All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Boo Hoo

Posted by hiphopmama on August 24, 2009

lpool-villa
Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa
0-1 Lucas (og), 34′
0-2 Davies, 45′
1-2 Torres, 72′
1-3 Young (pen), 75′

I don’t have time to write much, but I had to get a word in on this one. This makes two heartily satisfying failures for disliked opponents in the opening weeks of the season. Not much can compete with Manchester United’s stumble against Burnley, but at least they were on the road. Liverpool, on the other hand, were playing at home, where they didn’t lose a single game last season, and they couldn’t get the job done. In their defense, they were playing a staunch Aston Villa side that was typically well prepared by coach Martin O’Neill, and they were rather unlucky not to have gone ahead inside of ten minutes. All that aside, though, the game was theirs to take by the neck in the early going and they failed to do so, allowing O’Neill’s men to sneak in and steal it away from them.

Both teams had been under fire after disappointing starts to the season, and I think many expected Liverpool to fully bounce back in this one after romping all over Stoke City last week. And they had their chances to grab the lead right away, but a surprising lack of composure in the box left them goalless after three quick attempts. They still looked threatening for a long while after that, until an Ashley Young cross ricocheted off Lucas Leiva and past Reina into the back of the Liverpool net. Then, with the allotted minute of extra time already expired, Villa scored on a corner (which was disputed as well in its awarding as well) courtesy of Curtis Davies’ skyward scalp. Benitez was furious that time hadn’t already been called, but them’s the breaks and Liverpool defended it poorly.

The Merseysiders took a while to warm up in the second half, but when they did, they brought the pressure on full tilt and finally (and inevitably) scored on a volley by Torres into the top of the net. With their domination of the ball in the Villa half of the pitch, it seemed only a matter of time before they tied the game up. But Villa held firm, stepping in at all the right moments to knock balls away and alleviate the pressure, and the pushed Liverpool on the counterattack when they could. Only three minutes after Torres got them back in the game, Gerrard made a silly challenge on Nigel Reo-Coker, who probably wouldn’t have gotten to the ball anyway, and set up the penalty that sealed the game. Ashley Young calmly put it past Reina, and Liverpool visibly deflated. That was the most surprising part – watching the feisty Liverpool team seemingly concede defeat with so much time left on the clock and a recent history of miraculous comebacks to draw on. It was like they didn’t have the confidence to keep going or the belief to push for the difference-making goal. It doesn’t all come down to this, but I still think Xabi Alonso is going to be too big of a miss for them this season and will prevent them from achieving the same heights they did last year, when they still finished second. They may still make it to the silver medal spot, but it will be on many fewer points and to much greater disappointment from fans who expected this year to be an improvement on the last. My thoughts? Oh well. =)

p.s. Props to Brad Friedel for an excellent game between the pipes. He continues to amaze.

p.p.s. And also to ESPN for the good broadcast. It was the first I’ve gotten to watch of their Premier League coverage, and I was pleasantly surprised.

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Two Games, Ten Goals, Six Points

Posted by hiphopmama on August 23, 2009

arsenal-portsmouth

Arsenal 4-1 Portsmouth
1-0 Diaby, 18′
2-0 Diaby, 21′
2-1 Kaboul, 37′
3-1 Gallas, 51′
4-1 Ramsey, 68′

That’s a pretty good return on the first two matches of the season, no? Arsene shuffled the line-up a bit, but the result was essentially the same. Sagna and Clichy were replaced by Eboue and Gibbs at left and right back, respectively, and Abou Diaby started in place of Alex Song in the midfield. Eduardo also joined the front line instead of Nicklas Bendtner, who did see a few minutes as a sub. The formation wasn’t as clear a 4-3-3 as it was in the previous games, seeming to slip into more of the 4-4-2 we’re used to seeing, but the movement always looked good and everything was fluid so it doesn’t really matter.

