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Friday, June 01, 2018

Golden State Survives LeBron James' 51 Point Outburst, Wins 124-114 in Overtime

LeBron James authored an epic performance--scoring a playoff-career high 51 points on 19-32 field goal shooting--but, thanks to a missed George Hill free throw and inexplicable brain lock by J.R. Smith, the Golden State Warriors survived to force overtime and then defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-114 in game one of the 2018 NBA Finals. Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 29 points and nine assists, Kevin Durant scored 26 points--but shot just 8-22 from the field--and Klay Thompson overcame a left leg injury he suffered in the first half to pour in 24 points on 8-16 field goal shooting. Draymond Green nearly had a triple double (13 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) and Shaun Livingston chipped in 10 points on 4-4 field goal shooting in 18 minutes off of the bench.

All of those numbers pale compared to what James did. James started out hot and never cooled off, scoring 12 first quarter points on 4-4 field goal shooting as the Cavaliers led the heavily favored Warriors 30-29 after the first 12 minutes. By halftime, James had 24 points on 9-11 field goal shooting but the score was tied 56-56 after J.R. Smith's bad gamble let Curry get free for a buzzer-beating three pointer; sadly for the Cavaliers, that would not turn out to be Smith's worst gaffe.

A couple first half plays that may get lost in the shuffle could have a lasting impact on the series. First, J.R. Smith slipped on the floor and rolled into Thompson's left leg, causing a lower leg contusion that forced Thompson out of the game to get his leg retaped. After Thompson returned, I thought that it was obvious that he favored one leg when he ran and when he landed after jumping to shoot, although none of the TV commentators mentioned this. The second noteworthy play happened when James drove to the hoop and Green poked him in his left eye. Green inexplicably argued about the foul call and received a technical foul; meanwhile, James' eye soon became bloodshot and James said that his vision became blurrier as the game progressed. 

As I wrote in my series preview, even though the Cavaliers are the clear underdog in this matchup, there is a "strategic road map to maximize their chances of victory." The Cavaliers had a very good game plan that incorporated the "road map" that I described and they executed that game plan very well. They only ran when they had a clear advantage; otherwise, they sought out mismatches in the post, exploiting their size. The Cavaliers also repeatedly ran half-court actions that resulted in Curry being switched onto James, who then attacked the mismatch. James is a great passer--he is a great all-around player who had eight rebounds and eight assists in this game--but he is not a pass-first player; he is one of the greatest scorers in pro basketball history. James is now tied with Michael Jordan for the most 30 point games in playoff history (109; Kobe Bryant is next on that list with 88). On the other hand, James set a record that he did not want to set: he is the first player to score at least 50 points in an NBA Finals loss.

The Cavaliers grabbed seven first half offensive rebounds, while the Warriors did not have any. There is a popular notion that the Warriors' small lineups make it essential for their opponents to go small but the truth is that teams with the right personnel can go big and force the Warriors to go big. At the start of the second half, the Warriors started JaVale McGee at center to counter Cleveland's size. McGee had an impact at both ends of the court and at first it looked like the Warriors would go on one of their signature backbreaking third quarter runs but the Cavaliers withstood the charge and kept the game close the rest of the way.

Cleveland's competitiveness throughout this game should put a rest to the notion that the Cavaliers' playoff run consists of LeBron James alone against the world; James is playing at a very high level but he has a good supporting cast around him. Kevin Love--who returned from a concussion suffered in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals to post 21 points and 13 rebounds--is a five-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA Second Team member. Kyle Korver is a former All-Star and Smith is a former Sixth Man of the Year. Jeff Green is a talented player who never blossomed into a star but who is nevertheless valuable because of his size, athleticism and versatility. George Hill is a solid two-way player. Many people seem to forget that the Cavaliers have a record-setting payroll, with players essentially hand-picked by James; if James does not think that his supporting cast is adequate he only has himself to blame, as he is never going to attract another star to Cleveland if he is unwilling to commit to staying with the franchise. James enjoys using his leverage to potentially leave as a free agent if the team does not do his bidding but the flipside of that power play is that it hinders the Cavaliers' ability to build around James now.

