Milwaukee Brewers And The Heat: How It's Played
Frank: The Brewers almost pulled off a great comeback in their Philly finale, and completing a sweep would have been a nice payback for the three straight 7-6 meltdowns there a year ago.
Artie: The Jonathan Lucroy homer that was overruled on review was a payback, sort of, for the missed call that was so important to the Brew Crew's win Saturday.
F: Jean Segura “sold” the umpire on the ninth-inning pickoff tag even though the ball squirted out of his glove. And it happened soon after the TV guys had Joe Torre in the booth, reaffirming that expanded use of replay reviews will happen.
A: If it was in effect already, that call would have been overturned in a minute or less. You've got to hand it to Segura, though. No one else on the field had any idea the ball was loose. It was a really heady play by such a youngster, to show the ball immediately.
F: Gamesmanship, they call it. Which is a sports term for, let's face it, a certain amount of dishonesty to influence the officiating crew.
A: Well, what Segura did certainly didn't guarantee the runner would be called out. It was just an attempt, a hope.
F: But not the kind of thing I'd enjoy explaining to a Little Leaguer. It's like anything else in big-time sports: If it ain't called it ain't wrong. And a fan's reaction depends on what uniform the player is wearing. If it's the uniform you're rooting for, well, it's a “clever” or “savvy” move. If the uniform's wrong, it's cheating.
A: Not that gamesmanship is anything new.
F: Two years ago we saw Derek Jeter—Mr. Role Model from my team!—pretend he was hit by a pitch and get rewarded with first base. For as long as we've been watching pro football there have been punters collapsing in a heap whenever a rusher got anywhere near them.
A: But nothing is as blatant as the “flopping” NBA players are doing these days. I'm thinking of one player in particular.
F: Could it be LeBron James, who was fined for flopping in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals with Indiana?
A: That's the guy, but it applies to his teammates too. After the season the Heat should join a soccer league; those naught-naught guys ain't seen world-class "diving" 'til they see the Heat play.
F: Could this have something to do with your strong desire to see James lose?
A: With New Orleans and Charlotte changing their nicknames, how about LeBron's guys making it a threesome and becoming the Miami Mackeral?
F: We'll have more about flopping and the Brewers—which go together so far this year—on the website.
DREW WINS THE DRAW
F: Larry Drew is the Bucks' new coach. A good choice?
A: All you can say is what you can say every time: It could be. Atlanta was over .500 and made the playoffs all three years under Drew. How much does that say about his coaching, or the Hawks' talent, or how those things blended?
F: It wasn't a thrilling choice, in the sense that it's not someone “new” and “fresh.”
A: But there's nothing that says Drew can't possibly succeed here. It depends on what players he has to work with.
F: And in the Bucks' case, that is very much to be determined in the next few weeks.
SPURRED TO ENTHUSIASM
F: I know you hope Indiana beats Miami in Game 7 to reach the NBA Finals. But how do you rate San Antonio's chances against either Eastern team?
A: Darn good! I think the Spurs should be favored either way.
F: And your reasons?
A: Against Indiana the Spurs' experience would be a big factor. Their Big Three—Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili—are healthy and rested after sweeping Memphis. And even against Miami, with Gregg Popovich as the coach the Spurs will have something schemed to contain LeBron.
F: But I assume you wouldn't be shocked if Miami repeated.
A: Sure, because among other things James will benefit from the officiating. After all, he's the face of the league. But I really think Dwyane Wade is hurting a lot.
F: What about Indiana against the Spurs?
A: I also wouldn't be shocked if the Pacers won. That team is really, to use an old-school word, gritty. They have great size inside, especially Roy Hibbert, who has really worked to make himself a major force. It'll be mighty interesting either way.
FOR STARTERS, IT'S BAD NEWS
F: Alas, the old adage came true again for the Brewers: “Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher.”
A: And with Mike Fiers as that pitcher the two-game winning streak quickly turned into a 7-0 hole to climb out of. If he'd only given up, like, four runs, chances are things would have been different.
F: One thing that has been very different in the last 10 days or so is Lucroy's showing at the plate. The guy has been on fire, looking like he did in the first half last year before he got injured.
A: It shows how important it is to have at least one guy toward the bottom of the batting order who's hitting in a timely fashion—or any dang fashion!
F: So the Brewers came back to town for seven games against Oakland and Philly at 21-34, and 15 ½ games behind division leader St. Louis.
A: Which was the second-worst deficit in all of baseball, tied with Houston in the AL West. Only Miami was worse, at 18 1/2 back in the NL East.
F: What's worse, though, is that the Brewers flew home 13 games behind both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
A: And even two games behind the Cubs! How depressing.
DRIVING AND DIVING
F: Getting back to flopping, I was fascinated by that hilarious double flop—James and David West both collapsing like they'd been shot in Game 4! It was like they were two magnets repelling each other.
