Friday, May 29, 2015

Ball Don’t Lie – Is The Truth Listening?

Y’all can have your Sky Walkers and Splash Brothers.

I’ll always believe the best move in basketball is the one that makes your opponent react to what you DON’T do.

Sheer athleticism, other-worldly “touch” that emanates from some zone constructed of muscle memory, Maravichian ball-handling. Such coordination, quickness or hops are rare physical gifts.

But the instantaneous recognition and “been there, done that” composure that keeps those certain few always one step and two thoughts ahead of the other guy?

There’s a scratch to any true fan’s hoops itch.

Paul Pierce was one of those players … see an advantage and cash in before the opposition can say “Oops!” Larry and Magic could do that. It’s why they called Cousy the Houdini of the Hardwood, the edge Russell always had.

The rarest of basketball gifts, more than a zone, it’s attitude, habit, an ever-present mindset…

… almost as if the basketball gods have anointed these particular players.

I can’t help but wonder if those same basketball gods weren’t delivering some Truth of their own as time expired on Paul and his Wizards a couple of weeks ago.

The willing face of his team this post-season, Pierce didn’t back away from acknowledging the wear-and-tear the grind of a long NBA season was taking on a 37-year-old body.

The playoff match-ups were laid out perfectly – the darlings of the Northland, then the New Kids on the Block. Ideal “baby-faces” for such a Cerebral Assassin. His ostentatious swagger kept the pressure off young studs John Wall and Bradley Beal.

And has anyone else ever taken a game-determining shot on his team’s final possession in three of the last four games of any other playoff series – and tickled the twines each time?

Was it fate that caused ESPN’s Chris Broussard to set him up for a sound byte for the ages – “I called ‘game!’” – and was it destined that the ultimate shot would come a split tenth of a second after time expired?

There has been speculation aplenty, from pundits and players alike, since that untimeliest of buzzers ended the Wizards’ title quest. What’s the next landing post for Pierce?

A continuing mentorship for these evolving Wizards?

A return to his roots in Boston, ala ex-teammate KG?

A return home to LA, ala perennial rival King James?

A spot role with a genuine contender in a run for one more ring?

Or maybe a LA-Z-Boy?

The powers-that-be smiled upon our Paul at the close of Game 3. (Do you really think he was using the glass? From that angle?)

They then teased him two games later, even inducing a premature boast.

And finally they thwarted his will and skill through time and technology.

Was that Ball that Don’t Lie telling the Truth – to say good-bye?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Boston Celtics 2015: Tankin’ Gone Awry, or Down Payment on Some Wit & Grit?

How does a team that managed to lose 26 of its 39 games during the opening 12 weeks of play turn it around and win 56 percent of the time (18-14) the next nine weeks? It’s a bit befuddling in the case of our Men in Green – at least when one takes a look at the numbers, a few of which actually regressed during the winning stretch. For instance, after 12 lackluster weeks the team’s overall FG shooting stood at .451, No.16 in the league. Nine weeks later, the accuracy had fallen to .440, good for No. 21, and per-game scoring had dropped by a point and a half.

The turnover rate and ranking showed slight improvement, but rebounding and conversion rates and rankings indicated little change nine weeks later.

Two particular numerical values did stand out, however – 26 and 8.

The former represents the Celtics’ ranking in 3FG defense on January 19, the latter that same ranking on March 25. The other guys’ 3-point marksmanship dropped from .368 to .340. During Games 40 – 71, opponents were successful on but 224 of 725 shots from distance (.309). The opposition’s rate of converting possessions dipped only slightly (.497 to .493), a bit more significantly when we adjust that conversion rate for shooting (.511 to .503).

Inconceivable how a couple of little squiggles on a stat line can be so impactful!

By season’s end, Boston was No. 4 (.336) in defending threes. They were a league-best .311 during the final six weeks of the season.

The NBA’s annual Million Dollar Ping Pong Crap Game (is that tank, to which so many take such a shine, of the septic variety?) seems to have amped up the discussion in “Green Land” over Danny and Brad’s decision to take what was behind Door No. 2.

The “prize” might well be the boost it gives to the credibility of a young and largely unproven coach – not among the fans or media, but rather with the fraternity of players.

