Tonight is Game Six of the NBA Finals, with the beloved San Antonio Spurs up against the Miami’s hated Heat. I called “Spurs in six” before the series started but I don’t know if I really believed it; or if I were just saying it at the time, hoping — like a prayer — it would come true. Surely smart money was betting on the Spurs, but that had more to do with dumb money over-valuing favorites than the Spurs’ actual likelihood of winning; Miami with LeBron James has posted a truly special brand of offense this year, and looked quite unstoppable relative to the rest of the Eastern Conference during the first 82 games. “Spurs in six” was borne mostly out of the surprising Indiana series… Miami lost more games in the Indiana series than the Spurs lost all through their Western Conference playoff run… and Miami didn’t even have to contend with Steph Curry throwing Red Shells.
The Spurs, for their part, were gorgeous last season; it looked in fact like they were going to win the entire playoffs without losing a game… Until they abruptly fell in four straight to Kevin Durant, James Harden and the OKC Thunder after going up two in the 2012 Western Conference Finals. It was understandable, even given the Spurs’ offensive brilliance going on 30 games… The Thunder last year were a kind of younger version of the Spurs, down to playing their most efficient scorer off the bench, and it looked like the old guys just petered out.
The Spurs were old and the Thunder sprightly. The Spurs’ magical 2012 offensive system gave way to the Thunder’s combination of youth and talent, and though OKC took the first game of the Finals… Evil reigned for at least one year while confetti rained in South Beach.
This year things seem different; though for my part as a fan and observer, as Timmy gets ever-closer to a fifth ring, I pang at the idea of his having won back-to-backs*; Manu Ginobli has traded off with Wade as the best shooting guard in the league for most of the last decade (the joke being that Kobe Bryant won MVP in 2008 and Manu won Sixth Man the same year… and Manu was even or better in every statistical area but minutes played / shots taken); and over the last season or two Tony Parker has stepped up from being a Kobe-junior sort of flashy scorer to a truly productive Stockton-esque penetrating PG, making his deadly quickness more unpredictable than ever for defenses.
The emergence of Parker as a legitimate stud (instead of “just” a scoring machine) combined with the quiet superstardom of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green (both worth essentially two standard NBA players in their own rights) makes this Finals against the archenemy Heat not just a legitimate contest but a fleeting model-breaker.
Big Three Basketball
Commentary on contending NBA basketball teams in the current era focuses a lot on “Big Three” lineups; as a fan I think of this discourse coming out of the 2008 Boston Celtics team, which was designed around LeBron-light (and eventual MVP) Paul Pierce, sharpshooter Ray Allen, and PF Duncan-rival Kevin Garnett (who had spent some seasons as the legitimate best player in the game, albeit relegated to a non-contending team… kind of like his Kevin-inheritor Kevin Love today). The Big Three model has existed longer than that of course, but to my exposure it seems closely tied to the ’08 Celtics.
Basketball is a study in force multiplication, similar to the Landsraad units versus Fremen or Sardaukar in Dune. In Dune, the fundamental unit in an armed engagement is a Landsraad soldier. The Emperor’s stranglehold on military supremecy comes from a monopoly of fanatical soldiers (the Sardaukar) who are the equivalent of 10 Landsraad each.
[1 Sardaukar = 10 Landsraad]
The best of the Atreides soldiers — Duncan Idaho — is able to “trade with” and unheard-of 19 Saurdaukar in a key siege of the conflict:
[1 Duncan Idaho = 19 Sardaukar = 190 Landsraad]
… Implying that Idaho is essentially worth 190 common Landsraad.
Dune conflict is a combination of force fields, giant wurms, forbidden nuclear missles, surprise explosions, and most of all swordfighting. It is dazzling — given Frank Herbert’s universe — to imagine one hero slicing through 189 common soldiers before trading with the last one.
Force multiplication is key to the Atreides family eventually usurping the Empire; Paul Atreides acquires the harshly-trained Fremen, who are near-Sardaukar in per-unit military efficacy.
Basketball is much the same. You can’t go up against a Big Three (and two other guys) with five regular guys; or even one All-Star and four regular guys. Teams like Miami were built to contend with [other] three All-Star teams, essentially packing the efficacy of 10+ players into five bodies on the floor. For his part, LeBron James is worth about 3.5 men.
An average NBA basketball player produces at an average level. The common Landsraad soldier of the National Basketball Association, they take anaverage number of shots that produce an average number of points; they take care of they ball in an average fashion. Or not. Kyrie Irving is a good example. He is an absolute poet on offense… But possibly the worst NBA defender on any team. If you rated players only by their point production (as a deceptive mainstream media does), Kyrie would be perhaps the best of Guards… But he doesn’t excel at rebounding, doesn’t take great care of the ball, and doesn’t pass at an elite level… at least not when compared to [other] elite PGs. To date, Kyrie Irving is no Duncan Idaho.
Contributing to a basketball team’s wins comes in two flavors:
Cultivation of possessions (steals, rebounds).
Conversion of possessions to points [at a high rate]; generally you can score two-point shots at a high percentage (Tyson Chandler), get to the free throw line consistently (James Harden), or nail three pointers (Danny Green) to produce above par offensively. Taking a lot of shots at a low rate can rack up a point total… But doesn’t necessarily help your team win.
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony are often spoken about in the same breath. One of these things is not like the others.
