Thursday, June 7, 2007
Updated: June 8, 3:26 PM ET
Running with the NBA Finals
By Bill Simmons
MJ won his first NBA Finals.
So did Magic and Larry.
So did Russell and Kareem.
So did Darko.
Could LeBron add his name to that illustrious list with the 2007 Finals? The question was so damned intriguing, I decided to keep an impromptu running diary of Game 1 in San Antonio. Here's what transpired:
6:00 p.m. (PT): Very cool opening montage by ABC featuring a variety of great plays, memorable moments and calls from the Finals over the years. That was cool. I have to admit, I'm giddy over the 2007 Finals -- especially after the Cavs were introduced before the game to the Undertaker's entrance music. Now that's how you get casual fans in the mood! As reader Danny from Chicago joked, "It's just too bad Drew Gooden didn't emerge wearing a Kane mask, followed by Stan Van Gundy dressed as Paul Bearer."
Our announcers for tonight: Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy, one of my favorite three-man booths in recent memory. They rank right up there with ... oh, wait, I don't have any other favorite three-man booths. Forget it. By the way, I've written this before, but it's worth mentioning again: Jackson's games are always more fun when he gets excited and you keep waiting for him to turn into Sam Jackson from "A Time to Kill" and scream, "Yes, they deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!" Scream that at your TV after he finishes every point. You won't be disappointed.
6:07: San Antonio wins the tip. On the "Happy To Be There" scale, the Cavs have been a solid 9.2 out of 10 all week. Now they're looking like an 8.9 on the "Deer in the Headlights" scale, although coach Mike Brown might be an 11.8 by himself.
6:09: Parker kills Hughes off the dribble for a layup (4-2, SA). Get used to that sequence. Let's hope he's not too good this series -- the thought of a French guy winning the Finals MVP makes me a little uneasy.
6:12: Two baskets for Drew Gooden as Van Gundy jokes, "I just want the hair on the back of his head." Good one. I think Bruce Vilanch is writing for him for the Finals.
6:14: Going for his fourth easy layup in six minutes, Parker gets creamed by Sasha Pavlovic and remains slumped on the floor for a few seconds as we get our first Eva Longoria shot of the night. Hey, did you know they're getting married a month from today? No, really. And did you know Jerome Bettis is from Detroit?
6:15: Van Gundy claims that Tony Parker is the best finishing point guard since Tiny Archibald. I think Isiah Thomas just put his fist through a wall.
6:17: Featured in the OnStar commercial we just saw: Tiger Woods, Kelly Ripa ... and Jimmy Kimmel. That's ridiculous. The only products Kimmel should be hawking are Charmin and Preparation H.
6:19: As we listen to Parker talk about Popovich in a taped piece, I have to ask, is there anything funnier than a foreign player coming into the NBA with an accent, then picking up hip-hop slang over the course of a few years? Detlef Schrempf had the best one ever -- he sounded like the German guys in "Beerfest" crossed with the Wu-Tang Clan. Now there's a guy who should have his own podcast.
6:23: Boobie! He just nailed his first 3 -- 16-13, Spurs. They need to stay close to Boobie Gibson at all times.
6:24: Jacque Vaughn gives Parker a rest. Shouldn't they just switch names? How can the Spurs have a French guy on the team and a guy named Jacque? By the way, eight points, three boards and three blocks for Duncan already. John Hollinger just reported that he's on pace to average a 43-16-16 for the series.
6:28: Seriously, this game is so big, we needed not one but two sideline reporters. Thank God Michele Tafoya and Stu Scott are here ... we have every inch of that 94-by-50 court covered. Nothing's gonna get past them. No inane tidbit will be left uncovered.
6:29: Donyell Marshall bricks his first 3-pointer, then commits a charge on the next play. I had 6:27 in the ESPN.com office pool. He should just put on an Earnest Byner or Jose Mesa jersey and get it over with.
6:32: Our score at the end of the first quarter: Spurs 20, Cavs 15. We should mention that Cleveland is shooting 33 percent from the field with one assist. I'd tell Mike Brown to go back to the drawing board, but that would insinuate the drawing board exists.
6:33: Forgot to mention this: Every time I mention Bruce Bowen in a column from now on, I'm giving him a different wrestling heel nickname to make him sound meaner, more vicious and less likable. In Thursday's Finals preview, he was Blackjack Bowen. Tonight? Hacksaw Bruce Bowen. Please adjust your program appropriately.
6:37: They just showed a promo for the NBA Cares program, a successful and generous charity program by all accounts, so forgive me as I make this joke: The clip included Shawn Marion cutting the ribbon for a new reading and learning center in Arizona. That's right, the same Shawn Marion who left UNLV after three years and never graduated. Come on, that's a little funny. You have to admit.
(Stop it. Don't shake your head at me. It was funny, damn it.)
6:39: Mark Jackson compares LeBron leading Cleveland's offense to "a big brother trying to get the little brothers involved." That's certainly the dynamic we wanted from our Eastern Conference representative.
(Hey, while I was typing, we just had Anderson Varejao's first flop of the night! That was fun. I can't wait until he and Manu Ginobili collide during this series -- it's going to be like when they crossed the streams in "Ghostbusters.")
6:42: Uh-oh ... ABC's using that roaming "Blair Witch" camera at midcourt that everyone hates. It's a great idea if you want all your viewers to either (A) feel like they're on a cruise without Dramamine, or (B) end up like Colin Hay. Seriously, did you ever hear anyone say, "You know what, the standard midcourt camera isn't doing it for me anymore, I wish we had something closer and much more wobbly and disorienting"?
6:47: Ladies and gentleman, the 2007 captain of the Tony La Russa All-Stars ... David Robinson! Has he looked not even one iota different for the past 20 years. I think he's an alien.
6:49: Cavs 25, Spurs 22, 6:04 left in the second ... the Spurs have missed 13 of their last 15 shots. This is either great defense or terrible offense. I can't decide. Gotta give props to Mike Brown for the way this Cavs team plays D, though.
(Note: He needs to hire an offensive coordinator over the summer. Let's get Al Saunders or Kevin Gilbride on the phone.)
6:55: Van Gundy doesn't like the closeout by Gooden on Parker's baseline layup, then nearly slaps the table in disgust when Parker rebounds his own missed free throw for another basket as Jackson and Breen make fun of him. I enjoyed that sequence. Really good announcing team this year. Huge thumbs up from me. I'm a big Van Gundy fan. If Richard Justice ever retires from being his media mouthpiece in Houston, I'd like to be considered for the vacancy.
6:57: Spurs by six. That was fast.
7:02: Who hasn't washed his hair for the longest time -- Anderson Varejao or Manny Ramirez? I'd have to go with Manny. I don't think he's taken a shower since 2002. And that's debatable.
7:03: I'm not kidding, the Blair Witch Cam just made me have to close my eyes and shake my head the same way someone does when they've just been accidentally elbowed. This is going to lead to one of those class-action lawsuits like in "The Jerk," isn't it?
7:05: Five layups for Parker so far. We might see Eric Snow's corpse exhumed before everything's said and done. By the way, should we be worried that Bron-Bron is 0-for-7 in this game? A little bit, right?
7:06: Van Gundy describes LeBron's defense earlier in his career as "disinterested." Now he's trying. So that's good. I guess. Um ...
7:10: Boobie entered this game at the three-minute mark when the Cavs were down, 16-10. He hasn't left the game ... and now, with 27 seconds left in the half, he just scored his sixth and seventh points on a runner to cut the Spurs lead to two. Cynics would say Brown made a major mistake by not starting Boobie over Larry Hughes, who's playing on a bum foot and has no chance to cover Parker (as discussed above). But screw it, let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this is all part of Mike Brown's master plan. Sure, that master plan includes the logic, "I'm going to avoid playing my best five players as much as possible," but we're giving him the benefit of the doubt.
7:11: Ginobili sinks an end-of-the-half 3. Our halftime score: Spurs 40, Cavs 35. Honestly, I don't know what to make of that half. The Spurs looked rusty, the Cavs looked mildly overmatched and LeBron looked frazzled. That's all I can tell you. Hey, here's the beginning of Michele Tafoya's halftime interview with Parker:
Michele: "You had an easy time getting into the paint until LeBron started to guard you. How much of a difference does he make defensively?"
Tony: "Well, he's a little bit bigger, uh, more athletic, obviously. So he's got a better chance to block my shot."
(Again, it's so great to have sideline reporters there. What would we do without them? If you're scoring at home, we just learned that LeBron is bigger and more athletic than Larry Hughes.)
7:15: Worst ad of the night: The one where the girl brings over a positive pregnancy test just as her boyfriend is happily grabbing a Coors Light. The only way that ad would be dumber and more inexplicable is if they celebrated, then she happily chugged four straight Coors Lights. You'll think of me every time you watch this stupid ad from now on. You will. Just wait.
7:19: Here's what we learned from the halftime show: LeBron didn't play well, neither did the Spurs, and these are two good defensive teams. Also, Michael Wilbon's suit almost broke my HDTV tuner.
7:26: Enjoyable halftime piece about the Popovich/Duncan relationship. I still think they're related. Nobody can talk me out of this.
7:33: As the second half starts, LeBron looks like he was scolded by a Nike exec at halftime. This should be interesting.
(To answer your other question: No, Boobie Gibson didn't start the second half. Probably would have made too much sense.)
7:34: Look, I want to like the Spurs and their fans. I really do. But you can't be pumping in Jumbotron music during an entire NBA Finals game -- the crowd should be able to drown everything out for four quarters. I mean, we just heard the beginning of "Baba O'Riley" as Oberto missed a jumper. I feel like I'm listening to David Chase's iPod.
7:38: You know a Finals might suck when the announcers are spending an inordinate amount of time praising the defense of both teams.
7:39: Hey, LeBron's on the board with a layup! That ended a 29-minute drought. Even Eric Snow was getting embarrassed.
7:47: Spurs by nine, four to go in the third ... you can feel them taking over the game. Even the crowd seems mildly excited.
