Game 7 Rewind Part 1 of 3: Battier is Like Mike

21 06 2013

One of the underrated parts of champions is the performance of their role players.

And why wouldn’t it be?

An organization has a symbol or image that gives people something to picture when thinking of that team. When it comes to an individual player-heavy league like the NBA, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will easily come to mind when thinking about how and why the Heat have been so successful the past two years during their championships. And deservingly so.

However, just as is the case with any team of any league of any sport, there was much more to these championship than their best players’ outings during the past two Finals. LeBron’s monster 37 points and 12 rebounds showing in Game 7 will never be forgotten when people reminisce about these champions.

But as I said, there’s so much more to it than this one guy. This “more” is the role players. The players that don’t worry abou the attention or the ability to do what they want—the players that contribute in their specific role in order to give their teammates the best chance of winning each game.

What was the “more” in last night’s ever-so-decisive Game 7 of the NBA Finals?

Shane Battier pulling a Mike Miller.

During last year’s NBA Finals, Battier was in the starting lineup serving his role as a spot-up shooter and filling that role more than perfectly. Going 9-for-13 from three-point range in his first two Finals games and becoming the Heat’s greatest contributor to stretching the floor, Battier consistently made his shot throughout the series and played a key role in guiding his team to the top. Who knows if LeBron and Wade would have had the breathing room to create their own shot if Battier hadn’t have been sitting on the outside ready to fire.

However, another shooter decided to appear for the Heat’s closeout Game 5 121-106 victory who had been all but irrelevant up to that point. After going 0-for-3 from deep in the first four games and racking up a total of eight total points, Miller caught fire. No really, he was heat. Miller shot 7-for-8 from deep and had himself 23 big points in the biggest game of his career. No one saw it coming. Not one person. (Well, so I assume.)

Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 1.54.37 PMDuring this year’s NBA Finals, Miller found himself in the starting lineup for the latter part of the series, serving his role as a spot-up shooter and filling that role more than perfectly. Going 9-for-10 from three-point range in his first three Finals games and becoming the Heat’s greatest contributor to stretching the floor, Miller consistently made his shot throughout the series and played a key role in guiding his team to the top. Who knows if LeBron and Wade would have had the breathing room to create their own shot if Battier hadn’t have been sitting on the outside—with one shoe or two shoes on, didn’t matter—ready to fire.

However, another shooter decided to appear for the Heat’s closeout Game 7 95-88 victory who had been all but irrelevant up to that point. After going 6-for-19 in the first six games and racking up a total of 21 points, Battier caught fire. No really, he was heat. Battier shot 6-for-8 from deep and had himself 18 big points in one of the biggest games of his career. No one saw it coming based on his 20 percent shooting (20-for-80) from deep in the playoffs up until this Game 7.

I’m describing these out-of-nowhere performances to help you understand just how important these out-of-nowhere showings are, especially for a Heat squad that requires quality shooting to surround the always attacking James and Wade. The naysayers can point out that the Heat only won because they had players like Miller, Battier and others not named LeBron/Wade/Bosh during the past two championship runs playing out of their minds. In a way, they got “lucky.” I mean, was it fair that Battier scored back-to-back 17 point games during last year’s Finals? How could the Thunder have prepared for that? Was it fair that Mario Chalmers exploded for 19 points in Game 2 while being mostly irrelevant for the majority of the other games in the Finals? How could the Spurs have prepared for that?

I used to be one of these naysayers that looked upon these players as inconsistent rather than “stepping up.” (Now, whether or not my distaste for the Heat played a part in this is for another time.) But what these outbursts represent is the “more” championship teams will always need. They need players to step up onto the big stage, put on their “big boy pants” as Gregg Popovich likes to put it and make an uncharacteristic impact that betters the team and gives them the edge. It’s not luck; it’s trust. It’s trust from the coaches and their stars that when the lights are shining brightest and the defenses are schemed to clamp down on the superstars, the “more” of the team will find a way to give that extra and unexpected push to the finish line.

Whether it’s been Miller or Battier, these shooters have been that “more” the past two years that has pushed this team toward becoming a dynasty.

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My Thoughts on one of the Best NBA Games Ever

19 06 2013

“It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of.”

Those were LeBron’s words after the roller coaster known as Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals found a way to finally find its last loop and come to a halting stop.

The Miami Heat won an overtime thriller 103-100 over the San Antonio Spurs to send this back-and-forth (literally) series to a decisive winner take all Game 7.

Due to my current state of being basketball hungover from that emotionally-draining showcase of basketball and the overwhelming amount of analysis and ideas roaming through my mind, I decided to jot down my impressions in bullet form from one of the best games I’ve ever seen.

