Lacking ‘It’

Tony Romo

It is official. Tony Romo is the ultimate tease.

He has the entire package, plays for the flashiest of flashy teams yet falls short of sealing the deal.

For his entire career, Tony Romo has dealt with the same old, same old – he can’t perform in the clutch. For a long time, a lot of the criticism that went Romo’s way seemed a bit too much. What is always hard for Romo is that because he dates Jessica Simpson, plays for Jerry Jones and likes to smile, people want him to fail.

Whether it is justified or not, like Lebron James in his first two seasons with Miami, fans and analysts will nitpick at anything they can find for a player they may dislike. Unlike Lebron, the disdain people have for Tony Romo the man, not the player, feels unjustified.

It is not easy being a Romo defender. I know because I’ve been doing it for quite a while now. As hot as he can get, his play will make you shiver more often than it should. I wouldn’t go as far to say that Tony Romo has the choke gene.

Rather, it is more that he doesn’t have the clutch gene.

Too frequently is the term clutch or choke thrust on a player. Most guys are probably somewhere in the middle while the odds of their big game circumstances have simply gone either in their favour or against them, prompting them to be labelled clutch or a choker.

Over the last two December’s, prior to last night’s game against the Redskins, Tony Romo had thrown 20 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. A choker doesn’t have the ability to bring his team from the depths of despair in big moments as often as Romo has. Even though his January record is virtually non-existent, he hasn’t faltered in some of the tougher situations throughout his career.

The thing is, it is as if it is in Romo’s DNA to make huge mistakes at huge moments.

Tony Romo had another John Elway type of opportunity on Sunday night with all eyes on him. Down 3 points, on his own 15 yard line, 3 minutes to go and a touchdown likely being enough put his team into the playoffs.

Simple, right?

Anyone can muff a hold on a field goal or throw a costly interception. But Tony Romo is a quarterback who, time after time, has let his team down with the kind of blunder that it is almost fitting for number 9.

That isn’t to say that Tony Romo can’t win a few playoff games or have one of those career defining drives in a championship game. If Romo ever does have a career defining drive, play or game, that moment should never be something that transforms his imperfect legacy into something that it does not deserve to be.

To a lesser degree, Peyton Manning lacks ‘it’. He doesn’t have what his brother has proven to have. Peyton won a Super Bowl MVP but it wasn’t a stellar performance by any means. Peyton Manning has become arguably the greatest quarterback of his generation not through his ability to be his best when everything is on the line but through his immense talent and smarts.

Tony Romo doesn’t have Peyton’s talent or smarts. Nevertheless, he can and has come up big in big situations because he has the elite talent that allows him to do spectacular things. However, he isn’t so good that he doesn’t suffer from a recurring case of major gaffe-itis.

Romo made the poorest of poor reads to give Rob Jackson a season killing interception. Despite the timing of the miscalculated floater, the interception wasn’t due to Tony Romo’s choking. That play was a microcosm of his career as Romo is a player who doesn’t have the capability to consistently step up when the stakes are highest.

It isn’t choke or clutch. It is who Tony Romo is.

Lebron James overcame his perceived choking propensity last season. There is nothing to say that Tony Romo can’t do the same.

What will never change with Tony Romo is that he doesn’t have what every athlete wished they had or chooses to believe they have.

‘It’.

Agree? Disagree? E-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Also, you can follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favour.

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Importance of Stars in NBA

The Indiana Pacers had the Miami Heat on the ropes but couldn’t finish them off. They set themselves up for a storybook ending. Alas, it was not meant to be.

How typical.

The Pacers were outmatched. Much like a boxer without that knockout punch or a closer without a strikeout pitch, the Pacers needed something more. They just didn’t have it though. Larry Bird’s squad is another prime example of the necessity of having a star player in order to win meaningful games in the NBA.

Balance alone doesn’t cut it in this league.

The Heat should never have been seen as on the ropes by so many people (yes, guilty as charged). Not when they feature 2 of the best players on the planet while the Pacers feature player is a fringe all-star center. Indiana didn’t go soft in game 6. They couldn’t bring their game up a couple of notches like the Heat were able to.

It’s no secret that star players are important. They are almost as vital to NBA playoff life as oxygen is for human beings. However, not every team can have a star and those without at least one would like to think that they can survive. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case.

