TrueHoop: Bruce Bowen

Bruce Bowen: NBA Archetype

September, 4, 2009

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Kevin Pelton writes that Bruce Bowen's legacy is a complicated one -- charitable spirit, borderline dirty player, hopeful symbol for the undrafted and, of course ... 

I would also say Bowen brought a certain level of attention to the unglamorous work of defensive stoppers. Bowen wasn't the first player to gain accolades for individual perimeter defense, and he won't be the last. However, an entire generation of offensive-challenged defenders gets the luxury of the "next Bruce Bowen” tag, not unlike talented young swingmen in the post-Michael Jordan era. For a guy who took nearly a decade just to become the first Bruce Bowen, that's not bad at all.

That hyperlink to the "next Bruce Bowen" reveals 24,700 Google search results. For the record, the names include Trevor Ariza, Quinton Ross, Tony Allen, Corey Brewer, Ime Udoka, Kyle Weaver, Dahntay Jones, Justin Cage, Luke Walton, Marcus Dove, O. J. Mayo, Yakhouba Diawara, Paul Harris, and Gerald Henderson. And that's just the first 50 results.

Friday Bullets

September, 4, 2009

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Operation Facelift

August, 17, 2009

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

The Los Angeles Clippers introduced Rasual Butler this afternoon to the local media at their training facility in Playa Vista. For those keeping a tally of what's become of Zach Randolph, Clippers general manager and head coach Mike Dunleavy has now spun him off for the following: 

  • Rasual Butler (1 year, $3.95M)
  • Craig Smith (1 year, $2.5M)
  • Sebastian Telfair (2 years, $5.2M, the second year a $2.7M player option)
  • Mark Madsen (1 year, $2.84M)
  • A remaining trade exception for $3.36M 
  • $14.63M in salary savings for 2010-11, assuming Telfair picks up his option
  • A spot in the starting lineup at the power forward for Blake Griffin

There are no marquee names on that list, and nobody who can match Randolph's raw numbers, but judging from Dunleavy's mood on Monday afternoon, he's over the moon that he's been able to parlay arguably his worst blunder as general manager -- the acquisition of Randolph -- into a collection of cheap, complementary assets and tremendous financial flexibility.

The Clippers are almost certain to improve upon their 19 wins of last season. To what extent they'll be in factor in the Western Conference playoff race is anyone's guess. But if Dunleavy the GM has accomplished nothing else, he's starting to cobble together a roster that looks a lot more workable to Dunleavy the coach.

Dunleavy likes to post his guards, and has been imploring the small -- but brawny -- Eric Gordon to develop a post game, something he showed off in Las Vegas. With Butler, Dunleavy gets a lanky swingmen whom he can use in that capacity.

"If you're a 2-guard and you're 6-7, we can throw you down in the post some," Dunleavy said. 

Less discussed, but more relevant is whether Dunleavy will act on his impulse as a tactician: Start Butler ahead of Al Thornton. 

"We'll figure out what makes the best sense for us," Dunleavy said. "Coming into training camp, it'll be pretty wide open."

Dunleavy has coveted a Bowen-model small forward ever since arriving in Los Angeles. He took on defensive stopper Quinton Ross as a project, but Ross was never able to develop a perimeter shot that could stretch defenses. Instead, Dunleavy has had to cope with Corey Maggette and now Thornton. Both are capable creators for themselves, but ball-stoppers, defensive liabilities -- and endless sources of frustration for Dunleavy. Butler is no Bruce Bowen, but he's the corner sniper (45% from there), and long perimeter defender Dunleavy's been after.

Few teams will come into the season with more elastic expectations than the Clippers. So much is uncertain: Blake Griffin's ceiling in his rookie season; Baron Davis' health and resolve; Chris Kaman's ability to bounce back from injury; Eric Gordon's progress.

Toward the end of his media session, Dunleavy spoke about the physical regimen he requires of his players -- their body fat targets and conditioning programs. He also described a torturous, 60-second, three-man weave drill he had to perform himself as a rookie more than 30 years ago.

"If you can do that," Dunleavy said, "then you're in shape." 

Dunleavy paused, then added wistfully, "Last year, I don't think we ever got to it. Period."

The Mavericks recently acquired two players, Shawn Marion and Tim Thomas, that Maverick fans once loathed.

Of course, they will be heartily welcomed by fans in the big D, right? So what was that hatred about? Uniforms? Did the players actually stand for something bad (and if so, has anything changed), or were they just cursed at because of their uniforms?

Rob Mahoney of TheTwoManGame digs in:

I'm always curious -- and this is where you guys come in -- as to when those cheers stop. If not for Thomas, the man who smooched in the face of Maverick pride, then for whom?

Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are two top-level talents that come to mind, but their skills are gaudy enough to turn haters into true believers with a mere change of zip code. The desire to field an incredible basketball team would supercede any hurt feelings MFFLs might still harbor, and Kobe or Wade would be welcomed with open arms. Hugs and kisses, fruit baskets and Jell-O casseroles.

But there is a player out there on the free agent market that would truly test the limits of fan commitment. He's one of the league's universal villains, the fruit of the loins of a conference rival, and a personal thorn in the side of Mavs' fans in particular. In this world, he goes by the name of Bruce Bowen, although many are convinced that his on-court persona is in congress with The Dark Lord himself.

