On the Hunt for Super Pasture

First, apologies to the commenter who resents our lack of proofreading and goofy "ebonics." Do the former yourself, ignore the latter because it's a bad joke that happens every 1000th word. Unless this is a passive aggressive way of pining for Billups.

I can't say I hate that game, but it wasn't much fun. I've exhausted all of my wellsprings of far-reaching, Celtics church hatred, and now it's down to this: This team plays hellish defense, no doubt the product of a certain JVG protege whom everyone admires.

They score just enough to elide their absence of a smooth-clicking offense, which is exactly the brute opposite of what I'd hoped this team would do. I'm totally done wrestling with KG, Pierce is just doing his thing and clunking toward local immortality, which is just. I don't want Ray Allen to come out of this labeled a bitch, which he won't.

Rondo remains so high on my personal rankings it's not even cheeky, though I wish I could see his philosophy of basketball expanded a little. Now, it seems like so many little crazed inklings that are immediately stuffed into a safety valve.

Last night's game just left me kind of a cold. I'd almost have rather the Lakers not made that run at the end. True, it allowed me to rebuff a few taunting text messages (sort of), and gives Los Angeles a bit of added confidence as they head home. Though from a viewer's perspective, it was a tad maddening. I slogged through all that other basketball rot, only to see the larval smudge leave the mark of the butterfly with two minutes left. False hope, and very nearly a slap in the face of anyone whose attention waned, or who shut off the set. At least when the immortal Celtics/Nets game went down (SORRY FRIEND!!!!!!!), I was young, spry, hungry, and able to sit in front of set throughout despite women sulking to the contrary. Now, I lack that resolve and bravery.

But at least one good thing did come out of it. And I'm not talking about a certain absolute breaking point of the Mark Jackson/JVG on-air tension (if Jackson realizes there is any). No, it happened in my brain, and it had everything to do with a very basic binary: The practical versus the visionary, or idealist, basketball.

The main basketball point I've taken away from these two games has been the clash in philosophies. Boston is perfectly at home in the muck, confusion and chaos. Broken plays, or dumping it off to P.J. Brown because something has to happen (and does), are its bread and butter on offense. On defense, they dig in and stir up more and more of a mess for Los Angeles by utterly preventing them from getting in position. No position, no triangle; no triangle, no Lakers hell-oil machine that so much astounded us for the first three rounds.

Granted, the Celtics do target these "pressure points" in the Los Angeles offense, but they also just keep grinding away. These are the point of fortification, and from, the goal is to ensure that Kobe can't to the lane to distract from this overall strategy, or find anyone remotely suited to faciliate in his place. It is war at its most strong and viral. Joey points out that duh, Coach T for the Celtics would bring some of the classic Knicks' philosophy to bear. Protect the lane at all costs. Against the Lakers, though, this takes on a dramatic new meaning. If I had to draw a basic distinction between East and West, it would be this pragmatism vs. idealism divide.

We're used to thinking of idealism, or perfectionism, in basketball as Larry Brown fretting over slightly incorrect execution. But on a more cosmic scale, it's teams who subscribe to a system, ideal, or vision, and aspire always to erect this utopia on hardwood, and those who desire to run head-on into battle with a handful of directives and a strong taste for disorder.

For those of you keeping score, or looking for me to say such things, that's an important FD line in the sand. Watching the Lakers struggle to find their spots on the floor, to sit up in my seat whenever they did manage to do so, was like watching someone's dream throttled and reborn in rapid succession. On some level, "systems" are totalitarian, which explains why the isolation flourished in the East, alongside the gritty defensive teams that preached a descent into controlled mayhem. It's the five-man, organic answer to one dude's improv-ed attacks.

Oh, my bad, "one player of undeniable individual offensive gifts, prone to hold the ball, put on a show, and go for delf. . . I mean, the basket." RELIEF.

Anyway, on the other hand, you've got all these team that aspire to some higher sense of purpose or identity. Sometimes, as with the Lakers, it's remarkably concrete. But still, the triangle is a concept, a recasting of basketball that doesn't proceed from traditional notions of execution and roles. For it to work, it has to get set up correctly on earth, and basic human impulses must be suppressed.

If you don't think this is one of those great American debates, one that mirrors the likes of pragmatism vs. transcendentalism or capitalism vs. socialism, you're darn right even if I'd never been born. Until the very end of last night, the Lakers proved why Communism failed in the face of Nixon and Reagan. Or maybe just in the face of humanity itself, which is not so well-tuned to retain precise doctrine when the shit hits the fan and the earth's surface starts to churn.

Granted, the triangle is the most extreme version of a "system," one that is at once hyper-concrete and profoundly transformative. At this point, it's darn hard to separate from Jackson's whole guru-like ways. But it also fits so many teams we've relentlessly advocated in the past. The Suns, early, untrammeled incarnation, and the 2006 Warriors, were ideas even if their five-man fluid rage was held together only by the most loose sense of chemistry, even shared faith.

That's a far cry from the nihilism expressed by the isolation (if not in the intersection of that play and its audience). I mean, shit, all these teams of principle, who would prefer to do their thing and match it up than actively undermine their opponents' identity, those are FD. I guess they're pussies, too, but it's what I like.

