Monday, June 2, 2008

My Two Cents...

On What Happened While WWOD? Was Away Fighting Aliens With Indy

...on the Brent Barry no-call at the end of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals: For what it's worth, I sat there that night knowing that it was a two-shot foul on the floor. Barry wasn't in the act of shooting when Fisher clobbered him. If he had been then he would have had three potentially game-winning shots to take. But, it was a foul on the floor and Barry should have had the chance to tie the game, forcing overtime. However, the referees swallowed their whistles and the Lakers won the game. The NBA released a statement a few days later agreeing with me. Well, they were just agreeing with reality. As was I.

There are two things about this play that stand out. The first is the way Barry handled himself in that spot. He got the ball in his hands because he had been lights out in that game and really throughout the series. He got the ball in his hands and he wanted to hit that three-pointer to win the game. He wanted it so badly that he wasn't even looking for the foul once he got Fisher off his feet. He didn't want to get fouled. He wanted to hit that shot. If someone like Kobe or Manu had the ball in their mitts at that juncture they would have dove into the contact that Fisher was giving and chucked the ball towards the rim to force the referee's whistle into action. However, that's not how Brent Barry rolls. He wants to win it for real, not with foul shots. So he lost. For real.

The second, and more important, takeway from this debact-astic no-call is the ridiculousness and inconsistency of NBA officiating, especially in the wake of the Tim Donaghy game-fixing scandal. Officials and the League and defenders of both will always talk about the virtue of "not letting the refs decide the game." Um, but if the referees ignore a rule that they sternly enforce through 45 minutes of a game then isn't that, ipso facto, deciding the game all the same? Isn't allowing a player from one team to illegally do something that another player on another team doesn't expect him to be allowed to do actually decide a game? For once and for all we have to admit as a culture that incorrect no-calls decide a game just as much as incorrect do-calls do. Inaction in the face of wrongdoing is just as detrimental as actually doing wrong. It's a fact.

And to exacerbate the facts in this case, the situation was absolutely perfectly suited for a referee to make the call. Since it was in-fact a two-shot foul and not a three-shot foul the only possibilities were either Barry hits both shots and forces overtime, in which case the players still decide the game over five additional minutes OR Barry misses one or both shots and the players actually DID decide the game. So, the no-call was the only way in which the referee could have possibly inserted himself into the outcome when all he clearly wanted was to keep himself from "deciding the game." Nice.

...on the Fire-Willie Watch at Shea Stadium: I tried to ignore it as long as was possible. I tried to pretend like the entire city wasn't rising as one against him. But it was. After dropping sets to the Nationals, Braves and Rockies (with one resounding beatdown of the Yankees in between) it seemed like the jig could be up. The four-game sweep in Atlanta was most certainly (or, at least, hopefully) the nadir of the swoon. The team returned home and it seemed like the Indian Hills High School baseball team could be Willie's next gig when word got out that he was sitting down with the bosses. But there was no off-day when they got home, thankfully, and he wasn't cut loose. And, the team is the better for it. I really believe that Willy shouldn't have this ALL on his shoulders (some of it, yes). He did not acquire Guillermo Mota, though he did rely on him too much last season. He did not let the best two middle relievers from the 2006 season (Bradford and Oliver) walk. He did not hurt Pagan and Church. He did not invest in Moises Alou, Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez or any other card-carrying members of the AARP. Omar Minaya is on the hook for this team too. I agree that Willie should go down if this team goes quietly this season but I don't think you can leave everything that's happened thus far at his doorstep.

...on Mixed Martial Arts going to CBS: Good for them. If MMA is going to overtake boxing as America's most beloved bloodsport then network TV is the doorway. Back in the day, boxing was not exclusively a pay-per-view affair and the fighter's fought with regularity. Throughout the 1960s and straight on 'til the 1980s there was a Fight of the Week on network television every Saturday night. Family rooms and hard-drinking establishments would tune their black-and-white televisions to the program each week to follow the fights. Boxing was the American sport right up there with baseball. Football and basketball were sideshows and not to be taken entirely seriously so long as the title fights were there for everyone to see. And it stayed that way until the fights weren't there to see any longer. Until vampiric men like Don King bled the bloodsport dry. If MMA is takeover then non-pay-per-view television seems to be the key.

