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.
Dinner Is Served
Chris Ryan: Early in the night, when nothing seemed to be going in for Steph Curry, and by extension, nothing seemed to be going right for the Warriors, Doug Collins said something about how Oracle Arena needed a 3, because it fed off long-distance shooting the way some crowds fed off a dunk. It took him a little while, but by the end of the night, Curry got around to feeding the Dubs fans, and they went home stuffed.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is back 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.
Chris Ryan: Since November 23, Portland has played in three of the season's best games: the Golden State shove-fest, Sunday's heavyweight title fight against Indiana, and last night's masterpiece of a regular-season showdown against Oklahoma City. OMG PORTLAND AND OKC SHOULD PLAY IN THE PLAYOFFS is probably getting a little dull, just like OMG OKC AND THE WARRIORS SHOULD PLAY IN THE PLAYOFFS, but come on. It's Christmas, we've been good, and we want what we want. Besides, there was something about this Thunder-Blazers game that felt so right. It was just a drag race of stupendous, young, mostly homegrown talent. And Kendrick Perkins. You had one of the point-guard battles of the year happening, with Russ and Dame, and from that faceoff you got one of the best moments of the night:
In case you were busy blowing $100k on trying to bump into a professional football player, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Roy Williams improved to 7-0 against Tom Izzo since taking the helm at North Carolina as the Tar Heels upset the top-ranked Michigan State Spartans 79-65 on the road. When told of his dominant run against Izzo, Williams shrugged and replied, "Who's Tom Izzo?" When told that Izzo has been the head coach at Michigan State for almost 20 years, Williams looked concerned and replied, "Man, you really think I would have heard of that guy. But I'll be honest, I had no idea there even was a Michigan State. Michigan, sure, but Michigan State? No idea." When told that Michigan State was the team he had just played, and that there was no need to continue with the head games as his team had already won, Williams said, "Head games, what are those? Who has even heard of head games? Unless you're referring to the song 'Head Games' by Foreigner. I've heard of that." Williams then winked and added, "I bet that Izzo guy you were talking about is a real big Foreigner fan, if you know what I mean."
Portland snapped Oklahoma City's eight-game win streak with a 111-104 win over the Thunder. Despite the win, a lackluster shooting night for Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews knocked him out of the league's top spot in True Shooting Percentage. Heading into the game, the top five in that category were Matthews, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Ryan Anderson, and Samuel Dalembert, notable for all being professional basketball players who shoot more accurately than you might expect, and having literally nothing else in common.
In case you were busy snickering uncontrollably upon hearing that Johnson and Fister got traded on the same day, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Tim Duncan was in vintage form, collecting 21 rebounds and scoring 23 points including a game-winning jumper with 0.4 seconds remaining in the Spurs' 102-100 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Later, Duncan celebrated his heroic outing by giving himself time to consider whether or not Jonathan Franzen's impact on American literature is overrated, before deciding that any such critique was inherently premature.
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks established themselves as the class of the NFC with a 34-7 dismantling of the New Orleans Saints. "AHHHH YES! PETE CARROLL PETE CARROLL PETE CARROLL!" Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll yelled after the game as he ran laps around the assembled media, "THAT WAS ONE OF THE BEST PETE CARROLL NIGHTS EVER!" When asked if it was Russell Wilson or the team's defensive effort to whom he owed his good mood, Carroll shook his head and replied, "NEITHER! PETE CARROLL HEARD ED HOCHULI TALK ABOUT HIS BALLS! THAT WAS HILARIOUS!" Unfortunately for Carroll, once he started shaking his head, he couldn't figure out a way to stop moving his neck for more than an hour.
To date, My Scrabble Friend and I have made 67 bets on the NBA, including the picks from this column, and have won a whopping total of $10. This isn't bad, especially when you factor in the vig, but we have probably invested at least 50 hours in developing different "systems" and gambling rules, which means that we're each getting paid about 10 cents per hour. That's three cents less than what we would make pounding out license plates in a prison in Nevada. Gambling is hard, stupid work.
In case you were busy waiting for some good news in the world of football, seriously, any good news, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
In a chippy Western Conference matchup that saw Matt Barnes and Serge Ibaka get ejected, Blake Griffin's double-double proved the difference as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-103. "It's not fair!" Ibaka yelled in the Thunder locker room after the game. "It doesn't make sense! Barnes pushed me. Why do I get ejected?" Thunder head coach Scott Brooks sat down next to his furious center, put his hand on Ibaka's back, and said, "Hey bud, sit down. Why do you think they ejected you?" But Ibaka snapped back, "Don't talk to me like that. I'm not a kid anymore, Scott! We're not kids anymore. We're grown men, and it's time you started treating us that way." Brooks smiled and said, "I know, Serge, come on," but Ibaka continued on, saying, "No! You don't know. They say you're a bad coach. They say you've always been a bad coach. Our offense is a joke. Griffin was laughing at our offense. They all were laughing. They all were laughing!" Ibaka balled up his fists and clenched his eyelids shut. Brooks looked at him and said, "Hey, bud. I get it. No one likes to be laughed at. But you don't fight my fights. We're all grown-ups here, Serge. Hey, Serge, look at me." Tears were visible in the corners of Ibaka's eyes as he shook his head, unable to look his coach in the eyes. "Sorry, Scott," Ibaka managed. "I just got carried away." Brooks touched Ibaka's head, told him, "No need to apologize," and started to walk away before turning back and adding, "You got ejected because they caught you fighting back. If you want to fight, you have to start it. That's part of being a man. Time to grow up, ace. Time to grow up."
