Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Tag Archives: NBA Playoffs

Kyrie Irving had It

On May 23rd, Kyrie Irving’s delightful basketball art was once again on full display. The 25-year-old Cavs guard saw an opportunity when reigning GOAT-candidate and teammate, LeBron James, sat midway through the second quarter with his fourth foul and to paraphrase Steve Winwood, he saw a chance and took it.

His final line: 15-22 from the field, 4-7 from three, 8-9 from the free-throw line, a career playoff-high 42 points with 81% true shooting, and the type of third quarter performance that makes you want to support the National Endowment for the Kyries to cultivate this type of genius in all fields of expression. It was the kind of joy and declaration that simultaneously uplifts the audience to new levels of consciousness and reduces us to slack-jawed holy incantations in the same breath.

Take the third quarter which the Cavs went into with a ten-point deficit. Kyrie scored 21 points on ten shots. There was the buzzer beater three that dotted Terry Rozier’s eye. There was the scary rolled ankle that made guts bubble up and cringes rise in basketball fans across the globe. But, there was Kyrie nearly outscoring Boston for the entire quarter (he lost 23-21) with a series of improvisational acrobatic slaloms into the clutches of a green-hued opponent. I say improvisational because there’s so much reading and reacting, but there’s a choreographic element to Irving’s slicing drives almost as if it’s all premeditated. And there he was exploiting mismatches like Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk (very poor souls, how I relate! How I empathize!) for layups. But these Kyrie layups aren’t your dad’s layups. It’s not Earl Monroe or Tiny Archibald or Rod Strickland, Isiah Thomas, Tim Hardaway, Steve Nash or anyone else. They’re elegant, funambulist, time-stopping. It’s beauty. For Kyrie, when it’s cooking like it was on this Tuesday night in May, it feels magnetic. You could cover the man’s eyes with a thick black cloak of midnight and he could sniff out the basket with the right amount of English and some preternatural understanding of geometry.

The crescendo really began at the 4:48 mark in the third when Cleveland was down 69-66. JR Smith found Kyrie in transition for a contested layup against Avery Bradley to pull the Cavs within one point at 69-68.

On the next possession, Kyrie was isolated above the corner against Olynyk, of Kelly Oubre-infamy, who he tortured with jab step threats before calmly sinking three. Score: 72-72, Kyrie at 25.

A minute later he caught Zeller on a pick-and-roll switch going downhill for a layup. Score: Cavs, 75-72, Kyrie at 27.

Less than a minute later, he caught a transition pass from LeBron and easily laid it in. Cavs, 77-72, Kyrie at 29. That’s four straight makes.

Off the ball moments later, he caught Rozier napping for slightest of moments, got just a hair behind him and used his underrated size advantage for a backdoor lob-into-a-layup. 79-74, 31 for Kyrie and five straight makes in about three minutes.

As if to prove he can do more than score in transition or against slow-footed sacrificial lambs, he then found himself on the right wing (his preferred area of operation – he took just one shot from the left side all night) against badass Bradley. Again, with the same fake jabs he used on Olynyk in the corner, he feints baseline and Bradley shifts his stance. In these split seconds of shifting and countering the counters, Kyrie gets over the defender’s top foot, has him beat, and careens downhill where Zeller awaits. Kyrie anticipates, adjusts, re-balances, makes the shot and draws the foul. Cavs, 82-76, Kyrie up to 34 and six straight.

Isolated again on the right wing, this time against the game, but overmatched Rozier, Irving does the exact same thing he just did to Avery: fake right, catch the defender off-guard because the defense must respect the dribble drive and in this case, Rozier nearly trips over his own feet, go left to the center. This time it’s Al Horford waiting and Kyrie casually leaps, brings the ball down and scoops it from a lower angle over Horford’s outstretched hand. And does it all at top speed with grace. Cavs, 84-78, 36 for Kyrie and he’s now hit seven straight.

Finally, the icing on the cake. The cherry on top. The gravy on the mashed potatoes. Whatever you want to call it, young Rozier was stuck all alone on Kyrie yet again with the quarter winding down. The previous slice and dice fresh in his mind, Rozier’s too reactionary on the balls of his feet jumping back nearly three to four feet when Kyrie fakes a dribble attack. At the same time Rozier backs up, Kyrie calmly, cool as you will, steps back creating a good six-plus feet between them. The shot is up, the shot is good and Cleveland goes into the fourth up 87-80 as the buzzer sounds.

Over the final four minutes and forty-eight seconds of the third period, Kyrie scored 19 points and hit eight straight shots.

And as I finish this, what I think I’ve realized is that Kyrie captured a moment, captured the crowd, and captivated us all. It reminds me of a section Jack Kerouac’s On the Road when his main characters Dean and Sal end up at a jazz club in San Francisco and end up under the spell of a tenorman who captured “IT.” As Dean explains it:

Now, man, that alto man last night had IT—he held it once he found it…. Up to him to put down what’s on everybody’s mind. He starts the first chorus, then lines up his ideas…. And then he rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden in the middle of the chorus he gets it—everybody looks up and knows; they listen; he picks it up and carries. Time stops. He’s filling empty space with the substance of our lives…. He has to blow across bridges and come and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows it’s not the tune that counts but IT

For all of basketball’s team-sport ethos, these moments of individual greatness can tilt thousands of people sitting in an arena towards palpable frenzy. You can imagine, or at least I can imagine, a crowd rising to riot levels in these moments. The rising giddiness, the euphoria, the open-ended question imploringly asked: how far can we go? How far will he take us? To which only Kyrie can answer. He owned the time and the moment. For that blissful stretch of the third, he had IT.

