We Are All Witnesses…But Not Much Longer.

But I don’t WANT the playoffs to be over!” says Sad LeBron (photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

As Game Two of the NBA Finals looms, things aren’t looking real good for the underdog Cleveland Cavaliers. Unlike his boast when he  took his talents to South Beach  there  would be “Not one…not two…not three.. ” championships with the  Miami Heat, LeBron James didn’t guarantee the Cavs would win any. In fact, after reaching the championship round, James copped to being surprised they made it that far this soon.

The Cavs were already the underdog in the match-up against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, but when you’ve got the greatest player in the game you’ve always got a puncher’s chance. That was before Kevin Love was knocked out of the playoffs when the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk tried to take Love’s shoulder home with him. That was before Kyrie Irving’s left kneecap blew off and sent him to the surgeon’s table. James is known to make his teammates better than they actually are, but even for him this is a mighty heavy lift.

Pop Quiz: Know who Shannon Brown, Damon Jones, Sasha Pavolic, Scot Pollard and Ira Newble are?

They were  a few teammates of James on the ’06-07 Cavaliers  and a pretty talentless bunch  he carried on his back to the NBA Finals where they were swept away  by the Spurs.  Without Irving and Love, James simply does not have enough bullets in his belt  to take the pressure from him to perform at a superhuman level to win a championship. Role players like Iman Shumpert,  J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavdova and Tristan Thompson are not going to turn into superstars against a team as deep and balanced as the Warriors.

It’s been suggested if James is really that great he should be able to find a way to overcome the odds and carry this depleted roster to the title.   Those suggestions are as useful  as a bag full of broken hammers.

Michael Jordan used to wear the title “Best Player On the Planet” but he needed Pippen and Grant before he put on any rings. Dr. J. needed Moses, Kareem needed Magic and Bird needed Parrish and McHale. Ya feel me?

“Sorry, bro. You on your own. “

In NO way is James diminished as a the Greatest player in the NBA if he loses this championship. Remember when the Lakers had Gary Payton and Karl Malone to go with Shaq and Kobe? They lost to the Pistons that year whose biggest “star” were Rasheed and Ben Wallace! TEAMS win championships. One man gangs playing hero ball do not.

It’s disingenuous to even suggest LeBron is lessened when he’s playing with role players, guys who weren’t even on the team when the season started and scrubs.

I’d love to see LeBron triumph and beat the odds by leading the Cavs to a championship, but my desires are tempered by reality. Even King James cannot play every minute, bring the ball up court, call the play, put everyone in the right place on the floor, distribute the rock, take the shot, knock it down, box out, grab the rebound, get back on “D”, guard all five opposing players, pop the popcorn, shake the pom-poms at halftime, coach the team and drive the team bus.

The bigger problem for the Cavs is their coach, David Blatt.    He took the job before James came back to town and since then  LeBron has made it clear he doesn’t listen to Blatt; he tolerates him (barely).   Curry does not have a similar problem being coached by Steve Kerr.   Unlike Blatt, Kerr played in the NBA and with Jordan no less.   He knows a little something about how to play with a superstar.   Blatt can’t buy a clue.

His name is LeBron James. It would take LeBron Jesus to carry these  Cavs to a championship.    The Warriors want what LeBron already has: a championship ring and their strategy is not to double team him and not try to shut him down.   Let LeBron get his and see who else can get anything.

James dismisses any strategy teams are allowing him to do his thing while challenging the other guys to do anything.

“Well, first of all, you can’t let me have 40,” James said following the Game One overtime loss where he scored the Cavs lone two points,   “You don’t let me have 40. I go get 40. It’s not like they’re just getting out of the way. So those guys aren’t saying we’re okay with letting him have 40. You don’t let me have 40; I’m making those shots.”

But you didn’t make the shot that would have won the game in regulation, LeBron.    You got 44 points.  You needed 46

His performance in Game Three against the Hawks was nothing short of Herculean. His 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists was magnificent and that’s on top of battling his own knee and ankles injuries (as well as  Blatt’s brain fart in playcalling and counting time outs).