Monday, May 25, 2015

NBA 2014-15: Final “Joey Hassett” Scoring/Shooting Ratings

Timing is everything – as Paul Pierce and his fellow Wizards were reminded with such finality in the second round of this year’s playoffs. It’s always “too soon” until it’s “too late.”

That’s true whether we’re measuring in milliseconds or millennia.

Take the case of Joe Hassett.

One of the three or four best players ever to come out of the state of Rhode Island, Joey’s probably the best pure shooter I’ve ever seen. His touch was comparable to Steph Curry’s, and he could step out just as far if not farther.

His LaSalle Academy team was playing in the New England Catholic Tournament at Boston College back in 1973. Local powers Catholic Memorial and Don Bosco Tech (under coach Kevin Mackey, who would later find both fame and infamy at Cleveland State) were the betting favorites, but the floppy-haired kid from (and bound for) Providence stole the show, showing a shooting range that seemed to extend to midcourt.

At 6’5” with a fairly decent wingspan, the skill set of the only moderately athletic Hassett would certainly have a role in today’s NBA, a key one perhaps on a good team in need of outside firepower.

Unfortunately for the New Englander, he began his modest six-year pro career 3,000 miles from home and two years prior to the NBA’s adoption of the three-point shot. (On a brighter note, his Sonics earned championship rings in 1979 after having come up short in the Finals during his rookie year, Hassett’s only brushes with the playoffs.)

Now, when the league office decided to add that stripe to its court, our Joe was ready to go. In 1981-82, for example, Hassett (while playing for Curry’s Dubs, ironically) led the Association with 214 attempts from behind the arc, as many or more than all but five teams. During each of the first three seasons of implementation, Joe Hassett ranked Top Three in takes, Top Four in makes and Top Ten in percentage.

The next season he earned a spot in coach Al Attles’s rotation, but lasted only six games, registering the Warriors one and only three-pointer during that stretch.  A crowded backcourt (World B. Free, Michael Ray Richardson, Lewis Lloyd, rookie Sleepy Floyd, among others) put an official end to Joey’s career at the season’s midpoint.

Clearly, Hassett’s shooting game was well ahead of its time.

But before we denounce the hoop gods for their mistreatment of this poor chap, let’s look at the situation from the other end. If Hassett had come along 20 or 30 years sooner, any coach worth his salt would have immediately made him a post player by virtue of what we’d now call his “length.” In an old-school setting, Joey’s shot selection would have had the whole team running laps.

Those gangly 180 pounds were really not designed to be so utilized.

But Hassett arrived on the heels of players like “The Big O” and “Pistol Pete,” a couple of outstanding players who coupled creative guard skills with similar size. The door that would soon enough lead to Magic Johnson had already been opened.

Timing, after all, is everything.

In honor of Joe Hassett (and, for the heck of it, a couple of other Rhode Island legends, Ernie DiGregorio and the late Marvin Barnes), here are the NBA’s Final rankings of Scoring Efficiency for 2014-15.

The Grading Scale 

To rank the teams, we’ll consider Points per game, Points per shot, Points per possession and S(H)UM. (That last category is simply the sum of a team’s FG%, 3FG% and FT%.)

No. 1 Golden State [5]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
110.0 [1st] – 1.263 [2nd] –1.089 [1st] – 1.644 [1st]

No. 2 LA Clippers [18]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
106.7 [2nd] – 1.281 [1st] –1.088 [2nd] – 1.559 [13th]

No. 2 Toronto [18]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
104.0 [4th] – 1.249 [6th] –1.071 [3rd] – 1.594 [5th]

No. 4 Atlanta [22]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
102.5 [10th] – 1.255 [4th] –1.055 [6th] – 1.634 [2nd]

No. 5 San Antonio [25]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
103.2 [7th] – 1.234 [8th] –1.054 [7th] – 1.615 [3rd]

No. 6 Cleveland [26]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
103.1 [8th] – 1.255 [5th] –1.068 [4th] – 1.576 [9th]

No. 7 Dallas [29]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
105.2 [3rd] – 1.226 [10th] –1.063 [5th] – 1.567 [11th]

No. 8 Portland [36]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
102.8 [9th] – 1.196 [15th] –1.048 [8th] – 1.613 [4th]

No. 9 Chicago [43.5]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
100.8 [15th] – 1.216 [11th] –1.038 [10th] – 1.578 [7th] *

