Friday Fives: 5 Questions Heading into Game 2



I think we can say we are officially back. For now.  Time for one of our favorite past-times: Friday Fives.  Here’s how this worked. I, Maneikis, posed 5 questions to our panel (Me, Will Weir aka “The Fedora’d One” and Taylor “I now prefer TJ” Simpson), and what you will read is our email exchange regarding each of these key questions heading into the critical Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Fun drinking game alert: every time we refer to Lebron by a name other than Lebron or anytime you feel we are being complete homers, you drink.  Prepare to get dnruk.

  1. How do we stop Tristan Thompson?

Will: Tristan has been bashing us over the head with a mallet like a kid playing Whack-A-Mole in an arcade for about 2 or 3 years now.  Feels like every game he gets about 20 rebounds vs. us and we are just powerless.  Having said that, they need to try something.  Rebounding has been a sore spot for C’s all year, not a secret.  Amir Johnson? Child Please. Tyler Zeller? I’ll pass.  Traditional big men are out.  Unfortunately, we can’t have Al guard both him and Kevin Love, so I think the answer has to fall to primarily Marcus Smart and maybe even a dash of Jae Crowder.  At this point, the best hope is that these 2 can be bulldogs and, at best, slow him down.  Marcus seems like he’ll get 1st billing, Jae doesn’t have the speed to stay with LBJ (Step up on up Jaylen!), but maybe he has the strength to battle with Tristan like he did with Morris last round.

Maneikis: Will, I totally agree per our conversation last night.  Marcus can bang with the big guys as long as it’s purely physical play.  The moment you add skill to the mix, Marcus tends to struggle, but he relishes the wrestling matches.  I’d also like to see us try to exploit him on the defensive end by going small and giving Marcus an opportunity to run PnR with Horford.  That might force the Cavs into some unnatural defensive rotations (have Thompson and Love ever had to defend a PnR together?), and we might even get some of their bigs in foul trouble.  I don’t see us stopping Thompson from getting rebounds, but I do expect us to make him work for those rebounds and to make him uncomfortable on the defensive end of the floor.

TJ:  Tristan is a player who has the specific skill set that exploits the biggest weakness on the Celtics’ roster – offensive rebounding.  It would be like if in The Illiad the Trojans hired a mercenary to a $60 million dollar contract whose lone skill was throwing arrows at soldiers’ heels.  In the first round against the Bulls the Celtics made Robin Lopez look like Wilt Chamberlain, so an honest goal would just not to end up like any of Wilt’s famed 20,000 women – you know, completely fucked.  However as many basketball coaches have repeated to me throughout the years, there is no secret to boxing out; it just takes placement, intention and a whole lot of effort. Dedicate a spot on the floor to one of the Lunks (Kelly, Zeller, Amir) who sole purpose is to stay between the basket and Tristan Thompson.  Barring a sudden fix for what has been a glaring flaw all year, sign his step-sister Kendall to a 10-day. She fixed institutionalized racism with a mere soft drink, so I’m sure she can grab a few rebounds.



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Dear Isaiah Thomas,

I’m writing this to you because no one has written the article I want to read. Or maybe they have, but I just can’t get enough of reading about “The King in The Fourth” (sorry Kobe, but IT already has a nickname).  This article is not about the recent tragedy that shook the foundations of your family.  It’s not about your contract.  And it is definitely not about your height.  This is all about how your performance in Game 2 temporarily made us forget about our city’s sordid, racist past and present.  Continue reading

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End of Season Awards

You won’t find many surprises on this list, but I decided to post this anyways.  This season was the most interesting regular season in recent memory, so I wanted to give these players their props for bringing excitement to my otherwise boring life in my 27th revolution around the sun.



Wardell Stephen Curry was phenomenal from start to finish, capping off the greatest offensive season ever with a ridiculous 45 points in three quarters while leading his team to the best regular season ever.  400 Threes? Check. Stop-What-You’re-Doing-And-Turn On-League Pass Heat Checks? Check. Clutch Shots? Check. 50-40-90 club? Check. This dude was the best player in the league almost every night, and no one else should garner any first place votes. Steph, I salute you. You are everything a man should be. (Leonard, James, Westbrook, and Paul round out the top 5)

Most Improved Player


Kawhi Leonard has become a superstar.  He is the best two-way player in the league and now consistently plays with the greatness that he flashed two years ago when he won the Finals MVP.  He is by far the best wing defender in the league and shoots the ball with top 5 efficiency. He is the perfect player to carry the Spurs into the next era, and may be the reason the Spurs knock the Warriors out of the playoffs.  If he wins another Finals MVP, Kawhi will be the front-runner for next year’s regular season MVP award. (Curry, Crowder, Kemba Walker, and CJ Mccollum round of the top 5)

Defensive POY


Draymond Green can literally guard 5 positions on the floor. People have been purported to do so in the past, but Draymond can actually do it.  I seen’t it! At 6 6, Draymond should not be capable of guarding centers, but in this era of small ball, very few bigs have the ability to take advantage of mismatches in the post.  Draymond uses his leverage to get underneath bigger players and has the length and quick-jumping ability to bother the fade-away jumpers that he forces in the mid-post.  His quickness on the perimeter allows the Dubs to switch most pick-and-rolls, and although some guards sneak by him, he can usually block their shots from behind with his Revisesque recovery speed.  He is the heart and soul of the league’s best team, and although Kawhi does many things better than Draymond, Green’s ability to guard 1-5 gives him the slight nod over Leonard. (Leonard, Whiteside, Avery Bradley, and Deandre Jordan round out the top 5)

