Tag Archives: game 6

History in a Bottle

In which Jared and I try to comprehend Game 6. 

Jordan: Jared. Help me put into words what I saw Tuesday night. I’ve seen some pretty good games over the years. I was at the Chesapeake Arena when Kevin Durant and Kevin Love dueled into double overtime, each one answering the other’s three-pointer as if they were the easiest shots in the world.

As the lone Kansan at the University of Connecticut in 2008, I cried out in agony and later victory after KU improbably came back and won the National Championship (the same game, by the way, that injected now-Heat point guard Mario Chalmers with his inextinguishable confidence). I’ve watched Boston ride Ubuntu back from 24 points down, and I’ve seen the Mavericks ride Dirk Nowitzki’s flowing, golden luscious locks and his one-footed turnaround to a championship.
But Tuesday night…it almost defies explanation, or reason. You may think this to simply be me at my hyperbolic best, but I assure you, I am still mesmerized by game 6. So please. Tell me. What did I see?

Jared: WAIT. Were you AT all of those games? If you were, that’s pretty unbelievable. If you weren’t, well you just misled me you sunuvabitch.

Anyway, I honestly don’t know what we saw on Tuesday. It was mesmerizing. It was beautiful. It was just basketball, man. I can’t even pick out a “best” thing about the game. There’s just too much. Duncan’s first half. LeBron’s fourth quarter. Ray’s three. Parker’s three. The whole headband thing. Bosh’s block(s). For fuck’s sake I almost forgot about Kawhi’s dunk on Mike Miller in all the ridiculousness of the second half, and that literally made me jump off my seat when it happened.

It’s weird to know you’re watching history as it happens. Once the Heat started coming back and eventually tied the game and took the lead, the feeling that rushed over me was surreal. I knew I was watching the end of one of, if not the best game of my lifetime. I’m still not sure how to reconcile it. It seems to reactive to give it the top spot the day after, but I don’t know how else to convey the sheer awesomeness of what we watched. I actually don’t even know if watched is the best word for it; we – all of us watching – experienced it, together.

I said last night on Twitter I want to figure out a way to bottle the game up and distill it so I can get drunk off it the rest of my life, and I don’t at all feel like that’s a crazy thing to say. I want to bring a recording of that game with me wherever I go, so I can flick on the last 15 minutes at any point I want. Of all the games I’ve watched, this is one of the very few my favorite team hasn’t been a part of that gave me a feeling like that.

I guess that’s all a long-winded way of saying what you saw was a brilliant game of basketball between two ultra-talented teams that no one who watched it – whether in the arena or in the comfort of their home – will ever forget. Honestly, that’s part of why I wanted to do this. I want to get thoughts down on paper so when I go senile in 50-60 years, I have recorded proof that I definitely watched Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.

Jordan: It’s not a crazy thing to say at all. But it’s not just the game that I want to bottle. As you said, this was something we experienced, not just watched. Try as we might, we can’t recreate that experience, which is just about the only bittersweet aspect of the entire game.

