Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Spurs Are Making Me Xenophobic

Problem: Diving fucking foreigners who bring the ugliest side of soccer from their respective homelands to the courts of the NBA where IT DOESN'T FUCKING BELONG (not that it belongs in soccer, either). These punks obviously didn't grow up playing ball in the U.S. and have never heard of the phrase "no blood, no foul." Doesn't matter how long they've been playing basketball, they all started out playing soccer. It's like getting circumsized. They fall to the ground at the slightest contact and never land on their feet when they drive to the basket. The referees don't know what to make of it because they don't understand how a player can fall so hard and not be fouled. They kick their legs out from under them, fling their arms into the air, and give Oscar-worthy grimaces and groans--all tell-tale signs of a soccer swan dive. I even saw Tim Duncan do the clip-the-back-of-my-leg-with-my-other-leg move tonight that was originated by Cristiano Ronaldo. It's disgusting.

Solution: Ethnic cleansing, duh.

Ok maybe too radical, how about a series of mandatory American culture classes featuring classes on toughness taught by Bill Laimbeer or domestic spousal abuse taught by Jason Kidd. Let's teach them how to be real men.

Ooor, y'know what? Let's just keep it simple, interment camps.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Scholesy Does It Again

PAUL SCHOLES! HE SCORES GOALS! as the old chant goes. He doesn't score as many as he used and he hadn't scored in the Champions League since 2006. This season he had only scored once in all competitions but you can't say enough about the importance of timing. Just ask Scholes; back in 1999 the ginger-haired one chose the semifinal vs Juventus to pick up his 5th yellow card of the competition and was suspended for the epic Champions League triumph over Bayern Munich. Nearly a decade later the Ginger Prince seized upon an errant Xavi clearance 14 minutes into the contest and conjured up a bit of magic to remind us all why he will be the first name on the team sheet for the Moscow final in 3 weeks time.

Scholesy's 30 yard screamer proved to be the difference in an enthralling, and at times nerve-wracking, fixture. Barcelona had their chances to equalize but at times I could have sworn we were playing Arsenal out there with Barcelona oddly reluctant to actually test us with some shots on goal. Another puzzling choice was that of Thierry Henry, so often deadly against us in his old Arsenal days, starting on the bench and only coming on with 20 minutes to play. This is surely Rijkaard's final season coaching Barcelona after another trophy-less season where he has shown he can no longer handle the many superstar personalities of Barcelona.

Now to the player ratings:

Cristiano Ronaldo: 5/10 Petulant and immature, sloppy and selfish with possession and didn't match the effort of his teammates. Predictably ineffectual in the big game once again and I was a bit disappointed he wasn't subbed off instead of Nani late on.
Nani: 7/10 Pace caused Barcelona problems all night and upstaged his fellow Portuguese high-stepper.
Carlos Tevez: 7/10 An absolute pitbull up front and did well to disrupt the flow of Barcelona.
Paul Scholes: 9/10 Scored the vital goal and showed once again why he's one of the great midfielders of his generation with his intelligent and accurate passing.
Michael Carrick: 6/10 Did well to help Scholes manage the midfield and protect the backline.
Park Ji-Sung: 7/10 Gave us an incredible level of energy from start to finish, even coming close to scoring a couple times.
Owen Hargreaves: 7/10 Overall did well protecting his flank but ineffectual supporting the attack and had a couple nervous moments defending.
Patrice Evra: 8/10 Excellent defending and never once made me worry about any Barcelona attacks from the right wing. Also supported the left-wing attack and combined well with Ronaldo.
Wes Brown: 9/10 I usually give him a hard time, but he actually played excellent in place of the injured Vidic.
Rio Ferdinand: 8/10 Led by example wearing the captain's armband. The backline was superb and
Edwin van der Sar: 7/10 Typically steady in goal.

Man of the Match: Wes Brown. Scholes is the sentimental favorite plus he scored the winner but I'm gonna give it to the darkhorse. Against, in my opinion, the most dangerous attack in all of Europe, he stepped into Vidic's place and produced a fine defensive display without which we probably would've conceded a goal late on.

All-around solid performance especially without the services of Rooney and Vidic but still much to improve, particularly from Ronaldo's end, before we can dream about lifting the cup in Moscow.

I'm Gonna Go Out On A Limb...

