The Outlet 3.15: the NBA's Bizarre Gems (also: Selective Empathy for Mr. Rose)

Posted on Wed 10 April 2013 in The Outlet by Aaron McGuire

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Remember how we had that one series, a long time ago, where we'd entreat our writers to scribe short vignettes on the previous night's games? We've consistently discovered there's no way for us to do that every night, but with the capsules done and Aaron back in the saddle as a more active managing editor, we're hoping that we can bring the feature back as a weekly Wednesday post. Sometimes Thursday, like today. As always, the vignettes may not always be tactful, tacit, or terse -- they'll always be under a thousand words, though, and generally attempt to work through a question, an observation, or a feeling. Today's short pieces are as follows.

  • IND vs CLE: The Bizarre Diamond in the Roughest of Roughs (by Aaron McGuire)
  • GENERAL: Derrick Rose and Selective Empathy (by Adam Koscielak)

Read on after the jump.

• • •

IND vs CLE: The Bizarre Diamond in the Roughest of Roughs
Aaron McGuire

I'm going to make what I believe is a fair assumption. Most of our readers didn't watch last night's game between Cleveland and Indiana. Not an unreasonable stance. There was absolutely nothing on the line last night -- with a loss, the Pacers would've effectively clinched New York's hold on the 2-seed, but chances are reasonably low that Indiana pulls off the seed even with their win. After all, they're 2.5 games back with 4 to play. If they want to get the 2-spot, they'll need to beat New York in the Garden in their one remaining matchup and hope that New York drops two more games in their remaining four (@CHI, @CLE, @CHA, vs ATL) -- for a team that's rolling, that seems exceedingly unlikely. So the game meant little to the home team, other than a virtually guaranteed win.

As for Cleveland, they've reached the point in the season where wins are actively detrimental to the franchise's overall health -- one more win will effectively take Cleveland out of the running for the 4th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, and they've reached the point where they need to lose out if they want to have any chance of tying the tank-happy Suns. All in all, it was a decent recipe for a garden variety blowout. You'd be excused for skipping it. But there's a reason I'm writing about the blasted game at all -- it wasn't any old garden variety blowout. The few people who tuned in were treated to what may have been the single most bizarre game of this NBA season. Really! The final score -- 99-94, Indiana -- doesn't do the night's action justice. Here are just a sample of the absurd runs and confusing peculiarities that those watching got to witness:

  • On the offensive end, Tyler Zeller completely outplayed both David West and Roy Hibbert. Tyler Zeller. Tyler Zeller.

  • In 17:45 span that enclosed both the start of the game and the final quarter, the Pacers outscored the Cavs 55-18.

  • In the remaining 30:15 of last night's game, the Cavs outscored the Pacers 76-44. Not a typo.

  • The Indiana Pacers nearly dropped a game where they shot 31 more free throws than a 24-win team.

  • The Pacers won a game where they were significantly outshot from two point range, three point range, and the free throw line.

It was a strange night.

After the game, that last point slayed me. The Cleveland Cavaliers shot 46% from the floor -- the Indiana Pacers shot 41%. The Cavs shot 30% from three -- the Pacers shot 25%. The Cavs shot 86% from the line -- the Pacers shot 67%. It felt worse than that, too! The Cavs were getting easy baskets for most of the night, and actually found themselves shooting 54% entering the fourth quarter. Against the best defense in the NBA, no less. After the game, the percentages made me curious. How many times a year -- on average -- does a team outshoot their opponent from every box score-tracked area of the floor and still manage to lose the game?

The answer: not many. In the past 20 years, it's only happened 44 times, which amounts to scarcely more than two such games per year. Considering the fact that every year includes 2460 NBA games, that nets out to a 1 in 1100 chance that any given NBA game is going to be a game like that. What's more, the margin is somewhat rare as well -- the Cavs not only lost the game, they lost by two possessions! If you sort the aforementioned list by margin, you'd find that only 6 of those 44 games were won by more than two possessions. Fundamentally, that makes sense -- you aren't going to blow out a team that's comfortably outshooting you from every area of the floor. But it added another amusing layer to a game that was about 100 times more entertaining than all reasonable expectations.

