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Friday, October 26, 2007

Strawberry's Long Range Shot Lifts Suns Over Nuggets

With the World Series in full swing, it is only natural to talk of a home run by a Strawberry--but this time the long distance shot came from rookie Suns' guard D.J., not his father, ex-MLB All-Star Darryl. With just 3.3 seconds left, D.J. Strawberry received a pass from Marcus Banks and calmly drained a three pointer to give Phoenix a 116-113 preseason victory over the visiting Denver Nuggets. Strawberry finished with 14 points in 20 minutes. Grant Hill led the Suns in scoring with 17 points. Steve Nash added 14 points and 10 assists but he shot just 3-10 from the field and committed four turnovers. Amare Stoudemire, who recently had arthroscopic knee surgery and had yet to play in the preseason, contributed 10 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes. Allen Iverson led Denver with 24 points on 9-14 shooting, while Carmelo Anthony had 22 points but shot just 6-18 from the field. Denver starting center Marcus Camby did not play due to back spasms and Phoenix sixth man Leandro Barbosa sat out because of bruised ribs.

Denver got off to an excellent start by employing the tried and true blueprint that has worked against the Suns for the past few years: pounding the ball inside the paint on offense and defending the three point line vigorously when Phoenix has the ball. The Nuggets led 32-22 by the end of the first quarter. Anthony already had 13 points and Iverson scored 11 points on 5-6 shooting. The first quarter mainly consisted of starters playing against starters.

By the 8:38 mark in the second quarter, the Nuggets led 37-28 and the Suns had committed nine turnovers while making only 10 field goals. Nash, who had been sitting out for several minutes, returned to action and quickly scored a layup and delivered two assists as the Suns went on a 10-0 run to take the lead. Denver answered back with a 29-16 burst to close the quarter and the Nuggets led 66-54 at halftime. Denver outscored Phoenix in the paint 30-18 in the first half and held the Suns to 2-9 three point shooting. Anthony scored 19 first half points and Iverson had 15 points on 7-8 shooting. Kenyon Martin, attempting to come back from microfracture surgery, scored all eight of his points in the first half and moved better and with more explosiveness than he has in a long time.

TNT's Craig Sager asked Phoenix Coach Mike D'Antoni his thoughts about the first 24 minutes of action and D'Antoni candidly replied, "Being small and slow is not a good combo and that's what we are right now." It is not clear how the Suns can get bigger any time soon, so their only answer is to try to play faster and faster. The Suns have chosen the curious tactic of chasing a championship on the cheap; Kurt Thomas, by far the team's best frontcourt defender last year, was traded to Seattle in the offseason along with two first round draft picks purely to save money, a move that not only impacts Phoenix' chances to win a championship this year but also mortgages part of the team's future by giving up the chance to bring in young talent via the draft. During the telecast, TNT play by play announcer Marv Albert posed a critical question to color commentators Mike Fratello and Reggie Miller--the same question that I have raised about the Suns for years: their breakneck, fast paced style works great in the regular season when teams are worn down and don't have time to prepare for it but can a team win a championship playing this way? In the playoffs the competition is obviously much tougher and there are more days off between games, allowing the Suns' opponents to better prepare for and recover from the way that Phoenix plays. Fratello answered that Phoenix' failure to win a title in recent years boils down to one simple thing: the Suns have no answer for Tim Duncan's ability to score on the block. Needless to say, getting rid of Thomas--who guarded Duncan better than anyone else on the roster--did not get Phoenix closer to winning a title, even though the Suns added free agent Grant Hill. While Hill is a more talented and skilled player than Thomas the Suns have not been coming up short because of a lack of talent or skill. Regardless of how many games Phoenix wins in the regular season there is still no reason to believe that the Suns will be able to get past Duncan and the Spurs in the playoffs. Miller said that we may never know the answer to Albert's question due to what Miller called "Horry-gate"--the incident when Robert Horry fouled Nash during last year's playoff series versus Duncan's Spurs and Stoudemire and Boris Diaw received suspensions for leaving the bench area during an altercation; Miller suggested that maybe the Suns would otherwise have beaten the Spurs and won it all last year. That conveniently ignores the reality that the Spurs did not even need seven games to vanquish the Suns and that even if the Suns had gotten by the Spurs they still would have had to beat the Jazz in the Conference Finals. Utah beat Phoenix 3-1 in the regular season series.

