Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Best "Worst Thing for the NBA"

OK, enough already with the Suns lovefest. It's hard to turn on ESPN or visit a sports website without hearing about how it would be much better for the league if the Suns were going to make the finals instead of the Spurs. The common thinking is that the Suns are much more exciting to watch. I take issue with this entire argument.

First, what about the interest in having the best team in the Finals? Clearly, the Spurs play much better and more efficient basketball than the Suns. More importantly, the Spurs play a much more fundamentally sound game. If you want to watch a sort of acrobatic, run-the-floor ball with no defensive effort that makes a mockery of true basketball, you can just watch Streetball on ESPN2. The Spurs play the game the way it should be played, and it sends a much better message to youngsters out there that if you want to win, you need to be able to buckle down on D and focus on the little, basic aspects of the game. It may be more exciting, but in the end, run-n-gun with little discipline just doesn't win championships. Hopefully, this will sink in, and little kids will practice boxing out instead of dribbling the ball with their knees.

Beyond the interest in teaching the right lessons, what about the interest in having a team in the Finals that stars two international players (Duncan's not international, both people in the Virgin Islands are watching anyway). While Europe is already coming down with bad case of basketball fever, the outbreak has yet to reach Latin America. Manu is becoming a huge draw down there, though. Case in point: last night I was with a buddy whose uncle is from Argentina. He said that his uncle doesn't really know anything about basketball, but loves Manu and watches all his games down there. This is exactly what the NBA needs to help grow its product in Latin America, and an appearance by the best Latin American player in the league championships can only help improve the NBA's popularity in a potentially huge market.

Finally, why are the Spurs getting dumped on so much while everybody sweats the Pistons? Is their game prettier than the Spurs'? Certainly not. I'm not claiming the Spurs play pretty ball, but they play good, sound basketball, and serve as a reminder that fundamentals beat out glitz in the end.


Anonymous said...

Had you written that a week ago, I would have countered with: "People like seeing points go on the board. It's the reason why no one likes soccer in America and why hockey was always the fourth sport (before it was the nonexistent sport). We love offense. The more points the better." That would have been my argument.

However, in light of what has happened in this series, I can't dispute you. The Spurs are indeed scoring points. They are raining threes and whipping the ball from side to side and pushing the ball on the fast break. They look just like the Suns. If San Antonio played like this all the time, no one would be saying that they were bad for the game.

The problem is that only a handful of people (like you) are setting aside their preconceived notions and actually watching this series.

Jeff Dritz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff Dritz said...

The Spurs are moving the ball around so well, they run an incredibly efficient offense. You also make a good point regarding peoples' views toward this series. Everyone seems to have been hoping for a more exciting Suns-Heat final. Now that it looks more like it may be San Antonio-Detroit, some fans have "checked out" of the NBA playoffs. This is a shame, because, while it might not be the most fast-paced series, it will be an exhibition of what good, winning basketball is supposed to look like.

Also, I like soccer. The US-England match yesterday was one of the most incredible sporting events I've witnessed firsthand. I guarantee any non-soccer fan who went immediately became a soccer convert.

Adam Hoff said...

I think the reason that people were (can't say are, that series is OVER) rooting for the Suns is that their style brings out the fun in the game. It's not that they are more deserving or that a Phoenix title would somehow validate a "right" way to play - that was the Pistons' storyline of a year ago. They supposedly "played the right" way, yet people still didn't like watching them. What this is about is making the game more entertaining. And while I agree with the no-named author of the second comment that the Spurs have been more entertaining in this series, that only makes the following point for me (and everyone else):

Rooting for the Suns to keep playing goes beyond just watching them play. If Phoenix is involved, the OTHER team is more exciting to watch. The game goes up and down, there are more shots taken, there are intriguing matchups to monitor, and you don't have as many "Mark Jackson Moments" (when guys back the defender down from midcourt and burn up 22 seconds on the shot clock). All of that adds up to an aesthetically pleasing brand of hoops. I know that I watched every Suns game this year when they were on TV, because it was sure to be fun. All of a sudden, the Clippers were thrilling and the Warriors were throwing up stats galore. Sports are entertainment first for many people, so it only makes sense that they want to see the most entertaining game possible. The Spurs can be entertaining, but they are a chameleon - they play the way their opponent plays. This helps them win, but they are only "exciting" if their opponent shares that quality. Left to their own devices, they can't be trusted - that's all.

The one point I definitely agree with is that the Pistons are for more "ugly" in their brand of basketball than the Spurs, yet no one pulls for them to lose so that it will be "good for the game." I'd much rather see the Spurs play than the Pistons. Just without all the flopping from Ginobili.

Clark said...

If the only problem with the spurs is that they don't let the other team score a bunch of points, well, that's not terribly convincing that I should be rooting against them. I see the point - if the Suns have success, more teams will play like them and we'll have more exciting games - and I'm okay with pulling for Phoenix, but I don't see why that makes San Antonio the big bullies. I didn't see any anti-Mavericks sentiment. Granted, they play fast too, but I guess my point is this. If Phoenix was playing Houston (another "defensive team"), would their be the same level of negative sentiment toward the Rockets? I doubt it. So your point is taken that the Suns raise the level of excitement, but I still don't see why that makes the Spurs Public Enemy #1.

