Week of May 17, 2019

 


Bounce, Bounce, Bounce, Bounce.

Every so often you read something so great you think, “Man, I wish I had written this.” Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky is a favorite ‘round here, and for good reason, but this might be my favorite article he’s ever written.

First a little background: You probably know that the Raptors beat the Sixers in Game 7 on Sunday, on one the craziest buzzer beaters you may ever see, by Kawhi Leonard.  Note: It is NOT the greatest series winning buzzer beater (as I detailed a few weeks back, there haven’t been many), as I have seen many argue this week. I still give that to Lillard’s step back 37-footer just last round. It’s not the greatest because the shot was kinda terrible – he shot it short, and really had no business making it. But Lillard’s shot was pure, a straight swish – thus the greater shot. But it was the craziest series winning buzzer beater, hitting the front (relative to Leonard) iron, bouncing practically straight up while picking up a top spin, and then slowly bouncing its way down and into the net, hitting the rim a total of four times along the way.

Here’s another cool ass angle:

A lot was written about the game and the shot, as you can imagine, but Petchesky’s stands out for the way he told the story of the shot as it unfolded, bounce by bounce, weaving in images, video, player quotes.

Bounce.

It wasn’t going in. A basketball, at least in the scheme of sports, is relatively predictable. Not like a baseball, which has seams that, in a pitcher’s hand or when deflecting off some imperfection on the infield dirt, can do some pretty wild stuff; not like a football, which is designed to be aerodynamic but when on the ground will bounce maddeningly at random; certainly not like a puck, which when on edge can get weird. A basketball is straightforward. This doesn’t make it any easier for a player to make it do what he wants it to do, but from decades of playing or watching the sport, you generally know where the ball is going. And all that accumulated life evidence was clear: A ball that hits the front of the rim, with that much velocity, bounces out. History and physics overwhelmingly promise it.

“Ah, it doesn’t look too good,” Danny Green remembered thinking from his vantage point on the bench.

So Raptors-Sixers Game 7 was going to head to overtime, and it would have been a fascinating one. The Sixers offense had stalled— they scored five points and just one field goal in the final 5:47 of the game—and Joel Embiid was visibly gassed. Kawhi Leonard had taken 39 shots, the most any player had ever taken in regulation of a Game 7, and for much of the fourth quarter, he was Toronto’s offense. But in the game’s final minute, he had missed a free throw and now looked like he was going to miss a second contested jumper. Overtime would’ve meant redemption for someone, and it would’ve been the second-most dramatic way to wrap up a close game in a close series. The first-most would have been if Leonard’s shot, an attempt at the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history, would have gone in. But that didn’t look likely.

Except…

Bounce.

It continues from there, and I highly recommend you read the whole thing. -TOB

Source: Kawhi Leonard And A Story Of Four Bounces”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/13/2019)

PAL: It was a sport moment writers drool over (1). All the clichés are on the table (2): time stood still (3), the game hung in the balance (4), a game of inches (5), sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good(6). Petchesky described exactly what happened to the ball, why it’s was so incredible (the way the ball bounced, not the circumstance). He smartly kept it very literal, because he knows enough to know that the one thing he doesn’t need to write was the emotion of the moment or the stakes – it was baked in (7).

TOB: Great point, Phil.


Robberies On The Rise

When I think of an outfielder ‘robbing’ a homerun,  I always see Kirby Puckett first. That was his thing back in the 80s and 90s. The fact that one player – even in my biased memory – represented a type of play says a lot about how uncommon the play has been within my lifetime. Now, Ben Lindbergh explains, home run robberies are increasingly more common.

Through Monday’s games, or almost exactly a quarter of the regular season, outfielders had already robbed 21 home runs. That put them on pace for 84 robberies, which would be by far the most since SIS started tracking the event in 2004. A larger sample may slow that pace, but this isn’t a 2019-only phenomenon: Last year’s 65 robberies broke the previous record of 60, which was set in 2017. The first two years of the current high-homer era, 2015 and 2016, featured 50 and 48 robberies, respectively, which were themselves the highest totals of any season since 2004, a high-homer year at the tail end of the somewhat misleadingly labeled steroid era.

