20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Warriors Stun Cavaliers With Late 11-0 Run to Take 3-0 Series Lead

The Cleveland Cavaliers squandered a great opportunity to beat the Golden State Warriors in game three of the NBA Finals. Cleveland led 113-107 with 2:25 remaining in the fourth quarter but the Warriors ended the game (and, for all practical purposes, the series) with an 11-0 run spearheaded by Kevin Durant's seven points. Durant's clutch three pointer over LeBron James at the :45 mark put the Warriors up 114-113 and James' slump-shouldered look after the ball went through the net made it clear that the Cavaliers were not going to retake the lead. The Cavaliers missed their last eight field goal attempts of the game, punctuated by Andre Iguodala's block of James' three point attempt with 12 seconds to go and Golden State up 116-113.

Durant, who is well on his way to claiming 2017 NBA Finals MVP honors, finished with 31 points on 10-18 field goal shooting, plus eight rebounds and four assists. During the Finals, Durant is averaging 34.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 6.0 apg, 2.0 bpg and 1.3 spg while shooting .561 from the field (including .524 from three point range) and .895 from the free throw line. He did not commit a single turnover in game one and he has just six turnovers overall. He has scored at least 25 points in each of his first eight career NBA Finals games, tying a mark held by Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal.

Klay Thompson continues to play great defense and he rediscovered his shooting stroke as well, pouring in 30 points on 11-18 field goal shooting. Stephen Curry contributed 30 points, a game-high 13 rebounds (remarkable for any point guard not named Russell Westbrook) and six assists.

James authored a monster stat line: 39 points on 15-27 field goal shooting, 11 rebounds and a game-high nine assists in 46 minutes. He had a +7 plus/minus number that was not only better than any other Cavalier but also better than all but three members of the winning Warriors (Draymond Green +14, Curry +11, Iguodala +10). He is an all-time great player having a very impressive series statistically for a team that is an underdog by any reasonable measure or conception.

However, greatness is not merely defined by numbers but also by impact. During the 1983 NBA Finals telecast, Bill Russell and Dick Stockton made the point that Julius Erving was a special player not only because of his impressive statistics but because of "when" he got those numbers. Each of the first three games of the 2017 NBA Finals has been competitive in the first half and game three went down to the wire but James has repeatedly disappeared just when his team needs him the most.

James spent most of the second half of game three getting into the paint and then passing to the perimeter instead of finishing at the rim, despite the fact that he was usually the biggest and strongest player on the court. Brian Windhorst identified the issue years ago: "Everything that LeBron does, his going into a bunker, turning off social media; these are all anti-choking maneuvers…the choke is what Lebron is prone to do. And so everything he's doing in the postseason is to avoid that choke."

Did James choke in the final minutes of game three? He did not score in the last 4:28, after scoring at will for most of the game and most of the series. Is he tired? Is he frustrated? Is he overwhelmed?

Many reasons/explanations/excuses are offered on James' behalf but the bottom line is that the reasonable expectation for a Pantheon-level player is to come through more often than not in clutch situations. Michael Jordan went 6-0 in the NBA Finals with six Finals MVPs. Bill Russell won 11 championships in 13 seasons and would likely have won a host of Finals MVPs if the award had existed in the first 12 years of his career. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went 6-4 in the Finals and he won a pair of Finals MVPs, including one when he was 38.

James is 3-4 so far in the NBA Finals, which is a subpar Finals resume compared to most Pantheon members:

Bill Russell: 11-1
Michael Jordan: 6-0
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 6-4
Magic Johnson: 5-4
Julius Erving: 3-3
Larry Bird: 3-2
Wilt Chamberlain: 2-4
Jerry West: 1-8
Oscar Robertson: 1-1
Elgin Baylor: 0-7

