Giant Killing 10 – D Is for Defense
While the emphasis on one-on-one match-ups may be a bit overdone, it is nonetheless entertaining to see the game broken down to the point where ETU can finally set things up and rely on their strengths in such a way that will eventually position them for victory. (Even with that injury Sera suffers at the end of the episode!)
Interestingly, even though the Brazilians are highlighted as the most dangerous forces on the team, the match-up between Kuroda and Nagoya’s Itagaki is spotlighted as a particularly crucial focus for ETU. It makes sense, too, if you think about it. Obviously the Brazilians are important to check, because they have clearly been playing together for a long time and have developed a keen sense of teamwork and instinctive knowledge of what they will do on the field. But if too much energy and manpower is spent keeping certain players from taking over, then another player will likely step up and take advantage of whatever hole has developed.
That sort of development was seen yesterday during the Lakers’ NBA Finals game against the Celtics. Kobe Bryant checked Rajon Rondo, Ron Artest covered Paul Pierce, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum of course roamed the paint — all that left defensive weak link, 35-year-old Derek Fisher, to run around the court covering Ray Allen (who is also at least three inches taller than Fisher). Allen responded by hitting seven 3-pointers in the first half and eight for the game, a NBA Finals record. (He also threatened to give me OVER 9,000 heart attacks, but never mind about that.) Itagaki is shown to have that type of talent during the episode (he has scored a fair number of goals against ETU in the past), which is why it is absolutely imperative that Kuroda keeps Itagaki from exploiting any holes that might come up as a result of the focus on the Brazilians.
In his solid — and very educational for this soccer newbie! — post on Tatsumi’s tactics in this episode, Impz expresses surprise that Kuroda is able to read Itagaki’s game to such an impressive degree and react so fluidly to his moves. Can’t say it didn’t surprise me to an extent, too! More than that, however, it reminds me of how intelligence can be found in the most unlikely places in sports.
There might be no better example of this than the NBA’s Dennis Rodman. Most people probably know him for 1) Being absolutely batcrap insane, 2) being a notorious partier and someone who seems almost destined to die in some seedy Vegas hotel within five years and 3) whoring himself out in everything from professional wrestling (only David Arquette winning the WCW heavyweight title is more bizarre than Hulk Hogan and Rodman teaming up against Karl Malone and Diamond Dallas Page in the late ’90s) to stupid reality shows. But make no mistake: Rodman was an amazing basketball player, not only tremendously gifted physically but someone who also had an extraordinary basketball IQ. Rodman was known mainly for his rebounding; however, he was also a top-five defensive player of the 1990s, someone who could read games perfectly, use his body perfectly and stop an amazing array of players of all shapes, sizes and positions. If you could deal with his abject insanity, Rodman was someone you wanted on your team.
Kuroda is not at that level (he doesn’t have the physical gifts for that), but he fits that mold of a wild player who has a sneaky good sports IQ. Pure physical gifts are great and an absolute advantage, but knowing the nuances of a sport and being able to read other players to an effective degree is just as crucial. Tsubaki does not have the experience or the confidence to do that yet, which is part of the reason why he is floundering. It’s fun for me to see two guys battle it out and test each other to such an extent, which is probably part of why I like basketball so much.
On that note, Tatsumi takes the Kuroda’s strengths and the way he is able to cover Itagaki, along with Itagaki’s weaknesses, heavily into account when he decides to switch sides so that Kuroda can cover Itagaki, but I wonder if their personality clash ever came up in his mind, or if it’s just a happy accident. The ability to frustrate the opponent and take him out of the game is a good tool, after all. Kuroda looks down at Itagaki, but it’s because he has absolute confidence in his ability to keep him in check, and he’s not going to slack on that front; meanwhile, Itagaki is insulted by being covered by the “lesser” defensive player, and he is also insulted by all the attention the Brazilians receive, so he presses just a bit more and tries to get his own hits in so that he can be the hero. He’s got those psychological blinders on.
Good episode. This seems like a game where the defensive struggle (and the eventual adjustments to the defense, which that weasel, Fuwa, seems primed to make soon) would be pretty damn fun to watch in person. Dori being a badass goalie is fun, too — nice to see him be all intense and make some good saves in this episode. Also, did Itagaki really call one of the Brazilians a monkey? LOL Racism alarms going wild!