NBA Playoffs: Beards, Rings and Old Legs

Justin Fritze breaks down what we have learned so far in the NBA Conference Finals

Justin Fritze breaks down what we have learned so far in the NBA Conference Finals. Who are you Knicks fans pulling for out there? Personally, the wave of tears in Boston has led me to hope Miami beats them but is then promptly disposed of by the Spurs in 5 games. – JC 

THE WEST: EQUAL AND OPPOSITE

Was I, a diehard Thunder fan, nervous about going 0-2 to the Spurs with the potential of going down 0-3 last night? No. I was already resigned. Yes I know it’s sacrilege, but every person watching the two games in San Antonio could do nothing but marvel at the efficiency and ease that the Spurs displayed with their old school offense.

If you’re going to lose, you better lose to the best. You better not get outworked or outhustled, but getting outsmarted by a team with 4 rings in the past 10 years (and quite possibly the second or first (if you factor in the Jordan/Kobe thing) greatest coach in NBA history) is nothing to be scoffed at. Yeah, Dirk got them with an inhuman playoff performance last year, but this year was different. It was the sum of the parts working at 110% efficiency.

It was with that in my mind that I sat, stone sober, in front of my television and watched the Thunder quite literally dismantle that machine, piece by piece, and use their transition offense to beat on the Spurs. Case in point? Kevin Durant skying over Tim Duncan with an alley oop as Duncan decides not to even attempt a block. For that night, for that fanbase, the Thunder decided that they weren’t going to go quietly, and a single question stood out in my mind. Were the Spurs, with 19 straight playoff wins, getting tired?

My hope? Yes. The Thunder are going to use their momentum (and the fact that they are undefeated at home in the 2012 playoffs) to turn game 4 into a track meet. Will it work? Who knows. I’m a fan of the team, so trying to get any sort of unbiased opinion out of me on this series is going to be as useless as getting “elpresidente” to give a level headed assessment of Game 2 of the Boston/Miami series.

Why am I a Thunder fan? I’ve been trying to come up with reasons beside the obvious: the relative anonymity by which the team as a whole carries itself, the young coach, the city still trying to deal with its scars, the 22 year old shooting guard coming off the bench, the 22 year old power forward, the 23 year old point guard, the 23 year old small forward….etc.

The Thunder, simply put, are the Anti-Heat. No Armani GM, no collusion in their “Big 3”, no ring proclamations, no star treatment. Enough gushing. Let’s talk after Saturday night.

THE EAST: THE END OF THE ROAD

I’m here to give great pity, great condolence, and great admiration to the Boston Celtics. Why? Because I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and most of my family still resides in the New England area. Because my grandpa has hats for every Celtics championship, because there is just something different about coming from New England. People there never get much credit, and most of the industries in Connecticut and Massachusetts have all but dried up. Textile mills, steel mills, paper mills, all but gone. Go read Kerouac, and look at modern day Lowell. It’s a testament to a time gone by.

That’s what I see with the Celtics. Old men exchanging stories about the good old days. Ray Allen trying to play on two bad ankles, Paul Pierce getting absolutely 0 calls, Rajon Rondo trying to carry the load of not just the Celtics team of 2012, but all the ghosts of Celtics past. Those banners carry weight, and Rajon Rondo tried to do everything short of fly around the court to get the Celtics a win. He may be completely insane, but Rajon Rondo has the heart of 10 Lebrons.
Despite the incessant banshee screams of Bill Simmons, the Celtics are not going to win this series. This is the end of the road, and if I can pick a favorite moment of this Celtics squad, it was the crippling of Kobe’s dynasty with a title and a 30 point blowout a few years back. Kevin Garnett, Paul Piece, Ray Allen, thanks for the memories.

As a last thought, imagine if Jeff Green was healthy this year.

NBA Playoffs: Why Clippers vs. Spurs Will Be Great

Justin Fritze on why Spurs/Clippers will be a better series than people expect

Lakers/Thunder. Good matchup. Revenge. Kobe. Durant. Fisher. Got it.

Spurs/Clippers? Seriously? Kings/Clippers/Lakers all having playoff games in the same building for potentially two weeks? The potential of a LA vs. LA Western conference final? People in that climate don’t deserve that type of confusing joy, which is why it won’t happen.

The Spurs. All that is calm, cool and collected. The Clippers. All that is angry (Chris Paul), small (Chris Paul again), big (anyone seen a lost DeAndre Jordan?), floppy (Blake/Paul), swaggy (@NickSwagyPYoung) and poorly coached.
Is there anything more oppositely constructed headed for a sweep in one of two ways? Can you imagine the Spurs using the naivete of the Clippers against them and constructing plays to get an extra pass to the perimeter while Tim Duncan grinds Blake Griffin down to a pulp “old man style” and getting 10 guys in double figures? Can you imagine Chris Paul running the break with Nick Young who starts the “Mo Young” tandem with Lebron’s old sidekick and shooting the lights out while Reggie Evans goes berserk to get 18 rebounds?

