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.

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.

Can we stop talking about LeBron James legacy, please?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Houston Rockets
HOUSTON, TX – MARCH 1: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game against the Houston Rockets on March 1, 2015 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

Of all of the hot takes that swirl around the sports world the one that I am most exhausted by is the question of LeBron James legacy. It seems like lazy sports writers started to tie every game James has played since his rookie year into a legacy themed column, and in the past handful of seasons it’s become impossible to escape the conversation. There are leeches out there like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith that have made careers out of bad mouthing players like James.

Now for a hot take of my own. Winning titles in the NBA is hard – like, impossibly hard. To win a championship you have to stay healthy enough during the regular season to get to the playoffs, then beat a number of the best teams in the league four out of seven times to advance to the Finals. During playoff series there are going to be games that you are going to win or lose because you were lucky enough to get a couple of loose balls that could have went to either team, or get a few calls that could have gone either way. Oh yeah, and there are going to be years when you have to beat a historically great team to win the title, see: this year.

LeBron James already has two championships under his belt. He has also done the seemingly impossible in making it to six straight Finals on two different teams. His career numbers are staggering. Over 13 season’s James has averaged 27 points, seven rebounds seven assists, two steals and a blocked shot. He’s been to the playoffs 11 of the 13 seasons in the league and his averages are even better than his regular season splits. He is currently second in career PER (27.65), trailing Michael Jordan by less than a point. He is fourth all time in points scored in the playoffs, third in assists, and – probably the most impressive all these playoff stats – tenth in rebounds. By almost any measure James is the best all around basketball player to ever play the game.

And yet… In this world of top ten listicles and all takes having to be served on a griddle in order to keep the masses interested, all people can talk about is how the King stacks up against the All- Time Greats. Most of the time these people refuse to take a look at the stats I just ran off. Which by the way took all of five minutes to find. Instead people like to spew hyperbolic statements about players like Michael Jordan and Bill Russell and how many rings they have, as if simply winning titles is the end-all, be-all of greatness.

Whenever a player in the post-Jordan era has a great career everyone’s first reaction is to measure it against Michael Jordan. I’m not here to argue whether or not Jordan was the best basketball player to grace this Earth, he certainly was the best player of his era, but basketball as a sport was just starting to fumble it’s way out of the stone age when His Airness was beating opponents over the head on a nightly basis. The measure of what made for a great basketball player in Jordan’s hey-day is exactly what the teams have tried to weed out of their systems in the last decade, and to compare any good basketball player in this day-and-age to Jordan seems insane. Nobody is looking for a player who dribbles the ball for ten seconds in the high post, looking to get off a turn-a-round, fadeaway from midrange.

LeBron James has the been the prototype player for a game that is in the midst of an evolutionary transformation. Here is a guy that has the build of Karl Malone and the vision of Magic Johnson. At his peak James could score 30 straight points in a playoff game, or average a triple double over the course of a series. The King was guarding every position on the court before Draymond Green was even in high school. Although he never developed a devastating three point shot, his understanding of player positioning and opposing defenses has allowed him to be the centerpiece of a team that is lethal from range.

All of this to say that LeBron James could have played in any era of the NBA and been the best all around player. His size and athleticism are unmatched in the history of the game, and he has set the standard for what it means to be a great two way star. It’s easy to look at what the Warriors are doing and come to the conclusion that the most valuable asset a basketball player can possess is a dead-eye three point shot, and to some extent that is true, but as we see with what Green means to this Warriors team, a player who can rebound, play multiple positions on both ends and be a great passer is priceless. Green makes the Warriors impossible to guard because he plays like LeBron James.

The Warriors are probably going to win these Finals. They are the next step in where basketball is heading. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, they are five years ahead of their competition. Still, there will be lazy pundits out there that use this loss to bash LeBron James for not having some kind of mystical ability to make his team play better against perhaps the greatest team in NBA history. He will be blamed for not finding a way to make Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving better defenders, or being able to somehow make Matthew Dellavedova a good basketball player, or even find a way to make Richard Jefferson ten years younger.

I’m not here to show pity to LeBron James. He has made hundreds of millions of dollars in NBA and sponsorship deals. He’s had more control over the destiny of his career than any player in the history of the game. With all of this comes crushing expectations and unfortunate honor of having to answer questions about your own legacy every time you lose a playoff series. James is one of the best basketball players to ever walk this Earth. Watching him play is evidence enough of this greatness. So go ahead and watch him play tonight, because, win or lose, his brilliance on the court is undeniable, and so much more entertaining than tired discussions about legacy.

