Tag Archives: nba finals

Cavaliers offend with their offense

After declaring a rebirth of sorts for the Cleveland Cavaliers in my last piece, I now feel a bit of egg running down my face after the team has dropped two very winnable games this past week. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss two factors that I think led to these disappointing outcomes.

I have said this before, and it rings true this week as much as it has all season. We MUST win the games we are supposed to win!

No one takes us seriously when we beat the #2 team in the league one week and lose to a sub .500 team the next. It makes fans and the national media question whether we are actually a good team or just putting on a show with smoke and mirrors.

Offensive Strategy: At times, I find the strategy that the Cavaliers decide to use on offense, offensive. Meaning that it offends my common sense approach as an analytical fan.

For example, when the game is close or we are starting to squander a lead late in a game, why on earth do any of these professional players think that the best idea is to run the shot clock down and hoist up a three pointer? Is it an engrained desire to be the hero as they have practiced thousands of times since they were first introduced to the game as kids?

Sure, sometimes the shot goes in and we all talk about how clutch that player is and how they always seem to bail us out. Most of the time, those shots do not go in and amongst fans there seems to be no accountability for having just wasted a crucial possession.

We should be taking high percentage shots from the paint in these situations. This is the most opportune time to rely on Kevin Love.

He has shown over the last few weeks to be not only shooting a high percentage from down there, but it also puts him in a great position to possible secure an offensive rebound for another clock eating possession. I don’t understand why we settle for just running out 24 seconds and taking a low percentage shot when we can get a higher percentage shot and possibly the chance to run out 40 seconds.

I also want to complain about one more strategy on offense that goes hand in hand with the one I just mentioned. That strategy is the isolation play for James.

Yes, I realize that he is The King and can make his way past most defenders one on one and get a high percentage shot, but it is what consistently happens AFTER he makes it past the player defending him that is in question.

Either he takes a tougher than necessary shot trying to get an “And One” and doesn’t get the call, OR if he does get the call and misses we take our chances at the free throw line.

For being a superstar in our league and contending with James Harden for most “And One” opportunities amongst all players, he has been mostly inconsistent at the free throw line. In close games like the 104-103 loss to Boston, #AllFreeThrowsMatter

Another thing that the isolation play does when you run it over and over, is that it gives the opponents time to rest as the play usually consists of James on one end of the court and the rest of the players just standing around watching on the other side. Make these guys run the slalom around picks at the end of the game so that the fatigue catches up with them and they will make more mistakes.

If Lue is dead set on running the ISO in these situation, PLEASE do it with Kyrie! At least he is shooting a reasonable percentage from the line and finishes just as well or better than James.

Bench Play: The contributions off of the bench in these two most recent losses have been truly disappointing as a collective group. Dellevadova being out with a hamstring issue only cements my suspicion that he is maybe the most important component of the second unit.

The strength of the second unit is clearly anchored in Iman Shumpert’s ability to steal the ball and make players think twice about lazy passes. This is an invaluable asset that we have as it gives us more possessions in addition to take potential points off of the board for our adversaries.

From an offensive standpoint, we just cannot produce consistently. Just when we think that Mozgov has “figured it out” he reminds us that there is a reason he is not starting anymore with another blunder at a crucial juncture.

Against the moderately talented Charlotte Hornets all that out five bench players could amass was 13 points. Delly is averaging over 8 points per game on his own so his contributions are clearly missed.

We cannot expect to win close games without these intangibles. I challenge the players and coaches to play a smarter game and, if necessary, make some key changes to the team that put us in a stronger position to contend in the Finals.

Even if we play horribly, we will get one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference purely based on our talent level. Having Kyrie and Love in the Finals this year will not matter though unless some of these issues are corrected.

I’m ready to see if Tyronn Lue is up to that challenge.

What does tonight's game mean?

The hot takes will be burning up around Midnight EST tonight after the game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs.

Here’s what a win and loss means for each team.

Cavs
A win means the Cavs will improve to 28-9.
A loss means the Cavs will fall to 27-10.

Spurs
A win means the Spurs will improve to 35-6.
A loss means the Spurs will fall to 34-7.

That’s all it means. Look, we all love to make crazy predictions and declarations after these kinds of games. Everyone is going to do the same thing after the game against Golden State on Monday night. Sure, this game and the one against Golden State could be a measuring stick but more than likely that if the Cavs and Spurs/Warriors meet in the NBA Finals that the Cavs roster will look different. The Cavs are going to add a piece or two by the trade deadline.

