Tue | Jan 23, 2018

Orville Higgins | Give me a break, 'experts'

Published:Friday | June 10, 2016 | 12:00 AM

My article published a few weeks ago, which said that match-ups are overrated in basketball, clearly didn't go down well with some Jamaicans. My radio show and my editor at The Gleaner were kept busy by people who questioned my understanding of the game. For those who didn't read the article, all I was saying is that winning basketball games usually comes down to the team with the most talent and the most motivation, with home advantage also being a crucial factor. Those one-on-one match-ups during the game are hardly ever game-defining. I maintain my position. I can imagine how many people will now be tearing their hair out in frustration.

All of this brings me to something that I have always known. The brightest among us often overcomplicate sports. In an effort to impress us with their knowledge of a given sport, they often launch into some complicated analysis of a game. They generously throw in the terms of the sport, and at the end, sometimes I'm left confused. Albert Einstein once said if you can't explain something simply, chances are you don't understand it well enough. Going by that, it would appear to me that some of my critics, including some media colleagues, are the ones who don't understand basketball.

Game three in the NBA finals on Wednesday between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors provided a perfect example. The 'Cavs' have not lost a home game in the play-off all season. They were two nil down going into game three and everybody should have known that they would be putting in a sterling effort. They did they won by 30 points.

I was amazed at the kind of analysis I was hearing on radio and on social media. Lebron James had a special game with 32 points and had his usual share of assists and rebounds. We didn't need any 'boasty' analysis to know that Lebron, still arguably the best all-round player alive, was due at least one monster game. Kyrie Irving, one of the best offensive players in the league, also scored 30, and JR Smith who on his night can contribute as well as anyone, also had a great game.




It was simple. The team was desperate. Cleveland knew that going down 3-0 would almost effectively end the series. They came out like a team possessed. Playing in front of a passionate home crowd, Cleveland came out meaning business. Defensively, they were hustling and scrapping. They were playing with high energy, moving the ball around quickly, making it easier for people to get open looks. And they were concentrating better, which means they were also better at shooting the ball. That, in a nutshell, was what game three was about.

Not so for my bright basketball fans, however. The talk on the radio and on various websites was about "strategy", "rotations" and "matchups." The reason Lebron, Kyrie and JR had great games was now due to "matchups." My basketball friends were at pains to go into all kinds of fancy basketball rhetoric like "it was about great switching". It's ridiculous! The game could be analysed in one sentence. Cleveland played like a team 2-0 down while Golden State played like a team with a 2-0 cushion. When all the lovely basketball phrases are stripped away, that's what it came down to.

One of the mistakes that a lot of these so-called basketball experts make is to take two sets of isolated facts and automatically assume a causal relationship between the two. Kevin Love could not play for Cleveland because the team's doctors were apprehensive about putting him in after suffering a head blow. Roy Jefferson came in and had a decent, but by no means mind-blowing, game. Nine points and maybe half a dozen rebounds. Now I'm hearing from the experts that Jefferson's inclusion was a brilliant tactical move. From the experts' way of thinking, Jefferson didn't start games one and two, Cleveland loses both games badly. Jefferson starts game three, Cavaliers win by a blowout. Surely it's because of Jefferson! These same experts predicted Cleveland to win one or two or even three games in the series, even if they expected Golden State to win the championship. Cleveland wins a game and now it's all about brilliant tactics! Stephen Curry and Clay Thompson continue to look ordinary, and I'm now being told that this is because of some master plan by Cleveland. Most of the ones who criticised my stance are people who want to convince us that they really know the game. I'm not impressed.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.