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.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #11

There’s no telling what the future holds except that we can guarantee further critiques of Roy Hibbert’s offensive game and uncertainty around this draft class, particularly those top-three youngsters who guarantee us nothing except our own over-analysis and speculation. The crystal balls and eight-balls and the eight crystal balls and draft similarity scores are all imperfect. Your gods, their gods are as unreliable as Rob Deer’s ability to get a base hit off Sandy Koufax. Probabilities improve when we’re down to four teams (one of which is imploding on itself like one of those downtown buildings surrounded by people and offices and dwellings, laced on the inside with explosives that ensure the building will cave in, and everyone else can just stand in their office with a mug of coffee, certain they’ll be entertained, but more importantly, safe) and we think we’re confident that we’ll get a Spurs-Heat rematch. But we don’t know … so we watch the games. Enough of my feeble meanderings. Let’s talk about the week that was:

  • In keeping with the gleefully-received trend of oral histories, the Atlanta Hawks’ Director of Interactive Marketing, Micah Hart posted a fantastic piece on NBA.com about “The Duel” between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins from game seven of the 1988 Eastern Conference semis. Hart’s piece is the essence of comprehensive, a well-documented, detailed piece that includes commentary from the major players involved in this great battle. Of course, it was the Celtics who walked away with the home victory on the shoulders of Bird’s 20-point fourth quarter while the Hawks lost again despite Wilkins’s 47-points. The monolithic dependence on winning and losing is only subject to histories like these that are able to transcend experience by branching out into rarely-explored dimensions. If Hart’s oral history isn’t enough, watch the video:

  • As far as off-season soap operas go, the Memphis Grizzlies are putting on the best show so far and Sean Deveney of Sporting News hipped us all to the ugly inner workings of this baffling franchise last week by digging up some not-so-redeeming tales about former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien. By former, I mean Levien was just fired a week ago. Deveney maps out a disturbing trend that’s followed Levien in different roles across the league: There was a 20-month stint in Sacramento which included a rift with Kings GM Geoff Petrie, a little over a year with the 76ers new ownership group that apparently ended when then-coach Doug Collins gave a “him or me” ultimatum, and now a 17-month stretch with the Grizzlies which has been, to say the least, confusing. Grizzlies’ owner, Robert Pera wrote on Twitter “I never really talked 1:1 with Joerger before this weekend.” Pera’s own role in this Memphis mess was highlighted by SI’s Chris Mannix in a piece posted today. And Pera responded with a slew of tweets aimed at Mannix and going far as questioning his “journalistic integrity” on Twitter. The Grizzlies’ roster is still intact, Z-Bo still wants to be there, and Joerger’s returning. Pera appears to be committed to building a winning team (particularly if we believe his Q&A with fans on Twitter), but all this distraction going on in the background is both a PR mess and unprofessional/unconventional (take your pick) way to go about sharing team strategies and media conflicts. Whether or not it erodes the foundation of the franchise will be determined over the next couple years. [Part of me wonders how owners like Pera and Mark Cuban reshape our expectations of owners – not just in the NBA, but in other sports. Cuban (no pun intended) is an outspoken maverick. Pera might be a PR nightmare and could likely benefit from a little bit of patience before responding on Twitter, but he appears to at least be passionate about this team. Prospective Seattle owner Chris Hansen made it a point to present himself as just a fan who wants basketball back in the Emerald City and has been known to have beers with fans and make himself highly accessible. While there doesn’t appear to be any revolution in ownership behavior, Pera, Cuban, and potentially Hansen, are showing us an alternative from the existing archetypical owner.]

  • In more off-the-court happenings, TMZ reported last week that Shelly Sterling (supposedly estranged wife of PR hot mess Donald Sterling) will handle the sale of the Clippers. While there’s plenty to explore here in terms of the legal wrangling going on in the background between the Sterlings, their legal team, Adam Silver and the NBA’s legal team, much of the story has shifted to two questions: Who are the prospective buyers and how much will the team go for? We’ve heard everyone from Floyd Mayweather and Oprah Winfrey to Magic Johnson and Grant Hill. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (and partner of Chris Hansen’s Seattle NBA bid) and Yao Ming (denied) are among others. If even half of these people are seriously interested, the competition should drive the price north of a billion dollars. The Bucks, listed by Forbes as the least valuable NBA franchise, just sold for $550-million and last year the Kings went for $534-million in a deal that also included Sleep Train Arena. And if we remember back to last year when the aforementioned Hansen was attempting to buy the Kings, he offered a whopping $625-million for the franchise and raised the market for teams to over half a billion dollars. So while it remains to be seen who ends up owning the Clippers, it’s safe to bet they’ll be paying more than a billion for them.
reaction animated GIF

Expressive Steve Ballmer, potential NBA owner

 

