Monday, May 21, 2007

Spurs Take Game One

First, consider this the official end of the "nightly wrap-up" format for the NBA Playoffs. It does no good to break things down by the calendar now that we've hit the point where the league is committed to getting a game a day, no matter how ungainly it makes the schedule. This used to be something I complained about, but with everything else that sucks about these playoffs, why bother?

What I really fear is that no one is watching anymore. Literally. I can't wait to see what the ratings looked like for yesterday's Jazz-Spurs matchup.

If people still care, let me know.

Until I get confirmation that people are still watching the playoffs, I'll just hit you with a quick top five observations from Game One of the Western Conference Finals:

1. Derek Fisher might be out-Fishered in this one. Even though he is actually good now and Mr. Clutch and an American hero, his real speciality has always been bodying people, flopping, acting, holding, and all the other things that gritty players do in order to make it in the NBA and then get sizable contracts for being "winners." Usually, D-Fish has the "rugby" edge against any opponent. But now he's going against two guys - Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili - who are redefining all his moves. Fisher might have started this horrible flopping trend in the NBA, but Manu took it to the crazy next level. Fisher might have started the whole "clutch, grab, bump, hand check, knee, hold, repeat" style of defense on talented guards, but Bruce Bowen added ninja kicks and ankle shattering stealth techniques and turned it into something altogether more potent. For Fisher, this has to feel a little bit like T3: Rise of the Machines (terrible movie, by the way), when Governor Arnold had to square off with a superior model of terminator. He could recognize the skin-covered alloy frame and hard-wired technology, but the girl terminator was just more evolved. So Fisher is Arnold in that movie, and the Jazz are John Connor, hoping that they don't have to hide in an old army bunker and rely on a mere human to avoid certain devastation.

2. Utah may have gone down 1-0, but they have to feel good about a couple of things that started working late. Deron Williams is going to be a tough guard for the Spurs. He's too fast for Bowen and is strong enough to resist all those little pokes at the ball when he's going by. And if Bowen can't effectively guard Williams, there isn't much use for the guy. Harpring can post him and Fisher and Kirilenko don't really need to be shut down, which means Bowen is just another player out there running around. I don't think he played much more than 7 or 8 minutes in the second half, which means Pop was seeing what I was seeing. The other big plus for the Jazz is that they really got Boozer going late by putting him in pick-and-rolls and allowing him to work 12-15 feet from the basket. Once he stopped forcing it to the rim (where he isn't going to get the same calls he did in the first two rounds) and looked to make jumpers, he was far more effective.

(Note: if Boozer has a few games where he struggles with the jump shot, expect the media to rip him for "settling." Nevermind that trying to force the ball against Duncan and help defense and against refs unwilling to call fouls is like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. No one will bother understanding that in the least. This used to happen to Chris Webber all the time in Sacramento. He would try to drive time and time again, never get any calls, and then eventually say "screw it, I'm just going to drain jumpers" on his way to some big games. The minute he started missing, he got destroyed by the critics. Talk about a Catch-22.)

3. Sometimes I wonder whether Jerry Sloan is watching the game. I have no doubt that the man is tough and can teach a system, but as an X's and O's coach, I think he can be pretty shaky. Yesterday Deron Williams was going bonkers down the stretch and Utah actually had a fighting chance to finish off a remarkable comeback. Instead, they came up short as Michael Finley drained eight straight free throws in the final minutes. My question: why would they foul Finley? I'm sure Pop was designing plays to get Finley the ball, but come on, this is the NBA. Trap him hard and get the ball out of his hands. The other guys on the floor were, as follows:

Tim Duncan - a career 63% free throw shooter in the postseason
Manu Ginobili - 3-for-6 on the day, including several remarkably bad misses late
Tony Parker - 5-for-10 on the day and was clearly aiming the ball in the fourth quarter and just hoping to get rim
Someone Else Who Never Touched The Ball

So I again, I ask: why continue to foul Finley? How does that make any sense?

4. I thought it was pretty cheesy for the San Antonio fans to cheer Robert Horry like he was some kind of hero. Have a little tact, people. Plus, it made it look like Spurs fans knew that Horry saved their season with a cheap shot that somehow getting Amare suspended. Just really cheesy stuff.

5. I know that the whole "quick turnaround" thing is often debated in sports. Does the team playing 48 hours later have a disadvantage because they are tired, or an advantage because they are sharp? We hear the arguments all the time. But I'm starting to wonder why we even debate it. I have no doubt that getting more rest between series is better in the long run for a team, but it seems like the "turnaround" team - the one that just finished a series and is short on rest - almost always wins the game. At the very least, they enjoy the advantage of being "sharp" in the first half. Utah had the quick turnaround after Game Seven in Houston and then jumped all over a Golden State team that was clearly sluggish and rusty. Same thing happened yesterday, except to the Jazz this time. It seems like in the short run, being sharp and maintaining momentum is far more important than a few extra days of rest.


Anonymous said...

