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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Durant and Curry are Magnificent as Warriors Roll to 132-113 Win

Game two of the NBA Finals featured two recurring themes: Kevin Durant was again the best player on the court and the Golden State Warriors again routed the Cleveland Cavaliers, this time by the score of 132-113. The Cavaliers played with more energy, effort and physicality in game two than they did in game one--particularly in the first half, resulting in a competitive 67-64 score after the first 24 minutes--but they wilted in all three categories in a lackluster second half. The Warriors have now won 14 straight playoff games, adding to the list of NBA records that they have broken in the past three years.

Durant led both teams in scoring (33 points), rebounds (13), blocked shots (five) and steals (three, tied with LeBron James and Iman Shumpert). He shot 13-22 from the field, including 4-8 from three point range, and he did a lot of his damage one on one versus LeBron James, who has been proclaimed by many (including James himself) to be the best player on the planet. James was the third best player on the court during game two, as Stephen Curry notched his first career playoff triple double (32 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds). Klay Thompson continued to play great defense and he emerged from his shooting slump with 22 points on 8-12 field goal shooting.

James' numbers look great, as they almost always do: 29 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds. James cut his turnovers from eight in game one to four in game two (Curry took over the role of Edward Scissorhands with the ball, committing eight turnovers in game two). He tied Magic Johnson's career Finals record with his eighth triple double. No other player in NBA history has more than two Finals triple doubles. James is not performing badly--but he is not performing well enough, either. This is not about numbers but about impact: the Cavaliers need James to be the best player on the court and they need him to win his individual matchup with Durant but neither of those things is happening.

The rush to prematurely crown James as Michael Jordan's successor reminds me of the similar rush to crown Roger Federer as the greatest tennis player of all-time. The analogy is not perfect, of course, as there is a big difference between an individual sport and a team sport; the point is that we can only compare James to Jordan via numbers or a subjective eye test of how we imagine they might fare against each other despite playing under different conditions in different eras--the same limitations inherent in comparing Federer to Borg and other greats from the past--but we can get our popcorn ready and watch James versus Durant right now, much like we have been able to watch Federer versus Nadal for over a decade. After watching Nadal beat Federer head to head so many times, it is very difficult to buy the notion that Federer is the greatest player of all-time. Similarly, before James leapfrogs Jordan (not to mention Kobe Bryant) he needs to solidify his dominance among his peers; James does not necessarily have one player who is Nadal to his Federer but James does have a history of being outshined by lesser players on the biggest stage and that pattern seems to be repeating itself in this series. No one is comparing Kevin Durant to Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan (nor should such comparisons be made) but Durant is clearly getting the best of James right now--and this is coming on the heels of a regular season during which James coasted so that he could be well-rested for just this moment, in marked contrast with the approach that Jordan and Bryant took: they did not rest during the regular season and yet they were at their best when it mattered most.

James had just 18 field goal attempts and five free throw attempts in game two. That is not enough. James started out the game with the right mindset by aggressively attacking the hoop, which is a major reason--along with a similar mindset displayed by Kevin Love--that the Cavaliers kept the game close for the first half. However, in the second half James settled for jump shots or just deferred completely to other players; sometimes it looks like once James has reached certain statistical plateaus in a game he figures "I got mine and they can't blame me if we lose, so I am going to keep my field goal percentage intact." Russell Westbrook would have shot the ball 18 times in the fourth quarter alone if he had been in James' place yesterday and both Jordan and Bryant would have gone down firing as well (or, perhaps, emerged victorious by firing...). Justifying James' passivity by calling him a pass-first player is ridiculous; if he stays healthy and keeps playing then he will retire as the all-time leading scorer in the regular season, the playoffs and the All-Star Game. James is a great scorer who also possesses excellent passing skills but in order to win championships he--like every other Pantheon player except Bill Russell--must accept the burden of being a big-time scorer. When James has done that, he has won championships. It is odd that it seems like James has to relearn this lesson almost every time he advances to the Finals.

Love played very well (27 points on 12-23 field goal shooting, along with seven rebounds) and the Cavaliers should feed him the ball in the post even more often than they did. The winning formula for the Cavaliers is (1) physical team defense, (2) James staying in relentless attack mode for the whole game and (3) pounding the ball into the paint with James driving (or posting up), Love posting up and Tristan Thompson diving to the hoop for layups or offensive rebounds.

