Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Courier's Tragedy: Christmas Day's Game-Within-The-Game

I, like most of the sports world following the opening of presents on Christmas morning, watched the revenge play unravel on network television with the Lakers/Celtics matchup. First, I'll admit that the game was well worth the wait. After living through a plethora of promotional commercials and melodrama over the last few weeks, I was glad to see both teams involved in a frenetic and stimulating game for our viewing pleasure. In the eyes of many spectators, the NBA season doesn't really begin until the NBA's annual double-header on Christmas afternoon commences. If you've decided to join the throng of basketball enthusiasts and begin your analysis of NBA action on this traditional celebration of the roundball, here's a quick wrap-up of what you've missed since October 28, 2008:

1. Devin Harris (NJN) and Danny Granger (IND), welcome to super-stardom. Both currently find their scoring averages (23.6 and 24.5, respectibly) among the league's leaders (7th and 5th). To put these stats in perspective, Danny Granger is averaging more PPG than Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard (members of the 2008 Olympic Team). Impressive.

2. Lebron = Best Player in the Game. Period. For a more detailed explanation, check out my boy Johnathan Tillman's post about Lebron's" ascension to the league's throne.

3. In 2006, the Suns' prolific "Seven Seconds or Less" offense featured Nash, Bell, Marion, Diaw, Stoudemire and game-changing coach Mike DiAntoni. Now? Steve Kerr's tinkering has left the hightly-touted team with a core group of Nash/Shaq/Stoudemire along with the monster contracts of Jason Richardson and Matt Barnes. Do you realize that if Robert Sarver had decided to pony up the Benjamins for Joe Johnson following the 2005 playoff-loss to the Spurs, the Suns could have been going to battle with a core group of Nash/Johnson/Marion/Stoudemire right now? I hate when owners get too greedy at the most inopportune times.

4. Starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and 1B Mark Teixiera all became New York Yankees! Oh, I'm sorry...wrong sport. (Flashes toothy grin...)

Instead of sitting motionless in front of my television watching Kobe's fustian theatrics or KG's menacing scowl during this Christmas basketball jamboree, I decided to examine the intricacies of the game-within-the-game. Just as the confused Hamlet monitored the king's reactions during the famous "Mousetrap" stage play (Act III, Scene 2) and Thomas Pynchon's Oedipa watched The Courier's Tragedy for clues to solve her personal dilemma, so also will I delve into an intriguing analysis of this titanic Christmas clash to make sense of this Boston/L.A. rivalry in the context of the NBA Season. So, let's pay homage to Public Enemy, and fight the power after the random (but somewhat relevant) photo:

Act 1 - Doc Rivers: "I'm" Smart and I Want Respect!"
First, let's agree that this game meant more to the Lakers than it does to the Celtics. Phil Jackson understood this idea, choosing to play only his trusted rotation throughout the 48 minutes. Looking at the box score, we see that while Phil Jackson played his horse (Kobe Bryant) for 43 minutes, Doc Rivers only played his main man (Kevin Garnett) for 37 minutes. Let's not kid ourselves into believing that this game erases Boston's 39-point Game 6 skewering of the Lake Show during the much-warmer month of June. No matter how much David Stern and Co. wanted us to believe that this game rivaled those with playoff implications, a regular season game is still a regular season game. Doc understood this, and decided to employ his reserves to give them some freedom on a level similar to what they'll be experiencing come playoff time. So, to quote Fall Out Boy...thanks for the memories, L.A. Doc just pwned your "revenge attempt" for talent evaluation.

Act 2 - Kendrick Perkins: "Oh, I'm Sorry...Did I Break Your Concentration?"
Kendrick Perkins is an angry man. Kendrick Perkins is a furious man. Kendrick Perkins is one of the reasons why Pau Gasol whimpered his way back to Spain to recover after the NBA Finals was over. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen Perk smile. Henry Abbott, writer of the blog True Hoop, talked about the idea that Kevin Garnett is a basketball player that most people would hate playing against because of his purported bad attitude and propensity for trash talk. KG's on-court anger has fused with Doc's "ubuntu" concept, turning his teammates into a collection of athletes tenacious about winning. In other words, Perk has completely imitated KG. What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing...if the league were fair and balanced towards big men. However, since Perk isn't KG, he'll be subject to criticism and issued technical fouls for his belligerence. To me, there's nothing wrong with furious long as it stays on the court. There's nothing better than seeing guys compete intensely in a league that has become softer than a roll of Quilted Northern towelets. Plus, it's great seeing the better players (Pau/Odom) cower in the midst of Perk's awesome might.

Act 3 - Paul Pierce: "It's" So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday"
To me, Paul Pierce represents the last of a dying breed of wing player; guys who can handle defensive assignments and carry a team in crunch time. Back in the NBA's Golden Age (1980-1998), you would be hardpressed to find a player incapable of guarding his position. Now? You've got "Wince" Carter, T-Mac (let's not blame it on the back problems) and guys from high school/colleges who rode their athletic ability, circumventing instruction in regards to the art of defense (think: Carmelo). Paul Pierce is the basketball equivalent to the five-tool player of baseball (Speed, Arm Strength, Hitting for Avg. and Power, Fielding). Basketball savants chronicle Paul Pierce's basketball game in the same way that guys do when they spot a legitimate 10 -- treasuring the moment, subtly smirking, elbowing their best friends to make sure they're paying attention, but sadly knowing that this specific moment will never be duplicated.

(A quick tangent: I'm angry at Terius "The Dream" Nash for trivializing the perfect-ten concept in his momentary hit single "Shawty is a Ten". The Dream violated Man Law by allowing a quietly understood system of male communication (i.e., the "rating system") to enter public consciousness. No respectable guy would ever toss this phrasing of "you're a ten" around in such a careless manner. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, we rarely use this phrasing due to the lack of actual tens in mainstream society. We guys cannot allow our vernacular terminology to become as useful as the American dollar in Europe. If a guy were to employ this philosophic term in the presence of a woman, it would mean one of two things:
1. The guy in question is married. Or engaged. No exceptions.2. The guy in question lacks game.So Mr. Dream, please don't use this terminology in such a cursory manner again. I really don't want to have to dust Suge Knight off to take care of business. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. Thanks.)

Act 4 - Danny Ainge: "I Need Mo' Allowance"
As the venerable Rick Pitino would say, "James Posey isn't walking through that door, fans. JAMES POSEY ISN'T WALKING THROUGH THAT DOOR!" Because of Ainge's refusal to pony up for Posey's services, the Boston Celtics aren't the same team that they were last year. Tony Allen isn't the same defensive stalwart that Posey was last year. In his attempt to guard Kobe on Thursday afternoon, Tony Allen picked up a paltry first-half stat line of 3 fouls, 0 points. With those old bodies getting older (Allen, Pierce, KG), the C's are going to need guys like Allen, Giddens, and Powe to fill in the gaps when necessary. If the Celtics look as miserable as they did in the first half of Jesus' birthday, it'll be tough for them to repeat.

Overall, the Christmas games were solid. Honestly, they should have stuck to the two-game slate, or just axed the Hornets/Magic drubbing.

But then again, maybe the basketball fan doth protest too much.
Mike Benjamin, II

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