There's no speculation that the Mavs are interested in Bowen, and I'm not even suggesting that they should be. But I am floating out this scenario to muck things up a bit. Which players, despite their contributions either real or theoretical (Bowen, model citizen though he may be, is hardly the defender he once was), are beyond the pale?

Personally, I'm not so sure the pale exists.

A Spur Nightmare

July, 1, 2009

48 Minutes of Hell's Tim Varner imagines the Spurs in the 2010 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The series is tight, and all the major players are earning their checks. Then, in a crucial moment, Manu Ginobili gets hot. Goes on one of those Chuck Norris couldn't guard me tears, and Mike Brown is forced to counter. Brown looks to the bench for his cooler. The camera tightens in on one of his sharp-browed what-would-Pop-do stares. He needs someone who can come in and ice Manu. 

Enter Bruce Bowen.

How would that feel, Spurs fans?

And are you all still certain Bowen's not a dirty player?

There has been some speculation that longtime Spur Bruce Bowen might be waived by Milwaukee and return to San Antonio, but there are two mild indications that won't happen:

I never thought that so many good things could happen after 30 years of age. Boy was I wrong! I've been able to be part of a great city and community. I've been able to take action in helping those less fortunate, partner up with many great companies, start programs aimed at helping our youth, and many other wonderful things. By me and my family being here, all these wonderful things have taken place in our lives, and we truly appreciate it San Antonio. ... This is where my family and I reside, there are more pressing things taken place in our world, so please just smile and remember that each and everyone of you played a vital role in the family man that I've become.

(Many thanks to Tim for alerting me to the Bowen post.)

The Hornets prevail in a must-win game over the Spurs, in which Bruce Bowen records a DNP-CD. Stephon Marbury is starting to figure out his role with the Celtics, while Iverson will have to adjust to his in Detroit. Read all about "Sixth Men: Past, Present, and Future" at the TrueHoop Network: 

Chris PaulRyan Schwan of Hornets247: "Simply put, Chris Paul came out at half time and proved he was the best player on the floor.  I could fill up an entire observations section just with all the incredible plays he pulled out in that game.  It's such a joy to watch him play. As what usually happens in good wins with the Hornets, [David] West carried the team in the first half, scoring 14 and serving as the focal point for the offense.  In the second, Paul shifted from fourth gear to Warp 9 and carried the team to victory ... That was a big game, and it went into the 'Do Not Delete' section of my TIVO, so when I am without a game to watch in the off-season, I can fire that one up.  Winning without Peja, Tyson and Posey was pretty big."

Bruce BowenTimothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell: "As Coach Popovich creeps closer to setting a rotation, it appears that Ime Udoka will get minutes behind Michael Finley. I'll stop short of making bigger pronouncements. It was only one game. Popovich is certain to use [Bruce] Bowen as a spot defender between now and the time he retires.  But I have to say, Pop is taking a gamble. Udoka is a tough-nosed defender, but even at his best moments he is not a versatile, game changing defender like Bruce Bowen. Bowen is a special player in that way. Or, reading into Pop's decision, Bowen was a special player in that way.  But Udoka does do some things better than Bowen. His offense is more varied (and erratic), he can handle the ball, and his rebound rate is 10.6, making him one of the better rebounding small forwards in the league. Defensively, Udoka does a better job against balky players like Ron Artest. But unlike Bowen, Pop won't call his number against Chris Paul -- he'll put George Hill into the game. If Sunday's rotation more or less sticks for the postseason, Popovich's gutsy decision to favor Udoka over Bowen will play a prominent role in determining San Antonio's championship aspirations, for good or ill."

Stephon MarburyBrian Robb of Celtics Hub: "Starbury only scored 2 points on 1/4 shooting but he did have 7 assists compared to just 1 turnover in 22 minutes to go with a +12 on the floor. There have been some growing pains in the past 10 plus games for the point guard but he is finally starting to look comfortable with the bench unit by distributing the ball to his teammates in the right spots ... a lot of these assists came off of some nice penetration, allowing him to draw multiple defenders to create dunks and open jumpers for his teammates. Great news to see him putting it together at the right time."

Piston Powered: Allen Iverson, Sixth Man -- A History.
Daily Thunder: Are OKC's best players named Sefolosha and Weaver
Raptors Republic: Toronto is putting all the pieces together ... in late March.  

(Photos by Layne Murdoch, D. Lippitt/Einstein, Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Mavericks still have it, tired legs and all. So does Bruce Bowen, at age 37.  Old is new again at the TrueHoop Network.    