Try this little trick when you watch game three; instead of looking at the score, spend a few possessions just watching James and Love: if you see them consistently in the paint with the ball, then the score is probably close and Cleveland may even be winning--but if you see James and/or Love spending most of the time on the perimeter, then the Warriors are probably winning by 10 or more points.

I cringe every time James spends a possession camped out behind the three point line. This reminds me of a picture that Sports Illustrated published decades ago during the playoffs: several players actively pursued a rebound in the paint, while Darryl Dawkins--the most athletic and physically imposing big man of his day--stood rooted to the ground and the caption acknowledged the aggressive efforts of most of the players to get the ball while drily noting that Dawkins "awaits future developments." James cannot stand in the corner awaiting future developments; he must get in the paint and make things happen--not just for a quarter or for a half but for the entire game.

James' supporters will retort that Golden State is more talented than Cleveland and that Golden State has two MVP caliber players while Cleveland only has James. They will argue that even if James plays his best the Warriors still might win. Those things may all be true but that is not the point, at least in terms of putting James in the same conversation with Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, because if James is the greatest player of all-time then it is incumbent upon him to play in the way that maximizes his potential and maximizes his team's opportunity to win. When Michael Jordan faced Clyde Drexler in the 1992 Finals, Jordan took this as a personal challenge to prove that he was the best player at his position and the best player in the league, period. Drexler admitted, years later, that he should have accepted that challenge as well, instead of thinking (and publicly saying) that the series was about Chicago versus Portland, not Jordan versus Drexler.

This series will be remembered as James versus Durant--and Cleveland has no chance to win unless James accepts that challenge and wins that matchup. Kyrie Irving showed during last year's Finals that he can match Curry shot for shot, Love can post up anyone in Golden State's frontcourt and Cleveland's bench players have been productive all season when given the right opportunities but this series has hinged and will hinge on the James-Durant showdown.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:20 AM

30 comments

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30 Comments:

At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 3:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David:

In the first half I don't think I have seen James that aggressive at attacking the basket. You often wonder why doesn't he do this more often because no one can stop him going to the basket.

In the second half he was passive like he always does in big games, but I also thought fatigue was a factor. Attacking the rim every time takes a lot of energy and to play with Warrirors' pace is an additional toll. I think this is the consequence of James not having a reliable mid-range game and post up game. With his size and strength he could easily take advantage of whoever is guarding down in the post. Jordan and Bryant was so polished in the mid-range and low post game it allows them to conserve energy for the 4th quarter as opposed to having to rely on athleticism to attack the rim every play. For this reason, I don't agree with how people call James "the most skilled player". He still has quite a few weaknesses in his offensive game i.e. outside shot, post up game, footwork, free throws. He has been efficient at scoring the basket is mainly due to his freak of nature athleticism in that 6'9 frame. However, I do think he is skilled in terms of ball handling, reading the defense and passing.

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 11:28:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Couple thoughts:

* David, while I agree that Durant is outplaying Lebron, I don't agree that Lebron is anywhere near Cleveland's biggest problem. You have for years claimed that an MVP-type player should be expected to put up 25 ppg on 45% shooting in the playoffs. Lebron is at 28.5 on 55% while also averaging 13 rebounds and 11 assists. While he's been unable to stop Durant, he's also been the only Cleveland player even particularly trying on defense besides Iman Shumpert. If you are looking for reasons Cleveland is losing "Lebron isn't doing enough" may be on the list but is not in the top ten.

* As I said before the series and throughout the season, Cleveland is a poor defensive team. The Warriors through two games are averaging over 120 points, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are being predictably embarrassed, JR Smith has been predictably inconsistent, and the overrated Cleveland bench looks like the senior's center it is. The teams' second best defender (Thompson) plays the wrong position to guard any of GSW's best four guys, and has been a total non-factor thus far.

* More surprising, though, is their total inability to control the glass. GSW seems to remember how last year went and has been making an effort to attack the glass in general and to box out, even double-box out, Tristan Thomspon consistently. While Love had a great G1 on the boards, he turned in a pedestrian 7 in G2. James seems to be Cleveland's only reliable rebounder.