Diaby played somewhat of a rangy role, popping up here and there and making himself very dangerous for the Portsmouth defense. He scored back-to-back goals in the span of a few minutes to put Arsenal 2-0 up, the first on a beautiful move by Eduardo to get past his defender before playing the square ball back to Diaby. Fabregas and Eboue provided the set-up for his second coming down the right flank instead of the left this time. Kaboul’s header pulled Portsmouth within a goal, and Pompey made it a rather nervy affair for a while, raising old questions about Arsenal’s back line. Luckily, Gallas showed up for another goal off a fortuitous bounce to restore the two-goal advantage. An Arshavin free kick pinballed its way around the box before banging off Gallas not once, but twice, and heading for the back of the net. Second-half substitute Aaron Ramsey got in on the action as well, getting in behind the Portsmouth defense and poking one past David James for the Gunners’ fourth.

This was a slightly more unsettling match than the scoreline indicates, at least in parts. After Portsmouth got their goal, Arsenal looked like they might crack and allow Pompey to even the match. Fortunately, they played just tight enough to keep out another goal and then allowed their lovely possession football to salt away the match. I was a tad concerned when Fabregas didn’t start the second half, presumably because of a lingering hamstring issue and also perhaps in preparation for the midweek game against Celtic. It was nothing to worry about in this game, because Ramsey filled in nicely, not only with the goal but also in creative link-up play through the midfield. He’s nowhere near the level of his captain, but at 18 he has plenty of time to work up to that high standard. And what can you say about Gallas? Three goals in three games for the center back? ‘Tis better to be lucky than good, I suppose, although Gallas has looked both this season: good at the back, and lucky in front of goal. I’ll take the combination any day.

One of the more refreshing aspects of this win was the continued high quality of play with the different line-up. There weren’t any wholesale changes, but with four new players in the starting 11 I wondered whether or not the free-flowing chemistry would be the same. It was, and the goals came just as easily. I still have some concerns about the occasional shakiness of the defense, but as long as they can keep the goals pouring in, the possession game should help in that respect. Arshavin is right, though, that squad depth will be important if Arsenal want to contend for the title. Because as amazing as they’ve looked so far – easily as good or better than any other team in the Prem – their continued success comes with a big “if” pertaining to their ability to remain healthy. The season is long and arduous, so it’s not really a question of “if” as “when” the injuries will come. How the team deals with them will determine its fate, and at the moment there isn’t exactly a wealth of riches on the bench, especially backing up the defensive portion of the pitch. But with just a week left till the transfer window closes and the team rolling, I don’t foresee any new additions to the squad. So fingers crossed all around that this group can stay healthy and continue to get the job done.

Of course, as I write this, I’m reading about Fabregas’ hamstring injury possibly keeping him out for the next three weeks, effectively ruling him out for the Manchester United match next weekend. I’m not even going to comment. Just get well, Cesc.

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Random Week 1 Predictions

Posted by hiphopmama on August 19, 2009

In a very limited number of matches, there have already been quite a few surprises and the question now becomes whether or not particular teams are as good/bad as they looked in their earliest outings. These are my gut feelings as to which teams are pretenders and contenders at this most preliminary of stages.

