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

21 06 2013

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

And why wouldn’t it be?

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

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

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

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

Shane Battier pulling a Mike Miller.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fun Fact Friday

7 06 2013

With 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists in Thursday’s 92-88 Game 1 loss, LeBron James put together his third career NBA Finals triple-double, good for second most all-time. He is also tied for third most all-time in career playoff triple-doubles (10). LeBron is the third player to grab one of these in back-to-back NBA Finals games (going back to the 2012 NBA Finals), joining Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson. Larry Bird in 1986 was the last player to mess around and get a triple-double in an NBA Finals loss and then go on to win it all. Oh—and the last person in the past 25 years to get a triple-double with at least 18 rebounds? That’s right. Good ol’ Tim Duncan during the Spurs’ closeout victory in Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals. How fitting.

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Fun Fact Friday

3 05 2013

During the Brooklyn Nets‘ Game 6 95-92 victory over the Chicago Bulls, Reggie Evans had himself a board party. The Nets big man grabbed 15 rebounds in 29 minutes, the lowest minute total by a Nets player that grabbed that many boards in an NBA playoff game. Evans’ 15 rebounds was the most in NBA playoff history by a player who had no points, assists, steals or blocked shots.

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Spurs Make Last-Second Playoff Pick-Up

16 04 2013

T-Mac is back.

After playing almost the entire 2012-2013 NBA season in China, free agent Tracy McGrady will get a chance to play in the NBA yet again.

The San Antonio Spurs have decided to add the seven-time All-Star to the roster for their playoff run that begins this weekend. This is in large part due to the release of Stephen Jackson along with Boris Diaw‘s surgery that will likely keep him out the rest of the season.

While playing in China, the 33-year-old has given reason for the NBA to believe he can still compete at this level. McGrady averaged 25 points and shot 56 percent from the field while playing for Qingdao in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Since he was not on an NBA roster prior to March 1, McGrady is eligible to play right away for the Spurs.

There is not a player currently out there that is more fitting to tack on at the very last second. The 15-year veteran (emphasis on 15) played in this league for a long time and played at a high level. The man knows how to put the ball in the bucket. Now, even though he might not have the freak athleticism that allowed him to get to the rim at will like in his younger days (see Shawn Bradley picture above), McGrady still has exceptional passing skills that could not be more welcome to his new team. He is a natural player of the game and will pick up on the Spurs system faster than many think.

It also should be noted that T-Mac has been humbled by playing an entire season outside of America. Just like his cousin Vince Carter has come to understand with the Dallas Mavericks, there comes a point when superstars must take on smaller, veteran roles. That’s why Allen Iverson is still out of the league. I have no doubt that McGrady will be ready and excited to play five minutes, 25 minutes or with the practice squad while in San Antonio.

I may be a Mavs fan, and I may consequently not like the Spurs. Yet, I can’t help but think this is a great move that will turn out to be a success for both parties. The Spurs needed a veteran wing player that could come in right away and have an impact. McGrady fits that bill.

 

 

The most interesting part of this signing may not be about the signing itself.

Even though McGrady is tenth in total points among active players and will be considered for the Hall of Fame, the one knock against the man is his inability to get out of the first round. Out of the eight playoff series he played in during his 15 NBA seasons, he never moved on to the second round. What makes it even weirder is that he has put up great playoff numbers. During his six playoff runs with the Magic and Rockets when he was the focal point of the offense, McGrady averaged 42.8 minutes, 29.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists. But for some reason, he couldn’t string together four playoff wins during any given year.

(Ironically, when he was injured in 2008-2009 and unable to play in the postseason, his team advanced and was one game away from the Western Conference Finals.)

Joining the 2nd-seeded Spurs gives T-Mac a very good chance to finally erase this unusual statistic. During the past 12 seasons, the Spurs have gone to the playoffs 12 times and failed to reach the second round only twice. As long as his new team can get Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker healed and ready to suit up for playoff basketball, the T-Mac curse could become no more.

To add to this oddity, McGrady’s Spurs will soon be facing a Houston Rockets franchise that he was the face of for six years, including three one-and-done playoff years. He will get the chance to avenge all those heartbreaking seasons in which he was ridiculed for not being able to take his team to the next level.

The Spurs-Rockets matchup now might not be the least interesting West series. Thunder-Lakers (I’m calling it). Nuggets-Warriors. Clippers-Grizzlies. All of those series are going to have some great basketball being played. A wrench has now been thrown in the 2-seed vs. 7-seed series that will bring in some extra viewers. A talented wrench.

No matter how effective he turns out to be, I’m glad that McGrady is getting another chance to prove his worth in the NBA. I watched him during his prime and was simply in awe at the combination of athleticism and intelligence he brought to the court every night. He is older but he is still T-Mac.

“Whatever happens, I’m just glad to be a part of this environment,” McGrady texted ESPN.com. “[It’s] something I never experienced while being my best!”

Hopefully this environment will allow him to experience something else that is new – a playoff series win.

We will all know soon enough.

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