Summer Cramp – NBA Finals 2014

Story Stuff

Imagine there’s a sixth grade kid running 4:59 mile times at the middle school track meets. Let’s call him James. The newspaper is all over him, says this is the next great runner, he’s going to be an Olympian, maybe someday the best runner of all time.

Most people in town are skeptical of all this early praise. Especially when the headlines start saying: KING JAMES. The kid will burn out. Way too much hype. And how can you even project that far in the future?

In the same town there is a junior in college who is clocking in at 4:05. Let’s call him Duncan. Duncan’s been running this pace for the last three years, which is great, consistent, but never passing that elusive 4 minute barrier. He’s an extremely quiet guy that needs his own category of introvert. The town doesn’t really notice him and often forgets they even have a university. 

Well, turns out the hype was warranted. In high school, James runs a 4:01 as a junior, 3:55 his senior year. He decides not to go to college, instead trains solely for the Olympics. Signs a monster contract with Nike, legend continues to grow before he even runs his first big race. 

By age 25, James is widely considered the best mile runner in the world. The problem? At the national championship he came in third. After the race he decides to get a new coach, head down to Miami and train with two of his best friends. The Olympics are the following summer and James is tired of watching other guys get gold medals. 

The Olympics end up being a bigger disaster. A guy from Germany wins and James runs a shocking 4:02. He’s the laughing stock of the running world, the internet is a buzz with James choking jokes. 

The next summer James wins gold at the world championship. The summer after he does it again. His mile time is down to 3:48, five seconds away from the best time ever recorded. 

Shortly after his second world championship, James goes to a charity event down in San Antonio and runs a 3:47. The media goes crazy starts asking the question, “Is James going to be the best mile runner of all time?” 

Hidden behind the James story is a human interest piece about Duncan who quietly ran a 4:05 at the same charity race. “This guy’s 37-years-old and he ran a 4:05! Has anyone ever been this good, this late in their running career?”

A year later Duncan and James show up again at the San Antonio charity race. It’s absolute miserable conditions outside. Temperature is around 100 degrees. It’s muggy, the sweat just lingers in the air. At the end of lap one, James starts having severe leg cramps. 

The 38-year-old Duncan passes him by. Three laps to go. 

NBA Stuff

The NBA has a pretty tidy history book. Since 1980, only nine franchises have won an NBA title. 

The NFL has had 11 since ’99. MLB – nine since ’01. That European soccer league somehow crowns six different champions every year. 

Sticking with the 1980 – 2014 window, here is who I would consider the top 10 NBA players in that span:

1. Michael Jordan

2. Kareem Abdul Jabbar* (a lot of his legacy was built in the ’70’s)

3. Magic Johnson 

4. LeBron James

5. Larry Bird

6. Tim Duncan

7. Kobe Bryant

8. Shaquille O’Neal

9. Hakeem Olajuwon 

10. Dr. J

Of the 34 NBA Finals in that time span, only five times has a team won the Larry O’Brien trophy without a player on the list above – Pistons (’89, ’90 and ’04), Celtics (’08) and Mavericks (’11) and only once has there been a matchup that didn’t involve someone on this list (1990 finals between the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trailblazers). 

In other sports the GM can say we don’t need the best player, we can build a great team, build the best defense and win it all. In the NBA you really just need the league’s best player. Pretty simple formula. 

Show the above list to any basketball fan and 95 percent will say the greatest rivalry is Bird vs. Magic. The other five percent might say Shaq vs. Kobe. 

What isn’t a likely answer – Tim Duncan vs. LeBron James. Yet here we are with the third installment of their NBA Finals matchup, the same amount of times Bird and Magic met. 

I think it’s the weirdest “rivalry” in NBA history. Duncan is almost 10 years older than LeBron. LeBron is in the middle of his prime, Duncan is at the end of his career, likely retiring if the Spurs win it all. Both are frontrunners for Finals MVP.

 

Neither one hates the other. But it’s not a playful rivalry either. Both are established champions and NBA legends. Duncan is the best power forward of all time. LeBron is the best small forward or, at the very least, second behind Larry Bird. 

So what’s at stake? Does Tim Duncan’s legacy diminish at all with back-to-back finals losses? For LeBron, besides the inevitable Twitter explosion, does a third finals loss officially kill the LeBron vs. Jordan debate?

For Tim Duncan 

Best Case Scenario – Wins Title and Finals MVP

Would put Duncan at five championships and four Finals MVPs. In Finals MVPs he’d only be trailing Michael Jordan (6) for most ever. Going into the finals he only needed three double doubles to have the most in NBA Playoffs history, a top five that includes Magic Johnson, Shaq, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. 

