Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Will They Be Giants?

Someone somewhere posted a comparison between where the San Francisco Giants are this year at the All Star break, and where they were in 2010, the year of their first of even-year championships this decade.  This year and 2010 are pretty much identical: in fourth place but not very many games back, with a barely winning record.

It's true that the Giants' division is not especially strong this year, but do the Giants have a chance?  Probably not.  They've got a few very promising young pitchers, but not what they had in 2010.  They don't have a dominant closer, as they did then.
But what the Giants this year really don't have that they had then is luck.  The Giants were very good in their championship years, but they were also lucky. Fairly nondescript players came through with heroic moments, especially in the post-season.  There were players like Cody Ross who had never been that good before, and he never was again.

Now there is a momentum to luck, a belief, when the team gets on another level. It's something that feeds on itself, the fans become part of it, and it's one of those wonders that makes baseball fun.  But it also comes and goes.

Luck translates most obviously into staying healthy.  And that's partly where the Giants' run of bad luck began at the All Star break two seasons ago, and continues.  This year they survived the first half with their three top starters and their star closer injured.  Now two of the starters are back and working themselves into form.  But the third is injured again, and the closer is not what he was. As for position players, as soon as one comes back, another gets injured.  Now it's Joe Panik.

So could the Giants make a run for the division?  Sure, it's possible--with luck.  Getting deep into the postseason would require even more luck: team of destiny kind of luck, the kind they had in 2010.  At least a couple of position players and several pitchers who are having good years will need to be phenomenal in the second half, and those having so-so years will need to be great, or at least have great moments in key games.  The talent is there.  It could happen.  With luck.  A lot of luck.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Warriors Winning Summer, Giants Poised

 The above excerpt about says it all concerning the Warriors and Boogie Cousins joining the team.  The consensus of smart people seems to be that Cousins could well be a tremendous addition late in the season and in the playoffs, depending on how well he comes back from a serious injury.  It certainly ups the excitement level for Golden State fans.

This happened a day after LeBron announced he was signing a four year deal with the Lakers--a coup for the great Magic Johnson that will add to the western conference sizzle next year.

Meanwhile the Warriors Summer League team looks pretty good, too.  So far they are indeed winning the summer.

In baseball, until they arrived in Colorado, the Giants were on a roll, winning 9 out of 10, including a sweep of the Diamondbacks.  They did so with some young arms they discovered because their starters were injured.  All three injured starters will be back by next week.  Will Smith is dominating the bullpen, though a right handed closer is still elusive.  With Strickland's stupid injury and Melancon's slow slow return to effectiveness, it's the team's biggest vulnerability.

But if things fall into place, the Giants are in fine position to make their move.  The second half of the season could be really interesting.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

NBA Nonsense

It's blathering time for NBA talkers and writers.  How smart do you have to be to know that LeBron James is not staying in Cleveland, and is not going to Golden State?  Nor are the Warriors going to be trading any of their major players for anybody--who thinks like this?  Beyond that, it's a long summer.  Most likely for LeBron, though: the Lakers.


Saturday, June 09, 2018

Sweep

The Golden State Warriors swept the Finals for their second championship in a row, and third in four years.

A few particularly good pieces on game 4, on Steph Curry, and FiveThirtyEight on the Warriors culture contributing to a dynasty, similar in some ways to the ESPN piece before the finals started.

Kevin Durant got his second Finals MVP in a row, though many observers thought it should have gone to Steph Curry.  But today's sportswriting is enthralled with stats, and KD's were arguably better.  That doesn't make him the MVP.  It was Steph.

Everybody's got their narrative, especially now that LeBron James revealed that he played the last 3 games with a hand he injured in frustration after the first game. But here's mine.

In these playoffs LeBron has often spent the first game feeling out the opposition, but in the first game of the Finals he came out firing.  The Dubs were good defensively but not quite keyed in to LeBron and the Cleveland players they'd never seen before.  At the end of the game, GS unquestionably got the breaks to keep the game tied in regulation, and they blew Cleveland away in overtime.

Another factor in game 1 was how to compensate for Andre Igoudala still being out.  Coach Kerr solved it by starting JaVale McGee, who jumpstarted the Warriors energy, especially in the second game.  The Dubs upped their defense, especially on James, and Curry caught fire late, pumping in a Finals record 9 three pointers.

Iggy came back for the third game but the Warriors had some difficulty integrating him again early, and his rust showed.  The Cavs decided to trap Curry, and Steph had an off night shooting as well.  But it was Iggy's presence on defense that freed KD from responsibility for James, and the combination of that with the Cavs obsession with Steph gave KD openings on the offense.  He responded with a magic touch on short, mid-range and especially long range shots, and carried the offense.

Statistically Steph had a bad shooting game but he made key buckets--especially his only three in the fourth quarter, which gave the momentum back to the Warriors.

