Sports Corner: Game Review I
NBA Week 2: Trail Blazers @ Warriors
If you’ve been following this blog over the last year and a bit, you’ll know that my posting has been fairly sporadic (although it has picked up a little more recently). I’m planning to put an end to that this year – and what better way than to start a series?
This year, I’m going to be running two series alongside my normal reflective posts. One series will be a sports series, where I watch a different sport each week throughout the year and write down my thoughts about the sport, the broadcast, the spectacle and the game itself. Some of these sports will be familiar and mainstream – NBA (today’s example), NFL, cricket, AFL – and some will be a little out there – curling, bowls, chase tag, ultimate, and so on. So far, I have 20 sports confirmed and lined up, which I’m hoping will take me up to mid-year (allowing breaks for times when it may be difficult for me to watch and write). I have some other sports on a shortlist, but I’m still working on easy ways to watch them (Kabaddi, for example). I’ll probably work on finalising my list as the year progresses.
The other series I’m going to be running is a music series. I’ll be listening to a specific song every week and writing my thoughts on it. This series is far more fluid and requires less planning, for reasons that should be obvious. I haven’t yet decided where I’m going to be taking this, but at this stage it’s looking like I’ll be doing music from a mix of genres and time periods.
While I do have an NBA allegiance (I’ve been a Mavericks fan ever since I first watched Dirk Nowitzki doing his thing back in 2012), I’m a fairly casual fan. This game was my first full sit-down-and-watch for some time.
I chose this game for two reasons – partly because it fit nicely with my schedule, but also because the matchup was fairly intriguing. Stephen Curry and a returning Draymond Green (albeit with an absent Klay Thompson) going up against Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum seemed inviting.
Both teams were 2-2 heading into the game, with Portland having had a tougher draw by virtue of having played 4 playoff teams from last season.
SBS in Australia streams a game or two every week, and this game was the selection for this week. The feed we got was from NBC Sports Bay Area (i.e. the Warriors’ hometown feed), with legendary announcer Bob Fitzgerald and former NBA player Kelenna Azubuike commentating.
This took me off guard – the home and away commentary style isn’t common on Australian TV. That said, while the commentary was definitely Warriors-centric, the commentators called the game fairly and weren’t overly biased.
The second thing that took me off guard (but shouldn’t have) was the lack of a crowd. Of course, this is the norm in sports leagues worldwide at the moment, and it’s a sobering reminder of just how tough the pandemic has been (and continues to be) on so many countries around the world.
With the empty area, I thought the walk-on and the stadium announcer seemed a bit over the top (considering they’re meant to add theatre for a full arena). However, it’s probably the best choice – I think trying anything else would have been a little awkward.
The game started fairly slowly before picking up to the pace we’re used to from NBA basketball. Portland started to take charge of the first quarter after going 5 from 6 beyond the three-point arc.
I thought the teams were playing at a similar level until Portland took their lead beyond 10 points. After this, the Warriors started to look a little frantic, particularly on offense, where they seemed to make fairly rushed decisions. I think they also started to look a little less assured defensively and lost some of the structure in the zonal defense they employed early.
A small but significant difference that I noticed was that the Warriors were slower to respond defensively, which allowed the Blazers the time to set up a little more offensively and run set plays more easily. Conversely, the Blazers defense was able to push the Warriors offense out beyond the three-point arc. This gave the Warriors less space to work with, and they seemed unsure of how to adjust to this offensively.
There was certainly a significant difference in shooting – at 29-9 in the first quarter, the Blazers for 7 from 8 on three-pointers while the Warriors were 1 from 6. Of course, this explains much of the margin from a points perspective. Again, I think part of this was due to the Warriors frantically starting to take shots that weren’t really on as they fell further and further behind on the scoreboard.
Chemistry and experience
It wasn’t until I started watching the game that I realised the disparity in the two teams playing. I’d thought about the key stars and completely neglected to look at team dynamics and the supporting stars.
The Warriors side was welcoming Draymond Green back for his first game of the season, and they have a roster that really hasn’t played together all that much. In fact, Curry, Green and Kevon Looney aside, there isn’t anyone on the roster who’s played more than a season or two with the Warriors. Personally, I thought a lack of chemistry showed. (It’s also worth remembering that Curry and Green haven’t played together in a while either, considering Curry’s long stretch on the sidelines last season).
As for the Blazers, while they did have new additions like as Robert Covington, their core of Lillard, McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic has played together for a number of years now. Further, they’ve got the classy veteran Carmelo Anthony for a second season. In contrast to the Warriors, their chemistry was clear in the fluency of their play.
Second quarter and beyond
The Warriors were significantly better in the 2nd quarter, particularly defensively, where they were quicker to respond and more decisive in their zonal marking. They were able to push the Blazers beyond the arc and keep them there, restricting space. The Warriors were able to keep a compelling back and forth contest going, pulling the deficit back to just 8 points at one stage before the Blazers landed a few important shots late in the quarter.
Yet the start of the third quarter yielded more of what was seen in the first quarter – loose defensive structures and an inability to find space on offense. These issues remained until the end of the game. On the other hand, the Blazers continued to play at a high level (although their shooting accuracy did drop towards the end of the game).
The first half of the game made for interesting viewing – the first quarter was a Blazers clinic, while the second provided more of a back and forth contest. However, by the middle of the third, it was more a matter of waiting for the game to end than actually being invested in it.
I think there were probably two key reasons for this. For one, the lack of a crowd meant that there was very little atmosphere in the arena. While I’m not physically there, I think it adds some excitement to the viewing experience. (For a great example, consider how much the crowds are adding to the Big Bash TV viewing experience at the moment – it’s difficult to replace the excitement of a live crowd).
The second reason was probably just the nature of the game. The game was a blowout, with one team playing well and the other poorly. The same would apply to a lopsided match in most sports. Beyond this, it was an early season game with both the Blazers and Warriors testing out combinations and tactics. A game closer to the playoffs would clearly have higher intensity.
Fitzgerald and Azubuike made a good commentary combination. They talked tactics and analysed the game reasonably well without going overboard with the technical side of the game. As mentioned, I thought they assessed the game fairly (although I thought they put too much emphasis on the shooting performance being the difference between the two sides). They’re obviously a very experienced pair and know how to keep the broadcast interesting while calling the game well.
In general I’d say it was a reasonably enjoyable experience that became a bit of a drag as the game went on. I think more evenly matched teams in a higher stakes game would make for better viewing. I’ll definitely consider this when deciding which games to watch for the sports I’ve got lined up.
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