Friday, June 27, 2014

The Morning After: Germany 1, USA 0 - Both Teams Advance

It is a great day.

But, to understand why, you must broaden your horizons and grasp that this is not about 90 minutes against one of the favorites to leave with the World Cup trophy in 16 days time, but rather this is about nearly 300 minutes against favored opponents and surviving enough of the gauntlet to proudly advance to the knockout phase.

That, granted, is certainly outside of the normal structure of one game, one result, but this group play is a bit of an odd duck across the sporting universe.  4 teams are randomly drawn into a group, and then you spend 2 weeks at the World Cup playing each other to decide who the Top 2 teams will be to advance.

Therefore your first match against Ghana - with the victory taken from John Brooks' cameo that started this fire - was enough to basically do all of the heavy lifting that put the USA through and Ghana behind the 8-ball.  Meanwhile, in that same first match, Portugal lost its mind and then the match in a very one-sided demolition from Germany which also basically advanced the Germans and set the Portuguese on a very rough journey that has since ended in tears.

If Portugal had been able to beat the USA in Match-day 2, they would have overcome that issue and then beaten Ghana and advanced.  But, they didn't.  They played most of the match against the USA as the 2nd best, with the American controlling big parts of the contest and basically had the victory before an amazing smash and grab job by Ronaldo late to snatch a draw and the slightest ray of hope for Thursday.  They would need the Americans to fold up against the Germans as badly as they did to have any chance, and the USA did not let that happen.

So, despite the news anchor snark and the twitter jokes that are out there, yes, the USA advanced on a day they lost.  But, it was the degrees of the loss that were essentially the tie-breaker between the US and Portugal from their contests against the Germans.  And, when the USA loses, 1-0, but Portugal loses to the same team, 4-0, the answer is clear.  The USA had a massive 3 goal difference on the first tie-breaker of goal differential.

Therefore, as I said yesterday on Twitter, "USA will not be issuing apologies for advancing out of possibly the toughest group in the toughest competition. So don’t wait up for one."

The match itself was not one that was worth remembering, except for the idea that it was a magical 2-screen experience where people wanting the USA to advance knew that only 1 screen needed to produce the preferred result for the happy ending in Group G.  Either the United States gets a result against Germany or Portugal-Ghana would have to cooperate in the form of anything but a Ghana win, basically.

That put people like me in the odd position of hoping Cristiano Ronaldo could do magical things, and to his credit, he was on point all day long in a game he and his team-mates were playing for pride.  They knew they had almost no chance of everything falling right, but did want to leave the tournament that Messi and Neymar are dominating with his head held high and I would have to say from watching him buzzing the Ghana goal all day that he did just that.  And when he scored his goal late in the match to put the Portuguese out front in the 80th minute, the USA may not have found out instantly, but they basically were then playing a match that lacked importance.

And that was lucky for them (luck that they created by beating Ghana and nearly beating Portugal in the days before, mind you) because most of the match against the mighty Germans was not the Americans finest work.  They defended almost all day and even their counters lacked a whole lot of promise.  On their best day, I would love to see the US mount a better surge against a mighty side like Germany, but that would require Jozy Altidore, an on-form Michael Bradley, and not being on short rest after playing in Manaus with just 3 days in between.

It was overall disappointing to see the boys on their heels so much, but that is where Tim Howard is very handy.  He is nails under siege and while he is not perfect, he is about as perfect a player at that position as we could have.  His composure and ability to traffic cop a situation is mighty handy.  Also, Dallas' Omar Gonzalez entered the fray and while moments were tense, I think everyone would have to be pretty pleased with his debut on this stage.  In fact, yesterday was a lineup that featured 7 players from Major League Soccer in the 11, and another in DeAndre Yedlin coming on as a substitute who adds great dynamic speed to the right flank and suddenly we see that the top shelf of MLS is a bit more capable than some are willing to admit.

There were close calls and weathering storms, for sure.  There were big saves and too few counter attacks with bite.  In stoppage time late, the US sniffed around an equalizer, but never quite found that moment.  But, since Ronaldo found his, you are not certain the USA was throwing everything at the Germans that they could.

It didn't matter.  They did their work earlier.  They did not lose their way to the next group.  They had already accomplished more than Ghana or Portugal could make up.  Good for them.  Don't penalize their hard work accomplished early because you cannot grasp the concept of group play (I apologize for acknowledging the snark, but come on!).

So that means that for the 3rd time in 4 World Cups, the USA is advancing out of Group Play.  It is becoming routine for our little guys.  We used to never make World Cups, but now we make them every time.  Then, the next hurdle was to advance regularly.  We might be there.  According to Peter Welpton, here is the entire list of 8 countries who have advanced in 3 of last 4 World Cups to the Round 16:  Brazil, Germany, Argentina, The Netherlands, England, Mexico, Spain, and the United States of America.

