Tag Archives: Manu Ginobili

The Long Walk Home

I’ve been watching the NBA closely for nearly twenty years now. Over those two decades careers have begun and ended, burst and fizzled, and in some cases traced full and glorious arcs across my horizon. Having the chance to watch a player’s entire career from beginning to end is a strange experience. In the most detailed and elaborate cases, youthful exuberance gives way to the balance of guile and physicality, until the body drops away and wit alone can no longer sustain. There are some similarities to following a favorite character on a TV show, but the passage of time and the inexorable crawl of decay are either illusions or features fully ignored on a television show. In the NBA they are inescapably real.

That final chapter of a player’s career, from the peak to the exit takes an infinite number of forms. If you watch the league long enough you may think that you’ve literally seen it all. But what I’ve learned over the past two decades is professional basketball can always give you something new.

After their Game 7 loss, the question of retirement came up for more than one member of the San Antonio Spurs. Manu Ginobili’s answer was remarkably candid and revealed how emotionally raw the series’ difficult ending had left him:

“For three quarters of the season it was the physical part,” Ginobili said. “I’d say, ‘No, I can’t deal with this anymore. I’m tired of rehab and trying to be in shape all the time.’

“But at this point I’m fine physically, so you are a little more optimistic. But you know, it’s been 18 years doing this. You kind of get tired and you want to enjoy a little more time at home sometimes. You go back to Argentina to see your people, and you think about it. I’m going to have time for that, too.”

Ginobili is one of those players whose entire career I’ve had the opportunity to observe. I certainly hope this wasn’t the last time we see him in an NBA uniform but his performance in the NBA Finals was clearly that of a character entering his final act. And the scene he set at the end of Game 7 was painfully original.

From the moment he stepped on the stage Ginobili has been described as a swashbuckling daredevil, one who flits past risk with a roguish charm. Of all the skills and characteristics which make up his basketball abilities none is more central than the power to skate the fine line between conquest and collapse, sprinting full speed into the maw of destruction, snatching victory from the jaws of chaos at the very last moment. Nothing he did on the court looked like it was going to work until the moment it actually did. LeBron routinely accomplishes the impossible,but with blazingly authentic speed and brute force. Ginobili is more serpentine, slithering and euro-stepping his way through the barriers of plausibility.

We’ve seen Manu Ginobili struggle before. We’ve seen him hobbled and limited, we’ve seen him play without the fully array of his talents available. What we, or at least I, hadn’t seen was him so utterly impotent in a moment of extreme importance. The blocked layup. The jump-pass turnover. The airballed three-pointer. The most emotional jarring piece of the whole affair was that he looked exactly like the Ginobili we’ve seen a thousand times before. But when the penultimate moment of each possession came, screaming for his patented magic, the spell fizzled.

It was a little like seeing your dad cry for the first time. Every interaction up until that point is revealed to have been saturated with naivete. Your dad is not just a dad, because “dad” is nothing more than a cultural archetype. Your dad is a human being with a full range of emotions, with a unique mix of strengths and flaws just like any other member of our species. But what looks identical, now has a new dimension. Where people, places and things were once pleasantly and placidly flat, there is now depth to deal with. It’s an understanding that you can’t shake, and it reflects the past in an entirely new light.

In watching these professional career arcs pass before our eyes we are sometimes blessed with a revealing moment of humanity. It could be a moment of authentic celebratory joy, a stomach-turning off the court incident or, as in Ginobili’s case, a tragic failure. This was not a failure of effort or decision-making, it was the failure of a man reaching for what had always been there and coming up empty-handed. There is a new complexity now to Ginobili’s public face. Whether or not this is the end, we won’t have the luxury of watching him pass before our eyes as a two-dimensional caraciture, Zorro in a jersey.

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 6/21/13: GAME 7

Good things come to those who wait. From October through June we collectively watched 1,314 games of NBA basketball this year. Some were good, and some were bad. Some were awful, and some were downright legendary.  All of it culminated last night in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It’s the game that every kid in their backyard dreams of playing in growing up, and we got to witness it in all of its sweet, sweet glory last night. This is the hardest Lion Face, Lemon Face column I have ever had to write not just because it’s the last one of the year, but because if I had my pick, both teams would have won last night. The fact that there was a winner and loser, heroes and goats, lion faces and lemon faces absolutely kills me. But what has to be done has to be done, so let’s get to it.

