Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Routing the Champs

New Orleans 100 | San Antonio 75
[league standings]

Holy crap! Holy crap! Holy crap! I feel like Irene Cara (or Jennifer Beals... whichever's funnier). I could dance right through my life. What an unbelievable game!

Picture this: two teams in a near dead heat for a home-court seed in the Wild, Wild West... in the same division. Team A has experience (as a team), an MVP, veterans, tough players, a brilliant coach, and [4] rings. Team B has gumption, an MVP-candidate, an underdog complex, a newfound sense of place, some of the loudest fans this side of the Oracle. Yes, San Antonio and New Orleans went toe-to-toe tonight. Neither team goes down without a fight. Actually, some might argue that all San Antonio does is pick fights. But that's not important.

Before I get into a detailed recap with some super fly analysis, I'd like to address the issue known as "The Spurs". Undoubtedly one of the most loathed teams in basketball, the Spurs have mastered a playing style that relies on efficiency, consistency, and tough physical play. Despite Manu and Parker's seeming flashiness, this is not a team that's after the spotlight. They're after the win. And they get it. Just look for the rings.

Unfortunately, their abilities as a team has spawned some remarkably malcontented fans. Hell, I used-to-be/kind-of-still-am one of them. I used to be a Suns fan, for crying out loud (for those of you who are confused about this, read this entry). But I have to say, they get worse than they deserve. This is because most of their critics are disgruntled fans who have the inability to see beyond the hard fouls to realize how good this team is. First off, they've been together forever and have an uncanny ability to play off of each other. They pass beautifully. Think the Suns without a clear passing leader like Nash. Everyone in San Antonio can move the ball. Add that to Duncan's unfairly criticized style and scoring ability, as well as Manu and Parker's penchant for high-flying (and often scoring) antics, and well, you might win a championship. You might even win 4.

I know, I know. You're all saying, "Lee, we know you. You hate the Spurs. You loathe them. You've threatened to kill the families of all the players, coaches, and towel boys in the past. How could you even think that last paragraph, let alone commit it to something in full view of the public?" And it's true. I don't like them. But the reason I don't like them is they play in a really physical manner that often goes unnoticed by the refs. It's a dirty style of play that can be frustrating as a fan of the opposing team since you feel as though your win column is not the only thing being threatened. Though they seem immovable at times, they can be beat. However, usually just when you think you might have a chance to beat them, one of two things happens:

1. The refs forget that fouls can be called on Duncan and that standing near him is not actually a foul.

2. One their lesser players throws a lovable superstar into a table, which then prompts caring teammates to be suspended because they stand up to see if their captain (oh captain) has been strewn into a dozen pieces all over the statisticians.

See, there's still some venom left. I just think it's unfair to hate on these guys because they're good at what they do. That is what we call being a "poor sport". That is not being a "fan". Let's move on to the game.


The first quarter featured the battle at the point with CP3 going head-to-head against Tony Parker (a good friend of his, oddly enough). Both guys were flying up and down the court, forcing lead changes with almost every possession. Parker finished the first with 13, Paul with 10.

In the second quarter, the Hornets start to pull away and the lead ceases to change hands for the rest of the game. Other players start contributing to the cause, but the highlights stay at the points with CP3 and Parker each totaling 18 for the half. The difference between the two? Assists. CP3 finished the half with 8. That was good for 7 more than Parker.

Things start to get ugly in the third. The refs had already proven that Duncan was infallible (he finished the night with 0 fouls) and that so much as looking at him funny would be cause for a foul, but they got really nasty with the whistle after the halftime. The Spurs were apparently concerned about Paul's scoring ability, so they rotated Bruce Bowen over to guard him. This resulted in many "overlooked" fouls and excessively unnecessary contact. The whole thing boiled over during a Hornets' offensive sequence when Bowen knocked the ball away from Paul. Both men (as well as Duncan) then attempted to recover the ball. In the process, Paul slips and falls while Bowen manages to straddle him and (inadvertently kick him more than once). Bowen fights the ball away from Paul, accidentally steps on him as he gives the ball to Duncan, then BOOM... foul on Chris Paul. Whaaaat? Do the math. It's ridiculous. This all follows (of course) several offensive sequences in which Bowen should at least been called for one foul... but alas, where have all the whistles gone? Oh, right we used them all to keep Duncan safe.

Now ordinarily I'd be bitter about such treatment from the refs (devoted fans will recall the entry from the Spur's first visit to NOLA this season), but not tonight. "Why", you ask? Because what the recap won't tell you is that for every ensuing San Antonio possession--and I mean EVERY--a deafening series of "boos" arose from the crowd. It was amazing. Everyone was booing at the top of their lungs. I didn't think it was going to hold out past the first few possessions after the incident, but it stayed strong until well after the scrubs entered the game. The jeering almost petered out at one point, but a ridiculous blocking foul was called on Chandler. (Tyson watched a botched San Antonio shot fly over his head toward the top of the key. He then turned to see Tim Duncan catch said miss. Tim Duncan then attempted to jump over Tyson and dunk while Tyson stood there, not having moved since the first shot. BOOM... foul on Tyson.)

After that, it was over. The Spurs were unable to make up any ground within the ever-widening gap, and Popovich smartly put in his scrubs with 4:15 to play in the fourth. It's the playoff race: you have to learn when to keep fighting and when to accept defeat. Over-working your players for a closer loss is totally unnecessary... damn, Greg Popovich knows what he's doing.

To close, CP3 put up magical numbers again (26 points, 17 assists) and David West made a strong return with 29 points and 10 boards. He appeared to be a little less trusting of his jumper than usual (which is weird because that was all he could practice while nursing his injury). In fact, he seemed to want to dribble off of every pass he fielded. Not quite the David of old, but effective enough for tonight. I'll be watching to see how this develops. And finally, JuJu appears to be heading towards the role of regular back-up. His performance was short of his recent outbursts, but it's nice to see that Byron is trusting him.


One quick stat and we're out of here to mentally prepare for the Grand Theft Spaniards on Friday.

Against the other nine teams vying for a playoff berth (that's right Portland, I'm not counting you out yet), the Hornets are 16-12. That's not terribly impressive, but it does show a winning percentage against the top tier.

Let's make it 17 on Friday.

No comments: