Negative Dunkalectics is awesome. It really is. In our pursuit of showcasing great NBA talent around the blogosphere (while simultaneously stealing credit for their success), we asked the fellers to do a roundtable on any subject they like. They chose fandom. Enjoy. -Ed. Chris George, Chris Sampson, and Kelly Innes write at Negative Dunkalectics. They all rooted for Denver in the first round.Â Follow @negativedunks on Twitter for more of this in 30 words instead of 3,000. Kelly Innes: At the risk of making too much of a short passage from the first Free Darko book, I think we’re here to talk about “fandom”? As I understand it, the concept of â€œliberatingâ€ oneâ€™s fandom entails a sort of free-floating attachment by which one roots for particular players or styles or even interesting teams instead of feeling attached to a team by virtue of place or tradition? I make sense of it by thinking that there’s some discrepancy between “rooting” for a team and being “rooted” to a particular place. We’ve written about fandom quite a bit on Negative Dunkalectics, including most recently a post by Chris George about how living in Pittsburgh â€“ a city without an NBA team â€“ offers one the freedom not to get caught up in rooting for the local team (since there isn’t one) and instead to be a free-floating NBA fan: attracted to particular players, styles, and teams for what are probably aesthetic reasons… and repulsed by others. The website “Negative Dunkalectics” was born in Pittsburgh towards the end of NFL season, and I can’t help but contrast free-floating fandom with the absolutely rooted and unanimous rooting Pittsburghers did for the Steelers. Almost everybody I met in Pittsburgh â€“ from self-identified feminist crust punks to bankers and nurses â€“ had a strong attachment to the team. When I’ve traveled, I’ve noticed that the â€˜Burgh Diaspora propagates Steelers fandom everywhere it goes. Apparently Steelers fandom is a really strong element of Pittsburghersâ€™ identities, an element of belonging that roots them into the community, and something they take with them if and when they move elsewhere: a virtual connection to Pittsburgh, even if they’re living in Tampa or Phoenix. I’m invoking all this Steelers-fandom stuff because of its pretty stark contrast with my attachment to the Miami Heat. I’m a Heat fan because I grew up in south Florida and have followed them since their first season. But I’ve not lived in Florida for over ten years and have never really been part of any real or imagined “community of Heat fans.” In our ridiculous playoff preview about the Dallas Mavericks, I wrote some lines about how I excitedly watched the 2006 Finals at home alone. A couple days later I saw someone wearing a Dwyane Wade jersey and it crossed my mind that we should high-five or something even though it would have been totally weird. Now of course there’s a whole host of what we might call bandwagon Heat fans, although I’d prefer to think of them as people who just root for excellence and recognize that LeBron and Wade are two of the best players in the league. Somehow I doubt this will lead to a proliferation of “Miami Heat bars” across the country, like the Steelers bars everywhere. I’ve been trying to unpack why I still care about the Heat. I appreciate excellence and watching athletes flourish and everything else… but I followed them just as closely during the few abysmal years leading up to â€œThe Decision.â€ I’ve almost preferred watching any other teams play in the playoffs because in those games there’s nothing at stake. But I still can’t figure out what exactly’s at stake for me in Heat games. And I guess my really mundane question for you guys is how and why does fandom even work… especially in the NBA, which might be the most cosmopolitan (and un-rooted or up-rooted) of the major sports leagues? Chris George: You did a really good job nailing the “Steelers Nation” for not living here very long! To start with the obvious, fandom isn’t the same for everyone. A stringent version of liberated fandom â€“ in which youâ€™ve got no primary team â€“ might be a little like being Jewish outside of Israel. I’m a gentile myself, but I think the metaphor holds: a liberated fan lives in an in-between world of assimilation and separation: you can be an NBA fan generally but you will never be the same as the guy in the Utah Jazz jacket who lived and died with MJ’s dagger. However, I think cosmopolitan-fandomâ€™s more common in the NBA than the other sports.Why? 1. One thing I think we can’t deny is the importance of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird (and David Stern) in re-shaping the NBA. Those were players and teams with identities. We’ve heard the cliches, but they became cliches for a reason: the glitzy showtime Lakers and the blue collar Celtics. The team with the white star (and by 1985-86, disproportionately white roster) and the team with the black star and much more heavily black roster. Going back and watching She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, and even movies that came out later like White Men Can’t Jump and American History X confirm that angle to that story. For progressives then this probably cut both in positive and negative ways, but in a sense then, Lakers/Celtics created a form of liberated (though not always “liberal”) fandom that was occasionally closer to the tribalism of some European sports, but somewhat disjointed from pure geography. The first “BEAT L.A.” chants during an entirely Eastern Conference playoff game were a moment that are a part of this story. 2. The other is the political background of NBA fans. This chart suggests that NBA fans are the most liberal around, with the only exception being the WNBA (perhaps not surprisingly). In a way, my sense is the demographics of many NBA fans somewhat mirror Obama’s coalition: many African Americans and professional whites. There are exceptions where there are clear cross-class fan bases including white working class people in many cities, but not to the extent of football based on my casual observations living in a few different states. 3. Hip hop. I wish I could extrapolate more here, but I think the NBA’s uniquely close relationship to rap culture allow fans, especially fans who grew up entirely in a “hip hop era”, to identify with specific players and occasionally even teams aesthetically. 4. The youth of the league itself. The NBA lacks the older traditions of baseball â€“ but even further, suffered a terrible TV ratings slump before Bird and Magic. I suspect the ABA merger created an odd situation where teams were “legitimatized” differently than in the other three major American team sports. The merger teams generally were more successful than pure expansion teams since then. Much of NBA history for those of us who grew up watching the game on TV has been compressed into a time period after the merger, since hip hop was culturally significant, and since it has become a league of TV-friendly stars. We might also say that many of them are liberal-minded in the first place (and therefore more likely to have catholic rooting interests.) Chris Sampson: In the end, we all share similar circumstances with different instructions attached, notations that we lend to what we believe in or who we care about. Maybe theyâ€™re the rules that our parents gave us that we have amended over time, for exceptions like â€œI would hate Samuel Dalembert even if he were on my ancestral team,â€ or â€œI wish that Kelenna Azubuike were healthy.â€ I am not going to pretend to understand football fans but the same thing that has happened with the Steelers over the decades also happened with the Red Sox during the past decade, after new ownership arrived and gave them the resources to compete with New York. The rivalry with the Yankees became centuries old. As success has followed all of these teams around, maybe this obtuse disenfranchised fan would just rather root for the team they’d feel will win because all humans have the intrinsic desire to identify with the victors of war. Unlike most people in their mid-twenties who grew up in New England, I always paid attention to only one local sport. My dad was raised close to Boston, and made us watch Celtics games when we were very young out of a long-term attachment to the team from when he was a kid. Even if they played for different teams in their early careers, D.J. and Chief were â€œour guys,â€ just like Hondo and Sam were always â€œour guysâ€ too, but from a different era that my father remembered.