The obvious question is why, right? Lindbergh is one of my favorite baseball writers when it comes to explaining cause in an accessible way. Without ruining the article, which is a hell of a fun read with a bunch of links to robberies (this will lead you down a youtube wormhole), here are a handful of factors:

More home runs = more home run robberies

Ballparks have become more homogeneous in terms of dimensions and fence/wall height.

Outfielders play deeper now. I also wonder about the power of familiarity. Most of these centerfielders (yes, centerfielders account for the the most robberies) have grown up seeing guys reaching over the wall to bring one back. They want want to have one, too. Hell, they believe they can do it, and probably practice it.

OK, so with all of this, Lindbergh has done his job in writing an insightful baseball story that feels fresh, but he doesn’t end on the cause. Instead, with the info he’s shared, he brings it back to why robbing a home run matters on an emotional level. He refers to robberies as a kind of alchemy, taking something and turning it into the opposite at the last possible moment.

That’s pretty good stuff, but I prefer the quote Lindbergh pulled from a Sam Miller 2017 article about the problem with the increase in home runs and applied it to home run robberies.

Baseball is best when it sets up an expectation and subverts it: The nasty slider that jags suddenly out of the strike zone, the shortstop who fields a grounder on a dive and flips it to second base with his glove, the three-run comeback against the dominant closer, and now, the home run that doesn’t happen.

Fantastic read. – PAL

Source: Watcher on the Wall: Welcome to the Golden Age of the Home Run Robbery”,Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (05/14/2019)


Two Bad Qualities For a Coach: Thick Headed and Thin Skinned

If you live in a cave: the Warriors closed out the Rockets in Houston last Friday. After scoring zero points in the first half of Game 6, Curry came back in the second half to score 33, including 23 in a supernova 4th, to ice the game. Then, on Sunday, the Blazers overcame a 17-point second quarter deficit and hung on to beat the Nuggets in Denver, in Game 7.

With just one day’s rest, the Blazers opened the Western Conference Finals in Oakland against the Warriors. Things did not go well for Portland, as Steph Curry continued to cook, hitting nine three-pointers and scoring 38 points in the Warriors 22-point win.

But, for Portland, it didn’t have to be that way. For the better part of 5 ½ games the Rockets made Curry look old, slow, and unconfident by crowding him at every opportunity. He had so few open looks that when he did get one, he still rushed the shot and never got into a rhythm. The second half outburst in Game 6 was vintage Curry, where he created the tiniest slivers of space and was able to get his shot up and in.

So, did Portland follow suit in Game 1? Did they press and crowd Steph and Klay? Um, no. Instead, the Blazers let Curry cook. When the Warriors ran the high pick and roll with Curry and the Warriors center, the Blazers did not switch and didn’t even have their big show on the screen in an attempt to crowd Curry or get him to give up the ball.

I counted: of his nine made threes, seven came off high pick and rolls where the screener’s man, usually Kanter or Collins, sagged off the screen and allowed Steph Curry, the greatest shooter of all time, to step into a wiiiiiiide open three pointer. Here are a few examples (I’ve helpfully circled the screener’s defender and drawn a line between him and Curry at or near the point of release):

I probably don’t need to say this: but this is not ideal for a defense. #analysis

After the third or fourth time the Blazers did this in the first half, I thought maybe Kanter was just being lazy. He’s known as a terrible defender, especially against the pick and roll – perhaps he was tired from the short turnaround after Game 7. Surely they’d make a halftime adjustment! But then it continued in the second half.

Asked about it after the game, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was defiant and, frankly, rude in response to a reasonable question:

WHOA! So, ignoring the fact they held Steph in check for 5 ½ games by being in his pocket, Stotts is basing his suicidal strategy on the fact that Steph scored 33 points in the second half of Game 6 against Houston. BUDDY! He did that because he’s the greatest shooter of all-time, and no defense is going to hold him down forever! If Steph scores 33 points against tight defense the answer is not to go the other way and let him step into wide open 3s!