Quick Game Two Thoughts

If Game One proved that the Warriors are indeed a complete championship level team, Game Two is going to test the coaching and depth of the Cavaliers. For so much of the playoffs Cleveland’s second unit has been a class above its competition but they were dominated by Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and Mr. Finals MVP, Andre Iguodola.  In a game where Steph and Klay only combined for 20 points the Warriors still won by 15. This is a huge problem for Tyronn Lue to try to solve in Game Two. The Splash Brothers are going to start hitting shots sooner than later, and if the Cavs bench can’t hold their own against the defending champs then this series is going to be a short one.

Perhaps the biggest issue for Cleveland’s bench is the lack of a size when it comes to defending Shaun Livingston. Matthew Dellavedova is an incredible pest, and nut shot sniper, but Delly stands at just 6-4″ and stands no chance of being able to man-up Livingston, who is 6-7″ on a bad day. This series has to feel like a cakewalk compared to the gauntlet of big-physical defenders that the Thunder through at Livingston. LeBron James and Tristan Thompson are the Cavaliers most physical players, and neither one of them will ever match up on Livingston. When the Warriors bench lineup consists of Iggy, Livingston, and Thompson, you know that the defense is going to be there. This is not a lineup that will allow Jefferson, Delly and others like Channing Frye to fire up three pointers like they have been throughout the playoffs.

The pressure is definitely on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to up their games tonight, Irving scored 26 points in Game One, but only hit seven of his 22 shots. He played way too much one-on-one in order to get his shot, and the Warriors are more than happy to let Irving try to win the game by himself. The more Iso possessions Cleveland plays, the less their role players get a chance to participate. I thought that Irving and Love had a great two-man game going in the Toronto series, and I’d like to see them work the pick and roll a little more in Game Two. Love played decently in Game One, but he really struggled to take advantage of mismatches in the post. The Warriors are only going to allow you to do so many different things on offense, and when you get a chance to post-up Love against the likes of Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson, you have to take advantage. This is what the Thunder were able to do so well against Golden State in the WCF, they would find mismatches down low and get easy points. Love has to step his game up from here on out, he is the only other player on the team outside of LeBron that can consistently get into favorable positions in the post.

Speaking of LeBron, who was one assist away from a triple-double in Game One, the King has to be every bit as dominate in this series as he was in last years Finals. Big series like this are usually won by the team who has the best player on the court, and right now there is this moment in which Curry and James are both at the peak of the NBA mountain when it comes to skill. Curry has been steadily climbing it for a couple of years now, and can see the summit. LeBron has been to the peak and is now trying to hold on for dear life. For all the match-ups and X’s and O’s that this series presents, it really boils down to how much dominance does the King have left in his tank. Can he reach deep down and come up with four, ultra-efficient, dominating performances against the one guy in the league that can seemingly shut him down?

I don’t like calling early games in a series a “must win” game, but there if the Warriors come away with a win tonight I’m not sure if Cleveland can come back in this series. For those who want to a see a championship for the Land, this game means a whole lot. I think we are going to see LeBron James play as hard as  he ever has tonight, it’s up to Love, Irving and the rest of the Cavs roster to follow his lead. For Golden State this game is a matter of staying the course, keeping up the discipline on defense and working to get Steph and Klay clean looks. They know how big a win tonight will be, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a special performance out of the Splash Brothers. It should be a fun one.

An NBA Finals more dessert than main course

After a seven game war between Golden State and Oklahoma City, we finally have the matchup that everyone predicted at the beginning of the year. The Golden State Warriors will host the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. The teams got here by incredibly different paths. You know, the smartest decision LeBron has made in his career was never playing for a Western Conference team. He’s been able to dominate the Eastern Conference for the vast majority of his career, only facing real competition from the Big Three Celtics of the late 2000’s. If I was Kevin Durant, especially after this hellish series, I would be taking a long look at some of the Eastern Conference squads as a new place to call home.

When you look at the disparity of talent between the conferences you could almost make the argument that whichever team makes it out of the West should be allotted an automatic win in the Finals, at least until they eliminate conferences for playoff purposes. I’m kidding here, but not entirely. When you look at the teams that Cleveland had to play to get to this point, let’s just take Toronto as an example, it’s clear that they have a huge advantage over the top teams in the West. The Raptors have two very good players in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but they would not be a top two player on six of the eight teams that made the playoffs in the Western Conference. Would you rather have those two than Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, or Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum? I wouldn’t. I won’t even get into how much better the Warriors, Thunder and Spurs are compared to teams in the Eastern Conference.

