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Monday, October 08, 2007

King James and His Court Can't Stop Spurs' Coronation

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 6/15/07

Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich previously said that the 2007 NBA Finals are setting offensive basketball back 10 years, so San Antonio’s 83-82 Game 4 victory was a fitting way to conclude matters. The Spurs won despite shooting .381 from the field and .688 from the free throw line. Tony Parker clinched the Finals MVP by scoring 24 points on 10-14 shooting. Manu Ginobili had a game-high 27 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter. In the post-game press conference, Tim Duncan looked at the boxscore with dismay and described his performance as subpar; he then laughed and said, "We’re sticklers...we should appreciate and enjoy the win (but) we’re all competitors and it defines us as competitors." He had six turnovers and finished with just 12 points on 4-15 field goal shooting and 4-10 free throw shooting. On the positive side, he did grab a game-high 15 rebounds and his strong defense in the paint played a big role in Cleveland’s poor shooting. LeBron James led Cleveland with 24 points and 10 assists but said, "I have to be 10 times better." James shot 10-30 from the field and committed six turnovers, many of which he candidly admitted were unforced.

The Spurs have won three titles in the past five years and four in Tim Duncan’s ten year career. This was the first time that the Spurs won the Finals with a sweep and just the eighth Finals sweep in NBA history. Duncan and Popovich are the two constants in what has to be ranked as one of the NBA’s great dynasties; the Spurs join the Boston Celtics, L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls as the only franchises in NBA history to win at least four championships. The only slight blemish on their run is that they have yet to win in consecutive years but when Popovich was asked about that after the game he replied, "I don’t give a (expletive deleted)" before apologizing for his language. He certainly has little else for which to apologize or express regret. Parker said, "I can definitely give a lot of credit to Coach Pop because I would never be here without him." Duncan attributes much of the Spurs’ success to Popovich’s leadership: "He’s the one who puts us together. He’s the guy that makes it run. He’s the one that stays on us no matter how well or how badly we’re playing. He finds the right way to approach us. I can say no more than he defines the team. He always has and as long as he’s here he always will." Cleveland Coach Mike Brown, who was an assistant coach under Popovich when the Spurs won the 2003 championship, also offered high praise for Popovich: "He doesn’t get enough credit. He doesn’t get enough credit for his Xs and Os but, more importantly, he doesn’t get enough credit for his people skills. He’s a tremendous teacher and a tremendous person and he’s the reason that organization is where it’s at."

Some people will surely try to diminish the Spurs’ dynasty status by suggesting that the Cavaliers were perhaps the worst team to ever appear in the NBA Finals but that objection does not stand up to close scrutiny for two reasons: (1) Three previous Finalists had losing records--the Minneapolis Lakers in 1958-59 (.458 winning percentage), the 1956-57 St. Louis Hawks (.472) and the 1980-81 Houston Rockets (.488). The Cavaliers went 50-32 (.610) and that included a 19-10 (.655) mark against the Western Conference, so they did not just fatten their record up by beating Eastern Conference teams. Two of those 19 wins were against the Spurs; (2) as Tim Duncan pointed out prior to the Finals, "This is the toughest road that we've had to a Finals...Denver was unbelievable with the two scorers they had and the physicality they have; Phoenix, of course (posed a great challenge); Utah did one heck of a job and you know what they're going to bring to the table." Moreover, not only were several NBA Finalists statistically worse than the Cavaliers but Cleveland also beat Detroit, the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, in four straight games after losing the first two games of the series. Part of the reason that the Cavaliers struggled so much in the Finals can be attributed to the greatness of the Spurs. In that sense, the Spurs’ own ability makes it difficult to appreciate how great they truly are; they made a great player (James) and a very good team look quite ordinary.

