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Friday, June 22, 2012

Thunder Show True Class in Defeat

"We're going to treat them like they're the champions. After the game were going to walk and shake their hands and acknowledge all of them. They beat us fair and square. However how hard that hurts, they still beat us fair and square."--Oklahoma City Thunder Coach Scott Brooks' message to his team late in game five of the 2012 NBA Finals

LeBron James deserves credit for realizing how immaturely he acted last year and for taking steps to become more mature but while many media members stumble over each other to be first in line to praise James and scream from the rooftops, "All is forgiven, King James!" it is important to emphasize that the Oklahoma City Thunder--a team that featured the youngest starting lineup to reach the NBA Finals since the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers--are already very mature human beings, even if they may need some seasoning as basketball players in order to achieve their ultimate goal; James embarrassed himself with both his lackluster play and his immature comments during last year's NBA Finals but the Thunder have displayed commendable maturity throughout their evolution from the worst team in the league to a squad that looks like a potential dynasty in the making. After James' Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Orlando Magic in the 2009 playoffs, he fled the court without shaking hands with the Magic players and he later refused to apologize for his poor sportsmanship, insisting that his boorish conduct actually was a reflection of his competitiveness. In contrast, Thunder Coach Scott Brooks instructed his players to congratulate the Heat last night--and the beautiful thing is that one gets the sense that most if not all of the Thunder players would have done the right thing even if Brooks had not reminded them in the heat of the moment to do so. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are each just 23 years old but they are young men who do the NBA proud on and off the court and they are worthy future NBA Champions.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:35 PM

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LeBron James Leads with a Triple Double as the Heat Win the First Title of the Big Three Era

"I just looked at myself in the mirror and said, 'You need to be better, both on and off the floor.'"--LeBron James, postgame interview after the Miami Heat won the 2012 NBA Championship

LeBron James clinched his first NBA Championship with a dominant game five performance--26 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds--as the Miami Heat blew out the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106. James led the Heat in all three major statistical categories during the game and the series, earning unanimous selection as the 2012 NBA Finals MVP; he averaged 28.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg and 7.4 apg during the series. Chris Bosh, the most underrated and unappreciated member of Miami's Big Three, scored 24 points on 9-14 field goal shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. The Heat went 11-3 during the playoffs with Bosh in the lineup but just 5-4 during the nine games that he missed due to an abdominal injury; the Heat probably would not have beaten Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals if Bosh had not returned to action and they certainly would not have defeated the Thunder without Bosh, who ranked second on the Heat in rebounding (9.4 rpg) and third on the Heat in scoring (14.6 ppg) during the NBA Finals. Bosh's shooting ability spaces the floor on offense and he is a mobile, versatile defender.

Mike Miller poured in 23 points in just 23 minutes, draining seven of his eight three pointers after not making a single shot from beyond the arc in the first four games of the series. Miller's marksmanship helped the Heat tie the NBA Finals record for most three pointers made by a team in one game (14). Dwyane Wade had a nice all-around performance: 20 points on 7-12 field goal shooting, eight rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots, two steals. Wade seems to have entered the declining phase of his career but he is still a potent second option, probably the second best second option in the league behind only Russell Westbrook, whose great game four performance should have convinced the doubters that he is in fact the best point guard in the NBA.

Another person must be mentioned even though he did not make a shot, grab a rebound or dish for an assist: Coach Erik Spoelstra deserves credit for designing and implementing Miami's tenacious defense, for helping his team to resiliently bounce back after trailing in three out of four playoff series and for improving the team's once subpar halfcourt offense. Spoelstra essentially shifted James to power forward, making James the low post focal point of the halfcourt offense and the team's key rebounder at both ends of the court (in tandem with Bosh, who functioned as a mobile center much like Boston's Kevin Garnett).