Â When we moved farther out of the Boston suburbs into the woods of southern Maine, my attachment to the sport continued and expanded beyond the Celtics. As the 1990s wore on and there was little to root for in Boston (thanks, M.L. and Rick!), it was easy to support the Bulls, Magic or the Hornets. As this was thrust upon me, half my friends in this suburban elementary school were wearing Starter jackets adorned with the teal-and-purple, something I didnâ€™t have. It was confusing and in reflection, I think that reflected my familyâ€™s working class background more than anything. I believe certain people might innately prefer different styles of play over others and that leads them to prefer certain players and teams. A lot of people donâ€™t know this about me as some â€œbasketball guy,â€ but my renewed interest in the sport pretty much came from watching the run of the Warriors and Suns through the end of the 2006-07 season and into the playoffs. I thought Dâ€™Antoni was a superhuman figure destined to save the sport from mediocrity. And by that, I meant the spectacular Ron Mercer style players I had endured as a child. But it turned out there were spectacular feats afoot during my basketball sabbatical. C.G.: You touch on something I know we agree on: anÂ aesthetic preference for a certain style or styles of play. I don’t think this should be overstated since there are plenty of people who may not consciously care about that at all and others who may thereby appreciate only certain players without rooting for their teams. But personally, I’ve always been a sucker for fast break and run and gun teams ever since I first saw Loyola Marymount as a kid. When the Sacramento Kings brought in Pete Carrill and a modified version of his Princeton offense to an uptempo Kings team that could pass (and combined that with the accessible street game of Jason Williams), I was in heaven.Â I gave up on the NBA for several years after theâ€¦ oh, letâ€™s call it â€œquirkyâ€ refereeing of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. But waiting for the next Nellyball team, or the next D’Antoni team helped bring me back to the fold. However, since the Pistonsâ€™ Bad Boys teams â€œchanged everything,â€ that’s been basically spending most of my life rooting for a style of play that hasn’t been winning championships. Still, I believe. C.S.: I think that aesthetic preference is why people find LeBron’s ability to create magnificent transition dunks so appealing, even though – unlike Wade – it seems much rarer to see him rise into the land of the uncanny in a non-transition offensive set. It’s cool when it happens, but I guess it’s just not for me? The Heat play at a fairly plodding pace compared to the rest of the league. Itâ€™s not for everybody and probably makes them even more divisive for people who are into Western Conference style scrambles (like me). Is it just the dunks? Has it ALWAYS been about the dunks? There is also a preference to certain aesthetics behind a particular brand (and these are all very clearly brands, obviously just as much as they are basketball teams) ties a lot of us to a team or a player almost as much as any sort of geographical or stylistic connection. I hate to bring the example up again, but think of it as how the Starter Jacket look affected how people saw those teams as much as the colors, far more than what the most popular teams were like on the court. Whereas the Magic at least had Shaq, the Hornets of the same period were above-average offensive teams and their defense wavered from year to year. I don’t know if I saw them beyond their two stars and the novelty of Muggsy Bogues. I don’t know if a real fast break team will contend for the title anytime soon. But even the hope that one might was why I had so much hope for the Nuggets in the first round this season, and why it was disappointing when the team got taken out in round one by the Thunder, and will probably be taken apart in the off-season. K.I.: I wonder whether it’s necessary for a fast break team to win the championship? Obviously a D’Antoni-Suns title would have ratified that style in the eyes of other coaches and GMs and probably influenced how they assembled teams, but isn’t there some legitimacy in howÂ we all find it so compelling that we’ll watch some random Kings or Warriors game on a Tuesday night in December? Then again, maybe what we’re doing when we root for the Kings is to root for a style we find compelling to be successful enough that it propagates more and different compelling styles throughout the league? It’d be a nice counter to the other trend of assembling ad hoc super teams like Boston, Miami, New York, even the Lakers. At first glance in all those instances it seems like the style element’s absolutely secondary to just compounding star players and hoping something catalyzes. The Heat, of course, have only started to work as a great team once Spoelstra found a style that optimized all the talent advantages they’ve got over other teams. The same was probably true of Boston in 2008, although it happened a little more quickly and in a slightly less strong year for the Eastern Conference. The same is definitely true of the Phil Jackson coached Lakers, who we’re repeatedly told in Jackson’s book about the 2004 season would only ever be successful if Kobe, Shaq, Malone, and Payton bought into the triangle offense completely, trusted each other enough to move the ball around for good shots, and paradoxically somehow subordinated their immense individual talents to the team without (and this is the dicey part) losing the benefit of those unique talents. One story we might tell about the Lakers getting bounced so rapidly this year is that whatever equilibrium they’d worked out for last year’s title team had been disrupted just enough by Kobe Bryant’s decline and Andrew Bynum’s continued emergence as a star. It’s a compelling story. Like them or not, the Heat are also a compelling story. They’re also stories with much larger arcs than we got from the Kings or Warriors this season. On the other hand, I think what I like best about watching a random mid-season Kings or Warriors late game is that I know it will be a really well formed three hour long story. Because so many games get decided within the last minute, chances are good it’ll be a story with a surprise ending: a peripety in the guise of a buzzer beater or two, as happened at the end of the amazing Grizzlies/Kings game back in December. I won’t lie: I may have thrown my arms up excitedly when I watched that ending in real time, just like I did with Amare’s waved-off buzzer-beater against Boston, and just like I did when LeBron closed out game five the other day. There’s something exciting about being so captivated and wound up by a three hour long story that you tremble a little at the end: a catharsis or something like it. And maybe what’s at stake for me in rooting for the Heat right now is that I’m somehow so emotionally invested that I want their larger narrative arc to close in the most cathartic way. C.G.: It seems like in the “era of the point guard”, and the coaching incest, and lack of quality centers in the league, that the NBA has become a pick and roll game â€“ especially a high pick and roll + 3 point option game. There is going to be a gravity towards that style even if there will be coaches who are outliers a few different reasons. I imagine the game will continue to evolve and we may see other styles come and go with rule changes and salary cap changes that we can’t even predict. So I won’t try to predict them. Hell, at some point I wonder if they’ll look at changing the dimensions of the court itself. My thoughts on the Heat have evolved over the season, but still