Rooting for a perpetually hopeless franchise will drive you insane for a number of reasons. You know this. But you know when it gets really bad? The playoffs, when you have to watch players your team passed up dominate on another team. Actually that's not it, either. It gets REALLY bad when you watch someone like Kawhi Leonard dominating for the Spurs and realize that this never would've happened if he'd landed with your team.
This epiphany is the most crushing truth of them all.
I'm speaking from experience as a Wizards fan, and after a month of watching the NBA playoffs, we need to talk about this for a minute. The Wizards passed on Leonard to draft Jan Vesley in 2010. It seemed crazy at the time and has only gotten worse as the years have passed. But if we're being honest here, watching Leonard blossom into a two-way star for the Spurs isn't even what's frustrating. It's knowing that if Vesley had been the one who was drafted by the Spurs, he'd probably turn into a weapon for years to come, and if Leonard went to the Wizards, he'd probably turn into an über-athletic wing with limited skills who becomes indistinguishable from about 50 other wing players in the NBA.
Chris Ryan: With about nine minutes left in the third quarter and the Spurs holding on to a slipping six-point lead over the Warriors, Stephen Curry raced up the court off an Andrew Bogut rebound. Curry is not a normal point guard, so the normal rules of playing the position don't apply to him. This of course, is part of the fun of watching Stephen Curry over the last couple of weeks. He played like ... Stephen Curry, showing off a skill set so unique, on a pair of ankles so brittle, it felt like you were watching some endangered species. Like you sat down in your living room and boom, what in the shit, there was an Iberian lynx.
In case you were busy doing hilarious takes to a nonexistent camera when your friends and associates said absurd things, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a conclusion to a magnificently contested series that makes me wish to wax poetic, the San Antonio Spurs overcame a poor shooting night from their backcourt to oust the Golden State Warriors from the NBA playoffs with a 94-82 Game 6 win. Despite its premature end, twas a series in which all of the participants were worthy of the title warrior, even those generals who bestrode the sideline battling with their wits rather than their bodies. Sing oh muses of the ankle of Steph Curry, son of Dell, which brought countless ills first to his enemies, and then to himself! Such was the sovereign doom of a cursed team, and the will of Stern writ large: There shall be contested yet between famed warriors The Bron and Timothy Who Dunks a Finals that shall split the world in twine!
In a non-conclusion to an adequately contested series that makes me wish to speak plainly, the Knicks kept their hopes of an Eastern Conference finals showdown with Miami alive, beating a depleted Pacers team, 85-75, at Madison Square Garden. "Just taking it one day at a time," said Knicks coach Mike Woodson after the game, "because if we do more than that we'll become aware that the winner of this series gets the Heat and oh, no that's terrible! The winner of this series gets the Heat! Oh no, they have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Oh man, they also have Chris Bosh. Why did I stop taking it one day at a time? Why?"
The other night in San Antonio, the Spurs “regained control” of their series with the upstart Golden State Warriors. Their winning formula was familiar: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker led the team in field goal attempts, while Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green each provided valuable supplements. The Spurs have a clear hierarchy of talent and leadership that generally manifests into a predictably similar order on the stat sheet.
The current Warriors hierarchy is in a bit of disarray. Although these playoffs have undeniably improved the reputations of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Game 5 it was Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack leading the Warriors in field goal attempts, while Curry and Thompson were off somewhere in the basement of the Alamo.
Before they broke out in Game 5 and started to look like themselves again, something had been off with the San Antonio Spurs’ offense. In the first four games of their series against Golden State — the first legit playoff team the Spurs had faced after their first-round bye — scoring points and getting clean looks, especially from the perimeter, was beginning to feel like work. It was an unusual feeling for a team that played the league’s prettiest, most well-oiled offense before Miami found a new groove this season. It felt like the last four games of their conference finals loss against Oklahoma City last year, when the Thunder’s athleticism and amped-up scheme forced enough extra steps into the Spurs' process to turn the league’s best offense into an average one.
Something has been going on with New York’s offense, the league’s third-best in the regular season, since the day the playoffs started. New York has averaged just 97.3 points per 100 possessions in the postseason, by far the worst mark of anyone who advanced beyond the first round, and such a monumental drop from their regular-season number (108.6) that we can’t just chalk it up to tougher competition.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. The Kawhi Leonard–for–George Hill Trade
Danny Chau: It was a good night for the 2011 trade that sent George Hill to the Pacers and the draft rights to Kawhi Leonard to the Spurs. At the time, it was a shrewd attempt from both franchises to patch up their more glaring weaknesses. The Pacers needed a versatile, two-way player to fill in the gaps left in the Pacers’ backcourt, and the Spurs needed an infusion of youth, a lottery-type talent that they hadn’t been able to acquire since Tim Duncan (really fitting that Leonard fell one spot outside the lottery). Now, less than two years later, the trade is one of the reasons why each team is only one win away from their respective conference finals.
