Archive for the ‘2013 NBA Playoffs’ Category

lebron-james-7-jumper

It seems like it happened 50,000 years ago at this point, but LeBron James did hit a series-clinching jumper in Game 7 of the NBA Finals less than a week ago. I seent it with my own eyes. I seent it.

And though it was just a handful of days ago, that’s been more than enough time for LeBron himself to put that 20-footer in to proper historical perspective. From a Point Forward excerpt of a Sports Illustrated piece from Lee Jenkins:

James uncorked 20 shots outside the paint in Game 7, the most since he arrived in South Florida three years ago. He drained nine, including five three-pointers. But with 33 seconds left, Miami was only up by two, and James bounced the ball on the blazing Heat logo at midcourt. He was back in the ring of fire. With the floor expertly spaced by Spoelstra, guard Mario Chalmers darted up from the post to set a screen on Leonard at the left elbow, and James bounded around it. Parker switched onto him, but James planted his left shoulder into Parker’s chest, sending him stumbling backward. Leonard recovered, tossing out a hand to contest, but James did not hesitate. He pulled up from 20 feet, easy as an August afternoon at St. V, with the same result. “I know it wasn’t the magnitude of MJ hitting that shot in ’98, but I definitely thought about him,” James said. “It was an MJ moment.” He paused as a turn of phrase came to mind. “It was an LJ moment.”

At first maybe you’re like, “Yeah total MJ moment, like how he’s famous for all those last-second jumpers that extended leads and not game-winners. Silly LeBron James.” And you know, fair enough. But do remember that Michael Jordan’s last title-winner, the one against the Jazz, came with 5.2 seconds remaining, which means Utah did have a chance to completely negate the now-legendary shot. A game-winner can be a game-winner even if it doesn’t technically 100 percent win the game. It’s complicated, but you know what I mean.

And when you think about it like that, yeah that jumper was an MJ moment. LeBron James’ team needed a basket to win the NBA championship, and LeBron James went and got that basket from a place that could be filmed from multiple camera angles. The only thing that could be more MJ about it is if it were made in to a commercial, which I guarantee will happen sometime in the next two decades.

Now the only thing LeBron James has to do for another MJ moment is to get gypped out of his third straight MVP award, then drop half a hundred on the guy who stole his award in the Finals while leading his team to their third straight title. I’d say this seems ludicrous, but he’s nailed the first two-thirds of the first Bulls three-peat, so why not finish it off?

dwight-howard-mr-cool-vest

One of the bad things about a great NBA Finals — maybe the only one — is that it tends to overshadow all that comes before it. This was a postseason for the ages long before the .1 Prayer, the Headband Game and the Confetti Choke, and though the enduring memories for the summer will surely be of the Heat’s victory and the Spurs’ defeat, the true list of winners and losers from these playoffs is a lot longer than just that.

At least 25 long each, anyway. That’s the number of losers I’ve ranked from this year’s postseason — check out yesterday’s column counting down the winners if you missed it — crediting the no-showing stars, the overexposed role-players and the overmatched coaches of these exceedingly memorable playoffs. Relive the second season with the names of the players and coaches who best defined it, and again, let me know why Mario Chalmers should have been higher than all of them.

And yes, there are still honorable mentions:

  • Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks. Injuries obviously a factor here, but Tyson’s relative no-showing in the playoffs — particularly his two-point, six-foul performance in the Knicks’ elimination loss to the Pacers — was an underrated factor in the Knicks’ disappointing postseason.
  • P.J. Carlesimo, Brooklyn Nets. You realize P.J. has still never won a playoff series as a head coach? He might never have had a better chance than leading the stacked Nets against the undermanned and badly hurting Bulls, and now he might not get another chance again, period.
  • J.J. Redick, Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, the biggest deal at this year’s trade deadline was a shooting-rich team heading for the eighth seed trading prospects for a three-point gunner who played 17 minutes a game in the playoffs and made four treys total in the team’s first round immolation. Really, it’s the Bucks who are the losers, but it’s Redick whose free agency payday may suffer for it.
  • Kosta Koufos, Denver Nuggets. Koufos played well enough to start 81 games for the Nuggets this year, but proved wholly unplayable in the Nuggs’ first round loss to the Warriors, averaging just three points and four rebounds and shooting 37 percent from the field.
  • Derrick Rose/Russell Westbrook, Chicago Bulls/Oklahoma City Thunder. Not their faults, of course, but Russ lost his Iron Man rep and Rose now has to endure a very long offseason (and potentially an even longer next season) of second-guessing. You could maybe throw Kobe in here too, but getting to miss out on that embarrassing Lakers first round series arguably makes him a winner.

