Commentary

NBA playoffs are 'Wired': Part 1

Originally Published: May 3, 2011
By Bill Simmons | ESPN.com

I need to get the 2011 NBA playoffs a gift. It can't wear jewelry, it can't drive a car, it doesn't need clothes or trophies. Hmmmm. What about honoring it with the greatest television drama of all time?

Now here's where you say, "'The Wire?' That show had bad language! A lot of it! Actually, that show reinvented how to say certain swear words! You can't do this! You're going to get fired!"

Nope. We have to do it. One of the show's best traits was its language -- it stayed true to the city and itself, never worrying about things like, "We might be turning off potential viewers" and "It's going to be much harder to syndicate the show unless we cool it a little." Creator David Simon only cared about capturing downtown Baltimore. For five seasons, the show documented the city's struggles with the drug culture -- the police couldn't stop it, newspapers were too broken down to cover it, lawmakers were too corrupt to care, and the school system didn't have a chance. Every time a major drug kingpin was murdered or arrested, someone else easily slid into his place.

Sounds like the most depressing show ever, right? Not if you grew to love characters like Bunk and McNulty (my favorite buddy cop tandem since Crockett and Tubbs), felt yourself rooting for Omar (a gay, gun-toting Robin Hood who only robbed drug dealers), found yourself fretting because the relationship between lifelong friends Avon and Stringer (a drug kingpin and his business-savvy consigliore) was slowly crumbling, or becoming attached to the four school kids from Season 4 (the greatest season in television history, in my opinion). "The Wire" made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think, it made me so angry that I remember having to remind myself -- more than once -- that these were just actors, not real people.

Four years later, as I sifted through quote pages and YouTube clips to assemble the quotes below, it was like looking through an old scrapbook from a vacation I loved. So yeah, some of the language you're about to read is a little harsh. But so was the show. For the purposes of this column, we're going to use some carefully placed asterisks to soften the words as much as we can. If you can't handle it, stop reading right now. Without further ado, 65 of my favorite Wire quotes handed out as awards for the first two-plus weeks of the 2011 NBA playoffs.

1. "The game done changed."
2. "Game's the same, just got more fierce."

To what else ... Round 1! Talent comes in waves, for whatever reason, and we're riding one along the lines of the one Swayze suicidally tried to surf at the end of "Point Break." You're usually stuck with three or four turds in Round 1, or as they're more commonly known, "The NBA TV Teams." Not this time around.

Our only sweep (Celtics-Knicks) featured two riveting games in Boston, including Melo's sublime 42-17 in Game 2 that reminded everyone, "That's why you trade five dudes for Carmelo Anthony." Pacers-Bulls and Sixers-Heat ended prematurely but earned Duke The Trainer Memorial, "They don't think it's a damned show, they think it's a damned fight!" status. Zombies-Nuggets had a Hagler-Hearns pace -- both teams came out swinging and never stopped. Lakers-Hornets and Blazers-Mavs featured a few dramatic twists on par with D'Angelo getting murdered before fizzling out in Game 6. Hawks-Magic gave us our mandatory Round 1 upset, laid the groundwork for Dwight Howard fleeing Orlando and broke the NBA TV curse. And Spurs-Grizzlies ranks among the best Round 1s ever. Last Wednesday, my friend Whitlock texted me just to say, "these NBA playoffs have been one of the best experiences of my sporting life." We hadn't even had a Game 6 yet!!!

3."I ain't no suit wearing businessman like you. I'm just a gangsta, I suppose. And I want my corners."

To the Grizzlies, who are violating various rules that we thought we knew about building a playoff contender, including ...

• Don't count on Zach Randolph

• Don't count on Tony Allen.

• Don't count on Zach Randolph and Tony Allen

• You can always get away with one head case, just don't give him someone to hang out with.

• If you're going to try to win a title with a Gasol, make sure it's Pau.

• Nobody has ever won an NBA title and said, "The key was when we got into that fight over the card game on our team charter."

• Don't expect to advance to Round 2 if your coach has no plan for "up three with 1.7 seconds left and the other team is inbounding the ball."

• Don't expect to do much if you're working with $50 million in talent.

