Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond; Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison bumgarner; Adam Snyder, Trent Baalke; Tim Tebow
THE WARRIORS lost probably their best chance to upset San Antonio in the second round of the playoffs last night.
The Spurs were sleepwalking in the early part of the game because they’d had too much time – a week – since they finished their first round. That can happen, especially to a veteran team. They fell behind, facing a 16-point deficit with just four minutes remaining.
Then, the Warriors panicked, suddenly realizing what was happening. That was also predictable for a young team in its first playoff run. That had happened to them against Denver, too, but they’d recovered to win. Not this time, though. The Spurs caught the Warriors by the end of regulation time and then beat them in the second overtime when a defensive lapse left Manu Ginoboli open for a three-pointer that gave the Spurs a one-point win.
That will probably mean that the Spurs will win this series, but the Warriors deserve credit for getting this far, and the future looks bright because the team is better run than it has been for a long time.
A reader, Scott Capifoni, pointed out to me that the Warriors have been starting three No. 1 draft picks – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. The last time I can remember that happening was in the ‘60s, when Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond and Fred Hetzel briefly started together. Hetzel and Barry came in the same year. The NBA had given the two worst teams, the Warriors and New York Knicks, each two of the first four picks in the 1965 draft. The Warriors took Hetzel second, Barry third. Thurmond had been a No. 1 pick before the 1962-63 season, the Warriors first in San Francisco, and played power forward until Wilt Chamberlain was traded and he could slide over to center.
The three top picks didn’t play together long. Hetzel retired early to pursue a profitable career as a stock broker, probably making more than he would have in the NBA of that era. Barry jumped ship for the ABA when it began, though he later came back and sparked the Warriors’ one NBA championship team, after the 1974—75 season. By that time, Thurmond was gone, traded to Cleveland.
I expect this current group of No. 1 picks to stay together longer, and a fourth No. 1 pick, Festus Ezeli, may join them in the near future, if the talented but injury-prone Andrew Bogut retires. I also expect the Warriors’ success to continue and for them to go deeper into the playoffs in the near future because the decision-making in the front office is so much better than it has been in recent years. And, give owner Joe Lacob credit, because he was the one who pushed for the Bogut trade and also for the drafting of Thompson. The Bogut trade was not a popular one because he was injured when the Warriors acquired him and they gave up a popular player, Monta Ellis. But they couldn’t continue with Curry and Ellis playing side-by-side in the backcourt, and Curry was clearly the better player. Ellis, a hard worker early in his career, has turned into a classic “me first” player, the kind that ultimately destroys a team. It’s no surprise that the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t make the playoffs this year.
Even though I have no expectations that the Warriors will go any further in the playoffs, they’ve been an exciting team to watch this year. And now, there is a good chance they’ll go further in the near future.
MORE PROBLEMS for the Giants rotation: Their most reliable starter this season, Madison Bumgarner, was lit up by the Phillies last night.
I don’t expect Bumgarner to have more problems. This was just a blip in a career that is definitely on the upswing. But I also think that the success of Giants starters against the Dodgers in the sweep last weekend is very misleading. The Dodgers’ hitters look pathetic. The one hitter who was coming through, Hanley Ramirez, is on the disabled list. Matt Kemp, who should be their big power source, seems unwilling to commit to his swing, fearful he might again injure himself. Adrian Gonzalez was injured and out of the lineup. It didn’t take much for Giants pitchers to look good against that lineup.
That said, I was encouraged by Matt Cain’s showing. I watched his game on my 60-inch HD television because I wanted a closer look at what was happening to him. I much prefer to watch baseball in person but I’ve found that watching a game on TV makes it easier to evaluate pitchers because of all the closeups. I could see that, for the most part, Cain had much better command of his pitches, which is critical. It isn’t just a matter of how many hitters a pitcher walks but whether he hits his spots. Cain wasn’t doing that earler, which is why he was giving up so many home runs. On Sunday, he was generally hitting his spots and, when he got in trouble, worked his way out of it.
When Cain started with the Giants, he was throwing 95-96 mph fast balls consistently. He’s lost a couple of miles since then but that’s no problem if he hits his spots, especially since he has a variety of pitches.
Tim Lincecum has pitched better in recent starts. He’s going again tonight, so we’ll be able to get a better idea of whether that improvement will continue. As I wrote in Friday’s Examiner, the league seems to have caught up to Ryan Vogelsong. He’s been a great story the last couple of years. We probably should have known it couldn’t last.
The best thing about Barry Zito is that he’s had some very short outings this year, giving hope he won’t reach the 200 innings he needs for another $18 million a year to kick in. I’m not averse to keeping him past this year but it should be at a much more reasonable price.
Overall, though it’s been exciting to watch the Giants come back with offensive shows, as they did in all three games they won in Arizona, hitters are never as consistent as good pitchers. The Giants have won two World Series in three years by having shutdown starters and just enough hitting. I don’t think a combination of more hitting but less pitching will work as well.
THE A’S have also suffered from a breakdown in their starting pitching, the biggest factor in keeping them just above the .500 mark.