 

  • Give the Heat credit. Give that defense that closed out an evenly-matched game credit. They pulled this one out of nowhere as their fans were starting to leave the stadium (shame on all of you), the Spurs fans began to cheer for their soon-to-be fifth championship in 15 years and the Larry O’Brien was actually being wheeled out of a tunnel in preparation for the ceremony. And then it happened…the Spurs threw this game away. I hate saying that because I hated when people said the Heat threw away their championship to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. It’s disrespectful to ignore the team that actually won the game. However, the Spurs were in complete control of their destiny; they were two rebounds and two free throws away from finishing off this series and this season.Up 93-89 with 28 seconds to go, Manu Ginobili needed to make two free throws to send this one to a six-point game. He went 1-for-2. Then they simply needed to get a defensive rebound off a LeBron James‘ 3-point attempt to further put this game away. They let Mike Miller grab an offensive board and kick it out to LeBron for a 3-pointer. 94-92. After being fouled with 19 seconds to go, all Kawhi Leonard needed to do was make two free throws. He went 1-for-2. Then they simply needed to get a defensive rebound off a James’ 3-point attempt (sound familar?) to further put this game away. Chris Bosh grabbed that season-changing rebound, Ray Allen backed up toward the 3-point line and the rest was truly history. The Spurs could see the trophy and taste this victory. This is one of the most heartbreaking games I’ve ever seen. As Mark Cuban tweeted, “Hate to say this, but this game felt like the Rangers in the World Series.” That gives you an idea of how much this one hurts for San Antonio, who only had to do the simple things to win this game. They are just as resilient as Miami, but I have my doubts that they can muster up the emotional energy to fight back on the Heat’s home floor. That’s aside from the fact that Tim Duncan (44 minutes) and Tony Parker (43 minutes) are probably icing their entire body at the moment. As Ginobili put it, “I have no clue how we’ll get re-energized. But we have to.”
    • However, even though it looks like the Spurs are down and out, I wouldn’t count them out completely. I mean, just look at this series. After every single game so far, the media has practically counted out the loser…and that loser has gone on to win the next game every single time. I know this loss was astronomically more devastating than the other two losses, but as I’ve been saying all playoffs long, when the Spurs “Big 3” all play, they haven’t lost back-to-back since December 12/13. This isn’t a young Pacers’ squad that isn’t going to know how to handle the pressure of a Game 7. This is a Spurs’ squad filled with poised veterans that are ready for the challenge come Thursday night. As Gregg Popovich put it, “we better be real unsatisfied to the point of anger.”
  • This game had it all. The stars. The big runs. The off-the-court storylines. The nail-biting finish. The game-tying shot. The collapse. The weight of the world on so many players. The legacy of one team being salvaged. These two teams just played one of the best games in NBA history. Anybody that was able to watch it should feel thankful to have experienced such a sight.
  • Allen now has 352 postseason 3-pointers, 32 more than Reggie Miller, who is 2nd all-time. He is 12-for-20 in this series and 6-for-9 during the fourth quarter. This is a man of habit that puts up hundreds of shots a day to remain ready to fire from deep and has such a quick release, making it difficult for defenders to close out on his shot. Luck was involved on his huge 3-pointer, but there was little doubt in the Heat players’ minds that Allen would drain it once he released it. He truly is the best 3-point shooter ever.
  • Miller looked like me when I’m trying to get through airport security and Joel Anthony—I mean LeBron looked like a lamp without its shade on. That’s all I have to say about those wardrobe malfunctions.
  • Back to Miller for a second. If Danny Green is going to be praised for his shooting, let us take a moment and give Miller his due attention. This guy’s stroke is so pure right now. He is shooting 78.6 percent (11-for-14) from deep in the NBA Finals. And he is 1-for-1 with one shoe.
  • Commissioner David Stern is planning to retire after this season. I have to say, aside from how you feel about the man, what a way to go out. His league’s television ratings are about to be through the roof (possibly a record), and he gets to see the best two teams in the NBA fighting it out for the trophy. I’m happy for you, David.
  • LeBron (32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) has now had three triple doubles in his past seven NBA Finals games. Whether his headband was really like Clark Kent’s glasses or not, he was changing the nation’s perception of him by the minute during Game 6. He went from choker to headbandless to the greatest ever to a horrible player with Tony Romo characteristics to a triple-double machine that knows how to close out games. Allen and his shot for the ages might have been the biggest help in saving LeBron’s legacy, but you can’t deny that LeBron finally had that vintage “LeBron” performance that so many people were saying he needed to have. He had 18 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter/overtime and wasn’t settling for jumpers. He also guarded Parker for practically the entire game, something I didn’t think he could do, and held him to 6-for-23 shooting from the field. LeBron truly did it all in Game 6, both good and bad. (If you thought that was wild, just wait until Game 7. The social media world will be shifting their opinion on LeBron faster than Boris Diaw moves in a CiCi’s buffet line. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself…)
  • LeBron was 5-for-17 with Dwyane Wade on the floor and 6-for-9 with Wade off the floor. He took three restricted area shots and was -19 in 33 minutes with Wade. He took seven restricted area shots +18 in 16 minutes with Wade on the bench. For the entire NBA Finals, LeBron is 20-for-37 (54.1 percent) without Wade on the floor and 35-for-90 (38.9 percent) with Wade on the floor. The very first day this superteam was created in the summer of 2010, the major question was how these two stars would compliment each other’s similar style of play. Well, now with a more hobbled Wade, this foundational problem has come to the surface yet again. With Wade’s lack of shooting, which messes up the team’s spacing, and his need for the ball in his hands (not to mention his desire to not get back on defense and whine just like LeBron), the Heat have, for the most part, been better with him on the bench. During their 33-5 run in Game 2, he was on the bench for pretty much all of that. Having three shooters on the floor along with James and Bosh might give the Heat their best chance to take home this championship. Also, giving Wade selective minutes would allow the injured guard to provide maximum energy during his time on the floor. But does Erik Spoelstra have the guts to cut the minutes of one of his divas? Will he sit Wade for large chunks of the biggest game of the season and possibly his career? Will LeBron wear his headband in Game 7? Why did he look like he could play on Uncle Drew’s squad? I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I got off topic…