That’s about it. Onto the real losers.

25. Ed Davis, Memphis Grizzlies. Davis had a chance to prove himself the real steal of the Rudy Gay trade and play his way into a big role on the Grizz next season, but he struggled a bit in a couple games of the Clippers series, and the notoriously short-leashed Lionel Hollins didn’t give him another chance to prove himself, as Boss played just 48 minutes for the entire postseason. The good news for Davis is that Hollins is out of the picture next year, and hopefully the next Memphis coach won’t be so blatant in his distrust of the promising young big.

24. Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs. A pretty good run through the West playoffs for Splitter was almost completely negated by his drowning-man performance in the Finals against Miami, where he proved a liability in the Spurs’ offense, unable to either finish (especially over LeBron James, natch) or make the correct reads against the suffocating Heat defense. Zach Lowe wrote before the Finals started about how important Splitter’s split-second (heh) decision making would be to the Spurs’ offense being effective. And he was right, which was certainly not good news for San Antonio. Splitter is a big part of the Spurs having any kind of post-Tim Duncan future success, so hopefully for them, this was just a learning experience for Tiago, and not indicative of certain stages being a little too big for the 28-year-old pro.

23. Mike Woodson, New York Knicks. As much credit as Woodson got (or should have gotten) for establishing the Knicks’ identity as a small-ball team surrounding Melo with shooters and using Tyson Chandler as a security blanket, it’s incredible that nearly as soon as things got rough for the Knicks in the playoffs, he seemed to pull the plug on it entirely, short-sightedly going big in the Pacers series and playing right into Indiana’s hands in the process. There were other Woodson decisions to be questioned — playing Amar’e, not playing Chris Copeland, sticking too much with an ice-cold Jason Kidd — but it was starting K-Mart at the four in Game 4, and taking a peaking Pablo Prigioni out of the rotation practically altogether, that had every Knicks fan I know screaming bloody murder, and not undeservedly so.

22. C.J. Watson, Brooklyn Nets. When you feud with Nate Robinson for no particular reason, you better make damn sure to make your wide-open layups. You never know when missing one of them is going to send the little ball of fury into a tongues-speaking hot streak that costs your team the game (and ultimately the series).

21. Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics. A number of Celtic fans — well, one high-profile one who works for ESPN, anyway — continued to contend well into the season that had Bradley remained healthy for the conference finals against the Heat last year, the C’s might have been able to pull out the series. Bradley’s six-game series against the Knicks this year did not help the case for that particular argument, as Bradley was torched on defense by the unstoppable force known as Raymond Felton and contributed exceptionally little on offense, averaging seven points on 40 percent shooting and collecting more turnovers than assists. An insane run in Game 6 to nearly wipe out a 26-point Knicks fourth quarter lead nearly redeemed everything for young Avery, but alas, the Boston-NY juju would only go so far these playoffs.

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Or perhaps you would like to see some legit tumbling sneakers.

I have a few questions about this. One, did all of these people — there seems to be about four to six pairs up there — bring spare shoes just to throw at Mike Miller? Or were these shoes being worn immediately prior to being tossed on stage, and now there are a bunch of Shoeless Joe Jacksons running around Miami? Or was this a setup, since as Mike Miller says, those are “all [his] shoes?” If these shoes do indeed belong to fans, did they get them back? And of course, is there any way to avoid George Bush jokes after something like this happens?

This is just the tip of the thrown shoe iceberg.

tony-parker-stephen-curry-chatting

One of the bad things about a great NBA Finals — maybe the only one — is that it tends to overshadow all that comes before it. This was a postseason for the ages long before the .1 Prayer, the Headband Game and the Confetti Choke, and though the enduring memories for the summer will surely be of the Heat’s victory and the Spurs’ defeat, the true list of winners and losers from these playoffs is a lot longer than just that.