Tuesday’s game, to me, was a microcosm of the entire series. All along, these teams seemed to be so evenly matched. Even the blowouts never really felt like blowouts. Or, rather, they did, but it wasn’t one good team dominating another. Think about the major themes of this series so far, and how present they were in Game 6
Adjustments
It’s been a bonafide chess match (hi there, sports cliché!) between Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich, two of the best tacticians in the game. Last night, in the first half, Duncan was terrorizing Miami’s defense, particularly Chris Bosh. Spoelstra adjusted, and Duncan’s brilliance faded. Likewise, the Heat tried some new misdirection plays, and the Spurs switched defensive tactics accordingly.
By that same token, however, we also saw adjustments that went wrong, the most glaring of which has to be Spoelstra re-inserting Wade when Miami’s offense was humming like a fine-tuned tank without him (I’m sure you have a few things to say on the subject). Then, there was Gregg Popovich maybe outthinking himself by taking out Duncan for the possession that led to Ray Allen’s game-tying three pointer.
Stars
Tim Duncan’s first half was a moment of brilliance. Methodical, calculated, dull brilliance. Duncan’s never been a flashy player, which I surmise may play a part in his longevity, but the lack of flash doesn’t make it any less of basketball artistry.
LeBron James’ fourth quarter was thrilling, captivating, and maybe even a little terrifying. He wasn’t cold and distant like game six against Boston last year. There was fire, no there was a fucking inferno roaring within James.
Manu and Wade have had one good game apiece in this series, and last night’s game showed us those good performances were the outliers.
NARRATIVES (proven, disproven and created)
Narrative: LeBron can’t do this on his own, he needs to give the ball to Wade.
Narrative: LeBron is a choker (this, for some reason, still persists)
Narrative: The Spurs are boring
Narrative: The Spurs don’t get enough attention or praise
Narrative: If Miami loses, this “experiment” was a failure
Narrative: This could be one of the best series of all time
I’m sure I’m missing quite a few themes, but these were the ones that stuck out the most. Maybe that’s why it’s still so hard to process this game. It was so packed from all angles – tactics, narratives, history and so forth – that we’re not even done fully experiencing it.

Jared:  I want to start with the Duncan/Bosh match-up, because the 180 from first half to second half was really amazing. Duncan played one of the great halves in basketball history in the first half of Game 6. It was truly spectacular – a throwback treat that, like most of the rest of the game, I will never forget. Duncan had largely had his way with Bosh in the post for most of the series (I’m pretty sure ESPN Stats & Information tweeted out at halftime that Duncan was shooting 62% against Bosh to that point in the series), but the first half was the first time he just eviscerated the guy. Bosh looked utterly helpless.

And then the second half started and somehow everything flipped. Bosh was everywhere. He was fronting the post with such tenacity, rotating like a mad man, blocking shots, snagging boards, playing passing lanes, darting out at pick and rolls, just doing it all. It was a marvel. One of the most dramatic half-to-half shifts in performance I’ve ever seen.

Speaking of dramatic shifts… let’s take a look at some numbers I tweeted last night courtesy of NBA.com/stats

1. LeBron was 5-17 [in Game 6] with Wade on the floor. 6-9 with Wade off the floor. -19 in 33 mins with Wade. +18 in 16 mins w/o Wade.

2. 7 restricted area shots in 16 w/o Wade minutes for LeBron. 3 in 33 minutes with Wade.

3. Heat O-Rtg [in Game 6] with LeBron + Wade on court: 92.0. Heat O-Rtg with LeBron + no Wade: 143.3

4. Oh and Heat D-Rtg [in Game 6] with LeBron + Wade on court: 112.2. Heat D-Rtg with LeBron + no Wade: 72.7

5. Let’s go for the full series now. O-Rtg/D-Rtg with LBJ/Wade: 100.8/112.7 … O-Rtg/D-Rtg with LBJ/NO Wade: 131.7/89.5

6. Full series LeBron with Wade: 35-90 (38.9%), 17-32 in RA. Without Wade: 20-37 (54.1%), 13-14 in RA. 194 min w/ Wade, -56. 62 min w/o, +48.

Yeah… D-Wade, not so much with the helping the team while sharing the court with LeBron. Look, obviously Spo is not just going to bench Wade for the entire game, nor should he. But the dude needs his minutes cut dramatically. The Spurs are ignoring him on the perimeter like he’s Tony Allen or Chris Duhon, for crying out loud. And the whole thing where the Heat run out of timeout plays for him has got to stop. No. Just no. I mean, I want the Spurs to win because Pat Riley is the antichrist, but for the sake of basketball, Spo needs to chill with that shit.

The LeBron-Miller-Allen trio with take your pick of Cole/Chalmers and Bosh/Birdman lineups need to get on the floor more. The spacing is worlds better, and in small samples, the defense is too. It’s just time. It’s not an indictment of Wade’s career that he isn’t the Wade he used to be. He’s clearly hurt. The Spurs clearly don’t respect his outside shot. His defense is hit-or-miss at best. It’s time for a change in tactics.