Lion Face: LeBron James

Big time players make big time plays in big time games. In the NBA, there is no bigger game than Game 7, and in today’s NBA, there is no bigger player than LeBron James. LeBron was absolutely sensational tonight delivering a Game 7 performance that will, or at least should, put together the debate on whether or not he’s “clutch” or not. In between Games 5 and 6, parody site Sports Pickle re-ran a post that they had previously developed titled “Pocket Guide For Criticizing LeBron James in Any Situation”. It poked fun at the numerous lines that fans and media alike could use in order to create a no win scenario for LeBron that was designed to be used no matter what kind of performance he turned in during the course of a game. The second statement on that list read “If LeBron has a big 4th quarter and leads his team to victory…say ‘Big deal. It’s only the regular season. Let’s see him do it in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.’” LeBron’s line in the fourth quarter alone last night? Just your casual 9-5-2-2 line including an absolute dagger 19 footer with 27 seconds remaining to push the lead to 92-88 and finally ice the series for Miami. Mission: Accomplished. He ended the game with 37 points and 12 rebounds; the 37 points are the most points ever scored in a Game 7 Finals win tying Boston’s Tommy Heinsohn in 1957 so you can go ahead and give LeBron both a championship ring and a Tommy Point for last night’s effort.

Lemon Face: Manu Ginobili

It’s never a good sign when you get a text in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the NBA Finals from a friend asking you what the record is for turnovers in a seven game series. While Ginobili, 22 turnovers through the seven games, didn’t come close to matching Charles Barkley’s in the 1986 Eastern Conference Semifinals v. Milwaukee (37 turnovers!), it sure felt like the ones he did make came at the most inopportune times in the ball game. Last night, he turned the ball over four times, all of them occurring in the final period of play, including a brutal attempted jump pass on the baseline with San Antonio trailing by 4 with 23 seconds remaining which once and for all finally extinguished any hope that the Spurs had of making a miracle comeback of their own.  While it would have been a fairy tale ending for Manu’s career to go out with a title, instead he is left wondering just what went wrong in his final games.

Lion Face: Kawhi Leonard

In a game featuring at least 6 future Hall of Fame inductees, it was Kawhi Leonard (and as I am contractually obligated to mention, his catcher mitt sized hands) who stole the show for San Antonio last night. Any lesser player would have crumbled after missing a critical free throw late in the potential championship winning Game 6 but the 21 year old Leonard responded with a monster 19 points and 16 rebounds in Game 7. As Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker fade into the twilight of their careers, the future in San Antonio continues to appear bright with Leonard leading the way.

Lemon Face: Chris Bosh

I know he played solid defense. I know he came up with seven rebounds including corralling Duncan’s missed tip-in that would have tied the game, but to put up a goose egg in the points column in Game 7 of the NBA Finals? That’s true Lemon Face material. God help him if Miami would have lost that game because I don’t see any possible way he would be on the Heat roster next year if San Antonio won and shut him down like that. Miami still faces a decision this offseason on whether or not to trade Bosh, but it will be excruciatingly difficult to break up a team that has reeled off two consecutive titles.

Lion Face: Shane Battier

We may never see the adage that role players tend to play great at home and are dicey on the road more than this series. After earning a couple of DNP’s in the Indiana series, Battier turned in scoring lines of 0, 3, 0, 2, 7, and 9 points through the first six games of the series. Coming into last night, he has hardly thought of as an X Factor. But fittingly, in a series that proved to be as difficult to predict from game to game as any other we’ve ever seen, Battier responded with an NBA Jam style hot hand shooting display knocking down six threes in eight attempts on his way to the biggest 18 point game of his life. For the second straight year, the Heat rode to a title in a championship clinching game thanks to one of their shooters going unconscious from beyond the arc. Last year it was Mike Miller’s 7-8 from long distance, 23 point game that proved to be the difference in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. It one of those nights where you in the first half he was going to have a Lion Face game, and he didn’t disappoint. Between his insane three point shooting and cerebral interviews, who could have guessed that a guy from the most hated college in America playing on the most hated NBA team could be, dare I say, likeable?