Maybe Stotts is feeling sheepish and didn’t want to admit he made a mistake. But he also said during that press conference that they were within 6 at the end of the third quarter. Which, fine. Let’s ignore the fact that the small deficit was in large part due to a run the Blazers made in the 3rd quarter when Steph was on the bench. And let’s ignore the fact that the Warriors ended up winning by 22. Let’s give him his six point deficit. Imagine what the score might have been if Curry had shot something like 2 for 9 from 3 instead of 8 for 13 in the first three quarters.

Personally, I doubt they will try this strategy again. Blazers players, like Lillard and McCollum, openly questioned the strategy. Lillard said after the game, “That was very poor execution defensively on our part. Having our bigs back that far…We gotta bring our guys up…they were shooting practice shots.” If they don’t do what Lillard suggests, it’s going to be a short series.

Update: The next day, Stotts apologized for being a jerk to the reporter, and also admitted that they may rethink their strategy:

-TOB

Game 2 Update: Steph got 37. The Blazers did try to run him off the three point line, and he responded by breaking down the defense by giving up the ball quickly and working to get it back in a place he could do damage. Silver lining (I guess) is he shot on 4-14 from three. He did a lot more work at the line last night. This kid just might turn out to be pretty good. -PAL


Hockey Expert Offers Critique of Hockey

There is probably nothing worse in sports than when new fans or non-fans tune into a sport and then immediately offer rule changes that they think would improve the game or make the game more watchable, despite the immense popularity of the sport. This happens every World Cup, when fans complain about and offer “solutions” to things like the offsides rule, despite the fact soccer is the most popular sport in the world and does not need fixing. It’s annoying and arrogant and needs to stop. BUT! I’m slightly caught up in the Sharks’ Stanley Cup playoff run right now. Plus, if you read last week’s blog you are aware that I played roller hockey in high school. I am thus highly qualified to opine on what the NHL does, and I have a beef with how hockey does something, so I’m going to rant about it here.

In hockey, as in most American sports, the clock counts down to 00:00. Hockey has three twenty-minute periods, so each period the clock begins at 20:00 and ticks down. Pretty simple. However, when you look at a box score or other record of the game, they mark events (e.g., goals scored, penalties taken) not by the time showing on the clock, but by the time elapsed in the period. IT’S SO STUPID. Let me illustrate. Here’s the scoring summary from Wednesday’s Sharks/Blues game, as taken from NHL.com.

Any normal person looking at that would think the Sharks scored first when the clock read 13:37. But then you notice that listed after that is a goal by Thornton at 16:58. What you will soon realize is that actually Karlsson’s goal came 13:37 INTO the 1st period, when the clock read 6:23, and that Thornton’s goal came 16:58 INTO the 1st period, when the clock read 3:02. Indeed, you can see it in the play by play side by side on the very same website.

This inconsistency is SO STUPID, I cannot stand it. At all! It must be fixed. Without bothering to research, I am guessing the inconsistency arose because at some point in time they used a watch counting up to keep score, and thus it made sense to record the time of goals as the amount of time into the period. When they changed to counting down, they wanted to be consistent with prior records and didn’t want to go back through old game logs and flip every goal ever scored. Well, I don’t care! This is dumb and must be fixed, hockey!

Please, if you like hockey and like how they do this, offer me a counter argument in the comments. And as the late Charlie Murphy said – make sure your people are around to see it – because you might get embarrassed! -TOB


The Making of a Modern Day Legend  

On Tuesday, The New Orleans Pelicans defied odds and won the NBA Lottery. This is a good year to win the lottery, probably the best year since the Pelicans last won the lottery and selected Anthony Davis with the top pick in 2012. Seven years later, Davis is top 10 player in the NBA (many would say top 5) and is trying to force his way out of New Orleans. A mess for any small market franchize New Orleans; however, there is relief in Zion Williamson.

