Now That’s A Finish!

In one of my first columns, I wrote about the ending of basketball games. Specifically:

Dr. F made a good point about basketball’s main weakness. The last two minutes
take too long. I agree (and I’m sure my wife does as well). I can’t stand what a
basketball game turns into for the last few minutes. To use a simile, a
basketball game is like you being the only person driving on the highway until
you get within a few blocks of your destination. At that point you hit the worst
bumper-to-bumper traffic you’ve ever seen. A basketball game goes smoothly for
about 45 minutes, and then grinds to a halt with fouls and time outs.

I should have stated more clearly that a basketball game would be more exciting without being able to call a timeout in the last two minutes. Limiting each team to one time out at the end of the game would let the tension build without an emotional detachment from constant interruptions.

To illustrate my point, I point you to the St. Joe’s vs. Oklahoma State game that was on tonight. It was easily the most exciting final 3 minutes of basketball I’ve seen this year. With the game tied the Cowboys blew their last timeout with 2:38 left in the game, and their opponents used their final timeout with 1:31 on the clock.

The pressure increased every second, with both teams’ entire season on the line. The Oklahoma time out came with one of their players fighting for a loose ball & hitting the ground. Instead of letting his opponent grab the ball for a possible possession change, he called for time. The Cowboys would miss their next shot, but so would the Hawks’ Jameer Nelson 30 seconds later. Oklahoma State then missed a three which led to St. Joe’s to call their final timeout. With one foul to give, the Cowboys committed a non-shooting foul shortly after the inbound.

The game continued for the final minute and 24 seconds without a single timeout or foul. It was a hold on to your chair type of ending. In the last minute the lead changed hands 3 times. The only shot that was missed was the final two pointer with time expiring. By the time Oklahoma almost turned the ball over with under 10 seconds left, the tension was nearly unbearable. For a second, I was thrilled with the possibility that St. Joe’s would steal the ball to seal the game (because I need them in my NCAA pool). Instead the ball bounced over to John Lucas who drained a three pointer to put the Cowboys up by 2.

However, with 8 seconds left, the season wasn’t over yet, and in an instance the Hawks were running up the court trying to play for a tie or win. Unfortunately for them, Jameer Nelson couldn’t hit his jumper at the top of the key to tie the game.

In every aspect of entertainment, whether it be music, magic, or acting, it’s what the spectator experiences that is most important. In music, the road manager doesn’t come up on stage to huddle with the musicians near the end to suggest which song to close on. In magic, Rick Franceschini after showing the empty hat never walks off stage before pulling out the rabbit. Even when watching a movie on tv, usually the last 10-15 minutes are shown commercial free. It’s because by stopping at the critical points, you would ruin the momentum leading up to that point.

Players and coaches both benefit from these stoppages. Being able to call time outs gives coaches control over their team, and takes away a lot of the pressure off the players who would have to think quickly in high tension situations. It still doesn’t make it right, especially when it’s at the expense of the most important aspect of sports: the fans.

Vinsanity 40, Starbury 38 (but the Knicks win)

Vince Carter might have outscored Stephon Marbury 40-38 last night, but it was Marbury with the last laugh as the Knicks won 108-101. I tried to watch the game last night, but was suffering from food poisoning (slightly worse than the bad taste left in my mouth from the Memphis game). In between bouts of running to the bathroom and a general overall sense of nausea and pain, I saw Marbury light it in the second half.

I’d love to wax poetic about Stephon Marbury, but I’m sure you could open up any of the New York newspapers and read about Starbury’s efforts last night.

Other than Stephon Marbury’s outburst there were a few notables in last night’s game. First is DerMarr Johnson’s 40 minute 15 point game. It was his first 40+ minute game since March 13, 2002. That year he had 4 games where he played that many minutes. The first month and a half of that year, he didn’t get much play, but eventually he would log major minutes, and start 46 games that year. Of course he would have that ill fated car accident in the off-season, which ended his Hawks career.

