The 1993 NBA Finals provides me with one image I'll forever remember and attribute to the Chicago Bulls' repeat three-peat in the 90s. That is the visual of John Paxson receiving a pass from Horace Grant and getting an assist from the defense with a wide-open three-pointer. It proved to be the game-winner, and a series-clincher as the Chicago Bulls beat the Phoenix Suns.
After that dagger, Phoenix called for a timeout. I remember seeing Dan Majerle in utter confusion of what just happened. They expected Michael Jordan to take the final shot, to try and win the game for Chicago. Nope. Instead, it was John Paxson who did.
The Suns were blindsided by the Bulls' decision, and a very wise decision at that.
The play was designed perfectly. The Bulls moved the ball around: Jordan to Scottie Pippen, to a cutting Horace Grant, then back out to John Paxson.
It caught the Suns off guard and the Bulls capitalized. Championship number three.
But what bothers me the most is the amount of flak Pacquiao's been getting. He didn't perform well, he should have been more aggressive, he didn't have speed, he didn't have power. I don't mean to be an apologist for Manny, but here's my take on things.
The first three or four rounds of the fight were really close ones. I was scoring the fight on my own, in my head saying, "I think Pacquiao won that round", or "Maybe Marquez stole that round" at the end of each round. Through the first four rounds, it was really tough to pick a winner after each.
And I believe it was here when he lost his speed. Pacquiao got tagged more in the first few rounds than he did in his 12 rounds with Mosley or with Clottey. After taking those punches, he became tentative with his movements and with his punches.
And after losing some rounds here and there early in the fight, he lost confidence. He became more cautious, becoming more reserved about throwing punches he usually dishes out. He respects the power and the skill of Marquez.
But what really got him beat was the overall game of Marquez. He was more accurate with his shots based on what I saw on the screen (not what CompuBox saw). He landed cleaner shots. He even cut Manny above the eye, something that rarely happens to the defending champion.
Like the Bulls did to the Suns in that series-clinching Game 6, Marquez confused Pacquiao.
If there was anyone to blame for Manny's dismal performance, it may probably be Freddie Roach for not scouting the opponent well. Nathanielsz said it best this afternoon. Nacho Beristain, trainer of Marquez, had a gameplan that evolved as the fight went on. He had an answer for everything thrown Marquez's way. It was on-the-fly coaching at its best.
Roach was telling Manny they were losing, but what was Manny to do? His gameplan clearly wasn't working. The orders of his corner seemed like they weren't too effective. The Marquez they prepared for did not show up. What they got instead was an even better version, one who was quicker, stronger, and more accurate.
Just like the Suns, who weren't prepared for a John Paxson shot, so was Team Pacquiao caught off-guard by a superior Juan Manuel Marquez.
The boxer, in a fight, can only prepare himself when it comes to the physical aspects of the match: his conditioning, his lifestyle, his diet, et cetera. But when it comes to strategy, the coaching staff is liable for it. The failure of Roach to prepare Manny, or at least a gameplan to counteract whatever Marquez throws at them, almost cost Pacquiao his belt.
While Manny may be held accountable for some errors on his part, a bigger portion of the blame must go to Roach and the rest of his training team or coaches.
Some say Pacquiao failed to prepare for the fight. His body looked great. The gameplan was not effective. And it is the coaches' responsibility to build a strategy to help their fighter win.
Stop blaming Manny. He did what he can, he fought a good, exciting fight. He didn't win decisively, and I still believe he didn't win the fight. But he doesn't deserve all the blame he's been getting. Marquez was just the better boxer, and Beristain was just the better trainer.