I'm good at pattern recognition. I see a series of numbers, images, hear some sounds, and I can usually make up some sort of relation that explains the seemingly random arrangement. Being an avid Stampler reader through the years, I recently noticed that pattern, which led to me channeling my innermost Bill Simmons and formulating what I will henceforth refer to as "The Sad Blogger Theory". It goes like this: bloggers who use personal anecdotes in their articles improve markedly as their stories become sadder and sadder, edgier even, until they reach a point of maximum quality. Any further lugubriousness past that point will actually rapidly decrease the quality of the writing, and their popularity will continue to plummet down until they're DDoSed out of the Interwebs by angry Julian Assange-loving mobs. Here, let me graph it for you:
It's not just Stampler, either. I've seen this in many bloggers, sports writers (especially Page 2 ESPN writers), authors. The serious reporters use this effect often in their human interest tear-jerkers, but of course they chicken out and draw you in with other people's sad tales. I believe the effect is half vouyerism, half the appeal of catharsis, and the infamous third half is redemption-through-writing. (For the naysayers or the science zealots, I warn you that I will of course ignore any evidence that refutes my theory, especially if it's of empirical or logical nature. See Ewing, Patrick.) So when this week started to go wrong then worse then ohmygodithurts, I knew it was the perfect moment to write a recap.
You see, a number of things are conspiring to turn me into the best recapper that ever graced the land. My love is currently across the world, meaning that I have to hold my own hand while I walk down the street and usually when I sit in a tree it's just me and Alejandro, the guy that sits in the desk next to mine at work. In what has become a well-oiled managerial move, I had to work the entire weekend from the morning to well into the night to finish a report in time, because my boss can't be bothered to make a proper schedule for once. My plans to study abroad to get my doctorate have been derailed by the lack of response from UT, since for some reason my e-mails seem to be automatically forwarded to the gaping black hole in the middle of the galaxy. Only the fact that my vacations start on December 24th provide me with solace - or they did, before my body started shutting down for the holidays. After a whole year of being relatively healthy, my fragile low back decided it was time to break down. Combined with a sudden torticollis and an upset stomach, I'm bluer than a smurf. Perfect.
Yet the Spurs work against me by being probably the best team in the NBA through 24 games. (Independiente didn't help by winning the South American Cup, woot.) How can you be depressed when RJ is finishing alley oops and The Beast is finding his mojo and The JV is stuck in the bench and can't suit up? I offered to recap anyway, because tomorrow was an off day and I thought it was high time I sat down and typed about something that didn't involve physics and budgets, but I knew my sadness quotient still wasn't high enough. The early lead, the easy progression from quarter to quarter, possession to possession, the quiet dominance of an inferior team, they all indicated that I was going to write about a borefest. And then the players decided they wanted to make me a better writer, and Gooden started scoring at will, and Bogut blocked everything and more, and they kept showing close-ups of Gooden's ugly mug, and 18 became 10 became 5 became tied game with a few seconds left. At home. Against the Bucks. I could feel the melancholic tendrils of Hemingway's soul prodding my talentless carcass, trying to at least goad one good post past the English-illiteracy and the run-on sentences. Do it, Bogut!
And then Manu happened (tm). Now I'm happy, extremely happy, dreaming the championship dream - and I still have to write a recap.
Why would they do this to me?
The Mighty Spurs
It was just another game. The Spurs are a proving scoring machine, and they were facing one of the most offense-challenged teams in the NBA. Our guys entered that first quarter and did what they do best in 2010: Tim used the lack of double coverage to either fight past his man to the basket and throw a short hook or -FSM forbid- a no-jump dunk that brings the iron down in a move of such unbridled badassery I kept expecting Stern to ban it; Tony pushed the tempo and either made his Frenchie low layups in transition of found a shooter waiting for his outpass; Manu took his contractual early triples, made one of them, then drove drove drove and just played with Dooling and Douglas-Roberts as he made layup after layup. The only difference between this game and the last two was the relative inefficiency of the bench. Hill was a bit shy and still holds onto the ball too much, Dyess decided he was too old to play last night and tonight, Neal was on the cold phase of his streaky shooter self - and Tiago got kicked in the Brazilian nuts. Bonner was accurate but underutilized, so the bench (other than some keys teals by Hill) was largely ineffectual last night. Our one-two punch was halved, and our offensive production felt it.
