One of the main reasons I love watching sports on television, besides the unscripted, unpredictable madness of it all of course, is that they reveal so much about people. And by people I mean us, the ones watching, not the players. I've never really bought the hokum about "sports revealing character" and all that because a guy could perform the most incredible, "heroic" feats on the field of play and still be a completely terrible human being otherwise. I don't need to go through the examples, you can probably think of a hundred in your head.
Sure, there are guys who are Hall of Famers and those who are scrubs, ones who are clutch and some who choke or are afraid to even be in that moment and play hot potato with the ball, but I think for the most part it's been proven that there's no correlation between things like that and how an athlete is off the field.
The audience though is different. No matter how much of a fan you are, no matter how attached to the competition and how much your juices are flowing, there is still that removal of actually not being involved in it. You care. You really, really, really care, sometimes more than the athletes themselves and in ways that are completely unhealthy for you, but unless you're being fitted for a straight jacket you understand that the "we" and "us" talk is just that, talk, and at the end of the day you're not a part of the team and you won't be invited to meet Obama if things go well in the playoffs.
Because of that separation, because we're not actually physically invested, risking life and limb and potential embarrassment in front of millions of people for pulling a Buckner or whatever, I think the way we take in these games as they're happening, our highs and lows, the things we say and think and express, both in the moment and in the minutes and hours shortly after, are significant and revealing, if you ever think to pay attention to them.
I'll break the people who watch sports at a bar into three separate categories.
Group A: Extremely casual fan/non-fan invited as a guest/person who was dragged there.
Fair generalization or not, most often in this group are women, but the tags certainly apply to lots of fellas too. Hell, it'd apply to me if it was like, golf or boxing or something. They know their friend/date/significant other is really invested in this game. It's been explained to them, ad nauseam, how important THIS GAME is.
Do they make an effort to get into it by asking pertinent questions? Do they cheer when you cheer? Do they pretend to be enjoying themselves? Do they act sad/ angry when you're sad/angry? Do they let it go when you say something stupid and not get upset about it or embarrassed about being with you?
Or... do they not watch at all and spend the whole time on their phone, ask how long until it's over, make fun of you for caring about some stupid game, snap at you for yelling at the TV and ask you to take them home or do some task in the middle of the fourth quarter?
If they're in the first paragraph, this person has great potential to be somebody you can have a long relationship with as a friend or more. Even if they don't like your sport or your team, they're a cool person and they care about you, and that's big.
If they're in the second paragraph, it's time to ask yourself some tough questions. How did you get involved with this person? Are you sure it was the right decision? Can you really stand years and years of this selfish behavior?
Group B: Casual fan with rooting interest opposite your own/complete stranger at another table
Do they keep it cool and respectful and cheer appropriately without trying to pretend they know everything that's going on and the strengths and weaknesses of every player and every team? Do they offer to be the one who goes to the bar for another round since they're less invested than you are? Do they keep the mood light and positive regardless of score so that no resentments can hatch? Is their trash-talk lighthearted and playful?
Or... are they loud, obnoxious Neanderthals who loudly berate the refs for calling fouls on rules they don't understand, who gleefully trash talk every star on your team like the bad game they happen to be having is completely representative of their career, who talk crap about you for cheering for such a sorry team as opposed to their awesome team (regardless of the actual franchise histories or team-vs-team histories involved) and who make it clear that having you, a die-hard fan of the opposite team there to witness this debacle in front of them is making the experience of watching it that much sweeter for them?
Again, the top paragraph represents someone who is worth spending time with further. Who cares if they're not as obsessed with your sport as much as you are or that they root for a different team? It probably means they have a more broad range of interests or maybe they grew up somewhere else. The point is, this is someone who is pleasant to be around, no matter what the circumstance.
If they're in that second paragraph though, man I don't know about that guy. No, I'm sure he's fun sometimes, but can you risk bringing him around to anyone you know? It doesn't even matter if you root for the same team if he's gonna scream things like "get the (fill-in-the-blank) out of your eyes, ref" in front of women and children, you know? I'm gonna step out on a limb and say this fella enjoys himself a drink.
Group C: Diehard fan/blog nerd
Us, basically, and this is more internal, with elements of Group B mixed in.