center on this: I like the idea that the NBA has a villain. The worst most people could ever say about the Spurs was “they’re boring” or that they were too good. But the truth is, they had their own style that was interesting to watch, especially if you had any interest in their players or their opponents. I thought the Heat could immediately become the most hated team in the NBA, leapfrogging traditional powers like L.A. and Boston. And most of the reasons they would be hated would really be subjective, having to do with LeBronâ€™s Decision and how the team was assembled. I also thought Spolestra might be a good fit for them. He would emphasize defense and the offense could create itself when it needed to. Pat Riley would push him to be detail oriented and theyâ€™d look at the proprietary advanced stats and adjust how to use their stars and role players as the year went on. I knew they would improve. Apparently, much of what they use the stats for is to ensure that they defend the pick and roll correctly on each possession. Itâ€™s one tactic that makes up the Heatâ€™s overall strategy. I didnâ€™t realize how much they would improve. I thought the Celtics had a good chance of taking them to six or seven tight games, but the Heat have played as well as anyone in the playoffs and may have the best two players in the NBA playing near full tilt at just the right time. Those of us who follow less-advanced stats might find it interesting that Bosh’s +/- is frequently the best on the team. Weâ€™re a little off the topic of fandom, but one thing that might tie it back for me, is I am glad to be able to quickly join the Grizzlies as they try to defeat teams I enjoy rootingÂ against. I don’t like the Heat because I don’t want to see another dynasty and they have the talent to do it. But I do like the Heat because it’s good to have an antagonist in the leagueâ€™s overall narrative arc. C.S.: Because of the players and aesthetics involved (as we’ve already talked about), I had a hard time figuring out who to root for in the Thunder/Grizzlies series. In the end, I feel like I ended up rooting for everybody to succeed. In the case of that one series (and I definitely think the Thunder/Nuggets series before it), it felt natural to openly advocate for the greatness of all of the participants? I know I’m not alone here – I was openly chanting the #THUNDERNUGGETS hashtag before the self-destruction of the Nuggets brought upon a sad recognition that the best opening round series of all time wouldn’t live up to our exceptionally ridiculous expectations. Only a devoted fan of one of those teams could do anything but salivate at the concept of such a “gentlemanly sweep.” It’s funny, but both teams in the most recently deceased semifinal series fit as an inverse to the Heat, almost in a very knowingly conservative model of general management, in that they – unlike the villainous Heat, of course – built their teams over time through modes that might be outdated. The Heat have relied on individual agency to attract players. It seems strange to say that Riley is “progressive” here, but at times, contemporary life feels like a parody of what it was meant to be. It makes sense that basketball could work in the same way.
Itâ€™s Game Seven. GAME FREAKING SEVEN! This is what itâ€™s all about. Instead of trying to find some clever way to tell you how big this game is even though you already know and youâ€™ve already read about 20 Game Seven previews that try to wax poetically about the final game of the year, Iâ€™m just going to do what I do best â€“ babble on until I run out of things to say:
Apparently, Perkins Canâ€™t Play On Crutches
So Kendrick Perkins is out. The bum decided two torn ligaments in his knee were too much. Just kidding. This is a bummer for me and hopefully for everybody. Iâ€™ve been a huge fan of Perk over the last three years. Heâ€™s so good defensively and I donâ€™t think a ton of people realize it. Pretty much every blogger knows it and a lot of the people that read those blogs know it too. But the casual fan has no clue how good Kendrick is defensively. All they see is the angry scowl and the fact that he doesnâ€™t have an upper lip and they just assume heâ€™s an overgrown toddler. One more game probably wasnâ€™t going to change public opinion or public awareness of the impact Kendrick Perkins has but I still wanted to see him and both teams at full strength heading into the final game of the 2009-2010 campaign.
I know Bynum is hurt but heâ€™s able to play hurt. Perk is hugely injured. Thereâ€™s a huge difference. I just hope that the Celtics donâ€™t use that as an excuse if they lose to the Lakers tonight. They most likely wonâ€™t but at the same time, the absence of Bynum is banged on about when talking about the 2008 NBA Finals. These teams are good enough to win without their center.
The Celtics Are Going To Be Fine Without Him
Even though KP is out for probably the next year, the Celtics arenâ€™t toast or even an English muffin. Yes, it sucks that heâ€™s out but the Celtics can easily survive this fact. The key is going to be the first quarter of this game. KG and Rasheed will have to play their butts off and stay out of foul trouble in the first 12 minutes of the ball game. Once the Lakers send Andrew Bynum to the bench, the Celtics have evened up the advantage that the Lakers size gives for the rest of the game. When Bynum goes to the bench, his knee will swell up like the Fourth of July (just go with it). When that happens, the Lakers will have inserted Lamar Odom into the lineup and thatâ€™s when Big Baby can check into the game and play a human version of Plinko as he slams into every peg on the floor.
Iâ€™m not saying this is easy by any means. Andrew Bynum will be able to dominate in the first quarter if the Lakers look for him. This Celtics team with Perkins can handle Bynum. This Celtics team without Perk cannot. But once he sits for the first time in this game, the knee expands and the pain decides to pull up a chair and thereâ€™s nothing anybody can do about it. So if youâ€™re the Celtics, just endure through Bynumâ€™s first stint.
Hitting The Boards Wins The Game
So far in this series, if you want to win any given game then you have to win the rebounding battle. The winning team in each game has won the rebounding edge. Without the healthiness of Andrew Bynum or the existence of Kendrick Perkins, that leaves the majority of the rebounding to Glen Davis and Lamar Odom. I think that whoever has this assignment is going to have to put a body on these guys constantly. Kendrick Perkins said that Big Baby needed â€œ11 reboundsâ€ in this game. Iâ€™d say the same for Lamar. For some reason, they have a really easy time of getting to the basket for rebounds. They just have to choose to be aggressive in doing so. Win the rebounding, save the cheerleader, win the championship.
Regardless Of What Happens, You Canâ€™t Blame Ron Artest
There is going to be a certain backlash at the Ron Artest signing if the Lakers lose the NBA Finals. People are going to pretend that Trevor Ariza would have made a huge difference in this series or any other series. Itâ€™s all crap. You canâ€™t blame a loss on one player in this series. Is Ron Artest a good shooter? No. Trevor Ariza is probably a better overall shooter in terms of sheer ability. Although, I think the difference is damn near negligible.
However, Trevor Ariza wasnâ€™t a great shooter during his time in Los Angeles. He had a good stretch of shooting when the games were most important but for the most part, he was just an okay shooter. Heâ€™s also a different type of defender than what Ron Artest brings to the table. Paul Pierce would have had to get a little more lift on his jumper but he could have created the necessary space to shoot jumpers much easier against Ariza. Artest may have struggled guarding Pierce over the past couple of games but most defenders do (even the elite ones). Ron came in and did his job this year. He hasnâ€™t really been THAT bad on offense during the season or post-season. Sure heâ€™s had his moments but itâ€™s not like heâ€™s been atrocious every time out.
I Thought This Would Be A Good Time To Drop This In (via SB Trey)
Pau Gasol Isnâ€™t Soft
Stop saying Pau Gasol is soft. Heâ€™s not. Was he soft two years ago against the Celtics? Maybe. I donâ€™t know for sure because Iâ€™m not quite sure what it truly means to be soft. Does him being European make him soft or does it just make him European? Was he soft in the 2009 Finals when he was shutting down Dwight Howard? Didnâ€™t seem like it to me. Just because heâ€™s having a hit-or-miss Finals against the Celtics doesnâ€™t mean heâ€™s not tough enough to be good. Heâ€™s proven he can come through in big games. Itâ€™s just hard to score against Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. It doesnâ€™t mean heâ€™s soft; it means heâ€™s human.
Lakers fans and Celtcs fans need to come to some sort of resolution on the idea of complaining about flopping. Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher flop an inordinate amount on the court. Paul Pierce flops more than a school of fish that have decided to hoof it on dry land in the Gulf Coast because the water makes them feel like theyâ€™re in some sort of Fear Factor challenge. In fact, MOST PLAYERS IN THE NBA FLOP! You guys have go to stop complaining and pretending like the other side is the only side that flops.
Letâ€™s Not Be Stupid And Blame The Refs
Conspiracy theories are just stupid. I get that theyâ€™re fun to volley back and forth with the casual fan. But for the most part, theyâ€™re just stupid. With that said, I think the officiating has been pretty good. Iâ€™ll happily admit that the refs were all over the place in the first three games. Game One was weird. Game Two was called way too tightly and in Game Three was a lot looser than anybody was prepared for. But Game Four and Game 5 (outside of the questionable fourth quarter) were actually officiated quite well. Game Six was good too even if the in-game competition wasnâ€™t exactly legendary.
You canâ€™t say that there was a conspiracy to get this series to a Game Seven because Game Six couldnâ€™t really have been less competitive. You canâ€™t say that the league put these two teams in the Finals because it would get the ratings because 1) Cavs-Lakers would have been much bigger ratings (easier to pull in the casual fan) and 2) how big could the conspiracy be if the result is a series that couldnâ€™t even get better ratings than the USA-England World Cup match? These two teams are in the Finals because theyâ€™re the two best teams. And theyâ€™re going to a seventh game because theyâ€™re the two best teams and a fairly even matchup across the board. Embrace and enjoy.
Kobeâ€™s Legacy Will Be Unaffected
Kobe Bryant is one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball. Heâ€™s not THE best player of all time. Jordan was better. But heâ€™s still one of the best. Could probably make the argument that heâ€™s the second best player of all-time. But this game is not going to dramatically raise or drop his place in the lore of the history of the NBA. Itâ€™s just not. Letâ€™s say he scores 50 points and points 48, 49 and 50 are on a tough fadeaway three-pointer as time expires to win the game and the NBA title. Does that make him better than he already was/is? What if he misses that shot and just has to live with 47 points, an NBA Finals loss and a missed chance to make a historical moment? What if the Celtics decide to completely take him out of the game and force him to pass nearly every time down the floor? How does this change the legacy of a guy who has won MVP awards and four NBA titles?
I just find it hard to believe that the 48 minutes played tonight has a huge impact on a guy that has already logged over 40,000 minutes in the NBA and been as accomplished as Kobe is. The Jordan argument is moot but the Magic Johnson argument is very alive. I get that. But couldnâ€™t you make a really strong case that Kobe is already the greatest Laker of all-time? If he wins tonight with a spectacular showing, couldnâ€™t you still make a really convincing argument that Magic Johnson is still the greatest Laker of all-time? I just think at this point Kobeâ€™s legacy is cemented and weâ€™re just trying to iron out the final details over the next couple years.
Paul Pierceâ€™s Legacy Will Be Affected
Now this may sound a little hypocritical but Paul Pierceâ€™s legacy IS affected by the outcome of tonightâ€™s game. Yes, Pierce has already accomplished a lot in the NBA and is probably a Hall of Fame player. Heâ€™s probably going to get his jersey retired by the Celtics someday too. But winning a second title and being a multiple NBA championship winner makes a huge difference in how youâ€™re remembered. Once youâ€™ve won more than one title, itâ€™s sort of just piling up the wins and accomplishments. But making that leap is huge for how youâ€™re remembered and Pierce knows that.
He wants to be remembered as one of the best Celtics of all-time and rightfully so. Heâ€™s had a great career in Beantown. He probably hears the way the older fans talk about Hondo, Cousy, Cowens Russell, Bird, etc. and wants to be mentioned in that group. A second title goes a long way into putting him in that end of the memory bank. Pierce has been sensational over his career. People donâ€™t realize just how good he is. For a five-year stretch, he wasnâ€™t just an incredible offensive talent that made a ton of clutch shots but he was also a pretty savvy defender that held his own with guarding the elite scorers in the NBA. Pierce needs this second title more than Kobe needs his fifth.
THIS IS GAME FLIPPING SEVEN!
Now that youâ€™ve perused nearly 2,000 words up until this point, Iâ€™d like you to forget everything you just read. Because ultimately, it shouldnâ€™t impact how you think about this game or watch this game tonight. This is Game Seven of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics. This has only happened four times in NBA history up until this moment. Hell, a Game Seven in the NBA Finals has only happened 16 times in NBA history before tonight. This is the type of closure that your ex-girlfriend could only dream of.
So you know what you should do? Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Donâ€™t get caught up in complaining about the officiating unless itâ€™s truly horrible. Donâ€™t let your disdain for certain players make you scream at the top of your lungs, wishing a plague upon him and his family. Donâ€™t take this game personally. Just sit back and enjoy it. Iâ€™m going to be watching this game with a gigantic smile on my face. This is what we hoped for all season long – a Game Seven of the NBA Finals that causes every player on the floor to give every last ounce of effort they have in their bodies. Think about the game weâ€™re going to see from Kobe Bryant. Think about the game weâ€™re going to see from Rondo, Ray, Pierce and KG. Doesnâ€™t that make you giddy to anticipate the show weâ€™re going to see tonight? Your adrenaline should be pumping all day.
A Game Seven in the NBA Finals hasnâ€™t happened since 2005 and before that it hadnâ€™t happened since 1994. This is a rare thing. This is a treat for good behavior. This is the basketball gods smiling upon us and rewarding us for loving a sport so pure and perfect in its design. This is what weâ€™ve all pretended would happen for us in the driveway while we let our imagination take us to the biggest stage. These guys have done the same thing too. Yes, theyâ€™re professional athletes with more money than God. Yes, they live a blessed and ridiculous lifestyle that we could never imagine. But they were once in that driveway or bedroom with the Nerf hoop or park with their friends pretending to play out a moment that will actually come for them tonight. Their dreams coincide with our dreams and come true tonight.