I want to make this clear, I’m not trying to diminish how impressive it is that LeBron James has made six NBA Finals appearances in a row. That is one of the most impressive feats I’ve seen in professional sports, but even James would have to admit that such a feat would not have been remotely possible playing in the West. Just look at the series we just watched. Both the Warriors and Thunder were playing historically great basketball. It took one of the most impressive three point binges of all time to eliminate OKC, and last night most of 17 threes that Golden State hit were contested shots that literally only Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, or maybe Damian Lillard would even think about shooting.

Meanwhile the Cavs have been lying in wait. I like to imagine LeBron James chilling on a beach somewhere sipping pina coladas and watching the Western Conference Finals on his iPad. He knows what’s coming, last year James carried an undermanned Cavs squad to a couple of improbable wins over the would-be champs. Now he has the team he constructed, led by the coach he handpicked, ready to take on a team that just scraped and clawed their way back from a 3–1 deficit against the most physical team in the league.

That said, I don’t think the Cavs are ready for what is coming. They have not had to deal with even a fraction of the adversity that the champs have been through in these playoffs. There have only been a couple of moments in which Cleveland has been caught off guard by an opponent in the playoffs and when that has happened Ty Lue has not seemed to have quick answers. What happens when the Warriors go small against a lineup including Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, how do you hide their defensive deficiencies? A major reason the Thunder were able to push the Warriors to the brink was that they had the size and athleticism to counter the champs small lineup, especially against Draymond Green.

Golden State has the right answers for Cleveland, they have Andre Iguodala, who just proved once again that he is one of the league’s premier defenders against Kevin Durant. LeBron James no doubt remembers what happened when the two matched up against each other last year, when Iggy won Finals MVP mostly for his otherworldly defense against the King. Klay Thompson just spent half of a series defending Russell Westbrook, it’s safe to say that he is ready to take on the challenge of Kyrie Irving. Draymond Green is going to love not having to deal with Steven Adams anymore. For as talented as Kevin Love is, he has not shown the ability to dominate in the post this year, and Green will be ready to take on a different kind of challenge, whether it be from Love or Tristan Thompson.

The Warriors will not have to make any lineup adjustments to defend the Cavaliers, but Cleveland is going to have to twist itself into a pretzel to defend Golden State. There is no way that Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving can defend the Steph/Draymond pick and roll. The Raptors abused the two Cavs stars in the pick game in their series and they were doing it with Bismack Byombo, a one dimensional player who is not nearly as dangerous of a shooter or passer as Green. There are going to be times in this series when Lue is going to have to pull one or two of his stars just to be able to properly defend Golden State’s offense, and it’s going to cause a lot of friction within the team. Are we going to see Matthew Dellavedova play big minutes with the starting team and Kyrie Irving coming off the bench where he can be more effective as a scorer and not have to agonize over trying to defend Steph or Klay? It seems like a smart move, but I’m not sure Coach Lue has the kind of sway to be able to make that decision.

I was a huge fan of how the Cavaliers played with their rotations in such a way that LeBron would start every second and fourth quarter playing with four bench players. These lineups were among the best in league during the playoffs, and with shooters like Richard Jefferson, Delly and Channing Frye around the perimeter you can see why. This is a lineup that makes it really hard on an opposing team’s bench to effectively guard LeBron one-on-one without giving up wide open threes. Just look at the Cavs three point binge against the Hawks if you need proof of how nasty this lineup can be. The problem that Cleveland is going to face here is that the league’s best answer to guarding James just so happens to come off of Golden State’s bench. If the Warriors decide to play Thompson and Iggy together in the second unit I don’t see the Cavs getting the same kind of scoring boost they have gotten in past series with their reserves. I also don’t see guys like Shaun Livingston and Mo Speights playing as poorly as they did against the Thunder.

You guys can probably see where I’m going with all of this. We’ve been waiting all year to for this rematch, and now here we are. But part of me feels like the Finals already happened. The two best teams in the league just played each other and the Warriors came out on top. Now we have a matchup with a lot of star power but nearly as competitive a pairing as the one we just got to enjoy. That’s not to say that the Cavs are helpless in this series. They have built a team as capable as the Warriors of blowing their opponent out of the water with three point shooting. They are a talented, well rested squad who have been waiting for a year to get their hands on Steph Curry and Co. Also, Cleveland has LeBron James, and that counts for a lot.