What are the things we're saying, feeling, thinking? Do we turn on the team or "our guys" and if so, how quickly? Do we rail them with this non-stop barrage of profanity or do we encourage them and cheer them on to do better? How often do we shift between the "you're dead to me" one second to "I always loved that guy!" the next second, with our internal/external monologues? Do we stay calm and classy in the face of trash talk and taunts or throw it back at them? Are we phonies who act quiet and sullen when things are going bad and obnoxious and arrogant when they're good?
Also, and this part I think is particularly revealing, after the Spurs have a game like this, do you sit back and think about all the negatives or just focus on the positives?
For example, and I'm guessing by now enough people "know" me enough to know the answers to most of these questions as they pertain to me.
I'm a group C, obviously, but I'm not someone who likes to yell or argue or make a spectacle of myself in public unless I'm specifically challenged. I ignore like 95% of trash talk about the Spurs and maybe 80% of it directed at Ginobili. I will, sometimes, yell at the TV about the refs, but at least I know the rules and I don't get graphic about the things I yell and question the ref's lifestyle choices for example. I'm too far down the road with most of the Spurs to change my opinions of them from game to game. The ones I like I'll ride with to the end and the ones I don't trust will have to do something truly epic over a playoff stretch for me to change my mind about them. I'm quiet and sullen regardless of win or loss because I'm quiet and sullen.
And, duh, OF COURSE I'm focusing more on the negatives after this game. I'M A MISERABLE PERSON WHO WILL LIKELY DIE ALONE. DON'T BE LIKE ME.
Anyway, the next time you're at a crowded sports bar watching a big game, ideally one that doesn't really involve your team or maybe in a sport you're not particularly into, go with a friend who really is, say very little, and just spend the three, four hours really focusing in on them and the people around them. I promise, it'll be fascinating, and you'll probably look at your friend in a totally different way.
So, if you read all that, thanks and I apologize. Here's a bit about the game.
The number of positives, when you take a step back to think about them, is truly absurd.
1. Through three quarters the Warriors were shooting in the 60 percent neighborhood, the Spurs were shooting roughly 40 percent, and still the gap was only 8-12 points instead of a blowout. That means as well as the Dubs can possibly play and as poorly as the Spurs can possibly play, the games will be there to be won at the end.
2. Duncan looked like hell and played worse, he didn't have the energy to step out on any of Curry's high screens on Parker and Joseph or even the ability to contest Curry's blow-by's on Leonard. He was personally responsible for at least a third of Curry's points and on the other end of the court he missed a number of bunnies. Barring injury, there is no way Duncan will play this poorly the rest of the series. And the Spurs won Game 1.
3. Manu shot 5-of-20, and contrary to his history of getting more cautious and selective with his attempts when he's having an off-night, he kept chucking and chucking, in full-on J.R. Smith mode, with each shot a more low-percentage one than the last. It'd be one thing if he missed a bunch of wide open threes or lay-ups, but he settled for so many GHASTLY attempts that it made you wonder if he was playing with a head injury. And the Spurs won Game 1, in really the perfect, redemptive fashion for Ginobili. Forget that he's my favorite player or yours. For him, and for the team going forward, it was important that they won the game and that he sank the winner, so he won't be beating himself up for the next week, so that he's not paralyzed by doubt or lacking confidence. If he bricked that shot, the media and the blogosphere would've savaged him today, he'd have been the goat and the team rallying late in regulation from 16 points down would've been a mere footnote. This way, he can go into Game 2 with his head held high.
4. In that same vein, Manu had, without a doubt, the biggest bonehead play of his career (and he's had some doozies), attempting a 30-foot three up three with 44 seconds to go and 11 seconds on the shot clock. To me, that was much worse than the foul on Dirk in Game 7 of the Mavs series in 2006, because at least that was an effort play on defense. Here though, with the ball in his hands, if he just ran that clock down to the end, the Warriors would have been forced to attempt a three just to tie the game and give the Spurs another shoot-at-the-buzzer-or-go-to-another-overtime chance, or they'd be playing the shoot-a-quick-two-and-foul game. Manu's shot there was basically a turnover at half court and a lay-up conceded. Just inexplicably and totally indefensible on any level, from the biggest Manu homer on the planet. And the Spurs won Game 1.
5. After a pretty rough first three quarters (especially on the defensive end), Tony Parker came through late when it mattered, with 8 points and an assist in the Spurs 18-2 run to finish regulation and another 8 points and an assist in the two overtimes. Also, he was so thoroughly rotisserie roasted by Stephen Curry in this game that it's impossible for Pop to even think about going back to that match-up. I think. And the Spurs won Game 1.
