Caleb Martin, considered by many to be the star of Miami's victory over Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, spoke before the series about the significance and experience of Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley. After all, Riley's five decades (the president) or Spoelstra's previous five Finals (the coach) don't even get you a rebound, or a point on the court.
"It's mostly their conduct after losses," Martin explained. "No matter how hard the loss was, they are quiet, and the preparation for the next game is going on as usual." You don't have to ask him for examples after winning Game 7 in Boston.
"And what does Jimmy Butler mean?" I ask him. "Maybe all the players who weren't selected in the draft derive experience from the fact that he, too, was selected very low compared to a superstar (pick 30)?" Undoubtedly. He's our snakehead," he replies.
Miami defense vs. Gordon. Looking for inspiration, photo: USA TODAY Sports
"He wasn't a 5 star in high school (the list of most sought-after college players). He was not interested in Kentucky and the Carolinas. He worked hard to reach his status. You see it and understand where determination and investment are getting you. You understand it's a long game, not a short one."
You could see it in the first game, which ended 93:104 for Denver. Miami is the Eye of the Storm artist. She doesn't let a one-sided game get away, then takes advantage of Denver's brief minutes to ask questions in the fourth quarter.
In the meantime, she has earned another player for her coral snake - Haywood Highsmith. A player with fewer than 300 points in the league, who decides to match his career high of 18 in the NBA Finals. He takes the issue of "undrafted" to another dimension, since he hasn't even played in the major college leagues.
Personally, this writer thinks Miami will lose the series, and that it won't be long. But these are café conversations. Miami won't lose out on fear, momentum or psychology. She's just up against a better team.
And Denver is sometimes deceptive. Even against the Lakers, it didn't look as good in many minutes, but sent LeBron and his teammates home in defeat. And as polished as she was in the first game, she has many more dimensions. The traits that won the game — Nikola Jokic's defense and decision-making — don't have a weak day, and they'll be there every moment of the series. But her three-point rates were worse and weaker than Miami's, so the Nuggets have more gears.
Denver did things in Game 1 that wicked champions do: embroiled the opposing star in a tough physical matchup against the third player in its hierarchy. With Jimmy Butler set to lead Miami and be its decision-maker on offense, he's embroiled in an unpleasant game with Aaron Gordon. Great Chicago has done this more than once with Dennis Rodman. If Butler doesn't solve this problem, the series will really be short.
Jokic. He's not having a bad day, Photo: AP
And only the disgruntled
fisherman heading up to the Rocky Mountains isn't exactly present and noticeable. In fact, the rest of civilization is not so present either. Spectacular Colorado is a state that is hard to put into the rubrics of right and left in the United States, a liberal state, both for guns and for cannabis. Frankly, it's hard to get excited about the combination of the two.
Near the spectacular lake at Estes Park, a friendly man named George spends his time between fishing in the lake and hunting up the mountain. "Do you come to Denver sometimes?" I ask him. "Yes. I have a man there who stripes off the skins and cuts the flesh of the bears. Good meat."
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The fate of the fish is better.
"The lake was filled with pretty big trout, but I just enjoy fishing. After I catch them, I put them back in the water." A sport of winners and losers is less interesting to him: "I used to love it, but they earn too much," he explains.
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