Kevin Durant led the Thunder with a game-high 32 points on 13-24 field goal shooting and 11 rebounds but he had little help; Russell Westbrook attacked the hoop with great vigor but only made four of his 20 field goal attempts, finishing with 19 points, six assists and four rebounds. James Harden finally showed up--even if a lot of his production came during garbage time--with 19 points and five assists and Derek Fisher had a solid game (11 points, four rebounds, three assists) but most of the other Thunder players had little discernible impact.

The Heat led for most of the game but--at least initially--the Thunder battled back, eventually cutting a 17 point deficit to just 61-56 early in the third quarter. It seemed like this would be yet another fantastic finish but then Miami blew the game open with a 33-14 run that included five three pointers and the Thunder never seriously threatened to get back in the game after that, turning the fourth quarter into what Marv Albert would call "extensive garbage time."

This series contained a lot of stories and subplots but we all knew that there were only two possible headlines after it ended: either "LeBron Wins" or "LeBron Loses." James' first championship will undoubtedly cause celebration in some quarters and angst in other quarters and it will also prompt a lot of historical revisionism; neither the celebration nor the angst particularly interest or engage me but I am concerned about historical revisionism and I think that it is very important to place James' accomplishment in proper context.

James made a candid admission prior to game five: "Last year, after game six, after losing, once again, I was very frustrated. Like I said, last year I played to prove people wrong instead of just playing my game, instead of just going out and having fun and playing a game that I grew up loving and why I fell in love with the game. So I was very immature last year after game six towards you guys and towards everyone that was watching." In case you forgot, this is what James said after he and the Heat lost three straight games to blow a 2-1 lead in the 2011 NBA Finals: "At the end of the day, all of the people that were rooting for me to fail, tomorrow they'll have to wake up and have the same life that [they had] before they woke up today. They got the same personal problems they had today and I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do." That comment, along with James' infamous "Decision" TV show and his boast that it would be "easy" to "win multiple championships," are examples of the immaturity that James finally realized was holding him back from reaching his full potential. Winning one championship does not validate James' previous immature actions and statements--and in fact he would not have won a championship without both realizing that he has been immature and taking steps to correct that immaturity.

This year James cut down on the foolishness and the histrionics before, during and after games; he approached his craft in a much more professional, businesslike manner. He not only altered his demeanor but he finally took full advantage of his physical gifts by relentlessly attacking the paint with drives and postups; when the going got tough he did not settle for jump shots or simply give up the ball but he continued to attack: during game five, James scored 16 of his 26 points within five feet of the hoop and during the NBA Finals he averaged nearly 18 ppg in the paint. It must be emphasized that James' triumph does not "refute" his critics: James' critics were right and James responded properly by making the appropriate changes in his mindset. NBA TV's Charles Barkley said that winning a championship did not make James a better player but Barkley has it backwards; only by becoming a better, more focused player did James succeed where he previously had failed.

The difference between LeBron James this season and last season is like the difference between Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back and in Return of the Jedi. In the former, Skywalker could "feel" the Force but he could not "control it" (as Yoda tried to explain to his young apprentice) and when he rushed headlong into a showdown with Darth Vader he got his hand chopped off and almost lost his life; in the latter, a more mature Skywalker was able to defeat Vader and also avoid being tempted to turn to the Dark Side. James now has a much fuller appreciation of how to use his gifts to win at the highest level of the sport and his mental/psychological approach to competition is much better than it was previously.

James averaged 30.3 ppg during the playoffs, the second time he has finished first in the league in postseason scoring average; Kobe Bryant leads active players with three such scoring crowns, while Michael Jordan tops the all-time list with 10 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and George Gervin each accomplished this feat five times. James also averaged 9.7 rpg and 5.6 apg, becoming the first player in NBA history to twice average at least 30 ppg, 9 rpg and 5 apg in one postseason; James previously achieved this in 2009 and Oscar Robertson is the only other NBA player who has done it even once (1963)--however, it must be noted that Julius Erving averaged 33.3 ppg, 20.4 rpg and 6.5 apg for the Virginia Squires in the 1972 ABA playoffs as a rookie and Erving just narrowly missed this plateau during the 1976 playoffs when he led the New York Nets to the final ABA title while averaging 34.7 ppg, 12.6 rpg and 4.9 apg. Also, George McGinnis averaged 32.3 ppg, 15.9 rpg and 8.2 apg for the Indiana Pacers in the 1975 ABA playoffs.

