Archive for the ‘Pick-and-Pop’ Category

I fear that because it wasn’t technically a game-winning shot, history might not end up acknowledging Tony Parker’s bucket last night with 5.2 seconds to go in Game 1 of the 2013 Finals as one of the greatest shots in NBA playoff history. Make no mistake — it absolutely was. True, the Spurs were already up two with the ball, and even an offensive rebound at that point would’ve been just as deadly to the Heat as a made basket. But if he misses (with three Miami players in rebounding position), the Heat have five seconds and LeBron James to make up a two-point lead, and there’s little doubt in my mind they would have done it. Even if they were already leading, I have no issues with calling Parker’s shot a game-winner.

And holy hell, what a shot. The number of factors that added to the degree of difficulty are basically countless, but let’s see if we can count them anyway:

  1. The shot was taken with less than a fraction of a second remaining on the shot clock, close enough to a violation that even though he appeared to get it off on time, had it been ruled no good on the floor, it’s uncertain if that decision would have been overturned on replay.
  2. Even with time dwindling down, Parker had to go right, into his defender’s body, then pivot left for his leaning jumper, before just barely get the ball off underneath the jumping defender’s outstretched arm.
  3. That defender was LeBron James, arguably the best (and definitely the toughest) perimeter defender in the entire NBA.
  4. This all happened after a wildly broken play resulted in Parker dribbling manically around the right wing, at one point even losing his footing and slipping to the floor, but somehow maintaining his dribble throughout.
  5. It was the final seconds of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, on the opposing team’s home court. Worth mentioning.

There are probably a whole lot more minute factors that I’m missing, but those are most of the big ‘uns.

So yeah, it was an absolutely breathtaking moment in NBA Finals history, one that deserves to be anthologized and replayed to death and should undoubtedly make an appearance in next year’s pregame Finals history montage. (Hell, ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh has already pieced together an Oral History of the shot from all the postgame comments from players and coaches involved, and it might not be the last one published on the subject matter before all is said and done.) It’s enough to make your skin crawl with anticipation for Game 2 on Sunday night.

All that’s missing now for the shot it is a nickname, a catchy, easily identifiable, and preferably alliterative nom de legend for it to be forever known as. I don’t pretend to have the final answer on the matter, and really, stuff like this is often only decided over time, but I’d like to at least get the ball bouncing around the rim on the discussion. Some opening suggestions:

1. The Broken Banker
Feel like you should have some sort of allusion to the fact that the play leading up to Parker’s jumper was a complete disaster, and “Broken Banker” basically gets at that, while succinctly describing the shot and throwing in a little alliteration to boot. It doesn’t cleanly describe the shot or play for someone who doesn’t already know about it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as opportunities to relive the play in all its gory detail should be treasured by all (assuming you weren’t rooting for the Heat for some reason).

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The presence of Memphis, San Antonio and Indiana — three mid-market (at best) teams without a ton of over-arcing basketball history — as three of the conference finalists in this year’s postseason meant that we probably weren’t going to get a historically sexy matchup in this year’s NBA Finals. Still, of the potential Finals ABC execs were looking at, you’d have to think that Spurs-Heat was easily their first choice. It’s the pairing with the most combined stars, the most combined championships, and as far as I can tell, the most combined story lines. It’s not Lakers-Celtics or even Thunder-Heat, but given that it could’ve been a totally sexless Grizzlies-Pacers matchup (uhh, Mike Conley went to high school in Indiana? Both cities have a racing park? A fist fight might break out?), it’ll do.

So yeah, those story lines. Let’s review for Game 1 tomorrow.

1. Those classic regular-season no-show games.
Spurs-Heat Pt. 1 was already one of the most memorable games of the season before it even tipped off, with Gregg Popovich electrifying the hoops world with his controversial announced decision to not only rest four of his best players for the Spurs’ nationally televised game against the Heat in Miami (at the end of a long San Antonio road trip), but to send them home in advance of the rest of the team. Of course, the Spurs made things doubly interesting by actually making a game out of it, leading in the fourth quarter and being in it down to the final Gary Neal-suffocated minute. Then, the Heat returned fire in March by resting their own starters in San Antonio, though they left Chris Bosh in the lineup, who ended up having an awesome game and hit a last-minute three-pointer to win the game and shock the Spurs.