  • Manchester United are finally going to fall off their championship pace, but not by as much as many think (or as I would like). I know they’ve looked pretty mediocre in their first two matches, but they are a historically slow-starting team and Sir Alex is a strong enough coach that I’m sure they will eventually settle in and start rolling off games. If nothing else, Rooney will at some point hit a groove and score something like 30 goals in 4 matches to earn them a few points. Will it be enough to keep them at the top of the table? No, but they’ll do better than they should based purely on quality of management.
  • Manchester City will both exceed and fall short of people’s expectations. Now a lot of this depends on whose expectations we’re talking about, but the point is true nonetheless. They will exceed expectations because haters and hypocritically bitter opponents (see Chelsea fans’ “money isn’t everything” banter) are already writing them off as impostors masquerading as the real deal and are predicting middling returns on their investments. While I believe their weaknesses at the back will eventually be their undoing – and while I would love to see them flounder in general – I find it hard to believe that the assembled group of superstars won’t at least mildly improve their fortunes over last year, when they finished 10th. That said, I don’t see them making any drastic jumps in the table, and they will probably be lucky to qualify for a European spot at all. Having splashed out close to £100 million in the summer transfer market, mere qualification will inevitably not satisfy the owners and some supporters, who will have their own ideas about how the money might have been better spent. If a top four spot is in their future, it’s a long-term plan at this point.
  • Last season’s upstarts will be under pressure even if they produce similar results. I expect both Martin O’Neill and David Moyes to be on the hot seat at some point this year, mostly because they got their teams to perform so admirably last year. Everton and Aston Villa secured their positions as the best non-Big Four teams in 2008-’09, but this will be more of a curse than a gift in ’09-’10 as both will be expected to improve upon last year’s performances despite the improbability of this task. Fair? No, not particularly, but I see it on the horizon nonetheless.
  • Tottenham will be all up in the mix. No one doubts that Harry Redknapp produced magic when he took over for Spurs last season, but I fully expect him to continue the upward movement at the club and get the most out of a typically underperforming yet talented squad. Bringing both Robbie Keane and Jermaine Defoe back into the fold will bolster the team, as will the addition (again) of Peter Crouch. They’re currently sitting at the top of the Premiership table, and while that certainly won’t lost, don’t be surprised to see them hovering around the danger zone till late in the season.
  • Arsenal will surprise people with the consistency of their challenge. Yes they’re still young and still a bit iffy at the back, but they are no joke and this year Wenger’s faith in his youngsters will finally start to pay off. In just two games, we’ve already seen improvement from players like Denilson and Song, neither of whom was dubbed as having much potential to rejuvenate the squad last season. Now, with another season under their belts and that much more savvy to draw on – not  to mention with a healthy Fabregas and Arshavin for the full season – they will take their game to the next level. Look for them to be challenging for the title till the bitter end.
  • Chelsea are indeed that good and will likely win it all this year. They finished not far off the pace last season, and that was after a horrendous run under Luiz Felipe Scolari. Now, with a squad almost entirely carried over from last year’s, further time to gel, and (hopefully) some consistency in coaching, they are poised to reclaim the title and bring it back to London. Liverpool only just missed a chance to win the Premiership last season and would have been the obvious choice to hoist it this year had they not last their midfield maestro Xabi Alonso. Without him pulling the strings in the center of the park and making things go, I just don’t see them mounting the same kind of challenge. Chelsea, on the other hand, have essentially the same team they had last season with the potentially key addition of Yuri Zhirkov to bolster an already strong left side that includes Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda, and Joe Cole. Couple that with arguably the strongest central defensive pairing in the league in John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, as well as a playmaker with metronomic consistency in Frank Lampard and you have the recipe for a Premiership champion. I’m an Arsenal fan at heart, but I believe they’re a year and a defender away from true contention, so a Chelsea title would be the next best thing. Say it with me now: Anybody But United.

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Better All The Time

Posted by hiphopmama on August 19, 2009

jensen save

Burnley 1-0 Manchester United
1-0 Blake, 19′

This one was sweet. I’ve been waiting upward of three years for someone other than Manchester United to hoist the Premier League trophy, and it seems this may finally be my year. He would never admit it, but Sir Alex appears to have thrown in the towel on the season already, accepting the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez with little more than a whimper of protest and little done to remedy the squad depletion it caused. Michael Owen? Okay, that’s cute and all, but no one, least of all Sir Alex, expects him to fill the boots of CR7 or Tevez. And with the team’s cadre of veterans racking up another year on those old bodies, you have to wonder how players like Giggs, Scholes, and Neville will hold up over a long, grueling season without a player like Ronaldo to lean on during dry spells.

All these weaknesses and more were on display in their match against Premier League newcomers Burnley, whose hometown population apparently would fit inside of Old Trafford in its entirety, according to the game announcers. That is a nice bit of perspective for the upset they pulled off, as is the fact that they hadn’t won a game in top-flight football in 33 years. Robbie Blake’s lovely volley gave Burnley the only lead they would need inside of 20 minutes, but goalkeeper Brian Jensen had just as crucial a role to play in the victory. His stop on Michael Carrick’s penalty just before halftime buoyed the team and gave them the will to hold on by their fingernails to the slim margin and keep ManU off the scoresheet. He made a few more key saves, and his defense scurried around just enough to put United off their rhythm, so that even the substitution of Berbatov and Valencia did nothing to change the outcome.