The Cavs team is just starting to gel now. Kyrie Irving has been #KYRIDICULOUS since he came back including this massive three pointer against the Dallas Mavericks in overtime on Tuesday night:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3aRnG9mhew]

We all know how good Kyrie Irving is, there is no denying that. But Kyrie has the capability to take his game to the next level, MVP level. The only thing that can hold him back from getting there is staying upright and fighting away the injury bug.

Regular season games do have fun match-ups, so here are the three that I cannot wait to see tonight.

Kevin Love vs LaMarcus Aldridge

These two players are two of the best at power forward in the game. Both players can shoot from the outside. Both players can rebound the basketball. I cannot wait to see how they match-up tonight. The key for Kevin Love is his defense. We will have to wait and see if he can keep up with Aldridge all night long as the Spurs use creative ways to get him the basketball.

LeBron James vs Kawhi Leonard

Leonard is playing a high level of basketball this season. He is averaging over 20 points per game and if Steph Curry hasn’t been so ridiculous this season, Leonard would be one of the leading candidates for MVP. We all know how good of a player LeBron is on defense, but Leonard is a pretty good defender too. I am curious to see how well LeBron performs on offense tonight.

Cavs’ Bench vs Spurs’ Bench

Both of these teams have good benches. It has been a staple of the San Antonio Spurs for years. They have players such as Borris Diaw, Manu Ginobli, David West and Patty Mills that come off the bench and play high minutes. They all play at a high level. The Cavs’ bench will have their work cut out for them tonight as Delly, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mosgov try to keep those players in check. The most interesting match-up off the bench is Ginobli and Shumpert. There is no doubt that Shumpert can guard Ginobli so we shall see if he is a big factor.

Akron Celebrates the Return of LeBron James to Northeast Ohio

by Ryan Isley

This past weekend in downtown Akron, the Italian-American Festival was held for the 67th straight year. Only for the 2014 version of the festival, the sun was brighter, the people were friendlier and hell, even the beer went down smoother. All because of three words that changed things on Friday afternoon.

“I’m coming home.”

Yes, those three simple words changed Akron and all of Northeast Ohio.

Those were the words of LeBron James in his essay explaining where he would be signing after opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat and becoming a free agent. It had come down to returning to Miami or Cleveland, and this time, home was where LeBron’s heart was. He would once again be a Cleveland Cavalier.

Everyone had been on pins and needles waiting for LeBron to make his decision and inform us all of where he would be playing in 2014 and beyond, but for days, all we heard were rumors of meetings and speculation of when the decision would be made. We refreshed Twitter at what had to be a record pace, and even crashed LeBron’s website on more than one occasion. We went from euphoric to worried based on every rumor that was floated out there, no matter the validity. Hell, people even tracked the private plane of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, forcing the owner to make his plane no longer traceable to the public.

We were told that the decision would be announced on his website at this time or that time. We were told that the police were informed to have heightened security around LeBron’s Bath Township home on Thursday afternoon because an announcement would be coming at 3:30 pm – as in 330 – the area code of Akron, his hometown. It all seemed logical, if not even genius.

Only it never happened.

For a week, minutes turned into hours and hours turned into days. As the saga dragged into Friday, people were wondering if it would not have been a better idea to just do another television special, if only to give people an actual timetable as to when the announcement would be made.

And then out of nowhere, when it felt as if we might not get an announcement before the weekend, it happened. Shortly after noon on Friday, July 11th, the tweet we were all waiting for was posted. But it wasn’t from LeBron James. It was from Sports Illustrated. Lee Jenkins had scored the exclusive with LeBron and helped the 29-year-old superstar pen an essay entitled “I’m Coming Home.” The kid from Akron who spent his first seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers was headed back to where it all started.

And just like that, the speculation was over and the celebration in Northeast Ohio (and crying in Miami) began.

I was interested to see the reaction in LeBron’s hometown, because even though the hate towards LeBron in Akron was not as fierce as it was in Cleveland, there were still people who harbored resentment towards him. When I would wear my “Witness” shirt over the past few years, I would get as many dirty looks as I would nods of approval. There were those like myself who had proclaimed our support for LeBron over the past few years, but there was still a portion of the city who vowed they would never forgive him for leaving, especially with how it transpired.

