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Monday, June 04, 2018

Stephen Curry Hits Finals Single-Game Record Nine Three Pointers as Warriors Rout Cavaliers, 122-103

Stephen Curry scored a game-high 33 points and set an NBA Finals single-game record by making nine three pointers as his Golden State Warriors turned what had been a relatively competitive game two into a 122-103 rout over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Curry shot just 11-26 from the field but he connected on 9-17 from three point range while also dishing for a team-high eight assists and grabbing seven rebounds. Curry poured in 16 fourth quarter points while shooting 5-5 from three point range and the Warriors used a 26-10 run over an eight minute stretch to bury the Cavaliers.

Kevin Durant, the 2017 NBA Finals MVP who has been performing below his usual level for the past several games, scored 26 points on 10-14 field goal shooting while also leading the Warriors in rebounding (nine) and passing for seven assists. Curry's amazing three point shooting provided both momentum sustaining substance and eye-popping style but Durant had the better plus/minus number (+24 compared to +19).

Klay Thompson, who injured his lower left leg in game one and was a game-time decision for game two, was noticeably gimpy at the start of the contest but he battled through the adversity and his leg seemed to loosen up as the game progressed. He contributed 20 points on 8-13 field goal shooting, plus his usual top notch defense.

Speaking of defense, defensive specialist Draymond Green scored just five points but he made his impact felt on the other end of the court while also grabbing eight rebounds and distributing seven assists.

JaVale McGee, who provided a boost during six minutes of game one action off of the bench, received the game two start at center for Golden State and he made an immediate impact at both ends of the court. The Warriors needed someone to protect the rim on defense and dive to the hoop on offense to counteract the big lineup that the Cavaliers have often used--and McGee answered the call with 12 points on 6-6 field goal shooting while also contesting/altering many shots in just 18 minutes.

LeBron James could not reasonably be expected to match his game one 51 point outburst but he finished with 29 points, a game-high 13 assists and nine rebounds. As ABC's Jeff Van Gundy said at halftime, though, James had great numbers but he was not playing great, at least by James' standard. James is the most paradoxical elite player I have ever seen. His numbers are almost always exceptional but sometimes it feels like he is not having the impact that those numbers would suggest. The plus/minus numbers from game two hint at this, as James had a team-worst -18 (tied with Kyle Korver, who scored one point in 17 minutes).

James has led his teams to nine NBA Finals, including eight straight, and his team has been the underdog several times, as is the case this year--but someone who is now often being called the greatest player of all-time should be more consistently the best player on the court when the games mean the most. James was clearly the best player on the court in game one but it could be argued that he was just the third best player in game three (behind Curry and Durant)--and that has often happened during James' Finals appearances, as a variety of players, several of whom are far less renowned, have outplayed James in individual games or even won the Finals MVP while being matched up with him directly.

Bottom line, I just don't get the comparisons with Michael Jordan--and this is not a "hot take" based on one game but rather a cool, logical analysis based on the body of work compiled by both players. How often during his six NBA Finals was Jordan not clearly the best player on the court? As I often write, this is not about numbers but about impact. Pundits are talking about James possibly surpassing Jordan in some hypothetical matchup but in the real world matchups that we can actually observe and analyze, Durant got the best of James in the 2017 Finals and Curry is getting the best of James this time around, at least in terms of making key plays in clutch situations. If the Warriors win this series, James' head to head Finals record against regular season MVPs from his era will be 1-2 against Tim Duncan, 0-1 against Dirk Nowitzki, 1-3 against Stephen Curry and 1-2 against Kevin Durant (James is 1-0 against Russell Westbrook, who won his MVP several years after facing James in the Finals). Jordan's resume does not contain such blemishes.

James is often credited with "making his teammates better" but, at most, that characterization applies to certain kinds of teammates: players who cannot create their own shots and are content to wait until James creates a shot for them tend to perform better when playing with James--but star players like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have to sublimate their games to James' ball dominance. When evaluating James' supporting cast, it is important to remember that he essentially hand-picked this roster, either by asking the Cavaliers to keep/get rid of specific players or by limiting the Cavaliers' options by refusing to commit to staying with the team beyond this season. James cannot both wield his immense power as a giant hammer hanging over the organization and then complain that he does not have enough help. 