Aside from demonstrating to us how no two teams in the league are schemier — in either the sinister plotting sense or in the Xs and Os sense — than these two teams, the impact of these two regular season showdowns on the Finals are mostly two-fold:

1. We still have absolutely no idea what it looks like when these two teams play each other at full-strength, and, moreover, neither do any of the teams’ respective coaches and scouts.
2. We are going to have to endure a whole lot of “Pop resting starters” jokes on Twitter for four to seven games. Likely with diminishing returns.

2. LeBron James’ shot at vengeance against the Spurs.
The Heat have never played the Spurs in the playoffs, but of course, LeBron has. Before his ultimate anointment, King James and his Cavaliers got blitzed in four games by the Spurs in ’07, one of the least-exciting and least-watched Finals in NBA history. LeBron’s already gotten his vengeance against a number of the teams who have stood in his way over the years, namely the Pistons and the Celtics, but the Spurs — still the only (and very possibly the last) team to ever sweep LeBron in the playoffs — are no doubt still on his To Do list. “This is gonna be your league in a little while,” Tim Duncan memorably told LeBron after the ’07 crushing. “But I appreciate you giving us this year.”

Does six years count as a little while? Is LeBron still in a giving mood? Also worth noting: Timmy and the Spurs have never lost in the Finals, going 4-0 in their quartet of visits. Despite having won far more recently, LeBron is still just 1-2  for his career in the NBA’s boss stage. But in the immediate future, I don’t think it’s LeBron that Tim is really competing against for rings, if anyone…

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grant-hill-chillaxing

Grant Hill announced his retirement on Saturday night during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, officially bringing to an end a career that spanned 19 years, four teams, and a lot more “What If?s” than were probably expected when he came out of college in 1994 amidst “Next Jordan”-type hype. You know the story — Hill languished for too long on a Pistons team that failed to build around him, left for greener pastures in Orlando but struggled to stay healthy, resurrected and reinvented his career in Phoenix, experiencing his greatest team success but falling just short of the Finals, then played out the string as a little-used reserve for the Clippers. Even with all the time and opportunity lost to injury and poor team construction, Hill’s numbers might still be Hall of Fame-worthy, and few would argue that he’s been one of the NBA’s great ambassadors over the last two decades.

But I don’t wanna talk about any of that. I wanna talk about “Grant Hill Drinks Sprite.”

The comparisons to Michael Jordan that Grant Hill received coming into the league were not just tied to his incredible college career and his seemingly limitless pro potential, but that like MJ, he was personable, well-liked, good-looking and imminently marketable off the court. However, there was one very big personality difference between the two: Grant Hill wasn’t all that cool. He went to Duke, his came from an upper-class background, and he just seemed like too nice a guy to be the kind of cold-blooded assassin-type that Jordan was. Even on the court, his game was more of an all-around kind (not even LeBron has matched the 20/9/7 that he posted in ’97) than a high-scoring, highlight-producing one. Only twice in his career did Hill finish in the top 10 in league scoring, and though he’s had his fair share of excellent dunks, he doesn’t have the iconic, instantly-recallable ones that MJ had, and he never competed in the Slam Dunk Contest.

That was all fine for Grant, though — he was a superstar, he just wasn’t that kind of superstar. And luckily for him, in Sprite, he found a company that understood that, and figured out a way to market him that was true to his character, making him look like a badass without taking him too seriously, and taking the piss out of the entire athlete-spokesperson advertising model in the process.