The tiny adjustments made by both coaches throughout the series have been fascinating. Miami abandoning traditional lineups to go small-ball full time resulted in the Spurs mostly doing the same, depending on how you categorize Boris Diaw. After a conference finals that included big-all-the-time teams in Memphis and Indiana, it’s interesting that the Finals have shifted back to wide open small ball. I love it. The “death of the center” stuff is overblown – they really just have different responsibilities now than they used to, both as a function of rule changes and style of play, but seeing both teams play perimeter oriented attacks for the back half of this series has been pretty awesome.

Speaking of, man did the Heat shut down San Antonio’s three point game last night, huh? Chris Bosh wasn’t lying when he said Danny Green wouldn’t be open. Green’s 1-7 performance and general disappearing act for much of the game may have permanently knocked him out of Finals MVP contention if the Spurs eventually win, which is crazy after the shooting display he put on in Games 1 thru 5.

As to your NARRATIVE NARRATIVE NARRTIVE BLAH BLAH BLAH point: I’m so happy that the game was so amazing that it knocked all the narrative bullshit on its ass. No one’s talking about who was clutch, who choked, any of that garbage. All everyone cares about was how freaking good the game was. I actually stopped taking notes at midway through the fourth quarter because I didn’t want to miss anything. Good lord it was fun.

 

Jordan: My point wasn’t that the narratives weren’t discussed, more that they were present. Narrative is good, it’s important. It creates intrigue and drama, taking the game above just a pure X’s and O’s analysis. Of course, not all narratives are created equal, nor do each of them hold equal weight. We saw as much last night.

The more concrete angles, such as this possibly being one of the best series of all time, were mostly proven right, while the other, tired and outright wrong ones, such as LeBron’s penchant to choke, were swiftly, as you so eloquently put it, knocked on their asses. What was so great about last night, and you touched on it, was that the story didn’t dominate the action. The game itself was theater enough, and all of those aforementioned sub-plots played out as the game wore on without us needing to continuously bring them up. So captivating was the game that the discussion rarely deviated from the action at hand.
Oh, and it wasn’t just San Antonio’s three point game Miami shut down last night. Tony Parker, in both the 4th quarter and overtime, was 2-of-8. Granted, those two makes were the two most important ones, but Parker was downright EXHAUSTED heading into the extra frame, (he missed all four of his attempts), and there’s little doubt that’s due to James’ physical play.
Another performance unfortunately overshadowed by both the loss and a missed free-throw: Kawhi Leonard. He has been phenomenal in the playoffs, on both ends of the floor. He struggled last night against James on defense, especially when the Heat went with their shooting line up, because he didn’t have any help when LeBron went down low. But he was the second best player on the Spurs last night, and maybe the third, at worst fourth, best player overall. He is the embodiment of the Spurs system and process, and yet another microcosm of a larger theme of this series.
One other thing I can’t believe we haven’t mentioned: Doris Burke has mastered the Pop interview.
Jared: So many people were talking about how LeBron would get tired guarding Parker that they overlooked how exhausting it is to be guarded by LeBron. TP looked like he was about to keel over by the end of the game. Being hounded into a 6-for-23 by the best player on the planet will do that to you.

And Kawhi, man. I don’t think enough can be said about how good that dude is. He’s just a Spur. That’s the best way to put it.
Re: Doris, she’s the best, isn’t she? She knows how to ask questions, which is more than you can say for a lot of the people “asking” “questions” in the post game pressers. And Pop always seems to actually give her answers, which is nice of him. How does she get so lucky?
Jordan: It’s because she knows the game, and I think Pop has a certain, yet still grudging, respect for those who know the game.