We now belong on that list with those world powers - and our 2 natural rivals (England and Mexico) even though I am sure they still won't admit we are in their class.  Delicious.  Nobody from Asia, Africa, or Central America.  Just the powers of Europe and South America.

They are still miles ahead, but I am telling you, the progress is remarkable.

Now, valuable rest which might even bring Jozy back into the mix.  Belgium is next.  They will be favored, but it seems like a match where the USA can make noise.

But, make no mistake, this is now the gravy phase.  If they can work their way past Belgium, no doubt Argentina and Messi will be waiting.  The stars on the other side of the field will eventually bring this run to a close, but with great pride they should line up on Tuesday and go for it.  This is a great time to have a National team this easy to love.

Keep it going.

Let's Do This.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Morning After: USA 2, Portugal 2

"In this sport, "Deserve" has nothing to do with it." - Sir Ian Darke, ESPN

Odds are that if you are reading this, you don't need to be sold on the emotional roller coaster that soccer can provide and how that is amplified to its maximum on the World Cup's stage.  Odds are that you already know that this is a game that is fought for nearly 2 hours and that the ball is touched thousands of times, but only one touch here and one touch there of the thousands will decide the outcome.  So, I will spare you the long list of history teaching this again and again.

But, on Sunday, with Ghana-Germany playing to its preferred result on Saturday, the United States actually had a chance to be the first team to clinch admission into the knockout stages from Group G, and also a chance to win the whole doggone group (and still can) with a total of 4 points in the final 2 matches.  

They were facing a Portugal side that was a wounded animal and one that lacked self-confidence after just being dismantled by that same German side that would have to be counted amongst the favorites to hold up the trophy in 20 days time.  Portugal had 2 key players (Fabio Coentrao and Hugo Almedia) missing with injuries, their center back Pepe out with a red card, and possibly the world's best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, not at his full strength.  This was the time to show them to the door.

Unfortunately, it isn't that easy.  Not for a bunch in the USMNT that never takes the easy route.  And the fires started early as a harmless ball into the area in the 5th minute ended up as one of the truly disastrous touches that this national team has endured in years.  Geoff Cameron, he who played so perfectly against Ghana, almost whiffed on a clearance, but it would have been better if he did.  In his partial connection with the ball, he lofted the ball over his mates and right to the shocked, but waiting Nani near the right post.  Nani, who has just a part of what he once did, can still finish from that close as Howard anticipated a low shot and Nani roofed it without remorse, 1-0, Portugal.

And that quickly, the balances switched from Portugal being emotional damaged to the confident side in just 5 minutes.  They then bossed the next 10 minutes as well as again, like against Ghana, you were concerned about the ability of the USA to possess and create.

But, eventually, composure was gained and the US did just that with a flurry of opportunities for the balance of the 1st half, in which they put many shots at goal, albeit many from long distance.  Still, they were pushing back and easing into the match in a way that indicated they were not outclassed over overmatched against the heavily favored Portuguese.  

Then, right before the half, Nani almost put Portugal into open waters with a shot from distance that caught the post after squeezing through Howard's mitts.  The ball could have easily found the back of the net, but instead caught the post flush and bounced right back into the path of Eder who had his own shot saved by an amazing job of recovery and balance from Howard who was able to get his left hand on the ball and direct it over the post.  That would keep the US close at the half and with plenty of belief moving forward.

In the 2nd half, there were moments of nerves early, again, but for the most part, the US was alive in attack.  Michael Bradley was on the ball and again not at his top form, wasting a few surges with poor decisions or execution.  Fabian Johnson with his diving runs from that right back spot were useful, and after he was sprung loose by Graham Zusi in the 55th minute, he was able to pull the ball back inside before the Portugal keeper, Beto, could reach him.  He centered it back to a sprinting Bradley who touched the ball at the top of the 6 yard box, and Beto was down and out.  This left Bradley with a massive net to shoot for and only one Portugal defender - Ricardo Costa - in the center of the goal mouth.  Bradley tries to get velocity on the shot, but has no accuracy as he basically shoots the ball in the one place you could not - right at Costa.  It should have been a goal, but instead a wasted opportunity that might haunt them.