While it’s not quite as satisfying watching ManU (potentially) fall off their perch with such a weakened squad, you won’t hear any complaints – or sympathy – from me. If either of my London teams can step in to fill the void, I will be doubly happy, but even if the title goes elsewhere I will still be grateful to Florentino Perez and Kia Joorabchian for helping break up the dynastic unit and let in some sunshine at the top.

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Gunners Win In Glasgow

Posted by hiphopmama on August 18, 2009

arsenal-celtic

Celtic 0-2 Arsenal
0-1 Gallas, 43′
0-2 Caldwell (0g), 71′

Two games, two wins. Top of the Prem table, in line for Champions League qualification. Yeah it’s early, and neither has much predictive value at this point, but I’ll take what I can get.

While both games witnessed some traditional Arsenal football, they both also featured some atypical goals, and this was especially true today against Celtic. Arsenal are certainly renowned for the flair with which they play and the manner in which they move the ball around the field, but grinding out victories has never been their strong suit. Yet in one of the most hostile environments in Europe, the Gunners walked out with a comfortable win and two crucial away goals in their pocket. And they did it in a rather fortuitous manner, scoring two goals on two deflections. The first came off a Fabregas free kick, which accidentally ricocheted off the back of William Gallas and past the outstretched arms of the keeper. The second resulted from a nice build-up by substitute Diaby and Gael Clichy, whose cross was deflected into the net by Celtic defender Gary Caldwell.

To be fair, Arsenal deserved the two-goal margin they got, dominating possession throughout and creating a multitude of chances besides the two that went in. Celtic did have a few nice opportunities, but they were mostly isolated incidents and the Arsenal defense always looked capable of handling the threat. Gallas, who looked to be on his way out around this time last year, has regained his form remarkably and looks to be a team stalwart at this point. He was partnered well by Vermaelen, who seems to be settling in as nicely as could have been hoped for. Sagna, Fabregas, and Denilson all played despite questionable injury status, and their inclusion surely helped stabilize the line-up by providing consistency from one game to the next. Bendtner was slightly anonymous for most of the night, but the rest of the front line covered the gaps, especially Arshavin in his roaming, creative role. And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Alex Song, whose steadiness in the holding midfield role laid the foundation for the team’s forward movement by helping secure the back line. He caught a lot of flack last season from fans, myself included, who felt the team lacked both experience and steel in the center of midfield, but he has really stepped up to the plate this season and proved us all wrong. In my own defense, the team was in need of a wily veteran in the middle of the park last year, and could probably still do with another player in that area, but Song is developing right on pace and fulfilling that role better than I could have imagined. Kudos to him, and may he keep it up all this season and the next.

With the 2-0 victory and two away goals, Arsenal have set themselves up for a relatively straightforward home leg of this tie and are clear favorites to advance. With the extra money that a Champions League spot will ensure, I have some hopes, however mild, that these funds may be reinvested in the squad. With Arsene Wenger, though, and given the stellar start to the season he has enjoyed, I don’t put much stock in them. There’s still a little time left before the transfer window closes, and even just one addition could be key in the team’s push for silverware this year. With both Liverpool and ManU having lost important players, the time could be ripe for Arsenal to sneak in and steal one. Fingers crossed on my end.

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Happy Birthday To Me

Posted by hiphopmama on August 15, 2009

arsenal-evertonEverton 1-6 Arsenal
0-1 Denilson, 26′
0-2 Vermaelen, 37′
0-3 Gallas, 41′
0-4 Fabregas, 48′
0-5 Fabregas, 70′
0-6 Eduardo, 89′
1-6 Saha, 90′

So yeah, it’s not really my birthday, not even close, actually. But it’s as good as, with the Premier League starting back up today and finally bringing to an end the mortifying period when European soccer, basketball, and American football are all in their off-seasons. Aside from the occasional MLS broadcast, only baseball is still in action, which is a non-entity in my book anyway, even with the Dodgers leading their division. Praise be unto the lord almighty that they don’t much believe in the concept of “rest” for their footballers in Europe, because their abbreviated off-season has mercifully sprung me from the depths of sporting boredom.