Hill and Leonard were incredible last night. Hill was the only bright spot in the Pacers offense, which shot 35.4 percent without him (his 9-for-14 outing single-handedly raised that figure to 40.8 percent), while Leonard, who was nearly perfect from the field, shooting 7-for-8, was the model of efficiency for a Spurs team that couldn’t miss.
Hill has been exactly what the Pacers needed to make this kind of playoff push. Like Mike Conley Jr., who is rightfully getting a lot of buzz right now, Hill will likely never be an All-Star, but his role as a game manager and a sneaky offensive threat sets a standard for the Pacers offense. He’s provided a steadying influence for the once-wild Lance Stephenson and allayed Paul George’s growing pains in his ascent to stardom.
Leonard, like Hill in his days as a Spur, plays a significant role as a fourth option, never hijacking the attention for too long. It was frustrating to watch Hill at times, knowing he was capable of more, but there was always going to be a ceiling to his contributions playing behind Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. There is no such limit for Leonard, but he often plays like there is. His youthful reticence and by-the-book abidance to the system is partly the cause, but we also might be asking too much of him too soon in the first place.
Fortunately, there’s still time, because it seems likely both teams will advance. Last night was a good example of what these players are capable of when let loose. It wasn’t a trade that heavily tipped the scales at the time, but both teams have come away as big winners since.
2. The Basketball Koans of Metta World Peace
Knicks are trying to find themselves on the go. Kinda like take out food or a drive thru. They can't find the ketchup. >>>>>
netw3rk: In his inimitable, fractured, non sequitur way, Metta World Peace perfectly summed up the Knicks', and Mike Woodson’s, strategic efforts against the Pacers last night in Game 4. And listen, regardless of what lineups Woodson puts on the floor at whatever junction of the game, the Pacers are the best defensive team in the league. They have excellent rim protection, the athleticism to guard Melo, and they are the best in the league at defending the 3-pointer. They are the better team. OK, fine, but in what universe is playing Pablo Prigioni — who you could easily argue is New York's best point guard — 3 minutes and 26 seconds TOTAL, while giving Jason Kidd, who at this point is ambulating around the court sheerly by rigor mortis, almost 16 minutes?
In case you were out looking at buffalo and thanking the heavens that you never had to actually traverse the Oregon Trail by wagon, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Paul George and the Indiana Pacers remained red hot at home as they pushed the New York Knicks to the brink of elimination with a 93-82 win. This battle of the second- and third-best teams in the Eastern Conference has now tilted firmly in favor of Indiana, which has New York residents stunned. "This was our year," said Daniel Czaplinski of Woodside. "We at least had to make it to the Heat. The Pacers? Gimme a break. Who the heck are they?" When asked if he had seen the Pacers play at all this season, Czaplinski said, "Yeah, they had that Zeller kid, and Oladipo. Not sure what happened to them, but Melo shouldn't be letting this George Paul guy take over. This is an abomination and all these bums should be fired."
The Spurs grabbed a pivotal Game 5 win in the friendly confines of San Antonio, beating the Golden State Warriors, 109-91, behind 25 points and 10 assists from Tony Parker. Parker, a noted French person from Belgium, was quietly finishing off a pack of Gauloises after the game before he mused about the idea of a falcon he had in his mind. "You know, bird that does not exist, your ability to fly is less impressive to some because of your lack of corporeal form. But to me, nonexistent falcon I just named Tweet-Tweet, you are more impressive, as you at least know you do not exist, where as real falcons contend daily with the illusion of reality." After a brief pause when Tweet-Tweet likely asked Parker for his last Gauloise, as Parker dropped one onto the ground next to him, Parker added, "And that is how I defeat the Warriors. They expect me to move at speeds, or to distribute the basketball. But that's all the secondary creative act. The original creative act was forgetting my own creation. Here, let me imagine a treatise for you to read." Unfortunately, Tweet-Tweet does not read French, and used Parker's imaginary philosophical text as bedding for his imaginary nest.
In Part 1 of 2, Bill Simmons talks to Joe House about the NHL and NBA playoffs, then asks which playoff city is House's food favorite. In Part 2, Simmons calls Zach Lowe to talk about the NBA playoffs and whether Golden State can pull off the upset over the Spurs.
To listen to these podcasts, download them on iTunes here, or to listen at the ESPN.com Podcenter, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.