How many times can Duncan show up at the top of these lists without moving up to the top of the ultimate list? He may lose out in the who had the best prime or “he was the best player I’ve ever seen” debate, but in terms of most impressive total career, five rings and four finals MVPs I believe puts him fourth on the all-time list behind MJ, Bill Russell and Kareem. 

Worst Case – Loses title

Doesn’t diminish his legacy, but instead of, “Is Tim Duncan in the top five of all time?” I think the debate becomes more, “Who was better in the post-Jordan, pre-LeBron era; Kobe, Shaq or Duncan?”

For LeBron James

Best Case Scenario – Wins Title and Finals MVP

His first three-peat is complete. Three finals MVPs before his 30th birthday. Has at least four years left in his prime to keep adding to the total. 

A third ring and LeBron will have secured his spot above Larry Bird, Kobe, Shaq and Duncan. He will be on pace to pass Wilt, Kareem and Magic. And yes, as much as Chicago will hate this, his legacy could still catch up to Michael Jordan’s.

Worst Case – Loses title

This would hurt, but is not the end all. If you look at the Eastern Conference, I don’t think it’s out of question to project four or five more trips to the NBA Finals for LeBron. Maybe more because with LeBron (barring injury) his career is not going to end at age 34. He is going to be on more of a Tim Duncan timeline, playing up to age 38-40.

Pat Riley will continue to shape the roster to fit LeBron’s evolution or the King can go back to Cleveland and team up with Kyrie Irving and Joel Embiid. 

Magic Johnson lost in four NBA Finals. Larry Bird and Kobe lost in two. The, “Well, Michael never lost an NBA Finals series” is already over for LeBron, so whether he’s 3-for-5 or 2-for-5 doesn’t really matter. The only way to damage his legacy in this series is if he has some sort of repeat performance of 2011. 

So the Stage is Set

All of the stuff above is subjective. Any time you get into legacies there are so many factors to consider and enough evidence for both sides to make a compelling case. Toss all of that aside, this is Duncan vs. LeBron round three, the rubber match, likely the final installment of this not-really-a-rivalry-rivalry. Time to turn off the air conditioning and settle this on the court.

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7. Indiana Pacers

By: Nic Talbott

The NBA has continued to become a superstar league with this offseason only solidifying the point. With powerhouses such as the Miami Heat and LA Lakers improving their already prominent, flashy rosters many novice basketball fans do not see the likelihood of  teams other than the elite to compete. I disagree though because I am just too big of a fan of basketball. The fundamentals, the team play, the hard work. I am an obvious Hoosier at heart.

This leads me to my team summary of the Indiana Pacers, the definition of a balanced NBA team. What’s so intriguing about the Pacers is how efficient of a team they were this past season without a true “superstar”. With a 42-24 record over a shortened lockout season they had the 3rd best record in the East and the 5th best record overall. They took care in the first round of the playoffs, taking out the Dwight Howard-less Magic 4-1 in the first round. In the second round they fought hard in a slugfest series with the Miami Heat leading the series 2-1 before eventually falling 4-2. The progress made during the 2011-12 season leads for a promising season with higher expectations in Indy since the Carlisle era.

This Indiana team is a deep roster without a well-known star, but is one of the deepest teams in the league. The offseason did not start as well as the Pacers had hoped for, with Larry Bird stepping down as president and the loss of GM David Morway as well. But with adequate replacements, the Pacers quickly moved on in preparation for the draft.

The NBA draft was interesting for the Pacers with a questionable first round pick in Miles Plumlee and then trading with the Sacramento Kings for Orlando Johnson. Plumlee was quoted as being “a rich man’s Jeff Foster”, but with an already tall roster the pick did not seem necessary even with Plumlee’s deserving athleticism and unparalleled work ethic. Johnson was a true leader from the University of California Santa Barbra and the Pacers desperate attempt to find a true shooter and play maker off the bench.

After all of these early complications the Pacers got to work over the offseason. The first few weeks consisted of a lot of sitting around, making sure not to be too anxious to make any rash moves. Then they went with a conservative approach, yet an expensive one. They re-signed Roy Hibbert to a max contract for $58 million over 4 years and then re-signed George Hill for $40 million over a 5 year span. From there they made a few subtle splashes via free agency and a trade. The Pacers made a sign and trade deal with the Dallas Mavericks sending Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones for Ian Mahinmi. Then they picked up free agents Gerald Green and D.J. Augustine. With that, the roster was complete, and many future deals were dealt with.

PG George Hill: Although the new deal agreed upon seemed a little high for a combo guard that’s not a true pure point guard, it was something the Pacers needed to take care of. The Pacers goal was to keep the starters from last year, which, with their resigning’s, they were able to accomplish.

SG Paul George: The most potential of any Pacers player, George is a projected break out player in the NBA this season. He is a superior athlete complimented with shooting skills and crazy height for a shooting guard at 6’10”.  He is the breakout superstar the Pacers are looking for and it’s a good possibility he could do so.

