GG AfterHours Replay, Episode 02: ECF Game #5

Well, that was a game that happened. In today's replay of last night's postgame show, Alex Dewey and Aaron McGuire try to rationalize what they've just seen. This includes Alex Dewey's confusing attempt to explain a "complex algorithm" of color signals he made in our final attempts to do live game coverage, McGuire describing what it's like to edit a Dewey piece, and a stark examination of MOTOWN. Did I mention Motown? Motown. Motown. Mooooooootooooowwwwwnnnn. The postgame show begins at the 1:20 mark of this video. Please start there, unless you want to go through long periods of silent red screens. Thanks.

Perhaps even moreso than usual, please leave comments and thoughts. We don't like doing features in a vacuum, and we'd like to make this a fun little feature to tune into during the game when one of our readers needs a break from the usual drollery of the play-by-play and the  studio team. Thanks in advance, and thanks for watching!

-- Aaron

Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

The Best of the Rest: Who Killed MIA and SAS?

dirk hat

In today's ESPN 5-on-5, I was asked an interesting question. Was Roy Hibbert having the best playoff series against the Miami Heat of any player in the big three era? My immediate answer: "no, what the heck, Dirk Nowitzki, whaaaaaaat." My not-so-immediate response: "... still, that's a neat construction." The whole idea of a single 'best' series against the Heat by any individual player, from point guards to centers, seems a bit weird to me. As does any cross-positional comparison that isn't couched in a lot of uncertainty -- including the Kobe/Duncan debate, or any effort to put together a list of the ten to fifteen "best" players to ever play the game. It's hard to put a whole mixed mess of players together and sift out any particular "best." It's easier (and more accurate!) to simply appreciate for where they are among their general peers. That said, I like the idea of examining the all-time playoff ledger to figure out who's really stood out after a few years of a dynasty's reign.

We don't know if the Finals are going to be a Spurs/Heat showdown yet, but we COULD certainly take the time to put together an all-star team of playoff performances that shocked, awed, or pushed both the LeBron/Wade/Bosh dynasty-in-making and the Duncan/Parker/Manu dynasty-in-closing. It could be fun, even. So, I'll do it. The statistics referenced in this post will be series averages, obviously. I'll be going with the all-star setup -- the three best "big" performances and the two best "guard" performances. For Miami, the playoffs spanned include 2011, 2012, and 2013's in-progress run. For San Antonio, the window's larger -- 2003 to 2013. Some extra points to each player if they beat the team in question, although there have been some depressingly impressive performances in lopsided losses that bear mention as well. If you think I'm missing any, take a few minutes to add a comment and point it out. I'm not too proud to change, folks!

• • •

THE MIAMI BIG THREE ALL-OPPONENT DEATHSQUAD

Guard: RAJON RONDO, 2012 ECF. (45 MPG, 49-30-70 shooting, 21-7-11)

A lot of people overlook how ridiculously good Rajon Rondo was in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. I beg you -- don't be those guys. I'm on record as being a bit more of a hater than most when it comes to Rajon Rondo's game, but I can't slam the guy without pointing out that last year's ECF represented his absolute finest hour. Ironman play (45 MPG?!?), insane shooting (... for Rondo, at least), and a near triple double average as he filleted the Miami defense. The biggest difference between Boston's ignomious five-game loss to the Heat in 2011 and their near upset in 2012 was Rondo -- he improved his game from 2011's pedestrian (and injured, as well) 10-4-8 averages to an absolute force. By a decently large margin, Rondo was the best guard that Miami has ever had the honor of facing.

Guard: JASON TERRY, 2011 NBA Finals (33 MPG, 49-39-75 shooting, 18-2-3-1)

Alright, I can imagine Oklahoma City fans getting incredulous with me right now. "Jason Terry? Over Westbrook? NAH, BRAH." On a large scale, that's obviously true, just as Isiah is better than Dumars. But Dumars played marginally better in his finals MVP series, and Terry played marginally better in his Heat Finals series. Terry's efficiency over the six-game series win was what pushed me over the top. Westbrook played well, but he shot 24 shots a game and went completely cold from three at the absolute most inconvenient time. Westbrook has a decent case, especially since he played nine more minutes per game than Terry, but Terry's part in the Mavericks' shocking game #6 win was too enticing for me. Sorry, Russ.

Big: KEVIN DURANT, 2012 NBA Finals (43 MPG, 55-39-84 shooting, 31-6-2)

Alright, you can be honest -- you didn't remember how efficient Durant was in that series either, did you? I admit that I didn't watch the entirety of this series as-it-happened -- the despair over the 2012 WCF was too pressing for me. But I eventually picked up the replays and remember being impressed-but-not-blown-away by Durant's numbers. That said, those shooting numbers are far beyond what I would've guessed after watching the series, especially the 55% from two. His rebounding and passing were lacking, but that scoring represents the highest-scoring series any single individual has had against Miami in the big three era. The second highest? Well...

Big: DIRK NOWITZKI, 2011 NBA Finals (40 MPG, 41-37-98 shooting, 26-10-2-1-1)

Lord, Dirk was great. Even regardless of context, those averages are killer -- my favorite part (by far) is that Dirk made 45 free throws on 46 attempts. Absolutely absurd. Historically, it's matched only by Reggie Miller's underrated turn in the 2000 NBA finals, where he (somewhat comically) made the exact same number (45/46) in a 6 game loss. Nobody with greater than 13 free throw attempts in a Finals series has ever shot better than those two. That said, his averages also need to come with the context that Dirk was quite ill for two games of the Finals, dragging himself (and his lethargic team) to several wins while sick with the flu and lagging. It also needs to come with the fact that the Heat were a fluky game three win away from dropping the series in five games. Also needs to come with the fact that he registered just 17 turnovers in six games and was never in foul trouble over the entire series. Missing you, Dirk.

Big: ROY HIBBERT, 2013 ECF (39 MPG, 54-xx-81 shooting, 23-12-2)

And finally, Roy Hibbert. The funny thing about Hibbert's performance is that -- like Rondo's -- it comes on the heels of a generally terrible performance just one year prior. Hibbert averaged 12-12-1-3 in Indiana's six-game loss, generally taking a backseat to David West and Paul George. He shot just 47% in that series and looked a bit lost. That's obviously applied in no way to his virtuoso performance against the Heat in this series -- he's dominated the paint defensively even as the rest of his team has wilted, a touch, and he's somehow managed to evade significant foul trouble ever since his near-foulout in game one of the series. Excellent series by an excellent player.

kevin durant what

• • •

THE SAN ANTONIO BIG THREE ALL-OPPONENT DEATHSQUAD

Guard: CHRIS PAUL, 2008 WCSF (41 MPG, 50-20-76 shooting, 24-4-11-3)

I'll start with something that may shock many. I don't like Chris Paul very much. Dude's got game, but the amount of dirty play he gets away with on defense and the amount of respect he gets for doing it bugs me. Bruce Bowen is widely vilified for his dirty play (with many people actively expecting Spurs fans to apologize for having ever rooted for him), and Manu's flopping might as well come with its own sitcom laugh-track. Paul? His dirty play is "gamesmanship, gritty defense, overcoming his obstacles." And his flopping is simply ignored. Why does Paul evade all criticism for his faults? Why doesn't anyone call him out on forcing his franchise into a terrible trade to L.A., just like Dwight did? Boggles my mind. Anyway. That all said, my dislike for him might also be rooted for his lights-out performance against the Spurs in 2008, when he put the fear of God in Spurs fans everywhere and dragged the defending champs to seven brutal games. If he could've made a damn three pointer, maybe they'd have even won!

Guard: KOBE BRYANT, 2008 WCF (40 MPG, 53-33-91 shooting, 29-6-4-2)

Fun fact -- you could put Kobe here for any number of his performances against San Antonio. He was really good in 2003, although his shooting was nowhere near as good as it was in 2008. He averaged 26-6-6 in L.A.'s series loss to the Spurs in 2004. He was really good before the big three era, too -- but that's to be expected. He's Kobe Bryant, man.Still, his performance in 2008's too-easy five game series win against the Spurs was tops. Bruce Bowen was 36 at the time, and his defense had definitely lost a step (or two), but Kobe was still scoring on him with ease. Manu was unable to cancel out Kobe's crazy production (Ginobili averaged 13-3-3 on the series) and nobody but Brent Barry could make a freakin' three. Kobe was defensively active in this series win, and even though Duncan was able to keep Pau and Odom well in check, nobody could hang with L.A.'s superstar to prevent the first LA/BOS finals since the Bird/Magic glory days.

Big: KEVIN DURANT, 2012 WCF (43 MPG, 53-36-91 shooting, 30-8-5-1)

NOT KEVIN DURANT, MAN! NOT KD! NO! Anyway. Yeah, no, Durant totally obliterated the Spurs in this series, and it was one of the most depressing things I've ever watched. That said, it's kind of hilarious to compare Durant's series averages for the 2012 WCF here and the 2012 NBA finals above -- he actually was more efficient against Miami's defense than he was against San Antonio's defense, which goes against everything everyone has ever said, ever. The big difference wasn't really Durant's scoring or his efficiency, it was the overall team ball-movement and the fact that Harden went from hero to zero on a dime as the opponents changed. You can see echos of that here, as he averaged five assists per contest in the Western Conference Finals and two per contest in the NBA finals. Still. Durant destroyed all comers against the Spurs in 2012, and Spurs fans still have cold sweat nightmares about it to this very day. (Or... wait. Is that just me?)

Big: DIRK NOWITZKI, 2006 WCSF (44 MPG, 53-12-91 shooting, 27-13-3-1)

Hot DAMN, Dirk, why you gotta be on both lists? It's true, though -- as much as a few of my favorite Spurs fans liked to call Dirk soft and marshmallow-textured, the man roundly dominated the Spurs in the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals, in what is perhaps the greatest second round series in the history of the league. In fact, for all the hand-wringing over San Antonio's status as ratings poison, the 2006 WCSF broke (and set) a lot of records. The series' game seven was the highest rated second round game in TNT's history and the series' game six was the highest rated second round game in ESPN's history -- both stood for several years, with the ESPN record falling during LAL/HOU in 2009 and the TNT record falling during ORL/BOS game seven in 2009. So, there's that, I suppose. Dirk was amazing against the Spurs in this series. (And I admit, I find it pretty hilarious that Durant/Dirk make both lists, with virtually identical numbers.)