It’s not as if balanced teams cannot fight with the big boys of the league. If anything, they are even scrappier because they have something to prove. The Pacers gave the Heat a great fight. I would have paid to see 12 rounds of that. The Denver Nuggets took Kobe Bryant and his two giants to 7 hard-fought games. Philadelphia themselves have a legitimate shot at the Eastern Conference Finals. The 76ers hardly qualify though considering their road up to this point has been littered with the fallen soldiers of their opponents.

These teams can make it only so far.

Basketball isn’t a game that invites parity, largely due to the requirement of stars. Only 9 teams have won an NBA championship in the past 30 years and 3 of those teams have 1 lone championship banner hanging in their arena over that span. Of those 30 teams who have won championships, only the 2004 Detroit Pistons lacked anything close to a star player.

When the chips are down, a championship team must a guy or two that they can hand the ball over to. Even the 2004 Detroit Pistons had Chauncey Billups who is known around the league as Mr. Big Shot.

The Pacers didn’t have anyone like that this year. Danny Granger was an emerging NBA star not too long ago. He was unable to bring that star power to the Heat series for even 1 game and because of that the Pacers were doomed. The Heat superstars simply brought it after game 3 and the balanced roster of the Pacers couldn’t handle it.

The Orlando Magic ownership know that winning in the NBA is as star driven as any professional sports league in the world. That’s why they have made every possible concession that they could to appease Dwight Howard. Like a kid trying to impress the cool kids in high school, they tried a little too hard though. However, the reasoning behind their actions is completely understandable.

Fan bases without stars to boast of have to believe that a no-name roster can take down the Goliath’s of the NBA world. In a league where there is very little fluctuation among the top teams, hope is sometimes all they have.

Hope and belief just aren’t enough though.

The Thunder, Heat and Spurs all meet the criteria of possessing a star player. Oklahoma City has Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Miami has Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. San Antonio has Tony Parker to go along with aging stars in Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli. If the Boston Celtics do indeed push through the injuries to the Conference Finals then that would mean the 4 teams left in the 2012 playoffs would have the pre-requisite star needed to win a championship.

It’s no different than having a top-flight quarterback in the NFL. Still, the NFL has not only had much more parity in the past 30 years than the NBA but there have also been more Super Bowl winners that have lacked the supposed essential piece of the puzzle.

Stars trump balance in the NBA unlike any other league.

The Pacers, well, they did the best that they could.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

It’s Your Fault Pat Riley!

Lebron is tired. Dwyane Wade can’t score. Chris Bosh is injured.

The Big 3 are in shambles.

The Miami Heat’s crisis goes much higher up than the Big 3 though.

Beat the Heat is becoming all too real for Miami fans. A game 3 shellacking led by Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert has put Miami’s championship aspirations into serious question. When Derrick Rose limped off the floor it appeared a free road to the NBA Final was given to the Heat. Now it looks more like rush hour traffic in Seattle.

On a night where the Heat finally got some secondary scoring, they weren’t able to come close to the Pacers. After the 1st quarter, Miami was outscored by Indiana 77-49.

What’s wrong with the Heat? Well, Pat Riley, you have some explaining to do.

Pat Riley is supposed to be a genius. He’s been more like Stu Jackson and Isaiah Thomas rolled into one since Lebron, Wade and Bosh rolled into town. The Miami Heat are terrible. Their deficiencies have been masked in large part by the most dominant player in the NBA history. Unfortunately for Pat Riley, the King is not Superman.

Most people, including myself, thought that Pat Riley had assembled enough talent to complement his stars. Their core seemed too good and was enough to overcompensate for their glaring weaknesses. The redundancy of 2 ball dominating wing players on the same team wouldn’t matter to an extent where the Miami Heat would be in danger of being knocked out in the 2nd round.

You can throw that gobbledygook down the drain.

Chris Bosh’s injury has shown that the Heat stars should never have been referred to as the Big 2.5. However, his absence in games 2 and 3 has made clear what an awful job Pat Riley has done over the past couple of seasons.

Crystal clear.

The Swiss Army Knife, Mike Miller, was brought in to be the necessary 4th wheel to smoothen the ride all the way to their championship parade. An aging Shane Battier was signed in the 2011 offseason to provide harassing defence and some scoring pop off the bench. Energy center Joel Anthony was signed to a 5 year, $18 million deal in 2010.

Mike Miller hasn’t been able to find his groove. Battier, a career 38% 3-point shooter, shot 33.9% from beyond the arc this season and was an atrocious 0-6 from downtown in game 3 as he started at small forward. Joel Anthony has been riding the pine to start games lately while sharing time with Ronny Turiaf and Dexter Pittman at the 5.

