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Welcome to the Most Depressing Sports Scene in America (But Not the World, Thanks to the Brits)

Game 11: Spurs 95, Hawks 83

YES!!! Never has beating Bosnia-Herzegovina in soccer been the most nerve-wracking part of my day before. I woke up, practically in a sweat knowing this game would literally be the difference between me having something to look forward to in July and writing happy blogs or being a sour, bitter, miserable bastard for that whole month and making Manolis contemplate stabbing me in the face. Thankfully I had to do the stupid police blotter thing on Wednesday so I could keep myself busy while the game was being played and I didn't have to drive myself crazy staring at the game cast thingy for two hours.

We prevailed on a 43rd minute goal from Nihat Kahveci, (his last name means "coffee-maker," in Turkish, I just think you all should know that) the same guy who scored the winner at Norway last Saturday. Apparently the Bosnians were playing a bunch of young guys since they had already been eliminated from qualifying some time ago, so really they posed no threat in the game whatsoever and we were able to put "eleven guys behind the ball" as the aficionados might put it. Finally, after six long years, my boys will once again have an international soccer presence, and for the first time ever, both Manolis and I will have our teams participating in the same tournament, which should be all kinds of fun.

Unless we're placed in the same group. That would suck.

Anyway, this tournament was so close to being special. Initially I thought my only complaint was going to be that the host countries are Austria and Switzerland, two pretty weak soccer squads relative to the other European powers, were going to thin the field of 16 a bit and more competitive countries like Ireland, Scotland, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine and Denmark were going to miss out as a consequence. Still, as far as the 14 open bids went, I really thought we were going to have chalk, making it the strongest Euro field ever.

I mean check out who did make it... Poland, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, Spain, Sweden, Romania, and the Netherlands. Nary a minnow among them.

But of course by now you've noticed that someone is missing. (sigh).

Alas, while my Turks were triumphing in Ankara or Istanbul or wherever the hell it is they play their national games, the Three Lions, Ingerland, choked it away in new Wembley on Wednesday. After receiving a miraculous lifeline from Israel, who upset the Russians 2-1 on Saturday and gave the woebegone Brits the simple task of having to draw a home game against Croatia to make it in, England still couldn't get it done, losing 3-2 to a team that had already clinched its spot and had nothing to play for. In a completely unrelated story, their coach Steve McLaren was sacked the next morning.

So thanks to England's collapse, Russia wound up nabbing the final spot after all, so while the field is deep, it's not quite as good as it could've been. A soccer tournament is always better when England participates if for no other reason than nobody does angst better than the British soccer media. Seriously, New England sportswriters have nothing on these guys. The infamous English tabloid, The Sun said the team was, "Useless, pathetic, insipid, spineless, desperate, rubbish," before adding, "England are the joke of European football."

It's not quite as memorable as when ex-Germany boss Rudi Voller told the media, "We are the soccer idiots of Europe" after being eliminated in the 2004 Euros, but it's not bad. Really, soccer makes for the best bitching, good or bad. After the huuuuuuuuuuuge win at Norway last Saturday, Turkish coach Fatih Terim said, "To beat Norway away is really great. I want to thank the people that have supported us during these days. To the people who haven't supported us, I have nothing to say."

We Turks sure can hold a grudge.

Anyway, I promise that's the last time I'll mention footy until December 2, when they do conduct the draw to come up with the four groups. Now, let me rant about the grievous injustice of my Iggles being 22.5 point underdogs at New Engl - heh... just kidding.

Spurs-Hawks, it is, kiddies.

