Simulacra: (noun) 1) The plural of simulacrum.
It was never a game, the series finale between the Bucks and the Hawks. Watching the Bucks jump out to a 13-11 lead on the steam of 20-year-old Brandon Jennings (rookie of the playoffs in a year that wasn’t his year, or something like that) then go stone cold to fall behind by 20, bricked home the point that this one was probably over before the Sunday tip-off.
This last — and by far the biggest — showcase for the 2010 Bucks seemed canned, like comedy from a script that isn’t funny (here comes the laugh track) — or in this case, the Sunday NBA showcase commentary from the ESPN/ABC broadcast crew. Hubie Brown, you’re one of the best there is but you don’t keep very good company.
… A tried-and-true Atlanta play is designed for Josh Smith to back cut from the free throw line, catch Mike Bibby‘s lob pass and dunk it. But Bibby throws the pass a beat too soon or Smith has cut too late, and instead of a “Highlight Factory” dunk, the ball sails out of bounds into the lap of a camera man. The fans in the crowd and the viewers at home see the play developing and are at first surprised that the Hawks failed to connect. The promised and anticipated ooh-and-ahh track remains on pause.
… The Hawks had built a 51-31 leading heading to the 2 minute mark of the first half, yet the Bucks defense suddenly finds its backbone and the party stops in Atlanta. The Hawks are unable to plow through the Bucks big men for offensive rebounds, the visitors hit a couple of shots, deliver an and-one layup and sneak into half down 53-40. Smith is having a herky-jerky game and spends most of the first half on the bench in foul trouble but the Hawks seem to be a better team without him (I don’t recall them looking as good in this series as they did in Smith’s absence). Wasn’t Smith supposed to be the difference maker? …. Big men Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia are everywhere on the glass and around the hoop. Horford has 12 pts, 11 rebs at half. Bibby and Jamal Crawford are shooting well and often.
… The halftime analysts (Magic Johnson and one of Rick Barry’s kids) read from tele-prompters and seem uncomfortable in their chairs. Yes, The Hawks have played their big men, though Skiles, oddly, decides not to match Horford and Pachulia with the Bucks two-headed Thom-adzuric center. There was a story to be told in Game 7; it had been discussed and planned before the tip-off but it has veered off script. Some of that earlier rhetoric matches the game, some does not. The teams have veered off script in Atlanta and it’s ugly out there. Anything can happen.
… Bucks forward Carlos Delfino opens the second half with a 3-pointer from the corner and it’s a 10 point game, reeling off script now. But Smith takes matters into his own hands and throws in a contested 21-foot jumper, probably not the shot the Hawks wanted. The Atlanta crowd isn’t used to seeing this and offers guffawed appreciation. A few minutes later Smith does it again and this time they cheer enthusiastically as the Hawks go up 17 pts. No, Game 7 is not going according to script at all but the home team is winning, and that’s good enough for the home crowd.
The Bucks and Hawks play on in a game that is seeming less like a basketball game and more like a series of unexpected simulacra — images or representations of NBA basketball that is, as TNT’s Kenny “The Jet” Smith labelled them earlier in the week, “not real.” Smith and Charles Barkley were at the time discussing the Hawks offense and the type of long-range, out-of-rhthym jumpers that Smith threw up in the 3rd quarter of Game 7. Those are not the shots the Hawks want to take, or should be taking, in their half-court offense. “That’s not offense,” Kenny commented, shaking his head, gesturing haphazardly, like the shots themselves. When they go in, they’re junk, but they count and go on to feed the perception that the Hawks have more “talent” than their opponent. On Sportcenter, those Josh Smith jumpers will look great. In real time and space, they looked like the garbage that they were. Or, as The Jet shrugged, “That’s not real.”
… It is said repeatedly that the Hawks have a size advantage on the Bucks, but in reality Horford and Pachulia are smaller than all three of the Bucks centers playing in Andrew Bogut’s absence. It certainly seems, however, that the Hawks do have a size advantage when Bucks coach Scott Skiles chooses not to play BIG and Pachulia is allowed to crash through Bucks on his way to rebounds (Zaza was in constant foul trouble for most of the series, but not in Game 7).
… The Bucks aren’t supposed to shoot 32% from the floor, an unheard of low percentage in an NBA playoff game, but that’s happening, too. Those dents in the rims are real enough.
…Cut to Bucks center Andrew Bogut on the sideline in a warm-up suit, arm in a cast, solitary and viewing “the game” on the court grimly, through squinted eyes. It’s difficult to read his expression, as Bogut appears to be squinting through the action on the court, perhaps to a future rematch, perhaps to the past and the Bucks pregame preparation. What’s unfolding on the court doesn’t jibe with images future or past. This Sunday simulacrum that the Hawks and Bucks threw together was three hours of bad, out of context basketball that shouldn’t be played in the NBA playoffs.
It will be pieced together later in the cutting room to represent the game that was supposed to be and it will have to pass. Brandon Jennings’ startling 360-degree wrap-around layup on the break past a compliant Bibby will make the cut, and Bucks fans will see that play hundreds of times before the 2010-11 season opens. That was the ultimate simulacrum for Jennings and the Bucks — the image of Bucks basketball 2010 that had to stand no matter the outcome of the game which was never a game.