I classify Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as the four greatest players of the post-Jordan era. O'Neal went 4-1 in the Finals with three Finals MVPs. Duncan went 5-1 in the Finals and he won three Finals MVPs. Bryant went 5-2 in the Finals and he won two Finals MVPs. It seems unlikely that James' eighth Finals appearance will net him a championship or a Finals MVP, so his record is about to drop to 3-5. James recently lamented that it is his fate to face dynasty teams at the peak of their powers (apparently referring to Duncan's Spurs and the current Warriors, while ignoring the not so little detail that he twice switched teams to personally create a Big Three that was supposed to become a dynasty)--but the only Pantheon players who fared worse than James in the Finals had to contend with Bill Russell and a roster stacked with Hall of Famers. I suspect that Chamberlain, West, Robertson and Baylor would happily trade teams and eras with James, because they would do quite well in a watered down 30 team league that has legislated physicality out of the game. The Warriors cannot guard Kevin Love when he actually posts up and the Cavaliers decide to give him the ball; how are they going to guard Chamberlain? Before you say that Chamberlain could not keep up with a fast-paced game, remember that he was a track and field star with sprinter's speed.

Is it James' fault that the Warriors are poised to sweep his Cavaliers? No, but if James had the mentality to reach the gear that Russell, Jordan, Bryant and other Pantheon members often reached in the Finals then this series would, at the very least, be more competitive than it has been.

The bottom line is that James is not playing badly but he is providing a lot of footage that can be shown to put a stop to the foolish comparisons to Jordan; let's just put a moratorium on such talk and see if James can actually get within striking distance of O'Neal, Duncan and Bryant.

Game three was a winnable game in a must win situation and O'Neal, Duncan and Bryant did not let many of those slip away during the primes of their respective careers. Golden State hit Cleveland with a barrage of 39 points (including a Finals record nine three pointers) in the first quarter but the Warriors only led 67-61 at halftime. The Cavaliers attacked the paint in the first half and James led the way with 27 points. The argument that the Cavaliers are a flawed team because they need James to score a lot of points flies in the face of basketball history. Were the Bulls flawed because Jordan scored over 40 ppg versus the Suns in the 1993 Finals? That Bulls team had one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of All-Time (Scottie Pippen), an All-Star caliber power forward (Horace Grant) and several outstanding role players but Jordan still scored at a record-setting clip; that is the responsibility of a Pantheon-level player in such situations. Let's not compare James to Russell Westbrook, either; in the 2017 playoffs, Westbrook's second best teammate was Andre Roberson, who spent significant portions of the series running around playing tag because he did not want to be fouled since he cannot make a free throw. In marked contrast, in game three James had another superstar on his own team matching him point for point: Kyrie Irving finished with 38 points on 16-29 field goal shooting, including 16 points in the third quarter as James cooled off.

If you are comparing James to Jordan then you are arguing that Jordan would have found a way to lose a Finals game in which his sidekick dropped nearly 40 points and in which his team had a two possession lead with barely two minutes to go. Sorry, I am not buying that for one second.

It may be true that James was too tired to drop another 20 or 25 points in the second half but, again, that means he is not quite at the level of Jordan or Bryant, guys who logged heavy minutes while playing hard at both ends of the court. James coasted through the regular season and had more than a week off before the Finals. Playing 46 minutes in a Finals game used to be a badge of honor, not an excuse for failure.

James' inability to seal the deal in this series is markedly contrasted by Durant consistently rising to the occasion at both ends of the court. He is taking his one on one matchup with James very seriously, much the way that Jordan and Bryant tried to destroy whoever they were matched up with individually. Durant's ability to come through in clutch moments has been questioned and it is undeniable that he came up short last year for the Oklahoma City Thunder when they blew a 3-1 lead versus the Warriors. This time around, Durant has been magnificent. One championship and one Finals MVP would not move him past James on the all-time list--but James being bested so decisively by a contemporary is a negative mark on his resume that is missing from Jordan's resume.

I don't like the way that Durant left Oklahoma City to join Golden State and I wish that he would have embraced the challenge of trying to beat the Warriors but I respect the way that Durant has made it clear that his primary focus is winning a championship. Durant has come a long way from the soft-spoken kid who I interviewed when he was a second year player. Durant has grown physically and emotionally in the past decade and it will be interesting to see if this season is a stepping stone toward further achievements for him and his new team or if injuries/complacency/lack of focus will prevent the Warriors from achieving their full potential.

