NOW THAT THE NBA Finals have dwindled to two games, it's obvious nothing is going to change. We were wishing for tight, precise encounters filled with spectacular shots and acrobatic dunks. Instead, we get a 42-point margin in Game 3. We were hoping for breathtaking precision and we get 23 turnovers in the first half of Game 5.
That isn't to say this is as bad as the 1994 Finals, when Houston beat New York. That wasn't a blue collar series, it was a Neanderthal series. This NBA Finals is characterized by two very good offensive teams that claim their first priority is defense. In that light, both sides have hunkered in as though they intend to hold the other scoreless.We were hoping to see a graceful matchup between two good basketball teams. Instead, it's been as ugly as a cockroach. How bad has it been? Ugly enough
to scare children. Ugly enough to qualify for federal disaster relief.
This, of course, is a big surprise to some, who can't believe in the NBA Finals there would be ugly basketball. But that's because they either have forgotten or don't know ugly basketball can show its hoary head at any time, in any place.
There have, of course, been some impressive moments: Michael Jordan's 37 points in Game 2 or Karl Malone's 39 Friday night to stave off elimination. Scottie Pippen's defense has been wonderful. But overall the series has been homely. Jeff Hornacek is just 17-44 from the field. John Stockton has 15 turnovers and only 20 baskets. Karl Malone took only three shots in the final quarter of Game 4 and was averaging three points in the fourth quarter going into Friday's contest. When Bryon Russell missed a dunk in Game 5, the ball sprang up and fell in anyway. He should have shouted, "Mulligan!"
Even Jordan isn't exempt. He went 1-for-7 from the field in the fourth quarter on Friday, finishing 9-for-26. The same night Pippen went 2-for-16. For the series, Jordan is only 55-for-129 from the field, while Pippen is 30-for-76. Not exactly the numbers you want engraved on your cham-pion-ship trophy. In one 51/2-minute span in the second quarter on Friday the Jazz and Bulls combined for just four points. They made up for it by throwing the ball away 10 times.
The Jazz, who averaged 101 points during the season, are averaging 79 points in the Finals. Likewise, the Bulls are averaging 88.2 points, compared to 96.7 in the regular season. The Jazz shot 49 percent for the year but are making just 43 percent in the Finals. The Bulls are shooting .417, compared to .451 in the regular season.
It's no surprise, then, to realize neither team is playing as well as it did in most of the regular season.
There are actually good reasons why these figures add up to some bad-looking basketball. First, they are both relatively physical teams. It stands to reason that when they would meet in the Finals, it would be rough and tumble and not especially artistic.
Both are good defensive teams. It's not like a night against the Nuggets. It's a best-of-seven series against an opponent that probably isn't going to lie down on defense. Also, in the playoffs the games usually feature less running and gunning and more deliberation.
Then there's the normal Finals jitters. Even when you've been there before, you get nerves for Finals games. This isn't a game you can play on automatic pilot. Consequently, lapses in concentration have been glaring. John Stockton has missed several driving shots he normally makes in his sleep. Adam Keefe and Luc Longley missed open layups. Jeff Hor-na-cek, the league's No. 2 free throw shooter in the regular season, missed back-to-back attempts in the second quarter of Friday's game. Not to be outdone, Chicago's Toni Kukoc missed two of his own.
Let's just admit it isn't likely to get better, either. This is the NBA Finals, and the teams are going to do whatever they can to win, whether it looks good or not. We've all been hoping for a ballet and instead watched something resembling a food fight.
Maybe the NBA Finals of 1998 won't go down as the prettiest ever. Fair enough. It won't matter much to the winner. But if aesthetics are that important, the best thing is to approach it the way one approaches a slasher movie: Buy a ticket, get some popcorn, find a seat - and cover your eyes when things get ugly.