Obviously, Bill Russell’s Celtics’ 11 titles in 13 years is the gold standard of NBA dynasties. Michael Jordan’s Bulls won six titles in eight years--two three-peats wrapped around his first retirement. That surpassed Magic Johnson’s Lakers because the Bulls won more championships in fewer years. If Duncan and the Spurs repeat next year, their five titles in 11 years would certainly have to be considered to be comparable to what Johnson’s Lakers did (five championships in nine years, one repeat). People can argue forever about which eras were tougher or easier to play in but the only thing a team can do is beat its contemporaries. Duncan’s Spurs have been contenders since he arrived and the only team that has beaten them in the playoffs when Duncan was healthy was the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers (Duncan was hobbled by plantar fasciitis last year when Dallas won a tough series with an overtime victory in Game 7); that Lakers team could very well have become the team of the first decade of the 21st Century but they were broken up before their time while the Spurs keep rolling along. Someone asked Popovich why the Spurs have been able to avoid the pitfalls that led to the premature demise of the recent Lakers’ and Bulls’ teams. Popovich cited two main factors: "Our ownership under Peter Holt allows us to do our jobs...he’s never said no to me about anything. Not one time have I gotten a no. He trusts us to do our jobs and do what we do...(the second factor is) Timmy and the other guys we’ve tried to bring in who have a certain character, a character that’s made up of people who have gotten over themselves, people who care about the team more than an individual...a good example would be Manu, an All-Star, coming off the bench. When you have those kind of guys it’s kind of special."

One of those "character" guys is Michael Finley. While winning championships is nothing new for the Spurs, this title is the first in Finley’s 12 year NBA career. Duncan and Popovich both mentioned how special it is to help Finley to reach the sport’s pinnacle. "They dedicated this Finals to me," Finley said after the game. "It just shows you what type of guys these are. For them to give me the game ball...I mean, I’m blessed." Another "character" guy is Robert Horry, who won his seventh championship. He is the eighth player to win that many NBA titles and the first seven of them were all members of Russell’s Celtics.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:57 PM



At Monday, October 08, 2007 6:14:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I'm not so sure that the "rating" of dynasties should be so black-and-white. Of course, you mentioned that it's impossible to know for sure which eras were harder or easier. However, just looking at what a team did against its contemporaries can (and IMO should) be looked at in more detail.

For instance, take the 80s Lakers and the 90s Bulls. Is 6 finals appearances and 6 championships in 8 years necessarily better than 9 finals appearances and 5 championships in 12 years (or 8 finals appearances and 5 titles in 10 years)?

At Tuesday, October 09, 2007 6:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Well, six championships is better than five in any system of math :)

On a more serious note, the Bulls not only won more titles than the Lakers in a shorter period of time but they achieved a perfect record in their Finals appearances, which is very impressive.

We've discussed this subject in a different thread and I understand that you believe that the Bulls' run is diminished somewhat because of the level of competition that they faced and because you feel that MJ rejuvenated himself by taking almost two full seasons off; you contend that the Bulls would not have kept winning titles if MJ had played straight through without a break.

Both of your points are interesting but they are difficult to prove (or to disprove, for that matter). My response to the competition issue is that there is a tendency to dismiss the Bulls' rivals because they never won titles--but the main reason that none of those teams won titles is that the Bulls kept beating them. As for the MJ rejuvenation question, that is very difficult to sort out. The '94 Bulls went 55-27 without MJ, so it is safe to assume that they would at the very least have been strong contenders with him. The main thing that team missed was having a fourth quarter closing scorer; they battled hard against the Knicks but in some of the games that they lost they surrendered leads that they had built earlier in the game (they also got screwed by an infamous horrible call in game five, truly one of the worst playoff calls ever). I think that the '94 Bulls with MJ beat the Knicks and then go on to beat the Pacers--a team they probably would have beaten in '94 even without MJ. Then we would have had the dream matchup of MJ versus Hakeem--not that they would guard each other, of course. Who can honestly say for sure what would have happened? My opinion is that if the Bulls got that far that MJ and Pip would simply not let them lose. If the Bulls had gotten the "four-peat" then we really stray into a hypothetical area. Would Horace Grant have still left the team? If he did, I don't believe that Rodman would have been available yet. So many variables come into play that it becomes impossible to make any kind of reasonable hypothesis regarding what would have happened after '94 in that scenario. It is possible that if MJ had not retired that they would have four-peated but yet ultimately ended up with less than six titles but it is also possible that they would have not only four-peated but then found a way to continue to build around MJ and Pip in order to capture more titles. It is also possible that your assumptions are correct and that if MJ had not retired that the Bulls would have ended up with just the first three titles. My inclination is to believe that if MJ had not retired that they would have won title four and then needed to do some roster tinkering in order to continue to win. I don't believe that fatigue on the part of MJ would be a decisive factor, which is your main contention as I understood it from our prior discussion. I think that a team built around MJ and Pip in the mid to late 90s had a greater margin of error than other teams; they did not need quite as much talent around them as some other stars might in order to contend for titles because MJ and Pip's skills were at such a high level--they were arguably the two best players in the league circa 1995-97--and because they played so hard at both ends of the court. When MJ came back at the end of the '95 season that Bulls team was pretty strong even though he was rusty and the team had a gaping hole at power forward.

