Breakfast Special: Players Only Make Broadcasts Worse

There is a classic formula in sports broadcasting that has worked for at least my entire lifetime (since 1977.) If you credit Monday Night Football with codifying the modern sports broadcast format and mainstreaming the three-man booth in 1970, it’s been nearly 50 years.

You have a play-by-play announcer, usually someone with a background in traditional journalism and broadcasting, a torch that has been passed, depending on the sport, between the likes of Chick Hearn and Keith Jackson and Mike Breen.

You have a color man, a former player or coach, giving expert analysis (indeed, the term “color commentator” is distinct to American English; in the rest of the world, “expert analyst” is the term of choice.)

And you have the third person in the booth, who can be either a useless third wheel (Mark Jackson, looking at you) or a fantastic foil to the primary color commentator (we see you there, Doris Burke!)

Meanwhile, in the studio, you have the professional broadcaster (see Ernie Johnson or Michelle Beadle) acting as a moderator for a panel of former players and coaches—the best of them riff brilliantly off of each other and leave the audience in stitches and we call that “Inside the NBA”; the worst of them offer mind-bendingly terrible hot takes and remind us all that “you ain’t Kobe” (gods, Paul Pierce is awful. Just turrable.)

The whole point of this little search-engine friendly answer to the question of “what is a color commentator” is that a 50-year-old formula works for a reason.

And TNT and NBA TV had to go and screw it up by creating “Players Only”, where we learn just why the professionalism of the “you never played the game” play-by-play person or studio host is so important.

Consider this question that nobody should have to ask:

The bigger question is whether Players Only is worse than the Fans Only thing I saw once for British soccer, where they got two yobbos out of a pub and gave them microphones on Sky or the BBC or wherever it was I saw it. If TNT wants to try that, put me and Pace and Space expert emeritus Zach d’Arbeloff in the booth for Pacers-Celtics in the playoffs.

Anyway, on to the action.

Kevin “Red Card” Durant

I don’t know how I feel about Angry Kevin Durant even as he concludes his third season in Oakland.

The guy went from being one of the most legitimately likable players in sports to being a wrestling heel, his over-the-top antics drawing a slew of technicals and ejections while carrying none of the street cachet of intimidators like Rasheed Wallace or just plain outright crazy people like Stephen Jackson, Metta World Peace, or Durant’s own teammate Draymond Green.

Durant got ejected again last night. He is one technical from a suspension.

The Warriors kicked Denver in the teeth anyway, 116-102, as DeMarcus Cousins scored 28 points, hauled in 13 rebounds, and locked Nikola Jokic (10 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 turnovers) down defensively.

The game wasn’t as close as the score; the Nuggs just made a run in garbage time to cut into what was a 30-point lead when the starters all sat with seven minutes left.

This was a Total Team Effort (technically) for Denver, who had five players with exactly 10 points plus Paul Millsap with 11 and Jamal Murray with 17.

The Nuggets shot 37.5 percent from the field, 23.3 percent from three, and that’s including the 16-point “comeback” over half a quarter of garbage time.

In other words, the Warriors are rounding into playoff form, they won the season series 3-1 from their closest opponent, they’re two games up in the standings, and we’re going to get another fait accompli of a playoffs that only looks competitive on the surface until it’s June, the Warriors win Game 6 at Oracle, and everyone starts wondering whether the league should do something about stars willingly signing team-friendly contracts to play for winners when Boogie Cousins wins Finals MVP.

Boogie makes $5.3 million this year. Yikes.

Rockets Science

Houston has officially passed Denver for the second-best point differential in the West, not bad for a team that sat 14th in the conference in November.

The Rockets also beat Sacramento by a mile on the enemy floor, 130-105.

James Harden had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting overall and 7-of-12 from three in just 29 minutes.

Houston, overall, shot a you-gotta-be-kidding-me 26-of-61 from three and 20-of-33 on two-point shots.

The Rockets tied their own NBA record for made threes in a game by a team, but is anyone even surprised at this point? It’s only a matter of time before they combine their usual insane volume shooting (even by 2019 NBA standards) from long range with a night where they just can’t miss, and that’ll be the day we’re all talking about the night they went 50-of-75 from three-point land and scored 168 points in regulation because they hit nine two-pointers on offensive-rebound putbacks and didn’t shoot a single free throw.


Leave it to the LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers to allow Russell Westbrook a double cheeseburger of a triple-double.

Russ had 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 21 assists (against just two turnovers!) in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 119-103 win.

And because he’s Russell Westbrook, of course he did it on 8-of-23 shooting, his wow-factor counting stats matched only by his wild shooting inefficiency.

The Thunder dominated this game at both ends of the floor, shooting 18 more times than their opponents from the field and 10 more times from the line thanks to a 21-12 turnover advantage and a 17-4 win on the offensive glass.

Rajon Rondo tried to get a triple-double of his own, but he ended up with just seven points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, shooting 3-of-11 from the field and turning the ball over four times.

Westbrook dedicated the performance to Nipsey Hussle. Helluva tribute.

And Finally…

The Spurs beat the Hawks 117-111 behind 29 points on just 7-of-11 from the field from DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan hit 15-of-16 from the line in a bizarre stat line and a crazy spin of the Wheel of Efficiency.

San Antonio won this game seemingly the same way they’ve picked up all 45 of their wins this season, through solid fundamentals and sniper-rifle fire from deep; they hit 56 percent (28-of-50) of their twos, 46.7 percent (14-of-30) of their threes, and 86.4 percent (19-of-22) of their free throws, making the most of their possessions.

Atlanta had a chance to steal this one—a 16-11 turnover win and 11-4 offensive rebound win gifted them 12 extra possessions—but they simply couldn’t match San Antonio’s otherwise squeaky-clean play and lost by six.

The Spurs are off to Denver for a regular-season tilt that may prove a first-round playoff preview.

And of course there will be highlights of that, and everything else NBA Wednesday-related, tomorrow. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!