Both James and Durant take 22-23 shots per 48 minutes. James scores at a stunning 56.5% (1.5 PPS) and Durant 51% and 1.59 PPS.
Melo — now the NBA scoring “champion” — shoots a gaudy 29 times per 48 minutes… But shoots only 45%… Less than 80% of LeBron’s efficiency. He is quite simply not in the same category as James or Durant. He just shoots a lot! Melo scores 2-4 points more than LeBron and Durant per 48 minutes, but has to burn seven possessions to do so. That means Tyson Chandler (NYK’s elite rebounder) has to work that much harder to get his team scoring opportunities… That end up as misses.
Turnovers and missed shots are poison to the cultivation of possessions. Possessions lead to scoring opportunities; you want them, and want to restrict the opponent from having extra opportunities.
This season LeBron James is worth about three-and-a-half NBA players on the floor. James over-produces by scoring at an amazing rate when he has the ball, taking lots of shots (that he translates successfully), while standing out in many other areas, such as pulling down tons of rebounds, blocking shots, stealing the ball, and passing to his teammates.
Back to the Boston “Big Three” Championship year 2008, the Celtics posted a starting lineup of:
PG Rajon Rondo: 1.9 NBA players
SG Ray Allen: 1.8 NBA players
SF Paul Pierce: 2+ NBA players
PF Kevin Garnett: ~3 NBA players
C Kendrick Perkins: 1.5 NBA players
These Celtics essentially outnumbered their opponents two-to-one.
Today’s Spurs can field a similarly exceptional lineup:
PG Tony Parker: 1.8 NBA players
sWing Danny Green: 2 NBA players
sWing Manu Ginobili: 1.5 NBA players
sWing Kawhi Leonard: 2.5 NBA players
PF/C Tim Duncan: 2.5 NBA players
Pundits, commentators, and talking heads talk about fuzzy-around-the-edges things like “athleticism” or Ginobili’s “heart”; but basketball is about cultivation of possessions and conversion of possessions to points. The ancient Spurs of the last two years have perfected the art of ball movement to deepen the value of their possessions like almost no other team. Parker might be the wiliest, fastest, PG in the league but what makes the San An offense so great is the ability to counteract the athleticism of younger teams by passing Passing PASSING until they have found an open shooter. Then Bam!… Conversion at a great PPS.
Ginobili at his height has been close to 3 NBA players in efficacy (c.f. the Championship of 2007, or you know, just last year). Green and Leonard have both beeing playing at an HoF level in the finals… Into the 3-player range as well. But the most important lift is Parker who has always carried the ball for this team. His best season before this one was at a “mere” 1.5 NBA players (2007, when he won the Finals MVP) and he has languished at “average” production through most of his career. Yes, Parker has always been an unstoppable scorer but he’s also had years where he turned the ball over about as often as Russell Westbrook / he’s never been a truly elite passer or distance shooter / etc. Given the minutes Parker has to shoulder, increased production on his part is like spotting the Spurs an extra Mario Chalmers / Norris Cole for free.
In 2007 my beloved Cleveland Cavaliers, led by The Whore of Akron LeBron James (ironically?) made it to the NBA finals… Where they were summarily trounced by Duncan, Parker, Ginibili, and a different supporting cast.
Some people would have become anti-Spurs after this, but instead I studied this singular team and decided they represent all that is right and good, or at least what is possible about sports. San Antonio is a small market team. Unlike many teams including Cleveland itself that have lost superstars, San Antonio has convinced players like Duncan to take smaller salaries to continue a legacy.
And yet… We all probably talk too much about Duncan. Duncan is pretty fantastic, obviously; but you can’t reduce all four — and hopefully five — of their championships to one draft pick. Tony Parker went 28th in the draft. Kawhi Leonard — quietly San Antonio’s best player for the past two seasons — was passed up by nearly every NBA team. Danny Green was waived by my Cavaliers and picked up by San An, only emerging when Ginobili was injured. And Ginobili?
When arguably the deadliest shooting guard of the last decade was drafted, he was so unknown that the announcers couldn’t even pronounce his name! Taken 57th (!!!) Ginobili may have been the greatest steal in the history of the NBA.
San Antonio is a picture of turning lemons into lemonade.
Of their Big Three — none of Duncan, Parker, or Ginobili have ever donned another team’s jersey. Popp knows how to retain their stars.
But it goes beyond that.
San Antonio is like a case study of the best of the 1980s. San Antonio combines the transformation of Optimus Prime with the continual, successful, reinvention of Madonna.
After the 2007 win, San Antonio lost in the first round of the playoffs not once, but twice between 2008 and 2011. Popp realized that something had to change. He transformed his squad — which had been a relentless defensive team built around arguably the greatest PF of all time — to the magical offensive passing machine that we have witnessed last year and this. This has been utterly inspiring to me. Last year I had a rough patch at work where an eight-figure empire I built had to be torn down and reimagined not due to business results but — argh — industry compliance. It was a very difficult transition, but I realized that Popp did way more with the 2012 Spurs; and last month I had my best month ever.
Whenever I feel like I hit a dead end I just think of the 2012 Spurs… And all of a sudden I realize that We Can Do This.
The Story So Far
I would summarize the Finals thus far thusly:
Game One – Either ball club could have won; Spurs steal thanks to a little momentum and some dynamic hero-ball by Parker; Spurs commit almost no turnovers.
