Brian Scalabrine, now a CSNNE analyst, who recently challenged anyone in Boston to a one-on-one match to prove his athletic superiority, looked at a picture of Tom Thibodeau wearing a Salem State basketball jersey in his 1984-85 team picture. He joked that Thibs’ poor individual defense in college, a real phenomenon according to the coach’s college teammates, was the reason the current Bulls coach conjured such a magnificent help defense. I’m paraphrasing now, but Scal said something like, “He knew his opponent was getting by him, so he needed to devise a way he could still stop the other team.” Then Scal told viewers a little more about Thibodeau, known as much for his yelling as for his unrivaled defense and for his tendency to play Luol Deng 55 minutes per game: “People don’t know how fun this guy is.”
The red-head still hasn’t perfected the art of making television — he’s still not as polished with his speech as Mike Gorman, still in danger of muttering “um” every once in a while — but he’s unafraid to speak his mind and offers rare insight that few other analysts are willing or able to.
He told us once tonight that Chris Wilcox was supposed to blitz a pick-and-roll, and that Rajon Rondo on the same play was supposed to fight over the pick with more tenacity. He spoke of playing pickup basketball with the Celtics coaches after practice yesterday, of how Doc Rivers raved about Boston’s practice intensity. (That anecdote sounds odd after Boston was blasted 100-89 by the Chicago Bulls, who were playing on the second night of a back-to-back. But Rivers warned Gorman in the pregame that the Celtics going so hard in practice might work against them during the game.)
Scalabrine told us Thibodeau used to preach going under screens against Rondo. He told us how Courtney Lee beat Rondo in one-on-one at practice yesterday. He argued with a CSNNE’s statistician’s proclamation that tonight was Joakim Noah’s first triple-double — “Agree to disagree, Mr. Stat Man” — and then jokingly bragged in third person after he was actually right — “Sorry, Stat Man. Scalabrine got you again.” Scal watched one of his former teammates, Nate Robinson, try a couple of showboat plays during garbage time, after which Jason Collins briefly tried to murder Robinson with a glare, and then Scal complained that “The Nate Robinson Show” doesn’t know when to stop.
Scalabrine understands basketball, and, better for us, he knows how to explain what he knows. Better even than that, maybe, he sees basketball like we do, with a brain capable of grasping what he sees yet a body flawed enough, plus an ego fragile enough, to view what great NBA players do with awe. Scal spent 13 seasons in the NBA, and in many ways he is an insider in the NBA world like we will never be. But in many other ways, he does not consider himself an insider. He knows he could never accomplish what Pierce does or what Rondo does, yet he spent years searching for reasons why they make the choices they do — in other words, he spent his career as a man searching for knowledge despite knowing he would fail if he ever tried applying much of it. And now it’s that knowledge, and his willingness to impart it, and the uncomplicated and humorous manner in which he does so, which make him one hell of an analyst, who will only improve as he becomes more acclimated to being on television. It’s no wonder the Bulls offered him a job as an assistant coach.
Why have I written only about Scal? Because he earned a lot of praise. But also because it beats talking about Noah’s triple-double; Boston’s atrocious defense and missing bench; Rondo’s wasted awesomeness; wide open Carlos Boozer layups; Jimmy fucking Butler; Robinson drilling five 3-pointers; and finally Robinson flexing while looking at the Boston bench, in the waning moments of the latest embarrassing Celtics loss.
There are only so many times I can discuss the same Boston shortcomings all over again.
“Right now we’re not a good team,” Doc Rivers said after the shellacking.
But at least there’s Scal.