The attacks kept coming from the US, many off counters as Portugal was trying to feed Ronaldo with varying results.  But, the goal that leveled the match in the 64th was off what appeared to be a rather harmless corner from Zusi that caught two Portugal heads on the way out of the area, but right to the feet of Jermaine Jones, a player who has absolutely impressed in these first 2 matches, and he moved around Nani back to the center of the field and let go a screamer that bent back inside the far post and settled in the back corner before Beto could even move.  Amazing goal from distance and an equalizer to remember, 1-1.

Now, would the USA play for the draw?  After all, that was a very reasonable mission for the day and would honestly be an outcome that would put fate very much in their hands. 

Jurgen Klinsmann used one of his substitutes, in the back as he brought on another of his curious additions to the team, Seattle's 20-year old DeAndre Yedlin for Alejandro Bedoya and then pushed him into more of a midfield spot in front of Fabian Johnson to run up and down the flank and cause issues.  What a spot to put the kid into, but it was yet another move that Klinsmann got perfect as in the 81st minute - 9 minutes after Yedlin joined the match - he crossed a pass he received from Jones back into the middle for Dempsey.  The pass was deflected back to Bradley, who had his untidy shot deflected to Zusi again.  Zusi, sent a left foot back into the 6 and into the path of Dempsey who scored off his stomach in the 81st minute and somehow the Americans were in front, 2-1.

The ambition really was something notable about the growth of this USMNT, and the idea that they were not going to park the bus at 1-1, but rather go try to find the winner.  And it appeared that they did.

What happened next was a series of small events that ended up possibly conspiring to disappoint the day.  As the 80th minute became the 90th, the effects of the day in the Amazon were seen to all.  The very unconventional idea of a water break in the 1st half, perhaps should have been considered again in the 2nd.  Players on both sides looked positively exhausted, as the temperatures and the energy expended required a vicious toll.  DeMarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, and Matt Besler all had time on the ground with either cramps or exhaustion, or both.  

Portugal kept pushing players forward and had a series of offside calls go against Ronaldo and his level of energy seemed to be near its bottom, as well.

The USA had been 0-16-4 all time in the World Cup when conceding the first goal, but now were moments from that first win.  4 minutes of stoppage time became 5, because of another American substitution (Omar Gonzalez for Zusi), but the defense was sound throughout.  You could tell that most of the 22 on the field had slowed considerably, but desperation on both sides were allowing for small surges through the extra minutes.

Yedlin and Chris Wondolowski had both come on to help run out the clock, and in the 95th minute, it all appeared done and dusted.  Portugal sent a ball up in the air to midfield, which was headed back into the center of the Portuguese half where Michael Bradley tried to settle it.  As he did, he was converged upon by 4 in dark jerseys and Eder took the ball away.  From there, the ball went to Nani at midfield and out wide right to Ronaldo.  He had space and a bit of time, and curled a cross perfectly into the path of the oncoming Valera who had lost his marks and pounded the ball off his head and past Howard.

Photo from @TaylorTwellman showing how well the defense is set up before the goal.

On the final touch of the game, the draw was achieved for Portugal, and the win was ripped from the clutches of the Americans.  

Bradley has been blamed for not retaining possession, but with most of his mates withdrawn in their own half, he was outnumbered.  But, the good news about withdrawn troops is that they are in the right spot for such an occasion.  And, they were.  

So, then what could have been done?  Should Beasley have simply taken Ronaldo down on a foul?  Well, that is easy to say now, but if you would have given Portugal a set piece from the corner of the area with Ronaldo on the ball, he would have been roasted.  I imagine he made the right decision.

What about Tim Howard?  Should he have come off his line and challenged the cross?  Well, from where I sat, it looked like the perfect curling cross that was right out of Howard's reach even if he did go for it.  I think staying home was his right decision, too.

Then who?  Well, for me, two exhausted players in Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron looked like they did not have the wheels to chase Valera who had only been on for 25 minutes, and it is possible Cameron didn't even know he was there until it was too late.  Johnson will likely see this play in his sleep for years to come if Thursday doesn't go right.  I imagine he either has to run with Valera or make sure Cameron does.  He lets him go and it had the worst possible result.

But, if you look at that play 100 times, you will see that the USA was set up tactically in almost perfect form.  They had 5 guys back against 1 Portuguese sortie running to the far post and Ronaldo found him with a magical ball that you almost have to just accept as brilliant.  In a situation where the margins are non-existent, they gave just an inch and were made to pay.

And yet, they got the point against Portugal that they needed when they woke up.  They had to avoid a loss and they did.  It was a gutting way to go and the effects of playing in those conditions and then turning around to play Germany on Thursday at lunch is asking a lot.  

However, they have set themselves up where most scenarios play in their favor.  Depending on what you look at, the computers give them between a 65 and 85% chance of advancement on Thursday with all of the possible outcomes of the two matches that will be played concurrently.  