Game Two – The Empire Strikes Back. Villains come in with a chip on their shoulders and bury the heroes in turnovers.
Game Three – Erik Spoelstra Has No Idea What Is Going On Part I: Spurs move the ball Spurs-style; get every open look they want. Spoelstra utterly fails to adjust, or as far as anyone can tell, guard Danny Green. The most egregious error is leaving James in for many minutes after the game has already been decided. Dude could have gotten hurt.
Game Four – Could have gone either way; tied at the half; in my (biased) opinion, first half was at part up to the refs. Chris Bosh being called for a $5,000 flop was just one play of about eight plays that would have had the Spurs up at the half… Which would have made for a different game **. Popp blamed the turnovers; basketball is about cultivation of possessions, after all.
Game Five – Erik Spoelstra Has No Idea What Is Going On Part II: Every media outlet in the world talks about Manu Ginobili starting and having a breakout game… But that is not even half the story. In Game Five Popp flipped the script on Spoelstra, switching from Spurs-style ball movement to Kobe-style Iso Hero-ball. Popp turned Manu back into 2007-2008 Kobe-plus and Parker back into a penetrating Kobe-junior. Every time one of those deadly offensive guards penetrated I was anticipating a kick-out to Green or another sharpshooter… But instead they just kept driving for layups! (You could tell the Heat were looking for passes too.) Both of the previous Spurs losses hinged on turnovers (Miami guarding the frequent Spurs passes) so Popp had his guards drive past the old Allen, and broken Wade and Miller. Fucking brilliant.
From a Magic perspective it is like a U/R Storm deck siding in the Exarch Twin combo. You are still facing a U/R combo deck but instead of a kill based on lacing movement and velocity on more movement and velocity, one creature / scorer is just given the ball / Aura and goes in for infinite. Your defense is set up to stop a chain of similar spells but those digging spells are now simply poised to set up the hero creature. All your Dismembers are now in the wrong 15/75. All your game are belong to us.
The Best Thing About Game Five
"I'm LeBron James! Are you going to call six offensive fouls on me or blow the whistle on this guy nobody was talking about two months ago?"
The refs didn’t call blocking on the guy! On a handful of occasions Wade or James was on a breakaway “sure” layup, Green got back, defended, stopped the shot and didn’t get called for a foul. Unbelievable!
Green is playing at a historic level offensively, but if he never sinks another shot this series, he will still be contributing if he can keep James in “mortal” scoring territory, restricting his ability to perform like three-and-a-half NBA players to perhaps just two.
What Miami Has to Do Differently
In Game Six, Miami has to adjust to this or suffer some vicious headlines. For all the ire right-thinking men have for LeBron James, calling into question his legacy [again] over a Popp-over-Spoelstra defeat is simply not going to be his fault. He is the best player in the game and probably the best SF of all time [that actually plays PG and PF].
I would put much of the blame on a failed Miami campaign squarely on the coach. The coach’s job is minute allocation and Erik has been doing a loathesome, George Karl-esque job of it. George Karl, “Coach of the Year” lost his job at the Denver Nuggest this month following an unpredictable six-game rout by the unheralded Golden State Warriors… Who lost their All-Star PF in the first game to injury! Karl has one of the best bigs in the league at PF and numerous awesome Forwards… But elected to try to play a speedy “small ball” game with Golden State (who have superior small players). It was like Gerry Thompson handing you the Thepths deck he just built before anyone else knew what it was… but deciding to try to win with only one Thopter Foundry instead of Jace or the Hexmage combo.
Some suggestions for Spoelstra:
Play [even] more Allen. Dude was 4-4 from three in Game Five; 21 points on 10 shots. My God that line. Get Mike Miller open, too.
WTF Chris Bosh v. Chris Anderson?!? Bosh has been… average. Anderson was a greek god in the East, setting offensive efficiency records while playing awesome interior ball; on balance, San An has basically just played Duncan as their only big. Huge size opportunity here. Anderson’s minute allocation: 0 minutes Game Four; 0 minutes Game Five.
Put a man on Danny Green! In 2009 the heavily favored Cavs attempted to let the Orlando Magic have every long jump shot while putting two men on Superman Dwight Howard on the inside. I liked this strategy until I realized that the usual PPS / 3P% stats don’t assume that you leave sharpshooters wide open. The Cavs lost in six, principally to awesome three-point shooting by Orlando. Danny Green has already set the Finals record for three point makes while playing amazing defense on James and Dwayne Wade. Spoelstra seems completely uninterested in guarding him; I think Danny has proved up to the challenge by this point. By contrast the Spurs this year have given Wade and James free reign to take as many long two point shots as they want, turning two of the best players of this generation into essentially [max-contract All-Star] Carmelo Anthony (LOL).
Actually. Never mind. Erik — Don’t do any of these things. I would like it to be over tonight.
You will have to excuse me. It’s 8:59 and the game is about to start. I will be cheering for the good guys!
* As I’ve said quite a few times recently, the sharpest divide in this world is between those who see it as it is, and those who imagine it as they, you know, imagine it.