Once the announcement was made, I tossed on my LeBron James No.23 Cavaliers shirt – it had been waiting for days to be worn – and headed to the grocery store with a smile plastered on my face that even a few idiotic drivers couldn’t erase. As I walked through the store, people were coming up to me and giving me high-fives as they exclaimed their excitement for the return of their hometown kid.  This was not completely surprising to me – after all, people in Akron had been quicker to forgive LeBron than those in Cleveland over the past few years – but it still caught me a little off guard. While I knew the excitement might be over the top, I underestimated that everyone would already know what had happened. After all, the announcement came less than an hour earlier in the middle of the day on a Friday.

That’s when I decided that my next stop on Friday had to be downtown Akron, where it was the perfect night for a festival. Wearing the same No.23 Cavaliers shirt, I headed down to meet up with a friend for a few hours. The first thing I noticed once arriving was that the marquee on the Akron Civic Theater had been changed to read “Welcome Home LeBron.” Walking around the festival, everyone started counting LeBron shirts and jerseys, and they were plentiful, as were Cavaliers shirts being worn by people who probably no longer owned a LeBron one.

It isn’t hyperbole when I say that people genuinely seemed nicer over the course of the evening. There were random high-fives and fist bumps between total strangers, and conversations between those same strangers about Cavaliers basketball. In July. It was as if the Cavaliers had just won the NBA title, not gone 33-49 this past season and 97-215 over the past four seasons combined. I returned to the festival on Saturday evening wearing my “Witness” shirt and it was more of the same.

As I was leaving on Saturday, I ran into Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, who happened to just be walking around. As I went to talk to him and tell him it was a good week for the city, he shook my hand and agreed. He then proceeded to stand there and talk to me for about five minutes about LeBron, the city and the Cavs. He told me he wasn’t surprised that LeBron was returning home, and that he had supported no matter what the hometown hero did. It reminded me of the night of “The Decision” when I interviewed Mayor Plusquellic about 90 minutes before LeBron announced his intentions.

“I wear three hats in this situation,” Plusquellic told me that night. “I have the family hat, the personal hat and the Mayor hat. As a family man, I understand that he has to do what is best for his family and that does not always mean going with the most money.

“As the Mayor, of course I hope he stays. He has been good for the city of Akron and even if he leaves I believe he will still be committed to the city. Most of all, I just hope he makes the right decision for him.”

Another guy who never wavered in his support of LeBron James was the guy who coached him for his first two years at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Keith Dambrot. The current men’s basketball head coach at the University of Akron, Dambrot continued to support “his guy” despite LeBron’s decision to leave the Cavaliers.

“I love LeBron, I don’t care what anybody thinks,” Dambrot told me in November 2010, just months after LeBron’s departure. “When you live in the situation that he lives in, people are never going to be totally happy with you. I am going to back my guy regardless of what he does.”

I wish I could say that I stood loyally by LeBron from day one the way that Plusquellic and Dambrot did. Instead, it took me about a year. I rooted for the Dallas Mavericks to win the championship in that first year that LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up. I was still mad over the way LeBron left and that the Cavaliers would now be irrelevant in the NBA landscape. And then something funny happened. After the Heat lost that series to Dallas, LeBron returned home. To Akron. He held his annual bike-a-thon for the kids and donated money to the Boys and Girls Club of Akron. Those gestures made me realize that LeBron didn’t leave his hometown, rather he left the team for which he was playing. To me, that was a simple distinction. He still cared about Akron – where I was also born and raised – and that was enough for me.

Starting then, I was happy for LeBron each time something positive happened, like winning his third and fourth NBA MVP awards or another trip to the NBA Finals. I was happy for him when he won his first NBA title and just as happy that he won the second. After rooting against LeBron and the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals, I found myself rooting for them in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. But make no mistake – I was never a Heat fan, rather a guy rooting for LeBron.

When I would go out to watch the games, some people understood where I was coming from, as they were from Akron as well. I understood to an extent when people were still upset, but I tried to remind them that LeBron was still from our city, the one where we were sitting in at that moment, watching him on the NBA’s biggest stage. Some people were not receptive of the concept, with some of them being respectful about it while others spewed ignorance.

Some people refused to let go of their feelings of hate towards LeBron and let me hear it as often as they could. It seemed as if the number of those people went down from 2012 to 2013 to 2014, but there were still those who had to be vocal. I refused to back down, with sometimes the evenings turning confrontational. But I didn’t care – I wasn’t going to be pushed around just because I was supportive of LeBron.