They accomplished a lot, and yet, they all feel that they deserved so much more.  Well, as Ian Darke said during the match, "Deserve has nothing to do with it."

If they want to play past Thursday, it appears their work is not done.  But, once again on Sunday, they showed that they have a quality, resolve, and spirit that is very likely the best we have ever seen on the World Cup stage.

Our boys belong.  Now rest up.

The Germans are next.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Morning After: United States 2, Ghana 1

You know, it is a weird thing following the World Cup.  We spend so much time in sports telling ourselves and each other to simmer down and calm yourself because there is a lot left to accomplish and plenty of work to be done.

That is true in the World Cup and it is true in the American League West.

However, as we continue to progress as a soccer nation, we should not lose sight of where we have been on the way to where we might be going in the next 20 years.  So let's quickly review before ever mentioning the name John Brooks.

Here are eight dates I would like you to consider:

July 13, 1930
July 17, 1930
June 29, 1950
June 22, 1994
June 5, 2002
June 17, 2002
June 23, 2010
June 16, 2014

The last date on that list was yesterday, made historic by a late and dramatic finish in Natal, Brazil, where the Americans conceded in the final stretch, only to recover and to throw a dagger into their nemesis from Africa before the clock expired.  But, those dates above are the 8 times in the history of our sport and our nation where the United States had won a single match in the World Cup.

To you new to the team (and I certainly am new enough that I only know about and witnessed the last 5 on that list), understand that yes, the World Cup is just starting and that the United States have accomplished almost nothing relative to the tournament itself.  But, that list above should be enough to demonstrate to you and anyone you speak to today that yesterday was a very significant accomplishment.  To win a match in the World Cup is a big deal for about 200 of the 208 countries that play this sport on an international level.  I realize we aspire to be one of the world powers soon that can act unimpressed with the accomplishment, but for now, we must savor and celebrate when it is entirely appropriate.  And to put a match into the win column in Brazil this summer in such stunning fashion, well, let's just say I won't have any problem with you wearing your USA gear again today.

In other words, you can save your discussions of style points for someone else.  When a win is secured in World Cup play in a tournament where only the best are present, you take your win and you embrace it with your whole body.  I received your emails and your concerns about the Ghana match and we will discuss them at length below, but my overall feeling will be that on a day that they win the coveted 3 points and survive a very difficult matchup, I won't be involved in losing sight of what exactly that means both in the short term (advancing from the group that some consider to be the most difficult in the World Cup) and the long term (we are averaging about 1 win a decade in this tournament).

The match was odd, but in the way you dream of.  When Clint Dempsey crashed in from the left with 3 magical touches that resulted in the fastest goal in US history in the World Cup, it set the game on its ear before it even started.  Jermaine Jones had a perfect touch on the pass that sprung Dempsey, and then the cut back against the grain was the skill we are told our nation doesn't have for this stage, followed by Dempsey doing what he has done everywhere he has ever gone in this sport - find the back of the net.  Or in this case, the inside of the far post, and in doing so put the United States in the most uncomfortable of positions in this tournament, and frankly one that most of us don't really know how to deal with; ahead.

The United States almost never is ahead in the World Cup, and honestly when you install tactics to attack for 6 months, you almost don't bother figuring out how to deal with your attack being successful - because it is the World Cup, silly.  If you have watched this sport for any length of time, you know that in a matchup of rather equal abilities, sometimes a first minute goal can cause the team with the lead to change on the fly and attempt to improvise into protecting for the next 90 minutes.  It is easy for us to encourage them to go find their 2nd and 3rd goals, too, but when the margins are so small, teams are not going to risk their good fortunes lightly.

So, the U.S. clearly backed off the gas and allowed the amazing talents and speed of Ghana to control the ball for most of the next 80 minutes.  At times, it was rather harmless possession, but after the intermission, Ghana's intentions were far more focused on affecting the scoreboard with their attacks.

Meanwhile, the health concerns for the Americans were stacking up, with the very key blow being in the 21st minute when Jozy Altidore had a step on a long ball, only to pull up in agony as his hamstring gave out.  If his reactions are the slightest indication, he is surely lost for the tournament, leaving a fantastic void up front for Jurgen Klinsmann of a striker who can hold up the ball and allow team-mates to join him in pressure-relieveing possession.

Without him, the U.S. even packed it in more behind the ball and Ghana was allowed to dictate terms for more than an hour straight, without repercussions.  Jozy has had his issues and faults, but he remains vital to this roster because there is nobody else who does what he does.  Aron Johannsson came on, but they are players with very different skill sets and the Icelandic goal-scorer really did not assist too much in his debut.