Kevin Love scored 22 points and controlled a game-high 10 rebounds. The Cavaliers' strategy of going big and attacking the paint enabled them to keep the score close even as the Warriors unleashed a barrage of three pointers accompanied by rim attacks when the Cavaliers closed out overzealously to the three point line.

At one point, the 6-6 J.R. Smith was the shortest Cavalier on the court. Golden State led 90-83 with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, so the game was up for grabs--and Curry grabbed it, as noted above. Meanwhile, James had four points and one assist during Golden State's 26-10 game-deciding run. We keep hearing that James' supporting cast is not doing enough but if the margin is seven points with 11 minutes to go then that should not be an insurmountable obstacle for the self-proclaimed "Chosen One"/"Best Player in the World."

LeBron James is one of the 10 greatest basketball players of all-time but the comparisons to Jordan are not apt and are ultimately a disservice to both players. Some say that is not fair to compare James' 3-5 Finals record to Jordan's 6-0 Finals record because James has carried supposedly inept squads to the Finals--but if we are going to accept that reasoning then we also need to throw out James' gaudy game seven career numbers, because Jordan was so dominant that he rarely needed a seventh game to eliminate his opponents.

The main question now is if the Cavaliers will get swept or if they will make this a competitive series by winning the next two games in Cleveland. James has led three comebacks from 0-2 deficits, including one against Golden State in the 2016 Finals. The patterns/habits of both teams strongly suggest that the Cavaliers will win at least one of the next two games; the Cavaliers are much better at home than on the road during this year's playoffs, while the Warriors have shown a tendency to become complacent and sloppy once they think that they have a series under control.

Specifically, the Cavaliers can win in Cleveland if they (1) play big lineups and slow down the pace so that they can dominate the paint at both ends of the court, (2) attack in transition only if they have a clear advantage and (3) tighten up their defensive coverages so that Golden State has to beat them by receiving major contributions from players other than Curry, Durant and Thompson. The keys for Golden State to sweep are (1) limit their turnovers, (2) create/exploit mismatches based on Cleveland's strategy of switching everything on the perimeter and (3) entice James to settle for long jumpers/passes to teammates as opposed to relentlessly attacking the hoop. 

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:07 AM

21 comments

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21 Comments:

At Monday, June 04, 2018 2:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris Paul is another guy who you can watch live, and not notice anything spectacular, but you go home, and the box score says 15 assists, and you think "well that really is not representative of the game I watched". Not that he didn't have those numbers, but the numbers overstate his impact, if you're comparing to other double digit assist games you've seen before from other players.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 12:04:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

I agree with the ultimate conclusion of Lebron < Jordan, but I don't agree with a lot of the reasoning (or at least, I don't agree that some of it is the best way to evaluate stuff like this).

"How often during his six NBA Finals was Jordan not clearly the best player on the court? "

Never, but how often did he play on a badly overmatched team against a pair of Top 3 players? How often were four of the top five guys in the series on the other team? Not only was Jordan always the best player on the court, the second best was usually on his team, too. Comparisons between Jordan's Bulls and Lebron's Heat strike me as much more fair (if still slightly specious) than comparisons between his Bulls and Lebron's Cavs, and especially these Cavs.

In general, though, as you noted Lebron went up against Duncan three times, KD three times, Curry three times, and Dirk once. Jordan went up against Magic once, Malone twice, Drexler once, Barkley once, and Payton/Kemp once. None of those guys except Magic are really anywhere near same level as Duncan, and a fair case could be made none of their teams were anywhere near as good as these Warriors teams, either, and arguably not those 10-deep Spurs team, either. More interestingly, none of them have an especially elite defensive big man to challenge Jordan/Pippen in the paint (most teams that beat Lebron do, although these Warriors are a semi-exception in that they have a DPOY center in Draymond Green but he is not an elite rim protector).