The Suns got their running game in gear in the third quarter and also started connecting from three point range. The Nuggets responded by going away from the inside game that had been so effective in favor of launching some questionable shots. Denver is a very talented team but there are serious questions about the team's mental toughness and commitment to playing good defense. How will the Nuggets respond when everything is not going smoothly? Do they have the necessary focus to sustain solid play for 48 minutes against good teams? The third quarter did not offer encouraging answers to these questions. With their starters still in the game, Denver went from having a 12 point lead to trailing 72-71 in less than six minutes. Three minutes after that Phoenix led 87-76. After that point, both teams began removing their starters from the game--although Iverson played until several minutes elapsed in the fourth quarter--so it is not clear what to make of the last 12-15 minutes of the game. J.R. Smith--who has been suspended by the Nuggets for the first three games of the regular season due to conduct detrimental to the team--scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets rallied to tie the score at 113 with 1:02 left, setting the stage for Strawberry's heroics. It is fitting that the Suns ended the game with a three pointer; they shot 7-16 from behind the arc in the second half.

Phoenix and Denver are two of the biggest teases in the NBA; the Suns tantalize their fans by winning 50-60 games with a style that is ill equipped for championship level success, while the Nuggets have enough talent that they can look like legitimate contenders for short periods of time only to implode due to their lack of commitment, focus and toughness (just consider how many players on the Nuggets have been suspended by the team or the league for various reasons). Can the Suns get a key stop in the paint in the last five minutes of a close playoff game? Will the Nuggets play hard and smart for 48 minutes night after night? If your eyes are open and you are honest, you already know the answers to these questions.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:59 AM



At Friday, October 26, 2007 1:39:00 PM, Blogger element313 said...

in response to the Shaq argument (now archived, so I post here):

when I commented on expansino & salary cap, you say
"One could look at the same set of facts that you just cited and reach a completely different conclusion, namely that the NBA is more watered down now."

now I'm hoping that was a joke. Pls confirm

Pls confirm that you arent seriously suggesting that teh NBA is more watered down now. For you to suggest that would mean ignorance of the way international talent has changed the NBA -- I hope I dont need to give examples of the influx of European players in last 5 or 10 yrs.

Moreover, in US, basketball has become more popular than it was in 1960. Now, in TV/Sportscenter age, bball is the #1 sport kids play growing up -- as baseball is impractical and ditto for football, which is also dangerous. Wasnt quite teh same in 1960.

bottom line: with foreign talent & so many more kids playing bball growing up, there is no way a team will ever win 11 of 13 the way Russell's celts did -- that will NEVER happen again, and we know that is because the league is infinitely more deep, and because it is FAR harder to win a title in a 30 team league than in a 12 team league. end of debate

if you think that any team will ever win 11 of 13 again, then you're analysis is worse than Smush Parker's worst game

if you want to hate on Shaq, then re-cycle the argument about his toe surgery for the 453rd time.

but at least show an iota of respect for readers. historical comparisons based on # of championships are laughable -- and I'm hoping that you understand that, without further explanation

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 5:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

This issue is not as cut and dried as you suggest. I am neither ignorant of nor denying the influx of talented European (and South American, African and Asian) players into the NBA in the past decade or so. That is only one part of the equation, though. For most of Bill Russell's career there were only eight or nine NBA teams (and rosters consisted of 10 players back then, not the 12 active and three inactive players that comprise today's NBA rosters). The very best 80-90 basketball players in the world were in the NBA. Other leagues that existed at that time in this country or elsewhere were far inferior (except for the ABA, which got going just as Russell's career was ending). In order to determine whether or not the NBA is watered down now compared to back then you have to determine if the talent pool has grown enough to fill all of the newly available roster spots. The NBA now consists of 30 15-man teams, which means that it is more than five times larger than it was when Russell's career began. Has the number of talented players increased five fold since Russell's era? As I said in my original comment, one could make a case for both sides of this argument. There is no question that the talent is more ethnically diverse--more nationalities are represented in the NBA than ever before but do the lower echelon teams have more talent than lower echelon teams in previous eras did? Here is another way to look at this. Both the 1972 Lakers and the 1996 Bulls set records for single season wins shortly after the NBA expanded; expansion not only adds beatable teams to the schedule but also obviously dilutes the rosters of the other teams around the league.