Hurting the cause more, though, was uncharacteristically bad play by the key member of the USMNT, Michael Bradley.  He is the engine that drives the entire vehicle, and on a day where he looked all out of sorts, the result is even more important.  His passing, normally one of his best traits, was wildly off mark and he just wasn't near his normal quality.  In fact, Dempsey had a tough game making his mark after the goal - the broken nose certainly seemed to cause issues - and DeMarcus Beasley did not have a day to write home about.  And that is why so many players making their World Cup debuts had to play well.

And you know, for all of the gnashing of teeth about the inclusions of Kyle Beckerman in the 11, or putting John Brooks in the 23, or any and all Landon Donovan-related roster issues that have been put on Klinsmann, we should acknowledge that he has decided to do things his way and not to reward past performances with spots.  He has started from scratch in many regards.  And while he does so in a rather abrasive way, we should look at all of the rookies on this stage last night in Natal and notice that most of those who played the best had nothing to do with the 2010 World Cup side.

Jermaine Jones was great, Beckerman was strong in defending, and even Alejandro Bedoya had his moments.  The back was anchored by Geoff Cameron who looked natural playing center back, and Matt Besler who now has the States holding its breath about his fitness level moving forward, as his hamstring put John Brooks onto center stage in the final few moments.

In the 2nd half, aided by the attacks featuring the dangerous Asamoah Gyan, Atsu, Sulley Muntari, and Kevin-Prince Boetang, Ghana tightened the screws.  They tested the defense and Tim Howard again and again.  Howard's superb rebound control held off the Black Stars until the 81st minute, when finally some beautiful touch passing including a precise back heel from Gyan freed up Andre Ayew for near post, outside-of-the-foot finish that Howard never had a chance at.  The idea to try to defend for 89 minutes proved to be the wrong choice as they conceded in the late stages.  Heads hung and shoulders slumped.  Now, could they just hold on for the draw?

After the game was tied, it was clear that the Americans were able to hold the ball more.  As if their attitude changed, suddenly they were no longer pinned in their own half of the field, and Fabian Johnson won a very rare corner kick by battling for the ball over the end line.  This led to the moment to scream at.

John Brooks is without a doubt the player on the USMNT that I know least about.  We have hardly ever seen him play and certainly he did not impress when we did.  So, when he was brought on for Besler, each unsteady touch was noticed.  So, for him to get on the end of that Graham Zusi corner kick just demonstrated again what we don't know.  We don't know how someone will react at that moment of truth, and whether they will take that chance and make it there own historical landmark.  Brooks had to get around Ghana's center back John Boye to get there, and he did, heading the ball to the ground and into the net.  It was magical.  For proof, check out this camera phone version of the moment.


From there, the Americans had to dig in and kill off nearly another 10 minutes, but this time their composure was on point and aside from another bruise to Dempsey, all was decided.  For the 8th time in history, the United States had won a match at the World Cup.

Then, thanks to Portugal doing things they often do on this stage, the door is now open for the USA to advance out of group play - something that most thought they were unlikely to do.

Klinsmann has made his mark and John Brooks is now famous.  It was not easy and it certainly would not gain style points for the 80 minutes of rope-a-dope bus parking in between the ambitious attacks, but 3 points is secured.

And for that, while we await injury reports, rest happily on doing what had to be done to a foe that was owed a thing or two from the United States.

Plenty of work to be done, but the work accomplished can be savored this week.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Musings and Observations from the Original Cramp-Gate

The following is from P1 Jordan Newsom who can be found on Twitter here.  The rest is self explanatory.  Enjoy.  

Over the last week, I have become obsessed fascinated with the lesser-known Game 4 of the 1997 NBA Finals. The precursor to the famous (erroneously named) “Flu Game”, where Michael Jordan hung 38 on the Utah Jazz while battling a severe bought of food poisoning. At the time, it was believed to be the flu, but it became known later on that bad pizza was the culprit.

Why have I become fascinated with this game? Because of LeBron James, of course. The NBA world revolves around LeBron, so when a faulty air conditioner in San Antonio forced his body to shut down in the form of a full body cramp, the haters took to Twitter to call him out, claiming that the G.O.A.T. (MJ, not LeBron) would never tap out because of cramps. As the equal and opposite reaction law played out, the LeBron apologists also jumped onto Twitter to try to prove that yes, MJ was human too.

Fast forward to Bob Sturm’s Twitter feed that included a Grantland writer, an author of a book about Michael Jordan, and Keith Olbermann, all of whom contested that MJ did get cramps in Game 4 of the ’97 Finals and even asked out of the game during crunch time.