  • Kawhi you so mean to Mike’s mouth, Kawhi?
  • Even though Duncan couldn’t finish off this game strong, scoring only five points in the third quarter and failing to score in the fourth quarter/overtime, let’s not forget that he showed the nation one of the best 24 minutes of basketball ever. The Big Fundamental shot 11-for-13 from the field for 25 points in the first half. That’s more than a point a minute. He was completely and utterly dominating Bosh down low. However, due to an increased level of defense from Bosh and the Heat along with Duncan simply running out of gas, this half of basketball will likely be forgotten.
  • Well, Mario Chalmers had one of those games. And what I mean is that he appeared from hiding. After his big 19 points in Game 2, Rio shot 4-for-19 in Games 3, 4 and 5. He had little to no impact in those three games. He came alive Tuesday night, going 7-for-11 from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point range. I might harp on his inability to play at a consistent level, but he sure came alive when the Heat’s season was on the line. They’ll need him to be big Rio Thursday night.
  • The Heat have been unable to consistently give 100 percent (or at least show it) throughout this entire series. They seem to just wait for a three to five minute stretch to turn it on. Just look at this past game. LeBron looked out of this game mentally as the Spurs took a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter. It took a monster surge by LeBron, some spectacular defensive stops and a phenomenal yet lucky play that led to Ray Allen tying the game with a 3-pointer. (How did he get his feet set and get that shot off? That was madness.) They are obviously favored to finally win back-to-back games on Thursday, but will this team be able to remain locked in for 48 minutes and not let the Spurs jump out to take a lead or go on a run before they realize it’s too late?
  • Ginobili stunk more than he’s ever stunk before in his stunky playoffs. After a spectacular Game 5 performance (24 points, 10 assists), he nine points and eight turnovers in Game 6. EIGHT. Ouch. He went back to throwing bad passes all around the court, looking like he was trying to dribble a football and being a hinderance to the Spurs’ success. If San Antonio wants a chance at winning the last game of this season, Ginobili will need to find that inner competitor in himself that so many people talk about and close out this series looking like the Ginobili we know is still alive. Or at least think is still alive…
  • The last road team to win an NBA Finals Game 7 was Dick Motta’s Washington Bullets vs. Seattle in 1978. Since that series, there have been five Game 7s in the NBA Finals. The home team won all of these games.
  • The quote of the game came from the ever so quotable Popovich who was asked how he will prepare his team for Game 7. “I get ’em on the bus and it arrives on the ramp over here, and we go on the court and we play. That’s how we get ready.” Oh Pop.
  • Embedded image permalinkBosh said before the game, “[Danny Green] won’t be open tonight” and after the game, “I don’t know how we won that game.” Well, you partially answered your own question before the game, Chris. Besides the obviously apparent reasons this team won (LeBron heating up and Allen hitting a game-tying 3-pointer), Bosh’s defense and rebounding might have been the biggest reason this team is still alive. Not only did he have two huge blocks on two of the Spurs’ last three possessions, one that would have given the Spurs the lead and the other that would have sent the game to a second overtime, he grabbed the offensive rebound in the closing minutes of regulation that allowed the Heat to get a second chance at tying things up. Ray Ray capitalized. This is what the Heat need from Bosh—for him to play his role. With Miami’s lack of big men, when Bosh can be a force down low, that gives them a more diverse look. Yes, I’m saying stop shooting 3-pointers. Please, Chris.
  • Question: who is currently leading the Spurs in blocks for this series? Duncan, right? Actually, it’s Danny Green. The shooting phenomenon may be getting attention due to his record-breaking 3-point shooting and for not showing up Tuesday night, going 1-for-7, but this kid is an acceptable defender, especially when getting back to stop the fast break. He should be given credit for his team-leading 10 blocks and ability to stop LeBron when he is in I-Am-Going-To-Barrel-Over-You mode.
  • Popovich messed up. He took both Parker and Duncan out at the start of the fourth quarter, allowing the Heat to get themselves back in a game that they were out of (Miami went on an 8-2 run in less than two minutes). Even though his veteran stars needed a rest, this could have been your last game of the year. You can’t have offensive-lacking Tiago Splitter and Diaw both in the game at such an important part of the game. Then, he decided to keep Duncan, their best rebounder that had 17 on the night, sitting on the bench for the Heat’s final play of regulation. If only Pop could have learned from Frank Vogel and Roy Hibbert that having your best defender/rebounder at the end of games is vital, no matter who is on the floor for the other team. This led to that Allen shot we all keep talking about. Lastly, down by three with a little over a second to go in overtime, Pop needs 3-pointer shooters on the floor, right? Well he had that…and Splitter. Why was Splitter on the floor when he just gives the Heat one less player to guard? I don’t know—it allowed Bosh, their best defender/rebounder who remained on the floor…hmmm, to shift over to Green and block his game-tying 3-point attempt. In a series with the largest difference in age between coaches, the older, wiser, more respected coach seemed to make a few, costly mistakes.
    • In Pop’s defense, mistakes happen. LeBron had a turnover and ridiculous airball during the two crucial possessions before he drained a 3-pointer in the closing minute of the fourth quarter. I know it sounds so cliché, but this is sports—mistakes are going to happen. Even from the best. If Allen had missed that 3-pointer and the Spurs had pulled this one out, the attention would be on LeBron’s two costly mistakes. But most have forgotten about those two errors. I lose no respect for either of these two men because of their slip-ups down the stretch. One is one of the best coaches to ever be a part of the NBA and the other is currently the best basketball player in the world. Play on.