It is ironic that James is persistently described as a "pass first" player and that it is commonly believed that he had to leave Cleveland in order to get enough help to win a title; the reality is that during the first championship run of James' career he posted his third highest postseason scoring average, his highest rebounding average and his lowest assists average: James led the Heat to the championship by becoming a dominant inside scorer and rebounder who is willing/able to pass when he is double teamed. The Heat would not have won this championship without James' scoring--and James' teams very likely would have won the 2010 and 2011 championships if James had been willing/able to be a dominant inside scorer instead of settling for outside shots or passively giving up the ball without even being double teamed. James scored at least 30 points in 13 of the Heat's 23 playoff games; Magic Johnson, who truly was a "pass first" player, scored at least 30 points in just 12 of his 190 career playoff games. James has never averaged more than 8 apg during a single postseason, while Johnson averaged at least 9.3 apg in 11 of his 13 postseasons, with the two exceptions coming in an abbreviated three game playoff run after his second season and in a similarly abbreviated four game playoff run after his brief 1996 comeback.

James is not the heir to Magic Johnson; James' game--when he is playing the right way--is some combination of the ABA Julius Erving, the older Karl Malone who could post up and pass to cutters and the Larry Bird who played the "point forward" position (James made a couple very Bird-like touch passes for assists during the NBA Finals, redirecting the ball while barely touching it to get an easy basket for a teammate). James has a mixture of Erving's hops, Malone's bulk and Bird's court vision. It is difficult to think of a direct comparison in terms of James' ability to guard multiple positions, though Scottie Pippen in his prime and Julius Erving in his Nets' years are two players who come to mind--both Pippen and Erving would have had more difficulty defending big centers than James does but James rarely guards a big center who actually is a low post scoring threat (Pippen used to check Greg Ostertag at times during the NBA Finals and the young Erving also could use his athletic ability to occasionally guard bigger players).

James' 2012 playoff run is one for the ages not just because of the raw numbers or because of the way his skill set is an amalgamation of Erving/Malone/Bird but because James fully directed his mind, his energy and his skills toward doing whatever he had to do for his team to win. James admitted that he did not make enough "game changing plays" during the 2011 NBA Finals and he made sure that he made many such plays during the 2012 NBA Finals.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:55 AM

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Heat Come Back from 17 Point Deficit, Take 3-1 Finals Lead

The Miami Heat withstood a tremendous 33-16 first quarter outburst by the Oklahoma City Thunder and a historically great individual performance by Russell Westbrook to take a 3-1 NBA Finals lead with a hard fought 104-98 victory. Leg cramps limited LeBron James in the final five minutes of the game but he still just narrowly missed posting a triple double with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, leading the Heat in all three categories. Dwyane Wade added 25 points, five rebounds and three assists and Chris Bosh contributed 13 points while tying James with nine rebounds but the difference proved to be Mario Chalmers' playoff career-high tying 25 points, including the final five points of the game; Chalmers' layup with :44 remaining put the Heat up 101-96 and he then calmly drained three out of four free throw attempts to ice the win. There is a reason that many NBA talent evaluators like to draft players who won a championship at the collegiate level (assuming, of course, that the player has at least one legitimate NBA skill); Chalmers won the 2008 Final Four Most Outstanding Player award while leading Kansas to the NCAA title and he is a perfect complementary player for the Heat because of his willingness/ability to take and make big pressure shots, much like John Paxson, Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher filled a similar role on many championship teams in the past two decades. None of those four 6-3 and under guards were/are traditional point guards but they were/are all excellent spot up shooters.