So do I hate the Celtics? No, I'm tapped out. It's more that what's made the Lakers so unearthly up to this point has been their ability to gleefully impose their new rules upon the game. Whatever the opposite of reactive is, they're it. All that shit about controlling the tempo and setting the tone, they were that. The Celtics, they strike first but do so preemptively, and then push the spiral downward from there. I wonder if they really hold the game in the palm of their hand, or have simply deemed it best to let it ride out on a wave of very, very smart destruction.

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At 6/09/2008 11:24 AM, Blogger bernard snowy said...

this post was so good it almost makes up for the game. at the risk of cheesiness, thanks for reminding me why I love this sport and this blog.

At 6/09/2008 11:43 AM, Blogger Teddy said...

I'm having a big-time presque vu moment here, but can't get over the top.

I think I'm stuck on the dual characterization of the Lakers as (1) FD-worthy because they are heirs to the warriors (and, I guess, the Warriors) who through history have battle against the grinding action of anonymous, system-based oppression, and (2) FD-worthy because they are based on a SYSTEM--namely the triangle.

Put another way, it's OK to prefer offense to defense, and to state that preference in something resembling those terms.

At 6/09/2008 11:48 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

The triangle is almost mystical. It's far more conceptual than it is strictly systemic.

At 6/09/2008 11:54 AM, Blogger Brendan K. said...

But I'm confused as to the "idealistic" nature of the triangle. Doesn't, at some fundamental level, the ideal/revolution require failing to define itself as distinct from the pragmatic/natural? I mean, your post is really good and all, but isn't it really only true of this moment in time? It's not like we didn't have the dynastic dominance of the triangle for over a decade. And even though the Soviets fell, China (it's not hard to argue) remains our companion in superpower-dom.

At 6/09/2008 12:01 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'm just trying to say that some teams are based on a strategy, others on a higher power. I'm not really saying that the triangle is a non-stop revolution, just that it depends on aspiring to a form of crystalline perfection. One that isn't just about details.

At 6/09/2008 12:11 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Basically system teams and high-concept teams are one and the same. One-man iso-fests and hard-nosed East teams that seek to clamp down and cause problems are the same.

At 6/09/2008 12:24 PM, Blogger Brendan K. said...

You know, in the sense of higher ideals facilitated by systems, the Lakers really haven't seen that before. The Shaq years were always more about the triangle as a means of positioning guys out of the low block and in decent range in case Shaq had to pass out of the double team. The collection of diverse and unique skill sets in Kobe, Pau and Odom (and the collective attributes of the bench) have, this year, showed us the triangle as more than "dump it down low and get out of the way."

But then, I have to ask- aren't the run-and-gun or Oakland's brand of controlled chaos sort of an offensive-minded version of the East's gumming up the works? I get that its not really a dichotomy, but doesn't those teams serve as much to take teams out of their own systems by controlling tempo and disturbing defensive sets? Just a thought.

At 6/09/2008 12:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Again—and I'm going to back away soon, in the faint hopes that someone agreed with me and will take my side here—there's a positive/negative, create/destroy dichotomy i am setting up. It's about what teams could play with no one else on the floor. Whether anyone can imagine what the perfect version of your style would look like.

At 6/09/2008 12:31 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

With the NBA writes its story lines, should the Lakers go down 0-3, I'd bet my house on the fact were going to see the first Boston Red Sox like comeback in NBA history.

At 6/09/2008 12:32 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

*with the way the, rather.

At 6/09/2008 12:37 PM, Blogger Teddy said...

Shoals, I think that last restatement--how would they play with no other team out there--clears it up for me, and I understand why that would drive your preferences in general, and your preference for LA in this series in particular. Much appreciated (and, let me say, I don't mean to come at you guys with too much negativity, because I love the site)

I think I still disagree, because I think it cuts out the central competitive aspect of the game. If all I wanted to see was wildly talented athletes interacting in an aesthetically pleasing manner (without regard to competition), I'd attend the ballet. But I feel your worldview.

At 6/09/2008 12:57 PM, Blogger Shariq said...

does anyone else see the lakers - celtics as federer v nadal.

as pete bodo points out on his blog, federer is the performer vs nadal as the competitor. this isn't denigrating to federer because it is the flip side to federer in full flight - when he achieves a level of aesthetic quality and high performance unmatched in the history of tennis.

All of this comes to an end when he plays Nadal on clay. The nature of the surface and Nadal's celtics like intensity on every point makes him almost impossible to beat. Like the Lakers being pushed out of the triangle, Nadal shackles federer and except for the occasional glimmer doesn't allow him to go into full flight.

The difference in tennis is that when the play moves to faster surfaces, nadal is still a great player but the speed of the court increases by just enough to let federer show off his full reportoire.

I'm wondering whether the way games are officiated in the nba is similar to that. Referees determine how physical the game is based on how many touch fouls they call (see kelly dwyer's post today). In LA, I can see the lakers getting just enough leeway for their offence to take over.

Unfortunately Nadal is improving on grass and would definitely win a best of 7 series with home court. So, like federer the lakers need to either

a) serve out of their mind (feed gasol in the post on every possession and have him deliver)

b) improve their backhand (healthy bynum) or,

they'll be left having to consistently hit very difficult forehands which look great when they come off but can't be relied upon (kobe taking very difficult fadeaway jumpers)

At 6/09/2008 1:00 PM, Blogger Fredrik deBoer said...

