An excellent game of football, and largely what I expected bar the individual genius of Robin van Persie. If Arsenal fans and their manager are to be honest, it must be admitted that this is precisely a role-reversal of several games Arsenal have lost this year, in which the technically superior side which dominates possession and creates more chances loses out due to individual moments of greatness or insanity. One thing football is not is fair. Some bullet-point observations:
– Time will tell if the team is honestly inspired by Cesc Fabregas or not, but the energy level today was better than in many matches, especially in the second half. Arsenal have been guilty of showing up only for headline games in the past, so the real test will be whether this can be continued on to Wigan in the next league game. I’m hopeful.
– RVP is going to have games like this. You pay for them with things like his witless straight red earlier this year and all the times when his contributions are limited to left foot blasts over the bar, but he can be invaluable in this sort of game where he was 70% of the attack by himself. He never links with another striker, yet isn’t big enough or skilled enough in the right ways to play up top alone, so it remains a bit of a mystery on how best to take advantage of what he can provide. When he does provide it though- a living highlight reel.
– His value comes through all the more when Adebayor has a(nother) game like this. I’ve defended this man before, but at this point, good God y’all. It’s the same thing from him week by week- offsides for no reason, iffy control, whining about calls that go the other way, etc. When he was at his best his workrate was unparalleled in the side and he used his speed to slash down the flank, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen that from him. Will we ever see it again? Some of this is him being played as a lone striker at times, some is that Cesc is having trouble providing the diagonal long balls he used to run onto, but still.
– Denilson. Still not very good, starting to learn diving from Eboue, was part of….
– Chelsea’s midfield domination. Not a total shocker when 4-5-1 meets 4-4-2, but Arsenal were positively overrun for roughly 30 minutes of the first half. Most of Chelsea’s attacks at that time came down the Arsenal left flank, as Clichy and Nasri could not deal with Bosingwa at all. Djourou conceded the own goal, but there was probably one coming from that position at some point by that means or other. However, this was not nearly so evident after halftime; some of that was because Chelsea changed tactics when they fell behind, but a large amount of credit must also be given to Chichy, Nasri and the manager for addressing it.
– That back four. I thought that was the best they’d looked in a good while when you take into account the quality of opposition, and no one should be too angry about the own goal. Djourou may have cocked that up, but he also failed to produce the partade of clownishness that Silvestre has at times this year, and Gallas seemed to trust him to do his job which allowed William to put on one of his better displays in this campaign. I love Kolo Toure to death, and it bothers me that he’s being forced out of the club, but if he is then this is the pairing to go with.
The big question for Arsenal now is- what does this mean? Obviously it’s a wonderful win which breathes new life into the league campaign and brings them back into the top 4. But at the same time, we’ve seen games like this be a false dawn more than once, and beating fellow top 4 sides is only half of the puzzle. My fear is that nothing will be learned from this- that the manager who claims Arsenal are unlucky to lose when they’re in the position Chelsea were today will claim that this proves Arsenal are clearly as great as any team in Europe. But they’re not. They’re a team which is built and suited to play one style against one or two types of opponents, and while Chelsea were often better today, Arsenal will still beat them as often as not because that’s the style Arsenal play well against. The trouble comes against the cloggers, the shit-kickers, or the teams which on the day are playing Arsenal’s style better than Arsenal are that day.
This team is so close, so very close, to being amazing. What they need is belief, consistancy, depth, stylistic variability, and some help at the back. If they get that, and some of the pieces are there, they can dominate as Arsene keeps saying they will. The spirit seems better with Cesc as captain; the back four look better with Djourou in there; but they need help in January. They still need a midfielder, they still need some depth, and they need a striker (who may be Eduardo, though it’s hard to ask for too much from him too soon). Arsene has the opportunity to push this team over the top, this season or next, with the proper augmentations to the squad. If he grasps the opportunity, he’ll make himself even more legendary; if he counts on Robin Van Persie doing this every week…well…remember the Manchester United game.
Quick prediction is Chelsea 1-1 Arsenal for tomorrow. I’ll have more to say after the match.
…what the hell was THAT?
This was one of those games where you could watch, understand precisely what was happening, and still have no idea why it was happening. The top headline stuff is CDu setting the Knicks single-game assist record, David Lee setting several personal bests, and the Knicks as a whole putting an improbable 82 on the board in the first half. All of which is weird enough, but when you break down how this all happened it was even weirder than that makes it sound.