In case you were busy asking, "yeah, but when is Spoiled Only-Child Day?" here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tiger Woods won his second career Players Championship and his fourth PGA Tour event this year, finishing the tournament at 13-under. Woods benefited from Sergio Garcia's quadruple-bogey on TPC's iconic 17th hole. "I can't believe it," Tiger said after the tournament, "I thought for sure I was in trouble. You don't just stare down Sergio Garcia and live to tell the tale. I'm shocked that he made it easy for me. Shoooooocked." When told of Woods's comments, Garcia said, "Why? What's his problem, man? Guy has everything. He has a boat that holds other boats in it. He has a trophy case that is just all of the trophies he doesn't like melted down and turned into a trophy case. Why's he gotta come after me? What's he compensating for? What trouble has Tiger f-ing Woods ever had to deal with? Can we talk about that for a second? Can we talk about Tiger Woods's hypothetical personal troubles?" When told of Garcia's questions, Woods asked, "Wasn't he married to Greg Norman's daughter?" before winking provocatively at the press corps. When told of Tiger's wink, Sergio let out a frustrated scream. When told of Sergio's scream, Tiger let out a sarcastic chuckle. When told of Tiger's sarcastic chuckle, Sergio sighed. When told of Sergio's sigh, Tiger fist-pumped. When told of Tiger's fist pump, Sergio's lip began to quiver. When told of Sergio's lip quiver, Tiger didn't look up from his dinner of truffles and lobsters. When told of Tiger's feast, Sergio let one tear trickle down his cheek. When told of Sergio's tear, Tiger turned his laptop toward the reporter talking to him; the laptop had a really smug animated GIF playing on loop. When told of Tiger's GIF burn, Sergio asked, "Isn't that pronounced with a hard 'G,' like Garcia?" But it isn't, and when a reporter went to tell Tiger of Sergio's foolishness, he was too busy watching someone polishing his trophy case made of trophies to acknowledge the reporter's existence.
Even with Stephen Curry at less than full strength, the Golden State Warriors evened up their series with the San Antonio Spurs with a 97-87 overtime win. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was concerned after the game, saying, "Now that Curry is banged up, Mark Jackson discovered he's allowed to rest him. That sprained ankle cost us a massive competitive advantage in this series."
When the Warriors lost David Lee to what the team assumed was a season-ending injury in the team’s first playoff game, I was skeptical that Golden State would be able to reconstruct its offense on the fly against an opponent devoting nearly 100 percent of its scouting resources to the Warriors. It wasn’t that Lee was some kind of indispensable two-way destroyer for the Dubs; he’s a very clear minus on defense, and though he puts up gaudy individual rebounding numbers every season, his teams have generally rebounded better with him on the bench.
It was mostly that Lee was such a central cog in just about every Warriors offensive possession. He was by far Golden State’s most common screener for Stephen Curry, and on those deadly pick-and-rolls, Lee could do just about everything — pop for jumpers, roll to the hoop, catch at the foul line, and break down the defense with his dribbling/passing skills. He also soaked up a lot of Golden State possessions with a solid post-up/isolation game, particularly from the left wing. Only Curry attempted more shots per game or used a larger share of Warriors possessions.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
Danny Chau: This is a shot chart of Klay Thompson’s many 3-pointers from Game 2, overlaid on his 3-point attempts during the regular season. It’s wild.
As you can see, a majority of his shots traced the beginning arc on the right side of the floor. That is his favorite area of the court, and has been since he stepped foot in the league. Nearly 40 percent of his 3s in the regular season come from that hot zone (it’s also Steph Curry’s favorite area to shoot, but he’s more bashful about it). Thompson was fantastic from the right side as a rookie, shooting nearly 46 percent, but with greater usage this season, that figure plummeted to (a still very respectable) 37 percent, making it his least effective 3-point hot zone. It was by far his least effective in the first seven games of the playoffs, too. Before last night’s onslaught, he was 2-for-10 from that area. But shooters keep shooting, and they’ll keep shooting where they want to.
In case you were busy watching The Great Gatsby in 3-D as an ill-advised cram session for your 11th-grade English final, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Miami Heat rebounded from a disappointing Game 1 defeat by pasting the Chicago Bulls, 115-78, to even up their second-round series. After a pair of ejections, the Bulls found themselves playing without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson, meaning they had to play a mostly reserve lineup of B.J. Armstrong, Jud Buechler, Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington and Luc Longley. Despite the influx of forgotten veterans, the oldest player on the court remained Heat reserve Juwan Howard, who was inactive with "being tired, man; real, real tired."
Klay Thompson had 34 points and 14 rebounds as the Golden State Warriors held off the San Antonio Spurs, 100-91. Midway through Thompson's explosive first half, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was seen staring at the Warriors' wing, mumbling, "decent athleticism, floor-stretching 3-point shooting, on a rookie contract … how do I not possess him?" Popovich then wiped off the small amount of drool that had collected at the corner of his mouth, snapped at Spurs guard Danny Green for being a "lollygagger," before making a mental note to himself to take the title of "general manager" back from R.C. Buford after the game.
With the 56th pick in the 1999 NBA draft, the Golden State Warriors selected Tim Young, a 7-foot Bay Area kid who grew up in Santa Cruz and played college basketball at Stanford.
"Tim's a presence," said Warriors head coach P.J. Carlesimo. "He's got good size, he does a little bit of everything — passes the ball well, shoots the ball well, he can block some shots. He worked out very, very well for us. Obviously, we know him very well. He's absolutely a first-rate person."
During his brief 25-game NBA career, Young made 13 of his 39 shots and logged a total of 137 minutes. But this was not a horrible draft pick; many players taken at the bottom of the second round never see the light of an NBA court. However, the very next pick in that draft would prove to be one of the best second-round picks in NBA history.