Posts Tagged ‘Rick Mahorn’

Laying It On The Line: The Answers

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HANG TIME, Texas – On a recent hot summer day when Allen Iverson announced his retirement, what immediately came to mind was not one single spectacular shot that he made, but all of those fabulous, bone-jarring times he crashed to the floor.

And then got back up.

It wasn’t just his ability to lead the NBA scoring four times that made Iverson special. It was that warrior’s mentality, the trait that made him willing, against all odds, to out-scrap, out-hustle, out-compete everybody else on the court.

Through the history of the NBA, it’s usually been the big men — think Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone, Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone, Charles Oakley — who got the reputation for being strong and tough, but the truth is some of the fiercest players we’ve seen over the past 30 years have been guards.

In addition to Iverson, here’s another handful of the backcourt backbreakers we’ll call The Answers. They’re indomitable. They breathe fire. They don’t ever quit. They would chew off a leg to escape from a steel trap. They’re the ones you want playing in a single game with your life on the line:

Isiah Thomas It was never wise to be fooled by the cherubic face and angelic smile. The truth is that while Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn got most of the notoriety for their bruising style and often dirty tricks, Thomas was the real heart and cold-blooded soul of the Detroit “Bad Boys.” Part of what made him the best “little man” ever to play the game was an inner fire that never burned out. He competed ferociously and refused to ever show a sign of weakness. Hobbling on a badly sprained ankle in Game 6 against the Lakers in the 1988 Finals, he scored 25 points in the fourth quarter — a Finals record — and nearly pulled out a win that would have given the Pistons their first championship a year earlier. Then there was the night of Dec. 14, 1991 when on a drive down the lane in the first quarter in Salt Lake City, Thomas took an elbow to the face from Karl Malone that opened a huge gash over his left eye. After receiving 40 stitches, Thomas returned to play in the fourth quarter.

Michael Jordan Sure, he had the leaping ability, the defensive desire, the post game, clutch jumper and late-game instincts. But Jordan the All-Star would never have become Jordan the legend and icon without his roaring, brash nature, downright mean streak and readiness to do anything it took to pull out a win. He could barely control his competitive urges, whether it was challenging Bulls teammates in practice, occasionally punching one of them out, or rising up in a game situation to respond to any kind of challenge — real or imagined — that might have been tossed out. There was virtually nothing that could stop Jordan from leaving every ounce of himself in any game that he ever played. The so-called “Flu Game” in the 1997 Finals is frequently cited. He spent the night before Game 5 at Utah suffering from severe stomach distress and was a questionable starter. Dehydrated, struggling to breathe, he hit 13 of 27 shots for 38 points to lead the Bulls to a 90-88 win. Just as telling was a story from the training camp of the 1992 USA Dream Team in Monte Carlo. After beating Jordan in a golf match one afternoon, coach Chuck Daly was awakened very early the next morning by a banging on his hotel room door. When he opened the door, Daly found a grim-faced, primed-for-revenge Jordan standing there, dressed for the golf course. “Let’s go,” he said.

Kobe Bryant – You can call him a shameless gunner who never ever met a shot he didn’t like or wouldn’t take. Shaq did. You can call him a difficult and unpleasant teammate who would make a guy leave an extra contract year and $20 million on the table to walk away from the Lakers. Dwight Howard certainly did. But after 17 NBA seasons, you can’t call Bryant anything less than the most single-minded, driven competitor in the game today. He won’t just trash-talk opponents, but will ride his own teammates to get them to try to match his level of intensity. (They can’t.) He plays hurt, aching, sick, bruised, broken and he is usually still the best player and hardest worker on the floor. He played half of the 2007-08 season with a fractured finger on his shooting hand and still won the MVP Award and led the Lakers to The Finals. At 34 last season, he averaged the second-most minutes per game in the league last season — trailing only rookie Damian Lillard — until tearing an Achilles tendon on April 12. So then he just took to Twitter from his sickbed to critique his teammates. It’s supposed to take nine months to a year to come back from Achilles surgery, but Bryant plans to tear up the calendar.