No. 10 New Orleans [45.5]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
99.4 [16th] – 1.199 [13th] –1.046 [9th] – 1.578 [7th]*

No. 11 Sacramento [48]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
101.3 [14th] – 1.256 [3rd] –1.014 [17th] – 1.558 [14th]

No. 12 Oklahoma City [50]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
104.0 [5th] – 1.197 [14th] –1.035 [11th] – 1.540 [20th]

No. 13 Houston [54.5]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
103.9 [6th] – 1.247 [7th] –1.033 [12th] – 1.507 [26th]

No. 14 Phoenix [57]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
102.4 [11th] – 1.193 [17th] –1.022 [14th] – 1.553 [15th]

No. 15 Memphis [61]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
98.3 [20th] – 1.192 [18th] –1.022 [13th] – 1.570 [10th]

No. 16 Washington [67]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
98.5 [17th] – 1.190 [19th] –1.011 [19th] – 1.564 [12th]

No. 17 Milwaukee [69]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
97.8 [22nd] – 1.194 [16th] –0.998 [25th] – 1.579 [6th]

No. 18 Miami [74]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
94.7 [27th] – 1.227 [9th] –1.006 [22nd] – 1.552 [16th]

No. 19 Utah [78]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
95.1 [26th] – 1.202 [12th] –1.016 [15th] – 1.511 [25th]

No. 20 Brooklyn [80]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
98.0 [21st] – 1.181 [20th] – 1.011 [18th] – 1.530 [21st]

No. 21 Boston [81]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
101.4 [13th] – 1.153 [25th] – 1.010 [20th] – 1.524 [23rd]

No. 22 Denver [83]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
101.5 [12th] – 1.162 [23rd] –1.008 [21st] – 1.492 [27th]

No. 23 Indiana [86]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
97.3 [24th] – 1.170 [22nd] –1.000 [23rd] – 1.547 [17th]

No. 24 Minnesota [88]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
97.8 [23rd] – 1.175 [21st] –0.989 [26th] – 1.546 [18th]

No. 25 Detroit [90]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
98.5 [18th] – 1.148 [27th] –1.015 [16th] – 1.479 [29th]

No. 26 LA Lakers [93]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
98.5 [19th] – 1.150 [26th] –1.000 [24th] – 1.520 [24th]

No. 27 Orlando [98]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
95.7 [25th] – 1.155 [24th] –0.989 [27th] – 1.529 [22nd]

No. 28 New York [106]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
91.9 [30th] – 1.120 [28th] –0.964 [29th] – 1.544 [19th]

No.29 Charlotte [113]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
94.2 [28th] – 1.114 [29th] –0.968 [28th] – 1.486 [28th]

No. 30 Philadelphia [119]
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
92.0 [29th] – 1.113 [30th] –0.922 [30th] – 1.404 [30th]

The worst scoring teams to qualify for post-season play were Boston and Brooklyn.

The best scoring team not to qualify was Sacramento. I expect a crafty coach like George Karl to manufacture a turn-around with the Kings next season.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

NBA ICBM’s: From Temptation to Necessity?

MVP Steph Curry’s 286 successful field goals from behind the three-point arc, a new league standard, are more than all but five of the NBA’s then-22 teams attempted 36 seasons ago when this almost exclusively late-game “novelty” was implemented. More – six, including the champs – averaged fewer than two attempts per game. The Houston Rockets, currently squaring off with Curry’s crew for the Western Conference Championship, launched over four times as many treys as the most prolific mad bombers from that inaugural season, ironically (or maybe not?) the then-San Diego-based Clippers.

In the game of today, an open look from 24 feet is more valued than the same shot from a step or two closer. And given the way so many guys shoot free throws, maybe even twelve- or fifteen-footers have become similarly undesirable.

Under the helm of an analytics-driven GM and RedAuerbach-bred coach, the Rockets took 799 more three-pointers than did their opponents, far and away the season’s largest differential. (I’m not sure if this is the greatest gap ever. The only comparable output over the past four seasons was Orlando’s +593 in the 66-game slate of 2011-12, 9.0 compared to Houston’s 9.7 per game.)

The Warriors are none too bashful themselves, posting a +460 in three-point tries, good for No. 3 in the league. And the Eastern Conference Finalist from Ohio stands fourth (+405).

