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I’m a Witness… of Detroit’s Crappy Defense

By Michael Erler on June 4, 2007.

Game 5 Utah @ San Antonio: Spurs 109, Jazz 84 (4-1)

We’re in the Finals again, yippee!!!

At long last, the guys get to their long deserved moment in the sun, basking in the glow of being crowned champions of the ungodly stacked Western Conference in front of their appreciative fans. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Can you feel my excitement? Can you sense my enthusiasm? Can you visualize my rock hard erection?


Um, me neither. Although Manolis did send me this DVD the other day of this girl named Cytherea and I don’t want to get too graphic on here or anything (y’all can Google her if you want) but rest assured that my life will never be the same again. It is impossible to observe Cytherea in action without it changing you – physically, mentally and emotionally – forever. Nike totally picked the wrong person for that “I’m a Witness” T-shirt campaign I’m telling you.

There are exactly two groups of people in the world, those who have undergone The Cytherea Experience, and those who have not.

Where was I again? Oh, right, Spurs Basketball. Let’s be honest, the Jazz series was a huge comedown after the heavyweight showdown with the Suns. Really, even the Nuggets might have been a more difficult match-up for us. The Jazz were the epitome of the “Happy to be Here” team. We were overdue for a playoff blowout and winning Game 5 was about as much of a lock as there is in life, on par with regretting a trip to the ATM at four in the morning or experiencing intestinal difficulties upon consuming the wings with 9-1-1 sauce at “Hooters.”

Really, the game was over after a 34-15 blitz in the first quarter. Tony was playing like a man possessed, repeatedly slicing through the Jazz defense to tally 11 early points. I can only assume he was lectured to by the missus before the game, “You better take care of business tonight because I am NOT going back to Utah, you hear me? I WILL NOT.”

The good news: No more trips to Utah. The bad news: Get ready for the bastion of cultural diversity that is downtown Cleveland. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Actually, pretty much everyone was hitting their shots. We made 65% from the field, had only three turnovers, got a few second chance opportunities thanks to Fab, and knocked down six of eight freebies. Heck, Bruce even hit a couple of corner threes. I don’t know why everyone started off so hot (could have been those magnets David Blaine was going on and on about) and I don’t care. What I do know is that the final three quarters were played with Boston-Celtics-tanking-for-Oden level intensity.

Or, as Jerry Sloan put it, “They destroyed our will to want to play.”

That’s the Spurs: Will-sucking vampires. If you think about it, you can see where the Jazz players were coming from. For all intensive purposes they should have just called the series off after Game 4 and saved everyone the extra travel. Utah was not going to beat us three straight, with two of the three on the road. We knew it, they knew it, heck even the fans knew it. They hadn’t beaten us on the road in eight years, and all of a sudden they’re supposed to do it twice in a row? Nuh-uh.

And to get back to the vampire motif, it’s one thing to be down 3-1 to the Suns or the Warriors. They’re fun to play against. Run up and down the court, launch shots from everywhere; no banging, no bruises. Against us though, every game is such a grind. We make teams work so hard to run their offenses, to string a few passes together, to fight like hell and communicate perfectly on defense, that even a win against us feels like a loss physically. By game five, facing a 19 point deficit on the road after one quarter, you could just tell in their body language that the whole Jazz team collectively was thinking, “What the hell is the point of even trying anymore?”

Coach Sloan dutifully examines Kirilenko’s neck for bite marks. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

However, this didn’t stop Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer from refusing to end the season on a good note and pissing on their teammates’ soup. Both stars, Williams especially, were emphatic with the press, before and after Game 5, letting everyone know that they were displeased with the effort and focus of some of their teammates. I was extremely disappointed with their decision to do this. It showed a decided lack of leadership and maturity on their part – you keep that shit in house – and it doesn’t reflect well on their intelligence either.

