Ratto: Kobe is Kobe, but who are the Warriors?


Ratto: Kobe is Kobe, but who are the Warriors?


The Warriors established their place in the NBA firmament Wednesday night, for all the good that did them.They are 48 points better than Cleveland, and in optimal conditions,when the other team has played the night before and needs a full halfto get started, they are within five points of the Lakers. For those ofyou scoring at home, thats 115-110.
RELATED: Lakers surge back in fourth to drop Warriors
Now make of that what you will.The Warriors are a strange team but not nearly as weird as they were ayear ago when they were known for two things their conscience-lessshooters and uninvolved defenders. They were, in short, hard on the eyeand hard on the psyche again.They are not dramatically better now than they were a year ago, atleast not in relation to the teams around them in the WesternConferences Desolation Row. They come closer to resembling a normalNBA team, and they have a full-on go-to player in Monta Ellis, whosegame and fame have broadened in tandem.RELATED: NBA Standings
Thus, they can rise on occasion, as they did for a half and changeWednesday night. Before a sellout crowd that was evenly split betweenWarrior fans and Kobe Bryant fans, Golden State gave what passes forits A-game for 30 minutes or so. They led by as much as 14, and theygave indications that they could take advantage of a Laker team thatwas shagged out from holding Cleveland to 57 points the night before.
REWIND: Lakers 112, Cavaliers 57
Then came the whoosh of Bryant, airborne and with full wingspan andplumage. Having taken the first half easy (nine points, five turnoversin 17 minutes) and looking for his teammates to an almost annoyingdegree, he roused himself for a performance so Kobe-istic that bothfactions in the crowd could only suck wind in admiration as he removedthe game from Ellis hands and made his own.He made nine of his last 11 shots; he hit all of his free throws. Hescored 30 points in his final 14 minutes of play (he sat out the firstsix minutes of the fourth quarter). He faced up to Ellis as he has somany times before and reminded the Warrior that the pecking orderremains unchanged after all these years. What Bryant wants, when Bryantwants it, Bryant gets.It was, in short, one more example of why the Lakers are the Lakers, and the Warriors are, well, not.But it didnt do so much to explain who and what the Warriors are. Thedifferences between these two teams are indelible, and the Lakershavent been a reasonable measuring stick for the Warriors in nearlytwo decades.The only thing the Warriors proved tonight is that Ellis is gettingcloser to that elite group of off-guards. They still have the otherquirks that prevent them from being a .500 team, and while Wednesdaywas fun, Friday against the Clippers will be a truer test of where theyactually sit.We need to make the most of this stretch of home games, Ellis said afterward. This is our chance to make a move.
VIDEO: Monta Ellis postgame
But the Warriors dont make moves at the Lakers expense. The Lakersare second; the Warriors 12th, and only a game and a half better thanthe other L.A.s. What Ellis provided tonight was entertainment; what hemust provide Friday is leadership in a winnable game against acontemporary for no better reason that they dont really want theeighth-place Portlands to run away from them.Oh yes, watching Ellis and Bryant duel in the evening light before asellout crowd was all the fun you could have imagined it to be. Itrevealed little of lasting substance, though. In fact, it wasnt evenall that much of a duel Ellis owned the first 30 minutes when Bryantwas largely inert, Bryant the last eight minutes of the third and lastsix minutes of the fourth when Ellis was on his heels.And it was another loss, and the Warriors are now 15-23 not even goodenough to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. It was definitely ahoot, and watching Bryant and Ellis made it all the better. As anindicator of where the Warriors actually are, though, it wasinconclusive.But it sure beat being Cleveland Tuesday night. LeBron James didntTweet a single word. Of such small victories are big victoriesoccasionally made.What's on your mind? Email Ray and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.