* The notion mentioned in the article that Irving can go toe-to-toe with Curry is not one I buy. Yes, he did ok against him last year (though the narrative that he "outplayed" him has always been overblown), but as David pointed out repeatedly that year and since, Curry had been worn down by a physical playoffs at that point. Additionally, he was coming off of a knee injury. Neither are the case this year, and Curry looks much more himself. Additionally, with no Matthew Delladova to do the heavy lifting on defense, Irving is being even more exposed than usual on that end (JVG particularly made repeated mention of his crappy defense during the broadcast).

* Love is scoring well, but I struggle to envision a game Cleveland wins in which he only gets 7 rebounds.

* It is worth noting that GSW has not yet had a game where all four of their stars are playing well. That's terrifying.

* We may be seeing the first signs of Lebron's mortality in this series. What you may see as passive second half play looked to me a lot more like a guy just running out of gas. He was visibly sucking wind by halfway through the third quarter, and just didn't have the horses to keep going at the Warriors' pace (which Cleveland shouldn't be trying to do anyway, but that's a separate issue). As physically impressive as he is, Lebron has a tremendous amount of miles on him and they may be starting to catch up with him.

* While it's true that Durant has thus far outplayed him, it is fair to point out that Durant isn't asked to carry nearly the same load Lebron is. James scored or assisted on over half of his team's baskets (26/45), at least doubled the rebounds of any of his teammates, and was the only Cavalier who seemed even passively interested in defense besides Shumpert. If you flipped their teams, it's quite likely Lebron would be dominating while Durant killed himself to try and keep an inferior team competitive.

* I pointed out before the series that four of the five best players in it are on the same team. I don't think that's ever happened in the Finals before, and using that sort of a lopsided talent disparity as some sort of a referendum on Lebron strikes me as foolish. You correctly pointed out that Lebron/Jordan is not an apples/apples comparison and I agree, and this series especially is not even an orange, but some kind of exotic space-fruit.

1/2

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 11:29:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

* I don't know what to make of Durant's brilliance. It's incredible, sure, but it's entirely possible- even likely- that the Warriors would win this series without him. He's obviously fantastic, and easily a top five player, but I think any superstar added to the Curry/Thompson/Green core would look like their best self. We certainly never saw this kind of two-way dominance from Durant in OKC.

* Speaking of OKC, you are correct that RWB would have shot 18 times in the fourth quarter. He probably would have made about three of those shots, turned the ball over four times, strolled to about the half-court line in defensive transition, and Cleveland would have lost by 30 instead of 20.

* Coming back to defense one last time because it really freakin' matters. Cleveland scored enough to win in G2, even with Irving's brick parade. But Irving and Love refuse to try on defense, James can't figure out how to contain Durant (not that anyone this year really did), and Williams/Korver/Frye/Jefferson are all way too slow to stay in front of even the GSW bench, nevermind their All-Stars. For all the talk this year of how "stacked" Cleveland was, it was an illusion; they were a team built for the regular season with tons of scoring and shooting depth, but no physicality or defensive intensity. They steamrolled a weak east, but even that was misleading; their second and third round opponents were both missing their star PGs for every home game.

Cleveland was never the super-team they've been made out to be. They just had Lebron James. But against a team with four of the best 20 guys in the league, that's not enough.

Cleveland may get back into this series yet, though I doubt it. If they do, it will be a combination of slowing the game down, helpful hometown officiating, GSW missing shots they usually make, and possibly Lebron finding a way to do even more... but I'd bet against it.

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 2:53:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

Nick
" I pointed out before the series that four of the five best players in it are on the same team. I don't think that's ever happened in the Finals before"

2007 comes to mind...

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 5:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting take on Lebron on the observation that he seems to get his stats then stop playing ...In terms of only taking 18 shots, I think that's all he could do...his skill set wont let him take more than x amount of shots as his FG% would become "inefficient" An elite defense will only "allow" x amount of dunks, layups, etc. So once they adjust, Lebron (should) create more shots attempts at this efficient rate, but since he cant get dunks, layups the whole game (fatigue, defensive adjustments) it seems like he would rather pass or be complacent and protect his FG% because his ABILITY is not as elite when it comes to having a scoring mentality, taking over, creating a shot, shooting tough shots etc. One could even say Lebron is "capped" during scoring. Yes, he could score more, but his FG% would be around 40% as we saw when he tried to be a volume shooter the 1st time they lost to the warriors. This is when Kyrie needs to step up and become the scorer, but its difficult when Lebron brings the ball up or stands on the perimeter dribbling just waiting to drive in.

