Thursday, February 11, 2010

How Do You Shoot the Devil(s) in the Back?

Well, one way is to come back from a 2-0 deficit and to win 3-2 not once, but twice. For the second time in as many games, the Flyers fell behind the Devils 2-0 only to rally by scoring the next three goals to win. This time, things started out even worse than the game on Monday, when just 45 seconds in Michael Leighton gave up one of the weakest goals I've ever seen.

Travis Zajac fired a seemingly harmless shot from above the circle, yet somehow the puck trickled through Leighton's legs and slowly crept in over the goal line. The most maddening part — besides the fact it was an incredibly shitty goal and should have been a more than routine save — was that Leighton never looked behind him, sure that he had it gobbled up. Michael Leighton never knows where the puck is, he's never sure that he has it, and he always, ALWAYS looks behind him on those types of saves. Yet this time he didn't, and it resulted in a goal. The puck was moving so slowly when it got through him that had he looked back, which he seemingly does all the damn time, he would have had plenty of time to cover it up and pull it back. But he didn't and the Flyers fell behind for the second straight game, this time just 44 seconds in. It sucked.

A garbage goal off of Leighton, then Timonen and then in put the Flyers in a 2-0 hole yet again. But they responded strongly with a goal by Arron Asham just 32 seconds later, and the Flyers had visions of another comeback. Though the game was pretty ugly the rest of the way, with penalties, unsustained pressure and limited opportunities for the Orange and Black. Though it did look like the Flyers tied things up:

When it happened live, I was simply amazed and stunned that Brodeur was able to get across and completely rob Scott Hartnell. I didn't even question whether or not it has crossed the line or not. In my mind, it was simply a great save. But Hartnell immediately pointed and asked the ref if it was in. Upon further review, it certainly looked as though the puck had crossed the line, but Brodeur's glove made it difficult to see conclusively. After watching it numerous times, however, I'm sure the puck was in. Positive. But I also was pretty sure they wouldn't overturn it and allow it, because the video evidence wasn't 100 percent clear. Unlucky break for sure, and after that, the Flyers looked slightly deflated, though not altogether inferior.

The Devils were getting the better of the play for sure. But knowing he owed it to his team after that softy he surrendered, Leighton blanked the Devils the rest of the way.

Jeff Carter, who has been the best skater for the Flyers in the new year, and arguably all season long, tied the game on a great shot to beat Marty.

The third period saw some chances by both teams, but not a whole lot happened. Then in overtime, while Simon Gagne was in the midst of by far the single most dominant shift of any player last night, Adam EatShit, who has been on Gagne's case for a while now, was letting him have it, especially after he fired a shot wide off a great give and go with a wide open net. "If he can't bury those chances, then he's worthless," he decreed. I disagreed, saying he was snakebitten for sure, but not playing altogether awfully like he claimed, plus it seemed like an inopportune time to call him out, seeing as we was completely killing it on that shift. Literally seconds later, Gagne threw it right back in Adam's face, ripping a patented Simon Gagne shot by Brodeur to end the game and give the Flyers the 3-2 victory and the two points they desperately needed (fast-forward to the 6:05 mark for the awesome shift):

That's how you shoot the Devil(s) in the back. Spot them two goals, then rip their hearts out. If you can get a historically potent goal-scorer out of his scoring slump in the process, all the better.

But what happens if you miss? Well, then you drop to an embarrassing 13-11 on the season and an even more embarrassing 2-7 in conference play just one year after being National Champs and winning the conference with ease. That's what happened to North Carolina last night, who stayed with Duke all night long … until crunch time. That's when the Blue Devils stepped up, specifically that rotten Jon Scheyer (who scored a game-high 24 points despite shooting just 7-20).

When it mattered, Scheyer snapped out of his funk and nailed some lethal shots, putting away an inexperienced, immature and flat out bad North Carolina team. Despite holding Duke to just 31.4 percent shooting, and keeping them under 30 percent shooting for most of the game, Carolina still couldn't pull out the victory. Despite Nolan Smith not scoring a single bucket in the first half and finishing with just 10 on 4-14 shooting, UNC still couldn't find a way to win. Despite playing at home and keeping pace with a far better Duke team for 37 minutes, UNC still couldn't even keep the score within single digits.

The reason? This team sucks. And Roy Williams is doing a horrible job coaching them, which he's admitted. First thing's first: Larry Drew II sucks. The Carolina backcourt sucks as a whole, but Drew really stands out because as the point guard, he has the ball in his hands all the time.