My concern with all this is that I don't remember, and can't find in the archives, this great love for the Lakers before they started beating everyone in the playoffs. I certainly don't see this sort of over-the-top (for this blog) equation of this years Lakers with that Warriors term. Starting to like a team precisely when they get good is natural and common, but I don't think it amounts to enlightenment.

I also can't square Luke Walton with this blog. I don't understand your aesthetic and wouldn't pretend to, but it seems to me that an unathletic American-born white player who receives undeserved adoration because he "plays the right way" seems like the sort of thing you complain vociferously about. (Doesn't this blog's complicated racial politics require an examination of the fact that the Lakers are one of the whitest teams in the league?)

Finally-- I think many people are missing the fact that part of the reason the Lakers looked so good is because they really didn't play against particularly good teams. The West's advantage, I believe, has been severely exaggerated. The Nuggets everyone knew were no good. The Jazz couldn't play on the road, lacked offense and (I'm sorry, it's true) were the victims of horrendous officiating. The Spurs were an old and slow and injured team that became much older and slower and injured all of a sudden.

It's easy to play poetic basketball when you aren't playing inspiring opposition.

At 6/09/2008 1:05 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

When Gasol first joined up, I said several times that I'd rather watch them than any team in basketball. Then I stopped, without knowing why. That Lakers post from last week, where I proclaimed them love and people freaked out, was my way of asking why I had misplaced that initial enthusiasm.

I have always liked Luke Walton. Don't ask me why. I think it's because he passes well, and because I like to imagine that he and Odom are close.

At 6/09/2008 1:09 PM, Blogger The Hypnotoad said...

"I also can't square Luke Walton with this blog. I don't understand your aesthetic and wouldn't pretend to, but it seems to me that an unathletic American-born white player who receives undeserved adoration because he "plays the right way" seems like the sort of thing you complain vociferously about. (Doesn't this blog's complicated racial politics require an examination of the fact that the Lakers are one of the whitest teams in the league?)"

There are so many things wrong with this paragraph i'm too enraged to even argue about them. Suffice to say the statement "play the right way" seems anti-fd.

IMO, there is no "right way", but there is a "best way". As in, the "Spurs played 'the best way' and complained about every foul until the refs gave in and called everything for them."

At 6/09/2008 1:19 PM, Blogger Sweat of Ewing said...

In no way, shape, or form does Luke Walton play the right way. Granted, he's probably a recipient of basketball nepotism, but the man doesn't exist via grit and hustle, crashing the boards with abandon and checking bodies. Walton is a bad-to-decent shooter, bad-to-decent rebounder (for his size), and a decent-good ball handler (again, size)... and a fantastic passer - so good that he can play in the NBA despite not really being able to do anything else well. He's not young Malik Rose with a passing game, he's more like a really shitty Antawn Jamison, covered in blinking eyes.

At 6/09/2008 1:23 PM, Blogger Folkhero said...

About a year ago, I was watching one of those 'look at players hang out' things on NBA.com. I'm not sure why, I usually find those things as boring as hell. The one I watched was Luke Walton, Lamar Odom and Jordan Farmar having lunch. Luke Was giving the other two a bad time because he was the only who had a collage degree. Odom asked him what he got his degree in. He and Farmar just busted up laughing when they found out it was in family studies.

At 6/09/2008 1:31 PM, Blogger rebar said...

i like walton because i read this thing about how he and farmar carpool, and when farmar drives they listen to rap, and when walton drives they listen to phish and the dead.

also, whenever i see him do a little retarded spin/lob handoff or jerky jump hook i laugh and feel joy for the game.

on the create destroy front, we root for Oakland because they were creating sum crazy shit. we root for LA because the triangle is about creative possibilities, we don't root for the celtics because they only want to destroy other teams' beauty, we don't root for san antonio because they're the schoolyard bully kicking over sandcastles, we root for AI because he created buckets out of will, speed, and fuck you, we don't root for PHX anymore because steve kerr destroyed creation.

At 6/09/2008 1:31 PM, Blogger Fredrik deBoer said...

Actually, the play-by-play guy last night used the exact words "plays the right way" to describe Walton. You're right, sweat, that he isn't that kind of Eduardo Najera figure who usually gets the appellation-- just goes to show that it's more a function of whiteness than anything else.

At 6/09/2008 1:40 PM, Blogger The Till Show said...

Who's more FD? Rondo or Stuckey?

Definite mindfuck right there.

At 6/09/2008 1:47 PM, Blogger The Walker Wiggle said...

I'm a life long Celtics fan (boo, hiss) and am completely on board with Shoals's article, in fact probably only the second in a long while that didn't get my hackles up (first was the Pierce Deadspin piece of course) in that it felt like a real engagement with the team more than a thumbs down (though it was that too). I would like to ask if it's been pointed out here that Boston Celtics fandom encompasses a lot more geography than the city or even the commonwealth - Maine, NH, Vermont, etc.(Although I guess it's all still Puritan New England, but at least we "invented" grandparents in the Western World.) Anyway, I only really comment because I loved loved the Walton/Jamison comparison.