As an unabashed Thunder fan, I hope this thing goes 7, with overtime required in games 5,6 and 7. That’s just me. For basketball fans, we can look at three things that will determine the outcome of the series.

The coach. Pop owns Vinny. Don’t try and debate it. Don’t go to wikipedia. Don’t defend Vinny, he’s a clown amongst clowns. Remember the Del Negro Bulls? Neither does America.

The point guard. Gotta give the edge to little man of the year, Chris Paul. But it’s close. If Chris Paul is a 10, Tony Parker is a 9.5

The power forward. The recipient of inside feeds, rebounder of missed 3’s. Tim Duncan, at 55 years old and as Dylan once sang “but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” is looking like a man making dinner for his very successful wife, pausing for a moment to reflect on what to add to his garden salad, and realizing it all in a manner of 10 seconds without so much as a frown. He’s Tim Duncan. Flustered/Determined/Excited do not exist in his dictionary.

Blake Griffin, robot to the core, is looking like he wants to dunk on someone and proceed to melt him with his eyes. He can’t shoot, he can’t make free throws, but he can leap. He’s going to need to leap quite a bit if he’s trying to keep up with the scoring of the Spurs.

I still give the edge to Duncan, only because he’s seen everything in his 120,000 playoff games and can piss off Griffin to the point where he starts forcing things and get into foul trouble early.

To the final point, are the perimeter shooters of the Clippers consistent enough to make 3’s in clutch moments or create their own shot? Are the Spurs so team oriented that they will end up relying on guys that are not the “right guys” (Ginobili/Parker/Duncan), backfiring when Paul/Griffin/Young start heating up?

I’m taking Spurs in 6, but wouldn’t put it past the Clippers to take this in 5 if they fire Vinny and hire Mike D’Antoni ASAP.

NFL Draft: Seven Picks For The New York Jets

Justin Fritze gives his guess who the New York Jets will take with their top seven selections in the NFL Draft

We will be going a little mock draft crazy here at TOJ in the final days leading up to the NFL Draft. Today, guest contributor Justin Fritze kicks it off with his projections for who the New York Jets will take with their top seven picks in the draft. Stay tuned for my final mock draft for the Jets and for the entire first round, along with Chris Gross’ mock draft. – JC

Let’s assume that Mike Tannenbaum doesn’t completely lose his mind and mortgage the future of the Jets in the 2012 draft. A move up of two or so spots in round one might do the trick, but nothing too out of the ordinary this year.

6th round – Brandon Lindsey, Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh – Think about this scenario. 46 defense against a 2 tight end, 2 wide receiver set. AKA The Patriot formation. The Jets can roll out this package as a 4-3 speed rush while clogging up the middle against the draw. Lindsey on the left end, Kenrick Ellis and Sione Pouha as the Nose Tackles, and Muhammad Wilkerson sitting on the right edge as the other defensive end. Fill in the linebackers with David Harris/Bart Scott/Calvin Pace and you’ve got a pretty serious pass rush if you bring 6 and let Harris drop back into coverage.

6th round – Ryan Miller, Guard, Colorado – Sure he’s slow. Sure he needs to get down to 300 lbs to be effective in Tony Sparano’s offense. But this guy can smack around linebackers with the best of them. You know for a fact that Tony Sparano is going to have an open competition for all offensive line spots other than Center and Left Tackle, so it will be good to add some competition to guys like Matt Slauson, Wayne Hunter and Vlad Ducasse.

6th round – Jeff Adams, Left Tackle, Columbia – A good backup to Ferguson who hopefully learns right tackle so Wayne Hunter can spend less time getting our quarterbacks killed. Sparano is going to want to go to camp with no less than 15 offensive lineman, and most likely use 6-8 throughout the regular season, knowing injuries to offensive lineman are going to pile up with this new run heavy offense.

5th round – Robert Blanton, Cornerback, Notre Dame – One of my favorites in the list, Blanto  saved 6-10 touchdowns this season for a dreadful Notre Dame team. Again, scenario time. Dime formation. Jets love it against pass happy offenses. Cromartie and Revis one on one, Kyle Wilson taking the third receiver, and a safety covering the fourth receiver as Blanton rushes the QB along with the 4 defensive lineman. He can add pressure up front and also drop back while a safety blitzes from the edge.

3rd Round – Juron Criner, Wide Receiver, Arizona – He’s got size and length, but he’s going to need some serious coaching and consistency to compete at the next level. He’s a project, but in the red zone he can be a big help on the naked bootleg. Please come back Tom Moore.

2nd Round – David Wilson, Running Back, Virginia Tech – The antidote to the Jets lack of running success. Wilson, coupled with the previously mentioned additions to the offensive line, will fill the void left by LT and complement the speed of Joe McKnight and the Shonn Greene power running game. He’s a counter play machine, and he’s good for the occasional power sweep that will keep defenses honest if Tim Tebow lines up out of the spread option.

1st Round – Mark Barron, Safety, Alabama – The worthy (much improved) successor to Jim Leonhard. They’re probably going to keep Leonhard for one more season, and they should use it to have Leonhard teach Barron everything about the Rex Ryan defense. Add him to a 46 with Laron Landry and you could at any point have a safety blitz, a corner blitz or two linebackers blitz. A pick of Barron would be giving Ryan security in the secondary for the next 5 years.

