April 12, 2006 by Robert Pelletier • Print Story •
The night Kobe went off for 81, the Raptors went from being a bunch of winners about to sample Hollywood night-life, to being the butt of jokes for their entire lives. It's safe to say Kobe wrecked that game for them.
What was most impressive was the context of the achievement. The Raptors had the game. Chuck Swirsky, the play-by-play guy for the Raps, was verbally "breaking out the salami and cheese." Lamar Odom was dribbling the ball off his feet and the Lakers were done. Then Kobe decided it was time for a little math. A horde of threes and twos, with a few ticky-tack "and ones" equaled ecstasy for the Staples crowd and certain ridicule for the Raptors.
Scoring 81 is one way to ruin a game for a hapless team, but there are lots of other ways to wreck it for someone.
Scouts can take the joy out of a game, for a coach, before it ever begins. The scouting report on the Detroit Pistons probably translates to something like this:
You're not going to get any rebounds because Ben Wallace is bigger than some permanent dwellings. The guy could block out a four cylinder. He's going to affect shots, reject shots, and just plain scare some shots stillborn. Known ball-hogs on your team are suddenly going to declare how they want to "share the love." On top of all that, the guy's got disco doo mojo.
If the ball does take some crazy carom that ends up in your point guard's hands, tell him not to bother pushing the ball up the court. Tayshaun Prince will probably run down the lay-up and pin block it. Then the Detroit crowd will go nuts, and your players will be left examining their shoes for the next five minutes or so.
That sounds bad, but it's not the ugly part. Rasheed Wallace is a menace. He may split your starting center's head open with an elbow. Ask Zydrunas Ilgauskas the next time you're in Cleveland, he'll tell you all about it. Apparently, Rasheed's sense of ethics don't go much beyond knowing the only penalty he will get is a personal foul and two shots. The personal foul doesn't bother him a bit, and as for the foul shots, what chance of making them does a guy with blood running into his eyes have?
The coach might have woken up that morning thinking it was a grand day to be part of the NBA, but he's not likely to end the day that way. At last count, the Pistons have wrecked 62 games for their opposition this year.
Scouts can ruin a game for coaches, but coaches themselves can ruin the game for spectators. The good ones can manipulate the tempo of the game to their team's advantage.
The only problem is most good coaches are control freaks. They call timeout every time their team goes down by more than six. They tell their point guard to walk the ball up the court every time they're up more than six. It seems the only time they're not slowing the game down is when they're saving timeouts for the end of the game. Then the fans get treated to a last 30 seconds that takes a half hour to complete.
TV color guys can bog a game down, as well. Almost invariably, they are ex-players or coaches who love to hear their own voice. Somehow they believe dispensing such insights as "they've got to pound the ball inside," and "they've got to go to the hot guy," over and over, from a personage such as them, becomes rare and profound knowledge.
The truly spectacular can wreck a game, but give you enough to yap about for a week or so. Shaq tearing down the entire basket support in Phoenix and Darryl Dawkins shattering a backboard are a couple of examples that come to mind. Both of them just stopped the game cold. Fans had to wait forever to get all the damage repaired. But both of them gave us something to shout about.
Come to think of it, that's the NBA in a nutshell.
It's all about the shout.
"Yeah! I love this game!"