SF Danny Granger: Granger is the most well-known player on this work horse roster from his prior days as an All-Star. He is not quite up to the standards he used to be, but is still a long athletic player with a wide array of offensive skills.

PF David West: The leader and the enforcer on this young roster, David West proved that he is still the same caliber player he was before tearing his ACL just over a year and a half ago. His athleticism and height won’t blow you away but his fundamentals and leadership are unmatched.

C Roy Hibbert: If the Pacers had to officially tag one of its players as a superstar it would have to be Hibbert. The giant became an All-Star for the first time last year despite not having dominant stats. He is much better than his stats though and always has a major impact on the game. This showed during the playoffs where the point differential when he was in the game was in his favor in a major way. His work ethic and sheer height makes him a great center in a shrinking league.

Bench: The changes made this offseason by the Pacers definitely focused on changing the bench in hopes of improvement. The new additions of Mahinmi, Augustine, and Green were made to give the second unit an offensive punch, something they didn’t have this past postseason. Also on the bench is the captain of the goon squad himself, Tyler Hansbrough. Wrapping up the bench is the infamous Lance Stephenson who has a boatload of talent, but questionable character issues. The remaining bench players are Ben Hansbrough (Psycho B), Jeff Pendegraph, Sam Young, and the rookies who all have talent, but most likely won’t see the court.

Overall the Pacers are a scary team to face this next NBA season. Although not many flashy changes were made, they have another year to mesh with a young talented roster. Statistically speaking, the Pacers had the most efficient starting five in the league this past season. With improvements on the bench and lots of raw talent, the Pacers have a massive amount of potential.

An X-factor the Pacers have is their height. In a shrinking league the Pacers have the tallest roster in the NBA. Their starting 5 is insane with heights of 6’3”, 6’10”, 6’8”, 6’9”, and 7’2” all of which have longer wingspans than their heights. Also they have Psycho T, Pendegraph, Plumlee, and Mahinmi off the bench with Plumlee and Mahinmi being athletic reliable big men. What makes this such a dangerous skill is the fact that the Eastern Conference elite teams lack quality big men talent. The defending champs only have Chris Bosh as a reliable returner from last year and he plays more of a pick and pop game and is notoriously soft in the middle. The Celtics are similar too, recently going small this past season playing Garnett at center.

My bias tells me the Pacers will be an incredible team this year, but the numbers and talent speak for themselves. I think for the first time is a while many people are expecting big things for the Hoosiers

Prediction: 56-26 2nd place in the Eastern Conference
Lose in the Finals to the Lakers 1-4
Beat the Heat in the Playoffs, revenge

It’s a bold prediction to have them defeating the defending champs especially with the NBA and refs on their side but I wouldn’t be a true fan if I thought they couldn’t do it. The Pacers are coming, better brace yourself before they take the NBA by storm.

NBA Finals Game 4: Captain (leb)Ron

ALL IMAGES USED IN THIS BLOG POST BELONG TO TOUCHSTONE PICTURES AND THE MOTION PICTURE CAPTAIN RON DIRECTED BY: THOM EBERHARDT AND PRODUCED BY: DAVID PERMUT AND WRITTEN BY: JOHN DWYER.

By: Christopher O’Brien

If you are in a strictly basketball mood, skip ahead to the CPR section, otherwise begin here:

My favorite movie of all time is Captain Ron.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the story revolves around the Harvey’s, a middle-class family of four from Chicago who are going about their normal lives until the father (Martin Short) inherits a massive sailboat worth $250,000. This price tag is their ticket out of their mortgage payments and credit card debt. All they have to do is sail the boat from St. Potato in the Caribbean Islands to Miami, Florida.

Only problem? The Harvey’s have no clue how to sail.

To make matters worse, when the Harvey’s finally see the boat, it looks like this:

Because of this condition, the yacht buying company in Miami decides not to send down one of their better sailors and instead sets them up with a local.

Meet Captain Ron (Kurt Russell).

Captain Ron has a whole lot of swagger and begins winning over the Harvey’s one family member at a time. He flirts with Martin’s wife, bonds with Martin’s daughter, and becomes a hero to Martin’s son. What was once Martin’s family (his team if you will) has all been cast under Captain Ron’s charismatic spell.

Martin continually makes a fool of himself throughout the film and as serious trouble arises in the form of the real pirates of the Caribbean kidnapping their boat (yeah, this movie is awesome), his family doesn’t believe Martin can save the day. Watch from 3:25 to 4:30

“Guys, it would take a miracle,” –Martin

Of course the miracle comes in the form of Captain Ron. The whole family is thrilled to have Captain Ron save the day. Well, all with the exception of Martin.