That is why I felt the need to see the reaction in Akron. I had to see for myself if the mood had changed and if LeBron was now going to be universally accepted in the city in which he grew up. I had to see if wearing my LeBron gear was now acceptable once again and if I would receive more nods of approval than dirty looks. Was all forgiven by the people in his hometown? The answer was a resounding ‘yes.’ The fans in Akron had seemingly forgotten that night in July of 2010 and were able to look past the four years in which LeBron played for the Heat. It was like LeBron had donned a black suit, white shirt, black tie and a pair of Ray Bans and had come into possession of one of the neuralyzers from “Men in Black” to use it on the people of Akron and Northeast Ohio.

But it wasn’t the nueralyzer that was used to erase those memories of the past four years. This time, it was the written word. More specifically, the words of LeBron that appeared in the well-written, thought out piece for Sports Illustrated, making it clear how much he loved his hometown and how he felt about Northeast Ohio. The 951 words all but trumped his made-for-television special from 2010 and seemed to heal the deep wounds left when he announced on national television that he was leaving.

The excerpts where he showed that he understood Northeast Ohioans, ones like “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have,” resonated with those who have spent their entire lives here.  He told them that he wanted to give them hope, that he realized now what he didn’t realize four years ago – “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball.” He said that while he still would have left for Miami in 2010, he wishes he would have done it differently. He had said this before, but this time it weighed heavier because it was coming directly from him to the people he had hurt. Those words that came from LeBron James made his return more important than his departure.

In 2010, LeBron told the world on national television “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” In 2014, he told the people of Northeast Ohio “I’m coming home.” It took 14 words to become a villain and just three words to return to being a hero.

Welcome home, LeBron – your fans await with open arms.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

There is No I in Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs won their fifth NBA Championship earlier this evening, stunning the Miami Heat in five games. While most of the talk will be centered on the failure of Lebron James and his cohorts Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, the real story is about the amazing team the Spurs were, and how dominant they played in the series against the Heat.OB-XX600_062013_G_20130620105557

This years NBA finals was a rematch of the Spurs and Heat teams that faced each other last season battling for the championship. While last years NBA Finals was a close and hard fought battle, in which the Heat narrowly escaped with the title. The rematch was significantly different as the Spurs outscored the heat by a record shattering 70 points (528-458). In fact, had the Spurs not missed four free throws late in game 2, this series easily could have been a four game sweep by the Spurs.

The Spurs played team basketball throughout the series averaging about 4 passes per possession and consistently making the extra pass to either get an open look for a shooter or a lay up opportunity. This constant ball movement was in contrast to how the Heat and many of the NBA teams play today, as they are constantly dribbling or looking for one-on-one isolation opportunities, which quite frankly, leads to boring basketball in my opinion. The Spurs on the other hand, looked like a well-oiled machine as they were constantly shifting the ball from one side of the court to the other in and out, like a perfectly choreographed dance recital.

The triumvirate of James, Wade, & Bosh (also known as Miami’s “Big Three”) were unable to live up to the self proclaimed hype they unleashed on the NBA four years ago, when they announced in their opening press conference/rock concert how they were going to win “not one, two, three, six, but seven Championships”. Well, the results are in, and after four seasons, they have made four NBA finals appearances, but have only won two championships. While most teams would be thrilled with four straight finals appearances and two Championships, those results are definitely not what was expected of the Heat when James and Bosh signed in the summer of 2010. Most of that is their own fault for setting such unrealistic expectations before ever playing together as a team, and I use the word “team” in the Heats case more tongue in cheek, as they go as Lebron goes in most cases.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are the anti-Heat, they were led by Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard who didn’t even have any offensive plays called for him. They have one lottery pick on their team (Tim Duncan), no big money free agents, and the rest of the players are late round draft picks or players cut from other teams. Their roster includes eight players born outside of the United States including Tony Parker and Manu Ginobi (the other two members of the Spurs non-proclaimed “big three”) and they have a no-nonsense coach in Gregg Popovich who would just assume pour gasoline on himself and light the match, as he would speak to the media (or so it seems). The Spurs are not interested in their “brand” or individual awards, they just want to go out and play basketball the way it was meant to be played and win games.

