Game 7 Rewind Part 3 of 3: The Epitome of Sports

21 06 2013

For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

Sports have been inundated with maxims and cheesy clichés since the beginning of their creation.

“Defense wins championships.”

“You have to want it more.”

“Make sure you give 100 percent 100 percent of the time.”

“Every second of every play of every game matters.”

“Coming through in the clutch.”

In the 2013 NBA Finals, the world experienced the essence of what sports is all about at its finest and bleakest.

Let’s backpedal to Game 6 for a moment. Before that instant classic went to overtime, the Spurs had four clear chances to close that game out and become the champions themselves. However, due to two missed free throws by two good free throw shooters and two missed defensive rebounds by one of the best collective rebounding teams in the league, the Heat—well Ray Allen—fought off the death of their season, and possibly the death of their core, to live another day.

Yes, there were crucial plays leading up to this last minute of the game that could have changed the outcome. I mean, just take a look at Manu Ginobili. The man had eight turnovers and looked like he was playing the wrong sport. If he had simply cleaned up one or two of his errant passes, San Antonio could have had a larger lead toward the end.

However, let’s get back to those four moments.

Make your free throws. Box out.

Such simple concepts of basketball that are pounded into the minds of all players of all ages. And the Spurs simply needed to apply these concepts to the game at hand.

It was as if the basketball gods dangled the Larry O’Brien trophy in front of the Spurs’ faces only to quickly pull it away with one cold-blooded shot by Allen.

So then we move onto Game 7, a game that many predicted would not be able to live up to the energy-draining entertainment showcased for all to see two days earlier.

The final game of the NBA season might not have had a game-tying shot or gone to overtime, but it certainly represented sports just as well.

After a Kawhi Leonard (we’ll get to this rising star in a later post) made a huge 3-pointer with exactly two minutes to go in the NBA season, the score stood at 90-88. No longer did the 100+ games or 1000+ hours each team had wrestled through up to that point matter anymore. Even though all the hard work they had put in up to that point got them to that point, that point at the end of the tiresomely long and winding road known as the NBA season would define how successful they were in traveling along that road. Get the point?

The way a round piece of leather stitched together with a rubber bladder on the inside bounced would decide a nation’s and world’s view of a certain player. This has been the case for all the players in the league throughout the season…but not to this extent. This is the essence of what sports is all about. The realization that any one play could be the difference in what defines this year of basketball and this era of basketball.

Back to the game. After a Tony Parker steal, Leonard had the chance to vault himself from rising star to shining star. He had a basketball in his large hands, was standing 22+ feet from a 10-foot rim with an 18-inch diameter and had the opportunity to change the outcome of the game with one 3-pointer. In two years of league experience, the 21-year-old small forward had made 106 3-pointers. The 107th would mean more than all of his previous made 3-pointers—along with free throws and two-pointers—combined.

Because that’s a Game 7 and that’s sports. These two teams had been so equally matched and each had won three games up to that point, so it felt like they should change the league rules and make it to where you had to be up two games in order to win the series.

But we have to move on. This isn’t tennis or volleyball where games can be played fairly quickly, allowing this win-by-two rule to come into play. These games are made up of 48 grueling minutes of up-tempo play that can be changed with the flick of a wrist and the follow-through of five fingers.

Kawhi flicked his wrist and followed through with his five fingers.

Clank.

Two missed jumpers by the Heat allowed the Spurs to have their chance again. I’m not even going to mention the amount of hook shots and post moves Tim Duncan has made in his career…mostly because that would take a while to figure out. The Big Fundamental is in his 15th season, filling each of those with countless moves on the block.

After one of the greatest playoff runs for a 37-year-old, all he had to do was cap it off by putting the ball in the hoop from five feet away. Wherever you are right now, look around you. Look how far five feet is. Got it? That’s the distance Duncan needed to throw a round object and put it through a metal rim with a 15-18 inches long net to tie a basketball game and shift this mounting pressure back to the Heat.

Dribble. Dribble. One step. Two step. Turn head. Rise up. Release ball.

Clank.

Then the bounce of the ball on the rim gave Duncan one more chance to salvage his team’s 103-game, 5000+ minute season and turn it into a championship rather than an almost-championship. It was as if Duncan just landed on “play again” in Life and got to spin one more time. The ball bounced over to the right side of the rim, allowing Duncan to extend his arm and place one fingertip on the leather. With a slight push of his index finger, a hope of a nice roll and a chance to change history, this tip shot could have become more than just his 29th point with the right rotations.

Air.

Duncan’s slap of the floor after his two missed chances exhibits his sheer frustration.

LeBron James had struggled with his jumper all series long. There was a reason Gregg Popovich coached his players to give LeBron just enough cushion to entice him into rising up for a jump shot rather than barreling into the lane. His strength is his athleticism and well, strength; why not do everything you can to take that away?

But LeBron didn’t care about that in the waning moments that would reflect a game that would in time reflect an entire season.

Dribble. Dribble. Pull-Up. Release.

Swish.

The make of this one jumper not only gave his team enough of a lead that wouldn’t allow San Antonio to tie the game in one possession, this one jumper quite possibly changed many people’s perception of whether or not LeBron can shoot. Yes, he made five three-pointers during the game. However, none of those were worth more in terms of his legacy than this one shot.

With a four-point deficit and 27 seconds to go in the game, if the Spurs could make a shot, they could begin to play the fouling game and hope for someone to do what Mario Chalmers did about a minute earlier and miss two free throws.

As Ginobili drove baseline, he did the one thing that coaches tell their players not to do even as early as the pee-wee stage.

“Don’t leave your feet without knowing what you’re going to do with the ball.”

(I told my brother this the first day I got him hooked onto basketball, and he has noticed when it happens ever since.)

With one hop in his steps, Ginobili capped off this game with how his Finals will be remembered—a bad pass leading to a turnover.

The rest was history. The Spurs dug themselves in too big a hole, and unlike Game 6 for San Antonio, Miami made their free throws, played strong defense and grabbed their defensive rebounds in order to close this game out.

Now, I didn’t just tell you all of this so I could get practice in play-by-play commentary based on my memory of last night’s game. You can just wait for this game to be rerun on television to hear Mike Breen yell Bang! like someone has just been shot.

I want to emphasize that this game with these moments is what makes sports so thrilling and exciting to play and watch as a fan while being so draining and painful at the same time. Sports will draw you in and toss you out like your feelings don’t even matter.

In high school or college, did you ever have that one paper or one test that would change your final grade that would change your GPA that would change your class rank that would change what scholarships you would receive that would change your college destination that would change your life’s future? (Even if you didn’t, use your imagination.)

Remember how stressful that one assignment was? That’s what each of these moments was like for Leonard, Duncan, LeBron or whoever else had the chance to change the course of NBA history.

Duncan failed.

LeBron passed.

This dilemma in the world of sports is a fulfilling one if you’re willing to take the good with the bad. Due to this being a Game 7 with so many game-changing, season-changing and legacy-changing opportunities for both teams, it felt like all of those changes were decided by a flip of a coin. They were so evenly matched it only seems fitting to let the Spurs have the trophy for one month before giving it off to the Heat. They were that close.

But that’s a part of sports. Sports giveth and taketh away so quickly, especially in the sport of basketball that has more openings to unlock a different door of conclusion than any other sport out there.

And Game 7 of the NBA Finals epitomized all of the heartache and pure joy that athletes and fans of any level experience when they invest themselves in the complicated world known as sports.

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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.

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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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