“We don’t need you to rescue us!”

Moments later, Martin runs off to the boat to start up the engine. Captain Ron plays the role of getaway driver. As always, he handles the stressful situation with ease.

“I’m really glad you’re back Captain Ron. Dad, he tries, but he really screws things up. Not like you.” –Son

“Hey lighten up will ya? Dad does the best he can. It’s not his fault that he—” daughter

It’s at this moment when Captain Ron realizes exactly why Martin had been so angry with him; the Harvey’s no longer believe in their father as a hero.

Ron runs onto the boat and slips on the stairs.

As Captain Ron’s about to get up, some epiphany music plays in the background.

He knows what he needs to do.

“Sorry boss, I fell. Think I broke my leg.” -Ron

With Captain Ron out, Martin has no other choice than to take charge lead his team. He rushes up the stairs, hops on the boom and, although it’s not particularly smooth, Martin knocks over the pirates like a bunch of bowling pins.

His family starts cheering.

“Dad, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” -son

His wife’s amazed too. Martin’s back on top of the world.

But the battle’s not over. In fact, the action’s about to get even more intense.

Still, Captain Ron stays down below, tells the family the bone is about to punch through the skin, he let’s Martin lead the team. He cheers them on, but really doesn’t see this turning out very well.

“Naturals, by God every one of you, naturals!” -Captain Ron shouts. Then in a much quieter voice to himself, “We’re gonna f:-(in’ die.”

This time it’s not Martin, but instead his wife who comes up with the big play. She fires the secretly powerful flare gun off at the pirates.

Coast Guard comes to the rescue. Martin runs downstairs and sees Captain Ron hopping around celebrating. Martin realizes the whole injury was a fraud and couldn’t be happier that Captain Ron pulled this tactic.

Now, I’m guessing you can see where I’m going with this connection. But let me make it clear, I don’t think LeBron was faking the leg cramps at the end of Game 4. I think it was one of the rare moments of humanity for LeBron when 45 minutes of aggressive, physical, Ron Artest-esque defense on one end paired with barreling-fullback-on-a-basketball-court offense resulted in his legs finally wearing out.

It’s like in the Tour De France when you see a cyclist lead all day long then slowly wear out to the point where he can hardly move the pedals.

But even with these crippling cramps, the guy still hit a huge three, wobbly self and all!

What it did achieve when LeBron was out on the sidelines was the same thing you saw above in Captain Ron. Dwayne Wade, the man who used to be the hero of the Miami Heat, the man who took flack all postseason for not having the same explosiveness, the man who used to own this city, now had to put the team on his back.

And Mario Chalmers had to rise to the occasion too.

LeBron wasn’t faking it, but if he was, it was a brilliant move. Who knows what’s going to happen in Game 5. Maybe the Heat will head back to Oklahoma City for Games 6 and 7. Maybe in one of these games LeBron will foul out. Maybe OKC will double team LeBron at the end and he’ll need a teammate to step up and hit a big shot.

Whatever lies ahead, be it only 48 more minutes or two battles in front of an energetic OKC crowd, the Harvey Heat family now believe they can get it done even if LeBron’s out on the sidelines. Having LeBron on the court with these new confident teammates… it could be a real celebration taking place Thursday night in South Beach.

Let’s look at the CPR numbers:

  1. Russell Westbrook Game 4 CPR: 86.46
  2. LeBron James CPR: 78.83
  3. Kevin Durant – 68.16
  4. Dwyane Wade – 64.65
  5. Mario Chalmers – 58.36
  6. Chris Bosh – 53.3
  7. Shane Battier – 46.35
  8. James Harden – 45.35
  9. Serge Ibaka – 39.05
  10. Thabo Sefolosha – 29.23

There’s your game right there. Despite Westbrook having an all-time great performance (with CPR think of 60’s being good game, 70’s being great game, 80’s being incredible, and anything above 90 being top 25 NBA Finals performance ever), five of the top seven spots went to Heat players. Chalmers, Bosh, and Battier were all better than James Harden and Serge Ibaka.

If the Thunder can’t get more production out of guys not named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they’ll have a long offseason ahead to think about how Captain LeBron sunk their ship.

2012 NBA Finals: LeBron vs. Durant

By: Christopher O’Brien

Who’s better, LeBron James or Michael Jordan? 

This question gets whispered from time to time then quickly shot down by either:

A) Six rings to zero rings

B) LeBron doesn’t have the killer instinct

C) It’s not even a discussion

I’m obviously on the MJ side of the argument, but what piques my curiosity is how can we compare the two? Different eras, yes, but even harder is the difference in size and position. A step further, how do we compare Magic Johnson to MJ to LeBron to Kobe to Bill Russell to Isaiah Thomas et. al.

