Celtics 80, Spurs 77 SA: 45-23 1st in Southwest, 2nd in Western Conference
Okay, so my girlfriend says she's a Celtics fan. She doesn't know any of the players, and I'm not even sure if she's aware that they won the title last year, but she says she's a Celtics fan. She said she got into them when a boyfriend from a previous relationship made her watch the games with him a couple of years ago and she was really impressed with their intelligence and style of play. The '05-06 Celtics were 33-49 and the tanking '06-07 Celtics were 24-58, but whatever. If she found art and beauty in their suckitude, who am I to argue with her insane, crazy, nonsensical subjective opinion? She's a woman, so it should go without saying that her relationship with reality and logic is like Shaq's relationship with the English language and free throws: Rarely ever executed and even then only in "practice" when no one is watching.
Epilogue: I hate you, Tony Parker. I hate you I hate you I hate you.
Ignoring my personal, selfish dessert needs, the actual game against the Celtics took on many of the traits of our recent games against the Rockets, Thunder and T-Wolves. It was an ugly, at times unwatchable brickfest and honestly watching it at the bar next to some NCAA tournament game, it was often dfficult to figure out who were the pros and who were the amateurs. And this is coming from someone, as the longtime readers are probably aware, who utterly DESPISES college basketball and this insipid "March Madness" nonsense.
Actually wait, this is a tradition for Stampler this time of year so I gotta do it.
All the players stink, all the games stink, nobody can shoot, there's a billion turnovers and like seven assists in every game and I don't accept for one microsecond the idiotic argument that people enjoy watching these games more because "it's so intense and the everyone's competing so hard."
Shenanigans shenanigans shenanigans.
Manoli and I could play one-on-one to 50 in the gym and I guarantee you that no two humans who've competed in anything in the history of the world will be more intense or have the desire to win more than we would going against one another. But would that make it enjoyable television for millions of people? What if I put a "San Diego State" jersey on and he put a "I Barely Passed High School" jersey on? Still no, right?
So why do regular people or "casual sports fans" care about the NCAA tournament?
Say it with me. It's all about the gambling.
It's. All. About. The. Gambling.
IT'S. ALL. ABOUT. THE. GAMBLING.
And please, stop it with the "anything can happen" argument. Go pick a Final Four consisting of a five seed, a seven seed, an11 seed and a 14 seed and tell me how that works out for you in the office pool. Your boss will either fire you because he'll think you're a complete moron or you'll be promoted to "Regional Manager" because you're obviously way too much of a hard worker to know or care about sports.
The tournament is just as predictable as the NBA playoffs, and always has been. The chalk prevails. Last year the Final Four were the four one seeds.This year 14 of the 16 teams in the Sweet 16 are chalk, including all twelve squads seeded 1, 2, or 3.
OMG THIS SPORTING EVENT IS LIKE A MAGICAL FAIRYTALE!!!11!!!
Watch, I'm going to win the PtR pool and on purpose I clicked the "autopick top seeds" button, filling my entire bracket in three seconds (though I did switch the winner to Pittsburgh. I hate Rick Pitino.)
If the actual Cinderella story was like the NCAA tournament, not only would she not live "happily ever after" with the prince, she wouldn't even make it into his castle for the grand ball. She'd probably get eaten by a moat dragon or something. Or maybe the drawbridge would accidentally fall on her carriage and crush her instantly. Or the prince would fall in love with her, but he'd look like Rick Majerus.
There were occasional individual plays and maybe even a few stretches where one or both teams were playing legitamate good defense out there, but for the most part I thought the low score had to do with wretched offensive execution, missed open shots (4-17 on threes for the Spurs, oy vey...), and WWF-worthy officiating. The zebras were calling fouls early, but eventually the Celtics' rough play just and thuggish tactics just wore them down and they let both teams get away with murder in the second half. Post play was a complete disaster as far as the refs went, the Celtics twin fatties of Perkins and Davis were just slamming into guys with impunity, and it looked more like a Sumo competition than a basketball game in the paint.
Boston did not impress me at all. I realize they're beat up, missing some guys and that Garnett is coming off an injury, but they don't have the goods this year. Pierce has chunked up a bit and is just not consistent. Allen is the same as ever, a 20-1-1 who can't play defense. But really they're missing P.J. Brown and James Posey and haven't adequately replaced either. The Marbury signing sealed their fate.
The story for us was more of the same. The defense has picked it up, as it's wont to do this time of year. The bench provided next to nothing offensively, but they were all down right demonic in their own end, with Bowen playing probably his best game of the year against Pierce, Hill similarly frustrating Allen or Rondo, and Gooden and Thomas both rebounding well.
The problem, again, was creating offense without The Manu. Tim was looking old and gimpy, Finley and Mason were clankeriffic, and all twelve of Tony's field goals were layups. While it'd be
accurate simplistic to suggest that Fin and Frenchie choked the game away at the line, a healthy heaping of blame has to also go to Pop as well for once more giving us the abomination that is Roger Mason Jr.: backup point guard. Honestly sometimes I wonder how I root for a professional basketball team that has three guys on the whole roster who can dribble the ball and one's injured, one's a rookie and the one that actually is paid to do it gets called for traveling like three times a game.