Adam Hoff said...

Clark, I think that if they were playing the Rockets, yes, the majority of people would be rooting against Houston as well. The Spurs are the bad guy because they represent the "defense first" style of play that, yes, wins titles, but also keeps games in the 80's. I would guess that if you asked the casual fan who they wanted to win the West before this started it would have gone like this:

1. Suns
2. Mavs
3. Sonics
4. Nuggets
5. Kings
6. Spurs
7. Rockets
8. Grizzlies

The first five teams are all offensive-minded, were averaging over 98 points per game, and ranked in the top 10 in the league in scoring, so it is natural that people would want them to advance. The Kings were so sorry in their series, that I think it is safe to move San Antonio ahead of them. So the Spurs aren't the ultimate bad guy, they just happen to be playing the team at the top of the list.

Short answer: Rightly or wrongly, yes, the general public, the casual fans, and the media would all be pulling for the Suns over the Rockets.

Adam Hoff said...

To follow up further in response to Clark's question, one reason that people specifically don't like the Spurs is that they foul too much. They are the kings of "barely fouling" - turning reaches and grabs and shoves into an art form. A lot of college teams play this way; they commit subtle fouls on almost every single play knowing that the refs can't call them all. I think a lot of fans instinctively don't like that. They see Manu always reaching, reaching, reaching. Nazr always pushing people in the back. Bowen always grabbing jerseys. Duncan doing that ridiculous move where he basically uppercuts a guy's forearm and gets the foul. It just gets old. Plus, it doesn't help that they complain about every foul that DOES get called. Maybe they are so used to getting away with stuff that it really does surprise them, but the complaining needs to stop. Parker's got the "run after the ref holding the ball out and muttering in French," Horry has the "eye roll and spin away in disgust," Duncan is the team captain of the "arms outstretched in disbelief" all-star team, and so on. I know that all NBA players complain, but the Spurs more so than most.

(By the way, the complete "Arms Outstretched" All-Star team:

PG - Gary Payton
SG - Reggie Miller
SF - Tayshaun Prince
PF - Tim Duncan
C - Dikembe Mutombo
Coach - Stan Van Gundy

* Disclaimer – These individuals were selected from playoff teams and do not indicate the biggest overall complainers; just the guys that use the “arms outstretched” approach.)

Adam Hoff said...

This play sums up the whole series: Ginobili throws a horrible pass that bounces off of Q's hands, goes right to Barry, who fumbles it over to Parker, who hits a long jumper with the shot clock running down. It's just been that way all series for Phoenix, who is down 3-0 and on their way to being swept, but could have, should have, would have won the first two games with a few breaks (and yes, a few stops). But sometimes the ball just doesn't bounce your way. These teams aren't as far apart as it would appear.

(And for the record, I've counted six times already that the Spurs have gotten away with an obvious hack when reaching on rebounds or in the post. Everyone in the league gets called for the reach when they sweep downward from over their head ... unless they are in a Spurs uniform. Why is that? Any theories?)

Jeff Dritz said...

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. The Spurs, however, are both. It may seem like the Spurs get all the bounces, but its just because they take advantage of all opportunities. They execute better. Also, they're obviously sweet at fouling.

Jeff Dritz said...

So I have to admit, the Spurs are the whiniest team in the league. Gregg Popovich was crying for an offensive foul when Amare ran through Parker to dunk, but there was barely contact, and Parker took a dive. My favorite Manu got called out by Al Michaels for being better than a "Hollywood stuntman," and that was clearly a clean, non-goaltending block by Amare at the end (and it was sick). The one thing I wonder, though, is how a team that is so fundamentally sound can be so bad at shooting free throws? How can a championship favorite shoot 47% from the line, at home, in a clinching game?

Also, how much of a pimp is Joe Johnson? This only furthers my theory that everyone plays better in a face mask (LeBron, Rip Hamilton, Johnson, Jason Voorhees).

Adam Hoff said...

Dritz, so many great things to comment on.

1. You are right, it is often better to be lucky than good. And you are also right that you often create your own luck by playing mistake-free ball, hustling, and taking advantage of your opportunities. The Spurs grate on me, but I admit that they make a lot of their own luck.

2. Glad to see you admitting that they whine and foul. Again, I think this is why people don't like them. I know it is why I don't like them.

3. Joe Johnson is indeed a pimp. 26, 5, and 4 on 10-for-15 shooting with three triples. Are you kidding me? Plus, he sagged off Tony Parker (and went under screens! Finally someone went under!) and used his athleticism to challenge shots, forcing Parker into 5-for-17 shooting from the field and six turnovers. When he hit that sick pull up on Bowen, I turned to Jen and told her that I could have sworn I heard a cash register in the background. My man has one nice payday coming up.

4. Joe Johnson, Part II. Game three was a beatdown, but the first two were anyone's contests. I honestly believe this series would be 2-2 had Johnson been healthy. He was rusty (more on the defensive end) in his first game back, but we all saw what his presence means for the Suns. Night and day.