P.S. Leon Powe was the #1 Google hot trend last night.

At 6/09/2008 1:54 PM, Blogger ItTakesAThiefToCatchAThief said...

Luke Walton buys weed by the ounce. And family studies is the Jock program at UofA - every athlete is in that program, and for a reason.

If the comeback hadn't happened last night, this post would've been about how great it was to see the Celtics team we all dreamed about. Ray was making threes, Paul was driving and kicking and scoring, KG was a terror on D, and little Rajon's all growns up. And The Show.

It's interesting how a near-comeback can change things.

At 6/09/2008 2:04 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

I'm gonna jump in and defend Shoals on this one. I really felt this post and his follow up comments because they help form a necessary link between the W's and the Lakers and refine a component of emerging FD philosophy.

There two kinds of teams in the league: those that win by destruction and those that win by creation [no false dichotomy]. To continue to use the W's and Lakers as examples, each is attempting to construct a basketball universe through style. Each has a vision of how the game should be played, and is attempting to construct a microcosmic universe based on its philosophy and suffused with its zeitgeist. The Triangle is not Extreme Nellieball (Bay Area Style) in that each imagines a different kind of world, but each is also ultimately engaged in a creative act (even if some obstacle must be moved in the course of creation).

Other teams, as described, try to win by gumming-up other teams' shit and then putting the ball in the basket. They have neither system nor philosophy. They are entirely process, means without end. They are maintainers of the status quo.

And that, for me, is part of my distaste for Boston. Although I've never particularly cared for PP's game (I liked someone's description of it as slovenly), KG and Ray-Ray were always appreciated. As much as I disliked the city of Boston, I was willing to give this new Celtics incarnation the benefit of the doubt because of the possibility that they would coalesce as the former kind of team, express some plan for the ordering of the world, and then attempt to implement it in beautiful and competitive style. Let's just say I've been disappointed.

At 6/09/2008 2:41 PM, Blogger Matt said...

The FD hope to me has always been that there's more to professional basketball than competition, that style matters, and Six up there basically crystallized my whole basketball philosophy.

Thanks, man!

At 6/09/2008 3:05 PM, Blogger silent.e said...

Mr. Six:
Does that mean the Celtics are Marshall McCluhan and the Lakers are Pablo Naruda or something?

At 6/09/2008 4:07 PM, Blogger bernard snowy said...

"It's about what teams could play with no one else on the floor. Whether anyone can imagine what the perfect version of your style would look like."

1. does this make the four corners offense basketball nihilism? remove the opposing team, and you end up with four guys standing motionless while a fifth guy dribbles in place, all actively trying to avoid not only scoring but moving. about as close to the void as you can get on a basketball court.

2. is it ever possible for defense to be FD by this standard? obviously, defense without an opponent is kind of meaningless; but at the same time, I think about players like Ben Wallace (at least, back when he was still awe-inspiring). what would his personal basketball heaven* look like? wouldn't dude just want to block shots all day? and doesn't that constitute an ideal of sorts -- the assertion of the block as something valuable in itself, rather than just another tool for 'mucking up' what the opposing team is trying to do? not sure how this translates to whole teams, though; team defense ultimately seems pragmatic.

*: I'm having way too much fun now imagining different players' own personal versions of basketball heaven.

WV: obmwlfb - Obama Wins Landslide, Thanks Facebook

At 6/09/2008 5:24 PM, Blogger ItTakesAThiefToCatchAThief said...

Team Defense is absurdly underrated in the FD world.

It's like the American Revolution. Yeah, there's problems with it (slaves, white men rule all, didn't Navajoes used to live here?) - but in the end, they stood their ground and fought off an Insurmountable onslaught.

Thomas Jefferson is Tom Thibeadou. KG is George Washington. Sam Cassell is Benedict Arnold. Paul Pierce is Mel Gibson in "The Patriot". I think Ray Allen is the french dude from "The Patriot", and Eddie House is Heath Ledger from "The Patriot" , ya know, that was a really good movie actually. Dude's head gets blown clean off by a cannonball.

At 6/09/2008 5:26 PM, Blogger sharky h. towers said...

At several points of the game the Lakers had five (5!) white guys on the floor. When was the last time that happened in the Finals? Has it ever happened?

As for the narrative: I'm down. Especially with what Rebar said. But doesn't the question of league manipulation trump the question or narrative of "good vs. evil", "offense vs. defense", "west vs. east"? I mean the Heat/Mavs was when it really got out of hand. I thought after Donaghy they'd retreat from their policy of blatant manipulation, but it doesn't seem so.

This league is a play. Staged and calculated. Good stories are 95% character and 5% plot... maybe it's genius to focus on the motivations of the characters in the play, and ignore the actual plot. Maybe it's all we have left. Maybe I'm late to the party and that's what this site is.

Maybe this is a place where we can coalesce with our illness. Our sickness that is NBA fan-dom. After last night the disease may have killed me.

At 6/09/2008 5:46 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Count me amongst the C's fans who love this post. And who don't blame people for being down. (I think that makes four of us.)