Lemon Face: Danny Green

For as good as Shane Battier was as a role player, Danny Green was equally as bad for San Antonio. For a stretch during the first five games, it appeared that we were headed for one of the most unlikely Finals MVPs of all time as Green was turning three point attempts seemingly into layups by breaking the record for triples in an NBA Finals just five games into the series. At this point in the series, Cavs fans and other NBA fans alike were quick to criticize the Cleveland organization wondering how they could possibly let a player like this slip through their grasp. Well, now we know. Unfortunately for Green and the Spurs, the clock struck midnight on his Cinderella story sometime between the end of Game 5 and beginning of Game 6 as he would go on to shoot a ghastly 10.5% from the field (18% from 3) over the course of Games 6 and 7 in Miami. Even despite how cringe worthy poor he was last night, he nearly changed the complexion of the game just over midway through the fourth quarter. Following a Manu Ginobili three pointer that cut Miami’s lead to 85-82 with 4:20 to go in the game, Green stole Dwyane Wade’s entry pass and launched a 3. A make would have tied the game as part of an 8-2 run in the course of 45 seconds and conceivably could have changed the complexion of the game. Alas, it was not to be as the shot missed, and the next score came a couple of possessions later from Shane Battier who knocked down a 3 and pushed the lead to six. We’ll always have Games 1-5 Danny Green. We’ll always have Games 1-5.

Lion Face: Mario Chalmers Shot

The Spurs were set to head into the fourth quarter with the lead. They would have been 12 minutes away from only having to match the Heat point for point in order to win the title. And then Mario Chalmers happened. It gave the Heat the lead and the momentum heading into what proved to be the final period of the NBA season. In a game where we got the entire Wario AND Mario Chalmers experience, this was one of the biggest shots of Chalmers’ career.

Lemon Face: Tim Duncan’s Shot

GIF via @SBNationGIF

Tim Duncan could retire right now with four championship rings, $200+ million in salary earned throughout his career, and the title of Greatest Power Forward Ever to Play the Game, but you can bet that he is going to be rehashing that missed tip shot in his nightmares for the conceivable future. With a chance to tie the game at 90 with under one minute to go in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Duncan missed both a hook shot and the subsequent tip in. Eons from now when people are browsing Wikipedia version 1239.1 on their super computers, they are going to see on the surface that this turned out to be an eight point game and, without reading a game story, not fully recognize that we were that close to having a tie game in Game 7 with each team having only a couple of possessions remaining to decide a champion.

Lion Face: NBA Fans

If someone had told you that this Finals would produce four games decided by double digits, including a 36 point blowout in one of those games, and yet it would still prove to be one of the best and most memorable Finals we have ever seen, how confused would you be? Your allowable answers are A) Very B) Really and C) Extremely. Luckily, that’s exactly what we got over the course of the past couple of weeks:  two teams that threw absolute haymakers at one another for seven straight games. For the rest of our lives, we’ll remember these Finals for Tony Parker’s incredible shot to put away Game 1, Danny Green going absolutely bananas in San Antonio, Ray Allen’s shot from the corner and Miami incredible comeback in Game 6, and LeBron James’ ultimate Game 7, but the chess match that was engineered on a game to game basis between these two teams was just as exciting. The constant adjustments needed on both ends to even get a result where no team through six games had won consecutive contests was incredible to watch. It was an honor and a privilege to watch that basketball series for seven games, and I think we all, Miami fans excluded, wish that it could have gone at least seven more.

From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of all NBA fans, thank you to the Heat, Spurs, and NBA for giving us this series. It was, as Zach Harper and Tim Bontemps described on their Eye on Basketball podcast earlier this week, the equivalent of basketball porn. And thank you all for your constant support of us here at Hardwood Paroxysm throughout the season. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in a Panera Bread at lunch putting the finishing touches on my 15 Footer game preview for October 30, the opening night of the year. Time flies when you’re having fun, and we had a whole lot of fun here over the past eight months. Can’t wait to do it again next year.

Playbook Parable: Manu Ginobili Isolation


Walter’s laying down by my feet, curled up on the once-red carpet now littered with his golden fur. This is what it’s like for him most days. He’ll find one of his favorite spots–the couch, the carpet, the patch of grass that always seems to have the perfect blend of sun and shade–and curl up or splay out, content to rest. Content to do nothing. He ignores most of his toys–tug of war requires too much energy, the ball, while enticing is dropped after a few short rounds of catch. His stuffed duck, the one toy that for whatever reason he never ripped to shreds, still travels with him everywhere, transported by way of his still-slobbery mouth. I used to take him jogging, and no matter how hard, how far, how fast I ran, I could never wear him out. Now, our jogs have turned into leisurely, contemplative strolls, seven mile runs now one mile constitutionals.

The vet says there’s nothing wrong with him. No maleficent worm or devastating infection. Just age, that’s all. Seventeen years is a long life for any dog, no matter how great of shape we keep them in or how much we reduce their activities.

