Thursday, May 24, 2018

Behind the Boxscore: Boston speaks, Warriors recover, Greg Ostertag and Shaq

Boston 96, Cleveland 83, Celtics lead series 3-2

Jayson Tatum was so angry for parts of Game 4 on Monday that he wanted to hurt the Cavaliers. He was sniping all over the court in that loss, griping at what got in the way of Tatum’s C’s keeping the song going in Cleveland. It was telling and appreciated that the rookie did well to can his clamor after the spot in an evening where shouts would actually move anything.

Nah, save that energy. If you really want to hurt the Cavaliers, go up against them when they’re trying to play defense.

Any CLE defense — in half-court when the Cavs pretend to like each other or in transition when the Cavs pretend not to hear each other — you’ll get your lick in.

Jayson Tatum is a star that doesn’t get to act like it a whole hell of a lot and when his contributions come they’re in basketball-only format. This means that when Tatum speaks, viewership perks because he does this with game. Gorgeous, deliberate shifts into strikes not often seen from a pilot that just turned 20 in March.

Just turned 20 in March:

LeBron’s first quarter instead turned into Boston’s, the Celtics had a 13-point lead after 12 minutes and by the second quarter James had begun lining up the sort of passes that he hopes will make Game 7 a little easier. Presuming that’s a future he gets to take participation in.

Boston started Aron Baynes and that worked, he’s taller than most and larger than each currently blessed upon Cleveland and it showed: Kevin Love (14 points on 13 shots) and Tristan Thompson (one point, one offensive rebound, five defensive caroms) never got to contribute what they’re actually good at, an important distinction in a game that won’t go on for as long as you take to get it right.

The home team even added to its lead in the third, Cleveland offered tired plays and wasted legs and the result was just where Boston wanted it — major shifts were lost at sea after crummy passes, weak curls and the back of the rim. Boston’s better than them. Almost all of them.

LeBron looked like his stats, he only missed half his shots against Boston’s defense but James only took four free throws all night — the Celtics understand what versatility and a parade of faces and arms can do to those three referees and LeBron was in no mood to force the action. He missed five of six threes and paired five assists with six turnovers, each of his ten rebounds were on the defensive end.

The Celtics aren’t worried about anyone but LeBron James these days, playing the modern Cleveland Cavaliers will do that to a team, each of the Cavs pops out from underneath the bed to do their worst and it just looks silly. By the time LeBron shows up you just feel embarrassed for the guy that has to stalk around with all these ghouls.

Even the concerns about James pale in relation to how the Celtics consider themselves, this group is not short on confidence but it does fret over its own play far more than it does that of LeBron’s. Young or old, each of these C’s has seen a way to beat LeBron in their lifetimes, they’ve seen it done by others and now Boston can spy a way out of this. The right way, even.

Only basketball’s gonna get in the way of that. Let’s see how much of that the Cavaliers, featuring LeBron James, have left in them.

Game 6 on Friday at 8:30 PM Eastern on ESPN.

THIS DATE IN PLAYOFF HISTORY

(Game 4, Jazz beat Lakers 96-92 to win the West, 1998)

(when the teacher asked me in April why the Lakers weren’t coming out of the West even with four All-Stars I told him that the Laker bigs and guards were lost inside Utah’s screen and roll and he laughed at me and went back to writing poetry underneath that picture of Hemingway’s airborne can and I went back to working on an almanac about NBA basketball)

By the time the Lakers got around to the Conference finals, Elden Campbell was thankfully out of the starting lineup in favor of Robert Horry, but this stuff hardly mattered.

The Lakers were out 50 points in the first three games of this series while the Jazz taught them about attention span, shitcanning what was long presumed as one of the league’s next, great Western final. Utah embarrassed the Lakers in 1997 as well but 1998’s version was supposed to be different because, I don’t know, a bunch of them made the All-Star team that year.

Karl Malone turned the ball over once in the sweep-inducing win, he hit for 32 points and 14 rebounds and Malone dished five assists. Greg Ostertag finished the Lakers off with 11 points, five blocks and seven rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench.

Greg’s 1997-98 began with a slap to the face from Shaq, so this was a fitting end to O’Neal’s sulk of a season:

O'Neal knocked Ostertag to the floor with an open-hand slap between afternoon practice sessions at the Forum, according to a radio reporter who witnessed the altercation.

According to the team, O'Neal and Ostertag exchanged barbs as the Lakers were leaving the floor and Utah was coming out for practice. The dialogue was reportedly a continuation of comments the two made about each other during and after the Lakers-Jazz playoff series in May.

Ostertag commenced the row in claiming Shaquille O’Neal a golfer:

The mutual dissing climaxed after Utah eliminated the Lakers in the conference semifinals. Ostertag, miffed that he still was getting no respect, especially from O'Neal, said, "But I guess that's why he's playing golf right now and I'm in the Western Conference Finals."

The NBA suspended Shaq for a game and O’Neal apologized to Ostertag in a statement, but not personally.

“My phone ain’t rang,” Ostertag sniffed, “the only thing he’s done is through the media.”

That’s kinda how Shaq did things, back then, until he got to visit Montana.

THURSDAY GAME FIVE

Golden State at Houston, series tied 2-2

The leak here is the free throws, these things are silent killers in ways that fan and forward alike can understand, you musn’t give away too much of them and I don’t think Golden State does give away too much of them.

They use that knowledge and that love they’ve obviously got.

Popovich. I can hear Brown — Larry Brown — in there, I can hear Pat Riley. Arizona Wildcats I can hear in there; Bobby Simmons. The opponent doesn’t matter, it’s the sound you’re making.

Nothing is off the rails in this round, Houston free throw attempts are down in the postseason as expected and Golden State’s defensive interest and execution has propped up as well. Everything for the thirteen runners on the floor feels like a coin flip, these days, when the whistle’s ears start burning.

The Warriors delight and also excel in that staredown. They’ve got the range of characters to simultaneously stay in front of the Rockets they’re trying not to slap, while arguing through conversations detailing in five different drawls as to why everything should be called the Golden State Way.

It’s up to Houston to do something about that, they don’t delight in anything but pointing to the rulebook before insisting on a stroke penalty at some shitty par-three out in Lawndale. Like, who has the storage space for a golfing rules app?

The Warriors were reminded of how not to play without Andre Iguodala, in Game 4, and they were treated by repeated exposure to the worst case scenarios presented in the Save Your Buddy-drills from before this series: Houston repeatedly put the wrong Warriors on an island, some would say on both sides of the ball.

The best practice for that is more basketball, a sport that even the Houston Rockets have begun to enjoy.

Game 5 at 9:00 PM Eastern on TNT.

PARTY

This album was released in May, it is best listened to in May, and this month only has a week left. Queen has the money and I’ve already purchased this CD/cassette/LP on three official formats, go hook this free full album playlist up to something loud and really, really get into Queen at the band’s most penultimate.

(there is a chance that Queen could one day receive the “Every Song” treatment in this studio, same as we’ve working up with Steely Dan. At the very least, this summer, you’ll see some Hot Space talk tossed in all the features and funny news wonks we’ll work through in the offseason.

Clearly, there is …)

(More to come.)