 

Over everything you will hear in the next few days, realize this: Anything can happen in a game 7 of any sport. ANYTHING. These are the best two basketball teams on the planet, going all in to decide who is the champion of an 82-game NBA season. This is no longer a chess match to decide who can out-coach and out-think the other. This is now a match of will. Of heart. Of desire. They each know the other’s moves. They each will put it all on the floor as there is no more basketball to be played after the game’s 48 minutes are no more. Whether you like basketball, the NBA or sports in general, I would advise you to find a television once Thursday night arrives. This will be entertainment at its highest level and be enjoyable for all.

This is going to be fun.

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Fun Fact Friday

14 06 2013

Ever since the Heat’s Big 3 joined forces, they’ve been under constant scrutiny, even after winning the championship last year. During Game 4 of the NBA Finals Thursday night, these three men came up big in a massive way. During the Miami Heat‘s 109-93 beating over the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh collected 85 points, 30 rebounds, nine assists, 10 steals and five blocks. In Games 1-3, they averaged 43.3 points combined. They almost doubled that Thursday night. When Wade has scored 20 or more points, the Heat have won twenty-nine consecutive games. He now joins Isiah Thomas as the only players in NBA Finals history to record at least 30 points and six steals in a single game. With 33 points, Thursday night was the most points James has ever scored in any of his 19 career Finals games. Bosh had his third straight double-double in Game 4, having only two in the first three rounds combined.

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Spurs Are “White Hot”

12 06 2013

Throughout their decade of dominance, Pop’s Spurs have shown an ability to play many different styles and tempos on both the offensive and defensive side of the court. So what happened when they put it all together Tuesday night? Utter dominance.

Behind a once waived and cut player (Danny Green) and an undrafted guard with no true position (Gary Neal), the San Antonio Spurs rolled over and over…and over the Miami Heat 113-77 as they now hold the 2-1 series lead. Green and Neal combined to shoot 13-for-19 from behind the arc and had 51 big points—more points than the entire Heat starting lineup.

These two literally carried the team from 20+ feet from the basket. If you take away their dazzling shooting, the rest of the team shot 3-for-13 from 3-point range.

Even though Manu Ginobili‘s line of seven points and six assists doesn’t seem like much to talk about, the Argentinian finally looked comfortable on the court. His game seemed more fluid, and he was making an impact on the game without scoring, something he has done extremely well during his time in San Antonio.

Tony Parker (six points, eight assists) and Tim Duncan (12 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks) might have had their second straight quiet game, but it really didn’t matter. The Spurs were able to take command of this game with their role players leading the way, so these two simply were enjoying the game as much as the rocking AT&T Center. Don’t interpret their low numbers as low productivity.