And, uh... oh right, that's why I wanted to write mainly. It's been three days and I still can't think of think of anything interesting to write about the Hawks of the Dirty-dirty. I mean, for one thing, it was just cruel for Mr. Schedule-maker to give them a date against an angry, slumping Frenchie McWonderbutt in the first place, but when you factor in that the first eight point guards on Atlanta's roster, Speedy Claxton, Acie Law, Tryonn Lue, Acie Law II, Salim Stoudamire, Acie Law III, Spud Webb, and Acie Law IV were all out with various ailments, well that's just not very fair, as Pop might say. Anthony Johnson had to be pressed into emergency service and Tony treated him as one treats a toilet after an evening of Bacardi & Cokes and fourth meal at Taco Bell.

The theme of the night: Tony easily scoring; Anthony Johnson helplessly flailing.
(AP Photo/John Amis)

I know this isn't exactly an original thought, (most of my original ones are rather unprintable) but the Hawks really have made a mess of things not drafting Chris Paul or Deron Williams, haven't they? Picking up Law IV this year was supposed to solve the problem once and for all, but I'm confused as to why the move was made in the first place. Wasn't the whole rationale for tabbing UNC's Marvin Williams with the second overall pick instead of one of the two stud point guards based on the notion that the club wanted free agent signee Joe Johnson to be their lead guard? Wasn't Johnson supposed to be Atlanta's version of Agent Zero, a big shoot first point guard who can also pass? He wasn't too bad at it two years ago, averaging 6.5 assists to go with 20.2 points a night. The Hawks failings had more to do with miserable interior defense and spotty outside shooting than anything Johnson did. Nevertheless, he was moved to the two spot last year, giving up the ballhandling duties to a cadre of journeymen (with the obvious exception of Law) that still comprise to pollute their roster.

For the past four years, the Hawks have used their bevy of high first round picks to draft one forward/swing-man after another. Josh Childress whom I saw play a fair amount at Stanford is a nice player, but certainly has not proven worthy of a 6th overall pick. Josh Smith was taken 17th the same year, 2004, and while he's been slightly more productive, filling an odd niche as perhaps the best shot-blocker under 6'6" in NBA history, he's extremely combustible and can't shoot a lick. Marvin Williams was chosen, rather controversially, second overall in 2005 and tabbed to be "a 6'9" Michael Jordan" as one expert called him, and while he's showing some of his potential this year, it seems a stretch to predict the guy will ever be a superstar, even if he's only 21 in his third NBA campaign. Shelden Williams, a real head-scratcher, came along to add some interior toughness last year, and out of anyone in this group he looks like he might be the one true bust - a crappy pro out of Duke? I don't believe it! - too lead-footed to do anything at either end and already relegated to scrub minutes.

You know Josh Childress is thinking, "Hey man, what the fuck?"
(AP Photo/John Amis)

Finally, this past draft, the Hawks GM Billy Knight was handed the perfect opportunity to atone for his Paul/Williams blunder, being given the 3rd overall pick by the NBA lottery gods. If he had the 2nd pick he would have picked Kevin Durant, adding yet another small forward to his bloated roster. If he wound up with picks 4 thru 11, he would have had to hand it over to the Suns as a part of the Johnson trade. At the third spot though Mike Conley Jr. of Ohio State, widely regarded as the best point available, lay waiting. Of course, Knight drafted Al Horford to make up for the Shelden Williams disaster the year before.

Now granted, so far it appears that Knight knew what he was doing as Horford has gotten off to an excellent start. And yes, he did get a point guard later on in the first round in Law, a guy Knight professed to like better than Conley all along.

So my question is this: Why not put all your best players on the court at once and keep Joe Johnson at point guard? Claxton, Lue, Johnson, bleh. Those guys are all has-beens or more accurately, never-wases. They're weak links on an otherwise talented team. It's not like any of their smalls can keep up with Parker, Paul, Steve Nash, or Baron Davis, even when they're healthy, so why even try? Why not just go big with Johnson there and force them to have to match up with you there? I couldn't believe that their coach, Mike Woodson (tick...tick...tick) ran the chunky, creaking Anthony Johnson out there for 43 minutes when had about as much chance of slowing down The Wee Rapping Frenchman as I do of being involved in an awkard love triangle between the Parker-Longorias.

