Posted: Wednesday January 24, 2007 5:21PM; Updated: Wednesday January 24, 2007 6:07PM
Tayshaun Prince (right) turned in one of the more memorable recent blocks when he denied Reggie Miller late in Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference finals.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images
Of course, it depends on who it is coming to the basket. Mutombo stresses the importance of knowing your opponent. Some players look for contact (Gilbert Arenas and Paul Pierce, whom Kirilenko rates the easiest "good" player in the league to block), while others such as Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade hide the ball, only to expose it at the last minute. Certain big men like Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph (No. 1 and 2 in the league in having their shots blocked) like to muscle inside, then go straight up, affording ample opportunity to pick off the ball from behind. Dirk Nowitzki likes to fade on his jumper, so Kirilenko says the way to pick off his shot is to sneak in from behind and time the release. The easiest targets are rebounding specialists whose effort is more commendable than their offensive skills. For example, Denver's Reggie Evans has 18 percent of his shots swatted, the highest rate in the league.
Offensive players, in turn, study shot-blockers. When Jason Richardson came into the league, he repeatedly had his shot blocked in practice by Foyle. So he started picking his brain.
"OD taught me that if you show them the ball, they go get it. You gotta get into them with that body," says Richardson. "Or if you're going up against a shot-blocker, don't go up with two hands, because you always get blocked with two hands. Just the other game he was telling me, 'If anybody goes up with two hands, I always get it.' Trevor Ariza comes at him and it's two hands and sure enough, OD got it."
Wade agrees. "It's all about timing," he said after a recent Heat game. "I ain't got the hops that J-Rich got, but I got a little hang time, I can hang in the air and maybe use my body to get a shot off. It's tough with a guy like Alonzo because he waits for you to get the shot off, then goes and gets it, so I'm glad I don't have to go up against him."
Wade smiles, looks across the locker room at his teammate. "I would dunk on him once in a while, though." Mourning, immersed in a postgame chicken wrap, misses the jibe.
Rejections to savor
Great swats stick in the memory -- think of Tayshaun Prince somehow chasing down Reggie Miller, of a late-career Michael Jordan pinning the ball against the backboard with two hands, of Mutombo smacking away eight against the Sonics in the climactic game of the 1994 first-round playoffs, then lying blissfully on the hardwood, holding the ball aloft like a souvenir.
Asked to recall his favorites, Foyle gets a dreamy look in his eye, as if remembering a particularly good cabernet. "Well, there was Latrell Sprewell, coming back home after the whole incident. He came in with two hands, he just wanted to take the basket home, just bring the house down, and I met him at the rim. That was pretty cool."
He thinks, continues. "I think I had one on Olajuwon. I had one on Kobe when I first came back. I got one on Shaq once, and that's huge because with that I have the maximum probability that he will break my fingers. I think I got Kevin Garnett once."
Eaton remembers his favorites, but just as clearly remembers the ones who got away. He ranks Olajuwon, Kevin McHale and Jack Sikma as the three hardest players to block, Olajuwon because he was so crafty and the latter two because they released the ball so far behind their heads. He also remembers a run-in with Larry Bird.
"I blocked one of his shots and, if I recall correctly, the next time we played them, he beat one of the players on our team, and as he drove into the middle, my teammate said, 'Mark, help!' And Larry in mid-stride said, "Yeah, Mark, get this,' and launched one of those runners, down the middle off of one leg. Shot it straight up in the air and it hit nothing but net. Then he ran back down the court with a little smirk on his face."
For Kirilenko, the most memorable sequence came when he blocked Bryant three times in a row, a feat made even more difficult because he was guarding him one-on-one, though a foul was called on the third block ("three times in a row, same attack," Kirilenko says, "and the third was a pretty clear block!").
His most satisfying ones come against big men, however. He rates Tim Duncan as a frequent target -- though he's quick to point out that Duncan will also burn you with a pass if you commit too early. And he as well has a Shaq memory.
"One time I blocked Shaq," says Kirilenko, who pauses to savor the moment. Then he laughs, "The next attack, I get elbowed in the face. It is part of the business."