At Tuesday, October 09, 2007 12:59:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Actually, I did not mean to bring the competition level of the 90s or MJs retirement into this discussion. My question was that, assuming no differences between eras, is it really more impressive to have 6 titles and 6 finals appearances in 8 years or 5 titles and 9 finals appearances in 12 years? I suppose this is like asking if 6 olympic gold medals are really better than a combination of 5 gold medals and 4 silver medals.

I know that some people like to make everything black-and-white when assessing a team and/or a player: either you win it all, or your don't. I'm not one of them. If in 10 years we are comparing Wade's Heat to LeBron's Cavs, would it be fair to dismiss how much better a playoff run the Cavs had in 2007 simply because they didn't win the title? I would say no.

A finals appearance, just like a title, is a certain measure of success and dominance. It's easy to say that the Bulls' run was more impressive in terms of pure accomplishments. But consider this: the Spurs have an outside shot at matching the Bulls' 6 titles, but they really don't have a shot at matching the Lakers' 9 finals appearances.

Also, 5 and 6 titles are so close to each other as accomplishments (only one apart, and both high numbers) that the difference could be accounted for by some random factor (circumstances, eras, etc.). I'm not sure that the difference between 6 and 9 finals appearances could be accounted for in the same way. Such a large difference represents a substantial gap between the length of time two teams were able to sustain a certain level. I'm not saying that the difference in finals appearances shows the Lakers' accomplishments were far better (it would be stupid to say so given that the Bulls have more titles). I'm just saying the 6-to-5 difference is more negligable than the 6-to-9 difference. Looking at it that way, it's safe to say that the Lakers maintained a status as an elite team longer than the Bulls, and that shouldn't be disregarded in this discussion.

I think the same principles I've described here can be applied when comparing other teams. For instance, I don't think that the run of Hakeem's Rockets was necessarily more impressive than that of Dr. J's Sixers, even though the former have a 2-to-1 edge in titles.

Finally, regarding our previous discussions of the Bulls' run, I do think it is diminished by the lack of competition (though I did not mean to bring that up in this discussion). However, I don't think it is diminished by MJ's first retirement. I've maintained all along that I think the Bulls would have ended up with rougly the same amount of titles whether MJ retired or not. The point I was trying to make about MJ's retirement and his possible rejuvenation was that it saved the Bulls from dropping a playoff series or two which "counted", and therefore helped MJ and the Bulls attain an "unbeatable" image. I don't really buy into any ideas of invincibility. 6 titles would have been 6 titles for me, whether or not the Bulls lost some series along the way which "counted".

1995 "counts" in my opinion anyway. I agree with you totally that the Bulls weren't at full strength due to MJ's rustiness and the lack of a Grant/Rodman type. However, most other great teams are also at less than full strength (for a variety of reasons) when they lose. I could go through the careers of, say, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan and explain why their teams were at less than full strength every year they failed to win it all. I think it's unfair to give the 1995 Bulls a pass (because it is convenient when trying to prop up the Bulls) while not affording the same understanding to other teams.

At Tuesday, October 09, 2007 4:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I did not mean to put any words in your mouth; I was just trying to put this discussion in the context of our previous one regarding the Bulls. Thank you for clarifying your position.

To a certain degree, I do buy what you term the "black and white" perspective regarding team/individual accomplishment. As Herm Edwards famously said, "You play to win the game." I also remember Mario Andretti's dejection one time after he finished second in the Indy 500: "Second place is first loser." Yes, this is harsh, but the greatest of the great do view things in that manner. As an analyst/historian it is important to supply context, though, even if that context is of little consolation to the competitors themselves. I agree that the Lakers' extended run in the 1980s is very impressive but the same points that you make about the Bulls' overall competition in the 1990s could be made about the West in the 1980s. Who was the Lakers' rival? Certainly the path to the Finals in the West was much smoother than the one in the East, where Philly and Boston had to deal with each other, plus Milwaukee (and later Boston had to fend off Detroit). I think that it is a little inconsistent for you to knock the competition that the Bulls faced in winning six titles but then turn around and laud the Lakers for making it to nine Finals.

