Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Worst Choke Ever; Worst Coaching Job Ever

I’m afraid we must now interrupt Rob’s Vegas & Poker Blog and temporarily replace it with Rob’s NBA Finals blog.  I apologize to those of you who have no interest in the NBA, and to those of you who came back here looking for the second part of the post I put up on Monday evening.  I know it’s bad that I would interrupt a two-parter like this—although, truth be told, considering the reaction (or lack thereof), my last post got, perhaps you’re all tiring of crazy women stories and maybe I should change this to an NBA blog. Anyway, the regularly scheduled part 2 of my last post will appear shortly, whether anyone wants it to or not.

But I have to interrupt that story to vent about last night’s game and more importantly, the totally agony that one of my friends and fellow bloggers/tweeters put me through.  This post goes in the category of “No good deed goes unpunished.”
I was already in a bad mood. I had awakened way too early this morning—reason #1 for my bad mood.  The reason I got up early was because I had a dentist appointment.—reason #2.
Then I was still somewhat annoyed at last night’s game.  It was one of the all time great NBA finals games but the good guys, the Spurs, just gave the game—and their only “real” chance to win the NBA title—away with some unbelievably horrific play and some horrendous coaching decisions.  Now, long time readers will note that I’m a Lakers fan, not a Spurs fan.  In fact, the Spurs are a major rival of the Lakers, and knocked the Lakers out of the playoffs in the first round this year.
So why do I call the Spurs the good guys?  Because every single person on Earth who is not from Miami hates the Heat and therefore their favorite team is “Whoever is playing the Heat.”  And so I’m one of those Heat haters.
That said, I’m not really going to lose any sleep if the Heat win and the Spurs lose.  I have a mild preference for the Spurs because the Heat are—well, the Heat.  But it’s not the end of the world.  If the Lakers had choked as badly as the Spurs did last night—and just handed the NBA championship over to the other team, I would be beyond inconsolable.  I would be looking for the nearest casino parking structure to drive off of.
As I was about to retire last night, it occurred to me that my friend, Coach, is a Spurs fan, living in Texas and all.  I could only imagine how he must have felt.  I thought, out of the goodness of my heart, I would reach out to Coach and offer my sympathies.  A virtual “there, there” pat on the back via Twitter.  What could be nicer?
So I tweeted to Coach, “How ya doing? What a tough loss. Worse choke of all time?”
The next morning I get a tweet back, “I'm fine. I'm sure that you're talking about the officials, choking on their whistles???”
In hindsight, I should have let it go, let him live with his fantasy that the Spurs were robbed instead of the more obvious explanation, which is, they friggin’ blew it.
Of course the Spurs choked, that was obvious to anyone who had watched the game.  A four-point lead, with the ball, with 2 free throws coming to them with 28 seconds to go and you lose?
That’s a choke.  Calling Mr. Heimlich.
Which brings us to the fourth reason I was in a bad mood this morning.  Because of the unique nature of the game, because of the Spurs’ epic fail, and because it went to overtime, I didn’t get to do any writing last night, too busy watching the game and the follow up commentary.  I watched the guys on ESPN and on NBA TV to get their takes on the game.  Everyone agreed with me.  It was an epic choke job.  Duh.
I thought I heard someone say it was the worst choke job ever. That’s a bar argument for sports fanatics, what’s the worst choke of all time?  But certainly in the immediacy of the Spurs’ choke, last night’s game was a contender for the title.
So it was in that context that I asked Coach if it was the worst choke of all time.  I think I would definitely feel it was if it had been my team.
But he was blaming the officials on this?  Wow.  Yes, there were two non-calls at the very end that went against them.  But before that, as a fairly neutral observer, I felt the Spurs had gotten all the officiating breaks up until then.
So I tweeted back to Coach:  “got the best of the officiating until the 2 non-calls at the end (fouls on Ginobili & Green). Pop worst coaching job ever.”
“Pop” is the nickname of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, considered to be the best coach in the NBA now that Phil Jackson has retired.  It was my opinion that Popovich’s bad coaching decisions were a lot more responsible for the loss than any bad calls the officials may have made.
Twitter limits you to 140 characters. Despite what all my readers think, brevity is not my strong suit.  In order to get your point across without doing a 10 page blog post, you have to use short-hand, you have to use hyperbole (that’s exaggeration for you Celtics fans out there).  I’m sure there have been worse coaching night’s in the NBA, maybe even in the finals, maybe even to give away a championship.  But this was certainly not Pop’s best night. 