Rex In Effect – A Brief Guide to the Buddha Wisdom Of The Largest “Personality” In Football

TOJ would like to introduce another writer to our staff, Justin Fritze, who will occasionally be providing us with some feature material and a unique look at our New York Jets. Justin is an arts and culture writer who graduated from Baruch College, here is his debut piece for TOJ —

“No, we don’t fear anything”

Rex Ryan

Head coaches have nightmares about it. Offensive lineman spend hours trying to figure out how to block it. Offensive coordinators respect it. It is a Rex Ryan defense, and it would like to meet your quarterback.

Rex Ryan takes pride in his defense. If you don’t believe that, take a look at the cover of Sports Illustrated after the Jets beat the Patriots in the playoffs. A quarterback with three Superbowl rings is not supposed to look like that. However, when Calvin Pace is attempting to rip your shoulder completely out of the socket, walking off the field under your own power starts to take precedence over passer rating.

Rex Ryan, unlike his father, was not a sergeant in the army, but he spent enough time with the ’85 Bears to understand what it takes to lead men. Buddy was part general, part inspirational speaker. In a sense, magical. How else could you explain Mike Singletary playing like he was 10 feet tall? How else could you explain 7 pass rushers, that in certain situations, eerily resembled the hounds of hell?

To all this chaos, this sheer destructive force, there was a formula of efficiency. Work them hard, work them until they do not miss a single step, until you can call their audibles, until the defense OUTSCORES the opposing offense.

There was a certain point that Buddy would let off, like the scene in Full Metal Jacket where Gomer Pyle transformed from slow and dumb to a complete killing machine. Except there was no insane bathroom scene involving rifles and major malfunctions.

“Rookies get you beat, I don’t play with rookies”

Buddy Ryan

When Dave Duerson was drafted to the Bears in the 3rd round of the ’83 draft, Buddy Ryan was forced to cut one of his players, and gave Duerson fair warning that he was not happy about it. “I had to cut a hell of a kid to keep your ass on this team, I didn’t want to, and I hope you prove me wrong, but I’ll tell you this, if you don’t, I’ll be one sad son of a bitch”. It can be assumed then, that Buddy Ryan had little respect for college players, even if they did play at Notre Dame.

When you look at it, the NFL is a completely different game than college football. The purpose of most college football programs, in simple terms, is to develop a system that best hides the glaring weaknesses of its formations, and simultaneously makes the coach look like a genius so he can get a winning record and thus move on to a bigger and better job. Despite a term like “pro style offense” , no team in the NCAA is even close to a professional caliber offense/defense. Because of this, rookies, especially defensive rookies, can cost you the game. (See Kyle Wilson v. The Ravens).

“When we gave up 31 to Miami, we knew Buddy couldn’t walk tall, and we wanted Buddy to walk 6’8

 – Dan Hampton

It’s no secret the Ryan family likes to talk about their team. With a fanbase as prideful and cynical as the Jets, praise is boasting and failure is expected. Things like playoff victories over the Patriots cause grown men to embrace and weep tears of joy all over the five boroughs. We do, of course, live in the age of the headline, the tweet, the misquote, and so when Buddy Ryan told his players, on the eve of the 1985 Super Bowl, “you’ll always be my heroes”, it is not much different than Rex Ryan saying “I believe we have the best defense in football”

It’s the same because they know that their players have heart, that they have pride, that they believe there is a duty to go out an play like someone is disrespecting their coach. That is why the Ryan family is great for football, because they understand the importance of every game, the importance of every play.

“I’m confident. There is no question about it. We’re going into the game expecting to win. I’d be shocked if we don’t. Absolutely would be.”

Rex Ryan

If Rex Ryan had the social demeanor of Bill Belichick people would assume that his method is that of a cryptic genius, but then he wouldn’t have guys like Kenny Phillips or Antrel Rolle slobbering all over him like 16 year old girls at a Justin Bieber concert. That is the inherent duality of the New York coach persona. There is the guy on the practice field, in the locker room, and then there’s the guy who has to appease the media in the press conference.

Despite the overblown quotes, the absurd amount of attention paid to offhand remarks, games are not lost and won amongst members of the media. Rex Ryan knows football and the press, he watched his dad become beloved and a villain. With that sort of run through, he plays it until fact and fiction are blurred into some strange inter-zone. What you read in the paper may sound real, but seeing and hearing are two different senses.

Case in point, when Darrelle Revis was questionable to return after a strained hamstring, the transcript read “no, I don’t think were going to play him at all”. The video of course shows a beaming Rex trying to choke back a smile.

Sometimes I thank god Rex Ryan is a football coach and didn’t end up as something like…um…..well let’s say a right wing political speechwriter. Imagine it…war hawks being unable to suppress their massive excitement….political parties forming around him…he would make Oliver North look like a punk. Yes, Rex Ryan is a 21st century renaissance man.