** Again, we live in this world, not the world of what could have been.
Chris Grant is the current General Manager of my Cleveland Cavaliers. I am under no illusions that Grant is the equal to R.C. Buford (General Manager of the San Antonio Spurs, aka the best-run organization in professional sports), but I think he has made some good moves. Bleacher Report contributor Leo Florkowski seems to disagree (i.e. above and beyond the article title, “… he has proven to be the worst GM of any Cleveland professional sports team… “). Like I said, I am all for a diversity of ideas, but — and remember this is ME talking — I don’t know how seriously you can take a writer (commenting on a professional) who says things like “I have more basketball knowledge in my little finger than Chris Grant does in his entire body[,]” and “Facts are good” IN THE SAME PARAGRAPH OF THE SAME POST.
Florkowski seems to know something, though, because at the time of this writing he is running on 159 comments. Well played, etc.
And while I have that deep respect for a diversity of ideas, and different people’s different and personal models of the universe, that doesn’t mean that they all have equal merits. To wit:
Anyone with an eye for talent such as myself scoffs at sabermetrics as the end all be all. When I see a talented player, I do not need some stat geek to confirm what I already know. When a player is not that good, I will roll my eyes when the stat geek tries to tell me otherwise. Poking holes in the sabermetrics argument is easy.
I know this post might seem like it’s about basketball, but it’s actually about having all of your dreams come true. Like magic!
I have had a recurring fantasy since about 1992 when I fell in love with Mark Price.
The Cavs are in trouble.
It’s an important playoff game and our backs are against the wall.
I haven’t played all season.
No one knows how dangerous I am… only the coach.
I come off the bench and the opposing team is completely unaware that they should be guarding me.
It is a fantasy but there are limits to the capacity of my imagination. I know that — even though I am somehow on a professional basketball team in this dream — I am no athlete, no big muscles and springing tiger power at least. I can’t dunk through an All-Star power forward… I am a skill player.
I can come off the bench…
exploit the fact that the opposition is leaving me open around the arc…
and I can nail a thousand threes.
This has been my personal dream for over fifteen years. I think about it in quiet moments and it makes me smile. THOUGHT about it anyway…
Because dreams and fantasies cease to be dreams and fantasies when they come true.
The problem is that I never got to live those thousand threes.
On the bright side, essentially my wilded fantasy actually happened! Just not to me.
In the 2007 Eastern Conference Championships, LeBron James played the greatest game of his career in Game Five. The Cavs should have won the first game but a blatant no-call on Rasheed Wallace generated a four-point swing in the closing minutes of the game that sent the first dubya to the Detroit Pistons, NBA Champions only a couple of years back.
The Cavs lost the second game, too, before sending the series to Cleveland, where the good guys successfully defended their home court in successive contests.
With a pair of wins under their collective belts, the Cavaliers returned to the Palace at Auburn Hills, where LeBron James showed us — for the first time in a key playoff game — why he is the one true successor to Michael Jordan. LeBron single-handedly defeated the best defensive team in the NBA, producing the last 25 points for the Cavs in a double-overtime thriller. LeBron scored almost at will, finding his way to the basket with five Pistons draped across his back.
With [possibly] two games to go, the series returned to Cleveland.
Detroit, at this point considered the best team in the Eastern Conference, and the squad who had sent the Cavaliers packing out of the playoffs twelve months earlier, were a defensive powerhouse; they were not about to allow LeBron to make them look like children wrapped in toilet paper a second time.
Detroit decided they were going to make “someone else” beat them.
Daniel Gibson was that someone else.
A rookie second round draft pick who had seen minimal playing time to this point, Gibson came off the bench in Game Six and did a number on the Pistons like the second coming of… well… LeBron James from Game Five. Just as King James had played like Jordan in the previous contest, Boobie showed them a glimpse of sharpshooter Larry Bird.
Unstoppable offense from an unsung bench player.
A thousand threes.
I was with my old crew at the time. In a bar eating french fries and chicken fingers with the original Team Discovery Channel compadres the amazing altran, Tuna Hwa, and Jeff Wu when Daniel Gibson officially became the boy of my dreams. Tuna, a sports fan’s sports fan (and on this day also the birthday boy), summed Gibson up pretty well. “Fearless… That kid has ice water in his veins.” Daniel challenged a basket defended oak trees in blue jerseys; every time he stepped behind the arc, it was a dagger to a Pistons fan’s throat.
Gibson showed the world his sweet jumper during All-Star Weekend last year, shattering the previous record with eleven three-pointers and MVP honors in the rookie game (a nice compliment to LeBron’s All-Star MVP a night later); but Cavaliers fans are waiting for the sharpshooter from Game Six to equal that performance in a big playoff game.
There are a bunch of videos on YouTube about Gibson’s big game claim to fame. I thought this one was pretty cool, and I hope you can see why and how he became the boy of my dreams.
Some notes you might find helpful from preliminary Extended testing with The Rock, and against the dreaded Elves…
Before we get to today’s actual post, a couple of things…
Actually go back and read Playing with Follow-through. I know I said to read it after the last post / video but I bet most of you didn’t. IT’S AWESOME. I totally forgot that I wrote it with this completely affected diction, like a 1950s gossip rag. I don’t toot my own horn about articles that often (I mean other than Who’s the Beatdown?, The Rogue Strategy, and Magic: The Intangibles)… but this one was an absolute joy to re-read.
Just a little back story. It was about June of 2005 and I was worried about getting burned out. So I toyed with the idea of… Hold on, let me just find the bonus section from Sideboards I Like:
Bonus Section: I initially submitted a 50′s-style society gossip column this week, highlighting the backbiting of a certain Mr. S_____ on the occasion of the P__ T___, but Teddy Cardgame rejected it on the grounds that Star City is an alleged “Magic Strategy” site and they don’t publish 50′s-style gossip columns… Not The Month Before Regionals, anyway. So if you, like Jamie Wakefield, actually burst into tears every Thursday night at midnight at the lack of urine-inducing joviality in my once lighthearted writing, you just wait.
