Game 53 @ Detroit: Spurs 90, Pistons 81
Finally, game day! I've missed the Spurs. Sure I suppose a lot of people made do by watching the All-Star game and whatnot, but I couldn't be bothered with that sloppy dreck. I was sick of All-Star weekend by Saturday night where everything that could go wrong did and I wasn't about to make the same mistake on Sunday - especially with Rome and Extras as available alternatives on HBO.
Let's look at all the spectacular failures one by one:
The "shooting stars" exhibition - featuring our very own Le Trou Noir - was just ghastly from start to finish. First off they gave each team two minutes to make their shots from all six spots, including half court, but the clock operator was under the impression it was supposed to be only one minute. Consequently the competition had to be stopped AND REVIEWED ON REPLAY not once but twice in the middle of a team's turn so that they could get their shit in order. Sure the whole thing looked grotesquely unplanned and amateurish, but at least the fellah that was working the Derek Fisher Game for us in 2002 has managed to land on his feet.
As if that wasn't enough, the Pistons squad of Chauncey Billups, Bill Laimbeer and some chick (Swin Cash?) were declared winners at the end by default because the Chicago team were disqualified for making their shots out of order, thanks to Ben Gordon's brain cramp. Scottie Pippen looked legitimately distraught afterward, like this drawback might give him second thoughts about going ahead with his comeback. Or maybe he was just upset about the difference between the 1st place check and the 2nd place check. Maybe the whole reason he wants to play again is he needs the dough, who knows? There is a story out there that he lost 5 Million dollars in a failed bid to get a new airline company, called - I shit you not - Air Pip, off the ground.
One thing's for sure, Scottie is batshit crazy. Get a load of what he told the Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith (and a bunch of other reporters):
"I know that, but I think people love me just as much as they love Michael," Pippen said. "The fans who understand the game, the GMs and coaches. I think they'd rather have a Scottie than a Michael."
There was an awkward, shocked pause after Pippen answered - Pippen over Jordan? - and someone finally asked why.
"Because I'm an all-around player," Pippen added. "Coaches would rather have a Scottie-type player than a Michael. I was an all-around player. I made people around me better."
Unless he was speaking about whom coaches would prefer in February 20th, 2007 and not in their respective primes, I'm going to take a wild guess here and assume that the majority of NBA coaches would bite the bullet and go with the all-time best player in history instead of a guy who will forever be remembered for sitting on the bench and pouting because Phil Jax designed a play for Toni Kukoc. For the record, Jordan averaged 5.3 assists per game in his career, Scottie averaged 5.2. And he scored a few more points I think...
Anyway, after the Pistons trio was booed by the crowd at the half empty Thomas & Mack Center (they were still filing in due to either the traffic or stunningly good judgment - I'm going with the former) it was time for the skillz competition. Except the only skills in it involved passing, dribbling and shooting a three pointer. Seems kinda limited, no? Why not expand the thing to test the full range of things a star player has to do in a game?
My version would go something like this...
You start by having to collect a rebound over a life-size cardboard cutout of Fabricio Oberto (or the real thing, whichever is cheaper to get) without committing an over-the-back foul, then you dribble around cones at 10% speed for twenty seconds until you wind up at the top of the key looking bored and have the option of either jacking up a fade away from 30 feet or barreling down the lane and plunging yourself into a crowd of people and animatedly gesturing for a foul.
You then have to make like Tim Duncan and shoot the first freebie with no arc whatsoever and have it barely nick the front of the rim before perfectly swishing the second one. Then you take your sweet time ambling back on defense (not a problem against any team except the Suns in a real life NBA game) and wait under the basket to swat a Tony Parker lay-up. Don't worry, he's been taking acting lessons from his fiancé so it will look like he won't even see you standing next to him when he's about to release the shot.
After you politely ask for the ball back from the fan in the eighth row who caught it, (IMPORTANT: DO NOT PUNCH, SPIT ON OR SHOOT FAN) you have to successfully pass the ball to Nazr Muhammad from ten feet away without him dropping it, although you do get five seconds deducted from your overall time if you manage to fire one at his crotch without Nazr deflecting it.
Finally you camp out on the three point line, wait for a return pass and knock Manu Ginobili unconscious with your "follow through" after he blocks your jumper from behind as the judges decide how believable your protests of innocence were and how sincere your begrudging "sorry about that dawg" condolence speech to the bloody crumpled Argentine was.
Oh and then you have to throw your jersey into the crowd and impregnate some lady whose last name you couldn't fathom. Yup, you two gotta conceive right in front of everybody at the gym and on national television.
First Prize: 1 Million Smackers. And a Pepsi.
(In their lame ass version of the competition, Wade beat out Kobe because the latter couldn't pass the ball accurately for the life of him. Meanwhile Bronnie ran his heat with embarrassingly little effort, even for him. He's acting like a 6'8" Shaq right now with his disgusting sense of entitlement and we're pretty much two years away from him showing up to training camp way out of shape and missing handfuls of regular season games for no reason.)