Bob has posted the full video of Game 4, here, in order to prove that this was not the case. I have since watched the game twice in full and become fascinated with many aspects of the game, the series, and the players involved. Given that I was 15 at the time of this game and my basketball consciousness didn’t really start until the Dirk era began, I didn’t really know anything about this game or series other than what happened in Game 5, and who won the series. Below are one hundred observations about that Game 4, backed by 17 years of hindsight. Feel free to watch along while you read to enhance the weirdness of the experience.

1.     Marv Albert is a tiny, tiny man, who has yet to be introduced to a tailor.
2.     Prior to player introductions, the Utah Jazz bear mascot comes scaling down a rope from the rafters with a set of sparklers shooting from the top of his head. Apparently this was an attempt to get into the head of the Bulls players as the menacing bear rained fire down onto the heads of players and coaches. Mark that down as one many things you could do back in the 90’s that you would never be able to get away with now.
3.      Unfortunately, the bear made it out unharmed.

1st Quarter:
4.     John Stockton: 6’1, 170 lbs. Jeff Hornacek 6’3, 190 lbs. Not a misprint. AND they were a very good defensive team!
5.     Karl Malone is an uncontrollable beast. Yes, I know he was the MVP that year and one of the greatest scorers of all time, but you forget what it looked like to watch him do it. He’s basically a slightly smaller LeBron. He can shoot from anywhere, post up, pass, rebound, and defend almost any position.
6.     The Utah Jazz pick-and-roll offense looks an awful lot like what San Antonio has been running the last couple of years. It’s beautiful to watch when run by super-efficient teammates like Stockton and Malone or Parker and Duncan. Of course, it helps to be stacked with perimeter shooters as well.
7.     I know Jordan has checked into the game, but only because I double checked the box score. So far, M.I.A. with 4:30 left in the first quarter.
8.     And…. As soon as I type that, he has a beautiful turnaround J over Bryon Russell.
9.     Still, the entire Bulls offense looks disinterested. Scottie Pippen has yet to take a shot.
10.  The same Scottie that drained 7 three pointers in Game 3.
11.  Greg Ostertag grabs an offensive rebound out of the hands of Malone, turns back toward him and looks off both Malone and a wide open Hornacek on the three point line and decided to go up with it with both Rodman and Jordan on him. How do you think that turned out?
12.  That’s the kind of move where Greg Popovich will sit you for the rest of the game.
13.  I’m talking to you, Tiago Splitter.
14.  I’d love to tell you what the score is, but they only post it during timeouts for a total of two seconds.
15.  Can’t wait to go see the new Travolta-Cage movie, Face Off.
16.  Michael Jordan’s confidant, Ahmad Rashad, says that MJ was trying to pace himself in Game 3 so that he wouldn’t be worn out in the fourth, but that he’s clearly going all out in this game. I think Ahmad and I have different definitions of what ‘going all out’ looks like.
17.  Ahmad does tell us that Dennis Rodman has gone to the locker room with about two minutes left in the first quarter with an upset stomach….more on that later.
18.  Bison Dele sighting. Repeat, Bison Dele sighting.
19.  Speaking of Dele, the Bulls have a strange roster. Their starting SF Pippen (6’8) was taller than their starting PF Rodman (6’7), and the other SF Kukoc (6’10) was taller than the backup C Dele (6’9). Still, that overall length and versatility has proven to be a huge asset over the smaller Jazz lineups.
20.  Karl Malone’s passing is killing Chicago, however at the end of one, the score is only Chicago 16, Utah 21.
2nd Quarter:
21.  I’ve got to get me a Velo from Philips Magnavox. It’s like the power of a computer, in the palm of your hand. Or like the first generation of the Nintendo DS, I’m not sure.
22.  Hornacek and Malone have all but five of the team’s 21 points so far.
23.  Bill Walton was clearly at the top of his game in this era. Very critical, but still keeps a very analytical perspective and gives real insight into what the player he’s laying into should be doing differently.
24.  The Jazz were basically running the NBA version of the Chip Kelly offense. Every possession is an opportunity to pass, and every pass has a minimum of three options for where to go with the ball. 
25.  Scottie just hit his first field goal with 8:24 left in the 2nd Q.
26.  So. Many. White. Guys.
27.  This looks like a hell of a rec league pickup game with all the white guys with knee braces, overly hairy legs and business haircuts.
28.  Then there’s the most country guy of them all, Karl Malone.
29.  Warning: this next comment will be about how things were better back in the day:
30.  Things were better back in the day. The refs let the teams play. You’re not seeing ticky-tack calls. You’re not seeing super star calls. They’re just calling what’s there and if a player doesn’t like it, the refs don’t care. They don’t put up with any talking. Just go back and play.
31.  Conversely, it is odd to not see anyone throwing their palms up like Tim Duncan, or throwing their head back to draw a call when they were never touched like Dwayne Wade.
32.  There’s a Molson beer commercial with Rick Moranis and he says to his buddy that you can’t drink the beer on TV because it’s illegal. Is that for real?
33.  Jim Gray reports that Jazz had to call a timeout because Greg Ostertag came into the game and didn’t know who he was supposed to guard. Turns out it was Tony Kukoc, who just drained two wide open three pointers. Oops.
34.  I don’t know how people could watch games without knowing what the score is and how much time is on the clock. I know that it’s within 1:30 left in the game and that Chicago is winning, by a few points, but that’s really all I know at this point.
35.  They finally post the clock for the remaining :45, but still no score listed. Are they worried about it covering part of the action? Or just didn’t have the knowledge that this was something the consumers wanted?
36.  I’ll be damned if Bryon Russell didn’t almost rim in a shot at the buzzer from ¾ down the court. That could have been huge for Utah’s momentum.
37.  At the half, MJ is 5/11 from the field with 10 points, 1 rebound and 3 assists.
38.  Malone cooled off and started deferring too much even when teammates weren’t hitting their shots. Currently sitting at 3/8 shooting, 9 points, 3 boards, 3 assists.