Rookie of the Year


 Karl Anthony Towns won me $250 on a $5 while I was in Vegas recently, so he definitely gets the nod here.  That jump hook on the baseline to beat the Blazers cemented Towns not only as the ROY, but also as an All-NBA performer in my ballot.  He is doing things that few rookies have done, and seemingly got stronger throughout the season.  He is already a two-way player, and he has the skill set to be the league’s premiere big man for the next 15 years.  The T-Wolves have a very bright future and the rest of the league should expect to fear the bite of their top dog for years to come.

Coach of the Year


Brad Stevens may have some stiff competition for this award, but I left Isaiah Thomas off of my All-NBA teams, gave Leonard the nod over Crowder for MIP and Livingston the edge over Turner for 6th man, so I had to make at least one homer pick here. I mean it’s my blog and no one is really paying attention anyways, and even now as I type this sentence I’m resisting the urge to give all of these awards to my boys in green.  Stevens has maximized the potential of the entire roster and has the Celtics feeling good entering the playoffs after that insane comeback victory over the Heat.  His ATO plays are legendary and his unchanging demeanor is rivaled only by Jay Wright. Dear Danny Ainge: if you give Stevens a superstar, he will give you a championship.

6th Man


Shaun Livingston has really impressed me all year with his steady play anchoring the Dubs all-time bench.  He shoots his shots every game and allows Steph to play off the ball for extended minutes, which significantly reduces Curry’s energy spent and increases floor space with all of the attention Steph garners off of the ball.  Livingston also wins the Stephen A. Smith award for NBA player with the biggest forehead.


All NBA Teams

1st Team: Curry, Westbrook, Leonard, James, Green

2nd Team: Paul, Lillard, Durant, George, Aldridge

3rd Team: Lowry, Thompson, Derozan, Millsap, Towns

Apologies to Isaiah Thomas and James Harden


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The 2015-2016 Boston Celtics


We’re baaaaaaack! We’re back we’re back we’re back! We’re back, so back!!!!!!! It’s been almost two years since we last wrote something on this blog, but we’ve always been here, we just weren’t posting content to the site.  Thanks for sticking with us.

Following last season’s improbable playoff push, the Boston Celtics’ future looked as bright as any franchise in the NBA.  They had solid young talent, a “treasure trove” of draft picks from Danny Ainge’s shrewd sorcery, and the best young coach in the league.  The narrative was, and largely still is, that these three in conjunction could land Boston its next big name. Fans were dreaming about Boogie Cousins, Carmelo Anthony, and other headline grabbers because that is who the media was telling us could take the franchise back to its lofty standards. However, it did not happen over the summer despite reports of Kevin Love possibly switching allegiances, and it did not happen at the trade deadline, despite reports ranging from the realistic to the utterly absurd (no Gary Tanguay, Anthony Davis was never coming to Boston).  Meanwhile, the current iteration of the Celtics struggled to stay above .500 and seemingly could not close out games down the stretch.  It was frustrating to watch, and I’m sure it was even more frustrating to be a part of.  My friends and I kicked around trade ideas that could steal Paul George or Jimmy Butler away from their teams, and groaned as we saw well-executed plays resulting in missed shots in the fourth-quarters of winnable games. Still, as any fan that bleeds green would, I watched every game, and saw some signs that these Celtics were starting to become a problem for the rest of the league.   They were starting to become contenders.

It’s easy to be a prisoner of the moment and say that I’m writing this article due to the Celtics’ upset win in Oakland last night, but the Celtics did not get lucky last night.  They won because they deserved to win and this is becoming a delightful trend for Celtics fans.  They play the brand of basketball that has come to define their identity and is giving opposing teams fits. For the C’s, it starts with their defensive pressure in the backcourt and their willingness to play much bigger than their size.  When last season began, the Celtics’ three-headed monster of Rondo, Bradley, and Smart wreaked havoc upon the league for about five games, but then Smart turned his ankle, Rondo realized defense meant he had to try, and quickly the foundation of the team crumbled.  But they shipped Rondo out for an unheralded rotation wing, Jae Crowder, a supreme athlete who looked like he belonged on a football field, not a basketball court, and we started to see improvement.  Crowder struggled to fit in last season, but we could see his potential, especially on the defensive end.  He’s strong, physical, and versatile enough to guard multiple positions (traits he shares with many other Celtics like Bradley, Smart, Turner, Olynick, and Jerebko). Not only that, but he has great defensive instincts to complement heady play and intelligent team schemes. Fast forward to today, and that ball-hawking, physical potential has been unlocked and it keeps the Celtics’ competitive in every contest. For fans who love defense, the Celtics’ ability to “turn it on” is every bit as exciting as a “Curry Flurry” of three-pointers in Golden Sate. Check out these highlights from the first game against Golden State earlier this season.