The fact is that this group is good enough to hang with the Warriors for 48 minutes on Golden State's home court. The final moments of regulation included a questionable foul call, some great plays and a staggering mental lapse. Cleveland led 104-102 when Durant drove to the hoop with 36.4 seconds remaining. Durant collided with LeBron James and the initial foul call was a charge on Durant but NBA rules permit officials to consult video review on such plays in the final two minutes. Upon review, the officials determined that James had not established legal guarding position and thus they reversed the call, awarding two free throws to Durant. My initial impression was that a block should have been called; ESPN's Tim Legler said the same thing after the game but I can understand someone legitimately believing that Durant committed a charge. The key question is whether Durant began his shooting motion before James was set; contrary to popular belief, the defender is allowed to move in such situations--to "firm up" as retired official Steve Javie termed it--but the defender has to assume legal guarding position before the offensive player starts his shooting motion. I think that James read the play very well but just did not quite make it in time--and I also think that it was so close that it could have been called either way. Reversing a call that is that close is not a good look for the NBA; the NFL requires "indisputable evidence" to overturn a call and that would have been a good standard to apply here.

After Durant made both free throws, James drove to the hoop and scored to put Cleveland up 106-104. Curry responded with a three point play to give Golden State a 107-106 lead. The Cavaliers forced a switch with Curry guarding James but instead of attacking James elected to pass to George Hill, who was fouled. Hill hit the first free throw to tie the game but he missed the second one. Durant did not box out J.R. Smith, who grabbed the offensive rebound--and proceeded to dribble out the clock as if the Cavaliers were up by one! The incredulous look on James' face after regulation time ended said it all. If you read lips, you could see Smith telling James that he thought the Cavaliers were up by one, though after the game Smith backtracked and claimed that he had dribbled out of the paint to look for a better shot as opposed to trying to shoot over Durant.

Whatever the reason for Smith's miscue, the Cavaliers still had an opportunity to stay the course and win the game. During the overtime--with the outcome still up for grabs--the Cavaliers looked deflated and tentative, while the Warriors played aggressively and confidently. The Warriors opened the extra session with a 9-0 run in less than three minutes, essentially delivering a knockout blow. Instead of seizing the opportunity to win the game, the Cavaliers fell apart. There is no excuse for Smith's mental breakdown but there is also no excuse for the team to collapse with five minutes of basketball left to play. Winning a championship inevitably requires overcoming adversity. The team huddle before the overtime was a great opportunity for the Cavaliers to come together but it seems like they splintered instead.

Hey, if Smith were my teammate I would be furious. I would probably have some choice words for him after the game, especially if we lost--but during the game the only valid response is to move on to the next play and do everything possible to win until the clock hits triple zeroes.

The Cavaliers' frustrations boiled over near the end of overtime, as Tristan Thompson took exception to Livingston shooting a jump shot; the outcome of the game had already been decided but Livingston shot the ball instead of just accepting a shot clock violation. Thompson was ejected based on being called for a flagrant two foul as the officials determined that he had swung an elbow at Livingston's head. Naturally, hot head Green had to stroll over and express his two cents about the situation, to which Thompson responded by shoving the ball in Green's face. Green acted like he wanted to fight, which is easy to do when you know that many people are about to jump in between to make sure that a fight does not happen. Thompson signaled to Green that if Green really would like to continue the confrontation then they could meet outside.

Some media members suggested that Kevin Love could face a potential suspension for wandering on to the court while all of this took place but Love was already on the court before the altercation happened, as play had been stopped. I suspect that the NBA will issue fines to Thompson and Green but that no one will be suspended.

