April 30, 2008
Someone whose NBA Finals gamers I used to spread over the floor of my bedroom in suburban Chicago back in the summer 1987 to pour over and learn from is telling me that Mike D'Antoni is done in Chicago. And I can't stop sneezing.
I'm not sure where to go with this. I could mention the veiled shots D'Antoni took at Steve Kerr all through the course of this postseason, the insistence on keeping Shaquille O'Neal in games or parts of games that he didn't belong in (the ultimate, "see what lot you've left me with?!?" gesture; trademarked by Larry Brown a few years ago) so as to show off his losing hand, or bring up the tried and true fact that new GMs rarely retain the coaches they've inherited.
(I can also gush at the thought of this guy taking over the team that plays in the town that was referenced above. That team's defensive know-how will sustain in spite of anything, it's the offense that needs work, and the team needs to run, and I'll just stop now ...)
What this does is, for a few seconds, obscure the pain that hit hard on Tuesday night watching Steve Nash essentially lose the game for his team. If you're sick of personal anecdotes and too much whiff from the author, then I apologize, and (as always) kindly direct you to the AP links at the top of every game recap.
Nash's play hurt. It's not as if it didn't feel right, and it wasn't exactly unexpected, but the nasty inevitable is rarely welcomed and never cherished. In a series that had seen his production limited by the coverage of a defender of the same age (Bruce Bowen), a feeble shooting percentage from the field, and the idea that the Suns would have to bust out any available power forward to try and check Nash's man; the Game 5 loss somehow stood above.
That wasn't him. That wasn't that guy. The guy that we saw buzz around the court for the Suns in the late 90s. The guy that we saw hamstrung by Don Nelson's iso-heavy offense in the early part of this decade. The guy that - while he didn't exactly deserve the MVP - did deserve sainthood for his NBA rescue effort, starting in the 2004-05 season.
In fact, the only thing this reminded us of was the Nash we saw with the Mavericks in 1999 and 1999-00. The guy that could barely run due to ankle and back problems. The guy that was booed on his own home court. The man that Mark Cuban bought Howard Eisley in to replace before the 2000-01 season.
11 points on 16 shots, three assists, and five turnovers. My head is tilted, and I can barely stomach the things I'm putting down on this document. The Suns had seven turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, and Nash was the name of the man that kept putting the ball in San Antonio's hands.
We'll fête the Spurs later on as their accomplishments grow and grow, but Wednesday morning is a time to ruminate over the latest Phoenix passing, without throwing out referendums (there's that word, again), or trying to assume what would from here on out.
What does make sense is the idea that timely and efficient things will always have their way. Sure, the Suns screamed potential, and that potential often turned into production, but you never got past the smack that you never knew what you were going to get from the Suns in the last quarter of a tough game.
And sometimes that works. It works a lot of the time, with talented teams, and it never fails to inspire a viewing - because you never knew what you were going to get with these guys! There's no potential for disappointment, there.
But, in spite of all the excuses you want to throw out - Joe Johnson's face dive in 2005, Amare's absence in 2006, the suspensions from last seasons, and the close losses from this turn - it wasn't enough. And it pains me. I want to believe that unorthodoxy, touch, flow, and fun can turn into something special. The loss of that hope has me rolling out of bed at odd hours, putting Katy Lied on the headphones, and cobbling together a BtB that I swore to myself I would sleep on before writing.
It unnerves me that that orthodox keeps winning out. It reminds me of the NFL, where most things are expected and most things are often delivered, and the off-tackle run still rules. The Suns represented something a bit different.
Timing had a bit to do with it. 2003-04 was a miserable run. The league's pace was at an all-time low. Howard Eisley and Leandro Barbosa were running the point for Phoenix. I was essentially living out Sam Smith's wildest notions regarding your typical blogger, without the actual unpaid gig as an honest-to-goodness scribe. Then Steve Nash signs what was considered an outrageous contract with the Suns in the summer of ‘04.
And, though we'd spent all summer picturing him running with Amare and Shawn Marion on the wings, he really started to run. Not Sacramento-style running. Not even Dallas-style running. A new breed, that we dug, taken from the old school, and a joy to watch.
