Clippers-Celtics Blockbuster Trade (Step 1)

23 06 2013

Before the NBA Finals even had a chance to make its way onto NBATV, the first blockbuster trade of the 2013 NBA summer is upon us. Lob City just became Destination City.

It seemed to be an impossible dream of swapping pieces. Then it suddenly became something actually happening that was only a few pieces from successfully occurring. Then it all died away due to a mutual interest for a certain backup point guard. Then we seemed to be on the doorsteps. Then the Clippers backed off because they felt like they were giving up too much. Then Los Angeles’ star point guard stepped in, said to continue the trades talks and scared his organization half to death. Then the league had questions about the proposed deals and the connections between the two since there can’t be trades with contingencies or side deals. But now, we have a deal. Partially.

The Boston Celtics have begun the destruction of their “Big 3+Coach” core and traded head coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a 2015 unprotected first-round pick, according ESPNBoston’s Jackie MacMullan.

Coach Rivers isn’t technically a part of a trade since teams can’t trade coaches involving players. These two organizations came to an agreement that will give L.A. the coaching rights to Doc after Boston has released their coach and then give Boston draft pick compensation. MacMullan says the length of the deal is still being worked out.

The original deal was for the Celtics to trade Rivers and power forward Kevin Garnett to the Clippers for center DeAnde Jordan and two first-round draft picks. The league intervened, though, because certain contingencies and side deals (which is what Rivers, a coach, would have been) can’t be accounted for under the league’s cap rules, making the trade illegitimate. For the deals to take place, the NBA would have to be convinced that the Rivers deal is completely separate from any player discussions. Well, they were sold.

So that’s where we stand. We’re halfway there…or so we’re not supposed to think. But since the Rivers deal has been completed, we must play dumb and play the waiting game for Garnett to be traded to L.A. If a third team has to join in on the trade, it will happen. The Clippers will do what they must to snatch KG. Trust me—it’s inevitable.

Doc-Garnett L.A.

(With Doc leaving Boston, other than Gregg Popovich, the NBA now has no coach that has been with his team for more than five years. Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle were each hired in 2008. The NFL has nine coaches and the MLB has ten managers that have been with their team more than five years. In terms of security of a job, I would not want to be a coach in the NBA at the moment.)

The Clippers first didn’t want to give up rising guard Eric Bledsoe, and then once he was taken out of the picture, they didn’t want to give up two first-round draft picks. So talks were supposedly “dead.” But once unrestricted free agent (emphasis on unrestricted) Chris Paul twisted his team’s arm to make this idea a reality, the organization started talking to the Celtics again and made the trade discussions start to move forward. And they’ll probably still get to keep Bledsoe.

My initial reaction to all of this is “how long before Garnett is traded and Paul Pierce is bought out by the Celtics and joins his buddies?” (Answer: very soon.) My second is realizing the impact this will have on two All-Star point guards.

Lucky Paul. Poor Rajon Rondo.

This most assuredly guarantees that CP3 will re-sign with the Clippers as he now got his way and his superstar coach of choice. Once the next step of this trade goes through (Garnett), Paul will have a supporting cast ready to seriously compete for a championship right away. (Just look at how quickly the C’s core meshed in 2008 in order to win a championship during their first season together.) Sorry Dallas and Atlanta, looks like CP3 is staying home.

It will also be interesting to see the impact Garnett can have on Blake Griffin once the nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player heads on over. Will the highlight of all highlight reel dunkers find a way to finally become a defensive force due to the guidance of one of the best team defenders in the league? Or will he shut out Garnett’s serious influence due to his desire to have fun and make KIA commercials?

And on the other end of this trade, you have to feel somewhat bad for Rondo. Not only has he been given the raw end of this deal since he will soon be the sole leader of a team in full rebuilding mode (LaMarcus Aldridge feels his pain), he will likely have one of his worst NBA seasons since his play—and assists per game—is bettered with a strong cast around him. No. 9 isn’t the type of player that can take over a game, team and season without quality help from his teammates.

It is mind-blowing what one free agent signing—CP3—has done for this Clippers’ franchise. Once a place that every budding star wanted out of has transformed into the landing spot for players/coaches who want one last shot at a title. (Well, the city hasn’t changed. The franchise has.)

Doc, Garnett and Pierce will soon get that shot in L.A.

And the Lakers will just have to watch.