For nearly two decades after Russell's last championship no NBA team won even two titles in a row, leading some people to think that it was not possible to put together a dynasty because of free agency, complacency and other factors. Then the Lakers and Pistons repeated, the Bulls had two "three-peats" and the Lakers had a "three-peat" that could have been a "four-peat" if Shaq had not decided that enjoying his summer vacation was more important than winning championships. We heard the same talk that there would never be another dynasty in the NFL--then the Patriots won three Super Bowls. Obviously, the odds are against a team winning 11 titles in 13 years but that does not mean that it was so easy to do so in the 1960s or that the NBA is necessarily more competitive now. Yes, there are more rounds to the playoffs, so in that sense it is more difficult but what we usually see with the truly great teams is that they cruise through those first two rounds anyway (I know that there have been exceptions but also please note that I said "truly great teams," which does not necessarily apply to every team that wins the title).

Getting back to the Lakers' derailed four-peat, I will never understand why it is supposedly very significant exactly how many shots Kobe took in a game seven in which his team was a heavy underdog and was getting blown out severely or why it is supposedly very significant how many players allegedly like him or don't like him but that it is supposedly inconsequential when a three-time Finals MVP who is the acknowledged team leader--and whose work ethic thereby sets the tone for everyone else--declares that he will get well on company time and then, for good measure, when he returns out of shape he whines that he is not getting the ball enough and declares that he won't play defense if he does not get to score. Kobe going on four radio shows in one day in the offseason is a big deal, but Shaq derailing a team in the middle of a dynasty is meaningless? Why exactly is that? Because the rest of the media slants the story that way? Sorry. I won't go for that.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


your shaq hate is mind boggling fo real shaq played in 2 of the next 3 finals it was goimng to be didfficult for the lakers to win 4 stragiht anyway. you act like it was a shoe in 2002-2003 and how is duncan better than shaq if everything is predicated on what shaq does. bottom line if duncan better it shouldnt matter if shaq come in shape or not. when shaq came back in shape the next 3 years he won a ring confernece finals and got another finals. i thought spurs were better than lakers that year because lakers role players were not as good at that point, thats why they got payton and malone the next year. shaq didnt derail the dynasty that was buss and kobe buss didnt want to pay him kobe didnt want to play with him anymore. and kobe is the leader on the lakers in game 7 of the 2006 playoffs and he doesnt take a shot for 7 minutes and gives no effort to come back thats okay. but shaq comes out of shape one summer and you discount his career. they like shaq in the press myself included they dont fault shaq for nuthing. you like kobe you dont fault kobe for nuthing it's the same thing david.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 6:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

What does Shaq playing in the 2004 and 2006 Finals have to do with him sabotaging the 2003 season? If anything, that suggests that had he been more dedicated that the Lakers would have won in 2003.

You still misunderstand my point about Shaq and Duncan. I'm not talking about who was "better" at his peak. I am talking about whose career resume will be more impressive when all is said and done. Great players are judged largely based on winning championships. Duncan and Shaq each have four. Duncan may add one or two more, while Shaq is likely done winning titles. When MJ was winning scoring titles most people still felt that Bird and Magic were greater players. Rightly or wrongly, when MJ reached six titles, passing Magic's five and blowing by Bird's three, he was widely perceived to be the greater player. Maybe that is not entirely fair to Bird and Magic but that is MJ's legacy. That is why people like you say that MJ is the greatest player ever. The post MJ era was dominated by Shaq at first but Duncan has now equaled him and has a good chance of passing him.

Why are you so fascinated by how many shots Kobe took in the fourth quarter of a game that his team trailed by 25 points? What does that prove? Yet you call Shaq the "number one" guy on the Lakers and see no significance to him delaying his surgery, coming back out of shape and declaring that he won't play defense if he does not get enough shots. The 2006 Lakers were going to lose that game seven no matter what Kobe did; when he scored a lot in the first half they were still down 15 and when the Lakers tried to revive the "inside man" strategy they fell behind even more. Meanwhile, in the third quarter of another game seven that year, LeBron stopped shooting in a close game. Neither guy quit, obviously, but you are so biased against Kobe that you will try anything to allegedly discredit him. Did you actually watch both of these games?

I have not "discounted" Shaq's career. How is saying that he and Duncan are the two dominant players of the post-MJ era "discounting" Shaq's career?

Read all of my analyses of players, games and teams and you will see that I apply the same standards to everyone.

