The New Orleans bench: Astute readers of this site know that I've had a hairy eyeball on the Hornets' reserves for most of the season, particularly after Jeff Bower "strengthened" the team's bench by trading away Bobby Jackson for Pit Bull and The Bonz. Which, honestly, should have been enough to disqualify Bower from NBA Executive of the Year voting, not a reason for him to finish third.
As the risk of going all Basketball 101 here, the lack of solid and reliable bench play will wear a team down over the course of a long season and extended playoff series (for further reading, see the 1984-85, 1986-87 and 1987-88 Boston Celtics). Because that means the coach is basically asking his starters to log all the big minutes, play great (or at least solid) defense with little rest, withstand various and sundry injuries without time off, carry the rebounding load, and score 80-90 points a game every game for 80-100 games. It's an impossible task, even for the young.
Gregg Popovich knows that, which is why none of his big guns average more than 34 minutes a game. And it doesn't hurt that they play at a pace that's a little easier on the feet, knees, legs and back than what the helter-skelter Suns and Hornets go through. Of course, it helps that he has multiple championships on his resume, which means the Spurs management and owners trust him when he sacrifices some regular season games here or there to save his team from unnecessary wear and tear.
And just check it: Chris Paul played 47 minutes. David West logged 46. Peja was in the game for 44. And Tyson Chandler played 42. Take away Jannero Pargo -- more on him below -- and the New Orleans reserves contributed 1 point (0-for-3), 1 rebound, 1 steal and 2 fouls in nine minutes. Greg Kite could have gotten more done in nine minutes. I mean, at least he would have finished with 6 fouls and probably a couple turnovers.
Fun fact: Bonzi's real name is Gawen Deangelo Wells. The nickname Bonzi originated from the cravings his mother had for ice cream bonbons during her pregnancy with him. (Apparently, he inherited those cravings.) His parents called him "bonbon" until the age of two, when it evolved to what it is today.
The New Orleans Starters: The Hornets were giving me 2001-02 Sacramento Kings flashbacks last night, and it wasn't just the presence of Peja Stojackovic (although he really, really helped). Whether it was fatigue or nerves -- or some combination of the two -- New Orleans' "Fantastic Four" looked like they were afraid of the ball in the fourth quarter.
Peja -- who's been a non-factor since Popovich unleashed Bruce Bowen on him -- shot 3-for-11 from the field and 1-for-5 from downtown, and he even airballed an open three down the stretch. David West finished with 20 and 9, but he boned an open 12-footer, and it was hard to tell whether it was because of a sore back or a tight scrotum. Chris Paul (18 points, 8 rebounds, 14 assists, 5 steals) had an outstanding game, but even he caught a case of don'twannashoottheballitis in the final four minutes or so. And as for Tyson Chandler, well, he's not exactly an offensive option, is he?
Jannero Pargo: Pargs was the only New Orleans player who didn't treat the rock like a hot potato in the fourth quarter. And he went off for 16 points in the final stanza, single-handedly leading the Hornets back from 17 down to within three points. But damn, Jannero...you weren't even letting the ground touch the ball, dog. He was jackin' from the left to the right to the left to the right again. He was not shy. He put up 13 shots in those fateful 12 minutes. And like Ryne from Odenized, I'm not sure whether he was the hero or the goat.
I guess it's like Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke after Yoda kicked it: Either could be true, depending on your point of view. Which was a pretty slick way of getting out of totally lying to Luke about his father. I've always thought Obi-Wan used the Jedi Mind Trick on Luke in that scene. I mean, it went from "But you told me Vadar betrayed and murdered my father!" to "What I told you was true...from a certain point of view." And Luke just bought it.
Chistastrophe: I don't know who he is, but since he left the following comment, I will let him be the official representative of overreactive Spurs fans everywhere. "I eagerly await whatever bullshit response Basketbawful has for the Spurs resounding victory tonight. Perhaps the Spurs employed some special kind of flop that allows their bench players to drain three pointers. Maybe they flopped so hard it forced CP3 to choke in the biggest game of his life. Or maybe, just maybe, the Spurs are really really good at playing basketball."