The Cavaliers can use the bizarre, heartbreaking ending of this game as an excuse to fold or they can focus on the fact that they played the Warriors dead even for 48 minutes; if the Cavaliers bring that same effort level and execution on Sunday night, then they have a real chance to win game two and seize homecourt advantage.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:11 AM

21 comments

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21 Comments:

At Friday, June 01, 2018 6:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I think you're dead on in your analysis of the Cavs' inability to deal with adversity re: the final minute's unfavorable call, missed free throw, and then J.R. Smith's unprofessional miscue. While this was unfolding, as the game entered overtime, I kept wondering whether the Cavs could do the Borg bounce-back thing. I couldn't help think how much more impressed I was with how Bjorn Borg was able to bounce back from that epic 18-16 tie-break defeat to John McEnroe in the fourth set of the 1980 Wimbledon final. He had like seven championship points or something, yet he collected himself and somehow found the championship composure to outlast McEnroe in the fifth set of one of the great matches of all time. What a testament to Borg's character, to be able to put that excruciating disappointment behind him (all those championship points lost!) to go on to defeat his greatest rival in the end. But the Cavs did not show one iota of the Borg bounce-back fortitude in last night's final five minutes of play. Quite clearly, as you point out, they collapsed. Huge as Smith's gaffe was, they had five minutes of overtime to redeem him. As you suggest, he didn't lose the game so much as they're inability to do the Borg bounce-back thing lost it for them. Unlike Borg, the Cavs were unable to withstand, and overcome, adversity. But as you also point out, going forward, if the Cavs can do the Borg bounce-back in time for the start of Game 2, and stick to their game plan, they have an excellent chance of tying the series on Sunday.

 
At Friday, June 01, 2018 10:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looked pretty clear James committed a block against KD late in game. The officials missed the call initially, but I don't like this new rule that the officials can review that, though they got the call right. Even in slo mo, which is usually a bad way at looking at bang-bang plays, James still wasn't set. In block/charge situations, if there's any doubt, it's almost always a block then.

Smith messed up at the end of regulation; however, there's lots of plays during the course of a game and he may have saved CLE just making OT. If GS gets the rebound, they'd have 4+ seconds to setup a last-second play. What's getting lost is that he made a great play getting the offensive rebound with KD making a mental mistake of his own. If Smith doesn't make a great play getting the offensive rebound or KD does his job and gets the defensive rebound, we'd never been talking about Smith's mishap. James should've been trying to get the ball and/or teammates trying to call timeout. There was still 4.7 seconds left, time to do more than just shoot immediately after the rebound.

James started the altercation by taunting Curry and Thompson. And I never understood why players/coaches get upset for someone shooting when the game has already been decided either. If that really bothers you that much, then play hard until the end yourself. Livingston did nothing wrong, he should shoot when the shoot clock is winding down, and he wasn't trying to run up the score nor show up CLE with a dunk. He shot a midrange shot. Thompson did look like he swung an elbow initially, but didn't commit a flagrant upon further review, but I understand Brothers ejecting him initially. Thompson faces a possible suspension, looked like he threw what's deemed a punch at Green.

Love has no business being on the court, he probably should get a T though. And even though he started walking a little more on the court after the Thompson foul, I don't think the final altercation had really started yet, so probably no suspension for him.

 
At Friday, June 01, 2018 12:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LeBron played at the kind of superhuman level that it is almost obscene to criticize, but there is one thing he did wrong and it ended up deciding the game.

Before Hill was fouled, LeBron had the ball in an iso with Curry on him. A situation that he had been able to exploit and score on a drive to the basket with ease all game. Yet he passed.

There are a couple famous MJ finals series plays where he passed the ball in the key moment, but they are well known precisely because they are the exceptions, and they weren't as favorable match ups as this one. Most of the time he didn't pass.

You know that both MJ and Kobe would have taken the last shot instead of passing in that situation, and LeBron had an even higher percentage play if he went 1-on-1 in that case.

 
At Friday, June 01, 2018 12:50:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

My thoughts:

*Goddamn, Lebron. That was one of his best games ever. We can pick nits about "he should have scored more in overtime" or "he should have called timeout," but end of the day, the guy put up 50-8-8 on .594 shooting in a Finals game on the road against a super-team and played mostly great defense during it. That's top-shelf level stuff and if somehow pulls this off, I might be tempted to bump him up a little in my rankings.

* Love had what I like to call a Carlos Boozer game: his numbers were there, but I side-eyed them at the end when I saw them. Despite a tidy box score it didn't feel (to me, at least) like he was making much of an impact on the game while I was watching it.

