“Perspective is dead.”
— Jeff Van Gundy, former NBA coach.
So now The Avalanche Of Unreasonable falls upon the heads of the regal San Antonio Spurs because they had the shameful audacity to lose at a crucial time to the defending champions led by the world’s best basketball player in his roaring home. There must be blame, see? Blame, blame, blame. The postgame analysis can’t be about credit and celebration, not in this so-serious world we’ve constructed out of fun and games.
“Who blew it?” was blowing out “Who won it?” on Wednesday’s scoreboard, and that’s odd to say given that we just witnessed one of the greatest basketball games ever played. But rather than going to the fine restaurant to enjoy the food and wine, too many sports consumers seem to prefer just casing the place as health inspectors. Why delight in the delicious flavor when you can concentrate on fun stuff like code violations?
The Heat and Spurs, champions both, played a breathtaking game of basketball Tuesday night, a masterpiece that will echo years beyond the throaty noise that it spawned. Hall of Famer Ray Allen hit the biggest shot of his career to erase two of the biggest shots of Hall of Famer Tony Parker’s career, but the conversation too immediately tilted somehow toward all the things the loser hadn’t done instead of all the things the winner had.
Why wasn’t Tim Duncan in the game to grab a rebound? Why had San Antonio’s coach rested his starters with a double-digit lead? Why not call a timeout on San Antonio’s last chance? These questions fell out of the sky almost as quickly and noisily as Allen’s shot did. Blame, blame, blame.
Never mind that these are the decisions bejeweled Spurs coach Gregg Popovich always makes — and, by consensus, better than anyone in his sport. Never mind that there is not a leader in his business working today who has won more. Never mind that Popovich was so close to that trophy because he seems to have devised a plan that makes the best player in the world more inefficient than we’ve seen him all season. Never mind. We’ll just keep overshadowing the accomplishment by shouting about why it wasn’t prevented.
And what an accomplishment it was, by the way. Allen’s obsessive-compulsive work regimen is an insanity of repetition. He has spent nearly two decades sculpting it. He monitors his breathing during the again-again-again monotony of practice so that every situation has been rehearsed amid a familiar fatigue, and so he could replicate it with practiced calm if a moment like Tuesday’s demanded it. If you were counting during all the practices over the past 19 years, Allen might have done last-second-shot-for-the-season-from-the-corner literally close to a million times.
There are now cameras all over NBA arenas monitoring every player movement, and one of the things they’ve revealed is that Allen has less shot-to-shot variance in the trajectory of his jump shots than any player in the league. Computers don’t notice any arc difference at all between Allen makes and misses. This is crazy. He’s shooting it the same way every time, in other words, as robotic as a human can ever be, and Tuesday night, in the blink that saved Miami’s season, he moved back into that small space between the three-point arc and the sideline. He did this without looking. This was an athletic triumph — of grace, of art, of work, of greatness — but we very quickly turned our focus from that jubilant corner to … the old guy in a suit on the opposing sideline.
So many things get lost in the subsequent noise. For example, you couldn’t even hear what Allen was screaming after he made the shot. “Get those [motherbleeping] ropes out of here,” is what he spat at the sideline security in a jubilant din he had just created. Officials had cordoned the court to protect it from a rush for a Spurs championship ceremony that Allen may have postponed forever, and so the champion defiance leaked out of him with a radiator hiss, but all that loud noise — of delight, of surprise, of all the best feelings sports can give — was promptly engulfed by the more joyless kind the media births with instantaneous pronouncements that see-saw from game to game.
Missing the point
Popovich had taken out Duncan late, and this allowed second chances on random bounces. A series before this, the Indiana coach had also taken out his biggest player late, albeit for different reasons, and The Avalanche Of Unreasonable fell atop him, too. The criticism is so loud and overwhelming and instantaneous that it ignores that the Heat, which has proved to be kind of good at this game, often put opposing coaches in the position of choosing from only among bad options. But the math is always in the critic’s favor on these things when grilling the loser. The result, forever, is 100 percent wrong. And the imaginary secondary-guess, while never actually played out, gets to work successfully 100 percent of the time in our imaginations.
So many things were beaten back with that one shot for Miami. America’s mocking laughter. An offseason of loud and awful questions. The champion Spurs. Because we are too often prisoners of the moment in sports, and because you can distract us with noise the way you distract a crying baby with a mobile placed above the crib, Allen’s shot camouflaged that the Heat gagged and wheezed its way through a late-game disaster that merited having its season ended at home with echoing and awful punctuation. If that single shot had missed — same trajectory, as always from Allen, but a miss — not a single one of Popovich’s decisions would have been questioned, not one, and The Avalanche of Unreasonable would have fallen with great fury atop Erik Spoelstra instead.
The stakes do not get any higher than they are Thursday in sports, South Florida teetering on the tipping point.
One game for everything, the lunacy of the past three years poured into a single night, maybe a single bounce.
Win, and you don’t care where the blame goes.
Lose, and you won’t be able to keep it off of you for months and into next season.
You already did the chest-tightening-vision-blurring-stomach-dancing-breath-laboring thing in Game 6.
Are you ready to do it again?