The new season was perfectly inaugurated by my Gunners, who put a hurting on Everton in their season opener. Aside perhaps from Liverpool-Tottenham, Arsenal easily had the toughest fixture of the Big Four sides in their trip to Goodison Park. Plenty had been made of the “losses” of Adebayor and Toure, as well as the limited acquisitions the team made in the transfer market, plus all the usual guff about the team’s (excessive) youth and lack of killer instinct. Yet while Chelsea needed all of extra time to pull out a victory against Hull City, Arsenal made quick and easy work of David Moyes’ side, netting three goals per half, including a brace from captain Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard helped set up the first goal as well, laying it off nicely for Denilson to send one wailing goalward from just outside the box. Newcomer Thomas Vermaelen headed home the second off a Robin Van Persie free kick, and Gallas scored on another header shortly thereafter. Fabregas got his first on a classic Arsenal counterattack to start the second half, tucking it under Everton keeper Tim Howard, then knocked in his second on a quick strike from distance. Eduardo put the capper on it in the dying minutes, slotting home the rebound off a shot Arshavin never should have been allowed to get off. Saha did eventually get Everton their consolation goal in extra time, but it did little to dampen the euphoria of the 6-1 thrashing.

It was all done in typical Arsenal fashion, too, making it that much sweeter to watch this group of youngsters pull off what Wenger always believed they could. The question now will be whether or not they can replicate this kind of performance, but for now I’m not going to let pragmatism cloud this victory. I was a bit surprised to see them come out in the formation they did. The 4-3-3 itself wasn’t really a shock, but Bendtner playing out wide with Arshavin in the center of the front line was not what I expected to see. Wenger clearly knows more than me, though, if you didn’t already know that, because Bendtner played beautifully on the wing and Arshavin gliding around in the middle. The Dane used his size to control the ball well and used his skill to set up his teammates in and around the box. It was his good work on the flank that helped pave the way for Denilson’s opening goal. So while unexpected, his performance out wide was excellent, and Arshavin can obviously play anywhere on the field he likes. With Eduardo still working his way back to full fitness and Rosicky’s potential return on the horizon (I can dream, right?), Arsenal’s prospects for the season are exciting if they can hold their mettle in the middle of the park. Let’s all pray Alexandre Song keeps eating his Wheaties and the center-backs stay fit, so we can ignore the team’s thinness at those spots and revel in the creative potential of the squad. Today, at least, we look like we can win it all.

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All the Marbles

Posted by hiphopmama on June 15, 2009

Four

Four

LA Lakers 99, Orlando 86
Lakers win series 4-1

We did it. We won it all and avenged our humiliating loss last year to the Celtics. And I’m a day late. Dammit. By way of explanation (to my two devoted readers – yes, both of you), my father-in-law developed some bizarre sickness that we were unable to explain for some time, which meant my husband had to spend a couple days helping him out almost non-stop, which in turn meant that I was on 24-hour duty with the daughter. Hence no time for writing. But best believe we watched the game. Halfway through the fourth quarter, she mysteriously disappeared into her room and came back out with her huge Lakers #1 finger and said, “Go Lakers!” Indoctrination works.

As for the game, there’s not much to say. It was over in the first half, after we responded to their early energy burst with a couple sustained runs and put them away going into the locker room. Yeah they fought hard, yadda yadda yadda, but their spirits were essentially broken in that crushing game four loss and one more comeback by us was all it took. Straw, meet camel. In the process of closing the door for good, we got key performances from just about everyone. Gasol exploited his ever-present size and quickness advantage in going for 14 and 15. Ariza dropped in a cool 15 and once again provided the spark in the second quarter spurt that put us ahead for good. Odom also contributed some big three’s during that run in pursuit of his own double-double (17 & 10), and Fish pitched in 13 of his own points to the effort.