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 6:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with your tennis analogy is that tennis isn't played with 2-man tourneys, if it was, then maybe Nadal would be considered greater than Fed. H2H is only one aspect of many when comparing players in tennis. Nadal only holds an advantage on clay vs Fed, which is by far the least important surface. Tennis is a lot about matchups, too. Some players just don't match up well vs inferior opponents. Nobody is saying Hewitt was better than Sampras, are they, despite Hewitt holding the H2H advantage?

The AO is a great example. Nadal leads 3-1 H2H, but trails 5-2 in AO titles. If H2H was truly as important as you claim between Nadal/Fed, then Nadal shouldn't trail so much in titles at all the big tourneys except the FO.

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 7:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with you that MJ and Kobe had much more polished midrange games than LeBron. That is one reason why I rank those guys ahead of LeBron.

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 7:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I am not saying that LeBron's play is Cleveland's "biggest problem," though I think that it is a bigger problem than you are suggesting. My main points are (1) Durant is playing great and (2) people need to stop comparing LeBron to MJ because LeBron is not even head and shoulders above his peers, let alone being in the same conversation with the best player of the past three decades who consistently destroyed his main individual and team rivals.

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 7:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Nadal won more Slams at a younger age than Federer and he has won Slams at a higher overall rate than Federer. Nadal is not some dude who randomly holds a 2-1 H2H edge over Federer without having any other credentials. Nadal conquered Federer at Wimbledon but Federer never returned the favor at the French.

The Sampras-Hewitt comparison is silly. The sample size is small (just nine matches), Hewitt's edge is slight (5-4) and Hewitt took command of the "rivalry" by winning their last four matches right before Sampras retired. There is also a nine year age difference in Hewitt's favor. Nadal beat Federer like a drum when Federer was at the height of his powers and he has beaten him like a drum ever since. Nadal beat him at Wimbledon, has held his own on hard courts and of course he annihilates him on clay.

Nadal has set numerous all-time records, including most consecutive years with at least one Slam title (10), most singles titles at one Slam (nine) and winning three consecutive Slam titles on three different surfaces. Nadal's overall resume is just as good or better than Federer's in every way except for total Slams, where Federer enjoys a longevity edge but has won at a lesser rate. So Nadal's GOAT resume is legit AND he slaughters Federer head to head. It really should not even be much of a discussion but the same kind of "great" minds who think that LeBron has passed Kobe and is breathing down MJ's neck also like Federer more than they like Nadal.

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 8:47:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

beep-

Good point. I was stupidly trying to think of times that happened and the "1" player won the series.

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 8:52:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

While I would personally take Jordan without blinking, I think there are defensible arguments to be made on Lebron's side, mostly predicated around versatility and longevity. He obviously does not have Jordan's batting average in the Finals, though. When making that case, it is fair to point out that Jordan never beat a team like this one, and he also had PIppen for all his titles (who is much better than Irving or Love). It's not remotely apples to apples.

Still, as I said above, I'd take Jordan without much hesitation. I don't think Lebron is even quite in my top 10 yet (though he is very close).

I absolutely agree that Durant is playing great, though I'm not sure what, if anything, that "means" beyond that he's playing great.

 
At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 10:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick
I think it "means" :
( to paraphrase the immortal sakuraba )
"in fact durant is a good player"

 
At Wednesday, June 07, 2017 6:56:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

Nick

"Good point. I was stupidly trying to think of times that happened and the "1" player won the series."

2010 Lakers are close I think.

Btw I don't necessarily agree it is the case this year either. We've got James, Durant, Curry as best 3, then it's quite arguable.
Problem is Cavs as a team are not that well constructed... which, funnily enough, is on James. This makes the notion of "not enough help" laughable.

