Wednesday, June 09, 2004

NBA FINALS, GAME TWO: The consensus opinion: Larry Brown gave the game away but not telling his team to foul Shaq if he got the ball. DA explains it most reasonably:

See, I think Larry Brown is the greatest basketball coach currently walking this earth. There is no situation, no team, no time in which you wouldn't want him on your sidelines drawing up sets and trying to get your team to play the right way. ("Play the right way" is Brown's mantra, his shorthand for basketball played the Dean Smith Way. It should be on Brown's tombstone.) And for about 90 of the first 96 minutes of the Finals, P4P has been a step ahead of Phil Jackson. He's had his Pistons ready to play and he's adjusted brilliantly on the fly.

But there is no sugarcoating this: Brown made a mistake, it says here, in the waning seconds of Game 2. And as a result, he's going to have to do his greatest coaching job in the 48 hours his guys aren't on the floor, between Game 2 and Game 3.

With Detroit up three with 10.9 seconds left in regulation on Tuesday, Brown surely knew that the Lakers, after dawdling with the ball in the backcourt before calling timeout, had no choice but to hoist up a long-distance rock. And onto the court for L.A. walked Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Karl Malone ... and Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal, of the one career 3-pointer in 20 attempts. O'Neal, the career 53.4 percent free-throw shooter.

But surely, the Diesel was on the floor simply to set a screen for Kobe or Fisher, or maybe even Walton, who'd hit a three earlier in the game and was playing out of his mind. And then, Malone inbounded the ball ... to O'Neal! If ever a player was on a floor with a neon sign around his neck flashing
Foul Me! Foul Me! (and don't forget the $4.99 buffet from 4-6 p.m. in the Palmetto Lounge), it was Shaq.

But O'Neal was allowed to catch the ball and hand it off to Luke Walton, who got it to Kobe, who ... well, you know.

"We talked about" fouling O'Neal, Brown said. "But I didn't think they were going to throw it to him. ... We talked about if they threw it inside, yeah, Shaq gets it, put him on the line. But I don't want to take a chance like that."

LB. You could probably assume in that situation that if Shaq catches the ball outside the 3-point line -- Shaq, the career 5-percent 3-point shooter -- he's not going to turn around and fire. He's looking to pass. Probably to Bryant. Almost certainly to Bryant. Who else but Bryant?

Said Ben Wallace: "I thought about it ... but that's a shot we have to live with."

Of course, Wallace should have fouled him. But players, in this situation, are allergic to the idea of making contact. Their instinct is to stay away; no one wants to give a team three free ones that could tie the game. This is where a coach has to come in and overpower their uncertainty. He has to say, "This is the right thing to do. Foul Shaq if he touches the ball at all."

Never minding, of course, the atrocious foul given to Rasheed Wallace when Shaq scored on him which, with Shaq's made free throw, made it a three-point as opposed to a four-point deficit. At that point of the game, with Sheed basically standing straight up, and Shaq scoring anyway, you don't mae that call. But you do, and Eric McErlain doesn't like it, and people just mutter to themselves that that's why they don't watch the NBA. Me--I suspect nothing unintentional. Basketball is merely a flawed game, like soccer, as, during crucial, game- and championship deciding situations, referees can decide games. They can find themselves emotionally swayed by the crowd, or by perception of a momentum swing, or by the stature of a player they have worked with for years, and make calls like that one regularly enough that people suspect that the NBA is fixed. But it is the game itself that is flawed, in my opinion; there is too much room for human error in it, and the purity of the competition is not up to the gold standard that is the NFL. But hey, either you live with the flaws or you watch a different sport.

Oh, and Zen boy?

"I told them God smiled on us tonight," Jackson said. "We were fortunate they didn't foul us at that particular time."

Sod off. Your miracle offense doesn't look quite so miraculous when you put a bunch of hacks out there--witness the San Antonio Spurs, NBA champions, 2003. And watching the Lakers during that game last night, I swear Kobe missed two or three ridiculous shots before that one to tie went in. And I was thinking, "The Lakers don't want to work to win this. They want fate to drop it in their laps." Well I hope your burning of choice thighbones finds the Basketball Gods unresponsive, since you have offended them by putting a team out there basically unwilling to work for the title, save the 40-year old guy who busted his knee last night. You clod.

Of course, if Phil really is in tune with destiny, my appeals will be in vain. But I hope the Gods do have a sense of justice, and reward work. If this means the Lakers raise their level of play and work their way to the title, that is good. But please, ye sporting deities, no more friggin' Lakers miracles.

Bill Simmons destroyed the Larry Bird controversy today:

Eric, Staten Island, NY: Do you think Bird's comment will tarnish his legacy in many peoples' eyes?

Bill Simmons: I don't see how that's possible. The guy was expressing an opinion - an it's not like he was off-base or anything. For God's sake, Keith Van Horn was the 2nd pick in the draft 7 years ago. Raef LaFrentz got taken ahead of Pierce AND Vince Carter. I don't think it's a stretch to say that teams actively look for white players with star potential to market to a mostly white fan base.

And here:

Bill Simmons: I agree... it's ridiculous. The ironic thing was that Bird came from a similar background to many of the black players who were in the league when he was playing - dirt-poor, family tragedies, etc. So I think he always considered himself closer to the black players than the white players, as strange as that sounds. He never wanted to be the Great White Hope. Read the section about him in BREAKS OF THE GAME by Halberstam some time, it's all about the irony of Bird being marketed as a Great White hope when his background was tougher than just about any black player.

And then here:

Bill Simmons: Look at the white guys in the league at the time - guys like Kelly Tripucka, Kent benson, Marc Iavaroni and so on. None of those guys could guard Bird. Bobby Jones was the only white guy who could think about guarding him. That was his point. I'm truly scared for our society if we've reached a point where Bird can't even joke about something like that.

Your true racist asshole of the day is, of course, Bill Parcells:

"You've got to keep an eye on those two, because they are going to try to get the upper hand. Mike wants the defense to do well, and Sean, he's going to have a few . . . no disrespect to the Orientals, but what we call Jap plays. Okay? Surprise things."

See, even while he was explaining why he wasn't being racist, he was being racist. What a dick.

Finally, I'm glad Luke Walton is a star now. Just like Tony Parker was an emerging superstar about a month ago, though that took two whole games to Walton's one. I guess that makes Luke bigger than Tony at this point. I await Darko Milicic's 12-minute-long finals MVP performance.

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