Mason's three turnovers were one less than the Celtics had as a team and while eight turnovers overall is a great game for the Spurs, it's still kinda crappy when the other team only has four. When your margin of error without Ginobili is so thin, you can't let Boston get five extra shots and shoot awfully from three and shoot even more awfully from the stripe and expect to win.
I know Tony's carried us this past month. I know he's been far and away our best player and was again versus Boston. But endings like that are precisely the reason why Pop usually likes to give the ball to Manu down the stretch. Call it hindsight, call it me being an unfair jerk to Parker, call it hypothetical reactionary blathering from an idiot, call it what you want.
But you all know the truth. No way Manu clanks four free throws with the game on the line. "Unbelievable" indeed, Frenchie.
Nice move, Shaq.
(AP Photo/Delcia Lopez)
Rockets 87, Spurs 85 2nd in Southwest, 3rd in Western Conference
Rinse, lather, repeat.
Tony had to create all of our offense. Without him (and this will sound ironic, coming from me) there was no ball movement. He had 12 assists, everyone else combined for six. Finley and Mason were again useless and Pop was so fed up with the backup point guard position (which he, more than anyone, is responsible for ruining with his atrocious handling of George Hill and countless others before him) that he played Parker 40 minutes. Right now the team has one actual "guard" and a bunch of streaky shooters who treat the ball like it's radioactive. Parker had a good floor game, but his shot selection was abysmal and because everyone else was playing hot potato with the ball he wound up with five turnovers to boot. One would think that he, more than any Spur, will be thrilled with Manu's return, if only so he can take a play or two off and catch his breath, but with Tony you never know.
Despite Pop's stubbornness to play Hill at the point and Mace's glaring inaptitude for the job, I'm not too concerned about the backup point job for the playoffs. It's gonna be Manu, as it always has been. Beno was never a point guard here. He was the guy who dribbled the ball up the floor, handed it off to Manu, and then spotted up somewhere. Same with Van Exel (unless he decided to chuck a 38-footer), same with Vaughn, same with Hill, same with Mace. When Manu's on the floor with the scrubs we run the same offense LA runs with Kobe, Miami runs with Wade and Cleveland runs with LeBron. Screen-and-roll with the swingman running the show.
Who plays with Manu is the question. Mace would be the better shooting option, while Hill would provide a better ball-handler against pressing defenses, a better interior finisher for backdoor cuts, and a better defender. I'd go with Hill, but it won't be my call. Most likely Pop will just play Tony to death.
My bigger worry is Tim. He still hasn't put together two solid halves in March. He was great in the first half, finally showing signs of being his normal self, but unquestionably awful in the second half, at both ends. He couldn't hit any shots down the stretch, couldn't even post up effectively or make any fluid moves in the paint, and his defensive rotations were quite poor and cost us dearly at the end.
I don't know why Pop is playing him the way he is. The minutes are fine, 34 is about right, but Duncan is resting for way too long. Against Boston he rested for seven consecutive minutes in the first half and nine straight in the second. Against Houston it was seven each in both halves. Of course, those are just "game minutes." In real time the rest periods are like 20-35 minutes and one has to think that with sitting for so long Duncan's knees are bound to stiffen up. Wouldn't it be a lot smarter to substitute Timmy college-style and play him shorter shifts? Shuttle him on and off the floor three or four times a half instead of just two? He'd be less likely to get tired and less likely to calcify on the bench.
Credit must go to Kurt, Bruce and of course to Fatality, for having his best game of the season in a losing cause (Houston's run that won the game late in the fourth started immediately after Pop subbed him out in favor of Mason), but again, the defensive efforts of the reserves can only do so much if you're playing with a popgun offense. Bonner was dominated by Scola (again, well done on that one, front office) and finished with just two boards in 21 minutes. Our starting swingmen combined for 9 points on ten shots. We're asking Tony to just carry a ridiculous load and he is begging to noticeably sag under the burden, particularly late.
Apparently Luis can play quite well alongside a center who can't move laterally or jump over a phone book after all. Say, did you know he's only making three million?
(AP Photo/Delcia Lopez)
Can all of these problems be corrected in time to salvage this disappointing season and pull off a miraculous playoff run? It seems less likely by the day. Duncan and Manu will have to return to full health and find their games tootsweet. A third big will have to emerge and be relied upon to be competent at both ends. Ditto a second swingman. Pop's failed point guard experiment has just about destroyed Mason. Neither he nor Finley should be on the floor if they can't get open spot up shots. Perhaps if Bowen plays neither have to be on the floor at all, or at least, not for very long. Or maybe Manu's insertion into the lineup will give us our usual three-pronged attack and the consistent open looks will be created once more for the scrubs.
Manu is the key to everything. I keep clinging to this hope because there is nothing else to cling to. The Spurs desperately need to beat somebody worthwhile one of these days and as they've proven, ad nauseam, it's not gonna happen without The Sickness.
Right now I'm just relieved to not have to think about them for the next 36 hours.