The 80s Lakers and 90s Bulls were both great. It is hard to choose between them but, as I indicated in the post, I would pick the 90s Bulls; the two tiebreakers for me are the extra title and the fact that the Bulls never lost in the Finals. A third factor in the Bulls' favor is the back to back 72 and 69 win regular seasons, which is unprecedented in league history.

The Bulls also never lost in the first round once Pip came on the scene, even in the year that MJ missed completely. You are right that there are extenuating circumstances in the years that Magic and Duncan did not win championships but even in the years that the Bulls did not win they still got past the first round.

At Tuesday, October 09, 2007 6:21:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Sorry if I came off the wrong way in the previous post. I didn't mean to accuse you of putting words in my mouth. I just wanted to clarify the point I was trying to make here. Anyway, I appreciate you putting this discussion in the context of the previous ones, as they certainly are related.

I see what you are saying about "playing to win". Certainly the greatest competitors aren't satisfied with second place. I just feel like there should be room in the discussion for a more complete analysis. For instance, is it unfair to criticize KG's team success compared to, say, post-Shaq Kobe or LeBron or Jason Kidd since all are equally ring-less? Or, as I said before, if we're comparing LeBron and Wade in the future, should 2007 not even be looked at because neither won the title, even though the Cavs had a much better run?

You are right about the competition the Lakers faced in the West being on the easier side. The thing is though, the argument I was making about the various combinations of finals appearances and titles was essentially numerical and divorced from context (since I wanted to assume the competition was about the same).

If we were comparing the Bulls and Lakers based upon their accomplishments and the level of competition they faced, then the Lakers' finals appearances where they lost would not form a major part of my argument. This is due to the lack of consistent competition in the West (as you pointed out). In this type of comparison, the Lakers having beaten other indisputably first-rate teams in the finals would be at the core of my argument.

I don't quite understand the importance of having never lost in the finals. If the Lakers lost in the conference finals every year that they actually ended up losing in the finals, so that they were 5 for 5 in the finals, would their run have been more impressive? If anything, it would be less impressive. Similarly, if the Bulls got to the finals in, say, 1990, and lost (making them 6 for 7), would their run be less impressive? I'd say no.

I am a bit puzzled about where your last comment fits into this discussion. Are you saying that if we look at seasons in which they didn't win the titles that the Bulls never lost in the first round while the Lakers and Spurs did, and that this better justifies using extenuating circumstances to explain the Bulls' non-title years as opposed to the Lakers and Spurs? Anyway, I do think that having never lost in the first round is another notch under the Bulls' belt. It should be noted that the Lakers lost in the first round in a best-of-3 and that the Spurs lost in the first round when Duncan was out with an injury.

At Tuesday, October 09, 2007 7:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

No apology necessary.

I agree with your general idea that context matters when making these types of comparisons and I actually agree with your specific example contrasting Doc's 76ers (one title, four Finals appearances in seven years) with Hakeem's Rockets (two titles in two years). However, in terms of 80's Lakers versus 90's Bulls, even taking various contextual issues into account, I still find the Bulls' run to be slightly more impressive, for the reasons that I listed previously.

KG's ringless seasons versus Kobe's is a pretty easy matter to address: KG has gone a solid decade not only without a ring but with a first round loss every season but one. Kobe was a key player on three championship teams and has only spent a brief portion of his career making first round exits. As for LeBron versus Wade, I can't say now how I will look back on their careers 10 years from now. I do find Wade's run to a title slightly more impressive than LeBron's run to a Finals loss, though both players obviously played at a very high level.

The significance of never losing in the Finals is that when a team makes it to the Finals it is presumably reasonably healthy (I know that there have been some exceptions to this and also some teams that suffered injuries during the Finals, including the Lakers). One of the things that distinguishes great players and teams is that when they have a legit opportunity to win then they find a way to do it. I've talked about this in reference to Tiger Woods in a post that I made at BEST, my other website. When the Bulls had all the pieces together, they got to the Finals and then they won. I would not look down on them if they had won six titles but somehow lost in a seventh Finals. However, if they had gone 5/6 (or 5/5) then I would probably call it a dead heat between them and the Lakers.