 
At Wednesday, June 07, 2017 10:38:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Beep-

That or '94 Rockets are the closest I can think of but I wouldn't count either. I'd take 2010 Pau (particularly in the playoffs) over 2010 Rondo or Allen, and I'd take Otis Thorpe over most of those Knicks.

'05 SA might actually count, depending how you rank pre-prime Parker and early-prime Ginobili vs. Detroit's stars.

I personally think Thompson and Green are lightyears ahead of Irving and Love but I could see how someone who subscribed to the "offense is way more important" school of thought might have Irving and Love in their ballpark. For me, though, it isn't remotely close; I'd rather have Thompson score slightly fewer points on way fewer shots than Kyrie while also playing All-D level on the other end, and I'd rather have Draymond playing DPOY level free-safety D and PG-caliber playmaking than Love's higher scoring (on higher usage, natch) and rebounding but total defensive inadequacy.

I also think, beyond just stats and skillset, Green's trickle-down effect by dint of being able to guard 1-5/free his team to play without a traditional center is significantly more valuable than anything Love or Irving offers.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 1:51:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I said before the series Lebron would need to put up something like 40-10-10 to win these games. He had 39-9-11 tonight and it still wasn't quite enough.

Similar to OKC getting cooked by HOU whenever RWB sat, Cleveland lost by 12 points in the two minutes Lebron didn't play tonight. Even the best game of Kyrie's year and the best defense of Kevin Love's career wasn't enough.

The talent gap in this series is just brutal. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Cleveland does this offseason to try and narrow it.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 7:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Full game recap to be posted later today but I would just say right now that an alternative to your narrative is that Golden State needed a great closing performance from Durant to barely beat this supposedly talent-deprived team. The Cavs blew a six point lead with two minutes to go and I am sure that the "stat gurus" can tell you that is pretty rare. How many six point leads with two to go were blown in the Finals by MJ or Kobe?

LeBron's fingerprints were all over that blown lead, at both ends of the court. Interesting that he supposedly does not have enough talent with Irving, Love and others but Westbrook supposedly is to blame for not doing more with his particular crew. Westbrook's triple doubles are directly linked to OKC's wins, while LeBron has this amazing ability to put up stats that seem to be disconnected with the outcome of the game.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 9:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few points of agreement first:

It took a decent effort on the Cav's part to blow that lead in the closing minutes, and James certainly shares a nice part of that blame.

Also, it's certainly true that the Cavaliers are not talent-starved; if someone says otherwise they're being silly, to put it generously.

This game was a case in point. If Kyrie doesn't put up 38 points on 29 shots (despite his other flaws), this game's likely a huge blowout again.

Also, anyone who thinks Westbrook is the problem in OKC is again, to put it generously, being silly (he has his flaws, of course, as even the best players do, but they're clearly not the main issue in OKC).

Now, having said that, there are some points that I'd view differently.

1) I know you said "seem disconnected", but I think even that is pushing the point too far, especially in this particular game.

Yes, the Cavs lost, but if James doesn't put up 39 points on 55.6% shooting, this is a massacre.

It seems a bit harsh for a guy to turn in a stellar performance that is a necessary condition for the game's being anything other than a massacre, and have that referred to as irrelevant to the outcome of the game.

The Cavs were also +7 while James was on the floor; as with a typical Westbrook game this year, his team did well when he was in, and collapsed when he was out.

Now, it must be conceded that he was on the court for the duration of their collapse in the final minutes, and there are legitimate criticisms to be made of his play in those minutes (playing so far off Durant on that three and committing that final nail-in-the-coffin turnover come to mind, but those are just the most visually obvious of other mistakes).

However, while there is something to be said for analysis of play in "crunch" time, all points count equally.

Just as an example, in some hypothetical nail-biter of a game, it would be a mistake to ignore a 2nd quarter lapse that allowed an opponent to go on a 10-0 run and focus instead on the last couple plays of the game that allowed the opponents a last-minute victory.

Both sequences are important and should be learned from, but to pretend the closing plays are somehow more important is to fall into a fallacy (to be clear, not saying anyone is actually claiming this, just pointing out that we should be careful not to focus too much on the most highly visible/tension-filled moments of the game).

Did James make mistakes last night? Absolutely.