The opposite end of that spectrum has consistently included Washington (-504, No. 27) and Memphis (-643, No. 28), both successful playoff squads of late. Alas, over the last four seasons, only two teams sporting a negative in three-point attempts have advanced to Round 3, Memphis (-381, No.29) two seasons ago and the 2012 champion Heat (-288, No. 27).

Naturally, it’s important to, ya know, make your share of these shots, even moreso to keep the other guys from doing so.

As improbable as this may seem, there were seven teams who earned a Top Ten rank this season in both shooting and defending three-point shots. (Even more improbable might be that none of those teams is named the San Antonio Spurs, whose No. 27 position on the defensive side of things did not bode well come playoff time.) Two of them, Golden State and the up-and-coming New Orleans Pelicans, reside in both Top Fives. Three of them – the Warriors, Hawks and Jason Kidd’s surprising Milwaukee Bucks – hold similarly elite standing, both offensively and defensively, in overall field goal shooting.  (The 67-win Warriors stand Top Five in this regard as well – not to mention in both offensive and defensive rates of conversion.) The other Masters of the Arc are the Blazers, Bulls and LeBrons.

In Tuesday’s series-opening loss in Oakland, Houston took only 22 treys – second fewest in their 13 playoff tilts so far; 11 off their season average; a mere 26 percent of their shots from the field (compared to a whopping 39 percent on the season).

Golden State utilizes the arc on 31 percent of its shots, seventh most during the regular season. The Eastern Finalist Cavaliers (33 percent, No. 2) and Hawks (32 percent, No. 4) rank highly on the usage chart as well.

Let’s take another quick look at the numbers from that Warrior-Rocket opener. Each team wound up with exactly 100 possessions. Each team suffered 47 empty possessions (TO’s + missed FG’s – OR’s). Each team, consequently, posted a conversion rate of .530.

Golden State made two more three-pointers and missed two fewer foul shots in their four-point victory. Hmm!

Essentially, two missed free throws squander one instance of successful offensive execution. By the same logic, two treys provide a bonus conversion. Houston’s 10 foul-line misfires cost five conversions and their eight threes compensate for only four. Their adjusted rate of conversion dips to .520, while the Warriors’ improves to .540 when so altered. 

[This adjusted rate of conversion matches up rather well with the points-per-possession stat. Here’s a more detailed look at one team’s “conversion.” ]

Maybe the real measure of the value of the Arc is the adjustment it imposes upon a team’s rate of converting their possessions – and, of course, its impact on the scoreboard.

Five teams padded their conversion total by an average of two or more per game …

… among them, all four conference finalists.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

“Choking”: Is It a Flaw, or Strategy Gone Awry?

“Choking” is such a harsh term; the impact is so much gentler when we call it “succumbing to the pressure of the moment,” isn’t it? Either way, it ain’t good, referencing a failure to perform adequately when it mattered most.

After blowing 19-point second-half lead to the Rockets in a close-out Game Six, at home no less, Doc Rivers’s LA Clippers are the current poster boys for Performance Under-achievement. As every Houston long bomb found bottom in an amazing fourth-quarter rally (without their most explosive player, it should be noted), the aura of a long and far-from-lofty legacy kept closing in on the Clips, not to mention their nouveau-riche owner and fans.

Zero appearances in a Conference Final. The shame and ineptitude that was Donald Sterling. A prior owner who’d swapped the franchise, taking two future Hall-of-Famers with him to his new NBA home. The team had been up-rooted from Upstate New York to satisfy the Hollywood mogul who’d traded the Celtics to the KFC King who almost ran Red Auerbach out of town. Hollywood, indeed!

Celebration mode seemed to have descended upon the Staples Center in earnest during an impressive third-quarter run, what with CP3 high-steppin’ and Blake Griffin finishin’ with back-to-the-glass bankers and what-not. Things were still rosy, a double-digit lead still in place, with eight minutes or so to go – about the point where “clock awareness” becomes a factor.

The teams had been treading water for several minutes. To Rocket supporters, there were ONLY eight minutes left to do something to extend their season. To the Clipper faithful, there were STILL eight minutes of waiting for a watched pot to boil.

