Ray Ratto

Alex Smith shows he's more than a manager


Alex Smith shows he's more than a manager

This will always be remembered as Alex Smiths breakout game, the one where he finally brought the football world to its knees, the one where he finally changed the term game manager into a profanity.Nonsense. He is still a game manager, and game manager is not an insult at all. In fact, he managed it better than ever, which is why the San Francisco 49ers are closing in on the second bye in the NFC playoffs.The 49ers 27-20 win over the New York Giants in an electrifying game at La Candeliere advanced them to 8-1, and reduced the number of ways this could go horribly wrong by one weekend.But this was Smiths day more than anyone elses more than Carlos Rogers, or Justin Smiths, or Vernon Davis, or Jim Harbaughs for one very important reason.

Smith didnt have any tall buildings to shade him.Frank Gore was bottled up early, and then injured his knee. The defense bent, and came within the J. Smith pass-block of Eli Mannings last throw with 34 seconds left of blowing a two-score lead with 12 minutes left. This game needed lots of moments, but it also needed a central character.Alexander David Smith was it. On the big stage. With the nation watching and trying to stifle laughter from his painful resume of years past. And he slapped sense into everyone.If there was a moment that crystallized Smiths emergence from national scorn to national discovery, though, it wasnt even a pass. It was two runs, five plays apart in the second quarter, when he was flushed from the safety of the pocket, and attacked what was available to him with a confidence he never exuded quite so forcefully.The first came on a third-and-17 from the Giant 33 with two minutes left in the half. Smith had just been sacked by Linval Joseph, a sure sign that bad times were coming with the next play or so. Only Smith broke from the pocket on the next play and ran with a jut-jawed purpose for 12 yards to set up David Akers go-ahead field goal.His next initiative-seizing moment came after Eli Mannings first interception with 1:26 left in the half when, again muscled from the pocket, he took off for a 14-yard scramble and slide to the Giant 24. And even though that drive died when Ted Ginn bobbled a pass into the hands of Giant cornerback Corey Webster, Smith established the following things:1. That this was his game to win.
2. That he was ready to seize it.
3. That he would not let go once he had.By that time, Gore had already been driven from the game, and Smith understood that managing this game meant controlling it himself.So he did, and with the country watching. He tried to front it all off by saying it didnt matter to him how he was described Harbaugh had already seeded the ground by using game manager as the insult it really isnt but he did describe with understated glee the gathering of the national media, including Foxs No. 1 broadcast crew (which frankly, had really come more for the Giants and Manning than for the 49ers and him).Thats fun, he said. Its nice to have the national stage. But mostly it feels good to be 8-1.No, it feels good to be 8-1 with the national stage, and to find out that Alex Smith is now an NFL brand name a slow-acting but surprisingly effective product that can do everything from clean your grout to shampoo your rugs to change the oil in your crankcase.He is about to get the full NFL myth-makeover, because nobody in decades has done what he has done toil in abject humiliation for almost twice the length of the average NFL career and then suddenly come up aces and kings.And while hell still have the earnest inflections and sincere eyes and aw-shucks demeanor, a little bit of the I-told-you-so will leak out here and there. He has a lot of I-told-you-sos saved up, and now that his allegedly small hands have a firm grip on the second best team in football, he will let them slip out here and there. He has this coming to him, and whatever else between now and late January, he will remember this as the day that he managed not only a game, but his way into the national discussion as a quarterback other teams would like very much to have.

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


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?”