Dallas MavericksRob Mahoney of The Two Man Game: "Part of me wants to cheapen this win.  The voice in my head is telling me 'Well pffft, any team can win if they make their jumpshots and play half-decent defense.'  This is entirely true, and the Mavs haven't had much trouble winning when they actually do those two things.  Unfortunately, the defense tends to come and go with the shooting.  But you know what?  This one counts, and it counts big.  The Mavs weren't killing the Blazers' playoff chances like they did to the Suns the night before, but they also implode when faced with adversity and low expectations.  Myself and countless others hoped for a win in Portland, but generally resigned ourselves to the fact that the Mavs might go out and lay an egg.  It was the second night of a back-to-back, they played an awfully good Portland team that has been ridiculously good at home lately, and when the Blazers offered some resistance in the second half, the Mavs had every reason to fold.  They were on tired legs, and again, no one was scoring outside of Dirk and Terry.  But they stood their ground, and as a team the Mavs came up huge.  Dirk and JET took and made all the big shots, but the impact of players like Erick Dampier, Antoine Wright, and whoever invented the zone defense cannot be discounted.

So much of what the Mavs were able to accomplish in this game hinged on their play in the first and third quarters, which have been the most troublesome all season.  They started things off well, and though they were down one at the end of the first, it was evident that this was the Mavs' game.  The Blazers made their runs and had their chances, but it was a Maverick world and they were just temporarily leasing in it.  The third quarter, in which the Mavs typically implode on their way to a double-digit loss, instead had the Mavs standing their ground against a Blazer resurgence.  The storm was weathered, the Mavs bounced back, and the day was won.  Huzzah!"

Bruce BowenGraydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "At 37 years old, Bowen is undoubtedly in the winter of his career. Since joining the Spurs in the 01-02 season, Bowen started in every game in which he played before this year. During the Spurs' early season struggles, Popovich moved Bowen to the bench and decreased his minutes significantly ... Given Popovich's preference for veteran players (a tendency that has led him to continue to utilize several players far past their prime), Pop's decreased utilization of Bowen suggests Bruce must really have slid a peg or two.

But plenty of data (as well as the plain old tactic of trusting one's eyes) suggests otherwise. Bowen is most often used in the 4th most common 5-man unit deployed by Popovich. The four other men he most often plays with are Matt Bonner, Michael Finley, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. It's important to note that of the other four, two are generally regarded as defensive liabilities, particularly for the Spurs' standards. Of the five most common units, this group of players has the strongest defensive efficiency rating: 87.3 ... To put that rating in perspective, the best defensive team in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers, has a defensive efficiency rating of 98.4.

The fact of the matter is, Matt Bonner and Michael Finley aren't lockdown defenders. And although Duncan and Parker are both known as good defenders (Duncan is more accurately described as a 'great' defender), they can be found on the Spurs unit with the worst defensive efficiency as well. Like it or not, Bowen's presence on the court remains a (if not the) key factor in the Spurs having a good defense versus having a great defense."

Tyrus ThomasMatt McHale of By the Horns: "I've tried to be patient with [Tyrus Thomas]. I've tried to defend him. I've tried to embrace the notion that he is part of The Future in Chicago. I've pleaded with Vinny Del Negro to give him minutes, to work with him, to focus on his development. But I've got to tell you: Tyrus is driving me nuts. He took 13 shots against the Magic. Two of them were attempted within his range (i.e., at the rim) while 11 of them were jumpers. Quick quiz: Is Tyrus Thomas a jump shooter? Quick answer: NOOOOOOOO! ... Why is he so quick to chuck it up from the outside? Dwight Howard was in foul trouble for most of the first half, but instead of taking it to Howard and trying to get him off the floor, Tyrus was content to just let 'em fly.

A lot of people hold Vinny responsible for Tyrus' lack of development as a player this season. But I can't believe that Ty's love affair with the jump shot is Del Negro's fault. I sincerely doubt he's instructing Tyrus to concentrate on his outside shooting. And if he is, I want him run out of Chicago on a rail.

Ty's coverage on pick and rolls was almost as awful as his shot selection. His lackadaisical help on the pick and roll led to three wide open layups for Rafer Alston during that killer third quarter. Tyrus honestly looked like he had no idea what to do in that situation. He didn't crash the offensive boards either. He finished with a measly 5 rebounds in 37 minutes. It was a lifeless performance."

Roundball Mining Company: A smart look at Denver's offensive woes (last night notwithstanding).
Hoopinion: Acie Law IV -- serviceable NBA point guard.
Raptors Republic: Toronto circles the drain. 

(Photos by Sam Forencich, D. Lippitt/Einstein, Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Shootaround

January, 30, 2009

Is the Spurs-Suns rivalry still relevant? How about Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Marc Iavaroni?  The TrueHoop Network has all the relevant information: 

LeBron James

John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "On the road against a tough Magic team and still without Z, the Cavaliers were able to establish a rhythm early, but at about the midway point of the second quarter lost their momentum and never really grabbed hold of the reins after that. After they put up monstrous lines against the Kings, the league's 3rd best defense was able to hold LBJ and Mo to a combined 14-42 from the field...

Without Z, we just don't seem to have enough to beat elite teams on the road. It's not the worst admission in the world, but you would hope that we could at least hang a little tougher with these games and not lay eggs on national television.

We'll start with LeBron. I actually don't think he did anything all that wrong, despite the fact that he had one of his worst games of the year. A 23/8/8 line is nice, but taking 30 attempts with a true shooting % of 38 is tough for a team to bounce back from and not all that good.

LeBron took it to the hole, but again seemed to shy away from making really aggressive moves, possibly because the Magic were able to cut away the corners and possibly because LeBron was completely unable to get to the foul line despite driving and getting contact, only shooting 6 free throws the entire game."

