Eye on the Classics: Where the Fox Knows Many Things...

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

--Isaiah Berlin, quoting Archilochus

Ray Allen is the ultimate hedgehog and Steve Nash is the ultimate fox, in Berlin's famous dichotomy of historical geniuses. This placement of Allen and Nash is true, but difficult to write about, largely because the argument is so straightforward if you understand both players (and also because Berlin's dichotomy is - as Berlin knew - flawed at its core). We're rolling with it, though, so as to uncover the mystery of chessboxing; that is, the essence of these two athletic geniuses. Nash is the fox and Ray is the hedgehog. Game on.

Anyway, in 2006, Nash and Allen both led their Suns and Sonics to a high-scoring, double-overtime classic. A dual for the ages. It's the kind of game that would've had highlights running on SportsCenter for weeks. That is, if it hadn't happened on the exact same night Kobe dropped 81 on the defenseless Raptors. Some based uploader (MrMagic2worthy) uploaded the whole thing to Youtube, and yes, it's more than 2 hours long, but I have to say: this is a must-see. Click the jump for the videos, and a whole wheelbarrow of words.

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Eye on the Classics: Throw A Slam Dunk, Barkley

Vince Bucci/Getty ImagesAfter scoring the Suns' first 12 points, he ran by
Warrior Coach Don Nelson and asked him: "You gonna double me?"

Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.

Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise

A lot of people remember Michael Jordan dropping 63 on the Boston Celtics in 1986, setting a playoff record that stands today.  There are a lot of reasons that Jordan's feat was so impressive: the '86 Celtics are a GOAT-candidate team, featuring several players in the Hall of Fame (Dennis Johnson, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and goddamn late-period Bill Walton).  Many of these HOFers were all-world defenders, too.  Furthermore, the Celtics that year lost one game at home all season, including the playoffs.  The other Bulls didn't have enough offense that season to prevent the Celtics from really focusing completely on Jordan. And yet Jordan almost singlehandedly took the Bulls to the throats of the great Celtics at their Boston Garden, actually sending them to double-overtime.  Jordan - or God in disguise, if Bird's famous postgame comment is to be taken literally - played about as well as it's possible to play. But that may not actually be the best playoff scoring performance in the modern record. What do I mean? Check it out after the jump. Continue reading

Eye on the Classics: The Most Ferocious Cat (3OT, 2007)

I've always thought of the Bobcats as the most ridiculous and arbitrary team in the entire league.  Their logo haunts my mind - I just picture a kid trying to draw a ferocious cat but after the outline realizes he has only two depressingly drab crayons to shade it with. And all of this haunting happens before we even touch how funny the word "Bobcats" really is.  It's especially awkward to enunciate quickly.  It was a team destined for tongue-twisters and hilarious sentences like "Welcome to the Bobcats' sports network" or "In short, despite Kobe Bryant scoring 58 points, coach Bernie Bickerstaff's Bobcats beat Kobe's scrub Lakers in triple overtime, thanks to D by Crash and caroms by Emeka Okafor."  Strangely, that last sentence is an accurate summary of the game we're going to be covering today.  Weird.

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"Opening" Night: UTA v HOU (1995)

In celebration of our personal opening night, we're going to try the good try to make up for the NBA's lack of one. We're going to make it up to you by posting three full classics of NBA matchups of the teams that WOULD have been playing on opening night, if the season's schedule hadn't been scrapped. Here's game #3: a reprisal of a rivalry so old that few fans remember it existed.

This matchup is the Hakeem Rockets versus the Stockton-Malone Jazz, this time for all the marbles. And there were a lot of marbles: Yes, their only 90s titles came from the Spurs and the Rockets. But the Western Conference also included two of the greatest Finals runner-ups in the history of the game in the 1997 and 1998 Jazz, two teams featuring all-time centers, some great Portland teams, the Barkley Suns, and some amazing Sonics teams. In short: quite a few marbles, even if Jordan kept them from winning the rings to show for the marbles they had in abundance. This metaphor is getting confusing. Let's watch some hoops. This post is formatted like a retroactive liveblog. Simmons-style.*

*We have nothing else in common with Bill Simmons...Well, except all these footnotes.

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"Opening" Night: LAL vs SEA (1980)

In celebration of our opening night, we're going to try the good try to make up for the NBA's lack of one. We're going to try and make it up to you by posting three full classics of NBA matchups of the teams that WOULD have been playing on opening night, if the season's schedule hadn't been scrapped. Here's game #2: the chill zombies of Seattle vs a star-studded Lakers team.

When I noticed that OKC was playing on the opening night that was not to be, I had a short debate with Alex as to whether we should restrict our search for games in the last few years where the franchise was actually in OKC (and games from when the Hornets were in OKC) or just open ourselves up to Seattle in hopes of using some actual classic games. It didn't take all that long for us to decide we'd extend our search. After all, what kind of a classic is a 2010 playoff game, really? Nonetheless. The game we have for you may not actually feature OKC, but it's still a pretty great one -- it has a still-rookie Magic, a still-spry Kareem, a still-ballin Dennis Johnson, and a still-underrated Gus Johnson. It also was the clinching game of the eastern conference finals, with Kareem doing what Kareem did in clinching situations.

