It Might Be the Patent Leather Talking

I feel into some unfortunate semantics earlier today. When I said "it's when players actually give a fuck," I really meant "when they can visualize the win in advance." Unlike football, it's easy for basketball to keep in touch with the fact that it's a game. During the regular season teams meet up, engage in a lively interaction, and at the end a winner emerges. It's not there's no effort involved, it's that it's all atomized, in-the-moment play. No grim teleology, no looming threat of shame. Just elite athletes flexing skills and working together to try and come away with the win.

Now think about T-Mac tonight. No one epitomizes that loose, organic regular season rhythm like McGrady, from the way he varies his role to his limbly movements. And yet against Utah in the second half, he decided to win and strode mercilessly to that conclusion. The tense SAS interview clip, that broad-shouldered other one shown throughout the game, and that thing about cutting himself off from all outside communication all smacked of dead seriousness. T-Mac blocking shots, hitting threes with a howl, all that was the work of a man who had decided how things were going to be. Basketball may not be jazz, but before the playoffs everyone's a prisoner of the individual contest's flow. Here, we had T-Mac exploding all the conduits and smacking the night around with his footprint. Yao produced, but McGrady ended up owning that game on every level imaginable.

I'm not an Iverson fan, but I was in 2001. That was when AI showed up for every game like it was a foregone conclusion. Not out of Shaq-like arrogance—no, this was a complete refusal to admit he could lose. You don't really get this with Kobe, who knows that he'll win if he just sets his sights on it brusquely enough. This is different; it's a player shedding all ego and perspective and identifying himself with the win. It becomes self-preservation, but of a far gnarlier variety than "staying alive in the playoffs." He is that win, and damn it, he exists.

I know I'm contractually obligated to cheer for Phoenix and Golden State, and those Nuggets are certainly a beguiling road show. And trust, I don't really think much about the fact that I live in Houston. But when I stopped at the CVS on the way home, and ended up discussing the game with two drunk frat kids buying lawn chairs and the black guy who'd gone to work during halftime, I saw Philly '01 all over again. When a player gets like that, the whole city can feel it, and they feed off of it. I'm not saying the Rockets are collecting rings, but I know right now that T-Mac's May could swallow up all other playoff storylines.

Excuse an old man his indulgence: I know all about that.


At 4/22/2007 5:49 AM, Blogger T. said...

While Mac & Yao are the Rockets two pillars of excellence, the Houston train will only go as far as Skip, Shane, Chuck, Luth and Juwan will keep producing. Someone needs to be that third wheel . . . it doesn't have to be the same guy every night, but one of those guys must must must step into the breach and come up with 15 points and 6 rebounds or assists.

Me? I'm sitting in a city of 18 million people all backing a team in Texas.

At 4/22/2007 8:33 AM, Anonymous db said...

I disagree with T. and agree with Shoals on this one. Houston will succeed to the extent that TMac believes in his ability to make a solid play to the hoop against Giricek or Kirilenko any time down the floor.

The Rockets are built around having heat sinks that draw the defense in and provide open shots for Alston, Battier, Head on the perimeter and Juwan at the elbow.

Yao will always work like that - whether he has a good shooting game or not, you throw it into Yao and the offense works, because the defense has to respond.

But if McGrady gets taken out of his game and starts shooting too many contested jump shots, none of the third stringers get their shots either, and worst of all, Alston and Head are likely to get drawn into taking bad shots.

So it does actually sit with TMac, like he said.

How solid is Deron Williams!

Can we also please have a post on AK47. I've never seen anything like what's happened to him - he was one of my favorites and just lost all confidence. He had one block tonight that just made you remember what he was like.

At 4/22/2007 1:23 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

This is a question born of ignorance from a small-town boy, not a challenge: Aren't all cities with playoff-bound teams kind of abuzz when a game is on?

Also, watching this Cavs/Wiz tilt is about as close to torture as playoff basketball can come these days. A Cavs team that can't seem to come to the realization that this is, indeed, playoff basketball is still beating a gutty-yet-error-prone Wiz squad. Based on this performance, I have to wonder if LeBron and the Bronettes will even be awake by the second round.

At 4/22/2007 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget T-Mac looked a bit like this a few years ago while going up 2-0 against Dallas.

At 4/22/2007 4:13 PM, Anonymous the racoon said...

utah aint got that kind of arsenal.

also Kobe the Destroyer!

At 4/22/2007 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barbosa's killin the Lakers right now...

At 4/22/2007 5:44 PM, Anonymous Pat said...

T-Mac was the true MVP this season. His game is unreal at this point. Hopefully everyone else will start paying attention after this.

At 4/22/2007 6:26 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

I respectfully disagree with ya, T. And I say respectfully because you definitely are one of the most respected commentators here, and a source of much knowledge.

I don't see how you can argue that the Rockets need a third wheel when most teams in the league don't have two wheels like TMac and Yao. In fact, probably the best comparison for the Rockets path this postseason is the path that Jeff van Gundy's mentor took last season - the path of Wade and Shaq and everyone play their part.

Only I would rather have a Battier (the best glue guy in the league), plus cats that know their role like Head and Howard than the Heat's crew from last season - the vapors that constitute Payton's career, plus Walker and whatever else you have - they didn't even have a glue guy at Shane's level!