Tim DuncanGraydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "I'll be honest: There is nothing I love more than beating the Suns. Some commenters have suggested that in order for a team to be a true rival they must have beaten us in the playoffs in recent history but in my opinion that is not the definition of a rival. Do they make your blood boil? Do they make you rise out of your seat? Does every single match-up (even regular season games) have an added element of intrigue? Well, that's a rival. So, yes, we have bested the Suns time after time over the last 6 or so years. But this is about more than final scores. Opponents who inspire the depth of emotion I feel deserve the term 'rival.' And, as so many Suns-Spurs games have, this contest did not disappoint."

David WestRyan Schwan of Hornets247: "...It was announced that David West will be heading to Phoenix to take part in the All-star game again this season, and much like last year, there's a bit of storm raging around the internet about his selection.  I have to admit that at first I was a bit torn by this selection.  I am, first and foremost, a Hornets fan, and I'm pleased he's being recognized for his production despite being one of the quietest and least self-promoting players in the league.  Still, the fact remains I'm also a stat-geek, and by any measure there were better producers in the West that got left off the team.  There are three players in particular I have a hard time dismissing out of hand as worse than Fluffy: Manu Ginobili, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.  I could be persuaded to put Nene on that list as well."

The Painted Area: Marc Iavaroni, we told you so.
Valley of the Suns: Hack-a-Bowen?!
Hardwood Paroxysm: The Spurs-Suns rivalry is kaput. 

(Photos by Fernando Medina, Barry Gossage, Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Shootaround

January, 23, 2009

For those who love to hate the All-Star Game, or hate to love its imperfections, there's plenty of good reading:

Amare StoudemireMichael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns: "Amare has now made the All-Star team in four consecutive years not counting the year he was hurt, and he becomes the first Suns big to start the game since Barkley in 1996. Amare's come-from-behind win over Carmelo no question represents a victory for viral marketing. STAT's Vote4Amare Web site and YouTube videos featuring everyone from George Washington to Barack Obama to Shaq cardboard cutouts extolling his virtues clearly were hits with the voting fans. Plus, we learned that billboards in China result in more votes than Dirk Nowitzki's popularity in Germany, as Dirk finished a distant sixth behind Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest and Carmelo despite probably being most deserving according to the numbers. Honestly, I think this selection could be the best thing that ever happens to the man known as STAT and the Suns. Now that he's being recognized as an All-Star starter with the LeBrons, D-Wades and Dwights of the world like he so badly wanted, maybe he'll be impelled to give the kind of consistent effort those guys do each and every night. Or so Suns fans can hope. I don't think it's time for the Suns to give up on Stoudemire or give up on this season by dealing him; I still think Steve Kerr needs to give this team at least one year to gel. And if Amare puts half the effort into rebounding and defending as he did into marketing himself for a starting role in the All-Star Game, he might be able to earn a spot next year without the benefit of even a single YouTube video."

Bruce BowenTimothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell: "A funny thing happened on the way to U.S. Airways Center:  Bruce Bowen was nearly voted an All Star.  Coming in with a total of 1,392,398, he out paced the fanfare afforded to obvious All Star talents such as Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Bowen finished third, not far behind second place vote getter Amare Stoudemire. In terms of raw votes, Bruce Bowen received more voter love than Tony Parker. Strange, that. I'd like to believe that some benevolent fan led a grassroots movement to finally recognize Bowen's defensive greatness, especially now that his minutes are in sharp decline.  An All Star appearance, on a Phil Jackson coached team, in Phoenix, would seem a fitting tribute to the league's best perimeter defender of this decade. If that were the case, I'd be thrilled. But it's doubtful. What happened here? Is there an obvious explanation that will quell the inevitable conspiracy chatter? A quick look at the numbers reveals that multiple Spurs fared well. Tim Duncan led among all Western players not named Kobe Bryant. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, despite missing a large chunk of the early season, bested their 2008 numbers, doubling and tripling their vote total from last season. Have Spurs fans finally had their fill of media disregard? Are Bowen, Ginobili and Parker the beneficiaries of French and Argentine fans going Chinese on us? I'm guessing this is the case. And, if so, fine. Or, as Rob Mahoney thoughtfully put it, 'Screw the reasons behind the vote; is casting a ballot on their terms any different (read: worse) than voting straight-ticket for your hometown team?' Of course not. But if something else is afoot, we'd like to know.  Were the ballots counted in Chicago?  Is there a movement amongst fans to see more hard nose D in their superstar exhibitions? Do the fans simply want to see a good, old fashioned All Star brawl?  Bowen in a customary defense-less All Star game could hackle the feathers of one or two egos."

Chauncey Billups Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company: "Chauncey has definitely made a mark on the Nuggets, but it has not been the mark we expected.  Billups was supposed to raise the Nuggets defense to another level and early on he did.  The funny thing is Chauncey's impact has actually made this team more of an offensive force than a defensive one.  The Nuggets offensive efficiency has been steadily climbing throughout the season.  During those 19 games where their defense has fallen apart their offensive efficiency has been a stellar 112.5.  As bad as their defense has been is how good they have been on offense."