But back to basketball. Game 7 now looms large on the horizon. Will it live up to the drama of Game 6, or will it be more like Miami’s Game 5 victory in the finals last year, where the came was over after the first half. In a series that has given us everything from blow outs to nail biters, it’s impossible to know what to expect, much less what will happen. All we know is that, by the end of the night, we’ll have a new NBA champion crowned.
Regardless of what happens, we should consider ourselves lucky. Perfect moments, and in this case, perfect games, are rare in life. We got one on Tuesday night.
Photo by tom.keil via Flickr

The Headband, and Other Stories

I’m still trying to process the nirvana we all witnessed last night. For now, here are just a few thoughts. 

Tim Duncan, long-overdue for even a good game after an overall disappointing series, was superb in the first half, shooting 11-of-13, including a perfect 6-of-6 in the first quarter. He didn’t so much turn back the clock as he did perform his greatest hits: a bank shot just below the elbow, a turnaround hook, even an opportunistic dunk after Tony Parker sucked in three defenders at the rim. However, it was not to last. Bosh, the most frequent student of Duncan’s harsh tutelage, played terrific defense on Duncan in the second half, both fronting him and playing him extremely well in one-on-one situations.

When a star turns in such a performance in a loss, there’s a tendency to cry that the team wasted that player’s effort. Maybe, sometimes, that holds true, if that player was the only one on the team producing anything of substance. This was not the case here, as Kawhi Leonard, with his 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Tony Parker (also mostly ineffective after the first half, save for the last twenty or so seconds of the game), also put up valiant efforts. It’s a shame San Antonio couldn’t capitalize on one of Duncan’s finest finals performances, especially when the game seemed to be firmly in their grasp, but it’s a stretch to say it was a wasted effort.

The last minute or so of the game was one of the most exciting periods of basketball of the entire season. Threes abound, from LeBron’s second-chance, to Tony Parker’s prayer answered and Ray Allen’s we-should-have-expected-that-but-it-was-still-incredible shot.

Poor Kawhi Leonard.

Spoelstra opted to re-insert Dwyane Wade, despite the overwhelming success of the Wade-less lineup that instantly improved the spacing and was critical to the Heat’s comeback. And while Wade’s defense disrupted San Antonio’s offense, heading off cutters and denying passing lanes, his offense disrupted that of his own team. Spoelstra, in all likelihood, is well aware of Dwyane Wade’s on/off numbers. Obsessed with the minutiae and details, Spoelstra knows that, for the series, with LeBron and Wade on the court together, the Heat’s offensive and defensive rating  is 100.8 and 112.7. He likewise knows that with LeBron on the court and Wade off, the offensive rating shoots to 131.7 while the defensive rating plummets to 89.5. Yet that knowledge does not eradicate all emotions. We praised Popovich for having the necessary detachment to leave Duncan on the bench in a crucial moment against the Warriors, but I don’t think we fully understand just how tough it is to do that to not only a star, but a star whom a coach has grown with, just as Spoelstra has grown with Wade. The numbers may have said to leave Wade on the bench, and it was likely the best strategy. But numbers, for better or for worse, don’t always guide decisions.

This was the second game six in which LeBron dazzled and destroyed, each performance defined by a single word. In Boston, it was The Stare, the usually exuberant LeBron seemingly vacant of all emotion. Last night, it was The Headband, and by eschewing his signature accessory, James eschewed any and all final links to the LeBron of the past. No longer un-clutch. No longer unafraid. The headband was a prison, long ago adorned by James, for fear that neither he nor the rest of the world could handle his awesome power. But fear would not rule LeBron, not this day. OK, it probably had more to do with the fact that there was a really important game going on and he couldn’t care less about a piece of fabric.

Still, while the loss of his headband didn’t unlock some heretofore untapped power, that it almost perfectly coincided with the Heat’s miraculous comeback will certainly shape the legacy (sorry, Derek) of this game. This is not something to bemoan. So many of any sport’s iconic games or performances are fondly recalled by a word or a phrase: The Flu Game, The Hand of God, The Catch, The Bloody Sock, and now, The Headband.