... and none of it mattered because Memphis is controlling its corners. The Grizzlies went straight-up gangsta on the Spurs and would have clinched in five if not for 48 feet of off-balance jumpers in less than four seconds of Game 5. (Note: I'm really starting to wonder if David Stern released a secret edict about 10 years ago that said, "I know we're much smarter now, and we totally know what to do with a three-point lead and under five seconds to go, but for the sake of entertainment, any team that defends this situation correctly will be fined $500,000.") They're also doing it with over $20 million in dead cap weight thanks to Marko Jaric (bought out for $6.8 million) and Rudy Gay (out for the year, making $13.6 million), and on the heels of whiffing on Hasheem Thabeet and losing the Kevin Love/O.J. Mayo trade. How did they pull it off? The next few quotes explain.

4. "You can look him in the eye now. It don't matter who he is, or what he's done, you can look him right in the eye."

To Randolph, who had multiple teams say, "We need to take a flier on that guy, he's a beast in the low post," and for whatever reason, everything clicked in Memphis. When he played for the Clippers, I remember being surprised by how much his teammates liked him. I remember appreciating how hard he played. I remember marveling at his low-post skills. And I remember thinking, "This guy has less sense of the situation than any good player I have ever watched." (Back in 2008, Z-Bo's flimsy basketball IQ made a dramatic appearance at the end of my column celebrating the Dumbleavy Era.)

And that's the part I can't comprehend. How did a black hole with an inflated sense of self-confidence suddenly become such a savvy passer out of the low post? How did someone who sucked defensively suddenly realize how to play help defense? How did someone with no sense of The Moment suddenly grasp The Moment -- like he did with his sublime performance down the stretch of Game 6 against the Spurs, when he single-handedly won the game with an array of semi-impossible shots?

5. "I love this city, man, they love me back, you know what I'm saying? So it's good -- it's a blue-collar town and I'm a blue-collar player, I'm a hard worker and this is a hard-workin' town, ain't nothin' been given easy to me, ain't nothin' easy been given to this town, so it's a fit!"

Whoops, that wasn't actually a Wire quote -- that's what Z-Bo told Doris Burke after Game 6 when she asked why he clicked so well with Memphis. Thought it summed things up. Once upon a time, the city of Memphis identified with Elvis; now it identifies with Z-Bo and that connection has pushed him to another level. You're damn right I put Elvis and Z-Bo in the same sentence! Anyway, I'm making it an honorary Wire quote because Avon easily could have said that about Baltimore.

5. "You happy now bitch?"

You know what's really crazy? If you remember, Isiah Thomas built the 2007 Knicks around Z-Bo and Eddy Curry with the philosophy (I'm paraphrasing), "everyone else is getting smaller, we're going to get bigger, we're gonna pound people down low." He just made the mistake of surrounding them with trigger-happy guards (Marbury, Crawford, Francis, etc.) when he should have flanked them with 3-point shooters and role players. But his strategy wasn't wrong. Which brings me to my point: In the spring of 2011, Chris Wallace used Zach Randolph and Pau Gasol's black sheep brother to prove that Isiah Thomas was ahead of his time. I think the Mayans were right -- we're headed for the Apocalypse. Soon.

6. "If it wasn't for Sergei here, you and your cousins would both be cadaverous mothaf**kas."

To Trick or Treat Tony Allen, who turned into Treat Tony Allen for the Grizzlies after seven years of tormenting Celtics fans and tripling my father's heart medication. Gay's injury turned out to be a goofy blessing for Memphis, as strange as that sounds: these Grizzlies are at their best with Allen and Battier doing their Perimeter Pit Bull defensive routine. I get that Tony needed to get away from Boston, spread his wings, grow his goatee and find himself ... but this????

7. "You come at the king, you best not miss."

You're damn right I'm giving Omar's famous quote to Chris Wallace! Nobody bitched more about 2008's Memphis-Lakers trade than San Antonio's Gregg Popovich -- a trade that improbably produced two key members of a 2011 contender (Marc Gasol and Darrell Arthur). Did you ever imagine that Pau's formerly fat little brother would be (A) helping to drive a pitchfork into the back of the Spurs dynasty a little more than three years later, and (B) outplaying Pau in an NBA postseason? The first thing happened; the second thing is happening; and by the way, the third thing might be Marc kicking Pau's ass in the Western finals, at which point Chris Wallace has every right to dance on the Staples Center floor while screaming, "You hear that, Pop? YOU COME AT THE KING, YOU BEST NOT MISS!!!!!"

However it turns out, the Atrocious GM Summit won't be the same next winter without Wallace, who earned himself a two-year respite at least. But how differently should we feel about that infamous 2008 trade? My buddy House and I had the following exchange last week:

Me: I have to be honest, I'm re-thinking that trade a little.