  • Back in the day when Seattle had the Sonics, they drafted a big redheaded kid out of Bakersfield, California named Robert Swift. Swift was fresh out of high school and showed up with a buzz cut and the unmarked ink-free skin of an innocent teenager – or so it seemed. It didn’t take long for whatever was going on inside to manifest itself outside and soon the kid from Bakersfield was covered in tattoos and wearing his hair long, tied back in the kind of style you’d almost expect to see from an axe-wielding behemoth in Game of Thrones. His descent has taken on mythic and mysterious proportions around these parts and in the Sunday issue of The Seattle Times, reporter Jayson Jenks added additional layers still-vague story. Where Jenks reveals new context is when he explores what appears to be a fractured relationship with Swift’s mother, Rhonda who’s writing a book that “will tell the whole truth. The good, the bad.” And in the span of just a few short paragraphs, the question of Swift’s finances comes up repeatedly. One can only imagine the truth as perceived by his mother and how it impacted the young Swift.

Before and After Swift

  • In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins crafts a glowing portrait of new commissioner Adam Silver. It’s an enlightening read in terms of understanding Silver’s background and how it shaped the man he is today. From a personal view, I’ve taken guarded skepticism of Silver. Most of this skepticism comes from my points of reference for sports commissioners which include money hoarding liability-avoiders like the NFL’s Roger Gooddell, arrogant story spinners like David Stern, grudge holding antiquarians like MLB’s Bud Selig, and of course, FIFA’s controversy craving president Sepp Blatter. Layer on a lifetime of experiencing stories about corrupt and lying politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths and I understand the sources of my distrust. And when Silver keeps telling us the age limit is the most important issue in the league, well, it’s hard to accept that this profile is built on much more than Silver’s ability to do the right thing with Donald Sterling. Skepticisms aside, it’s still worth the 15 minutes it takes to read.

 

  • The draft is about a month away and while Dancing with Noah is bringing some friends along for a mock draft that will post sometime soon, you can read different opinions and speculations from three unnamed scouts in this Ryen Russillo piece on Grantland.

 

  • Not much happened on this Memorial Day 2014 except Miami putting a hurting on the Pacers 102-90 to go up 3-1 in the series. Roy Hibbert scored zero points on 0-4 shooting and after talking crap about LeBron, Lance Stephenson was a non-factor with seven points on 3-7 shooting in 32 minutes. James was his usual all-time great self with 32pts, 10rebs, and 5asts while the aberration was Chris Bosh who stretched Hibbert to the perimeter, scored 25 points and had his best scoring game since February.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #9

Another week saturated with Donald Sterling coverage, the NFL draft, Spurs domination, humans taking strong political/social stands on issues that are easy to support (Nigeria kidnapping, Sterling racism, Michael Sam), and likely some other things. But you didn’t come here for social commentary or the news, you’re likely here because, like me, you want the basketball. So let’s get us the basketball:

  • Inevitably, Donald Sterling refuses to go away. Sterling is a powerful example of problems with our legal system: If you have the resources, you can take any fight to the courts. Sterling took to CNN to chat with that soft-hitting journalist/TV personality Anderson Cooper in what turned out to be a predictably self-absorbed interview (if you want to call it that). In the interview, he takes a dig at Magic Johnson, lays it on thick with self-pity, and simultaneously asks for forgiveness while rationalizing his comments. If there’s a way to come across as an entitled billionaire asshole, then Sterling gets a gold star. To paraphrase the legendary Dennis Green: He is who we thought he was.

  • While husband Donald was chatting with Cooper, wife Shelly Sterling was sitting across from Barbara Walters doing her part to keep the team in the family. Shelly’s attorneys are already making statements and her conversation with Walters looks and feels like nothing more than an extension of the public relations damage control her estranged husband is putting forth. There’s more self-pity and attempts at manipulation, but with a funneled message driving towards one Sterling or another retaining ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. While it’s important to acknowledge that Donald and Shelly Sterling are humans made of the same flesh and stardust that comprise you and I, prone to the same mistakes we are, it’s equally important call out the attempts to manipulate, both public perception and the courts, and avoid accountability in a self-serving fashion.

 

  • Sticking with the Sterling shit storm saga; while Commissioner Adam Silver has been applauded for his zero tolerance stance on Sterling and LeBron James has been one of the most outspoken players on the topic, let’s acknowledge there was no other alternative here. Silver and James have nothing to lose by attempting to toss Sterling out of the league. From Silver’s perspective, it behooves the league to do everything it can to oust an owner who is a threat to the league’s brand and jeopardizes relationships with league sponsors. In taking the nuclear route of a lifetime banishment, Silver accomplishes several things:
    • He responds to pressure from his players and sponsors
    • He anticipates Sterling’s legal maneuvering
    • He shifts the decision making process to two places: the league’s owners (Which of these owners wants to be known as billionaire that supported racist Donald Sterling? It’s not simple, but that’d be the interpretation.) and likely the courts. If Sterling can find a way to retain the team through one of those avenues, then it’s no fault of Silver’s, rather he’s the enforcer, it’s out of his hands.
    • He’s doing what feels right.
    • He avoided a potential player protest which would’ve created a terribly awkward public exchange between the league and its players.

