Editor's Note: Front Paged because at least SOMEONE is writing about basketball!
On Friday I was finally able to watch Dirk live again when Germany took on Macedonia in a test game in Munich for the upcoming Eurobasket (currently on a project there). It was as fun a game as can be had in a meaningless preparation against an unknown opponent leading up to an international tournament. NBA superstar on display, close game, getting down by 10 in the 3rd quarter, backup unit makes it close again, superstar hits 3 in final minute, arena stoked, opponent takes the lead again with 11 seconds to go, but a big shot by a role player saves the day. Full recap and more after the jump.
Note: Sorry for not posting earlier, I had started writing and uploading the media files, but then work and travel got in the way of editing and finishing the post.
My first win of the night was skipping the line at the main entrance of the Olympiahalle (site of the 1972 Olympic games) facing the way to the public transport system with a few hundred people waiting to get in, and instead taking the side entrance to the club level. Would never have worked at an NBA arena with full security checks and ushers/security guards often taking themselves very serious, but here it was no problem. Only one person besides me, and the lone guard on this part of the concourse just asked "do you know your way" after I showed my ticket. Yes I do, thanks.
The arena was still filling up (sold out with 12000 people in attendance), but you get the idea. I was first row in the bottom left corner. Pretty good seats, and much much cheaper than any NBA game of course.
Was a bit late for that, but Dirk skipped most of the warmup anyway going back to the locker room to get taped and having a moment for himself. Here are some of his "key scenes" from the warmup on video :-) I was just happy to see Dirk back on a court.
Part 1 players coming on the court (also available in 720p)
Part 2 Dirk light shooting
I also took some more pictures of Dirk and other players during this, but none really better than what can be seen in the videos.
Player Introduction Germany
There are a few players before him and I can't edit at the moment, but the difference in noise level when Dirk gets announced is the best part anyway.
Kaman: And the home of the freeeeee.... No wait, wrong national team.
Short game recap
Dirk mostly was matched up with Pero Antic, a guy looking like Macedonia's answer to Carlos Boozer. He did a pretty good job denying Dirk easy shots, and scored on him and Germany's other bigs a few times himself. For the most part the teams were trying to work through some standard plays to start the game and trading baskets, with Germany leading 35 - 33 at the half.
Dirk working on his trash-talking skills: Yo, what hair care product are you using? ZING!
More Dirk vs. Antic
That and the pretty old-fashioned intro video before calling the players on the field had a very 80s vibe.
The rest of the halftime entertainment: Cheerleaders (stunts and cheers, not just shaking their booties)
Second half and dramatic finish
The second time the coach had Dirk and Kaman together on the floor early in the 3rd quarter something wasn't really clicking, and Germany quickly found itself down by almost double digits (37 - 46 after 6 minutes). Coach Bauermann sent in his backups, and those started drilling a couple of 3s and a 4 point play to make it close again 55 - 56. While the atmosphere was good the whole time, now the fans really wanted Germany to win, e.g. loudly booing a Macedonian player during key free throws which didn't happen at all in the first half.
Dirk working to get his patented fade-away shot honed in for the Eurobasket
With about 7 minutes to go the first unit came on again to close things out. And they did. Dirk and Benzing managed to get to the line to increase the lead, and in this phase Dirk's main defender Antic fouled out. But then the offense stagnated and Macedonia battled back and took a 1 point lead again with a minute to go (64 - 65). In this situation Dirk showed why he is Dirk and shouldered the responsibility for the next shot. With everybody and his brother knowing where the ball was supposed to go, he stopped on a dime at the three point line and buried a pretty open three for the lead sending the arena into a frenzy with chants of "MVP! MVP!"
But Macedonia wasn't done yet and hit a long shot themselves to take back the lead on the other end. Germany called their final timeout with 11 seconds to go. With the two NBA stars now covered well and the clock ticking down, backup PG/combo guard Heiko Schaffartzik found himself open and hit a gutsy 3.
Dirk trying to set a pick for Schaffartzik
On the final defensive stance with 4 seconds to go the coach took out both Dirk and Kaman and went with a "special unit" of strong shot blockers (Ohlbrecht most notably who has great vert and timing) in the front court and other guys with size for their position (Benzing, Hamann, ...) on the perimeter. Or he just wanted to give the second unit a chance to live through a "get a stop or lose" situation before the tournament. It worked, and while Macedonia was still able to get a pretty good look the shot rimmed out and Germany secured the rebound and the win 70 to 68.
More notes about Dirk
Still not really the usual Dirk scoring almost at will, but of course until now he plays controlled/limited minutes. The patented posting up on the elbow before going up for the fade-away shot was in effect for a few plays and worked okay. Clutch 3 point shot in the final minute. Good positioning on defense but not exerting too much energy there.
Injuries: He still wears the splint on his finger with the tendon tear he suffered during the finals. And now his right knee is taped (see picture above) though he seemed to move completely fluid and normal. Probably just a precaution. As noted Dirk skipped almost the entire warmup and shoot around going back into the locker room, though some of that might have to do with the enormous attention he got from the fans and media. I'm sure Cuban would rather want to see him sit on a beach and get fully healthy, but that's what Dirk wants to do. On one occasion he got bumped hard and slipped backwards over the floor like after taking a charge, and in another game he hustled after a ball jumping over the sideline. Dirk is really giving everything he's got to make his team as competitive as possible and bring it back to the Olympics that he enjoyed so much in 2008.
Smart player: He collected 4 fouls in limited minutes, but none of them were bad fouls. All were taken with the intention of stopping a fast break play or preventing an easy basket in the paint. He continues to motion where he wants to see Kaman and his ball handlers during plays, but less so than in the first games I watched on TV. Seems pretty happy with how he gets set up. From what I could gather from the post game interview he hated the defensive play that allowed Macedonia to take the lead again after he had just hit an open 3 in the final minute, but that's obvious.