When this clock awareness enters the picture, a funny thing happens. The team that is in control of the game deems it advantageous to violate one of the basic principles of effective offensive execution (regardless to the style of attack a coach may prefer to run). In the interest of clock management, good shots are NOT taken. Consequently, the instinct (both individual and collective) that derives from structure and continuity is inevitably replaced by uncertainty.

Ever been “in the zone”? Everybody has at one time or another, even if only doing something insignificant like pitching horseshoes or shooting at a nerf goal. You just can’t miss – even the one that felt a little funny leaving your hand flops the right way for ya!

Do you know when the zone goes away? When reaction is replaced by reflection … in other words, as soon as you start to think. Paralysis by analysis, one might say.

The introduction of clock awareness creates a similar disruption to a team’s flow. The tone of a game, indeed that of an entire series, can be altered in the blink of an eye. (Except for the Paul Pierce rescue at the end, Washington had played that exact same fourth quarter against the Hawks a week earlier. Coach Budenholzer’s second unit erased a sizeable lead and restored the confidence of a teetering team every bit as much as PP’s ostentatious Truth.)

This Rocket-Clipper “clash” (only one game has been decided by single-digits) has just been daffy – right from Rivers’s pre-series quip that he and Houston headman Kevin McHale had a gentleman’s agreement regarding “hacking.” Hah!

While the Clipper franchise has historically endured ridicule, the Rockets and their analytics-driven GM Daryl Morey are basketball’s modern-day WTF’s with their threes-to-the-extreme offensive approach.

Let’s hope the story of today’s Game Seven is a break-out performance on a big stage, not one that starts with “what if…”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Did Paul Pierce Tell Chris Broussard “Know Your Role and Shut Your Mouth”?

Did Paul Pierce “diss” ESPN’s Chris Broussard in the aftermath of Saturday’s Game Three last second 103-101 Washington victory over the Atlanta Hawks?

Serving as sideline reporter for the broadcast, the NBA Insider had kiddingly asked The Truth if he’d intended to utilize the backboard on the game-winning field goal attempt …

… if he called “bank”?

Not missing a beat (but cutting his eyes at CB?), Pierce proclaimed that he’d called “game,” practically chanting his clever bit of trash talk and moving on even as Broussard seemed to be posing another question. (The Star of the Day was soon the property of NBATV’s David Aldridge.)

So, was Paul genuinely miffed at the question, or was the wily vet simply seizing a moment to exude the sort of ostentatious confidence that’s been driving his team throughout this playoff run?

I have no idea if Paul Pierce called that shot off the glass, either aloud or just in his mind.

I have no doubt that, one way or the other, he did deem the game over …

… and not when he released his shot, either.

In the mind of the Hall-of-Famer-to-be, the outcome of the game was conceded when the responsibility for stopping him was switched from 6’7” Kyle Korver to 6’1” and flagpole thin Dennis Schroder. Kudos to Calvin Murphy-lookalike Will Bynum for inducing the defensive adjustment. The help defense of Korver came from the wrong side while that of Kent Bazemore was a split-second late.

As for the postgame shenanigans, I’m beginning to have a second thought or two. Perhaps that facial expression was more a Cheshire grin accompanied by an eyebrow raise.

Do you suppose the hero of the hour mistook Broussard for Jonathan Coachman, who was so often on the receiving end of such looks (and much worse) from a certain Mr. Johnson?

On the Undercard

Soon-to-be-former ESPN talking-head Bill Simmons offered an interesting take on the San Antonio Spurs last week during the sure-to-be-soon former (or at least renamed) Grantland Basketball Hour.

He compared the Popovich crew to the WWE’s John Cena, a big star and frequent champion whose losses seem to solidify the stature of the next up-and-comer. He likened recent playoff defeats to OKC and the Griz to this year’s loss to the Clippers, who subsequently have been having their way with Houston.

The rasslin’ angle works particularly well in this season’s situation, since Game Seven in LA had one of those “Dusty Finishes” where a timekeeper’s error tipped off the Clips (the fiendish Mat Barnes, in particular, a “heel” if ever there was one, huh?) to the play the Spurs had diagrammed. A Dusty Finish, named in honor of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, is intended to create the intended outcome while causing enough uncertainty to keep the loser looking strong and capable moving forward.