Saying he is a dropoff from Ty Lawson is the understatement of the century. It's like falling off the Grand Canyon. Sure, he's quick and fast, but he also can't shoot, can't dribble and can't pass. That last part is the most enraging part.

Ed Davis is UNC's best player. There is no disputing this. None. Yet last night he attempted just four shots (yes, an injury to the left-hander's left wrist certainly played a factor in the second half to that) and is averaging just 8.3 shot attempts a game. 8.3. For the team's best, most talented player. On a team that lacks any other reliable scorer, any real shooter and anyone else who converts at such a high rate (57.8 field goal percentage). I'm sorry, but that's just terrible. It's a terrible job coaching, a terrible job by his teammates and a terrible job by Davis. The sophomore should unquestionably demand the ball more, even if that goes against the Carolina unselfish way. There's no question about that.

But I lay more of the blame on Williams and the guards, Williams especially. Don't get me wrong, Roy Williams is a truly great, great coach. Hell, he's won two national championships and been to a ton of final fours. And I'm thrilled he's UNC's coach. But he should be running this team around its strengths, and this team's strength is unquestionably its front line. Davis is the best player. Deon Thompson is the team's second best player and also shoots over 50 percent from the field. Yet Davis is averaging just 8 shots a game and Thompson just 10. This makes no sense. None at all.

Routinely last night, Thompson and especially Davis were fighting for position down low, often getting it early. Yet time and time again, Drew and company failed to see them or failed to make the pass, instead passing around the perimeter or making foolish drives. It happened all night long. Davis and Thompson had position, wanted the ball, but it never came. The guards couldn't get the proper passing angles, didn't look for the bigs enough and basically played keep-away from their best teammates. Sure, that's on Drew and Dexter Strickland and Will Graves. They seem to lack the ability and/or basketball IQ to get those guys the ball in prime scoring positions. But it's more on Williams, and it's not the first time he's gone away from his most effective big man/men.

Everyone, especially here in Philadelphia, remembers the Allen Ray "Walk" game against UNC in the NCAA tournament in 2005. What they remember most is that Villanova pushed the No. 1 seed Tar Heels to the brink but ultimately came up short, thanks in large part to the phantom walk call on Ray. What seemingly no one recalls is that Sean May was absolutely murdering an undersized Nova team down low, scoring literally every time he touched the ball. Yet May only ended up with 14 points on nine shots because the Tar Heels went away from him. The game would have never even been that close, rendering the "walk" call either moot or nonexistent, had Roy Williams simply used his head and demanded his players to keep running the offense through May.

Of course, Roy and company learned their lesson from that game and went on to win the whole damn thing. But this season, he has yet to make that adjustment, and as a result Davis and Thompson are getting freezed out by their own teammates and the young Tar Heels, who were 11-3 just a few short weeks ago, now sit at 13-11, losing 8 of their last 10 games, and sit tied for dead last in the ACC, with the only chance of making the big dance now residing in an ACC Tournament victory that most assuredly won't come.

When your best two players combined to take just 11 field goals against the Blue Devils, you end up dead. And that's where UNC is now, left on the side of the road completely and utterly dead. Harrison Barnes and 2010-11 can't get here soon enough.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. Here's what I think has happened with UNC:

    Roy Williams mortgages the future on a quick hit, and it's worked for him. In six years, they have two national titles, but for the first, he inherited a MONSTER roster (thanks, Matt Doherty), and with the second, he had a pretty experienced squad. After the first, the bulk of the team left, and they suffered for a bit. After this recent one, the bulk of the team leaves, and they absolutely suck.

    I aint mad at Roy for it, and they'll be back on top sooner than later, in my opinion. I still hate Duke (that will never change), but I like Jon Scheyer, which truly bothers me. I think he's actually good, and can be serviceable (if nothing else) on the next level. But fuck Duke. This is about North Carolina.

    I'm witcha on Drew. He's horrible, and for a team who had Raymond Felton (I'm still waiting for him to become the caliber PG of Paul and Deron), and Ty Lawson, he's pathetic. Their frontcourt is amazing, but it doesn't mean shit when you don't have guards that can't get you the fuckin' ball. I understand you're saying Davis should demand the ball, but hell, I don't know a UNC forward who's had the "luxury" of playing with such bum-ass backcourt play. Ever.