* Cavs probably need to play Korver and Nance a bit more than they did, for completely different reasons.

* When Draymond is making his 3s, the Warriors are about as close to unguardable as a team gets.

* Can Lebron keep putting up these kind of games? If so, can Iggy come back in time to slow him down? CAN Iggy slow him down?

* I talked a lot last series about Eric Gordon's sense of the moment, but Klay Thompson has that same "oh, you think you're making a run?" DNA and seems to hit a timely three whenever it'll do the most damage.

* What a luxury for the Warriors that Durant can have an off shooting night, give up 50 points to his opposite number, and they still win by 10 (granted, in OT).

* JR Smith is JR Smith. You have him in during crunchtime, you don't get to be mad when he does something stupid. Scorpion and the frog, and all that. Warriors take similar risks night to night with Draymond, and sometimes they get burned for it, too.

* Sneaky decent George Hill game, minus that last free throw. But can he slow down Curry at all?

 
At Friday, June 01, 2018 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Excellent points David!

I'd like to touch on a couple of things though:

1.) "The fact is that this group is good enough to hang with the Warriors for 48 minutes on Golden State's home court. "... because LeBron had 49 points on greater than 60% shooting and Kevin Durant, the opposing team's best player, played horribly. The talent between these two teams isn't close in the slightest. A superhuman LeBron is only reason one could even make the claim that these two teams are comparable. The media goes too far when discrediting LeBron's teammates at times, but they aren't far off from the truth right now. JR Smith and Jordan Clarkson were Golden State's big three along with Curry last night.

2.) I am interested to see how Klay will play for the remainder of the series, but Golden State is so loaded that Klay could average 12ppg and still win (he averaged 16ppg in the finals for both of Golden State's championships).

3.) I thought that the Cavs were pretty deflated during overtime and the Warriors with their front-running selves took advantage. It's a natural human response to play so well, but grow frustrated when things don't go your way (especially when one of your own is a big reason for your failure). I think they were overwhelmed by that point, but I agree that they should have kept fighting.

4.) I think a strong case could be made either way that the call for Durant was a charge or block. I have two issues with the refs decision though. The evidence was not overwhelming enough to reverse the call. It was the heat of the moment - live with the initial call if the evidence doesn't suggest that you definitely got it wrong. If it was initially ruled a block and was overturned, I'd feel the exact same way and always have. Also, the refs have a nasty habit of killing momentum. The Cavs already have the odds against them. Why kill the momentum with such a controversial call? I'm not suggesting to favor the underdogs, but the refs have to remember that they can influence the pace of the game far more than superstars can at times.

5.) They league should issue fines and stay away from suspending anyone.

6.) It is not hyperbole at all to suggest that JR Smith has one of the lowest basketball IQ's of any player that has played as many NBA minutes as he has.

 
At Friday, June 01, 2018 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

7.) "James set a record that he did not want to set: he is the first player to score at least 50 points in an NBA Finals loss". The modern day Wilt Chamberlain - the only player who consistently puts up astonishing achievements in either wins or loses, and will be criticized that he didn't split the Red Sea and walk on water when he was done. It is an absolute pleasure to watch LeBron from beginning to end as I do not vividly remember Wilt at the start because I was too young and games weren't as accessible like they are now obviously. This version of LeBron James is a completely different person from the 2010/2011 versions of himself. I do not think that Wilt ever got to this point where his will to win was this strong. I'll say it again - LeBron never needed the Jordan/Russell/Kobe killer instinct to be considered the GOAT. If LeBron came into the league with the mindset that he has right now, the masses would have given him that title seasons ago. When it comes to LeBron vs Player X, Y, or Z, it's not always about talent, stats, accolades, etc because LeBron's arguments in those categories are as good as anyone's and often superior. It's more so that LeBron in his 20's did not always breed confidence that he would win regardless of the situation. He has that now and my God is it amazing to watch. LeBron is not my favorite player ever and probably not even one of my favorite five or ten ever, but in my almost 60 years of watching professional basketball, I can't remember many times where I wanted a player to win so badly more than I do right now for LeBron James.