Mike Miller and Shane Battier were deemed shrewd acquisitions at the time. It just hasn’t worked out for the Heat. Riley has made, what appeared to be, solid signings that haven’t turned out as good as expected.

Pat Riley cannot go without blame forever.

While Larry Bird the executive of the year has assembled a team without a superstar that is currently handling Riley’s Heat with ease, Pat Riley sits with his slicked back hair and piercing stare, helpless. He is unable to do anything now. The thing is, it’s not like he has done much with his pet project for the last 2 scrutiny filled years either.

Riley has hoped that he could ride his 3 stars to basketball immortality.

The mastermind hasn’t shown up to work though. He has misevaluated his entire roster. The role players have fit in with the Big 3 about as well as a second cousin twice removed fits in at a family Christmas dinner.

Pat Riley hasn’t made the right moves, whatever those moves should have been. I can’t tell you what Pat Riley should have done because I don’t know.

Remember, I’m not the genius. Pat Riley is.

In theory, great minds make great moves. Pat Riley hasn’t done much out of the ordinary. Battier and Miller were moves everybody could get on board with. Mario Chalmers is an average NBA point guard that shoots an above average percentage from the 3-point line.

Over the past 2 years, the Heat have featured Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, Carlos Arroyo, Eddie House and Norris Cole as true point guards. Over the past 2 years, the Heat have featured Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magloire, Dexter Pittman, Ronny Turiaf and Eddy Curry as true centers.

Not one role player has overachieved for the Miami Heat. Heck, most have underachieved.

Pat Riley deserves some credit for sticking by his inexperienced but talented young head coach in Erik Spoelstra. Of course, Spoelstra hasn’t gotten it done either.

It’s true that because of the salaries of his 3 stars, Pat Riley has had a limited amount of cap space to work with. Even so, the salary cap can’t excuse Riley of his teams’ shortcomings.

The Miami Heat are not done yet. Although, envisioning the Heat team that played in game 3 fighting for a championship is more than a little difficult.

There’s more than enough blame to go around at this point.

But it’s Pat Riley who should be the first person everyone is looking at.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

Welcome to the new weekly segment on Painting the Black. It is my goal to start your work week off right with random thoughts, ideas, rants and ramblings from the week that was in the world of sports. Hey look, today is a Monday and it’s the 7th, quelle coincidence. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

Illogical NHL Refereeing

Playoff hockey is the worst for referees. The whistles disappear like Lebron in the 4th quarter. It’s not a pretty sight. ‘Let them play’ is their mantra. Of course, by ‘letting them play,’ the refs are simply ruining the game.

It is even worse in the 3rd period and overtime when penalties are only ever called for high sticking, delay of game and, my personal favourite (not really), slashing ONLY when the stick breaks. The referees refuse to make calls on legitimate penalties but for accidental or freak incidents such as the infractions I previously mentioned where the penalty has to be called. It just doesn’t make sense that the rule book becomes so restricted in the most pressure packed circumstances. It is so frustrating and almost impossible to understand how a blatant trip, hook or hold can be ignored while these other penalties have been deemed must calls by the referees. They should all be must calls.

The fact that a wild, unintentional stick that just so happens to strike the face of an opponent is always called yet other penalties that constantly prevent scoring opportunities are intentionally overlooked is absolutely absurd. This is part of the reason why the NHL has so many multiple overtime games. It becomes so difficult to score because power plays are virtually non-existent in late and close playoff games. If you know me, I sound like a broken record for saying this but this is the type of thing that was supposed to be fixed after the lockout. It is wrong that this is the norm and that people as well as the NHL, year in and year out, accept it for what it is.

Kellen Moore and the CFL

I, among many others, was surprised to see Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore go undrafted. He signed on with the Detroit Lions so it’s a pretty safe bet to say that he won’t be getting much playing anytime soon.

Kellen Moore is a perfect candidate for the Canadian Football League. Never mind all the Americans who ignorantly perpetuate the myth that the CFL is a hack league. By the way, not all Canadians live in igloos. The CFL is chalk full of undersized and underappreciated talent. It is perfect for Kellen Moore.