And then there was Kobe. It was the perfect note to end on for him. He put up the complete all-around game: 30 points (10-of-23), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks. He got us off to a good start, worked his teammates in, then carried us just enough the rest of the way to get us to the finish line. The Finals MVP was a foregone conclusion, but he put the exclamation point on it with his game. The detractors are all officially haters at this point.

It’s hard to sum this season up in a single post this way, after all I’ve put into watching and analyzing every single game. I can only say for sure that this is the most I’ve ever gotten out of a single NBA season, and that was the best shot I’ve seen since Big Shot Rob. And if you’re a Laker fan, you already know what I’m talking about. In terms of sheer excitement, I don’t think anything can beat the second championship of the three-peat for me. It was my first year back in southern California and thus the first time I was able to watch every Laker game all season long. Plus, rubbing it into the flaming wounds of bitter Sacramento fans made it all the more rewarding. You could even argue that that Western Conference Finals launched two future legal careers, only one of the typical smug, asshole variety. But for as gripping a season and postseason as that was to watch, this year topped it in terms of heady, aware basketball and my own immersion in the Laker game. This was a team on a mission, fully aware of the stakes after getting buried by Boston last year, and they played accordingly. It was as good a fit between coach, superstar, and team as I’ve ever seen, with Kobe taking the reins as often as Phil on the court and finally growing into the natural leadership role we’ve been waiting for him to inhabit all these years. And all the role players – and let’s be honest, everyone other than Kobe is a role player – well, they filled the team out perfectly, like hand in glove. Pau was the legitimate second option we’ve needed and about as consistent as any other player in the league. His shooting percentages were always through the roof. Odom’s willingness to go along with the sixth-man scheme and continued ability to perform at a high level were a testament to his professionalism, something which has occasionally been in doubt over the years. Fisher was his typical composed self, steadying the team and playing more minutes than he should rightfully have been asked to. And Ariza developed into the energy guy and defensive specialist every championship contender needs. If we can resign Trevor and Lamar, and obviously keep Phil on board for another year or two, there’s nothing preventing us from snatching up a couple more of these things in the coming years.

So congrats to the boys, and thanks for the great year. I don’t know how I’ll survive for the next few months during this foreign period they call an “off-season.” I suppose I could watch baseball… No, definitely not. I’ll just be bored the natural way. Till October…

Recap:

Highlights:

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T-Minus One

Posted by hiphopmama on June 11, 2009

fishLA Lakers 99, Orlando 91
     Lakers lead 3-1

Out-fought. Out-coached. Out-played. I will erect a shrine to Derek Fisher, and to my sister too, for that matter, as she helped ensure a win by leaving the room for Fisher’s overtime three that put us up. Back when we were kids and I was a punk older sister, I would kick her out of the room when I got to a tough part in a video game because somehow she was “bad luck.” The sad thing was I always won when she left, so to this day we joke that she can help the team cause by taking a breather during key moments. She got home just in time to watch overtime, and I joked with her that she shouldn’t watch because we really needed this game, and she just happened to be in another room when Fish drilled it and gave us the lead we never gave up. So this win is for you, Danielle. May you always be in another room at the right moment.

What can you really say about a game like this? I’m still struggling to come to grips with it, and my team won. I can’t imagine how the Magic must be reeling after this kind of loss. Orlando had every opportunity to win this game, and they rolled out the red carpet for us to take it from them. They didn’t give it away – don’t let anyone tell you that – because we still had to hit the shots and make the stops to get the win. But it was their game to win and the let it slip away. Stan Van Gundy can dismiss the value of experience all he wants, but he was simply on the wrong side of it tonight. A Phil Jackson team wins the game in that situation nine times out of ten. Yes, we will occasionally lose games we should win, just like we should have capitalized on our chance to grab game 3, but it’s a rarity. Playing under Finals pressure is a whole different thing and I don’t think you can discount that, no matter how much Van Gundy wants to believe it’s just another game. Kenny Smith is right in pointing out how few rookies have ever led their team to a championship – it just doesn’t happen because there’s no equivalent for having been there before. Sorry, Stan, it’s just the truth.

