True Hoops

True Hoops

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


One of the best Finals ever, right?
With one of the best individual Finals game to boot.

So let's keep it simple. And look at some of the best from the best.

The best.
Would anyone dare not give this title to LeBron James after his performance in these past Finals?
I mean, is there anything else you want this guy to do?
Back-to -back titles. back-to-back Finals MVPs. Capped by one of the best Finals game 7 performances in NBA history (no that is not hyperbole). And that followed an 18 point 4th quarter/overtime triple double maestro in game 6 to save Miami's season (with the help of Ray Allen).

You want some numbers? How about after going down 3-2, LeBron averaged 34.5 points (on 47% shooting), 7.5 assists, and 11 rebounds over the last two games to bring Miami back and win the whole freakin' thing. Not to mention guarding Tony parker a majority of the time as well.

Yeah. I would say that's pretty tough.

And you want to talk clutch? Here are some things that will boggle your mind:
1) The last 5 quarters of the Finals (including game 6 overtime): 20-37 from the field for 54%.

2) Game 7: 12-23 from the field for 52%.

Over 50% shooting in a game 7?!?

This becomes even more incredulous when considering where most of his shots came from (more below). And let's compare this to the last Finals game 7 performance by the eventual Finals MVP. Kobe Bryant, who was widely considered more of a closer and more clutch than LeBron, shot 6-24 in his lone Finals game 7 against Boston in 2010. Yes, that's a whopping 25%. Think about that. Now think about what LeBron did. I'm not hating on Kobe. I'm just appreciating LeBron.

3) In games 1-6, LeBron shot 29% (7-24) from three point range!
In game 7, he shot 50% (5-10). Holy schnikies! Talk about saving your best for last. In the most pressure packed game of the season - this dude shot his best in the series from long range.

4) LeBron's 37 points in game 7 of the Finals was the most scored in such a game in 43 years! The last person to score more was Jerry West with 42 in 1969. In fact, there have been only three higher scoring performances in the history of the NBA. So yes, what LeBron did in game 7 was one of the best in history.

5) And just for good measure. Guess who has the highest scoring average all-time in NBA playoff game 7s? Yep. LeBron James, with an average of 34.5 points per game in 5 career game 7s.

Additionally, after winning back to back chips, Miami becomes only the 7th franchise in NBA history to accomplish such a feat. Not all of the greats do that.

Finalsly, LeBron is only the 9th player in the history of the NBA to win multiple Finals MVPs - joining Jordan (6), Shaq (3), Duncan (3), Magic (3), Olajuwon (2), Bird (2), Jabbar (2), and Reed (2). And this dude is 28 years old.

Something tells me there will be more to come.
But, no matter what happens from here on out, LeBron's legacy is secure.

The best way to stick to your strengths

That picture above is amazing.
It's the last jumper LeBron hit, with ~27 seconds to go in the game, that put Miami up 4.
You basically have all 5 Spurs with a foot in the lane, looking to help on a LeBron drive.
There was no way he could have gotten into the lane on this play.

We'll look at that play a little more below, but for now think about this:
LeBron took 23 shots in game 7.
20 of those shots were from outside the paint.

In other words, LeBron beat the Spurs in game 7 with his jump shot.
I know right? Kind of crazy.
Last year it was the post game. This year it was his jump shot. The evolution continues.

But even more gratifying to see than a great player honing their craft through hard work is actually seeing them stick with it and believe in their training at the most crucial moment.......and actually seeing it pay off!

The best assessment of what is critical to LeBron's game......two years ago
A mid-range jump-shot at the end of a game to take what the defense gives you?
Who would have thought that having a mid-range jump-shot is really that important?
Oh wait...... this guy.

The best most obvious analysis by a NBA correspondent/biomedical scientist
Speaking of shooting.
After game 4 of the Finals, in which LeBron scored 33 points in a Miami win on the road, this conversation ensued:

Dr. JRS: "......there seems to be a big difference in Miami's success when you're a perimeter facilitator versus someone who looks to attack and score......"

LeBron: "What are you asking?"

Dr. JRS: "Basically I'm asking, are you going to continue to look to score?"

LeBron: "And not pass?"

Etc. Etc.

LeBron seemed a little miffed at my observation/question - to the tune of only scoring 25 points in a game 5 loss. But then he handled his business with 32 & 37 in games 6 & 7, respectively.

So, let's look at the numbers for the 2013 Finals, as far as LeBron's scoring goes:

Games 1-3 LeBron = 16.6 points per game on 39% shooting (18 shots a game). Miami = 1-2
Games 4-7 LeBron = 31.8 points per game on 48% shooting (24 shots a game). Miami = 3-1

Games in which LeBron scored 30 or more points, Miami = 3-0

So you're telling me, Miami is more successful when LeBron is looking to shoot more than pass? And when he is more of a scorer than facilitator?