I believe after that came the Barkley-Bevetta race, which I admit was thrilling as I was watching it, but in the end I found the whole thing less humorous and way more melancholy than most people did. I mean, on the one hand the Chuckster has let himself go so badly that the majority of commentators were making him an underdog to a man who is damn near 70 years old in a 100 yard dash. Just think about that for a second. One of the top three or four power forwards of all time, only 44 years old today and most people were expecting him to lose a race to a senior citizen. Combine that with Barkley's well publicized gambling problems (he joked that the $50,000 the race generated for charity was "two hands of blackjack") and it's not hard to imagine life taking a tragic turn for him in the near future. For his family's sake I hope he's got a nest egg saved for them in some bank that he won't ever touch, no matter how much cash he blows through in the casinos.
At the other end you have Bevetta who was humiliated on national television. Here's a guy who runs eight miles every day getting dusted by a complete blob. Barkley wasn't even running that hard and showboated the last 40 feet to taunt Dick. Even though they kissed and hugged and all the proceeds went to charity, you know that somewhere deep inside Bevetta was crushed. He probably thought he was going to win going into the thing. Hell most people did. And as fit as he is, the race wasn't even close. The consolation that he'll probably outlive Charles is I'm guessing, not very comforting.
Still, Dick was soooooo slow. I'm damn near as fat as Chuck is. In fact when you factor our difference in height I'm probably exactly as fat as Chuck is. But I'm positive I would have smoked Dick too. (Yeah, I did that on purpose, ha ha). Is there any chance he took a dive? Did he make a huge bet on Barkley though some offshore casino through a friend of a friend of a friend? Did he dive at the end just to absolve himself of all suspicion?
Nah. Forget I mentioned it. He already makes plenty fixing games for Stern. Although for my money, Bennett Salvatore is the worst.
Next came the 3 Point Shootout. I didn't have a problem with the way the event itself was conducted or its rules, but what's up with the contestants? I mean, what a random field. Okay Dirk won it last year so you have to invite him back and Kapono leads the league in three point accuracy, so he belongs. But Jason Terry is 11th in %, so why's he over here? Mike Miller is 15th, why was he invited?
And those are just the respectable candidates. Damon Jones, the mouth that roared somehow talked his way into the event despite being ranked only the 35th best long range gunner. However that's still leaps and bounds ahead of Agent Zero, who was invited to participate despite having the 65th! best percentage.
Now, if you want to go by just three pointers made, then both Gilbert and Miller belong, but that still doesn't explain Jones or Terry's invites. I know that Nash was probably a likely choice to be invited if he wasn't hurt and he would have deserved to be, but if the league is just interested in name recognition and star power for this event, why not just have the field be Dirk-Ray Allen-Kobe- Arenas- Vinsanity- T-Mac?
The guys they did choose were inexplicable and random. If league execs are worried that Brent Barry, Al Harrington and Luther Head will generate less "buzz" than Jones, Terry and Miller/Arenas they're either not giving basketball fans enough credit or forgetting that everyone in Vegas is wasted anyway so it doesn't matter who they pick.
Then again this is the same fan base who selected Shaq to start the All-Star game, so never mind.
Finally we lurched to the dunk contest. Two bad omens loomed over this event before it even started. One, the league refused Dwight Howard's request to let him raise the rim for some jaw-dropping dunks he had planned. Two, one of the other participants, Tyrus Thomas, admitted to the media that he didn't care at all about winning and that he basically accepted the invite for the money. So one guy doesn't give a shit and the other guy really, really gives a shit and the league puts the kibosh on both of them. Brilliant! Why don't we just get rid of the ESPN/ABC/TNT TV package and air the games on Vs. while we're at it?
Anyway, despite all the negative energy going in, the dunk contest had a chance to be salvaged thanks to Gerald Greens' hops and Howard's ingenuity. But Jordan and Dr. J had to be complete pricks about the whole thing and ruin it for everybody. Jordan's "I'm not going to give anyone a 10" attitude was petty and sad, but all too predictable for those who are in the know about him as a person. God forbid some fan ever think, "Hey I think these guys could jump higher than MJ!" what would become of the human civilization then? And worse, how would that reflect in the sales of Jordan's sneakers? Methinks that if Howard were an Air Jordan guy, Michael would've been a wee bit more generous with his praise.
That still doesn't explain Dr. J's role in all of this though. I guess he's just a bitter asshole.
The finals were once again held hostage by Nate Robinson, but at least he didn't win it this time. Maybe next year this tired dinosaur of an idea can be whittled down to just two competitors and the lil' dude with the big Napoleon complex can duel with The Birdman as the nation snores away. Just wait until Candace Parker enters the WNBA and Stern has her win the damn dunk contest to give the league some pub. She'll beat out James White, Chase Buddinger and Shawn Kemp's oldest illegitimate baby.
So yeah, All-Star weekend, woohoo. Fear not Spurs fans, I have not forgotten about the Pistons game...