We’ll see how much Golden State has left in the tank in Game One. The Thunder may have lost the series, but they took a good piece of the Warriors with them on their way out. If I’m LeBron James I throw everything I have into Game One and hope for the best. Will it be enough to send the champs reeling? I don’t know, but I have a feeling that once the Warriors find their groove in this series there will not be a whole lot that the Cavs will be able to do to answer. The Thunder were a worthy adversary to the champs, they played a style that directly countered a lot of what Golden State tries to do. Cleveland has built a team in the image of the Warriors, but the parts do not fit together nearly as well. They have a team that can hit a multitude of threes or defend really well, but they can’t do both at the same time. Golden State can do what Cleveland can not, and I think they will expose the Cavs for being an incomplete team in time. Perhaps five years ago the greatness of LeBron James would be enough to overcome any deficiencies the Cavs have, but this is 2016 and the best player in the series resides in Golden State.

LeBron has spent years trying to calculate the easiest way to win titles, and I really respect his foresight in doing so, but no one in the league has been able to solve the equation of stopping Steph Curry and the Warriors. If winning the Eastern Conference was passing Algebra 1, beating the 73 win defending champs is taking the Calculus Final. I hope the Cavs have used all that free time they’ve had lately to start cramming.

LeBron is the big winner of round two

 

Last night Oklahoma City Thunder went into San Antonio, and for the second time in this series walked out victorious. This is the same Spurs team that only lost one game at home throughout the regular season.  Now the Thunder have a chance to finish out the series on home court.

Not a whole lot of people saw this coming. I certainly didn’t. I kind of assumed that the overwhelming defense from San Antonio mixed with their “beautiful game” offense would be too much for a Thunder team that leans so heavily on their two stars. The people who had their doubts about the Thunder have been proven right even when OKC has found a way to win games. Russell Westbrook is still taking a lot of bad threes and turning the ball over at way too high of a rate, but he’s also been an unstoppable force on the glass and creates enough chaos in the open court to keep the Spurs defense off balance.

One thing I don’t think the Spurs planned on going into this series was just how much of a thorn Steven Adams would be in their side. Adams has consistently been the third best player on this Thunder team throughout the playoffs. His size, toughness and athleticism makes ultra valuable on defense, and his ability to sniff out offensive rebounds is a huge asset for a team with scores like Westbrook and Durant.

We see how much of a weapon having an offensive rebounding guru like Tristan Thompson is for the Cavaliers. In Cleveland’s case an offensive rebound means giving a team that is shooting around 50% from three another chance to kill you. The offensive rebound is probably the most overlooked stat in the game right now, and it feels like OKC, Golden State and Cleveland are taking full advantage of second chance opportunities.

Speaking of the Cavaliers taking full advantage – as the the Raptors and Heat bludgeon themselves in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, both teams playing without their key post players, LeBron and Co. are getting plenty of rest. Of all the teams left in the playoffs the Cavs feel like the team who have best found their identity. I love the subtle moves Tyronn Lue made to his lineups in these playoffs. We are seeing either LeBron ore Kyrie Irving playing big minutes with the second unit. In game four of the Hawks series both Irving and Love played with the second unit, playing a two man game that just obliterated Atlanta’s defense.

The Cavaliers have three of the best twenty players in the league on their roster. In the past those players were not being fully utilized, but in these playoffs we are seeing  a cohesive offensive game plan that has led the deadliest barrage of three pointers the game has ever seen. It makes a lot of sense to surround elite rim attackers like Irving and James with dead-eye shooters. I never thought I’d see a team make four more three-pointers a game than the Warriors, but that’s what is happening right now.

Perhaps an even scarier development for the rest of the league is that Cleveland has finally found the best way to deploy Kevin Love. When Love is involved in pick-and-rolls involving Kyrie Irving the opposing team is put into an impossible situation. They can either sag off the screen and allow Irving an open look at a three, go over the screen and allow him an open driving lane, or switch and allow Kevin Love a huge mismatch in the post. The Cavs used this simple play to grind Atlanta’s defense into a pulp in the last series. They decided to keep trapping Irving off of the screen allowing Love multiple open looks at corner threes, it was a bold strategy (read – awful) that cost them game four. When Love is featured prominently on offense the Cavs offensive rating shoots up to crazy numbers, which completely negates his defensive deficiencies.