6. Not only did Kawhi Leonard have an all-around good game, boardin', scorin', makin' his only three, but his length bothered Curry so much that the star guard didn't even contemplate trying to shoot against Leonard. He either drove or dished it every time, and most of the time the match-up discouraged Dubs coach Mark Jackson so much that he went with Jarrett Jack on isos. Nobody is going to shut down Curry, but having that Leonard option in our back pocket is a nice feeling.
7. I think it's time to put to bed the notion that Danny Green is a choker. He nailed six threes against the Warriors, including one that send the game to overtime, and he also played pretty good defense on Curry in the first quarter. I don't know why Pop went away from that match-up, really. Green or Leonard need to be on Curry at all times.
8. Boris Diaw not only returned from a month-long absence with a back injury, but he actually came up huge late in the game, with two free throws late in the fourth quarter and a couple of clutch jumpers in overtime. We survived with him as our lone big and the dude even snatched a couple of boards. He also did a good job of checking Curry on switches and was a lot better at stepping out and hedging on him on the pick-and-roll than Duncan was. The Spurs don't win that game without Diaw.
9. The Red Rocket's defense was pretty putrid and Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack had their way with him, but damn if he didn't sink two more jumpers, one of which in a spot where he actually had to pump fake and take a lateral step before relaunching. Ideally, he's not a guy you give 19 minutes of playoff burn, but he can be a useful spot player for 8-10.
10. Gary Neal started brightly before quickly regressing to his normal retinue of poor shot selection and absent-minded defense, but I was impressed by his all-out, dogged hustle to chase down Richard Jefferson for that foul. Did he have time to process "Ooh, that's R.J., I bet he'll totally gag these free throws if I can catch him," or did it happen too fast and leave no time for Neal to compute any thought beyond "chase down blue guy". Would Neal have made the same effort if it was Curry on the breakaway? Hopefully we never have to find out. I just thought his desire on the game-turning sequence was worthy of mention.
11. Tiago Splitter didn't play and the Spurs won Game 1. I'm choosing to believe that he'll make a difference on some of those pick-and-rolls.
12. The series already had its STEPHEN CURRY GAME, and the Spurs won it. He's not going for 44 and 11 again. (Right?) (RIGHT?)
And now, the bad...
1. I don't think the Spurs will be running away from the Warriors anytime soon, as long as the Dubs play their small-ball lineup with Curry, Thompson, Jack and Barnes. There's just too much talent, too much raw-shooting ability, on the floor and they're all smart and unselfish enough to make the right pass most of the time to get good looks. If Thompson doesn't foul out of that game, the Spurs were toast.
2. And the main reason they were toast is because there is nobody for Parker to guard on this team. In one brutal third quarter sequence, after Curry had canned a series of jumpers on Tony, Pop switched him onto Thompson who promptly buried two short turnaround J's on Parker and then, after he was switched on Barnes, Parker immediately surrendered a driving dunk to the rookie. The Warriors were pretty much going at him regardless of who he was guarding, which is a major reason why so much of their offense late in that game was Iso-ball to Jack. The results looked good on paper, but for the most part Jack got good looks. As long as Parker is on the floor, the Warriors will have a consistent offense.
3. There is no relief in sight. Cory Joseph had a nice series against the Lakers, but Curry and the W's are a different animal. Joseph is willing and unafraid and can pressure the ball, but he's too short to bother Curry, who shot 6-of-7 against him, in the slightest. Some of that isn't Joseph's fault -- Duncan was miles and miles away on those high screen rolls -- but I think Pop might want to seriously consider giving De Colo a shot here, because of his size. I think Cory is a player and has a future in the league, but this isn't the series for him.
4. This was not a game that made you feel good about the Spurs mental or physical toughness, getting out-rebounded and out-scored in the paint by 10 points apiece by a midget team.
5. Just because Splitter may be healthy enough to play, I'm not assuming that Pop will play him. I'm also not assuming that we've seen the last of the Curry-Parker match-up. You never know with Pop.
6. There is tremendous pressure on the Spurs to be perfect at home, because I know first hand how tough it is to win at Oracle, especially in the postseason.
7. I didn't hear it until watching the replay, but man the Twitter army wasn't kidding about that screeching lady next to the broadcast crew. I heard her shrill wail, seemingly getting louder and louder from the beginning of the first overtime through the end of the game. It was as if TNT said, "Wait, you think your night is saved because we don't have Reggie Miller on the game? Well listen to this."