 

      • More from the world of stupid: You may remember former Ole Miss shooting guard, loose cannon, shot chucker, and sometimes attention-glutton, Marshall Henderson, as a March Madness storyline from 2013. Henderson has weaseled his way back into headlines for tweeting this about Michael Sam’s on-air kiss with his boyfriend after being drafted: “Boycotting sportscenter til this Michael sam nasty ass shit is off …. My brothers are 7 and 11 and saw that!!!! #SICKENING.” This tweet was followed up with Henderson clarifying that he was tweeting those hateful views on behalf of a gay friend who asked him to do so to gauge public reaction. There’s no acknowledgement that Henderson or his friend could’ve just as easily searched Twitter to get a decent gauge of public opinion – from non-athletes/prominent individuals, or from athletes like the Miami Dolphins’ Don Jones. Also, this type of “experiment” is apparently referred to as “psychology.”

  • It’s not all racist and homophobic doom and gloom in the basketball world. Chris Paul, brother of Cliff Paul and State Farm pitchman, showed the world why he’s the consummate point guard a week ago when he scored 32 points on 12-14 shooting, dished out 10 assists, and had two turnovers in 28 minutes of play. Paul became the first player in playoff history to accomplish the highly efficient feat and did so against the electrifying Russell Westbrook.

Clippers Thunder Bask_Holt.jpg

  • Speaking of Westbrook, in game two against the Clippers, Russ bounced back to get his third triple double of the playoffs: a 31-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist gem where six of his rebounds were offensive. For those keeping score at home, nine times in the playoffs this season we’ve seen Game Scores greater than 30. In the aforementioned Paul game, his was 31.4 and Westbrook’s game-two score was 30.2. (For those of you still expanding your basketball knowledge [such as myself], Game Score was created by former ESPN stat head and current Memphis Grizzlies GM John Hollinger. The complex formula that can be found here. Basketball-Reference tells us 10 is about average while 40 is pretty damn amazing.)

 

 

  • Nothing much else happened this weekend except the return of Roy Hibbert (19ppg, 7rpg, 2bpg and overall great defense in three straight Pacer wins) and the Thunder blowing a 16-point fourth quarter lead to those Chris Paul-led Clippers. Oh, and San Antonio is up three games to none over the Blazers with an average margin of victory over 18-points per game. By this time next week, the Blazers will have likely conducted exit interviews.

Happy days are … here again?

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #8

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 work of Walt Handelsman

The work of Walt Handelsman

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #7

This week I greet you from the warmer-than-expected climes of sunny Seattle where my family’s visiting at full throttle with pints to be drunk and football matches to be seen. It’s acting as a welcome distraction from the Donald Sterling scandal which has cast a pall over what have otherwise been the best playoffs in recent memory. As my family sits in the sun, join me as I sip this soft Stella Artois and let’s get to the bullets:

  • Yesterday we said goodbye to one of my favorite NBA personalities of all time: Dr. Jack Ramsay. The legendary coach, teacher, TV and radio announcer, and NBA champion passed away at 89. He was like a Herman Hesse of the basketball world imparting his wisdom to different generations of fans and players and coaches and all while rocking plaid pants without any of that shitbag irony to which all of us have become so accustomed. Ramsay won his title with that Blazers group of 76-77 and was immortalized in the written words of David Halberstam’s masterful Breaks of the Game. By the time I came of age, Dr. Jack had coached his last NBA game and was comfortable courtside calling games for TV and radio. I have a fond memory of a boring late spring drive from Omaha to Des Moines with Ramsay making me forget the monotony of windshield time as he expertly called a Mavs playoff game. 89 is a long, full life, but I’ll still miss seeing Ramsay’s face courtside and hearing his unmistakable voice through staticky AM radio frequencies.

  • On a lighter note, today saw the final game of the Charlotte Bobcats. Beginning next season, the team reverts to the classic Hornets moniker which had been borrowed by the New Orleans franchise for the past several seasons. The Bobcats always seemed like an uncreative mascot with an oddball color scheme – second only to the bleh dullness of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Bobcats years have been largely fruitless and forgettable. Here’s to hoping the new Hornets can bring the buzz back to Charlotte. (I couldn’t resist, although the idea of a swarm of hornets attacking is more frightening than any other NBA team name I can think of with the exception of the Raptors.)

 

  • It’s been a Déjà vu of sorts watching this Oklahoma City team struggle to diversify its offensive attack. I’m having flashbacks to 2011 when their offense collapsed into an empty two-pronged Westbrook/Durant stabbing of sorts. Then there’s the Thunder’s third wheel, the enigmatic Serge Ibaka. How Ibaka fits into this Thunder offense is still a mystery to me, but what was recently stumbled upon is Ibaka’s rare 200 blocks/20 3s season. Ibaka has accomplished the feat twice and joins four other players who have pulled it off a combined ten times. The club includes versatile inside-out oddballs Andrei Kirlenko (twice), Josh Smith (thrice), Manute Bol (once), and Raef LaFrentz (twice). Comparatively speaking, Ibaka resembles none of the other players on that list. Still known as a great shot blocker, I don’t think Scotty Brooks has the slightest clue how to assimilate Ibaka’s full arsenal with that of Durant and Westbrook.