THE FINAL WORD  Daily Thunder: 10 reasons to love Scott Brooks.  By the Horns: Hate is not a family value.  Knickerblogger: David Lee -- more than just a collector of garbage. 

In the end, the defending champions lost twice, badly, against the team that everybody thought was not yet ready for prime time.

The San Antonio Spurs are a devastatingly good team. And they are still trying to figure out how to crack the the code on Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, David West, Julian Wright, and the New Orleans Hornets.

Memo to the League: the Hornets are very ready for prime time. This is not the team you want to face.

Game 2 featured a ton of interesting stuff. Thoughts:

  • The Hornets with Tyson Chandler on the floor were +35 tonight. That's 27 minutes of premium game time when the defending champions were absolutely killed. Chandler -- once considered something of a bust in Chicago -- is playing splendid basketball at both ends of the floor. Everyone in the NBA has always wondered what it is you can do to limit the effectiveness of Tony Parker's penetration. The answer, it turns out, is to have Tyson Chandler on your team. The only time Parker ever got a halfway decent look at the rim was when Chandler was benched. Also, did you notice that Chandler was a peacemaker several times when players were a little heated?
  • One of my favorite things about the playoffs is watching the end-of-quarter interviews with Gregg Popovich. I say "interviews" but what they're really anti-interviews, as Coach Pop does an amazing job of communicating nothing at all except disdain for the process. I suspect that his goal throughout is merely to limit the number of times he is asked to do these kinds of things in the future. (And, a more serious point: Spurs fan also wonder why the general public doesn't like the Spurs. You could also ask why the Spurs don't like the general public. Coach Popovich and Tim Duncan are both rumored to be great, friendly guys, but in the media they communicate in the begrudging tone of a teenager forced to write a thank you card.)
  • Seeing some incredible lob passes made me wonder -- surely some of the mostChris Paul difficult alley-oop passes are tougher to complete than a shot. So why not shoot? Getting your teammates involved, different angles etc. ... I get it. But if you muff the shot, it's a potential offensive rebound, and if you muff the pass, it's a turnover.
  • I was in New Orleans in February, and I can tell you that in that stunningly beautiful mosaic of a city, it's nearly impossible to find a large group that is almost all white ... unless you look in the good seats at a Hornet game.
  • Threes. Steals. Stops of Manu freaking Ginobili. JULIAN WRIGHT! He changed this playoff game, and I suspect he will change more as his confidence continues to grow.
  • Chris Paul is working mind games on the Spurs. Bruce Bowen is physical and at times dirty. But Paul is setting traps for him -- looking for every opportunity to make a big fuss of getting himself hit, run into, and knocked over. And it's working. Not only are the Hornets getting some calls Spur opponents usually don't get, but the Spurs are, at times, devolving into whine-a-palooza.
  • One of the techniques that seems so effective in this series so far is fronting Tim Duncan in the post. Is this really a new idea? Why is it so much more effective now than when other teams have done it a zillion times before? Is it just about Tim Duncan being sick? I'd love to say it's a Tyson Chandler thing, but a lot of the time it's Melvin Ely keeping the big man from the ball.
  • Three players in the NBA, that I have noticed -- Bruce Bowen, Chris Paul, and Rajon Rondo -- use their feet as aggressive weapons while playing defense. Not just tripping, but also owning space where others would put their feet. That's how Chris Paul induced Jacque Vaughn to fall in the backcourt tonight. The word was that it was a hip check -- but their hips never touched. The foot trick is subtle and effective, especially as referees seldom call fouls on players for placing a foot here or there. A really dirty version of this trick, of course, is Bowen's patented "place a foot where the shooter's going to land" technique, which has, predictably, hurt several NBA ankles, yet is hard to notice and is seldom called.
  • David West got a little heated at one point, and Chris Paul said something to him about it. I don't know what Paul said, but he should have said: "Remember, you're quoted in today's paper telling everybody that you grew up wanting to be even-keeled like David Robinson."
  • One thing I really admire about the Hornets: holding a modest lead in the fourth quarter against a very dangerous team, they stayed super aggressive on offense. Where a lot of point guards would get careful, Chris Paul got lobbing to Tyson Chandler for dunks, made forays into the lane for tough layups, and kept the Spurs wondering where to focus.
  • Mike James told us he was ready. He finally sees the court and gets five points in two minutes of garbage time.

So, now you have to think: what's next? What does this mean? Don't teams that go up 2-0 almost always win? Could the Spurs really be done?

On the one hand, a 2-0 lead against the Spurs is not the same as a 2-0 lead against any old team. They Spurs are not going to quit, panic, make stupid mistakes, or stop trying new things. What's more, they will get more love from the referees in San Antonio, and that will make a big difference -- a lot of their game is about working the zebras, and they did not work them well in the first two games. The Spurs also have to be considered heavy favorites in any nail-biters, in which they are exquisitely coached.

With all those factors being true, what it really means is that to keep beating the Spurs, you actually have to be notably better.

Are the Hornets notably better? They just might be. They really haven't struggled much so far in these playoffs, and they have played some solid competition. The Hornets are for real.

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Three Phoenix Mistakes

April, 19, 2008

Credit the Spurs with a marvelous against-all-odds come-from-behind double overtime win against Phoenix.

