Friday, March 13, 2009

J-Rich Takes His Eye Off the Ball

I love the freakish athleticism of the NBA. I’m also a big a fan of players using their ridiculous athleticism for artistic impression. And I love slam dunks, especially breakaway dunks where one of these amazing athletes (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Josh Smith, etc) has a 30+ foot runway from which to take off and hammer down a dunk-contest-quality jam that will have C-Webb and GP convulsing on the NBA TV set. Windmills, tomahawks, 360s, I love them all.

But as Jason Richardson likely learned on Thursday night, there’s an appropriate time and place for everything.

For anyone that missed it, with just under 9 minutes remaining in the Suns’ Thursday night’s match-up against the Cavaliers in Phoenix, and the Suns trailing by two, Richardson received a long outlet pass with seemingly no obstacles between him and the basket. A two-time slam dunk champion and one of the NBA’s aforementioned freakish athletes, Richardson got into the paint and elected to go up for what would have been a spectacular two-hand, 360 dunk, not realizing that LeBron James, the NBA’s Bill Gates of athleticism, was closing fast- and would wind up blocking his dunk, opening the door for a Wally Szczerbiak 3-pointer at the other end that would extend the lead to 100-95. Now, this wasn’t that last chance the Suns would have to tie the game (though it was close to the last one), nor was it the reason Phoenix ultimately lost the game (17 turnovers and 17 made 3-pointers by the Cavs are two good ones), but it’s about as inexcusable a play as a player can make in that situation.

To be fair, only in retrospect are we able to determine that Richardson dunk attempt was a boneheaded play, but it was, and the embarrassment and missed opportunity could easily have been avoided had J-Rich placed tying the score against the Eastern Conference’s top team (with his own team barely clinging to any hope of making the postseason) over trying to draw a few extra “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd, in exchange for nothing more than the same two points he would have earned for a basic dunk.

And therein lies the biggest problem with Richardson’s decision. In that situation, if he didn’t know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he could throw that dunk down. The problem isn’t that LeBron had the physical wherewithal to make the defensive play, it’s that Jason Richardson singular focus was not to earn two points for his team- a pretty valuable commodity for an aging, one-time contender in the midst of a five-game losing streak and a spectacular swan dive from grace.

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