This is a first sports post. …gotta let it out, it being elation. I’m first a baseball fan but basketball is my favorite sport to watch on the tv. Last night the Cavs brought a Cleveland team to a pro championship series for only the third time since a Cleveland team actually reigned as champion, (the Browns in 1964.)
For the past few days I’ve waded into the b-ballosphere and read about how terrible the Cavs are despite the King of pearls at their center. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance that arises in my reading the harsh critiques rendered by pro and lay basketball expert alike. Somehow, it would seem, a mediocre team in an awful conference won 50 out of 82 regular season games, 12 out of 16 playoff games, beat the Spurs 2 out of 2 times in the regular season, and did this all while surrounding LeBron with terrible role players whose greatest talent, evidently, is to only appear as if they’re actually a good defensive team.
Many also commented on how average to sucky is coach Mike Brown. Kudos were reserved for LeBron, the noisy homers who fill up The Q, and, after a lights out unveiling over the last ten days, for Daniel Gibson.
Moving on to the Spurs, the Cavaliers are held out as so much cannon fodder. The Spurs are purportedly the exact template of a team able to strip the glow of the Cavs’ success away, leaving only a pearl and a bunch of crap to stand naked to the world.
Now, I’m not an expert, but it seems the Western Conference finalist lost the finals to the Heat last year. Well, I know I’m right about at least this! Conclusion, stranger stuff could happen.
But how? The b-ballosphere reached a consensus last night after the Pistons loss. LeBron had two great games and the Pistons had five terrible games. The Pistons allowed the Cavs to beat them because they couldn’t be bothered to make gimme shots against the Cav’s overrated D. And, Prince was awful the whole series. The Pistons gave away their advantage in experience and their play was over-loaded with anxious emotions when it wasn’t fragmenting into chaos.
It would seem many of the experts reasoned that all the Cavs had to do was show up and let LeBron will the team to remain to the final horn while the Pistons freaked out. At what? The low level of competition?
Here’s what I think happened: a more physically able, younger, less-egocentric Cavaliers dismantled a smug and fractious Pistons squad and beat them every which way, on both ends of the court, and did it the old fashioned way. They did it by staunching Piston runs, hanging in until they could close four games in a row OUT. Like pesky gnats, their kinetic defense threw up arms, cut off lanes to the paint, and consistently forced the Pistons to rush shots from good looks.
Coach Brown may not yet be a coldly clinical basketball mind, but there can be no doubt his status as a players’ coach counted for a lot. He made a great comment at the conference after game five, remarking how his shooters spread the hopeless Piston zone during the King’s uncompromising run. Then, in game six the half court and back court traps the Pistons used to take the ball out of LeBron’s hands fulfilled the promise of Saunder’s flawed strategy. The rebounding edge, 70-43, speaks for itself against the risk a trapping zone presents.
Strangely, the Spurs have some similarities to the Pistons. Although they’re built around the super athletic Duncan and a host of specialists, rather than around a speedy backcourt of defender/shooters, both teams are veteran fueled and dependent on the ability to push into a matchless, icy fifth gear.
But, if the Cavs count a King and courtiers, in effect, so do the Spurs. Certainly Tony Parker should count more than Gibson, and the Cavs don’t have a point guard in any case. But, is Parker a better defender than Hughes? Sure he is! The Spurs are the league’s best defensive team. Do the Spurs have four benchers who could start for just about any other NBA team? Yup.
Anybody think Wild Thing is scarier than Horry coming off the bench? Do you really want to see Marshall tangle with Finley? Ouch. Do you think Pavlovic will fair better against Bruce?…extremely doubtful. How do you think Gibson will do breaking into a lane full of Tim Duncan? And do you think Z will be granted second shot touches? Can you visualize Ginobili causing Hughes to foul out?
This leaves one matchup. Bowen vs.Le Bron. I expect the Spurs will trap and quickly rotate, but Bowen won’t give LeBron any easy looks. On the other hand, it’s a mismatch if LeBron has somewhere to go. The Cavs can play D with the Spurs, but their test will be to get looks and make shots in the face of the Spurs’ ability to make life miserable for opponents in half court and in transition. The Spurs’ other obvious advantage is that they don’t lose a lot of D when the backups step on the floor.
The Cavs have one thing they can do: they can go small and very quick and very kinetic. But, as much as this opens the floor, so far this line-up of shooters hasn’t shot well with the exception of Gibson.
There’s not much to be realistically optimistic about except for one thing: there wasn’t much to be optimistic about ten days ago either. If Parker or Ginobili have a Prince-like series, young legs and a lot of will might make for a surprise, or two or three, or four. Fortunately, when you’re the deepest of underdogs, sometimes you come up with a crazed effort in the face of impossible odds.
There’s only one team at the end of the finals that could possibly end up wondering how it was they lost.