A big part of that has been injuries, most notably to Brett Anderson, who should be the staff leader. This is nothing new for the A’s. For years now, they’ve been plagued by injuries, for which there seems no logical reason. They’ve changed team doctors, checked all their medical practices, and still it continues. Their biggest power threat, Yoenis Cespedes, spent 15 days on the DL with a mysterious wrist injury – and the A’s went into a tailspin. Another key player, Coco Crisp, is currently on the DL, though that’s been a career-long problem for Crisp.
The A’s are hanging in there, though, and took two of three from the Yankees in New York, after the Yankees had won six of their previous seven series and had been dominating at home in their bandbox park.
They could still win the AL West again, a division the Texas Rangers are currently leading. The Anaheim Angels, having added still another overpriced free agent hitter, Josh Hamilton, still have pitching problems. The two teams in the Los Angeles basin, the Dodgers and Angels, both have enormous payrolls but aren’t getting much bang for their bucks. Sorry, but the tears just won’t come.
THE 49ERS brought back a player, Adam Snyder, who is still another example of what a difference systems make in football. With the Niners, Snyder was a versatile lineman who had moved around but seemingly found his niche at guard. The Arizona Cardinals gave him a big contract but he was part of an offensive line that seldom protected the quarterback well and one rating system had him at 69 of 72 guards in the league.
Nonetheless, the 49ers welcomed him back because of his versatility. Tackle Alex Boone slid over to guard and played well last season, but Snyder’s versatility will be welcome because he can back up at tackle, guard and center.
He’s also an example of how general manager Trent Baalke has been adroitly building the roster, through the draft, through free agent signings. There’s depth everywhere, and there will be competition in training camp that will only make the starters better.
I’m still waiting, though, for the 49ers to cut ties with Chris Culliver. He’s a good player but he’s a bottom feeder, homophobic and with a retrograde opinion of women, referring to them as “hos” and “bitches” in his tweets. He’s a time bomb, and the 49ers need to get rid of him. Let him explode all over another team.
THE RETIRED players suing the NFL for not protecting them against injuries, including brain trauma from concussions, have included the equipment used in their lawsuits.
Having been in NFL locker rooms often in my career, I’ve seen the body armor they put on, seemingly to protect themselves but which also causes great physical damage to opponents. The padding on their body is hard plastic, similar to that used in sports cars and racing boats.
I’ve written before about being told at the very start of my career that the helmets used were causing damage in themselves. The old leather helmets fit tightly on players’ heads, absorbing blows, but the new helmets had a suspension element, so when they were hit, the helmets were driven into the players’ heads.
Now, the helmets are also being singled out in lawsuits, and for those who think football will never die in this country, that’s the Achilles heel of the sport. The NFL can afford to hire the best legal teams to fight lawsuits but what happens if a high school district is sued because of damage caused by helmets – or other equipment? Even in Texas, high schools couldn’t afford to continue football under those circumstances.
Maybe they’ll switch to rugby, which is a very popular sport in Australia and England but has never really caught on here. It’s a very physical sport but with a much lower rate of injuries – and virtually no concussions – because players don’t wear all this equipment, only shorts and a uniform shirt.
There’s another big difference between American football and rugby: the size of the players. Football players, especially the lineman, have become huge, mostly because they’re on steroids and staying in the weight room for extra hours. Years ago, if a lineman was over 300 pounds, it was usually because he was hog fat. Now, in NFL locker rooms, you see over 300-pounders who are not in the least fat. That’s not natural, of course. I’d bet there’s more use of steroids (or, human growth hormone) in pro football than in baseball.
When I was in school at Cal, the rugby team was almost entirely football players enjoying themselves in their main sport’s offseason. I commented on that one time to Cal rugby coach Jack Clark and he said, “There aren’t many football players we could use now. They’re too big.”
But perhaps, if there was no football, fans might learn to love rugby. Stranger things have happened.
JOHN SHE’S excellent column on Glenn Burke in Sunday’s Chronicle reminded me of the time that I mistakenly wrote that Burke had come out while he was still playing in the major leagues. He hadn’t, but it was common knowledge among his teammates and he was forced to quit at 27 when Billy Martin was named manager of the A’s and referred to him several times as “a faggot.” Martin was an often brilliant manager – over a short period – but he was a despicable character in many ways. His alcoholism led to a fatal accident which ended his life prematurely.
Burke’s life ended early, too, when he was only 42. His career ended at 27 because of Martin, despite his physical abilities which had been compared to Willie Mays.
We’ve come a long way since then but now, it will be interesting to see if any NBA team picks up Jason Collins, who is a free agent. The Warriors could use his defense and rebounding off the bench.
TEBOW TIME: Though Tebow is now a free agent, drawing little interest from NFL teams, a survey by Forbes.com found that 29 per cent of fans thought he was the most influential athlete in American sports, higher than any other athlete. I’d be willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of that 29 per cent are religious conservatives who like the fact that Tebow falls to his knees on the field and thanks God at every opportunity.
Apparently, though, God isn’t telling him to get realistic about his NFL future. He has never been an NFL quarterback. He is a great athlete but he should follow the path of Paul Hornung, a college quarterback who became an NFL running back – and a Hall of Famer.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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