You have been warned.
Anyway, go back and read that one.
Also Merry Christmas, &c.
With that preliminary stuff out of the way, I’d like to talk about testing Extended.
I think I have a pretty good Extended deck.
It is The Rock.
I haven’t been losing very much. Basically not at all. Tonight I had the opportunity to test against a pretty good Elves deck; the demeanor of the player struck me as being very knowledgeable playing Elves. I got the first game of our first match when he fizzled. He won games two and three possibly because I didn’t mulligan, possibly because I didn’t play very well.
In particular I was on the play one of the games and I elected to draw Barren Moor and Wooded Foothills on turn two instead of playing Chrome Mox and running out Engineered Explosives for one. His board was a Forest and a Llanowar Elves. Of course he killed me to death the next turn, albeit by narrow margin.
I talked it through with him and he agreed to play some more.
I won I think all the rest of the games, admittedly with strong draws (though fueled by strategy-specific mulligans). Here are the preliminary things I learned:
1) You have to play cautiously against Elves. “Drawing two” and worrying about the consequences later was tantamount to “I don’t think you have it,” or at least “Prove it.” Don’t poke the dragon. He beat me in a game where I had Engineered Explosives for one down and Darkblast the whole game just by playing three Wirewood Hivemasters and swarming me before I could play all my creature removal. Elves, like High Tide, is the kind of combo deck that can fizzle, spend a ton of resources, but still be better off at the end of the turn than it was at the beginning of the turn (as opposed to some combo decks that can’t really win if they fizzle). Therefore if you have the resources, it is important to keep Elves in as close to Stage One as possible using removal because if you let them flirt with Stage Three, don’t be surprised if they show you a dominating Stage Three turn that you can’t actually beat.
2) You don’t tell bad beat stories about what was “supposed” to happen. Last night my Cleveland Cavaliers, arguably the strongest NBA team this year, but inarguably the strongest home team in the league came quite close to giving up their first home game during a nationally televised Christmas outing with the lowly Washington Wizards… the worst team in the Eastern Conference. For most of the fourth quarter I was on the edge of my seat chanting, “No. Not to this team. Not at home, and not on Christmas.” I was zombie-like. I don’t know who I was talking to, even though there were lots of people in the room at the time. Part of the problem was that the Cavs’ best players, both certain All-Star LeBron James and likely All-Star big Z were having sub-par games. Happens, right? But we were getting absolutely killed by an undrafted Washington guard by the name of Mike James. Mike James is a career .424 shooter averaging under 7 points per game this season. Last night he lit it up with superb 10-14 shooting, including 5-8 three point shooting. My dad had already consigned the Cavs to a giant lump of coal apparently, and “blamed” the game on Mike James coming out. “He isn’t supposed to do that. Those shots aren’t supposed to fall.” And no, when a team like Washington has every shot falling, that isn’t “supposed” to happen… but I bet Washington fans think it’s just dandy when that happens! Magic and the heavy statistical work I have been doing over the past couple of years has ironed out the kind of dialogue that I used to nod my head to as a sports fan. I knew the Cavs could have just not let Wally Szerbiak touch the ball. Wally — who gets paid about 13 million dollars per year and doesn’t even start — absolutely bled possessions and put up bad shots that could have gone to higher percentage players. If we lost a close six point game, I would have pointed my finger to our team’s decisions, and how five possessions in Wally’s hands had done more than enough damage to lose a single digits game.
That’s how you have to approach Magic, I think; at least tournament Magic against good decks that can explode on the second turn. Before Pro Tour Berlin I was working with Jacob Van Lunen and he was walking me through a matchup scenario; I stopped him mid-sentence. “I know you have them on winning turn four-point-five, but you can’t actually play like that. You don’t get eliminated from Day Two or Top 8 contention because things happened exactly the way they were supposed to!” Maybe that combo deck is supposed to go off on turn four-point-five, but what about that point five? That means that they go off on actual turn four sometimes, or maybe three-point-something. You don’t get eliminated by everything going the way you planned (or at least I hope you don’t!). It’s the games where you leave shaking your head, complaining about a Mike James getting hot when you should have been focused on keeping Wally off the floor… those things YOU can control.
When I lost to the Elves deck because I went for Loam instead of Mox and Engineered Explosives, I let Wally shoot. Wally was traded to the Cavaliers last season as a marksman… He was supposed to be the number two scorer on the Cavaliers, the guy who broke up opposing defensive rotations and kept LeBron’s coverage to a manageable three or four defenders instead of all five. When he hits a three, the crowd is very happy. Just like when you draw two cards for two mana with sights set on three cards next turn (still for two mana), your inner crowd cheers. But when he rims out — or the opposing combo deck has a disagreement with your projected inner cheering and you don’t actually get to untap — What then? You have to control the things you can control. And in this case, that starts with cautious play that respects the opponent’s ability to kill you instead of daring him to prove it.
Because he just might prove it.
I talked the game over with my very gracious opponent and a spectator, and the general conclusion was that I would have had to pop the Explosives early, but I would have slowed the game down somewhat. I wouldn’t have ruined him by any means, popping it early, but…
It would have been a hell of a lot better than dying.