I had come to that conclusion while watching the game, and saw almost all the commentators who I watched make the same observations I did.  Pop had made some bad decisions that had been disastrous.  I’ll get to those in a minute.
Coach tweeted back: Stick to poker Rob.”
OK, now I was officially pissed.  I supposed I should have taken that as a compliment to my great poker strategy expertise.  But that’s not how it struck me.
I don’t follow football all that closely these days; I haven’t since L.A. lost both its football teams in the same year.  And it’s been a lot longer since I paid much attention to baseball, losing interest when the Designated Hitter rule ruined the game for me.  And hockey?  I still don’t know what “icing the puck” is. Isn’t the puck always iced?
But basketball?  I know basketball.  That’s my sport.  I dunno how old Coach is, but I think there’s a good chance I’ve been following the NBA since before he was born.  I go back to the mid 1960’s when the Lakers were led by Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.  I’ve seen every NBA Finals since then.  I even watched the entire 1978 series, which was the last time a road team won a game 7 in the finals.
So the implication that I didn’t know what I was talking about, when all the experts were pretty much parroting everything I had thought while watching the game, just really irked me.
So I got in a twitter war with Coach, where he clearly didn’t get that my comment about the coaching was hyperbole and he didn’t realize that my comment about the worst choke of all time was a question.  And suddenly he was demanding that I defend my comments. 
Which I could, and will, but it’s hard to do it in a tweet.  So for short-hand again, I mentioned that I thought it was Magic Johnson that had called it the biggest choke in history.  He dismissed that because Magic had made a bad prediction earlier in the season.
Now, a prediction is one thing, and an observation about something that just happened is another thing.  Not the same thing at all.  So Coach, do you really want it on record that if a guy makes a bad sports prediction, you shouldn’t give any credence to anything he says?  You sure about that?
Turns out, after checking my DVR, I was wrong, Magic didn’t call it the worst choke of all time.  He did say the Spurs choked (duh).  I got confused with what Bill Simmons said on the same broadcast.  Simmons is a sports historian (and a—yuch—Celtics fan).  He said it was the worst loss in 25 years.  And he meant in the NBA finals.  And he went back to a game the Pistons lost to the Lakers the year before the “Bad Boys” won their first title.  So I combined the two in my mind.  BTW, later Simmons compared the Spurs lose to the Red Sox losing the World Series to the Mets when the ball when thru Buckner’s legs.  Aren’t you also a Red Sox fan, Coach?  Was that a choke? 
It doesn’t matter, because what they were saying was close enough to my own feelings, I was just using that as short hand.  Coach tried to insult me by saying I was acting like a disgruntled Lakers fan, which I don’t get.  The Lakers weren’t playing.  I suppose I might have been acting like a disgruntled Spurs fan, which I’m not.  I’m a disgruntled Heat-hater.
Anyway, I was already running late for my appointment, so I cut it off and knew I would have to address this further.  Fortunately, I have a blog, even though it’s not supposed to be about sports.  And Coach has a blog too, and he’s already made his case here.  Now, here’s my case.
If Coach doesn’t think the Spurs choked that game away, he’s pretty much the only one on the planet.   They missed two free throws and two defensive rebounds in the last 28 seconds of the game.  Any one of four of those and they are planning a parade in San Antonio right now.
If you don’t protect a 4 point lead with 28 seconds in a game and you have the ball and you have two free throws coming….that’s a choke.  It doesn’t matter that you were the underdogs before the series started.  What matters is that you had the championship in your hand.  It matters that they were already roping off the floor to protect the court from onrushing fans for the championship celebration.  It matters that they were actually in the process of wheeling out the trophy, the Spurs were so sure of victory.  It matters that even the Heat’s own fans had given up all hope, and had started exiting the arena.
And you lose that game and it’s not an epic choke?  Ridiculous.
Now, as for how big a choke it is?  Well, sure there have been other games, other series, that were more in hand than this one. There have been 20 point leads in the last 6 minutes blown, 8 point leads in the last minute blown.  Big favorites have gone down, of course they have.
But this was no regular season game, no early playoff series game.  The friggin’ NBA championship was on the line, it was right there for the Spurs’ taking.  If it was the biggest choke of all time, it was because of the stakes.  They were 28 seconds from spraying champagne all over each other and they frickin’ blew it.  That’s an epic choke.
If any NBA team was ever in a better position to win a championship that close to the end of the game and lost, please let me know.