MVP - Most Vaunted Player. Or "Most Viewers Paid" just to see Dirk.
Cool guy: After the game he took the time to go back out and not just do an interview with the broadcasting station but also write autographs, talk to people and pose for some pictures, and probably a lot more than he does after most NBA games. He knows what people expect and that most fans mainly came to see him, and again he fully delivered.
Here is mine:
Kaman watch (for any Clippers or general NBA fans out there)
Chris Kaman is pretty awesome. Never caught him live in person in a game so far, but he's fun to watch. Not the most athletic dude, not even the tallest. But great positioning and super-quick feet for someone of that size. Combined with his good mid-range shot that he takes without any hesitation and his ability to finish from odd angles and through contact with either hand this whole package of skills makes defending him a nightmare. He had a spin move and dunk in the first half that looked so fluid and effortless most NBA small forwards would be proud of it. For good measure, he throws in the occasional NOT IN MY HOUSE monster block (unfortunately only got an out of focus picture of that one) and goes for everything bouncing off the rim. While not the defensive presence of someone like Tyson Chandler, I'm sure Dirk is stoked beyond belief to finally have someone like that on the national team to draw a defender or two away from him.
German national team players who might one day be NBA players
I'd say backup PG Heiko Schaffartzik has an NBA body. Totally cut, vaguely reminds me of former Blazer Jerryd Bayless in body type though very different playing style. Good eye, good hands, quick lateral moves on defense, not afraid to take and make big shots as he demonstrated again in this game. Unfortunately German teams (unlike e.g. Spanish ones) tend to not give young talents a lot of playing time especially on the lead guard position, and so it took Schaffartzik years to break through. Now he's already 27, and thus too old by NBA standards.
Big man Tim Ohlbrecht has been rumored as a significant talent on both front court positions for quite some time, but so far he hasn't even stuck on a top European team. He just turned 23. And he'd need to get consistent minutes against good competition and great coaching immediately to take that next step. The size and athleticism is there, the game awareness not really.
6'10" SF Robin Benzing (22) has a good shooting touch and to my eyes is about as good as (and maybe less scared of good players than) Blazers bench SF Luke Babbitt, which isn't saying much. Potentially some NBA team will take a look at him in the future, but it's a long shot. He was projected as a low 2nd round pick in this year's draft by a few scouting sites but that didn't happen. He'll play for new German first league team Bayern Munich next year under his current very experienced national team coach which could help him mature his game.
Starting PG Steffen Hamann maybe could have been an NBA backup with his ultra-quick first step, knack for steals and good overall athleticism if he had ever developed a reliable outside shot. Now he's too old and will play out his career in Europe/Germany.
As for OKC's unsigned draft pick Tibor Pleiss (via Nets and Hawks), I'm not so sure. He definitely has NBA center size at 7'3" which immediately put him on the NBA's radar, but so far he's more of the prototypical white stiff. Now 21, he still has no visible muscle definition, and with his current strength and positioning it's too easy to push him out of his spot on defense. Not very good finishing through contact either. On the plus side, he has good hands and a nice shooting touch, he can even hit the occasional 3 from international range if left wide open. When tasked with a bigger role such as the mini tournament in Turkey when Dirk and Kaman weren't with the team yet, he can step up and score quite a bit (won tournament MVP over 5 Turkish NBA players and a few more). It will be interesting to see if and when he can take the step overseas.
After China got their asses handed to them in a prep tournament in London, the team decided to fly back home instead of face Germany in 2 more test games as planned and promised. Macedonia was nice enough to stand in for them (probably got a little cash for it too). Well, I'm honest and say I knew nothing about any player on the team before. Naturalized PG Lester "Bo" McCalebb (localized spelling "Mekkaleb", plays for Siena in Italy) was pretty impressive, forcing some turnovers and fairly easily getting past any German defender on the perimeter (which is worrisome for the upcoming Eurobasket) and able to grab rebounds over a number of 6'10"+ guys standing around although he looks like 6'0" in shoes is generous. Antic who defended Dirk for much of the game did a decent job keeping him from getting easy baskets and contributed 11 points himself about matching Dirk's production in reduced minutes, but collected fouls in the process and as said above fouled out with 6 minutes to go which really hurt his team. Another combo guard whose name I didn't take down also had some nice shots and at least could play for a good European team.
Of course the most popular was the blue Dirk 41. Followed by various versions of German national team jerseys (basketball and naturally just soccer jerseys for the team colors). I also spotted quite a few Mavs Championships t-shirts already. And even a handful of Kidd jerseys. Since I had no Mavs gear with me, I had my lucky Blazers warmup jacket on. Sorry Mavs, but in the end it worked :-)
Only saw one other Blazers jersey: #5 Rudy Fernandez. Who, well, is now a Maverick at least for 1 season.
Though I'm sure there were a few in the crowd, personally I was happy to not see a single Lakers jersey around me. Kobe, not popular in Munich. There were definitely way more Macedonian jerseys than Kobe + LeBron jerseys combined. Take that NBA superstars.
Funny/sad jersey: The little kid next to me had a Jermaine O'Neal #6 Raptors away jersey. Parents can be cruel. Or Canadian.
And that's my recap. Very fun to see Dirk live once more in a game that was pretty exciting towards the end. With Germany again beating Macedonia in more convincing fashion 81 - 65 in their 2nd game played in Berlin 2 days later the team looks ready for the Eurobasket beginning on Wednesday. Good luck to Dirk and the gang so they can contend for the title and especially qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.