There is a ton to say about this amazing game, but through it all, three times I found myself looking at something Mike D'Antoni was doing and wondering: "Is that smart?"

Let me say here, that I recognize Coach D'Antoni knows a ton more about basketball than I do. There are probably excellent reasons for all these things. But here is my view:

  • In the second quarter, the Suns were rolling, and had a 16-point lead. The Spurs were staggering a little. I think almost everyone in the gym thought that, as long as the Spurs were unsure what to do on defense, the Suns had a moment there when they might just crack the game open. But then a few Suns got their third fouls, and D'Antoni sent them all to the bench, radically altering the line-ups, and dumping ice water on that Phoenix hot streak. It was anybody's game by halftime.
  • Phoenix was down, and inbounded with about 35 seconds left -- and went really slowly. I thought they should step on it, and try to get two possessions. That's the rule of thumb -- shoot with around 30 seconds left, right? Instead they gave the ball back to San Antonio with less than 24 seconds left, and were forced to foul, which almost sealed the game.
  • After Manu Ginobili's game-winning layup, Phoenix had no timeouts and no idea what to do. That was one major flaw. But it was born of using too many timeouts earlier. I remember the one with 19.5 seconds left, when the Suns used their final timeout. I cringed when I saw that. They were down three. Almost no matter what happened, to win this game they were going to have to score twice. Tell me, would you rather move the ball, scheme, make substitutions, and stop the clock with 20 seconds left, or the paltry few that the Spurs were likely to leave you after they got it back? D'Antoni's timeout did lead to Nash's good luck at the game-tying three-pointer, so it's hard to question that. But I do.


A bunch more thoughts about that game:

  • Dueling sentiments: San Antonio needed a friggin' Tim Duncan three -- his first of the season -- to beat the Suns at home, even when all the big Suns were in foul trouble. The Spurs may have won the battle, but the war favors Phoenix, right? On the other hand -- doesn't something weird always seem to happen to capsize the Suns when they play the Spurs in a big game? Maybe you can't count on a Tim Duncan three, but you can usually count on something.
  • Let's not overlook the brilliance of Manu Ginobili's game-winner. He made it look easy. But it was still a friggin' layup, with less than two seconds left, against a good defensive team -- a team that has held him to about 30% shooting in recent games -- that was set up and waiting for him. Few players can do that. He's one of the best.
  • Amare Stoudemire is an hombre. Even though his defense on Duncan is still shaky at times, it's still a battle for the ages we're seeing here. Stoudemire is more poised than ever. When he was on the floor, the Suns were +11, by far the best such mark in this game. He not only makes a lot of plays, but he also makes Steve Nash so much more of a threat. Also, let's be honest: his jumper is a thing of beauty. Big men who can shoot like that have something special -- because for them, that shot is available.
  • Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill ... plenty of Phoenix players missed big shots that I'm sure they'd like another crack at.
  • The Phoenix offense is very different from last year. For long stretches of the game, O'Neal, Stoudemire, and Diaw are focal points of the offense. That means there are long stretches when Steve Nash is not expending so much energy getting pounded by Bruce Bowen. I think that could prove to be a major difference. Nash looked fresher in the late stages of this one, even though he's not any younger than last year and the year before.
  • New Spur Ime Udoka did not have a good game. He missed some shots, and was also the poor sucker who had to be guarding Boris Diaw when the Frenchman made the pass of the game, behind his head to Leandro Barbosa for a lay up.
  • Grant Hill -- never won a playoff series. He didn't do a ton to help his cause today. Not that one game plus/minus numbers mean much, but Hill tied Shaquille O'Neal and Brian Skinner for worst on the Suns, at minus 6. A couple of times he didn't seem to even notice some bounce passes coming from Steve Nash.
  • Jeff Van Gundy was extremely classy. He and co-worker Mark Jackson are both rumored to be candidates to coach the Knicks. Van Gundy went way out of his way to promote Jackson as a candidate, while calling himself a mere "super delegate."
  • Remember how last year the story was Tony Parker's repaired shooting form? He shot nearly 40% from downtown, and it was a key factor in bringing San Antonio a title. How is it his three-point field goal percentage is back to a measly 26%?
  • Take yourself to when there were six and a half minutes to play. Phoenix was up three, with some foul trouble. San Antonio was at home. In your mind, who's the favorite at that point? I'd say it's just about even.
  • At the end of regulation, if you watch the replay, Boris Diaw was all alone under the hoop. Not sure if there was a passing angle to get it to him, but he had a layup, and the ball was not far away.
  • Has Bruce Bowen lost his magic? The Spurs were better tonight when he was on the bench. That's not normally true. I'm suspicious, however, that he may have played a role in Nash falling down on that key inbounds play when Phoenix burned a crucial timeout.
  • When Tony Parker fouled out, the Spurs went for a brief time to a no-pass offense. Manu Ginobili just brought it up and scored. Not a bad system.

Bruce Bowen Suspended

March, 14, 2008

Remember yesterday we were complaining about Bruce Bowen apparently kicking Chris Paul?

