Two Great Champions Keep Winning… Unfortunately
Game 14: Spurs 116, Supersonics 101
Yes, I know, I know I said I wouldn’t mention soccer anymore until next week, but this is insane. They announced the qualification groups for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa last Sunday (let me ruin the suspense for you now, Brazil is gonna win it – in fact they’ll win the next two) and Manolis and I got whole new fresh batch of nations to despise for no rational reason. Greece’s group is a joke. All they’ve got standing in their way is Israel and Switzerland, it’s pathetic. I’ve already congratulated him on qualifying for the Cup.
Turkey’s group is somewhat tougher. Since they weren’t a top-seeded team like Greece, they had to deal with a heavy, and that heavy is the swarthy Spanish. The Iberians have a rich and proud history of choking in big tournaments, but unlike England, they at least manage to qualify for them before gagging. We also have to deal with Belgium, birthplace of The Wee Rapping Frenchman, and all I know about them is that I have an aunt-in-law from there and the people love to dip their fries into mayonnaise, which is disgusting. It appears we’ll finish in second and be sent into the home-and-home playoff round with some other second place team. I’m hoping for a rematch with the bastard Swiss.
Anyway, the teams at the top of our group are not why I’m outraged. Rather, it’s by the team on the bottom. Armenia. Freaking Armenia! When history teachers, living under the surface of the radioactive Earth a hundred years from now, teach their pupils about the Great War that ended everything, they’ll let out a melancholy sigh and begin their lectures, “It all started with a soccer game between two nations called Turkey and Armenia…”
Seriously, this might be the single stupidest idea in the sporting world in the past 25 years. Stupider than creating not one but two major league baseball teams to play in Florida, stupider than the NHL’s TV deal with Vs., even stupider than giving Monday Night Football to ESPN. The word hate gets thrown around a lot in life as hyperbole, but trust me when I tell you, Turkey and Armenia hate one another.
I’m not going to get into the long history of it, but it basically boils down to this: Armenia claims that Turkey staged a mass genocide against them in 1915, during WWI, back when Turkey was the Ottoman Empire. To this day, Turkey claims this wasn’t the case and whoever was killed were casualties of war. Historians and journalists debate the issue all the time and while the majority agree with the Armenian view, not all do. One of the major reasons Turkey has not been accepted into the European Union is because they refuse to acknowledge that they committed this act and the Turkish government simply and continually asks the EU, the U.N. and the Armenian government to show some concrete proof.
Obviously, you know which side I stand on. I’m biased. I’m open minded enough that I can be convinced we did it, but my mom has sent me articles (from non-Turkish scholars) saying we didn’t. Either way, to be honest with you, I don’t care much one way or the other. It was a century ago and my family wasn’t involved. What I do know is I went to a high school with 70 Armenians and they threatened me verbally and physically constantly. Their parents taught them to hate Turks, even though we’re all supposedly Americans now. So yeah, I’m emotional about it and prejudiced. I wouldn’t say I hate Armenians – I’m not going to hate anyone I’ve never met- but I’m realistic enough to understand that me and an Armenian person probably won’t become friends once I tell him/her that I’m Turkish (my last name doesn’t give it away whereas all Armenian last names end in -ian or -yan).
So, given all that information, you can understand why it’s a TERRIBLE idea for these two countries to play two soccer games – one in each nation – against each other. Generally, if two countries never play a “friendly” vs. one another, then you can expect trouble when they are paired up in a meaningful game. I’m not worried about the athletes at all. They’re usually the most sane people in events like this. But I am concerned like hell about the “fans” both theirs and ours. Our fans have a checkered history of rioting and shameful behavior against countries we don’t have any history with, so a World Cup Qualifier against the Armenians seems like a lock for all kinds of trouble and punishment from FIFA.
I know the draw is supposed to be random, but FIFA should realize their error in this case, nip it in the bud and switch Armenia with some other 5th seeded team like Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan. Or at least have the good sense to schedule both games with Armenia in a neutral site and an empty stadium, a ploy soccer uses sometimes to punish teams with unruly fans (our first three “home” Euro 2008 qualifiers were played this way as a penalty for how our crowd acted in a World Cup 2006 qualifier with Switzerland). Either way something must be done, because, and I can’t emphasize this enough, this is a VERY BAD IDEA.