At least 25 long each, anyway. That’s the number of winners I’ve ranked from this year’s postseason — losers to come tomorrow — crediting the breakout stars, the clutch performers and the unlikely heroes of these exceedingly memorable playoffs. Relive the second season with the names of the players and coaches who best defined it, and let me know why Mario Chalmers should have been higher than all of them.

But first, some honorable mentions. Hey, there were a lot of important dudes in these playoffs.

  • Brian Shaw, Indiana Pacers. Could barely get a second look as Phil Jackson’s potential successor two seasons ago, now nearly as hotly pursued in coaching free agency as Lionel Hollins and George Karl.
  • Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls. Why go through the trouble of amnestying Carlos Boozer when your team can just keep plucking potential All-Star talents with the last pick in the first round of the draft?
  • Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs. Boris Diaw, LeBron stopper. In a Finals of unlikely subplots, this required the biggest suspension of disbelief.
  • Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies. Games One and Two, Clippers-Grizzlies: “Is this the end of the Zach Randolph era?” Games Three-Six, Clippers-Grizzlies: “Nope.”
  • Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors. 34 points and 14 rebounds in a road win in the second round is a good way to dispel that whole “Deer in headlights” thing.
  • Francisco Garcia, Houston Rockets. Possible that the whole Robinson-Patterson trade with the Kings was just a smokescreen for the Rockets to acquire the sharp-shooting, lockdown-defending Garcia? Sneaky sneaky, Daryl.
  • Iman Shumpert/Raymond Felton, New York Knicks. You couldn’t trust a lot of guys on the Knicks by the end of their underwhelming playoff run, but Felton and Shumpert were the two guys who always seemed dangerous.

And now, the list proper:

25. Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder. No, he isn’t Russell Westbrook, nor can he even produce a particularly convincing facsimile of him. Still, if you weren’t impressed by him in these playoffs — averaging a 14/5/4 and shooting 48 percent for the postseason, while starting for the first time in his career and playing a far bigger role in the limited Thunder offense than anyone could have predicted he’d have to — you need to stop evaluating second-year backup points by the standards of one of the best players on the planet.

24. Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets. From NBA washout to playoff starter in a couple short months, Beverley proved a surprising key role in a number of game adjustments and big plays from the Thunder-Rockets’ twist-filled first-round series. His knee-knocking with Westbrook in Game 2 will earn him a place in infamy for all-time in OKC, but at least they all know his name now.

23. Quincy Pondexter, Memphis Grizzlies. Just when everyone concluded that the Greivis Vasquez trade was an unmitigated disaster for Memphis, here comes Quincy Pondexter being just about the only reliable wing scorer and floor-spacer for the Grizzlies in their four-game sweep at the hands of San Antonio. True, it’s not particularly hard to outshoot Tony Allen or Tayshaun Prince, but still — 49 percent from the floor and 45 percent from three in career-high minutes is impressive. Just gotta work on those free throws, Q-Pon.

22. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls. Not like Joakim had all that much to prove to Bulls fans in the heart-and-hustle department, but powering the Bulls to a meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things Game 7 win in Brooklyn while playing on two bad feet will certainly make him forever beyond reproach in that department. Plus, even if it looked pretty ridiculous four games later, how great was that billboard of him extinguishing LeBron after Game One?

21. Jeff Green, Boston Celtics. Green averaged just about the quietest 20 points a game you can average in a playoff series in the Celtics’ first round loss to the Knicks, but it was still a redemptive end to a down-and-up season for the C’s’ enigmatic young talent. Hell, he even showed that he was capable of doing it efficiently every once in a while, scoring 18 points on just eight shot attempts in Boston’s unlikely Game 5 victory.

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Hand down, like 12 men down.

(via Drew Sheppard)

lebron-james-mad-trophies

Andrew Unterberger is the Last Angry Man in the crusade against LeBron James and his not-so-gradual march towards total unassailability. He’ll be checking in with us once a month this NBA season for an update on where he’s at with his LeBron hating, and how his attempts to channel all the world’s negative energy towards one generally well-meaning basketball player are progressing.

