June 20, 2016, 2:45 pm
Somewhere in the middle of Game 1, I had never been more convinced that the Warriors would probably take this series in five games (“sure, the Cavs have LeBron so we’ll be nice and give them a game at home” was the common thinking after that embarrassment to kick off the NBA Finals).
Las Vegas agreed. So did most NBA fans in several polls around social media. Soon after, the Warriors took a 3-1 lead after destroying all hope for Cleveland with a win on the road. The Cavs would have to beat a 73-9 team three times in a row (twice in Oracle Arena), something that no team has ever done before in the NBA Finals. Records don’t get broken against teams as great as the all-time 2015-16 Warriors.
Until they do.
The kid from Akron, Ohio who famously left his home state to chase championships in South Beach decided to return and come home back in the summer of 2014. He did much more than that. LeBron James and the Cavaliers brought the city of Cleveland their first championship in 52 years by defying the odds and ripping off three straight wins over the Warriors. How in the world did this happen?
Game 5 is a great starting point. The Cavs were down 3-1 and went on the road for an elimination game. Draymond Green was suspended for having one too many punches to groins in the playoffs, so he had to watch next door. LeBron and Kyrie Irving stole the show in a hostile Oracle Arena with 41 points a piece and let the Cavs live another day.
Many thought the return of an “angry” Draymond in Game 6 would put a stop to LeBron’s madness (as if Draymond needs more motivation than playing in the NBA Finals), but the King ended up having one of the best games of his life. LeBron posted one of the great all-time fantasy playoff stat lines with 41 points (16-of-27 FGs, 6-of-8 FTs), 11 assists, eight boards, four steals, three blocks and three treys. Toss in a thrown mouthpiece, an ejection of the NBA’s MVP, an all-time performance and there we were. A Game 7 winner-take-all Super Bowl of heavyweight NBA faces with legacies on the line awaited us in prime time on Sunday night.
It didn’t disappoint. There were 20 lead changes and 11 ties in the most watched NBA game since Michael Jordan‘s final game as a Bull in the 1998 NBA Finals. Just before halftime, the Warriors built a quick lead 49-42 and started to look like their home crowd momentum would blow the game wide open as they had done all season.
The Cavs clawed back with a 13-5 run to start the third quarter and tie the game, surprising us all time and time again. Kyrie Irving led the way with 12 of his 26 points in the third to keep the Cavs in it. All they needed was a chance. They would enter the fourth quarter down just one point from the unfathomable.
THE FOURTH QUARTER
One quarter. That’s what opinions come down to in a close winner-take-all, a few plays here and there. How the ball bounces off the rim. The microscope gets bigger as the game wears on.
LeBron and Kyrie put the team on their backs. To open the fourth down one, LeBron quickly gave the Cavs the lead with a five-footer near the basket. Kyrie made a huge bucket (it seemed like he did this all night) with a short miss then a rebound and tip-in as if he was playing 21 in the backyard with his friends. This game was a little more important than that though.
Just after LeBron hit another big shot to give the Cavs a 83-80 lead with just over seven minutes to play, Stephen Curry nailed a three-pointer to tie the game at 83-83. Game on. Curry’s three started a mini 7-0 run by the Warriors to take a four-point lead with 5:37 remaining. “Believeland” could see it all slipping away. Not on LeBron’s watch.
He may lack a certain shooting stroke at times, but LeBron is one of the smartest basketball players of all-time. After the King got the ball and called over for a switch to get Festus Ezeli on him beyond the arc, he knew he had the right matchup. Most big men are not as disciplined about closing out on the wing because they are always chasing blocks underneath. LeBron caught Ezeli on a pump fake and drew a foul for three shots. A 73 percent shooter, LeBron nailed all three and closed the gap back to one. Still, you expected the Warriors to make some threes and run away with it at some point. It didn’t happen.
The game was tied at 89-89 at the 4:39 mark after Klay Thompson drove to the basket for a big lay up. What ensued over the next three scoreless minutes was probably the most entertaining scoreless three minutes in NBA Finals history. The stars wanted the ball. LeBron missed a shot, then Curry missed, then LeBron again, then Klay, then LeBron was blocked by Andre Iguodala, then Iguodala missed a three-pointer, then Kyrie missed a close shot and then Draymond Green missed the most wide open three-pointer he had all night. Every shot was a hold-your-breath moment where die hard fans and even casual fans may have felt their hearts skip a beat. There were so many chances back and forth.
Then “The Block” happened.
With 1:50 remaining in Game 7 of a tied game in the NBA Finals, LeBron James had his signature moment. Known for his patented chase-down blocks, he got one with the whole world watching in a career-defining play. Iggy had an easy layup for the lead but he was denied by the sheer will and athleticism of a legend. When a statue is built in LeBron’s honor, this block will be highly considered to be portrayed by the sculptors. This will forever be known as “The Block.”