Which is what happened.
Like I said, I learned a lot, and I think I am going to be confident with my build of The Rock. I will of course post it here (provided I am still on it) as we get closer to the Extended PTQ season.
PS The best game was when I was sitting on Engineered Explosives for one and he presented all twos… Elvish Visionary, Hivemaster, Hivemaster. Then Fecundity. I could see the gears moving in his head, and he went for Weird Harvest for four (I only had three men left in my deck). I saw the Golden Path and drew three at the end of his turn. Two of the three were Persecutes. Hot damn! Main phase I played Crime // Punishment for his twos, let him draw three, and slammed Persecute with a Mox! Things looked bad for him, but he topdecked and played a second Fecundity. I played an Engineered Explosives for three… and mis-clicked and popped the one I was saving for some future Nettle Sentinels and Druids various. Doh! But I had just read Playing with Follow-through and knew to give up the turn to eat the Fecundity twins anyway.
UFC 91 Presented by Gears of War 2 – Lesnar v. Couture
I haven’t bought a UFC fight in years. I am a big fan — I watch The Ultimate Fighter every week — but I mostly watch UFC on DVD. But I couldn’t miss the return of Randy Couture, who is one of my favorite fighters.
10:14 – Middleweight bout
Demian Maia (9-0, 31) v. Nate Quarry (16-2, 36)
I didn’t know anything about either of these guys coming into the fight but here is a super quick summary based on the pre-fight promos:
Quarry was a popular member of the original Ultimate Fighter cast. He was out for two years with serious back injuries but won two in a row since his comeback; he is looking to make it three in a row.
Demian Maia is a ridiculous 9-0 in MMA and one of the most technical and sharp jiu-jitsu fighters in the world. I noticed the Axe Murderer Wanderlei Silva in Demian’s corner.
Quarry is an unorthodox striker with big hands. Like I said I don’t know much about these fighters but they say that Quarry has good takedown defense and it seems unlikely (based on Maia’s record and background) that Quarry wants to go grappling.
Maia comes out striking; it looks kind of sloppy to me, but…
All of a sudden Quarry has Maia in a queer kind of arm lock.
Maia is on top inside of 30 seconds; Quarry still has an arm but before I can finish typing the sentence Maia is in full mount. For those of you who don’t know fight-speak that means Demian is on top and has his legs on the outside (rather than being enveloped by the legs of the man on the ground); this is generally considered the dominant position on the ground.
Maia is tremendously talented on the ground… Quarry gives up his back inside of 1 minute. For those of you who don’t follow fighting, this basically means that he is no longer facing Demian and Maia can strangle him at will — possibly the worst position you can be in against a trained jiu-jitsu fighter.
Unsurprisingly, this already looks desperate. Body lock – Maia is just pounding on the side of Quarry’s head… all kinds of blunt strikes against Nate’s noggin. He isn’t in any kind of a rush.
Nate is in a really rough spot… He’s just using his hands to keep Demian’s hands off of his face so he can’t disrupt his breathing, but Demian has all the control.
At best Quarry can fight for 3 minutes to prolong to second round…
Nope. The choke out is inevitable at 2:13.
Gabriel Gonzaga (9-3, 29) v. Josh Hendricks (18-4-1, 32)
I don’t know anything about Hendricks, but I’d root for him for a couple of reasons; he is from Ohio (like me), plus he was Captain America’s training partner setting up for the main event against The Next Big Thing. Hendricks was a two-time All-American in rasslin’ and is riding an eleven fight win streak.
However I really respect Gabriel Gonzaga. I’ve seen Gonzaga fight a couple of times. The first one was a head kick that put away Mirko Cro Cop… kind of a kick that rocked the world for MMA fans; the other fight was of course the heavyweight title bout against Randy Couture where he broke Randy’s arm… but Randy still won. By the way how insane is Randy Couture? Twentysomething 250+ monster Gabriel Gonzaga broke his arm and Randy knocked him out WITH THE SAME DAMN ARM. That man is why I bought this Pay-Per-View.
These two huge fighters tap gloves.
Wrestler and jiu-jitsu black belt… Predictably clinch almost instantaneously.
Wow they are big strong bulls. Everything about how they move is heavy… big heavy hands from both sides.
Gonzaga has a hold of Josh’s head for a second but it doesn’t last. Then Gonzaga is landing kicks.
WTF? WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Don’t blink I guess!
Gonzaga set Hendricks up with a knee then hammered Josh in the head with a big fist. Josh dropped but the ref didn’t stop the fight [yet]. Gonzaga drops a second vicious head punch with Josh on the ground and they call it.
In the post-fight, Gonzaga predicts a Couture win, so he agrees with me (and apparently 61% of the fans) rather than the casinos
10:38 – Welterweight Fight
They didn’t do a lot of pre-fight on this one. So I don’t know anything about either of them except for the fact that one of them has CondomDepot.com on his butt and the other is wearing white trunks.
CondomDepot.com guy seems to be taking a beating… Impressive strikes from White Trunks.
White Trunks is landing a ton of nice — if light — blows, including head strikes and knees to the body.
Wow! White Trunks is foot stomping, too. I respect a foot stomp. Really good strategy.
Okay. CondomDepot.com guy seems to have hit a second wind. He goes for a submission… Misses it… Switches to a different submission.