Meet The 2006 Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s okay if you don’t remember them.

I was one of those who was royally pissed by the clumsy way LeBron exited Cleveland and The Decision was one of the worst p.r. mistakes ever made by a pro athlete. But he learned and I have learned to forgive and forget. I welcome him back to Ohio and I wish him nothing but well. James doesn’t have brushes with the law. Doesn’t hang out in the clubs and strip joints. Doesn’t seem to be dropping little LeBrons all around the country. He appears to be a family man who is taking care of them and building himself into a global brand. Good for the brother, I say.

Win this series or lose it, LeBron is still who he is: The Greatest Player in the NBA Today. Truth.   He will not give up and he will not roll over and crown the Warriors.   If there’s a way to will the Cavaliers to a win, James can do it.    With  King James there’s a chance to avoid a repeat of The Sweep the Spurs laid on the Cavs in 2007.

But they won’t win.   They can’t win.   Warriors in five.

Riley Curry waves “bye-bye” to the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

 

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over (It’s Over!)

Someone wants this more and someone's going to get it.

Someone wants this more and someone’s going to get it.

Officially, Game Five of the NBA Playoffs will be played Sunday in San Antonio.   Unofficially, this is merely a formality.  This series is over.   The Miami Heat are going to Texas as the champions of the league seeking their third consecutive title.  They are coming back to Florida as the latest sports franchise to fail to pull off the trick of “the three-peat.”

The legend of LeBron James will not suffer from his inferior team losing to a clearly superior one.    Even stuck on two rings, James is still the best player on the planet until someone comes along and makes him second-best and while Kawai Leonard has matched at times surpassed James during the series, his best day would just be an average on for James.

The best player doesn’t win championships.  The best team does and this year that team is the Spurs and it’s not even close.   James is doing what he can but without some help from Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and whatever they can scrape off of their sorry bench, even King James can’t avoid being dethroned by the clearly superior Spurs.

“I don’t really get caught up in what pressure is all about…” James said after the Heat was crushed in their Game 4 loss. “For me, I do whatever it takes to help our team win. If it’s me going one-on?-one to try to help us win, if it’s me getting guys involved and taking threes in rhythm, then I’ll do it. But I don’t really get caught up in the pressure.”

He doesn’t have to.  It’s those other eleven guys whom are feeling the squeeze and coming up small.

I knew the game was over in the second quarter on one play.  One on the Spurs misses a shot, the ball is bouncing back off the rim,  James and a few other Heat are looking up and in position for the rebound and zooming down from the free throw line comes Kawai Leonard to snatch the ball up and JAM IT BACK DOWN with a nasty-ass slam.

Kawai Leonard rocks the rim--and the Heat (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Kawai Leonard rocks the rim–and the Heat (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It was ugly.  It was brutal.  It was beautiful.   It was over.  The body language of the Heat said it all:  they didn’t want it as much as the Spurs did.

There was still another half to play but that was simply a perfunctory necessity.  The game was over and the Spurs won the championship on that play.   The story isn’t how the Heat lost their title, but how the Spurs took it from them.

There’s no flash or sparkle to the Spurs.  They’re a team built around aging, but effective studs (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker), rising stars (Leonard, Danny Green) and a Foreign Legion of role players (Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Mario Bellinelli, Patty “Not Pat” Mills) and a craggy-faced, curmudgeon Gregg Popovich who is only the best coach in the NBA.

Duncan is a lock for the Hall of Fame and Popovich will walk into it as well when he retires and turns overs the reigns.   Rarely have a player and coach been as great as long as this duo has and their fifth championship since 1999 would be an exclamation point on both their outstanding careers which probably will end in a year or two.

Win or lose, the chatter has already begun if these are the last games James ever wears a Heat uniform again.   He can declare himself a free agent and take his still impressive talents to any team that wants to back up a fleet of Brink’s trucks in his driveway.    When push comes to shove, I’m betting LeBron gives Heat GM manager Pat Riley a chance of clearing away some of the flotsam and jetsam on the roster and finds some more athletic, energetic playmates.