...and say the Atlanta Hawks will steal, or more like wrestle, Game 5 away from the Celtics in Boston and win the series back in Atlanta. Yes, the same Atlanta Hawks who had a losing record in the regular season. Yes, the same Boston Celtics who had a league-best 66 wins. Incidentally that's one less win than Dallas had last year.

What I'm saying is, come playoff time, the regular season counts for nothing more than that one extra home game against your opponent. It's all about matchups. Dallas won 67 games last season and lost in the first round to another 8 seed, the Warriors, because they simply didn't matchup well against Nellie's breakneck speed offense and prolific 3-pt shooting.
They worked for every ball with guys like Andris Biedrins inhaling rebounds. Players like Matt Barnes stepped up like no one could've imagined and provided that little bit of extra to push them past the finish line. And they had a talismanic leader in Baron Davis, a player that no one player on the Mavs could stop, supplemented by Stephen Jackson's timely perimeter shooting.

The Hawks present a similar challenge to the Celtics. They have finally found their sea legs, or playoff legs, in two games at home in Atlanta, and more importantly they've found a formula to beat the Celtics that they have yet to find an answer for. Al Horford is playing beyond his years as a rookie in his first playoff series and is consistently beating Perkins and Garnett at their own game and cleaning up on the boards. They're getting unexpected production from Josh Childress, especially on the boards, and a particularly unexpected emotional boost off the bench from Zaza Pachulia. Bibby is finally letting the game come to him, scoring 18 on only 8 shots and managing the game like a true point guard should. Josh Smith is having a stellar playoff debut, the kind of series that cements you as a star in this league. He's making his free throws, leading the brilliant defensive effort by example (7 blocks!), and maybe most importantly providing a reliable 2nd scoring option to Joe Johnson. Most noticeably the entire team is playing with a degree of poise that just about everyone, including myself, didn't think they were capable of. The best part of it all is that the Celtics didn't even play poorly. The Big 3 combined for about 60 which almost always paves the way to victory for Boston.

I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that Joe Johnson's performance tonight was one of the great individual playoff performances I've seen in my lifetime. I know many will be reluctant to agree with this sentiment because it's just the Hawks, because it's just Joe Johnson, because they believe the Celtics will win out in the end anyway. I'm fine with that. The truth is Joe Johnson scored 35, 20 in the 4th quarter, on above 50% shooting, against the arguably the best defense in the league (statistically 2nd best) featuring the Defensive Player of the Year. Those are the numbers, those are the facts. But let's go beyond the numbers. I watched this game. I watched the 4th quarter. I watched as Joe Johnson toyed, teased, and tortured the Celtics with a vast arsenal of fakes, drives, floaters, fallaways, pullups, pivots, trey pounds (3 pointers for you lames), and when needed the vital dish to one of his teammates. They had no answer for him. For all of his offensive prowess, Ray Allen was helpless guarding Johnson and with the likes of Smith, Horford and Bibby on the floor the Celtics had their hands tied. Kind of reminded me of McGrady's series vs Detroit (1 vs 8 seed) back when he was with the Magic, simply unstoppable.

I'll say it again, it comes down to matchups. But it also comes down to belief and effort. Put simply, the Celtics can't stop Joe Johnson. If they double him there's still Josh Smith who can drive and finish or at least get to the free throw line at will. If they can replicate the effort they showed tonight on defense and on the boards and if coach Mike Woodson (who?) can manage the rotation and timeouts as well as he did, then it just comes down to belief. And they believe. Did you see the Georgian sensation Zaza Pachulia give Garnett that forehead-to-forehead love tap? Could you have ever imagined that happening watching the first two games in Boston? Then again, could you have ever imagined that According to Jim would still be on television? I think I've made my point.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Just When You Thought I Was Getting Soft...

I know what you're thinking, first I confess my love for Mila, then I follow up with a measly picture post. Plus I haven't posted about Manchester United in ages. You're probably thinking I've lost my edge. Fair enough...

Things I hate:

1. United "fans" who are on their fucking phones the entire game about "maybe getting a couple bottles because y'know bro we'll probably roll with a crew of about 16, probably 10 dudes, but y'know bro nobody wants to commit because it's a lot of money and I'm gonna stay on the phone with you bro for 15 minutes and reiterate this same sentiment with little to no progress being made by the time I finally get off of the phone with you." AND THEN they come back and sit down to catch the end of the game, giving some empty applause for some empty effort on the field. Then they clap it up at the final whistle, feeling satisfied with a goalless draw where we squander a penalty opportunity away from home and get dominated on posession 2 to 1 from start to finish. Why do they do this? Because they don't really see what's going on in front of them because they're NOT REAL FUCKING FANS.