Still, the Cavs were +7 in his 46 minutes, and it took a mind-boggling -12 in the 2 minutes he didn't play for the Warriors to win.

There were plenty of mistakes in the game from both sides, but I don't think it's correct to single out James as the reason they lost. Put differently, the mere fact that they might have won had he improved that already superb performance in 46 minutes of playing time is not a particularly good reason to single him out, especially not when his teammates managed to create a 12 point deficit in 2 minutes without him.

1/2

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 9:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

2/2

2) On that note, I think there are more similarities with Westbrook's triple-doubles than differences here.

Yes, the Thunder did very,very well in the games in which Westbrook scored a triple-double this year, and poorly in the games he didn't, so the correlation is strong.

However, let's not forget the role the Warriors played in this victory (let's not ONLY look for a Cleveland scapegoat named James; there's a portion of the blame he richly deserves, but let's not overstate that).

Why do I say this on this point? Well, let's look at that direct link between OKC's wins and Westbrook's triple-doubles. In the 4 games OKC played GS this year, Westbrook got two fantastic triple doubles (something like 47 and 51 points), each in a losing effort while OKC posted double digit deficits in each game with Westbrook on the floor.

If we include the Spurs and Rockets, Westbrook was something like 2-7 in games in which he got triple-doubles.

If the other team is good enough, a fantastic individual performance may simply not be enough, and this otherwise "direct link" goes away.

At any rate, this game was much more entertaining than the previous two. Hopefully we get to see some more competitive games!

As always, just my $0.02.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 10:20:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

Nick,

sometimes I have a feeling you're blinded by statistics. This game is NOT about stats, it is about winning and doing whatever it takes, even when stats are crap by any "stat guru" standards.

LeBron seems to be blinded this way too. He has the ability to have real impact like Kobe or MJ, but he rarely rises to occasion. That is puzzling and that is why he shouldn't ever be in the same conversation with Kobe and MJ. He just doesn't do whatever it takes, no matter his teammates. He seems to be delusioned by all people around talking about him being the best in the world. He probably is, but he rarely plays like it.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 10:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As great as James was in game 3, KD has clearly been the best player in the Finals so far. And I probably wouldn't put James better than the 3rd best player on the court in game 3. KD/Thompson both scored less, but they each had the ball a lot less than James, too. They each were more efficient scorers and played much stronger defense. James was unclutch in crunch time, too. James is putting together a great statline for the Finals, but KD's statline is better as is his impact on both ends of the court.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 10:29:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

First of all, does not have enough talent to beat the Warrios =/= "talent deprived". My point is less that Cleveland does not have a good enough team in general (although I stand by my season-long observation that they are both overrated and defensively weak) and more that Golden State is so astronomically stacked.

Second, there is a world of difference between losing to a one-dimensional Houston team that couldn't even beat Kawhi-and-Parker-less Spurs team at home and losing to this Warriors team. Moreover, my point was that Lebron in this series and RWB in that one were in similar boats insofar as that their teams cannot survive even spot minutes without them, not that one should be lauded and the other killed (although both have generally played poorly in the fourth quarter in their respective series).

As for the Cavs blown lead, I again find the Kobe/Jordan comparisons somewhat questionable, given the unique nature of this Warriors team, but I do remember the Lakers blowing a much larger than six point lead against the Celtics in '08. I would not put that blown lead on Kobe any more than I would put this one on Lebron.

I think if a guy puts up 39/9/11 on 55% shooting, he's probably not the main reason they lost. At 113, the Cavs once again did enough to win on offense.

As for this: "I would just say right now that an alternative to your narrative is that Golden State needed a great closing performance from Durant to barely beat this supposedly talent-deprived team"

I think that both our POVs can be true in this case. Yes, GSW needed late-game heroics to deal with apex performances from both Lebron and Kyrie, an uncharacteristically impactful defensive performance from Love, some pretty noticeable home-court officiating, and another no-show from Draymond Green. I also don't think it bodes well for Cleveland that they don't have the defense to get a stop in the final three minutes, that 77 points from their top two wasn't enough, or that even with Lpve playing competent D (particularly early on) and the Warriors turning the ball over at an insane rate, they're still in a position to go down to a few big plays from GSW in crunch time.