Narrative and Legacy both took a real beating among NBA fans and writers this Finals, particularly as related to LeBron James. That’s fair. People were trying to foist champion narratives on LeBron before it was time to do so, and people still tried to stick choker narratives on LeBron long after it was appropriate, if it ever was in the first place. I still think Narrative and Legacy have a place in NBA discussion, though, even among intelligent fans who also understand the amount of luck and chance and circumstance inherently involved in every game. Without some over-arcing themes — even a couple quasi-forced ones — the NBA is just a bunch of standalone episodes without any connecting series fabric.

However, there’s no denying that in Game 7, LeBron put all of that crap to bed, probably for good. He had an incredible night in arguably the most important game of his career, made the big plays early, middle and late, and was the single biggest reason by a considerable distance that the Heat secured their second straight championship. If there’s a qualifier left for LeBron’s greatness, I’m not smart or cynical enough to figure out what it is. He’s the greatest player of this NBA era, is on the very short list (and always getting shorter) of the greatest players of all-time. You could say that he still needs a third to start talking Bird-Magic, and of course that number six will always stand in the way of him ascending to GOAT status, but today, nobody really cares. He’s the best, he played like it, and he was rewarded for it. For one season, that’s plenty good enough.

Still, next year is another season. It’ll be a long four months for a hater like myself to wait for. Though to be honest, it doesn’t nearly compare to how I felt after his first ring, and really, it doesn’t even much compare to how I felt after Game 6, easily the most gut-wrenching basketball experience I’ve had not involving my own team. But it’s coming. And all I can really hope for is that, come this time next season, there’s more to talk about regarding LeBron’s Legacy and Narrative than “Stop talking about LeBron’s damn Legacy and Narrative and just bask in how great he is.” ‘Cuz that’s all there really is to do right now. The basking.

There’s not much I have to console myself with. LeBron is great and objects in greatness tend to stay in greatness. Nonetheless, in my current world of hurt, I have little choice but to take stock of the few glimmers of hope that maybe linger on the horizon, things that might come in the way of LeBron and the Heatles making Rohit Walia a very rich man. Be merciful, it’s all I have.

1. The Heat lost Game Six.
I mean they did, really. Just because they ended up winning doesn’t mean they didn’t lose that game. Down five with less than half a minute to go, that’s an L at least 95 times out of 100, if not 99. Only a couple lucky bounces on some Spurs free throws and a couple lucky bounces on their own offensive rebounds allowed them to somehow escape with a victory there. That’s not to say that their win was somehow ill-gotten or should have an asterisk or whatever, but just to say that if the Heat can let themselves be down five with 25 seconds to go in an elimination game, they’re clearly not invincible.

Also worth mentioning that LeBron has now been in three Game 7s in his two championship runs, which is one more than MJ had over his entire six title years. I don’t bring this up to imply that MJ is better than Jordan, or has some character strength that LeBron lacks which allows him to avoid such games, just to say that perhaps the disparity between the Heat and the field in the 2010s is smaller than the disparity between the Bulls and the field was in the ’90s, and that getting to six (or even three) for LeBron might be much more of a challenge, for reasons that may be totally beyond his control.

2. The Heat aren’t getting better than this.
The list of Heat players closer to the beginning of their careers than the end is not a long one. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both clearly took a step back this postseason, Ray Allen is going to be 38, and seemingly all of the Heat’s role players found themselves out of the rotation at one point or another in these playoffs. Wade and Bosh were hurting, sure, but that might be more rule than exception in postseasons to come, and neither is especially young anymore. Meanwhile, there’s no cap space for free agency beyond the minimum mid-level, and trade options are limited beyond the Big Three, and I just can’t see Wade being dealt, or Bosh getting back much of tremendous value. The Heat might not be much worse next season, but it’s hard to see them getting any better. All the talk this postseason was of the Spurs’ championship window closing, but the Heat’s window might not be all that much further ajar.

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Between this and Tim Duncan sadly walking to the locker room with a piece of confetti stuck to his head, let’s congratulate the official confetti man on a job well done. Great job, confetti man.

(via @Deion_Slanders)