This got me wondering. Could there be a way to toss all the greats into one system, a system that would allow us to compare point guard to center, defensive specialist to high octane scorer, yesterday’s legend to today’s superstar?

Let me introduce to you the CPR (Complete Player Ranking).

This system adds Minutes Played+Points+Rebounds+Assists+Blocks+Steals together then subtracts FG missed – 3pt FG missed – FT missed – turnovers. The end number is a player’s CPR (the name “MPPRABS-FG-TO” didn’t test well in the marketing department).

If someone has already created this system with a different name, my apologies, let me know and I will buy you a Quiznos sub.

Quick note, I take free throws missed and divide by two then subtract. Why not subtract two for missed FG and 1 for free throw? Eh, decimal points make your math look more scientific.

I like this CPR system because a point guard can make up for less points with their assists and steals. They also won’t have as many missed shots. A big man can tally up big numbers in points, rebounds, blocks, but is usually on the court for less time and misses free throws (cough Shaq cough).

So, with this system comes a lot of data retrieving. Now is not the time to compare LeBron or Durant to Michael Jordan or any of the NBA Finals legends. Whoever wins this title and the Finals MVP I will do a column comparing their CPR numbers to historic figures.

For now it’s LeBron vs. Durant.

Here are LeBron’s season, 2012 Playoffs first three rounds, and 2012 NBA Finals CPR numbers:

Season: 66.7

Playoffs: 71.97

NBA Finals: 71.66

Here are Kevin Durant’s:

Season: 63.05

Playoffs: 68.26

NBA Finals: 64.7

As you can see, both players are going above their regular season numbers. That’s a sign of greatness. Judging by CPR, LeBron James has outplayed Durant in all three sections of data.

What I found interesting when gathering all these numbers was seeing Kevin Durant’s fouls-per-game numbers. For his career, Durant averages 1.9. In these NBA Finals, he’s at a stunning four per game. This is keeping him off the court, thus lowering his minutes, and hurting his overall CPR number.

And I’m sure there’s some punny CPR/choke related joke to close with here, but I guess my conclusion is we have to look beyond points, rebounds, even field goal percentage and see the tiny details like minutes played. LeBron is winning the battle against Durant right now because he is being more aggressive (causing Durant to foul) and is having the sense not to pick up some of the inexperienced reach-in calls Durant is gathering.

Kevin Durant needs to stop getting into foul trouble, not for the sake of his CPR numbers, but for the Thunder’s chances of winning the title.

NBA Finals Game 1: Kevin Durant Great, LeBron was Fine

Right now you are one of 50 other people reading this story. A hundred if I’m lucky; 200 if it’s one of my more popular articles.

In the online world, this is nothing. Say I write one article a day for a year, each notching 100 reads apiece. That’s 36,500 for the year. Not bad until you consider if I titled my blog post: Nude Photos of Kim Kardashian! I’d hit 40,000 reads in a matter of minutes. I’m probably getting extra views right now for having those italicized words above.

As a writer, or really any type of artist, there are two distinct ends of the production spectrum. On one end is the, “Nobody gets me” style. This is the person who seems to produce weird stuff just for the sake of being weird. If the audience walks out on them or bashes their piece, well, you know what, they just don’t get it. They don’t understand!

The opposite end of the spectrum is the, “Everyone’s Gonna Love it!” angle. You determine what everyone likes, maybe do some research, see what’s worked in the past and go from there. This is why most of the Super Bowl commercials center around either cars, girls in bikinis, beer, or some combination of the three.

As consumers, we digest material from all over this spectrum. Wes Anderson, Reggie Watts, trendy things like grass fed cow burgers or composting in our backyard all lean toward the “Nobody gets me” side. Michael Bay movies, romantic comedies, romance novels, and McDonalds lean “Everyone’s Gonna Love It.”

One is far more profitable than the other, but neither one is necessarily better. Sometimes you want to ego-trip with an obscure Lars Von Trier film, other times you want to turn off your brain altogether and enjoy the new Adam Sandler movie, which, by the way, I think That’s My Boy looks hilarious.

The challenge arises when it becomes a business. If writing for this blog were my full-time job, I would have to figure out a way to milk some real dollars out of it. Make people pay to read? Yeah right, it would quickly go from 50 reads apiece to 15, to 10, then eventually only my parents and brother forking over the five bucks or whatever the price would be on a regular basis.

Advertisements? You have to. It’s the only way to keep the content free for the viewer yet profitable to the writer.

Transition this idea to sports. Let’s say, in some magical alternative universe, Pizza Hut and Long John Silvers were paying me $100,000 in ads, on this page, as long as I hit a certain view count for articles related to the NBA Finals. Let’s say that number per article is 50,000 reads. Considering all this, which Game 1 article should I write?

