Five Things I’m Loving About the Conference Finals

“Momma… there goes that man!”

I wish I could say that like many, many others, I dislike listening to Mark Jackson call basketball games.

I can’t and I won’t.

Jackson’s return to the commentary booth, where he has reunited with former broadcast buddies Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen, has been a welcome surprise during the Conference Finals.

There’s something about Jackson’s overly-simplistic analysis, dramatic catchphrases and witty repartee with Van Gundy that I enjoy but I’m not exactly sure what it is.  I once read him described by an online hater as like a real life Ron Burgandy behind the mic. It’s an apt description and is perhaps part of what I love about him.

The guttural emphasis Jackson gave to his famous “hand down, man down” catchphrase after this Lance Stephenson jumper in Game 2 may have been my favourite moment of the Conference Finals thus far…

As Burgandy himself would say, “don’t act like you’re not impressed.”


Lance Stephenson

Speaking of Lance Stephenson…. after an excellent Game 1 performance, Born Ready was absolutely outstanding in Game 2 and, as is always the case when he is playing well, it was super fun to watch.  Lance knocked down the very first shot of the game, got his juices flowing from there and became a real handful for the Miami defense.  He was dialled in from the perimeter, attacked aggressively off the dribble, was finishing through contact at the rim and was finding his teammates in scoring situations, finishing with 25 points (on 10/17 shooting), 6 boards and 7 dimes.

“Spectacular,” said Frank Vogel postgame when asked about Stephenson’s impact.  “No other way to put it.”

Is it just me or is Lance Stephenson the exact mental picture you have of Sidney Deane as an NBA player?  The highlight-reel plays, the slightly unorthodox style, the over-the-top celebrations, the trash talk.  You can see it.


Tiago Splitter

In February this year, Head Honcho and NBA Countdown analyst Bill Simmons included Splitter’s four years, $36 million deal in the 2014 version of his annual ‘Worst Contracts in the NBA’ column:

“Every four years, all NBA teams have to overpay a role player like he’s a valuable starter. Yup, that’s a rule. They all have to do it. And you wondered why San Antonio spent $36 million on Splitter… Come on, R.C. Buford! You’re a role model!!!  You gave $36 million to someone who couldn’t stay on the court in the 2013 Finals???? Why??????”

Well… the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

Splitter played 10 years of pro ball in Spain before coming to the NBA in 2010 (that’s not a misprint… 10!) but despite his extensive experience in Europe, the transition to the American game wasn’t an easy one.  Now, after 4 years (including the last two seasons as a starter) of NBA tutoring by masterful head coach Gregg Popovich and The Big Fundamental, Splitter has become an extremely important piece of the San Antonio championship puzzle and his play this postseason has put to rest any concerns about his contract.

Splitter was one of the Spurs’ best players in the first round against the Mavs, where he limited Dirk Nowitzki to less than 20ppg (on lower than 43% FG shooting) while averaging close to a double-double himself.  In the second round he continued his stellar defense against the previously red-hot LaMarcus Aldridge, providing Pop with the matchup for LMA that Kevin McHale simply didn’t have at his disposal in the opening round.

Now in the Conference Finals, Splitter is continuing to play at a high level for the seemingly-unstoppable Spurs.  He was extremely impressive in Game 2, when his constant movement and activity on the offensive end, his outstanding interior passing and his effective rim-protection on defense caused all kinds of headaches for the Ibaka-less Thunder.  In only 24 minutes, Splitter stuffed the statsheet with a line of 9 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.

“He’s a defender, a rebounder, a solid pick-and-roll player,” Popovich once said when asked about Splitter. “He doesn’t have moves and he’s not a big offensive threat, but he’s every coach’s dream because he does everything so fundamentally sound.”

The imminent return of Serge Ibaka to the Western Conference Finals will certainly make things interesting for Splitter, as it will for all of the Spurs, but so far this postseason the Brazilian has risen to each and every challenge put before him.

R. C. Buford is loving every minute of it.


Caron Butler Mic’d Up

The best part of ‘Tough Juice’ being mic’d up in Game 2 unfortunately wasn’t included in the above compilation.  It was when Butler, a dedicated Christian, was slapping five with his teammates on the bench while singing Snoop’s classic Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None) – that moment both entertained and confused me at the same time.


Joga Bonito

Joga bonito is a well-known soccer phrase, popularised by Nike - it means ‘play beautifully’ in Portuguese.  If it’s ok with the soccer-heads, I’m going to borrow it here to describe the way the out-for-revenge San Antonio Spurs are playing right now.  I figure it’s only right to use some sort of exotic, international phrase considering nine of the Spurs current playoff roster of thirteen players were born outside the United States.

Watching these Spurs carve up their opponents with constant movement, precision passing and trusting team defense is the basketball equivalent of staring up at the roof of the Sistene Chapel; it’s a thing of beauty.

Of course, postseason success is certainly nothing new for the Tim Duncan Spurs, heck The Big Fundy, Parker and Manu just became the winningest trio in NBA Playoff history (passing Magic, Kareem and Cooper), but doesn’t it feel like there’s something special about the 2014 version in front of us?  This group is playing with a level of selflessness, teamwork and harmony that has basketball purists all over the word gushing with praise.

If you haven’t watched this vid, which did the rounds on social media this week, do yourself a favour and settle in for 6 minutes and 54 seconds of good times and happy feelings.  As a friend described it to me yesterday… pure basketball porn.


Follow me on Twitter: @liam_santa

Article written by

I like to think that I bring the all-important little man’s perspective to the Downtown crew. The rim may be 10-feet high folks but the court, itself, is at ground level. My one season playing ball on the national scene was back in 2001/02, when I played the vital role of 4th-string PG as a member of the Victoria Titans. Go back and watch the tapes, I’m confident that only Patty Mills outranks me worldwide as an end-of-the-bench towel-waver. This experience, however, gives me the kind of an insight into pro hoops that can only be gained by spending time ‘behind the curtain’. These days I spend most of my spare time squeezing every last cent out of my League Pass subscription. And when I’m not playing, watching, writing about or podcasting about basketball, you’ll find me soundly outplaying all-comers at the fantasy version of the game. Safe to say that if I had a tatoo it would say ‘mum’. But if I had two tatoos, the second one would definitely be of a basketball. Follow me on twitter: @liam_santa

One Response

  1. Adam Reid at |

    Liam. Cracking article. Loving your work!!!!

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