One For The Land

a Lebron blockHoly shit, Cleveland did it! The Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors 93–89, winning the NBA Championship and putting an end to Cleveland’s 52 year long championship drought. They have become the first team to come back from a 3–1 deficit in the Finals, and did so against the winningest team in NBA Regular Season history. Holy shit.

Whether you want to call it destiny, or call it brilliant planning by LeBron James and his off-court team, Mr James did what he told the world he was going to do last summer: he brought a title back to the land. Has there ever been a player under more scrutiny to win a title? Here is one of the leagues best players, putting up three of the greatest games in Finals history and doing it facing elimination every time. To think that just a week ago there were player openly questioning his fortitude seems insane.

LeBron James is the first player in NBA history to lead both teams in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals for the duration of a playoff series. If you take anything away from this Finals let it be that fact. Of all the incredible moments in James’ career, I’m not sure any trump his block on Andre Iguodala down the stretch.

I’ve probably watched it 50 times by now and it is still giving me chills. There may be no play more James-esque than the chase down block, how fitting is it that this block will become his career defining play. LeBron was named Finals MVP after the game, which came as a shock to no one. Even before the game there seemed to be a general consensus that he deserved the award, win-or-lose.

There’s a lot that had to go wrong for Golden State to lose this series. The biggest scape goat in all of this will no doubtably be Draymond Green’s one game suspension that took place in Game Five, a game that could have ended the series had Green played. They had a chance to close out this series at home, with the Cavs reeling, but not having their best defender on the court cost them dearly. It was in Game Five that LeBron and Kyrie Irving really found their games, both scoring 41 points, and from then on they were both incredible.

For his part, Green was incredible in Game Seven, by far the best player for the Warriors on the night. His 32 points came off of 73% shooting and his six three’s were more than any other shooter on the court. He also pulled down 15 rebounds and dished out nine assists. Compared to the Splash Brother who combined for 12-of-36 shooting, seven rebounds and four assists, there was no doubt who the best player for Golden State was. For as spectacular as Stephen Curry has been all year, he was absolutely outplayed in these Finals by his counterpart, Kyrie Irving. The difference between the two was no more apparent when Curry missed a wide open three that would have given them the lead late, then badly missed a 26 footer that would have tied the game up with less than a minute left.

It was Irving’s three point shot with a little under a minute to go that would give Cleveland the winning lead. Kyrie finished the night with 26 points, a solid performance in the biggest game of his young career. Of all the players not named LeBron James, who showed up big in this series it was Irving who stood out the most. It easy to dismiss his game as too Iso heavy, and knock him for his lapses on defense, but when the games mattered most Irving was able to lock down enough on D to stay in games. He flourished on pick and rolls, and proved to be impossible to guard off of the dribble. There are times in the Playoffs when a team is going to need a player who can hit difficult shots when the shot clock is ticking down, and Irving is that guy.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Harrison Barnes became a phantom in the last games of these Finals. From Game Five on Barnes shot just five-of-32 from the field. It got to the point where Cleveland stopped even contesting his shots, instead using his defender to help clog up the lane and really hamper Golden State’s offense. As many have talked about, Barnes is a free agent this year, I wonder how he felt the pressure to perform for a bigger pay day this summer. It’s painful to watch such a consistent player get mindfucked on such a huge stage. For all of the heat that Kevin Love has been under, at least he was able to show up in Game Seven with 14 rebounds and a couple of big baskets in the second half.

This series, despite the blowouts, ended up being incredibly close. In fact, the four points that the Cavaliers won this game by also represents the total advantage they had in the entire series. Think about that, a seven game series in which the two teams were only four points apart. That’s how close this thing was. It took every bit of a brilliant LeBron James performance, mixed with great showings from Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and everyone else on this Cavs squad — yes, even Kevin Love — to get the job done. I guess that’s what it takes to break a 52 year old curse on a city. If you are reading this in Cleveland I hope you truly savor this moment, I can’t imagine how great this most feel. I feel good for you, and for the players on the Cavs for doing something I didn’t think was possible. It turns Kevin Garnett was right.

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LeBron and Kyrie dazzle in Cleveland’s Game Five win

2016 NBA Finals - Game Five
OAKLAND, CA – JUNE 13: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with teammate Kyrie Irving #2 after defeating the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals with a score of 112 to 97 at ORACLE Arena on June 13, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Dual Tsunamis hit the Bay Area last night in the forms of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The duo combined for 82 points in what was one of the greatest spectacles in NBA Finals history. Cleveland rode the wave of their two Super Stars to a 112–97 victory, sending the series back to Cleveland for Game Six.