Video Breakdown of Thabo Sefolosha’s Defense in Fourth Quarter Suffocates Otherwise Dominate LeBron James

Or

Kevin Durant Shines as LeBron James Chokes Again in NBA Finals 

Option A I might land me Thabo’s family and friends, whereas Option B I stir up the hornet’s nest and get in return: Durant fans, LeBron haters, and LeBron fans who want to tell me why my claims are bogus.

Option A I get a phone call from Pizza Hut and Long John’s telling me they can’t keep paying if only five people are going to see the ads.

Option B results in thousands of Durant fans/LeBron hater/LeBron fans having different reactions but ultimately all ending up ordering an any pizza, any size, $10 or the new lobster bite platter.

By making bold, often outrageous statements, you attract both sides, those who love LeBron and those who hate him. In the words of Katala from the 1958 movie The Vikings: 

Love and hate are two horns on the same goat

Does this mean sportswriters can’t be popular without being outlandish? No, but what it does mean is for every J.A. Adande that a sports company hires, they need a Skip Bayless to secure their ratings.

If you hire too many Skip Baylesses, you create a massive boy-who-cries-wolf experience that eventually fizzles out. Think about the Kim Kardashian example above. If someone clicks on: Nude Kim Kardashian but instead gets here they’ll leave angry and never come back.

On the flip side, too many J.A. Adandes and where’s the excitement? There’s nothing to argue about. Everything makes sense. Sports radio dies.

This is why I was intrigued after Game 1. I wanted to see how the media handled Durant blowing up in the fourth quarter and LeBron, well, having a perfectly fine final 12 minutes.

LeBron scored seven fourth quarter points. Think about it, scoring 30 points in a basketball game means you score about 7.5 a quarter, aka eight one quarter, seven the next since half baskets are non-existent. The only way LeBron’s fourth quarter was a failure is if 30-point games are now considered average. I’ve always argued that this is actually what makes LeBron so special: he has us expecting 30 a night.

If you watched the game you saw numerous times when LeBron powered to the rim, Durant stepped out of the way, and LeBron finished strong. He went to the foul line nine times, hit seven, and always seemed to get those and-one layups at points in the game when it looked like the Thunder were going to pull away. 

LeBron had 16 of his team’s 40 second half points (40 percent of team output). Kevin Durant had 23 of his team’s 58 (39.6 percent of team output). But that stat is too boring, involves math and is just complicated, doesn’t fit into a nice easy to digest graphic. Look seven is so much less than 23!

Before Game 1 even started, the most profitable angles for the series had already been determined:

LeBron James coming up short again.

LeBron James finally overcoming his critics and winning a ring.

Kevin Durant the new best player in the world.

These bring in viewers. Game 1 set ratings history. Viewers bring in ad money. Don’t like it? Eh, at least we get to watch for free.

What I will say is Miami has two problems. One short term, one long term.

Short term. Shane Battier scored 17 and they still lost by 11. I think those 11 can easily be made up for between LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, but it’s hard for me to believe Battier will do this every night. How do they account for those extra baskets?

Second concern is long term Wade and LeBron as the team. I think LeBron needs to have a supporting cast where he gets out and runs with three shooters and a bruiser down low. The ideal shooting guard next to LeBron is more Ray Allen than Dwyane Wade. For some reason this has never really happened in LeBron’s career.

LeBron’s game is different than Durant’s. Durant is the pure shooter with the extra height to get his shot over anyone. LeBron doesn’t have the same efficiency outside (although he is improving, bank shots included) but his advantage is attacking the rim with a level of force Durant will never have.

If LeBron had shooters around him, then it’s not just him who’s un-guardable, it’s the whole team. Leave the lane open, LeBron’s driving in for a dunk. Clog up the lane and LeBron’s hitting one of his snipers behind the arc. This is why those nights when Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, James Jones are all hitting, LeBron gets one of his 35 points, 12 assists, 10 rebound games, you watch and think that’s the best team I’ve ever seen. We’re usually guaranteed to see that team at least once every seven game series.

The Wade-LeBron combo isn’t broken (two finals in two years), but I don’t think it’s the best fit for either of them. Before it’s too late, aka when Wade is 33/34 (sooner than you think) and doesn’t have the same trade value he would have now, I think the Heat should turn Wade into a couple high level shooters. I think this would result in five years of dominance and less of these moments for Pat Riley:

NBA Playoffs: They Were Men When We Were Boys

Growing up I remember watching Midland High basketball games; cheering on iconic players like Chris Kelsey, Nathan Yopp, Ernie Sutton. I remember the guys in my older brother’s grade: Matt Brown, Tom O’Brien, Nick Butler, Rian Roberson. These were the local heroes, the legends on the court, the cool summer basketball camp counselors in the summer time.