As we stumble and gasp our way to the close of another long season of NBA basketball, it's worth casting an extra eye of appreciation to these unexpected gems of random chance. At some point yesterday I had a short conversation where my friend Angelo said he was going to skip last night's CLE/IND game -- and all remaining games between central division teams -- out of a sincere desire to never see the sort of plodding, grind-it-out basketball that those teams tend to play. And I still think that's a fully reasonable stance. But oftentimes the NBA sees fit to remind us of what makes it fun with these dismal, write-em-off games. And I left the night feeling lucky I got to watch it. Thanks, NBA's late season slump! The obscenely low expectations you engender made a weird game like this the highlight of the NBA's recent schedule.

... Is that a good thing?


• • •

GENERAL: Derrick Rose and Selective Empathy

Adam Koscielak

"Holding on to his knee and down!" That's what Kevin Harlan says, in what would later become the most blatantly overused injury clip in NBA history. As the Chicago Bulls retreat looking to defend their basket against the Philadelphia 76ers, Harlan adds. "He was flying, and he came down wrong on the left foot, whether it was an ankle or a knee, I do not know." Cut to Derrick Rose cringing, as he lies in pain. I can't imagine that pain myself, combined with the realization that this is probably his last game of the very promising playoffs. His teammates surround him. Everyone knows it's not good. Chicago fans instantly fall into a state of depression. Or is it apathy? The rest of the basketball world freezes, feeling the loss of the brightest superstar. Twitter instantly speculates that it's an ACL tear. Others blame Tom Thibodeau for keeping Rose out in de facto garbage time. Some Nike rep blames Adidas for the ACL tears to Rose and Iman Shumpert, as if sneakers could save the ligaments in their knees from rupturing. In the end, however, everyone seemed to empathize with Rose's fate, a rare fan-wide show of solidarity.

Nearly a year later, Derrick Rose is playing basketball, and according to some reports, dominating at it. We can't see it firsthand though, after all, this is just a Chicago Bulls practice. Patience is wearing thin -- this here superstar has been "medically cleared" to compete for the better part of two months now. Iman Shumpert -- who suffered the same injury on the same day -- has been back in action for a while now. But Rose doesn't want to come back. What does that make him? Some compare him to Andrew Bynum, who never seemed to care about playing basketball, preferring to bowl and build computers, others point out the mental discomfort of coming back from any injury as an excuse for Rose's reluctance to come back. Then the screaming matches begin. One side will note Rose's gigantic salary, while the other notes that ACL tears are pretty hard to recover from.

This is where Rose's low-key personality seems to hurt him, really. If this was Kobe Bryant sitting out two months after a clearance to return to action, we'd be sure that something must be really wrong. If it was Andrew Bynum, we'd be sure he's "resting on company time" all over again. Rose? We don't know Rose. We know he's humble, and we know he's a warrior. But we don't know how much pain he can play through. We don't know his comfort levels. Would it be so surprising if we found out that Rose felt he needed an epic return, rather than a half-ready start in a late season snoozefest? Would it be so surprising if we found out that Rose wanted to make sure that he's not only healthy, but ready before he hops on the floor? It seems as though Rose's public persona often makes people assume that he doesn't have an ego. I can only speculate on what his motivations for sitting out are, but nobody becomes a league MVP without an ego.

In the end, whether Rose wants to return as he left, return in the right moment, or needs a few more days, weeks or months to defeat some anxiety connected with returning to the court? He should have the benefit of the doubt. For all I care, he could've decided to skip this season altogether and start anew next year. If Michael Jordan -- the greatest to ever play the game -- can go play minor league baseball for two years, why can't Derrick Rose take a few months off to adjust to life after a devastating injury? Why can we feel for Rose as the injury happens, but not when he might be suffering from the sports version of shell shock?

A topic for all of us to consider – selective empathy.