The Warriors are now on the verge of completing an unprecedented 16-0 postseason run. The Warriors are 15-0 in the 2017 playoffs, breaking the record of 13 straight postseason wins set by the L.A. Lakers, who went 11-0 to start the postseason before being swept in the Finals by Detroit (the Lakers also won the last two games of the 1988 playoffs). Worth noting is that the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers went 12-1 en route to winning the title and the 2001 Lakers went 15-1 during their championship run. From a matchup standpoint, I am still not convinced that these Warriors would beat the 1983 76ers, 1996 Bulls or 2001 Lakers in a seven game series--less than a month ago the Warriors were down by more than 20 points to the Spurs before Zaza Pachulia took out Kawhi Leonard, so it is not like the Warriors are invincible even in their own era--but whether they go 16-0, 16-1 or even 16-2 they have carved out a special place in NBA history.

Labels: , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 12:02 AM

23 comments

links to this post

23 Comments:

At Friday, June 09, 2017 12:28:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

If we're going to point out that Roberson is not Kyrie Irving it is also worth pointing out that the supporting cast of Houston is not exactly Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala.

In both series, OKC/CLE needed superhuman numbers from their #1 guy to have a shot, and ultimately even that wasn't enough. The biggest difference is that James got his numbers with relative efficiency (though his turnovers are too high), and that James is at least working hard on defense (albeit to little effect; Durant seems largely unbothered by the mostly stout defense he's been playing).

It strikes me as odd to lionize RWB for his series while blasting James for his.

As for the idea that Jordan would have won that game, while I agree that he would likely have scored in the final 5 minutes, I am not sure it's fair to assume he'd still be close when they got there. James is a better rebounder and more prolific passer than Jordan (and often more efficient, especially from three), and even if Jordan had scored 45 in James' place his team may still have lost; I am not saying definitively one way or the other, but I think it's a bit specious to suggest that Jordan would definitely have won that game when the Warriors are just so much better than the rest of the Cavs. Lebron and Jordan have different strengths and games, and it is not fair to either to expect them to play like the other.

Again, for clarity, I would take Jordan over Lebron without blinking, but this series has nothing to do with why. I don't think there's a perimeter player you could replace James with in this series that would beat the Warriors; they'd still have four of the five best guys in the series either way, including two MVPs.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 12:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

It is obvious that Houston is not GS but my point is all day, every day I would rather go into battle with a guy like Westbrook who is trying hard all of the time (even if he is not efficient at times, even if he misses shots) than a guy like LeBron who coasts and pouts and is just a bit too quick to point out that nothing bad that happens is his fault because he is averaging a triple double. Westbrook averaged a triple double for a season for a flawed team. Did he ever make excuses when his team lost? Did he ever throw teammates under the bus? Most of the great ones understand that whatever they did individually is not good enough if their team lost but that message does not seem to compute with James.

James is a great player, one of the greatest of all-time. I respect what he has accomplished and I respect his work ethic. He just exasperates and puzzles me in a way that no other player of his ability ever has.

Under today's rules, Jordan would score 50-60 points versus the Warriors and/or shoot 20-25 free throws per game. Unlike James, he would have attacked the hoop every minute that he was on the court. Jordan scored 30+ ppg against physical defenses like Det and NY and then he went 40+ against a finesse team like Phoenix. Jordan shot well over .500 in a more physical era and he would shoot .600 plus in a series like this. Thompson would also not give Jordan 30 points, so if you replace James with Jordan a whole lot would change; I reject the idea that a Jordan-led Cleveland team would not have built a 6 point lead.

The media coverage of James drives me nuts, too. He is not Jordan--not even close, in my opinion. On the other hand, he is not a bum, either, contrary to the bleatings of Skip Bayless and those of his ilk. James is simultaneously over criticized and over praised.

On the other hand, Kobe and Westbrook almost always get the short end of the stick with the media. If Kobe had a 3-5 Finals record he would just be killed in the media, no matter the context; heck, he went 5-2 and still gets killed.

