Last night’s game was the most demoralized I’ve felt as a sports fan since The Decision. I have always been a huge Spurs fan (even during the LeBron era). I loved how the Spurs always had an answer for gimmicky teams like the Suns during the 7 seconds or less era. I felt that the Spurs were the best team in the league last year entering the playoffs and ran into their own version of the 2009 Magic when Serge Ibaka drained about 24 straight contested long 2s. I’ve always thought the Spurs discipline, passing, and experience was the perfect antidote to the Heat’s hyper-aggressive defense. In private I refer to their defense as “shamelessly” going for steals.
I hate the Heat. Nothing has cooled the ravaging beast that lives deep inside me that surfaces whenever I sense praise, adoration, and respect being doled out for this unholy hodgepodge of ring chasers, their undeserved fan base, and of course, LeBron. I won’t deny reality – LeBron is the best player in this game by a mile and the only player that can dominate and entire league armed with only solid role players. As I watched LeBron say “Screw it. I got this,” lose his headband, and take over the fourth quarter I thought, this is the finals I should have been watching as a Cavs fan. This Heat lineup is no different. Ray Allen? Shane Battier? Mario Chalmers? Chris Anderson? Chris Bosh the spot up jump shooter and “energy guy”? Headbandless LeBron is Cleveland LeBron. I’ve been watching the 2009 Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs! Only instead of going against a juggernaut Magic Team with a dominant center the Heat got a three round bye against three sub 50 win teams in the weakest Eastern Conference in almost 8 years. There’s just nothing fair about this.
With 28 second left and the Spurs up five, the camera closed in on LeBron face. He looked mere seconds away from crying. He was defeated. Parker’s insane three was reminiscent of J.J. Barea draining that dagger right in LeBron’s eye just two years earlier. According to Kevin Pelton’s PER Diem, the Heat had only a 1.4% chance of winning the game at that juncture. Unlike 2009, luck was on LeBron’s side last night. The Spurs missed free throws, LeBron missed two threes so badly that the rebounds were difficult to secure and bounced the Heat’s way and gave them extra chances. Then, after Allen’s unlikely three (after the Spurs allowed four 3-pointers to be launched without fouling – remember they were up five and then three) the referees stopped the game to review the call, eliminating any chance the Spurs had to push the ball and get a decent look with more than five seconds remaining on the clock. This needs to be a rule change – if the referees FORCE a timeout to review a play, the team in-bounding the ball should get it at half-court. In the overtime, the Spurs were gassed and still had a chance to win. The referees inclined not to bail out the reckless Manu Ginobili or Danny Green. They were denied five free throws due to the nature of the situation. Next time Tony Parker should just uppercut Ray Allen when he’s shooting with less than 10 seconds.
The Spurs were about to change the course of league history. Just like they single-handedly dismantled the 7-seconds or less era, they were about to prove that you do not build dynasties with genetic engineering. You draft players, grow them organically, and overcome an enormous athleticism gap with chemistry and execution. You win because everyone accepts a role and puts the team ahead of all else – on and off the court. The Spurs were about to exorcise my Decision demons. They were 98.6% of the way there. A selfless, fundamental, relentlessly cohesive franchise was about to overcome a flashy, preening, gimmick featuring the world’s best player. They get one more shot – hopefully they have more emotional fortitude than I do – cus I’m not showing up for game 7.
For a completely different opinion, read CtB Editor, Colin McGowan’s late nite response to game 6 at Sports on Earth.
I’m not going to get into what Cavs fans feel about the Heat’s success because their stances vary wildly — some care, some don’t, some still hurt — and at any rate these Finals have been so fascinating on pure basketball terms that it doesn’t need the added, bummer-ish input of what people in Cleveland think about it. But here’s something relevant: Cavs fans watched LeBron play 619 games for their favorite team. When you watch any player that often, you become attuned to the rhythms of his game. There’s an intimacy between player and fan, where the fan is able to anticipate what the player will do in a given situation, having watched him navigate the same scenario hundreds of times before…
Everything paused until LeBron reanimated it with his first step. This was, to use charitable terms, a frequently employed strategy when he was in Cleveland. No screens, no passing, no movement. Spread the floor out, let LeBron operate, and hopefully that’s good enough. So when he jab-stepped twice, three times, the background went white and some familiar machinations took place. Hello LeBron, my old friend. What is the sunrise like on Mars?
In other news, there’s plenty of draft chatter. A recent Sports Guy podcast, Kentucky Sports radio, and TheBigLead, all report of recent “red flags” when it comes to Nerlens Noel: no agent till late, blowing off World Wide Wes, and being hard to get a hold of. Countering, the Plain Dealer’s Mary Schmitt Boyer pens a short defense of Noel’s professionalism in her dealings with him.
In their latest mock draft, Sports Illustrated has the Cavs taking Noel #1, but notes, “Cleveland continues to aggressively shop this pick, according to sources, but one executive said the Cavs ‘have completely overvalued it.’”
Former gymnast and possible Cavalier #1 pick, Alex Len, compares himself to Zydrunas Ilgauskus, for good or ill.
Checking in with Dion…