with an ankle injury forcing Manu Ginobili into playmaking duties where Ginobili set a career-high with 15 assists and did it while spending less than 23 minutes on the court. That makes him one of just three players to achieve this random act of prolificacy over the past 28 seasons and of the accomplishment Manu had this to say: ”Yeah, it just happened…” For that, I guess Manu’s strange:

Manu dimes - 03-02-13

Day Three: What these Hands hath Wrought

Alright, today’s post is a consolidation of madnesses from Sunday and Monday; and make no mistake it has been mad; at least someone’s mad. We’ve witnessed referee’s being loosely assaulted, Caron Butler breaking his hand, an impossible 27-point comeback and Amar’s Stoudemire punching out a pane of glass and in the process shredding his hand. If you’re not getting kicked out of games or getting hurt, you’re not doing your part.

Utah at San Antonio, game one, Spurs won 106-91, lead 1-0: Tony Parker did that Tony Parker thing he does where he uses speed and timing to invade the opposition’s defense at will. That the Spurs now play to his strengths instead of Duncan’s is impressive and a credit to all parties involved. The Jazz took one of four games against the Spurs in the regular season and will be fortunate to do better in the playoffs.

Random fact: Gordon Hayward attempted a career-high twelve free throws in game one and hit all twelve.

Denver at Lakers, game one, Lakers won 103-88, lead 1-0: Andrew Bynum is big, tall, long, talented, occasionally immature and more. To the Nuggets, he was the boogeyman in the paint, a giant protecting his lair. Ten blocks in the playoffs? Tied Hakeem Olajuwon and Mark Eaton for most blocks in playoff game history? Yep, that’s Andy. While Dwight’s temporarily crippled by a herniated disc, Bynum looks like an invincible force doing battle with children.

Random fact*: Devin Ebanks is actually Trevor Ariza.

Boston at Atlanta, game one, Hawks won 83-74, lead 1-0: It was yet another battle in years’ worth of battles for these two franchises. The Hawks overcame a historically dismal shooting performance from Joe Johnson (see random fact below) to control this game and hang on for the win. The story that ruled the day was Rajon Rondo’s little chest bump into the ref. The timing and reaction were both overboard and could result in Boston dropping into a 0-2 hole. With Ray Allen’s health in question, the momentum Boston had built in March and April is vanishing in acts of immaturity and inevitability.

Random fact: Joe Johnson joined three other players in playoff history in three-point shooting ignominy with his 0-9 performance. His fellow culprits: John Starks, Rashard Lewis and Derrick Rose.

Clippers at Memphis, game one, Clippers won 99-98, lead 1-0: Watching this game was like watching a movie where you expect one thing to happen, but then the director/writer throws a knuckleball that leaves you disoriented and questioning the events of the previous two hours. Did it add up? Was it believable? Did I enjoy being befuddled or did the director just play a joke on me? There wasn’t a script to Sunday night’s game unless the big director in the sky is a Nick Young fan. What happens from here is anyone’s guess, but I can confidently say the Memphis Collective (players, coaches, fans, employees) looked helplessly nauseous in that fourth quarter.

Random fact(s): Reggie Evans’s 13 rebounds in 21 minutes put him in rare company with five other prolific playoff rebounders who’ve grabbed at least 13 boards in 21 minutes or less: Danny Schayes (14 in 21), Kurt Rambis (14 in 21), Scot Pollard (14 in 21), Jeff Foster (13 in 21), Maurice Lucas (14 in 19).

New York at Miami, game two, Heat won 104-94, lead 2-0: Once again, anger steals the headlines. Amar’e Stoudemire didn’t take too well to the Knicks’ second straight loss in Miami and took it out on a pane of glass covering a fire extinguisher. David Aldridge proceeded to take the event far too seriously, treating it more like Stoudemire had severed his femoral artery and was at risk of bleeding out instead of addressing it for the loss of control that it was. All this really does it take away the focus from what was another strong Miami performance and further reinforced the fact that the Knicks are simply overmatched the way blind Chinese dissidents are powerless against their government … oh, wait.

Random fact: Miami Heat nicknames: Mike Miller is “Slim,” Juwan Howard is “Nooky,” James Jones is “Jhoops” (which is actually pronounced “Joops” as the “h” is silent)

Orlando at Indiana, game two, Pacers won 93-78, tied 1-1: This game is being relegated to the NBA TV slot which essentially makes it the least interesting series in the playoffs. Ratings considerations aside, Monday night’s game was the familiar storyline of a tale of two halves. After falling behind by two at the half and being firmly bullied, the Pacers responded appropriately with a 30-13 third quarter. I wish things were different, but I struggle to find intrigue in this series.

Random fact: The Pacers are 33-2 on the season when leading after three quarters.