 
At Friday, June 01, 2018 1:22:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Probably the best game by LeBron I've ever seen. Zeroed in and focused from start to almost the finish. The press has been killing his teammates supposedly being terrible but even with that idiotic foul by JR Smith, they mauled Golden State inside. Out-rebounded the Warriors by 15 and had 19 offensive rebounds. They have the size and defensive ability to compete with this Warriors team, despite the heartbreaking end to this first game.

 
At Saturday, June 02, 2018 9:36:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

The focus on Smith is in my opinion, stupid. The guy got an offensive rebound he should never have gotten. Just by doing that he prevented a warriors possession and timeout which could’ve led to a game winning shot for the warriors. Even if he had laid it up, the warriors have 3 all time three point shooters, the Cavs still could have lost.

The overtime collapse is more damning than Smith’s decision, but unfortunately the media is like a dog with a bone and will not let it go.

 
At Sunday, June 03, 2018 11:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David:

What are your thoughts on James' game 2 performance? I saw a tired and back to his passive version of LeBron James. As great as he was in game 1, I thought part of his big scoring outburst was the Warriors' defense not putting pressure on him and leaving lanes wide open for him to attack. In this game the Warriors stepped up their defense and clogged the lanes and James was much less effective. I didn't see any mid-range game or post-ups at all from him and if he wants to save his legs he needs to do more of those two things. It's funny how people think he is more skilled than Jordan and Bryant.

And finally someone writes an article about whether James actually makes his teammates better.

http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/23684417/kevin-pelton-weekly-mailbag-does-lebron-james-make-teammates-better

I have never believed the constant narrative that he makes his teammates better, in fact it's actually the opposite as evidenced by Wade, Bosh and Love who all suffered playing along side him. He does have a knack for getting assists but sometimes those numbers don't show the picture. He is great at making plays through their elbow action or when he drives and the big comes to help he will find the open man. But some of his assists though are simply just him standing at the top and passing to 3 point shooters who for some reason shoots them most of the time. There are also some when the shot clock winds down and he doesn't want to ruin his FG% and passes to them to shoot instead.

In contrast guys like Bryant, Jordan and Westbrook who demand such a high standard from their teammates do not make them better players because they shoot too much. I don't know how much better you can get by standing around and waiting for a shot once in a while than having someone to push you at practice every single day. It's not a coincidence that players like Gasol, Odom, Bynum and other role players on the Lakers' 09 and 10 Championship teams had career years playing with Bryant.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 2:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

The Borg analogy is very apt and I think that the last 10-11 minutes of game two indicate that the Cavs are not quite up to the task, though I still expect them to at least win one at home.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 2:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree that ultimately the officials got the block/charge call right but the process that they used is odd. It was clear that James was outside of the circle, so the play should have never been reviewed in the first place.

It is true that many plays decide the outcome of a game, not just the memorable ones at or near the end. Smith's blunder at the end of the first half actually may have been more damaging, as it cost three points. I agree that getting the offensive rebound was a great play that had value even though Cleveland did not score but there is no getting around the fact that dribbling out the clock in a tie game is a boneheaded decision.

I agree that players often overreact to the opponent shooting the ball just to avoid a shot clock violation. I think that some teams are very sensitive about their turnover statistics and since a shot clock violation is a turnover they would rather get any kind of shot up, even if it misses.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 2:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

There is no doubt that James authored an epic performance.

I don't think that Love was quite as ineffective as you suggest.

Klay Thompson is very clutch. He saved GSW against OKC two years ago and against Houston this year with huge game six performances.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 3:20:00 PM, Blogger Nathan Wright said...

