Hobbits against Spiders in the Playoffs

Irresistible impulse James vs. immovable object Hippert

Indomitable James vs. towering Hippert

Sports Saturday

After this past week’s basketball playoff games, I want to modify comments I made in last Saturday’s post. There I complained about suffocating defenses and feared we were headed for boring basketball. But after sublime games from San Antoinio’s Tony Parker (18 assists!) and Miami’s LeBron James (a triple double and a game winning shot with less than a second to go), I must add a note. Without great defense, such scoring doesn’t seem so marvelous. Without an effective villain, the hero can’t show his or her stuff.

So while I generally root for the offensive team–for Spanish soccer, for Wayne Gretzky hockey, for Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson basketball–I have to grudgingly acknowledge the need for teams that specialize in defense. Which is to say for Italian soccer, the Bad Boy Pistons, the Pat Riley Knicks, and, in this year’s series, for gritty Memphis and impossibly tall and strong Indiana.

A basic rule in fiction writing is that a suspense narrative only becomes compelling when it features a villain we love to hate. What literary character can I compare the Grizzlies and Pacers to? Well, there are many, but for some reason the one that comes to mind is Shelob, the giant spider from Lord of the Rings. Here she is described:

But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness.

What does it take to defeat her? Well, you don’t have to be a tall elfin warrior, which is who the Mordor goblins think is her vanquisher. One can be a Hobbit if one has the “indomitable spirit” of Sam Gamgee, which has as its metaphorical expression the phial of Galadriel. Think of it as the offensive spark:

As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency in motion, the glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand. It flamed like a star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light. No such terror out of heaven had ever burned in Shelob’s face before. The beams of it entered into her wounded head and scored it with unbearable pain, and the dreadful infection of light spread from eye to eye. She fell back beating the air with her forelegs, her sight blasted by inner lightnings, her mind in agony. Then turned her maimed head away, she rolled aside and begain to crawl, claw by claw, towards the opening in the dark cliff behind.

Who will win in the two semi-final series, the blood-sucking defenses or the blazing offenses? In sports, unlike in the suspense genre, we don’t know. (Update: After last night’s Pacers victory, it’s tied 1-1 in the Eastern Conference, and either team could win the series.) The fact that Shelob wins some of the time is what keeps us glued to our seats and elated when she is overcome. After all, even Sam Gamgee can throw the ball away twice in the final minute with the game on the line. Stay tuned.

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  • Kristian

    Re: The Spurs.
    They are very efficient (Elven?), partly due superior coaching and partly due to Parker, Duncan and great outside shooting. However, they were also third in defensive efficiency ( as measured by points per shot or points per possession.) They are closer to the suffocating web of Shelob than the hobbits. Especially since Duncan and splitter tower over Randolph.

  • Robin Bates

    Thanks for pointing this out, Kristian. I actually thought of them as more Shelob-like when they were playing the Golden State Warriors, who were not defensive at all. I’ve been so focused on the Eastern Conference that I need some educating on the Western. I’ll watch tonight’s game with your eyes.

  • Robin Bates

    And here’s a follow-up thought, Kristian. The more I think of LeBron trying to penetrate the tangle of arms that confronted him at the end of last night’s game, and the more I think of how the Spurs disrupted the joyous movement of Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, the more apt the Shelob analogy seems–crushing her overwhelming body down on the tiny hobbit. The Warriors were unable to sting back, as Sam does, and I think that these Pacers could well stifle the amazing acrobatics of LeBron and Wade. Hippert may not be quick but boy does he intimidate attackers on one end and suck up offensive rebounds on the other! I think Miami is in trouble.

  • Kristian

    With more thought, I’d like to match the major players in the playoffs to characters in the Lord of the Rings:

    Greg Popovich is Gandalf, who helps assembles, and guides the fellowship.

    Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are Pippin and Merry for the joy and occasionally ridiculous success and misdeeds they get into (esp: Ginobli).

    The Memphis Grizzlies were dwarves: not stature, but grim hardy folk that lived and loved the hard work hidden in earth that most are afraid of.

    Paul George is Faramir, the younger brother of Boromir: over shadowed, yet valiant and skilled in his own right.

    Lebron James is Boromir: A valiant and skilled warrior whose desire for the ring leads to a flawed ‘decision’.

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