No joke. Keith Van Horn was on the cover of a video game. You remember that. Remember Keith. That ball’s on fire dammit.
The Western Conference Finals and the 2012 Spurs
The most heartbreaking loss I’ve ever experienced (through age 23), was when the Mavericks lost game 6 to the Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals. Even though I still blame some of the worst officiating the NBA has ever come across, I’ve sort of found inner-peace about the whole thing.
Here’s why. When I go back and look at the ‘06 roster, I can’t remember how that team got so close to a championship. They weren’t some juggernaut pounding their way through a loaded conference. For whatever reason, they just kept winning.
The top 6 players for the 2005-2006 Mavs by minutes per game were: Dirk (38.1), Jet (35.0), Josh Howard (32.5), Marquis Daniels (28.5), Stackhouse (27.7), and Devin Harris (22.8).
Now it gets good. Rounding out the top 10, in no order: Keith Van Horn (20.6), Erick Dampier (23.6), Adrian Griffin (23.9), and DeSagana Diop (18.6). I believe Damp and Diop each missed significant time with injuries.
By no means is that a bad team. It was good enough to walk into San Antonio and win a game 7 against a Spurs team that won the 2007 championship. But overall? Eh.
This is going somewhere. Spurs’ fans – shall we take a look at this roster in retrospect?
The top 6 players for the final version of the 2012 Spurs by minutes per game were: Parker (32.1), Duncan (28.2), Leonard (24.0), Jackson (23.8), Ginobli (23.3), and Danny Green (23.1). This excludes the corpse of Richard Jefferson that they somehow dealt to a confused Golden State Franchise in one of the craziest trades ever.
As long as you ignore everything Danny Green did in the OKC series, you can justify that core. Now lets bring it home: Gary Neal (21.5), Boris Diaw (20.3), DeJuan Blair (21.3), and Matt Bonner (20.4). Tiago Splitter is next in line, but since his minutes plummeted against OKC, we’ll just count him out.
So if we ignore the 20-game win streak and really take a look at the personnel, did San Antonio fans feel confident with a poor man’s Jason Terry, Boris Diaw, DeJuan Blair, and Matt Bonner as the bench of a championship team? None of them can pretend to guard anyone, with the exception of an ACL-less Blair. That’s just not good enough to get the job done.
Coach Pop didn’t think so either. The “depth” of this team in a crucial game 6 suddenly slammed into a wall. Pop went with a six-man rotation, and sprinkled in a little Gary Neal (19 minutes). Green played four minutes. Tiago played one. Blair played one. Bonner didn’t leave the bench. All of the sudden, this team that had been praised all year for their depth, lost because they had absolutely none. It wasn’t injuries. It wasn’t ejections. It was the same roster they’d be trotting out all year.
Boris Diaw gave the Spurs 0 points, 4 fouls, 3 turnovers, and 5 rebounds in 25 minutes. He’s a 33% career 3-point shooter, and had been basically spreading the floor for the starting five because he shot 62% through 20 games for San Antonio. What? Nobody does that. Shockingly, he came back down to Earth and became Boris Diaw.
Parker had 29 points on 27 shots (27 shots??). Duncan had 25 points on 23 shots. With the exception of Duncan’s 11 rebounds, nobody hit the boards for San Antonio.
The officiating didn’t get the Spurs beat. The foul differential was +6 for OKC. In the second half, when the Thunder started trapping Parker and Ginobli on the perimeter, nobody else could step up. Duncan can only do so much. Riding a 36-year old superstar to the brink is a pretty impressive accomplishment, and he played the best basketball he’s played in years.
The Spurs weren’t a bad basketball team in 2012. They were very solid, but the word “exposed” comes to mind — not because they were shown to be so horrible, but when people were thinking they might sweep the playoffs, a team has to be overrated to some degree. They had nobody to protect the rim. They didn’t have young stars like Rondo and Durant that can clock 48 minutes a game. They ride and die with Tony Parker’s offense and that’s a dangerous game to play. Parker’s a superstar who, like Dirk, can benefit from tightly called games. When the officials are letting defenders bump and grind, his effectiveness takes a serious shot. All of a sudden, all those dives onto the ground when he drives aren’t drawing whistles, and all he’s doing is blowing an assignment in transition defense.
Oklahoma City is ridiculously good. The Thunder will have to choose between Ibaka and Harden in 2014, but Westbrook and Durant aren’t going anywhere. The 2013 Thunder will look exactly like the 2012 Thunder. It’s going to take a complete team to beat them for the next decade. OKC won’t be in the NBA Finals every year, but I’m guessing Durant and Westbrook finish with four championships.