Big: AMARE STOUDEMIRE, 2005 WCF (41 MPG, 55-xx-84, 37-10-1-1-2)

Look. I know the Suns lost in five games. I know it was very nearly a sweep, despite the fact that Phoenix had home court. I know that Spurs fans aren't really scared of Virginia Woolfe. I mean, er, Amare Stoudemire. But look. Hold up for a second. A center averaged 37 points per game on 55% shooting against the 2005 San Antonio Spurs. Take that in. Repeat it. Yes, Amare was pillow-soft and allowed Duncan, Manu, Parker, and Mohammed to get to the rim with impunity. Yes, the series was lopsided. No, that doesn't totally erase the fact that HE AVERAGED 37 POINTS PER GAME IN A SERIES AGAINST ONE OF THE GREATEST DEFENSIVE TEAMS IN LEAGUE HISTORY. Man, shoot. Is it obvious I had forgotten just how many points he scored in that series? Jesus. He didn't even embarrass himself on the boards! I'm gonna go lie down.

amare 1

Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

GG AfterHours Replay, Episode 01: WCF Game #4

Hey, all! We're experimenting with a new feature here at Gothic Ginobili. In it, Alex Dewey and Aaron McGuire will comment on a game as-it-happens, answering audience questions and keeping the world level. Seeing as how neither of us have done live broadcasts in quite some time (in Dewey's case, ever -- in McGuire's case, high school), we aren't expecting beauty out of this feature yet. We're just trying to pound that rock until it becomes something good. In today's maiden voyage, the duo discusses Game #4 of the WCF, in what turned out to be the capping sweep to the San Antonio Spurs' romp through the Western Conference. Topics discussed include conference finals inexperience on the Memphis beat, a treatise on why exactly babies are so dang offensive, and some observations about how the top three defensive teams stayed alive for the conference finals this year. Fun times abound.

Perhaps even moreso than usual, please leave comments and thoughts. We don't like doing features in a vacuum, and we'd like to make this a fun little feature to tune into during the game when one of our readers needs a break from the usual drollery of the play-by-play and the  studio team. Thanks in advance, and thanks for watching!

-- Aaron

Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Yet Another Gothic Ginobili Q&A: Playoffs, Face-Offs, and Madoffs

Hey, all! Season's drawing to a close -- can you believe we have an absolute maximum of 15 games left in the 2013 NBA season, and quite possibly less than ten? Things are crazy like that. Previously, we've had several fun Q&A sessions -- we had one during the 2012 playoffs, one during the 2012 offseason, and one during the 2013 preseason. Due to my inability to take time off work, we haven't done one in quite some time since. Until now.

For today's post, I'll be answering questions from now until I drop. Usually get 20 or so questions done before that happens. Have a question about data you read in another site's playoff preview? Some nagging statistical oddity you've been dying to have someone look into, if only glancingly? Questions about me, the blog, or the universe? Well, I'll be here all day, so it's a good time to ask. Questions can be statistical, aesthetic, personal, humorous, serious, or greasy. Depends on what you want to hear, I guess. Ask away, holmes. Here are the three ways you get in contact with us:

  1. Ask the @gothicginobili twitter account your question.
  2. Ask questions in the comments below.
  3. Ask questions via email, to staff [at] gothicginobili [dot] com.

I'll be here all day, folks! Happy asking.

-- Aaron

• • •

QUESTION #1: If you could be an animal -- any animal -- what would you be and why? And how do you think Dewey would respond to the same question? (Asked by Chris)

When I was a kid, I was an avid consumer of the "Animorphs" series of books. For those who aren't aware -- in those books, a group of kids are given the power to morph into any animal they touched. They proceed to become the only thing standing up to Earth's utter annihilation at the hands of a powerful species of alien mind-control slugs. For real. The general theory behind the books was always sort of absurd. The entire idea that a group of five kids with the ability to morph into animals would really be able to stand up to a giant race of aliens using only their animal-morphing powers is hilarious, even by science fiction standards. But, on the plus side... reading Animorphs has given me a pretty solid list of tiers I can place animals into when trying to answer this question! Score.

  • TIER #1: "No way in hell." These include animals that I would never EVER want to be. This includes -- but is not limited to -- cockroaches, 'hive' bugs (bees/ants/termites, et cetera), starfish, easily-killable-fish, pigeons, chickens, quails, squirrels, rats, turtles, and Tucker Carlson.
  • TIER #2: "Alright, maybe." These include animals that aren't really ideal, but they're pretty solid and I wouldn't mind chilling as them for a while. Mostly animals that can defend themselves but aren't exactly the BEST options. This includes orcas, sharks, dogs, housecats, alligators, sloths, lemurs, leopards, bears...
  • TIER #3: "Now THAT'S the one." These include three animals, my 'top 3' of animals I'd totally be without a single hesitation. I will explain all three in brief:
    • #1: Bird. I'd be TOTALLY DOWN with being a bird, so long as it's a hawk or an eagle and not some lame one that can barely fly. Look. Flying is probably really awesome. Birds sometimes eat roadkill and they have to be ridiculous predators all the time, but those things can fly! How cool is that? Birds are sweet.
    • #2: Tiger. Man, tigers are vicious and dangerous and beautiful. What better way to embody all of the traits I don't? Also, the main character of Animorphs was a tiger, and he was a total doofus. I bet I could be a better tiger than that guy.
    • #3: Elephant. Because nobody messes with an elephant. (Except for the poachers trying to kill off elephants for their tusks. But if I was an elephant I'd go scorched earth on those jerks.)

As for Dewey's animal? Cynothoglys, of course!

• • •

QUESTION #2: Suppose there's a stratego tournament between the guys on the all-NBA team, who wins? (asked by Michael Toney)

Mike has asked roughly 342,467 questions to date, so I'm not sure I'll get to them all. (Or, alternatively, I'll put off some to answer other questions and come back to them later.) But this one is pretty great. For those who aren't in the know, Stratego is a strategy board game where each player has a 4x10 grid of space wherein to place an array of bombs, offensive pieces, and a single flag -- you lose when your flag gets captured. The game is a tour de force in misinformation and red herrings, as the successful Stratego player is one who can bluff his opponent into making premature retreats and chasing after faux-flags and misdirection. In other words, seeing as how he does all of that without anyone bluffing him, Alex Jones is the worst Stratego player.

So... who on the All-NBA team wins an all-out Stratego tournament? Really good question, although the answer is pretty obvious. Given his fascination with table-top games and his four-year degree in psychology, I have no idea how anyone would pick against Tim Duncan. The man has the poker face to end all poker faces, and he's in his board game element here. After Duncan, things get a bit less obvious. If Chris Bosh or Brook Lopez were on the all-NBA team they'd make decent dark-horse picks, but given that they aren't, you have to dig pretty deep. I'd go with Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant as the dark-horse candidates that could potentially upend Duncan -- both of them are good at misdirection, and both of them are unerringly competitive and would at least THINK about cheating if they felt it was worth it. Great question.

• • •

QUESTION #3: This is a set of three pub questions. What team left in the playoffs would win at pub trivia night? Give us your "I want to have a beer with that dude" power rankings for NBA players. Then give us those rankings for all public figures. (asked by Michael Toney)

Interesting array here. For the first one, the answer is obvious -- San Antonio. They have Duncan, Parker, and Pop. That's enough to win it, even if the Heat do have Shane Battier. Second one is a little more difficult for me, because I don't tend to think in terms of that particular construction. But here's my list. No explanations, just the top five.

  1. Matt Bonner
  2. Tim Duncan
  3. Grant Hill
  4. Brook Lopez
  5. Mo Williams

As for my "all public figures" rankings, here's a top ten for that one.

  1. Alton Brown
  2. Tiger Woods
  3. Boris Johnson
  4. George W. Bush
  5. Robert Downey Jr
  6. Matt Bonner
  7. Bill Clinton
  8. Stephen Colbert
  9. Roger Federer
  10. Antonin Scalia

Just missed the cut: Duncan, Will Smith, and Harrison Ford.

• • •

QUESTION #4: If you had to choose between being a Looney Tune or a Disney character, which would you choose? And who would it be? (asked by Sam Stewart)

No easy questions today. The easy answer is being a Looney Tune, simply because Tex Avery and Chuck Jones gave them an incredible depth of character. But Pixar characters are technically Disney characters, and that throws a big wrench in my answer. Carl Fredriksen is my favorite animated character ever, and the guy I relate to the most. So... man. Rough choices. If we're counting Pixar and Miyazaki characters as "Disney characters" I'd probably go with Mr. Fredriksen. If we aren't, I'd probably go with Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck. Both of them are hilarious in ways that mimic my own general approach to humor, depending on the hour, and I'd be happy to be either one of them. As long as I'm similarly impervious to bodily harm, of course.

• • •

QUESTION #5: How much would you pay for a D-League team in Richmond? (asked by Michael Toney)

I'd pay a lot, if I had the money to pay it. I don't, though. Heck, I'd even take a D-League team in Virginia Beach. Which raises a follow-up question -- why exactly doesn't the NBA look into relocating flagging D-League franchises into cities that lost out on NBA team relocation negotiations? It's the closest thing to a controlled trial to see if the city can handle professional -- or, I suppose, semi-professional -- basketball. D-League games are fun. It's a good test run. Come on, Silver, let's run with this.

• • •

QUESTION #6: If Matt Bonner battled a giant sloth... who would win? Besides everyone ever. (asked by Sam Stewart)

EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER EXISTED WOULD WIN, YOU ARE CORRECT. That said, Matt Bonner is at a decided disadvantage here. We all make fun of sloths for being slow and silly, but the giant sloth was a four-ton beast with razor sharp claws and the ability to run. In fact, the giant sloth's claws are horrifying -- they were likely as large as hunting knives and daggers. If the sloth snuck up on poor ol' Matty, he's dead. Literally. The beast was almost 20 feet from head to tail, larger than modern elephants! Matt Bonner would need to use all of his wit and guile to pull out this kind of a battle, and he'd probably need to shoot it. Many times. Many, many, many times. Dunno if he has it in him. Still, if he has access to human technology, he might be alright. We're gonna have to test this out. Anyone have a giant sloth lying around?

