Saturday, April 30, 2011

At Long Last

"Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team - no one more important that the other." - Coach Norman Dale, Hickory High.

Most "old school" basketball fans will probably tell you this quote from the greatest sports movie ever made provides the ultimate key to success on the hardwood. As much as I love Coach Dale (even though he stupidly considered running the last play against South Bend Central for someone other than Jimmy - I mean, was he auditioning for the George Mason head coaching job or something?), I've actually always felt like this philosophy was partially flawed. Instead, the Dunn key to basketball success goes a little something like this:

"Five players on the floor functioning as a single unit: team, team, team - one guy way more important than the others."

The Dunn Philosophy is definitely a product of the teams of my youth and their unquestioned superstars: In the 80's it was the Lakers (Magic), Celtics (Bird), Pistons (Isiah); in the 90's it was the Bulls (MJ) and Rockets (Hakeem); and in the '00's it was the Lakers (Shaq), the Spurs (Duncan), the Heat (Wade) and the Lakers again (Kobe). Sure, each of these stars had significant help, whether it be Kareem, Worthy, Pippen, Vernon Maxwell (easy, it's a joke), Kobe, Ginobli & Parker, Shaq, Gasol, etc... You get the point. Under my theory, it's not enough to be five guys functioning as one unit. You need a superstar, and that superstar needs a sidekick or two.

All that said, with the addition of the "superstar" to the mix, I still buy into the first part of Coach Dale's philosophy. Specifically, it is still essential for all five guys, Superstar included, to function as one unit. Or, to use the vaguest and most over-used term in sports, the five guys on the floor must have "chemistry." Since I took Chemistry from a professor that didn't speak English, I don't really know what the term means. As best I can tell, though, a team has "chemistry" when the five guys on the floor play unselfishly, put their own personal agendas aside, and focus only on winning. I've put that last part in bold for a reason, which I may or may not get to tonight depending on how much I have left in the tank. If not tonight, soon. I promise.

Okay, so where am I going with this? It's actually quite simple. After all the months of hype and well written, but entirely unnecessary Brian Windhorst articles, we've finally reached the moment when the Heat and Celtics are going to collide and either the Celtics are going to provide further support for mine and Coach Dale's theory that success is contingent upon "Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team", or the Heat are going to blow our theory all to hell. While he hasn't tread the same path getting to this same point, the great writer Bill Simmons (you know, the guy most of you accuse me of poorly ripping off?), has gone as far as to say that this series will put to the test everything he has ever believed about basketball. And, while Simmons used over 700 pages in his best selling "The Book of Basketball" to sum up what it is he believes, I can sum it up like this: He, like me and Coach Dale, believes five players on the floor must function as a single unit. Not nearly as marketable as 700 pages, but it gets you where you need to go.

As for the series, here's how it breaks down:

1) The Celtics are the grizzled veteran team. And, true, they aren't exactly devoid of stars since they feature four All-Stars and three future Hall of Famers (if any of you still want to argue Allen's and Pierce's HOF credentials with me after Reggie Miller just got the nod, I would kindly just ask you to argue with a wall. It may be more receptive than me), but, only one of those four stars, Paul Pierce, can still sniff the scent of Super Stardom. Instead, when at their best, the Celtics are the definition of the whole "five guys on the floor functioning as a single unit" philosophy. Over the course of the regular season, each of their five starters averaged double figures in points. 6 guys averaged more than 4 boards a game. Each of their current five starters shot 45% or greater from the field, with the team posting a 48.6% average. And, the Celtics averaged 23.4 assists/game as a team.

2) Now, let's look at the Heat. You know the story, and I don't need to rehash it. But, just in case you have been under a rock since July, or in case you don't care about NBA basketball (probably not enjoying this if that is the case), the Heat have arguably the best two players in the world, and a third guy that is arguably in the top 20 - arguably. At any rate, those three guys, we'll call them "LBW", are the only Heat to average in double figures, and collectively, they account for 70% of the Heat's points, 53% of all the Heat rebounds, and 67.5% of the Heat's assists. In fact, LeBron averages nearly 20 points/game more than the Heat's fourth most prolific scorer, Mike Bibby (7.3 ppg). Honestly, looking through all the statistics, I could on and on, but I think the point is clear: The Heat, unlike the Celtics, or any other team for that matter, are a three man team. It's LBW and 9 other guys wearing the same uniform and collectively trying their hardest to stay out of the way and not mess things up for LBW.

So, in sum, we have a clash between what many consider the NBA's most "complete" team because of its great "chemistry" and a unit out of Miami that, frankly, doesn't even resemble a "team" in any form that either me or Coach Dale recognizes. And, you know what makes this so fascinating? As of this moment, the Heat are a -180 favorite to win the series. In other words, despite having never seen a "team" like the Heat assembled before, and having nothing but decades of empirical evidence to support the belief that the Celtics "chemistry" should give them the edge over the Heat's lack thereof, the American betting public (admittedly, a suspect sample group) is pooping all over me and Coach Dale. Basketball fans (at least those that enjoy a good wager) have come to believe that 3 can be greater than 5 when that 3 features 2 of the best players alive (that 3>5 when 3 = 2 > world, got it?) Am I buying it? Not just yet. But, I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't very afraid that the Heat are about to rip away the curtain to reveal my long held beliefs floating away like Wilson the Volleyball in "Castaway". And, if this happens, much like Tom Hanks, I'm pretty certain I will react like a crazy man with a righteous beard and a missing tooth...at least until the Bulls have a chance to resurrect my theory in the Conference Finals.

Oh, remember up above when I put this in bold: "put their own personal agendas aside, and focus only on winning"? Well, as you likely predicted, I ran out of steam for tonight. But, I promise there's more to this, and I will get to it in the days ahead (if this were radio, or even a blog people actually read, you would call that a tease). For now, enjoy the start of Round 2. OKC and Memphis - two of America's great bbq hot spots - tip off in less than 12 hours. That means Kevin Durant should have 20 on the board in less than 13 hours.