You don’t just acquire depth in the NBA, you develop it. Sure, GMs can sign wily vets and boundlessly energetic youngsters to fill out the roster and spell their core players, but it’s up to the head coach to take all those instruments and conduct an 82-game symphony.
The first two weeks of the NBA season have shown how some teams have shaped their rotations sensibly and effectively, how others are close to cracking the code, and how still others have turned an embarrassment of riches into straight-up embarrassment.
It's Klay Day, fools. The belt currently belongs to Golden State, and tonight the Warriors face off against people-person Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. TITLE FIGHT NIGHT. This is basically an excuse to get you G'd up for tonight's already awesome game, show you a picture of Klay Thompson adorned with a fake championship belt, and post this:
Here's an ad for a San Antonio supermarket chain featuring your favorite Spurs — Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, and Red Mamba Matt Bonner. Gregg Popovich either (a) wrote and directed this clip and probably has a post-NBA life of making a Louie-style sitcom waiting for him in his golden years, (b) is furious for not being invited to participate, or (c) will bench all these guys for engaging in such frivolity on the eve of the season. Either way, stock up on corn relish; the Spurs play the Grizz tonight.
Teams already know more about this version of the Miami Heat than ever before. And they're taking advantage of it. In last year's NBA Finals, the Spurs introduced a quirk Miami hadn't seen before, one the Heat nicknamed "The Danny Green Cut," according to Shane Battier. It looked at times like Green was getting open simply because Miami defenders plum forgot about him. That was the case on a few plays. But rewatching the flaming carnage reveals that the Spurs added a Heat-specific quirk for which Miami was not prepared.
Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose look at how close the Indiana Pacers came to the Finals last year and why they expect them to test the Miami Heat this year. Bill and Jalen think the new bench, the maturation of Lance Stephenson, and the return of Larry THE LEGEND Bird will help. Prepare for a lot of THE LEGEND — both Bill and Jalen have a history with him.
Just a quick one to end the day after a long week of NBA preview stuff from our end. Check out the Triangle All-Stars, The X-Files, Bill and Jalen's NBA Previews, and all of Zach Lowe’s stuff getting you ready for the NBA season. It's almost here, brothers and sisters. Last night the Rockets beat the Spurs by 17 in a preseason contest and I got legit euphoric at the thought of these two Texas teams clashing all year long. We'll leave you with some Harden and Howard highlights. Four more days!
A sterling combined effort from a trio of rookie pitchers led the St. Louis Cardinals to a 4-2 win over the Boston Red Sox, evening up the World Series at a game apiece. The game hinged on the Cardinals' aggressive baserunning and a clutch hit from veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, once again proving that the same things that won big games in the mid-'60s will still win them today.
In case you were busy throwing your old iPad in the garbage like the trash that it is, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The University of Miami avoided major additional sanctions related to the Nevin Shapiro scandal, as the NCAA only revoked a small number of scholarships, deeming the school's self-imposed two-year bowl ban to be sufficient punishment. "Are you serious?" said former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel when asked for comment. "Nothing? Weren't they having crazy sex parties? My boys just got a handful of free tattoos and we faced worse. Well, I want to be very careful with what I say here. Because I know NCAA procedure is complicated, and we were not in the right when I was let go. But fuuuuuuuuuuuudge that." Only Tressel didn't say "fudge." He said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word. Later, when asked by NCAA president Mark Emmert where he learned that word, Tressel refused to admit that it was from former NCAA president Myles Brand, instead blaming former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who is now himself under investigation by the NCAA.
In the modern era, the Spurs have never had to prepare for a season after a potentially franchise-defining loss. After watching the team choke away the last two games of the NBA Finals, I thought my interest in the NBA would never be the same. I had wholeheartedly attached myself to the Spurs as the last crusaders for all that was right in the NBA. Just watching highlights of last year’s series against the Heat and seeing that configuration of black, white, red, and yellow still brings back all the dark feelings. Whether you want to blame Tony Parker’s hamstring, Ray Allen’s uncalled traveling violation, Manu Ginobili’s extended out-of-body experience, or you're just a LeBron truther, we all have to move on.
Instead of pulling away from the NBA, I have chosen to enter this season with higher hopes than ever, with the ultimate rationalization: The Spurs will actually have an easier time getting back to the NBA Finals. I won’t invest in another season letting the media bully me into thinking that the Spurs are too old, or that the supplemental role players are eventually going to let the team down. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that the Western Conference is up for grabs. These are the reasons the Spurs will cruise back to the 2014 NBA Finals, and probably even win.