Coach D’Antoni was quoted after the game as saying Lee should have had 50, and frankly, he’s not wrong or exaggerating in the least. The Knicks ran probably 80% of their plays tonight out of a simple high screen/roll, most of those between Lee and Duhon, and I can’t recall ever seeing a team defend that less well than Golden State did tonight. Every play was a new and inventive way to botch it: two men jump the cutter, no one rotates, dunk; two men drop off and chase the cutter, PG pulls up, open jumper; first two men do their job well, but someone on the backside wing ball-watches and drops in, kickout, easy open three pointer; two men jump out on the PG, and the man rotating to the cutter goes too far and fouls the resulting dunk for a continuation; and so forth. Good gravy was this bad stuff. And the bad defense didn’t stop there for the Warriors, because a lot of the other 20% or so of the Knicks plays were bizarre, this-should-never-happen exploitations of mismatches like Tim Thomas (who was solid tonight, I will admit) posting up Kelenna Azubuike, or QRich posting up one of the small guards. Throw in a total lack of boxing out and this was pretty much just epic fail.
Not that our heroes weren’t fantastic tonight, mind you. Duhon’s passing was superior; he was given a ton of opportunities, but he took advantage of nearly all of them and produced only 3 turnovers in 45 minutes of an incredibly fast-paced game. David Lee’s wildly underrated athleticism and ball skills were on display tonight not only on his breakaway self-oop dunk, but also in the way he’d get the team into transition quickly by dribbling out his own rebounds, and the way he attacked Andris Biedrins face-up off the dribble on multiple occasions. Al Harrington was in full-on remorseless chucker mode, but that’s alright when you’re playing 7 deep in this kind of game and when it’s abundantly clear that almost every shot is a good one given the sort of defense on display. He also attacked the rim with vigor and tried to help out on the boards, which is not a strength of his. And yes, Tim Thomas was as good as you could hope for: after a few dumb turnovers early, he also attacked the rim (especially on a YouTubing of Anthony Randolph in the second half), exploited mismatches, and generally showed the effort, on the offensive side at least, which you’d like to see from him. Keep it up, Tim.
All in all, and utterly satisfying night of basketball. I don’t know what’s wrong with GS unless it’s just the 4 games in 5 nights thing, but they need to sort their screen/roll defense out quickly if they plan to matter. As for the good guys- solid win, hope they get some rest, and enjoy those records. Next game up is Portland on Tuesday.
So I caught Suns/Heat tonight, and made it a point to focus on Shaq. Here’s the box score.
On the face of things, he looks alright- 75% from the field, 9 boards, a block and a steal in 29 minutes. But if you watched the game…brutal. I haven’t seen enough of the Suns this year to know if I was seeing something out of the ordinary, but what I saw was the Suns turn over the ball on 3 of their first 4 possessions trying to force the ball into the post, and things not improving much from there.
For the majority of the evening Shaq was single-covered by Joel Anthony, a Canadian center out of UNLV in his second year, who appears notable mostly for his uncanny resemblance to a younger version of pro boxer Bernard Hopkins. Anthony would, time and again, front Shaq in the post and deny him the ball; and partially because Steve Nash wasn’t playing and thus unable to throw the proper entry passes, and partially because his athleticism is gone, Shaq just couldn’t find the position and timing to break this defense. The Suns were determined to try, but all through the game lobs would go over his head, short passes would bounce past his hands, and O’Neal would end up utterly neutralized as a threat. He ended up getting his points mostly on putbacks and bailout passes from cutters, but…he also ended up with no free throw attempts. No ATTEMPTS. He was so ineffectual that there was only one occasion when the Heat even felt compelled to foul him to prevent a shot. The Suns finished with 19 turnovers.