More and more we're a team that depends on three-pointers to blow games open. Unfortunately, the Bucks must've watched some tape, because they were very good at staying with our long-range snipers. Bonner's sole three was a high-arching bomb that he shot from 10 feet behind the arc, and despite Manu and Tony finding RJ alone in the corner a few times, he couldn't make them pay. We finished the night having shot only 8 threes (and making 3), which is mind-boggling considering we average 21 attempts per game. To make matters worse, we regressed for one night to our old form from the stripe, making 17-25 or a lowly .680. Even Manu joined in the fun, missing three FTs in one game. Averages be averages. The offense wasn't cutting it.
But the Spurs are a veteran team, and when one weapon isn't making it, it's time to do like the Swiss army and stab you with a corkscrew. I was pleased to see the defense tighen up in the second quarter, limiting the Bucks to 15 points, and 35 in the half. Jennings in particular was completely ineffective, being blocked or bothered into a miss every time he tried to penetrate. (Interesting "Spurs are a veteran team" fanboy statistic: 82Games.com claims that 65% of the shots taken when the shot clock is between 16 and 20 seconds are assisted, which is very close to the Spurs' 66%. However, in shots taken when the shot clock passes the 21 second mark, only 49% of the Bucks' shots are assisted, a marked decrease, whereas the Spurs actually improve to 68%. The ability to execute when time is running out is a sure sign of a confident, talented, well-coached team. In your face, newbies.)
Lately the Spurs have acted like a machine, grinding out opponents without breaking a sweat. This game showed all the signs, so I was almost certain of our ultimate victory while watching Paul Pierce clown around in the MSG. Only my irrational fear of the proverbial lightning bolt kept me from thinking it. Our cruise speed seemed enough to get a win, save our legs for today at Denver, and keep Duncan in the bench long enough to earn a new round of "Oh, you Pop, I'm gonna be mad" quotes from the big guy. The only problem is that I have a feeling that some of the players also thought that, so we started the third quarter playing at half speed. Manu, the one guy that doesn't know how to play other than at full-speed-ahead-ignore-the-iceberg, was benched for perhaps the first time in the season in favor of Hill. DeJuan is slowly learning to use his big body the push people away when he's below the hoop, and the backboard to avoid blocks, but it did him no good against Bogut. Timmy was just messing around, channeling his inner Manu with some ill-advised passes. The whole team seemed off - we weren't rotating well, and everyone seemed complacent on our end. Hell, at one point no one could decide who was supposed to intentionally foul Bogut, which led to an open three-pointer for the deers and lots of yelling from a red-faced Popovich, trying to wake them up.
The Bucks started the quarter 5 of 6, and finished it with a running 28-foot bomb at the end-of-quarter buzzer. Dagger. Stage set for some bombastic recapping.
The Lowly (?) Bucks
How did this happen? Well, the easy explanation is this: Bogut is a beast.
First of all, the Aussie wasn't supposed to play tonight. He's been suffering migraines for some time now, which already caused him to miss a few regular season games. Now, migraines might not seem like much to the unwary, but my girlfriend suffers from them and trust me, playing at the NBA level while battling a migraine is badass. I'm giving him one Dundee point, and you'll never hear me say bad things about him in the future. Ever. Last night, he showed just how good he is on both ends of the floor. He got nearly whatever he wanted through the first three quarters despite Timmy's good defense, and then let Gooden take over in the fourth. Defensively, though, he was nothing short of spectacular. He entered the 4th quarter with 2 blocks, and finished with 7. There was a particularly painful sequence when he blocked a layup by Hill, then another by Parker in the following possession, then blocked Manu twice in crunch time. I still can't believe they didn't go to Bogut for the last possession, but I guess that's why they are the Bucks. For my money, this guy is better than Dwight. Nearly every stat says I'm wrong, so I'm probably wrong, but I would love to see Bogut surrounded by better shooters that gave him the space he needs to work down low.