  • Lost in all this Memphian gritting and grinding fun has been the case of Grizzlies’ guard, Nick Calathes who was suspended 20 games for testing positive for the banned substance tamoxifin. Calathes, the former Florida playmaker who spent time in Europe before latching on with the Grizz, is going bald and I was going to make some poor snarky joke about it until I found this story pointing out that tamoxifin is found in Rogaine and speculating that Calathes was taking something to combat his baldness. Whatever the reason the substance turned up in his system, he claims it wasn’t using to gain a competitive advantage. In Major League Baseball, there’s an appeal process whereby a player can continue playing while suspension is reviewed. The NBA has no such policy and I’m not proposing they add one. What would be nice to see is a more collaborative partnership between the league’s drug testing wing and team doctors and/or players with the Player’s Union involved. If Calathes was using for hair loss, then prior to getting the prescription he works with a team doctor who works with the league to ensure requirements of the anti-doping policy are being met. There are numerous logistical requirements to consider including privacy, timelines, disagreements between doctors, and more, but if nothing else, this process would ideally limit the current Calathes scenario where a player’s attempt to make a case for usage in the court of public opinion.

 

  • A few days ago was the 20-year anniversary of David Robinson’s 71-point league-scoring-title-securing performance. (Robinson edged out Shaquille O’Neal by a few tenths of a percentage point: 29.79 to 29.35.) In a league so addicted to numbers and their meaning (this writer is fully aware of his tendency to create flimsy meanings where they may not otherwise exist) that history has seen the natural trajectory of games redirected in favor of individual accomplishment, Robinson’s 71-point game was a joke of sorts. In a meaningless last game of the season that the Spurs beat the Clippers by 20, Robinson played 44 minutes while just one other player in the game played over 30. Then-coach John Lucas was so hell bent on building a scoring shrine to Robinson that he instructed his players to intentionally foul late in the game to ensure his center had more scoring opportunities. It’s a quirky element of sports that we have suspect records (like Michael Strahan’s infamous “sack” of Brett Favre to get the NFL’s single-season record), but whether you apply an asterisk to the Admiral’s game or not, it’ll still be there in the record books, above Jordan’s greatest scoring feat and below Kobe’s for all NBA time. Also, some fun quotes included in Tim Griffin’s recounting of the game:

They said it, part V: “We certainly wanted Shaquille to win the title. But we didn’t make a mockery of the game like they did in Los Angeles.” Orlando coach Brian Hill to the St. Petersburg Times on Lucas’ late strategy, compared to his own for O’Neal.

They said it, part VI: “I heard they ran every play to (Robinson). If that would happened down here, I would have 70 points, too. I didn’t care,” O’Neal to the AP on the Spurs’ methods to enable Robinson to win the scoring title.

They said it, part VII: “I’m really fortunate to have scored over 70 points.   I don’t really have that many opportunities to dosomething like this.  It was fun.  I had a great time,” Robinson to the Orange County Register on his big game.

They said it, part VIII: “Those guys were cursing me out on the floor and saying, ‘You’re not going to get it. You’ll never get it.’ If I’ve got to apologize for playing like that, there’s something wrong,” Robinson, to the AP about if his scoring title was tainted.

 

 

Nothing else is really happening in the league unless you consider one of the most competitive first rounds in memory unfolding before our enraptured eyes – much to the delight of league sponsors and network heads. The Pacers lost again on Monday and Roy Hibbert grabbed zero rebounds to accompany his zero points.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #6

The playoffs are here, landed on our front doorstep or stoop or at the foot of a hut – wherever you live, the playoffs are there too like a jokester turned suddenly serious. The seamless transition from NCAA Tournament to NBA playoffs seems an act of cool cohesion from seasoned partners and with Commissioner Adam Silver’s recent proclamation that, yes, raising the league’s age limit is of paramount need for the long-term security of the league. Wait … perhaps I’m mixing my NSA/CIA talking points, but with Silver’s non-stop stream of post-takeover proclamations, please forgive me if confusion occurs. Silver timelines, aside, let’s get to the bullets:

  • If you consider yourself a fan of coaching stability, then this first bullet is not for you. This morning, before I even arrived at the office, Minnesota Coach Rick Adelman had retired and Knicks Coach Mike Woodson was fired. I’ll always remember Adelman for his time spent coaching the Drexler Blazers and Webber Kings. Somewhere in between he also coached the Warriors, but I have absolutely no recollection of this and it’s likely Adelman doesn’t either as his record over two seasons in Oakland was 66-98. Adelman also authored a book, The Long, Hot Winter: A Year in the Life of the Portland Trail Blazers – fun, but a little drab when I think back. Woodson, on the other hand, is not gone for good and will likely be back on the sideline in some paid capacity soon. He has a viscously vicious goatee that looks like it could swallow insects or rodents.

 

  • If people are already talking about the mysterious 3×1 Club, then they’re people I don’t know. The 3×1 is the rare occurrence when a player averages at least one steal, one block and on three-pointer per game over the course of a season. When you think of 3×1 guys, think of your versatile forwards. They’re likely lengthy men with shooting range. The pioneering members were Robert Horry, Scottie Pippen, and Clifford “Uncle Cliffy” Robinson back in 1994-95. Since then, it’s been achieved a total of 39 times with Paul Millsap being the only player to achieve the threshold this season. Shawn Marion has accomplished the feat six times followed by Uncle Cliffy with five, then LeBron, Dirk and Rasheed Wallace with four each.