• • •

QUESTION #7: Where does Z-Bo rank as an offensive rebounder? Is he top 5 all time? (asked by Sam Stewart)

Definitely not top-5 all time, although he's really good. This actually points to a trend that most people don't realize is going on: rebounding, as a whole, has become a bit more team-based than individual-based over the last few decades. Back in the heyday of players like Moses, Rodman, and Dudley, big men ended up being responsible -- on average -- for more of a team's rebounding than they are today. As we've become a league of longer-range shots, rebounds tend to go a bit farther out than they used to, which leads to higher rebounding numbers for guards and lower rebounding numbers for big men. As a result, with a few notable exceptions (mostly owing to teams where the GM pairs a rebounding wizard like Howard, Duncan, or Randolph with a less-heralded rebounder), the rebounding is more spread out and we're seeing fewer and fewer obscenely dominant rebounding seasons.

This goes double for offensive rebounding, which has been falling out of favor with many NBA teams due to the ill effects it tends to have on a team's defense. Of the top 250 offensive rebounding seasons since 1974, only 30% of them came after the year 2000. That's despite having more teams in the league (ergo, more chances for a statistical outlier season). If there were an even amount of seasons each year, you'd expect 35% of those top seasons would occur in the 2000s and onward. That includes just 8 of the top 50 and none of the top 15. In fact, Nikola Pekovic -- at #40 -- is the only player in the last five years to break the top 50. As for Zach Randolph, he's had two years in the top 250 -- one at 98 (his 2011 season) and one at 129 (his 2013 season). His career numbers have him clocking in at #36 all-time, which is reasonably good without making him one of the best ever.

• • •

QUESTION #8: which would you rather have happen tomorrow: you tear your acl, or Tim Duncan tears his? Related: what's the worst injury you would sustain in place of your favorite player? (asked by Michael Toney)

One of the funny things about this question is how instinctively most sports fans would profess to take on the burdens of injury. Me? I probably would, but I'd definitely have to think about it. You have to put things in context, here. Sports stars have the latest and greatest in modern medicine and recovery techniques. They'll have a medical staff trained to their every step of recovery. They'll have to pay for little of it. Consider, then, what happens if you suffer the same injury. You go to the hospital, wondering what's wrong. You go through a long barrage of tests, finally discovering -- probably much later than the sports star would've -- the identity of your injury. You then have to do months and months of excruciating rehab, quite possibly taking double the amount of time it takes your favorite sports star. Also, you might have to pay for it. Luckily, I have a pretty good health insurance package from my employer. So I probably would take the injury.

But there's also one additional nut to this question that most people don't think about. If you were to take an injury for your favorite sports player, would you feel lingering resentment to the player as you got over your injury? As you went through your own hellish rehab process, would you become more and more irritated when your favorite player doesn't live up to your expectations than you would have otherwise? I feel like the answer is an obvious yes. Which could mean that you stop being a fan of the team you once loved. And that further complicates the picture. Imagine if you suffered a horrible, possibly-debilitating knee injury in place of your favorite player. Imagine if they're on the precipice of the finals. Then imagine if they get swept in the finals. Wouldn't you feel angry? Wouldn't you be inordinately pissed off that you sacrificed your health for a team that got utterly embarrassed? Wouldn't you -- quite possibly -- stop really caring about that team, and perhaps start hating them altogether? It's a rough question. I'd take an ACL tear, a broken bone, or a concussion. I don't know if I'd take something that would require horrifying reconstructive surgery, though, or something that I'm going to feel for the rest of my life. Call me a crummy sports fan if you'd like. But if you thought about the consequences, I bet you'd come around.

• • •

QUESTION #9: Rank these four: Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry.(asked by Quixem Raimirez)

I don't usually like ranking questions, but this one's a solid list. Twitter's been abuzz for most of the playoffs over the subject of who's overrated and who's getting unduly held up by an unsustainable playoff performance. My take, with short explanations:

  • #1: KYRIE IRVING. Look, he's not an excellent defender. I get it. But 75% of Kyrie's issues on defense are those of the personnel behind him and the 'system' he learned under. He was a superb defensive player at Duke and he's got a toolbox that could eventually translate to some excellent NBA-level defense. Chris Paul wasn't immediately a good defender in the NBA, and Byron Scott did nothing to institute a system that Kyrie was going to learn under. Also: his jump shot is only a hair worse than Curry's, he's the best rim-finishing guard since Tony Parker, and his passing is a lot better than most people realize. He's had a lot of incidental injuries, but he's got the highest upside of all these players (HE'S 21 YEARS OLD DEAR GOD) and he was the only "100% rock-solid definitive all-star" out of these four. That said, it's only a hair between him and #2.
  • #2: STEPHEN CURRY. When in doubt, pick the guy who has a legitimate argument for being the best in NBA history at an important skill -- shooting, of course. He's the best jump shooter I've ever had the pleasure of watching and he's an excellent passer. That said, his defense is as bad as Kyrie's and he's 25 years old (Kevin Durant is 24). To me, Curry's general inability to finish at the rim makes Kyrie vs Curry lean in the direction of the guy that finishes incredibly well and has significantly more growth potential.
  • #3: PAUL GEORGE. I love Paul George. Think he's great. That said, he's not exactly the most efficient scorer on the face of the earth -- his defensive brilliance is something to behold, and nearly pushes him past the two sieves above him, but his offense is lacking enough to keep me from declaring him better. He takes a LOT of poor-decision midrange jumpers, especially since he simply isn't very good from that range (33% between 3 feet and the three point line, to be exact). And his ballhandling still needs a lot of work. He's a Pippen-type player, for sure -- but he definitely isn't there yet.
  • #4: BLAKE GRIFFIN. While I'm not Griffin's #1 fan, there's something to be said for a guy who puts in his work and gets results. And Blake gets results. He shot 54% from the floor this year, and before you cry out "HE ONLY DUNKS!", I'd like to point out that he shot better from midrange than Paul George and has one of the best conversion rates in the NBA between 3-to-10 feet. His post moves aren't exactly Olajuwon-esque, but they ARE effective, and he's developed his offensive game in such a way that it isn't nearly as raw as it used to be. That said, his rebounding has fallen off precipitously over the course of his career and his defense is still pretty shaky. And he's drawing fewer and fewer free throws as time goes on, which is a pretty disturbing trend. So it's hard to really declare him better than any of these guys. He's still really good, though.

• • •

QUESTION #10: Cake or Pie? (asked by Quixem Raimirez)

Pie. I love cake (especially ice cream cake), but a good pie destroys a good cake. ... Hey, wait, is cheesecake a cake? Or is it a pie? Oh my lord. Life is so hard. These questions are tearing me apart, Lisa.

 • • •

QUESTION #11: What should the Cavs do in the draft this year? (asked by Michael Toney)

I don't know whether or not Noel will be a star in the NBA, truth be told, and I'm not sure the Cavaliers are entirely beholden to the high-upside move of drafting Noel. But I do believe he's the highest-upside player in the draft and his defense in college was absolutely stupendous. I think his skills will translate well to the NBA once he puts on a bit of weight, and I like the idea of pairing him and Mike Brown. I think they'll make a good pair. That said, there's another reason to draft Noel above and beyond his status as the "likely best player". That reason? Trade value. Noel is currently targeting a Christmas return to playing action. Even if Noel proves to be somewhat disappointing in the few minutes he'll play before the trade deadline, the trade value of a high-upside 19 year old big man on a rookie scale contract is absolutely enormous. Chris Grant is a deft hand in the front office -- drafting someone as high-upside as that doesn't just give the Cavs that upside, it gives the Cavs the ability to flip that upside for whoever happens to come on the market. That's big.

As for the rest of the picks, a lot of people I've talked to want the Cavs to flip them for a higher pick or a few vets. I disagree. The Cavaliers are looking at a future core with 4-5 reasonably highly paid players -- a max in Kyrie, then a bunch of players at $10-$15 million a year in Waiters/Thompson/Noel. At some point, they're going to need to surround those players with a low-cost bench. Rookie scale contracts are the absolute best way to do that. Locking in a few high second rounders and late first rounders at low salaries lets Cleveland try out a bunch of young guys to fill that role now, at a lower cost than MLE veterans like Jarrett Jack or Andre Miller. Think Chandler Parsons. Think DeJuan Blair. Think Danny Green. That's the kind of talent they need to try and luck into with their lower picks, and to that end, I think it makes sense that they keep the lot of them and take some calculated risks. Some of them will work, some of them won't. But if they can convert on just one or two of those picks and negotiate a four-year salary, that could pay some huge dividends down the line.

• • •

QUESTION #12: What's your favorite Spurs team of all-time? Also: why? (asked by J. Dana Teague)

Probably the 2003 team, simply because it combined a genuinely sub-par supporting cast that still managed to have four hall-of-fame players in it with a genuinely generation-defining Duncan run. Tony/Manu's production was pretty terrible -- in 2003, they were embryonic at best. As for D-Rob and Ferry, those guys were well past their primes and -- on some nights -- could barely move at all. But Duncan was so dominant that absolutely nothing else mattered. It was the perfect combination. It had everyone I love in it (D-Rob! Manu! Captain Jack! Tony! Pop!) while simultaneously displaying why exactly Tim Duncan is one of the most incredible players who's ever played the game. Perfect combination. Also, I think I've watched every game of that run twice. Beautiful stuff. The way Duncan, D-Rob, and Bowen locked down opposing teams was beyond compare.

That said, at the time that occurred I was a 12-year-old kid who barely followed sports. Given that, I'd probably tab the 2012 Spurs as my favorite of the post-Twitter era, and the post-Aaron-McGuire-Rediscovering-Sports era. The 2013 Spurs still have a shot at upending them, of course, but the beauty of 2012's offense combined with the return of Jackson, the unexpected RJ trade, and the way the season drew to a roaring crescendo led to a sports love I'm not positive I'll ever feel again. And a heart-rending loss I'm not positive I'll ever feel again, either... if we're counting.

• • •

QUESTION #13: If the NBA championship was determined via a Mortal Combat style tournament, who wins? Each team picks 1 entrant. (asked by Michael Toney)

If you're the kind of man who picks against Tony Allen in a Mortal Combat scenario, I don't even want to know you. In any event, the Grizzlies would destroy this no matter WHICH player they chose. Z-Bo, Gasol, Allen... all of them could annihilate anyone that the other three teams could throw at them. Wouldn't even be fair. (Warning: answer would be different if the Spurs hadn't waived Stephen Jackson.)