Even more than all these players, you have to give a large amount of the credit to Gregg Popovich and his coaching staff. He was not deterred with the 19-point loss in Game 2, stuck with his defensive gameplan against LeBron and the Heat that he has coached since the opening tipoff of Game 1 and continues to show why he will go down as one of the best NBA coaches in league history. He might be purposefully giving these one-to-two word interviews at the end of quarters after it was such a social-media hit the first time, but you have to respect the man’s work he’s put into the game.

Oh and that guy that is the MVP? You mean the guy that has been MVP three of the past four seasons? Yeah, I didn’t see that guy out there Tuesday night.

Jimmy Butler couldn’t stop him. Paul George couldn’t stop him.

Kawhi Leonard?

I’ll let you come to your own conclusion. Averaging 26.2 points, LeBron James scored at least 19 points in every single postseason game up to the NBA Finals. Through three games in this series, he has failed to reach 19 points once, and even though it has been a team effort to stifle The King and part of the blame can be directed at LeBron himself, Leonard has been the main man working to contain LeBron.

He kept this up in Game 3 as he held LeBron to 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting, forcing the media to remind everyone that we might be seeing “2011 LeBron” yet again. (Also—in the final minute of the third quarter, Poppovich gave Leonard a breather. During this single minute, LeBron went 3-for-3 with six points. That gives you an idea of the impact Leonard has on LeBron.)

To add on to all of this, Mr. James attempted zero free throws for the first time in his Miami postseason career, making the LeBron haters happier than Stephen Curry with an open 3-point shot.

(My opinion on the matter? Let’s wait to see this entire series before we overreact. LeBron has a tendency to get mad after losses…really mad.)

So with LeBron not playing like himself…or playing like himself…either way, he needed help. And the other two parts of the “Big 3” did not show up. Again.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took 25 shots to get to 28 points—not very efficient. These two have now gone seven straight games without scoring more than 30 combined points, which is the longest streak since they became teammates.

This team was able to squeeze by the Pacers due to James’ play and their tenacious defense, but if the Spurs proceed to turn LeBron into a passive passer, these two have to make jumpers, give more effort, prove their worth and show why they are being given so much money to play in South Beach. (On that note, Green/Neal/Leonard have scored as many points as James/Wade/Bosh in the Finals despite making $46 million less this year. Think about that.)

Even though these three have the most responsibility on their shoulders and are expected to perform at a very high level, I think the main “finger pointing” should be directed toward Mario Chalmers. This kid was praised in last year’s Finals for his 25-point performance in the Heat’s Game 4 victory. He apparently has the ability to really step it up on the big stage when it matters most…so we’re told. And were told countless times between Game 2 and 3.

But here is my question: what about the little stage?

What I am getting at is that Chalmers seems to disappear just as much as he breaks out for spectacular performances. That’s what makes these positive performances seem so much greater. The other performances are so terrible. Yes, Chalmers had 25 points in Game 4 last year. What about Games 1, 2, 3 and 5? Twenty-seven total points. This year, Chalmers broke out in their Game 2 win for 19 points to lead the team in scoring. Man did he look good. Last night? Zero points, one assist, four turnovers (mostly unforced) and an impact that literally hurt his team. That’s disgusting. Chalmers was helping the Spurs for most of his time on the court. In my eyes, he has to be competent one-hundred percent of the time for his “big stage” play to be praised. And more importantly, he has to be competent for his team to win basketball games. Just competent.

In the end, this game is one win for the Spurs just like the Heat’s 103-84 win was just one win. Two years ago, Miami lost the NBA Finals after going up 2-1, so they know this isn’t over. Furthermore, these teams have a resiliency that has allowed both squads to bounce back like no other teams in the league. The Heat haven’t lost back-to-back games since January 8/10. When Duncan/Parker/Ginobili play, the Spurs haven’t lost back-to-back games since December 13/14. If these patterns continue back and forth, the Spurs will win the title in seven games.

Yet, this series seems too complex to quickly analyze with some numbers like that. Each game in and of itself feels like its own series and momentum from game to game is nonexistent. Why else would a series with two blowouts feel like it could still go both ways? These two teams fight back hard.

So what should we expect moving forward?

Other than Leonard playing top-notch defense, Green splashing three-pointers and Wade forgetting how to shoot a basketball, it feels as though anything could happen the rest of the way. ( Parker’s day-to-day status with a slight hamstring strain will also play a factor. Will he play? How hurt is he?)

Last year, LeBron took his game to another level when his team had their back against the wall. This year, the entire Heat team has taken their game to another level when their backs are against the wall. That’s why Miami’s average margin of victory after a loss in this year’s playoffs is 21.6 points.