Duncan, Parker, & Ginobli are the winningest trio in playoff history
Parker, Duncan, & Ginobli are the winningest trio in playoff history

 

The most remarkable thing I think you can say about the Spurs is that while the Lakers “Showtime” dynasty will get all the hype, the Spurs trio consisting of Tim Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli have now won more playoff games than the Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabar, and James Worthy led Lakers group did during their championship runs. Does this mean the Spurs are the new Showtime? No, it just means they are a great basketball team that is vastly under appreciated and deserves all the accolades they receive and more!

Some People Focusing on Wrong Issue in Criticism of LeBron

by Ryan Isley

The lack of air conditioning really cramped LeBron James’ style in game one of the NBA Finals. And he has taken the heat for it ever since.

In what comes as no surprise, LeBron is still one of the most – if not the most – polarizing athletes in America. This is why when he was helped off the floor in game one of the NBA Finals on Thursday night after falling victim to leg cramps after the air conditioning in the AT&T Center went out – making the temperatures on the court near 90 degrees – I knew the reaction that would be coming.

Some people called LeBron weak for not playing through the cramps, saying Michael Jordan played through the flu, while some referenced Kobe Bryant walking on a torn ACL. Others compared him to Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers in the NHL, who played through a broken jaw in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals.

Of course, none of those injuries is comparable to cramping, but why let facts stand in the way of a good LeBron roast?

Even more fun were those people who said they have played through cramps in their sports careers. Because you know, a weekend warrior comparing their activities to playing in the NBA Finals is a legitimate comparison.

The real criticism – if there is any at all – starts way before LeBron came out of the game. Once the cramps started, there was no way for LeBron to continue in the game, as anyone who watched the game could tell by seeing the way he moved around the court.

The only legitimate criticism would be LeBron’s history of cramping and why he – or Miami’s staff – has yet to figure out how to get this fixed. This was not the first time it has happened to him in his career, nor even the first time it has happened during the NBA Finals. The discussion now needs to become how LeBron can avoid this sort of issue in the future, if it is possible.

There were 18 players who got minutes in game one, yet LeBron was the only one who left due to cramping. There were two players – Tony Parker (37 minutes) and Chris Bosh (34 minutes) – who played more minutes than LeBron’s 33. Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw also each played 33 minutes.  The difference in LeBron’s minutes were that they were mostly in the first three quarters before the cramps hit in the fourth quarter.

So could Heat coach Erik Spoelstra have handled the situation differently and given LeBron more breaks in the first three quarters to keep him fresh in the fourth? Sure, but as Spoelstra told the gathered media in San Antonio on Friday – that isn’t a realistic possibility in the NBA Finals.  In fact, Spoelstra should be praised – not criticized – for how he handled LeBron in that last eight minutes of the game. When LeBron wanted to return to the game, it would have been easy for Spoelstra to send him to the scorer’s table. Instead, Spoelstra kept his player’s best interests – and the team’s best chance at competing in this series – in mind and told him no. Sometimes, an athlete needs to have someone make that decision for them because they will always want to play in that situation.

One reason that LeBron may be more susceptible to the cramping than other players on the court is simply due to his minutes played and fatigue on the muscles. The more a muscle is used, the more it is at risk of cramping if not stretched properly beforehand and/or the athlete is not properly hydrated. The level of stretching and hydration that might be adequate for one player may not necessarily work for another, as everyone’s muscles react differently, especially depending on the use of the muscles.

During the NBA playoffs, LeBron has averaged 37.9 minutes per game over his 16 games played so far, the most minutes per game of anyone on either the Heat or the Spurs. For the Heat, Dwayne Wade has averaged 34.6 minutes played and Chris Bosh has averaged 33.6 minutes per game. For San Antonio, Tim Duncan has averaged more minutes than anyone on the team and has played just 32.6 minutes per game. Duncan has played three more games than LeBron, yet has played just a total of 17 more minutes.

In the regular season, no player on the Spurs averaged more than 29.4 minutes per game (Tony Parker), and Duncan averaged 29.2 minutes played. LeBron averaged 37.7 minutes played and had a total of 2902 minutes played in the regular season, 744 more than Duncan – or 15.5 full games. That is a lot of wear and tear on a player’s body, especially when you are playing at your sport’s highest level.