Speaking of bad ideas, I gambled on football again. I bet $25 on the Browns straight up -3 against the Texans (woohoo!) and wagered $50 on a teaser parlay for the Giants -1 against the Vikings, and the Cardinals -4.5 against the 49ers. Well, I certainly didn’t get cheated on it, as both teams lost and lost handily. I’m a dummy. So of course, when Manolis called me from Reno (he went the whole week with his family) right before the Eagles-Patriots game was about to start, I told him to put $25 on the Spurs, -9.5. Surely the hapless Sonics, who hadn’t won a home game all year to that point, weren’t going to give us a game, right?
But first, the football game. I was working at the bar, and it was as dead there as ever, but naturally this Patriots-loving couple were there. The wife was quiet and normal enough (though she was very homely looking, to be kind). The husband though… oh my God. I’m not kidding, I think he may have been mentally disabled. First off, he had an unhealthy obsession with linebacker Tedy Bruschi, to the point where it makes me and Manu look perfectly normal. Every play in the game he’s yelling for Bruschi to take somebody’s head off. And I do mean yelling. The guy was SCREAMING!
The guy kept bugging me to wager with him, even though we both knew his team was great and my team was very mediocre. Hell, we didn’t even have our starting quarterback playing. Still, to humor him we made a pair of gentlemen bets. $5 that the Eagles wouldn’t turn it over in the 1st quarter and the Eagles +15 for the half.
Picture me after the 3rd play of the game when A.J. Feeley throws a pick six to Asante Samuel. Grumpy would’ve been an understatement. Lo and behold, the Eagles marched right down the field and scored the next time they had the ball. I may have celebrated a little too enthusiastically, doing a jig right in front of the guy’s table, but come on, this was the 11-0 Pats, the most arrogant, unsportsmanlike team in all of sports. And we were tied!
To everyone’s shock the score went back and forth all game long. They never blew us out, they never led by more than the seven they started the game with, and Philly even held brief leads of their own at 21-17 and 28-24. The game was there to be had for the biggest NFL upset of all time but two plays doomed the Eagles. First, with that 28-24 lead the Philly defense was about to force an ultra-rare New England punt. For the first time a
ll day they would have the lead and the ball. But on the punt some idiot fat fuck nosetackle was off sides on the snap and 4th & 3 turned into 1st down for New England. They scored the go ahead touchdown to make it 31-28 soon after.
Second, on the ensuing series Feeley was once again leading his offense down the field and the Eagles were around New England’s 25 yard line easily within kicker David Akers’ field goal range to tie the game. There was a little over three minutes to go and they were facing a 2nd and 5 and instead of hitting a wide open L.J. Smith for the first down that would have kept both the chains and the clock moving, Feeley foolishly gambled and went for the big score, badly overthrowing intended receiver Kevin Curtis who was blanketed anyway, and lofting the ball into the hands of Samuel again for a second interception that salted away the game.
It was a heartbreaking loss, and what made it worse was that this idiot Bruschi fan was yelling after every play, calling for an Eagles penalty all the time, exaggeratingly gesturing for first downs, just being an obnoxious twit. His team was 11-0, and he was still acting like a spoiled baby, begging for breaks like his team was the huge underdog. He wanted the Pats to go for it every 4th down, no matter the down or distance and who could blame him? They a) have the best QB in the game b) have the best receivers and c) their dickhead coach usually does go for it, even with 35 point leads. They break every rule of decorum in the game and throw every stinking play. Worse still, their coach manages to brainwash their players, media, and fans into thinking that nobody respects them and that the only way to earn respect is to humiliate teams 54-0 every week, sportsmanship be damned. I hate them, I hate them, I hate them. And I do mean it. I HATE them.
You know what I love? The Spurs. And while my blood was boiling with the venom I have for New England, San Antonio was playing in the Emerald City against ex-assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo. Unfortunately while I was enraptured by a football game that wasn’t a blowout, I was less than enthused about the basketball game that was, to my frustration, just as competitive, tied at positively absurd score of 64 apiece. I was obviously to preoccupied by the Iggles to catch most of the game live, but what I was seeing was certainly agitating. What the hell has happened to our defense?
With the young Sonics you can understand. Their savior is a 19 year-old toothpick. Their power forward, Chris Wilcox, can jump out of the gym, but is even less interested in defense than Sore Testicles Aching Terribly Stoudemire. Their point guard combo is the craptastic duo of Earl Watson and Delonte West, who looks more like some P.O.W. refugee than an NBA player at this point, his body is so bruised an inked up. Plus his skin just has this unnatural shade to it, I’m sorry. I don’t know if it’s scurvy or jaundice or what, but something ain’t right with that dude. I can’t possibly be the only one to think it.