Twenty four years ago, Isiah Thomas scored 43 points in game six of the NBA Finals--many of them on one leg after he sprained his ankle--as his Detroit Pistons lost to the L.A. Lakers 103-102; Westbrook did not sprain his ankle and he did not pour in a record 25 points in one quarter the way that Thomas did but Westbrook's 43 points on 20-32 field goal shooting (plus seven rebounds and five assists) will be remembered as one of the greatest single game performances in NBA Finals history. It is hard to overstate just how well Westbrook played and just how rare his overall numbers are, particularly at the NBA Finals level: Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal are the only other two players in the past 25 years who made at least 20 field goals in an NBA Finals game, they are the only other two players in that time span who scored more than 43 points in an NBA Finals game while shooting better than .600 from the field and they are also the only other two players in the past quarter century who scored at least 43 points in an NBA Finals game while accumulating at least seven rebounds and at least five assists.

No Heat player can stay in front of Westbrook--and that was as true in games one through three when he missed good, point blank shots at the rim as it was in game four when he made those same shots, a reality that ESPN's Magic Johnson finally acknowledged; Johnson apologized for the disparaging comments that he made about Westbrook's game two performance and Johnson conceded that the way Westbrook plays is an essential part of the Thunder's success this season.

I rarely comment much in my game recaps about officiating and I do not plan to change that policy now, but here is one interesting statistic to consider: even though Westbrook is an attacking player who scores many of his points in the paint, he is the first player in NBA Finals history to score at least 43 points in a game while having three or fewer free throw attempts.

While Westbrook put his name in the history books alongside legends like Isiah Thomas and Jerry West (who tallied 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in game seven of the 1969 NBA Finals to become the first and only Finals MVP from the losing squad), LeBron James is on the verge of making history as well; the best player in the NBA is just one win away from capturing his first NBA championship. James' playoff numbers this year are great but he has put up similar numbers before; the big difference now is that his effort level is consistently high and he is making a conscious effort to relentlessly attack the paint instead of settling for jump shots or meekly passing the ball without first drawing multiple defenders to create an open shot for the player who receives the ball: it is one thing to passively give up the ball while standing three feet behind the three point line and it is another thing entirely to post up, get both feet in the paint to draw an extra defender and then fire a pass to a teammate for an open shot.

The way that James is playing now is the way that James should have played against Boston in the 2010 playoffs and against Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals; if the Heat win the 2012 NBA Championship then James will obviously deserve to receive the Finals MVP and all of the accolades that go along with being the best player on a championship team but that accomplishment will not justify the narcissistic excess of the "Decision" or James' ludicrous boast that it would be "easy" to "win multiple championships"--and I suspect that if James is honest about it he would admit that nothing about this season or this playoff run has been easy. Perhaps James has learned how important it is to respect the process involved in becoming a champion and how important it is to play hard all of the time. The idea that James could just team up with two perennial All-Stars and cruise to multiple titles was foolish, as was the idea that fleeing Cleveland relieved James of the pressure to perform at a high level; in order for the Heat--or any other team--to win an NBA championship it is necessary for the best player to dominate the game and that has almost always been true (the 1979 Sonics and the 2004 Pistons are perhaps the only exceptions to that rule, with multiple All-Stars on those squads almost equally sharing the collective load).

After the first quarter it did not seem likely that we would now be thinking about James possibly hoisting the Finals MVP on Thursday night; for the first time in the series the Thunder exploded out of the gates, with Westbrook leading the way, but the Heat weathered the storm and Norris Cole's three pointer with :03 left started a 16-0 run that erased almost all of the Thunder's initial advantage. The Thunder never led by more than five the rest of the way, so it is important to understand that even though much attention will be focused on the final minutes of the game the Thunder actually lost this game in the second quarter (and, to a lesser extent, in the third quarter when they fell behind after leading by three at halftime) when they so quickly surrendered a huge lead and could never again muster the energy that they displayed in the first 10 minutes or so of the contest. A big part of the problem for the Thunder is that their transition defense fell apart, so much so that on occasion they gave up layups (or fouls in the paint) even after they scored--something that exasperated ABC's Jeff Van Gundy (and surely must have infuriated Thunder Coach Scott Brooks): at one point, Van Gundy declared that if players are tired then they should go sit on the bench but that there is no excuse for jogging back on defense, particularly with an NBA championship at stake.

