Dream Teams with Nightmare Finishes

Posted: November 11, 2011 by mzyohai in Celtics, NBA, NFL, Opinion
Tags: , , , , ,

Mike: LeBron takes his talents to South Beach, assembles a dream team in Miami, predicts a championship dynasty, but fails.

After an NFL lockout, the Philadelphia Eagles “win” the off-season by amassing so much free-agent talent, then crown themselves the “dream team,” and fail win. After a loss to the Chicago Bears at home, the Eagles have, barring a miracle, lost all hope of a playoff berth.

Nick: I think I know where you’re going with this and I love the comparison, if only because I despise both teams.

Mike: Me too, especially since a number of the “dream” players were courted by New York teams.

Nick: Can’t say I’m sorry the Jets didn’t land Nnamdi Asomugha to pair with Darrelle Revis. The thought gives me the shivers.

For whatever my opinion is worth, I think it’s more than mere coincidence that both teams have struggled despite acquiring so much raw talent. I’m a huge proponent of believing in the whole “team” concept; I’ve been brainwashed as a middle school athlete, as a Patriots fan who fell under the spell of Bill Belichick’s charm, and (to a lesser extent) as a Celtics fan who saw Ubuntu produce the 2008 NBA title. I just love watching teams that are able to play off one another seamlessly with strings of passes or have incredible team chemistry with crazy handshakes and the like (obviously the 2004 Red Sox are my favorite example ever – praise that team and their pre-game whiskey shots).

Mike: But my question is a little more specific… although I love basking in their failures. Beyond their nearly identically high expectations and rejection of NYC, there’s something else that connects these two epic fails: fourth quarter collapses (and a lack of awesome handshakes). Now, playoff games and playoff performance are clearly different from the regular season, but since the Eagles are not going to make it that far… Let’s look at the NBA Championship:

The Heat led the Dallas Mavericks at the end of three quarters in each of the first five games. Yet, the Mavs outscored the Heat in the fourth quarter of games 2, 3, 4, and 5. In other words, the Heat allowed their opponent to come from behind, erase the effort of three quarters, and take away games that should have been wins.

27-23 (W), 18-24 (L), 21-22 (W), 14-21 (L), 24-28 (L), 24-23 (L)

The Eagles, likewise, have been outscored by 36 points in the 4th quarter. That’s the worst in NFL. Next four teams with slightly less horrendous 4th quarter point differentials have a combined 4 wins (Colts, Rams, Jags, and Fins). Even in the Eagles’ trouncing of the Cowboys, the only quarter in which the Eagles could not outscore the ‘Boys was, you guessed it: the fourth.

So is the fourth quarter collapse a mere coincidence? Or is there something to this problem? Does talent only take a team through three quarters? Is the fourth quarter the teamwork quarter? Should we blame Andy Reid and Eric Spoelstra?

Nick: Personal bias aside, it seems silly to think that teamwork somehow becomes more meaningful when the fourth quarter rolls around, but I think there might actually be some merit to this theory. My analogy is to the starting pitcher who has great stuff and is able to make through the opposing order once, maybe even twice, just based on how hard he throws and how much bite he has on his breaking ball. On the third time through the line-up, however, he runs into trouble because he doesn’t know how to approach hitters and properly set them up with a certain sequence of pitches. His raw talent might be enough, but after a couple of at-bats, hitters can make adjustments and start to tee off unless he combines his stuff with a well-executed plan.

Same with the Eagles and the Heat – they can cruise through the earlier parts of a game based on pure talent and the fact that they have better athletes than other teams. But opponents can start to combat that in the later parts of the game, and the Dream Teams can no longer rely on their God-given skills (can someone just teach athletes about evolution and genetics already? I’m sick of Jesus getting all this credit in post-game interviews). Where before they could count on their individual talents, all of a sudden they have to be able to work in tandem as a unit in order to succeed.

I realize this is probably a simplistic view, since I’m sure they’re working hard in practice running plays to get timing and execution down. But part of me can’t help but wonder whether these teams feel somewhat entitled, special, and above the need for practice (Allen Iverson style). With all the media hype, on some level they have to start to buy into this idea  that they’re supremely talented and are guaranteed success. And that has to affect their practice, their discipline, and their effort.

Like you said, as the coaches and de facto leaders of their squads, does the blame fall on Spoelstra’s baby face and Reid’s quivering mustache? (Quick aside: Look at that picture again. The Eagles coach looks exactly like those green pigs from Angry Birds. So fitting.) Are they responsible for putting their players in the best position to succeed and ensuring they are well-practiced and well-prepared? Or does it still fall on the players to execute and be accountable for themselves?

Mike: I’m going to lay the blame on coaches. Look at Eric Spoelstra. I bet he still fits into his prom suit. That man was gifted a team with unprecedented talent. But even during the regular season, Spoelstra struggled figuring out how to utilize their respective strengths. Remember when that team went on a skid that was even longer than the Eagles? Without a clear strategy for how to make the most of the unbelievable raw talent contained in the team, it becomes very difficult to translate that strategy into a team mentality. You can hear it with other coaches when they’re in a time-out and say, “Get the ball to Shaq,” “Get the ball to Kobe,” “Get the ball to Rondo.” It becomes a mentality.

It’s the same way that baseball players memorize where the ball is thrown in hundreds of scenarios. In basketball and football, the equation is: there’s a playmaker therefore he needs the ball. With multiple playmakers on the court or field, you need to create a more nuanced mentality. But that’s a much bigger responsibility for a coach. It takes much more effort and constant explanation, memorization, and practice.

Looking back at the Heat this past season, I think Wade and LeBron did better at using their raw talent than the Eagles have thus far. The Earth-shaking awesome alley-oops and dunks the Heat performed across the league demonstrate that Wade and LeBron were working to jive together on the court. And the dropped passes, blown coverage, and numerous turnovers of the Eagles have shown just the opposite. But without a plan to use that talent not to merely overpower the opponent, but to outwit them, it’s going to be brains over brawn more often than not.


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