If you were paying attention, it was pretty obvious that the Spurs’ game plan was to let Boozer and Williams get theirs for most of the game and bottle up everyone else. They don’t let people get fast break points and they don’t leave shooters for wide open threes. What most experts don’t realize about the Spurs is that defensively, it’s not just about Bowen and Duncan. The team pretty much has a good to very good defender at every position – especially if Manu and Horry are in for Finley and Oberto. And on top of the talent, the scheme is sound and they play for possibly the finest defensive coach in the world.

Maybe if it’s a tight game they’ll do something exotic late like trap Williams or double Boozer down low, but for most of the game they weren’t getting an appreciably more amount of attention from our defense than their teammates. Not only that, but we’ve played and scouted these guys enough to know what the role players’ tendencies are, their hot spots from the floor, etc. Our defense is set up in such a way that we’ll keep the assists down and pretty much the baskets we’ll give up will be to guys who can create their own shots.

It’s as if Boozer and Williams were too dim to realize that they’re more talented than their teammates. Hey fellas, if everyone on the team were as good as you guys, than you wouldn’t have been a fifth seed! When you combine the trashing of his own teammates with Williams’ decision to call Gonzo a flopper after game 4, well let’s just say I’m not exactly enamored with the guy right now and I think he’s got some growing up to do.

In the end, kind of a dick. And what’s up with those nails? Who are you, Freddy Krueger? (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Anyway, enough about Utah, we don’t have to think about them until next November at the earliest. Our Finals opponent has been determined, so now we must look forward to the Cleveland Cavaliers. As you’re no doubt aware, this organization has a couple of tie-ins with ours in head coach Mike Brown (an assistant to Pop in ’02-03, I’m sure coach misses him just terribly… ::giggles::) and GM Danny Ferry, who was our Matt Bonner back in the day, although less liked by fellow players. Also, it should be noted, they have one LeBron James, meaning that for the first time in our franchise’s history, we will be going into the Finals as the decided villains.

If you thought the slings and arrows taken at us by the national media in the Suns series was uncalled for, then you might want to avoid newspapers, magazines, television and the internet for the next two weeks. Just watch the games on mute in your insulated basement and pretend a nuclear war is in progress outside your door. Basically, we’re going to need to develop a thick skin and a bunker mentality, because absolutely no one from the outside will have anything kind to say about us. We’re going to be likened to a bunch of Darth Vaders, only with charming accents and a penchant for flopping.

No, young Skywalker, the Spurs aren’t your father. But they will be yo’ daddy. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Speaking of Mr. James, I’m sure you’re also quite aware of his Game 5 exploits at Detroit. To refresh your memory, the young lad finished with 48 points, including his team’s final 25, and 29 of their final 30. Afterward, our protagonist sounded quite pleased with himself, telling the assembled media, “I willed my team to victory” and “Detroit was playing great defense, but I was making great moves to score.”


Naturally, our A.D.D.-addled media scooped up this tripe like so much droppings of a diamond shitting golden bunny rabbit. It’s one thing for the know-nothing talking heads to ejaculate hyperbole, but even veteran basketball watchers like Simmons and Bob Ryan – people who definitely should know better – were transfixed by the hype, favorably comparing the game to Magic’s Game 6 Finals effort in 1980 at Philadelphia (42 points, 15 rebs, 7 assists in the championship clincher while Kareem was injured) and Jordan’s 63 point night in Boston Garden.
Oh. My. God. Can everyone please just calm the fuck down?

What is wrong with everybody? The level of sensationalism of our media has gone beyond the pale. What is the issue here? Why is everyone so god damn insecure that they feel every single thing they’re witnessing has to be the greatest/worst thing that ever happened? Is it the chemicals in our food? Is that what’s causing this mind-numbing lack of perspective? Can’t anyone remember anything that happened more than two weeks ago?

Yes, James did indeed score 29 of his team’s final 30 points. But if he was really the man on a “one man team” then how do you account for his teammates scoring 60 of the first 79? Do you have any idea how many playoff games Michael Jordan labored through where he outscored the rest of his teammates? Hell, even Iverson must have turned the trick a half dozen times. That guy’s puny, he had teammates every bit as offensively-challenged if not more so, and he’s put up numerous 40+ point games in the playoffs, including one in Game 1 of the Finals at LA against the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. In fact, for a three game stretch encompassing games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the first game of the Finals, AI averaged 46 ppg. In the second round, he had 54 of his team’s 97 in Game 2 vs. the Raptors. No one remembers any of this? It happened just six years ago.

Tyronne Lue: Iverson Stopper. (Um, not really).

In fact, in the same playoffs, Kobe had 48 and 16 in Game 4 of the second round at Sacramento and followed it up with 45 and 10 in Game 1 of the WCF against our Spurs. That doesn’t ring a bell? How about Shaq’s three different 40/20 games those playoffs? Those weren’t dominant enough for you?

Speaking of the Lakers, you want something more recent? How about our very own Timmeh in ’03? In case you forgot, dude ended the Lakers dynasty with a 37-16 afternoon. Four days later in Game 1 of the WCF vs. the Mavericks he put up a 40-15-7. And who can forget his Finals clincher vs. the Nets where he finished a couple of swats shy of a quadruple double with 21-20-10-8? Everyone, apparently.

Maybe Timmeh’s brilliance was tainted a bit by the baffoonery of K-Mart.

You want to talk about heroic efforts? How about Duncan’s 41-15-6 in Game 7 against the Mavericks last year while inflicted with plantar fasciitis? I would call that answering the bell, wouldn’t you? Nowitzki had 37-15 in that same game – including an amazing three point play to send the game to OT – and rung up 50 vs. the Suns a few nights later. His little buddy, Steve Nash, had a nice three game stretch vs. Dirk’s Mavs in ’05. He had 48 points in a loss in Game 4, 34-13-12 in a Game 5 win, and 39-9-12 in the clincher @ Dallas. Totally drawing a blank there, right?

Or how about we go back a littler further, with MJ? You wanna see domination? The dude averaged 43-8-6 in the six game Finals vs. the Suns in ’93. In one of the games he had 55 over Dan Majerle, who was regarded as a fairly good defender back in the day. He also had a 54 point game vs. the Knicks in the ECF that year. In fact, he’s had eight playoff games of 50 points or more, including that historic night in 1986 at Boston.

There was a reason the Cavs never won anything before LeBron James.

That same year Sir Charles had 44-24 in Game 7 vs. the Sonics to send the Suns to the Finals. And he had a 56 point night in the first round at Oakland a year later. Guess those games weren’t impressive enough. Neither was Olajuwon’s 41-16 in Game 2 of the 1995 WCF either, I suppose; the night where he made The Admiral his personal plaything.

And on and on it goes. I haven’t even mentioned Bird or Miller or Isiah or ‘Nique or Kareem. There were guys before my time like Wilt, Bill Walton, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Heck, everyone knows that Willis Reed came out of the tunnel with a bum leg in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals to hit those two early jumpers, but how many people remember that it was Walt Frazier who captured that championship with a 36 point, 19 assist night against the Lakers?

Did LeBron have an outstanding night? Absolutely. Not only did he hit some mind-bogglingly difficult
fadeaways, but he probably played as well in his own end as I’ve ever seen him. But let’s be real for a second. Five of his final nine buckets were lay-ups and dunks, and they were going to his strong side against a single defender. Not once did the Pistons’ big man rotate over to cut off penetration or knock James on his butt. Not once did the primary defender do his job and force James to his weaker side. The Detroit defense was so out of whack, that on one crucial late drive, James was being guarded at the top of the key by Jason Maxiell, a back-up power forward. To quote Mugatu from Zoolander, “Doesn’t anybody notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” Forgive me for not being overwhelmed when Mr. Superduperstar drove right by him.

“Young LeBron? Wise LeBron? Smooth LeBron? THEY’RE ALL THE SAME PERSON!!!”