The Spurs better be ready to take some hard punches right off the bat in Game 4. I mean really ready. There’s no doubt in my mind the Heat are going to come out hungry and angry. Expect LeBron to look like this most of the night…

One simple statistic has to come true, though, for the Heat to win this series. They must win three of the final four games of this series. Consequently, that obviously means this Spurs team would have to lose three of the final four games. Do you see this team with this coach losing three of the next four games?

Yes, the Heat have LeBron. I know, I know…I know. I’ve been reminded. But I have a gut feeling that San Antonio won’t play 48 minutes of basketball and lose three more times. They have a defensive plan to contain LeBron that was only conquered in Game 2 due to Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Chalmers heating up from long range. Other than Mike Miller, who has been on an absolute tear in NBA Finals basketball, shooting 16-for-18 from 3-point range going back to Game 5 of last year’s Finals, can you consistently rely on this supporting trio to help out LeBron when he is forced to kick the ball out?

No.

Chalmers may show up for Game 4 but will he show up for Game 5? Game 6 if we have one?

I just can’t say. And because Chalmers can’t seem to play consistently on any stage (I don’t see Norris Cole pulling a Danny Green or Gary Neal), LeBron is unable to get to the hole (whether caused by the Spurs’ defense or the King’s mental health), and the Spurs have a clear coaching advantage (this is the greatest difference in age in NBA history), the Heat might just have to wait for this “dynasty” to legitimately become a dynasty.

 

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In honor of the Spurs’ NBA Finals record 16 3-pointers they had Tuesday night and the fact that the Mavs won their championship exactly two years ago to this day, here’s a similar night the Dallas Mavericks had against the Los Angeles Lakers on their way to the title. Enjoy.

 

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Repeat Champions?

1 04 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LeBron James: The Greatest

22 06 2012

Before he could finish high school, he was proclaimed “King James.” After officially being an adult for only half a year, he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He dazzled basketball fans with his pure and utter strength along with powerful, Shawn Kemp-esque dunks as he became Rookie of the Year. The next six years of his life were spent in the state he was born, yet they were spent unfulfilled. Empty. Not one NBA Finals victory. Not one ring. Then, the “Decision” supervened. The man made the toughest decision he could have made in today’s world, forcing all of us to tell him how erroneously he was going about his life. To join forces with fellow All-Stars goes against the established grain of the NBA yesteryear and should be considered unbecoming of an upper tier player in the game. But he took his talents to South Beach. As the Dallas Mavericks’ veteran “team” took down the heavy favorites in the 2011 NBA Finals and he failed to make any sort of impact when each successive game came to a dramatic close, people coming from all levels of credibility began to point out the weakness in LeBron. The apathy. The lack of meaningful jewelry. From the first day of this season to the very last, the man didn’t look to be on a mission – he was on a mission. He was on a journey to learn from his failures and improve the facets of his game. He was on an expedition to find what has seemingly been lost for nine interminable years of distressful aspiring. The King was on a quest for his ring.

LeBron Raymone James claimed his ring.

“This is a dream come true for me.”

The Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 on Thursday night to bring the Heat organization their second championship in franchise history. Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Pat Riley were a part of the first Heat team that won it all in 2006.

The Heat outplayed the Thunder in Game 5 in every way possible – literally. They had more rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, points in the paint and points off turnovers along with a better field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. This led to the least competitive game of a series many believed would go 6 or 7 games and gave 39-year-old Juwan Howard a chance to get in an NBA Finals game.

The Big 3 that came together just two summers ago has proven to be worth the constant hatred for attempting to “buy a championship.” Wade (20 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, two steals) and Chris Bosh (24 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) looked as determined as James to cap off two years of struggling and working to discover the just-right team chemistry that would work for such a top-heavy team.

In the end, these two helped out their third member by stepping to the side, which isn’t east for two players that had been the face a of franchise up to that point in their career. Stuart Scott even asked Wade a question after the confetti had fallen, mentioning how he couldn’t do it on his own and had to “defer” to LeBron James in order to win his second ring. However, Wade didn’t even think twice about agreeing with him. Bosh might have considered by Erik Spoelstra, who has instantly gone from being an overrated coach to a deserving champion, as his most important player, but realize this man never got to sit at the postgame press conference table with James and Wade. Back in the locker room was his personal home to provide quotations.

Undoubtedly, the back-to-back 2003 early draft picks were the second and third best players for the majority of their minutes on the court behind the No. 1 drafted player from that year. They knew it, they accepted it and they prospered because of it.

The surprise of the night came from none other than Mike Miller who fulfilled the Heat’s goal of having one player in each game find it in himself to not play like himself. The man averaging only two points per game up to Game 5 that looked to be losing the ability to walk exploded for 23 points on 7-8 shooting from the 3-point line after making no 3-pointers in the first four games. There is no way of explaining this odd but consistent pattern of unexpected contributors from the Heat, but it certainly turned their squad into the deeper team since James Harden never seemed to leave Oklahoma City, finishing up the worse series of his career.

