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Monday, June 24, 2013

NBA CHAMPIONSHIP: THE CHIEF ASSERTION

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Afterwards it can seem inevitable, but a championship is often decided by fingertips and fractions.

A quarterback in green and gold finds a tiny patch of frozen end zone on the do-or-die play. A kick drifts a few inches wide, a pass a few inches high.

Hockey pucks and soccer balls carom off goal posts. Potential game-winning homers fall agonizingly short of the seats.

And now, after hundreds of crucial moments and turns of fortune, the NBA champions have survived and prevailed again.

 

Frank: Did you stay with the Game 7 drama to the final horn?

Artie: Yup, and then I turned it off immediately. These games take forever anyway, and I wasn't going to watch another coronation of King James.

F: You must admit that LeBron came up big in the two must-win games. Dwyane Wade too, bad knee and all.

A: That doesn't mean I have to like it! James' flopping in Game 6 alone was enough to double-down my dislike for him.

F: Which was already high.

A: There were times he would just collapse and sit on the floor, looking at the ref with that "what the heck?" expression. One time I counted nine seconds of complaining while play moved to the other end.

F: You're the foremost student of this, um, trait of his.

A. One time I paused the DVR, hit rewind, then went through it in slow motion. He's driving to the hoop and simply loses his balance—nobody touches him! But he sits there like he got clobbered. It just made me berserk!

F: I don't share those strong feelings; I think James learned from the 2011 loss to Dallas and became a more humble and likable guy. But I was still hoping the Spurs could pull off the upset. And even after the agony of letting Game 6 slip away, they almost did it.

A: No thanks to Manu Ginobili, who was great in Game 5 but then played like he was a 55-year-old rookie. He did almost nothing but throw the ball away!

F: Two key times down the stretch in Game 7, and he even muffed a pass.

A: I was thinking some mob syndicate had gotten to him, threatened his family or something.

F: Even so, if Tim Duncan hits that drive or the follow-up tip, Game 7 is tied with under 2 minutes left. Or if Mario Chalmers hadn't banked in a three-pointer to end the third quarter, things might have been different. And in Game 6, if a different set of fingertips controlled one of those last-minute rebound scrambles, Miami wouldn't have gotten those second chances at a three-pointer.

A: If, if, if... I'm getting a stomach ache.

F: In any game there are a thousand little things that affect the big picture, but when a game is as close as those two... I don't know when the Spurs will stop kicking themselves.

A: It was difficult enough just to watch. In Game 6 if Kawhi Leonard makes one more free throw...

F: Ginobili missed a late one too. But remember, Miami still had to cash in those second chances, and James and Ray Allen sure did.

A: Game 7 was worse because Shane Battier, who hadn't even played in a couple of the earlier games, hit six freakin' treys.

F: The way Mike Miller shot the lights out in the clincher against Oklahoma City last year.

A: But Battier isn't just a Heat guy, he's a Duke guy. Doubly painful for me!

F: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich caught some flak after Game 6 for not having Duncan on the floor at the end, when he might have grabbed one of those rebounds. Do you think "Pop" blew it?

A: No. He's smarter than I am, or anyone else who might second-guess him. Miami didn't have Chris Bosh on the floor either; they had all their speedy guys and three-point shooters.

F: So Popovich used his own speedy guys to run at the shooters.

A: And get back quickly on defense. It was the right plan; it just didn't work.

F: Which reminds me of a classic movie line that could be a coach or manager's perfect answer for about any post-game question about strategy.

A: Let's hear it!

F: Remember at the end of Little Big Man, when Dustin Hoffman's Indian mentor, played by Chief Dan George, decides it's his time to die?

A: They go up a hill and he lies down. But after some rain hits his face he realizes he ain't gone.

F: And he shrugs and says, "Well, sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't." That's more pleasant than what a coach usually wants to say, which is, "Why the hell do you think I made that move, because I thought it wouldn't work?"

A: Well, I say it's too bad more magic didn't go San Antonio's way.

 

BATTLE AT THE BOTTOM

F: The week in baseball begins with the Brewers and Cubs, both 31-43, getting together at Miller Park in a showdown for fourth place in the NL Central.

A: Shutting out the Braves twice was nice, but with more than half the season to go the only achievable goal is staying out of the basement.

F: And they may be trying to do it without Ryan Braun for a considerable time because of that thumb and hand problem. I noticed that one day last week the Journal Sentinel's "question of the day" for fans was whether Braun or Corey Hart would be on the field sooner.

A: How about a third choice—Devin Williams, the pitcher who was their top choice in this month's draft. Now they're saying it'll probably take until after the all-star break for Hart, the supposed "Mr. Quick Healer."

F: Plus Aramis Ramirez's bad knee is keeping his production way down.

A: The way this is going you have to expect some moves will be made by the trading deadline at the end of July.

F: But as Tom Haudricourt pointed out Sunday, several of the Brewers whom other teams might come after—Ramirez, Hart, Rickie Weeks—have injuries, or intimidating contracts, or both.

A: An American League team might still try to land Ramirez as a DH down the stretch. And I'm sure there'll be offers for Francisco Rodriguez, who's back on the beam as a late-inning guy. Whatever happens, I’ll bet you a buck two-eighty it won’t salvage this season.

 

A TOUGH SEPARATION

F: The Packers parted company with Desmond Bishop, who'd been one of their best linebackers before missing all of last season with a hamstring injury. Bad decision?

A: No, and even Bishop felt the same way. That injury last year was really severe, and in this spring's workouts he tweaked a muscle in that area and couldn't participate. He was owed three-point-something million for this year, and if you don't even know whether he'll be on the field, well... If he were healthy and at his best, sure he'd be worth it.

F: And the uncertainty was too much, especially after the Packers committed themselves financially on A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones.

A: Other teams are interested in Bishop, of course, including the hated Vikings. But can they be sure he'll be healthy? I think he still could come back to the Pack, but at a much-reduced price.

F: I saw some complaints from fans that the Packers spent the winter looking at how to improve their "toughness," but then cut Bishop, who had been one of their toughest guys.

A: He was, and he made a major contribution to the Super Bowl season of 2010-'11. But toughness doesn't do much good if it's on the sidelines. Same thing applies to safety Nick Collins, who had to retire because of a neck injury. It was a shame they didn't have those two guys available last year. That defense would have been much better!

F: I did notice that Bishop expressed no anger toward the Packers.

A: He basically said that under the circumstances, he probably would have made the same decision. I hope he succeeds again—but not with the Vikes!

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek is an expert on flopping.