Where to begin on the first Monday of May? Five game sevens? The Pacers gasping for, and finding, that final breath? What’s David Stern up to these days? Damian Lillard? Are we all just over-obsessed with this game? Well, let’s leave that last question alone lest we start questioning our time management, meaning, existence, and the rest because if True Detective taught us anything, it’s that “It’s all one ghetto man, a giant gutter in outer space.”
• Is it a myth that the greatest two words in sports are “Game Seven?” I mean, we can debate the greatness of words all day long, but given what led up to this past weekend’s bonanza of game sevens, Saturday and Sunday felt like letdowns of sorts. This little tiny space I’m filling with words isn’t appropriate for the exploration of such a topic, but nonetheless, our five games had an average point differential of 10.4. And if we take out the two outliers (San Antonio’s 23-point victory and the Nets one-point squeaker), it drops to 9.3 – not exactly the type of edge of your seat drama it was billed to be (or hoped to be – is the billing nothing more than the ceiling we all hope for?). The closest of the games, Brooklyn’s road win in Toronto, was dramatic, but sloppily so with missed free throws, Kyle Lowry bowling into opponents, and the exhibition of Paul Pierce’s baby vertical leap to “block” a shot and secure the victory. Just typing that out and reliving the moment, I’m disappointed.
• Maybe everything in life seemed dull after the Rockets-Blazers game six on Friday night. Maybe that’s why the game sevens were the basketball equivalent to a meal comprised of saltine crackers – filling, but unsatisfying. Maybe it’s all Damian Lillard’s fault. My brother arrived in Seattle on Thursday morning. He came from Des Moines, Iowa and showed up in his Iowa Hawkeyes visor and t-shirt, repping to the fullest. He cares not for pro sports, but rather embraces the notion that college athletes do it for a true love of the game. While we disagree on these romantic notions, we can still find common ground on the same couch – which we did on Friday night, with bellies full of sushi and eyes fixed on the TV, we watched the Blazers and Rockets unfold, NBA style. Even my brother, the NCAA-loving, college football craving, anti-pro athlete Midwesterner, was locked in. And how could he not be? I could’ve swapped out my brother with a seal and the hungry creature would’ve likely been just as rapt at the battle of two foes so equally matched that only two points separated them despite playing six games and hoisting up over a thousand combined shots (Blazers 670, Rockets 672). I sank when Harden missed that shifty little pull-up as Dwight cleared out the entire Blazers frontline, leaving a clear path for the sneaky, slithering Chandler Parsons to glide in and score the go-ahead bucket – with .9 seconds left! So we sat through the timeout, expectations low, odds fully understood. And we screamed and bonded and scared the shit out of my dog when Lillard busted free and buried a shot that caused Portland tremors to be felt all the way up in Seattle. Holy shit, I’m high just thinking about it. We talked about the shot on Saturday and were still shaking our heads about it on Sunday and I still have goose bumps when I re-watch the highlights. So if anyone’s to blame for the unrealized promise of weekend hoops, let’s blame Lillard, for it was he who rose the bar too high.
• Back in March, I wrote about the Elias Sports Bureau’s stranglehold on stats records. I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing, I just wish us normal humans had access to the same volumes of data. Alas, we don’t, so we depend on Elias to tell us just how rare are the performances we witness. This week, in a Zbo-less game seven, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone on the planet how deliciously destructive he can be when he went nuclear for 27pts, 16asts, and 10rebs, the kind of fantastic triple double that has only been accomplished three other times in playoff history: twice by Oscar Robertson and once by Chris Paul. Worth noting that the great Magic Johnson accomplished this feat eight times in his career – all in the regular season.
• Speaking of Magic Johnson, it was somewhat tacky to hear his unfiltered thoughts on Mike D’Antoni’s departure last week. While Magic’s delivery is certainly up for debate, his sentiment is likely felt by most Laker fans. D’Antoni was caught in a tough spot with an aging and injured roster, but didn’t do himself many favors and failed to garner the front office’s support. As is so frequently the case with Lakers rumors, every coach that has even a slight luster attached to his name is being targeted for the position. One half expects to hear rumors that Bill Sharman will be resurrected, but only to compete with Pat Riley for the job. If that last line reads like utter nonsense, it’s because it’s the Lakers and where the rest of us are grounded in cold reality, they’re living in a sun splashed fantasy where dreams can be bought and made.
• As I was half watching the Spurs pound nails in the Mavs coffin yesterday, I was regularly hypnotized (Biggie Biggie Biggie, can’t you see?) by Manu Ginobili. I’ve never doubted the man’s ability, but as a Lakers fan in the early 2000s, my Spurs distaste stood in the way of my objectivity and I refused to fully embrace the joie de vivre of his uniqueness. It’s only been in these past couple of years that I’ve given up the bitterness of my competitive youth and fully appreciate my Manu with the Spurs on the side. More so than any other player of the past 10-20 years, Ginobili scares the shit out of me. It doesn’t matter what he actually does, what he could do is frightening. While last year’s Finals appeared to mark the final descent of Ginobili’s innate feel and Bruce Lee-like reflexes, this year is back to the Manu of old. He’s attacking, playing with feeling, in tune with loose balls, and doing all those little winning things that make Manu Manu. There are certain people in this world you trust with precious items, certain people who can handle your Faberge Egg while riding a dirt bike across the Grand Canyon in a meteor shower. Manu Ginobili is one of those people. Enjoy his game while you still can.