Thanks, Chistastrophe, because I myself eagerly await douchey comments from every angry spaz who gets all bent out of shape by one or two posts I make and then freaks out about it. But before the next time you start whining and crying bullshit, do me a favor: Go back and actually read what I have to say. The entire Basketbawful archive is here for your perusal. You show me where, exactly, I ever said the Spurs weren't a good basketball team. Have I ever, anywhere, at any time, ever seriously suggested that the Spurs won four championships through their flop-a-riffic adventures and cheap-shottery? Of course I didn't. You're insane if you think otherwise, and you've got nothing to go on other than your own righteous indignation.
You can't change the fact that, in a league full of floppers, the Spurs are the most flop-tastic. Nor can you change the fact that Tony Parker got outted by his own wife for faking injuries on the court to get calls. You can't pretend the Duncan face doesn't happen over and over and over again every game the Spurs play. Nor can you undo Cheap Shot Rob's thuggary or Bruce Bowen's long, long history of grabbing, elbowing, hitting, kneeing, wacking people in the groin, putting his foot under their feet when they come down from a jump shot, and a thousand other little things that would get his bony ass kicked seven ways to Sunday if it happened anywhere other than on a professional basketball court...where Bruce "Lee" Bowen is protected by the very rules he repeatedly violates.
So honestly, don't blame me for pointing out what's going on right in front of you. I didn't create all that ugliness; I just held a mirror up to it. When Gregg Popovich goes to the Hack-A-Whoever strategy -- which I see as an affront to the sport -- I'm going to point it out. When the Spurs use an array of flops to draw five iffy fouls in three minutes and get the opposing team's two best players in foul trouble in the playoffs where physical play is the rule rather than the exception, I'm going to point it out. When one of their players launches himself directly into the back of an injured player during a 20-point blowout, I'm going to point it out.
Here's the thing: It's not like I'm not making this stuff up. This isn't me saying, "You know how I know the Spurs are gay? Because Robert Horry still has Will Smith's haircut from 1989." These things have happened. It's out there for public consumption. Everybody sees it. Everybody knows about it. No, it doesn't mean that the Spurs don't play smart, fundamental, championship-winning basketball, nor does it change the fact that they are the model any and every team should emulate. But no matter how hard you and other Spurs fans try to rewrite history, all that other stuff is just as much a part of their legacy as all the hardware in their trophy case.
So please, stop ragging on me for pointing that out and ask yourself why you think it's all okay? If winning at any cost is cool with you, then fine. As a fan, that's your choice to make. But if that is, in fact, the case, I can't help but wonder why me shining a flashlight on all the dirty stuff bothers you so much.
Random note: Those of you who claim I never say anything positive about the Spurs or their winning ways obviously didn't ready today's NBA Closer column.
Damon Stoudamire: Anybody else notice he's not even on the Spurs game roster since Game 5?
Update! Charles Barkley: In an effort to get things back on their usual funny track, loyal reader Wild Yams reminded me of something I should have remembered on my own. "I meant to mention earlier that Charles Barkley probably shoulda been included in the WotN for a couple things last night. First for his very unintentionally funny bit with EJ about his gambling. Not only was it just really weird to see those two all alone on the set trying to have a serious moment (especially with Barkley's glaringly white sneakers and socks to go with his suit), but Barkley said he was never going to gamble again, which he immediately clarified to mean 'in the next year or two.' That was priceless, and so was EJ trying to bait him into breaking it by saying 'wanna bet?' Inside the NBA is the wrong place for serious talk like that from the Chuckster, I'm afraid.
"Chuck's second big gaffe was saying that this Laker team is the best one Kobe's ever been on, although him saying that was totally worth it for Webber's fantastic reaction of wanting to walk off the set in disbelief. I love how Barkley shoots from the hip like that and doesn't think through the things he's about to say (see above), because every now and then he'll let fly with a Bill Walton-esque bit of hyperbole like that. God bless Barkley."
Right you are, Mr. Yams. Right you are. Although I'd probably say that Chuck shoots from the lip rather than the hip, but potato, tomato, as Joy Turner might say. Here's his "apology" for gambling:
And here's where he slams his giant, club foot in his mouth about Kobe's "best team":