He has his days, though. Sometimes, when I take him outside, he’ll find his years-old, ragged tennis ball, snag it in his mouth, drop it at my feet, then look up, panting not from fatigue but anticipation. To our old routine we return: me throwing the ball (not as far as I used to), him darting after it then doubling back, as if we’re tethered by an invisible rubber band. I expect him to stop after the third throw, but as I turn to go back inside, he yelps and nuzzles the ball my way as if to say, I’m not done yet, old man.

 

Video support provided by NBA.com/Stats

Playbook Parable is inspired by Said The Gramophone

 

RTOE: Game 1 reactions!

Game 1 happened! It was awesome! Amin, Ian, Jack, Jared, and Jordan wanted to talk about it! RTOE ahoy!

1. In 10 words, what’d you think of the game last night?

Amin: It made watching bad teams for 82 games worth it.

Ian: Everything I wanted and more, filler, filler, filler, filler, ten!

Jack: These teams are fantastic and this series will be, too.

Jared: Tony Parker: good at basketball. The series is not over.

Jordan: Basketball gods, please give us six more games of that

2. Please describe, in as vivid detail as possible, your reaction to Tony Parker’s game-winning shot.

Amin: “HOLY [EXPLETIVE] HE MADE THAT????”

Ian: Dulled by red wine and the Eastern Standard Time Zone, it still merited a pretty significant snort of surprise.

Jack: I snorted.  Or chuckled.  Perhaps it’s best described as some combination of a scoff and laugh, actually.  What great defense when Miami absolutely needed it, and what an even greater shot when San Antonio had the chance to put the game away.  Still, I wasn’t surprised.  That’s the brilliance of Parker in a nutshell.

Jared:

Jordan: No. Instead, I shall give you my father’s reaction: *Dad jumps out of his chair* “WHOOOOOOOOOA”

3. LeBron had 18/18/10. Holy crap.

Amin: I don’t understand how someone can so understatedly dominate the way he did. Eighteen rebounds and ten assists? Great googily moogily.

Ian: It’s an impressive line, but watching him accumulate it wasn’t nearly as impressive as it would seem. The curse of being the best is the accompanying absurd expectations.

Jack: Ridiculous.  No disrespect to Parker or Duncan, but LeBron was far and away the best player on the floor last night.  And he shot 1-8 from outside the basket area! That’s as true a testament to his dominance as anything else, and one of the main reasons why this series is still a 50/50 bet.  Simply, he can be better going forward – it’s a make or miss league, remember? – and he will.

Jared: It’s ridiculous that we’re probably going to spend the better part of the next few days listening to garbage about whether or not he was too passive rather than talking about how he became one of only 7 players to put up those numbers in a playoff game, and the first since Tim Duncan in 2003 to do it in the Finals.

Jordan: BUT HE DIDN’T WIN TEH GAME BECUZ HE’S A CHOKER. Seriously, though, that’s just ridiculous

4. Dwyane Wade was alive last night. That was fun.

Amin: I especially appreciated Doris Burke asking him right before the half something along the lines of “so how much of your play so far has been shots falling vs. your body cooperating?” We’re at a weird place in our NBA-watching lives when reporters are rightfully allowed to ask players about their waning health and the players don’t even bat an eye because it’s true. But as has been the case throughout these playoffs, coulda used a bit more Wade.

Ian: I prefer the hobbled, limping version serving metaphorical penance for the tracks that were laid for him straight to the free throw line in the 2006 Finals. Ball Don’t Lie.

Jack: Wade was active and energetic offensively, but I’m not sure his solid individual numbers paint an accurate portrayal of his impact.  All too often he pounded the ball after receiving a high screen, getting the Heat out of rhythm and rendering LeBron spot-up bystander.  That won’t be good enough against the Spurs, as Wade’s team-worst plus/minus (-11) properly indicates.

Jared: Was he? 17 points on 15 shots, 2 rebounds, 2 assists. I didn’t really “feel” like he had a huge impact on the game, either.

Jordan: That was fun! And I’m sure LeBron appreciated the help. Now, Miami hopes Wade can keep that production up.

5. Duncan’s halftime buzzer-beater or Manu’s curveball bouncepass to Bonner: which made you feel more like you wanted to be a basketball player when you grow up?

Amin: While Ginobili’s pass was something I still can’t comprehend, Duncan’s shot was so nuts to me. There were 0.8 seconds left in the half, and he got the ball off the inbounds pass, created space, took the jumper, nailed it, never broke a sweat. It was the moment when I knew, for a fact, he was an automaton.

Ian: Curveball. Even Pedro Martinez thought it was ridiculous.

Jack: Curveball, but I was just as impressed by several seemingly more routine passes Manu made last night.  Miami’s aggressive pick-and-roll defensively strategy will give Ginobili ample opportunities to show off his passing flair.  What a joy to watch.