LeBron and Curry again traded missed shots (Curry with nothing but glass from downtown, yikes!) and the NBA was awaiting a hero to save the moment. After a Cavs timeout with 1:09 left, a hero finally emerged. Kyrie Irving dribbled around the ball behind the three-point line and faded away to nail the greatest shot of his life in Curry’s face to give the Cavs a three-point lead with 53 second remaining. What a game.
Steve Kerr made a conscious decision not to call a timeout and let the Warriors race down the floor to run the offense. Kevin Love was switched in to guarding Stephen Curry and was somehow able to keep him from driving to the basket. Love forced Curry to settle for a three-point attempt that he has hit in his sleep all season, though it was difficult. It rimmed off to LeBron’s hands and the whole arena gasped for air.
Kyrie made quite possibly the dumbest move to attempt a layup right away with plenty of time left on the shot clock but he got his own rebound and found LeBron for what was nearly the highlight to end all LeBron highlights for a thunderous dunk over Draymond Green, but Green 90’s fouled the King for two free throws. James sulked on the floor holding his wrist but he nailed 1-0f-2 and that was it.
The Cavaliers erased a 52-year draught and became the first team to come back down 3-1 in the NBA Finals, winning Game 7 on the road (the last time that happened was the ’78 Washington Bullets).
Legends and Hall of Famers are judged by their accolades and achievements. So many of those achievements come down to a loose ball or a buzzer-beater which was out of their control. It may be unfair, but that it how sports figures are judged.
LeBron went from being compared to Elgin Baylor and Jerry West for poor NBA Finals records (would have been 2-5 in the finals) to silencing the critics with his third NBA Championship and NBA Finals MVP award. A month ago, not everyone would admit that he was even the best player in the NBA currently. Now, that isn’t even a question to entertain unless you are a) delusional or b) Skip Bayless (synonyms).
This championship is obviously much more impressive than his rings with the Heat. This time, LeBron won one for the city of Cleveland. He did it against a 73-9 team who looked unbeatable for most of the season. He did it as an underdog. He did it down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. He did it by winning on the road twice in the toughest arena. He did it for Ohio.
The comparisons to Michael Jordan will continue all summer once again, fair or not. That is where LeBron is at this moment, in the conversation to at the very least be compared to the greats. His career numbers are staggering and he is only 31 years-old. The mileage on his body makes him much older, as he has surpassed Larry Bird in minutes played, but his athleticism should keep him on top for a few more seasons. We can’t forget, LeBron is still writing his legacy. All of the greats are in basketball heaven, but LeBron still roams the NBA earth with time left.
Perhaps the craziest stat of them all: LeBron led all players on both teams in this series with the most points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. That has never been done. It goes to show how historic of a performance we all witnessed. Hold a grudge for his Decision all you want, but he did return and successfully fulfilled his promise to a city desperate for their Chose One to deliver.
Deliver he did.
Follow @HoopBallTweets for the latest mock drafts, draft analysis, offseason rumors, analysis and etc. I’m @RiazD on Twitter. There is nothing slow about the offseason! The real fun is just beginning.
April 24, 2019, 11:50 amJeff Hornacek - Team - Sacramento Kings
Sam Amick of the Athletic is reporting that former Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek had an interview with the Kings for the lead assistant coach job.
Sacramento has already hired Luke Walton to be their new coach but the news about the sexual assault allegations he faces might put his status in danger. Walton should be able to assemble his coaching staff once he is out of the woods but we should know more once the NBA concludes with their investigation of the matter.
Source: The Athletic
April 24, 2019, 11:11 amLuke Walton - Team - Sacramento Kings
Sam Amico of the Athletic is reporting that Luke Walton still has the Kings' support, despite the sexual assault allegations the newly-hired coach is facing.
The Kings are working with the NBA to investigate allegations made against Walton by his former colleague at Time Warner Cable, Kelli Tennant. The report adds that the two sides are moving forward with their working relationship and there doesn't appear to be any momentum toward firing Walton, who was hired earlier this month just three days after he parted ways with the Lakers. The Kings confirmed that they were not aware of the accusations until TMZ reported the news and that they will wait for the facts before making a decision on Walton's future. The investigation has been delayed because all parties haven't been able to access Tennant's lawsuit so more information should merge soon.
Source: The Athletic
April 24, 2019, 10:49 amJaren Jackson Jr. - F/C - Memphis Grizzlies
Jaren Jackson Jr. said that he wants to improve his "motor", his ball-handling skills and his shooting mechanics entering year two and he hopes to work with Kevin Garnett over the coming months.
Jackson and Garnett spent time together last summer and again in February when Garnett visited Memphis to feature Jackson’s game for his segment on TNT. "He has a work ethic that is a throwback that I'm very appreciative of," Garnett said in the segment. "I love working with him. He is the future. I look forward to him becoming the leader of Memphis." The rookie had an impressive season before getting shut down due to a bruised thigh, averaging 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.9 steals and 0.9 triples per contest. He has tremendous upside and owners in dynasty leagues should feel great about him.
Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal
April 24, 2019, 9:56 amIvan Rabb - F - Memphis Grizzlies
Ivan Rabb plans to spend much of his offseason in the weight room as he tries to bulk up and show that he has NBA-level defense to pair with his expanding offensive game.
For all the charm of Rabb's smooth offensive repertoire, he knows his defense needs to improve. It was especially evident in an April 3 loss at Portland when Enes Kanter torched Rabb and the Grizzlies in the post for 21 points and 15 rebounds. Rabb posted almost identical statistics this season to those he posted in 36 games as a rookie, but the second-year post player knocked down 37 percent of his 3-pointers in the G League, showing a comfort level from beyond the arc previously missing from his game. Rabb's deal is non-guaranteed, so the Grizzlies could move on from him if they want but he is only 22 years old and has shown enough potential to likely warrant another season at the relatively low price tag of $1.6 million. Keep him in your radar as he might have an important role next season in what might be a rebuilding year for the Grizzlies.
Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal
April 24, 2019, 9:41 amClint Capela - C - Houston Rockets
The Rockets hope that Clint Capela has benefited from two more days of treatment for the virus that has sapped his energy through much of their first-round matchup against the Jazz.
Since opening the series with 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting, Capela has averaged just 7.3 points on 47.4 percent over the past three games. He was 1-of-6 with seven rebounds on Monday while the Rockets got outscored by 20 points when he was on the floor. "He's trying to battle through it," Mike D'Antoni said. "I think he's been great because he's been able to play. Each day that passes, the virus passes and he'll feel better. Hopefully next game, he's back to almost 100 percent.” The Rockets will try to close out the series on Wednesday night in Houston and they are going to need their starting center to show some signs of life.
Source: Houston Chronicle
April 24, 2019, 9:04 amJason Kidd - Team - Los Angeles Lakers
Bill Plaschke of the LA Times is reporting that the Lakers interviewed Jason Kidd only as a favor to his agent, Jeff Schwartz, who is also the agent for Lakers forward Brandon Ingram.
Kidd doesn’t really seem to have a chance at the gig and the fact that he lobbied for the job even while Luke Walton held it is a tremendously bad look for the former All-Star guard. Jeannie Buss looks like she has no plans, at least not yet, to support current GM Rob Pelinka with bright, young personnel as he instead is being assisted in this coaching search by Kurt Rambis. The Lakers continue to target Monty Williams, Ty Lue and Juwan Howard and the list doesn’t seem likely to expand.
Source: LA Times
April 24, 2019, 8:51 amEnes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers
Enes Kanter suffered a separated left shoulder in the first quarter of Game 5 on Tuesday night, but he received an injection at halftime and gutted his way through despite clearly being pain at times.
“I just tried to play through it," Kanter said afterward. "We'll see what happens in the future." The Blazers will have at least through Saturday off as they await the winner of the Nuggets-Spurs series. Kanter’s teammates and coaches were impressed with his ability to play with pain but this looks like a serious injury and it remains to be seen if the Turkish big will be forced to miss any time.
April 24, 2019, 2:18 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard put up an instant classic performance featuring a game-winning deep three, 10 total triples and a 50-spot in Tuesday's 118-115 closeout win over the Thunder in Portland.
Lillard started off Game 5 with 34 first-half points while playing all 24 minutes. He finished with seven boards, six dimes, three steals and a block while shooting 17-for-33 from the field and 6-for-8 from the line. Despite a big second-half Thunder run, Lillard kept it going all the way until the buzzer as his shot from near the logo fell, giving him an even 50 and a series win as he waived goodbye to the Thunder.
April 24, 2019, 2:08 amCJ McCollum - G - Trail Blazers
CJ McCollum put up 17 points (8-of-19 FGs), two rebounds, two assists, one triple and two blocks in 32 minutes in Tuesday's closeout win over the Thunder.
McCollum sat a little more than usual in the first half after getting his third foul early, though he also ended with three fouls in another example of why coaches should just leave players in until they get their fourth or fifth. McCollum had been on fire in this series, averaging over 26 points per game coming into tonight's game. He and the Blazers now wait to see if they'll get the Nuggets or the Spurs in the next round.
April 24, 2019, 1:55 amEnes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers
Enes Kanter toughed out a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double over 32 minutes in Tuesday's Game 5 victory over the Thunder.
Kanter also had four assists and a block while shooting 6-for-9 from the floor tonight. He got pretty banged up in the first half, injuring his shoulder which was heavily wrapped after the game. Kanter averaged over 13 points and 10 rebounds in under 30 minutes for the series and he looks like one of the best mid-season signings in the league at this point.