John Stockton Another one of those with a choirboy face who might have kept a pair of brass knuckles under his robe. Trying to get him to change his expression was as fruitless as banging your head against a brick wall. His Jazz teammate, The Mailman, had all those big, bulging muscles. But Stockton was equally as strong in competing with the stubbornness and dependability of a mule. Durability is a mark of greatness and in 19 seasons Stockton missed only 22 of a possible 1526 games due to injury. He never drew attention to himself by dribbling behind his back or through his legs, mostly throwing bounce passes that led to layups that were mind-numbingly effective and oh-so-deadly. He was also widely known throughout the NBA for using his 6-foot-1 body — OK, and occasionally his elbows — to set picks on opposing big men. Stockton never went looking for trouble or fights and rarely was involved in trouble, but night in night out he had the strong jaws and voracious appetite of a pit bull.

Clyde Drexler Oh, how nicknames can be deceiving. Clyde the Glide practically slides across the tongue like ice cream on a hot summer day. But it’s a lot like calling the fat kid in the crowd “Slim” or the tall guy “Shorty.” Maybe it was the fact that from the time he was a star in on the University of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama team all the way through his 15-year NBA career in Portland and Houston, the TV screens were filled with images of him floating effortlessly to the basket. In reality, he was as sharp and cutting as razor wire. He went down onto the floor for loose balls and into the crowds of tall trees to come away with the toughest rebounds. He would slice through the narrowest opening to get to the hoop for a critical bucket. He would use arms, legs, elbows — any means possible — at the defensive end, all the while with a smile on his face that belied how much he wanted to destroy you. The defending champion Rockets were down 3-1 in the 1995 conference semifinals, facing elimination and when his teammates entered the locker room, Drexler was stretched out on a table connected to IV bottles. He had the flu and nobody thought he would play. But Drexler dragged himself out onto the court and, though he could not manage a single field goal in the game, played 32 hard and inspirational minutes to spark a Rockets win that started a comeback to their second straight title.

Could 80s Flashback Fire Up Heat?

 

HANG TIME, Texas – So much for the notion that all of the energy and drama was sucked out of half the playoff bracket by the Heat’s 27-game win streak.

Suddenly the Eastern Conference is dripping with more subplots than a Russian novel with LeBron James complaining that the Bulls abused him, Taj Gibson cleverly telling the best player in the game that he’s too good to whine, Danny Ainge foolishly and typically wading into the middle of the war with his mouth and Pat Riley suggesting that Ainge should “shut the (expletive) up.”

Oh baby, the only way this could only get more delicious is with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Or maybe Kevin McHale taking down Kurt Rambis with a clothesline.

Just like that, we’re back in the 1980s with LA Gear, parachute pants and an urge to sing “Beat It.”

Is the manipulative genius of Riley at work here with LeBron? Has the blueprint for beating the Heat been put on display? Does anybody actually need to light a fire under an imposing team that just went nearly two full months without losing?

Do we really have to wait three more weeks for the playoffs to begin?

Miami vs. Chicago. Miami vs. Boston. And you thought Indiana was the Heat’s only minor roadblock to The Finals.

Don’t we really have to pull for the Celtics to tumble into the No. 8 seed and open up against the Heat in the first round?

Before the opening tip, Riley and Ainge could square off at center court for an MMA bout, complete with the octagon cage.

Hopefully, the winner of that first-round street fight would then face Chicago in a series presumably played with helmets and full body armor.

Look, we can’t really blame James for feeling that the Bulls used him as a tackling dummy on Wednesday night. After all, he’s been raised and cultivated and ascended to his seat on the throne in this 21st century era that has become so polite and contact-averse that any day now you can expect the NBA’s discipline czar Stu Jackson to rule from the league office that defenders must play with their pinkie fingers extended, as if they’re attending a tea party.

“Let me calculate my thoughts real fast before I say [what I want to say],” James said after the game. “I believe and I know that a lot of my fouls are not basketball plays. First of all, Kirk Hinrich in the first quarter basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground. The last one, Taj Gibson was able to collar me around my shoulder and bring me to the ground. Those are not defensive and those are not basketball plays.”

Of course, those of us who were around in the 80s and 90s or have learned from the drawings on cave walls about the times when prehistoric figures named Oakleysaurus, Mahornasaurus and Laimbeer Rex guarded the paint with sharp elbows and pointed attitudes, know that those used to be routine basketball plays. As James is trying to climb the ladder of greatness to catch Michael Jordan, let him ask His Airness if he was ever given a bump or two at The Palace of Auburn Hills or Madison Square Garden.

All of the good will and gosh-almighty admiration for Miami and for James that was built up during the construction of the 27-game streak could go out the window if the Heat players start to believe they should be unchallenged physically and simply carried on the shoulders of tributes to a second consecutive NBA title.