After the Thunder blew their big lead, the game was close the rest of the way. The individual plays that will be most discussed took place in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter, starting with Derek Fisher's steal from LeBron James with the score tied at 90. The 37 year old Fisher, who has never been a great finisher at the rim, recklessly went all the way to the hoop and got his shot stuffed by Wade like a little brother getting packed by his big brother in the driveway; Wade's block ignited a Heat fastbreak and--as Hubie Brown likes to say--a missed layup at one end of the court in an NBA game almost always results in a score at the other end of the court within three or four seconds. James made a short shot from the left wing to put the Heat up two, but he came up lame and after Westbrook missed a jumper the Heat called timeout and James had to be helped to the bench because of leg cramps.

James missed 1:10 with the injury, came back at the 4:05 mark to play for a little more than three minutes and then sat out the final :55--during which the Heat (specifically, Chalmers) outscored the Thunder 5-2. When James returned to action, the Thunder failed to attack him at either end of the court: they should have crowded him on offense and they should have driven the ball right at him on defense but their offensive possessions during that crucial time resulted in three long, missed jump shots, two turnovers, an offensive foul by Durant and a strong driving layup by Westbrook (the Thunder's only score). Bill Russell once said that he would have been insulted if Willis Reed--or anyone else--had tried to play against him on one leg the way that Reed played against Wilt Chamberlain in the 1970 NBA Finals; toward the end of his career, Michael Jordan torched Kenyon Martin for 45 points after Martin foolishly admitted to Jordan that a back injury was limiting his mobility. Jordan could not believe that someone would volunteer such information to an opponent. It is inexplicable that the Thunder permitted James to hobble around the court for three minutes without making him and the Heat pay. James' three pointer with 2:50 remaining put the Heat up 97-94 and the Heat led the rest of the way; James spent that entire possession as an immobile decoy--which is why Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra removed him from the game shortly thereafter--so it is baffling that the Thunder did not force James to put the ball on the floor, even though that obviously contradicts the scouting report about how to guard a healthy James. Unless the Thunder thought that James was faking--and there was no reason to think that--they had to attack him at that crucial point in the game.

The Thunder's last realistic chance to save the game happened when Udonis Haslem and James Harden contested a jump ball at the Heat's end of the court with 17 seconds remaining and Miami leading 101-98. Miami controlled the tip but only had five seconds to shoot; if the Thunder got a stop and a rebound then they would have had time to try a tying three pointer but Westbrook--who apparently thought that the shot clock had reset--intentionally fouled Chalmers, who made both free throws. Coach Brooks correctly stated that one play out of 200 or so does not win or lose a game--and I would add that the Thunder's mistakes in the second and third quarters plus their refusal to attack the wounded James had more to do with the loss than one mental error by the player who almost singlehandedly kept them in the game with a performance for the ages.

The bottom line is that Westbrook needed more help and if he had received just a little more assistance then this series would be tied 2-2. Kevin Durant scored 28 points on 9-19 field goal shooting and 9-9 free throw shooting but his floor game was once again subpar; in the last three games, LeBron James has physically dominated Durant, preventing Durant from receiving the ball close to the hoop and essentially forcing Durant to revert back to being a one dimensional player who does not impact the game in other ways (Durant only had two rebounds and three assists).