However, that’s all for the postmortem plans.   After all, when you’ve got the best player in the game, there’s always an excellent chance an elimination game won’t turn out as expected.  What leads me to believe things are going to turn out exactly as expected is while The Heat need and hope to win, the Spurs expect to win.   The math is elementary.  The Heat have to win every game.  The Spurs only have to win one.

Tonight they will and LeBron can start making his summer plans.

The elder statesmen of The Spurs waiting for the trophy celebration.

The elder statesmen of The Spurs waiting for the trophy celebration.

Prepare Thyself to Hail the King

The NBA Finals resume Thursday evening, but they ended last night.   For all intents and purposes it’s all over.   Lebron James and his Miami Heat have no intentions of going back to Oklahoma City until next season.   They want to put an end to the series on their own court before their own fans.

Barring an unforeseeable miracle, that’s exactly what they will do by 11:30 Eastern Standard Time.

The Heat’s 104-98 win over the Thunder was the difference between a two-man game and a team.   Going into the series, it was assumed it was Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden who were the new “Big 3” and James along with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were three superstars trying to learn how to play as teammates.

Oh, what a difference ripping off three straight wins makes.   The Thunder hasn’t played bad, but the Heat has played lights out.  When OKC ripped off a lead in the first quarter that stretched to 17 points, the Heat played it cool.   Beyond their own Big 3, they got major contributions from point guards Mario Chalmers (25 points) and Norris Cole who came off the bench to knock down two three-pointers that chipped away at the Thunder’s lead.

Durant scored 28 points and Westbrook led all scorers with 43.   Westbrook is a score first-pass second point guard who trusts his own abilities more than he trusts any teammate not named Durant.  With good reason as it turns out.  Harden has been more bust than bad-ass in the Finals.  He was 2 of 10 shooting in Game Four including an embarrassingly botched breakaway(slam? lay up?).   Harden is stinking up the series with his lousy play.

It was supposed to be a showdown, not a beatdown.

The rest of the Thunder scored a total of 19 points.  Derek Fisher is old, slow, and simply can’t play anymore.  Fisher’s stats for the game: 22 minutes, no assists, no points, no rebounds, no turnovers, one steal and the one shot he yoked up was a bricked three-pointed that only served to waste a fast break opportunity.

For all the criticism of Westbrook for not being a distributor as the point guard, Fisher, 37 years old with 15 years experience, has been absolute garbage.   The biggest favor he could do for the team is to retire today and let somebody play tomorrow who looks like they belong on the court instead of an assisted living facility.

But this is less about the Thunder blowing it than it is the Heat winning it.  James is playing fiercely.   There’s none of the dancing, joking and playing around with a mock camera as he did in his last season with the Cavaliers.   He’s dialed in completely and whatever it takes for him to win his first championship James is willing to do.  He’s rebounding, scoring, distributing, playing lockdown “d” and making the rest of his teammates step up their game.   James is on a mission and he will not be denied.

The Thunder certainly has shown they have no idea how to do it.   Lebron is too strong for Durant, too big for Harden, too fast for any of the useless Thunder big men.

Last year when he was being humiliated by the Dallas Mavericks, James was the best player in the NBA with the worst reputation.   People were pulling for him to lose, including me.  He made himself easy to root against after his awful kiss-off to Cleveland with the brain-dead debacle that was “The Decision”  After that farce he went from King James to “LeGone James” and why not?  What was he supposed to be king of anyway?

I’m still a little frosty by the graceless way he left, but I can’t deny Lebron his due.  He is the best player in the NBA and has proven it by his play throughout the playoffs.   Now that he is standing on the verge of finally winning his first championship, only the most hardcore of Lebron haters can refuse to recognize the grandeur of his reign over the basketball world.

Ready or not, it’s time to hail the King.

The Thunder don’t need a miracle. They need a win.