Ray Ratto

Ratto: Sharks' season ends nobly, but harshly

212011.jpg

Ratto: Sharks' season ends nobly, but harshly

May 24, 2011RATTO ARCHIVE
SHARKS PAGE SHARKS VIDEO
BOX SCORE
Ray Ratto
CSNCalifornia.comVANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It is the story that keeps telling itself -- the San Jose Sharks, playing their best game a game or two too late.

So it goes, again. Having wedged their backs into the soft plaster behind them, they played one of their finest games in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, but for a play here, a bounce there, a call somewhere else, they still flew home Tuesday night wearing a 3-2 double overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Indeed, the winning goal by Kevin Bieksa tells you everything you need to know about the evils of waiting until the last minute to get your ducks aligned. You never know when fate will jam a finger in your eye.
RELATED: Sharks fall short, Canucks claim series with 2OT triumph

Bieksa drove a puck to the front of the net that was deflected to the wall and back to fellow defenseman Alexander Edler, who tried to dump the puck behind the net. The puck, though, struck a stanchion and rebounded back to Bieksa at the O in Stanley Cup Playoffs logo inside the blue line, and his shot knuckled past a startled Antti Niemi at 10:18 of the overtime.

I didn't see it at all until the last two or three meters, Niemi said, explaining how he followed the players as they headed behind the net where Edlers pass was headed. It was one of the weirdest goals I've ever given up, sure. It took a bounce, and I lost it, and I never saw it until right at the end when it was past me. I just saw it going by.

And with it, another Miss Congeniality medal for the team that is becoming known for them.

While it is still too early to work at the postmortems and the is-the-window-closing arguments, Logan Couture put it succinctly.

It sucks, it really does, he said. Maybe we did deserve better. We did play good in a couple of games in this series, but it doesnt matter. Theyre going on, and were not, and that sucks.

The problem, of course, is that a couple of games are not five, and it took at least that many for the Sharks to beat the Canucks. Yes, the job was made more difficult by Joe Thorntons separated shoulder, and Ryane Clowes chronic shoulder problem, and a lot of other nagging annoyances that are the hallmark of a team that plays 107 hockey games in seven months.

But as it was a year ago, the superior team won, the right result was achieved. San Jose could have changed it, because no fate in this game is pre-ordained, but they left too much to the whims of an elimination game, and will reflect on being fourth best for the second time in succession.

I thought they competed extremely hard, head coach Todd McLellan said. I'll tell them (when we get back) I thought they were a better team than we were in the series. We started to show it in the end of the series, but ...
RELATED: Game 5 notes: Sharks look to uncertain offseason

But thats too late, again. And the recriminations of another missed opportunity can begin on Thursday, when the Sharks have scheduled their season autopsy.

Tuesdays game was San Joses to win despite Thorntons injury, which allowed him to play 32 minutes but not to materially affect the game in any dramatic way. San Jose played hard and with purpose most of the evening, and for the first time in the series could say they were foiled by a bit of bad luck, as in:

The Bieksa pinball goal.

An erroneous icing call on Dan Boyle with 29 seconds left, when his puck clearance hit Daniel Sedins shoulder, which should have negated the icing call that brought the puck back into the zone for a faceoff which led to Ryan Keslers tying goal 13 seconds from the end of regulation.

Then again, the Canucks were victimized a bit on Patrick Marleaus game-tying power play goal at 9:57 of the second. Bieksa was sent to the box for high-sticking instead of Mason Raymond, the actual miscreant, and as a result Keith Ballard, a much less accomplished defenseman, and not Bieksa was on the ice when Marleau scored.

But this isnt about referees or cruel stanchions or injuries or anything else. Ultimately, the Sharks season ended before they thought it should have because they didnt get consistent work game in and game out even though they knew it was the only thing keeping them from glory.

And maybe even if they had that, Vancouver still would have won. The Canucks are smart, fast, deep, chippy when needed, brilliant puck-controllers and an all-around tough out under any circumstances.