I feel bad for P.J., I really do. It took five long years for him to get another coaching gig after his infamous run in with Sprewell, so it’s probably going to be a while before he feels comfortable screaming, “Put some more mustard on that pass” to another over-hyped young star who has the phone number for every gold digging slut in the greater Seattle metropolitan area in his Blackberry already but probably not the coach’s.
That’s the thing about the NBA. It’s a player’s league to such an extent that outside of five or six guys, the rest of the coaches are all completely nut-less, walking on egg shells the whole time, wary of upsetting their meal tickets. Once these guys get fired the first time, they’re never the same. They’re so desperate for the job the second or third time around, they become shadows of themselves, coddling their stars, eschewing all of their principles about the game, acting like hypocrites and bereft of integrity.
We saw it happen to Eric Musselman last year in Sacramento, didn’t we? Musselman was an up-and-coming young coach with the Warriors and even had them on the brink of making the playoffs for a couple of seasons. He was no nonsense and he demanded that his guys play defense, no matter how many they could score on the other end. Frequently he would bench his starting backcourt of Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas in the 4th quarters of tight games for Earl Boykins and Bob Sura. Sure it sounds crazy now, but I’m telling you that the move worked back then. Of course, the stars of the team staged a mutiny and Musselman was fired. When Musselman got his second chance in Sacramento last year, his coaching style was unrecognizable. He was a nice guy all of a sudden – too nice – and defense was a taboo word around Sacramento. He never yelled, he never screamed, he never demanded anything of his players, and he got canned again, this time for good probably, after just one season. Supposedly the Maloof brothers were concerned with his public image after getting a DUI. Of course he drank, the guy probably couldn’t even look himself in the mirror anymore.
Also, Warriors fans will remember the brief reign of Mike Montgomery, the ex-Stanford coach. Sure, everybody loves Baron Davis now, and people look at him and Nellie as the saviors of the Warriors franchise, but people forget that Davis was the one who ushered Montgomery out of town, playing listlessly on both ends of the floor, giving no effort on defense, chucking up wild threes whenever he felt like it. Remember, the only reason Davis was traded to the W’s in the first place was his diva-like behavior in Charlotte. He basically told Warriors GM Chris Mullin to get him a professional NBA coach, not a college guy or that he’d be leaving as a free agent. The rest, as they say, is history. Now the guy could be mayor of Oakland if he wanted.
So will P.J. in Seattle become same pathetic patsy like Musselman, Montgomery and countless others in the league? Will he become a de-fanged enabler for Kevin Durant, perfectly willing to ignore and/or excuse all of his 9-of-23, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 5 turnovers- nights and heaping blame for the mounting losses on the lesser players? He’s stuck in a lame duck city, with incompetent ownership and few long term building blocks. Sure, his GM might be a whiz kid, but he’s going to have to learn on the fly as well. Just because Carlesimo learned all kinds of lessons on how to deal with players from Pop, it doesn’t mean he can apply those lessons to his charges. Guys like Tim Duncan as coachable as he is talented, don’t come around very often. Furthermore, even Pop makes mistakes (r.e. Beno Udrih) and who’s to say that so much of the Spurs’ success wasn’t just dumb luck for discovering Manu and Tony?
I sincerely hope that P.J. is able to stay honest and true to himself, but early indications aren’t really promising.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Anywho, enough about Seattle. What about us? Are any of you surprised at the defensive slippage? You certainly shouldn’t be. I warned you about it here. We’re knee deep in Lakeritis mode right now, my friends. Defense isn’t easy, nor is it glamorous. It’s just something teams have to do if they’re serious about winning championships. Just ask Dallas or Phoenix. For the past two weeks, we’ve been cruising on defense, winning games with our scoring alone. It’s fun to watch, we’ll get 56 wins out of it, and maybe Manu and Tony will put up career-best stats, but we won’t win another ring playing this way. In fact, Dallas or Houston will bounce our asses out of the playoffs in five games playing this way.