After pouring in 43 points on an outrageously efficient 20-32 shooting from the field in Game 4, Russell Westbrook failed to come close to those type of numbers as he trudged to the end of the Finals. The growing and electrifying point guard shot 4-20 from the field and reverted to the player that has been so often attacked for his volume shooting and incorrect approach to his position. Yes, he is a point guard who must create for his teammates and learn to make the “correct decision” more times than not. Even with this dreaded ending to his season and the adjustments he will be told to make, the upside of this team reflects directly onto Westbrook; they will both only get smarter and better with age.

The award for winningest loser goes to none other than Kevin Durant. It feels redundant to constantly use the same description for the three-time scoring champ but it fits too well. Pure scorer. The ex-Longhorn put up 32 points on 13-24 shooting from the field and also grabbed 11 rebounds in a valiant attempt to save his team’s season for one more game.

This was simply another night for Durant who averaged 30.6 points on 54.8 percent shooting in his five Finals games. Scoring has never been an issue for Durantula. Turnovers, however, continued to be a clear problem as it ended up being for the entire series. He finished with seven turnovers, helping the Heat score their 29 points off turnovers. He may seem to be coming into form on the offensive end of the court, but Durant has plenty to work on defensively as that is the next asset he needs to add to his game. If he implements solid defense into his system while still scoring at a breakneck speed, this man will turn into one special NBA player.

This Thunder team isn’t finished. Since every single key contributor (except newcomer Derek Fisher) will be on the roster to start the 2012-2013 season, they are the new Miami Heat. After a successful, highlight-filled season in which they looked unbreakable and unstoppable coming off four straight wins against the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs, all the team chemistry, all the shooters’ rolls, all the clutch plays seemed to fall to the wayside. It seemed as though they didn’t have enough experience to thrive when the lights shined brightest. These painful and arduous four straight losses will mature this squad, just as Miami kept the 2011 Finals in the back of their minds throughout these playoffs. Losing to the future NBA champions in three consecutive playoffs certainly has an upside to a team’s development. So, don’t be surprised if Durant and Westbrook begin dressing and acting like never before.

Even though there can be plenty of fingers to point at the Thunder or backs to pat on the Heat, don’t be confused; this night belongs to the NBA Finals MVP. Putting together his first triple-double of the year with 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, James capped off one of the most dominant playoff performances ever – he had not one bad 2012 playoff games – with an artistic finish. Only three other players (James Worthy, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson) in NBA history have registered a triple-double in a title-clinching game and only two other players (Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan) have led their team in points, rebounds and assists during the NBA Finals.

Without watching this man play basketball, it sounds as if I’m simply going on and on about a player I love dearly. (If you know me, I know you’re confused up to this point.) However, I am in no way a LeBron James fan. In fact, for the most part, I have found myself on the other end of the spectrum, criticizing the one gargantuan flaw in his complex game. But he has proven me and the rest of his doubters utterly wrong.

A single game can’t represent an entire season for one player, but Game 5 came exceptionally close. James scored. James rebounded. James assisted. James defended. James stole. James blocked. James led the way to an NBA championship through not only his stellar gameplay but his demeanor. Countless times throughout the game, he gave one of his teammates a look to simply calm down because “hey, I have waited way too long for this to let it get away from me now.” Unlike last year, there were no baseline celebrations between James and Wade until the series was in their grasp. Oh, and you know all those 3-pointers that all of a sudden began to fall for Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers who combined to shoot 23-49 from deep? They shot 3-32 with LeBron on the bench. That’s 9 percent.

Realize this: he is the greatest athlete to play a professional sport during my lifetime. He possesses the perfect combination of power, speed and skill which allows him to dominate any aspect of the game. To add onto these skills, he has the proficiency to control all of these attributes, whether on the ground or in the air. How else can you explain his ability to effectively guard every single Boston Celtics’ starting five in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals or score 29 of his team’s last 30 points in a 2007 Eastern Conference Finals game?

When James wasn’t deferring last year during the regular season or particularly during the Finals, he tended to take and miss leaning 3-point shots during crucial possessions. These type of shots have never been kind to him. Never shooting 80 percent from the free throw line or 36 percent from behind the 3-point line, it seemed as though this characteristic could possibly hold him back from growing into his full potential and make him the best player to never win a title.

But he learned from this. By adding a necessary post-up game to his skilset last offseason, LeBron found a way to take to heart the criticism people loved to provide him and develop his already forceful impact. He went on to shoot an astonishing 53.1 percent from the field and 130 less 3-pointers on the year. He didn’t ignore his struggles from deep; he simply adjusted his gameplay to better suit his strengths – mainly, his strength. This allowed his game to be expanded as he averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals during a third regular season MVP campaign. He gave it all he had as he accumulated 3,310 minutes this season; only 11 other players put in more the previous season – a full-length season.

