Ray Ratto

49ers' success hinges on Justin Smith, not Kaepernick

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49ers' success hinges on Justin Smith, not Kaepernick

So it turns out that Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers are . . . well . . . Just like everybody else. Capable of getting their bravado kicked in just like common Titans and Bills and Jaguars.

Theirs, though, is an odd form of hubris in that it goes into regular cycles of hibernation. They lose every third game, whether they need it or not, and they apparently do so in part by continually believing that they have finally climbed the final mountain despite being nowhere near it. 

They are unlike most teams in that they are not, have not been, and will not be for the foreseeable future, a quarterback-driven team. This sets them apart from Atlanta (Matt Ryan), Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), Washington (Robert Griffin Le Trois), Seattle (Russell Wilson), Dallas (Tony Romo), New York (Eli Manning), Chicago (Jay Cutler), New England (Tom Brady), Baltimore (Joe Flacco), Denver (Peyton Manning), Indianapolis (Andrew Luck) and Cincinnati (Andy Dalton), to name most of the team still eligible for the postseason. Only Minnesota (Adrian Peterson) and Houston (Arian Foster, if he’s still healthy) can say their offenses are run by a non-quarterback.

And only the 49ers can say their most valuable player is a defensive tackle. Justin Smith showed again the difference between the 49er defense and the 49er defense. With him, they have allowed 189 points in 14 ¾  games, an average of 12.9 per game; without him, 71 in five quarters, an average of 56.8.

The truth should lie closer to Figure A than Figure B, of course, but that’s the beauty of a small sample size. You can make it say some oversized truths.

And this is the 49ers’ truth. Colin Kaepernick is a rookie in thought, word and deed, and dressing him his 50-yard runs and calling it quarterbacking is not the same thing. He will have difficult times because that is the way of all rookies not named Manning and Marino. There is much growing to be done, and he has been given the difficult task of doing his where everyone can see and staple expectations.

Thus, the fixation on him viz. Alex Smith viz. Harbaugh continues to completely miss the central point of this team. It wins when it stops people, because it is a team built upon defense and ball control, an out-of-time mode given the football of the day. If they cannot hold the football and Smith is not there to be the gravitational center of the defense, they are ordinary.

Thus, their difficulties in the final quarter of the New England game and their complete flameout in Seattle. Harbaugh’s great quarterbacking gamble has netted the 49ers exactly one lost place in the NFC playoff standings, and yet it isn’t the gamble that put them there, but Smith’s mangled arm.

Kaepernick is likely to get healthy against a rancid Arizona team, and then (assuming the Packers beat Minnesota and the Bears beat Detroit) there will likely be a first-round rematch with Chicago, only this time without Jason Campbell. Unless, of course the Seahawks lose at home to the Rams, which seems unlikely, in which case . . .

REMATCH! BLOODSPORT! HARBAUGH AND PETE CARROLL, SHIRTLESS, WITH ONLY MACHETES AND BULLWHIPS! FUN TO RING OUT THE OLD YEAR! YEE-HAHHHHH!

There are other permutations, of course, but let’s keep it relatively simple. The real point here anyway is that Colin Kaepernick is not the key to the 49ers, and neither, frankly, is Jim Harbaugh. It was, is, and will continue to be Justin Smith, and he can’t play, the 49ers won’t likely be doing so much longer either.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

You don’t think you needed this game to go this way, but you did, and you do.

The Golden State Warriors spat out a 17-point lead and lost, 92-88, in Boston Thursday night, in a game that was taut if not particularly elegant, and in a game that elevated the Celtics to a place that makes them the new heir apparent to the heir apparent.

The Celtics have been a difficult out for the Warriors during the Brad Stevens Era, losing six of nine but only being blown out twice, and Thursday was not one of those nights. The box score will tell you the shooting and rebounding problems, but the Warriors had that lead and didn’t hold it. Or, to be accurate, the Celtics had that deficit and refused to let it destroy them.

Which is exactly the kind of team you, the fully licensed Warrior fan, want to watch play your team in the NBA Finals. You want to see them genuinely challenged, forced to win outside their comfort zone, induced to show their greatness in the highest of high leverage situations.

At least we think that’s what you want. Maybe you prefer blowouts so you can drink and go to the bathroom without care or fear. After all, the Warriors have taught the area the true meaning of front-running by being in front so often.

But the Celtics play a level of defense typically reserved for the San Antonio Spurs, and yes, the Warriors. They have a spiky exoskeleton that the acquisition of Kyrie Irving has actually enhanced, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum give them a gifted precocity that fits well with veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Morris, and Boston’s overall youth (they are fifth youngest, while Golden State is third-oldest) ought to make them a more difficult conundrum than Cleveland or any other team in either conference.

They are not yet the superior team; that remains to be proven, and betting against the Warriors requires a level of irrational bravery left only for the truly self-destructive.

But they are, as we sit this evening, the team the Warriors will have to work hardest to finish, because on a night when they had the chance to do so, they didn’t. In other words, the fight for a third ring still goes through Oakland, but it looks more and more like a one-stop through Boston.

And as much as you may hate thinking about it, you’ll almost certainly remember, and savor, a Celtics-Warriors final more than another round of Cavs-on-the-half-shell.

Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor

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AP

Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor

Programming note: Warriors-Celtics coverage starts today at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming live right here 

Draymond Green spoke to a group of students at Harvard Thursday on the subject of leadership, and if you find that incongruous, shame on you.
 
I mean, who else would you want as a college professor?
 
Green has led, and been led. He has learned, and he has taught. He has certainly lectured, as any teammate, official and media member will testify. He’d be a hell of a teacher, and the subject almost doesn’t matter.
 
For one, homework would be different, as in I’d bet there would be no written work. I don’t see Prof. Day-Day poring over essays about the Industrial Revolution, M-theory or pre-Raphaelite art. Not even the history of Basketball-Reference.com.

For two, having tenured faculty audit his classes may find his choice of rhetoric a little strident, as in “What the ---- were you thinking, dude?” is not typically approved instructional methodology.
 
And three, nobody would get a grade. Green would mark every exam with a “35,” as in his draft position, and besides, the exams would be students arguing with each other over whether that was a foul or a no-call, and who pulled the better face when the call was made. He’d give either an approving nod or give the loser a second technical foul and kick him or her out of class.
 
But it would be a hell of a class. Not at Harvard, of course, because Green probably would want to teach a school that could better use his brand of wisdom, and Harvard kids already have a healthy lead off third base. He’d want his students to make Harvard students cry, you can just tell.
 
But wouldn’t he look perfectly Draymond in a cap and gown on graduation day, pulling a bottle out of his sleeve to make the valedictory speeches less painful. “Damn, dude,” you could hear him yell. “Peaking?”