1/2

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 10:29:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I disagree with your claim, at least in this series, that Lebron's stats aren't impactful; he's the reason Cleveland was in this one, and the main thing that kept them close in G1 and G2. But he can't do it alone, and GSW has smartly tried to force him to do it (Kerr admitted that his gameplan was to tire him out, and as I observed after G2 it seems to be working). End of the day, the Warriors have the best PG in the league, the best SG in the league, one of the best 2 or 3 SFs in the league, and arguably the best PF in the league, all backed by a deep and talented cast of role players. The Cavs have the best player in the league, a great one-way PG, a great (usually) one-way PF, and a bunch of washed up vets and headaches.

If you're looking for specific Cavs to blame, though, I'd start with Tristan Thompson, who is being out rebounded by 6 per game by the GSW point guard, and who has scored 8 points so far in the series. I'd then move on to the bench trio of Shumpert, Williams, and Korver, who have thus far managed to go 8-40 and done little of note in any other facet of the game. Next I'd look at starters Love and Smith, shooting 38% apiece, and (Love's first half last night aside) contributing basically nothing defensively. After that, I'd look at Tyron Lue, running his two best players completely into the ground and refusing to slow the game down or try to play out of the post (you know, the stuff that worked last year). After him, I'd look at Kyrie Irving, who is scoring well but has been predictably inept on defense and whose combined assist/rebounds are the same as GSW's 6th man (and despite legends of his being a match for Curry, Irving is being outscored on fewer shots by his opposite number, who is also more than doubling both his APG and RPG).

After that, sure, I guess you could blame Lebron. He's only putting up 32/12/10 of 55% against the league's 2nd best defense, after all while either scoring or assisting on more than half of his team's buckets (65/115 so far). That slacker.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 1:26:00 PM, Blogger HP said...

Reading this comment section, I can agree with both sides. LeBron simultaneously deserves blame and credit for his performance, though which should be greater is something I won't try to argue.

What I find a bit odd is how David seems to react so differently in judging Westbrook and LeBron's performances, even in cases where they both are similar. I'm looking forward to reading the recap, but I'm preparing myself for some disconnect.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 1:39:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

I've said this before in the past, and on this blog:

LBJ is the 21st century version of Wilt Chamberlain.

They both have the same career narrative: exceedingly talented player routinely makes the Finals, or takes the eventual champion the distance, but doesn't win enough to satisfy his detractors.

Watching that game last night from the hospital, it only further cemented this notion that history is cyclical. Chamberlain put up crazy numbers, but won only twice in 14 seasons, six time finalist. LBJ put up crazy numbers, but won only thrice in 14 seasons, eight time finalist.

They both are the greatest players of their generation, heads and shoulders above their peers, but even the greatest can't control external factors like the rest of the players, coaches, owners, the zeitgeist of the NBA, etc. Those who win consistently like Russell and Jordan get too much credit for things beyond their control.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 5:12:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

At the end of the day, Lebron'a career narrative seems to be, "it was always someone else's fault."

This is problematic for me as a "best of all time." I think he is a great player and a great guy, but best of all time? No. And I don't think that should be a great knock, at this point that is just not who he is.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 7:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some interesting points about James. I kind of agree with some, but he's so overrated and is elevated way too highly by most, it's really hard to. He is playing great overall, but there's so much more he could easily do to benefit his team, and is maybe barely the 2nd best player in the series so far. The main difference I see between him and RW is that RW consistently plays hard when in the game, and James rarely does this. James is able to play more minutes, but a lot of his minutes don't consist of him playing as hard as he should or can. It's not about the numbers. Just looking at his numbers, and they're amazing. It's about impact. He does have a lot of impact, but not in the way his statline would suggest, and KD has clearly outplayed him.

We can talk about all the reasons why CLE can't or shouldn't win. But, I haven't seen James be the best player on the court in any game through 3 games, and he's playing the least hard/tough of the 7 AS in the series. If he isn't going to put forth more effort and continue to play not very smart, there's really no excuses for him.

CLE was close through halftime in game 1. GS only had 2 players score in double figures. That was a golden opportunity for CLE. Game 2 was close through most of the 3rd quarter. Another winnable game. CLE obviously blew it in game 3. It's possible GS could be up 3-0 still if KD/James switched teams, but James definitely needs to start playing like the best player on the court first and foremost if CLE is going to win.