A: The way the teams, but especially the Heat, were falling down and flinging their arms out, it was like they were playing on ice and just wearing socks. Just ridiculous!
F: But when the fines for flopping are $5,000 or whatever, how is that gonna stop any of these mega-millionaires from doing it? In soccer you can draw a yellow card for flopping, and two of those in a game gets you kicked out. But under the NBA's policy you have to be caught five times before a suspension becomes possible.
A: But if you made each flop a personal foul or technical foul, maybe it might mean something to these guys.
F: I mentioned this stuff to our pal Rick Horowitz, and he recalled a Sports Illustrated article in the early '60s where Frank Ramsey, the famed “sixth man” of the Celtics, described how he would draw charging fouls by cleverly initiating the contact.
A: Must have been a piece written after Ramsey retired.
F: That's just what Rick said! But still, I don't remember drawing charges and all this flopping being a big part of the game we knew as kids in the '60s and '70s.
A: Some of this came from the Europeans as they began to come into the NBA. Vlade Divac, I know had the reputation as a flopper as far back as 20 years ago.
F: But it seems like it's been elevated to this science only in the last decade or so. Like anything else, it's “see and learn.”
A: James has a technique that he uses all the time. He'll hook the other guy's arm and then use that to propel himself away like he's been clobbered. And it works because he does it all very quickly and knows the refs usually won't spot it. It only becomes obvious with replays and slo-mo.
F: The one with West, James basically chopped down across his chest from behind and then flung himself backwards.
A: West embellished his part for sure, but it was mostly LeBron's doing.
F: James sure isn't apologizing. He had this to say about flopping before Game 4: "Some guys have been doing it for years, just trying to get an advantage. Any way you can get an advantage over the opponent to help your team win, so be it."
A: And in this year's second round, after Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called James out, his reply was, “I don't need to flop. I play an aggressive game. I don't flop. I've never been one of those guys." BUSTED!
F: Wade, another alleged flopper, perhaps had the most accurate quote when he said recently, “We would have no NBA possibly if they got rid of all the flopping."
A: You'll never get rid of all of it, but some would be nice.
F: Soccer players certainly do all they can to impede each other, especially when they're competing for the ball. Elbows, hooking, shirt-grabbing, you name it. Just like the NBA, where you could call a foul on every play if you wanted to, soccer refs could call penalties every time the ball goes into “the box.”
A: See? Why would I need to watch soccer when I can see the same thing in the NBA?
F: One guy who didn't flop was Indiana's Tyler Hansbrough in Game 5. He didn't have the time to think of it when Chris Andersen slammed him from the side.
A: And then shoved him after he got up. Oh, did I love that confrontation! I think the “Bird Man” should have been thrown out.
F: And he was, but only in retrospect. The NBA suspended him for Game 6 and raised his offense to a Flagrant 2 foul, which would have meant ejection if it had been called at the time.
A: If that had happened it might have made a difference in Game 5 because Miami needed every big man it can find to contend with Hibbert and West inside.
F: And it DID make a difference in Indiana's Game 6 win.
A: But I think that in the wake of all the foul calls and flops of Game 4, the refs weren't nearly as pro-active in Game 5.
F: Another sign of David Stern's master plan to have the series go seven games?
A: Well, you'll never find me denying the possibility of a vast NBA conspiracy.
F: The funny thing is that Hansbrough was not the Pacer who bumped Bird Man around on the previous play.
A: Maybe the guy's vision is impaired by some new tattoos on the inside of his eyelids.
F: Those are about the only places he ain't painted.
A: I can't imagine going through the rest of your life with your body all covered with that stuff—especially when sagging sets in.
F: Sagging is something we can relate to!
F: I loved the drawing of our double-header bobblehead doll that Dan Fleming did to accompany our 5th anniversary column. I never looked so much like Groucho Marx!
A: I'll have to start calling you Captain Spaulding.
F: Actually, my favorite Groucho role is Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup.
A: Whenever I hear “Rufus” I can only think of “The Road Runner.”
F: The one and only Rufus Ferguson, UW running back extraordinaire in the early '70s and the first Badger to pass 1,000 yards in a season.
A: I was going to UW in those days and I remember one time I saw Ferguson on campus. Man, the guy's thighs were the size of tree trunks!
F: Even though he was, I believe, a short guy, maybe even as short as 5-6 or 5-7.
A: A real “fire hydrant” sort of build, but with that great speed and elusiveness. A poor man's Barry Sanders.
F: Alas, Ferguson was fated to play on mediocre UW teams. They went 12-18-2 in his three seasons.
A: Yeah, there was a lot of that in those days. Anyway, I've never gotten over that campus sighting.
Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has always known how to play the game.