It'd be a great social experiment to do this 30 times a night in a speed-dating session, first with an unattractive person, then with a model, and track the results. (via loki69er)
8. I don't think Jackson is a particularly good coach. All the God stuff in his interviews kind of turns me off and I've noticed that during time outs he has an assistant actually handling the X's and O's while he's the one who handles the big-picture/motivational/inspirational mumbo-jumbo. But even Jackson is smart enough that I suspect we've seen the last of Jefferson in this series, barring a 25-point differential and less than two minutes on the clock or some pretty extreme injury/foul trouble scenarios. It's safe to say that Kent Bazemore will be ahead of him in the rotation.
9. Among the lamer bits of trash talk I heard last night was "What the hell is a Spur, anyway?" And you have to admit, it is kind of a stupid nickname.
10. Curry having a Game 1 like that could have negative big-picture consequences. The more people who watch that, despite the outcome of the game, the more hop on the Warriors bandwagon to see if he can do it again. With the Lakers out and the Thunder severely compromised, the Warriors are the darlings of the Western conference at the moment. They've got a great home court atmosphere. You can bet the refs will be intimidated there. If you told me I could pick one game for him to go off and have the Spurs still win, I'd pick Game 4, in a scenario where the Spurs go up 3-1. Now that would deflate everybody. A Game 1 though just energizes folks and gives them hope. I'm terrified of this team.
1. Seriously, was even one Spurs fan among you the least bit surprised that Jefferson missed both?
2. R.J. was a -13 in 3 minutes. Think about that. If he played the full 48, the Spurs would've won 208-0.
3. It'd be awfully tough for you or me to be a -13 in some random NBA game in three minutes of court time. Not impossible, but pretty hard.
4. Not all Warriors were red hot in that game, it just seemed like it. Jack was 5-of-15. And they really cooled down as a team from the fourth quarter on. Curry, Thompson and Barnes all finished a tick above 50 percent each, which is really good, obviously, but not supernova.
5. Believe it or not (and I don't know if this a good or bad stat), but the Spurs out-shot the W's from downtown and were way better from the charity stripe.
6. Jack got A LOT of flak for losing Manu on the final play, but I actually thought losing Green on the three at the end of regulation was a more egregious error on his part. As Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith pointed out on Inside the NBA, the Ginobili play was a lot trickier in that not only were three people involved on each side in a double screen -- great play-call from Pop there to create maximum confusion -- but what really threw the play out of whack is that both Manu and Boris set, in Barkley parlance, "TUR-BULL" screens on the play, not really getting a piece of their men at all. Clearly the Warriors were instructed to switch everything, which Jack did, but Barnes stayed with his original guy (Tony) because he found no resistance whatsoever on the attempted screen. The miscommunication on the play is totally understandable and if I was a Warriors fan, it'd be like 328th on the list of things I was upset with about that loss. Ironically, Bazemore, the rookie, was the only guy who did absolutely the right thing on the play.
7. There were, naturally, a lot of comparisons made between this game and the Spurs double OT thriller against the Suns in Game 1 of their first round series in 2008, and while a similar series result would be nice, the two games weren't all that similar. Although the passage of time sure makes it seem like the Suns were up big just like the Warriors were in this game, the truth is that their largest lead was 43-27, with 4:45 to go in the second quarter and that the Spurs whittled it to eight by half and were down just four to eight points for most of the second half and actually took a brief two-point lead with 2:21 to go in regulation.
Both games featured, however, a game-tying three in regulation from the Spurs starting shooting guard and had Manu make the game-winning bucket, and his shooting line wasn't that hot in that one either.
8. I still don't like the gray uniforms, but they're growing on me.
9. Watching the second round of the playoffs, it's impossible to not notice how furiously everyone is competing. All these teams are trying their asses off and everyone wants it so bad. The NBA has a well-deserved reputation for players and teams taking scores of games off and the quality of competition on a lot of regular season nights being borderline embarrassing, but man, when there's only eight teams left, there really aren't any better options for your viewing pleasure, even if you're a neutral. Hell, especially if you're a neutral. It's hard to watch the injury-plagued Bulls play and not be inspired, in a "What am I doing with my life?" sense.
It's like the NCAA tournament, only in a best-of-seven format instead of just one game, and filled with a bunch of incredible athletes who are really good at basketball.
10. I spent all night crunching the numbers and I've checked them and re-checked them. If the Spurs and Bulls just win all their home games the rest of the way, we're gonna have another title y'all.