These guys are really going for it. I wish I knew what their names are so I could give them props.
Wow CondomDepot.com guy has just nuked White Trunks with a beautiful elbow from the bottom.
Reversal – CondomDepot.com guy is on top but he is not really in control. This is almost certainly going to the second round.
Wow, there might be a mistake here. White Trunks is in a choke… Can he last the last 20 second? Never mind – he’s out.
I would give Round One to White Trunks but CondomDepot.com was fabulous on defense and really came out at the end of the round; I can see a judge voting for him.
White Trunks looks tanked. Lots of sloppy strikes and takedown attempts. White Trunks seems like he hits the takedown but CondomDepot.com is better on the ground and has his arm locked.
White Trunks has the perfect defense — this is something Teddy Card Game used to talk about — and kind of like Matt Hughes anti-jiu-jitsu defense; he is slamming CondomDepot.com on his head once, twice. Wow! CondomDepot.com is not letting go. That’s bad news for White Trunks. CondomDepot.com is not letting go. Yep. That’s it. Submission by armbar.
10:49 – Welterweight bout
Tamdan McCrory (22, 11-1) v. Dustin Hazelett (22, 13-4)
Dustin Hazelett is a newly-minted jiu-jitsu black belt.
Tamdan is how shall I say this… handsome. He looks really nice with his spectacles. However with his shirt off he has lot of tattoos, so ultimately not my type.
McCrory thinks he has a wrestling advantage but I don’t see how that’s possible if Hazelett’s black belt is legitimate.
Hazelett has a gigantic beard. Katherine can’t believe that he is going into the octagon sporting that.
So on merit of his black belt I think Hazelett is ahead but he is definitely behind on the beard v. cute glasses metric.
They tap gloves. McCrory comes out looking like one hundred times the striker that Hazelett is. His fists are lightning.
What is this? Hazelett stuns McCrory and Dustin literally flies across the ring in an attempt to hit a Sagat-like flying knee… but Tamdan is out of the way, robbing Dustin of the nod on Sportscenter.
Tamdan tries a head kick… glances.
These guys are both skyscrapers by the way, 6’1 and 6’4.
Tamdan is launching big kicks. They really look like they hurt. You can hear the weight behind them.
Wow! Hazelett just hit Tamdan on the jaw… stunned him but Tamdan keeps getting out of the way before he can capitalize.
I keep saying that Tamdan is the more impressive striker but Hazelett seems to be the one actually LANDING the better hits; he’s rocked McCrory at least three times.
For good grapplers, one of which is a jiu-jitsu black belt, no one is going for anything on the ground.
Dustin misses a huge head kick… but the follow-through seems to turn the miss into a ground submission!?!
Okay, now it’s on the ground. Let’s see how that jiu-jitsu prediction holds up… Hazelett has a decent leg hold on Tamdan’s right arm but Tamdan isn’t really in a spot to lose, at least not immediately. Hazelett is rubber. He is Plastic Man. His legs are like BJ Penn’s.
It looks like Tamdan is going to try to stall out the clock… just not losing, but Hazelett is not going to let that happen.
Yep, black belt wins with a crazy arm submission. Hazelett actually looks fantastic in the finish. His legs are like some kind of insane pretzel. I don’t know if he is actually BJ Penn class but he LOOKS very good… This one is going to go to the highlight reel.
I am skipping an undercard lightweight bout for a bio break. BRB.
Okay I am going to chat a little about Randy v. Brock — tonight’s big fight — during this excellent lightweight fight.
It looked to me when they brought Brock Lesnar into the UFC that they were giving him a soft match with Frank Mir. In fact, if you saw the fight, Lesnar came out destroying Mir with superior strength and striking. However he hit Frank illegally and the ref separated them. Brock was simply not used to a jiu-jitsu black belt, though, and the reversal was instantaneous. Brock was hitting Frank harder than I had seen anyone hit in a long time, but all of a sudden, Frank had him in a submission, ending the fight in the first round.
Randy Couture is the kind of guy who is “used to” fighting bigger, stronger, faster… and YOUNGER fighters. However he is not a jiu-jitsu fighter. I don’t know that Randy is going to be able to pull out a surprise submission on a guy with Brock’s physical ability.
But at the same time, Randy beat Gabriel Gonzaga WITH A BROKEN ARM. He literally knocked him out WITH that broken arm. Randy Couture is not human. At 45, he is the big reason that this is probably the biggest PPV buy the UFC has ever seen. Randy hasn’t fought since that fight. Despite multiple fights against Chuck Liddell, they are billing tonight’s fight as the biggest challenge of Couture’s career.
So who is going to win?
I am picking Randy.
Vegas is picking Brock.
Why am I picking the former retiree, who is more than a decade older than the blond phenom he will be facing? Because Randy Couture has made a career of defying the odds.
I think Brock is going to come out with a ton of energy, and that Randy is going to try to weather the assault and pull the fight to deep rounds, where his cardio can overcome Lesnar’s obvious size advantage.
I think that many buyers — and I am in this crowd — just want to see Couture’s strategy, and HOW — win or lose — he approaches beating Brock Lesnar.
Okay, back to live fights…
11:23 – Lightweight bout (co-main event)
Kenny Florian (32, 12-3) v. Joe Stevenson (26, 34-8)
I have seen Joe Stevenson fight once… But it was against my favorite fighter BJ Penn; Joe was utterly destroyed. Nothing against Stevenson… just the only time I’ve seen him fight.