Brandon Jennings can't shoot. He can't. I think everyone still remembers that one time when he scored 180 points or something, and they (we) feel like he must be double-teamed and trapped and hounded so that he doesn't catch fire. Well, guys, I'm pretty sure that Jennings couldn't catch fire if you poured lava on him, and his 4 of 18 for the night isn't changing my mind. What he can do is run fast, and pass - sometimes. So our excessive attention helped him net 7 assists, and made our life all that more difficult.
Then there was a guy called Chris Douglas-Robert, who was traded from New Jersey to the Bucks this season. Something in the Milwaukee area must sit well with him, because his three-point percentage went from 25.9% to 46.7% this season, and he sure found ways to make us pay last night. 21 points made him the highest scorer in his team, another guy the Bucks should've gone to in that final play instead of Mbah a Moute. (I just saw that his true shooting percentage is .602. Not bad, stranger.) I wonder how many fans want to see Salmons returning with Douglas-Robert playing like this?
But the guy who really turned the game around for the Buck was our old knuckleheaded friend, Drew Gooden. The unoriginal NBA vagabond, perennial "big guy that might help off the bench, but not really" is as inefficient as ever, but last night, he decided to bring it. He's everything that bothers the Spurs: a tall, nimble 4 that can shoot the long two and has a knack for grabbing scrappy rebounds. Think of him as the low quality, goofy version of West and you can imagine that putting Bonner on him wasn't a great idea. I can't blame Pop, though - we needed scoring and nothing worked on Gooden last night.
In the fourth quarter, Skiles proved his coaching touch by bringing in Mbah a Moute and Gooden and giving up on Ilyasova and Dooling. Gooden's hot hand and Mbah's length quickly turned the tide, and the 8-point lead was lost. It was almost enough.
So That's That
It was the Manu Ginobili show down the stretch. Manu shooting free throws, Manu making a three-pointer to break an 87-87 tie. Unfortunately, it was also the Bogut show, and he proceeded to emphatically block Manu twice. Still, there was only one man that could take that final shot, 10 seconds left, game tied. Skiles put Mbah a Moute on Ginobili, and it wasn't a bad call. The forward is quick, long, and a great man on man defender.
Manu dribbled a few seconds away, and when the clock hit the 4 second mark, he made his move. Going left, always left, Mbah a Moute on him until they reached the FT line, then Manu planted his right foot, using it to throw himself to the left, hop to the left again, away from Mbah, two feet planted firmly, rose and faded a little, just enough, and launched his shot, almost falling, and it went high before coming down. All net. The red light lit on the backboard, and all the way in Argentina, with my League Pass feed in full screen to avoid spoilers, I threw my arms in the air, probably mirroring so many Spurs fans across the world. Manu slowly walked back towards the tunnel, his left hand clenched into a fist, and the crowd and his teammates did all the partying for him.
Scott Skiles had this to say about the play:
"It was great D. [Mbah a Moute] made [Ginobili] travel. We just looked at it about five times."
I was going to break down the play second by second, to explain how hopping with one foot and planting both feet wasn't a travel, but Rob Mahoney did it better than I ever could. So watch this.
I remember someone asking this last night about the Knicks while they had a comfortable lead on the East-best Celtics. "So are they actually legit?" I said "no", but ESPN gave its emphatic "yes" today, and the "yes" will surely outnumber the "no"s. You see, winning in the NBA is the easiest and surest way of gaining respect. Everybody loves a winner, winning is all that matters, yadda yadda. It doesn't matter to me, really. It even makes a bit of sense.
What I wonder is this: in a league where winning is the only requirement for respect, recognition and legitimacy, what else do the league-best Spurs need to do to earn some?
3rd - Tony Parker. With apologies to RJ 2.0, who played with energy in the 4th and was aggressive (if not always effective) throughout the game. However, every time Tony has 8 assists and one block (against the lilliputian Jennings, granted) I think he deserves to be in this list. His 16 points didn't hurt, either.
2nd - Tim Duncan. Timmay scored his points, got enough rebounds for a double-double, and showed Bogut he's not the only guy who can block shots with a season-high 7 stuffings. Way to go, old man.
1st - Manu Ginobili. So what's with the 3 missed FTs, anyway, you fraud? As Sean Elliot said, "Spurs tried really hard to give this game away, Manu was having none of that."
NEXT: Denvers, soon. Tired legs, high altitude, SEGABABA. Yeah... last night was fun, right?