I mean, I am a doctor for a reason.
What, you think they give Ph.Ds to just anyone?
My thesis was entitled: "No Magic Involved: LeBron Needs to Score to Win Championships."

The best way to put your reputation on the line
During the NBA Finals, we were bombarded with these commercials:

And then Finally, with the Heat retreating back to Miami for games 6 & 7, down 3-2, this was leaked:

So, that's 
1) "welcome to the new age" 
2) "Let the new reign begin" 
and the most ostentatious
3) .....well you can read the sneaker sole above.

All this before Miami even won the chip!
Talk about fighting for the fate of the world!
What would the Beats by Dre, 2Ksports, and Nike's stocks been had LeBron not won it all???

The best respect
Magic Johnson after game 7 of the NBA Finals (to LeBron):
"I think you are the only player that can be the greatest ever."


So, if you're keeping track at home:
2011: Scottie Pippen - "LeBron may be the greatest player of all time"
2012: Charles Barkely - "LeBron might be better than Jordan"
2013: Magic Johnson - "LeBron can be the greatest ever"

I predict that in 2018, after LeBron wins 7 championships in a row, Michael Jordan finally comes out and endorses LeBron as the greatest.

The best entertainer
Please. Watch:

Now I can finally say that I laughed out loud at an NBA Finals game 7.

The best way to quench the thirst of a champion

The best way to protect your eyes from said thirst quencher

By the way, that's Ray Allen in the locker room, with ski goggles to protect his eyes from the champagne.

The best way to check if such protection works

That looks fun.

The best reason to win a chip on South beach

That looked like it would have been fun. But with at least a $100 cover and over an hour long wait just to get to the door, one could only wonder.

The best dunk
The Spurs are pretty good too.
As evidenced by:

The best compliment
After winning the chip, this is what Wade had to say about the Spurs:
"I have so much respect for them. We went through that whole series and a couple of those guys I still haven't heard their voices yet. They don't say nothing to you, they just kick your butt. No trash talking. I ain't heard Kwahi Leoanrd, I don't even know how he sounds. And he's a bad boy."

Leonard's number in the NBA Finals: 14.6 points (51%) and 11 rebounds.
Leonard's numbers for games 6 & 7: 20.5 points (55%) and 13.5 rebounds.

The best most sincere moment
Wade in the locker room, with the trophy, taking a moment for himself:

Word on the streets is that he poured champagne on his knees to thank them for holding up during game 7.

Looking back, the best Forward
Lest we forget, Tim Duncan - perhaps the best power forward of all time - averaged 27 points (on 54%) and 14.5 rebounds in games 6 & 7. So yeah, at 37 years of age and after 17 years in the league this guy is still a bad man and brought when it mattered most. But that's just what the greats do.

Honestly,  I could do nothing but appreciate seeing Tim Duncan up close on the grandest stage. The absolute look of intensity on his face during every media session combined with the upmost professionalism.

Here are some of my more favorite/surreal moments from him during the Finals:

1) In San Antonio, after a pre-game work-out before game 5, Duncan was changing in his locker and preparing for the game. While doing so in complete silence, around 30 reporters surrounded him, and only about a foot away just started filming and taking pictures of his every movement.
Imagine trying to get prepared and stay focused with that in your face.

2) On father's day, playing with his kids in the hallway outside of the locker room during half time of game 5, perhaps his last Finals game at home. There was so much right with that moment.

3) His response to a member of the media, who asked before game 5: "Is this a must win game?"
Duncan: "You know, we're all trying to get to 4 wins. They're all must win games."

The best play out of a timeout
With ~3 minutes to go in the season and Miami up three, this was the play call out of a Miami time-out:

1) Shane Battier takes out the ball. LeBron on strong elbow. Wade in weak corner.

2) After inbounding the ball, Battier runs down to the block as LeBron looks to set a screen to free him up.

3) After coming off LeBron's screen, Battier catches the ball above the elbow. Wade starts to come across the baseline to the strong side.

4) Battier faces up. LeBron looks to set a screen at the block for Wade.

5) Wade curls off LeBron's screen into the paint. My, look how open the paint is......

The result?
Wade with a layup to put Miami up 5.

Let me just say, this is a freakin' college play.
No wait......this is a freakin' high school play! Run with 3 minutes to go in the most important game of the season! Proving you can run great plays with great players to yield great results in critical situations......


The best variation on a theme
Speaking of plays. Sometimes you just want the ball in the hands of your best player and have them  make something happen. But, you can also put them in a position to facilitate that process.

With ~30 seconds to go in the season, and Miami up two, here was the play call:

1) LeBron with the ball up top, essentially in a 4-low set (this was after he waived off an initial Chalmers screen - presumably because it was too early in the shot clock).

