I remember the first time I heard someone describe someone else's style of play as having "an old man's game." I couldn't tell if they were being complimentary or throwing shade. I was 15 years old, playing basketball on a military base in Oklahoma and was fortunate enough to play with a few friends and a few soldiers in a game of pick-up. That's when I was assigned the task to guard retired First Sergeant Reese.
At first, I thought the guys were giving me an easy task by guarding the elder statesman of the crew. The First Sergeant was in his 40s, with gray taking over his face and a belly that had held a beer or three in his day. Even when the game started, Sgt. Reese was slow and plodding, almost disinterested in the game. I'm 15, I'll just go around and over this man and do work, I thought. I made a play here and there and I figured this would be chump change. Then things started to happen.
One dribble across his face and suddenly I was without the ball. An outlet pass snapped downcourt by Sgt. Reese ended in an easy layup. Then it was the First Sergeant posting me up, and it was then that I got to know what "old man strength" was like on a basketball court. My chest caved and air left my body and Sgt. Reese up-and-undered me for a bucket. Next time down the court, First Sergeant dribbles the ball up and lets fly a 30-footer that hits nothing but net for the game. Defeated I was, by this seasoned vet. Then I was consoled by one of the soldiers in our game.
"Don't worry youngblood, First Sergeant's got that old man game. He's gives us all problems."
Game 1 of the NBA Finals made me think of Sgt. Reese. Watching guys like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Ray Allen play is like poetry in motion. Well, more like efficiency in motion. There's an economy of movement that these guys use on the court, where a pump fake or a hesitation seems to have more of an effect on the game than a 40-inch vertical or roadrunner speed.
It's not that these guys aren't athletic. Seven-footers who are as strong and as fluid as Duncan don't grow on trees. Ginobili's athleticism has always been severely underrated, as he's never had a problem dunking over 7-footers or blocking a 7-footer's dunk attempt. Allen's endurance is like that of a marathoner, as he's never seen a screen he didn't mind running off of and on occasion he reminds us that Mr. Shuttlesworth can still get on up there.
The Spurs and Heat benefit from their sage superstars by leveraging their high basketball intelligence. While Chris Andersen and Chris Bosh are pretty good defenders, they aren't Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Duncan had a field day in Game 1 and really looked unbothered by whatever the Heat tried to do schematically against him. Making 9 of 10 shots with a 21-10-3 stat line will give one that impression. Duncan's offensive excellence was matched by Ginobili's outside shot-making and passing wizardry as Manu managed the perimeter masterfully. Ginobili's 11 assists allowed Duncan and Tony Parker to go into attack mode, and Danny Green to go into flamethrower mode. Plus, Manu's three triples and drives to the basket forced the Heat to play defense with their heads on swivels.
Allen's mark in Game 1 was more than just the emphatic dunk in the third quarter, it was that when he's rolling along with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat are the most terrifying team in the league. What's scary is, when Allen's cooking, it's as if LeBron and Wade find real pleasure in seeing Allen be the robotic three-point assassin that he still can be. For 3-1/2 quarters, Miami was running on all cylinders, going blow for blow with the Spurs. Allen's personal 6-0 run late in the third looked to be the punch to the Spurs' gut that would net Miami a Game 1 road victory, and then The LeBron Cramp Game happened.
We all recognize that these are the final days of three surefire Hall of Famers, but their impact on this series will be vital for their team's success. There's definitely a country for old men for these guys, and I'm glad some of these youngbloods around here are able to see it.
Happy Hour drink recommendation: Bloody Mary. Hey LeBron, drink one of these. I hear that this drink has restorative powers that help you recover from whatever terrible things might happen to a person from the night before. Drink two of these please? We, the basketball public, need you for Sunday big fella.
Have a great weekend, everybody. Enjoy.