Monday, May 21, 2007

The (Western Conference) Finals

I think the Jazz and the Spurs are two of the more aptly-named teams in sports. The Jazz, like the music that emanates from nowhere near Utah, can be up-tempo, slow, complex, simple, whatever. They are classy and the leader is the game's best practitioner.

The Spurs, if you ask me, are best stuck in a horse's ass. But that's just me.

Of course I hope the Jazz beat the Spurs because of my bitterness towards the fellows from the Alamo. However, I also think that the Jazz are a good team with many interesting and disparate athletes, and they happen to be coached by the coach who coaches coaches, Mister Jerry Sloan.

Though, unlike Don Chaney, Sloan has not won an NBA Coach of the Year award, Jerry Sloan is one of the all-time greats. Whether measured by his motivational skills, his strategic planning, or his sheer tenacity, Sloan is a man with few peers. As a basketball player, he was the slowest man on the court (he used to lose wind-sprints against the Bulls' backup center), but he was lithe, lanky, and ceaseless. By some inconceivable coincidence, as a coach he possesses a mind that allows him to translate everything that made him a skilled player into a skilled conductor.

Sloan has been blessed with great players and cursed by bad timing, and through it all he has consistently fielded teams that played with more talent than the sum of their parts. In a wide-open year, I think he may be poised to strike and finally ascend the pinnacle of coaching greatness.

On the other end of the court, Sloan meets his match in the Greg Popovic, who resembles Splinter both physically and in his ability to turn ordinarily shitty players into valuable parts of a very good team (Both Splinter and Poppa successfully built around boring leaders [Leonardo/Duncan] with a nice mix of asshole/talented ones [Raphael/Bowen]).

Game one was interesting. The Jazz had an excellent performance from the heretofore streaky Deron Williams, but got nothing out of anyone else. The Spurs got a great game from everyone, including the best game in recent memory from human coat hanger Fabricio Oberto.

If there was one huge, glaring problem for the Jazz, it was the shooting guard position, where they gave up a combined 37 points and 10 assists to Finley and Ginobili. I think if the Jazz lose, this is where they'll lose it, which makes me only the 312th person to say that.

Still, there were hopeful signs for the Jazz. They should be able to sustain a considerable rebounding advantage throughout the series, because for the first time, they are a much, much more physically imposing team (Amare nonwithstanding). They held a 49-33 advantage in game one, and if the Spurs hadn't shot a robust 54% (which they won't every game), the Jazz would have had it well in hand. And that was on the road. (Of course, Deron Williams doesn't get 34, 9, 6, and 1 every game, but hey, Mehmet Okur doesn't usually go 3-15 either).

I think the Spurs are due for some bad luck and some bad calls, and though Poppa is a master coach, he has had the benefit of one Mr. Duncan for a very long time. Carlos Boozer isn't going to neutralize Tim Duncan, but I think that he will effectively neutralize the advantages a team with Tim Duncan has - he can match the hardnosed, fundamental play pretty well.

It has been more years than I can remember since the Western conference has produced a truly nasty team. They have had good ones for sure, but these Jazz are the kind of team that harkens back to the old Knick teams of yore, and even the Bad Boys, I dare say. Popovic was used to being the toughest guy in town, but there ain't no way he's prepared for Jerry Sloan with a good team. Jazzy Jerry in 6.

It's hard to believe how long it's been since the Eastern Conference Finals were solvent. I remember when it used to be such an event, and how for the whole conference finals week, every game every other day seemed like it was an incredible matchup.

Detroit's probably going to win, and I don't like it, but it'll probably be in five. The Cavs just don't have the pieces (they don't have a shooter! they don't have a point guard! they don't have a bench!) and the Pistons do, and then some.

The only good thing I can say about the East is that I am interested by the prospect of a Pistons/Jazz Finals. As for Pistons/Spurs, well, that is pretty much Braves/Yankees for me.

As always, e-mail me at


MattG21 said...

number 5????

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