Jared: Manu’s bounce pass. That thing was inhuman.

Jordan: curveball curveball curveball curveball. Oh my god I needed a cigarette and a change of pan–too much? Too much.

6. After last night, the Big 3-era Heat have now lost four Game 1s in the playoffs. They have gone on to sweep the following 4 games. Do you see that happening in this series?

Amin: I have zero clue how to factor last night’s game as some sort of projection point. Certainly, the Spurs outplayed the Heat down the stretch. Part of that was due to Duncan checking in right as LeBron checked out. They made up for some lost ground there, and the Spurs never ceded it. Assuming Wade plays with the same level of energy through the whole series, and assuming that Kawhi Leonard will eventually make another corner three sometime before the world ends, the Spurs are not getting run over in 4 consecutive games.

Ian: No, and also no.

Jack: No way.  This series is going six games at least, and we should all hope for longer.  It might be a classic.

Jared: No. This is going 7.

Jordan: Absolutely not. This is going to be a long, terrific series.

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 6/7/13: THIS SERIES, YOU GUYS

When the Spurs made their last appearance in the NBA Finals against LeBron James in 2007, it drew the lowest TV ratings in Finals history. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if we continue to get games like we saw last night consistently throughout this series, the executives at ABC won’t be upset with the numbers that come in from the folks at Nielsen. What. A. Game. Usually it isn’t difficult to identify an equal amount of Lion Faces and Lemon Faces over the course of the night, but last night’s contest was so well played that the Lemon Faces were more challenging than usual. Let’s hit the highlights.

Lion Face: Tony Parker

To quote John Starks, “Did this dude just did this?”

The Heat played excellent defense for approximately 23.9999 seconds on the most critical possession of the game, but Tony Parker somehow, some way found the smallest crack of daylight possible in order to make Game 1 a two possession game in the waning moments. Parker finished the game with 21 points and 6 assists, but it’s that shot that will be remembered for years to come.

Lemon Face: The Heat’s 4th Quarter

Although they entered the final period with a three point lead, the Heat went away from everything that allowed them to build that lead in the fourth quarter. Both teams did an excellent job taking care of the ball throughout the game as they combined for 12 turnovers total, but four of Miami’s eight turnovers in the game occurred in the fourth which ultimately proved to be costly. Miami also missed 13 of the 18 shots that they took in the quarter including all five three-point attempts. The Big Three contributed heavily to that as James, Wade, and Bosh combined to go 3-11 from the floor over the course of those 12 minutes. After holding the lead for the majority of a game, Miami finally surrendered the lead at the 7:00 mark of the fourth, and San Antonio never relinquished it from there.

Lion Face: LeBron James

Was that the quietest triple double we’ve seen this season? Last night from far from a game where LeBron simply imposes his will on everybody else on the floor, yet his stat line of 18 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists still jumps off the page at you. LeBron may not be 50 times better than he was when he faced San Antonio in 2007, as he claims, but he is certainly improved on the last Game 1 he turned in against the Spurs where he went for a 14-7-4 on 25% shooting (4-16).

Lemon Face: Chris Bosh

When Chris Bosh is hitting his threes, the Miami Heat are as unguardable as any team in the NBA. When he goes 0-4 from long range like he did last night, they are very beatable. Bosh took a contested 3 with a man in his face and 7 seconds left on the shot clock early in the first quarter, missed a wide open triple a few minutes later, missed another wide open 3 halfway through the fourth which would have given Miami the lead, and then missed yet another long range shot that would have cut the Spurs lead to one with 1:00 remaining in the game. Tack on another disappointing rebounding effort from Bosh, and it’s clear that he earned the Lemon Face. At least he scored in double digits for the first time in six games!

Lion Face: This Manu pass

GIF via @SBNationGIF

I watched this GIF over and over again, and I still for the life of me cannot comprehend the physics of this pass. I’m still not fully convinced that ABC didn’t hire a special effects crew to doctor that footage on televisions across the world. You shouldn’t be able to throw a screwball with a basketball. You just shouldn’t.

Limon Face: NBA Fans

Good news everyone! After one game, it appears that we are about to be treated to an absolutely thrilling series which is all we can ask for when it comes to The Finals. Bad news everyone! We’re only getting somewhere between three and six more games this NBA season. Enjoy it while it lasts because as a great philosopher once said, “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Playbook Parable: Manu Ginobili/Tim Duncan Side Pick and Roll

“Can I tell you something?”

“Yeah. Of course.”

