Thursday, February 28, 2013
NBA Shootaround: Steph in the Name of Love
By Grantland Staff
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Hua Hsu: There was a moment early on during last night’s game when I was too busy tweeting something a guy behind me said about the awful sound of Richard Jefferson’s voice to notice this sense of excitement building in the Garden. I looked up and people were cheering and clapping, some were even standing. It was, as Ray Hudson would say, electrical. Kenyon Martin had arisen. He was ripping off his pants and getting ready to check in for his Knicks debut. Wasn’t it just a year ago that another guy on a 10-day contract became a hero?
A few feet down, on the other end of the scorer’s table, the Warriors’ young marksman Klay Thompson was also waiting to check in. It was kind of sad, really, a reminder of this evening’s larger narratives. The Knicks and Warriors will both make the playoffs and they’ll likely get eliminated around the same time, give or take a couple tantalizingly epic performances from Carmelo Anthony. But only one of these teams makes me think of the first half of Cocoon. The Knicks are a collection of old-school guys who probably still buy CDs. The only thing old about the Warriors’ core is Jarrett Jack’s 1930s film star mustache.
Having been swatted to the ground by Roy Hibbert last night — and without the suspended David Lee — it was clear early on that Steph Curry wanted to show and prove. I think the game plan was something like this: Without Lee around to grab boards, why not just make every shot? It didn’t matter what the Knicks tried to do — he made fools of Raymond Felton, “I know Pablo/Prigioni” (shout-out to the guy sitting behind me in Section 115), the reanimated mummy that is Amar'e Stoudemire. It was like Curry was working through a crippling addiction to scoring, wriggling his way to the basket for a floater, capitalizing on an inch of separation for a quick jumper. You can tell just how much someone is feeling it by the speed of their backpedal, and there was an imperiousness to how far Curry would be from the basket by the time the ball finally swished through. It’s cool when someone can get to the basket at will, but it’s a different kind of thrill watching someone shoot 11-of-13 from downtown. There’s so much more at play when a shooter gets hot — the laws of physics, the air pressure inside the building, the concepts of chance and probability, the fallibility of muscle memory, a droplet of water falling down Laura Dern’s thumb.
I’ve never been in a room where the sense of collective dread was so strong. It turns out Tyson Chandler grabbed 28 boards, and on any other night you might have said J.R. Smith had a nice night from long range. But Curry didn’t so much silence the crowd as scramble our ability to process what was going on. There were a few times I looked up at the scoreboard and felt shocked that the Knicks were even in the game, let alone ahead. Shots from way out or from even further out, a contested 3 over Chandler, a pull-up 3 on a fast break followed by Internet Dancing: Steph couldn’t miss. He could, however, turn the ball over. And, on one of the Warriors’ last possessions, he could still get blocked. Felton, who seemed to gain mass as the night went on, packed Curry’s final shot, helping to preserve the Knicks’ win. In those last few minutes of the fourth quarter, the feelings of awe and despair throughout the Garden gave way to true respect. “Steph Curry is NICE,” the guy behind me exclaimed as Curry stepped to the free throw line. A chorus of boos — finally.
Ryan: My interior monologue when I saw this live: "OH MAN THAT GUY SAID 'DAGGER' AND THE NET MOVED SO THE GAME IS OVER. I WANT SOME HONEY WHEAT PRETZEL STICKS. I WONDER IF TREVOR ARIZA'S ICE-FILLED VEINS CHANGES THE TEMPERATURE INSIDE OF THE VERIZON CENTER. HE HAS NOT EVEN BLINKED. DO I WANT A SAMOA? DO I WANT A BEER? WHY DID I BUY ALL THIS COCONUT PORTER? MY FOOT IS ITCHY. DAMN TREVOR ARIZA DOES NOT GIVE A SH ... WHY AREN'T HIS TEAMMATES CELEBRATING? WOW, RANDY WITTMAN HAS REALLY INSTILLED SOME PERSONAL DISCIPLINE INTO THESE GUYS. ARE THEY NOT ALLOWED TO CELEBRATE UNTIL A NEW POPE IS ELECTED? WHATEVER HAPPENED TO MY PAPAL CONCLAVE BLOG? IS THIS LIKE A STARING CONTEST ARIZA IS TRYING TO WIN? DOES NOBODY LIKE TREVOR ARIZA? THE ANNOUNCER SAID 'DAGGER.' Oh ..." Don't believe everything you hear, man.