Along with Irving/Love, CLE has an amazing big 3. Historically when a team has 3 players like this, they don't need much else. And CLE's role players are still quite adequate overall. Maybe it's still not enough to beat GS, but there's no reason why CLE can't be more competitive.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 9:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@HP

I don't think David is being unfairly critical of LeBron or that he is not acknowledging what does and is capable of.

His point is, and has been for the last decade, that with the talent that LeBron has he should be doing more than he is, and that if he was doing that, he would be ranking much higher in the Pantheon of the game than he will when he retires

A lot of people seem to be mistaking pointing out the mismatch between his potential and what he actually delivers for haterism. It isn't.

LeBron scored 39 points last night. That's a great number under normal circumstances. But his team needed him to score 50. And he didn't. Is it fair to expect him to score 50? A good question. Yes, it is 50 points. But on the other hand, hf anyone has the talent to do it, it's him. And other players have actually risen to the occasion with such performances. In these playoffs too, and much lesser, both figuratively and literally players (IT against the Wizards). The fact that LeBron has only 10 career 50-point games (and probably won't add to them) while Kobe has 25 and MJ 31, and that LeBron's highest game total is 61 is actually quite relevant to the discussion -- one would certainly expect him to have more such games given his gifts. But he has rarely pushed himself that hard.

That's the issue here -- what could have been vs. what is.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 11:14:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Andrew-

I don't think Lebron is the best of all time and I don't think he is as good as Jordan. I do think that suggesting he's the reason Cleveland can't win- or in any way really not doing enough- is pretty stilly, given how good the Warriors are and given that Cleveland is scoring enough to win by any reasonable metric.

Before everything else, they're losing because they can't guard anybody. The Warriors are scoring 6 more PPG in the Finals than they did in the regular season. That's not how that's supposed to go, but Cleveland stinks defensively, and there's only so much Lebron can do about that (and, to be fair, fi you were gonna attack him, that'd be the end to do it on).

As for the idea that he's not scoring enough, he's averaging 32 ppg so far this series, and doing it on 55%. Only Jordan and Rick Barry have better career Finals marks (though if you look at Lebron's full career, he "only" averages 27 per Finals game, good for 7th all time*). It's also more than Jordan averaged in 2 of his Finals, and 0.3 less than he did in another, whatever that's worth.

*Though I suspect if you added in his ABA numbers Erving would jump from 9th to about 4th or 5th.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 11:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, yes, you're right on a lot of your points. But, at the same time, while James is the most gifted player of all-time naturally probably, he still is accomplishing a lot even in the weak East for his entire career. James has certainly not passed Kobe, but I think Kobe only had 1 40-pt. Finals game, though the game is faster now and a much more optimal for offense then any time during Kobe's career. Even in a game where James puts up massive numbers and played 46 minutes, he was often non-existent and nowhere to be found late in the game.

Combination of team and individual aspect, James is at least knocking on the top 5 probably, though all the lesser players who have outplayed James in the playoffs, particularly in the Finals, and often much lesser players, will likely keep him from ever being seriously considered the greatest ever. His numbers are the most misleading numbers I've ever seen. Hypothetically, he could be leaving a lot out there for his career(very similar to Shaq), but could still end up as the greatest; however, very hard to see him approaching that status at this stage of his career. For those who would want to see him maximize his abilities, his career has to be very disheartening and underwhelming.

 
At Thursday, June 08, 2017 11:23:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

There have been some interesting interviews regarding league fairness and the GSW with Lebron. I really like his attitude and Lebron strikes me as a very talented and nice guy. I don't think he has Kobe or Michael's demons that push them onwards but I don't think he would want them either.

If his career ended today or even if his career continues on this trajectory I don't think I will ever consider him GOAT. He doesn't have the hunger or killer instinct I expect in that regard. He doesn't strike me as someone who has a lot of c**t in him. With Lebron he is playing a game, with others it seems like basketball is their life.

All that being said he is one of my favourite players and an all time great. He just isn't THE all time great and I'm ok accepting that now, not so frustrated as I used to be with his performances.

 

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