I am not "lionizing" Westbrook. It is just a fact that he almost singlehandedly carried his team to the playoffs and he almost singlehandedly kept that series competitive. I agree that Westbrook sometimes shoots too much, is sometimes careless with the ball and is not an All-Defensive Team level performer on a consistent basis (but he is not as bad at that end of the court as you suggest, either). Overall, I would not put Westbrook on par with the Pantheon players, though he had a Pantheon-level season--but how can the media debate, with a straight face, whether or not Westbrook is better than Harden?

I am just trying to put out a narrative regarding each of these players that comports with what is actually happening on the court, as opposed to fitting in with whatever agenda inspires some of the bizarre takes that various media members spout about these players. When I watch James sometimes I am in awe and sometimes I just shake my head in disappointment.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 2:35:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I think suggesting that Jordan would shoot .600 against this Warriors team is borderline ridiculous. While he would certainly benefit from the absence of the hand-check rule, the Warriors have the deepest and most talented crew of perimeter defenders he'd have ever faced, and would cheerfully double him any time he got past the free throw line (just as they are with Lebron). Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant are all long, fast, All-Defensive type defenders (and none of them are shorter than Jordan; in his day he usually had a sight size advantage on opposing 2s), and Iguodala is not far behind.

He rarely played great perimeter defenders in the Finals. He was matched up against guys like Byron Scott (too small), Clyde Drexler (good but not elite), and Dan Majerle (nowhere near athletic enough) in his first three-peat. In the second, his opponents had to cross-match with PGs (Payton) or SFs (Byron Russell) who were better defenders. This yielded slightly better results (Jordan averaged way fewer points on lower shooting in those series) but weren't enough and caused other problems elsewhere. Certainly none of those teams were equipped to throw a steady diet at him of guys like Klay/Iggy.

At a team level, the Warriors' D-RTG for the season was 104. Jordan's Finals opponents over his run had, in order, 105 (Lakers),104.2 (Blazers), 106.7 (Suns), 102.1 (Sonics), 104.0, and 105.4 (Jazz), despite having the benefit of the hand-check rule and playing in an era where nobody was good at threes yet. Only the Sonics had a superior defense to the Warriors at a per-possession level (though I think the Warriors are a better defensive team when allowing for era), and against them Jordan shot 41% and scored 27 ppg.

It is fair to suggest of course that Jordan's numbers would benefit from the modern ruleset and spacing but it is equally fair to point out that GSW has significantly better perimeter defensive personnel than the teams he beat. Byron Russell would be the fifth best option to guard Jordan on this Warriors team, rather than the first. Dan Majerle would be about seventh, and so forth.

So, while you're entitled to your opinion, I am quite skeptical of the idea that he would average 50 points on 60% shooting.

1/2

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 2:36:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Furthermore, even if he scored 50 points, it is quite likely he would have fewer rebounds and assists. His Finals averages in those categories: 6 and 6. Do you think 11 points are worth more than 5 boards and 3 assists? Particularly against the Warriors, I'd argue that a board is worth more than a point (given that GSW scores well over 1 point per possession) and obviously an assist is worth a minimum of 2 (Lebron also created two points on FT assists last game).

Additionally, while Thompson's numbers would doubtless decrease against Jordan, Durant's would go up if he got to spend all night defended by Smith/Shumpert/Jefferson. Jordan was a better defender than Lebron but he plays the wrong position for that to help much against this Golden State team (Klay's #s go down but Durant's go up), and no matter how good he was Kyrie/Korver/Williams/Love all still stink and Shumpert/Smith/Thompson are all still playing like garbage on that end, which is the real problem.

It is quite unlikely that even Jordan could make Cleveland good enough offensively to overcome their defensive shortcomings- after all, none of his Finals teams ever averaged anything near 121 ppg, which is what the Warriors are putting up right now. (Jordan's teams in the Finals usually had O-Rtgs between 104 and 111; GSW is currently putting up 121). Four of his six title teams had better O-RTGs in the regular season (and all in the Finals) than Cleveland as well. Part of that is because Jordan is better than Lebron but a lot of it is because Pippen was way better than Irving, Jackson was way better than Lue, and the Bulls in general were much better than the Cavs (also, great defense feeds the offense).