Meyers Leonard and the Invisible Bench
Sean Fennessey: Pop quiz, hotshot: Name one player on the Portland Trail Blazers' bench. Take a minute. I'll wait. Nothing? OK, maybe you got Meyers Leonard, former Illinois big man and the team's far less productive rookie. (In the event you can't picture him, here is a pencil sketch of Leonard and his girlfriend.) The reason it's difficult to name a Blazers reserve is because the Blazers have one of the least effective and least utilized bench units in recent NBA history. The squad averages just a tick over 16 points a game, 10 points less than the next-lowest unit. Yikes. (Last year, they were middle of the pack.)
Last night, the Denver Nuggets' bench, which is comprised of 49 dudes who can jump higher and run faster than you, roasted the Blazers. The four Nuggets reserves who played combined for just 24 points, but they logged 82 minutes. The Blazers quartet played just 58, including 23 from the raw Spanish rookie, Victor Claver. After a scintillating third quarter in which Portland went for 32 points, led by — you guessed it — Big Meyers Leonard going hammer on his 21st birthday, the Blazers ran out of steam in the fourth quarter. Ty Lawson outran them, Andre Iguodala stripped everything in sight, and Kosta Koufos was (literally) the height of efficient interior play. Did the Nuggets just tire out the Blazers the way they have so many teams this season? Would a spell for Damian Lillard, Nic Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge have helped down the stretch? After a disappointing 2011-12 season, Portland seemed eager to jettison the overpaid, underperforming Jamal Crawford–Ray Felton–Gerald Wallace troika. They have no use for those contracts going forward, but they sure could use those bodies right now.
We're Serious About This Great Flight North Thing
A Secret History of Pregame Dunks
Ryan: This is in honor of LeBron's pregame antics. This is from 2010. You can tell it's from a few years ago because (a) the music (Roscoe Dash!) and (b) people seem to like Dwight Howard.
The Great Flight North Pt. II + A Secret History of Pregame Dunks Pt. II
Jay Caspian Kang: Or, the list we inevitably had to make after watching Roy Hibbert slap lamely at Stephen Curry. Let’s split up weight classes by “Big Guy” and “Little Guy,” using Shane Battier as the dividing line.
10. Nate Robinson (LG): Nate Rob would be even higher if he hadn’t performed so poorly in previous fights. Still, if Robinson gets inside your reach, you’re not hitting him.
9. Gerald Wallace (BG): If he had a chin, he’d be higher up on the rankings. Just doesn’t seem like he’s going to take too many punches before quitting.
8. Blake Griffin (BG): Looks like Canelo Alvarez. Probably fights worse. Only way I could see him winning a fight is if they legalized the M. Bison head-stomp move. Still, would you want to fight him?
7. Kawhi Leonard (BG): Lennox Lewis 2.0. And not just because of the hair. Also because he’d fight smartly (and maybe a little boringly).
6. Lance Stephenson (SG): My favorite part of the brawl from Tuesday was watching a Pacers assistant coach fly off the bench and run straight toward Lance Stephenson, who wasn’t really doing too much. That’s respect — when you’re just standing there and a brawl breaks out and the coaching staff doesn’t think, “Holy shit, make sure Roy doesn’t get hurt!” It’s “Someone go wrap up Lance Stephenson and don’t let him move!”
Again, would you want to fight him?
5. Andris Biedrins (BG): Our most controversial pick. For some reason, I just picture him as Homer Simpson in that episode where he fights Drederick Tatum. Like you could punch Biedrins 100 times in the head and he would barely notice.
4. Metta World Peace (BG): No explanation needed.
3. LeBron James (BG): His ceiling depends entirely on his motivation. He could be one of the three most-talented fighters in the NBA, but does LeBron really fight? I don’t know — he gets this spot based on physicality alone, though.
2. Dwyane Wade (SG): I would entertain an argument for Wade as no. 1. He’s quick, strong, and built like a heavyweight champion. He’s also tough as shit and would probably hold the world title for a couple of years while this next guy develops his skills ...