3rd Quarter:
39.  I wonder how much money it would take to convince LeBron to get the Karl Malone toilet bowl haircut and grow a goatee. He would seriously look like Malone’s clone at that point.
40.  And then he could grow the fro out and look like a Hulk-sized Ron Washington.
41.  Luke Longley is just a tick above being as useless as Shawn Bradley. He puts in more effort, but not much more.
42.  Give me Luke Walton over Luke Longley.
43.  Just kidding.
44.  Rodman’s reputation precedes him as Malone knocks him down, scores, then jumps over Rodman and grazes his head with his foot, yet it’s Rodman that gets the technical because he put his hand out and tried to keep Malone from country-stomping his rainbow colored head into the court.
45.  Doesn’t help that Rodman has zero points and only three rebounds midway thru the third.
46.  Utah takes a four point lead, and it’s almost too hard to listen to the audio because the roar of the crowd is so loud.
47.  Ostertag throws Scottie Pippen to the floor, Scottie chest bumps him, and somehow it’s a double technical on both.
48.  Per Jim Gray, Jerry Sloan just told him during the break that it wasn’t even a hard foul, according to his standards.
49.  Dick Bavetta goes Dick Bavetta…. On a fan. He just kicked a fan out for an oversized Dennis Rodman sign that he had.
50.  Magic number of the third quarter is 6: Utah has 6 turnovers and 6 points off 9 Chicago TOs. Utah’s bench has 6 points. Chicago has 6 free throw attempts.
51.  Can’t wait til after the game so I can watch Men Behaving Badly and Wings.
52.  Steve Kerr can play some pretty damn good one-on-one defense.
53.  End of the third quarter: MJ still has 10 points. Malone now has 15.
4th Quarter:
54.  Injury update: Jeff Hornacek comes back from the locker room with a busted lip. No word of any Gatorade/Gatorlode mix up, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
55.  Unrelated: MJ is having a terrible game. Now 5 of 16 from the field. Been stripped multiple times with his back turned.
56.  I have heard of Robert Parrish, but couldn’t tell you anything about him. I feel an odd bit of shame for that, but again, I don’t know why because I don’t know who he is.
57.  John Stockton is putting on a show so far in the fourth with some amazing passes and very good defense.
58.  Seven plus minutes left in the game: Money Time for Jordan.
59.  Utah all the sudden just went really flat. Stockton throws the ball under the basket with no Jazz player within literally 10 feet, then on next possession puts up a fade away at the end of the shot clock and gets it blocked by MJ. Bulls up by 2.
60.  I’m now convinced that LeBron is a Karl Malone clone. If LeBron were born in 1963 instead of 1984, he would have been told that he’s a power forward. He’s faster than Malone, but other than that, what can he do different or better for that matter?
61.  I’m not sure that the 2014 Heat would be able to win one game against the Jazz. Maybe one against Chicago, but it would just be a nightmare matchup against Utah. Everything Utah does well, Miami is bad at.
62.  Plus the depth of either Utah or Chicago would suffocate Miami. These teams go a legit 10 deep, and Miami goes 3.5 deep at best.
63.  San Antonio would be an interesting matchup against these two teams. They have the depth. They have strengths in positions that they would need to be strong at to contend. Spurs vs Jazz could be very similar to the Mavs/Suns battles in the mid 00’s.
64.  Why does Bryon Russell keep getting the ball? And why does he keep shooting? Jazz fans currently booing him as he heads to the bench.
65.  Stockton wants this bad. Just nailed a three from at least 4 feet off the three point line.
66.  With 1:45 remaining and Chicago up by four, Stockton strips Jordan and goes the distance. Jordan grabs the ball off the glass, but Stockton draws the foul instead. Competition at its greatest.
67.  Stockton an amazing 92.9% free throw shooter in the 4th quarter of the ’97 playoffs, however he just missed a big one there.
68.  Jordan decides an 18 footer while being double teamed is a good idea, then Stockton pulls the rebound down and launches a pin point full court pass to Malone for a layup over Jordan. Jazz up by 1.
