True Hoops

True Hoops

Friday, May 30, 2014

Lance Speaks!

Forget the fact the game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals is tonight, with survival on the line for the Pacers and a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals on the line for the Heat.

Forget that Paul George is coming off one of his better games as a pro - scoring 21 point in the 4th quarter of game 5. And that LeBron, conversely, is coming off his worst playoff performance (ever), scoring 7 points in 24 minutes of play.

Forget Hibbert vs. Bosh.
Ray Allen being defended by David West......
Yada yada yada.

You must be thinking about the necessary adjustments to be made for tonights game.....right???

Of course, you're still thinking about this:

By the way, LeBron's facial expression is the best part of that whole exchange.
And his reaction to it after the game was pretty good too:

Ah yes, the old blowing in your opponents ear (in front of millions of viewers) routine!
Guaranteed to throw the best player in the world off their game!
(If only John Starks knew about this in the '90s).

May I personally say, thank you "Born Ready" for providing us with the most entertaining moment of the playoffs thus far (I mean, who knows what he'll do in game 6 tonight, right?).

So, do you think now would be a good time to unveil my interview with Lance when the Pacers came to town a little while back? Would you be interested hearing his thoughts on playing ball in New York, the street ball summer leagues, and how it helped prepare him for the NBA???


You'll notice a bit of laughter during Lance's answer to my first question: "growing up, who did you watch play and is there anyone's game that you tried to emulate?" The laughter comes from none other than Rasual Butler himself, the man whom Lance claimed to watch growing up and tried to emulate......

If case you're wondering, Rasual has played for 6 NBA teams in 11 seasons and holds career averages of 7.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 0.8 assists a game.

Well, while we still don't know who Lance grew up watching and practicing like, we at least know that  Lance doesn't act like a knucklehead only to LeBron......he also acts like a knucklehead to biomedical scientist/NBA writers!!! Wow, what are the odds that I hold something in common with LeBron???
I feel so lucky to be in such great company!

But in all seriousness, after that initial response, the interview did become somewhat interesting and informative. In particular:

What about New York basketball culture, summers leagues...which is the best summer league?
Rucker Park, Gersh, many parks.
Growing up and playing in the street ball gets you that edge, that toughness.
The crowd being there - they can say whatever they want. They're on the court, they try to get in your head. You have to be real tough to go through that and still play hard.
That's what I know, that's the type of way I like to play. I like to talk to the crowd and it just gets me motivated.

How has that helped prepare you for the NBA?
It definitely helped prepare me.
Playing with the older guys and learning the game at a younger age. Being big and strong enough to do that....playing with the older guys at Rucker helped me learn the game more. 

In the summer, when you're trying to get better, what's a typical workout for you like?
Never really practice ball handling. I think everybody from New York has a handle.
The hardest thing to do was learn how to shoot, when I'm open.  I'm used to just catching the ball and going. I wasn't a set shooter. Learning how to shoot being set is the toughest.

I probably take 500 shots. I don't count, I just shoot and try to get a lot of shots till I get in a rhythm and feel I can make it every time.

Words of advice for young basketball players?
Just stay humble, work hard. Go to school, learn the game.
Stay motivated, try to word hard every night and try to be the last one on the court.

You can think whatever you want about Lance Stevenson's antics in game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but the reality is that Lance is 24 years old and is still not only learning to play/think the game, but also learning how to be a professional. That's not to justify what he did, but it kind of makes sense considering his background and the type of environment he grew up playing in. I've played in Rucker park. While I've never had my ear blown into on the court.....I have had people in the crowd talk trash to me, and even an opposing player pull my jersey over my head in an attempt to embarrass me (by a  dude named "White Chocolate".....and in turn I threw the ball off him on the next play).

There is definitely an edginess and toughness.....and holy sh*#! factor playing NY basketball.

And I guess, if that's what you grow up with, it becomes engrained in you. And if you learn how to survive that style of play, you then learn how to feed off of it. 
Lance even said himself: "That's what I know, that's the type of way I like to play. I like to talk to the crowd and it just gets me motivated."

I know, you're asking yourself: What type a player needs to talk trash to get motivated???
Especially when playing against the best in the playoffs?
Well, can you guess who said this:

"70% of me talking on the court, is personally to get me motivated and going. The other 30% of the time, it was to see if I could get in the opponents head."