House: What do you mean?

Me: I mean, it's not the worst NBA trade of the century anymore. It might not even be in the top 10.

House (incredulous): What do you mean??? The Lakers made the Finals 3 straight times cuz of that trade! They just won 2 straight titles!

Me: YEAH, BUT STILL!

8. "This game is rigged, man. We like the little pieces on the chessboard."

For one of my new favorite traditions of the playoffs: the one time every spring when the NBA decides it's a good idea to assign Danny Crawford to a Dallas playoff game even though the Mavs are 2-522 when he officiates their games (all numbers approximate). I'd like to see them take this a step further and have someone surgically altered to look like Crawford's twin brother, then have his "brother" screw up a Dallas game, followed by Crawford confronting him on the court -- you know, like what the WWE did with the Hebner brothers after Andre the Giant stole the title from Hulk Hogan in 1988. It's so ridiculous that they're pretending it's NOT ridiculous when he calls a Dallas playoff game, we may as well make it more ridiculous.

9. "You can't even think of calling this sh*t a war."
10. "Why not?"
11. "Wars end."

A defining Wire exchange goes to a defining Round 1 image: Dwight Howard borrowing LeBron James' body language from last year's Boston-Cleveland series as the Hawks-Magic series fell apart for Orlando. I've seen that look before, he's playing hard, only he seems detached, and it kinda seems like he wants the game to end so he can stomp off the court, tear his jersey off and get as far away from his teammates as possible ... hey, wait a second! Like David Robinson, Clyde Drexler (and maybe even LeBron James) before him, Howard just needs to find the right alpha dog and everything will be fine. But when? And where?

12. "Yo I love the first day! Everyone all friendly and sh*t!"

To Howard -- if this turns into Carmelo The Sequel and Howard decides during this summer's lockout, "I'm only signing an extension with the Lakers," followed by the Lakers snaring him at next February's deadline for Andrew Bynum and three No. 1 picks, I'm killing everybody.

13. "You movin' up in the world. Long as you don't fall into the trash they takin' out."

For Serge Ibaka, the 24th pick of the 2008 draft who's suddenly lurking as ...

A. The third-best player on a potential title team.

B. The answer to the trivia question, "Just out of curiosity, what would it be like if Bill Russell fathered a kid in the Congo who didn't play basketball until he was 16, then came over to the States at age 19 and learned basketball and the English language on the fly, and also, we gave him a 15-footer?"

C. The league's single most frightening/intimidating/menacing athlete if the crowd is charged up and you need someone to cover two-thirds of a basketball court in three seconds and block someone's layup from 10 feet behind him.

D. The swing guy in Round 2, because if he can't handle Randolph on the low post (both Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins failed in Game 1), Oklahoma City is screwed.

14. "Omar on the one side holding a spade. And maybe Marlo to the other holding a shovel. And just at this moment ... I managed to crawl out my own damn grave. No way do I crawl back in."

Prop Joe's ominous quote (he turned out to be wrong) goes to Jason Kidd, who got buried heading into the playoffs and crawled out of his damn grave yet again. For God's sake, Kidd has been playing so long that his love triangle with Toni Braxton and Jimmy Jackson happened only a year after the one with Brandon, Dylan and Kelly.

15. "He's a cold motherfu**ka."
16. "It's a cold world Bodie."
17. "Thought you said it was getting warmer."
18. "The world goin' one way, people another yo'."

You don't know how badly I wanted to give this to Danny Ainge. Let's give it to the Maloofs instead -- they did everything but load T-shirt cannons with horse manure and shoot them at their fans this past season, and then, when their Anaheim move fell through once the league realized that they didn't have the resources to pull it off (and once the Lakers and Clippers mobilized against them), Joe Maloof had the gall to trumpet the team's return to Sacramento for another year by saying, "I think it's the fair thing to do." Even Clay Davis wouldn't have said that. Hey Joe? If you want to be fair, start showing up for home games again, spend more than the salary cap minimum on your roster and stop pretending that Anaheim is a better basketball city than Sacramento just because they have a few wealthy locals who were dumb enough to pay your debts without gaining control of your team.

19. "For your information, I wake up every morning with an angry blue vein diamond cutter. I was gonna enlighten the President of the local 47 on this particular point, and he chose to depart. Blue steel gentlemen. Three and a half inches of hard blue steel."

