Well, that sucked.
They got blown out in Game 3, and we were all "Yeah, whatever. We were overdue for one of those. Pop probably wanted it to happen anyway. These things happen."
Honestly, I didn't even watch the first three quarters of that game. I was out actually playing basketball, poorly. But not as poorly as the Spurs. I don't even recall the details of who played well and who didn't, honestly. Nobody for the Spurs was good besides Jackson, right?
Then came game 4 and the good guys actually got off to a bright start. Then the benches got involved. Then Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins started making shots, off passes from Kevin Durant of all people. And they kept making them and making them and making some more. They were dunks and lay-ups mostly, but just enough jumpers here and there that it started getting annoying. The Spurs were within a couple of buckets most of the fourth quarter, but they could not get a stop to save their lives, mostly due to the fact that Pop insisted on playing small against the Thunder's big lineup and switching either Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili onto Durant. I mean, don't get me wrong, the guy deserves credit for making shot after shot, but they were all really close.
Game 5, I don't even know what to say about that. It was supposed to be "The Manu Ginobili Game." Like, 20 years from now we were gonna look back on it as one of the all-time legendary efforts in the Manu pantheon. Hell, it could've been right at the top. We were so close. Six point lead, third quarter, at home... and it all went to hell so quickly in a hail of turnovers, bad shots and so much relentless Thunder offense.
I mean, what's there to analyze? You all saw it. The team got into the penalty two minutes into the first quarter and mystifyingly never went inside again the rest of the period. You'd think that would be a coaching point that Pop would stress during a timeout. You'd think. Then, once Boris Diaw picked up his second foul, we saw our venerable coach completely lose his mind. First, DeJuan Blair was on the floor. Then it was Gary Neal. I know my first thought right then was "outstanding defense, coming up."
But wait, it got better. After Duncan got whistled for his second (on a questionable charge), Pop went with Bonner. Yup, Bonner, Blair and Neal together. I can't believe it didn't work either. Bonner allowed an open three on his lone defensive possession, and was quickly yanked for Danny Green, meaning somehow the two tallest players on the floor were Kevin Durant and Nick Collison. I think right around then I started cussing so much I might have blacked out for a minute or two. I can't think of a single situation where a Blair-Jackson-Green-Neal-Parker lineup sounds like a good idea, but for all I know they were +40 against OKC this year. Still, there was zero chance that was going to work. That's just a complete defensive abomination.
Pop completely panicked and made so many stupid decisions all at once, completely getting frazzled. Going to Blair so early reeked of desperation, and yanking Bonner after 50 seconds was pretty disrespectful. If you're going to do that to a guy after one mistake, don't even play him. Pop never seemed to have any sense of when to go big, when to go small or how to plan ahead. I can't believe after how poorly that first stint went, that he didn't find a way to prevent Parker from being on the court alone. He should've left Duncan out there and dared the refs to call him for his fifth. I think Tim would've been smart enough to not get it. Putting Parker on the floor with four guys who are struggling big time and expecting him to lead them was wishful thinking.
Where Pop also disappointed me - as always - is in his stubborn refusal to play the political game in his pre- and post-game pressers. He'll ride the refs during the games sure, but never to the point of getting a technical and never after the game. I *REALLY* don't care what any of you think about the morality of this. All I know is that Phil Jackson was a master of manipulating the media to his cause between games and Doc Rivers is the best there is at it right now. The media loves Rivers because he plays the game. His answers are insightful and respectful. He calls the reporters by their names at the same time he bitches about calls. I don't think I've heard Pop call one guy by his name in all the years I've listened to him interviewed.
Is Pop so cheap that he isn't willing to pay one fine for the cause? It's not like it actually comes out of his paycheck anyway. And that money goes to a charity and is thus tax deductable. Instead of paying it to the government you're just paying it to the United Way or whatever. He wouldn't have it either way.
If Pop ever tried to make friends with some of these guys, if he ever took the time to actually say some of the things he felt, maybe he could influence some ref to call Perkins for one of his eight thousand moving screens, to call a block on Collison instead of a charge, or to convince the public at large that Duncan, Ginobili and Parker deserve every bit the respect that OKC's big three have gotten, if not more. I mean, it's a joke that Collison was getting calls against Duncan out there. That's ridiculous.
Is it a 100 percent guarantee that campaigning between games would've changed even one call? No. But at least we'd see Pop do something. At least we could sleep at night knowing he tried everything at his disposal. The fact that he won't resort to that is like leaving a bullet in your chamber, no matter how unsavory that bullet may be. We shrug or even giggle when he does hack-a-whoever, but it's perfectly okay that he never airs out the refs publicly? Sorry, not buying it.