 

Any questions on versatility should be directed to the 3×1 Club’s latest member, Paul Millsap c/o the Atlanta Hawks

  • As long as we’re talking about statistical oddities, let’s take a look at the bearded rebounding and outlet-passing sage, Kevin Love and his recent 40-14-9 line. If the 3×1 club is made up of a relatively small, yet similarly physically dimensioned group of players, then the 40-14-9 group is much more exclusive. Since 1985-86, only Vince Carter and Larry Bird (twice) have thrown up games like Love’s. While Vince’s game is probably the most impressive since he’s merely a small forward and was playing against a former college teammate (Antawn Jamison – he really stuck it to old Twan, didn’t he?) Bird’s 47-14-11 line against the Blazers on Valentine’s Day 1986 takes the cake and reminds us, once again, that nobody beats the Bird – not even you Kevin Love.

 

  • Watching one of the Blazers last games of the season, Antoine Walker was referenced for some reason. Walker’s legacy as a player is unfortunately enmeshed with his life off the court where he’s lost money in all sorts of endeavors and been accused of being a slumlord, which is a downright dirty and despicable label. If we’re able to separate the off-court issues, there’s still another hurdle to Walker’s legacy: His stubborn insistence on jacking threes even though he was a below average three point shooter. For his career, nearly 30% of his shots came from behind the line while he shot below 33% from deep. Even with a three point insistence that borderlines on the compulsivity of addiction, Walker is one of a handful of players in league history to retire with career averages of 17ppg, 7rpg, and over 3apg. He was supremely talented and versatile, but his junky-like commitment to bad on-the-court decisions resulted in too many failures. Of the long list of Hall of Famers on that 17-7-3 list, Walker is dead last in any measure of Win Shares with less than half the total number of WS than the penultimate player, Chris Webber. I wanted to find some positivity in Walker’s legacy, but instead this little excursion was like climbing into the attic and finding a bunch of pictures that just bring up bad memories, better forgotten.

 

Walker 3s

    • Last night, we were treated to a beautifully played, but horrifically officiated game one of the Blazers vs. Rockets series. In a game composed of memorable little moments and tide turning details, LaMarcus Aldridge was a Usain Bolt of sorts on a court full of Carl Lewis’s. Before fouling out, Aldridge compiled 46 points and 18 rebounds. In five games against Houston this year, Aldridge is now averaging 30-pts and 16-rebs. I’m happy to borrow from the research of others to further articulate the historical ass whipping he applied:

 

 

  • While we’re at it, watching the Rockets and James Harden and Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons last night, one feels forced to revisit the Harden trade. Sure, we can stick our heads in the sand and say what’s done is done (because it is done), but every day that passes, as Harden’s beard gets fuller, OKC GM Sam Presti looks more and more like a sucker (for the Harden deal, not in general). The problem isn’t that Harden was moved or that Kevin Martin and some picks were part of the deal. The egregiousness of it all and the reason Presti deserves criticism is that he was unable to do one of two things: 1. See the talent in Chandler Parsons and/or Terrence Jones and 2. Pry one or both of those players from Houston.

Glasses might make us look smart, but that doesn’t mean they make us smart

 

  • TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager has leukemia and that sucks. Beyond the vibrant Technicolor and richly textured suits Sager is so famous for, he’s a damn good reporter and is synonymous with the NBA Playoffs. The games will go on, because that’s what distracts us from cold reality and keeps the bills being paid for a lot of people, but the landscape is strangely incomplete.

 

  • Road teams went 5-3 in opening games.

 

Jerry Colangelo: One of the most powerful men in the basketball world?

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

Spirit Weapons (NBA Playoff Edition)

Free Darko gave us the concept of “Spirit Animals” in their first book and five years late I’m still inspired enough to imagine “Spirit Weapons” for the 2013 Playoffs where NBA players are partnered up with ideal weapons that suit their style and personality. Since my own experience with weapons doesn’t extend much beyond handling a machete, using a rake as a staff, and familiarizing myself with the basics of nunchakus in my teenage years; I may not be qualified to make these connections, but we’re wasting time dwelling on it, so let’s get down to the bloody business of weaponry:

Mike Conley: A well-crafted, handmade, pearl-handled switchblade:The switch-blade Mike  Conley

When I think about switch-blades, my first thought is greasers with slicked back hair, white t-shirts, leather jackets, cigarettes. I don’t think about Mike Conley. But when I think about a switch-blade, its conveniently compact style able to be tucked discretely in the pocket of your jeans; the easy access and ability to operate with a single hand; I think about economy. Mike Conley is a point guard of economy and efficiency. He’s a law-abiding player, quick to stick to Lionel Hollins’ plays and plans, but like the greaser, he’s a lethal opportunist, happy to heartlessly carve up opponents who discount or disrespect him.