Besides the way that James has outplayed Durant since game one, the big difference in this series has been the disappearance of 2012 Sixth Man of the Year James Harden; listen closely and you can hear all of the people who loudly stated that the Thunder should keep Harden and trade Westbrook scurrying into hiding. Miami's Big Three is fully functional, with LeBron James filling up all of the box score columns, Dwyane Wade serving as the second leading scorer and secondary playmaker and Chris Bosh providing a paint presence at both ends of the court--but Oklahoma City's Big Three has turned into a Big Two now that Harden is scoring in single digits while shooting a low percentage. Harden had just eight points on 2-10 field goal shooting in game four.

No team has ever won the NBA Finals after trailing 3-1 and no Finalist has even forced a game seven after facing that deficit; the only solace the Thunder can take now is that all of the games have been competitive and they have proven that they can outplay the Heat for significant stretches of time: one road win sends this series back to Oklahoma City, where the Thunder have only lost once this postseason. If the Thunder can revive James Harden and get some more production from their big men then perhaps they can make history--but it is more likely that 10 years from now James' gimpy legged three pointer will be featured in a TV commercial similar to the one that now highlights Michael Jordan's famous "flu game."

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:48 AM

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Exceptional Free Throw Marksmanship Lifts Heat Over Thunder

Teams that shoot .378 from the field and commit nine fourth quarter turnovers rarely win in the NBA--particularly in the NBA Finals--but the Miami Heat relentlessly attacked the basket, drew fouls and were nearly perfect from the free throw line (31-35, .886) in their 91-85 game three victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. LeBron James led the way with game-high totals in points (29) and rebounds (14). He is a skilled passer--even though he only had three assists in this contest--but he is not a pass first player; he is a tremendous scorer who can also rebound like a power forward/center and who can guard almost any player in the league one on one: after three-time defending scoring champion Kevin Durant torched Shane Battier head to head with 11-17 field goal shooting in the first two games of this series, James took the primary assignment in game three and held Durant to 1-5 field goal shooting in the fourth quarter. Durant finished with 26 points overall but he had just four points in the final stanza. Durant's floor game also suffered; he had six rebounds (an acceptable total for a small forward but lower than Durant's average), no assists and five turnovers.

Each team only had three players score in double figures: Dwyane Wade (25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and Chris Bosh (10 points, 11 rebounds) supported James, while Russell Westbrook (19 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Kendrick Perkins (10 points, 12 rebounds) helped Durant. Sixth Man of the Year James Harden brought his beard but left his game at the hotel: he shot just 2-10 from the field and finished with nine points, six rebounds and six assists.

Job number one for the Thunder entering game three was to avoid getting off to a slow start and the Thunder were partially successful; in game two they trailed 18-2 in the early going but this time they were only behind 26-20 at the end of the first quarter and they cut that margin to 47-46 at halftime. Considering the way that the Thunder dominated the final three quarters in the first two games, that close halftime score seemed to bode well for them but everything unraveled late in the third quarter. The Thunder led 60-53 when Kevin Durant committed his fourth foul on Wade's drive to the hoop. This is the second game in a row that serious foul trouble limited Durant's minutes; he simply must discipline himself to avoid silly touch fouls. Durant went to the bench and even though the Thunder briefly stretched the margin to 64-54 they squandered most of that lead in a 23 second span by twice fouling three point shooters and essentially giving the Heat six free points.. By the end of the quarter the Heat were up 69-67. After Durant returned at the start of the fourth quarter the Thunder briefly took a 77-76 lead but then they failed to score for nearly four minutes.

Despite Durant's foul trouble, the two stupid fouls and the long fourth quarter scoring drought, the Thunder still had a chance to win--or at least tie the game and force overtime--in the final few possessions but they executed horribly at both ends of the court. The Heat led 88-85 with 16 seconds remaining (and 10 seconds on the shot clock); LeBron James was dribbling the ball near the half court line--in no position to score or make an effective pass--when Harden inexplicably tried to draw a charge and was instead called for a block: as ABC's Jeff Van Gundy said, a player must know whether his team's philosophy in such situations is to give the foul immediately (to save time) or else to play out the defensive possession, secure the rebound and try to score in the final six seconds. James only managed to split the pair of free throws but now the Thunder needed two scores. Thabo Sefolosha then threw his inbounds pass right to Dwyane Wade (Westbrook cut in one direction but Sefolosha tossed the ball in the other direction) and Wade's free throws put the Heat up 91-85 with just 13 seconds left.