I have seen Kenny Florian fight several times but I can’t really remember any of them. I think they ware both jiu-jitsu black belts — which is amazing — but they say that Florian is the more impressive striker. Florian is six years older than Stevenson but has a huge height and reach advantage.
The winner of this fight is probably going to get a shot at BJ Penn (even though BJ is moving up in weight class to challenge Georges St. Pierre at Welterweight… probably going to buy that by the way).
By the way I don’t know how this is actually the co-main event.
Lightweights are so much more mobile an faster. You immediately see them dance… it is so different from heavyweights or even welterweights
Stevenson throws bigger punches. These are big hooks but they are not really landing.
Florian’s kicks are just off the charts.
Stevenson is on the attack, and gets Kenny on the chin… He is trying to corner him.
It’s hard to see who is winning, but Kenny is against the side of the octagon. Both seem to be jockeying for position with dirty kicks, &c.
Joe went for a big slam but Kenny grabs the fence to break it up. Very nice strategy. Heh. Kenny just got a warning from the ref for grabbing the fence (if he does it AGAIN it will be a point deduction) but hey, he didn’t get slammed to death.
Okay… Nice boxing from Florian; nice jabs.
Stevenson hits hard but he is sloppy. Florian is just a much better striker.
Boom! Kenny slams Joe down to the mat.
Kenny takes the mount!
Yeah… Joe is done.
BIg punch. Big Punch. BIG PUNCH… Full choke.
Kenny just earned a shot against BJ Penn.
Okay… here is the fight we have all been waiting for!
11:42 – Heavyweight title bout
Randy Couture (45, 16-8) v. Brock Lesnar (31, 2-1)
The crazy thing about Randy Couture is that he spent a big part of his career at Light Heavyweight. He beat Tito Ortiz and won a title over Chuck Liddell at Light Heavyweight. Randy quit heavyweight because he was too small.
Yet he came out of retirement to steal the heavyweight title.
FYI Brock was the NCAA rasslin’ champion. He is SO big. Yet undeniably quick on his feet.
Yet with a 45 lb. weight disadvantage, 54% of the fans are picking Randy over Brock… I’m one of them.
Randy is going to focus on avoiding Brock, hitting without being hit. Did I mention how big Brock is?
Brock just said “You’re just too damn old to be here.”
Randy is 45 years old… but “time is just a number.” He has a gigantic grin on his face. The people love Randy. I love Randy.
The crowd boos Brock, loves Couture. Man is Brock big.
Okay, let’s go.
Brock is basically a gigantic gorilla. It’s almost comical seeing them in the ring together. They don’t even seem like they are in the same weight class.
Brock opens up with knees.
Randy pushes Brock to the fence.
Brock is sending knees again.
Randy is SO much smaller.
The crowd is firmly behind Couture.
Brock with these knees again. All knees.
Nice! Randy rocks Brock with a right hand.
But Brock’s hands are huge.
Okay! Here comes Brock with a spear…
They are up against the fence. Brock accomplishes a takedown.
Randy snakes a half guard, holding Brock’s neck simultaneously.
Brock mounts… But Randy is out!
Randy has Brock’s back!
Only for a moment.
Now Brock mounts… Nope, Randy’s half guard again.
The last 30 seconds have been slippery.
Randy is holding Brock’s head and hitting Brock in the side… but they are nothing to write home about.
Yet he is not going to let Brock get an advantage.
Brock has some big punches.
… Randy only has to survive for a minute (this round is feeling interminable)
Wow, Randy is out again.
Randy stands up and the crowd roars.
Randy escaped Brock’s ground game with minimal damage.
Randy has some momentum now… but is still small compared to Brock.
Randy is priming for a takedown. This is unbelievable.
Great first round… It looked scary for Randy a couple of spots but he kept his cool. I don’t know if you definitely give it to Brock. I don’t know how much the judges consider the weight disadvantage and Randy’s honest attempts on offense.
The crowd still knows who they love.
Brock opens the round with a nice jab. Follows up with an elbow that gives Randy he wobbly knees.
Randy quickly pushes Brock to the fence to buy time and recover.
Brock looks like he hit Randy in the back of the head, but no complaints so far.
Brock is SO BIG.
He is hitting a few knees.
Randy answers with two solid strikes to the head.
Pow! Randy cuts Brock over the right eye. Can Randy expoit this?
Damn. Brock keeps connecting.
… But Randy has the cut.
Randy defends Brock’s spear takedown AGAIN. My heart is racing.
Randy is actually tring to take Brock down.
Wow. How long can Randy absorb Brock’s punches?
Yep. Brock nails a gigantic fist and stuns Randy – Now it’s 100 hammer fists.
Brock is literally all over him.
The ref lets Randy take quite a few strikes before stopping it; he was giving Randy a chance to get out from under Brock’s attack.
… And Brock is the new champ.
Randy initially looked pretty steamed but he is smiling as they announce the loss.
The entire room is boo-ing Brock.
“That’s just a big son of a bitch. That’s all there is to it!”
The people still love him. It’s more-or-less over at 12:12.
Well, I was pretty disappointed by the finish. Randy was cryptic about his future (will he retire again questions)… He says he is getting BETTER as a fighter. I guess we’ll just have to see.
Anyway, that was my UFC 91.
So how many of you out there were heartbroken at Brock Lesnar’s victory?