She stares at me. Not a harsh, stabbing stare of anger or accusation, she just wants to make sure I’m paying attention. How could I not? Every time she fixes those hazel tractor beams on me, I’m paralyzed. The world around me—the soft breeze, the gnarled wooden dock we’re sitting on, the still lake that’s slowly freezing our naked feet—melts. The only thing left, the only thing that matters, is her.

She bites her lip. She always does that when she’s trying to find the exact words.

“I used to think you were so fucking boring.”

The words leave her in a hurry, as if they’ve been trying to escape for years and she’s only now granting their release. An eternal moment passes. She breaks her stare, and the world returns. Now she’s looking down at her feet. She always does that when she thinks she’s upset me.

“Boring?” I ask, not upset, just surprised.

“Just… you drank water when everyone else was taking shots.” She stops. She swears silently; that wasn’t what she wanted to say. “We were young, we did stupid stuff. We drank and smoked and hooked up and had sex, the stuff you’re supposed to do when you’re young. But you never did. You were old even when you were young.”

“And that’s bad?”

“No. I never said it was bad. Honestly, it’s what made you great. You were reliable, dependable. You were always there and you could always be counted on. But it also made you so damn boring.”

A silence surrounds us. I’m still staring where her eyes held me.

“Well, if I’m boring you, maybe I should go.” I put my hands on the aged wood, about to push myself up. I’m faking, of course, and she knows that.

“Shut up,” she says with a smile, kicking water onto my shorts. “I said ‘used to.’ I’m older, now. Being stupid and wild and out of control isn’t fun anymore. But you’ve changed too. I’ve never seen you more active, or laugh harder, or, fuck, just enjoy life as much as you do. You’re older, but I think, maybe, you’re also younger.”

“Maybe we’ve both changed.”

The stare returns, and once again the world fades.

Video support provided by NBA.com/stats

Ed. note: Inspiration for this post/series comes from the terrific music blog Said The Gramophone

 

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 4/25/13: ONE GOOD GAME OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD

 

Lion Face. Lemon Face. Good moments. Bad moments. You guys know the drill by now. Let’s do this.

Lion Face: Roy Hibbert’s dunk

Few men have done things like this to Ivan Johnson and lived to tell about it. Hibbert managed to save his best dunk of the year for the playoffs with this one. Just to show off, Hibbert would then proceed to knock down a three pointer at the end of the first quarter that was eventually waved off as it came a split second after the clock expired. Still though, a solid two minute stretch for Hibbert.

Lemon Face: Danny Crawford

Greg Smith threw down a strong dunk over Serge Ibaka, then got T’d up by Danny Crawford because he…well you see you can’t…uhhhh…yeah…Apparently Smith looked too menacingly toward Ibaka which drew him a technical. A rare controversial call from one of the Crawford brothers. Who would have guessed?

Lion Face: The George Boys

Paul George and George Hill carried the load for Indiana last night by providing 49 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals between them. The G2 zone at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse was rocking as the Pacers took care of business in a series that can’t conclude quick enough.

Lemon Face: Patrick Beverley’s dirty play

GIF via SBNation

In the second quarter of the Thunder-Rockets game, Russell Westbrook was casually bringing the ball up the court to call a timeout as teams tend to do literally hundreds of time every season. Rather than allowing Westbrook to get the easy timeout, Beverley instead attempted a steal the ball. While I’m all for playing until the whistle blows, the angle Beverley took resulted in him colliding with Westbrook’s knee which initially looked like it caused damage. Westbrook would continue to play on, but the jostling between Westbrook and Beverley may be something to watch for the rest of the series as there is clearly bad blood between the two.

Lion Face: Pacers end of quarter play

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARB85gVzHpQ

Play of the night? Play of the night.

Lemon Face: Houston’s end of game possession

With 11 seconds remaining and trailing by four points, Houston had the ball following a missed Kevin Martin free throw. In this situation, you either want an extremely quick two or relative quick three point attempt. The opposite of what you want is running nearly 10 seconds off the clock and getting a seven foot floater out of it. Patrick Beverley knocked down the shot, but that effectively ended any chance that Houston had to steal a game on the road from Oklahoma City which I can only assume led to Thunder fans across the nation chanting…

Lion Face: This

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yVV-ugC-k

No comment.

Lion Face: Kawhi Leonard

GIF via SBNation

If you tell me that you’ve never done this on an eight-foot hoop in your backyard, either you’re lying or I weep for your childhood. In addition to this alley oop, Leonard finished the first half with 14 points on 7-10 shooting in 20 minutes of play. His performance begs the question, Kawhi haven’t you been paying attention to him this series? (I’m so sorry for that.)