The media are hive-minded. They all pounced on the JR Smith play because they think it proves or vividly illustrates one of their pet biases, that LBJ is the best ever and is tragi-comically let down by his teammates.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 6:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kyle:

I understand that GSW has more individual talent than the Cavs but if we accept the premise that James is the best player in the league (let alone the best player of all-time, as some are saying) then the matchup between the teams should not be so lopsided. The Cavs win James' matchup. They should win Kevin Love's matchup with Green (Love was an All-NBA player before he sublimated his game to play with James). If the Cavs go big, Tristan Thompson is no worse that anyone who GSW would play at center. GSW obviously has an advantage in the backcourt but the Cavs have at least as much depth and they have more youth. The media wants to make it sound like it would be a miracle for Cleveland to win. The Cavs have the self-proclaimed "Best Player in the World" with the coaching staff and supporting cast that he handpicked--a supporting cast, by the way, that is being paid more (when one counts the luxury tax) than any NBA team ever.

I cannot separate young James from the older James when looking at his career as a whole. Jordan, Bryant and a select few had the killer instinct from the start and then they added other pieces to their games over the years. As great as James is and as much help as he has had over the years, it is reasonable to say that he should have won more titles--just as it is reasonable to say the same about Shaq. James had a guy who could not even get on the court (Shannon Brown) who was a rotation player on Kobe's championship teams.

James has had the help he wants--guys who are content to play roles and not challenge him for control of the team, most shots, etc.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 6:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Keith:

Yes, the Cavs do have the size and ability to compete with GSW. The Cavs are underdogs but there is a strategic path to victory, as I noted in my series preview.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 6:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Andrew:

It is correct focus on Smith's error because it was so egregiously stupid but you are right that other plays also affected the outcome and you echo my sentiment that Cleveland could/should have refocused and tried harder to win in overtime.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 6:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with you that in game two James looked tired and/or passive.

I saw the article that you referenced. I am not a huge fan of that author and his methods but I agree that James does not "make his teammates better" to the extent that many people believe. You are right that Jordan, Bryant and Westbrook are better leaders because they lead by example and because they demand more from their teammates. James wins by force of his talent and by surrounding himself with players who want/are willing to accept submissive roles, whereas Jordan, Bryant and Westbrook push themselves and everyone around them to dare to be great.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 10:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cant quite agree about Smith at the end of regulation, though maybe at the end of the first half, but almost every player is making some type of gamble through the course of a game. He made a great play getting the rebound, and didn't allow GS time to get a last-second shot, which they would've had at least 4 seconds likely, which is plenty of time to get a good look. Yes, he messed up after getting the rebound, but overall, he did well on that play. Regardless, too much focus on him.

The process on the block/charge play between KD/James is odd, but the officials are just using what the rules state. If there's any doubt at all by just one official James was in the restricted area, then they have to review it. It's easy for us to say in hindsight, but not really in real time when it's happening so fast, the officials have other things to focus on, and their view might be obstructed by other players. Even though James was clearly outside of the restricted area, if he jumps from inside the restricted area and doesn't have both feet land outside of the area before the offensive player makes contact with him, then he's still deemed inside the restricted area. This part was close, so I can definitely see where some doubt creeps in. And it was pretty clearly a block, I'm surprised why there's been so much uproar about it.

And let's not group RW with Kobe/Jordan. RW still can't make it out of the first round as the #1 guy. He isn't close to being a better leader than James who has made 9 Finals, winning 3. Even in an inferior conference, this is much better than RW could ever dream.

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2018 7:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I am not grouping Westbrook with Jordan, Bryant and James as a player overall. What I said is that I prefer Westbrook's leadership style. Westbrook is not hopping from team to team to chase rings, he is not calling himself "The Best Player in the World" and he is not complaining--implicitly or explicitly--about his supporting cast, even though OKC has lost Durant, Harden, Ibaka and others over the past few years without getting enough in return.

I believe that James' "Will I stay or will I go?" drama has a negative impact on his teams. Yes, his teams have enjoyed success but I think that his teams could have been more successful if he had employed a different leadership style. As Pat Riley put it after James left Miami, "No more smiling faces with hidden agendas."

I don't know why you have a singular obsession with Westbrook not making it out of the first round the past two years. In both instances, OKC faced better, deeper teams. How often has Durant made it out of the first round without having Westbrook/Harden or Curry/Thompson/Green? Do you think that Westbrook would be losing in the first round if he had another player of that caliber next to him? No need to answer, because we know: Westbrook was 1a or 1b on teams that made the WCF four times in six years, which is (as I have documented here before) one of the better such runs of the past several decades--and were it not for injuries suffered by Durant or Westbrook in the other two seasons, they likely would have gone six for six in that stretch.