This is the type of intensity with which fans are falling in love, and this team plays this hard almost every night.  They are a collective of talented, ultra-competitive players whom Coach Stevens understands better than almost any other coach understands his players.  The Celtics will be down ten, Stevens will call one of his uncanny, momentum stopping timeouts, and Smart, Bradley, and Crowder will stalk onto the court with the body language of Fulton Reed and Dean Portman ready to turn elite ball-handlers into JV  point guards playing Varsity for the first time.  Whatever message Stevens delivers during those timeouts gets through to these guys and they quickly respond. It gets to the point where All-Stars like Damian Lillard do not even want to bring the ball up the court (seriously, he barely touched the ball in the second half the other night, but CJ McCollum stepped up big time), and teams are forced to have a secondary or tertiary ball-handler advance the ball past midcourt while wasting half of the shot clock.  It throws teams out of their rhythm at worst, and completely alters the game at its best. To be able to play full-court defense at the NBA level is something we may have never seen before to the extent that these guys can do it.  And Stevens knows it.  Anytime his team is down, he will go to a lineup of Smart, Bradley, Crowder, Evan Turner, and one of his versatile big men, and before you know it the Celtics will have made up the deficit. And this is when they decide to unleash the league’s best-kept secret and this team’s MVP.  Enter Isaiah Thomas.





In last year’s hard-fought playoff series with the Cavs, the Celtics could not get buckets down the stretch.  The Celts turned the series into a wrestling match, which played to their own strengths, but in the end they could not score when it mattered  (after last night’s game, I’m thinking maybe someone was just wearing the wrong shoes).  The main reason: Boston’s best offensive player is Isaiah Thomas and he only stands 5 feet 9 inches.  The Cavs’ defensive stalwart Iman Shumpert bothered him with length, a logical strategy with which most teams try to minimize Thomas’ elite scoring ability.  We saw it often early in this season, but Stevens and Thomas have seemingly figured out how to combat his size disadvantage.  Isaiah really struggles against length versus a set defense, so getting him out in transition via suffocating defense is the best chance at getting him going and winning games. The Celtics couldn’t get steals and stops against Portland the other night, and that is why Isaiah struggled so mightily because Alan Crabbe had set help behind him and high, active hands all game. However, Stevens has done a great job game-planning so that IT gets switches in the high Pick and Roll and gets the ball out and back quickly so that he catches with a live dribble attacking a secondary defender at a downhill angle. Portland’s secondary defenders were much better on Thomas than Golden State’s were last night, but when Isaiah gets hot, it really does not matter who is guarding him.  The Celtics’ strategy is so simple, but it’s everything to their offense, and in that 3rd quarter last night Isaiah dominated the game more effectively than Curry’s long distance dance. Isaiah should be an All-NBA candidate this season, probably 3rd team, but he deserves it.


Quick side bar. Here are my choices for All-NBA (hopefully breaking this down later this season).

First team: Curry, Westbrook, Leonard, Durant, James

Second Team: Lillard Paul, Thompson,  Green, Jordan

Third Team: Thomas, Lowry, Harden, George , Aldridge

Apologies to Demar Derozan, Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, and Dirk Nowtizki



Local media will tell you that Isaiah is not a “Go-to guy,” but I’m not sure this is entirely true.  This is Thomas’ first year as a starter in his age 27 season, often considered the first year of a player’s prime.  Yes, he does have his weaknesses, but what player doesn’t? Maybe it is time we start appreciating Isaiah for what he can do instead of focusing on the obvious fact that he is short.  Maybe it’s time to start kicking around the possibility that he can win games with the current pieces surrounding him and the best coach in the league.  This is the same thing that happened to Russell Westbrook as he was trying to figure out how to close games.  Critics complained that Russ had tunnel vision and needed to pass the ball to Durant.  Well, he is starting to figure it out and has learned how to highlight his strengths and minimize his liabilities. He is now a triple-double machine and a perennial MVP candidate.  Back to IT. Okay he’s diminutive, but he’s stronger than half the guys in the league.  He gets into the body of bigger defenders and forces contact through which he can finish, or he can draw fouls.  Unlike the Celtics’ previous PG, Isaiah shoots 90% from the line, so he loves driving the ball to the basket, and with the pressure this puts on defenses, the rest of the roster becomes that much more of a threat.

Most recently, we’ve seen Evan Turner benefit from sharing the floor with IT down the stretch.  Defenses are so focused on IT and weak-side action Stevens’  offense creates, Turner is often left to go one-on-one with the other team’s second-best defender.  And this allows him to thrive in crunch time because Turner can get to his sweet spots on the elbow and right baseline shooting his patented mid-range jimmy.  Turner will never be a number one option on a championship team, but with the other team’s best defender often on IT, Turner can exploit smaller defenders with his size and bigger defenders with his crafty ball-handling in a PnR situation that those defenders are not used to defending.  Turner is also a great passer, so when he is entrusted with crunch time play-making, he can use his size to see over the defense to find spot-up shooters on the perimeter or sneaky back-cuts along the baseline as the defense gets caught ball-watching.  It’s titillating to watch. (I haven’t written an article in almost two years, excuse the adjectives)





Coming into last season it did not appear as if the Celtics had any shooters on their roster.  However, we’ve seen that this team (except Marcus Smart…please Marcus, please find your shot!) can shoot the ball and shoot it very well.  Crowder, Bradley, Jerebko, and Olynick are all reliable 3-point threats spotting up around the arc, while players like Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller can knock down the open 18-footer.  This affords Thomas and Turner the space they need to operate in the paint, and has made for some effective fourth-quarter offense.  Mix all of this in with Brad Stevens’ ATO plays, and you can see why the Celtics are 12 games over .500.  More importantly, what it’s done has given the critics less ammunition.  The Celtics are winning close games and doing it without “a superstar.”  They are looking like they could make some serious noise in these playoffs, and are setting themselves up to be an attractive spot for Free Agents over the summer.  This would mean they could keep our current roster, draft picks, and merely add a superstar rather than trade for one (Ask the Knicks how that worked out for them).  They could draft the most NBA-ready prospect (Buddy Hield), or they could take a chance on a high-ceiling prospect like Brandon Ingram, depending upon where they draft.  But free agency and the draft are in the summer.  What we should be focusing on are their chances looking like in this year’s playoffs? These players deserve our attention in the current moment.  They play too hard and with too much pride for us not to root for them with as much fire as we rooted for the KG era Celtics.

Well, it is going to be tough no matter who they play because the East, while lacking in upper-echelon teams, is stacked with parity.  Cleveland is far and away the best team, but they are mired in internal conflict.  Toronto has not proven they can win in the playoffs but boasts the East’s best backcourt.  Atlanta’s defense is tops in the league.  Miami has the talent to beat anyone.  Charlotte is winning.  Detroit is unique. And Indiana has the second best player in the conference.  They will avoid Cleveland until the semis or conference finals, so maybe the Cs can catch a break and see someone else shock them so they won’t have to.  But if they do face them again, Brad Stevens and his menacing group of defenders will be ready to show them what they learned from last year’s sweep.  They will be ready to prove that what happened in Oakland was no fluke.  They will be ready to show the world that Isaiah Thomas is for real and that defense and chemistry can take you a long way. They will be ready.  Will you?

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…And Boston…Was Confused?

Here at Bucking Aikman it’s hard to contain our hometown bias for the Boston squads. As an ostensibly general sports blog, we do our best to stay objective and to cover a wide range of topics outside the scope of New England, mainly because, frankly, not everyone cares as much about Boston as we do (including some of our readers…right guys?). But the past month has been a whirlwind across the Big Four sports like nothing seen since…well, maybe ever, and as such deserves a little more attention. Yup, we’ve just experienced what might have been the wildest 30 days in Boston sports history – at least in terms of impactful transactions.

Two weeks ago enough madness had occurred for us to run an article on all the happenings to date: Doc Rivers’ ignominious escape to the Clippers, the Bruins’ narrow failure to capture another Cup, the first rumblings of the Aaron Hernandez murder plot, the head-scratching signing of Tim Tebow. But if you can believe it, the events of the 18 days since have been, if possible, even more shocking – some good, some bad, most baffling, all intriguing. To avoid repeating ourselves, we’ll move down the list giving a quick recap of what happened in Part I, what’s gone on since, and what we can expect from the future.



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NBA Off-season: A BA 3-Way

Andrew Bynum reacting to the news teams still want him

A Written Podcast


Going into the playoffs the narrative was that the Miami Heat were invincible. There was talk of them being the best team ever, being a dynasty in the making, and whether or not anyone would even present a roadblock in a Roseless, Rondoless East. But their path to the top was full of detours and potholes in the form of large, ferocious big-men who pounded the Heat into near submission.  It really was quite ironic because all of the talk was of the missing point guards, but in reality the biggest, most visible guys on the court were there to challenge the Heat all along. So even though the Heat eventually won the title thanks to some legendary basketball by one Lebrin Jones (Ryan Foley voice) and some legendary origami personification by Manu Ginobili, the rest of the NBA realized the chink in their once impenetrable armor.  The Miami Heat already faced a Hibbert-sized task of 3-peating by reaching their fourth consecutive finals, but now they need to do it by reinventing themselves for a third consecutive year.  If they go into next season without any major upgrades in their frontcourt then they will not return to the Finals. That a rapidly deteriorating Chris Bosh is their lone (somewhat)reliable two-way big spells doom for their dynastic aspirations.  Despite analytics favoring a turn towards small-ball, playoff basketball is too physical for most teams that do not employ the greatest athlete of all-time as their power forward, and even he has issues with it.  Is Greg Oden the answer? Maybe, but probably not.    So my esteemed colleagues: if the Heat are out as NBA champions next season, which teams have made the off-season moves to take a shot at the champ? Continue reading

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Summer is Coming: A Roundup from Last Week

“This kingdom will be yours someday, Simba”

The past week and a half has been a whirlwind in the sports world, from intense postseason action in two sports to marathon MLB games and extra-inning heroics to crazy moves in the NFL to horses running in a circle for a couple minutes. Here’s a breakdown of the most important happenings of the past 10 days, and a brief look ahead at the future.


  • The Bruins swept the punchless Penguins to advance to their second Stanley Cup Finals in three years. Despite the Bruins’ continued insistence that they weren’t taking the Pens for granted and were expecting a surge at any time, the dangerous Pittsburgh offense that had averaged more than four goals a game over the first two rounds never materialized against the stifling Boston defense, and the Penguins only managed two goals all series. Two goals. In four games. Only three other teams in NHL history have allowed so few goals in a series of at least four games, so yeah, that’s pretty good. Much of this was thanks to the lights-out netminding of Tuukka Rask, the Finnish goalie who watched from the bench as Tim Thomas made history in leading the B’s to the Cup two years ago. We’ve spent much of this postseason trying to figure out who’s taken the mantle from 2011 Thomas/2012 Jonathan Quick – at times bouncing between Henrik Lundqvist, Tomas Vokoun, and Quick himself – but it certainly looked like Tuukka in the Conference Finals. After Game 2, when most of us were still wary of Pittsburgh despite them being outscored 9-1 over two games, I was actually preparing to write that while Tuukka looked phenomenal, we shouldn’t expect him to be a reincarnation of Thomas. Then he notched 53 saves in an intense double overtime victory in Game 3 and recorded his second shutout of the series in Game 4, and I canned that article pretty damn quick (sometimes it’s good to procrastinate). Two U’s, two K’s, it’s Tuukka Time! Other takeaways from the series:
    • Despite allowing six goals in four periods and getting yanked in the first period of Game 2, Vokoun settled down nicely at the end of the series, giving up only three goals over the span of nearly three full games. After allowing a Brad Marchand breakaway goal that totally wasn’t his fault in the opening seconds of Game 3, he essentially pitched a shutout for nearly the remainder of the game, giving up his next goal at the end of the second overtime period. And in Game 4 his only mistake was a third-period Adam McQuaid snipe that he lost in the various skaters in front of him. Were it not for his offense’s miserable performance, this series would have gone a lot longer than four games, and Pittsburgh better think long and hard about their starting goaltender for next year.
    • Lots of credit goes to Tuukka, but an equal amount must go to the rest of defense as well. Led by captain Zdeno Chara and spurred by the return of Dennis Seidenberg, the B’s utterly neutralized dangerous weapons Sid Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Bruins fan favorite Jarome Iginla – a whopping combined total of ZERO POINTS – and shut out their fearsome power play with swarming and relentless pressure. Oh, and they pitched in on offense too, scoring 15 goals from the point – one more than they scored in the entire regular season.
    • Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are the heart and soul of the Bruins’ offense, hands down. In their fourth year on the same line, they appear to share one mind, and have been responsible for some of Boston’s biggest moments of the playoffs:  Bergeron’s equalizer with seconds left in Game 7 of the first round and his overtime series clincher (assisted by Marchand), the OT winner in Game 1 of the next series against New York, which was a carbon copy of the Toronto winner with the roles reversed, Marchand’s two goals in the first period of Game 2 in Pittsburgh (including this incredibly satisfying play against professional dickhead Matt Cooke), and Bergy’s double OT winner, assisted by…who else? David Krejci may lead the league in points this postseason, and Torey Krug may be the favorite story, but there’s little doubt as to who’s carrying this team.
    • Enough has been written to fill a Stephen King book about Gregory Campbell’s Game 3 performance on a broken leg, but it’s hard to overstate how much his gritty fearlessness meant to this team. After a Penguins power play shot shattered his leg, not only did he refuse to leave the ice – which would have put his team down two men – he disrupted a pass and even prepared to lay down his body to block another shot. As a article scathingly pointed out, this kind of determination seems to be practically unique to hockey, though comparisons to Schilling’s bloody sock have already run rampant. Either way, Campbell’s toughness has simultaneously made him an instant legend in Boston and given his team something to play for.
    • The Penguins are arrogant sore losers, and it starts at the top with their crybaby captain. Crosby disappeared when his team needed him the most and handled it by trying to fight a goalie, barking at his opponents and teammates, and getting a stupid penalty at the end of the game when his team was about to pull their netminder – and this was all in Game 1. He set a terrible example for his colleagues, all of whom let the Bruins get under their skin and throw them off their games. And when Boston had proven its dominance with a sweep, Crosby still refused to take responsibility, claiming that they had chances and the Bruins didn’t “totally shut us down.” You scored twice in four friggin’ games! With an extra period and a half thrown in!!! How is that not shutting you down? Funnily enough, the only humility came from Iginla – who, in a perfect twist of irony, had spurned Boston midseason to win a Cup with Pittsburgh – when he admitted that he “just didn’t play very well.” The culture of winning that Crosby has installed in Pittsburgh has made the Penguins stubborn and resistant to criticism. On the other hand, the Bruins’ lack of a true “superstar” and subsequent team efforts, their reality check against Toronto in the first round, and their general humility has helped lead them to the Finals. Smell ya, Sidney.

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Friday Fives: The NBA Finals

Finals MVP???

The NBA Finals we all knew was coming is finally here. For the whole season they were the best teams in their respective conferences (OKC never really stood a chance without Harden), and now here they are, representing very different systems and ideas. On one hand there’s the Miami Heat, featuring the inhuman THING that is LeBron James; on the other, the San Antonio Spurs and their incredibly consistent and prolific trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. This series promises to be hard-fought and intelligently coached, probably with a monster individual game or two from James and Parker and some old school tricks from The Big Fundamental himself. In case that’s not enough, here are our top reasons to watch the 2013 NBA Finals.




5. The Heat fans:  What is it with Florida sports teams and their lame ass fans? The Rays still have the worst fans in baseball despite their perennial contender of a team, the Marlins could never draw crowds even after winning two World Series in seven years, nobody even knows there’s a basketball team in Orlando, the Dolphins and Buccaneers had the lowest attendance in the NFL last year, and the Jaguars’ turnout is so pathetic that they might ship the team to London. So to say the Heat have the most pathetic fans in the state is a serious accusation. But do any of the aforementioned teams’ fans show up late to every single game? Do they sneak out of games in which their team is down one possession with seconds remaining – a very winnable situation – like Heat fans have done continuously throughout this postseason? Do they need emails from the organizations begging them to show up and cheer? Well, probably, but that’s beside the point. I used to despise these rich idiots, but as the years drag on and we realize that LeBron is essentially playing for nobody, I’ve come to find them entertaining as hell. And when this pitiful excuse for a human is your most public current supporter, you can only watch in amazement at the train wreck your fanbase has become. 5. The legacy of Tim Duncan:  The man is already set to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as one of the top ten players to ever play the game, and will go down as the best to ever play his position. This Finals, however, could be his most challenging, as he faces another team that features not only a fellow member of the top ten club but also a top 25 member as a sidekick. If Duncan can best Father Time once again he will have gone five for five in his NBA Finals appearances. Perfection. LeBron has already lost two, Kobe’s lost two, Shaq lost two. Winning this championship would solidify him as the best player of our generation, no questions asked. 5. T-Mac:  Tracy McGrady was one of the top ten, borderline top five players in the NBA for a five-year stretch during which he averaged over 25 points per game and was selected to two All-NBA First Teams. T-Mac was arguably a better player than Kobe during his (T-Mac’s) prime, but was never on the right team to help him get out of the first round of the playoffs. He has a reputation for not getting it done in big games, but the guy averaged over 30 points per game in four straight playoffs, and has career averages of 23-6-5 in the postseason.  T-Mac joined the Spurs right before the end of the season and hasn’t played much during this run, but it will be an underrated, underappreciated moment in the career of one of the most talented players to ever wear a jersey if he gets a ring with the Spurs.  And wouldn’t it be something special if T-Mac left his fingerprints all over one game in this series? I’m thinking something like this.
4. What’s left for the Big Threes? Miami:  First, let’s get the Heat out of the way. After this atrocity tried to convince us that the NBA crown would reside in Miami for the next decade, the Heat’s Big Three era looks like it could come to an end prematurely. Throughout this season and playoffs, Wade has clearly lost several steps and has become a merely above-average player; Bosh has proven unable to handle the national attention away from the Great White North, and has been a shell of his former self since his arrival in South Beach. Trade rumors have surrounded both players this year, and their performances in the Finals could very well determine their futures with the franchise, though it’s hard to imagine Wade ever leaving. LeBron will never be traded, but it seems all but certain that he’s bolting Miami when his contract is up next year. For those of you scoring at home, that would give the Heat three or four years, with probably two, maaaaaybe three titles – a far cry from the “not five, not six, not seven…” that LeBron predicted upon his arrival. Of course, Wade could find his stroke, Bosh could come up with a few huge shots that he always seems to randomly stumble into, and/or LeBron could put them on his superhuman back and drag them to stability, securing the Big Three for the next several years. But with the aforementioned fans, an aging squad, and much more enticing options on LeBron’s horizon (have you seen Kyrie Irving play?), this Fab Three looks like it’s going the way of the Beatles – and Bosh is definitely Ringo. 4. The legacy of Tony Parker:   As my esteemed colleague wrote  last week, Tony Parker has been severely underrated throughout his career and he potentially could be considered a top five point guard of all time, yet rarely gets mentioned as the best point guard currently playing. He’s already been a part of three championship squads and even has a Finals MVP from one of them. However, this will be the first time that he is undoubtedly the best player on his team. Duncan has still managed to be great and is by all means performing at a high level, but Tony’s game is off the charts. Without question he is a top ten player in the league and is primed for a big series with point guard being an area in which the Spurs hold a strong edge over the Heat. If Tony is the catalyst to deny The King and his Heatles sidekicks a second straight crown, how can we not view him as one of the best ever? 4. D-Wade’s knee:  I won’t spend too much time harping on Wade’s horrid postseason to this point, but he just hasn’t been very good. He has clearly lost a step and most of his explosiveness, but he can still affect the game with his will. Say what you want about Wade, but up until these playoffs he has always been one of the fiercest competitors on the floor. If he decides to sacrifice his body for the betterment of the team then the Heat should win this series, but I could also see Danny Green completely shutting him down. Green is an elite wing defender and could bother Wade, but he doesn’t pose the same physical threat that Wade saw in Lance Stephenson. D-Wade must take Green into the post and exploit his strength advantage because he is no longer quick enough to take any great defender off of the dribble. If Wade is the same player we saw in Game 7, then the Spurs will be in trouble.
3. What’s left for the Big Threes? San Antonio:  Okay, onto the good stuff. Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili have been together for 11 freakin’ years and three championships. Duncan, at age 37, hasn’t lost a step and actually seems to have improved on his past few years: if you round up (9.9 rebounds), he averaged a double-double for the first time in three seasons, and he averaged the most blocks since 2004. Parker, despite turning 31 last month, has improved so much over the last few seasons that he was a dark horse MVP candidate in 2013 and is making my colleague Greg look like a genius. Ginobili, that soon-to-be 36-year-old Argentine, may have seen his raw numbers dip slightly, but his impact on the game and his longtime teammates – particularly in tight spots, where he thrives – is as strong as ever. And they still have Coach Popovich, the man who keeps them sane and healthy and at the top of the pile year in and year out, the best coach in the league and one of the best all time. Duncan and Parker are signed through 2016, Ginobili will certainly re-up this summer (and you can bet whatever’s in the basement of The Alamo that they’re not going anywhere), they’re going to give the defending champs a serious run for their money, and they’re not slowing down. The Heat may have possibly the most talented player to ever pass through the league…but whose future is really brighter? 3. Will Chris Bosh find his balls?:  How soft has Bosh become?  He was averaging a mere 3 rebounds per game for most of the Eastern Conference Finals. His game has been demoted to nothing more than a stretch four who now shoots more threes than has points in the paint, it seems. Part of this is obviously due to the structure of the Miami offense which is predicated on having spacing and room for LeBron and Wade to operate. But the dominance slapped on him by David West and Roy Hibbert last round is completely unacceptable for a max-level player. I get that Chris Bosh isn’t a typical center, but he’s 6’11” for Christ sakes, enough with the damn excuses. When you’re that big it’s more about putting on your big boy pants and showing up when the spotlights are on. A lot of this series hinges on what Bosh can do to try and slow down the tandem of Splitter and Duncan. On a side note, how many infants do you think this Velociraptor can eat in one bite? 3. Threes:  Clever huh? Both of these teams are terrific from long range, but the Heat’s trifecta completely abandoned them in the ECF. Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller must make their open three-point shots because the Spurs always seem to hit theirs. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard have turned themselves into good shooters and Manu Ginobili is always dangerous when the game is on the line. Both teams rely on this unreliable shot so this will be a fun storyline to follow game-to-game. Whichever team wins the battle from downtown will have the fast-track to hoisting the O’Brien Trophy.
2. The subtext, the narratives, the drama:  Every good Finals has a ton of storylines, and this year’s seem juicier than usual. The upstart dominance of the Heat versus one of the league’s longest-standing institutions in Duncan’s Spurs. The old versus the new. The flashy/fast/athletic versus the fundamentally sound. The style versus the substance. The groundbreaking Miami “small ball,” for lack of a better term, versus the classic tradition of the Spurs. Whether Miami can finish off its historic season or whether they’ll go the way of the 2007 Patriots. Who can flop more in a series, Manu or LeBron. Whether Duncan is ready for LeBron to take over the league, like he said in their 2007 Finals matchup. Whether LeBron will atone for that disheartening sweep with his vastly improved skills, clutch performance, and supporting cast. Whether Wade, Bosh, Ray, and the rest will show up or whether LeBron will have to do it himself. How the series will affect the legacies of about ten different players and coaches and their positions on the current and all-time lists. Anything to do with Birdman. How this will affect the futures of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh, and consequently, the entire league. Yeah, this is gonna be a good series. 2. LeBron James:  This guy is good. And I mean really good. I don’t think that there is a scenario in which I could bet against LeBron. He does everything you could ever ask a player to do on both ends of the court. He’s almost becoming superhuman and it’s scary. The move to South Beach and his whining towards the end of his Cavs days has soured me on LeBron as a fan, but I can’t help but admire the greatness that I am watching. LeBron is potentially in the midst of what could be a long run of MVP’s and championships and it doesn’t look like much can stop him. This Spurs team could be one of the few teams built to do just that. However, when you factor in revenge after LeBron and his helpless Cavs were swept by the Spurs in ’07, I can only imagine the displays The King is going to put up in this series. Stay tuned. 2. MVP:  Who will win this year’s Finals MVP? We have four former MVPs in this series (Duncan, James, Parker, and Wade) and all four would love to add another to their resumes.  As I wrote last week, another MVP for Parker would mean that he would join Magic Johnson as the only point guards to have ever won multiple Russell’s. An MVP for Duncan would pretty much cement him as the best player since Jordan and put him in the discussion for best big man ever. LeBron James would join Jordan, Hakeem, Shaq, and Kobe as the only players to win the award in consecutive years in addition to capping off this ridiculous two-year run. And the least likely scenario would be a second MVP for the shell of Dwyane Wade. That’s just not happening. The MVP will be a player on the winning team so by picking a player I am picking a team so without further ado…


Heat in 7, Rashard Lewis for MVP:  It’s pretty obvious from the rest of my reasons to watch that I’d love to go with San Antonio, but LeBron is an unstoppable force of nature. The man is just plain better at basketball than anyone else on the planet, and a good deal better, too. This season he’s done things that nobody has seen before – there’s a reason his team reeled off 27 straight wins at one point. Sure, they looked vulnerable against the Pacers, and sure, the Spurs would absolutely be the team that can solve LeBron, and sure, Tim Duncan doesn’t lose in the Finals. But with the teammates LeBron has – and let’s face it, at the very least Wade and Co. will do enough to help LeBron win – and with Spoelstra surprisingly entering Coach of the Year discussions with his adaptations to his superstar’s strengths, the Heat are just too damn good. Miami in an intense seven games. Oh, and I obviously don’t think Lewis will win MVP but I just can’t bring myself to give LeBron any more credit. Heat in 7, LeBron for MVP:  My heart is pulling for the Spurs, but as I said, I can’t bet against LeBron. As exciting as the growth of Hibbert and Paul George was last series, not very many truly expected the Heat to ever lose that series for one reason and one reason only: LeBron. The man is at the apex of his game and at this point is just building up his resume so that when he retires he can throw it down next to the Kobes, Jordans, Birds, and Magics of the world. However, this Spurs team is deep, talented, and above all else, well-coached. Pops is hands down the best coach in the league and much like his point guard, probably an underrated all-time great as well. The Spurs have the edge on the Heat in all the right places: point guard, bigs who defend the rim, and coaching. Neither of these teams is just happy to be here and this is not a business casual affair. There is only one objective for each team and if they don’t reach that goal, their season will be considered a failure. The Heat have home court and the best player in the world. Heat in seven, get ready for a great series. Spurs in 7, Parker for MVP:  I really, really, really, really like how the Spurs are playing basketball and I don’t like how the Heat have become a one-man show. Unless Norris Cole proves to be Parker’s kryptonite, Tony should have his way with the Heat’s suddenly vulnerable defense. There is a reason the Spurs traded George Hill a few years back: Tony Parker is a much better player. Parker won’t be flustered by the helter-skelter, trapping scheme that the Heat employ and he should be able to find his open teammates for high-percentage shots. I know LeBron is the best player in the world, but he can’t do it by himself. If the Heat want to win he must get consistent greatness from Bosh or Wade, but neither player has looked capable of that in recent weeks. I like the Heat to take games one, three, and six, but unfortunately that leaves them one win short of a trophy.  Spurs take it in a riveting Game 7.
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TBT: The Big Fundamental

Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time. Period. Way before he was set to appear in his fifth NBA Finals was this fact cemented. Malone, Barkley, McHale, and Garnett are all great in their own right but none of them can hold a candle to TIMMY. He’s been the catalyst for four championship teams over the past 16 years and has had the Spurs in title contention for every one of them. He has never had a team win less than 50 games, and he’s always been the team’s main superstar. TIMMY has never been the flashiest player and therefore doesn’t accrue the attention that high-flyers and media goldmines like Shaq, Kobe, and LeBron have gotten over the years. Thus the nickname “The Big Fundamental” is quite fitting. No flash and no showboating. Just results. To think that Tim Duncan was an All-NBA First Team performer in his rookie year and is again in his 16th season is absolutely mind-boggling! The man is everything you could ever want to teach a kid learning to play the game to emulate. So here is an ode to those fundamentals and his signature bank shot with a guest appearance from the great Red Auerbach. No, they aren’t in the clip together talking or running drills , but you’ll see what I mean, just watch the damn clip!

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Tony Parker: A Hypothetical Legend


Parker is a legend with the ladies, but what about on the court?

If one were to project the NBA Finals match up this season, the most logical choice would be the Miami Heat versus the San Antonio Spurs.  And since the Heat have won at a 90% clip over the last several months, one would imagine they would be the odds on favorite to win a second championship in as many years.  Let’s look at the facts: they have the arguably the most talented player the game has ever seen, a former Finals MVP and top 10 player in Dwyane Wade, a legitimate All-Star big man in Chris Bosh, and the best collection of role players (though their shooters have struggled recently) this side of…well, San Antonio.  If I were a betting man (well, I’d probably be poor, destitute, and running an underground sports blog…wait what? I’m already those three things? I might as well start putting my limited chips on the table), I would have no other option but to choose the team that doesn’t lose (they’ve lost 5 games since January 30th, but this Pacers team is no joke. The Heat are in serious trouble in this series.).  But I’m not a betting man, and I believe that the San Antonio Spurs are destined to win the NBA Finals this year.

The Spurs have been the victims of some bad luck in the past few postseasons (Ginobili’s elbow, and the Perkins/Ibaka “I think hell froze over” game), and quite frankly should probably be playing in their third consecutive Finals against this very same Miami team.  And as our muse Bill Simmons vehemently argues, Tim Duncan, not Kobe Bryant is the best player of his generation, but Kobe has the extra ring that Timmy lacks.   This title would give Timmy five rings, tied with Kobe, therefore Hasheem Thabeeting the ring argument, and cementing Duncan as the best player since Jordan.  (Hasheem Thabeeting = rendering something irrelevant, unless of course Scott Brooks is your coach.)  But in my opinion, this Finals has as much to do with the legacy of another under-appreciated member of the Spurs as it does Big Timmy’s.   Here is my question: if the Spurs win the 2013 NBA Finals, where will Tony Parker rank in the discussion for best point guard of not just today, but all-time? Continue reading

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