Offensively, their only chance was for Parker to carry them for those few minutes when Tim and Manu were on the bench. Let's not beat around the bush: He failed. He failed miserably. He did not answer the bell. Take your pick, whether it's the Grizzlies series last year or Game 6 of the Dallas series in 2006, or Game 7 of the 2005 Finals or the Lakers series in 2004, we've seen this over and over again from Parker in the playoffs. This Sefolosha thing is not different and it is not unique. Every playoff team worth its salt has the same game plan in the playoffs against Parker: Knock him down, repeatedly, and watch him wilt. The Thunder have made it clear that Parker will not get a layup in this series and they're fouling the crap out of him every time he tries. Their physicality has gotten into his head and it has affected his on-again/off-again jumper. It hasn't helped matters that he no longer has Green to rely on for the corner three.
The score was 15-12 when Duncan checked out, leaving Parker alone among the big three. It was 23-19 OKC (an 11-4 run if you're keeping track) when Ginobili came in for Tony. In the third quarter it was 69-68 Spurs when Manu checked out. Three minutes later, when he came back in, it was 74-71 Thunder. In seven total minutes playing without the other two, it was 17-6, Thunder. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: YOU CAN'T PLAY PARKER BAREASS NEKKID IN A BIG GAME.
Obviously it's not helping matters when the supposed "Deepest team in basketball" is down to pretty much 5.5 guys the coach can trust. Green is mentally fried. Bonner is the softest guy I've ever seen. Neal was monumentally poor in Game 5. Splitter isn't offering much resistance defensively, and has really weak hands, constantly losing the ball. Pop has lost confidence in all of them.
Here's the thing though: It's not fair, and plainly inaccurate, to say our bench is getting exposed in the playoffs or that our bench is getting outplayed by their bench. It's not accurate for the simple fact that the Thunder (and to a large degree the Clippers before them) are wisely not letting themselves get into the bench vs. bench tactics of the regular season. Whereas the Spurs prefer to use a whole backup unit, or at least four reserves at once, the Thunder never use more than three. And it's always a spare three. It's not like those guys are counted on to handle the ball or score or anything. They're just on the floor because the rules dictate you need to have five players there at all times.
You know how many minutes the Thunder played at least two of their big three last night? 48:00. Westbrook and Durant played the whole second half, in fact, while Harden merely played 30 of the final 36 minutes. Not very sporting at all, is it? They're aliens, I tell you. ABC/ESPN thinks it's so fun and awesome that they're beating the Spurs. We'll see who's laughing when they're slaughtering millions and enslaving us all. Maybe then some of these refs will think "Hmm, I wish I didn't call all those lame fouls on Duncan."
Of all our doghouse guys, the only one I've personally lost all faith in is Bonner. He shouldn't play anymore, period. I think the other three are salvageable in certain respects.
Splitter has shown signs of life, but it seems every time he's in the game the Thunder go small and their perimeter guys can't miss a shot. He was fine in his first stint, but in his second stint the Spurs got outscored 15-3 in five minutes, and very little of it had to with Tiago. Neal, Parker, Ginobili and Leonard all committed turnovers in that stretch and nobody could hit a shot, while at the other end Westbrook had his best spurt of the game.
Green can still play dogged defense at times. He just needs to understand he's not allowed to dribble under any circumstances and that he's only allowed to shoot open threes. Seriously, if he sets foot with the ball inside the three point line, I'd bench him.
Neal is what he is, a streak shooter. He's not afraid, but the reason he's not afraid is because he's about as smart as a box of hammers. Gotta give him a few minutes to see if he's got his jumper falling on Wednesday, but a real short leash.
Anyway, it's probably not going to happen. We have to be realistic about these things. The season -- this weird, blessed, inspiring, miraculous, shocking, heartbreaking season -- will probably end tomorrow night, barring the incredible. The following is my 6-point plan to pull off what nobody thinks will happen, a Game 6 win on the road so that we get to a Game 7 for all the marbles Friday at San Antonio.
1) Minute breakdown and rotation:
Center: Duncan 36 minutes, Splitter 12. Have Splitter come in at the 3:00 mark of the first and third quarters and play until the 9:00 mark of the second and fourth quarters.
Power Forward: Diaw 28 minutes, Leonard 20. Play Diaw the first seven minutes of each period. Play Leonard the final five minutes of each period.
Small Forward: Leonard 14 minutes, Jackson 34 minutes. Have Leonard play the first 3:30 of each game at the three, leaving the final 8:30 for Jackson. You'll note that Leonard gets 3:30 of rest before checking back in for Diaw at the four spot. The most Leonard plays is 8:30 at a time, with a lengthy quarter break.