• • •

QUESTION #14: Can you talk about Memphis? Imagine if they had Danny Green. (asked by Sam Stewart)

I love Memphis. Let's get that straight. I've had lingering resentment for them since 2011, but that resentment isn't meant to be disrespectful in the slightest. The Grizzlies legitimately outclassed the Spurs in 2011, and they're a far better team than most people deign to anoint them. They're hard-nosed, sure, but they aren't a chore to watch on offense -- Marc Gasol's brilliant passing and Conley's adroit game management both approach best-in-class at their respective positions, and Zach Randolph's doughy dominance on offense is something to watch when that man get's going. Lionel Hollins is a really good coach. Their role-players are solid, and their minor stars (see: Allen, Tony) are absurdly good. They remind me of the early-dynasty Spurs. They're phenomenal. And if you replaced someone like Jerryd Bayless with someone like Danny Green, they'd be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. And I think it's worth pointing out that I'm not some recent convert. In the preseason Q&A (linked above), I wrote the following about the Grizzlies while anointing them my sleeper team:

The Grizzlies are about as frightening as they ever were, and very quietly, they've improved in most of the ways they needed to. Darrell Arthur is going to help the Grizzlies rest Marc Gasol quite a bit more, which will make them more dangerous when the playoffs roll around. He's a very good player whose absence hurt a ton last season. Bayless and Ellington are immediately the 2nd and 3rd best three point shooters on a team that was formerly dismal at it, and Tony Wroten could be helpful. They could still use a player like Gary Neal or James Jones, but the Grizzlies are deeper than they were last year and (theoretically) more healthy. They still won a pro-rated 51 games last year, despite having no real presence from Randolph all year, overplaying Marc Gasol to the point of exhaustion, and featuring one of the worst three point shooting offenses ever. With both of those improved, I think they're going to push the Spurs for the Division crown, get home court relatively comfortably, and stand a pretty good shot at making a Western Conference Finals. None of the top three teams match up with the Grizzlies particularly well, if they're healthy. I think -- at the end of the year -- they'll be one of the 5-7 best teams in the league, even if Randolph doesn't return to full form.

I'm not often right, but I think I was spot on here. And I think the Grizzlies fans should be incredibly proud of the team they put on the floor. Nobody has any reason to hang their heads. (Except the Spurs, if they manage to lose a series they were up 3-0 in. The Spurs would have reason to hang their heads in such a situation. Because my God. That would be brutal.) Still. It's the best team in franchise history by a country mile, and a few role-players are currently all that stand between the Grizzlies and perennial contention. Amazing team. All the respect I can muster. And a strong "hear hear" to Alex Dewey's post at Pounding the Rock yesterday, on this very subject.

• • •

QUESTION #15: If a basketball genie granted you the ability to learn one player's signature shot, what would you pick? (asked by Chris)

Manu Ginobili's step-back in-motion three point shot.

Can you imagine just draining that shot over and over again in pick-up games? EVERYONE WOULD HATE YOU.

If not that, then I'd like to learn Dirk's signature fade, because it's one of the most iconic shots ever and it's always a joy to deconstruct.

• • •

QUESTION #16: If you could be any NBA player, which would you choose to punch a Disney princess in the boobs and why? Also which Disney princess would you punch thanks. (asked by Kathryn)

... what?

• • •

QUESTION #17: please respond (asked by Kathryn)

... well, I guess I'd be Matt Bonner, because I can't imagine a Matt Bonner punch being super injurious and I don't like hurting people. Especially not princesses. And I guess I'd punch Snow White because, well... girl, what you doin eatin apples strange ladies give you the hell's wrong with you stop that now 'fore I gotta punch you.

• • •

QUESTION #18: If you could punch one NBA player in the face with no repercussions, who & why? Also, one front office person? (asked by Michael Toney)

WHY ALL THE PUNCHING THO?!?

Anyway, again, I don't really like punching people. But if I could deck one NBA player in the face with absolutely no repercussion, it would be Karl Malone. Because of that whole "abandoning his son" thing. And hiring a team of ruthless lawyers when the 13-year-old girl he impregnated pressed charges. And refusing to give any child support whatsoever, even when the family was asking for -- I kid you not -- $125 per week. A $100 million dollar basketball player who preaches the ideals of fiscal responsibility can't pay $125 a week, huh? Really? Runner-up would be Jason Kidd. Partly for the spousal abuse, but more recently for the whole "driving while falling-down drunk" thing. You're in your late thirties. Grow up. As for NBA front-office people, I'm going to cheat and pretend that team owners are front-office people. That way, I can punch Donald Sterling in the face, for reasons obvious to everyone.

• • •

QUESTION #19: If you could do Player Capsule Pluses for more players, with this season in hindsight, who would the players be? (asked by Leif Erikson)

Damian Lillard, Paul George, Stephen Curry, Marc Gasol, and J.R. Smith.

• • •

QUESTION #20: Can we discuss teams you thought over/under achieved and about how the Knicks didn't do either?(asked by Michael Toney)

Sure, meet me at the bar tonight.

Oh, wait, you mean in the Q&A. Fine. One of the funny things about the over/under achieving structure is that it's beautifully binary -- you can't really straddle the line too much. You either overachieved or underachieved -- you don't just achieve, if you get my drift. Which is to say that I somewhat disagree with you regarding the Knicks. I think they overachieved, if only just. Yes, they didn't make a conference finals -- they still played above their general talent level. And barring some major moves, they just had the best season they're going to have in the next several. That said, there are two main teams that I'd tab as the BIGGEST over/under achievers in the NBA. These teams are:

  • MOST OVERACHIEVING: The Houston Rockets. Really! Remember how I brought back that great quote that showed how right I was about the Memphis Grizzlies? Let me keep my head deflated by bringing back this phenomenal set of gems about the Houston Rockets, where I gave their case as the worst team in the league:
    • "They have a questionably fitting roster with virtually nobody who's played together before." This is true. This also didn't make them bad, because those pieces actually fit very well in the end.
    • "They have little depth outside their Nutcracker army of tweener forwards." Except for the part where their bench ended up being essential and their pickups like Greg Smith and Patrick Beverly totally tore up the world, I was right on with that one! (Note: That was sarcastic.)
    • "Also, their coach is awful." I've been driving the "KEVIN MCHALE ACTUALLY LEGITIMATELY DESERVES COACH OF THE YEAR VOTES" bandwagon since midseason. Reason being that -- while he used to be a terrible coach -- McHale had a phenomenally good season and he did a great job with this roster. As much respect as I can possibly give to that man.
  • MOST UNDERACHIEVING: The Los Angeles Lakers. Alright, I don't mean to be cruel to Laker fans when I point this out. I really don't. But a common trope among experienced NBA writers is to point out the difficulty of jumping to the level of a franchise-defining superstar from an all-star, and by extension, the difficulty of jumping to the level of a decade-defining superteam from merely a very good team. On the other side of the coin, the incredible disappointment of the Los Angeles Lakers -- a team that was commonly expected to challenge for win totals in the high sixties -- has to mean something a little bit more. This team was SUPPOSED to be a legendary tour-for-the-ages. It ended up being a creaky old compote with poorly-fitting pieces.

This is an interesting course of inquiry, so I may very well do a full post on this one. We'll see.

• • •

QUESTION #21: Would Scottie Pippen be the second best player in the league if he played today? (asked by @2rollz)

Dude, he's basically 50 years old. You are so rude. I can't even believe it.

• • •

QUESTION #22: What is the stupidest question you’d ever answer during a Q&A? (asked by Adam Koscielak)

Anything involving Mike Bibby.

• • •

QUESTION #23: When society ranks Tim Duncan, should he be a PF or C? (asked by Nick Sciria)

Honestly, it's an interesting query. A lot of people are starting to come around to the idea that Tim Duncan should be designated a "center" for the purposes of historical assessment, theorizing that Duncan played the role of center far more frequently than he did the role of power forward in his later years. I don't think it's quite that easy though. For the first five years of Duncan's career -- 1998 to 2003 -- Duncan played the power forward position for the vast majority of his minutes.  Even afterwards, his tendency to float outside the paint on offense makes him something of a stretch five even if you do consider him a center. He would float between the big positions, guarding the opposing team's best big on a nightly basis no matter where that placed him in San Antonio's offensive and defensive schema. He was fluid, and he had the ability to transition.

Duncan has the post up chops of many of the historical greats at the center position, and he's a lot larger than most of his contemporaries at the power forward position... but he also has a dependable long-range shot and better passing than almost any center who ever came before him. And the whole of the evidence just ends up leading you in circles. Which is kind of the point. It's impossible to say for sure which arbitrary designation fits Duncan the best, because they both do. Far more reasonable to simply say that Tim Duncan is one of the greatest big men of all time and leave it at that. Roles have changed with the generations and the exact definition of both "power forward" and "center" are completely inscrutable at this point. All we can really agree on? Duncan's a big guy. Perhaps we should just call him that and call it a day.

• • •

QUESTION #24: When will the Spurs unleash Patty Mills and (more importantly) T-Mac? (asked by Martin)

The 2016 Olympics.

• • •

QUESTION #25: Are the Heat going to win it all? Yes, or yes? (asked by John)

Probably. I'd give them a 65% chance of winning the East and a 65% of beating the Spurs or the Grizzlies, myself. Easy favorites in both of the series, despite Indiana's persnickety nature and San Antonio's tremendous upside. That said, we tend to overrate statistical certainty in matters of sporting odds, so I'd like to calculate out something for you all. If the Heat are favored by ___% in each remaining series, what percentage of the time will they win a title?

  • If the Heat are 50-50 to win each remaining series, they'll win the title 25% of the time.
  • If the Heat are 60-40 to win each remaining series, they'll win the title 36% of the time.
  • If the Heat are 70-30 to win each remaining series, they'll win the title 49% of the time.
  • If the Heat are 80-20 to win each remaining series, they'll win the title 64% of the time.
  • If the Heat are 90-10 to win each remaining series, they'll win the title 81% of the time.

So, to recap, in order for the Heat to be favored over the entire remaining field, you need to believe that the Heat are at least 70-30 odds to win each remaining series. Reasonable, but not quite what most people are generally thinking. Probability's a funny thing. The Pacers are hardly eliminated yet -- they're down 2-1 and have played Miami razor-close. The Spurs are starting to resemble a defensively-superior version of the offensive juggernaut that they were when entering game 3 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals. The Grizzlies -- if they make the Finals -- would have just dismantled the previously described team. Nothing's over 'til it's over, folks. And Heat fans (as well as Spurs fans who've started planning for the NBA Finals) should hold off the celebratory daps until such an end arrives.

Thanks for reading, folks.

Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Tim Duncan and the Creeping Public Eye

eye

This morning, a somewhat depressing story broke on the San Antonio Express-News. At least to me. That story, in short? Tim Duncan's getting a divorce. As Duncan is my favorite player ever, I know most of the outline of his personal story -- including the fact that he dated his wife (Amy Duncan) in college and married her in the early 2000s. Like most cases of college sweetheart engagement, I found it somewhat heartwarming. There's something neat about the idea of meeting your beloved in college. College is a time when high school kids evolve and develop into the sort of adults they want to be. Any relationship you carry on from college is bound to go through periods of intense change as both parties grow as individuals. The person you are in your early 20s bears scant resemblance to the person you are in your late 40s -- any collegiate relationship that can stand the test of time shows a beautiful propensity for change and adaptation. When one of those relationships ends, it makes me sad. That's the primary reason the story depresses me.

The other reason? The fact that it exists at all.

• • •

One of the content-related wrinkles to last year's Player Capsules that I found difficult to juggle was my personal desire to bring some of every player's personal background into the fold. There was never any doubt in my mind that I'd try to incorporate some manner of personal examination into every player's essay, but that doesn't mean it was always particularly easy. Some players keep to themselves and made it generally impossible to bring any manner of personal flair to the capsule, other players had so much depth that I felt any treatment whatsoever was hardly going to do them justice. One of my main goals in undertaking the series was to humanize and bring the readers "closer" to the players in whatever way I could -- either through a quirky examination of their game, a publicly released personal story or two from their lives, or a teammate's endorsement of how they were off the court.

Here's the thing. With a few notable exceptions of individual events that are court record, virtually every available story that I could point to for individual players were positive. That wasn't without reason. I found myself willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a dubiously sourced story that highlights positive character while demanding a higher burden of proof for a dubiously sourced story that highlights negative character. I don't think my reasoning was particularly out of line, either -- these guys are sports stars. They make millions of dollars playing a game. They make millions of dollars playing for fame. They make millions of dollars playing the hero. A sports star -- minor or not -- represents person who's signed up to become a distraction from our daily lives. They've put their job performance in the public eye and taken on a vastly different lifestyle than one I could ever imagine.

Critique of their game and their general play is quite in-line. Critique of their status as a human being, with perhaps a few notable exceptions (the Karl Malone children story is my go-to example as one that transcends sports and fundamentally disturbs me), serves only to undermine the entire point of a sports star. At least to me. They're a nice little distraction from the rigors of everyday life, a decent pastiche of a hero to young children and an escape for an overworked adult. Character assassination -- relative to the way I watch sports -- has always struck me as a little unnecessary. This story edges into that "character assassination" fold, if only just. The facts behind the case are slim, and the article generally reads as a speculatory whodunit. Reporting a divorce that appears to be in-process is hardly some character-impugning nightmare, but it is a generally unwanted incursion into an athlete's personal life. And it's rather obvious that it's unwanted -- why else would Duncan and his wife have set up the paperwork to include none of their actual names and as little identifying information as possible? Why is it necessary? Why do we need to know?

• • •

Thing is, there's nothing that can be reasonably done about it. And all things considered? It's probably apt coverage.

When complaining about the ongoing creep in mass media's engagement with our stars and heroes, it all usually comes back to a single issue: the smut sells. Anyone remember A Tale of Two Cities, the Charles Dickens classic? That's sold roughly 200 million copies over the course of its 154 year lifetime, making it the highest selling book of all time. But People magazine -- one of the more popular of the world's Celebrity Gossip rags -- sells 43 million copies every week. Many people blame celebrity gossip and the dumbing-down of the world's press for the fall of the newspaper and the death of the printed word. I don't totally disagree, but that interpretation limits society's culpability for the long fall -- it's hard to defend the integrity of the reader without noting that the not-so-gradual shift towards paper-thin journalism and fluff was precipitated by the reading audience's purchasing preferences.

Most people balk at this, especially when they aren't the ones directly involved. "I don't buy gossip! I'm not at fault!" On some level, it's true. But mass price signaling has been around since the dawn of time and it's hardly going to go away now. And there's a certain amount of culpability inherent in all of us, even if we aren't the ones buying the gossip magazines and feeding the churning beast. I've never bought a gossip magazine in my life, but I've also never had a frank conversation with one of my gossip guzzling friends trying to get at the bottom of why exactly they get so heavily engaged in it. I've never really tried to dissuade them from feeding the beast, or taken any effort to understand why they and so many others are so inclined. I can work on interesting basketball writing until the cows come home, but I'm often genuinely stumped when I try to step back and understand exactly why Gothic Ginobili readers like what they like. There have been more than a few pieces I thought were awful but drove scores of traffic by being a bit controversial. There have been more than a few pieces I thought were really good that virtually nobody read. It's the nature of the beast.

And looking at it from a broader level, it's hardly as easy as blaming a rogue editor or an individual story-writer. I'm sure that -- on some level -- the editors that greenlight celebrity gossip and supervise the entrenchment of the rags are as confused as anyone as to why this sells. But that's the thing. It still does, whether we know why or not. When the NBA's Twitterati slam Bleacher Report's search engine optimization and ESPN's Heat Index and the over-focus on the NBA's star-studded teams, I find myself caught between two sides. On one hand, I tend to agree with the complaints. On the other, I find it difficult-to-impossible to blame the larger institutions who perpetuate the problem. It's not really their fault it sells. It's not ESPN's fault that screaming and ranting drive viewership over intelligent philosophical sports banter. It's not Bleacher Report's fault that mindless slideshows drive much more traffic than a loghorrea of intractable play diagrams and acronyms meant to share intelligent basketball strategems. One can't simply consider the editorial contributions to the problem in a vacuum -- if it wasn't profitable, it wouldn't be done. And it's profitable because, for reasons somewhat beyond my understanding, the sorts of people who follow sports (and politics, and music, and media in a general sense) tend to be more interested in controversy and screaming matches than they are in thoughtful meandering through a field of ripe ideas.

In a world where print media is dying and television is flagging fast, there are two things that virtually guarantee short-term profits and a semi-sustainable revenue stream: gossip and controversy. Pap, fluff, and reality TV abounds. As all-too-tuned-in NBA fans, we tend to criticize NBA general managers for focusing on the short term to save their jobs. But we also tend to feel a slight twinge of sympathy for them -- ownership demands dictate consideration of the short term over the more intelligent play of cultivating the long term. They're locked in a catch-22. And as much as I'd like to pin the blame on the producers of injurious, inexplicable fluff like the Duncan divorce story, I find myself feeling that same twinge of sympathy for the editors and the writers as I do for the errant GM. The stuff sells, and it'll keep them their jobs in an increasingly brutal media environment. Journalistic integrity and media ethics be damned -- sometimes you have to save your own skin. And stories like this, as bankrupt as they may seem to the outsider, go a long way towards doing that.

Why's that, though? Why does it sell? Wish I knew. Maybe someday I'll figure it out.

In the meantime, tune in to Gothic Ginobili tomorrow for an up-to-the-minute liveblog of my seventh divorce.

Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Blowouts Happen -- The Grizzlies Bite Back

conley g1

Blowouts happen. It's a mathematical fact that if you have a normal distribution with a long ta--... Look, I'm too lazy to finish this sentence. Everyone blows teams out and everyone gets blown out. Maybe it's 15 points because of garbage time, or maybe it's just a really convincing 15 point defeat that genuinely has you asking questions. Sometimes it's because of an amusing match-up advantage that never gets addressed; sometimes it's bad coaching; sometimes they're the Spurs and you're the Bobcats. Whatever the case, it's hard to put too much stock into blowouts if they don't repeat several times.  It's the left side of the convolution of two normal distributions with similar variances. Improbable, but possible. Don't panic, guys.

In this context I'd like to talk about Game 1 of Spurs-Grizzlies, and what it bodes for the series.

There's an old, tested coaching technique with blowouts: Throw everything out. Forget whatever you wanted to learn; just throw every record of that game out. Why? Well, because the amount you'll gain by having your team see the systematic flaws that may have caused it and the amount your team will gain in motivation is dwarfed what your team will lose by by dwelling on the game. Suddenly Tony Parker isn't just a good match-up for Mike Conley; he's the guy that went past Conley and 4 other Grizzlies consistently, that whirling dervish who sliced up your defense and found open players virtually everywhere on the floor. Suddenly Boris Diaw isn't just a nebulous blob of passing and angles with lacking focus; now he's a force to be reckoned with and the big that arguably outplayed Z-Bo as a defender in the battle of the round and rooted.

There's another reason to throw the film out: It's mostly noise. Systematic errors suddenly look defining, and they're not in actuality. An error on over-helping and letting guys open on 3s might cost you 20 points in a game (more attempts and higher efficiency on those attempts quickly adds up). Now, 20 points is the difference between the Heat and Bobcats if it's every game. But it's not. I mean, obviously not. There's a reason the Grizzlies are in the Western Conference Finals, more than anything on the strength of their defense. It's because they don't do this every game. They might be fatigued, or banged up (they obviously play a very physical style, and are prone to heavy starters' minutes), or unmotivated. But everything about this game suggests to me that this is just the Spurs having a clearer game-plan and more energy, and using every drop of their advantage (as is their wont).

Coaches throw film out, or, better yet, throw it out and reduce the learning process to a simple maxim, a single thing to focus on as a limiting factor. It's pretty clear that Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins is going to stress not over-helping, and letting Marc Gasol and the bigs handle Tony Parker at the rim with a much more reasonable (that is, a not-collapsing) defense that does its work early and has faith in the work it does. Marc Gasol is a heck of a defender, and so are Mike Conley and Tony Allen. Add Tayshaun Prince in for good measure, and you have a heck of a defensive squad. But they basically spent their last 5 games watching Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson and Kevin Martin have middling-at-best series. The Grizzlies came out of a series in which they needed to be mediocre to win, and needed to be effortful and thrive. I'm guessing that played a role.

What's more, I tend to think defensive adjustments tend to take a couple games to take root, and it's defensive adjustments (especially by Memphis) that will have the most leverage in this series. The Thunder famously put Thabo Sefolosha on Tony Parker last year, to great effect (though ultimately it was the Thunder's blitzing offense exposing the Spurs' middling defense that won the series). The Grizzlies shut Tony down a couple years ago, though it was a bit obscured by Tim Duncan's apparent (and shocking) physical decline in Games 3 and 4. I'm sure the Grizzlies, when they're putting in a real (and clearly-followed) gameplan for Tony Parker, will have a much more coherent and effective series. This is a Grizzlies team that has found an answer for Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. The Spurs are better than the Clippers or Thunder right now, but there are better and worse ways for the Spurs offense to beat you. And the Grizzlies, of all team, know this.