Lemon Face: Steve Nash v. the Spurs

 

 

While Nash and the Lakers entered the season dreaming of a championship, in reality it has been a nightmare for them. After playing in at least 85% of games every season from 2000-2012, Nash has battled injuries all year as age has finally caught up to him. He gritted his way through last night’s game but was largely overshadowed by Steve Blake’s surprisingly impressive performance.

Lion Face: Manu Ginobili

After missing nine of the Spurs last 10 games of the year with a strained hamstring, Ginobili’s health was up in the air heading into the playoffs. Well, at least that’s what Gregg Popovich and the Spurs wanted you to believe. Instead, Ginobili has looked as good as can be in Games 1 and 2. In the first half alone, Ginobili  scored 12 points on 4-5 shooting (3-4 from beyond the arc) while dishing out four assists. Can you say efficient?

Lemon Face: This Sports Illustrated Pre-Season Cover

SICover

Well, technically, it has been fun…provided you’re not a Lakers fan. Unfortunately for Lakers fans and those who enjoy schadenfreude at the expense of the Lakers dismal performance this year, their season, barring a miracle that may need to be confirmed by the Vatican, appears to be rapidly coming to an end.

BONUS Lion Face: THAT PASS

GIF via @cjzero

Usually I try to have an equal amount of Lion Faces and Lemon Faces to balance everything out, but then Manu Ginobili decided to do this at the end of the game and there’s just absolutely no way I could not include it, so I’ll leave you with this.

HoopIdea: Stop The Flop

David Stern is determined to stop the floppers, even if it takes until the next morning. 

-Associated Press, via ESPN

Didn’t we do this before, threaten to fine floppers? Like many new rules in the NBA it stuck for a couple of weeks then just kind of faded away until TrueHoop brought the issue squarely back into the limelight this year. Now David Stern is serious.

“Greetings from the league office. You have been assigned flopper status.”

And everyone will know it.

It’s simple: Once you have been assigned Flopper status you have to wear a Vlade Divac armband modeled on FreeDarko’s outstanding piece of pop culture art. That way, at a glance in a split second, the officials get that momentary visual pause that will allow them to swallow that whistle instead of rewarding an undeserving candidate for fakery and tomfoolery.

I know, Manu. I can’t believe it either, man. Sorry ’bout that, but them’s the rules.

 

NBA Playoffs: Manu Enters the Hot Tub Tim Machine

The excitement of the start of the playoffs was dampened considerably yesterday by Derrick Rose’s devastating ACL tear. The crushing loss of the reigning MVP from one of the two teams in the east with a legitimate shot at winning a title hung like a black cloud over the rest of the day’s games, and probably won’t quite disappear from the backs of our minds for the rest of the postseason and beyond. But Sunday’s opening contest between the Jazz and the Spurs played host to something as wonderfully life-affirming as the Rose injury was soul-crushing: Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili found the fountain of youth.

The aging Duncan and injury-plagued Ginobili, both of whom sat out the final stretch of regular season to preserve their legs, lent credence to the theory that maybe, just maybe, the teams best suited for this hectic, 66-game lockout schedule are the oldest ones, the ones with the veteran know-how. How many times did we see Duncan do this in the regular season?

Ginobili’s two slams were equally awesome, throwback affairs.

Through two days, the postseason has been at times depressing (the injuries to Rose and Iman Shumpert) and thrilling (the Clippers’ insane comeback, Kevin Durant’s game-winner), and full of smaller, simpler pleasures that may go forgotten as the playoffs unfold. Pleasures like the knowledge that two of the most reliable aging superstars in the game can still look 10 years younger when they want to.

History Tells Us, There Are No Guarantees In Lockout Seasons

 

Via Flickr - Irargerich

It was a truncated lockout season in the NBA. A lockout season where an upstart was trying to knock off a favorite.  A favorite with a platoon of prominent players that had not yet graced digits with that most coveted of rewards, a championship ring. I speak of course of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat. Or do I?

There are parallels to be drawn. The 1999 lockout season featured a pair of teams crossing the compressed finish line tied for the best record in the NBA, and as we speak the Heat and Thunder each stand atop their respective conferences, tied for tops in the league at 25-7. But the favorites I refer to are the ’99 Utah Jazz and upstart-at-the-time San Antonio Spurs who had recently lucked out against all odds and landed a future all-timer in Tim Duncan whom they could throw at current best-power-forward-of-all-time Karl Malone.