The NBA has suspended Bowen for kicking Paul. (Or "striking him with his leg.") From a press release:

Bruce Bowen of the San Antonio Spurs has been suspended one game without pay for striking Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets with his leg, it was announced today by Stu Jackson, NBA Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident occurred following a foul call on Paul with 5:15 remaining in the third period of the Spurs' 100-75 loss to the Hornets on Wednesday, March 12 at New Orleans Arena. Bowen will serve his suspension tonight when the Spurs visit the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Bowen just played in his 500th consecutive game, the longest active streak in the NBA. Now that streak is over, thanks to this play.

More than almost any other NBA player I can think of, Bruce Bowen has a career that is a matter of perspective. On the one hand, he's a champion, a family guy, and a gentleman.

On the one hand, people just love that guy. And he's a great story! He's one of those few players who essentially did not make the league. He failed to get in through the front door. But he hung on and hung on, found a home, and has flourished as a hard worker, and feisty defender who played a big role on the closest thing we have to a dynasty these days.

If you are rooting for the Spurs, you love Bruce Bowen. He shuts down the other team's best player just about every darned night. And does he cross the line? Well, hell, a Spurs fan would say, it's his job to be right on that line. Not his fault if he's a little over once in a while.

Then there is the other crowd. (They email a lot!) Those people who have been watching this Bruce Bowen act for years -- all those "but I'm innocent!" appeals to referees -- and never bought it for one second. They think he is a cheap shot artist first and foremost, and what's more, they swear that once you tune into their way of thinking, you will never go back: because the evidence just keeps piling up.

Guys like this guy.

They see this little offense of his here, that one over there, and all those flying kicks, and the umpteen million moments where you wonder "was that a punch?" but nothing was called and the play rolls on. If you take all those together, you get the feeling that the story of Bruce Bowen might not be just a story of hard-nosed play.

It can start to seem like it's a story of a player determined to give his team an unfair advantage, through a series of often injurious and always crafty chops, kicks, undercuts, elbows, punches, and trips.

To "those people," that latter group, today is a great day. It's a great day in part because Bowen is getting suspended for the first time in years, and he's losing some of the glow of his most consecutive games streak.

But it's even better because this is the first indication that the decision-makers in the league office may have switched camps.

UPDATE: More slow-motion video of the play in question, which Spurs fans think exonerates Bowen (I'm unconvinced either way, what happens with that right knee?), but certainly indicates that Chris Paul is no angel here either. 

Mommy Has a Headache

May, 21, 2007

I am a guy who responds to a lot of email. The vast majority, I'd wager, that I receive.

Until, that is, Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire got suspended for Game 5 of the Phoenix vs. San Antonio series. Then, for a few days, I got more email then I could possibly even read, let alone respond to.

Those that I did read included all points of view, but are by and large frantically, at times drunkenly, and unequivocally anti-NBA.

A handful of them are so outlandishly bitter that I flagged them as fodder for a potential future post in which I might talk to a psychologist to find out if maybe, for some people, sports are not a good fit.

I'm thinking, for instance, about the guy who wrote, after Bruce Bowen (who somehow was made to seem more evil by the actions of Robert Horry, Stu Jackson, and David Stern) hit the crucial three-pointer in Game 5:

There is no justice in this world. I'm going to go kick a puppy, now, since it apparently doesn't matter.

Wow. You know? Wow. That's what I thought when I read a lot of these.

What's this all about? What's going on here? A bundle of things. I'm guessing these are some of the key points that haven't already been addressed ad infinitum.

I think, for a lot of people, listening to David Stern defend the decision was startling. It was the first time they really got the memo that David Stern is not only all-powerful but in wielding his power can be combative, belittling, and harsh.

(Not totally relevant, but fun to tell: I interviewed Commissioner Stern years ago for an article about David Robinson. He insisted on having the talk via his crappy speakerphone. Halfway through my first question, he made a big noise by scooting his chair or something. Bad speakerphones of that vintage only allow one-way communication -- in any instant, either I could hear him or he could hear me. As I could hear his chair, I knew he wasn't hearing me, so I paused for an instant to make certain he was done rearranging furniture. It was literally, less than a second of pause before he barked "do you have an actual question?" and then just launched into a David Robinson statement more or less on a topic of his choosing. I realize this story is not proof he's anything I accused him of earlier.)

People who follow the NBA closely, or indeed work in the NBA, have gotten used to the idea that the commissioner is no teddy bear, and they tended to take these suspensions much more in stride.

But the bigger point, I think, is that most fans forgot that we're in a period of NBA history that could be described as "mommy has a headache."

You know the scene: kids in need of supervision, and a parent with a throbbing head in dire need of relief. She needs peace and quiet like no one has ever needed peace and quiet. Any kid that wants to play the drums right now is the worst kid in the history of the planet.

At other times, playing the drums is encouraged, and the worst kid in the history of the planet is the one who plays with matches.

But right now? Prioroties have changed for the moment. Mommy has to go lie down for a little while, OK? Please don't burn the house down, and DON'T TOUCH THE FREAKING DRUMS.

We all know what happens, right? A half-hour later, mom is barking at some poor kid who did something innocent but noisy, and that kid is howling about how unfair it is because she's good 365 days a year and right now her brother is outside playing with matches and he's not getting in trouble at all.