As a young basketball player you aspired to be them.

Fast forward years later and I was on the varsity basketball team. I remember realizing, wait, our record’s the same as theirs was. Our guys are the same height. Wait, are we… equals? Are we better?

Then comes winter break. Coach Krause invites the older guys back to the gym to beat up on us right when we’re on the edge of overconfident. Ernie comes in. Nick Butler. My older brother. Matt Brown. Logic says they’re all in the 6-foot tall range but not to me. I’m back to being the kid again and these guys are the giants I cheered on.

So the first game starts. They’re physical. They block shots. They throw full court passes. They can still dunk. 5-0. 6-0. 7-0. We rush our shots. Take bad shots. Throw the ball out of bounds.

The first game’s a blowout. Second game too. It doesn’t really make sense considering we have set plays and practice every day. These guys are in college and may go weeks without stepping foot on the court.

But they have the key psychological edge: They were men when we were boys.

When Kevin Durant was 14, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade had just entered the NBA. For all of high school, Durant was cheering these guys on, hoping to elevate his game to their levels, idolizing their talents.

Likewise, when LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade were in middle school, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett were beginning their Hall of Fame NBA careers.

It’s a one-sided fandom. Pierce never rushed home to watch LeBron James’s Youtube clips and Tim Duncan certainly never went out and bought a Chris Bosh middle school jersey. Hell, Duncan racked up thousands of NBA points before Serge Ibaka had even picked up a basketball.

The Spurs and Celtics are the older guys to the Heat. The Heat are the older guys to the Thunder. Older guys are afraid they might lose, younger guys are afraid they might win. 

I think we all, to some degree, set limits on ourselves. We view ourselves belonging in a certain league, category, bracket and it becomes very hard to break out of that box. It’s why our older brothers always seem to win the 1-on-1 games, or why we’re intimidated to ask our boss for more money, or why we’re hesitant to ask a girl out of our range to the prom.

Think about it. If your friend says, “Hey, I set you up on a blind date. She’s really hot, great body, she’s a good singer too,” then you go to the restaurant with a certain expectation in place. However, if you show up and that girl turns out to be Rihanna, suddenly it’s a whole different ball game. Your heart’s racing faster, you stumble over your words, voice cracks, sweat profusely.

But why? She’s technically the hot girl with a good singing voice described by your friend. Except that she’s not. She’s Rihanna and you’re you. The two aren’t supposed to go together.

Or how about when Jesus told Peter to join him on the water walk. Peter’s doing great for a while until he starts thinking, “I’m walking on the water with Jesus! Holy crap I’m walking on the water with Jesus! OH CRAP, I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE WALKING ON WATER WITH JESUS!”

This same logic is why I think Michael Jordan could beat 99.8 percent of the world’s population at basketball into his late sixties. Reasoning? Only a select few, when they’re a basket away from winning, would be able to get past the mental hurdle of, “Wait, I might actually beat MJ?” It doesn’t matter if this MJ has gray eyebrows and walks with a cane, almost everyone’s minds would picture him in his Chicago Bulls prime.

So how can the younger guys ever win? The secret: They have to believe, not only that they belong on the same court, but that it’s their turn and the older guys already had their chance. Kevin Durant put it this way:

“We never thought we were supposed to wait our turn. We just know we’re supposed to take everything.”

The Thunder’s defining moment was this year in Game 4 against the Spurs when Durant carried the team  in the fourth quarter. When your best player rises to the challenge, it’s contagious and that’s why you saw the The Thunder come into Game 5 with new confidence and were able to beat the old guys in enemy territory, something I thought would take several more years of growing pains to accomplish.

The Miami Heat had this moment last year when they finally got past the Boston Celtics in Round 2. This year they couldn’t get it done at home in Game 5 and now find themselves up against the ropes… again. They will have to beat the older guys two times in a row, once on the road, to keep their title hopes alive

Honestly, I don’t know between the Thunder and Heat who is in the better position. Mathematically, it’s the Thunder. They only have to go 1-1. But, psychologically, the Heat have no other choice than to fight, scrap, play their heart out and see if they can win two in a row. No thinking involved.

For the Thunder, they have to face the fear that they might just win one of these next two games and head to the NBA Finals. They are 48 minutes away from completing a path that involved them beating the Mavericks, Lakers, and Spurs; three teams that have combined to win 10 of the last 13 NBA Championships. Unlike Peter, maybe it’s best the Thunder don’t look down and realize they’re walking on water.

Forget the ages, by the end of the week we’ll know exactly who are the men and who are the boys. 