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Game 7 Rewind Part 2 of 3: The Past, Present and Future

21 06 2013

For Part 1, click here.

This year’s NBA Finals showcased a set of elite players all at different stages in their careers. From rising to super to aging stars, the Spurs and Heat combined to have it all.

With this variety of players, I am going to discuss the past, present and future of three specific men that all had major impacts on this seven-game battle.

 

 

“The Past”

Saying “the past” doesn’t mean that this player’s career is winding down and we should begin reflecting on what he has accomplished. I am choosing a player that just scored 23 points in the closeout game and averaged 23.5 points in the final four games, so that clearly doesn’t apply here.

I’m bringing up Dwyane Wade‘s past to discuss the fascinating path he has taken in order to become a three-time NBA champion—something that makes him a very significant player and elevates him above many others in the league.

When Wade won his first championship in 2006, regardless of whether or not you agreed with the calls being made during that series (keep it together, Jay, keep it together…), that man willed his team to that championship. Yes, they had Shaq. Yes, they had Payton. But when it came to the playoffs, Wade took command for an entire series in a way LeBron hasn’t even come close to doing.

Just to remind you exactly what he did to the Mavericks seven years ago, Wade averaged 43.5 minutes, 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 16.2 free throws attempted. He averaged 34.7 points for six straight games…in the NBA Finals.

Wade found a way to make his first ring not be elusive as it seems to be for so many and to catapult himself up the list of best current players in the game in only his third year of playing NBA ball.

Then came the bridge between that first ring and the Big 3. Those four seasons consisted of Wade, Wade, Wade injury, Wade, Wade injury, Wade, and more Wade. Oh, and some Michael Beasley, too.

Pat Riley and his Heat front office had built a team that streaked through the playoffs in 2006, only to be too old and lacking of pieces that could contribute for the years down the line. That’s what got them in that horrible NBA rut of no man’s land and irrelevancy.

So, after a few years, Riley envisioned the signing of some big-named stars once the summer of 2010 came around. He allowed the man that already earned the league’s respect with his historic Finals’ performance to go through three exits in the first round and a 15-67 season two years after his championship.

Wade continued to be the team’s offensive leader, pouring in a league-leading 30.2 ppg during the 2008-09 season. He continued to play at a high level even though he knew his organization was making him play the waiting game until they could bring in some players as good or better than him. Their NBA Finals MVP wasn’t enough.

And he probably wasn’t, to be honest. That run in 2006 was as magical as people say the Mavs’ run was in 2011. These teams weren’t built like the Thunder or the Heat; these rosters wouldn’t have had the ability to truly compete for a ring years later. You can’t win it all with just one superstar.

And that’s why James and Wade (and Bosh) teamed up. But even though this was Wade’s city and team that he had poured himself into and brought a franchise-first title to, his glory days of being “the guy” were done.

When you think of the Miami Heat, who do you think of? Give it second. Get that answer ready to go…got it? Who are you thinking of?

Exactly. If you are being true to yourself, you know you just thought of LeBron. Well, unless you saw where I was going and anticipated my next point…anyway, you get the idea.

No longer did the guy that had already proven himself in the NBA Finals  get to say it was his team. The guy that had withered on the big stage, unlike Wade, now got to claim this team as his own. And no matter what the players or coaches say, everybody out here knows there can only be one king in the valley known as South Beach. And that’s the King.

This wasn’t an easy transition, though. It took them time to figure out how to work together since there’s only one ball played with at a time. By the time they made it to the NBA Finals in their first year together, they were facing a Mavericks’ team that had a much higher level of chemistry along with one big German with some determination in his eyes. And one-legged fadeaways. (Sidenote: don’t these back-to-back titles make that 2011 Mavericks championship even more historic and remarkable?)

But by the time they had made it back to the Finals the next year against the Thunder, Wade had found his place. He had found his place as the No. 2 guy on the team. A guy that once scored 30+ points in four straight Finals games and averaged 30+ points just a few seasons ago came to the realization that it was his time to ride shotgun so his team—LeBron’s team—had a better chance of winning the title.

And they did. They won it as everybody talked about LeBron, including myself, and gave the King his crown and talked and talked and talked and talked about LeBron’s legacy. Oh how we talked.