Shooting Guard: Green 14 minutes, Ginobili 34 minutes. Green plays the first four minutes of the first and third quarters and the first three of the second and fourth quarters. Ginobili plays the final eight minutes of the first and third quarters and the final nine minutes of the second and fourth quarters.
Point Guard: Parker 40 minutes, Neal 8 minutes. Parker plays the whole first and third quarters. He plays the first three minutes of the second and fourth quarters. Neal checks in at the 9:00 mark and plays until the 5:00 mark of the second and fourth quarters.
Minute distribution: Parker 40, Duncan 36, Ginobili 34, Jackson 34, Leonard 34, Diaw 28, Green 14, Splitter 12, Neal 8. You'll note that two of the big three is on the floor at all times. You're welcome.
2) For the love of God, pack the paint. You can live with the jumpers from Ibaka, Harden, Durant, Westbrook, whoever. Just don't give anyone any layups or dunks. Nothing easy. They're due to miss some jumpers, aren't they?
3) Less than 15 turnovers. I can't imagine us winning a game if we have more than 15. Some of the turnovers, like when they draw a BS charge or when we get a ball poked away on a drive, can't be helped. But so many of them are preventable. Careless passes, dumb moving screens, guys not paying attention on the fast break... we can't have those.
4) Parker needs to dominate. Somehow, someway, he has to have a 30-10 kind of game. Either his jumper has to be on or he has to put his head down and throw his body at people over and over again, no matter how much they knock him down. He needs to have the pick-and-roll going with his bigs because they're trapping that way less than they do with Manu. The pick-and-pops with Duncan are there. The three pointers to Diaw are there. They're doing a good job of taking away corner threes, but that's no excuse to average four assists a night. If Parker doesn't come out on fire and have like a 10 point first quarter, we're probably in big trouble.
5) Show them the game film of Celtics-Heat Game 5. Show them what it looks like to play with balls on the road. Show them the difference between a team that expects to win no matter how athletically superior their opponents are. Show them how they dig in the paint defensively. Show Parker how a point guard who's 1-of-10 shooting can still dominate a game and contribute so many ways to a win. Show Duncan how Garnett is still kicking ass and taking names at 36 years of age. Show the bench players how guys like Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling and Greg Stiemsma aren't afraid, whether they play 8 minutes or 28. Show what swagger, smarts and heart look like.
Yeah, it's not a fair comparison. The Thunder are way better than the Heat. They're younger, there's three stars as opposed to two, and they shoot way better. Well, guess what? The Spurs - supposedly - are supposed to be way better than the Celtics. They're not playing like they are.
6) We need to find our Robert Horry, and we need to bait Westbrook. Again, as with my Pop rant earlier, this goes into the territory of the dark arts and most of you won't care for it. I don't care. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I'd rather listen to all the pundits and writers bitch and moan about our asterisk fifth championship the rest of my life than not win it at all.
We've all seen Westbrook's act by now. We've seen how he reacts to plays both good and bad. We saw him block Green's practice shot (at the other basket) way after the halftime buzzer. (How the hell was that not a technical foul for taunting by the way? Oh right, because Pop didn't make an issue of it.) To be tactful, he's a hothead. To be honest, he's a punk. To be blunt, he's a complete dickhead.
We can get to this guy. I know it and you know it.
I'd prefer for it to be Green who gets him back, but I'd settle (and expect) for it to be Jackson. Give him a hard foul. Get in his face and say something about his family or his choice of social companions. You get my drift.
I bet anything he swings. Not a subtle one the refs can ignore, either. A full-fledged roundhouse or an uppercut. One so bad it'll definitely get him ejected for that game and most likely suspended for the next one. Maybe in a miracle some kind of melee breaks out and a couple of their guys leave the bench and get suspended for Game 7.
Would I prefer not having to resort to that to win? Of course. But again, desperate times call for desperate measures. And there's nothing to feel guilty about because ultimately we'd be leaving fate in the hands of Westbrook and the Thunder. It's his decision whether to retaliate or to laugh off the foul and the insults and to prove he's far too smart and mature to take the bait. It would be his teammates' decision whether to leave the bench or not. Nobody is pointing a gun at their heads. Let's see if they keep their composure.
Do I think we'll do this? No. Do I think a team that wants to win bad enough should try it? Absolutely. As if Westbrook doesn't deserve to be knocked on his butt just like Parker has been.
Just do me a favor Spurs and either win the damn game or lose by 40. My heart can't take another heartbreaking loss.
Or, how about you just win the damn game? Thanks.