This story is not about Davis, the draft, or the Pelicans; it’s about the making of a teenage sports legend. In series of short, let’s call them vignettes, various NY Times journalists sit down with the people who were there (or, in LeBron’s case not allowed in) and played a minor role in the his YouTube filmography of highlights.

I’d seen all but one of the videos featured in this story, but to hear the accounts from those on the court or in the gym gives it another layer, because their disbelief is a first-hand account. Two of my favorites:

Zion’s high school teammate, Bishop Richardson, describing the windmill alley-oop that started with a bad lob from Richardson.

On this occasion, Richardson’s toss arrived well below the rim. But that enabled Williamson to do something outrageous: He rose into the air, reached out with two hands to grab the incoming pass at about shoulder height, and — still rising, now high enough to peer inside the rim he was about to shake — used one sweeping, circular motion to bring the ball down to his waist and then back up to the left side of his body before ramming it through the basket with his left hand.

The crowd erupted.

“I remember thinking, ‘Holy cow, I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that, let alone be a part of it,’” Richardson said. “People were falling out of the bleachers.”

The dunk made it onto highlight reels and national sports shows within hours, but Richardson did not see a replay until the next day, when he and teammates sneaked a peek in a study hall.

Check-out the teammate, number 24, at 1:24 of the video below. His reaction pretty much sums it up. 

Zion’s Duke teammate describing when the team measured verticals.

Williamson, who went last, was off the charts. On his first attempt, he casually swatted aside the highest measurement. A staff member adjusted the pole to its highest setting and reset the tabs, and Williamson repeated the feat. They put weights under the contraption to lift it a few more inches into the air. Williamson batted the highest measurements aside again.

We are now well into an era where every play – literally every play – of any prospect of note is captured on video. Legends don’t grown by word of mouth; they grow on YouTube channels and IG accounts created specifically to share highlights of prospects. Basketball fans across the world knew Zion before he played a game at Duke as a freshman.

The story of youth, power, and seemingly limitless athleticism never gets old, because we always do. – PAL

Source: The Legend of Zion”, The New York Times (various contributors) (03/31/2019)

TOB: I think Zion will be very good, but people also need to pump the brakes a bit. Isn’t he just pre-injury Larry Johnson, with more hops? An All-Star but not a Hall of Fame player. Is he really a superstar? Can he go get a bucket when you need it? I’m not sure.


Are the Twins For Real?

Lookout! The Twins have the best record in baseball. But are they really good – or are they winning with some smoke and mirrors?

Overall, the Twins rank first in the majors with a 141 OPS+ against sub-.500 teams, but they’re tied for 20th with a 90 OPS+ against teams with a neutral or winning record. That gap is the largest in the majors by a huge margin, and even though it’s still a bit too early to be slicing slivers of batting splits, this detail indicates that Minnesota’s offense might not be as formidable as its surface stats suggest.”

Hmm. Only time will tell! -TOB

Source: “Are the MLB-Leading Minnesota Twins for Real?”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (05/13/2019)

PAL: I hate this goddamn article. I hate the construction of it. Are the Twins for real????? Here are 5,000 stats, some of which indicate the team is for real, and some of which point to the another hot start. Some of the info is good (they have pitchers who can actually strike some dudes out now), and some if it is amusing (they have a catcher off to a Bond-like start at the plate). 

I also hate that it calls attention to the Twins hot start. Everyone be quiet about it! Nothing to see here.

So, if the Twins do surprise folks and win the division about 120 games from now, then this article will be right on. If the Twins come back to earth, finish a respectable .500, then this article will be right.

Most importantly, I hate that TOB is trolling me in our own effin blog. This is the second Twins-related story TOB’s posted in the last three weeks. I know what you’re up to, fella.

TOB:


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: The Velvet Underground – “Oh Sweet Nuthin’


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You cannot learn from books. Replace these pages with life lessons, and then you will have a book that’s worth its weight in gold.

-Michael Scott

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