“Grant Hill Drinks Sprite” was borne out of Sprite’s successful “Obey Your Thirst” campaign of the mid-late ’90s, which made the surprising (for a TV ad campaign) declaration “Image is nothing. Thirst is everything.” The ubiquitous commercials, which even non-sports fans who owned a television in the mid-late ’90s will undoubtedly remember, featured Hill as a running/jumping/dunking basketball demigod, seemingly deriving his power from his long gulps from his can of Sprite. Then a young, aspiring hoopster takes a swig from their own can, and tries to perform the same basketball feats, only to fail miserably and fall on their ass. “If you want to make it to the NBA … practice,” an announcer concludes at the end of the most famous ad. “If you want a refreshing drink, obey your thirst.”

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Basketball players make the best commercials. A combination of it being the most star-driven and personality-driven league, the fact that the best players tend to stay the best players for a long time and get to develop long-lasting associations with certain brands, maybe that basketball players make the best (or at least the most willing) actors, I dunno. But in my 100 percent objective and thoroughly researched stance on the matter, basketball just spawns more cool commercials than other pro sports, and the 2012-13 season of star-driven ads was no exception.

Of course, you’re sick of them all by now, and so am I. Patience gets thin for these spots as the season wears on, and the fact that channels like TNT and ABC make the practical but irritating choice to continue airing them even after many of the players who starred in them have long since gone fishing doesn’t help. However, with just single digits’ worth of games remaining in the NBA postseason, we’ll be saying goodbye to a lot of these commercials pretty soon (if we haven’t already), so as a basketball pop culture enthusiast, I wanted to make sure the best of the bunch got their due before an off-season of nothing but commercials of LeBron being feted by sponsors, fans and children not old enough to form their own religious beliefs was upon us. Here’s the top 10.

10. NBA TICKETS.COM, “NBA TICKET PICK” (RICKY RUBIO/AL HORFORD)

Not a perfect commercial, certainly. Some of the players digitally edited to appear like they’re lining up for the most star-studded pickup game draft in hoops history are a little choppy, and then of course there’s the practical concern that not even Hawks or Wolves fans really wanted to see a Hawks-Wolves matchup in 2012-13, much less someone with his pick of the NBA litter. But the details are there with the direction. I particularly love the respectful “sup, boss” Jrue Holiday gets, the way Rubio flips the ball behind his back after getting picked, and Horford’s parting “Don’t be mad! Somebody’s gotta get next!” Yeah, right, like any second game could possibly live up to Hawks-Wolves.

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Tracy McGrady has a basketball resume that would be the envy of about 99.5 percent of 21st century NBA players. He’s made six All-Star games and seven All-NBA teams (two first teams), he’s finished top 10 in MVP voting six times and he’s won the scoring title twice. He’s even posted a PER over 30 for a season, if you’re into that sort of thing, which is something only six other players have ever done, all present-or-future Hall of Famers whose names you know pretty well. He dragged Orlando to the playoffs three straight years when his primary support largely consisted of Mike Miller and Darrell Armstrong, and he was part of the Rockets team that won 22 straight regular season games back in ’08. For a minute there in the early ’00s, Kobe or T-Mac was an argument, arguably. He’s done some things in this league.

What he hasn’t done, obviously and infamously, is win in the playoffs. As numerous as Tracy McGrady’s incredible statistical accomplishments have been, the stat that has most defined him for his career is probably zero, the number of playoff series he’d won to date as an active player before this postseason. The excuses for T-Mac’s lack of playoff success are there, and they’re not negligible — his two primary running mates over the years (Grant Hill in Orlando, Yao Ming in Houston) were constantly injured, and Tracy was rarely the picture of health himself, especially toward the end of his career. Often times the supporting cast that T-Mac took the court with was one that had no business being in the playoffs in the first place, and not once during his six seasons making the playoffs in Orlando or Houston was he on the higher-seeded team in the first round.