The stigma associated with the CFL and pride of NFL hopefuls probably prevents a lot of players from giving the CFL a shot but it’s really a wonder why more NCAA quarterbacks like Kellen Moore don’t come north of the border straight out of college. NFL scouts understand the quality of the CFL. That’s why more and more guys such as Cameron Wake and Stefan Logan, tagged as a tweener and too small respectively when they began their pro careers, have gotten their shot to play and succeed in the NFL.

The best way to improve at the quarterback position is to play on a regular basis. Kellen Moore isn’t going to get that opportunity with the Detroit Lions. It may not be the NFL but it’s the next best thing. Instead of bouncing around the league and standing on the sideline holding a clipboard, Kellen Moore could get an opportunity at some legitimate playing time and prove that he has the chops to play professional football at a high level. Except for maybe the money, it is a no loss situation.

Challenges in the MLB

Tim Welke made one of the worst calls in MLB history the other day when he called the runner out at first despite Todd Helton being a good 3 feet off the bag. It was terrible but I still feel bad for Tim Welke. He is forever immortalized in baseball history. It could have been prevented though.

It’s baffling that the MLB hasn’t adopted some form of a challenge system. They added umpire review for home runs and it has saved a number of umpires the disgrace of being wrong on potential game changing home runs. They have the technology but much like FIFA refuse to utilize it. Inputting a challenge system for determining whether runners are safe or out would be easier than Madonna is on a Friday night at the club. 1 challenge per team. If the manager is right he keeps his challenge, if he is wrong he is out of challenges for the game.

It wouldn’t slow the game down much. Definitely not more than the excessive visits to the mounds (that should be restricted I might add). Football, hockey, basketball and tennis have all made the transition to video replay for the great benefit of their sports. Baseball must do the same. I know that Armando Gallaraga concurs with that sentiment.

White Outs

NBA teams should wear colours at home. I’m tired of seeing these shirt giveaways that create a white out in the crowd. It’s just so unimaginative. Of course, when the Thunder gave all their fans blue shirts in their series opener, guess what colour the Dallas Mavericks were wearing? Yeah, blue. Dallas did the same thing when they came home for game 3. In the NHL, teams wear their colours at home and white on the road. I know white has long been associated with home but it makes a lot more sense that teams should be wearing the colours that match the merchandise their fans have purchased or have been given. It looks a lot better too.

Alexander Ovechkin vs. Dale Hunter

Something’s gotta give in the Ovechkin-Hunter feud as Washington Capitals head coach Dale Hunter has substantially diminished the ice time of his superstar player throughout these Stanley Cup Playoffs. That something that’s going to give will be Dale Hunter. The only way Hunter can continue to give Ovechkin average player minutes is if Washington somehow goes on to win a Stanley Cup. They have overachieved so far and I don’t see them getting their hands on the Holy Grail without Ovechkin playing his heart out for 20 plus minutes a game.

Ovechkin has been a good sport about his benching this time around. He is saying the right things but he won’t put up with this for much longer, especially since he is starting to produce offensively. Ownership won’t stand for this diminished ice time either if it somehow continues into next season. Despite a couple of off years, Ovechkin puts the butts of Washington fans into the seats at the Verizon Center. Ovie is the most marketable commodity in the NHL and Washington ownership no doubt wants to exploit that. Whether you agree with him or not, you have to respect Dale Hunter for his harsh stance on Ovechkin’s playing time but he is foolish if he believes that he can continue doing this and last as head coach of the Capitals.

The Baltimore Orioles Are Good?

There are few sure things in life. The sun will rise in the east and set in the west, Bill Belichick will wear a hoodie and the Baltimore Orioles will be bad.

I guess life is just full of surprises. As if the AL East division wasn’t already the toughest division in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles have started out the season 19-9 and sit in first place, a half game up on Tampa Bay. The Blue Jays have become the dark horse team outside the big 3 in the American League but with Baltimore joining in on the fun the AL East does not feature a weak team. It was always a given that the Orioles would be bad. Everyone in the American League could feel a little better about their team’s fortunes because of the Orioles.

Although it is early and fortunes could change quickly, the Orioles appear destined to fight for a playoff spot come August and September. While the Royals, Twins, White Sox, Athletics and Mariners tear up the Central and West divisions, the East no longer has a true weak team. I giveth you, the unfairness of life in the American League East.

Miami Heat and the Final Shot

Although Miami has been able to improve on a number of issues from last season, the question of who takes the shots in late and close game situations has still been left unanswered. As much as Lebrick is made fun of for his inability to perform in the 4th quarter, he has shown flashes of brilliance in the clutch.