So far Dermarr’s time as a Knick has been unspectacular. He’s only had 6 games with more than 10 minutes, but we should see more of him with 4 of those coming in the last 4 games. Dermarr’s time yesterday was out of necessity, with Houston only playing the first 8 minutes due to injury, coupled with Toronto’s ability to go big at times. At one point the announcers noted that Vince Carter was the shortest player on the court at 6’6″. If you’re Lenny Wilkens, you’re not exactly going to put Moochie Norris on the court as the SG at that point.

Shooting 5-14 isn’t that impressive, but when you hit 3 from beyond the arc, it becomes a more respectable 46% adjusted FG%. He hit his only 2 free throws in the fourth quarter to help seal the deal against the Raptors. His 6’9″ frame also helped him to snag 7 rebounds. It’s hard to judge a player that has seen as little time as DerMarr has, but his Achilles heal seems to be his erratic shooting. Right now Wilkens’ has little other choice to play Johnson, but if the youngster wants to earn more minutes, he should concentrate on his shooting.

Also appearing last night was Michael Sweetney. The Knicks’ first round pick made his presence felt in the second half. In his 20 minutes, he grabbed 9 rebounds, and scored 8 points on 3 of 4 shooting. He left the game after committing an ill advised foul to stop the clock late in the game. If you call this a rookie mistake, you’d have a hard time explaining why Kurt Thomas did the same thing a few seconds later.

Of course there was little room for Sweetney in the first half, because Othella Harrington was logging his minutes. Other than miss 3 shots, Harrington only managed to commit a personal foul in his seven minutes of play, which is right about his average. I just don’t see why he gets any time at all. At best he should be the third option, when Thomas & Sweetney are in foul trouble. It’s more beneficial for the Knicks’ present and future to give Sweetney 27 minutes instead of 20.

Knicks 96 Hawks 84

I love MSG Rewind. Monday nights I rent a court with a couple of guys I’ve been playing with for a few years. The gym runs 7 to 10. Tonight the Knicks game started at 8:30, so usually I would have to choose between the two. Luckily MSG Rewind comes on at midnight, so I can still watch the game instead of trying to rush home and catch the 4th quarter without prior knowledge of what happened earlier in the game. Unfortunately last night’s game wasn’t a very noteworthy game. Actually I came away with more questions that answers. I guess it’s appropriate, since I started off this week with an interview.

How good is Penny Hardaway? In the first half, he botched a couple of easy passes. One on a fast break. I was surprised to see this, since he does play PG some of the time, but I don’t recall him handling the point tonight. Penny seems to be able to knock down shots when open, and can create a jump shot when needed. The bad passes really bothered me, but I’m not going to judge him on one game, so this will be a question I’ll be looking to answer with more statistical and observational evidence.

Why does Nazr Mohammed play inconsistently? Some nights he looks like a world beater. Tonight he scored impressively from at least three different methods: getting good passes while cutting to the hoop, crashing the offensive glass, and using his post up game. Other nights he’s almost non-existent. So what is it that causes this? Is it the foul trouble? Is it the defensive ability of his opponent? Is it when he faces an offensive player that saps his energy on the defensive end? Another question to table for a future study.

Can’t the Knicks stay healthy? The team is just too thin without Houston & T.Thomas. Sure Houston is on the wrong side of 30, but until this year, he never missed more than 6 games in a season. Tim Thomas is on the good side of 30 and has never missed more than 10 games in a season. So how are they both hurt at the same time? Deke I can understand, and Frank Williams is suffering through a personal tragedy (who we probably won’t see again this year). I’m not going to turn this into a study, so I guess this is more of a rhetorical question.

Who is the real Dermarr Johnson? He’s an intriguing player. A young prospect for the Hawks until he was in a car accident. Is the future Dermarr the guy that can hit the trey, and dunked on his former team, or is it the one that threw up an airball and shot less than 40% his first two years? We probably won’t know until next year, and I can wait until then for an answer.

Do I like Lenny Wilkens’ coaching style? I won’t even get into the phantom time out debacle of this weekend. Wilkens is fearless with who he plays. He’ll give everyone playing time, which is good during a season because you want to know what you have. However I’m not crazy about some of his choices. Why is Moochie getting more play than Frank Williams (even before F-dub went on the IL)? Why is Othella Harrington getting any non-garbage time? For now I’ll give him the thumbs up, especially after living through Van Gundy who had a tight leash in these matters.