It’s not an excuse, though, and he still should’ve had his guys fouling with 11 seconds left and a three-point lead. I’ll be honest – I texted my husband, “It’s slipping away” when Orlando had the ball with a 5-point lead and under a minute remaining. Then Kobe drops off a brilliant pass to Pau for a dunk and Howard misses two free throws to set up our out of bounds play. Phil elects to take it full court, we use Kobe as a decoy, and the ball goes to Fish, who pulls up and drains it from the wing. Jameer Nelson was there and eventually got a hand up, but he was playing way too far off, and Fisher did what he has done so often. He came through for his team and propelled us to overtime. 

Once we got to overtime, it was pretty much over. We had broken their backs in regulation, and there was no coming back from that. Orlando opened the scoring with a Rashard Lewis three-pointer, but they didn’t get another field goal. Kobe made back-to-back jumpers before Howard converted on one of two free throws to tie the game. We then came up with two huge offensive rebounds, Kobe drew the double (and dished an elbow) in the post and kicked it out to Fisher, who drilled ANOTHER three to give us the lead we never relinquished. Turkoglu fired up a quicker three than they really needed and we got a run-out dunk for Pau. Then another missed three by Turkoglu led to a Pau dunk plus foul, which turned out to be a flagrant on Pietrus for shoving him in the back and making no play on the ball. I was even happy to see him get into it with the Frenchman after the play, because he has had a tendency to not get as fired up as I would like or as the team would need. None of that tonight in a crucial win.

Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza would be our players of the game in game 4 of the Finals? Our big two made big contributions tonight, but Ariza was the man that got us back into the game after a horrendous first half. After getting zip in the first two quarters, he dropped 13 in the third, when we outscored the Magic 30-14. Then he hit a huge three with two and a half minutes left in the fourth after a blown play and with the shot clock about to expire to tie the game. And then there was Fish. It’s hard to quantify all the stuff he does for us, but tonight it was relatively easy. Whether it was diving on the floor to secure a steal or knocking down the two biggest buckets of the game, he was once again the steady hand in rough waters. It doesn’t top the 0.4 seconds shot, but it’s easily number two on his list of great performances with the Lakers. Those are the kind of players you need to win a title. Thank god he’s on our side.

Kobe shot 11-for-31. Pau kicked in just 16. All three big men – Pau, Lamar, and Andrew – were in foul trouble early, forcing us to go with DJ Mbenga and play all twelve guys in the first half. Kobe and Pau played a grueling 49 minutes, and we had to come back from a butt-ass first half after which we trailed by 12 points. But talk about championship poise. The mental toughness to come out a different team in the second half and clamp down on Orlando’s shooting. Just eight turnovers for four plus overtime from a team with a history of filling it up in the category. And the ice-in-the-veins coldness to take the opportunities when they were presented to us. All things the Lakers can claim but the Magic can’t, and the difference in this series. I think we owe it to Nick Anderson, who must have invoked his spirit by presenting the game ball. How else can you explain all those missed free throws when it counted the most? Yes, Diana, I believe they call that irony. Word to Alanis.

Recap:

Phil’s postgame press conference:

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Geez

Posted by hiphopmama on June 11, 2009

So it’s (semi-) official. Cristiano Ronaldo is the next in line for the galactico parade currently making its way to the Bernabeu. Both team’s official websites have confirmed that Real Madrid have offered an “unconditional” €93.9M bid for CRon. This comes on the heels of the team’s announcement of Kaka as its latest signee from AC Milan, all of which means that Real have splashed out €163M on TWO PLAYERS over the last week. Geesh. As a fan of Los Blancos, it’s titillating to watch the superstars pour in, but as a pragmatist I have to ask what they’re thinking. I understand they technically play different positions, but with just one of those guys they have a world class playmaker at their disposal and I can’t help but think they’d be better off investing that kind of cash on multiple role players to fill all the gaps in the squad. Like, you know, at all those defensive positions they need to shore up. Cannavaro is gone, Marcelo has been revealed as a project at right back, and the left back position is still wide open. With €93.9M they could have easily slotted a few high quality players into those spots.  Everyone saw what happened when they focused too heavily on offense at the expense of the dirty work defenders (count the trophies after Makelele left), so let’s hope the next galactico era ends differently.