As we stand the Spurs and Thunder are in a heavyweight fight that will probably go to game seven The Warriors will probably finish off the Trail Blazers tonight, but the threat of another Curry injury still lingers. We have a series between Miami and Toronto that feels meaningless given the injuries to both squads, I’ve had a really hard time paying full attention to any of the games between these two. Then there is Cleveland, a team playing gorgeous basketball, just waiting to devour whatever team they face in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs have yet to be tested in these playoffs, but you can only beat the team that gets put front of you. All they can do is continue to get better, and sit back and enjoy the rest of the teams rip each other apart. The King is getting exactly what he wanted when he made the decision to come back to Cleveland, a team that would give him multiple shots at the throne.

Now we wait.

Before we get to basketball let’s take a moment to remember one of the greatest musicians to ever walk this earth. Prince was an icon, who’s effect on pop culture can not be measured. You can talk to any pop musician about who their icons are and I dare you to find one that does not mention the man in purple. His style will forever be remembered but hopefully it’s not forgotten just how much of a genius Prince was as a musician. A reporter once asked Eric Clapton what it was like to be the greatest guitarist alive and his response was simply, “I don’t know, ask Prince.”

Prince was found dead in his studio today, he was 57.


With all the love that has been showered upon Steph Curry in the last year it is easy to forget that LeBron James has been the most dominant basketball player of the past decade, and is still at the peak of his powers. Last night’s 107-90 Cavs win was exhibit A of just how great The King still is. For stretches of this game, the Cavaliers looked like an unstoppable force, whizzing the ball around the court until it landed it the hands of a wide open shooter.

JR Smith was the main benefactor of Cleveland’s crisp ball movement, draining 7 of 11 threes. Detroit did a fairly good job of keeping Kyrie Irving (8-18) and Kevin Love (5-14) from being dominant, but it was James who spent a lot of time playing with the second unit who made all the difference. James, who had 27 points on 12-18 shooting, was dominant. Although he only ended up with three assists in the box score, it was James driving and unbelievable skip passes that broke Detroit’s defenses rotations on a regular basis.

The third quarter belonged to King James. LeBron sliced and diced the defense, finding JR Smith for open threes, and getting himself easy baskets by moving without the ball. You know it’s going to be a long night when James dunks all over your face then abruptly goes Super Saiyan.

Detroit finds itself with a serious problem when it comes to keeping up with Cleveland’s prolific offense. I thought that Stan Van Gundy did a good  job of utilizing Reggie Jackson in pick-n-rolls, getting Jackson to good spots and exposing Kevin Love as a poor PnR defender. Andre Drummond had another strong game from field, scoring 20 points on 13 attempts, but his effectiveness is seriously hampered by his poor free throw shooting (4-16).

Coach Van Gundy keeps looking for the right answer to the Cavaliers problem, but there are just too many glaring weakness with the Pistons lineup. Steve Blake contributes nothing when he comes off the bench, and has been handily outplayed by his opponents counterpart, Metthew Dellavedova. Stanley Johnson has shown star potential in his rookie season, but he has done little to slow down LeBron when they are matched against each other.

I respect the kind of fight that Detroit is putting up in this series, but I fear Cleveland is just getting themselves into playoff mode, and all signs point to this series ending in the four.


LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS 102 – PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS 81

&

MIAMI HEAT 115 – CHARLOTTE HORNETS 103

The Trailblazers and Hornets continue to look overmatched in their respective series. Charlotte suffered a fatal blow when Nicolas Batum exited game two with an ankle sprain, leaving the Hornets without their best two way player. Al Jefferson was effective in the minutes he played, scoring 25 points on 12-17 shooting, but he is ill fitted to defend the fast pace offense that Miami has been running. Kemba Walker has been excellent for Charlotte all season, but is now the sole focus of the Heats defense. Walker finished Game Two with 29 PTS on a very inefficient 12-29 shooting.

Speaking of inefficient, the Clippers have done an awesome job of rendering Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum pedestrian. The duo combined for just 33 points on a combined 12-39 shooting. Meanwhile LA’s bench came through in a big way to the tune of 43 points compared to Portland’s 10.  DeAndre Jordan was a monster on the glass, pulling down 18 rebounds, and Chris Paul continues to be dominant, scoring 25 points and playing great defense.

So Cleveland, LA and Miami all go up 2-0 in their series. Tonight the Golden State Warriors will try to get to 3-0, likely without the services of Steph Curry who is still trying to recover from his ankle sprain. The other two games on tonight are Oklahoma City/Dallas and Toronto/Indianapolis.

Before the games start I suggest you grab whatever beverage you enjoy most and listen to some Prince, because we were lucky to have him, and made all the better by the art he left behind.