Dwayne Wade took the final shot in game 4 Sunday afternoon. He took the shot regardless of the fact that Lebron had just made a 3 and completed an And 1 opportunity. Lebron was hot but Erik Spoelstra drew up the play for D-Wade to run. Last year it was the opposite as Lebron was given the reigns to finish off the game while Dwayne Wade, even in the midst of a stellar performance, stood helplessly to the side and watched.

It would seem to me that going with the hot hand would be the easy and rational choice for Erik Spoelstra. It doesn’t make sense to have one guy that you have to go to in a certain situation when you have Lebron James and Dwayne Wade on the same team. Kobe Bryant can take the game winning shot after he goes 3 for 21 in a game because he is the only superstar on his team and because he is Kobe Bryant. Erik Spoelstra has the luxury (or curse if you’re a glass half empty kind of guy) of two dominant wing guys so it’s hard to go wrong with simply choosing the player who is feeling it at the time.

Bonus (Shameless?) Contemplation!

I was thinking that you might want to check me out on twitter and then give me a follow @paintstheblack if you like what you’re seeing. Maybe before you do that, don’t leave the website and subscribe to the blog either through the email subscription in the right hand corner or with the RSS feed so you can have immediate access to the latest articles on Painting the Black. Sweet, I know.

A Blessing in Disguise?

It didn’t seem possible that things could get worse for the Knicks after their game 2 loss to the Miami Heat. Then Amare Stoudemire went all Metta World Peace on the glass casing of a fire extinguisher. STAT is reportedly “almost certain” to be out for game 3 at Madison Square Garden. Amazingly, things have gotten worse for the Knicks.

Or have they?

On paper, the Knicks missing their $100 million power forward is bad. On paper, inserting Jarred Jeffries into the starting lineup or sliding Carmelo Anthony up to play the 4 is not ideal. On paper, Amare Stoudemire’s injury would signal the end for the New York Knicks’ already slim to none odds of winning the series.

In reality though, Amare Stoudemire’s injury could be just the freak incident to jump-start the Knicks.

Amare hasn’t meshed with Carmelo since day 1 of Anthony’s overhyped arrival to his hometown. Prior to Carmelo Anthony joining the Knicks, Stoudemire was surprisingly playing up to the absurdly rich contract that the Knicks desperately signed him to in the 2010 off-season. It has become clear that Stoudemire fits as well with the current version of the Knicks as Lindsay Lohan did at this weekend’s White House Correspondence dinner. Amare was better off without Carmelo.

It could be the case that the Knicks are better off without Amare.

The Knicks don’t have the personnel to beat the Heat but with Amare Stoudemire out the team might be able to put up a better fight. The front court lineup featuring Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony doesn’t space the floor well enough for either Amare or Carmelo to go to work the way they would like to. When you add to the mix an average shooter in Landry Fields and a below average 3 point shooter throughout his career in Baron Davis, what you get is not a group built for success.

The Knicks, however, were very successful at times during the absence of Amare Stoudemire, especially so when Carmelo would do his best Lebron James impersonation and beast it at power forward. Going small should not hurt the Knicks against the Heat’s unassuming group of big men, while the constant shooting presence of a J.R. Smith or Steve Novak may help turn the series around.

Statistics do not tell all but the stats without STAT on the floor this season should ease the minds of Knicks fans looking ahead to game 3 (not too much though). Sadly, New York has been better on both sides of the ball this season without Amare. Per NBA.com, they have scored 104.6 points per 100 possessions and allowed 96.2 points per 100 possessions in his absence. This is opposed to only their 98.1 point per 100 possessions scoring clip and 100.8 points per 100 possessions allowed defensively with Amare Stoudemire on the court.

The outrageous story featuring the stupidity of Amare Stoudemire is probably a bigger deal than his actual injury. After 2 games it appeared unlikely that the Knicks were going to end their pathetic 12 game playoff losing streak even with Stoudemire in the lineup. They played better in game 2 but it wasn’t close to enough. With Carmelo, Amare is a difference maker, but not the difference maker that he is paid to be.

For the New York Knickerbockers to truly contend for a title one day, Amare Stoudemire has to have a starring role. He can’t be what Chris Bosh is far too often for the Miami Heat. Whoever the future coach in New York is will have to find a way to make the situation work.

But maybe, just maybe, the Knicks are better off in the short-term without Amare Stoudemire.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

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