A. Rondo = nihilism. Exhilarating, excruciating, impossible to predict. All style, occasional substance, zero care.

B. If offense is creation, and defense is destruction of that creation, then defense cannot be FD. There has to be art... true for both sides of Shoals' dichotomy. Offense is purposed art; defense is just purpose. Is Ayn Rand FD?

C. The only FD defensive play I can think of is a monster rejection that sails into the seats, with authority, instead of into a teammate's hands. It's about the statement, not the outcome. I give this ball back to you, so that I may reject you again.

D. Is anything in basketball less FD than a shot clock violation? Maybe a late-game strategic foul (prevent a 3 by fouling for 2) but that's endgame desperation more than a desired and achieved outcome.

At 6/09/2008 6:01 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

I'll quasi-defend Shoals here, not in the point that the Lakers are preferable in some way, or that they necessarily have created anything, but that the point is the yin-yang, create-destroy balance is the redeeming part of this series.

I can't believe nobody has seen Athens/Sparta as the prevailing metaphor here; at least, I think that's the same kind of battle line as Shoals is drawing up. Win because your way is the best way, or win by the negation of other ways. What's great about this post is the way it describes the boundaries of the battlefield so well.

Where I disagree is the sense that the Triangle (capitalized out of respect) is some sort of mythical beast that is so hallucinatory that it can't be run on this world. It's a system like anyone else's. Sure, there are a lot of options in it, but at its heart it's a low and high post offense that runs cutters off the post man. It looks pretty because LA has a proliferation of unselfish players that can pass out of all spots on the floor. Put enough passers on a team, and the neverending shuffle-cut offense I ran in junior high would look pretty. The fact that the Lakers run the Triangle isn't what makes them idealistic, although it's obvious that they lie closer to that end of the spectrum than Boston does.

Also, I'm sure that if any of us were privy to the thousands of repetitions of positioning, footwork, and pressure points that Thibodeau is running his guys through in practice, we'd think about that more as a "system" too. I think we can all agree that the Celts' defense so far isn't all just grit and hustle.

While I love this post, I'm not totally convinced it isn't just another way to express a preference for offense over defense (NOT the same as idealism versus pragmatism), and barely straddling the line between well-thought and overthought.

I actually have been more aesthetically pleased by Boston in this series. Especially in this latest game, they give out a feeling of movement and energy in their shot-blocking, rebounding, and fast breaks. Don't tell me it's not FD for Garnett to pin a ball on the glass and then loop it upcourt for Rondo outrunning everyone else down the sideline. That's like a football play executed on hardwood, which is FD.

And speaking of that, Rondo is like the Sparta version of the pass-first, right-way point guard. Not so much in the pros, but in college you see a lot of dudes who are good ball handlers but bad shots, and lead the nation in assists by being cerebral, understanding angles, and seeing a step ahead. Rondo reinvents this role, accomplishing the same thing but from a platform of tornadic athleticism and youthful unknowing. It's like he makes proper decisions by running faster, and avoids turnovers because his arms are long.

At 6/09/2008 6:08 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I like defense. Team defense that's out to create turnovers, or locks people down with swagger, and almost all blocks and steals.

Everything I'm saying about Boston applies to their offense, too.

Also, obviously defense involves a scheme. But is it really about an original vision of how the game should be played? Yes, if it's the kind of defense I mention above (like the Sixers, for instance).

At 6/09/2008 6:09 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Jeff, if you think defense and style have no place together, and that offense can't be nihilistic, you should try to get your hands on a recording of Julio Cesar Chavez versus Pernell Whitaker.

I know, it's an individual sport versus a team sport, but the defense-as-style half of it applies.

At 6/09/2008 6:17 PM, Blogger Kareem said...

A quick comment on race:

Deboer: "I also can't square Luke Walton with this blog. I don't understand your aesthetic and wouldn't pretend to, but it seems to me that an unathletic American-born white player who receives undeserved adoration because he "plays the right way" seems like the sort of thing you complain vociferously about. (Doesn't this blog's complicated racial politics require an examination of the fact that the Lakers are one of the whitest teams in the league?)"

Towers: "At several points of the game the Lakers had five (5!) white guys on the floor. When was the last time that happened in the Finals? Has it ever happened?"

At what point does racial thinking become racist absolutism? During the late 40's and 50's a few black jazz artists criticized Satchmo for his song, dance, and occasional appeals to white audiences. But that forgoes his history with civil rights and jazz-revolution (circa Ornette Coleman). If you asked Satchmo "why are you playing with those whites!" he'd say 'because they can play'. This isn't the country club, a white golfer's world, or a Klan meeting. This is basketball, and if you ask Kobe whether or not he supports white Luke Walton or white Sasha Vujacic hitting a shot that helps the Lakers win a game--well, you know the answer. Outside of Luke Walton, how many WASPs do you count on this Laker team? As liberated fans aren't we supposed to be beyond this thinking?

As an unapologetic Laker fan, I thought the game was called poorly; but I also feel that the Lakers should play with that same determinism seen at the end of the game for more than 5 minutes. This record turning again and again: loss and return, loss and revival, 15, 17, and 22 point comebacks, is quixotic and frustrating. Does it really take incredible odds to inspire this team to patient defense?