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday's Starting Five

1. Paul Pierce. We're going to hear a lot about Kobe Bryant's quest to win a title "by himself," meaning without Shaq, and about Kevin Garnett reaching the league's grandest stage after such a brilliant career. There's also going to be a lot of talk about the feud between Ray Allen and Kobe and the But the real story here should be about Paul Pierce. Someone might even try to convince you that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are involved in the forthcoming contests. However, the real story here is about Paul Pierce. And that's the truth. Or, actually, as Shaq put it so eloquently a few years back "Paul Pierce is the motherf#%king truth. Quote me on that and don't take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn't know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth." The Truth-ful story about the Finals would talk about Pierce, the player who has been in Boston for ten years. For better and for worse. The All-Star player who never left (see KG) his bad teams or really tried to (see Kobe). He's the guy who was stabbed in the neck in a nightclub shortly before the season started but then still played in all 82 games that season. Pierce should be the story. After all, who is going to be going shot-for-shot with Kobe if this series comes down to a Game 7? Is it going to be KG? No chance. Is it going to be Jesus Shuttlesworth? I guess it's possible but highly unlikely given the fact that he's been so hit-or-miss-and-miss in these playoffs. It's not going to be either of those two. It's going to be Pierce carrying his team on his shoulder just like he has for the past decade. Just like he did in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against Lebron James and the Lebronaliers. It's going to be because it has got to be.

2. The Boston Celtics. They're back in the Finals. So it was all worth it. Of course, coming off a 24-58 season no one thought that the team was taking a risk by trading for former MVP Kevin Garnett and multiple-time All-Star Ray Allen. However, they were. Danny Ainge (recently named NBA Exec of the Year) moved the team's best young prospect, Al Jefferson, (who made many appearances in this space over the season) and put all their hopes on three players with a combined 35 NBA seasons between them. The Celtics were the fourth-oldest team in the NBA (and the oldest in the East) during the season and might be (though I admit I'm not sure) the oldest at this point after the late additions of power-forward-asaurus PJ Brown and Sam Cassell. If they didn't win this year it was going to be even harder next year, and likely not possible in two years time. Pierce won't be able to out-duel Lebron in 2010. No way. They needed to make it back to the Finals this year to validate all those moves. And, they did it.

3. ABC Television. This time last year the ABC/ESPN conglomerate (in partnership with TNT) extended their television deal with the NBA. They added six more years to the deal that was set to end at the end of this season (I think), setting them up through the 2015-2015 campaign. It cost them about $930 million per year. And this was coming off the record-low audience for San Antonio's four-game sweep of the Lebronaliers. You could say it was a gamble. I probably would. And, it just paid off. With the Celtics clinching the Eastern Conference championship on Friday night that TV deal doesn't seem so crazy.

4. Willie Randolph. What difference a week makes! This time last week Willie was being called into THE meeting with his bosses. The papers were calling for him to be sacked quicker than his groceries at the Stop N Shop in Franklin Lakes, NJ. Then Reyes starts hitting, Fernando Tatis returns from the dead and the New York Metropolitans roll of a 5-2 homestand. Willie woke up this morning on the right side of .500 and with winnable series against San Francisco and Sand Diego staring him the face. Last week was doom and gloom. This week is hopefully good weather in Cali and bad baseball teams across the diamond.

5. Kimbo Slice. No, he didn't exactly distinguish himself on Saturday night in his network television debut on CBS. No, he didn't duplicate the backyard beat downs that made him an Internet sensation. But he did win. And, that counts for something. Of course, he won because of a bloody, busted-open cauliflower ear that would make a vampire nauseous. And he looked thoroughly under-schooled in the technical nature of mixed martial arts, which led to him being pummeled about the head and face when he was brought to the ground. But, he did win. And that has to count for something. I think.