The role to which Simmons analogy was alluding is an old and respected position to “the boys” who occupy a professional wrestling locker room. In the parlance of the trade, the loser of a match “does the job” – “jobs out” to his opponent. Hence, the “jobber” puts over (helps establish the credibility of) the other guy. At one point there was even a faction of perennial losers known as “The Job Squad.”

Here’s my all-time favorite Jobber – who had the best-ever jobber gimmick!

A fight card, even one of the staged variety, requires an enticing main event. Challengers to the likes of Cena, Hulk Hogan or Bruno Sammartino must be made to look formidable. Therefore, some of the jobbers vanquished during a run to the top of the charts need to have a little cache.

What evolved in rasslin’ promotions was a role called the JTTS – the Jobber to the Stars. This was the guy who would lose, often convincingly, to the next monster heel or nefarious cheater just prior to that guy’s showdown with the champ for the belt.

I’m not sure if Coach Pop should be flattered or offended.

But there are already rumors afoot that BS will next work for Vince McMahon Enterprises.

Maybe ol’ Bill can transition into the position by having a Sunday Conversation with Pierce.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Out-takes from the Mist: Not-so-Sweet “Corn”

Made my way into the Teachers’ Lounge one time and found two colleagues camped out chatting. One says, “Maybe he’ll know” and inquires if I’m familiar with the term “Bathtub Ham.”

Upon reflection, I was able to provide the ladies with a logical, though potentially dead-wrong, train of thought. To this day I still don’t know if this was ever a hyperbolic colloquialism for a good old-fashioned New England boiled dinner in which the meat was so plump and the accoutrements so plentiful it had to be cooked in the tub. (To my Irish Dad, any particularly sizable and satisfying meal was “like a boiled dinner.”)

Without the benefit of either reflection or filter and with as straight a face as I could muster, I replied, "Someone who sings in the shower?”

The sophomore English teacher – who more immediately had to deal with the products of my freshman class than did her curious companion who wrestled with the minds of the little darlings as juniors – kinda in a “Did I hear that correctly?” sort of way, mouthed my words before literally LOL-ing.

The Enquiring Mind did not give me the satisfaction of a chuckle but did acknowledge that she’d “walked right into that one.”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Boxing’s Atlas, Its Compass, Its Very Soul

If you’ll be kind enough to pardon a bad pun, the sport of boxing has been on rubber legs now for quite some time – or, perhaps (if we factor in the Brothers Klitschko), hobbling about on a pair of stilts. (I know, that’s two bad puns – so kill me!)

For all its woes, the fight game’s got one thing that no other sport can claim, and that’s the unimpeachable voice of Teddy Atlas.

To current aficionados (both hard-core and casual) of the sport, Teddy Atlas is the long-time voice of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. Quick to call out a judge for a funky scorecard as well as call for a national commission to monitor and regulate the sport he genuinely loves, Atlas is as technically knowledgeable an analyst as there is in sports media. Add to that an open, honest, oft-critical advocacy for a sport (and the self- disciplined that it demands) that has altered the life course of so many, himself included. His memoir of 2006 is a must read, if only for the Tyson trivia, not to mention the story behind the facial scar that gives him the proverbial “face made for radio.”

As in great tragedy, the tales and people of boxing legend involve emotional and gut-wrenching suffering – both in and out of the ring.

Teddy was in rare form this morning with the ESPN Mikes. On the heels of the weekend’s latest “Fight of the Century,” the pathos in his voice was palpable as he referenced Manny Pacquaio’s birth “on a dirt floor” but cited the fighter’s absence of urgency in his showdown with Floyd Mayweather. Atlas even gently pooh-poohed Pac Man’s claim of being hampered by a bad shoulder – not in Round 4, says Teddy. His critique of the selfie Manny and manager Freddie Roach took during their entrance was a bit more pointed, however.

While the interview was mostly monologue, the guru was at his eloquent best while addressing the expectation that Mayweather would have been more aggressive in his pursuit of a legacy-cementing knockout.

Kudos to Greeny and Golic, by the way, for understanding (a) “Genius at Work” and (b) “Silence is Golden.” Long live clich├ęs!

For all we know, Atlas’s mind may have drifted back to his own grooming in the sport and a mentor named, of all things, Cus.

“People born square don’t die round.”

Whatcha wanna bet that line turns up in a yet-to-be-published oeuvre penned by Mr. Greenberg?