Friday, June 18, 2010

Great Theater

Tonight was one of the best professional basketball games I've watched in the last 10 years. I say one of because, for someone who hasn't had any rooting interest in the sport for 10 years, there have been some incredible individual performances in big spots that I don't want to just gloss over (Lebron's 20 something straight on the road in Detroit in the playoffs; Lebron vs. Pierce in Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals where both had 40+; etc.). But from a team perspective, this game was absolutely outstanding.

I say that despite it being ugly. And it was ugly. But I like ugly. To me ugly is good basketball. We've had a few conversations in this space about the 1990's Knicks. Although I would argue it was started by the Pistons, Lakers, and Celtics of the late 80's (not in terms of comparative talent, but taking the game to a completely different level of physical play) the Knicks were certainly a prime example of it because they didn't have the talent, but still won. They won because they had to play harder than everyone else to make up for what they lacked in talent.

When you play that hard it's tough not to make it ugly. And that is exactly what happened tonight. Both teams. Both ends of the floor. It was like their was a lid on both baskets for extended stretches, only it had nothing to do with the rim and everything to do with the shots both defenses were forcing. To me that creates a greater level of suspense than "pretty basketball" ever could. Without question, it's a lot of fun to watch two high octane offenses play at their peak, trading baskets for 48 minutes, one play more exciting than the next. But in that scenario you always feel like your team is in it. In games like tonight, both teams feel like they are out of it. The drama that creates inside the fan is just outstanding. And it's because the teams are just playing so hard.

Again, it is my opinion when you play that hard, you just can't get the offense you'd get otherwise. There is too much attention on every defensive possession, every rebound, every opportunity to control the basketball. Given a choice, I'd rather that level of intensity than pretty offense every day of the week. That's how basketball is supposed to be played. If you could have both I'd love it. I just don't think you can get there, and we saw why tonight with these two incredibly talented teams. They are so gifted physically that, when they want to, they can push each other for every single inch for four full quarters. I'm amazed when I watch something like that, and it was a pleasure to do so tonight.

A few other thoughts. Related to the above, Pau Gasol made about as big a 180 as you can make in two seasons. It was like he saw in 2008 what it took to win as a big in the NBA, and did everything he could to get himself to that point. He's done it in back to back years now, and this series was really evidence of it as he had to shoulder a big load against a physical team up front without Bynum. He won the game for the Lakers in the 4th quarter with a number of sheer will plays. Kobe Bryant, despite the poor shooting (it seemed like everyone shot poorly in that game, and again, there's a reason for that) did other things to get his team to this W. Specifically, he saw the way this game was going and being played, with both teams having a tough time wrapping up possessions. And so he just took the defensive backboard over for the Lakers. It was his in the 4th quarter. He came up with seemingly every ball, usually in a lot of traffic, on his way to 15 rebounds. He also made things very tough on Rondo with his combination of length and quickness, and hit that one very tough jumper going right in the 4th when it was tight. Finally, it was very surprising to see Boston meltdown like that offensively in the 4th with such a veteran team. As this entire post was about, neither defense was making it easy. But even when they weren't scoring, and let it spin out of control for a bit, the Lakers were able to regain their offensive composure in the final six minutes with their veterans. The Celtics weren't. That went a long way towards deciding who won the NBA Championship tonight.

Back to the playing hard/ugly result notion for a moment, it reminded me of Yankees/Red Sox at the most recent peak of their rivalry tonight. If you really broke the game down, there were so many missed opportunities and not a lot of pretty play going on. But in the moment it didn't matter because both teams were playing so ridiculously hard and absolutely refused to give in. That's what sports is all about. Great stuff. Great theater.

8 comments:

the gm at work said...

Agreed that it was a very good game. Crappy result. And I commend you for at least trying to keep it in scope by comparing it to Sox/Yankees at its most recent peak (which, by the way, seems like a long time ago. Both teams just seem exhausted by it right now, as do their fans.)

I'm not going to pretend I'm a basketball guy (I'm sure real basketball guys think I'm full of crap to think that this Celtics team was likable), but I did see myself hating the rapist and the two Eurotrashes almost as much as I hated Arod, Karim Garcia, Jeff Nelson, and momentarily Posada. I do not hesitate to use the word "hate" in any of those cases except for maybe Posada. I got to the point over the course of this series of disliking Gasol and wanting to see him get whacked more than I wanted to see the rapist get Eagle, Coloradoed himself. I didn't feel close to as much hate for even Lebron and Varejao.

And this kind of animosity is something that I haven't felt for several years. Not since probably the 2004 ALCS. So good call on that, Pat.

By the way, why was Artest getting tangled up with Pierce if he has an arena full of fans he can knock out instead? That part was confusing.

Enjoy yo day.

the gm at work said...

One final thought on the likability issue, by the way. I think a good way to highlight how this team is likable is the fact that at no point was my frustration with them to the point of "good, you deserve to get your ass kicked." I felt that way with the 2009 Red Sox, and I felt that way times about 50 with the 09-10 Bruins. I said after Game Three that if there was any team who could blow a 3-0 lead, it would be the Bruins. By Game Seven, I was like, "good. These a-holes deserve to lose this game and this series." I felt the same way when Papelbon blew that save against the Angels. The guy had been so terrible all season and never had it bite him in the butt. He deserved it.

Never felt that way with the Celtics.

Anonymous said...