Game 4 saw the Warriors take defensive intensity to a new level, while the Cavs sagged.  Numerous commentators saw the Cavs give in, but the Cavs weren't that good on defense the entire series.  It was their lack of defensive skills and defensive energy vs. Golden State, and the Warriors tremendous defense that made for the sweep.

At least one commentator criticized the Warriors bench before the Finals started, but even though starters always play more minutes in the Finals, the Warrior bench contributed mightily.  It was a team effort that won the championship, again.  Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors, 2017-18 NBA Champions!

Monday, May 28, 2018

After All That It's..Warriors v. Cavs

The seventh game of the western conference finals was as schizophrenic as the first six, but this time--and perhaps earlier-- it was likely due to the attrition of fatigue.  The Rockets set a record for 3 point futility--they missed 27 in a row.  It's still amazing to me that teams shoot as many as 27 threes.  As in game 6, they were energetic and sharp in the first half and fell apart in the second.  The Warriors had their monster third quarter, and kept the pressure on in the fourth.

The key to the Rockets taking this game--though nobody would ever say it--was to get at least one of the key Warriors in foul trouble early.  The likely candidates (because of their defensive responsibilities) were Green and Thompson.  They succeeded with Thompson, who was guarding Harden.  They limited him to 31 minutes and 19 points.  But a lot of those points--especially 3s--came at big moments in the game.

However they didn't succeed otherwise: KD, Steph Curry and Green all played exactly 44 minutes.  Green was a defensive beast, and chipped in 10 points.  Steph went off in the third, finished with a loud 27.  Kevin Durant redeemed himself with a quiet but lethal 34.

James Harden took a ton of shots, missed three quarters of a ton and ended up with 34, not many of them in the second half.  Chris Paul missed his second game in a row with the hamstring injury he suffered at the end of game 5.  Andre Iguodala was also out again for the Warriors.

By purist standards, it's amazing that either team won.  Golden State started with what their coach called "the worst quarter I've ever seen this team play" and Houston had a historically cold shooting night.  Which is why it was reasonably close at 101-92.

But credit the Warriors: it's the first game 7 they've ever won on the road, and their defense kept the mighty Rockets offense below 100 points most of the series.

So the Warriors meet the Cavs, beginning on Thursday at Golden State.  It should not be a close series, but this Warrior's team has become unpredictable.  They could lose the first game on sheer soreness and exhaustion, although LeBron is likely fatigued as well.

Anyway, it's the series that nobody wanted to see again: the pre-season favorites that as late as last week, didn't look like they would be meeting again, the fourth consecutive time for the championship.  I'm willing to bet that no game in the finals will eclipse the ratings for the game played tonight in Houston.  But it's LeBron and Steph and KD, so game on.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Remains of the Conference Finals


Update: After game 6, the Warriors titanic second half demonstrates which is the better team.  The question for game 7 Monday is will the better team show up.

Two games in a row in which the Warriors lost by 3 and 4 points, and didn't score 100 in either game.  One game can be nothing but itself.  But two games in a row starts to look like a pattern.  It starts to look like the Rockets have found something that works.

The Warriors must win their next two games to make the finals.  It is their test of character as a team, and it is specifically a test of Kevin Durant.

LeBron James has taken Cleveland to a seventh game in the East.  If he succeeds in carrying the Cavs to the Finals and Durant does not contribute to winning the West, the debate over who is the best player in the league is over.

The finals could be nothing like what everyone expected.  How weird if neither Golden State nor Cleveland is in them.  How much weirder still if Cleveland is, but the Warriors are not.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Going Into (and Out of) Game 5

The Western Conference finals enter the usually crucial fifth game, which the Houston Rockets made crucial again by winning the fourth game, topping the Warriors by 3 points at Golden State.

By doing so, the Rockets made it a series, and could take control of it with a game 5 win at home.  Because of home court and the short duration between games 3, 4 and 5, Houston will be the favorite.

The won't win, though.  If game 4 was a test of James Harden's legacy, game 5 is a test of the Warriors, and specifically Kevin Durant.  Durant had chances to nail down the win in game 4 but rushed his shots and failed to play Warrior team basketball.

The team that wins game 5 has two games to win their fourth, with both teams having a home game remaining.  They both won a game on the road.  By winning the first game, the Warriors still have an advantage in the game to game adjustments, going into game 5.

They should have Iguodala back, a crucial player against this Houston lineup.  The first three games were blowouts.  In game 4, the two teams alternated dominating quarters: the Warriors won the first and third, the Rockets won the second and fourth.  Game 5 may finally be the game that is close from start to finish.  Or not. These two teams are unusual.

The Rockets are hungry.  They know that the winner of this series is a prohibitive favorite to win the championship.  But the Warriors are champions, and more than in any game in the past two playoffs, they must prove it in game 5.

The Warriors will win game 5 on the road, and game 6 at home to wrap up the series.

There is not much to say about the Eastern conference, except that with both teams winning their home games, the advantage still lies with Boston.  The likely remaining question is whether they win it in 6 or 7.