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2018 1:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand what you're saying about RW, and I agree. But, I seem to remember you talking about RW's detractors saying he's not a good leader by stating how many times he's gone deep in the playoffs. I would also say something similar about RW. But, then we'd have to say James, even though he seems to lack a lot of good leadership qualities, is a great leader regardless, given how well his teams have done. Though as you said, his teams should've done much better if he was a better leader.

It's not my obsession, David. It's your obsession about another player you repeatedly talk about not being able to make it out of the 1st round over these past few years. Let's at least attempt to be consistent. That's primarily why I bring up RW's failures as the #1 guy, which I'm confused why you so easily dismiss now. We're talking about winning a title with his current group, though I don't see much difference with his cast than with Kobe's 08-10 LAL cast, and maybe we're not even talking about winning a series, we're talking about just being more competitive in the 1st round.

As we've now seen, RW has had a decent amount of help these past 2 years. He shouldn't be blamed for losing to HOU, though that series should've been more competitive. However, OKC was favored against UTA this year. And George had a great series, yet OKC still lost. George has led 2 teams to the ECF during his career, too. It's not like he isn't a star player.

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2018 7:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

James is not necessarily a bad leader but he is not as great of a leader as some suggest. His teams have gone deep in the playoffs because of his talent and also because his teams have been more talented than many are willing to admit.

My two main issues with Harden are (1) he rejected being a good player on a great team because he wanted to pad his stats as a number one option even though he is not great enough to lead a team to a title and (2) Morey called Harden a "foundational player" (and some other nonsense as well). If Harden is as good as he thinks he is and as Morey says he is, then the time and place to prove it is in the playoffs. Harden is consistently subpar in the playoffs. His first WCF appearance in Houston was a fluke and he sat the bench during key stretches of that run. This year, he had a great supporting cast and he leaned on that cast very heavily during the WCF run. As soon as Paul was out, the Rockets still could take first half leads in games six and seven versus GSW but Harden could not close the deal in either second half. A truly great player should not lose two double digit first half leads with a chance to advance to the NBA Finals.

Westbrook has not "failed" as the first option. You seem to think that if you repeat something enough times that makes it true. Two years ago, Westbrook's supporting cast was awful. The team completely fell apart every time Westbrook left the game. This year's team was better but still not great. Meanwhile, Utah went 29-6 down the stretch and finished with the same record as OKC. You could technically say that Utah's win was an "upset" since OKC had homecourt advantage but the matchup was a rising fifth seed versus an inconsistent fourth seed. Westbrook was the best player in the series, though I would agree that he was not in peak form (at least in terms of his shooting).

George did not have a great series and he faded at the end. George was an All-NBA Third Team player twice for deep, balanced teams that made the ECF. As you often note, the East has been much weaker than the West for several years. Also, as I have said more than once, making it to the CF once or twice is an accomplishment but you separate the men from the boys when you talk about players who repeatedly/regularly lead their teams to the CF, as Durant and Westbrook did (four times).

I predicted at the start of the season that OKC would be the third seed and they ended up as the fourth seed, one game behind the third seed. Westbrook did not fail or have a disappointing season; he took that team about as far as could be reasonably expected.

Meanwhile, Harden was at the helm of a 65 win team that blew a 3-2 lead in the WCF against a team with a somewhat hobbled Curry and an injured 2015 Finals MVP Iguodala. It may sound crazy, but I don't expect Harden to ever get that far in the playoffs again. Everything broke right for him the two times he has reached the WCF in Houston and it is rare that everything will keep breaking right for a player/team that has weaknesses that can be exploited at that level.

You have mentioned Kobe's 2008-10 supporting cast in a few comments. One, I have never suggested that Westbrook is as great as Kobe was. Two, Kobe had a much better coach and a better second option. That said, taking that team to three straight Finals (and two straight titles) was remarkable but that accomplishment really does not have anything to do with comparing Westbrook to the top players in the league now.

 

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