For now, game one has to be put behind LeBron and the Heat. They need to look ahead with game two in San Antonio on Sunday, a game in which LeBron plans on being 100% and one in which the air conditioning will presumably work correctly after being fixed on Friday. That means LeBron and the Heat training staff have two days between games to get him hydrated and stretched out to the point where cramping should not be an issue on Sunday. While that will be good for the Heat in the short-term, it is really LeBron’s responsibility this offseason to start looking into how he can prevent this long-term going forward in his career.

It might take LeBron and his team of people to sit down and have serious discussions about his playing time and his pregame routines, doing whatever it takes to get this issue figured out. Until he can go through and entire season and postseason without falling victim to cramps, people will have a reason to criticize and if he doesn’t take every precaution to keep it from happening, the jeers will be warranted to some degree.

Of course when it comes to LeBron, some people will criticize every little thing they can find – legitimate or not.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Dear Playoffs: I Miss You!

I discovered the Cleveland Indians in the early 90’s right around the time when baseball expanded to three divisions and the Tribe became a yearly central division contender.  Playoffs never yielded championships, but it was a thrill to be a part of.  Shortly after those teams grew old, the Cavs landed LeBron James and experienced a similar level of success, also never bringing home a title.  While the Browns success has not been as high, there has been a memorable season thrown in here and there. 

Continue reading Dear Playoffs: I Miss You!

One of LeBron's Greatest Strengths May Also be His Biggest Perceived Weakness

by Ryan Isley

It was the night of May 25, 2007.

At first glance, that date may not mean anything to most people. Now add the names LeBron James and Donyell Marshall to that date and immediately it should hit you as to why that date is significant in the career of LeBron James and the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

With the Detroit Pistons leading the Cavaliers 78-76 with 12 seconds to play in the game one of the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron drove and kicked the ball out to Marshall, who missed a three-pointer in the final five seconds that ended up wrapping up a victory for the Pistons.

And that is when it started – the argument on whether LeBron James had the “clutch gene” or not.

But what is lost in the discussion is this – the play was the right basketball play. And it is a play that LeBron has repeated over the years. For LeBron, being clutch isn’t just about making baskets and scoring points – it is also about trying to make the right basketball play in every situation. And if that means finding an open teammate who has a better shot at scoring then he does, so be it.

And here is the thing: if Marshall hits that shot – as he had six times in the team’s previous game – nobody talks about the pass not being the right play or LeBron not being clutch. Don’t believe me? Ask Michael Jordan if he took criticism for passing to John Paxson or Steve Kerr. He didn’t because those guys hit the shots.

Even look at LeBron in the 2012 NBA Finals. He had a total of 25 assists in the final two games as the Miami Heat finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder to win LeBron’s first NBA title. He knew what guys had the hot hand and continued to find them at all points throughout the games.

LeBron’s unselfishness has always been something that makes him one of the best players in the NBA and has led to him winning four NBA MVPs in the last five seasons. But it is also what has cost him in the discussion of who is clutch.

When people look at the word “clutch” and try to define it, they always see who is scoring the points in the last minutes of the game. They look at guys like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, etc. and see these guys putting points in the scoring column so they think LeBron is less clutch than guys like that, which is a fallacy.

Sometimes, it is the guys who make the plays and set up the scores that should be considered clutch. I would rather have someone who is willing to give the ball up for an open shot to a teammate than take a bad low-percentage shot just because they are the best player. After all, basketball is a team game. Why have four other guys out on the floor if you can’t trust them to hit shots?

Of course, LeBron has also shown the ability to throw the team on his back and carry them to a win when that seemed to be the only option for success. Flash back to that series against the Pistons mentioned earlier in this column. In the same building in which LeBron had passed off on the game-winning shot just 10 days earlier, LeBron orchestrated one of the best performances in Cavaliers history in game six.

With his team tied at two games apiece with the heavily-favored Pistons and with the Cavaliers leading by just one, LeBron took over and scored 29 of their final 30 points in the fourth quarter and two overtimes, including the last 25 points and all of their points in the overtime periods of the 109-107 Cavaliers win. He hit 11 of his final 13 shots in the game, including the game-winning layup with 2.2 seconds remaining in double overtime.

You can also look at game six of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals (ironic) against the Boston Celtics. With the Heat trailing in the series three games to two, LeBron scored 45 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and handed out five assists to tie the series and eventually led the Heat to a win in game seven to finish the series.

You want LeBron to score? He can do that as well. In last season’s postseason, he scored 30 or more points in 11 of the Heat’s 23 games and scored 26 or more points 21 times. He averaged 30.3 points per game throughout the playoffs but also added 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists in one of the greatest postseasons in the history of the league.