5. Free throw shooting. It's always been an issue for the Spurs, but they'd been amazing so far in the playoffs. Duncan was shooting like 80% until he put both hands around his neck tonight. Free throw shooting is always the one thing that threatens to submarine this team and they've been fortunate (lucky or good?) to keep that problem at bay up until now.

I'll add a few more comments unrelated to previous posts:

- I'd love to say that the Suns could make a run, one game at a time now that Johnson is back, but the truth is it just isn't happening. Not only would it be just too freaky and weird for it to happen for the first time in both baseball and basketball within a year of each other, but the Spurs are just as good, probably better. The Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit last year in many ways because the Yankees fell apart. It was equal parts achievement and failure. In this case, the Spurs don't have a shaky starting pitcher or a prima donna third basemen to crap the bed and lose a few games. The Suns get murdered on the glass (the Spurs had 20 offensive rebounds ... 20!) and can't get enough stops to win four games in a row. They might win Game Five at home to make the series more entertaining (wouldn't ABC love that), but it won't go more than 6.

- Shawn Marion and Q were both pretty brutal from the field again, but they combined for 20 boards and only 2 turnovers, so that's a good sign. The big thing with Q is that he simply can't guard Ginobili. The Suns really do only have one good perimeter defender in Johnson.

- How does Robert Horry go 2-for-9 on two-point field goals? Since when does he take anything besides dunks and threes?

Okay, that'll do.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question: if the Suns win their home tonight, does the pressure shift to the Spurs to close the series out? Will visions of A-Rod be running through Pop's head? By the way, I can totally picture Tony Parker playing second base for the Evil Empire, if that counts for anything.

Adam Hoff said...

I don't think it is a matter of pressure. I think the pressure is already on San Antonio to close this thing out, but it doesn't matter, because the real issue here is that the Suns aren't good enough to win four straight games against San Antonio. In fact, not only will they not pull off a miracle comeback, I don't think they will win tonight. Of course, that doesn't stop the media from going bananas, saying that Phoenix is back in the series and conjuring up the possibility of a Red Sox Redux.

That is just the media being the media. Like a poorly run business, they overreact at every turn and then overreact the other way to their previous mistakes. After Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals, they were calling for the Detroit sweep. Two games later and supposedly Miami had it locked up. Now they are saying it is all Pistons again. Make up your mind! This is just the way the sports media rolls, so I wouldn't get too carried away. We saw the same thing with Dwyane Wade - writers and analysts jumping on and off the bandwagon - and will continue to see it as long as sports are around.

The real story here is that while the Suns will bow out in the Western Conference Finals, the series is still a great sign for their future. Amare has been amazing, Joe Johnson now forces them to re-sign him (he would have been a devastating loss), and Nash continues to play terrific. They can honestly feel good knowing that not only did they stave elimination with everything stacked against them on the road, but that they would be at least 2-2 had Johnson been healthy. All they need to do is tinker with the roster this summer (a Kelvin Cato type shot blocker and an extra ball handler would be ideal) and they will be back for another run. Had they been swept by the Spurs, everyone would have forgotten about Johnson's absence and it is possible that there would have been some panic. Some "this team will never be able to beat the Spurs" talk. Instead, because of that Game Four win, they will keep things intact and feel good about their chances. It could wind up being an enormous win.

J said...

So you are saying that Suns have no chance of winning this series? None at all?

Jen said...

Could Manu Ginobili be a bigger baby?

Adam Hoff said...

Yes, I am saying that the Suns can't win this series. They might win tonight, but as you can see, even that is going to be tough. I just don't see how they can win two more should they survive this one. If they did somehow come all the way back, it would have to be because of a titanic meltdown by the Spurs. It would have to be part Blazers in 2000, part Fisher with .4 seconds left, and part 1980 US hockey team.

By the way, I couldn't be any more proud of my lovely wife for getting on the blog and calling out Ginobili.

Adam Hoff said...

The only thing better than my wife calling out Ginobili's dirty, whining brand of ball is Bill Walton doing it. Pour it on!

Adam Hoff said...

Sorry to just keep rattling off comments here, but despite losing the game, Phoenix really showed me something. They went through a horrible sequence at 86-83 when they forced a bad shot by Horry only to have it fly off the glass right to Duncan for two, Nash had a three go in and out, Johnson had a steal bounce off his hands, and Bowen finished with a three to make it an eight point game. Yet they came roaring back to get it down to 93-90 at one point and put a real scare in the Spurs. Granted, things went horribly for them after that, but they showed real character bouncing back like that. They were a few in-and-out shots (Johnson had two pull-ups, Nash had the three, and Amare had a left handed scoop) away from winning this game.

Jeff Dritz said...

Phoenix made a run, but they couldn't get the key stops necessary to come back. They're going to have to address their defensive problems in the offseason if they expect to be able to beat a team that executes as well as San Antonio in the future.

Also, is anyone else enjoying the constant references to "deep throat" on TV as much as I am? From my friend Traci: "they wouldn't let people say that in a rap song."