The best "irrational confidence" moment of "The Wire" goes to the best "irrational confidence" guy of Round 1: Atlanta's Jamal Crawford, who really does think that he's one of the league's 10 best players and played like it against the Magic. There are six levels for "irrational confidence" guys.

The Toney Douglas Level: Mediocre supporting guys who catch fire once every five or six games, but the team isn't deep enough to pick its spots with them. I'm always terrified of these guys -- if they suck, they're supposed to suck. They have nothing to lose. The key here: you don't want them playing key roles if there's something at stake that they can single-handedly screw up, which is why Doc Rivers buried Nate Robinson in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals and why Miami can't figure out what to do with Mario Chalmers this spring (and why the Heat have been experimenting with LeBron and Wade as the guards lately).

The Eddie House Level: Proven irrational confidence guys who are fishing poles, basically -- you throw their "line" into the water, see if you get a nibble, and if you don't, you pull the line right out. These guys are assets on good teams -- they can carry your offense for a quarter at a time, but they're luxuries in that you aren't ever leaning on them. James Jones tossed out a total Eddie House performance against Boston on Sunday, by the way.

The Tony Allen Level: Role players (usually defensive stoppers) who have a tendency to forget to "stay their lane" -- to borrow a Jeffrey Ross phrase -- and suddenly they're careening through traffic and trying a double-clutch reverse layup on your biggest possession of the game. That's where you apply the Table Test: As long as these guys are bringing more stuff to the table than taking stuff off the table, you learn to live with their irrational confidence moments.

The Sam Cassell Level: Aging veterans who play with such staggering confidence that, actually, it's counterproductive ... especially if there's a better teammate who should be taking those shots. Welcome to Chauncey Billups' last four years. (Cut to Nuggets fans, Pistons fans and Knicks fans nodding wistfully.)

The Vernon Maxwell Level: It's not fair to call Crawford this generation's Mad Max, not when Maxwell helped the '94 Rockets win the title and was so irrationally confident that, more than once, he tried to start fights with Michael Jordan because he really, truly believed that they were on the same level. Crawford has never even played in the Conference Finals. Baby steps.

The Robert Horry Level: Will another role player ever consistently become the scariest guy on the court just because there are 30 seconds left in a tight playoff game? No.

20. "We used to make sh*t in this country, build sh*t. Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket."

To Carmelo Anthony, who left behind a significantly better foundation in Denver so he could play with Amare Stoudemire and a glorified D-League team in New York. Watching him handle triple-teams in the Boston series with a slightly overwhelmed, "Wow, even Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick would be an upgrade right now" look on his face was karmic retribution for what happened from July to February. You can't blame a guy for wanting to get paid and wanting to live in Manhattan, but if there's a hard cap coming and/or Stoudemire's body breaks down -- both exceedingly possible -- then Carmelo really WILL become the Evolutionary Bernard King. Right down to the part where Bernard had to waste his prime playing with the likes of Pat Cummings and Darrell Walker. That reminds me ...

21. "Murder ain't no thing, but this here is some assassination sh*t."

One of funniest moments from "The Wire" goes to the funniest moment of Round 1: The Knicks blowing a potential Game 2 upset in the last few seconds because Kevin Garnett tipped a Jared Jeffries pass that was intended for Billy Walker. Read that sentence again.

22. "It's like one of those nature shows. You mess with the environment, some species get f**ked out of their habitat."
23. "Did you just use the word 'habitat' in a sentence?"
24. "I did."

One of the best random Wire exchanges goes to the best random performers of the 2011 playoffs: Paul George (superb defense on Derrick Rose), Thaddeus Young (one of the best energy guys out there), Greivis Vasquez (believe me, I'm as shocked as you), Tyler Hansbrough (who made it clear that he WILL have his day in the sun as a valuable role player on a playoff contender someday), Danilo Gallinari (ditto), Arthur Triche (Atlanta's PR guy who left Jameer Nelson tickets for the first Hawks-Bulls game -- the best ball-busting move of the playoffs), and J.J. Barea (a valuable backup for Dallas and someone who always seems to throw off opposing guards because they look at him and say, "Let's abandon our game plan, I absolutely HAVE to post that guy up!"). And while we're here, let's throw in the Sixers and Pacers for their spirited Round 1 performances -- they were like high-quality wrestling jobbers who worked the crowd, bladed when they didn't have to and got a bunch of two-counts. It's too bad we can't team up the Sixers and Pacers and make them a frisky tag-team -- that's what they would do in wrestling.

