Wednesday, April 20, 2011

4 comments One Win

(We've had a day of creativity at BotB. Read through J.S.'s brilliant post and then go to Dylan's post below which answers philosophical questions about the NBA)

Naturally enough, I've read a pretty large number of articles on sports. Unfortunately, some of these have been written by Scoop Jackson. Scoop has demonstrated jaw dropping poor judgement, stunning lack of creativity, lack of any sense of proportionality and even downright delusion. But, I suppose one could argue, at least Scoop was trying to say something here. This...I don't know what this is supposed to be.

NBA playoff fear: OKC Thunder storm

They're clouding the future for anyone who has to face OKC in the NBA playoffs


We're only one game in, but it's already time to face the factuality

Already the very first outline of the mountain of fluff in this article appears. This is going to break all Universe records for filler, and this should tip you off. Factuality? Yeah, of course, "factuality", that everyday, common term, so often used in basketball analysis.

If the other teams in the West don't come with their A+ games each time they step onto the court to face the Thunder, they'll be collecting more L's than Penny Marshall's sweaters.

(You might need to be over 35 to get that one.)

I'm not over 35 but I'm sure it's terrible anyway.

Playing Oklahoma City right now? A time to fear. A time to recognize. The Thunder are for real. Seriously and dangerously real. Not just because of their 107-103 Game 1 victory at home over the Nuggets to open up the playoffs on Sunday night, and not just because they avoided the upset fate that had Los Angeles, San Antonio and Orlando losing home-court advantage one game into their series.

I don't know what you mean by "real". They are pretty good, I think everyone agrees on that. In fact, nearly everyone has them ahead of Dallas in the chase for the Larry O'Brien trophy. Maybe even ahead of the Spurs, as people question their post defense. It's possible they are as high as the second favourite in the Western Conference right now. On Betfair currently, the Thunder are trading at $10.50 (equates to about a 9.5% chance to win it all). Boston, who have been to two of the past three Finals, are $9.20 (about 10.8%). Hardly slept on and requiring a "wake the fuck up on the Thunder!" column from Scoop.

Anyway, you say this isn't a kneejerk reaction to their Game 1 victory (which was deeply tainted by a non call as Scoop soon concedes), but you have a long and notorious history of dumb kneejerk reactions, so why is today any different?

This is more. They are more.

More. I get it now. Before, I was thinking they were less - turns out they were more.

Don't let the two superstars fool you. Don't think that what Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley said on TNT after Game 1 -- they both used the word "worried" when they suggested the Thunder won't go far relying on two players scoring 72 of the team's 107 total points -- is law. Don't think that Oklahoma City is two elite players surrounded by a bunch of Bobcats.

To be fair to Scoop, this is a remarkably good description of the Thunder. They are so shallow offensively, and the Bobcats for the last three years or so have been just a train wreck offensively. But they were chock full of solid, hardworking defensive players, of the Perkins/Sefolosha/Mohammad/Ibaka variety. So Scoop unwittingly stumbled into some insightful saying that this was not the case.

Don't be surprised if six weeks from now, we're still writing columns about them.

Just because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook duo-handedly saved the Thunder from coming out of the gates like the Lakers, the Spurs and the Magic, don't fall into a conviction that a) this isn't a team; or b) those two aren't enough to win series. Plural.

I'm deeply sceptical, they have two scorers who are, at the end of the day, very inexperienced in playoff basketball (relatively speaking), minimal at best offensive post presence, with a young coach and will be conceding home floor for three straight series. This would be unprecidented really but I can't say it's a stupid comment in and of itself. I can say it's stupid because Scoop Jackson wrote it.

The Thunder have players at every position.

Can't tell you how important this is kids. Simply by not starting games with four point guards, the Thunder already have a headstart on six teams in the playoff field.

Players who know their roles but aren't just role players. James Harden. Eric Maynor. Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha.

I can't think of a group of players who more quintessentially define the term "role players" as much as this group. This is exactly what a role player is - players exactly like that. I mean, Lamar Odom, would be a role player but not just a role player. Jamal Crawford maybe. George Hill might sneak in there. Paul Millsap. Not Eric Maynor.

And they have benefited from the addition of Kendrick Perkins just as much as Boston seems to have been hurt by his subtraction.

"I think Kevin and Russell are great teammates," coach Scott Brooks said after the Game 1 win. "Obviously, they've developed into All-Stars. & But we're a good team. We're not a Kevin and Russell team. We're a Thunder team. Guys all chip in."

Oklahoma City has the energy and intensity of an NCAA mid-major winning deep into the tournament -- and a Hall of Fame-caliber player with the demeanor (and game) of George Gervin. The Thunder are the only team in the NBA playoffs out to prove that last year was not a fluke.