I brought up the Bulls' first round record just to emphasize the point that once the Bulls got their nucleus together they performed very consistently. You are right that the Lakers lost a mini-series and that the Spurs lost a series in which Duncan did not play at all.

A good case can be made either way, but I take the Bulls' dynasty over the Lakers' dynasty--narrowly. By the way, this is not the same thing as saying that the Bulls would beat the Lakers on a neutral court with both teams in their primes. In comparing dynasties, I am talking about which team did more against its competition in its own era.

At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 5:47:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Well, at least we agree that counting rings isn't always the best way to judge the accomplishments of a team (even if we slightly disagree on Lakers vs. Bulls).

I think one of the best examples illustrating how big a role circumstance plays in winning championships and establishing a legacy is a comparison between the 76ers and Celtics from 1980-82. The Celtics came away with one championship and one finals appearance. The 76ers had zero championships on two finals appearances. It's easy to say the Celtics accomplished more during this period. But is that really the case? A closer look shows that the Celtics and 76ers met three times in the Eastern Finals with the 76ers winning twice: once in a 5 games, and once with a convincing Game 7 victory. The Celtics won one of the three series on a one-point Game 7 victory that truly could have gone either way depending on a few calls. The Celtics were fortunate that the Lakers had a down year in 1981 and all they had to do in the finals was beat a sub-.500 Rockets team. The Sixers, on the other hand, ran into very talented Laker teams in peak form. Maybe you have to say the Celtics accomplished more anyway, but if one had to say which team was better from 1980-82, the 76ers have a stronger case.

I agree that the record of a team in NBA finals series does provide a certain measure of that team's greatness in terms of "character" or "killer instinct". (This has to assume though that when that team didn't reach the finals, they just weren't good enough. Winning in less "meaningful" rounds and games is also a measure of competitiveness and greatness.) However, getting to the finals and losing is still a bigger accomplishment than losing in an earlier round. If number of titles won remains constant, I think the finals record is irrelevant (and a lower finals winning percentage with more finals appearances is probably better).

At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 5:57:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

You noted that the Lakers were one of the teams that wasn't reasonably healthy during certain finals.

If you look at the years they lost in the finals, the only year they were essentially healthy and injury-free was 1984. If Magic Johnson and James Worthy hadn't made some stupid mistakes in the 4th quarters and overtimes of Games 2, 4, and 7, the Lakers may have won in 1984 anyway. The bigger factor, however, was probably that the Celtics every bit as good and hungry as the Lakers that year.

In 1983, James Worthy was out, and Bob McAdoo and Norm Nixon were injured. In 1989, Byron Scott was out and Magic Johnson missed most of the series. In 1991, James Worthy and Byron Scott were injured. My feeling is that the Lakers would have lost in 1983 no matter what, but if they were healthy, they would have had a decent shot at winning in 1989 and 1991.

At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 6:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree with you about the 76ers and Celtics during the early 80s. It would be more difficult for people to casually assert that Larry Bird was better than Dr. J if not for the 76ers' collapse in the '81 ECF. That said, this does not directly relate to the Bulls-Lakers comparison, which encompasses a much longer period of time--both teams reached many Finals and won many titles. I give the Bulls a narrow edge based on winning one more title in a slightly shorter time frame. If you widen the 76ers-Celtics comparison by just one year, then the teams each have one title and the balance definitely shifts to Philly (of course, if you widen it a bit more, then the Celtics added two more titles...).

It's a cliche but injuries are part of the game. If you look closely enough, almost every Finals features one team that is more banged up than the other. Last year the Cavs were missing Larry Hughes. That might not seem like much considering how well Gibson played for the most part but Cleveland's record is much better when Hughes is in the lineup. That would enable Gibson to continue to come off the bench. The Spurs most likely would win anyway but a healthy Hughes would have helped Cleveland extend the series and funny things happen sometimes the longer a series goes--maybe LeBron absolutely takes over one game or someone turns an ankle.

You are right about the Lakers' woes in those series but--going back to the Dr. J Sixers--Philly did not have a healthy World Free in '77. Doug Collins and Lionel Hollins were hurt in '80. Isiah sprained his ankle in '88 or Detroit might have three-peated. The season is long and players get hurt so each year we never know for sure what would have happened if two pristinely healthy teams faced off in the Finals.