Point is, the Rockets can do it; Coach Jeff is an asset, as he is still able to out-coach most of the coaches in the West. I really think the Rockets are gonna make it to the Conference Finals, and depending on who they play (the Spurs or the Suns/Lakers), they could go to the Finals*.

*As long as T-Mac and Yao stay healthy, of course.

At 4/22/2007 6:33 PM, Anonymous M-gone said...

Its the back injury. Playing in pain for the past couple years has opened up T-mac eyes. You only get so many chances, and when u feel good out there playing you know u have to make the most of it.

I know this team is currently T-Macs. But if they actually make a legitimate run the reason will be YAO. His confidence and presence will be the main key to their success and it will also result in more open looks for T-Mac.

Howard offers the "this is my last chance" vibe. which never hurts.
skip...no confidence. wont change
Battier..stable role player. nothing make or break coming from him.

T-Mac may have a series, but this relies more on Yao and not the other way around

At 4/22/2007 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with T-Mac for MVP, but he really didn't get a big push this year from the media. He held Houston down without Yao for a bunch of games.

At 4/22/2007 7:50 PM, Anonymous ronald james davis said...

bean thousand says fuck the haters from his last game of last year with 33 fg attempts! let me be the first to get the ball rolling on the "he missed on purpose to show people that he made the right decision by not shooting as much in the second half of game 7 last year." that being said i expect the lakers to win game 2. keep in mind all of this is coming from a kobe supporter.

At 4/22/2007 8:09 PM, Blogger T. said...

respected? ha!

Anyways, I don't want to irrationally defend an internet basketball argument to the point of extending the commentary to 40 some posts, but my point is simply this:

I expect Yao to get near 30 points a game with a commiserate number of rebounds.

I expect Mac to get near 30 points a game with a commiserate number of assists.

That's 60 points - meaning the rest of the Rockets need 35 points to hit 95 (which is what they should need with the defense).

I'm confident we'll get the production from the Big Two - but the rest of the team? Sure they're set up by the inside out action and TMac doing his Magic/Steve Smith at Michigan State/Penny Hardaway circa 1995 imitation, but those shots need to fall for the role players.

And I'm not always confident they will.

At 4/22/2007 9:22 PM, Anonymous will said...

m-gone is right.
If Yao does a breakthrough series then Houston will be success

At 4/22/2007 11:30 PM, Anonymous amphibian said...

I think AK47 is playing out of position at two guard or perimeter small forward. That happened when Boozer arrived in town, creating a pretty sick-on-paper front court.

That block sequence you remember so vividly came when AK47 was staying near the paint, where his long arms and good timing really comes in handy. Since his jump shot isn't quite automatic yet, he's been struggling somewhat. I hope he isn't trade bait to get a 2 guard Bowen-style upgrade and draft picks.

Everyone's conclusion: "Screw the system, Jerry. We need more of 5X6 Guy."

And Yao was getting close to 30-12. How is does this effort/production require a "breakout series"

WV - upuzt - More playing time for Andrei or AK47 turns into an Uzi.

At 4/23/2007 12:17 AM, Blogger Martin said...

wow, awesome Sunday for any basketball fan. A couple of things I noted. On the Nuggz vs. Spurs- the X-factor is Marcus Camby his weak side defense on Duncan is amazing. The Nuggz defensive scheme of sending Nene to pester TD and having Camby swoop in from the weak side to block any punk shit TD put up is very effective. Also AI may prove to be a big problem for SA. Bowen may be able to shut down Melo on a couple of games but AI is too quick for Bowen. Its a shame that AI is so streaky, if he was money every game he would be a handful given that he is totally unguardable.

Speaking of unguardable, that is BD's middle name. I am guilty of GS Warrior ignorance. Sunday was my first GS sighting and wow! I was impressed. All 5 players can rebound and bring the ball up, they switch on every pick and roll with ease. What a team! But what sets GS apart is Baron Davis. Dude is fucking unguardable! he was getting ANY shot he wanted, I forgot BD had such a devastating first step he was taking it to the hole whenever he felt like. This may sound like hyperbole but I confidently declare that BD is the best penetrator in the game right now. The fact that Davis was feeling it from 3point range made him even more unstoppable.

Suns vs. Lakers had some potential but I dont see any upset in that series. Kobe is out numbered and is forcing up all kinds of shit.

At 4/23/2007 2:04 AM, Blogger T. said...

holy crap. Ak-47 apparently had some sort of nervous breakdown in the locker room.



At 4/23/2007 3:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shit is real when your only making $12 mil... he probably doesn't even know where his next meal is coming from if his per diem runs out.

At 4/23/2007 4:32 AM, Anonymous ronald james davis said...

what are the odds anonymous 3:30 would be complaining about the exact opposite if AK makes 12 mil and doesnt give a shit about playing in playoff games? at least dude wants to get in the game and attempt to earn his money.

At 4/23/2007 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just saying to keep things in perspective this is a guy who's making pretty good guap, is talented, and will probably definitely get a chance again either with the Jazz or another team... so save the nervous breakdown for people who have something to be nervous about. There's a difference between caring about the game and being a drama queen.

At 4/24/2007 1:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, kinda curious, Shoals: why did you stop liking AI? Not a criticism, just really curious. (Find myself going in the opposite direction: I disliked him back then, but have come to appreciate and feel affection for him now.)


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