The run is probably over with. The Suns will probably try to compete next year with an improved bench and an amalgam of myriad influences, but it's probably over. The league has grown around Phoenix, everybody wants to run, teams are mixing scoring and defending like they've never before (don't start - the NBA's "heyday," whichever one you're choosing, offered plenty of horrible defense and/or offense), and the D'Antoni influence has been felt.
But that doesn't help the hurt that comes from the Suns as we know them having to hang it up. Leaving us to tell anyone who would listen just how shocking those first few months of the 2004-05 season were. About how great the 2005 semifinals against Dallas was. About the taste of warm Jameson's on our lips as we ignored the rest of the people's party and re-watched the flickering highlights of the Suns matching wits with a damned good Clippers team in 2006. About the pain of 2007. About the frustrations of 2008.
I've never been to Arizona. I rooted madly against the Suns in the Finals when I was a few months away from even starting eighth grade. I respect the Spurs to no end. I honestly do. I shouldn't have a stake in this, but this is what happens when you spend the better part of your living years obsessing over these things.
The idea that unorthodox play, relative to what we're used to, could win it all, is intoxicating. The idea that a team like the Spurs - brilliant, creative, hard-working - could be taken down is invigorating. Not because we want to see the Spurs lose: if San Antonio won in 2007 and 2008 as they did in 2005, we would have been just fine; we just wanted some good games and a long series.
And, let's face it, the Spurs are orthodox. You know that Manu's going left, Tim Duncan wants to post up, and that Tony is looking to score. No shame in that.
We were just hoping for an aberration. An aesthetically-pleasing one, if you had the time. Something different. Something with Steve Nash at the helm.
We didn't get it, and that stings. It will probably sting for a term that lasts beyond this sunny Wednesday. I'm not going to try and slough off that feeling. As I told Skeets last night, when the Raptors moved on, lows like this are what makes the highs seem that more glorious.
I'd like to think my assumptions, regarding this game, are usually correct more often than not. And I'm feeling a bit of warmth in assuming that, years later, we're not going to remember that Phoenix continually fell short, despite many excuses from the front office down to the hardwood floors.
I think we're going to remember what a treat and privilege it was to watch this team. I'm confident that it's the D'Antoni ideal above all that is going to last.
And, if that isn't the case, then I'm going to go out of my way to make sure that it is. Call it revisionist if you want, but I'm going to take from this turn exactly what I want, and I'd advise you to do the same.
The Suns are dead. Long live the Suns.
The Mavericks hardly deserve a flowery send-off, I don't want to get too far into this, but the team's various permutations rarely inspired.
Chris Paul, however, does. The man had 11 assists at halftime tonight. Eleven. That's enough to lead the league, and he pulled it off by halftime.
Now, imagine someone ripping 15 rebounds by halftime. Or 31 points. Those would lead the league as well. Imagine how nutty we'd be if KG or Kobe put those numbers together by intermission. And yet Paul makes it look so easy.
He's that good. He's so good. He's the best point guard in the league. He's destroying the mugs who wondered why the "stat nerds" were proclaiming his brilliance (not just relative to this era, but for the last few decades), and pitching him as well beyond Deron Williams.
24 points on 19 shots, 15 assists to zero (geesh) turnovers, two steals, and 11 rebounds for Paul. Gives me a chance to rip a little:
Remember when Paul visited the TNT set earlier this year? Kenny Smith had the audacity to pick Williams over Paul - to Paul's face, mind you - because Williams' supposed "big body" lent itself to grabbing more rebounds per game than Paul.
Kenny never bothered to look up the fact that Paul was leading Williams by a significant margin in rebounds per game. Paul finished the year averaging four per game, with Williams at three per game. CP has averaged 4.5 boards per game in his career, while Williams has pulled in 2.9.
Deron does have the bigger body, though.
Dirk Nowitzki was hassled off the ball early, then tried to force things in the second half, but still had a solid game overall. In what will likely be the most underrated playoff turn of the season, Dirk was brilliant in averaging 26.8 points on 47 percent shooting, with 12 rebounds, four assists, 1.8 turnovers, and 1.4 blocks in five low-possession games.
It's not fair for me to slice apart a dominant performance from a team that should have little problem grabbing a ring should they continue to play like that, but Detroit's Game 5 just had too much "ho-hum" to it.
Same here. Houston worked, was interested, and took care of the ball on both ends? Utah?
The Jazz were willing to have another go. They'll have that, on Friday.