The Thunder led the NBA in free throws made (21.3 per game) and free throw percentage (.806) during the regular season but in game three they shot just 15-24 (.625). Although people tend to focus on the final things that happen in close games, the six free throws that the Thunder gave to the Heat by fouling three point shooters in the third quarter provided the final scoring margin. The Heat shot 22-24 from the free throw line in the second half and those numbers are incredible even though they are a bit padded because the Thunder had to foul in the final seconds to get the ball back. "Defend without fouling" is one of the main coaching mantras in the NBA and you can bet that the Thunder players will be repeatedly hearing those words from the coaching staff in the next two days. All of that unnecessary fouling was particularly damaging to the Thunder considering the fact that the Heat shot just 6-34 (.176) outside of the paint in game three, including 3-22 (.136) by James, Wade and Bosh; when the Thunder kept the Heat out of the paint and off of the free throw line the Heat were almost comically inept on offense and that should be a recipe for success for the Thunder because James and Wade have always been erratic perimeter shooters and because the Heat's offense does not usually provide many scoring opportunities for Bosh, who is a good shooter (though he only shot 3-12 in game three).

Statistically, Durant had his worst game of the Finals so far--which is not to say that he played poorly, merely that he did not play as exceptionally well as he did in the first two games--but if you listen to him talk and watch how he conducts himself you know that he is a man and not a fake tough guy: he does not try to pump himself up by saying stupid things or acting outrageously; he just handles his business with class, dignity and humility while offering no excuses when he and his team fall short. Whether he wins his first championship this season or in the future, the NBA is in good hands if he and Derrick Rose are going to be the league's standard bearers for the next decade or so.

Durant's ascension may have to wait one more year, though; this is the kind of game that the Miami Heat repeatedly found ways to lose last season but this time they had the necessary will, resiliency and poise to prevail. It seems like LeBron James is in a better place mentally/psychologically than he was earlier in his career--but we cannot say that definitively until this series is over. LeBron James has been here before; he has had great playoff runs statistically and just last year his Heat enjoyed a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals before losing three straight games to the Dallas Mavericks. What James does--or does not do--in the next two, three or four games is what will be most remembered about his 2011-12 season.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:48 AM

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Phil Jackson Calls New York's Roster "Clumsy"

The New York Knicks essentially tanked multiple seasons because they mistakenly believed that they could woo LeBron James to become Captain of the Gotham Titanic. That quest famously crashed into the proverbial iceberg when James took his talents to South Beach and now it is clear that Phil "11 rings" Jackson will not be walking through the door to Madison Square Garden, either. Jackson recently told HBO's Andrea Kremer why he has no interest in becoming Coach of the Knicks: "...there's just too much work that has to be done with that team. You know? It's just not quite--it's clumsy. It's a little bit of a clumsy team." Kremer asked Jackson to elaborate and he replied, "Well, they don't fit together well. Stoudemire doesn't fit together well with Carmelo. Stoudemire's (a) really good player. But he's gotta play in a certain system and a way. Carmelo has to be a better passer. And the ball can’t stop every time it hits his hands. They need to have someone come in that can kinda blend that group together."

That analysis will sound very familiar to longtime 20 Second Timeout visitors; newer visitors can check out the three links at the end of this article to learn why no one should be surprised that James and Jackson both want nothing to do with whatever James Dolan thinks that he is building.

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Further Reading

New York State of Mind

New York State of Mind, Part II

New York State of Mind, Part III

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:54 PM

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