This is what we wanted.

This is what we hoped and wished and begged and prayed and pleaded for: seven games of this magnificent match-up. And there could not have been a more perfect set-up to usher us in to Thursday night’s finale than last night’s instant masterpiece.

 

 

 

My Finals Memory: Michael Jordan’s Team Wins His Third Ring

I think we all knew it was coming. I know no one thought it’d come like that.

Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals was my second live professional basketball game, a ridiculously generous birthday gift from both a family friend and my Phoenix Suns, who were kind enough to make their way to the championship round the same year that my sports fanaticism was ripe for the picking. In retrospect, it’s a miracle that I didn’t end up a bandwagon Bulls fan. My first game was also against Michael Jordan and company; Basketball Reference says Jordan scored 40 on that November night, but all I can remember is being so alarmed by the ease with which he did, well, everything, that I lost my handcrafted sign that I’d smuggled into the third-to-last row of seats in America West Arena on my way out after the game. The idea that my poster board and markers could counteract that seemed silly, even at seven.

When every path offers least resistance, your opponents — and their fans — get very few moments of excitement. Clinging to that two point lead with 14 seconds left was one of those precious fleeting instances, in the way that playing with a downed live wire will make you feel alive for half a second. Once again perched in the crow’s nest high above the action, it was impossible not to feel the sparks flying from the generator clad in red and black, adorned with his 23 Theses on the reformation of your heart into a palpitating mess of terror.

I mean, he’d already done it on the previous possession. With 43 seconds left, Michael Jordan grabbed a rebound off of a Kevin Johnson miss; 5 seconds later, he was at the other rim, trimming a four point Phoenix lead in half. When Chicago got the subsequent stop and prepared to inbound for that fateful John Paxson 3, it seemed inevitable that Jordan would do something. And he did — he took the inbound pass, and he dribbled to halfcourt.

Then, he passed. And he faded to above the three point line, not really part of one the most crucial play in my seven-month old passion. Scottie Pippen drove into the lane, dished to Horace Grant, who found Paxson … and Jordan’s contribution was simply the most emphatic celebration.* The greatest player on the planet in my new favorite thing had, with the game on the line, trusted in his teammates to take him to the promised land.

*Check out the almost proto-modern movement of the ball from the Bulls on the play. Today, the player in Grant’s position would be spaced out further along the baseline, or even in the corner, depending on the set and the personnel. But the path of the ball is almost exactly the same: dribble penetration (by a small forward with guard-like quickness and handles, no less) leads to a collapsed defense and a pass to a sort of basketball pivot table. Grant has the opportunity to take a shot if it’s open or swing it to the next open shooter. Truly, all that’s different is the defense’s inability to station a defender in the lane prior to the drive (given current zone defense rules) and Grant’s spacing.

And it worked, twice! Because even after that Paxson three, the game wasn’t over; Phoenix had the ball with 3.9 seconds remaining. Kevin Johnson inbounded the ball to Oliver Miller, who flipped it back to KJ and set a clearly illegal screen on Jordan as he trailed behind Johnson. That left Horace Grant to contain the dynamic point guard, but Grant overcommitted and, for another electric second, it seemed the Suns might force Game 7, which would be at home again, and they’d shown they could take these Bulls to their limit, take the best that Jordan had to offer and …

But Grant recovered. KJ’s shot ended up going backwards; the man in the goggles had swatted that flicker of hope into the offseason. Jordan once again celebrated more jubilantly than anyone; given all the personal turmoil, it seems clear why he was so happy to get that third ring. Yet all I can remember is imagining that he was just that happy that his teammates had won the game.

It was a perfect first love, replete with loss and lessons. The Suns — my team — had lost on the brightest stage, but not to the best player in the world. They lost to the best team in the world. And that made all the difference.