They finished 8th last year. How is that a fluke season? They improved their record by five games and seeding by four. I think everyone appreciates they are a formidable team very much on the rise. None of this makes any sense. They are not some plucky underdog, they are not considered a fluke by anyone, you are living in an alternate reality Scoop Jackson.

Every year entering the playoffs, there is one team nobody wants to face. It's that team that has nothing to lose and feels as if it's balling on the house's money. Losses don't faze this team; wins don't surprise it. In 2008, it was the Golden State Warriors, who eliminated the No.1 seed Dallas Mavericks. Two years ago, it was the Chicago Bulls, who pushed the then-defending champion Celtics to the seven-game brink.

Last year it was & it was them.

I'm not sure if that last line is sic or what. It's impossible to tell with Scoop whether it is an editing error or it is intentional for some bizarre reason. Please, feel free to tell me what you think this last line might mean. This guy is paid hundreds of thousands to write for ESPN, remarkable.

Anyway, about those examples. The Warriors missed the playoffs the following year. The Bulls finished with an identical record and seed and were again bundled out in the first round. I can only imagine Scoop is drawing a parallel between these teams and OKC, which would suggest he thinks they are basically no chance to make any real noise whatsoever.

OKC scared L.A. last season, although the Lakers will never admit it. In some ways, their opening-round series (it went six games) seemed more compelling than the seven-game series that was the NBA Finals. The Thunder learned from that, learned they belonged.

It was a fucking great Finals last year. Look, the Thunder stole a couple of games, but never led in the series, never won on the Lakers floor, and really, a real scare by a lower seed should force the higher seed to close out on their home floor. It was a solid performance, everyone got a bit carried away I think. And if everyone got carried away, Scoop Jackson is at Alpha Centauri now.

They learned then that they had to make the outcome of this year's playoffs different. They learned what "nothing to lose" feels like. They became that team to fear.

Yes, the Thunder won Game 1 Sunday on a fluke. A missed offensive goaltending call (the league admitted it on Monday) that gave them a one-point lead with less than a minute left. But this was "Upset Sunday," and the Thunder found a way to survive. Down 13 early, in only this team's seventh playoff game, they didn't fold.

They were at home. Against a team that traded its best player halfway through the season. And they got a ridiculous, game changing call even you admit was fucked. They didn't fold? It's game 1 of a possible 49 game season, of course they didn't fold!

Get used to that. They won't fold and they won't go out or down easily. They've learned how not to give games away. If they are to lose, someone will have to beat them.

So no team will be able to take advantage of that little loophole anymore that you can beat a team with less points if you eat more cherry pies at halftime.

Get ready folks, the bullshitting and saying nothing are kicking it up to 9th gear.

They are an NCAA-replica team in a pro basketball tournament. They'll play every game with the same "survive and advance" mentality that UConn, Butler and VCU did a few weeks ago. And if things fall into place, the Thunder could find themselves with the same Kemba Walker-inspired results.

Or very, very close to it.

So can a "college" team actually win an NBA championship?

Probably not. The lack of NBA players alone would be a severe impediment. A talented NBA team though with two elite talents might.

Without making too much out of one win, the answer is: Most definitely. And one of the differences between the Thunder team in these playoffs and the one that showed up here this time last year is that it knows it now.

Now, can they show it and prove it to the 15 other teams left standing? With every game, can they generate more fear?

Brooks said during the game Sunday that the key is making stops and making 3s. He realizes for this team, it's really just that simple. He knows just how good the Thunder really are, not just how good they can be.

The anti-Heat, that's what they were called in a recent GQ story. Who are we to disagree?

The lightning has already struck. And once that happens, we all know what follows.

Without making too much of one win, of course.


Martin F. said...

The Lakers are terrified everytime they have to play a team with a fast point guard who can also hit a jumper. Derek Fisher is 100 years old and has the lateral mobility of an oil tanker. Rose, Parker, hell, the Golden State tandem of Curry and Ellis, all give the Lakers trouble, cause they have size, not speed.

Dear God, Scoop was terrible.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin F, I still have some faith in the Lakers. I think they will get by the Hornets, but I do have to wonder how they will fare against teams with strong point guards AND some semblance of an inside game.

Martin F. said...

Oh, I think the Lakers will be fine till they run up against the Bulls, the Celtics or the Heat. OKC might beat them, but that would have to come from the Lakers shooting for crap, or Kobe having another set of "YOU want ME to PASS the ball???" problems.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin F, you mean there isn't more than one basketball? I do think OKC could beat them. I am very high on OKC this year.