As for Popovich’s horrific coaching decisions, where do I begin?  Let’s start with an easy one.  He had a guy playing in his very first basketball game play 35 minutes for him.  Can you imagine that?
What am I talking about?  Surely that guy named “Manu Ginobili” had never seen a basketball before last night.  I know a guy with the same name and same appearance had a great game two nights early.  But that clearly was a different guy.  The Ginobili guy last night was pretty much the worst excuse for a basketball player I’ve ever seen.  He was just awful. 
The Spurs have a great bench, that’s what we’ve been told.  And he couldn’t find anyone on it to play some of those minutes for a guy who couldn’t have played any worse if he tried?  Really?  I mean, yours truly would have done less damage to the Spurs playing in Ginobili’s spot.  Hell, Popovich should have stripped down to his shorts and taken Ginobili’s place himself.   It would have been a vast improvement over Ginobili’s plus-minus “-21”.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yeah I’m using that hyperbole again.  But seriously, with the nightmare game he was having, he surely didn’t need to play so many minutes.
Taking Duncan out not once but twice in the final 28 seconds was mind-boggling.  Great idea, taking your best defensive stopper, your best rebounder, a instant Hall of Famer, arguably the best power-forward ever and one of the top 25 players of all time out of the game at crunch time.
The first time was worse because the Heat had time to drive to the hoop instead of settling for a three.  Didn’t Pop see what LeBron did when the Pacers took out Hibbert in that game?  But LeBron took a three instead of driving.  Lucky Pop.  Oh wait….with no Duncan to get that rebound, LeBron scores on a second chance shot.  Pop should remember what Pat Riley used to say, “No rebounds, no rings.”
No, actually, that wasn’t the worst.  The worst was the second time.  I thought it spoke for itself, with Bosh getting the offensive rebound and feeding Allen for the game tying shot.  But when I watched the end of regulation again this afternoon, I noticed something else.
When Leonard was on the line taking two free throws (which, if he had made both, the game is over), Duncan was in the game.  Of course Leonard missed the first.  It was only then that Duncan came out.  And both teams were out of time outs by then. 
Bad enough you didn’t have Duncan on the floor at the other end to get the defensive rebound.  But with only a two-point lead, how the hell do you take Duncan out when you don’t know Leonard is going to make the second free throw?  You have to keep Duncan in there—who is, I repeat their best rebounder and one of the best rebounders of all time—in case Leonard misses.  You need him in there to try to get that rebound.
Total bonehead move.
Then, at the end of the overtime, they have Parker out for defensive reasons.  Totally understandable, plus he’s nursing a sore hamstring and must be exhausted.  But when you get the ball back with a chance to win down by one, how the hell do you not call time-out there to get your best clutch player (Parker) back in the game?  Instead you trust things to Ginobili who’s playing for the Heat this night.  And instead of setting up a play, you just wing it???
I know, you would like to take a shot before the Heat can set up their defense.  But really, you have to get Parker in there at the end, he’s your best option if you don’t have a set play, right?  Either way, winging it or set play, you have to call time out and get him in the game.
Instead, Ginobili carries the ball like a running back.  He doesn’t even look like he’s making a basketball play.  Sure he may have been fouled, but he had no chance of making a shot anyway the way he was caring the ball.  Because last night, he was the worst player on the floor whenever he was in the game.
OK, was it the worst coaching job ever?  No, probably not.  Worst coaching performance by a Hall of Fame coach in close-out game that he had been thisclose to winning?  Maybe.  Just maybe.
Well, that’s it. Sorry I had to do that, but I needed to get that off my chest.
And I’ve learned my lesson.  I’ll never again try to soothe the feelings of a blogger who I feel may be suffering from a bad sports beat. So when the Blackhawks lose the Stanley Cup, you can bet I won’t be sending any consoling “there there” tweets to Lightning.