Sit back, relax and enjoy history. I know I will.
The jokes all are out there.
Whenever Kevin Garnett jumps up to grab a rebound or dunks a basketball or soars as only a 45,000-minute, 34-year old power forward can, youâ€™re bound to hear jokes about the knee. And itâ€™s somewhat understandable. He missed the most important stretches of last season, including all of the playoffs, and then slowly worked his way back from the injury. It would be more understandable or accepted if we actually knew what the injury was too.
At the time, it seemed to be more of a mystery than the continuum transfunctioner, in that its mystery was only exceeded by the impact it had on the team. People were making up ligaments that nobody has ever heard of and said they were torn. People seemed to think that he had a break in his kneecap or a family of birds nesting inside it and their feedings were causing the discomfort. Whatever the problem was, it stopped them from being able to defend their title.
Now, as the playoffs have begun and weâ€™ve narrowed it down to the final two games (one if necessary) left on the NBAâ€™s schedule, we see that Kevin Garnettâ€™s impact is far greater than we ever assumed. When he was ripped from the hands of Tâ€™Wolves fans and shown the greener grass on the other side, everyone kind of assumed this was a championship team. Ray Allen had just been added, Paul Pierce was still a very good player and they were adding the Eddie House-James Posey veteran combo to round out the bench.
But KG was the driving force behind it all. Tom Thibodeau dispersed his defensive schemes for Kevin Garnett to orchestrate. Garnett played the defensive end of the court as good as any middle linebacker or safety had ever done in the NFL. He called out screens, adjustments, and helped on just about everything. The result was one of the best team defensive efforts weâ€™ve seen in a long time and an NBA championship that had eluded so many players on the roster.
Fast forward two years later and the Celtics are still relying on him to be the leader in more ways than people assume heâ€™s capable of doing. Yes, Rajon Rondo has been the best player on the Celtics this season. Yes, Ray Allenâ€™s shooting is probably the biggest threat to opposing defenses at any given time and Paul Pierce still tends to be the most reliable scorer Boston has. However, Kevin Garnett is still the straw that stirs the championship drink.
This is a time of redemption for Kevin Garnett. For years he had the unfair label of being a guy that didnâ€™t want the ball in big moments, which wasnâ€™t all that true. He passed out of double and triple teams in big moments and unfortunately let his fate rest in the hands of Wally Szczerbiak, Troy Hudson and Stephon Marburyâ€™s atrocious series against the Sonics in 1998. He took plenty of shots that went in and plenty of shots that missed horribly. He tried to drag a horrendous franchise with a subpar roster through playoff series against much better teams and failed. It wasnâ€™t until his peak as an NBA player in the 2003-2004 season (when he finally had some veteran help with Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell) that he broke through.
But each time he seemed to get to the next level, success escaped him. Whenever he seemed to be ready for greatness, something was holding him back. It seems short-sided to call a guy a failure when he put up career playoff numbers in Minnesota that read 22.3 points, 13.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals per game with 45.8% shooting from the field. His biggest problem was that he was never quite Tim Duncan (but who is?) and he had a horrible supporting cast.
Now with Boston, heâ€™s been saddled with the image of being an a-hole that starts skirmishes he has no intention of finishing. Heâ€™s a trash-talker out of control. Heâ€™s a washed-up, broken-down old guy that canâ€™t hang with the better big men in todayâ€™s game. Maybe a lot of those criticisms hold some water but the last one is still completely false.
Kevin Garnett is still a force to be reckoned with. Heâ€™s not the walking historical benchmark of 20-10-5 that he used to be but he still matters. The knee for the most part is fine. It took him quite a while to recover over the past year and a half but he still has more than enough agility to get an alley-oop or two per game and to challenge shots inside. Most importantly though, Kevin Garnett has his lateral movement back and thatâ€™s why heâ€™s been so effective in these playoffs.
First, letâ€™s take a look at the numbers from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 playoffs for the Boston Celtics and their opponents:
|BOS â€˜08||85.9||94.0||40.0 (11.1)||12.9%||44.7%||35.9%||103.3|
|OPP â€˜08||–||88.8||36.3 (9.8)||14.4%||42.6%||32.9%||109.4|
|BOS â€˜09||91.4||102.1||43.2 (10.9)||12.5%||44.5%||36.0%||106.3|
|OPP â€˜09||–||102.1||41.6 (9.2)||13.3%||44.6%||36.0%||106.3|
|BOS â€˜10||89.6||95.8||39.1 (8.8)||13.7%||46.1%||37.2%||101.8|
|OPP â€˜10||–||91.6||38.5 (9.6)||15.5%||43.8%||32.1%||106.4|
With the presence of Garnett, the Celtics are simply a better defensive team. I realize I didnâ€™t just re-slice bread for the first time with that statement. However, you can see just how big of a difference KG makes by being in the lineup and playing defensive quarterback.
The biggest way in which KG makes the Celtics a better defensive team is that he can still defend the pick-and-roll better than just about anybody. Itâ€™s not just the fact that he hedges the picks well. Itâ€™s not the fact that heâ€™s proving the health of his knee by recovering well to the player rolling to the basket or popping to the elbow. He also plays incredible help defense away from pick-and-rolls. With the way he’s covering ground right now, the Celtics are able to recover quickly on shooters and challenge a lot of jumpers.
KG learned a long time ago how to play illegal defense without getting caught when he was in the barely legal defensive schemes of Flip Saunders. Itâ€™s something he wasnâ€™t very good at earlier in the season when he was still trying to get back into game shape. With the knee injury, his lateral movement was stagnant and his mobility made him look like he needed a Hover Round on defensive rotations. Now, heâ€™s back to covering ground.
Maybe heâ€™s not able to fly through the air anymore and he has to conserve his explosions from the hardwood to the sky. But if heâ€™s still able to cut off players going to the basket, bark out orders at his teammates and make the occasional key basket (all of Game Three, key free throws in Game Four, fourth quarter jumper in Game Five that ignited 6-0 run to push lead back to double digits) then heâ€™s once again bucked the criticism of his career.
Kevin Garnett is never going to be the best power forward of all-time. But heâ€™s got this redemption thing down pat. He wasnâ€™t a winner and heâ€™s now on the verge of winning his second title in three years as a big-time contributor and leader. He wasnâ€™t going to be healthy enough to contribute to a team that had no chance at a title and now heâ€™s 48 minutes away from leading this team defensively once again.