Image by paloetic via Flickr

15 Footer, 5/16/13: Elimination Breakdown

For the sake of NBA aficionados everywhere, may at least one of the teams behind in their respective series emerge victorious tonight. A four day stretch without basketball seems a plight unbecoming the current level of play. The landscape is not ready to be barren so soon, to lie fallow for any longer than is necessary. Let the fields be sown with all the niceties of Stephen Curry silver platters and Prigioni peppers. Bring us your finest Tim Duncan aged wines and Tony Parker founts of water droplets pure, the spoils of Roy Hibbert’s hunt for anything airborne, too, NBA playoffs!

But not too much of the latter, because the Warriors and Knicks really need a win tonight.

Indiana Pacers at New York Knicks (8:00 PM, TNT)

What is there to do when you’ve trusted the process and not received any positive results?

By all accounts, the Knicks abandoned much of the stagnant heroball that rendered their first round meeting with the Boston Celtics unpalatable. The fear was the Melo and Felton isolations would continue unabated, forced down our collective gullet like a set piece in the movie Se7en. Instead, the Knicks turned to the pick and roll and fostered a decent amount of ball movement in the halfcourt.

For their efforts, they have a 3-1 series deficit and an elimination game at home. They seem at their wits’ end, forced into unsuccessful gambits such as a big lineup that every Knicks observer in the tri-state area knew was doomed from the start. The Knicks are that kid on Legends of the Hidden Temple who couldn’t figure out how to put together the damned Silver Monkey statue and had you screaming at your television in anticipation of years of sports fanaticism. And the Pacers are that statue. They’re also Olmec, host Kirk Fogg, the Temple guardians and probably the production crew.

They’ve played the Knicks to near perfection, accepting the rolling evolution from New York and refusing any progress from the primordial ooze made by the stack of amino acids that is Mike Woodson. Both Paul George and Roy Hibbert now find themselves at least in the conversation of NBA stars, and Lance Stephenson certainly seems born ready for the role of Indiana’s more productive version of J.R. Smith.

The Knicks aren’t to be counted out — not yet, and not at home. They’ll try everything they can to move on to the next chamber in their journey, but a half a medallion and 36 points from Carmelo Anthony might not save them.

San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM, ESPN)

The Spurs are on the flipside of the process/results coin. They trusted that their process, with enough small modifications to adjust for the opponent, would win out over the long run — that if they could weather the Golden State storm long enough to not be eliminated in a variance-induced tsunami, the Warriors would cool off and enough of San Antonio’s own shots would finally find their way in the basket.

In essence, the Spurs are Danny Green. Green has ample opportunities for open 3s and drives to the rim after closeouts in this series, yet he’s been his typical IcyHot self on most nights. When he and the other floor spacers for San Antonio knock down shots, the Warriors struggle to keep up, often resulting in forced shots on the other end by Jarrett Jack, who somehow continues to make them and earn a payday that stands to infuriate whatever future fanbase has the pleasure of his presence. When Green takes those same shots with the same amount of space and misses, though, Golden State more readily works for decent looks at the other end, especially as the long Green misses often lead to runouts on the other end by the Warriors and easy transition opportunities at the rim and behind the 3-point line.

That variance is more or less out of the Spurs’ hands, especially with the choices the Warriors make on defense. What San Antonio can control is how they matchup on the other end. Coach Gregg Popovich made the tactical decision to switch Kawhi Leonard onto Klay Thompson, giving Green free reign to harass Stephen Curry. San Antonio has conceded looks to Harrison Barnes, guarded by Tony Parker, in so doing, but Green is more than up for the task of limiting Curry. He’s been particularly adept at fighting through off-ball actions designed to free Curry and get him the ball in space and while in motion. As with so many other elite offensive players, much of defense on Curry is prevention of the catch where and when he most prefers.

Yet for all the regression and adaptation, the Warriors have played the Spurs to a near deadlock. San Antonio leads the series 3-2, but with the home crowd rocking at Roaracle tonight, there’s every chance Golden State will give us a Game 7.