For the most part, when the national media talked about Wade, it was in the context of the Big 3. He was brought up along with LeBron and Bosh. No longer did he get a significant amount of individual attention even though he had been in Miami the longest and had the most rings of the entire roster (along with Udonis Haslem).

So many professional athletes that are stars, especially in today’s NBA game, struggle to deal with age. Prime example—Allen Iverson. Sometimes it is difficult to deal with diminishing skills or a shrinking role when you’ve spent your entire career being “the guy” that I have talked about. It’s as if you’re losing a part of yourself, and you want to grasp onto this part of you for as long as possible. (Brett Favre is another example. He held on a little too long I think.) This can lead to ineffectiveness, avoidance of what your team needs from you, stubbornness and at its worst, a release or trade.

Wade is certainly not to this point as he can still be this team’s No. 2 for years to come after the Heat re-sign their big stars during the summer of 2014.

However, he is no longer “Flash.” He will have flashes of “Flash,” but he can no longer claim to have the ability to consistently play at such a high level with his banged up knees and wearing down body. There’s a reason he shot 17-66 (25.8 percent) from the three-point line, looks to have lost part of his shooting touch and averaged his lowest scoring amount since his rookie year. He is getting older; it’s a part of sports life.

This year’s playoffs worried people. Up until Game 3 when the Heat were down to the Spurs 2-1 and talks of breaking up the big 3 had surfaced, Wade was averaging 14.2 points in the playoffs while the numbers showed that LeBron and the Heat actually played better with him off the court. But Wade found it in himself to give his team just enough flashes of “Flash” during their last four games in which they won three of them. He came up biggest during Game 7.

Finally draining his pull-up jumper from the left side of the court, Wade messed up the entire Spurs’ defensive scheme. The cushion that they had been giving to Wade turned from a hindrance for the Heat to a blessing. Wade made jumper after jumper, finishing 11-for-21 from the field and allowing LeBron to again lead this team to victory and take that worldwide credit.

I am bringing up all of Wade’s past because we will no longer see the Wade that claimed the Heat as his team. As the injuries continue to build, we will also no longer see the Wade that could consistently be a primary source of offense every single game. This is all in the past.

But it is a past filled with him stepping up, stepping to the side and stepping down at just the right times in order to make him and the only team he has ever played for three-time champions.

 

 

“The Future”

So, the Spurs are done, right? We are going to be foolish for the nth time and simply assume that this core group of players is too old and too broken down to ever again make a run at a championship, right?

They aren’t done because of one player on that team. Kawhi is he so special? Kawhi don’t I tell you.

Kawhi Leonard is a 21-year-old kid that should technically be walking across San Diego State’s stage as a senior graduating from college. But due to his basketball skills and freakishly large hands, he left early in order to enter the NBA Draft.

If you’ve followed Gregg Popovich since he became head coach, you’ll realize he makes an effort to keep not only his core but his team together. If you find a place and a role in Pop’s scheme, you’ll have a good chance of staying there for the long haul. Just ask Bruce Bowen.

So when it was reported that Pop and his front office were trading rising star George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the rights to their pick, many were surprised of the move. Hill was a humble guard that seemed to have the demeanor and work ethic to become a long-term San Antonio citizen. But Leonard was a player the Spurs had to have.

And the 2013 NBA Finals showed America just why this was the case.

Besides Duncan, this young small forward was the most consistent Spurs player throughout these grueling seven games. Over Parker. Over Ginobili. Over everyone else.

Being only 6-7 in a series with multiple 7-footers, Leonard found a way to average 11.1 boards to go along with his 14.6 ppg. Leonard’s best quality can’t be found on a stats sheet. By always running the floor, diving for loose balls and incessantly pounding the defensive and offensive glass, the kid has shown he has a natural high level of energy that others can’t replicate. There’s a reason in three of the seven games in this series he had three or more steals.

He has grown into one of the best defenders in the league with just the right amount of anticipation, strength and quickness. He had the job of going up against LeBron on his own for chunks of this series and did a respectable job against that freak of nature.

Going to Game 7, he showed us all why he is something special. Putting in 19 points and fighting for 16 boards, Leonard finished off a fantastic series of basketball on a level of play most 21-year-olds don’t have the chance to even see. Why do you think Norris Cole, for example, got a DNP during Game 7 even though he was an effective role player during the year and most of the playoffs? Well, besides his size and inability to guard Parker, Erik Spoelstra didn’t trust his young guard during the biggest game of the year.