Zach Randolph: Brass knuckles

Brass knuckles - zach randolphThe man known as Z-Bo is the physical embodiment of brass knuckles. He’s like a human knuckle: Curved, but solid, blunt, powerful, made of raw American brutishness. Z-Bo’s fists do plenty of damage on their own (just ask Ruben Patterson’s orbital bone), but his spirit animal is the loaded fist; a lethal weapon residing in the painted area of basketball courts from Memphis to Los Angeles. When Z-Bo’s around, learn to duck.

Steph Curry: Flame thrower

One thing you’ll notice about all the weapons here is that they’re handheld and no guns or machinery are included. But for Curry, the flamethrower is remarkably appropriate. Opponents feel the intense threatening pressure of his jumpers which come from anywhere at any time. He creates his own shots and dazzles and intimidates with his constant heat checking. For further evidence of this flame throwing point guard, refer to the deep burns left on the 2013 Nuggets.

Steph curry flame thrower

Nuggets Engulfed (figuratively)

Russell Westbrook: Wolverine’s adamantium claws and skeleton

I read some comics back in the day, but was never sucked into the sub-culture and have never been to Comic-Con. I know enough to know that Wolverine’s claws and skeleton were made of some imaginary substance called adamantium which is apparently an indestructible metal alloy. Wolverine has super-human healing powers and up until last week, we all thought Westbrook did too. The man hadn’t missed a single basketball game in his entire career: That’s high school, college and five full seasons of NBA brutality. Add in the dichotomies between the on-court/off-court Russell Westbrooks which are akin to the Wolverine/Logan personas and the circle is complete.

Russ Westbrook - Wolverine

New York Knicks: Vega claw

New York Knicks - VegaFor those of you familiar with Street Fighter II, you’ll remember Vega as the masked matador from Spain who’s equipped with a long metal claw on his left hand. Vega’s claw and speed allow him to excel at long-range attacks, but he’s also one of the weaker characters on the game. Vega is the video game version of the Knicks: A diverse amalgamation of talents (Vega combines Ninjutsu with his bull-fighting skills), finely tuned and highly skilled, but more than susceptible to being popped in the mouth and defeated by opponents of a greater mental fortitude.

Chicago Bulls: Broken beer bottle

This isn’t to say the Bulls are like a gang of marauding drunkards going from bar to bar and smashing beer bottles over the

Likely Kirk Hinrich grasping a broken beer bottle - intent unknown

Likely Kirk Hinrich grasping a broken beer bottle – intent unknown

heads of any man, woman or child crazy enough to incite them. The broken beer bottle in this case symbolizes toughness. I don’t know if the Bulls are being struck with beer bottles or they’re doing the striking, but I feel like you could put this group in any situation and they’d find a way (whether through broken beer bottles or some other non-traditional method) to make their

opponents rue the day they confronted the Bulls.

Paul George: Rattan sticks

Not Paul George, but another person posing with rattan sticks

Not Paul George, but another person posing with rattan sticks

Rattan is described on Wikipedia as “hard and durable, yet lightweight.” George’s lean muscle, length and versatility are the basketball-version of a pair of rattan sticks thwacking away at foes too dumb or naïve to challenge George. Imagine his harassing defense as a painful rap across the knuckles; his dunks as a vicious head-body combination. His understated expressiveness wound tightly in the simplicity of these dangerous weapons. Don’t be stupid, avoid the George.

Blake Griffin: War hammer

The most famous and well-known war hammer is probably that of Thor, the comic-book character based on the thunder god of Norse mythology. Thor’s hammer had a name (Mjolnir) and could be picked up only by those who were worthy. This is Blake’s spirit weapon. Others can dunk with violence and aggression, but none approach the dunk shot with the fury of the NBA’s god of dunk, Blake Griffin. And like the war hammer which is used in close combat, the dunk typically occurs in close quarters where giants battle and more often than not, it’s Blake and his war hammer slaying inferiorly talented or poorly-positioned supersized humans. Blake  Griffin - war hammer

Jarret Jack: Head

I’m convinced Jarrett Jack’s skull is thick, hard like steel and impervious to pain (this isn’t a euphemism for Jack’s questionable decision-making). Is it possible for your spirit weapon to be part of you? It’s never happened before, but Jack’s the perfect guy to test it out on. Like his game, Jack’s dome is cleanly shaven, suggesting honesty and openness—you know what you’re getting with Jack. He’s strong for a guard, casually shrugging off defenders with his strength and intimidating them with his battering ram-like head. I’ve often wished the Warriors would celebrate wins with Jack ceremoniously crushing a brick with his skull, aka his spirit weapon.

Kevin Durant: Trident & Cast net

I struggled to find the appropriate spirit weapon for Durant and in the end the trident coupled with the cast net seemed to jive best his spiritual basketball self. The trident is described as being “prized for its long reach and ability trap other long-weapons between prongs to disarm their wielder.” The cast net is used in tandem with the trident as a way to trap or ensnare enemies; almost like a massive human web paralyzing prey, leaving them vulnerable to the trident attack. How appropriate is that for Durant? His nickname Durantula is due in part to his spidery-like limbs. Not known for physical strength; his length, skill and deliberateness are complemented by the trident’s long reach and deadly attacks. It’s completely possible Durant carries a net in his post-game backpacks.