1. Eric Bledsoe (SG): If you got rid of the Klitschkos and banned basketball, I think Eric Bledsoe could become heavyweight champion of the world within five years. He’d be like a bigger Marvin Hagler.
Ryan: Um, the Kings scored 254 points in their last two games.
Fear the Deer II: A Play in Three Acts
Brett Koremenos: While everyone was watching Steph Curry eviscerate Ray Felton at MSG, a pretty wild finish — after a surprisingly entertaining game — occurred in Houston. Hosting a newly intriguing Bucks team, the Rockets went up six with just more than three minutes to play. Milwaukee quickly rallied and tied the game at 105-105 after a Mike Dunleavy 3-pointer. Then the craziest 90-second stretch of basketball I've seen all year happened. It was theater and there’s probably no better way to present it than in the form of a three-act play.
ACT I: Larry Sanders goes HAM This act begins with the Bucks taking the ball out on the side and the score still tied after a missed Carlos Delfino 3 on the other end. Dunleavy is about to look like the goat until our first protagonist (that word choice is probably dependent on whether you’re a Bucks fan) enters with some serious style.
ACT II: James Harden Runs Away to the Circus The Sanders tip-in puts the Rockets on the ropes, but have no fear, the beard is here! And he’s about to make a shot you’d be hard-pressed to pull off in most H-O-R-S-E games.
ACT III: Monta Ellis: The Dark Knight Rises Just a week ago, Ellis was receiving the ire of Bucks fans for his shameless gunning. A new Monta has emerged, racking up 22 assists in the last two games and a serious Shot of the Year candidate to end the drama last night.
netw3rk: About 45 minutes after Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks escaped the incandescently blinding 54-point phosphorus bomb of the Warriors' Stephen Curry, Anthony's wide-ranging interview (Jeremy Lin! D'Antoni! Honey Nut Cheerios!) with Charlie Rose aired on PBS. Like anyone else, I'm a sucker for interviews, biographies, documentaries — anything that gives me insight into the processes of another person or persons. I don't even have to be a particular fan of the subject; I got sucked into all three hours of The History of The Eagles recently and my feelings vis-à-vis the Eagles are pretty much on par with The Dude's. What it is about these interviews, accounts, oral histories, and documentaries that fascinate me is something I think about a lot because I'm a pretty neurotic person.
Why do we care so bloody much what Jennifer Lawrence was thinking as she tripped over the GDP of a small country's worth of Dior gown? Why do we care how Glenn Frey came up with the title to "Life in the Fast Lane" (riding shotgun in a car with a drug dealer going 90 mph)? Why is it so fascinating to us that Michael Jordan is an unhappy, borderline sociopath, driven by an inner catalogue of slights that probably resembles John Doe's bookshelf from Seven? What kind of knowledge could we really hope to acquire?
More to the point — why is it that I'm so interested in watching Carmelo Anthony being interviewed by Charlie Rose?
For me, the answer stems from a few different but interconnected ideas, presented here somewhat randomly with a bunch of other thoughts:
The desire to understand what it's like to be really, really good at something. So good that thousands of people at a time are willing to pay money that could otherwise be used for food on the privilege of sitting elbow-to-cheek among strangers, braving the trials and annoyances of modern travel, just to see you do that thing. I'm not talking about how a person gets really, really good at something because I think that formula is pretty standard: good DNA and lots of practice. Pretty boring stuff. Most of us crapped out on that genetic scratch ticket at the moment of conception and/or are at the point in life where the Gladwellian 10,000 hours simply aren't feasible if a person wants to have something resembling a normal human life. So watching this Melo interview is like a postcard from a faraway island that I will never, ever visit.
An interest in the chicken-or-the-egg formulation of the type A personality — does the personality develop as a result of success in a given area or is it a prerequisite for the success. In other words — could Jordan have been Jordan if he wasn't such a colossal asshole? Related: Could I have been a more successful person if I was more of an asshole?
There is a balance between being confident and being delusional. The hardest part of doing something extraordinary enough that people want to pay you lots of money to do it seems to be just believing that doing it is possible. If one were to consider the odds of becoming an NBA player surely no one would ever try to do it. Related: In the interview, Carmelo mentions "creating your own reality." How do you tell a person who is where they are because they can deny all available evidence that hero-ball is wrong?