Barkley and Kenny Smith both practically went hoarse screaming into the microphone in the TNT post game show, incredulous that the once-mighty Pistons’ defense could fall to such depths. How can any NBA star be allowed to get to the cup repeatedly without being doubled, trapped, or even met at the rim? What do y’all think “The Jordan Rules” were about? Knocking MJ on his keister if he got close to the basket, that’s what.

There are like 40-50 guys in the NBA that can get to the hole and finish against a single defender and no big man helping; three of them on our team. Doesn’t anyone find it a bit weird that LeBron James, surely one of the three or four best slashers on the planet, was being given less attention in the 4th quarter of a critical playoff game than say Manu Ginobili? We all saw Manu dismantle Tayshaun Prince two years ago in the finals, so what kind of prayer does “the Tay-tay” have against a speeding locomotive like LeBron? How often do you ever see Manu drive without a big (or two) waiting for him? Larry Brown must have spinning in his grave, watching such an abysmal performance.

I can’t imagine why Prince had difficulty staying in front of LeBron.

Never forget the words of David Robinson, a man not given to boasting. When asked in an interview (I think it was for SI) once who the toughest guy for him to score against was, he simply replied that one-on-one it wasn’t hard to score against anyone. And this was coming from a guy who didn’t have anywhere near the post moves of contemporaries like Duncan or Olajuwon. If you don’t think a superstar is a mortal lock to turn even the highest regarded of defenders into a whimpering puddle one-on-one, then he’s not a superstar.

And let there be no doubt, James is a superstar. I don’t really understand what Detroit was doing on defense, and I’m positive I wasn’t alone. They only trapped LeBron like maybe 20% of the time, and every single time they did, Cleveland didn’t score. In contrast, on almost every occasion that they played him straight up, they got toasted. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to notice the pattern. Also, a major reason that James was able to account for all of his team’s points at the end is because he didn’t really give anyone else much of a chance to score. On the few occasions that Detroit did trap, even though it was obvious that James would have to give the ball up, he held on to it… and held on to it… and held on to it some more, until only three or four seconds remained on the shot clock. It didn’t really give the pass’ recipient much of a chance to get off a quality shot, especially if the pass wasn’t exactly on target, as was almost always the case. It seems Mr. James isn’t interested in making the pass that leads to the pass for the score. That kind of thing doesn’t show up in the box score y’know.

Still, it seems that no one employed by the worldwide leader can be bothered with actual analysis, the “hows” and “whys” of the game. One would think that such a thing is precisely the job description of a professional basketball analyst, but apparently all ESPN wants from their ex-jocks is to scream, “THIS GUY PLAYED WELL. I MEAN, HE REALLY, REALLY PLAYED VERY WELL.”

I, Joe Fan, had an inkling that James played well, but wasn’t certain until Greg Anthony confirmed it for me. He played in the league, so now I know for sure.


What’s even more depressing is that sports aren’t even the only field our culture has lost its sense of perspective on. Google “Bush worst president ever” and see how many links you get. I mean, yeah, I dislike him as much as the next guy, but worst ever? Really? Nobody remembers Andrew Johnson or James Buchanan or Franklin Pierce or Woodrow Wilson? His administration is more corrupt than Warren Harding’s or Richard Nixon’s? Dammit people, go read a history book. Dubya might be the worst commander-in-chief of the past sixty years, but the 19th century was littered with awful, awful presidents; scummy, hateful men who were shit politicians to boot. There are many amazing aspects of the time we live in, but unfortunately our legacy as a people might be our total ignorance of all that came before us, which is even more depressing and ironic given how invaluable the internet can be as a research tool. It’s never been easier to learn, yet most of us just refuse to put forth the effort.

James Buchanan: Total douche bag.

And yes, I’m very aware that my unemployment probably gives me more time than most to come up with these dramatic, thoughtful conclusions.