As reasonable as these excuses may be, it still hasn’t absolved McGrady in the eyes of many, as players of the strata he occupied in the early to mid ’00s — the Kobes, Duncans, AIs and KGs — are expected, somewhat unfairly, to be able to win in the playoffs, almost regardless of how crappy the rest of their teams may be. The true greats find a way to win when the games matter most. But the fact that Tracy wasn’t even once able to do that is seen as a serious blemish on his basketball resume, which when combined with his relatively brief hoops peak and ugly falling out with a couple of his old teams, has even made his Hall of Fame case a controversial one, despite possibly being one of the 10 best regular season players so far this century.

That’s what’s made this postseason such a weird one for Tracy McGrady. After being out of the league for pretty much the entirety of the regular season, with his eventual return to the NBA far from a certainty, T-Mac was snatched up by Gregg Popovich and the Spurs in mid-April and stashed on their postseason roster, presumably taking the place of veteran forward Stephen Jackson, who was waived just a few days before the Spurs announced their signing of McGrady and deemed more of a detriment to the team than an asset after he’d started complaining about his lack of burn. Now, McGrady has not only crossed the “zero playoff wins” off his resume with San Antonio’s victories over the Lakers and Warriors, but with the Spurs’ sweep over the Grizzlies in the conference finals, he’s four wins away from adding a much more prestigious line item: NBA Champion.

Sounds great, but it doesn’t quite feel right. I had hoped — as had many other hoops fans, I’d think — that even though McGrady would obviously not be a centerpiece of the 2013 Spurs as he was on the playoff teams of his prime, that he’d at least have a role like Captain Jack had in the Spurs’ previous playoff run, playing 15-20 minutes a game as the team’s backup forward, stretching the floor, adding a secondary playmaker and matching up with certain wing players on defense. He wouldn’t be the most important player, or even the seventh-most, but he’d be a real contributor, and maybe he’d have one game where he hit three or four threes and played solid defense on Kevin Durant or Jamal Crawford. It’d be a nice story, certainly, almost regardless of its outcome.

But instead, Tracy has been used as a garbage-time reserve only, playing just 17 minutes all postseason thus far, with not a second of those 17 minutes coming during a game whose outcome had yet to already be decided. His play during that limited stretch has been sporadically inspired, but basically replacement-level — in fact, he’s yet to score a single point for the Spurs, going 0-4 from the field with two assists and two turnovers. He’s not Stephen Jackson for this team, he’s early-season Rasheed Wallace, a familiar face whose entrance makes the fans go crazy, not just because of all the fun hoops memories they have of him, but because his presence in the game means that things have probably been pretty well iced for the home team.

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raymond-felton-is-sad-the-knicks-lost

Remember at the beginning of the NBA season, when I wrote an article tracking the boldest predictions made by some notable basketball prognosticators for the year to come? Probably not, but I sure haven’t forgotten, and with the conference finals finally underway, every one of the predictions mentioned in that article has officially either come true or proven a bust. Unlike some people, we here at TBJ still believe very strongly in accountability, and that those who do not have the past obnoxiously rubbed in their faces are doomed to repeat it, so let’s check back in to see how all of our hoops soothsayers fared with some of their more jaw-dropping (jaw-opening, anyway) predictions.

Sports Illustrated (print only): Knicks in conference finals

So close, SI. This was the longest holdout of the unlikely prognostications I tracked this year, and damned if it didn’t look like a pretty good bet to cash in up until Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semis. Whoever the professional guesser was behind those Sports Illustrated predictions was probably as excited as I was when Iman Shumpert made those three treys in the third quarter on Saturday night, and as infuriated when Kenyon Martin was whistled for that foul with a minute left to ice the game for Indiana. Bummer.

Basketball Prospectus (Via ESPN the Magazine): Atlanta Hawks second, Knicks third, Pacers eighth in East / Nuggets first, Timberwolves third, Spurs fifth in West

Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope and nope, though partial credit to BP/ESPN for at least predicting a resurgent Knicks and a regular-season-dominant Nuggets, even if the exact placing was off. The Hawks, Pacers and Spurs predictions look just as nutty at season’s end as they seemed at season’s beginning, though it’s hard to give them too much crap for the Wolves guess, given how catastrophic their season was on the injury front. If they’d even been 50 percent healthier, it seems like they could have at least made a push for home court. Kudos to the BP dudes (and/or their computer readouts) for going big on some of these, in any event.