I hate to say it, since his career is almost an exact match for my serious period as an NBA fan, but the Big Diesel is just about done. When he’s reached the point when an anonymous second year center who gives up maybe 4 inches and 100 pounds can render him peripheral at best, it’s just about time to go. The Suns, regardless of their record, have all the look of a team which is one year shy of being blown up; they’ll make the playoffs, lose to the Jazz in the first round, and after that someone will realize that paying luxury tax money for an aging, badly designed also ran is crazy. Some of their guys will land soft with contenders, but O’Neal…I think this is it for him. He can more or less fake it this year, but right now he’s only just this side of Willie Mays-on-the-Mets territory regardless of what his PER says, if this game is any guide. I don’t disregard the statistical information lightly, but I look at the Suns’ record and see very few good wins- San Antonio without Ginobili, Portland twice, Detroit in a game where Shaq was ejected in the second. Meanwhile in the loss to New Orleans he produced 8 points, 8 boards, 2-5 from the line, 2 turnovers; against Houston, a much better 18 and 13, with still only 4 foul shots; against centerless Utah, 9 points on 3-11 shooting, 1 rebound. And so it goes, good games against Sacramento and Minnesota keeping him above water.
At this point if Shaq were willing to be a 4th option or 6th man for short money on a contender, he might be worth something; as it is on Phoenix, he’s trouble, as their offense seems to want to force the ball to him to prove a point about the trade which brought him to town. Turnovers are created by plays in which the team forces the ball to a position which, say, Andrew Bynum could reach today, and which would have been an easy Shaq dunk 5 years ago, but which today are uncatchable for a player whose lift is gone. No one fouls him because the league has caught up to the way his skills have diminished. Defensively he’s useless against a decent screen/roll, has lost some of his mobility on rebounding, and is effective at most as a space eater and weak-side helper. The overall sense I get of him is of a player who, when he does something, does it well and thus keeps a high individual rating on a stat like PER; but the effects on his team of his defensive immobility and the degree to which they force plays for him on offense which he can’t make likely has a substantial negative impact relative to an average center with an average useage rate. Sadly, there’s not enough +/- data worth the name to make this more than conjecture.
Shaq’s one of the greatest ever, and it may well be the case that I end up feeling like a fool for writing this (there’s still a LOT of season to go), which wouldn’t be the first time; but at the moment Phoenix has the stink of death on them, and big man’s part of the reason. When you consider the way he tends to wear down and miss games, this could end up fairly depressing by the end.
This probably means nothing, but Worldwide Wes is saying encouraging things about the Knicks and LeBron. I’d say at this point, given the Barclays Center woes the Nets are experiencing and the slow death of Detroit as a city, it’s probably going to come down to Cleveland vs. NYC. I make the Cavs the favorite, but there’s a lot of time to go.
Only two notable televised fights this weekend, as HBO brings a slightly off double bill of Chris “Fighting Nipple” Arreola vs. someone or something called Travis Walker, backed with Verno Phillips vs. Paul Williams.
It’s a fairly uninspiring card. Walker is unknown to me, but ESPN’s Dan Rafael has him as essentially a can for Arreola to crush and look good on TV by so doing, and I see no reason to dispute that. Williams-Phillips is a step and a half up from there as Phillips has had a fairly distinguished career just below the mainstream (for boxing) radar- fighting since 1988, he’s faced men like Kassim Ouma, Corey Spinks, Bronco McKart, Ike Quartey, Julian Jackson, and beat Spinks in his last fight. What exactly he has left though is a mystery; he’s 38, and while he’s won 4 in a row, the Spinks fight was very close and somewhat controversial and two of the other wins came over the ultra-shot Teddy Reid and JC Candelo. He’s a clever old pro and you don’t count him out until he’s counted out, but it’s hard to put too much stock in his chances.
Williams, meanwhile, is a very odd and yet potentially fantastic fighter. Some fights, he looks dominant and powerful, a dangerous and skilled puncher; others, he looks like a slapper who can be confused and thrown off by basic use of angles and distance- and that’s just in his two fights with Carlos Quintana. In the first of those he was badly outboxed and lost a decision; in the second scored a first round KO. In the past he’s struggled with glorified jobber Walter Mathysse, but also has a win over Antonio Margarito- but fought as a slapper in the latter fight, failing to land anything of significance and winning entirely on activity. His last two fights were at middleweight and welterweight, and this one is halfway between at junior middle. He’s all over the map. That said, his last two wins were by 1st round KO, and he seems to finally be developing a style and not relying so much on the set of physical tools (great height and reach for a 147-154 pounder, great stamina, lefthanded) he’s been given to confuse people. He’ll have 5 inches of height, 13 (!) of reach, and 11 years on Phillips, and apears to be entering his prime.
He should win, and win easily; the more interesting thing may be how he fights in doing so, and what effect that has on his chances of landing a next major bout.