As far as the refereeing, I did not feel that the refs missed a lot of calls for the Lakers. However, they did not remain consistent, as many of the fouls called in the first half against the Lakers went uncalled during the fourth quarter when the Lakers attacked the interior with the same zeal (and contact) as the Celtics did in the first half. Plus, fuck this tic-tack shit in the finals... Number three on Kobe, really changed the momentum of the game. All the sudden Fish, Odom, and Kobe are in foul trouble on several questionable calls, and we're supposed to be happy and confident in our bench's ability to compete with the full brunt of the Celtics offense/defense.

At 6/09/2008 6:24 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

I see what you're saying, Shoals, but does it have to always be a reinvention? Of if you aren't saying that, does it always have to be active versus reactive?

I think that defense is always gonna be reactive, but there's no reason that you can't take a solid, staid framework (like the semi-packline defense played by Boston), and infuse it with personal style. I can allow myself to like it if you raise it to an artful level. Boasting for the sake of boasting, swag for the sake of swag, just like art without underpinnings, is just as boring as Tim Duncan.

And also, knowing where the other team's offense is going before they go there gives off a kind of collective swag which is pretty FD to me. I think there's a little of that in Boston's performance up til now.

To borrow a huge cliche, we'll see the real texture of the series after a couple games on the other court. Los Angeles: Where Idealism Happens.

At 6/09/2008 6:42 PM, Blogger JOHN said...

someone wrote in the comments from the last post, maybe dr. lic, that freedarko is liberated fandom. perhaps in some sense that could be accurate-but it is certainly not nba basketball fandom.

instead its your own island of basketball fetishism-where the devoted pile pseudo-intellectual fields of comparison on top of each other, unaware (or aware and pleased?) that the accumulation has carried you a long way from the current state of nba basketball.
more profane: the grandest of all basketball-themed circle jerks, populated almost exclusively by liberal arts college teacher's assistants, who's own basketball careers peaked as 7th men for their high school's junior varsity squad.

at times, i enjoy reading; in the same sense as reading a science fiction novel or watching a horror film: escapism, fantasy.

At 6/09/2008 6:47 PM, Blogger Carter Blanchard said...

Not that it should be too big a surprise, but just wanted to throw out that I'm definitely on board with this post. It really helped crystallize a lot of my thoughts with respect to why I've found these past two games so frustrating. And I think it definitely meshes well with the Federer-Nadal thing. Federer dominates by becoming superhuman. Nadal trumps him by making him appear merely human, rendering his ability to place the ball wherever he wants useless with his ability to always be there waiting for it.

As far as Luke goes: his through-the-legs bounce passes waiver from being strictly functional to ludicrously superfluous. I'm not sure what this means, but it's definitely something.

At 6/09/2008 7:23 PM, Blogger Carter Blanchard said...

Can I nominate "the grandest of all basketball-themed circle jerks, populated almost exclusively by liberal arts college teacher's assistants, who's own basketball careers peaked as 7th men for their high school's junior varsity squad" to replace the Slovenian farm league analysis tagline?

At 6/09/2008 7:40 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

If only JOHN had provided his original and trenchant analysis years ago, so much wasted effort could have been redirected to something more productive. Please, JOHN, post again and tell us what that more productive and appropriate thing is. We're lost without your guidance!

Or maybe his post was satire?

At 6/09/2008 8:37 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

I'm still trying to decide whether it's worse to be unaware, or to be aware and pleased.

Perhaps it is this indecision that unmans me in JOHN's eyes.

At 6/09/2008 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

is vlad the american liberal circa 1950s who believes communism can work and proclaims it everyday from his coffee shop. or is he doing shrooms with walton in the 70s.

At 6/09/2008 11:07 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Sadly, John's post overestimates your personal basketball acmes.

At 6/09/2008 11:44 PM, Blogger whataboutrob said...

"Can I nominate "the grandest of all basketball-themed circle jerks, populated almost exclusively by liberal arts college teacher's assistants, who's own basketball careers peaked as 7th men for their high school's junior varsity squad" to replace the Slovenian farm league analysis tagline?"

Yes, Yes! <-- Obvious joy from this grad student...

Per some comments above: I think one might argue that team defense (as opposed to individual mano-a-mano, try-to-shut-your-guy-down defense) is actually mostly about identity and swag and pure skill and emotion. I think it's completely FD. Most analysts (who generally suck) will prattle on about how defense is about moving your feet, and playing smart, etc. When really, great defense is about desire, and anger, and personal pride, and yes -- rejections that go into the third row. It's about freakish, out of this world talent that can dominate even when there's a lack of a serious "skill set".

And great defense isn't about destruction at all: it's about the creation of energy and joy and sometimes, anger.

At 6/10/2008 12:02 AM, Blogger whataboutrob said...

Oh, and yes: more Billups, please! Where's he been? I remember a while back he put up two classic posts, one with Kobe painted as the leader of a Dirty Dozen-esque crew, and the other as describing Boston's team as a pick up squad (which I actually think remains pretty spot-on). This was around the time of the big Boston trade, remember. I mean, how else do you explain Leon Powe? Dude's like the IT guy from your office who comes down to the gym to run in your weekly intra-office pic-up game and ends up just popping j's and dunking on that 6'4" guy who used to play D-I ball. How? Because NO ONE IS GUARDING HIM. Guy crates havoc for the same reason someone like Kobe does, essentially: no one can summon the emotional energy needed to stop him...