But the right team won gets hollow after awhile, and McLellan made sure he had a few more swings to take before he left the podium for the spring and summer.

BRAZIL: 20 thoughts from the Sharks' playoff run

First of all, we're going to get healthy, he said, referring specifically to Thornton and Clowe but with others on a long list of the impaired. We're going to rest over the summer, we're going to get our butts back to training camp where we're going to work ourselves right back to this spot again, and we'll make good on it next time.

We've learned a lot of lessons along the way. We've grown as a team. In my opinion, there's absolutely no reason why we can't be an elite team again next year, as we were the last three, four, five years. We expect to be there. Our task ahead of us is to get our asses back here in the conference finals and make good on it.

Theyll need to be more consistently Game 5-ish to do so, though. They werent unlucky as much as they were inefficient, and inadequately iron-minded. It is a lesson that will have to be driven into them even harder if, as McLellan says, they are to get our asses back here and make good on it.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

NBA All-Star Game more and more reveals personalities rather than skills

durant-kyrie-steph-all-star.jpg
AP

NBA All-Star Game more and more reveals personalities rather than skills

The voting for the NBA All-Star starters was properly instructive to both Adam Silver and the public at large about exactly what the game is meant to be – which is why I totally get their decision not to televise the All-Star draft.

It’s really a personality test for everyone involved, for good and ill.

I think having a draft nobody can see is idiotic, stealing an idea the NHL used and then discarded years ago and then not employing the reason why they did it to begin with, but if the All-Star Game is really an expression of ego, then the next best thing to having no draft is having one nobody can see.

The All-Star Game really only functions as a coronation of the elite by the elite, a festival of mutual backslapping friend-rewarding that has nothing to do with the playing of the game, or the moving of the T-shirts or jerseys or expensive hotel rooms. This is about stratifying the player pool so that everyone knows who’s who and what’s what.

Everything else is irrelevant, and the draft reinforces that. Kevin Durant not wanting to be a captain is strategic thinking by a future industrialist. Stephen Curry not minding being a captain is the perfect who-cares statement for someone who doesn’t mind playing the game because objecting to it takes too much work. LeBron James being a captain is the perfect political muscle-flexing that fits his personality.

Damian Lillard already assuming that he won’t be named to the team is a statement about his being considered the perpetual one-level-down guard. Russell Westbrook being named and then controlling the ball as he would in a regular season game is a statement about how he views his place as a disruptor. And on and on and on – the All-Star Game more and more reveals personalities rather than skills.

Does televising the draft help us understand the actual meaning of the event? Maybe, but the NBA would prefer you consider it a festival of the game itself, which it plainly isn’t. Proof, you say? 192-182 in 2017. 196-173 in 2016. 163-158 in 2015. 163-155 in 2014. There hasn’t been a normal-looking score in 15 years, which means it’s not a game at all.

That isn’t the news, though. It’s that the NBA has made this is a three-day event – the day the captains and starters are named, the day the reserves are picked, and the day that teams are chosen. And every bit of it is about the reaction to that. There is no show thereafter, and the players know it. They care about the selections, because that’s how they’re keeping score.

So go team. Whatever the hell that means.

 

Who is now the Warriors' biggest rival?

warriors-rivals-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

Who is now the Warriors' biggest rival?

Earlier we discussed how the Golden State Warriors have seemingly moved beyond hating on NBA officials (three technical fouls in 18 days is a stunning reversal of their formerly disputatious form), but we may have forgotten one new reason why they have found a more Buddhist approach to the cutthroat world of American competitive sport.

They lack someone new to hate.

Their much-chewed-upon rivalry with the Los Angeles Clippers actually lasted two years, and now the Clippers are busy trying to prevent military incursions into their locker room from the Houston Rockets. Their even more famous archrivalry with the Cleveland Cavaliers seems to be imploding – with the total connivance of the Cavs themselves – before our eyes. Even cutting off their hot water made them laugh when two years ago not letting the Warriors' wives get to the game on time torqued them mightily.

And since we know that you locals desperately need a bête noire for your heroes (even though their biggest foe is actually their own attention spans), let us consider the new candidates.

HOUSTON

The Rockets have been among the Warriors’ most persistent contender/pretenders, having faced them in both the first round of the 2017 postseason and the conference finals in 2015. Both ended in 4-1 Warrior wins as part of a greater piece – Golden State is 19-4 against the Rockets in the Warriors’ bad-ass era, 10-2 at home and 9-2 on the road, and has finished an aggregate 59.5 games ahead of the Rockets in the past three and a half years.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include James Harden and Chris Paul, while Rockets fans loathe Draymond Green and Kevin Durant and work their way down from there.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 32,353): 19. The Rockets need to win a playoff series before even matching the Clippers, who as we all know came and went in a moment.

SAN ANTONIO

The previous platinum standard in Western Conference basketball, the Spurs have never really gone away, though they have aged. Their pedigree is not in dispute, and Steve Kerr has essentially become the next generation of Gregg Popovich. It is hard to create a rivalry out of such shamelessly mutual admiration.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include . . . uhh, maybe Kawhi Leonard for winning two Defensive Player Of The Year Awards instead of Draymond Green, though that’s not much to go on, frankly. Spurs fans hate Zaza Pachulia for stepping beneath Leonard and ending last year’s series before it started.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 23): 1. If they didn’t have to play against each other, I suspect these two teams would date.

OKLAHOMA CITY

The Thunder’s 3-1 collapse in 2016 is all but ignored now because the Warriors did the same thing one series later, but lifting Kevin Durant was quite the consolation prize for Golden State, and the definitive finger in the eye for the Thunder, who turned their team over completely to Russell Westbrook, for good and ill. Even with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are still trying to relocate their stride.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include Westbrook and Anthony for defining the I-need-the-ball-in-my-hands-to-function generation, and owner Clay Bennett for Seattle SuperSonics nostalgics. Thunder frans hate Durant, followed by Durant, Durant, Kim Jong-un, Durant, leprosy, Draymond Green’s foot, and Durant.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 440): 220. Westbrook is a human lightning rod, Anthony is the antithesis of what Warriors now regard basketball (they’d have loved him a quarter-century ago), and Stephen Adams for getting his goolies in the way of Green’s foot. Plus, some savvy Warrior fans can blame OKC for extending their heroes to seven games, thus making the final against Cleveland that much more difficult. This could work, at least in the short term.

PORTLAND

Damian Lillard is a much-beloved local. Plus, the Blazers have never interfered in the Warriors’ universe save their 1-8 postseason record. There are no truly hateable players on either side, though Stephen Curry threw his first mouthpiece in Portland, and Green is a perennial.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 1): 0.

BOSTON

The new pretender to throne, with the Eastern Conference’s version of Kerr in Brad Stevens. Even better since taking advantage of Kyrie Irving’s weariness with LeBron James, and until proven otherwise the team the Warriors should most concern themselves with.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include Irving, who made the only shot in the last five minutes of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, while Celtics fans hate Durant for not signing with them.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 67.7): 26, though this will rise if the two teams meet in the Finals. The last time they did, Bill Russell owned basketball.

THE REST OF THE EAST

Still too remote to adequately quantify, though Toronto, Miami and Milwaukee are clearly difficult matches for the Warriors. If you put them together, Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Hassan Whiteside with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe coming off the bench, coached by either Eric Spoelstra or Jason Kidd, would make a fun team for the Warriors to play against. Probably not functional, but fun.

And finally:

SACRAMENTO

Some decade the two teams’ geographical proximity will matter, but for now, they remain essentially two full professional leagues away from each other. We just mentioned them so Kings fans wouldn’t feel any more slighted than they already do.