Even before the playoffs began, he established himself as the best basketball player in the world. No one else can even imagine playing at his level. Not even Kobe Bryant. Not even Kevin Durant (yet). Even so, none of this could be discussed in a positive manner. The accolades, the dominance, the success just built up more pressure for James to do what he has been told he is obligated to do.

Win. A. Championship.

James has been living with this burden since he came into the league. Magazines could be found across the nation with 17-year-old LeBron in his green, gold and white St. Mary High School uniform. When greatness can be predicted that early in a kid’s life, pressure is inevitable. And the side-effects have shown.

Throughout the early part of his career, he seemed to play with expectations unlike any other athlete has ever received. (The fact that Twitter, Facebook and our social media world emerged faster than LeBron didn’t help him here.) Additionally, James was perceived to lack the one quality that seems to just go along with being great – clutch play. The scrutiny seemed to effect his play when his team needed him most, and this caused even more scrutiny to come onto the scene.

It has never been greater than this year. He came up [insert degrading adjective here] during the 2011 NBA Finals, and if he followed that up with yet another season without a title, who knows what would have happened to Mr. James’ sanity. Or his hairline.

But as has already been said and this picture clearly depicts, he was on a mission. After being down in three of the four (does anyone even remember that Knicks series?) series, LeBron did what he couldn’t do last year under pressure – he responded when his number was called.

39 points and 13.7 rebounds.

That’s what he averaged in the three games after his team went down in a series. His team won all three games. Clutch.

He never seemed to step off the gas pedal in every series, every game and every play. Furthermore, the way in which he talked about his game and his mission differed from the past. No longer did he speak on eggshells or have a “me against the world” mentality. He wanted to do his best and do what was necessary for the team to succeed. His journey had the same “X” at the end of the path, but the way in which he traveled changed dramatically. He found his “X.”

James has now tracked down that elusive ring and stopped the constant scrutiny of his every move. The great Michael Jordan once discussed how a player can take his game to a place he has never seen once he wins his first championship. It’s as if the game becomes slower, shots become easier and pressure becomes lesser. Once a player gets into this distinctive club, his membership can never be rendered invalid.

Taking into account the new realm of the NBA world that opens up to any player that obtains that first title, apply this to No. 6 – the man with all the pressure. For the first time in the prime part of his NBA career, he will initially be a backstory to the likes of Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant as they search for what he recently discovered.

Now, here comes the outrageous but honest-to-goodness reality: this is the not the best LeBron James we will see.

With an advanced attitude to take to work everyday, the Miami superstar can simply play for the joy of the game rather than the obligation to reach the peak of the mountain. It’s all downhill from here. Can you even imagine him playing basketball without a ring? I still can’t.

That’s the LeBron that will soon be around the corner. That’s the LeBron that will get to start an NBA season without answering questions regarding his chances of doing better than his last postseason failure.

Even though the physical part to his game has reached close to its max, the mental part broke through a door that could only be unlocked in one way with one key. Many have attempted to get through this door by using their own brute force or jimmying the lock, but as James can attest to, there is only one way in.

With the physical and mental part of his games coming close to reaching their full potential, we are on the brink of seeing something no one has laid eyes upon – the best player to ever play the game.

I know, call it blasphemy. Go tell Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen so they can set me in my place.

But seriously. After playing commanding basketball for nine years and validating his legacy in the league in one of the mosts tenacious and commanding ways possible, the 27-year-old – let me repeat, 27-year-old – understands he doesn’t have to settle for being the best current player in the league. A switch has been flipped in his head, and he knows that he has the capability to do monumental things in his vocation. He has joined a team built for not one, not two, but multiple championships. He promised it himself! And as the cliché saying goes, “the first championship is the hardest one to get.”

Gotten.

So just know, you’ve been warned. You will still see LeBron inundating the news media, but this time, it will be solely because of his incomparable play.

For now, though, LeBron doesn’t have to think about his performances, his goals or his comparisons to the greats anymore. Well, if he wants to, it will make him happy this time around. But LeBron can live in the moment and be thankful that he is a part of the organization that won the 2012 NBA championship.

“All I know is I’m a champion. That’s all that matters.”

Well said, champ. Well said.

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East All-Star Reserves – Happy for Hibbert

9 02 2012

Chris Bosh - 7th All-Star Appearance

Joe Johnson - 6th All-Star Appearance

Roy Hibbert - 1st All-Star Appearance

Paul Pierce - 10th All-Star Appearance

Deron Williams - 3rd All-Star Appearance

Luol Deng - 1st All-Star Appearance

Andre Iguodala - 1st All-Star Appearance

 

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