Kevin Harlan, per usual, was a most welcome addition to Tuesday night’s TNT broadcast, giving the riotously entertaining Game 5 between the Spurs and Rockets the voice it needed, with the much-admired Harlan working in the setting worth his stature.
Less welcome to one were LaForce’s insights in the space between the third and fourth quarters, though, when her 14-second interview with the irascible Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s landed with an awkward thud during what was then a one-point, season-pivoting game.
It’s not as if LaForce forced her way into the huddle, that’s her gig and Popovich is required to answer her two questions. Coach Pop has known that these post-third quarter (at home) and first quarter (road) interviews have been a part of the NBA’s national television package since the 2007-08 season, and after some initial uproar, the objection to the near-tradition has died down significantly.
Leave it to the boomingest voice in the biz to bring the call right back, in discussing (via Awful Announcing) how both sideline reporters and coaches appear during these forced chats:
“They all look really uncomfortable, and to be honest I think they look bad.”
That’s direct enough. Harlan went on, in speaking with CBS Radio’s Damon Amendolara, discussing the role of the in-game interview moving forward:
“I don’t think it enhances the broadcast.”
“I don’t know that the fan is getting much out of these sideline interviews., to be quite honest.”
This is also direct.
Harlan spoke within the context of Popovich and LaForce’s interaction from Tuesday:
“They’re doing the job, and they’re asking the right questions because those questions are asked in the follow-up press conferences. But during the game, when you’ve got 30 seconds to shove it in? The coach doesn’t look good, I think it’s a bump in the road that can be avoided, and I think there’s a better way to go about it. I don’t know what it is.
“The coaches do not like it. Not one of them. They all detest it. They’re just not as cranky about it as Pop is.”
Admitting that the spectre of Coach Pop’s eventual midgame interview nearly acts as “a gigantic cloud over every broadcast,” Harlan (not unkindly) went on about Popovich’s repeated off-record gripes about the NBA’s policy:
“He thinks this is the most ridiculous thing the league has ever done. And in every coaches’ meeting, every summer at the end of every season, he is the first one to stand up and complain vehemently about these coaches being miked.
“I think he just feels there’s got to be some kind of sanctuary where, in the laboratory—which is his sideline, his practice, his locker room—where there is no outside influence. He constantly turns off the microphone.”
As well he should. As well Popovich, the long-running dean of North American pro sports coaches, can. Fred Hoiberg might not get away with as much.
Allie LaForce and Popovich’s discussion lasted all of 14 seconds on Tuesday, between the third and fourth quarter, with the reporter attempting much and the coach saying little:
LaForce: Coach, what did you do defensively to that high ball screen to take James out of the quarter the way you did?”
Popovich: “We did a better job.”
LF: “What’s going to give the edge in this fourth quarter?”
Pop: “I’m sorry?”
LF: “What will give you the edge in the fourth quarter?”
Pop: “Lots of things. It’s a game of mistakes, it’s a game of playing well, who knows?”
It’s true that LaForce will probably admit that her second question was as boilerplate as her first incisive, but what was she supposed to do at that point?
James Harden not only missed three of four shots from the field in the third quarter, but he too often looked a spectator in that period after a 23-point, 13-shot first half. The Rockets had several sound chances at putting the Spurs away for good in that quarter, and yet San Antonio stood as the team clinging to the one-point lead entering the final period.
If anything, Pop should have been at his happiest at this point. We know he got angrier:
Gregg Popovich is absolutely furious with Pau Gasol. ????
— NBA SKITS (@NBA_Skits) May 10, 2017
He could have given LaForce a straight shot with the Harden question, because the Rockets wouldn’t be learning too-hard secrets on the fly with a genuine answer (with Kawhi Leonard out there, the Spurs hedged on Harden and it resulted in two turnovers; with Kawhi off James, they switched and he missed a few shots), and just a dash of game tape reveals the answer eventually.
Already points ahead, he could have then dropped the too-dry “score more points than they do” bon mot in response to LaForce’s second query.
Problem solved, for Pop at least.
While in-game sideline interviews can provide a fair enough number of entertaining quips from the coaches who get it right, it would be more than understandable if the NBA (as the league did in the late 1970s, following complaints from coaches) dropped the ritual of forcing its coaches to offer insight partway between close, nationally televised games.
The failure is partially on the part of all parties to come up with a consistently entertaining and somewhat educational format that makes the experience palatable for all involved, but at some point the medium itself needs to be held up for scrutiny.
It is damned tough to explain how you’ve done something, while you’re actually still doing it. Coaches and players are so well-versed in this era that there are no real trade secrets to hide in limiting the scope of the interaction between reporter and coach, these coaches aren’t using cunning in hiding the hopes of an entire franchise from a sideline reporter working his or her third game in four nights.
Nah, the coaches are just annoyed. Even if they’re never actually speaking with their own players during the typical part of the between-quarter break that the television cameras interrupt.
Kevin Harlan joked during the interview that he hoped to “have the job tomorrow” at TNT, and he will, because he’s one of the finest broadcasters of any era. What he’s done, appealingly and again not unkindly, is once again bring up a subject that, twice per playoff broadcast, we’re irritatingly reminded of between quarters.
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