((Edited to add:  Congrats to the Heat, 2013 NBA champions.  Game 7 was a much better game than I expected, the Spurs hung tough.  Great series, but the Spurs will forever live with the fact that they had the Championship in their hands and couldn't hold on to it.))


  1. I like "twitter war" - I was trying to get you to answer a question, which you finally said was "hyperbole..." Magic made a statement, not a prediction, saying that a team tied 2-2 in a series had "no chance." #brilliant Duncan was surely as exhausted as Parker, having played 44 minutes (a switch the Spurs make on a regular basis). Reading your tweets leading up to last night's game, and the one after we chatted make it hard for me to believe that you've been rooting for the Spurs in this series. "Stick to poker Rob" came immediately after you followed up "worst choke of all time" with "worst coaching job ever." I still say that "all time" and "ever" are really broad parameters... That's all for now - I'll give someone else a turn. It's hard to refute a whole novel... Have a good one! ;)

    1. In the history of sports fans (which is short for "fanatics"), no one has EVER, after a great game, a tough loss, a bad play, etc, ever said "Best play ever" "worst call ever" "greatest performance ever" or "stupidest decision ever" etc and not really meant it and just been reacting to a stunning result with spur(s) of the moment exuberance.

  2. I really enjoyed this - I almost feel as if I watched the game myself!

    Great write up Rob

    1. Assuming you're not just yanking my chain, thanks, man.

      I say that cuz I know you're not a basketball fan.

    2. Yeah - not a fan and probably never will be.
      I can watch during the playoffs (but retail makes even that difficult) but it was a well written and crafted argument.

      You can tell that this sport is your passion and I dare say I enjoyed this more than a lot of your other work because of the passion you put into it.

    3. You may be the first person ever to accuse me of NOT having a passion for tits. Thanks.

  3. Popovich's horrible coaching in this one almost makes you wonder if he had money bet on the Heat. He's definitely not Phil Jackson by any stretch, but I definitely had a higher opinion of him before this game. No way the Spurs win tonight.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Michael. I agree, of course.

      As for tonite, you certainly share my feelings but it would be great to be surprised.

    2. Dude Phil was handed a team, Phil has never built a team, Phil was just at the right place at the right time. I have never seen anyone coach score a point, block a shot etc...

    3. Thanks, Zin. Building a team is a General Manager's job, Phil was the coach. True enough, the players are the most important thing, but they pay NBA coaches millions of dollars to coach. They are cheap bastards--they wouldn't do that if they didn't think it was necessary.

      So, how many championships did Jordan & Pippen win before they hired Phil Jackson? And how many championships did Shaq & Kobe win before they hired Phil Jackson?

  4. And he won with that team. A lot. And didn't make bonehead mistakes like Popovich made last night.

    1. Harper any coach would have done the same or better than what Phil did with the teams he was handed.

    2. I've never watched a basketball game where I didn't think the coach made a mistake or two. But then I've won exactly zero basketball games as a coach, Michael. Now that it's over, it's kind of hard not to put a big part of the blame for the Spurs loss on Pop. But also true....with a lesser coach, they probably wouldn't have gotten as far.

      Zin.....any coach, I guess, but the ones he replaced at Chicago & L.A., I guess. :)