Anyway, the Pistons’ defense finally wised up in Game 6, but by then it was too late. LeBron’s teammates are much more comfortable shooting at home and they combined for 78 points in Game 6 while James only tallied 20, on 3-11 shooting. The Pistons doubled and trapped LeBron all night and he did a credible job of finding his shooters, particularly a fellow named Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, who went off for 31. Hey, what do you know, some of these guys can play. Does this mean that the media has to offer the rest of the Cavs some kind of apology?

I know I’m just pissing into the wind here, but I happen to think the Cavs have a pretty good roster, particularly for an East team. Ilgauskas is a consistent scorer and a determined offensive rebounder. Sideshow Bob brings you a lot of energy and effort on both ends of the floor and gave ‘Sheed fits all series. Larry Hughes might not be much of a shooter, but he’s a holy terror on defense and stalks those passing lanes better than anyone since Pippen. It’s not a great team, but they have pieces there.

In my opinion, the single biggest reason that James’ teammates have gone unappreciated is Mike Brown. They can be a lot more consistent and efficient on offense, but Brown is too reliant on James to create all the buckets and too incompetent to actually run an offense. James all but admitted to the media recently that if the team plays good defense Brown “let’s us do whatever we want on offense.” Egad. And even worse, Brown fuels the media hype by slurping James at every opportunity. One would thi
nk a veteran coach would take it upon himself to inflate the contributions of his role players and take the superstar off his pedestal.

Instead, Brown seems to be from the Doug Collins school of coaching, stroking his guy and heaping the blame on everyone else when things go wrong. Pop says plenty of flattering things about Timmy, but he won’t hesitate to admit Duncan sucked when he sucks, as was the case in Utah for Games 3 and 4. I guess Brown’s just looking out for his own skin. James already had one coach shitcanned for not kissing his ass (Paul Silas anyone?), so it’s been established that everyone in the organization has to answer to him. Still, would it have been so goddamn hard for Brown to remove his nose from LBJ’s buttcrack long enough to make a passing mention of the job his guys did defensively in the 4th and in those overtimes to give James the chance to do his thing on offense? For such a defensive guru, it’s weird he seemed so reluctant to mention it. Hell, the guy started his 12 minute press conference with an unprompted four minute soliloquy on the awesomeness of James and only mentioned defense in the context of (you’ll never believe this) how well LBJ played it.

“Um… this might not be the time or place… but… I love you. You hear me LeBron? I love you. I. Love. You.”

It is one thing to be self-deprecating, but Brown is setting himself up to look like a total stooge with all of his LBJ worship. If you repeatedly tell the media that the team begins and ends with your star and that you’re just a passenger along for the ride, then nobody in your locker room will take you seriously when real adversity hits. Brown is setting himself to be exposed in these Finals when the inevitable happens because Bobo the Clown isn’t facing him on the opposite bench as was the case against Detroit. The single biggest mismatch of these Finals might be the head coaches, no matter much the media wants to marginalize the LeBronaries, and the fingers will have to point to somebody when Stern hands Peter Holt another big ass golden ball.

They won’t be pointing at James anymore, not for a long while.

Your 3 Stars (remember the Spurs-Jazz part of this post?)

3. Tony Parker – 21 points, 5 assists, 0 turnovers. He attacked the gimpy Williams without a shred of mercy. Really, it was a brilliant closeout game from him.
2. Fabricio Oberto – Our biggest pleasant surprise all playoffs, Fab consistently outplayed his counterpart Okur and repeatedly gave us second chances on offense with his rebounding savvy. He heads to his first Finals as a significant contributor, a shocking upset given his struggles in the second half of the regular season.
1. Michael Finley – The old man gets his redemption in the end, a well deserved trip to the Big One after the bitter way last season ended. Now we’ve got to finish it off so it can be stated, once and for all, that he made the right decision to sign here.

Four wins away from a happy ending. Thanks, Nick Van Exel!

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  1. Dennard June 4, 2007

    Great post Stampler. It was funny how the media was all on LeBron’s jock after game 5 and failed to mention how shitty Detroit’s defense was. A sign of the times indeed.