So throw it out. It's one bad game.

If it keeps up, we'll see the Spurs reach the first Finals in six years. And, if it doesn't... we're going to get a heck of a series. Given what we've seen from Memphis the last few years, I'm hoping for the former, and betting on the latter. Grind never stops.

Alex Dewey
The co-founder of the blog, Alex is an unemployed jack of all trades, if you redefine "all trades" to mean "computer science, not owning a car, and mathematics." Writes ace book reviews as well as disturbing Lovecraftian horrors. Has a strange sense of humor that's part Posnanski, part coyote, and part Butta. "See you space cowboy."

Stephen Curry and the Balance of Energy

I do not remember who made this.

"They are in their peak in the flow."

-Legendary Hubie Brown on the Warriors, in a recent Spurs-Warriors broadcast

Early in Gothic Ginobili's run, Aaron and I had grand plans for a week of Tennis-related posts -- a Gothic Ginobili Tennis Week. It never materialized. Part of it was my sprawling impossible-to-edit 4000-word rants about Federer vs. Nadal that used sprawling 2000-word segues about the rivalry between Tim Duncan and Steve Nash. [Ed. Note: That was most of it, yes.] But part of Tennis Week's demise was attributed simply to the fact that the connection runs too deeply, is too multifaceted, and it led us to make over-eager connections between every aspect of tennis and every aspect of basketball. It kind of fell flat.

Every direction we tried to take a piece about tennis led to yet another direction about basketball, and vice versa, until the only way to get a proper reckoning for what we were writing is basically to write a book about tennis and another about basketball, and then to be reincarnated in 1989 (when I was born) or 1997 (when Aaron was probably born, because he is a freakishly young person, although he owns a house. He is 12. He is BJ Lawson.)  So... we had some issues with the audience we wanted to reach, put it that way. Fun stuff, but hard to really get a hold of the whole picture and distill it down into something. But obviously there is tennis and there is basketball, and we enjoy both, and given that we are relentlessly, neurotically teasing out reasons for things, we found a lot of overlapping reasons for liking each sport. And so, every once in awhile, I'll get a hold of a connection between the sports that is accessible, simple, well-reasoned, and easy to tell someone over a glass of beers, or a bowl of milkshake. [Ed. Note: Did Alex Dewey just revolutionize milkshake science?]

And I do, and I write a blog about it. So here it is.

 • • •

Ed. Note: The following section was written prior to game six.

As the Spurs and Warriors dually enter a closeout and an elimination game tonight, it wouldn't make me smart to note that Stephen Curry probably has to step up at this point, or that otherwise another Warriors player(s) have to disguise themselves as Stephen Curry. Right now the teams are pretty evenly matched, but the Spurs have a clear advantage - they're a deeper team and have more of a vocabulary with which to gameplan, and after one round of articulate gameplanning by Pop, the tide has turned towards the Spurs.  This isn't to say Pop's outcoaching Mark Jackson. But with his resources, Pop has been able to construct a killer gameplan.

In its simplest form, that gameplan is thus: Make Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson run for their Earthly lives on both ends whenever they're on the court. Yes, yes, they're the Spurs, so they're doing it with "the system": loop plays to free up Tony Parker's jumper, Danny Green flaring out to the wing with elaborate, effective screeners to help him out, kick outs & backdoor cuts. Chip Engellend getting them to hit those wing and corner 3s, Tim Duncan working in the offseason to sprint with Danny Green in triple-digit weather (truth), Pop bein' a good dude and coach overall. Manu and Tony and Boris Diaw finding him consistently. Every writerly cliche about the Spurs except "boring". Yes, yes, it's all true.

But they're making him run. And it's working. The Spurs have done more or less what is at all possible for a team to do defensively against Curry (at least in games 3-5 [Ed. Note: And Game 6 too.]) while still respecting most of their other options. Steph Curry has a bum ankle and the Spurs want to run him out of the gym. Klay Thompson, too, to a lesser extent: The gameplan of forcing Curry into constant motion also works to keep Klay moving, and while he's quite a smart, decent defender for his age, he's not laterally quick enough to be the guy you want slowing down Tony or Kawhi Leonard in the open court. And Klay and Curry have both had periodic foul troubles in their careers, and the Warriors can't afford to work around that impediment.

Pop's found a solid game-plan, and it works for two reasons: a) Damned if they do, and b) damned if they don't. [Ed. Note: Yes indeed, that does encapsulate all present options. Good work Dewey.] If the Warriors decide to completely buy out of this strategy, switch on screens to save energy... the Spurs will exploit them with the matchups (just as effectively as Harrison Barnes has exploited Tony Parker in the strategy of playing Green and Leonard on Curry). If the Warriors simply don't run as fast to conserve energy? Well, that's all the Spurs need to get a completely dominant run in, even if the Warriors are hitting good shots. What's more, the Warriors may conserve energy by not running as hard, but the Spurs really work on offense, and the Spurs conserve energy themselves through the Warriors' decision to conserve. And... if the Warriors do decide to have Stephen Curry chase Tony Parker or Danny Green through every screen? He just gets tuckered out, poor guy. His ankle, already a problem, returns in force, a terror for Warriors fans to behold on every possession. Heck, I just like the game of basketball. Heck: I'm rooting for the other team, and I still worry  about the ankle going out because he steps on Danny Green's foot after the whistle or something.

But, through all my terror about Curry's ankle, through all the paranoia and outbursts of fandom (did you know that seven times out of ten we listen to our music at night guys [Ed. Note: STOP. CEASE. DESIST.]), through all the admiration at Pop's gameplan and at Curry's shooting and at Duncan and Bogut's defense, and Kawhi and Duncan's two-man game... through it all, I still end up coming back to tennis.

 • • •

federer

This is because tennis is one of the most strangely unnatural sports for a human being to play, at least in terms of the motion required. Hands up if you cringed at the weird, long-striding motions of Rose and Westbrook off the dribble even before they got injured. Tennis is like that first-step-then-finish sequence repeated hundreds of times per match (potentially upwards of a thousand, depending on the match-up) and dozens of times per game. And here's the thing: Everyone in tennis understands all of this. Everyone in tennis understands that sometimes your ankle swells up or your toe looks like it's dead tissue or you get a pimple right on the center of your back that never stops itching. Okay, scratch that last one. Anyway, everyone in tennis understands what a grind it is. You'll get concussions in football, you'll get tendinitis in basketball. And you'll get giant-ankle syndrome in tennis. It's not "if", it's "when". And also it's "disgusting".

In this series, going into Game 4, Steph Curry had run about 9.74 miles. It's not at all implausible to suggest he's picked up that rate in the ensuing two games. Call it 18 miles (after Game 5) that the Spurs have forced him to run thus far. You see comparable stats with tennis (which, like basketball, is also played on a ridiculous, grind-it-out schedule that can see a player play two key, high-career-leverage-point matches in about 40 hours, each match lasting about 4-5 hours apiece). Players running several miles per game, and in a period of hours. Players running not in the sense of "Gee, thank you for running that fun little 5k for our charity on soft quarter-mile tracks" types of runs but "every step is the apocalypse and I'm lucky if I get to run back on defense and get five seconds to stop and think". Michael Chang in the 1989 French Open famously shot a bunch of moonshot lobs to give himself rest while he was playing, because he was cramping up. Tennis doesn't stop for you, put it that way. And neither does basketball. Especially if the other team knows you need to rest.

Given that everyone knows about the foundational question of needing rest (and everyone knows that everyone knows that, etc.), energy forms a crucial part of strategy -- both in basketball and in tennis. In tennis you run players ragged in almost the same way the Spurs are running the Warriors' guards. The Warriors "are in their peak in the flow" as Hubie put it (God, what a sentence, right?) and sometimes I think that's because the other team isn't forcing Curry into a nightmare situation of having to run four awkward, bumpy, knee-knocked miles just to keep his team in the game. Defense is easier when you're jogging back in a straight line, and offense is easier (and for Curry, more efficient) when you don't have to run off a defender to get an open look. Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic are three of the world's top four players, and each of them, for all their grace and proprioception? They are not in their peak in the flow. They are more like the Spurs or Grizzlies: Yes, they make wonderful returns, but their essence is to make reasonably brilliant plays and to wear the other player out with matchless energy. They send their player left and right and left and right, a bit faster now, come on now, like a gym class from hell. [Ed. Note: It's part of why my ill-fated love for John Isner is doomed from the start -- the man is simply never going to be able to grind it out against those elite players enough times in a single season to win a slam. Still love you, John Isner.]

Roger Federer is the only glaring exception, because he doesn't strictly have the grindhouse in his wheelhouse. He doesn't grind out 5-hour victories against the other three; he's too old for that. No; he conserves his energy with his literally-the-greatest-of-all-time vision and athletic grace, and when he picks his spots, he runs like a deer and takes what he needs. And as his energy wanes, Federer will probably be able to carry it out still longer. But if his opponents can force him to run, he's vulnerable. He still routinely utterly dominates sets against the best in the world, and even pulled out an unthinkable 4-set domination against Andy Murray. But if you're one of the other top players and you test his energy enough, and he's had to play two five-setters in 48 hours, he'll even start to make mistakes. Well, okay, it will still be the second-best tennis ever played, but still, it's a huge and glaring dropoff. There's just about nothing stranger than Fed making an unforced error that isn't a next-level athletic vision unfulfilled or a set he's resting on; no, an unforced error that's just a sheer, dumb mistake that any of us could have made. And suddenly Nadal or Murray or Djokovic looks like the smart one, because now he's right at Federer's level skill-wise - or even above Federer - and Roger's foe also has all the energy on his side. Even Federer plays with energy, in the sense that if he can get his opponent running without doing much running himself, that's a good sign that he's winning. And some of the most shocking plays are when a player like Andy Murray (noted for his conditioning and endurance) takes the bait, goes left and right for two straight minutes on a volley while his opponent just stands there... and then he wins the rally, and his opponent looks almost more exhausted, realizing that he's going to have to run all day just to have a hope of penetrating that first line.