At Sunday, October 28, 2007 2:22:00 AM, Blogger element313 said...

more on Russell (one of the greatest -- if not THE GREATEST in NBA history) winning 11 of 13...

back then, they had white quotas -- to please the (mostly white) fans, they would have certain slots for white players on each team. so that even further diluted the talent pool

8 or 9 teams in the league means that if it were random, you'd have greater than 10% chance at a title. if you're great, then the odds go up that much

expansion means that if it were random, you only have 3% chance. a great teams chances go up only so much

free agency means more player movement -- breaking up great teams

and the league is JUST AS DEEP now as it was then because of (1) international players, (2) more Americans playing bball when young, and (3) no more white quotas

bottom line is that MJ's six titles were amazing, Duncan's 4 ditto. but no one ever gets 11 of 13 again -- too many great players and too many teams now. COMBINED, Magic Bird & Isaih won 10!

so it is clearly much harder to win titles now, with three times as many teams, and just as much depth

the diluted argument is BS (as for baseball home runs, that is different issue: dilution would also apply to batters, so that a great pitcher would have a lower ERA... so how come the ERA records werent set in late 90s? answer: HR records are product largely of steroids, juiced ball, smaller parks, and other trends. AND EVEN if baseball pitching is diluted, that does not mean that NBA talent is...)

much harder to win titles now, so dont blame shaq for only 4... judge him by something else (and pls enough about the toe -- that was one year & you've made your point & then beat the dead horse enough that we all get it)

shaq has some flaws -- as does every player -- but he is a great player, and there is no need to harp on his flaws as much as you do

At Sunday, October 28, 2007 3:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Like I said in my original reply to you, I believe that a good case can be made for both sides in this discussion.

When you cite the statistical odds of winning in an 8 team league versus a 30 team one you are assuming that all teams are created equally, so to speak. The reality is that each year only perhaps a half dozen teams have a realistic chance to win the championship. Once you get to the playoffs, you don't have to beat 30 teams; you have to beat four and if you have a high seed then the first two teams that you face might not pose much of a problem.

You may be right that no one gets 11 of 13 again but I don't understand why you interpret that to mean that there was less talent in the NBA back then. Maybe the Celtics were just really, really good.

I think that most baseball experts would agree that it is more difficult to fill out a pitching staff than to find good sluggers. If I am not mistaken, offense has tended to go up after each expansion in MLB. Also, there is some recent research that indicates that steroids and other PEDs help hitters much more than they help pitchers. I don't want to get too far afield, so to speak, with baseball stuff; my point is just that in most sports expansion has been viewed as a harbinger of dilution of talent, not an indication that more talent exists now. Leagues expand to generate more revenue, not because there is a belief that more talent exists.

I agree that Shaq is a great player. I have never suggested otherwise. I lost some respect for him after the 2002-03 situation and I lost some respect for the members of the media who did not (and in some cases still don't) tell the story of the Lakers honestly. I find it ironic that Shaq talks of his legacy now when he is in much less position to shape it then he was four-five years ago when he was in his prime.

At Sunday, October 28, 2007 3:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Let's look at the 1962-63 season, which took place smack in the middle of Russell's career. There were nine teams in the NBA then and the season consisted of 80 games. Teams played other teams from their division more frequently than they played teams from the other division, so teams faced each other team between 8-12 times.

The Celtics faced the Elgin Baylor-Jerry West Lakers nine times. They played the Bob Pettit-Cliff Hagan-Lenny Wilkens Hawks eight times. They faced the Oscar Robertson-Jack Twyman-Wayne Embry Royals 12 times. The worst team in the West, the Chicago Zephyrs, had Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy, plus Terry Dischinger and Sihugo Green; Boston played them 10 times. The worst team in the league, the Knicks, still had Richie Guerin, Gene Shue, Johnny Green and Tom Gola. Boston played them 12 times. Boston faced Wilt Chamberlain's S.F. Warriors nine times. The Warriors went 31-49 that year with Wilt, Guy Rodgers, Tom Meschery and Al Attles.

If you look at the rosters of the 1963 NBA teams, every squad had at least one future Hall of Famer--and, except for the Knicks' Tom Gola, those HoFers made the Hall primarily on the basis of their NBA careers. Do you believe that all or even most current NBA teams contain at least one future HoFer on their roster? In the 1960s, future HoFers like Havlicek and Cunningham came off of the bench. That was even true in the 1980s with guys like McHale and McAdoo. How many future HoFers are coming off of the bench now in the NBA? Maybe Manu, because the Hall will consider his international career in addition to his NBA career.