Once again, the joke is on the critics â€“ not KG.
“You should attack their big man like youâ€™re trying to give him rabies.”
Earlier in our season (did you forget I coach JV high school basketball?), we faced a team that built their offense and defense around one of the lankiest 15-year olds you could ever see. He wasnâ€™t abnormally tall by any means. He was about 6â€™3â€, which is sort of incredibly tall for a 15-year old, but itâ€™s not like he was Manute Bol out there. For the sake of the story and keeping anonymity, weâ€™ll call this player Seal.
Weâ€™re going to call him Seal for a couple of reasons. First, he sort of looked like Seal without all of that facial scarring. Second, it gives me a tangential opening to mention that I was in Chicago last weekend and in Chicago I got to sing Kiss From A Rose with Trey Kerby while driving around. It was pretty great.
Anyway, Seal was a very sound, fundamental defender against our team. His arm length was almost cartoonish and he used it to perfectly defend a lot of shots coming into the painted area. He rarely went for the pump fakes, he kept his arms high in the air to intimidate our players and he timed every passive aggressive shot taken around him perfectly. He blocked at least nine shots in the first half of the game, as our guys were scared to challenge him.
And he wasnâ€™t just protecting the rim well either. He kept the ball high on offense and put it up only when the shot was there. He also controlled the boards against our guys. It sounds simple but he just jumped as high as he could and secured the ball. He didnâ€™t tap it all over the place before grabbing it. He just grabbed it.
At halftime, we ripped into our guys for being afraid of Seal. Our big men were better than him and we all knew it. They were just playing scared. And by being scared of his length and shot-blocking ability, they allowed him to dictate everything inside. I told our team the same quote that sits atop this post. Attack Seal like you’re trying to give him rabies. Be the more aggressive dog in the fight. It actually took the smallest player on our team to turn things around.
He gave up more than a foot in height to Seal but he had no fear. He went right at Seal on the first couple possessions of the second half and perfectly used his floater to protect shots. He jumped into him to create contact and knock him back a little. He gave Seal a different look than what he had seen all game long â€“ aggressiveness. This aggressiveness not only showed the team that getting your shot blocked was nothing to be afraid of, it also got Seal out of position inside. All of a sudden we were grabbing rebounds and getting putbacks inside. Seal had to reach over our players to protect his rim and he was getting into foul trouble the other team couldnâ€™t afford to have him in.
By the end of the game, Seal was on the bench with about 16 blocked shots and five fouls. He fouled out because we attacked him with purpose. We ended up dominating the boards in the second half because we didnâ€™t allow him to control everything. It was an easy win with a good lesson to our guys that they shouldnâ€™t let the other teamâ€™s big man control the interior.
When I look at this Celtics-Lakers Finals so far, the overall message rings true throughout. Now there are a couple of differences. I donâ€™t think the Celtics are afraid of the length inside. The Celtics are a big team on their own. KG, Perk, Sheed and Big Baby provide a formidable frontline. The problem is the size of the Lakers frontcourt with Gasol and Bynum can completely neutralize that. Also, there is no Dikembe Mutombo or Mark Eaton (what up, Devine?) protecting the basket. But the Lakers have still done a pretty incredible job of protecting the basket. Theyâ€™ve blocked 31 shots in the first four games of this series with 28 of them coming in the first three games.
The Lakers length presents a problem that the Celtics can fix in three ways and itâ€™s all about Boston being aggressive in the way they do things.
1) Donâ€™t Be Afraid to Attack the Basket
I donâ€™t know that Iâ€™d say the Celtics were afraid to attack the basket in the first three games. They were blocked 28 times and actually won the points in the paint battle 116-112. But whenever Gasol and Bynum are in there together, there seems to be a bit of trepidation. Part of that could be the good team defense the Lakers are playing. With the way theyâ€™re helping, itâ€™s easy to think twice about attacking and if youâ€™re hesitating then itâ€™s going to kill a lot of advantages.
This biggest way to fix this is to find ways to get Rajon Rondo to the basket without a lot of long limbs challenging his layups. Big Baby was great in Game Four in the way he smothered the interior. But that can be defended pretty easily with better effort and positioning by the Lakers bigs. Also, Lamar Odom pretending he cares would also be a great way to combat Davis. The more important thing is getting Rondo into the paint with good opportunities to score. Assuming the Lakers canâ€™t block his shot so easily (six times in the first three games), even if Rondo misses the Celtics should be in a great position to grab the offensive boards and get good putback opportunities.
2) Grab the freaking ball!
Kevin Garnett used to be THE standard for NBA rebounding. During his days in Minnesota (chest pains for me right now), he had to do it all and a lot of the Wolves rebounding advantages were because of KGâ€™s insistence on owning the boards. Since heâ€™s been in Boston, the Celtics have been a good enough team to not need so much effort out of him. Heâ€™s able to concentrate on defense first, defense second and everything else third. Perhaps that lack of need for his boarding has turned him into a slightly above average rebounder instead of the all-world specimen he used to be. Iâ€™m sure the ravaging his knee took over the course of a couple of years hasnâ€™t helped either.
KG used to be so great at tipping the boards to himself because heâ€™s always been longer and more athletic than his opponents. He was able to tip the ball until it was safe to just grab it so he could fire a good outlet pass to his guards. With the declining athleticism and the great length of the holy Bynum-Gasol-Odom triumvirate, Garnett and the rest of the Celtics no longer have that luxury. When KG taps the ball to himself, Gasol and Odom have the length and the athleticism to match him or overwhelm him on the boards. Theyâ€™re able to steal a lot of 50/50 balls because itâ€™s still up for grabs. When Big Baby was dominating the offensive glass in Game Four, he just went after the ball and snatched it out of the air. He didnâ€™t play badminton with it.
Kevin Garnett’s rebounding is really important to the Celtics success. They need to win two out of the next three games for banner number 18. That’s a 66.7 win percentage needed. Well, it’s no coincidence that since Garnett has joined the Celtics in 2007, they’re winning 69.8% of their games (including playoffs) when KG grabs nine rebounds or more in a game. He has to simply go grab the basketball.
Tipping the ball to yourself probably works against Boris Diaw, Kenny Thomas and Amare Stoudemire. But against the length of the Lakers and thieves like Kobe Bryant, it widens the margin for error on closing out defensive stops for Boston.
3) Be quick but donâ€™t hurryâ€¦ actually, Kendrick, you need to hurry
One of the most frustrating things for me to watch in the NBA is Kendrick Perkins in possessions of the ball around the basket. Heâ€™s the epitome of what you donâ€™t want to teach young big men do around the rim. Especially against a frontline like the Lakers employ, you have to be quick to the basket. Kendrick Perkins moves around like the Tin Man when he hasnâ€™t seen an oil can in months (insert BP joke I wasnâ€™t clever enough to think of here).