That's Reggie Miller. 
The hall of famer that talked so much trash, he got John Starks to head butt him in a playoff game. He made Spike Lee the most famous Knicks fan. And even got Michael Jordan to lose his cool.
(By the way, this is great).

So trash talking, and doing things to get under an opponents skin are tactics that have been around a long time, and employed by some of the best in the game.

And consider this:
What would you do if your team was outplayed on the court for three straight games and currently faced elimination? What would you do if "basketball" adjustments proved futile? Would you not do anything in your capacity - including resorting to non-basketball taunting - to try and turn the series around?

Right or wrong, or whether this ultimately helps Indiana win the series is almost irrelevant at this point. What Lance has done has already worked because it's all we're talking about (rather than how much better Miami has been this series, how much Spoelstra has out coached Vogel, or the fact that Miami can become only the third franchise in NBA history to go to four straight Finals). And he's managed to turn this into a Lance-LeBron one on one matchup (at least in our minds).

That's NYC street ball at it's finest.

Speaking of perpetuating NYC basketball mythology, I love how Lance further propagates the stereotype of NYC basketball players:

"I think everybody from New York has a handle. The hardest thing to do was learn how to shoot."

Man, ain't that the knock on every NY kid coming up, especially NY point guards??? I guess that's just the breaks of being from the city. But for you non-NYers out there, it's not like we're born with a ball in our hands - a "handle" is something we develop. Part of it is due to the flashiness associated with street ball. But, if you really want to know the impetus for developing ball handling skills - go watch a game of "21" at Riverbank state part in Harlem. You literally have 20 kids on the same court and the only way to score is by dribling through all of them. Form fits function.
Now, if only there was some sort of selection factor for learning how to shoot.....

Having this skill set certainly has it's benefits (there have been serval times in which Lance has had LeBron on skates defensively).  But it also has it's draw backs. As a coach, one of the challenges is teaching kids how to use their ball handling/one-on-one strength within a team framework - in particular to get their teammates open as well as get themselves open mid-range jump shots. Another challenge is teaching kids to stay involved in the game when they don't have the ball. You heard Lance say he is used to "catching the ball and going," and that learning how to shoot when he's playing off the ball is the toughest thing. Yes. This is hard. In fact, there have been serval times in the series in which Lance has kind of drifted into a corner and do nothing when he's not involved in the play. Lance, you were Born Ready, so you have to stay ready (and active) even on the weak side. Think about what Shane Battier does. It's important for young players to know that they can affect the game in many ways and help their team win even when the ball is not in their hands. And part of being an effective player is being able to make a play even when a play isn't draw up for you. 


What's great about the Lance-LeBron matchup is that you have a young street baller going at and using street ball tactics against literally the best player in the world. That's kind of crazy when you think about it. I'm sure Lance is a hero back home in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

Using ear blowing is an interesting approach to take.......especially when you can't beat your opponent with basketball. But I'm not sure how effective it will be against a guy who has evolved to drown out all the the noise and distraction from millions of viewers and hundreds of media members that follow and critic his every move (including all the vitriol that ensued after "The Decision").

Actually, what's equally as enjoyable as Lance's immaturity, is seeing LeBron being the adult and ultimate professional in this situation. Think about how far he has come. Kind of cool to see LeBron transformed into the older vet that has to deal with all these petulant kids.
(By the way, in the interview there were signs of potential growth for Lance - I really enjoyed his comments directed towards young basketball players. And it's cool to note that during the all-star break, he was back home in Brooklyn watching his high school team. Seems like there is an opportunity to be more than a basketball player. What will Lance be like when he is 30?).

But before we go, waiting with anticipation to see what Lance will do tonight, let's consider the last two times in this year's playoffs LeBron has reacted to comments made by an opposing player.
1) Paul Pierce, after a BK Nets game 3 win says: "I want the responsibility of guarding LeBron."
Result: LeBron scores 49 in a game 4 win.

2) Lance Stevenson, after a game 3 loss, says LeBron talking to him is a weakness.
Result: LeBron scores 29 points in 3 quarters (32 for the game), in a blowout game 4 win.

I'm just saying.
Lance said the benefit of playing at the Rucker at a young age was competing against older players, enabling him to become physically and mentally tough while learning the game.
Sounds like he is primed for another lesson tonight.....

Unless you think these tactics really can be effective......

But rest assured. No matter who wins or loses tonight, both in the actual game or in the mind game........ Just by getting to see it play out, in real time, with so much on the line.........we all win!
Thanks to Lance!