It’s the little things on defense. We’re not fighting through picks. We’re letting guys get to the basket too easily. We’re not making the hustle plays, not communicating, allowing way too many open twos. Maybe teams are just shooting better, I don’t know. But Tim isn’t dominating inside (just like at this point last year) the way we’re used to seeing him. Tony is letting opposing points get whatever they want; really disappointing in light of his superior efforts last playoffs against the likes of AI, Nash, and Barbosa. Manu’s steals and blocks have ceased almost completely and he seems to be floating back there, content to hide on the weak side and giving token effort. It looked like he was surprised as the rest of us that Pop put him on Durant for an extended stretch and the rookie made him look bad on several occasions. Yeah, Durant has four inches and arms that seem to go the length of the court, but still, Manu didn’t put up much resistance.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Even Bruce Bowen is guilty, and for him that’s particularly sinful since defense is the only reason he’s even on the floor. Wally World flat out embarrassed Bruce in the 2nd quarter, scoring 20 points on a variety of jumpers, some coming off screens, others of his own creation. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before, but Szczerbiak is a dead ringer for Zachary Quinto aka “Sylar” of Heroes. Sylar’s power, as some of you may know, is to steal the powers of other special people by cutting their heads open. Nobody has abused Bruce this badly since Adam Morrison torched him in their first meeting last year. Come to think of it, has anyone seen Morrison lately?
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
I think putting Manu on Sylar and Bruce on Durant would’ve made more sense, but that’s just me, I guess. Anyway, a major reason we were able to run away a bit in that second half is that P.J. and the Sonics didn’t try very hard to get Wally World open in the 2nd half. Yes, maybe Bruce was just that masterful and worked really hard to deny him the ball, but I don’t think anybody can turn their night around that dramatically from one half to another. Szczerbiak made both of the shots he attempted in half number two and you’ve got to think that he could’ve buried a few more, as hot as he was, if he even got a crack of an opening. Hell, P.J. erred just waiting until 5:33 remained in the 3rd quarter to bring him in. What the heck was he waiting for? Damien Wilkins was doing nothing. And for most of Wally’s second half stint, Durant was chained to the bench. The whole reason they were lighting us up was because both were on the floor at once!
Outside of that we prevailed mainly because we sank seven more three pointers (11-19, 57%) and eight more free throws. That’s pretty much it. Our big three combined for 70 points, shooting a collective 27-of-51 and 12-of-12 from the line. Bonner, Barry, and Fin combined for seven bombs and the team made 23-of-24 freebies. The guys were having a lot of fun playing offense, passing the ball beautifully, getting backdoor lay-ups and dunks, and their energy level was noticeably higher when they had the ball. It’s enjoyable to watch in November, but like Pop says, it’s not “who we are.”
At least, I hope not.
Their power forward dunks better than our power forward.
(Photo by Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE via Getty Images)
So while I was agonizing over the Eagles, I was also on pins and needles on my Spurs bet, as their lead was fluctuating between six and ten the whole fourth quarter. Bonner, of all people, made the critical plays late, first feeding Timmy for a lay-up, then stealing the ball from Wilcox and hitting two from the line to push the margin to double digits for good. The refugee came through for me by missing two freebies of his own and then Opus got fouled and made his and I could breathe a bit. After all that gambling, I broke even for the day. Frankly, I would’ve gladly eaten the $25, taken a seven point Spurs win, if only the Iggles could’ve toppled Goliath. Alas.
One last random note: Gino, despite exerting no energy whatsoever without the ball, finished a game best +15. He is now the league leader at +165 through 14 games. He’s on pace for a +966 season. Timmy led the league in +/- last year at + 760. Second place was Dirk, at +626. Manu’s doing it averaging 29 minutes a night. That works out to a pace of +.406 per minute. Last year Duncan led the league (Opus was third) in that category as well at +.278 a minute. This leads to two conclusions: 1) Timmy was robbed in the MVP voting last year and 2) Manu right now is the biggest difference maker in the NBA.
than breathing, and just as involuntary.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Your 3 Stars…
3. Jacque Vaughn – 1 point on 0-1 from the field, 1-2 from the line, 3 assists, and a +13 in 12 minutes. The perfect Vaughn statline.
2. Tim Duncan – Battled inside for 26 points, made all four of his freebies, had three assists, three offensive boards, and two blocks.
1. Matt Bonner – 12 and 6 in 23 minutes and he actually came to play at both ends. Welcome back Red Rocket.
Record: 12-2 (Franchise best start)
Up Next: @ Sacramento Kings
The Wrath of Beno.
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