Perkins could get a lot of easy buckets in this game and put a lot of pressure on the Lakers by racking up these easy points. Instead, he gets the ball and then allows someone to hit the slow motion button on him as he tries to get the ball up to the basket. Perk isnâ€™t taller than most big men he faces and he isnâ€™t all that athletic so itâ€™s easy to see why heâ€™d be careful around the basket. But he has to find ways go up quickly with the ball. Heâ€™s like one of those chattering teeth you wind up. Except, whenever you want to show someone how they move you always forget to wind it up enough for a full show. It ends up stopping abruptly and anti-climactically. So you have to wind it up a second time and by then the mystique of a spring loaded toy has been washed away in disappointment.
Well, Perk seems to always need that second wind up around the rim. Except when he finally gets it, there is a Laker around to block or challenge his shot. Kendrick has only taken 18 shots in this series but heâ€™s been blocked five times. Thatâ€™s an absurd percentage that would make Carlos Boozer blush.
Overall, the Celtics arenâ€™t exactly getting killed in this series. Itâ€™s 2-2 and they have a chance to protect their homecourt and head back to Los Angeles tonight with a 3-2 lead. The easiest way for them to do this is to attack the paint much like Glen Davis did and find ways to get the Lakers size and length out of position.
In other words, go out and give them rabies.
It happened during the first quarter Thursday night when Paul Pierce drove to the basket. He was fouled by Ron Artest and inexplicably not given continuation on the basket. Instead of a three-point player opportunity, the Celtics had to settle for an inbounds play and no Pierce layup.
Maybe the reason he didn’t get the continuation is because Pierce celebrated the score by punching Eddie F. Rush in the face.
Eddie F. Rush? More like Eddie F. BumRushed! AMIRIGHT?!?!
Part of me would like to think this was calculated but at the same time, if you’ve ever seen an NBA fight then you know it’s very unlikely a player could connect on a punch like this.
(via Truth About It)
Back around the turn of the millennium, the Sacramento Kings were trying to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. While they were building an evolving squad that was trying to find the balance between a veteran bench and a growing core of really incredible players, they had a certain group of players called â€œThe Bench Mob.â€ The Bench Mob was comprised of an unusual band of brothers for Sacramento. The leaders of the mob were Jon Barry and Darrick Martin. They had Peja Stojakovic before he was Peja Stojakovic. They had scrappy guys like Lawrence Funderburke, Scot Pollard and Tony Delk. Hell, even Tyrone Corbin and Bill Wennington made an appearance from time to time.
This wasnâ€™t the best bench in the league by any means. In fact, they had a bunch of specialists and not really anything resembling a tried and true group of proven contributors. And thatâ€™s sort of why it worked. Nobody expected much out of them. Maybe they werenâ€™t going to make a good percentage of their shots. Maybe they werenâ€™t going to execute with the flair and grace of Webber, Vlade and Jason Williams. But they were probably going to outwork you no matter who you threw at them.
This Boston group of pine-sitters reminds me of the same thing. Itâ€™s not so much a Bench Mob as it is a swarm. In the fourth game of the 2010 NBA Finals, the Boston bench managed to swarm the Lakers players and hit them with a deluge of energy and effort. The Lakers couldnâ€™t help but hope for mistakes by the men in green. Rather than outwork them and exude their talents and dominance over this group, the Lakers just sort of took it. The Boston bench didnâ€™t just outplay the Lakers bench. For much of the fourth quarter, they outplayed the Lakers starters and put on a show in doing so.
â€œWe were like Shrek and Donkey.â€ â€“ Nate Robinson on the Game Four performance of Glen Davis and himself.
Itâ€™s sort of perfect that Nate Robinson made this analogy for him and his bulbous sidekick after they helped the Celtics find a fourth-quarter groove and even up the NBA Finals with a must-win in Game Four. Nate Robinson was the pesky, annoying sidekick that you expected to provide all of the comedic relief while Big Baby bruised his way through the forest, destroying everything in his path. It was entertaining and almost cartoonish.
When Big Baby grabbed his fourth offensive rebound of the game with 8:23 remaining in the fourth quarter and powered his way back up to the basket against Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, he absorbed the foul, scored the basket and unleashed an outburst of emotion and drool that makes Kevin Garnett look like Tim Duncan on horse tranquilizers. Effort, energy and heart were going to be needed to win the NBA Finals. The Game Four version of the Boston Celtics bench had it and the Lakers simply didnâ€™t.
A lineup of Nate Robinson, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace played the first 9:10 of the fourth quarter against LA and left the game with an eight-point lead for the starters to play with. They survived a quick run of technical fouls by Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson. They survived 12 fourth quarter points from Kobe Bryant. They took control of a game in the NBA Finals, which was as close to a must-win as you can get without having a loss result in elimination.
Big Baby was fantastic. You can say that he excelled because Andrew Bynum nearly sat for the entire second half as his knee swelled up beyond belief because thatâ€™s not the entire truth. Big Baby was able to score when Bynum was out there. In fact, he scored on whomever the Lakers employed to plug up the paint. Lamar Odom was absent-minded and couldnâ€™t find the focus to put a body on Big Baby. The Large Infant bounced off Mr. Kardashian and bounced off Pau Gasol. If there was a basketball to be had or a key bucket to be scored, the oversized-undersized power forward from LSU was going to get it done.
And as good as he was in this game, itâ€™s just as important we recognize the rest of the bench players that did their part. Nate Robinson improbably played out of this world again by hitting threes, making plays and being the annoying ball of energy thatâ€™s only been replicated by the chicken hawk in Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. Tony Allen played remarkable defense against Kobe Bryant. Did he stop Kobe? Not even close. Kobe ended up with 33 points on 22 shots, which is sort of ridiculous. However, he did turn the ball over seven times and had Allen make some pretty big plays by stripping the ball and challenging jumpers.
You also canâ€™t forget the job that Rasheed Wallace did in this game. Yes, he ran around after a couple of foul calls against him and eventually earned himself a tech. It was absolutely deserved. But itâ€™s just part of the Sheed package. He plays with a fire when heâ€™s into the game and he was definitely into this game. This time the fire gave the Lakers a technical free throw that Kobe promptly missed. One minute later, Wallace hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to give the Celtics a nine-point lead that felt insurmountable. Couple that with some tough defense inside and youâ€™ve got the cherry on top of the sundae the Boston bench served up to their fans Thursday night.
