Read Kravitz article from this AM's Star
7 days Archive
June 12, 2005
Ugly? Game 1 of Finals was gem
We are approaching just the second game of the NBA Finals tonight, and already, the whining has begun.
Even more remarkable, it isn't Larry Brown doing the whining.
This is unwatchable basketball.
Nobody can shoot anymore.
These two teams represent everything that stinks about the current NBA game.
Remember when teams scored 69 points by halftime?
Well, I have an admission.
I loved Game 1 of this series.
I loved the fact that for three quarters, nobody had more than a half-second to shoot before a defender was in his face.
I loved the fact that after one of the highest-scoring seasons in recent history, the NBA Finals has come down to the league's two most disciplined defensive teams.
I loved the energy, the raw toughness, the enthusiasm and selflessness both teams showed when trying to shut the other down.
So the TV ratings are going to be down. Anybody surprised? There's no New York or Los Angeles. If TV ratings were a true measure of a program's quality, then "American Idol" would go down as the greatest show in the history of civilization. Just because people aren't watching in huge numbers doesn't mean it isn't wonderful fare. And just because people are watching doesn't mean it's any good.
Your Honor, I give you "Dancing With The Stars."
Explain this to me: Why don't we appreciate defense in the NBA?
We appreciate it in other sports.
In football, a 10-7 game is an epic battle in the trenches, a pitched battle deserving of the John Facenda "Voice of God" treatment.
In baseball, nothing is celebrated more than the stirring austerity of a 1-0 pitchers' battle.
In the NBA, though, if you don't have the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks running up and down the floor, lighting it up and scoring 125 points a night, the game is dull and basketball is doomed to a grisly fate.
You know what I loved about Game 1?
There were no cheap baskets. Every shot was contested. Every fast break was thwarted by remarkable transition defense. Every foray to the basket was met by physical resistance -- at least until the end, when Manu Ginobili took over.
Each score was a small, hard-won victory, a tortuous test of will and fortitude. Want these two points? Fine. But a price will be paid.
Maybe defense is just too subtle to be properly appreciated. Let's be honest: We'll never see one of those "Street Ball" videos featuring incredible defensive rotations and weak-side help. The only time defense gets its moment on the highlight shows, it's when somebody blocks the shot, sends it 15 rows into the stands and does the requisite I'm-the-man pose.
(Does anybody remember how Bill Russell blocked shots and made sure to keep them in play?)
As someone who vaguely remembers the 1970s and early 1980s, let me remind you why the NBA was so roundly criticized back in those days.
Nobody played defense.
Until, perhaps, the fourth quarter, when defense was entirely optional.
Scores were 125-123 and critics chafed at the pickup feel of the games, lamenting the dearth of defensive intensity.
So what will make everybody happy? Is there a magic number?
The good news was, scoring increased this season, and after watching the Pacers and Pistons bludgeon each other for six games last year, it was a necessary change. Last year's Eastern Conference finals wasn't basketball; it was Greco-Roman wrestling.
This year, though, a lot of the hand-checking and off-the-ball nastiness was expunged from the game, thanks in large part to the decision to enforce those rules.
So you had the Suns. And the Mavericks. And the Kings. And the Celtics.
This has been a little bit like the last NFL season, when scoring went through the roof and Peyton Manning threw 49 touchdown passes.
When the playoffs rolled around, the unstoppable offensive teams took the pipe, and New England was left standing as champion once again.
Now, at the end of a relatively high-scoring NBA season, we see again, defense wins championships.
Consider, when the Cleveland Cavaliers were looking for the right man to mold LeBron James and that young team, they turned to former Pacers associate coach Mike Brown, who specializes in defensive play. LeBron has sold the tickets. Now the Cavs understand, to reach the playoffs and go further, they have to improve defensively.
(In a quick aside, here's hoping Mike isn't saddled with Larry Brown as his boss. There is nobody in basketball who is worse suited for that job than Brown. Ask anybody who has worked with him: Every two days, he wants to trade the entire team. He is flighty, impatient and impetuous, and he would not only be a poor choice in that job, he would spend plenty of time looking over Mike Brown's shoulder.)
Anyway, Game 2 is tonight, and it figures to be another one of those 78-71 slam-fests with lots of blocked shots and knee abrasions.
Maybe you're wishing for more high-altitude ballet. Maybe this is boring you to death.
Me? I'll take seven games.
and then read UB's 1st post in his own thread about defense
Well the TV ratings are in and game #1 ratings are down 24% from last year game #1.
I heard all day long yesterday from media member after media member about how "unwatchable" the Spurs v Pistons game #1 was.
On "Outside the Lines" last night they spent 20 minutes not talking about anything other than how unwatchable this series is and why the ratings are down.
It is strange because many argue the NBA needs more substance, more defense, more teamwork, more teams and less stars. Well that is exactly what this series gives us. And the ratings are down and the media is whinning like a bunch of 3rd graders.
I think the defense being played in this series is the best I've ever seen. Why can't fans enjoy that. Why can't they enjoy seeing blocked shots, great help defense, help asnd recover, you know the stuff that wins games. I hope next season the Pacers defense is as good as these two teams. Yes I said it the Pacers defense needs to get better perhaps even more so than their offense.
One thing that really bugs me is when people suggest that these two teams just aren't very good because the scoring is down. What are they saying the wrong teams are here, that the Spurs and Pistons aren't the two best teams.
There are so many issues involved in this, I realize I'm all over the place.
But let me get to this. Why is defense a bad word in the NBA when in Football it is celebrated and in baseball pitching is celebrated.
Here is a good article on this topic.
There was little time or space in this one, and that doesn't figure to change as the series unfolds. Before it even began, there was the typical national hand-wringing about the Pistons' and Spurs' defensive styles. It's as if some observers worry the Pistons' muddy handprints will ruin the NBA's showcase event. What they decline to note is, the muddy handprints are what set Detroit and San Antonio apart from the rest of the league.
Here's a thought. Maybe if other teams -- hello Miami, hello Phoenix -- relied less on flash and more on mash, they'd show up in these events more often. It's funny because almost every other sport celebrates defense, but in the NBA, it's a nasty word.
The flash came before the game, when actor Will Smith took the floor for a singing, dancing show. Oh, there was some flash during the game, like when Billups dribbled toward the hoop, faked a behind-the-back pass to freeze defender Robert Horry, then swept in for the layup. That was an ohh-ahh moment, a classic big-game play by Billups, the reigning Finals MVP who tried desperately to keep the Pistons in the game.
Most of the moments from both teams were more eww-ahh, unless you crave blocked shots and missed shots. The low score couldn't have pleased viewers who prefer their basketball as some sort of athletic ballet. This definitely was not ballet. This was more like square-dancing, in clogs.
The Spurs can do that to a team, though, make a guy just disappear. Before the Pistons were the defensive scourge of the NBA, it was San Antonio's role, winning the title in 1999 and 2003.
Same person? Makes me wanna go HHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmm.