Monday, May 21, 2012

Today's High 5: From Derrick Rose to Kerry Wood

5. Here was my knee-jerk reaction to those who hypothesized that Tom Thibodeau was responsible for Derrick Rose's injury -- and therefore the Bulls' early playoff exit -- because Rose was still playing in the playoff opener with 82 seconds left and the Bulls up by 12: Those jerky hypothesizers should be kneed in the groin.

But what if I was wrong? What if every intelligent coach, guys with much more experience and a longer history of success than Thibodeau, would have had Rose out of there?

Well, three weeks later, the evidence is in. And I wasn't wrong at all.

Game after game, coach after coach has left his stars deep in lopsided games to make sure his team didn't blow a big lead. Doc Rivers has done so with the Celtics, Eric Spoelstra has done so with the Heat and, most notably, Gregg Popovich has done so with the Spurs.

In Game 1 vs. the Clippers, Popovich still had Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in the game with 61 seconds to go and the Spurs leading by 15. He had subbed for Manu Ginobili with a 15-point lead and 2:33 remaining -- the same time Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro removed his stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

That's right: Duncan and Parker didn't come out until a minute and a half after Del Negro conceded.

In game 2, Popovich didn't take out Duncan and Parker until the Spurs led by 17 with 2:02 left -- and, again, only after Del Negro had removed Paul and Griffin.

I guess Popovich is pretty stupid. He's only going for his fifth NBA title.

Look, most coaches are neurotic. They think a 20-point lead with 20 seconds to go isn't enough. They don't want to be remembered as the guy who subbed too early and then suffered a blown lead of historic proportions.

Most coaches embrace this philosophy: If the game is "over," let the other coach concede by taking out his players first; then I'll take out mine.

Thibodeau did exactly what Popovich, Spoelstra, Rivers and probably each of the other 26 NBA coaches would have done: He played to win the game.

4. NBA honchos and network executives might have wanted an all-glitz, all-L.A. Western Conference final, but Spurs-Thunder will be much more entertaining ... and much more representative of the conference's best.

3. After LeBron James missed a late free throw, Lance Stephenson flashed the choke sign. Which leads to one question:

Who in the name of garbage time is Lance Effin Stephenson?

James had two perfect answers when asked about Stephenson, a little-used Pacers reserve.

First came the verbal retort: "Lance Stephenson? You want a quote about Lance Stephenson? I'm not even gonna give him the time."

Then came the physical one: James had 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists as the Heat reclaimed homecourt advantage by beating the Pacers.

Stephenson's contribution? DNP-CD. That's the box score abbreviation for Did Not Play - Coach's Decision.

Garbage-time scrubs shouldn't be allowed to talk, let alone make throat-slash gestures that awaken a sleeping giant.

2. Is it me or does Brian McNamee seem even less believable than Roger Clemens? And that's no easy feat!

1. I have nothing but fond memories of the years I spent covering Kerry Wood.

He always was fair to me. He answered every question I ever asked him, even those he didn't like. And he always gave every ounce of energy and passion when he played -- a fact that no doubt contributed to the many, many injuries he suffered and, finally, to his retiring Friday at the still-young age of 34.

I didn't cover his 20-strikeout game. I was running errands that day and didn't even hear about it until I was on my way to the Bulls playoff game that night. It would have been cool to have been there, but I did get to witness many other incredible performances by him.

One example: His pitching against the Braves absolutely carried the Cubs into the 2003 NLCS. As often was the case with snakebitten Wood, however, his highs were followed by lows.

The night after the famous Bartman game, the Cubs still had a chance to win their first pennant in 58 years with Wood on the mound for Game 7. I never heard Wrigley Field louder than it was when his two-run homer in the second inning tied the game. An inning later, a shot by Moises Alou gave Wood a two-run lead. He holds that lead, and Steve Bartman is but an amusing footnote, not one of the biggest villains in Cubbie lore.

But Wood was spent and couldn't hold on, allowing 7 runs as the Cubs completed their epic collapse.

Afterward, a teary-eyed Wood said: "I let my teammates down, I let the organization down and I let the city of Chicago down. I choked."

That's right: An athlete didn't try to make excuses, didn't point fingers at teammates and accepted considerably more responsibility than he had to. Honesty and accountability ... crazy concepts.

It's hard to believe that someone as talented and as hyped as Kerry Wood had only 86 career victories and never had a single 15-win season.

It shows how much luck and health mean to athletes.

I'll always look back on Wood -- and his fellow star-crossed Cubbie, Mark Prior -- as cautionary tales. As in: Stephen Strasburg is gonna be great? Maybe. But don't forget that Wood and Prior were gonna be great, too. Let's just see what happens before we anoint somebody ... "

Through all the injuries and adversity, Wood was a fighter, a stand-up guy and an amazingly hard worker. He is one of the good guys. Cubbieland, and all of baseball, is poorer without him.

1 comment:

  1. Geez,got a little choked up on the Wood comments. Real nice piece of writing.