I can't figure these guys out, I really can't. Just when it appeared that we've finally come to a consensus on PtR that the '06-07 Spurs are mentally, physically and emotionally soft, they whip out a Peter North special on us. When we figured that they have no centers to speak of, Francisco Elson goes off for 12 and 18. And that there's no way they'll be able to hang defensively or on the boards against any team that's over .500, they dominate a Pistons squad that's damn near a mortal lock to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals (unless they run into Miami before then).
Right off I knew were in for an evening of delightful surprises when they announced that Mason, the insufferably obnoxious Pistons' PA guy would be missing the game because he had promotional duties in Vegas. That meant no chants of "CHAUN-cey BUH-Buh-buh-BILL-ups and definitely no screaming for "DEEEE-troit BASSSSS-ket BALL."
Lord knows he would've had the opportunity as there were a ton of stoppages of play and the pace of the game was glacial at times, much like the '05 Finals. Personally, I can't stand the dude, but I guess I'm in the minority since he was chosen to work the ASG. And I will concede that I can't name another PA in the league, not even the guy who used to work for the Bulls in their heyday, so I guess being infamous is better than being anonymous.
But yeah, basically due to Elson's phenomenal board work and a couple of inspired seven minute stretches from Tony, the Spurs were able to shake off the fatigue of the segababa and easily subdue the class of the LEast.
First let's gush about the Flying Dutchman. Not only were his 18 boards a career high, (previous best was 15 for the Nugs) but Elson loped down the court like some freakishly tall gazelle and gracefully finished a couple of hair raising feeds from Tony. Elson worked superbly on defense with Timmy for perhaps the first time all year as the two of them seemed to come to an agreement on their defensive roles. Duncan will challenge shots and occupy as many people as he can, Elson will fly in to grab all the misses. Whatever, it worked. If we can get Elson to play even 75% as well consistently, we'll be contenders again, guaranteed.
Something I noticed about Frankie the other day is that he bares an eerie resemblance to the guy from "Heroes" who can make you forget stuff just by touching your head. Unfortunately, I remember all too well that the last time Elson got us this excited it was way back in the first game of the season at Dallas. Surely we can't wait another 52 games for another good outing from this gargantuan cocktease of a man.
Still, Tony's night was no less impressive in its own way. While on the box score his 16 and 8 might not look any more impressive than Billups' 19 and 6, don't be fooled - Tony DESTROYED Chauncey. It was easily his best outing against the Pistons since Game 3 of the Finals where he was pretty much the only Spur who didn't suck out loud that night. Anyway, back to this game. In a sense you can say that Parker stole a page out of the Ginobili playbook by inflicting the lion's share of his carnage in two concentrated bursts. First Tony started the game off on a right note by accounting for our first 12 points with two buckets and four dimes. Then he came out in the second half and dished to Timmeh for a couple of hoops and canned three straight jumpers. His J has improved to the point where I no longer cringe when he shoots it, especially when taking into account the dearth of reliable scoring options on the club. As much as I get on Tony for not having better assist numbers, I've come to realize that the only Spurs worth passing to in half court are Duncan, Manu or Brent. Better Tony from 17 feet than one of our geezers from 26, y'know? But um...yeah, pass it to Manu and stuff.
No longer horrifying.
However, despite all this flattery, it would be unwise push all our chips in with the proverbial "K-Q offsuit" that is the San Antonio Spurs. Winning at Detroit is impressive, but I'm aware that critics will just shrug it off to a night where most of the Pistons had already mentally checked out, thinking about their All-Star break. Both Antonio McDyess and Tayshaun Prince (aka Manu's Fugly Girlfriend) were totally M.I.A in this one, and `Sheed wasn't far off himself. Essentially this is why we won the title in '05 and why we're still a better team in '07. On paper the Pistons have (and had) the better starting line-ups and more talent. But the only guys they have that you can expect consistent efforts from night in and night out are Chauncey and Rip. With Wallace and Prince, you'll get one good game, one average game and one nothing game, pretty much on a steady three game rotation. Manu and Tony are a lot more consistent. How often do either of them truly fail to show up? Maybe once every dozen games?
Anyway, when you factor in the unpredictability of the Pistons' forwards and couple it with the brutal reality of Flip Saunders being their coach and C-Webb being assigned the role of "savior" it all adds up, in my opinion, to an endgame that calls for fans of the D-Twa to take a long cold shower, tootsweet. What do you mean you can't guard Manu?
Your 3 Stars
3. Manu Ginobili - Another efficient night with 20 points on only 12 shots, neutralizing Hamilton, Detroit's top scorer. Six turnovers is a bit much though.
2. Tony Parker - Can't really think of anything he didn't do well except for five giveaways of his own...
1. Francisco Elson - Don't toy with us Frankie, my heart can't take it.
Record: 35-18 Streak: W-2
Up Next: Vs. Denver Nuggets
Rodeo road trip in the rear view, the new & improved Spurs look to get the stretch run off on the right foot against Nene, Najara, `Yelo and of course The Nutgrabber. Yeah, yeah, the story here is supposed to be the scoring tandem of AI and Anthony, but for me they'll always be The Thuggets. And until they learn how to D up, they're of no significance to anyone.