But yeah, watching Boston has sort of been like watching that group of guys keep the court down at the park/gym: they're not the most athletic guys, even (like the Warriors, where it seemed like everyone on the floor could out-run and out-jump his man), but they handle shit. There's KG, shooting from the elbow BECAUSE HE CAN. And those one or two crafty dudes who just sort of hang around and shoot, and you really expect them to hit, even when they've just been pulling a Starks and shooting w/o regard to the scoreboard. And Rondo, who (as pointed out earlier) doesn't even really have much of a shot at all -- this is a guy that defenses don't even really guard right next to the basket; they're just expecting him to pass -- but he's still hitting guys and absolutely annoying the shit out of the guy bringing the ball up the court by putting his long, stupid arms in the guy's face and just being a pain in the ass...

Sounds like I'm jocking for the C's here, and the truth is I couldn't really care one way or the other. I just want to see a series...

At 6/10/2008 12:15 AM, Blogger Nick said...

one thing that puzzles me about FreeDarko love of the Lakers is the triangle. for me the triangle is college hoops: it's the most collegiate of all tropes, installing the coach as "genius". fuck the coach as genius. no guru, no method, no teacher.....

the reason I like the C's is that they seem like a bunch of guys who really like playing together. (please note: this is not to agree with Curt Schillings's blog, to which I will not link, lest the universe end..)

yeah, Boston sports talk is awful, but put one team in black unis, one in white, and let me watch a game in my dreams, and I think I'd end up a fan of the C's........

At 6/10/2008 12:19 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I have to agree with what someone said way earlier. . . it's really just this incarnation of it, with this team. Because it's such a function of the players' skills.

At 6/10/2008 3:09 AM, Blogger holopawer said...

i'm drunk and have a lot to say, but i'll leave most of it until tomorrow. (fyi...i'm a 28 year old liberal arts undergrad...you're never too late!!!) maybe luke's game (i personally find him repugnant), but perhaps his game is referred to as "right way" is because of pops. despite race many second generation players are given a pass assuming they play the game with a bit more intellect. like they got some special secret knowledge. and rondo blocking vlad and getting the dunk is fd. what's the difference between team defense and individuals taking a chance?
once again, not pretty, but i'm drunk. (that's what clas majors do)

At 6/10/2008 3:26 AM, Blogger db said...

Great post.

@Nick - to me the triangle is impossible to see run properly in college hoops, because it is fundamentally about giving lots of players options and letting them make decisions responding to the flow of the game. Because it's a five person game, and spacing is a precondition of being able to go one-on-one, the triangle actually relies on players to show their improvisational skills more than an unstructured lebron-on-5 showdown. Yes, the structured nature of that system means that it doesn't have the glorious chaos of a GSW swarm, but to me it's a good call by Shoals to recognize that despite appearances FD vs. Rightway is not an anti-intellectual vs intellectual distinction. Anyone who has ever tried to teach in creative fields (including sports) knows that theorising the game can actually free you up. Ornette Coleman knows this.

Also, this story unwittingly said something important to me about the cultural dynamics between Boston and LA. The writer observes at the end that there is no way they could imagine a staunchly LA bar in Boston the way this Irish bar brought together a whole bunch of Celtics fans. My guess is that this is because people identify with LA differently than they identify with Boston. LA is almost defined by its diversity, its lack of a community, or maybe it constitutes its community in the interaction between communities. whereas Boston looks back to the Irish at a conscious or unconscious level. In this respect LA as a "white" team is not really as significant as LA as a cosmopolis (as we know: euro does not necessarily equal white). LA doesn't really give a fuck about your culture, and this "lack of depth" prevents it from having a beacon in the middle of Boston, but it does say something about why I've always kinda liked the city, and definitely why I was a laker fan as a kid outside the US.

At 6/10/2008 10:37 AM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

db, this doesn't change your main point, but I think it's interesting that the characteristics you use to define the Triangle could just as easily define the Princeton offense; however, people talk about that offense as being untranslateable to the NBA. (Yes, we've seen some teams use it, but the only team to reach serious success with it had JKidd to run it.) On the other hand, I can't remember ever seeing a college team run the Triangle, and I watch more college ball than pro.

Not surprising that someone on this site would bring up Ornette, although I would say that the concept of harmolodics seems a lot closer to Warriors '07 than lakers '08. "Everyone solos, nobody solos" was one thing that was said about it. I'm not sure if Ornette ever invented a new way to put notes together to achieve a feel, but he did expose and tear down some of the limitations of song structure and counterpoint. This is very much like a positional revolution. But to be personally athletic, or personally musical, still requires fundamental (not capital-F fundamental in the dogmatic sense of the word) ingredients. No one has invented a new way to get the ball in the hoop since Will Ferrell's mom invented the alley-oop.

At 6/10/2008 12:15 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

db, the reason an LA bar wouldn't survive in Boston while a Boston bar survives in LA is because LA is made up mostly of transplants with few if any ties to the city, while Boston is made up mostly of nth generation Bostonians. That's why LA is such a "bad sports town" or a town where most of the fans are perceived to be bandwagonners: because most of them (especially the ones who can afford tickets to the games) grew up somewhere else, probably rooting for some other team. When it comes to the Lakers in particular (and to the other LA teams to a far lesser degree), there is a very strong, very die-hard base of fans, although these people are generally the blue-collar segment of LA that never gets talked about, and of course never gets to see the games in person.