This Celtics bench has been inconsistent all season long. Itâ€™s just as likely theyâ€™ll follow up this performance in Game Four with the exact same thing in Game Five to help Boston take a commanding three games to two lead in the Finals. It also wouldnâ€™t surprise me to see them come up well short of the needed effort to best the Lakers and essentially give the series to Los Angeles headed back to Hollywood.
But if theyâ€™re playing with energy, bringing the fire and brimstone from the pine and playing with such fervor and raw emotion that they canâ€™t control the saliva free-falling down out of their mouths and down their chins, I find it hard to believe the Celitcs wonâ€™t head back to Los Angeles needing to split the final two games to take hope their 18th trophy as an NBA franchise.
Really kids, do I need to say anything more about this? In the future, this GIF will be in the grand online NBA digital dictionary of awesome stuff under ‘S’ for step-back.
Goran Dragic did something fun.
He did this in Game 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
He did this in a game in which the Suns won to even up a series that was supposedly over.
He did this and made Robin Lopez lose control of himself like he was visited by the Holy Spirit in some mega-church along the Bible Belt.
Here’s the move. If you don’t think it’s impressive, are you wearing your white or purple Kobe jersey right now?
For someone without a post game as many fans like to claim, Dwight Howard sure did find a way to bounce back from a 13-point, seven-turnover performance in Game One to score 30 points and get the Celtics into foul trouble in Game Two.
I put together this video to hopefully give you a better idea of how Dwight adapted to the way the Celtics were defending him. Enjoy:
Dwight Howard definitely has a post game and itâ€™s still growing. Ever since some time in January, Dwight has been showing real improvement in the way he scores with his back to the basket and when he faces up and drives on his defenders. Like I said in the video, he doesnâ€™t have a huge repertoire of moves. Heâ€™s definitely not going to be doing any Kevin McHale impersonations any time soon. But he has a couple of go-to moves in the paint.
The problem with Dwight is his positioning and the way his body is constructed. Think about powerful centers like Moses Malone, Shaquille Oâ€™Neal and even guys like Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon to some extent. All of those guys were blessed with tree trunks for legs. Some of them were blessed with big behinds too. These natural physical assets are the reason they were able to dominate and score so easily in the post when they needed to. They had leverage (not a TNT plug but it feels like it because of the constant promos weâ€™ve seen during the playoffs).
Dwight doesnâ€™t have that luxury. He has skinny legs and a small waist. Heâ€™s built much more like David Robinson except he doesnâ€™t have the shooting ability. Guys like that have a hard to moving people around in the post with their lower body. Instead, Dwight has to either accept the postposition afforded to him by the defensive player or try to push his way with his upper body into better position without drawing a foul.
Itâ€™s great that his upper body is so physically impressive because it allows him to be very good defensively and a strong rebounder. But the fact that he doesnâ€™t have more junk in the trunk means that heâ€™s going to be a center of gravity disadvantage when trying to score with his back to the basket. Considering he has to make due with the way heâ€™s built, Iâ€™d say he does a pretty good job scoring inside.
Give him room to operate by spreading the floor and a confident, relaxed and poised Dwight will unleash his small set of post moves and do it effectively. Hopefully for Orlando, it will turn into some wins in this series.
As I watched a blowout disguise itself as a close game Wednesday night, I couldnâ€™t help but be drawn to the job that Pau Gasol was doing all over the floor.
Two years ago when the Los Angeles Lakers traded Marc Gasol, something called a Kwame Brown that people claim was once the number one pick of the NBA Draft, and a first round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for Pau Gasol, people were infuriated at the fact that the Lakers could be given such a heist of talent. Itâ€™s almost like the Memphis Grizzlies had been cultivating this prized crop and the Lakers swooped in to harvest when nobody was looking. Some of called for a conspiracy while others just thought it was Chris Wallace doing Chris Wallace type things.
The uproar was sort of weird because even though Pau Gasol was clearly a talented All-Star capable of getting a defunct franchise into the playoffs most years, it wasnâ€™t like the Spaniard was one of the top players in the NBA. Perhaps, we all knew something that none of us actually recognized yet. Putting Pau Gasol second fiddle to someone like Kobe Bryant is like telling MacGyver to screw the dental floss, flashlight and Pop Rocks and just handing him over Batmanâ€™s utility belt.
Now that Phil Jackson and Kobe have been able to integrate Gasol into the system all while winning a championship and letting him earn some true playoff chops, weâ€™re all starting to see the fallout of this trade. Pau Gasol has simply become the best big man in the game today.
Yes, there are plenty of cases to be had for Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, and of course Johan Petro (insert Matt Moore joke about Greg Oden here too while youâ€™re at it). And all of those guys are really good. Dirk is a wiz on the offensive end of the floor. KG and Duncan still have a lot left in the tank as they adapt to injuries and old age. Dwight Howard is getting better all the time while filling the role as best defensive big man in the league. But Pau Gasol has the ability to truly dominate in the playoffs game after game after game.
After a very solid 21-point performance in Game One, Gasol came out in Game Two and decided to put a hurting on Amare Stoudemire and company. Even with defensive stalwarts like Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett trying to defend him, I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s any real way to stop Gasol on offense. Heâ€™s simply too good and has too many weapons at his disposal. So put him in front of someone like Channing Frye or Amare Stoudemire and heâ€™s going to feast on human flesh like Hannibal Lecter.
Heâ€™s constantly showing new parts of his repertoire as a sort of tease of the dominance he could exude if he had to carry a team every night in the Association:
He can turn around over his left shoulder and shoot a should-be impossible fadeaway for any other big man on the planet like he did in the middle of the first quarter against the Suns.
He can flash to the middle of a zone, catch a quick pass in the paint and instantly toss up a little runner before the defense can react like he did towards the end of the first quarter before Robin Lopez could react.
He can turn over his left shoulder and put up the right-handed hook in the middle of the paint or he can go over his right shoulder after drop-stepping to the baseline and shooting a left hook that is impossible to block.
He catches the ball in traffic on lobs over the top when heâ€™s being fronted and keeps the ball high to make a layup opportunity extremely easy for him.
And he moves so well without the ball that heâ€™s like a big man version of Richard Hamilton.
In the fourth quarter against the Suns in Game Two, he utilized pretty much every weapon he owns. He scored 14 points in a game in which the Suns had come roaring back in the third quarter to tie it going into the fourth quarter. He made five of his seven shots in the period and four of his six free throw attempts. The only times he was stopped in the period were on a missed jumper just below the free throw line and a left-handed hook shot away from a double team in which it looked like he got fouled by Amare.
I canâ€™t think of a more perfect big man to have on just about any team with his ability to score from all over, defend with great length inside, rebound at a high rate and move the ball around the halfcourt like a point guard. Unfortunately for the Suns, they have to face him and they donâ€™t have an answer for him.