And ... layup, Parker! Timeout, Cavs. Hubie Brown would have loved that timeout by Mike Brown. I'm still waiting for the coffee table book, "My 100 Favorite Timeouts," by Hubie Brown.
(Speaking of Mike, someone needs to tell him that Hughes has played 17 minutes in this game and the Cavs are minus-12 when he's on the floor. Give us some Boobie! Unleash the Boobie!)
7:53: Our first ridiculously wuss-tastic flagrant foul of the night: Gooden getting whistled on a breakaway foul where he kindasorta cuffed Ginobili's neck, who then reacted like he was being gunned down by a firing squad. We're about 20 years away from this game becoming a noncontact sport like women's lacrosse. I'm telling you.
7:56: A 3-pointer for Hacksaw Bruce Bowen, followed by Duncan using and abusing Varejao on the low block for the McHale Memorial Up-And-Under. Spurs by 15.
(Note to ABC: Start making plans to return that ad money for Games 6 and 7. Might want to get it in motion a little early.)
7:58: Our score after three: Spurs 64, Cavs 49. Meanwhile, there's a good chance that Van Gundy is getting a $100 bonus from ABC every time he says the phrase "plantar fasciitis." He might outscore LeBron tonight.
8:01: Whoops, it looks like the NBA and ABC didn't get my order: I specifically said, "Gimme the NBA Finals and hold the David Blaine."
8:04: Big Shot Rob's on the board with a 3 -- Spurs by 18. Mike Breen is starting to sound depressed that he didn't call the Mavs-Warriors series. I don't blame him.
8:05: More comedy from Van Gundy: During a story about how Varejao didn't speak any English when he joined the NBA, then learned the language with help from Zydrunas Ilgauskas -- and by the way, this has all the makings of a great sitcom -- Van Gundy interjects, "And you know the first word he learned? Flop!" Send the writing Emmy to Bruce Vilanch's house right now.
8:11: Well, ABC is premiering a reality show in which Shaq tries to get six kids with weight problems to get in shape. And you know what? That's too easy. Any joke is too easy for that one. I'm abstaining. There's a 0.0 degree of difficulty.
8:13: Cavs down by 16, seven minutes to play ... and LeBron has only eight points. You might see a giddy Skip Bayless show up for Friday's taping of "First Take" dressed like Machine from "8 MM."
8:15: Seven layups, 24 points, seven assists for Parker. Meanwhile, LeBron just nailed two straight 3s. I think my Bayless joke woke him up telepathically.
8:20: You're not gonna believe who's at the game ... yup, it's Patrick Ewing. I think he's replaced Mike Eruzione as America's house guest. I think I saw him at the national spelling bee last week. He's three years away from greeting gamblers at the entrance of a casino.
8:21: Classic moment where Steve Javie disgustedly refuses to call a Varejao flop, leading to a Duncan putback hoop. I loved that. Spurs by 14, five to go. For whatever reason, it took Brown 41 minutes to play his best possible lineup against the Spurs -- LeBron, Varejao, Gooden, Pavlovic and Boobie. I'm sure there was a good reason. Maybe he's pulling a rope-a-dope or something for Game 2. Um ...
8:28: Well, I thought I would make it through this whole game without thinking about Schilling's lost no-hitter this afternoon, but Van Gundy just brought it up: Apparently Mark Jackson (a huge Yankee fan) was delighted by the turn of events. This is no longer my favorite three-man booth of all-time.
(Note: What about the overwhelming parallels to Schilling and Billy Chapel in "For Love of the Game?" In the later innings, I kept waiting for NESN to cut to a crying Kelly Preston watching from JFK Airport. That was unbelievable. Even my dad picked up on it and made the "For Love of the Game" joke. What a game. I hate you, Shannon Stewart.)
8:31: While I was typing the previous two paragraphs, somehow, the Cavs crept within a LeBron missed 3 of cutting it to five with 75 seconds to play. Now the Spurs are up 10 again. Game time.
You know what? This game reminded me of approximately 125 Doc Rivers Specials I watched over the past three years, when the Celtics would be trailing big in the fourth until Doc finally went small (about two quarters too late, of course), then we'd race back into the game and make it close (before losing, of course). And I guess my point is this: When your Finals coach reminds anyone of Doc Rivers, that's not a good sign.
8:32 Reader John A. from Maryland sums it up best: "Is it unprecedented for a head coach to get fired one game into his first NBA Finals involving anything less than a dead hooker?"
8:34: Our final score: San Antonio 84, Cleveland 75. If gambling were legal, the Spurs would have covered by a basket. Five relevant stats for tonight:
--Duncan's final line: 24 points, 13 boards, five blocks.
--LeBron's line: 14 points, six turnovers, 4-for-16 shooting.
--Parker's line: 27 points, seven assists, six layups.
--Boobie's line: 16 points, four assists, four steals
--Combined minutes of Cleveland's best unit that would give the Spurs the most trouble if they ever played together at the same time (Gibson, LeBron, Pavlovic, Gooden, Varejao): 6.
And that's all you really need to know. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to start getting prepared emotionally for the final "Sopranos" episode. May Tony live to see Monday morning.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.