You can probably see where this is headed.

The point is: the league has been pretty clear and consistent. You can play hard in the playoffs without getting suspended, if you're a little crafty. You can bang. You can grab. You can kick. You can elbow Derek Fisher once in a while. (You can even trip Amare Stoudemire again.)

But there a couple of things that, as far as the league is concerned, can never happen. First and foremost is the brawl at Auburn Hills. (If you forgot what that was like, click that last link and remember. It's laughable to think that anything that happened in these playoffs can remotely touch it.) Even at that Knicks and Nuggets brawl, if you listen to the commentary, ushers had to go to some trouble to keep the fans from getting involved. What if the ushers had failed? We are on a bit of tightrope here.

This, kids, is Mommy Stern's headache. Hard play, dirty tricks ... whatever. Not a big deal today, or ever. What Mommy can't have right now is any more of those apocalyptic, racially complex, bench-clearing brawls that get the fans involved.

The league could not be clearer that that is their priority. And who's to say they are wrong? Once you have two dozen athletes and 20,000 fans going at it, there's no good way to guarantee there won't be the kind of real deal tragedy that would make a depressing few years of the NBA's bottom line an afterthought.

And there are not good tools available to prevent such things. One of the only ones that exists is to make sure that it never starts -- that is, that there is never a moment when all those players are all over the court posturing and yelling. Because once you get there, whether or not we're back in Auburn Hills depends on the whim of the angriest players and the drunkest fans.

A man in David Stern's position can not leave the future of his league in those people's hands. The drumset that's going to make this head explode is, it turns out, players rushing all over the court playing problem solver at volatile moments. That's what makes everything so hot.

(Mommy said "no drums." Amare and Boris wail "we were playing the drumset quietly!")

So, all you people e-mailing me who can't believe this rule, or that David Stern would enforce it, please keep in mind that any replacement we might discuss -- and we should discuss lots of them, I want to hear a clever idea or two -- has to come with a really clever way to keep bench players on the seats to prevent the out-of-control brawls that the league fears. 'Cause without that, it's just a pipe dream.

And when you're coming up with that rule, you have to stare deep into the mind of your favorite players. All those who have followed the rules and stayed on the bench through the last decade of trips, flagrant fouls, and hip checks ... If David Stern was in the habit of pardoning "nice guys" who leave the bench but don't make trouble, would they still stay on the bench when there's some kind of altercation? And if a lot more players get up to see what's going on, how many more altercations might result from that mass of hot tempers and muscles? How many of those might involve fans?

I'm not saying this rule is perfect. But I am saying that it's there for a reason, and anything that might replace it would have to do a lot more than just get a couple more Suns into Game 5. It would have to be smart about making mommy's headache go away, too.

UPDATE: The Painted Area has some good thoughts. 

But Suns players and coaches -- like players and coaches around the league -- do not. That team is universally admired for being not only professional, but classy.

ESPN's Marc Stein reports:

... it's instructive to note that the Suns -- after everything that's happened through five contentious games and even though they're suddenly the closest thing in the NBA to America's Team -- don't just want to force a Game 7 on Sunday.

They want to force us to call them Spurs-like.

"They do a great job of their system and staying true to form, making big plays in big moments," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters in Phoenix on Thursday. "That's what we're trying to get. Mental toughness, being lucky, I don't know what it is."

The Spurs, D'Antoni added, just seem to "believe a little bit more."

"All the time," he said.

That includes believing that Bowen's knee to Nash's groin to clear space in Game 3 and Horry's frustration foul on Nash in Game 4 were pardonable acts in the do-anything-necessary quest to win a fourth championship in nine seasons.

The whole notion that the Suns are pure and sweet is, well, sweet. They are, in their own minds, an excellent team that has long been searching for a solution to their grit defecit. The whole "that other team is playing rougher than we are" line of thinking happens in every playoff series this Suns team ever plays in. Even against the Mavericks. It's something the Suns would like to fix. 

Let's refer once again to Jack McCallum's excellent profile of last year's Phoenix team, "Seven Seconds or Less." Shortly before Game 6 of last year's Western Conference Finals, with the Suns down 3-2 (much like today), this time to Dallas, the coaches are lamenting the team's lack of toughness. Kurt Thomas is injured, which makes things even worse. The Suns have noticed on videotape that Josh Howard has been repeatedly tripping Suns:  

D'Antoni does not suggest that Avery Johnson is coaching hard fouls. But the Dallas series fits seamlessly into the pattern of the two that preceded it -- the opposition does most of the attacking, and Phoenix, except for Bell, does most of the recoiling.

"I think Raja ought to go up to Howard before the game and say 'If you trip one guy, we're coming after your a--,' suggests Dan Antoni, half-seriously.

"Well, it would be better if we could do it with three guys," says Mike, "Kurt Thomas being one of them."

Sure, this or that play may have been extraordinary, but by and large the stuff that people are using to demonize the Spurs? The way Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry play and all that? 99% of that is really stuff you don't like about the NBA. That's how this game goes this time of year. 

It may well be worth discussing whether or not that's the way we, as fans, want the NBA to be. But just because Amare Stoudemire says San Antonio has cornered the market on hard-nosed play doesn't make it so.