At Sunday, October 28, 2007 11:17:00 AM, Blogger element313 said...

i dont know about '62-63 season, but there were some great teams last season based on personnel:

Wade/Shaq heat
big 4 pistons
spurs, obviously
warriors (B Davis, S Davis, coach nelson)
Lakers (Hall of Famers Kobe, Phil; some day Bynum will be all-star)

even if those last 2 are dubious, still there are 8 teams there alone

most importantly, they kept the great celts together b/c less free agency = less player movement

last time i recall, havilceck & cous & bill did not have opt-out clauses combined with no trade clauses on $24 m contracts that they were using to demand trades ... but enough about your favorite current player

shaq demanded trade from LAL b/c he had 1 yr left on contract -- and they had to deal him or else lose him to free agency in a year (sound familiar for LAL? ... except 2 yrs left now...)

if those celts existed now, egos , $, and contracts would break them up long before 11 titles

look how MJ had to plead w/ownership not to break up bulls before 97-98 season ... and that was only title # 6 for them...

much harder to build a big dynasty now

also more rounds to playoffs = more short series, where luck/matchups can allow a lesser team to win (e.g., Golden St over Dallas last yr)

At Sunday, October 28, 2007 2:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Shaq is a lock for HoF and Wade is likely on course as well. The Pistons have multiple All-Stars but I'm not sure if any of them are HoFers. Dirk and Nash will be HoFers and Amare has a shot at becoming one. Kidd and TDunc are obviously HoFers. It's way to early to say for Boozer and DWill. Baron is not a HoFer, Don Nelson should be one. How did S Jax' name get into this discussion? Bynum does have talent and he could become an All-Star if he continues to work hard. I'd take GS off of your list--no HoFers there--but even granting you the other eight teams that still leaves 22 other teams. In 1963, every team had at least one future HoFer. There was a lot of talent concentrated on a few teams. There are a lot of talented players today, too, but there are more teams, so the talent is spread out (diluted). I'm not saying that today's players are less talented than yesterday's; I'm only talking about the relative distribution of the available talent in a given era.

You are right that less player movement favored the Russell Celtics over modern teams. They also benefited from some shrewd moves by Auerbach (starting with acquiring Russell and including the additions of various veterans who seemed to be near the end of the road but managed to play one or two more decent years).

Kobe is the only player who has such a complete no-trade clause, so in a strange way he is one of the most powerful people in the NBA at the moment. Other players can influence trades based on their willingness to sign an extension with their new team--KG had that power and initially vetoed a move to Boston until they signed Ray Allen--but Kobe is the only player who can flat out reject a trade. Of course, the Lakers had to agree to give him that power in the first place.

I agree that more rounds of the playoffs does mean that there is a greater chance that "accidents"--a fluke shot, a sprained ankle, etc.--might happen. Overall, that and the player movement issue are the two best arguments for saying that it is tougher to build a dynasty now.

As I've said all along, I think that a case can be made for both sides here. My take is that winning 11 out of 13 is highly unlikely in any era. Boston had some bounces go their way during those years (Havlicek's steal, Nelson's shot bouncing in, Frank Selvy missing a short shot in 1962 that would have won the Finals for the Lakers toward the end of regulation time in game seven).

To bring the whole thing full circle, if your point is to say that Duncan and Shaq's four titles each in this era are roughly equivalent to Russell's 11 then I disagree. If MJ would have played in '94 and all of '95 and the Bulls would have won eight straight--not a given, for sure--then that could be said to be roughly equivalent. In fact, that would have matched Russell's best streak of eight in a row. As things stand now, it is hard to argue with the oft stated claim that Russell is the greatest winner in the history of North American team sports--two NCAA titles, an Olympic gold medal, 11 NBA championships. I think that it would be fascinating to see him match up with Duncan and Shaq. Someone once asked Russell how well he would do against a (then young) Kareem and Russell's answer was, "Young man, you have the question backwards."

