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Essay: The Unique Selfishness Of Shane Battier

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

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Shane Battier is the last player anyone would ever call selfish. He’s been doing whatever he can to get his team a win—regardless of how that’s compromised his stats—for his entire career. But there is one component of Battier’s game which is self-serving. Thankfully for Battier acolytes like myself, it doesn’t ever adversely affect his team, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s a peccadillo distinctive to Battier and few others, and because it flies in the face of everything Battier believes in.

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Essay: The Game Within The Game

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Great individual match-ups in the NBA are a lot like Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: plays within a play.  Not often are we blessed with two person battles that nearly separate themselves from the game in which they’re participants.  Some nights it seems the stage is set solely for two special combatants; even though the score reads some large number like 112-108, the only digits fans take away are the impressive lone point totals tallied by two great rivals.  Sometimes the numbers don’t matter, and it’s just a good fight each time down the court. Last night, in the Rockets-Lakers game, with the scoreboard teetering back and forth in the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant began to abuse Kevin Martin. There was jab step followed by ball fake followed by a pull-up swish right in Martin’s eye, and a baseline blow-by or two that made the Rockets defender look powerless. It didn’t seem fair.  Then a Houston time out was called and Shane Battier was inserted to defend Bryant, who all of a sudden had to work for his two points a whole lot harder than he wanted to.  With the score tied and four seconds remaining in regulation, the Lakers set up a play to free Kobe where he’d come off a Gasol pin down screen, catch a pass from Odom and hit the game winning shot somewhere around the edge of the key.  But Battier bulldozed the pick by Gasol, who crashed into Bryant as he tried to curl the pick, forcing a last second miss from Odom.  Even though this play involved several players, it helps capture the determination one player has in stopping another from completing his job. The individual battle.

Today, most of the great clashes come not at the center, forward, or swingman positions, but at the point. It’s far and away the most backloaded, overflowing-with-talent spot in the league; to be the best, you must beat the best, and if you’re a floor general chances are you’ll have a confidence boosting opportunity every other night. While beautiful point guard play is likely spearheading the game—in its on-court essence—into such a prosperous era, it’s partially responsible for the suffocation of great one on one performances.  In Oklahoma City there’s Westbrook with the ball in his hands more than Durant; Boston has Rondo orchestrating four future Hall of Fame inductees like a conductor; and in Utah and Chicago, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose have their team’s offenses run through them.  Overall, point guard isn’t a position designed to attack an individual opponent. It’s not the job description.  This isn’t to say I’m championing isolation play, but there’s a definite draw in watching two Goliaths pick their spots and blindly collide with each other once in a while. Throughout Sunday’s Heat-Thunder game, it seemed whenever LeBron chose to check Durant, he dominated. Balls were slapped out of Durant’s hands and a rhythm didn’t look to be found. Even though I sat with the majority of viewers rooting for OKC, to watch James certify his status as the game’s best player was great theatre.

But the individual match-up isn’t always for two Goliaths.  Sometimes David sticks his nose into the fray and the drama’s gravitational pull brings you to your seat’s edge just the same.  This brings me to Ariza, the league’s Icarus who has all but disappeared from the public spotlight down in New Orleans. He’s started every game this season, but is putting up the worst rebounding, assists, field goal percentage, and points per 36 minute numbers since his rookie season. (Right now, you could say he’s playing the role of David.) Tonight, on national television, the Hornets face off against Durant’s Thunder. The last time these two squared off, Ariza held Durant to his only scoreless fourth quarter of the season.  As the Oklahoman article suggests, much of the pregame hype will surround point guards Westbrook and Paul, but if you keep your eyes on Ariza each and every time he confronts Durant, there’s a good chance that individual match-up will overshadow the undivided game.

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