I thought it was pretty cheesy for the San Antonio fans to cheer Robert Horry like he was some kind of hero. Have a little tact, people.
As much as I consider San Antonio fans tactless, this really isn't about tact.

San Antonio has a "Calls for us are right, calls against us are wrong" mentality the likes of which I've never seen before. Talking to people the day after Game 2 (the one you originally counted), they felt cheated by the refs. They have the same wide-eyed look Duncan throws up whenever a foul is called.

People in this city (I'm unfortunate enough to live in San Antonio at the moment) truly believe that the whole incident was caused by Nash flopping on the hit, that it wasn't that bad, and Horry was the victim in the whole thing - the hit didn't deserve a suspension, and Horry only got one to balance the Suns, which were of course perfectly deserved because the rules are the rules and you have to apply the rules fairly (unless your name starts with Tim and ends with Duncan).

So it's not an issue of tact - it's a perverted worldview. Horry really was the triumphant hero returning from an unjust imprisonment.

JWilliams said...

Im not tryin to be mean but your entry on this game read like somewhat who hates the NBA or is it extremly bitter about the matchup

You are right that the ratings will be low for this series. I suspect though, that it has more to do with the size of the cities,and the low key nature of the players off the court, than the style of play which you so clearly despise.

Brandon said...

Tally one more in the "People still watching the playoffs" column.

Re: Horry, did you see this quote from the Daily Dime?

"You know what?" Horry said. "If I had the situation to do all over again I would still [do it]. That's just the way I'm programmed. You go over there and foul, and you foul them hard."

Classy, Bob. Real classy.

And about Fisher, I'm a Jazz fan who has watched the Fish suck for 90+ of the 100 games he's played for Utah this year. Sunday he shot 1-7 from the field, had 2 rebounds and an assist in 38 minutes. He kills the Jazz... no way can your starting "2" guard have that kind of night if you want to beat the Spurs.

Adam Hoff said...

Those were three really solid comments. I think the worldview thing is right, I think the next fellow is right about my negativity (which started out as intentional and bitter but was meant to be shelved rather than continue on through the post), and the point about Fisher is a good - and bold - one. He kind of has immunity now after that Game Two against GSW. Like when Whatley got joke-telling immunity in Seinfeld.

It seems like people are still watching. And I think the Jazz are will make this is a series. I've got Spurs in 7, maybe Jazz in 7, and will keep "getting my blog on."

Brandon said...

Fisher's stats for the 2006-2007 regular season:

27.9 mpg
10.1 ppg
.382 FG%
.308 3pt%
.853 FT%
1.8 bpg
3.3 apg
1.0 spg
1.46 tpg

I mainly want to direct your attention the shooting percentages. Fish was just not a good shooter this season. I remember many many airballs from the guy.

Thing is, I believe Derek Fisher is a good guy. He's a solid person who represents the NBA very well. I just think he hurts the Jazz more than he helps.

Adam Hoff said...

Right, especially now that his rough style of D is negated by the Spurs' Next Gen floppers and grabbers. The problem for Utah is ... who do you replace him with? Go big, slide AK-47 to the 2 (dicey) and bring in Millsap? Go small with Dee Brown? Run Harpring at shooting guard (might get away with that if Manu isn't in the game). Ginobili is going to present Utah with some real matchup problems, I think. I mean, you can't play Giricek extended minutes - he's just awful. I can't believe I'm saying this, but they could use DeShawn Stevenson back in the mix for 20-25 minutes, some standstill threes, and a different look on Ginobili.

All the more reason why they need to target someone like Morris Almond in the draft, or try to trade Kirilenko for Ray Allen. With Allen on the wing, they could be the team to beat next year.

Brandon said...

Free Ronnie Brewer!

I know the kid's just a rookie, but he can move well laterally and is very disruptive on defense.

You mention Deshawn Stevenson... I'd also add Sasha Pavlovic to the list of 2 guards the Jazz let go and probably wish they still had.

As much as I love Andrei, and I have since he joined the team, I agree that if we could get Allen for him Utah should take that in a heartbeat. Milsap is a stud and will be able to do everything AK can in a couple of years (except maybe the blocks).

Williams, Allen, Milsap/Harp, Boozer and Okur is a nice lineup.

Anonymous said...

I of course did not bother watching the game seeing as I hate San Antonio and am indifferent to the Jazz, and I even forgot it was on. But the fact that the San Antonio fans actually cheered Horry like he was a victim is disturbing. You flagrantly foul someone and throw an elbow to another player's face and suddenly you're the victim?? That is so disgusting. I lost all respect I ever had for San Antonio during the Phoenix series. The only one I can sort of stand is Parker, and even he seems really arrogant a lot of the time.

I will still never understand how the Spurs get so many calls. The NBA seems to love them, yet they have a small fan base and no great player who is charismatic and really fun to watch (a la Steve Nash). I guarantee the ratings would at least double, if not triple or more, if Phoenix was still in it as they should be.

I'd be very curious to know the ratings of the game on Sunday, if anyone knows where that information is available.