Why not play a Joe Johnson at the point with Smith at the two, Childress at the three, Marvin Williams at the four and Horford at the five? Wouldn't that make sense? Amazingly that very line-up took the court for a total of two minutes, and only late in the fourth quarter when the outcome had been decided. According to Lenovo, this quintet isn't among Atlanta's most fifty common line-ups. If the Hawks were serious about making the playoffs, they'd play that fivesome together as much as possible, with Law backing up at the guard spots and Zaza Pachulia relieving Horford. Maybe use Mario West in a limited role to bring energy, you know, if you call six fouls in eight minutes "energy."

A generic Hawks player, doing what he does best.
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

As for us, we were okay, we were aiight. Flew into half with 61 points on 59% from the field and 67% from deep with Tony slicing them to bits, Manu doing Manu things, (including a driving dunk down the lane that looked eerily similar to that hand-switchy number he put over Big Ben in Game 7 of the '05 Finals) and Jacque Vaughn once again perfecting the art of effectively hiding in a half court offense like some invisible ninja. The big three - the ONLY big three that matters by the way, to all you posers in Boston, Phoenix and Dallas - combined for 42 of the 61 and everyone else managed to not embarrass themselves too badly.

Looking at it from this angle, you can't help but wonder how did he ever get the ball over the rim? Magnets?
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

The second half however was a different story. In fact it was a boring story. Think of it one miserable, endless slog that couldn't have possibly been any less interesting than the first half of this post. After a dynamic 105 first half that saw the good guys account for the lion's share of the points as well as the highlights, we had to endure a fingernails-on-a-chalkboard worthy 73 point WNBA extravaganza in the second 24. Clearly our boys were already daydreaming of the segababa against the streaking Madge, or at the very least daydreaming about real dreaming on the plane home. The intensity was lacking, shall we say. On the surface it may appear that Opus struggled mightily in that stint encompassing the 3rd and 4th quarters, but he was out there with Bonner, Vaughn, Elson and Udoka and none of them could hit the side of an outhouse. I keep track of all these things and it'll all come out in my book, "Why Gregg Popovich Secretly Despises Manu Ginobili: A Raving Lunatic Exposes the Behind-the-Scenes Feuding of the San Antonio Spurs"

Uncoordinated white guys jumping.
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least the tenants of Bad Newz Kennels "The Highlight Factory" went to their showers secure in the knowledge that their "crowd" would be off to the Gold Club just a little less gloomy and a little more hopeful than the score suggested at halftime, as they got the better of the champs, 39-34 when it mattered. The best news of the night, in my opinion is that your favorite referee and mine, Joey Crawford worked the game, and outside of one ridiculous charging call against Timmeh, I hardly noticed his ugly mug.

Like I said, Turkish people know how to hold a grudge.

Your 3 Stars (with apologies to The Golden God)

3. Manu Ginobili - Was Timmeh more deserving here? Mayhaps. But he didn't have a cool dunk and I'm very superficial that way. Maybe if Duncan had the cojones to laugh at Joey, I'd have put him here.

2. Fabricio Oberto - A double-double in only 24 minutes of action, he hit five of his seven field goals and four of his ten rebounds were offensive. Fab-O, who was a game high +19, is the only guy futilely trying to fight off Pop's Tinyball fetish as both Elson and Bonner have gone down the crapper lately.

Tony Parker - Not only did he have a personal 11-0 run in the second quarter, but he finished with 17 points in the period and had a hand in our final 25, assisting on the three other field goals. Oh, and I think he killed a guy with a trident.

Record: 9-2
Up Next: Vs. Orlando Magic
Stay tuned for a frame-by-frame rehashing of every one of Dwight Howard's 27 dunks in the game. This one was so exciting I haven't been able to collect my thoughts enough to write about it for two days. Or maybe the long nap I took today had something to do with it.