           

 

NBA Playoffs: They Were Men When We Were Boys

Growing up I remember watching Midland High basketball games; cheering on iconic players like Chris Kelsey, Nathan Yopp, Ernie Sutton. I remember the guys in my older brother’s grade: Matt Brown, Tom O’Brien, Nick Butler, Rian Roberson. These were the local heroes, the legends on the court, the cool summer basketball camp counselors in the summer time.

As a young basketball player you aspired to be them.

Fast forward years later and I was on the varsity basketball team. I remember realizing, wait, our record’s the same as theirs was. Our guys are the same height. Wait, are we… equals? Are we better?

Then comes winter break. Coach Krause invites the older guys back to the gym to beat up on us right when we’re on the edge of overconfident. Ernie comes in. Nick Butler. My older brother. Matt Brown. Logic says they’re all in the 6-foot tall range but not to me. I’m back to being the kid again and these guys are the giants I cheered on.

So the first game starts. They’re physical. They block shots. They throw full court passes. They can still dunk. 5-0. 6-0. 7-0. We rush our shots. Take bad shots. Throw the ball out of bounds.

The first game’s a blowout. Second game too. It doesn’t really make sense considering we have set plays and practice every day. These guys are in college and may go weeks without stepping foot on the court.

But they have the key psychological edge: They were men when we were boys.

When Kevin Durant was 14, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade had just entered the NBA. For all of high school, Durant was cheering these guys on, hoping to elevate his game to their levels, idolizing their talents.

Likewise, when LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade were in middle school, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett were beginning their Hall of Fame NBA careers.

It’s a one-sided fandom. Pierce never rushed home to watch LeBron James’s Youtube clips and Tim Duncan certainly never went out and bought a Chris Bosh middle school jersey. Hell, Duncan racked up thousands of NBA points before Serge Ibaka had even picked up a basketball.

The Spurs and Celtics are the older guys to the Heat. The Heat are the older guys to the Thunder. Older guys are afraid they might lose, younger guys are afraid they might win.

I think we all, to some degree, set limits on ourselves. We view ourselves belonging in a certain league, category, bracket and it becomes very hard to break out of that box. It’s why our older brothers always seem to win the 1-on-1 games, or why we’re intimidated to ask our boss for more money, or why we’re hesitant to ask a girl out of our range to the prom.

Think about it. If your friend says, “Hey, I set you up on a blind date. She’s really hot, great body, she’s a good singer too,” then you go to the restaurant with a certain expectation in place. However, if you show up and that girl turns out to be Rihanna, suddenly it’s a whole different ball game. Your heart’s racing faster, you stumble over your words, voice cracks, sweat profusely.

But why? She’s technically the hot girl with a good singing voice described by your friend. Except that she’s not. She’s Rihanna and you’re you. The two aren’t supposed to go together.

Or how about when Jesus told Peter to join him on the water walk. Peter’s doing great for a while until he starts thinking, “I’m walking on the water with Jesus! Holy crap I’m walking on the water with Jesus! OH CRAP, I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE WALKING ON WATER WITH JESUS!”

This same logic is why I think Michael Jordan could beat 99.8 percent of the world’s population at basketball into his late sixties. Reasoning? Only a select few, when they’re a basket away from winning, would be able to get past the mental hurdle of, “Wait, I might actually beat MJ?” It doesn’t matter if this MJ has gray eyebrows and walks with a cane, almost everyone’s minds would picture him in his Chicago Bulls prime.

So how can the younger guys ever win? The secret: They have to believe, not only that they belong on the same court, but that it’s their turn and the older guys already had their chance. Kevin Durant put it this way:

“We never thought we were supposed to wait our turn. We just know we’re supposed to take everything.”

The Thunder’s defining moment was this year in Game 4 against the Spurs when Durant carried the team  in the fourth quarter. When your best player rises to the challenge, it’s contagious and that’s why you saw the The Thunder come into Game 5 with new confidence and were able to beat the old guys in enemy territory, something I thought would take several more years of growing pains to accomplish.

The Miami Heat had this moment last year when they finally got past the Boston Celtics in Round 2. This year they couldn’t get it done at home in Game 5 and now find themselves up against the ropes… again. They will have to beat the older guys two times in a row, once on the road, to keep their title hopes alive

Honestly, I don’t know between the Thunder and Heat who is in the better position. Mathematically, it’s the Thunder. They only have to go 1-1. But, psychologically, the Heat have no other choice than to fight, scrap, play their heart out and see if they can win two in a row. No thinking involved.

For the Thunder, they have to face the fear that they might just win one of these next two games and head to the NBA Finals. They are 48 minutes away from completing a path that involved them beating the Mavericks, Lakers, and Spurs; three teams that have combined to win 10 of the last 13 NBA Championships. Unlike Peter, maybe it’s best the Thunder don’t look down and realize they’re walking on water.

Forget the ages, by the end of the week we’ll know exactly who are the men and who are the boys.