Everything That Rises Must Converge
Moreso than any of the other major sports there is a quantum leap in the caliber of play from the regular to the post-season in the NBA. Because the disparity in talent is greater in the NBA, and the stakes so much less, the regular season is so great a slog that it's startling to see a guy like AI bust his ass every single night, so much so that there sometimes appears to be something gravely wrong with him. The other players seem to be mesmerized by him, (no other player in the league has both teams focus so intimately trained on him) not so much by what he is able to do, but by the fact that he's willing to put out the effort to do it. When the playoffs come along, and particularly matchups like the two we have this round the sport really transforms into something beautiful. The talent level converges and both teams are made better by the ability of the opponents. I'm probably one of the few neutral fans out there who's actually rooting for the Spurs, (I just love Ginobili's staccato intractability and have been a huge fan of Duncan's since he dropped 40 to knock out the Lakers a couple years ago) but I prey that Jo Johnson gets back soon and the series goes seven, because when basketball is played on this level it's the most exhilarating of all the team sports. These series are just fantastic, we've got great players ALL IN THEIR PRIME OR PRE-PRIME (with the notable exception of Shaq, who is just barely on the downside) and all four teams work together brilliantly. Seriously, this has to be the best pair of conference semis in recent memory doesn't it. We've got superstars on all four teams, and not even the slightest bit of disfunction. That's amazing. To highlight this I've ranked the 20 remaining starters, and though impressive, it doesn't do justice to the way each team is perfectly constructed.
6. Ben Wallace
11. Joe Johnson
12. Rasheed Wallace
14. Tony Parker
15. Q. Richardson
16. B. Bowen
17. U. Haslem
18. E. Jones
19. D. Jones
20. N. Mohammed
What a list! The first two are already all-time greats, the only question with them being how high in the top fifteen players of all time to place them. The next two seem destined for similir fates, and the two after that are legit first team types. In fact you have to go down to number 16 to find a player who's not at least a borderline all-star! In today's NBA, with 30 teams, that's unbelievable, it's almost like those 80's series other than the fact that the benches are much weaker.
Interestingly, but not suprisingly, the Heat and Spurs have the last five players on the list, and six of the last seven. (Maybe I'm being a little harsh on Parker, but really, who would I switch him with?) And yet really, those last five fit so well within their team structure you really would be hard pressed to consider them weaknesses. I don't know if this list helps illuminate the strength of these series, but I do think it reflects their team concepts.
* Has anybody else been thoroughly confused by and slightly embarrassed for Q? I know the team wants him to spot up and launch 3's, but seriously, didn't he do more at one time? Jim Jackson is a good spot shooter but he occasionally drives to the rim. I didn't watch the Clippers much but I remember him doing more. Watching this super-athlete clang jumpers kind of saddens me.
*Why has Robert Horry had such a mediocre regular season career. Why did he never have even one standout season? I just don't understand this. His career year was 95-96 when he averaged 12 points and 6 boards. How did that happen.
* I don't mean to pick on him, but can anyone remember anybody looking so over his head as Beno Udrih? Every time they pass the ball to him it seems like his eyes get as wide as saucers and he can't wait to swing the ball. Every time he's in the game I just hope he doesn't screw up as I imagine him going home and weeping after coach Popovich yells at him for dribbling yet another ball off his foot out of bounds.