You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain - Eagle's nest special by A.R.Samson
At the end of the first round of Season 79, the composition and ranking of the F4 was as squishy and unstable as a bean bag ottoman seat. After the first seven games, all of the teams, including the bottom four were still statistically hopeful of joining the top half of the standings. Historically, even a team with zero wins after seven games can still hope for a fluke and witness the parting of the Red Sea to cross to the Promised Land. (Fans are demented this way.)
But even then, the only F4 positions open at that point seemed to be just the last three slots, with the top-ranking team having already beaten the rest mostly by margins that indicate a severe mismatch, and not just in the average age of the players. The team that does not need to be named occupied a comfy perch at 7-0 (why don’t you order some pancakes while waiting for a worthy opponent?). The conversation then even though they will not admit it now (we’re just after the championship and we’re not really buying brooms) was about the intricacies of the step-ladder format. This scenario pictured one team waiting for the other three to sort themselves out as they get tired out, maimed, and losing day by day the will to get on the bus to the coliseum to fight their way through the traffic jungle to meet King Kong, which goes by the name of Mayhem, and rhymes with “pay them”.
As in every season, the second round is supposed to separate the sheep from the goats (we only use these two biblical animals as they are not mascots of any of the teams which heavily favor predators and hunters).
Here are some surprising developments in the second round (we won’t number them as this is for later down the page—be patient, dear reader and prepare to get bored): a) The top two teams are tied at 6-1 in round two; b) One team, a first round contender and champion just three years ago went on a losing dive with five straight defeats that cast them at the bottom half; c) The second placer with the twice-to-beat advantage (ahem) lost only the first game, and to an erstwhile cellar dweller (not quite too far down there this time) with a nasty upset—its first win against this team in eight years (who’s counting?), then went on to go on a six-game winning rampage (who knew?); and d) Attendance at all the games in the second round was lower than the one for the first.
The war of the winged creatures, two birds with different wing spans and ambitions (our bird is bigger), was the last contest in the elimination round. This was also a battle between streaking teams (four and five wins in a row). The variations on wins and losses of the last three teams playing on the same day partook of the nature of quantum physics in their complications. It was to determine whether the Blue Eagles would find an uncomplicated path to the second position with a 10-4 record, or whether it was going to lose by 32 points and end up at fourth place. The second possibility had the same odds as the school mascot changing its color to magenta; or, good heavens, replacing the bird of prey to something else like a party animal—likes to discuss Kierkegaard.
There are seven things to note in the last game of the series for the Blue Eagles:
1) The idea of a rotating MVP for the team is now temporarily shelved. True, the teamwork that characterizes this phenomenon of the ball going to the open guy will continue to work. But the roles are getting firmed up and each player is getting used to playing the functions they’re good at—breaking the press, making the inside pass, and taking the three. There will be the ball carriers who decide when to go for the shot or the assist. For the second time in three games, the highest scorer is Player Number Zero—this time with 14 points, 13 rebounds (oh those sky plucks), and five assists—the last two in the go-ahead spurt to Isaac Go in the last 7 minutes of the payoff period.
2) While offense was challenging with field goal percentage in the twenties (usually in the low fifties), the defense still held. The output of the Falcons was limited to 67. Even with their good first half with their advantage at 33-25, the tight defense kept the Falcons at the same level for the second half (34 points) when finally the scoring sock of the Blue Eagles kicked in at 45 points for the half.
3) The last four games (out of the five) of the Blue Eagles were leads for four quarters. Can they withstand a three-quarter loss and have a strong finishing kick for the fourth? This game proved that new arrow in their quiver (oops, wrong metaphor). The last seven minutes had the score at 55-56, advantage Falcons. In the next five minutes, at the two-minute mark when the barker bellows the time, the Blue Eagles were ahead at 68-59, or a run of 13-3.
4) Rebounding is a surprising hallmark of the energized Blue Eagles. Even in this close game where they can’t seem to coral the ball, the stats show that they still had the advantage in rebounds at 50-45. Again, the offensive rebound in the last five minutes in one possession showed four attempts to get the ball in, with Thirdy finally tipping it in and eliciting for a him a rare wolf-cry (I can’t read wolf lips) of relief and adrenaline flooding.
5) The rotation will be tighter in close games, and definitely in the playoffs. There will be no more experimenting and defense and a big line-up will be given more minutes. So there will be longer gaps between substitutions. This rotation of maybe just ten players is also a result of the more defined roles that have formed. Falling behind in shooting? Bring in the boom shooters. Too many turnovers? Get the ball carriers back in the game. The problem and solution in the adjustments will be easier with the identification of the talent pool and skills needed.
6) This team can pull surprises. Unpredictability which is the hallmark of a good team has been displayed. While the Blue Eagles favor the half-court set, and are not known for their press and double teaming of the ball handler, they pulled off this tactic a few times, with Isaac Go bullying the ball carrier together with Matt Nieto to pry the ball loose in a sideline trap. The drive-in to the basket and the inside pass is becoming an option to the perimeter sniping.
7) The confidence, not arrogance, is becoming a big part of the team’s newfound composure. This allows them to keep cool when shots don’t seem to find their mark as they stick to a tough defense until the shooting streak returns.
For our featured song, we pick on rock and roll’s iconic Jerry Lee Lewis with “Balls of Fire”. This rocker doesn’t use a guitar to supplement his hip movements. He stands over the piano and beats up the notes like a money lender trying to collect from somebody who isn’t paying back and instead goes on trips in business class.
It’s a crazy love song that can describe an ugly win, or a less than smooth sprint to the finish line. It’s jerky. It’s jolly. It breaks the ear drums. It attacks and defends the heart—“You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain/ too much love drives a man insane/ You broke my will/ Oh what a thrill/ Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire…
On to the fray. OBF
Photos courtesy of Joji Lapuz, Fabilioh.com