A Boston bar survives in LA because so many New Englanders (Bill Simmons among them) have moved to LA. The same is not true in reverse.

At 6/10/2008 1:47 PM, Blogger Martin said...

Shoals- congratulations on an awesome post. As a Celtics fan, blinded by homerism, the post has given has helped me understand the loathing expressed by unbiased fans but more importantly it has helped me come to terms with my Spurs hatred. For the longest time I have reasoned away my hatred for the Spurs as disdain for the slavish dictates of the right-way. But somehow deep down, I felt like my hatred was inherently irrational given the Spur's ever shifting identity is far from right-way. The Spurs are not evil incarnate, rather they just perfectly embody the destructive philosophy Shoals talks about. The Spurs exist only to destroy your system, they do not seek to create or impose any philosophy, just to destroy yours. Actually that last statement is a lie, the Spurs did at one time have a philosophy- back in 99, when DRob was still legit, they lived and died by the Twin-Towers strategy- unsurprisingly that was my favorite Spurs team. I especially enjoyed the 4 game-sweep beat-down they put on the Lakers team sporting 4 All-stars, 2 of whom were starters.

Perhaps it was DRob's declining skills, or the stupefying brilliance of the 2000-2002 Laker dynasty that imposed it's will so dominantly that the best strategy was to counter (Spurs) rather than seek to win on your own terms (Kings). Whatever the impetus, the Spurs ultimately sold their souls in exchange for multiple championship runs.

The Spurs current system is very chameleon-like, shifting with every-round, every-game, every-possession. If you are a high-octane, high-passing Suns team- the Spurs adopt destruction strategy X; If you are a slow-it-down ISO squad with a do-it-all superstar like the Cavs, the Spurs counter with destruction strategy Y. Rather than seek to impose their system, the Spurs constantly search for ways to counter your strengths; or for signs of weaknesses to exploit. On a broader scale, the Spurs focus on finding loop-holes in the basketball rules to exploit, like: how to get away with dirty defense (bowen); how to successfully sell a foul; how incessant whining about phantom fouls can condition a referee assume there has been contact when in doubt.

The Spurs chameleonic philosophy has proven to be both ruthless in efficiency and reptilian in abhorrence. Naturally many fans, myself included, are turned-off by watching the Spurs whose games are as joyless and morbid as witnessing an anaconda that is wrapped around a tiger, slowly crushing the life out of its faster and more agile opponent. We came to be enthralled by the tigers quickness, deadly paw slash and agile movements. Only that instead we are treated to a phlegmatic execution.

Well if my Celts have turned into the Spurs, I can understand the loathing. That said, with when your team is winning, traditional fandom does bring about a fairly intoxicating high that obscures all warts.

At 6/10/2008 2:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mantra about the Spurs has been that some athletes win by doing amazing things, while other athletes win by preventing their opponents from doing amazing things (see Spurs/Celtics vs Lebron).

Also, I believe that the whining creates the opposite effect by annoying the refs (who are not exactly accommodating personalities to begin with).

At 6/10/2008 8:51 PM, Blogger Mark said...

@wild yams

By the same logic, wouldn't New York be bad sports town as it is composed of so many transplants?

But your facts are more flawed than the logic. The idea that LA is bad sports town is totally misguided as is the notion that it is composed of mostly transplants. My own experiences have been that it's a bad sports town if bad is used in the sense of most fans being assholes, rather than indifferent or bandwagon-y. All the Latino sports fans out here are extremely passionate, and have behaved like perfect assholes to me whenever I've been at a Dodgers game rooting for the opposition. As for bandwagons, people here still roll around town with Raiders bumper stickers. The city is the only one that supports two pro basketball teams (until the Nets move to Brooklyn). And no other city has a college athletics rivalry equal to the USC-UCLA one. As a New York native who has lived in Los Angeles for two years, Los Angeles is definitely underrated as a sports town.

I don't really have the facts at hand, but when you include the Valley and SB, Alhambra, etc, the notion that Los Angeles's composed of transplants doesn't really hold up either.

At 6/11/2008 12:11 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

Mark - The idea that LA is a city of transplants most definitely holds up, especially in comparison to a city like New York for one simple reason: LA is a very, very young city. If you live there, ask yourself this: how many people in LA do you know who were born and raised there? Then ask yourself how many people were not only born and raised there but had parents that were born and raised there? How many had grandparents who were born and raised there? My guess is you'd probably know hardly any who have grandparents who were LA natives, and that you would not be able to find anyone who is a genuine 4th generation Angelino. Now ask yourself the same question with regards to NYC. See the difference?

Lots of people in LA may actually have been born and raised there, but oftentimes their parents were not and as such they may grow up with the same sports allegiances their dad may have brought with him from wherever he grew up. While there may be some of this in New York (hell, there's probably a lot of transplants and people like that there), there are far more who have had their family settled in that city or region for generations and for which rooting for one team is something that each generation has grown up with.


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