Zach Lowe of Grantland (26 Bold Predictions)
: Memphis is done, Nikola Pekovic will be a borderline-household name, Phoenix will be league’s most disappointing team

I guess we can give Zach one for three on this one. Despite their poor showing in Game 1 on Sunday, I’d say Memphis has more than put to rest any premature rumors of their demise. And Nikola Pekovic, while having a very solid year, wasn’t really even mentioned for All-Star contention, and probably didn’t make his name known to too many more casual fans than were already familiar with the Montonegrin Madman. But whether or not Phoenix actually was the league’s most disappointing team — again, it depends on if you had any expectations at all for them in the first place — there’s no doubt that they were pretty damn bad, finishing last in the West, so it’d probably be petty to get too particular on this one.

Since Grantland’s No. 1 hoops guy made a whole bunch more of these, and all were at least slightly interesting, let’s do a quick run down of a handful of ones he hit on impressively, and some more that haven’t held up so well:

Steeeeerike!:

1. Lousy market for expiring contracts
2. Omer Asik and Andrei Kirilenko living up to their deals
3. Kevin Durant joining the 50-40-90 club
4. Orlando trading JJ Redick, Thunder shopping Eric Maynor
5. Earl Clark getting minutes for the Lakers
6. Andris Biedrins making more than one foul shot (4-13!!)

Juuuust a bit outside:

1. Thunder re-signing James Harden with less-than-max deal before Oct. 31
2. Gerald Green, one of the season’s feel-good stories
3. Bobcats becoming League Pass darlings
4. Jonas Jerebko, Detroit’s best small forward

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You could go an entire postseason without getting a game half as crazy as Monday night’s Spurs-Warriors contest, a double OT affair with countless bizarre plays, swings in momentum, big shots, and even a couple unforgettable broadcast moments. In the case of this year’s postseason, though — which I have to say, is off to an absolutely baller start through one-and-a-third rounds — you only had to go back nine days to another game of comparable lunacy.

Game 4 of Bulls-Nets, the triple OT game in Chicago now known familiary as “The Nate Robinson Game,” seemed for all the world like it would go unchallenged as the single craziest game from the 2013 playoffs. In my article listing the 10 craziest moments from that game — and narrowing it down to 10 was no small feat, mind you — I predicted that “you won’t see a zanier, more entertaining, and in all likelihood, more unforgettable game for the remainder of this postseason … and probably won’t for a couple more to follow, either.” I felt it was a sure bet at the time.

Yet just one series later, and we have a true challenger. Which of these two exhilaratingly surreal and unpredictable basketball contests was truly the weirdest? Let’s break down the qualifications, one by one.

1. More Overtimes: Let’s get this one out of the way first, since it’s important to consider — more overtimes, more time for further twists and turns — but obvious and inarguable: Bulls-Nets went three overtimes, Warriors-Spurs only two. Boring, but worth mentioning.

Advantage: Bulls-Nets

2. Single Biggest Shot Hit in the Game. For Bulls-Nets, this would probably have to be Joe Johnson’s rolling jumper in the lane in the first overtime, forcing the second OT and negating NateRob’s crazy banker (more on that in a minute) that seemed to seal the deal for the Bulls, a shot that totally deflated the Untied Center. For Spurs-Warriors, it’d of course be the Manu Ginobili three-pointer in the second OT with just seconds to go to put the Spurs up two, which had Gregg Popovich Googling how to make huevos rancheros. The Joe Johnson shot was huge but super-anticlimactic, while the Ginobili three seemed like the only way — minus a Steph Curry halfcourt swish — the Spurs-Warriors game should end.

Advantage: Spurs-Warriors

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