And who could forget his streak to begin this season, where he scored 20 or more points in 32 straight games to start the season, only bested in the last 30 years by George Gervin in the 1981-82 season. That’s right – no Kobe, no Carmelo, no Durant (yet) and no, not even Jordan.

But at the end of the day, LeBron cares more about winning than he does scoring points. If the smart basketball play is to get someone else a shot, that is what he is going to do. If taking the game over and scoring points is what is needed, LeBron will do that too.

Another aspect of LeBron’s game that shows off his willingness to be more of a team player than a “me-first” player is his defense. At various points this season, LeBron has guarded all five positions on the basketball court which was one of the reasons that some people thought he deserved to be the league’s Defensive Player of the Year – an award in which he came in second to Marc Gasol.

The one play that typifies LeBron’s mindset on defense is the highlight block on Tiago Splitter in game two of the NBA Finals this past Sunday. Splitter went up to dunk as LeBron had rotated over and LeBron met him at the top with one of the cleanest blocks you will ever see.

After the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the media that there a lot of players who would not have gone for the block for fear of getting dunked on and said it showed courage for a guy to challenge that play.  While I don’t know that courage is the correct word in that situation, Spoelstra was right. It takes something for a player – especially one of LeBron’s stature in the league – to take that chance he would get dunked on and be on the wrong side of the highlight reel. But again, LeBron showed his team-first attitude and took the challenge anyway.

So don’t dismiss LeBron’s unselfishness as being “unclutch” – it might just be the exact opposite.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]

Making The Case for The San Antonio Spurs

Right now the Spurs are up 3-0 and the Heat are up 2-1. Both teams are going to the NBA Finals with a nice bit of momentum. (Or hopefully that last sentenced jinxed one of the teams into a historical comeback). (**Editor’s Note: It’s Tuesday morning and the Spurs have swept the Grizzlies. Let’s go, San Antonio!)

If I was a gambler and was forced to bet on the finals it should come as no surprise I’m betting it on the Heat. The Heat are the more efficient (49% FG) than the Spurs (46%) in FG percentage and are the same team that went on an absolutely ludicrous 27 game win streak that won’t be matched until at least the 2013-2014 NBA season when a retooled Heat go at it again. They also have the best player in the series in LeBron James and I don’t need to give statistics to tell you what he means.

The bottom line is that the Heat will win and it probably won’t be that close (6 games would be a LOT). But that isn’t fun. I want a game 7; with a buzzer beater. I want the Heat-Spurs 2013 series to be memorable and for the Spurs to compete. So here’s my case for how the Spurs could maybe just maybe probably unlikely but maybe dethrone the Miami Heat:

San Antonio Can Out Three Miami – San Antonio has taken more threes than Miami in the Playoffs (1 more 3pt attempt per game). They have hit there 3s at a much higher percentage than Miami (37% to 34%). That alone bodes well for San Antonio. But it goes even further: The Spurs have less 3pt attempts against them. The numbers are less profound in the playoffs (especially because the Spurs had to play a series against the 3pt happy Warriors) but in general teams take and make less 3 pointers against the Spurs and more against the heat. Miami in the regular season averaged 21.7 three-point attempts against them, a mark that made them 7th highest in the NBA. The Spurs averaged 17.9, the leagues 5th lowest number and one that could have a huge impact.

So what’s the reason for those major differences? Two things. One is that Miami plays with a big lead more often and teams jack some more threes to catch up, that is undoubtedly true except when you look at the 3point % made the two teams were very close on the season (within .3% of each other)

The other thing that it means is that the Spurs are smart, good defenders who don’t allow teams to take a lot of threes, and when they do take them they defend them well. You can credit Pop for this, the veterans on the roster, and guys like Kawhi Leonard who are long and often defending the other teams best three-point threat.

If Miami get’s out-3d by the Spurs and the Spurs hit there 3s at the level that they have been (ideally a little bit better, getting nearer to that 40% mark would be a game-changer), the series could be close.

 

Tony Parker has a decent matchup with the Spurs – Assuming that the Heat, at least at first, don’t do something crazy defensively with Tony Parker (putting Lebron or Wade on him leaving Leonard or Ginobli with a favorable matchup) Parker is probably going to have a decent series.