25. "Yeah, well, now, the thing about the old days? They the old days."

To the Spurs, only the fourth No. 1 seed ever to get bounced in Round 1 ... although we can't totally call it an upset because, within a half of Game 1, everyone went from thinking, "Memphis could beat San Antonio" to "Wow, Memphis is going to beat San Antonio UNLESS they choke away a couple of wins because of free throw shooting and/or repeated brainfarting." You can't blame the Spurs for staying loyal to their best three guys until the bitter end, but they also proved why Danny Ainge swung for the fences with the Perkins-Green trade: he felt like the 2008 nucleus had gone as far as it could go, and he didn't want a come-hither moment along the lines of Randolph and Gasol ripping his team to shreds, followed by everyone saying, "It's Danny's fault, he should have done something."

Here's the reality: The Spurs were always Tim Duncan's team. Once he stopped being the best player in every playoff series, they stopped winning titles. Leading us to ...

26. "There ain't no special dead. There's just ... dead."

To Duncan for getting buried and embalmed by Randolph. It's over. Although in this case, there is a special dead -- Duncan goes down as the best power forward ever, even if there's a pretty strong, "No, actually, Karl Malone was the best power forward ever as long as you don't count things like 'titles' and 'abject fear in crunch time'" sabermetric case to be made by somebody that I'm sure will leave my knuckles bloody. By the way, the odds of Randolph officially ending Duncan's prime had to be as high as an 11-year-old being the one who killed Omar.

27. "Don't seem possible."
28. "It don't."
29. "That's some Spiderman sh*t there. We missed our shot. Now he goin' be at us."

For the single greatest play of Round 1: Manu Ginobili's incredible 3-that-was-eventually-ruled-a-2 near the end of Game 5 against Memphis. Let's at least agree that this was (A) the most important replay review in league history, (B) one of the unluckiest defensive sequences you could ever have, and (C) one of the randomly greatest pressure shots in league history given the stakes. A quick running diary ...

09.4 secs left -- McDyess throws a terrible inbounds pass to Ginobili that Trick or Treat Tony Allen picks off but somehow doesn't catch. The ball ricochets to McDyess, who decides it's a good idea to take a 20-foot running hook with Marc Gasol standing right in front of him.

06.9 -- Gasol blocks the shot right to Trick or Treat Tony, who somehow can't catch the ball a second time even though it skins his head and hits both of his hands.

05.9 -- Ginobili ends up with the ball right in front of San Antonio's bench. He starts to dribble to the top of the key and quickly realizes that both Allen and Zach Randolph are blocking him. He whirls to dribble toward the right corner.

0:53 -- Click on this clip and go to the nine-second mark of it, then pause the clip with 0.53 seconds on the clock. You'll see Manu with his back to the basket and THREE Grizzlies closing in on him: Gasol closest to the baseline, then Allen, then Randolph. Odds of Ginobili scoring at this specific point: five kajillion to one.

0:47 -- Manu whirls toward the corner and decides (I'm translating from Spanish), "I'm going to get to the corner, plant my feet, and shoot a 3-pointer falling out of bounds with a 7-footer closing in on me, and this is definitely going to work."

0:38 -- Manu pulls off everything from the previous paragraph. Gasol misses blocking it by a fraction of a fingernail. Referee Bob Delaney is so stunned by the sequence that, with the ball in the air, he signals a "3" with his left hand and a "2" with his right hand. By the way, this wasn't even one of his five worst calls of the game. Somewhere in Scumville, Tim Donaghy nods happily.

0:22 -- The ball swishes through the hoop with Manu standing three feet out of bounds. Good God.

As you know, his left foot ended up being on the line, preventing it from going down as one of the greatest random saving-our-asses shot ever. If you're looking at the larger picture here, Ginobili will make the Hall of Fame someday because of his three rings and his 2004 gold medal, and what he meant internationally, and for all the other reasons anyone would mention in this paragraph. Still, for someone staring at his basketball-reference.com page in sixty years, there's just no way to translate his supernatural ability to roll with any situation on a basketball court. His soccer DNA gives him a freelancing ability that nobody else quite has, and really, that ridiculous 3-turned-2 was more of a soccer play than anything. He wasn't the best 2-guard of his generation or anything, but I'm pretty sure we'll see 10 more Dwyane Wades before we see another Ginobili.

• CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO

Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times No. 1 best-seller "The Book of Basketball," now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy's World or the BS Report page. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.

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Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. To send him an e-mail, click here.