Again, I am not suggesting that Lebron is as good as Jordan (he isn't) but that the Warriors are so good that no one player is/would be good enough to beat them given Cleveland's complete inability to keep them from scoring. The story here is not Lebron failing (at least not as a player) but Cleveland being a poor defensive team that can't possibly score enough to make up for allowing 121 points per game.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 3:56:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Can't sleep, here's some more stuff specifically on what's going on in this series:

Between points and assists (and FT assists), Lebron is responsible for 57.3 of the Cavs' 105.7 ppg. The Cavs are shooting just over 50% on attempts directly after a Lebron pass, and Lebron himself is shooting 55%. That accounts for 124 of the Cavs 276 FG attempts so far, and 67 of their 115 makes.

Put another way, the Cavs are shooting 48-152 (32%) on shots that are not either by Lebron or shot directly after a pass from him. So, the offense pretty much lives or dies by him.

Kyrie Irving, for all his highlight reel plays and rep as a one-on-one scorer, is shooting 62.5% after receiving a pass from Lebron (8 attempts per game) and 38% on everything else. More starkly, Irving is shooting 67% on 3s off a pass from Lebron, and 21% on the ones he takes on his own.

Defensively, Lebron is doing a decent but unspectacular job contesting 2 pointers (holding his man to 3.6% lower shooting than usual on 9.3 attempts per game) but is getting cooked from three where guys are making 2.3 out of 4.3 shots per game on him. That's... not great, and if there's an area he needs to improve on (besides turnovers) that's probably it. But, to some extent, Warriors gonna Warriors.

As for the Warriors, their 121 ppg, if it holds, would be the highest by a Finals team since 1967, when the pace was so high the two teams combined to shoot 230 shots per game (plus 79 FTs). For comparison, the Cavs and Warriors are shooting 184 combined shots and 44 FTs per game.

If the average margin of victory holds at 15 ppg, it would be the largest in Finals history (currently held by the '14 Spurs), despite the Cavs' 105.7 ppg being the highest by a Finals team (not counting the '17 Warriors) since the '02 Lakers rang up 106 ppg in a sweep of the Nets.

Not to beat an extremely dead horse here, but this is mostly about defense. On the one hand, GSW can score whenever they want, and on the other, Cleveland can't do dick against the GSW D when Lebron isn't either scoring or assisting.


 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 6:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David:

Something is wrong with James' mentality in close game situations. How can you go from being the aggressive best player on the court in the first half to a role player in the second? There were multiple drives where he was basically at the rim but chooses to pass it out to a 3 point shooter. I think it's a combination of lacking that killer mentality and his love for "stats", especially FG% because that's what the stat gurus likes to talk about. James prides himself to be an efficient player, but as the self-proclaimed "best player in the world" how could you sacrifice the chances of winning for your team just to protect your stats?

In addition, I think he is taking plays off defensively. He does not show any fight and aggressiveness against Durant that you'd see in Jordan or Bryant. Conversely, you see a lot of whining from him towards his teammates whenever they give up a 3 or get beat by their man.

He is an all-time great but there are just many intangibles and technical deficiencies in his game to be compared to greats like Bird, Irving, Bryant and Duncan etc let alone Jordan. How can you be satisfied with "I am averaging a triple-double" but when you pad your stats early in the game and fade when it matters the most? And it makes me laugh when his supporters and media defend him by saying he is a "pass-first" player, whereas players like Bryant and Westbrook are "ball hogs and chuckers". Heck over his career he averages more shot attempts than Bryant.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 7:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

We can disagree about the specific numbers Jordan might average (and my initial comment was somewhat hyperbolic) but I stand by my main contention that no one could stop Jordan under these rules.

I also disagree with a purely numbers-driven comparison of Jordan and James. James has made a career of putting up numbers that, in my opinion, don't mean as much as they seem to mean. So, yes, I would take Jordan's relentless attack mentality and better basketball IQ/skill set over James' numbers any day.