At Saturday, October 20, 2007 5:09:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I agree that injuries certainly are part of the game. They should not put an asterisk on any championship or credit any team a championship they supposedly would have won if healthy. I meant to comment on the fact that the Lakers have oftentimes not been reasonably healthy when losing a Finals, since being reasonably healthy is one of the characteristics you have observed of most teams which reach the finals.

I think Lionel Hollins actually missed the 1982 finals. If Doug Collins didn't get hurt in 1979-80, Hollins would not have been acquired in a trade. If Hollins didn't get hurt in 1982, Andrew Toney probably would not have been playing as many minutes as he was, and he may not have dropped 34 on the Celtics to help end their season. This just goes to show how flawed it is to assume things would always work out more favorably if not for certain injures. It also reinforces the idea that injuries are part of the game.

I think the 1981 ECF was Dr. J's biggest failure. He didn't play bad, but I just think that the last three games were all close enough that Doc should have taken over at least one of them and put the Celtics away. That was his big chance, and I just wish we would have been able to see him go out and drop 40 in one of those games and try to put it away himself.

At Saturday, October 20, 2007 5:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

You are right that Hollins was acquired to fill in for Collins. I'm sure that the Sixers would have preferred to have a healthy Collins, who was a four-time All-Star and could have provided some much needed backcourt size and scoring versus Magic and the Lakers.

Hollins got hurt in game one of the 1980 Finals, missed part of that contest but did manage to play in all six games. Hollins played in three of the six games in the 1982 Finals. During that season, Hollins played in 81 games and Toney played in 77. Hollins played more minutes, while Toney averaged more points and shot a better percentage. The 76ers could definitely have used a healthy Hollins in the 1982 Finals. The minutes/production of the Toney/Hollins duo during the regular season do not suggest that a healthy Hollins would have precluded Toney from performing his playoff heroics.

I also would have liked to see Doc just take over the '81 ECF. That was a very physical series, particularly the last three games, and Boston's bigger frontline was more suited for the way those games were officiated. That's not an excuse, just an observation.

At Thursday, October 25, 2007 3:10:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

You're right about how physical the 1981 76ers-Celtics series was, especially the 7th game. I actually think Doc was doing a good job in the 4th quarter of Game 7. He had opened it up by scoring 10-12 points and had put the Sixers back on top. Then he, and seemingly everyone else on the Sixers, kept turning the ball over during the last half of the quarter. There were several plays where a foul could have (and maybe should have) been called, but wasn't. I think Billy Cunningham and several players strongly voiced their frustration regarding the officiating following the game.

There are few images in sports more eerie than the final play of that game: a one-point margin, Erving jumping up towards the basket for the lob as the pass bounces harmlessly off the top of the backboard and the fans storm the Garden floor almost instantly.

At Thursday, October 25, 2007 7:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Doc--and to some extent his teams, other than the '83 Sixers with Malone--did not always fare well against physical players/teams. His game was obviously based on finesse, skill and quickness. In '75, his Nets were upset by the Spirits of St. Louis, a big, powerful team.

People forget that Bird was a physical player and also that he was 2-3 inches taller and at least 10-15 pounds heavier than Doc. Interestingly, the Dr. J-Larry Bird video game factored such considerations into the program; both players were interviewed by the programmers and spoke at length about how they played against each other. Bird tried to use his size and height to post up Doc and bang on him, while Doc tried to use his quickness, finesse and jumping ability to elude Bird. The game even had a fatigue factor that downgraded Erving's game if Bird kept posting him up/pounding on him and that made some of Bird's jumpers come up short if he spent too much time chasing Doc around the court. Doc and the Sixers got the better of Bird and the Celtics in two out of three ECFs between '80 and '82 but Bird won a title the one year that he broke through while Doc did not get an NBA ring until Moses came along in '83.

At Thursday, October 25, 2007 8:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

"There are few images in sports more eerie than the final play of that game: a one-point margin, Erving jumping up towards the basket for the lob as the pass bounces harmlessly off the top of the backboard and the fans storm the Garden floor almost instantly."

That and the Red Right 88 play (Brian Sipe's interception in the 1980 playoffs) are perhaps my two least favorite childhood sports images.


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