Pop trusted his never-emoting budding star. Not only did Leonard play 45 of the 48 minutes Thursday night, he was placed in difficult situations in order to help his veteran-led team win a championship.

Talk about pressure.

But because of this pressure already faced by a kid that would have just been old enough to drink the championship champagne, he has matured as a basketball player far beyond his years. Once the Big 3 and Popovich all depart from this franchise (I know, I don’t believe it either…but it is inevitable), people won’t be able to have serious doubts about whether or not he can perform on any sort of “big stage” in the regular season or playoffs. He’s already done it two years into the league.

Yes, he had a crucial missed free throw in their Game 6 meltdown. Yes, he missed an open three-pointer in Game 7 with under two minutes to go that would have given his team a one-point lead.

But when you look at the big picture, his performance in the playoffs (14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds in their last game of their four playoff series) and his coming-out party during the NBA Finals that all took place with Duncan and Parker being the primary scorers shows there can be no doubt that the future is beaming bright for Leonard.

Even though they have different games, take a look at Paul George. He played his role on Pacers teams he didn’t need to be the leader of, and when his name was called to be “the guy” last year, he became an NBA All-Star and face of the NBA’s future.

Leonard also has an extreme amount of poise that will keep him from getting caught up in himself and losing himself to the fame of becoming great. He had this quality before he came into the league, and Pop has only built upon it during these two years.

Leonard’s future has “star” written all over it. The Spurs can rest easy about what will come once Timmy, Tony, Manu and Pop call it quits. Kawhi? I think you know the answer to that.

 

 

“The Present”

I skipped over the present because I wanted to stick to the ol’ saying, “save the best for last.” Well, LeBron is the best in the world, so I thought it was fitting.

This isn’t my time to overwhelm you with LeBron James slobber like ESPN and the TV will be doing the next few days, especially since I did plenty of that after last year’s Finals. No really, it’s all right here. This entire article is still relevant. (I am still sticking by my word that he will be the best player to ever play the game.)

NBA trohies

In last year’s article, I said we would see an entirely new LeBron this year that was more relaxed and enjoyed the game he has played his entire life. Other than the complaining that often took place after plays, I was right—it happened. He took an almost perfect season from last year and made it more perfect this year.

During the regular season, James set career-highs field goal percentage (56.5 percent), three-point percentage (40.6 percent) and rebounds (8.0). His other numbers were right near the top of his career-highs (26.8 points, 7.3 assists). He claimed yet another MVP award and looked to be in line for making a third straight run at the championship.

Then came the scrutiny. After shooting so well from all over the field during the regular season, his percentages began to drop. What went unnoticed is something very simple: this was the playoffs—a time when defenses become tougher to overcome and rotations become condensed, leading to the best players being on the floor for longer periods of time. Of course teams would find ways to cut down on LeBron’s production.

But that didn’t stop this man from wrestling through these playoffs. And please don’t point out all the mistakes here and there that still shows he struggles in the clutch or in the big moment. Mistakes happen all the time. The greats are guilty as well. Look at Pop’s bad moves that cost him Game 6. In 15 years, he will still be considered one of the best coaches ever.

The way you make yourself great is how you bounce back. LeBron has been in bounce-back mode since the 2011-12 season began.

There are plenty of statistics that show LeBron plays at his best when his back is against the wall. I’m going to only focus on two things. Two Game 7s.

During Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals and NBA Finals, LeBron averaged 34.5 points, 10 rebounds and shot 95.9 percent (23-of-24) from the free throw line. During a game when he tied the record for most points in an NBA Finals Game 7 win (37 points), he shut down the notion that he can’t shoot by making five three-pointers, shots that were given to him by the Spurs’ defense all series long. And fitting in perfectly with this misconception that he doesn’t have a jump shot, LeBron drained a pull-up jumper to extend the Heat’s lead from two to four in the final minute of their closeout win. He overcame his own mental handicap with his jump shot, one of the biggest obstacles he has ever faced, and took this championship.

I have never seen, “doing what needs to be done to win” exemplified in NBA basketball better than with LeBron James during these past few months. Even though this often gave him unwarranted and probably unwanted criticism since he sometimes worked to get his teammates going rather than himself first, he doesn’t care. Well, I’m sure his two championship rings are enough of a comeback.