PF

I agree with your title. It's absolutely correct. It was great theater. It was tremendously competitive and intense. There was much drama. Defensively, both teams were stellar. And it was very, very ugly. If that wasn't a Game 7 all we'd be talking about is how neither team made any shots.

One thing that you're going to hear from some bitter fans is that the Lakers took twice as many free throws as the Celtics did. Were there some questionable calls? Of course. But there always are. And that game appeared to be well officiated from a fouling standpoint (missing that jump-ball on the Gasol hoop late was a killer). Both teams took the ball to the hoop, it just appeared that LA made more clean plays on the ball around the rim than Boston did and the refs didn't bail either side out for flopping or attempting to sell calls. It was one of the more well officiated games I've seen recently, so I hope to not hear much about the refs giving the game to LA.

Also, Pau Gasol didn't do a 180 from 2008. He did a 180 from when he was in Boston last week. Last week he got pushed around and beat up and didn't do anything. He comes back to LA and was a lion. Probably a combination of being at home and Perkins being out of the line-up. But the fact is that last week Gasol was the exact same guy we saw in 2008. Last night we saw an all-star caliber player and he really probably could have been MVP of that series.

And I say that because Kobe Bryant scored 180 points in seven games on 163 shots. That's positively Antoine Walker-esque (and no, that's not a good thing). He shot 40% for the series. Also not a good thing. Worse, he was 6-24 in Game 7 and took a variety of absolutely horrible shots. Without a huge game from Gasol and a once-in-a-lifetime performance from Ron Artest, all we're talking about is how badly Kobe gagged last night. Which he did. But winning will ultimately gloss that over for all but the most serious and ardent NBA fans. That said, let us all put to rest any comparison to Michael Jordan once and for all. The fact is, Kobe Bryant is a great player. One of the all-time greats. But he's not even in the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson/Kareem Abdul Jabbar level of greatness, let alone on Jordan's plateau.

Also, late in the game as Artest was putting the finishing touches on what was a truly epic performance for him (he defended well and made a variety of huge shots, including that late three) Jeff Van Gundy said "you have to feel good for Ron Artest right now." Jeff Van Gundy does an awesome job as analyst and he was no joke as a coach. I really enjoy listening to him and I think he and Breen and Jackson are a good crew. With that in mind, that was one of the dumbest statements I've ever heard on television. Ron Artest is a criminal. And he nearly ruined the NBA. He certainly set it back a few years and he single-handedly destroyed an entire NBA franchise. At no point should anyone feel good for him at all.

Lastly, a good series all tolled. Not pretty at all. But compelling to watch. For the Lakers, they proved they could grind out wins (though the dirty secret of the Lakers last two titles is that they never played a team seeded 1st and this year they played teams seeded as follows: 8th, 5th, 3rd, and 4th. Not exactly running through hell to win a title) and repeat, which is one of the toughest things to do in sports. For the Celtics, they just proved they were tough. If nothing else, they didn't cheat their fans for a minute this postseason. They showed up every night to do a job and came up just short. That's admirable. Unfortunately, this team's window is probably closed. They were old and tired this year. They'll be older and more tired next year. That said, a championship and another finals appearance have to make what happened in the summer of 2007 one of the great moves in the past decade or so.

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

Gentleman,

Good posts through and through. I texted Pat after the game last night wondering if the Celtics decided to deploy the Colby College half court offense in the second half.

Was this a sloppy series? Absolutely, but it was that way I think because both teams were playing hard. In a sense, this series really resembled what you see in college basketball, which is why many people prefer the college game- tough defense, effort throughout the game, nothing being given easy. You also had that element last night where a 6 point lead almost seemed insurmountable at certain points, which is often something you feel watching college as well.

Gunn- totally agree on the Artest point. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I don't feel happy for anyone on that team. If the Celtics had lost in 7 to the Spurs or someone like that it wouldn't have bothered me as much. I hated seeing Kobe in Co. celebrating at the end.

Finally- we were all trumpeting Rondo's play earlier in the playoffs but I think we have to look at this series and say that offensively he was one of the reasons we ended up losing, because he could not consistently make free throws or a mid range jump shot. That has to be something he works on, only because there is no reason for an NBA guard to not be able to hit that shot or make free throws. If Rondo could shoot as well as I can shoot, the Celtics win the series. When you put it like that, it really is inexcusable because I was a role player on a D3 college team.

(by the way PF, that's how you admit you were wrong, something you don't know how to do)

Bandi

the gm at work said...

Gunn & Bandi,

I'll third your Artest motion there. You can feel good for Peyton Manning, and even Eli Manning. But this guy committed not only a crime against those fans, but against basketball. No doubt. He's a Tru Warier though. Can't agree more about the Rondo point.

Bring it back to the proper scope, the way the series was played, Joe West would have been pissed at the lack of points scored.

Anonymous said...

Bandi nailed it. The Celtics would have won if Rondo could shoot but I would even go as far to say that playing Nate Robinson a little more last night would have made the difference.

-TimC

Anonymous said...

DV

I sure hope you caught Beltre's missile that landed on the parking garage today. It was at least the second such bomb he's hit off of one knee.

--the Gunn

the gm said...

Gunn,

You know that scene in Happy Gilmore when Shooter McGavin goes into the woods, tees up a ball, and attempts the Happy Gilmore Swing? I will not confirm nor deny that I spent five minutes this morning swinging a Wiffle ball bat, starting in a normal stance, then going down to one knee, then going back up. With the impending sports hernia surgery, probably not the smartest thing for me to do, but I just don't know how he does it.