There are plenty of sources of news and opinion about the NBA Finals. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on that; I don't know that I have a ton of insight as compared to others who follow these teams more closely. Obviously, like 95% of America (and 99% of those outside of Miami), I'm rooting for the Mavs. I find it a tad paradoxical that a German who in 13 years in the league has never much been embraced in the US is now the darling of almost every casual NBA fan (my son's friend's mother starting talking to me about Nowitzki this weekend, admitting that she'd never heard of him before these Finals). But let's face it - Dirk could be wearing a brown shirt and goose-stepping to the free throw line and he'd still be the hero to LeBron James' villain. At any rate, I'm really hoping that the Mavs can win, and obviously it's anyone's series at this point. But it doesn't bode well that Miami won a close one tonight. The Mavs have seemed like a team of destiny, winning pretty much every close game in the playoffs, while Miami has had a terrible record in close games this season. So for the Heat to get a final minute, two point win on the road feels like a major missed opportunity for Dallas.
Having said all that, the thing I can't resist venting about tonight is the commentary from Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy. Not that it was even one of their worst night's per se - they just seemed to stumble across certain pet peeves of mine time and again. I should say up front that I tend to like Breen as a play-by-play guy, and I also appreciate Van Gundy's sometimes over the top observations - at least he has a position and he's relatively consistent. Jackson on the other hand I find almost completely unbearable. He spews one cliche after another, without ever making a single relevant insight.
As I said, they walked into certain pet peeves of mine more than once tonight. The first was on a LeBron James dunk in the first quarter. LeBron, as he frequently does, took three steps on his way to the rim, which is of course a travel. But on replay after replay, from multiple angles, there was never so much as a mention of the extra step. Just how aggressive he is, and how he was getting to the rim and finishing. Sure he was getting to the rim - that extra step makes it a lot easier. Could no one on the broadcast crew have the decency to throw me even a Lawleresque "He might have gotten away with a walk there"? Later in the game, James was indeed called for a travel while taking three steps prior to a pass. Of course LeBron put on his incredulous face, and I completely understood why. If everyone is going to allow him those three steps most of the time, you can imagine that he'd be miffed when suddenly they decide to call the walk.
Peeve number two was broached at the first quarter buzzer, when Mario Chalmers made a three that turned out to account for more than the final margin of victory in the end. Coming back from commercial, Breen pointed out that there was 'almost' a back court violation before the shot when Chalmers received the pass back from Udonis Haslem. Now, I didn't notice the violation in real time, but when they showed the replay, I thought to myself "What do you mean, almost a backcourt violation? That is a backcourt violation." When Chalmers received the pass, he had one foot on the midcourt line. I will admit that I do not know the NBA rule book backwards and forwards, but isn't it pretty obvious that he can't have his foot on the midcourt line while holding the ball after Miami has entered the front court? I mean, if he was dribbling in the front court, and then stepped on the mid-court line, we'd all agree that it would be a violation, just like stepping on the sideline or the baseline. How was this play any different?
Breen goes on to make up some cockamamie story about how part of his foot was in the front court, ergo it's not a violation and it was the right call by the officials. Jackson and Van Gundy chime in to point how great NBA refs are, how they got the call right in real time and isn't that amazing and that's what matters.
If it had all ended there, it would have been one level of annoying. But apparently someone in the production truck had a little more knowledge of the rule book, or maybe a little more common sense, or possibly just a little less incentive to protect the refs, and later in the broadcast they re-visited the replay, this time pointing out that it should indeed have been called a back court violation and the refs in fact missed the call. (Even then, Breen's explanation was unnecessarily convoluted - his foot was on the line when he caught the pass - end of story.) Anyway, here's my question: why are Jackson and Van Gundy initially agreeing with an incorrect call? Even if they didn't know the rule, wouldn't you question the call? Or at least admit that you weren't clear on the rule? On what were they basing their assessment that it was the right call? It seems like it had to have been a classic case of cyclic logic - the refs said it was OK, so it must have been OK, so I will praise the refs for making the call, because they must have been right. Maddening.
There were many other annoyances, some more minor than others, as there are on every broadcast, but one last incident in the fourth quarter deserves to be highlighted. As the Mavs were coming back, a battle under the Miami glass saw a scramblingTyson Chandler dive out of bounds and save the ball, and Nowitzki's tough fall away on the subsequent possession tied the game. The entire announcing crew praised the effort and hustle of Chandler, and they even recapped the entire sequence the next time they returned from commercial, once again lauding Chandler's play.
Now, imagine if that ball had wound up in Chris Bosh's hands for a Miami dunk after Chandler's scrambling save. What would that same announcing crew have said? We all know that they would have dusted off the old standby "Never save the ball under your opponent's basket." Jackson would almost certainly have reminded us that Chandler's junior high coach should have taught him that, that he should know better, that he's "better than that" or some such nonsense. But here's the thing: you can't praise a play when it works out and then criticize the exact same play when it doesn't. Ironically, Van Gundy pointed out this very tendency in "the media" (which in his usage seemed to be some 'other' with which he had no association) earlier in the broadcast when LeBron made a three ("If he misses it, he's 'settling', if he makes it, he's 'clutch', but it's the same shot.") Van Gundy was correct of course, but he and his cohorts are just as guilty as anyone of allowing the outcome to color the commentary.