Click the jump to watch the full game on Youtube (credit to lakeptic), with my "expert" commentary.

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"Opening" Night: CHI vs DAL (1996)

In celebration of our opening night, we're trying to make up for the NBA's current lack of a scheduled opening night. We're going to try and make it up to you by posting three full NBA matchups of the teams that WOULD have been playing on opening night, if the season's schedule hadn't been scrapped. Here's game #1: the defending champion Mavs face off against the ECF Bulls, 90s style.  Except in 1996, with the Bulls the champs and the Mavs, well, pretty far away from any sort of conference finals. They've got Jason Kidd, though! 

Here's the box score.  Click the jump for the highlight videos.

Pity Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.  Sure, their stirring, amazing championship this year may have finally vindicated the careers of Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Mark Cuban, and Kidd himself.  But no amount of titles could ever wash off the taint of the team's performance in the 1990s.  The Dallas Mavericks never broke .500 in a season starting in the decade.  Their win totals - ordered by increasing levels of atrocity - were 40, 36, 28, 26, 24, 22, 20, 19, 13, 11 from 1990-91 to 1999-00.*  The Mavericks were 15 years old in 1996 (and had even had quite a few good runs with Mark Aguirre), but seemed like the oldest expansion franchise in the league at this point - a total joke, filled with one superstar destined to leave soon (Jason Kidd) and two 17th-team All-NBA players (Jim Jackson, Jamal Mashburn [who actually suffered a season-ending injury about 18 games into 1996]).  Can you even imagine rooting for the Mavs right in the middle of that awful decade?  I can't, in all honesty.

*As a math major I have to note that they have every even number between 20 and 28 wins, inclusive, like they were playing a drinking game of mediocrity.  The Mavs were 239-549 (.303) for the decade, a .303 winning percentage, which comes out to about a 25-win season, on average.  Damn.

But to their credit, the Mavericks filled legendary Reunion Arena with dedicated supporters for their awful team.  For the early regular season game we'll be covering, no fewer than five world-class athletes showed up.  All - as I understand it - are top 10 all-time at their positions: Roger Staubach (former Cowboys QB), Michael Johnson (sprinter), Michael Irvin (wide reciever), Emmitt Smith (running back), and Deion Sanders (cornerback).*  And even the Fucking Mayor of Dallas.  Wow!  All of them showed up to root their home team on (if they don't win, it's a shame!).   The likes of Deion Sanders saw the high-flying trio of young Mavs' stars: sophomore PG star Jason Kidd, Jim Jackson at his absolute peak, and the always-sizzling Jamal Mashburn.  Or, as they called themselves, Triple J (sounds like a radio station)!

*Missing were Nolan Ryan, Future Dirk Nowitzki, Tom Landry, and Holger Geschwinder.

It was obvious just from watching that Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and the rest of the 1996 Chicago Bulls had a heck of a time mentally coping with the powerful support (ecstatic at times) for the good old 1996 Dallas Mavericks in the legendary Reunion Arena.  And Triple J didn't disappoint, combining for an amazing 64 points on just 64 shots!

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12/24/1984: King drops 60, and the myths of MSG.

As a regular lockout feature, we will be highlighting old masters through a series of classic NBA games in our Eye on the Classics series. For our first featured game, I'll be taking a look at Bernard King's classic 60 point bomb in Madison Square Garden during one of the few successful seasons in a long and rarely noted career. 

As a statistician, I'm always one of the strongest proponents of the idea that the average fan vastly overrates the importance of a volume scorer on a contending team. Rebounding, passing, and lockdown defense are all roughly as important as volume scoring -- in a vacuum. But even the most curmugeonly among us (Berri exempted) can't deny the sheer joy a basketball fan can find in a virtuoso scoring performance. Players who end a game having scored over half their team's points in an altogether dominating fashion are, at the moment they take their leave of the court, the most important thing a basketball player can be. They're the franchise. At least for a game. They vindicate their decision to regularly dominate the ball, again, at least for a single game. And they captivate us. They get our attention, no matter how negative we are about their skills.

In short, scoring may not be the single most important thing a player can do on the court. But it is, without question, the most electrifying. And Bernard King, bless his soul, exemplifies it. This game in particular. Like all record-setting or challenging performances, this one didn't really start with any particular fanfare. A lot like Kobe's 81. King misses his first several shots and actually fades badly in the second half, enough so that the Nets win the game despite his outburst and despite the Knicks being one of the four best teams in the league that season. But the failures are important for our purposes -- his misses allow watchers of this game the levity to properly examine King's offensive game, as well as differences in the general offensive strategy in the 80s compared to today.

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