It is also harder to score against a handchecking Payton/McMillan than against any GS player who could not touch MJ under today's rules. Young MJ would dunk 6-8 times a game; older MJ would shoot a steady diet of unbothered, close range turnaround jumpers--the shot that Livingston shoots a few times a game, MJ would shoot 20 times a game and, with no physical contact, he'd make 12 or more.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 7:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I agree with you that defense is a huge problem for Cleveland and I have mentioned this all season long. In this series, a lot of the defensive problems stem from LeBron James:

1) Cleveland is playing too fast and is too sloppy with the ball, which fuels the Warriors' transition game. As you correctly note, James monopolizes the ball on offense, so he is essentially controlling pace and shot selection.

2) James has been inattentive and has lacked game plan discipline defensively.

3) James is getting killed at both ends by Durant (the numbers may suggest to some that the matchup is close but it really is not if you actually watch the games). I agree with you that the Warriors have more talent but that makes it all the more imperative that Cleveland win the matchup that involves the self-proclaimed best player in the world. I think that the other Cavaliers are demoralized by watching (1) LeBron getting handled and (2) LeBron demonstrably calling them out, on the court, every time something goes wrong--particularly when a lot of what is going wrong is his doing (or lack of doing).

One more thing about numbers: James is averaging all of those rebounds and assists as the biggest player on the court and in an era when the assist has been devalued. Jordan averaged a triple double for a stretch in a physically (and, arguably, mentally) tougher era when Collins put him at pg. Jordan also had a bunch of double figure rebound games later in his career when Rodman was suspended or injured. MJ is getting a lot more than 6 and 6 (rpg/apg) against these Warriors under these rules.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 1:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

1) I agree that Cleveland is playing too fast, but I put the blame for that primarily on Tyron Lue, not Lebron James. Lue has been vocally unwilling to slow it down. It is possible this is because Lebron told him to (in which case, stupid thing for Lebron to do) but until we have evidence of that I hesitate to assume it.

2) James has been just ok defensively. He has certainly made mistakes, but he's also put in quite a bit of effort and second-efforts. He has been ineffective at slowing Durant, however. As was the case throughout the season, though, James is the only CLE player even approaching defensive competence. "Stopping" Durant is a tall order; he's one of the most deadly scorers in NBA history for a reason, and the cruel part is, even if James *could* slow him down, Curry is just as deadly (and Thompson is no slouch).

3) Killed is an overstatement, but I would probably agree that through three games Durant has been better (though I think overall Lebron was better in G3). I also think this may be partly a function of their respective roles, as when Durant is tired he can rest, when he doesn't have a good shot he can pass to another super star, and when Iguodala is in he can rest some on defense. Lebron has been the best first half player in the series, but he's wilted in the back eighteen. This is solid game planning by Kerr, and poor counter-punching by Lue. It's certainly working.

As for Jordan, a few things I disagree with:

I'm not sure he's going to be able to put up huge rebounding numbers against this Warriors team, who are generally taller and longer than the teams from his era, at least at his position. I don't know why you think he'd suddenly jack up his Finals rebounding average against a superior team.

Similarly, while it's true that not being hand-checked by McMillan/Payton would help, I think you're still being quite dismissive of GSW's defense. McMillan was 6'5, Payton 6'4. Hand-checking be damned, Jordan could still pretty easily shoot over them. Thompson is 6'7, Iguodala is a long 6'6, Draymond Green is 6'7, and Kevin Durant (who might see crunch time minutes on him) is 6'11. All four are excellent defenders. Jordan would certainly still get his, but he'd be working his ass off to do it, and I think it's unlikely he'd be significantly more efficient than his finals average (48%, 37% from 3), particularly in Lue's offense without a Pippen-level playmaker supporting him. It's also worth remembering that both Draymond and Durant are stellar help defenders. Jordan didn't face a lot of 7 foot tall lightning fast help defenders in the Finals, if memory serves.

I would be astonished if his assist numbers were much higher against this Warriors team, as nobody on Cleveland can buy a bucket. Jordan was a great passer, but I don't think it's out of line to say Lebron is a better one, owing as much to his size as anything else.