A/The Face of Basketball
• More from the good number crunchers at Elias: How good has DeAndre Jordan been? If we handed out MVP’s for each series, he’d get my vote for the Golden State-LAC series. The Warriors were criminally outsized and the young Jordan did everything in his copious powers to exploit that. How about 12ppg, 15rpg, 4bpg while shooting 75% from the field and 50% from the line? Elias tells us that Jordan is just the second player in league history to grab 100 rebounds and block 25 shots in a playoff series (blocks weren’t recorded until 1974). The other was Tim Duncan who had 102 rebounds and 32 blocks in 2003 against the Nets. Duncan did it in six games – 17rpg and 5.3bpg!
• Not much else happened last week except for Adam Silver giving racist owner Donald Sterling the heave ho. Any racist owners that remain in the league are firmly in the closet with the door shut extra tightly.
The Chorus (all player cutouts were pulled from the original photo found here: http://ow.ly/i/1F3Lo)
The chorus from left to right:
Eric Bledsoe wearing a black suit, his view almost blocked by a teammate. His expression is one of in-the-moment processing mashed up with the first hints that something smells awful.
Ryan Hollins: Hands on head, shock and surprise. Perhaps one of the more excitable players in the league already; this moment will likely be the highlight of his season—even if the Clips win a title.
Trey Thompkins: Fairly certain this is Thompkins and Thompkins has seen the light. He looks like a man seeing the gates of Heaven open before his eyes and he can’t believe he’s worthy of being there.
Jamal Crawford: Arms extended above his head in a classic NBA Dunk Contest pose that simultaneously communicates his rating of a 10 and the ending of the contest (or in this case, the game).
Blake Griffin: A dunker extraordinaire in his own right, Griffin jumped off the bench and can be seen looking to his right where he promptly ran although his destination was undetermined. He eventually had to be restrained by coach Vinny Del Negro.
Maalik Wayns: Just signed to a 10-day contract a couple days ago, Wayns’ reaction was natural, unbridled.
Willie Green: It was almost like Green was being swept away in the reverberations of the dunk and collision. The face stretched with the mouth agape in a stretched out “OOOOOOHHHHHHHHHH” is clearly one of the more natural reactions to aerial collisions that occur with this force.
Joe Resendez: Had to do a big of digging to identify Mr. Resendez who acts as the assistant athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach. He kind of looks like Ben Stiller, but that doesn’t matter much. We expect our coaches and staff members to stay mostly buttoned up, but Resendez looks caught up in the moment. His teeth are clenched, his face masked in aggression. He’s enjoying Brandon Knight’s pain.
Marc Iavaroni: The half of his face that we can see looks a little like a young Brent Musburger. Of all the faces we’ve seen so far, Iavaroni’s is the first that shows an actual concern for Knight.
The witnesses from left to right:
Caron Butler: It’s hard to gauge his reaction at this point. On the video clip, we can see him making faces, but in this fresh, post-dunk moment, he seems to be contemplatively pitying Knight.
Charlie Villanueva: Perhaps the most telling reaction of all the players. Villanueva’s is one that expresses to us not just the ill fate of his teammate, but that Knight’s embarrassment is symbolic of Detroit’s night: Far away from home in your opponent’s house without a friend in sight. Not only are you and your mates thrashed by 32 points, but your opponent is humiliating you and enjoying a celebration at your expense. This is a terrible moment for Detroit’s morale.
Lamar Odom: In the video, you can catch Odom yelling enthusiastically, but at this point he seems more interested in the bench’s reaction. He was drifting away from the play after setting a screen on Villanueva and was the player on the court furthest from the epicenter of the carnage.
Greg Monroe: Possibly my favorite reaction. He’s frozen; caught between his natural urge to react similar to the Clippers bench. You can see his lips prepping for the “OOOOOOOHHHHHHHH,” but his self-control is strong enough to maintain his composure. So he stands and stares, paralyzed between his urges and his self-control.
Chris Paul: The archetypal table setter, Paul tossed the lob that led to the thunderous smash and celebrated appropriately.
Bennett Salvatore: Salvatore is serious, committed to professionalism and has spent decades witnessing up close the athletic feats of NBA players. That being said, there’s a sense of surprise and hints of entertainment hiding in those creases and behind the eyes.
The Combatants, from left to right:
DeAndre Jordan: The destroyer incarnate. A story on NBA.com suggested there’s a 76-pound difference between the 6’11” Jordan (he looks more like 7’0”+) and the 6’3” Knight. In today’s NBA, Jordan’s reaction was completely within the boundaries we’re used to. He had this to say about his dunk: “I didn’t see Brandon until I caught the ball … After that it was just a wrap. Usually, when I get that dunk nobody is right there, but this is the first time somebody tried to block it.”
Brandon Knight: Handling things well:
And if you’ve made it this far, here’s the dunk in all its glorious violence: