STAT and Co. were just one play away.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
As I was pondering how I was going to wrap up the game, I bitterly watched ESPN’s studio show with my face in a glossed-over stupor. As I revisited Duncan’s secret 3-point talents, Michael Finley’s gritty 3-ball and Manu Ginobili’s lefty drive, I began to consider how much damage I could do with a baseball bat to my television. But then, before I could find a pitch to hit, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith started yapping on the screen.
It was with such irony that I found myself, unusually indignant, listening to perhaps the angriest commentator in professional sports. Why he is so mad, I will never know. He can talk about whatever he wants, he has no stake in the teams he talks about and he makes nearly a million dollars a year; sounds like a rough gig.
But regardless of all that, he started harping on how the Suns didn’t pull out the victory because of their defensive ineptness. What an original thought. Way to go out on that limb.
If the Suns would have won by three and Michael Finley’s 3-pointer would have went in-and-out, what would Smith’s story have been then? Something probably along the lines that the Suns held the Spurs under 100 points and beat them at their own game. Smith would have stated that since Shaq joined the team, the Suns can run as well as play effectively in the half-court.
Instead, they lost by two points in a double-overtime game that they controlled to the defending champions on their homecourt. It took the first 3-pointer of the year from Duncan, an in-out-3-pointer from Nash in the second OT and foul trouble of the Suns big men for the Spurs to do it too.
I would make Duncan beat me with that shot in
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
I guess I’d just like to see an analyst do some original thinking for once. Try for example, this:
The Spurs “won” the game. The Suns didn’t “lose” it. The Spurs just made one more play than the Suns. That’s the bottom line. It was that close.
If Raja Bell would have forced Ginobili to the right, if Boris Diaw would have finished that layup in OT, if Shaq would have nailed those two Hack-a-Shaq free throws, it would have been 1-0 Phoenix.
Or if Duncan, Ginobili or Finley don’t hit really tough shots under immense pressure, it is 1-0 Phoenix.
So San Antonio is that good on defense and Phoenix is that bad because of one play? Sounds like a stretch.
Is it poor defense that forces a center to make his first 3-pointer of the year with less than five seconds to play. Or did a superstar player make an unbelievable play? If that scenario happens 10 times, how many times would Duncan drain that shot?
If Shaq can play a full game without foul trouble and temper Duncan’s scoring just a little more, Game 2 could be different. Now they just have to make one more play than the Spurs.
That way, the suits in the studio might actually come up with some new material.
On a related note, while I am second-guessing analysts, let’s add ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy to the list. When Amaré Stoudemire fouled out because Kurt Thomas drew a charge on him, he said that STAT didn’t pass the ball to a wide-open Shaq because of Shaq’s inability to hit free throws.
Everyone who saw the play saw that STAT tried to get the hoop and the harm. And anyone who has watched him all year knows that STAT is not going to pass the ball when he’s in the paint. He’s looking to score. As he should, he’s a beast down low.
Not to mention, STAT was feeling it at that point of the game, having already totaled 33 points. So he got overzealous, no big deal. What he didn’t do was deliberately not pass it to Shaq, who wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to get fouled anyway. No one was near him. It would have been an easy dunk. But STAT just didn’t see the big fella.
That’s one of those plays that STAT went back to the bench, looked at Shaq and said, “My fault.” And as a basketball player, I blame fellow commentator Mark Jackson for not calling Van Gundy out on that one. As a coach, I would like to have heard Van Gundy say something insightful like, “Stoudemire shouldn’t have leaned forward when he jumped. If he would have kept his verticality, he wouldn’t have drawn the foul, got his shot off without duress, and would have left Shaq with a wide-open offensive rebound if he would have missed.”
But, hey, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong… Maybe he was calculating Shaq’s free throw percentage as he was rising up to shoot… That’s probably why he committed a charge.