Anyway, I feel like I keep needing to repeat that Jordan is better than Lebron... I just don't think suggesting that not beating the most stacked team of the last twenty years with a supporting cast of defensive zeroes and a dimwit coach is some kind of black mark on Lebron's resume. He deserves a lot more heat for blowing the Dallas series, in my opinion (though that Mavs team is historically underrated). He's doing everything you could reasonably expect from a star in this series, he's just doing it against a team with four stars.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 1:21:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Point I forgot to make about the hand-check rule:

It matters, but it isn't the be-all, end-all. Kobe is the closest thing we've seen to Jordan, and his scoring percentage went up all of three points the year it was implemented. It went up quite a bit more the two years after that when he had no help, but then it went back down. His FG% pre-and-post hand-check rule are pretty similar as well. It's fair to point out he was on better teams with a better coach pre HC rule... but then for the purposes of our Jordan comparison, the Bulls and Phil are a lot better than the Cavs and Lue, too.

As for other perimeter scorers, T-Mac's numbers actually went down the season the rule was implemented. Vince's average jumped by 2 ppg the year the rule was implemented, though his career high came pre-HC rule (as did T-Mac's). The hand-check rule made more of a difference for less athletic players like Nash, but the Jordan wannabes were already strong/fast enough to get by guys who were checking them anyhow. Jordan was too.

Now, modern NBA spacing would help Jordan, for sure (probably a lot more than the hand-check rule), but on the other hand post-Thibs defenses are a bit better at stacking the floor against guys like that.

All of this is to say that while Jordan would certainly benefit from playing in today's era, let's not completely lose our heads about by how much.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 2:18:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

I agree with David that James exasperates me precisely because he is clearly capable of so much more. I am/was rooting for Cleveland this series and was disappointed but not surprised when James faded down the stretch. LeBron reminds me a lot of how Scottie Pippen described Kevin Garnett, though I would take him over KG.

I was hoping for a competitive series and thought it was perfectly possible even with the Durant addition on GSW. I thought the Cavs were going to repeat last year's Irving/James double 41 points feat but said "oh no" to myself when James decided to pass out to Korver when he had a lot of room on Green.

The SuperSonics pulled out to win at least two games in 1996 against the Bulls following a 3 - 0 lead, though that was when there was a still 2-3-2 format in the finals and Ron Harper was hurt, so I would not be surprised if it is a sweep.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 3:02:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

I'm sorry to say that, but it seems to me James is too weak mentally. He behaves like a spoiled child. He hardly can take a blame and likes pointing fingers around too much. He seems to forget it's team game and a role of leader is motivating, not blaming, and being the best on team means you have to do more than your weaker teammates by default and lead with effort.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 4:54:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

David,
I agree with your assertions, but Nick's (who sometimes gets too narrow minded when defending certain assertions, but at least he presents arguments using data, and he is quite reasonable in interpreting them most of the time) opinion re Jordan and James switching places in this Cleveland team is quite reasonable also.
I would agree that James is really not a great leader though, by not taking responsibility for his team's losses. He simultaneously says he is not tired, but would argue that he has done enough by citing his stats when confronted by media after losses in this finals. He just is not mentally strong enough when confronted with a big hurdle in front of him. Frontrunner?

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 5:33:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I should also clarify that I am not defending Lebron's "leadership" or lack thereof, merely his on-court impact. He's always been a bit of a headcase, and he's obviously not the captain somebody like Bird or Russell was.

...but even he was, the Warriors would still be stomping the Cavs.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 6:23:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

Pardon me, David...

But Nick, ur last statement, 'but even he was, the warriors would still be stomping the cavs', I don't agree with. Mainly because good leadership is paramount. I manily agreed with your assertion that Jordan's numbers would not significantly be better than james', but I believe david'assertion that Jordan destroying his main counterpart, which destroys the other team's morale/game plan plays a big role in winning a series. While I am not ready to say that Cavs might have won if James significantly outplayed Durant every game, I wouldn't go as far as ur last statement. At the very least, I believe David's assertion is correct. At least Cavs would have had a more competitive series if James has that mindset. Sort of like a trickle down effect, at least. Gives your teammates morale boost, fighting chance...
But I do know ur stand that Jordan is a better player, that James is also great, but u wouldn't take James over Jordan anytime of the day (hoping u wouldn't argue with me, as I would hate arguing with u, as u r far better than I am presenting arguments, hahaha)... as I said before, it would be a treat watching a finals game with David and u, hearing u both argue during the game...