It turns out when the Warriors have to play without their best defender, who is probably the best defender in the league, their defense goes to shit. Cleveland shot 53 percent from the field in Game Five, and Kyrie Irving decimated Golden State’s defense shooting 74% from the field and 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. Kyrie carried the Cavs down the stretch, at one point scoring seven straight points. This game will be the crown jewel in a Finals in which Curry already has games of 34 and 30 points. It seems like he is gaining more confidence with each game, and has been nothing less than formidable playing against one of the best defenders in the league in Klay Thompson.

LeBron was magnificent in this game, his stat line (41 PTS, 16 REBS, 7 ASTS) will go down as one of the most impressive in Finals history. This game was a reminder that you really shouldn’t talk smack to one of the greatest players in NBA History. This was the most aggressive James has been in these playoffs. Without Draymond Green on the court to switch on to LeBron off of screens, The King was hellbent on taking the ball to the rim against the likes of Maurice Speights and James McAdoo. What’s more, James found his range in Game Five, hitting four of his eight three shots from deep.

It wasn’t just on offense that James was dominant last night, he was also a terror on defense. He rolled back the clock on this chase down block of Steph Curry, leaving the Oracle in a state of shock and awe. James played 42 minutes, and if felt like he was all over the court the entire time. I’m beginning to think that James is actually some kind of basketball playing cyborg, because no one with as many minutes as this guy should be able to play impeccable basketball for this long of a stretch. He’s played over 40 minutes in his last three games, and will probably play over 40 in Game Six. LeBron and I are about the same age, and there are days when I can’t even bring myself to walk out of my place to get groceries. Meanwhile this guy is chasing down players ten years younger than him and sending their layup into the third row. He’s carrying the torch all of us 31 year olds who are trying to hang in their against the oncoming scourge twentysomethings.

This game became the worst case scenario the Warriors must have considered when Draymond Green got suspended. Not only did they not close out the series, but they also lost one their starters, Andrew Bogut, to injury. Bogut fell down awkwardly in the third quarter and was later ruled out with a left knee sprain. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI sometime later today, and status is unknown for Game Six.

Stephen Curry had another lackluster game, shooting just 8-for-21 from the field and had just four assists to go along with four turnovers. The Warriors offense was out of sorts against the Cavs. The only player who had a decent night shooting was Klay Thompson, but that offense was negated by how great Irving played for the Cleveland. The Warriors role players did not show up lat night, Marreese Speights was 0-for-6 from the field, Shaun Livingston 3-for-7, and no other bench player made more than one field goal attempt.

This was not a good close out game from the champs, but they can take solace in the fact that they only have to win one of the next two to lock up their second ring. With Draymond back in the lineup there will not be nearly as many open lanes for James and Irving to exploit. For as fun as it was to watch LeBron hit step back threes, I doubt that he will be able to replicate that kind of shooting in Game Six. It should also be noted that Irving was hitting a lot of contested shots in last night’s win, the same kinds of shots that cost the Cavs in Game Four. The way these playoffs have gone it would be no surprise if the Warriors blew the doors off of the Cavs in Game Six, leaving the cursed Cleveland fans to once again have to watch an opposing team’s trophy ceremony on their home court.

It was a pleasure to James and Irving turn last night into their own personal “Where Amazing Happens” commercial. There have not been that many definitive moments from these playoffs, and not only did they provide career defining performances, but they also gave all of us basketball fans at least one more night to celebrate the game we love. Let’s hope that Game Six has the same kind of energy as Game Five. The gauntlet has been thrown down, let’s see how Steph, Klay, and especially the returning Draymond Green responds.

The NBA’s BIGGEST Big Three

 

chart via – NBA Reddit

I haven’t had a ton of time to watch Cavs games in the past couple of weeks, but it looks as if things have gotten interesting since Kyrie Irving has come back from his injury. Everyone has made a lot of noise (including me, just scroll down) about the Warriors lineup of death, and for good reason, but it seems as if Cleveland has it’s own trident of doom (copyright pending).

I have to admit that I was flabbergasted when I saw this chart. Obviously we are dealing with a relatively small sample size here, but it’s not very often you see trio of players have a plus minus of almost 18 points in 17 minutes. It makes you wonder what would have happened last year if Love and Irving would have stayed healthy throughout the playoffs.