At that time the Spurs and Jazz were unfortunately not only in the same conference, but also in the now defunct-due-to-realignment Midwest Division. Utah had run headlong into his magnificent Airness, Michael Jordan, the pair of previous Finals, but MJ had now retired (again), leaving an open lane for the John Stockton and Karl Malone-led Jazz to roll right to the Larry O’Brien hoop trophy unabated.

Despite attempting to replicate the recipe of the last NBA champs not named the Chicago Bulls to a degree, the Houston Rockets, the Spurs’ “power centers” Tim Duncan and 1994-95 MVP David Robinson had been unable to supplant the Jazz’s mighty trio of Malone, Stockton, and Jeff Hornacek, getting blasted out of the West playoffs the year before 4-1 by Utah. The Jazz were heavily favored to go all the way this time after reaching the conference finals five of the last seven years and the Finals for two straight, losing one of the late-spring series to MJ and Co. by a total point differential of only four points.

But it was not to be.

As it happens, these two powerhouses wouldn’t even get the chance to clash on the court in the accelerated ’99 playoffs as the Jazz would plow through most of the regular season only to run out of gas near end.

The Jazz finished a [tied-for] league-best 37-13 in 1999 but limped to a 5-5 finish over the last 10 games before struggling, by their mighty standards, in the playoffs. A middling Sacramento team took Utah the distance in the first round, and the Blazers eliminated the Jazz in six games in the second round.

 -Zach Lowe, The Point Forward

I remember that Portland series vividly, even though it happened more than a decade ago. The Jazz won game 1 at home by 10. But then lost game 2, by 3 points. Arvydas Sabonis was a huge man who devoured the paint. Isaiah Rider scored 27 points in that game, and Rasheed Wallace had three blocks and three steals. Worst of all Brian Grant went to the line more than Karl Malone did – and even finished the game with the same number of points…the Blazers broke the Jazz’ serve, and then were beat in Game 3 by 10 points. The Blazers went to the line endlessly in that game – 50 times. Utah also turned the ball over 16 times, and shot (as a team) only 38.9 fg%.

-AllThatJazzBasketball, SLCDunk

The Jazz weren’t just aging; they were ancient, and considering what happened to them after 1999 (and what happened to the Kings, too), perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised they struggled against Sacramento and Portland — a team went 35-15, by the way. Utah’s three best players (Karl Malone, Jeff Horancek and John Stockton) were 36, 36 and 37, respectively, by the end of July 1999, and the roster did not feature a single young player worthy of starting in the NBA.

-Zach Lowe, The Point Forward

Just how “ancient” were those Jazz that were so burnt out and beat down by the time they reached the postseason that they made abundant uncharacteristic mistakes and missed shots? Through the 1999 NBA season, the Big 3 of Malone, Stockton, and Hornacek had played a combined 108,786 NBA minutes (minutes being a more accurate measure of wear and tear than actual age). And the former were legendarily durable and conditioned in a mythical way only less than a handful of players in the league’s annals can lay claim to even approaching.

These present Spurs can boast no such thing, and taking into account a kind estimate of Manu Ginobili’s seven years of professional service prior the Spurs at 1,500 minutes per-season, San Antonio’s Big 3 will have played something very near to 95,497 minutes by season’s end.

In other words, they’re ripe for the picking and supplanting by, oh, I don’t know, the OKC Thunder.

Who may just turn around and run into this era’s version of the ’90s Bulls, the Miami Heat.

Potentially over and over again.

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A couple of fun nuggets uncovered in the course of researching this piece:

• The current Spurs are through 32 games and on an eleven-game win streak. Beginning at game 30 of the 1999 lockout-shortened season the Utah Jazz ripped off a win streak too — of eleven games

• Through 32 games of the ’99 season the Jazz were 26-6. Through 32 games of the current season the best record is held by the Miami Heat and OKC Thunder at 25-7

• In ’99, a younger Spurs started the season somewhat slower through 32 games, but still a very warm 22-10. However, they would finish the regular season 13-1 beating the now-stumbling Jazz twice, holding them to a mere 78 and 69 points, and demolish everything they ran into in the playoffs sweeping both the Los Angeles Lakers and aforementioned Portland Trail Blazers en route to a 15-2 postseason record for a combined 28-3 finish to their initial title run that culminated in a steamrolling of the unlikely upstart New York Knicks

Jeremy Lin anyone?

Funny how history can be so cyclical.

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“Failure can prepare you for success.”

-Avery Johnson

If you’ve noticed any other parallels let me know, I’d love to hear about ‘em.