69.  You gotta have some big balls to be willing to throw a full court pass with less than a minute in the game that you are losing. Jordan never thought that pass was coming his way in a million years.
70.  Jordan in the 4th: 6/11 for 12 points. No assists.
71.  Stockton in the 4th: 1/3 for 6 points. 5 assists.
72.  Chicago has blown all of their timeouts. Utah up by one with 44 sec remaining.
73.  Jordan defers to Kerr after being hounded by Russell. Kerr misses a three and Utah gets the rebound.
74.  It’s pretty amazing how LeBron gets laid into for not being like Mike enough, yet Michael is doing the exact same stuff that LeBron gets killed for.
75.  If Kerr hits that shot, MJ showed amazing trust in his teammate. Misses it, and he was being too passive and should want the ball in his hands in these moments.
76.  Somehow Chicago lets nearly ten seconds run off the clock before fouling, but who’s going to question Phil Jackson, right?
77.  So Utah’s owner, Larry Miller, just showed up to Game 4 of the Finals with :20 left because he doesn’t believe in working on the Sabbath. Got it. So, why show up at all? Would he have shown up if his team wasn’t about to win? Besides, it’s not exactly working when you are sitting in a leather recliner watching your team in person rather than watching at home.
78.  Now Larry Miller is in the building, but watching the game on a monitor in the hallway instead of walking an extra thirty yards to watch from courtside.
79.  Malone with two clutch free throws to put the Jazz up by two.
80.  MJ’s three to tie rims out. Utah runs down and gets a wide open layup. That’s game.
81.  Crack reporter, Ahmad Rashad, asks Stockton if this win gives the team confidence heading into Game 5.
82.  Stockton’s response: “Um, maybe. It’s better than losing?”
83.  Felicia Rashad still holds up, by the way.
84.  Larry Miller looks like a kid trying to waive down his favorite athletes for an autograph. They have no idea who he is.
85.  After watching this game, it’s clear that Roland Lazenby (author of the 2014 book, Michael Jordan: The Life) never watched this game. Otherwise, he never would have quoted Bulls trainer Chip Schaeffer as stating that the team was accidentally given Gatorlode, a post-game carb loading drink, instead of Gatorade.
86.  Do some of the research, like I have, and you will find quotes from others (like MJ’s friend and body guard) stating that the Gatorlode mistake did happen, but it happened in Game 5. Compounding the pain that Jordan was going thru from already having the flu… or food poisoning…. Or whatever.
87.  Yes, Rodman reportedly left in the first quarter with an upset stomach. Something he had done three other times that postseason as his way of showing his displeasure with being told to stop shooting and just go rebound and play defense.
88.  In fact, I found this article from the day before Game 5 calling for Chicago to outright cut Rodman during the Finals!
89.   Let’s say someone did give Michael the Gatorlode in Game 4, which supposedly is like eating a baked potato. That’s not going to give you full body cramps, like LeBron had. Might it give you gas? Okay. That’s about it.
90.  Let me know when you find a quote from another player after Game 4 complaining about stomach pains or cramps or Gatorlode.
91.  There’s no chance LeBron catches Karl Malone for career points scored. Durant might have a chance though.

92.  92 Thru 100. Bottom line: Game 4 of the ’97 Finals was a great game in one of the great series in NBA history. Was it an example of when MJ got cramps and tapped out of a game? Absolutely not.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Summer Vacation

That doesn't mean NO blogging between now and August.  It just means significantly less unless the Stars trade for Shea Weber, the Mavs sign Lance, or the Cowboys do something really crazy.  Otherwise, I could see a few random posts here or there, but all of my normal Cowboys blogging ideas will go on a "to do" list and won't be hashed out or developed until California.

I could give you a nice long explanation, but I figure most of you get it.  It is summer, man.