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 6:53:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jackson-

You're entitled to your opinion, and I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say a Jordan-featuring Cavs team definitely wouldn't win a game/lose by less, but no amount of leadership is likely to spontaneously teach Irving/Love/Smith how to play defense or make the entire bench five years younger. There may be a separate argument that playing for years in practice with Jordan (famously a lunatic) might have turned Irving and Love into better defenders, but at that point the discussion is much wider than the series. For the moment, they simply don't have the skill-set. Jordan couldn't instantly make them great defenders any more than he could instantly teach Tristan Thompson and Shumpert to shoot threes at a league-average rate.

Ultimately, the Cavs aren't losing because they're not playing well enough on offense. Overall, they're playing fine on offense; they're averaging 105 or whatever. They just can't stop anybody. Have Jordan lock down Thomspon can only do so much; Thompson locked himself down in G1 and the Warriors still won by double digits. Jordan doesn't have the size to lock down Durant and putting him on Curry neuters his ability to help by pulling him an extra five/ten feet from the action. The Warriors just have too many weapons for one perimeter guy to make that big of a difference on defense. Even Jordan can only guard one guy at a time, and the Warriors have three guys who can go for 40 at any given time.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 8:08:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

Pardon me again, David...

Nick,
Of course I am entitled to my opinion, just as u r to yours. And I certainly dont need u to tell me that.
As much as u theorize certain things, they are just probabilities. Who is to say the right amount of leadership is not enough to turn this into a competitive series?
U may very well be right in some of ur opinion, but do not be dismissive of others'. And I agree that the Cavs are losing this series on the defensive end.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 8:54:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jackson-

Sorry if I scanned as dismissive. Not my intention. I use "entitled to your opinion" to try and avoid coming off too "I'm the one who's right", though apparently it backfired this time. Mea culpa.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 9:11:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I personally think James is lacking in the "years" category Nick, more than any other area. There is something about the way he plays or trains that doesn't get as much out of team mates in the way I think Russell/Magic/Bird/Jordan/Kobe/Duncan have. I don't know what it is but that is my feeling.

I should qualify I still think James is a good team mate, but if he had a weakness I would pick this in the pantheon context. When it comes to winning championships this is unfortunately the most important skill, being able to drive and motivate your team mates.

In his defence he may not have had the quality legendary coaches those guys mentioned had, however legendary coaches are a bit chicken and egg. Who is to say how much of the 96 bulls came from Jordan's or Jackson's or even Scottie's leadership?

Russell probably is the kind of player who maxed out this attribute.

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 10:48:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Insane first half. But I can't shake the feeling that the Warriors are just sitting on a 10-0 run or two 🙄

 
At Friday, June 09, 2017 11:12:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Middle of the third, I don't know if I'm alone in feeling this, but this is the most suspenseful game I've seen where one team has a 20 point lead..

I just can't count the Warriors out, the game still feels 50/50 even though the Cavs have been lights out tonight.

 
At Saturday, June 10, 2017 12:16:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Andrew-

I agree with all of that. My point is that "Lebron isn't doing enough" isn't why the Cavs are (mostly) losing and the "Jordan would win" arguments seem silly to me. I'm not claiming he's in the Jordan/Duncan/Russell tier (all of whom are in my top 6).

As for tonight's game, it turns out I was wrong: Cleveland didn't need to play defense, they just needed to make 24 3s (on over 50% shooting), luck into the worst officiating crew in recent memory, and catch the Warriors on a night where they shot 28% from three while committing 27 fouls (which would be their second highest of the season and more than double their average).

Snark aside, credit due to the Cavs for making those shots. End of the day, you make enough of your shots it doesn't matter if you let the other team score 116 points.

 
At Saturday, June 10, 2017 12:45:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

Pardon me again, david...
Nick,
Apology accepted. Shows u r a good man for quickly apologizing. U earned my respect, buddy.
Well, if we r going into conspiracy theory... warriors winning next game still gives them nba postseason record 16-1... warriors get their additional 12m usd, the association gets their extra 3 days media cycle, local and national tv get their additional ads... win win... levity aside...

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home