Whether it’s changing teams, changing the way he plays or changing the game of basketball for the NBA, James has done what he needs to do in order to win. And you have to give him credit for doing that and becoming the third player ever to win MVP and the NBA title in consecutive seasons (Bill Russell, Michael Jordan).

I asked you earlier what player you thought of when I brought up the Miami Heat. Well, when you think of the NBA, who comes to mind? I’ll give you a second again…got it?

Yup.

You might have “your team” and “your player” but you know you just thought of LeBron again. He is the present of the NBA. He is the NBA. Without LeBron, it is impossible to establish what the NBA is as an organization. He has put himself above the rest of the pack. There is “LeBron” and there is “everybody else.”

And don’t think for one second the present will be changing anytime soon. This is LeBron’s time. The future will just have to wait.

 

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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.

Ignite the Site!





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.

Ignite the Site!





The Key Removal

21 06 2012

Even though the Finals are player-heavy led by none other than LeBron James, the two head coaches have played a significant role in leading their respective team this far into the postseason. The coach that is one win away from becoming the fourth active coach with a ring (Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle) made one particular change late in the Eastern Conference Finals that carried over into the NBA Finals. A bold change.

For anybody that watched the Dallas Mavericks during their pre-championship years… remember Erick Dampier? Remember the man that did “so much more” than the “stats” could show by setting solid picks and tipping the ball out but ultimately failed to live up to expectations? Well, the Heat have had their own “Erick Dampier” for almost as long.

Joel Anthony.

The UNLV undrafted center came into league with little anticipation since his only notable statistic was his 2.9 blocks per game compared to his measly 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds during his last year in college. He was brought into to do one thing – protect the rim. However, after a rookie year in which he would average a career-high 3.5 points and 3.9 rebounds, the starting center position seemed to slowly but surely open up for the Canadian.

This current season has provided Anthony with the most starts of his career as – just like Dampier – he has a defensive presence (I guess?) on the floor that can’t be captured by some numbers. But let’s do something wild with him and actually look at his numbers. This season, he has averaged 3.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. That’s bad. This shouldn’t be a surprise, though, because he is one of the most undersized centers in the league standing one inch taller and five pounds less than LeBron James. Yeah, he is only 6-9 and 245 pounds. And because they just signed him to a 5-year, $18 million contract, they are stuck with No. 50.

So how has coach Erik Spoelstra utilized Anthony on the biggest stage in the game?

He has played 2 minutes so far. In the NBA Finals. That’s it.

As teams get deeper into the playoffs, rotations become thinner; every player that steps on the court is expected to produce in some way for their team. The Heat’s 4-year little big man had only been averaging 3.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in the playoffs and failed to do the one thing his team expected of him (blocking shots), making him a liability on the court. If he played meaningful minutes against the Thunder, they would be feeding right into Scott Brook’s system, allowing Serge Ibaka to sag off his offensively handicap opponent and roam the floor as he so badly wants to do.

So, Spoelstra made the smart but tough decision. Cutting off all minutes for a player that he has backed up all four years the center has been with the organization had to be difficult for the 41-year-old coach. But he did it for the well-being of the team.

By going small with Shane Battier in the starting lineup, who has found a magical touch from behind the 3-point line, as a second small forward and keeping Anthony on the bench for 99 percent of the games’ minutes so far, the NBA’s league-leading blocker can no longer be the force he has been all year long. Ibaka’s regular season average of 3.7 blocks is down to 2.0 in the Finals, including only one in Game 4.

Miami has had role players find a way to perform at a level they never reached during the entire season. This is a key reason to their success against Oklahoma City – the ability to have Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole play unlike themselves. Can Joel Anthony play unlike himself? No. This man has scored double digits three times this season and only eight times in his entire career. That is someone that knows his designated role and couldn’t imagine himself doing anything more than just that. The Heat need players that can forget their role and produce like James Harden, the man formerly known as Sixth Man of the Year. Without the capability to explode onto the scene like many non-Big 3 Heat players have done in the Finals, Anthony shouldn’t be on the floor, and Spoelstra has made that happen.

Since this is a change of removing someone from the rotation rather than implementing someone, most won’t realize it has even happened. But just as the emergence of Battier has been unquestionably crucial during the Heat’s success early in the first quarter and throughout the series, it couldn’t have happened without with Joel Anthony.

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