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We’re in the doldrums of the offseason folks, so with no current games to watch, I’ll dive into the past and watch my first NBA Hardwood Classics. First up, Game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals.
To relive the glory that was the first NBA Championship won by the San Antonio Spurs, I chose two breweries that represented stability and consistent quality, the same attributes that can be associated with the Spurs. Dogfish Head and Samuel Adams are two name craft beers you can (usually) safely bet on when you pluck them up at your local store, so I figured two brews from them would be appropriate for watching the Spurs win their first NBA Championship. What I got instead were two mediocre brews I’d associate with those helpless Knickerbockers than the steady Spurs.
For the first half, I poured a glass of Dogfish Head’s “Tweasonale,” and was immediately punched backwards with the strong aromatic wave of strawberries that came jumping out of the glass. Hell, even the beer itself had a bright, pink-ish hue to it when I swirled it. The taste was, as expected, overwrought with strawberries, along with a tartness that made me wince a bit with each sip. The beer was fine for this type of style, but it reminded me far too much of a pink Rose to ever want to drink another bottle again.
To go along with the uneven beer was a remarkable uneven first half performance by the Spurs, who looked frazzled by the ferocious Knicks defense (this might be the first time that sentence was written since 1999!). Tim Duncan and David Robinson were particularly off the first two quarters, both missing their usual sure-fire bank shots and lay-ups. Also, Jeff Van Gundy’s comb-over is atrocious! He has since embraced his full on, white Jewish guy baldness, but back then, not so much. Maybe he was thinking everyone watching would be so focused on the game, that they wouldn’t notice his very sad attempts to convince the world he wasn’t going bald. If Twitter had been around back then, I’m sure #JVGCombover would’ve been trending that night.
In true Spurs fashion, they managed to keep the game close, and then pull away at the half, 40-38, thanks to a three made by Jaren Jackson, a player that can only be second fiddle to the king of all former Spurs players with the last name of Jackson – Stephen. (RIP) As I cracked open the “Rebel Rouser,” I was struck by how low scoring this game was at halftime. Rarely in the NBA will you see a halftime score so low, even in the playoffs and Finals, when players are actually putting forth 100% effort on D. Also noticeable was the lack of three-pointer attempts, which you’d never see in today’s game. Nowadays you’d see every other player getting haunted by the ghost of Dion Waiters and jacking up every three that became available on the floor.
To test my rapidly impairing eyeballs to make sure it wasn’t just the booze creating this observation, I looked up the team stats for the Spurs/Knicks in ’99 and compared them to the Cavs/Warriors Finals for 2015, and the difference is shocking. (Well, as shocking as one can be when analyzing numbers on a computer screen.) The Warriors jacked up 186 3PA for the series, with Cleveland 167 (most of which turned out to be ugly bricks from an overwhelmed JR Smith). Compare this with the 1999 Finals, which had San Antonio only shooting 62 times from downtown to go with New York only trying 54 times. It really did feel like shooting a 3 was a last resort for both teams during this game, whereas today’s teams draw up plays specifically designed for three’s.
I think I just put myself to sleep writing about all those stats. Let’s get back to the beer! Sam Adams slapped the tagline “a west coast IPA” on the bottle of the “Rebel Rouser,” but I am here to tell you it tastes far from a west coast IPA as possible. It’s a big and bitter beer, with notes of honey, raisins and featuring a very rustic, earthy texture. These are all qualities I associate with the brews coming out of the Midwest and east coasts. West coast IPA’s are fruitier, with tremendous amounts of citrus and pine flavorings, not the earthy, dryer sensations I got from the “Rebel Rouser.” It’s a bit too big and bold for me, lacking a grace and smoothness I find from the better IPA’s out there.
Speaking of grace and smoothness, that’s exactly what happened with San Antonio in the second half, as the Spurs seemed to have nutted up during halftime. I’m sure David Robinson rallied around the team and said: “Hey, assholes, I’m getting older, my body is breaking down, and this may be my only chance to win a championship. So wake the fuck up!” Robinson is known as one of the nicest NBA superstars in the league’s history, so imagining him being a complete dick makes me laugh. If only there were better comedies on TV these days, I wouldn’t have to resort to such nerdy basketball fantasies to achieve my chuckles.
You know who I forgot all about? Latrell Sprewell! That lovable, coach choking, “I can’t feed my children” fellow had a heck of a game, netting 35 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He had the Spurs number for a lot of this game, but he was probably too distracted while playing with whether he’d be able to feed his children after the game, which led to the Knicks demise. I thought to myself – “I wonder what happened to that guy?” So I looked him up on Wikipedia and realized he was a total douchebag and not worth my time reading about, so I stopped halfway. Still, he had a hell of a Game 5.
In the end, a young and spry Tim Duncan carried the Spurs to victory, and the pre-Big 3 Spurs offense, which was basically just toss the ball to Duncan first, see what he can do, then maybe pass to someone else, was in full effect. You can see the glimpse of the long-lasting Duncan/Pop bro-mance just burgeoning here. With 1.4 seconds left to go in the game, the Spurs are concerned that the Knicks will have the ball with enough time to get a bucket and win the game. All are worried… except Duncan and Pop, who share a smile and a knowing look that says: “Naw, we got this.” It certainly wouldn’t the last time these two smiled like that.
All in all, I enjoyed my first Hardwood Classics + craft beer experience, and will try to do one more before the 2015-2016 season tips off. Cheers!