Dallas at OKC, game two, OKC won 102-99, up 2-0: Combined score after two games 201 – 197. The Mavs have had their chances, but unlike last season when they couldn’t miss in crunch time, Dirk and Jason Terry have come up short two games in a row and are dangerously close to seeing their title defense end early. Being pushed to the brink is nothing new for this Dallas crew, but in small spaces of their group consciousness, questions are being asked. Notable observations:

  • I’m not a Brendan Haywood fan, but the more I see him, the more I feel Shaq was justified in referring to him as “Brenda.”
  • Does Billy Hunter watch NBA games and if so, does he openly cheer against Derek Fisher? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, last night had to be particularly bitter for him.

Random fact: Miniscule sample size for sure, but through two playoff games, Kevin Durant is shooting 34% from the field compared to 52% for Russell Westbrook.

And that concludes three days of playoff basketball. We’ve had anger, controversy, pain and loss. Negativity is the overwhelming theme and I look forward to exploring the more affirmative aspects of these games in the coming days.

 

 

You’ll Never Walk Alone – San Antonio Spurs Preview

The first post I ever wrote here was about the indefensible mugging the Spurs were receiving at the hands of a young, hungry, relentless Memphis Grizzlies team. After finishing the regular season with the West’s best record, the thousands of minutes and hundreds of games spanned over more than a decade worth of pro basketball had caught up with the great Tim Duncan and his associates. Now heading into another season at age 35, how should we feel about the present version of this all-time forward/center and the men who have flanked him in battle all these years?

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As a sport consuming culture, we’ve become accustomed to watching our heroes transition from immortality (21pts, 20rebs, 10asts and 8blks—in a game six Finals clinching win) to flesh and bones mortals (6pts, 7rebs—against the Grizzlies in the playoffs last year—on his birthday!) on a gradual, measured decline with little reminders of previous greatness coming with less and less frequency. There’s nothing to be sad about here unless we fail to recall the past individual and team glories and with the ever-living online archive, this shouldn’t be a problem. Growing old and decaying is part of the deal; we just watch our athletes play out this sequence on the digitized, highly defined stages of ABC, TNT and ESPN while we experience our own in relative privacy.

What the fuck does any of this have to do with the San Antonio Spurs besides the fact that Tim Duncan has inevitably aged? (speaking of inevitably aging, if there was one player to make a deal with the devil or maybe one of the devil’s representatives, who would it be? I know the easy answer is Kobe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Durant or Dwight… for completely different reasons—another post for another day) The Spurs as a collective have aged. Manu Ginobili is suddenly 34, Tony Parker 29, Antonio McDyess (if he returns) 37, DeJuan Blair’s knees alone are over 40. The youth movement that began with George Hill and ended with George Hill has been swapped out for an even younger player who has hands big enough to palm three basketballs at once … while texting with the other hand at the same time! Kawhi Leonard’s hands are freakishly large, but he’s more than a set of huge mitts. He’ll likely challenge Richard Jefferson for playing time at the three. So there’s at least an eye to the future, but in San Antonio, it’s difficult to catch a clear view of the horizon over the receding shoulders of an exiting Duncan.

Among the living legends roaming the streets of San Antonio is the most ancient of all: Gregg Popovich, the Garry Kasparov of NBA coaches. The fact his name has two ‘Gs’ only adds to the mystique. Pop’s success with an aging roster playing an updated style is indicative of his powers both as a visionary and a manager. 2011 proved the old wizard still had the magic; he just didn’t have the tools. What does 2012 have in store?

What’s so different about the Spurs’ decline and that of the Suns? I asked myself this while I was walking home earlier and while the differences were numerous, the Suns had romance and dreams on their side while the Spurs were coldly analytical and capable of merely living out their dreams. Mike D’Antoni’s constant middle finger pointed in the direction of convention and the Lakers won the Suns fans far beyond Arizona’s borders. The Spurs were real, practical and boring as hell to the average basketball fan. They played defense and made mid-range bank shots and gave quality minutes to the Matt Bonners and Bruce Bowens of the pro basketball world. The only Spur who designed outside the lines was and still is Manu and even his rejection of conventional American-style basketball somewhat seemed to fit in with the Spurs. Controlled improvisation? Practiced spontaneity? Who could be so confident as to say? There were and are drastic differences between these two clubs and in the end it mostly had to do with what could’ve happened versus what did happen.

If you want immortality, set a record. The flesh tears and bones break. Immortality is for numbers and ideas. The Spurs have done a masterful job with this group and extended the shelf life and entertainment value further than it probably should’ve gone, but I’m unsure, uncertain what happens next or what needs to happen next. There’s the simple answer: It’s a business. Then there’s the reality of it: We’re humans, the Spurs front office is filled with humans and its arena is filled with humans who’ve adopted Duncan and Friends like travelers on a shared road with a shared destination. I don’t know what will happen, but I’d be happy to supply the booze and pull up a chair for a chat with Popovich and RC Buford and hear their honest, unspun, unfiltered, unabbreviated, unabridged thoughts on the future of these San Antonio Spurs.

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