Kevin  Durant's Spirit Weapon - enacted by someone radically different than Durant

Kevin Durant‘s Spirit Weapon – enacted by someone radically different than Durant

Chris Bosh: Bull whip

Many of us were likely introduced to the bull whip through the adventures of Indiana Jones, but unless Bosh is scared of snakes Chris  Bosh - bullwhipand has a fetish for brown fedoras, the similarities between the two begin and end with the whip. It’s a weapon that requires a high level of skill to best utilize and for all the Bosh-hating that goes on, he’s one of the better-skilled big men in the league. His range brings to mind one of the whip’s most valuable attributes: its length, which allows its user to maintain a safe distance from any assailant. Additionally, Bosh has never had a reputation for bruising and banging.

Tony Parker: Meteor Hammer

Before you shriek out, “Tony Parker? Meteor hammer?” in complete disgust, let me explain. Tony  Parker - meteor hammerThe meteor hammer is a chain with two weights (think steel objects, like steel globes) at either end (see image). The main strength is described as “its sheer speed” and it was named as such because it strikes “as fast as a meteor.” Additional descriptions: “When used by a skilled fighter, its speed, accuracy and unpredictability make it a difficult weapon to defend against.” That’s the perfect description of Tony Parker; a lighting quick guard with abnormal accuracy from the field who uses his head-to-head speed to keep defenders on their heels.

James Harden: Chakram

I had never heard of the chakram prior to writing this story. The chakram is a disk without a center that has razors around its James  Harden - chakramouter edge. It’s used as a throwing tool, but can also be used in up-close combat. The razors on the outside were sharp enough to chop off limbs. Sooooo … we’re talking about a deadly metal Frisbee that can be thrown with accuracy from anywhere between 40 and 100 meters. And if you get close to the chakram master, watch out because he’s likely to use it defensively or to hack off an arm with it. Harden’s not chopping any limbs that we know of, but the combination of his outside shot (finished 6th in the league in threes made) and inside attack (led the league in free throws attempted) are frighteningly chakram-esque.

Dwyane Wade: Macuahuitl

Dwyane  Wade - macuahuitlWade’s always been a physically imposing player. He’s 6’4” and built more like an NFL player than one of the best two guards in the league. In that regard, he’s always been unconventional. The macuahuitl (don’t ask how to pronounce) is similarly unconventional. Consider it as an earlier, more aesthetic version of a baseball bat with barbed wire wrapped around the barrel. The macuahuitl was a wooden club with sharp chunks of obsidian embedded in its sides. The obsidian was sharp enough to decapitate enemies. The blunt force of the club and the shredding capacity of the obsidian cut to the core of Wade’s on-court skills. His strength and speed have delivered two championships, a scoring title and numerous individual accolades. The macuahuitl is a weapon that knows no mercy, just like Wade.

LeBron James: Katana

The Samurai sword, known and revered for its “sharpness and strength” is the perfectly crafted weapon for the perfect warrior our league has. You can make a case that this blade is more suited for Kobe who’s come to define the basketball-playing warrior archetype with his commitment to winning and playing through injury if at all human possible, but for now, LeBron is the katana. The gods gifted him with the perfect physique for the game today. He’s too strong, too fast, too skilled and just too damn good for any of his contemporaries to slow down let alone defeat. Whether or not he follows the Samurai codes of honor is debatable, but it doesn’t change that he’s masterfully suited to be paired with the most resplendent of weapons.

Lebron James - katana blade

Other players who just missed the cut (no pun): Tim Duncan (hook swords), Ray Allen (cross bow), Rajon Rondo (claws of some sort), Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan (battle axes), Milwaukee Bucks (scissors), Reggie Evans (baseball bat). Weapons that missed out cat o’ nine tails, flash grenade, nunchakus, mace (the spray, not the mallet), chain whip.

Good luck to all the remaining playoff participants and please stay safe. Dancing with Noah doesn’t condone the use of any of the weapons listed above. For more information about local laws, please check your government websites.

Caution, Contents may be Fragile

What oh what, have the playoffs become?

No Rose, no Rondo and now no Russ

Kobe’s Achilles, we lost Dr. Buss

 

D. Lee’s hip and the eggshell pacing Spurs

Tyson Chandler’s neck and Noah’s fascist fascia

Pain, disappointment and injurious-expecting paranoia

 

We’re lost and wandering in D. Wade’s aching knees,

And the strange Baker’s Cyst of MWP’s

Supporting characters’ ankles so brittle and Meek(s)

 

Under x-ray machines Steph Curry’s ankle still weak

The Linsane have crumbled under bird-chested contusions

While the unhealthy continue to foster successful allusions

 

Steve and Steve are baked in sunny LA, we put out a missing person’s report on Stoudemire, Amare

The most shocking of all is the tearing meniscus of a bionic man

Russell Westbrook has fallen; it’s more than we can stand

 

Reminds me of the woe I felt back in nineteen-and-ninety

When I watched another unbeatable, unbreakable, mythological man

Get pummeled to a pulp, his wobbly legs not allowing him to stand

 

Mike Tyson, meet Russell, Russ, this is Mike

So different, so same, made of futuristic metals and the like

Yet falling so sadly, the mortal myths settle

 

The excitement is waning, the birds are chirping

Turn off the TV because the hope has splintered

Let’s go outside because spring is here and it’s been a long winter

OR

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