Furthermore, it’s also being reported that the close of the David Villa deal is fast approaching as well, as Chelsea have gotten the rebuff from the Spanish international who has no desire to leave La Liga. Chalk another one up…

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We Have A Series

Posted by hiphopmama on June 9, 2009

Damn

Damn

LA Lakers 104, Orlando 108
     Lakers lead series 2-1

That was some shooting performance. The Magic just set an NBA Finals record for field goal percentage at 62.5%. And they won by four points. AND they were a Kobe Bryant brain fart away from facing another overtime and having to relive game 2 all over again. They earned this win, hands down, but I’m just saying. Good luck replicating that performance in game 4.

If there was one game the Magic were going to win, it was this one, and they made good. All those shots they were missing in the first two games were falling tonight, and then some. They were shooting 75% at halftime – good lord – yet they trailed most of the half until a late run put them up by a handful. Kobe put on a clinic in the first quarter and got the guys going enough to keep us close despite the lights out job the Magic put on us, but he cooled the fuck off after that and had trouble finding the basket in the second half. And then our precious closer did something we haven’t seen in over a decade – he failed to deliver in the clutch. After his amazing start, he seemed to force things a bit looking to continue his hot streak, but for once this season he didn’t have the recognition of what the defense was giving him (or not) to find the open man. Whereas in those last two games against the Nuggets he read the defense and conducted the game like a maestro, pulling all the right strings, tonight he was so determined to do it all on his own that the game got away from him and he worked himself out of his great rhythm. Add to that the fact that he started looking tired out there (at least according to Phil) and you have somewhat of an explanation for his five missed free throws and late game turnover when he had the chance to tie the game. You can take absolutely nothing from it – it was the one time out of a hundred when he didn’t come through – but his own stubbornness definitely played a role.

It was a tough loss, to be sure, but I’m happy for the Magic as an organization that they finally got a Finals victory. I remember pulling like hell for Orlando in that series against the Rockets so many years ago. I was in love with Penny Hardaway and Shaq could actually move in those days, and they were a fun team to watch. They were definitely my team during those two off years for MJ (with the Lakers doing nothing), and I was so hyped when they looked like they were going to take game one. And then Nick Anderson missed those four free throws. It hurt my soul, even more so when they went on to get swept. So I’m glad that the Orlando fans finally got to witness a win on this biggest of stages. I just hope they don’t get another one, at least not this year.

Tonight was frustrating for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest was the fact that we didn’t really play poorly. We shot over 50%, only turned it over 13 times, and had five guys in double figures. Heck, our defense wasn’t even half bad. It wasn’t more than half good, but it was at least an effort, which we haven’t always seen from this team. The Magic were just hitting everything in sight, and out of it for that matter. They had FIVE GUYS over 18 points, including Rafer Alston with 20. Yuck. The good news was that we still had a chance to take this one at the end, and since you figure another 62% night is not forthcoming, we still look to be on track in this one. I don’t want anyone to get the impression I’m taking anything away from the Magic win tonight. This is one of the most resilient teams I have ever seen and I admire their heart at sticking with it and never giving up. And you can tell they really believe this series is still theirs to win, which comes down to great coaching. Stan Van Gundy always has his team ready and gunning at their opponents, which is more than you can always say from our sometimes underachieving bunch. Despite all of that, I have a hard time imagining them getting another performance like that this series, and there are many reasons why. For one, Kobe will not have another game where he reads things so poorly. If history has taught us anything it’s that he learns from his mistakes, and I fully expect him to get it this time as well. Speaking of adjustments, the all-time great we have calling plays on the bench is not likely to get out-coached or out-maneuvered, even by one as great at SVG. He will figure out the right adjustments and make them. And finaly, 62.5%?? That is a once in a lifetime shooting night, and with just two more of those shots clanking, we have a tie game and possibly a different outcome. I like our odds when you take all that into account.

Recap:

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