EDIT: I had forgotten, this weekend also brings the return of one of the best young fighters in the game, Jorge Linares, to the ring following a long injury layoff. He faces the fantastically named Whyber Garcia in Panama for an alphabet trinket at 130 lbs. Sadly, it’s not on US TV, but good to see him back in the ring regardless.
Marbury’s suspended until Monday, for the moment at least while the greivance process goes on. I assume/hope it’s a short-term measure while they decide how to resolve this.
What else to say? The story is currently the top article listed in the right hand main page list at ESPN. You won’t find Knicks game results there for the most part, or analysis of coaching strategies, or chances in upcoming games, or playoff odds or anything else going on with the team. Right now, in weeks where the team doesn’t make huge trades, this Marbury thing is the face of the franchise on a national basis. With the exception of Eddy Curry’s defense it’s the last really embarrassing thing associated with the team regularly, at least so long as the owners stay out of sight- but it gets more attention than all of the good things happening with the team of late. I’ m guilty of it as well; I have the Pistons game on my DVR unwatched at the moment, but here I am, writing about Marbury, again.
Up until recently I’d have been a fan of sending Starbury home, Jamaal Tinsley style, to wait either until the miracle of some useful deal could be made or a reasonable pro-rated buyout agreed. But this latest blowup, and the union getting involved, makes me think this is just going to keep being a story until he’s out of town for good. With all the stupid money the Knicks have thrown around in recent years, they may as well spend a bit more to help heal their reputation as an organization. It’s time to buy him out, even at no discount, and write it off as the last cost of cleaning out the Augean stables the Garden’s been for so long.
Back when Sean Avery was with the Rangers, I had a nickname for him: Captain Dickhead. Immature, I know, but you can’t tell me it didn’t capture the spirit in which he played the game. Well, Avery’s gone, and for the brief window of time before Stephon joins him in the outer darkness, I hereby officially transfer the nickname: Captain Dickhead is dead, long live Captain Dickhead. I don’t begrudge Marbury his demanding all the money owed him- he deserves it contractually. I don’t begrudge him his history of weird public behavior and Truck Party- I try not to be judgemental. I don’t begrudge him being a no-defense conscienceless chucker who’s managed to torpedo both the Knicks and Nets at different times; he is what he is as a player, getting mad about it won’t make him better.
But for the love of fuck, if you’re going to play contract hardball and demand every last cent, you do NOT then get to pick and choose whether you want to actually play while complaining that you’re not in the team’s future plans. With the exceptions of Wilson Chandler, David Lee and Nate Robinson at most, NO ONE on this team is in the team’s future plans, and yet somehow the rest of them just get on with it and act like professionals. Do you see our Guide and Leader refusing to play because he misses Jamal Crawford, or Lee complaining about having to be an undersized 5, or Malik Rose bemoaning his microscopic PT? Keep in mind, at this point, it’s not just fans or D’Antoni who are PO’d about this.
And so there it sits. The Knicks are at a better place in terms of future options and hopefulness than they’ve been in since maybe the crazy lockout year finals run, competent people are in charge of the team for the first time in just as long, the current group of players is pretty decent and a lot of fun right now on the court, and yet the biggest story continues to be a wreck of a player who once was very good, and now is only very good at wrecking his own reputation. What on earth will it take to be rid of this man? Zach Randolph, whatever else you can say about him, showed up this year, played hard, didn’t complain, knew he was going to be traded and didn’t let it shake him; Eddy Curry may be injured/deactivated/trapped in his home, but at least you don’t get a trail of foolishness following him wherever he goes. And yet Marbury, who makes both look like models of professionalism, is impossible to dislodge- wedged in place by an untradeably huge contract and an awful reputation which is one half justly earned and one half a product of his every move being analyzed and over-exposed. The Coney Island kid once wanted to be the biggest star in New York; in a way, now he is.
And still the man has his defenders. Read the comments to the linked Ken Berger article- it’s full of people praising Marbury for taking the shocking steps of showing up in shape and not burying the team in the press. Why, they ask, should he play and take the risk of getting hurt for a team which Doesn’t Respect Him? And this is the point where I wonder how much more respected you can be than to make roughly $3.5 million a month, for which you are asked for perhaps 70 minutes of court time. And when I wonder how they can applaud Marbury for trying to get every last cent and in the next breath damn the team for only using the player in emergency circumstances. So far as that parallel goes, each side is only doing what the other is doing, exploiting contractual boundaries to the utmost; but only one has gone beyond that to outright refuse to honor that contract while demanding its benefits. And yet, and yet…part of me sees his point. To be told that you’re essentially $20 million worth of 4th or 5th string backup and won’t have a chance to play your way into something more is humiliating, especially when you’re required to show up courtside and be reminded of it nightly, in what you think is still your prime, in your home town.
