Friday, June 13, 2008

Shampoo Players

After watching the self-suffocation of the Lakers in Game 4, part of me wants to join in the imminent Mamba-humbling* that will surely be the topic of basketball beat writers and ESPN banter shows everywhere. But no, I will hold back my laughter and talk about something more positive...

Everyone says the timeless cliche-like analysis that the NBA Finals are where superstar players should, "step up to the stage," and be able to, "handle the bright lights." While that is very true and annoying when repeated like a new idea, however, there's one element that tends to be overlooked as the playoffs progress.

It seems to me that in most of the NBA Finals series I've watched in which the two teams are relatively equal, the play of the role players is paramount in determining the winner. You may be thinking, "Well, duh. Jon Barry said that before Game 1." If you are, then I don't know how you survived watching the nonstop monotony of ESPN's coverage...because I didn't—I watched "Animaniacs" songs to dispel my boredom. Anyway, Jon Barry's superficiality of that analysis isn't what I meant by role players. I'm referring to role players that seem to have such an impact on the game that people watching and players/coaches participating can only scratch their heads in amazement. These are guys that wouldn't even be an afterthought if it were not for their brief moments of extraordinary play. I'll explain...

In almost every critical game of a Finals series, there have been performances by role players that have grasped victory for that winning team. It may be a huge scoring game, or just one single shot. An example of the latter for Knicks fans: Avery. Effing. Johnson. I can take every game of this series so far as a microcosm of my theory. In Game 1, Rajon Rondo had 15, 5, and 7. In Game 2, the casual fans collectively wondered, "Who the hell is Leon Powe?". Sasha Vujacic and his ribbon headband became the first player on a Phil Jackson-coached team to score 20+ off the bench. And with last night's game, James Posey and Eddie House continuously made the Lakers pay for over-committing on dribble penetration. Need further proof? Meet me below the next random picture...

In the series-clinching game of the 2003 Finals—Spurs versus Nets—most people may remember Timmy's near-quadruple-double performance (21, 20, 10, and 8 blocks). But it was Stephen Jackson's 17 points combined with Speedy Claxton's 13, while a young Tony Parker watched from the bench, as San Antonio put away New Jersey. The box score is here.

To my recent knowledge, and not doing a whole bunch of research about it, there is only one series I can think of in which role players weren't really necessary for victory. That is the 2006 Finals, where Dwyane Wade, with the help of Tim Donaghy the NBA League Office Shaq's presence in the post, stepped out of the phone booth and defeated the Mavs by his sheer awesomeness. This isn't another random and unnecessary shot at Dirk; but it kind of is one at the Mamba—only this one is reasonable and premeditated.* But, as I previously stated, I think the analysts will thoroughly cover that idea. Hey, it'll give me a reason to watch NBA coverage again; instead of Euro 2008 (Go Portugal?).

So the next time you watch a meaningful NBA Finals, instead of looking for the superstars to play celestially; look for the players from anonymity to contribute as though they were basketball titans. Peace.

*For the record, if anyone ever tells me Kobe is on par with His Airness again, something like this will happen to you. Dwyane Wade didn't let his team lose in the Finals, and that was before we knew that his Mama liked G2. His Airness doesn't shoot 6-19 in a Finals game. Ever.

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