At Sunday, October 28, 2007 11:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


bill russell was hell of a player no doubt but he was not very good offensively dominated defensively really and rebounds where wilt and jordan played both ends very dominant. the 11 championships in 13 years impressive very really but alot of the teams they beat werent very good and it was a 8 team league with only 2 rounds. the bulls 6-8 years they beat 7 60 win teams in free agency and expansion. also the 3 best teams of all time 72 lakers 96 bulls 67 sixers. the celtics won 60 games once let along beat a sixty win team. its out of jordan and wilt reaaly becasue they were dominant on both ends oscar robertson no bird no magic no kareem no jery west no they were super great offensively and just good or below average defenders. and jordan TROUNCED EVERYBODY in the playoofs averaging 33.5 ppg the 6 rings and finals mvp where wilt only had 2 and averaged 22.5 ppg in the playoffs wilt to me was better individually but i give jordan the edge because the playoffs is the most important games.

shaq was wrong coming on company time with the big toe surgery delay in 03. even in shape i dont think the lakers 4 peat because they role players had went there course they beat the spurs the next year with a healthy shaq and malone and payton played very well and a little bit better than the role players the year before and remeber they were one robert horry shot away from winning the ring that year and the next year fisher hit that shot so in reality shaq comeing in shape might not of meant much anyway.

kobe to me has to play harder in a game 7 than not takieng a shot for 7 minutes the situatuion is over now i dont want to beat a dead horse but he could of in my opion gave more effort than he did.

At Monday, October 29, 2007 7:37:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Russell was not a big time scorer but he often ranked among the league leaders in assists. Also his defensive rebounding, outlet passes and ability to fill a lane on the fast break all helped fuel Boston's fast break offense.

Lakers teams with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West were not very good? Guess again. Russell also faced Hawks teams that had Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan and other talented players. The season did not even consist of 82 games back then, so you cannot compare raw regular season wins totals from then to now.

West was below average defensively? You've lost your mind. He was one of the best defensive guards ever. Kareem was a dominant shot blocker (and defensive rebounder).

With a healthy Shaq the 2003 Lakers have less dissension and win enough games to get home court advantage.

Please explain what Kobe should have done in the fourth quarter with his team down 25-30 points. I've already explained that despite his high scoring on good shooting the Lakers were down 15 at halftime. In the third quarter the Lakers tried the "inside man" strategy and fell further behind. Nothing was working because no one else on the squad showed up with any type of game. I'm sure you'd have a lot of love for Kobe's performance if he had gone out and gotten 50 in a loss. Speaking of which, how come you don't say anything about his 50 point performance in game six? The Lakers win that game if they get one more defensive rebound.

At Monday, October 29, 2007 7:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Also, it should be noted that Russell won all but one of his head to head playoff matchups with Wilt. That does not prove that Russell was better than Wilt but it is strange for you to say Wilt was the greatest ever (or second to MJ) and then assert that Russell never faced any competition in the playoffs when he in fact beat Wilt several times.

At Monday, October 29, 2007 11:22:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I don't see how anyone can question the greatness of Russell's Celtics. They beat many great teams on their way to titles, such as Wilt's 76ers the Baylor-West Lakers, Pettit's Hawks, and even the famous Reed/Frazier/Holzman Knicks in 1969. Even if they played fewer playoff rounds, they probably faced about the same number of legitimate contenders every year as any champion in recent years has.

I've never really bought the idea of Russell's titles somehow proving he was the best ever. It's tough when you look at players as complete as Jordan, Robertson, Chamberlain and Jabbar and then look at Russell's very mediocre offensive game in the pivot. The fact that the Celtics kept winning really made Russell immune to such criticism. During parts of his career where Chamberlain tried to play more "like Russell", he would still be criticized for things Russell would never have been criticized for (like not shooting or scoring enough). A good example is Game 7 in the 1968 ECF. Wilt takes two shots in the second half, and he supposedly quit or was trying to prove a point. If Russell took just two shots, no one would have cared. While Chamberlain was criticized for not being like Russell, no one would let him be like Russell either. He was always held to higher standards.

I also think Russell's reputation has benefited from an over-simplification of history. The Celtics won so many rings and everyone likes to credit one player for the rings ("Jordan won 6 titles", "the Jazz never beat Jordan", etc.). Russell, being the backbone of the team, has ended up being the one guy who "won the rings." This point of view ignores the fact that guys like Sam Jones and John Havlicek had to have huge offensive games and routinely come up with clutch baskets in order for the Celtics to win year after year. Many times the Celtics would go down to the wire against a team like the Lakers or 76ers or Warriors and would prevail on plays that didn't involve Russell at all, but the win would go down as being due to Russell's "will to win."

While not the absolute greatest, IMO, Russell was still without question one of the greatest players ever. I don't think he would have won 11 of 13 on any other team, but I do think if he had decent teammates, his team would be a contender. I think he mastered all of the little things to compensate for his shortcomings. He'd find a way to get his points on the break or on offensive rebounds, and he was a good passer. I also think his ability to act as player/coach shouldn't be overlooked.


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