  2. Stephen June 5, 2007

    Great post man. At least we got some analysis from guys look (with creative cursing thrown in free!)

    (Little tip for your writing career)

  3. Aaron S June 5, 2007

    Hey guys of Spurs dynasty.. this is aaron from…. I was wondering if there would be any way I could qualify as a “Dynastic Site.” I know someone over there looks at my page because of the Will Ferrell Mugato pic and the Tim Duncan Pic in the Celtic uniform… I am a huge Spurs fan and lover you guy’s blog… it’s awesome and the Spurs are for sure going to own the Cavs…. I got you guys on my Favs… just wondering if I could get some love too… thanks guys… and I hope you get this… love the blog and keep up the good work… oh yeah, i couldn’t find anyone’s email… aaron

  4. Dingo June 5, 2007

    Thanks, Aaron. Consider yourself dynastic.

    Michael, great post, but about your digression …

    I’m no historian, but George W Bush deserves consideration as our worst president ever, at least according to a group of 415 historians.

    Others topping the worst ever list include Nixon, Harding, Hoover, Reagan and, yes, Buchanan — “total douche bag,” indeed.

    What was so bad about Franklin Pierce?!

  5. Aaron S June 5, 2007

    worst president ever… for sure

  6. Eric June 6, 2007

    great post. never read before, but will sure read again.

    good stuff.

  7. Sean June 6, 2007

    Sorry, “for all intensive purposes” is a malapropism. You should write, “for all intents and purposes.”

  8. Ashok June 8, 2007

    Those playoff performances you list brought back a lot of good memories. One oversight I would add is MJ’s six 3’s at the half evisersication of Portland in ’92 the list and maybe even some of D-Wades games last year, especially Game 3.

    But though I’m with your overall anaylsis, I disagree on a couple of things. First, even in the context of that illustrious list, I think Lebron’s game 5 stands out b/c of 1) his age and 2) the way he effectively ended the series with one burst of brilliance. It wasn’t so much his point total that was impressive, it was his dissection of a fairly decent team (albeit headed by a idiot coach with a history of playoff failure) on such a big stage.

    Also, I think you failed to take your own advice in proclaiming that Larry Hughes “stalks those passing lanes better than anyone since Pippen”? Really? Better than Kobe from 2000-2003? Better than Shawn Marion, Iggy Pop, Gerald Wallace this year? Larry Hughes has quick hands and all but one could name 10 players just this year who’ve been at least a good as him in playing the lanes.

    Anyway, great post and though I really hate the Spurs, I have to say y’all have put together a dynasty worthy performance over the last few weeks (with all due respect to the Lakers, Bulls, Celtics, Yankees, ’92 Cowboys, ’82 Islanders and ’79-’96 Fredrick “Carl” Lewis of course).

  9. Anonymous June 8, 2007

    So there I was tuning into a basketball game for the first time in (let’s see, when was Jordan’s last game – 1998?) 9 years to be “witness” to the proclaimed heir apparent when I suddenly concluded “Man, I’d rather watch Dog Bounty Hunter.”

    Click. “On this episode Dog finds himself tracking down a delinquint traitor responsible for selling Llamas to Iran.”

    Over-hyped, over-blown and over-exposed. Lebron James is nothing out of the ordinary – a very good player with a one dimensional game who plays lousy defense.

    Extra-ordinary though? Hah.

    Jordan on the other hand, ah, pure grace, determination and creativity on the basketball court. It’s lunacy for anyone to compare James to Michael Jeffery Jordan in any way.

    How far the NBA has fallen.

  10. Anonymous June 9, 2007

    I went to game 1 of the finals and I loved that everyone had signs mocking the infamous “Witness” t-shirts Cavs fans so proudly strut all over San Antonio but I saw a guy wearing this t-shirt that I thought you guys should check out. Its great! Well, for Spurs fans…


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