Spurs’ fans need to take a deep breath and accept the fact that they just weren’t good enough. Blowing through the Clippers and Jazz meant absolutely nothing. Any 20-game win streak is impressive, but the only two meaningful victories were both over the Lakers. The other 18? Memphis, Phoenix, Golden State, Sacramento, Cleveland, Portland, Phoenix, Golden State, Jazz, Jazz, Jazz, Jazz, Clips, Clips, Clips, Clips.
It looks good on paper, but it didn’t translate. It’s also possible the referees weren’t paid $100,000 to send OKC to the finals.
Wait. Maybe the officiating isn’t what got the 2006 Mavs beat either. Maybe that team just wasn’t deep enough! Maybe I’ve finally accepted the fact that Miami was better!
No. No. It was definitely the officiating.
That’s Daequan Cook. He’s happy because he got to play. He’s a shooter who can’t shoot.
The Centers Left in the Playoffs
Here’s a fun stat. There are five centers in the Eastern Conference Finals – Ryan Hollins, Greg Stiemsma, Kevin Garnett (yes, he’s been playing center for years), Joel Anthony, and Ronny Turiaf. I’m not counting the tubby corpse of Dexter Pittman. If we count out KG, those four centers combined for 30 minutes in game 2, and 19 of them were played by Joel Anthony. He’s a 6’9″ power forward masquerading as a center.
On the other side of the bracket sits Kendrick Perkins, Cole Aldrich, Nazr Mohammed, Tiago Splitter, and Tim Duncan. (In case you didn’t know, Duncan hasn’t been a power forward since Robinson retired.) Perkins was 25 minutes of nothing last game, and his greatest contribution to any series is intense staring. Mohammed played 5 minutes, scored 0 points with 0 rebounds and 1 foul. Cole Aldrich sat on the bench and smiled because he’s on an NBA roster.
Splitter and Duncan are, by far, the best centers left in the playoffs. Duncan played pretty poorly in game 2 and they won anyway. Splitter scored 8 points in 11 minutes. That’s the perfect role for him. If you leave him in longer than the 15-20 minute range, he’ll make some head-scratching decisions that make you want to deport him. They’re both offensively capable down low.
OKC/SA (2-0 SA)
Segue into the Western Conference Finals. Perk and Ibaka can’t leave Duncan and whoever else is on the court when Parker penetrates. Parker penetrates because, for whatever reason, the Thunder freeze like deer in headlights whenever there’s a high screen. If you were going to build a prototype point guard from scratch to stop Tony Parker, wouldn’t you build Russell Westbrook? He’s one of the only guards who’s faster, bigger, stronger, and more aggressive than Parker. It hasn’t mattered. He can’t figure out Parker, and unless he does, this series is over. Sefolosha certainly hasn’t done anyone any favors.
Why did Daequan Cook play 5 minutes last game? Paragraph over.
On the offensive end, the combination of Fisher/Ibaka/Collison/Cook/Perkins/Sefolosha took 34 shots. They made 7. Most of those shots were contested. If all of the shots that those role players are taking are being well-contested anyway, then why the hell are they taking them? Durant, Westbrook, and Harden can all take contested shots. They should be creating and drawing defenders for FICCPS (trademark), but if they’re not drawing defenders away then just take the shot over whoever’s guarding them.
Durant is the worst offender. He’s got to quit worrying about getting FICCPS involved and just go for 40 next game. Russ is going to
get shoot his. Harden is very good at playing within himself. Durant has to evolve. He took half as many shots (17) as FICCPS did.
Quick paragraph on Harden playing within himself: When someone gives him Danny Granger money in 2014, they’re going to regret it. Harden’s always going to be a good player in the league, but he only scores when he feels comfortable. Max contract guys are expected to score at all times. Harden will have 10 point games and 30 point games, but you shouldn’t center an offense around Harden (or Granger.)
The Spurs are very good at basketball. Everyone on the team is offensively capable, and their ball movement makes it impossible to hold them down for 48 minutes. You’ve just got to outscore them and make every offensive possession count. OKC is capable of doing that, but hasn’t shown anyone that they’re mature enough to beat San Antonio.
Boston/Miami (2-0 Miami)
There’s a ridiculous number of storylines from the first two games in South Beach. Miami is up 2-0, while Boston just suffered the most deflating loss I may have ever seen in postseason play. I can’t remember a game 2 that has ever made me think the losers would have a hard time getting up in the morning.
Can Boston have a better half than the first half they played in Miami? Everybody wants to make the last game about officiating (it was bad), but Boston absolutely dominated the first 24 minutes and was only up 7. Looking at the box score, Garnett’s 6-of-18 performance sticks out, but while you were watching the game it didn’t feel like he was playing particularly poorly.