I’ve never known another player to evoke the unique combination of hate, hero-worship, admiration, pity, frustration and confusion that Starbury does. At this point, he has to be suspended and sent home. Not because he’s a terrible person- he’s not, despite this silliness; but because at this point every week brings more of this stupidity and damages him and the team alike, and neither are going to be able to really reestablish themselves until the separation is complete. Marbury has become a man trapped in the wreck of his own dreams, which is truly tragic in the largest sense of the word; but like all tragedies, the curtain has to fall for catharsis to happen. Every bad relationship ends one day or another; for the sake of all involved, today should be that day.
– One thing I’ll never understand is the wild fear among NBA coaches of having a player foul out. It’s certainly not GOOD, but as many commentators have pointed out, often times the lengths coaches go to to avoid it have the perverse effect of creating the problem they’re trying to avoid. Tonight’s example: with Jameer Nelson out, the Magic start Anthony Johnson at PG with Courtney Lee as backup. Hubie Brown lets us know that the magic want to hold Johnson to 30 minutes in the game, but Lee has picked up 3 early fouls and if he picks up another he’ll have to be benched which would leave Hedo Turkoglu running the offense. Why, i wonder? Lee’s a third string SG/PG, does it matter much if he fouls out by the 4th quarter? Would you want him out there at that point anyway? In the end Lee played only 12 minutes and never picked up another foul, Johnson played 37, and the Magic eked out a close one. Turkoglu ran the offense on the final play.
– Dear Stuart Scott: please never call the NBA champs world champs again. They are not the champs of Spain, or Italy, or Israel, or Germany, or China, or Argentina, or anywhere else which plays basketball. The defending World Champions are the Spanish National Team. Thank you.
– Both of the ESPN halftime chuckleheads from this game, Jamal Mashburn and John Barry, agreed that Yao Ming was clearly better than Dwight Howard. Really?
Yao PER, last 3 years (final number is this year): 26.54, 22.55, 21.26.
Howard: 21.19, 22.61, 28.49.
Yao, games missed in that span: 34, 27, 0
Howard: 0, 0, 0
Adjusted +/- likes Yao a lot better on year to date, although that metric has huge volatility in these (and seemingly any…) sample sizes. I’d say the point is open as to which is better, but given the health and the relative direction of their recent career arcs I know which one I’d prefer to build a team around.
– The play which won the game for Orlando was an example of how, at their best, they beat teams by doing the very simple thing very well (as do most good teams). 20 seconds left, down by one, the Magic inbound the ball and shuffle it to Turkoglu outside the 3 point line facing the basket head on. They run a very simple screen and roll which allows Hedo to get a step and collapse the defense, and then use his passing ability to kick the ball to the corner. Rashard Lewis hits a wide open 3, and there’s your game. They ran basic plays like this all game, all on the most simple of principles- collapse the defense with penetration or demanding a double in the post, kick it out, hit the shot- and did it against a team currently ranked 5th best defense in the league. At the end of the day, basketball really isn’t that complex; keep this in mind the next time you hear the weeping and wailing about how the league is less skilled.
– If you’re wondering what the problem is in Philly, well, they’e 21st in the L in turnover ratio (25.8) and 28th in true shooting % (50.2). They have the best rebound rate in the league which is masking some of this, but well, there’s your problem, and it’s the reason why their games are such a two-way brick parade. I regard it as a sign of progress that the D and boards alone aren’t enough to keep them much above water in the suddenly improved East.
I’m on my way I’m making it….
This is my second go at a sports blog; I used to write one called These Days at blogspot for a good couple of years, and after a lengthy derailment I’m returning like facial hair is to the NBA. Anyway, long story short, this will be a multifaceted sports blog covering the teams listed in the header to varying degrees, as well as boxing and MMA. All my teams are currently in season, some are actually competing, and so it’s time to quickly stow the jibber-jabber and move on to crucial questions like why the Arsenal defense is bad-beyond-metaphor.