“I think he’s too good of a player to do that,” Gibson zinged when asked about James’ complaints in a radio interview.

The big question is what in the world could ever have possessed Ainge to enter the fray. Then you remember that he was just being Ainge, agitator and instigator and never a finisher during his playing career.

“I think that it’s almost embarrassing that LeBron would complain about officiating,” Ainge said.

And that’s when the real fun started.

“Danny Ainge needs to shut the #$!* up and manage his own team,” Riley said in a statement released through a Heat spokesman. “He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing and I know that because I coached against him.”

Give Riley credit. The guy who copyrighted the term “three-peat” back in 1987 could have another T-shirt selling bonanza on his hands with the blunt “STFU” combined with that fireball Heat logo.

It might not only have been the first official statement in known team sport history to include the home-run word, but also the artful, Machiavellian Riley’s way of delivering a just-as-short message to LeBron ahead of the 2014 opt-out clause in his contract: I’ll always have your back.

At first, Ainge backed off a bit.

“Pat Riley’s right,” he said. “I should manage my own team. I complained a lot to the officials. And I’m right, LeBron should be embarrassed about how he complains about the calls he gets.”

But just before Friday night’s game against the Hawks, he could not resist one more shot:

“I stand by what I said. That’s all. I don’t care about Pat Riley. He can say whatever he wants.

“I don’t want to mess up his Armani suits and all that hair goop. It would be way too expensive for me.”

Can’t we start the playoffs right now?

The Flagrant Foul Mix (Video)

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – This is not a celebration, we repeat, NOT a celebration of flagrant fouls. We abhor them and believe they are an absolutely unnecessary evil that the powers that be must find a way to get rid of … somehow.

But as students of the game and keen observers of all things basketball, we couldn’t stop watching this mashup of flagrant fouls (courtesy of DOPESIKCEO on YouTube) from over the years.

Notice the startling consistency in how they are perpetrated (from Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer from a yesteryear to Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum these days) and how often they involve someone assuming that they can sneak a cheap shot in despite the thousands of folks watching in the arena (guys in striped shirts with whistles included), not to mention the millions viewing from home:

Heat Good, But They’re No Bad Boys

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s a knee-jerk response. Every time a great defensive team rears its head, so many are quick to jump up and compare them to the Bad Boys of Detroit who ruled the Earth two decades ago.

Such is the case now with the Heat as they’ve limited the Mavericks to just 41.15 percent shooting and 88.3 points a game through the first three games of The Finals.

But seriously, when did you last see Miami’s Joel Anthony trip a player trying to drive down the lane ala Bill Laimbeer and then sneer? When have you seen Udonis Haslem pull the old rocking chair out from under his man and then chuckle like Rick Mahorn when he falls to the floor? When have you seen LeBron James or Dwayne Wade demonstrate even an ounce or two of the seething defensive defiance that Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman took out onto the court with them for every game.

Our good friend Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel caught up with a guy who’s had an up-close view of both. Ron Rothstein, now on the Heat bench, was one of the architects of the Bad Boys along with the late great Chuck Daly in Detroit.

Those Detroit defenses Rothstein helped assemble for Chuck Daly’s “Bad Boys” Pistons in the ’80s were more about brawn and bulk, players such as Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer.

This Heat defense is about athleticism, the type of closing speed that can pack the paint and still chase 3-point shooters off their spots.

“We have some athletes on this team that are just off the charts,” Rothstein said. “The amount of ground that we cover, the amount of space that we can cover, getting back in transition and running people down is remarkable.”

This is not to diminish the Heat’s prowess, merely to distinguish it from the rest and give its just due. All of those open 3-point shots that the Mavs hit against the Thunder and Lakers — especially the Lakers — in the previous two rounds of the playoffs are no longer so readily available because the Heat are simply too fast, too quick to recover on defense. That is especially true of James and Wade, who get most of their accolades for the jaw-dropping stunts they perform on offense, but can be just as overwhelming at the other end of the floor. The ball movement and slick passing that is a Dallas trademark has not been able to get enough open looks at the basket for anyone but Dirk Nowitzki and that lack of scoring from the supporting case is what has the Mavs battling uphill.

Make no mistake. The Heat defense is as good as it gets in today’s game. But they’re not the Bad Boys. Not until some bodies hit the floor and we see some sneers.

Admit it, don’t you miss the Bad Boys?