A crippled Ray Allen gave them 43 minutes. That’s crazy. He was fairly efficient on the offensive end, shooting 5-of-11 with a healthy 13 points. This is a guy who Boston thought they might have to shut down for game 2, so anything he gave them was a luxury. Brandon Bass played a decent 29 minutes, with 8 points on 4 shots and 10 rebounds.
Oh, and Rondo played 53 minutes, scoring 44 points, with 10 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and just 3 turnovers. The man handled the ball for the entire game, ran the offense for 53 minutes, and turned it over just 3 times. If Boston couldn’t beat Miami last night, they’re just not good enough to make this a series. They’ll steal one in Boston (probably game 4), but the series ended last night.
Give Mario Chalmers some love. He had an efficient 22 points on 16 shots, with 6 assists and 4 rebounds. In game 1, he managed a very inefficient 9 points with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. He’s quickly become the energy guy who can keep a positive +/- with the second unit if he gets hot. That’s pretty important when LeBron is averaging 184 minutes per game.
Quick paragraph about the “game-changing” Wade block on Ray Allen’s “breakaway” layup: What was Allen thinking? What’s his thought process there? Wade didn’t do anything except block a telegraphed layup from a 37-year old with no knees. Allen didn’t even think about any other option. It was bizarre. Ray’s smarter than that.
Miami plays Indiana tonight, up 3-2, with a chance to eliminate the Pacers from the playoffs.
The tough guy personas that both of these teams are attempting to show the rest of the league is embarrassing. I have no problem with flagrant fouls, and from a guy who used to love watching Eduardo Najera leave the bench for 30 seconds a game to curb-stomp Manu Ginobli, I think they’re part of the game.
Whenever there’s a problem in hockey, two guys skate at each other, throw their gloves down, and just start fighting. In football, every play is a chance at physical retaliation. Baseball isn’t a contact sport, but every once in a while a pitcher can chunk a ball at someone’s head. Basketball has flagrant fouls.
But these are two teams that started acting tough for the sake of acting tough. Danny Granger has been extra punk-y in this series, and Dwyane Wade has been Dwyane Wade. I have absolutely no idea why Wade gets a pass in this league from fans and the media. He’s one of the most immature players on the court, and he has been for years. Here’s some evidence. Here’s some more. Here’s some more. Here’s the most. Here’s a compilation of him just being a sack of crap. I know it’s not his fault that his name is Dwyane and not Dwayne, but he doesn’t have to take it out on everyone else.
Wade got the pot boiling in game 2 when he hip-checked Darren Collison. Why did he hip-check Collison? Because he was upset that he didn’t get a call on the other end. I’m not saying Wade is an evil mix between Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest. He just doesn’t need to be perceived as this loyal, outstanding tough guy. He’s not a tough guy. He has very punk-like qualities.
It’s a little easier to show some sympathy for Granger. On two or three occasions, he’s thrown his face into some unsuspecting Miami player’s personal space just to bark about something off-topic. Granger’s 29, used to average 25 points a game, and has been the lone bright spot on a faceless team for the better part of 5 years. Finally, he’s getting to play relevant basketball against a superstar-loaded team, and he thinks he needs to bring a little attitude to the party.
Then there’s Dexter Pittman. The University of Texas’ finest export decided that this would be a good idea. The guy that he absolutely crushed is Lance Stephenson. Earlier in the series, Stephenson decided that this would be a good idea.
Stephenson’s decision to give the greatest basketball player alive the international “choke” signal is a bad idea in a variety of ways. A) Lance Stephenson is 21-years old, and he averages 2.6 points per game in his career (1 season). B) Why the hell would you want to give LeBron more motivation than he already has? C) It’s game 3. D) When Indiana loses this series, he’s going to look like an ass.
With all of that being said, it’s really not a big deal. Trash talk happens every game. Unfortunately for Stephenson, Pittman is the ultimate scrub’s scrub. He’s 6’11″, 285 pounds of bench-riding insecurity. He’s a center who played less than 300 minutes all season on a team that has no center. Think about that for a while. He can’t beat out Turiaf and Joel Anthony for a Miami position that only requires the man filling it to be defensively competent. Brendan Haywood would play 30 minutes a game for the Heat.
Pittman’s elbow was idiot-on-idiot crime. I have no idea how he only came away with a three-game suspension, but the Heat probably aren’t going to miss his three minutes a game.
There’s a lot of unlikable basketball players out there. I guess that was the point of this post.
(That photo’s not my property.)