George Hill who averages a career 10ppg was able to have 18 and 19-point performances against Miami. I don’t need to go into what Nate Robinson did against the Heat to prove that Miami has had a tough time covering PGs but I will remind everyone that when Nate Rob was hitting, he was able to have spreads that read something like 17 and 7, 21 and 6, and even a monstrous 27 and 9.

Oh yeah and Tony Parker is somewhere between a thousand to a million times better than George Hill and Nate Robinson. The bottom line is that Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers are struggling defensively and Tony Parker has a chance to abuse them. This could bode well for the Spurs until Spoelstra makes the switch and puts a good defender on Parker, but knowing Spoelstra this is going to happen after about 3 games in which the Spurs could steal win or two.

 

Tim Duncan has a Great Matchup – Big Men have been doing pretty well against Miami! Hibbert has played very well and is the reason the Pacers have won a game at all (2 if you count the overtime game that the Pacers would have one if they didn’t bench Hibbert). Noah also put up pretty solid numbers against the Heat despite being riddled by injuries. Duncan is arguably better than both those guys (although I won’t argue it) and could do decently well against the Heat because of it. The Heat are small and where that helps them in running the floor on transition it hurts them in rebounding and defending other big men. If Tim Duncan somehow steps into the time machine and has a vintage Timmy 20-25 and 15-20 rebound series the Spurs can easily compete with Miami.

 

San Antonio Will Out Coach Miami – This is just a simple fact. Gregg Poppovich is a better coach than Erik Spoelstra and it shows. This one is harder to back up with stats, since for me at least it’s mostly an eye test thing. Poppovich calls better timeouts, has better defensive rotations and plays with lineups that are less likely to make me throw my remote through the T.V. then Spoelstra does. Offensively the Spurs seem to take better shots then the Heat, and this probably has a lot to do with the veterans on the Spurs roster as well, but the Spurs look like a better-oiled machine than the Heat do, on both ends of the court.

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So that’s as good of a case as I can make: the Spurs best two players are going against apparent weakness for Miami. Poppovich is a better coach than Spoelstra and leads a group of very experienced veterans into battle. The Spurs also could potentially light up the Heat from 3 to help and neutralize the Heats offensive presence. The Heat still have Lebron though so they’re probably going to win, I’m just hoping for a series.

The Greatness of LeBron's Postseason Shouldn't be Overshadowed

by Ryan Isley

You can love LeBron James or you can hate him – it doesn’t really matter. But the one thing that everyone should definitely do is appreciate what the reigning NBA MVP did in the 2012 NBA playoffs.

The one thing that has kept people from realizing just how great LeBron was over the past nine weeks is their blind hatred for the three-time NBA MVP. And that is not just a shot at Cleveland fans – it is a shot at all fans across the country who have not shown any appreciation for what LeBron accomplished once the regular season ended. With all of the hate towards LeBron, it has been easy to overlook exactly what he did in this postseason and to not think about the historical significance of what we saw from him each night.

The problem has been that every time that LeBron had a great game or helped Miami win, there was still criticism that either he didn’t score enough in the fourth quarter or he missed a free throw or he shouldn’t have taken that jumper. That or the Heat only won because the officials gave them all of the calls. The excuses against him went on and on and on.

As the Miami Heat wrapped up the NBA Championship on Thursday night, LeBron did something that nobody has ever done in an NBA postseason. Not Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain. Not Oscar Robertson. Not Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. Not Kobe Bryant. And no – not even Michael Jeffrey Jordan himself.

Continue reading The Greatness of LeBron's Postseason Shouldn't be Overshadowed

LeBron Needs To Take Over for Heat to win the Title

by Ryan Isley

Just a little under two years ago, LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers and joined the Miami Heat on a nationally televised special on ESPN known as “The Decision.” From that moment on, nothing has been the same when it comes to LeBron – and that is squarely on his shoulders.

The 27-year-old has always wanted to be liked – maybe even more than he wanted to win. He tossed most of his likability out the window in that fateful night at the Boys and Girls Club with Jim Gray.

The day after LeBron announced he would be joining the Heat and therefore teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the three of them were introduced in Miami and LeBron set outlandish expectations for the newly formed trio.

When asked how many championships the new super-team would win, Lebron left no doubt that he expected these three would be one of the greatest teams in the history of the NBA.

“Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…” LeBron famously said, insinuated that the Heat would win at least eight championships.

Continue reading LeBron Needs To Take Over for Heat to win the Title