I can't bring this to a literary close. All I can say is that's what it evokes in me when I see what the Spurs are doing to Stephen Curry, trying to frustrate him and run him out of the gym. And as Game 6 (and the possibility of elimination) approaches, this young, next-level athlete has more than a little bit of a spark in him, a coach that recognizes and cultivates him, and a team around him that can support this... And if he ever wants to take the bait, run out of the gym, and still succeed, well, that's somewhere that next-level athletes can get to, and as far as next-level athletes go, it's hard to bet against Stephen Curry. It might not happen this year, though.

 • • •

Yeah, the Warriors lost, but in this series and the previous one they've established themselves in the "if healthy, then contenders" tail of the NBA. And Steph Curry has established himself as a Nash-like player with his both his shooting and his passing. Aaron and I were talking about it, and you know, Steph and Klay's limiting factor right now as players is their mediocre rates of conversion at the rim. If they can do that; that is to say, if they can learn to score and draw a bit more contact in the lane with their existing skillsets? They will be excellent and the Warriors' team will follow. Harrison Barnes, gruesome fall aside, has looked great in this series. Ezeli's a nice piece. The health issues of Bogut and Lee should make for an interesting story to watch for. Overall, with such a brilliant coaching job by Mark Jackson (some quibbles aside), it has to be disappointing for such a talented, coherent team to go down like this. But it's worth noting that a few factors went the Spurs way in the way of injury and foul trouble that allowed the Spurs to make these gameplans work. The Warriors can't be disheartened by such an impressive season, and as time goes on they will only inch closer to their terrifying primes. It's never happy to lose a series, but the Warriors have done well for themselves and hopefully gained the respect of a large contingent of fans over the course of their special season. They'll be back.

Alex Dewey
The co-founder of the blog, Alex is an unemployed jack of all trades, if you redefine "all trades" to mean "computer science, not owning a car, and mathematics." Writes ace book reviews as well as disturbing Lovecraftian horrors. Has a strange sense of humor that's part Posnanski, part coyote, and part Butta. "See you space cowboy."

The Outlet 3.19: The Indefatiga-Bulls Flame Out

outlet logo

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 Friday, 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 piece is as follows.

  • CHI at MIA: The Indefatiga-Bulls Flame Out (by Aaron McGuire)

Read on after the jump. Continue reading

Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Playoff Questions: A Close Examination of the Heartbreaker

heartbreaker

Heart breaker, heart breaker
You stole the love right out of my heart
Heart breaker, heart breaker
I wanna tear your world apart

-- The Rolling Stones, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)

The NBA playoffs can be a harsh mistress -- you get a lot of intense games, but you also get a lot of heartbreakers. You know the type. Those deflating games where a team is, retrospectively, on the absolute verge of victory. A high-leverage game that could've gone either way. The winning team gets to experience the rushing elation of a minor theft -- the losing team takes a bitter pill. This year's playoffs have an air of inevitability around them, and that's cast a minor pall on the proceedings. And that's a bit of a shame, because we're having a remarkably close and snippy season. Heartbreaking loss after heartbreaking loss -- gutty win after gutty win. All over the place! Gut punches abound.

All that said, there's a tendency for analysts and bloggers to take on vacuous airs when the subject of a heartbreaker loss comes to play. "This team has no chance of winning the series," they say -- "how could they, after a gut punch like that?" Smart analysts galore cast aspersions to the mental toughness of the team and conflate heightened probabilities with statistical certainty. So, on the inadvertent request of Dr. Jeremy Abramson, I decided to take a bit of time to clear a few things up. For today's playoff question, I'm examining a subject near and dear to the hearts of NBA fans everywhere -- how does a heartbreaker loss affect a series, really?

• • •

DEFINING A HEARTBREAKER, and THE THREE BIG QUESTIONS

This was a bit tough, but I think I finally came to a reasonable conclusion. For my definition of a heartbreaker loss, I'm going with a road game lost by 1-2 points in regulation or any game lost in overtime. The logic here is simple. If the game was lost by 1-2 points in regulation, one single shot -- a three pointer -- could've won them the game. A single additional shot. They were on the road, which means they were a single shot from silencing a hostile crowd. If the game went into overtime, the same is true -- one more shot, one more free throw, one more anything and the game was theirs.

The logic behind excluding three point contests is simple. In a three point game, the best you could reasonably do with a single shot is force overtime. And if you played regulation evenly, overtime is more than likely going to be a 50-50 coin flip either way -- hard to really call that a heartbreaker so much as a bad break. So there you have it. It's a 1-2 point margin or an overtime game. For my data, I used information from Basketball Reference (where else?) and compiled a score of information by hand for all heartbreaker losses from 1993 to 2013. It was something of a massive slog, but I'll share my final dataset with anyone who asks -- let me know if you'd like to look at it.

Now that we've defined our "heartbreaker" losses, let's examine some big-picture questions.

  • HOW COMMON ARE THEY?

Not as common as you might think, actually. They've been exceedingly prevalent over the past two years, but that's something of a statistical outlier -- this is the first two year period with more than 20 playoff heartbreakers in the last 20 years. Here's a graph to illustrate the point.

heartbreakers per year

The red bar indicates this year, when we (clearly) have a strong chance at accruing a few more of these types of games before the playoffs conclude. In general, heartbreakers are relatively rare events. They don't happen particularly often, and when they do happen, they tend to have a few games clumped together into a relatively small group of hard-fought series -- for instance, this year's 10 heartbreakers are clumped into seven of the series we've played out so far. In 2006, five of the 14 heartbreakers were concentrated in two of that year's most contested series -- DAL/MIA and DAL/SAS. Et cetera, et cetera.

  • DOES THE HEARTBROKEN TEAM ALWAYS LOSE?

No! Not at all, actually. There's a relatively persistent trope that's been running around for a while that a team can't possibly come back from a road heartbreaker. Especially if they're the road team in the series -- if they lack home court advantage, they couldn't possibly win a series where they let a game get away on the road, right? Sort of, but not quite. Here are the raw series win/loss numbers when a team suffers a playoff heartbreaker.

TEAMS THAT HAVE HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: If the team with home court advantage suffers a road heartbreaker, it's hardly much of an ill omen for their chances at all. In the 20 year period surveyed, homecourt teams that suffered road heartbreakers went 37-22 in the series they suffered the heartbreaker in. That's a reasonably good winning percentage (63%), but it's not 100% robust -- for instance, in five cases, the heartbreaker actually ended up being the deciding lever in a series where the homecourt-blessed team outscored the visitors handily over every other game of the series.

TEAMS THAT DON'T HAVE HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: If the team without home court advantage suffers a road heartbreaker, their chances are certainly slimmer... but they definitely aren't extinguished. It's not a death knell, even if things look rough. Teams that start the series on the road are 18-53 in series where they suffer a road heartbreaker, a 25% winning percentage. There's certainly some truth to the idea that a HCA-lacking team that loses a road heartbreaker has missed their best chance at winning the series. But there's also truth to the idea that the road heartbreaker tells more about how evenly matched the series is than it does about the team's chances to win the series. In four of those series losses, the heartbroken team actually managed to outscore the homecourt team over the other non-heartbreak games of the series.

Overall, teams that suffer heartbreakers are 55-75 in their heartbreaker series over the 20 year span examined.

  • HOW OFTEN ARE HEARTBREAKERS THE DECIDING GAME?

This was an interesting sub-question I had when I finally got my data together. Out of all these series, how often did the heartbreak loss represent the deciding game of the series? That is to say -- how often would a flip in the heartbreaker have flipped the results of the series? The number was a bit surprising, at least to me. In 24 out of the 130 cases in this dataset, the heartbreaker game represented a game that could've flipped the series. That is to say that the entire series could've been flipped with just a single additional shot or -- in many cases -- a single free throw. Of course, once you looked at the point differential, one starts to wonder why the number wasn't higher. Even though teams that suffer heartbreaker losses were 55-75 in the heartbreaker series, they posted a positive point differential (0.35 PPG) among their series when taken as a whole. That's extremely, extremely close. Closer than I'd expect, especially looking at the numbers regarding road team series losses and the scant number of teams who lost the series but won the point differential outside of that game. To summarize the contents of the last few paragraphs, a short table:

table heartbreaker

Series Win and Series Loss are pretty self-explanatory. "Flip" implies that the series would've flipped if they'd won their heartbreaker. DIFF/GM gives the point differential for the team, and CHAMP indicates whether the team with the heartbreaker loss won that year's championship. That's right -- 10 of the games in this dataset involved teams that would-be champions losing a road heartbreaker during their run. That's eight of the last twenty champions, listed below:

  • 2012: MIA @ BOS, G4 -- Miami loses 93-91 -- in OT -- to give Boston a 2-2 series tie.
  • 2011: DAL @ POR, G4 -- Dallas loses 84-82 to give Portland a 2-2 series tie. (The "Brandon Roy" game.)
  • 2009: LAL @ UTA, G3 -- Los Angeles loses 88-86. They ended up winning the series 4-1.
  • 2005: SAS @ SEA, G3 -- San Antonio loses 92-91, missing one free throw in the final minute that could've tied it and shanking four separate shots -- many wide open. They'd close the series in 6.
  • 2003: SAS @ NJN, G4 -- San Antonio loses 77-76, in the finals. The Spurs dominated the Nets for most of the series, but they gave Game 4 away -- they went cold for 2:37 to end the game, scoring nothing from Manu Ginobili's two free throws to Duncan's flush with 6 to play. In the meanwhile, the Spurs missed a bunch of wide-open shots and nearly won the game anyway. They'd win the series in 6 for their second championship.
  • 2003: SAS @ PHO, G4 -- San Antonio loses 86-84 to tie the series at two apiece. The Suns actually upset the Spurs in Game one, but the Spurs nearly won the next four games to take the series. Instead, it took six games, with a successful razor-thin road win in game 6 to close it out.
  • 2002: LAL @ SAC, G5 -- Los Angeles loses 92-91. It would be their last loss of the season. Welp.
  • 1998: CHI @ IND, G4 -- Chicago lost 96-94 to the Reggie Pacers. This series was kind of funny -- Indiana won their three games by a combined total of 7 points, while the Bulls won their four by a total of 36. And, obviously, they won the title.
  • 1998: CHI @ IND, G3 -- Chicago lost 107-105. Same series as above.
  • 1995: HOU @ UTA, G1 -- Houston lost 100-102, in the opening game of their postseason. They'd win 3 of their next 4 against Utah (including a 140-126 annihilation in game 2) to take the series, and would eventually sweep the finals.

• • •

Overall, the presiding narrative -- the idea that a road heartbreaker is an omen of utter doom -- isn't exactly right. Close, but not quite there. Road teams posting a 25% winning percentage in the aftermath of a road heartbreaker is hardly as bad as it looks on its face, given that you're talking about lesser teams who are essentially giving their opponents a one game handicap. The fact that it's that high is more a testament to what the heartbreaker means to the road-starting team on a macro level -- it means that the gap between the two is hardly insurmountable, and whether the series is long or not, they have a chance to push them. As you can see with this year's mercurial Warriors squad.

And the heartbreaker isn't just suffered by the downtrodden -- eight of the last twenty champions suffered one such heartbreaker loss on their march to the title. Will that continue this year? Certainly possible -- five of the remaining eight playoff teams (Golden State, San Antonio, Memphis, Oklahoma City, and New York) have already suffered heartbreakers, and there are still ample games remaining for the final three holdouts (Miami, Chicago, and Indiana) to join the party. We'll see. If you have any questions regarding this analysis, feel free to comment on this post -- I'll be responding to comments for most of the day.

Stay frosty, folks.

Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

GSW/SAS: Checking in on the NBA's Weirdest Series

klay thompson

The Spurs are in trouble.

It's self-evident at this point, but it must be said regardless. The San Antonio Spurs went 35-6 at home in the regular season this year. They nevertheless lost game two of their best-of-seven series against the Golden State Warriors. What's worse is that the Spurs lost the game in embarrassing, befuddling fashion. They missed open shots. They couldn't stop Klay Thompson. Their decision-making down the stretch was a bit confusing, and they stopped playing their brand of basketball despite experiencing naught more than a modicum of defensive resistance to it. They lost faith in their own system and started isolating in an attempt to win the game. That's not how San Antonio plays basketball. Not when they win, anyway.

Worse yet, that was at home -- we haven't even seen what the Oracle is going to look like for Golden State's home games. Which, after last night, are all they need to win if they want to win this series. If the Warriors hold serve at home, the Spurs are done. Which is a rather terrifying thought for any self-respecting Spurs fan, given the furor of their bay area crowd and the tendency for San Antonio's role players to fade a bit in road game situations. Regardless. After two games, we don't really have the slightest clue what's going on in this series. But I'm going to try as hard as I can to explain it anyway.

• • •

FIRST: WHO ARE THESE TEAMS, ON A FLIGHTY METAPHORICAL LEVEL?

The Warriors are easy to place, at least for me. They're the gambler's wayward son.

Look at it this way. There's this town bum -- he's a poor drunkard, long ago wealthy but on something akin to a 17-year cold streak. His once-considerable fortune has been squandered and he lives on the streets, cobbling together pennies to gamble at a local casino every week or so. Loses it all, of course -- that's just his way. He represents the prior-to-2013 Warriors -- the post-TMC crew that's been so unlucky and unfortunate as to boggle the mind and distress the soul. He has a child, a son barely born at the time of his tremendous fortune. As his luck dwindled, his wife left him. Took the kid, too.

Enter 2013 -- the son returns. He lets his father sleep in the hotel, and upon his father's prodding, he decides to enter the casino. Thing is? He's never played a lick of cards before. The kid is a golden boy, a bright kid who nevertheless had never gambled before in his life. He only has a vague recollection of what each poker hand means, and he hasn't yet figured out that a flush is better than a straight, and he's still confused that he lost that hand where he had a two-pair and his friend had 3-of-a-kind. Nevertheless, the kid is crushing it. He's winning hands he shouldn't have played and showing absolutely no fear at the table. Which makes sense, because he isn't sure what he has to fear. Or what anything means at all. The chips keep piling up for him, and the house wonders if he's cheating. But the kid isn't. He's just on all the rolls his father always dreamed of, and given that it's his first time gambling, he has no reason to be tight or concerned -- he doesn't have any human conception of "normal." He's just playing a game he scarcely understands, and playing it incomprehensibly well.

As for the Spurs? They're the sly accountant -- an experienced poker hand who's nevertheless underwater at the table and completely at a loss. The accountant considers himself a good judge of talent, of tells, of hand-quality -- all that said, he has no idea how to handicap this new kid. He's as confident with a junk hand as he is with a good one. He's destroying his betters on hands the betters have never lost with -- Christ, did that kid REALLY just play a 4-of-a-kind to beat my ace-10 full house? Did that seriously just happen? Hell -- the kid had just bust out an old Denver businessman. The businessman had been having the night of his life in the casinos, he was up some ungodly sum before he chose to sit down at the kid's table. The accountant had played with the businessman earlier that night -- he was good. Very good. And when the kid bust the businessman out, the accountant found himself a bit happy -- he knew he'd be at that table later, and the businessman was on such a roll that it was hard to imagine he'd be an easy out.

But he never quite saw that kid coming. Apparently, nobody did.

• • •

SECOND: WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE FAVORITES?

The time for illustrative metaphors is over -- the time for a frank examination of what the Spurs are doing wrong and the Warriors are doing right is now. And to these eyes, the problem is pretty simple. The Warriors are making bad shots and the Spurs are missing good shots. I don't mean that to be a backhanded compliment or an insult, either -- the Warriors are such a terrifying team to face for that exact reason. The Spurs defense is built around the concept of making the opposing team's shots as difficult as possible. Try to goad the opposing team into taking the worst shots on the table, then simply hope they miss them. The Warriors are funny, in that they actually can make those shots.

Now, of course, that poses the question -- SHOULD they be taking those shots? No. Obviously not. They try to take easier shots, they screen off Curry and Thompson and they run decent plays to open up their guys. But if faced with a situation where they're being goaded into taking a lot of bad shots, they're not going to simply fall apart like a wobbly Jenga board, like the Lakers or the Nets or the Clippers. They're going to make more of them than the opposing team expects. The key to defending Golden State -- at least when they're as hot as they've been this postseason -- doesn't really exist. As long as they're in even a semblance of rhythm, the shot is at least remotely malleable to their will. You simply need to hope that Curry and Thompson stop making terrible shots, like pull-up threes over a stout defender or off-balance one-legged three pointers with a hand in their face. And they might, sure. But they aren't incapable of making those shots like a Steve Blake or a Gerald Wallace. In fact, nobody on the Warriors is strictly incapable of making shots -- there's nobody to funnel the ball to, no offensive sieve to try and redirect their action to. You just need to make their shots more difficult and hope they stop making them. Against the Nuggets, they didn't. Against the Spurs, with the shots even harder than they were in the Denver series, they still aren't.

As for the Spurs offense, this is an important point -- the Spurs are missing a lot of wide-open shots. I counted eight wide-open threes that the Spurs completely clanked last night, including five totally open corner threes from Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Both of them usually make that shot. Missing that many wide open threes is absurd, and a relatively unexpected wrinkle going into this series. Additionally, the Spurs were missing a lot of open at-rim layups -- Duncan missed a particularly glaring one where he sealed off Bogut and had several seconds of prep time early in the game. Parker missed a point blank nearly-uncontested layup in the last two minutes. So did Danny Green. Andrew Bogut is a wonderful defensive presence and he affected many shots. But the Spurs weren't even making the shots they created when they ran their offense, which may partly explain why most of the Spurs started going away from their offense and isolating. Especially Manu and Gary Neal, who both played like putzes for most of last night's contest. Just befuddling. If the Spurs continue to miss that many open shots over the remainder of the series, they'll lose handily.

• • •

THIRD: HOW DO YOU ADJUST?

There are two adjustments I think each team needs to make if they intend to win this series.

If you're San Antonio, you need to...

  • STOP PLAYING GARY NEAL. This isn't meant to be impugning Gary's spirit. And he's provided a decent shot or two over the course of the series. But my GOD, man -- this is not the series for Gary. When he's on the court facing off against Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry, he's giving them open looks. The Warriors aren't always capitalizing, but that's really not something the Spurs can bet on going forward. If the Warriors stop making impossibly well-contested shots, they'll probably try taking a few slightly more open ones. Combine that with the fact that Neal is bogging down San Antonio's offense (I counted two separate fourth quarter  possessions in Game #2 where Neal dribbled, isolated, and refused to pass the ball out to Parker, Duncan, or any other player on the Spurs despite having a game within 8 points and a chance to make some ground. He doesn't run the offense. He needs to get off the floor.)
  • MODIFIED SMALLBALL -- CALL IT... QUICKBALL? This may seem to run counter to adjustment #1, since Pop tends to put Gary out in those sort of 3-guard lineups with Manu and Tony. But I think Nando De Colo or Tracy McGrady are both going to be superior to Gary defensively given their size and their improved passing abilities, and that's worth something. The Spurs have come back in both games when they've played small and started loosening up. By trying out more Kawhi-at-the-four lineups with Duncan at center and three guards darting from lane to lane, the Spurs can speed up their offense and leave the Warriors fewer opportunities to switch the Spurs into a bad assignment where a plodding big man can't get back to the three point line. The quicker the lineup, the better this works. With their general shot release as quick as it is, the Spurs need to play lineups that can recover fast enough. So far, smallball works best for this. Call it quickball.

If you're Golden State, you need to...

  • RUN YOUR OFFENSE THE ENTIRE GAME. At the moment, the most disturbing thing for the Spurs has to be that the Warriors have essentially seen fit to let the Spurs back into both the games we've played so far in the series. If the Warriors simply ran their fast paced, fluid offense over the full 48 minutes, the Spurs probably lose both these games by double digits. At home. To a six-seed. Welp. When up by a large lead, the Warriors have an odd tendency to start running the clock with about 12 minutes left in the game. That's now how they play, and it leads to a god-awful out-of-rhythm shot just about every time. If they actually ran their offense in the fourth quarter, they put both of these games away far earlier.
  • CONTEST SAN ANTONIO'S OPEN SHOTS. You know how I mentioned that the Spurs missed a ton of open shots? Well, the fact that they got those shots is something of a problem -- the Spurs are a top-10 offense that's punched below its weight this season, with the present ceiling of "best in the league" as they demonstrated last season. If that offense comes to play when the series moves to Oakland, every open shot they give up is going to hurt. A lot. Jackson and the Warriors need to look at the tape and figure out how exactly their defense keeps breaking down and cut that out. They've gotten lucky with the Spurs missing so many shots. It may happen again that the Spurs simply miss open shots, but it's much more likely that the Warriors make their adjustments and eliminate the open shots in the first place.

And if you're a fan of either team? Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

(If your power doesn't go out.)

curry kissing his kid

Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.
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