Ray Ratto

Wrapping our heads around the week from hell for a lot of Bay Area teams

curry-injury-hawks-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

Wrapping our heads around the week from hell for a lot of Bay Area teams

It was a pretty good week in the Bay Area, all things considered. Only three of the seven professional teams lost important players to injury, and only two of those were mega-important losses. Only two of the three remaining college basketball teams in the area got knocked out of the tournaments they were in. And one of them -- the otherwise draft-hungry Kings -- found a higher dignity in playing before an empty house.

Yeah, it was pretty good stuff indeed – if your comparison point is having your car repossessed.

Stephen Curry’s new role as the NBA’s MVIM (Most Valuable Injury Magnet) was enhanced yet again when JaVale McGee fell into him during an otherwise desultory win over the Atlanta Hawks Friday night. This was his fifth injury of the season to go with his four ankle injuries, and the second in which the instrument of his pain was one of his own centers. At this point, the only sane route for Warrior fans is to assume he will not even be available for the postseason, and to accept any appearances he does make as surprise rebates from the credit card company.

And yes, atop all their other injuries, this means you may not refer to them as unlucky any more than you bristled at them being called lucky in 2015 when every other team in the league lost significant players while they were healthy and fresh. Maybe now you’ll understand that being called lucky when your team wins is actually just a veiled compliment delivered by a disgruntled fan of some other team.

Besides, after three years of pure and unadulterated frontrunning, the role of the plucky underdog would do you all some good.

Elsewhere in hell, Madison Bumgarner broke his pinky finger trying to catch a line drive from Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield and will miss six to eight weeks, or just enough time for Jeff Samardzija to heal from a pectoral muscle problem that was diagnosed the day before. By then, the Giants could well be flash-fried in much the same way they were a year ago when Bumgarner lost in straight sets to a dirt bike and helped insure a 98-loss season.

In Oakland, starting pitchers Jharel Cotton is done after Tommy John surgery, and Paul Blackburn went down with what manager Bob Melvin feared was a similarly severe injury. In addition, highly worshiped prospect A.J. Puk is now injured as well with a biceps issue.

In the college game, the Stanford women got boatraced by top-seeded Louisville to exit the NCAA Tournament and the Stanford and St. Mary’s men were decoupled from the NIT, although USF is now in the CBI finals after beating the Campbell...

...wait for it...

Fighting Camels. Perfect.

The Dons now play their archrivals North Texas (work with me on this) in a best-of-three series starting Monday. A tournament victory would give the school its first anything since the 1956 NCAA title, and would put them on the same track as Loyola-Chicago, which won the 2015 CBI when Sister Jean was an ingénue at 95, and Nevada, which won in 2016 and reached the second weekend of the hallucinogenic 2018 NCAAs.

Everywhere else, normalcy abounds, if that’s what you want to call it. The Sharks are going to the playoffs as a gritty counterpuncher, the Raiders and 49ers are among the few teams who don’t need to draft a quarterback early, the Earthquakes just began their 35th season with Chris Wondolowski, and life goes on.

Sometimes, though, you get an NBA title, sometimes you get a World Series, and sometimes you get a CBI. Be an adult. Deal with it.

Why the Sharks are about to be the NHL's biggest villains

Why the Sharks are about to be the NHL's biggest villains

Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, nothing is done until it’s done, the fourth win is the hardest, and blah-blah-blah-de-blah-blah. I’m still going to say this – the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Embryos are second-round opponents, and that’s the deal.
 
This means that for perhaps the first time since the Philadelphia Flyers’ terror cell known as the Broad Street Bullies of the mid-70s, there will be a clear, unambiguous and almost universal interest on one side of this equation.
 
And it isn’t going to be San Jose.
 
Vegas is Turbo-Cinderella, the expansion team that can’t be killed, a heartwarming tale of the meek kicking Earth’s ass. By winning more games by themselves than most full expansion classes in either hockey or basketball, the Knights have enveloped themselves in the admiration of the industry and even casual fans who know that expansion teams are required by federal and dominion law to stink. They are the perfect antidote to the inherent cynicism in any system. They are love in a world that runs on hate.
 
There, I think we’ve made the point.
 
On the other side is San Jose, a team who has succeeded on the periphery of the NHL diaspora. They have never been darlings outside the 408, and have been criticized more for losing consistently to the hump they should have gotten over by now. But essentially, they are good but inoffensive, and their fan base is loud but neither deep nor truly rabid. They have taken good and made it their base camp without venturing too far from it.
 
None of which matters in these circumstances, though. Everybody with an opinion wants Vegas because The Narrative, which means that nobody with an interest wants the Sharks. And when we say “nobody,” we mean “nobody except Sharks fans and the Vegas books,” which will be taking more bets on Vegas than they have taken on the last 15 Cup Finals combined.
 
But you get the point. Everyone wants Vegas. Vegas wants Vegas, the other 29 teams wants Vegas, the league office wants Vegas, television wants Vegas, radio wants Vegas, web sites and newspapers want Vegas. People who hate hockey want Vegas. The only entity with this kind of popular unanimity is Beyonce.
 
That means San Jose is the villain, and worse, a bland villain. They don’t play dirty, they don’t cheat, they don’t talk smack, they don’t have a great player anyone truly hates they haven’t inflated pucks or illegally filmed opponents’ practices, their coach isn’t a contemptuous jerk, their owner isn’t a notoriously financial predator, none of it. They will be hated simply for existing in the path of the Vegas Goodwill Train over the next two weeks. And fair has nothing to do with it.
 
So if you say “Go Sharks!” do it with a smile, and prepare to duck. You are swimming against a massive tide, and the only way to survive it is to ride the wave.
 
And if you cannot hold your temper and simply must get yours back, then just snarl, “I hope you get a Columbus-Winnipeg Cup Final,” and then walk away. It may not be much of a retort, but let’s face it, you’re not playing a strong hand. North America hates you. Deal with it.

The Warriors turned it on at will. Again.

The Warriors turned it on at will. Again.

Let’s put it this way. It took a lot longer for the San Antonio Spurs to feel the gravitational pull of the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 than Game 1. But it happened anyway, and now the last true adjustment in Gregg Popovich’s arsenal is the fact that Games 3 and 4 will be in Texas – the one place where the present Spurs are still the historical Spurs.

True, geography is a poor substitute for superior talent, roster depth or tactical wizardry, but tactical wizardry only works when the wizard has instruments within arm’s length to make those ideas come alive. Thus, San Antonio is left to rely Thursday and Sunday on the comforts of home – and friendlier rims, and more commodious backgrounds, and supportive fans.

If that’s your idea of an adjustment. And it probably isn’t.

Monday’s 116-101 choke-slam looked a lot like Saturday’s 113-92 throttling, only more condensed. The Spurs started Rudy Gay instead of Kyle Anderson, they double-teamed Kevin Durant and then Klay Thompson and then back again, and crowded whichever of the two wasn’t being doubled. They forced the Warriors into 11 first-half turnovers, and they got an inspired game from LaMarcus Aldridge.

And then the second half happened, just as the whole of Game 1 happened. The Warriors won the second half by precisely the same margin – 21 points – that they won all of Game 1, taking the Spurs’ best competitive instincts and reducing them to a single statistic.

14.3 percent, on 28 three-pointers, to Golden State’s 48.4 (15 of 31).

That 45-12 discrepancy wiped out San Antonio’s 53-47 halftime lead, neutralized the turnover imbalance and reduced San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich to a conciliatory tone that hinted at inevitability. He praised his team’s increased fight and attention to detail, spoke highly of Aldridge (34/12) and Gay, and then headed to the reason why Golden State looks so, well, Golden State-y.

“You gotta make shots,” he said. “It’s been like that all season on the road for whatever reason, and that makes it difficult.”

No, damned near impossible. The Warriors’ starters, which included JaVale McGee and Andre Iguodala again, shot 55 percent (34 of 62, 13 of 26 from afar), and the only real failings were 15 turnovers and David West’s tweaked ankle in the fourth quarter. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were – well, 63 points’ worth on 39 shots, and metrics only embellish that central truth. The Warriors, if you’ll forgive the narrative whoring, turned it on at will. Again.

“We just met their level of physicality and force,” head coach Steve Kerr said, without referring to tactical changes at all. “They just took it to us the whole first half. They were tremendous defensively . . . so in the second half, we matched their effort level and we were able to get the upper hand.”

And, he omitted to add, close that hand at throat level, taking a worrisome first half for the customers and turning it into a Warriors-standard game.

All that said, the Spurs’ considerable limitations in this series do not preclude them from stealing a game in San Antonio, if such a thing can be said about a team that has won its last 11 home games. Golden State’s oppressive dominance may seem like a return to the good old days, but it still feels more like increased focus combined with a very favorable matchup.

But if we see this game again at AT&T Thursday and/or Sunday, the Warriors may get that smell in their nostrils again and use it as fuel in subsequent rounds. They may just be beating a depleted and inaccurate team whose best player has apparently returned to his home planet for repurposing and perhaps relocation, but the way they are doing it is as nostalgia-inducing as it is breathtaking.

And that has proven over most of the last three years to beat tactics every time.