2. Headlines like "United Grind Out Valuable Draw" and "Solid Display Pleases Boss". They just don't sit well with me. Pleases? That kind of performance pleases you, Sir Alex? Where are our standards? I thought we were trying to make it to the Champions League final not just scrape by. We're in it to win it and you sure as fuck don't win it with 7 shots vs 20 from Barcelona, lack of direction, focus and shape, and generally dreadful play over 90 minutes. 27% posession? Were we allergic to the ball? And how exactly is this a good result for us? It makes the return game in Manchester a must-win while Barcelona only needs to score at least a goal and not lose. To qualify this as a good result I would have to be confident that we play better next game. Right now, I'm not.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo in big game situations. I know that's not exactly fair for me to say just a week after he stepped up for a penalty, stutter stepped, and scored against Arsenal--twice. But that still doesn't excuse the way he took that penalty today. Trying to power it just inside the post instead of just sending the keeper the wrong way and slotting it home comfortably. Fucking amateur. Steven Gerrard would have put it away. That's why he has a Champions League winner's medal and Ronaldo doesn't. There, I said it. Gerrard comes through in the clutch. Ronaldo falls down under challenges from defenders too easily and too often that when he does actually get fouled, particularly on two potential penalty calls in the 2nd half, the ref won't call it because he's the fucking pretty boy who cried wolf. And he loses his killer instinct that he usually has, his swag, and regresses to the Ronaldo of 4-5 years ago--holding the ball too long and either flicking fancy but harmless backpasses or just losing posession and falling to the ground...again.

Things I love:

Real World: Hollywood. Between Will and Sarah's forbidden romance, Joey's alcoholism, and Kimberly's latent racism; it's the only thing keeping me going.

All of the above being said, the most pivotal moment of the game came just before half-time when Rafa Marquez cynically tripped up Ronaldo and earned himself a yellow card--and more importantly, a suspension from the game in Manchester. With Barcelona shorn of their best and most tenacious defender and talismanic captain Carles Puyol still injured, United are actually in a good position to win back in Manchester, despite their worst efforts.

*Update: Puyol is not injured, he was just suspended, and he'll be back for next week's clash. So scratch that bit of optimism I had before. On the bright side Derek Rae wrote an article agreeing with my position on the perils of a goalless away draw which at least lets me know I'm not a ranting raving idiot. I'm just ranting and raving.

Where Referees Ruin Rivalries

(Bet he got called for the charge)

Suck on that alliteration, David Stern.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Where No Posts For Three Weeks Happen

This past weekend: where the start of the NBA Playoffs conveniently coincides with the deadline of an interminable group project and the best weather weekend of 2008 to briefly form THE FUCKING APOCALYPSE. But that dark cloud has since past, moving on...

The 2008 NBA Playoffs:

Where A.I. never left Philadelphia.

Where I've never seen a head coach as happy as Maurice Cheeks to win the first game of the first round of the playoffs.

Where the Orlando Magic are still the league's best kept secret.

Where Lamar Odom finally justifies the Caron Butler trade.

Where Maurice Cheeks, Byron Scott, Doc Rivers, Avery Johnson, and Mike D'Antoni (all former point guards) give hope to Knicks fans the world over with just two words: Mark Jackson (supplemented by three more words: Jeff Van Gundy).

Well that was fun, let me try it some more:

Wes Brown signing a new 4 year deal, where my hairline visibly recedes.

Wes Brown signing a new 4-year deal, where heart trumps head and you really can't imagine the boy wearing anything but United red.

15 goals in 3 games, where any doubt over who is heir to Sir Alex Ferguson's job is surely erased.

15 goals in 3 games, where any doubt over who should fill the left wing problem for England is erased. Hey, he may not be the sharpest tool in the ol' shed, but he sure knows how to polish one.

The movie theater on a Monday night at 10, where confused prepubescent boys go to watch humor way over their heads and brief full frontal male nudity with their parents.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
, where the title changes to Hi, Mila Kunis, Be My Wife? in my mind's eye.

12:35 am after writing inspiration from Jason Segel, where opportunity meets execution and writer's bloc finally ends. Enjoy the eye candy/my future wife.