2) Chalmers eventually comes up to set a screen on Leonard. Interestingly, LeBron is above the three point line, but Chalmers only has to come up to the foul line to set a screen. Leonard is essentially already over the screen as Parker goes out to hedge and help.

3) LeBron looks to turn the corner and pass Parker. Leonard gets around Chalmers' pseudo screen.

4) Parker stays on LeBron's hip, containing him while Leonard retreats to the paint. Danny Green, the strong side help defender, is several feet off Battier looking to help if need be (which is kind of crazy since Battier is one pass away and had already made 6 three pointers in the game).

5) Wow, you think the Spurs are trying to prevent LeBron from getting to the rim? You think they are trying to get him to pass the ball? Look how open Chalmers (got to love the fact that his hands are up looking for the ball) and Battier (triple threat position) are. Look how Duncan is protecting the rim, Leonard is in the paint, with Green and Ginobili looking to help. What's interesting here is that Parker actually leaves LeBron to go back to Chalmers. Not able to get tot he rim, it presents LeBron with an opportunity to get off an open mid-range jump shot.

6) If you're the best player in the world, why pass the ball when the outcome of the NBA Finals is in your hands? Why force the issue driving to the rim to get contested by 5 players? Why not take what the defense gives you and trust in your ability to make a mid-range jump-shot?
Oh, wait, that's what LeBron did.

You have to wonder why Parker left LeBron and why the Spurs didn't just double him.
And you have to wonder why at this moment in the game, the Spurs still conceded the wide-open mid-range jumper to LeBron.

Additionally, how many times have we seen LeBron pass in this situation before?
Well let me tell you, based on LeBron's body language, passing wasn't even a consideration here. 
Good for him.

And let me give props to coach Spoelstra too.
Remember in game 2 when LeBron screening for Chalmers was the go to play that broke the game open? How cool is it that he flipped it around and had Chalmers screen for LeBron? And with good reason. Even if Parker doesn't leave LeBron, there is no way he could have adequately contested a LeBron jumper anyway. Having Chalmers screen for LeBron dictated a defensive switch that enabled LeBron to be able to shoot over his defender. Trust me, that was by design.

This past NBA Finals was a great, dare I say, "chess match" between Spoelstra and Popovich.
Well, with three minutes to go in the last game of the season, Spoelstra won that match.

The best championship locker room video you haven't seen


The best reason to root for LeBron
For all that he represents.

How often to you get to see the best player in the world develop into his prime in real time? I guess it would have to be once every generation right?

But how many times do you get to see the best player in the world first make a fool of himself, then fail miserably on the grandest stage and forced into seclusion? Only to emerge refined and humbled enough to overcome his demons and critics - pretty much all of them?

That's LeBron. That's the journey.

And even if that is an archetypical narrative for sports heroes (or heroes in general), LeBron seems to be a different breed of superstar. For as much as he has evolved on the court, how much has he evolved off it?

Remember two years ago, after that horrible performance in the Finals, he had that statement that despite his short coming in the series he was "going back to my regular life, while everyone will still have to go back to their everyday problems." Yes, this was misconstrued, but it still wasn't in the best taste.

What about during this year's finals?
This is what he said before game 7:
"First of all, I mean, I'm blessed man. I don't even know I got here. I wasn't suppose to be in the NBA, if you go by the statistics and things of me growing up where I grew up.""

And this is what he said during the Finals MVP trophy presentation:

“I can’t worry about what everybody says about me. I’m LeBron James form Akron Ohio from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here. That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a No. 6 “James” on the back, I’m blessed."

Talk about a 180.
The humility is great, but did this guy, on the grandest stage in his sport, just connote and call attention to the plight of our nation's inner city youth?

Everyone is into comparing LeBron to Jordan.
You know what? I don't think I ever heard Jordan say something like that, on this stage.

But wait, it gets better.

On the interview stage after game 7, with both trophies up on the table, this dialogue ensued:
Media member: "LeBron, you've won it all now for the two years in a row. What's the goal now for your career going forward? Where do you want to go from here?"

LeBron: “One of my first goals is to continue to inspire the youth to want to play this game of basketball or be better at whatever they do. I mean, I love kids. Hopefully tonight I was able to inspire a lot. Inspire millions to – no matter what they’ve gone through in their lives at that point in time, they can always overcome.”

Remember what you thought about LeBron after the decision and the pre-season parade.
Tell me what you think about him now.
If it hasn't changed then dude, the problem is you.

Athletes are meant to inspire on the court.
But sometimes their transformation off it can be just as influential.

And if the best player in the world can change, with the lens of every camera in the world in his face and under pressure like no one has ever seen. If he can persevere and remain true to his passion to overcome previous struggles and achieve his goals while staying humble and aware of the bigger picture......

Maybe, in our everyday lives, if even in just a small way......we can too.

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