In terms of Pantheon*-level playoff competition, Jordan went up against Shaq twice and Magic once; he went 2-1 in those matchups. Jordan was blessed to somehow (usually) avoid the greatest other players, and especially centers, of his era. He never ran up against Hakeem or Robinson and only the twice encountered Shaq; he ran into Ewing a few times (and Ewing did take him to seven once) but then you could always count on Ewing to choke when it matters. He caught Magic on Magic's weakest Finals team and happened to have the perfect Magic-counter on his side in the form of Scottie.

*I am not saying Curry or Durant are quite Pantheon level but I think we can probably agree that they've both played at Pantheon levels for short stretches, and that having the two of them on one team is probably at least as valuable as having a single bonafide Pantheon guy.

Speaking of choking, it didn't suck for Michael that he got to play Karl Malone twice in the Finals, either.

Lebron, on the other hand, has faced a steady diet of the best guys of his generation (though he did manage to dodge Kobe), and on generally teams. Every one of these Warriors teams could/would have smoked (in my opinion) every team Jordan beat in the Finals, and I think the Spurs teams Lebron's gone against would, too. He rightly gets criticism for his underperformance against the Mavericks and despite the three future MVPs on the roster, that Oklahoma team falls in the "teams he definitely should have beat' category.

Basically, I don't think comparing Finals records, or even "best player on the court" habits, is super relevant when one guy played against way better teams than the other. No matter which player is better (Jordan) it seems clear to me that Lebron has faced longer odds in most of his Finals than Jordan did, so I am lukewarm on the idea of skewering him for an inferior record given that context.

1/2

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

As for Lebron's G2 performance specifically, I have two observations:

1) He looked less disinterested or passive than tired, to me. I think he threw everything he had at the Warriors in G1 (and the Celtics in G6-7) and just couldn't do it a fourth time in a row. It may not be reasonable for us to expect miracles of him every night; if 27/9/13 is his worst game, he's doing fine.

2) I think he concluded after G1 that it's nigh-impossible to beat this Warriors team on your own and was determined to get his other guys involved. He threw 27 potential assists last night, which is a ton (by comparison, only one other player threw over ten; KD's 15). It didn't work, but they were good looks and there's a fair chance his guys could hit them; if they do, it's a different game.

Ultimately, he's averaging 40/8.5/10.5 on 56% shooting after two games. Nobody's the best guy every night (even most of Jordan's Finals appearances went 6, after all) but Lebron has so far turned in an A+ (G1) and an A- (G2). He's doing as much as it's probably fair to expect of anyone, but this GSW team is just too good to go down without his teammates doing more (or, in some cases, less) than they've done so far.

I also am not sure whether or not it's fair to ding Lebron the player for Lebron the GM; I had a similar dilemma with Kobe's last contract, for instance. Yes, it's off the court nonsense that hurts the team's chances to contend, BUT it's ultimately the front office's responsibility to not let stuff like that that hamstrings their team happen. If we start down that road we should also probably torch Kobe and Shaq in effigy for leaving another two or three titles on the table with their slapfight, or punish every dude who takes a max contract for weakening his team's cap.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Oh, one last note I forgot:

I don't think in this specific case Lebron's +/- is especially relevant; he played the entire non-garbage time chunk of the game, so it's natural he'd have the worst plus minus; the Warriors were steadily winning the whole night, so anybody who got some bench time got to dodge a few points in the minus column. If you normalized it to per-minute or whatever I'm sure plenty of his teammates would be worse.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 2:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree about Paul--and part of the reason for that is that, as I have documented, his assist totals are inflated by "generous" scorekeeping. So, his 15 assist game probably had 10 or 12 legitimate assists at the most. I have seen Chris Paul get an assist when he did not even handle the ball at all on the play! I also have seen Chris Paul get an assist when he passed the ball to David West and West then went through the entire Kevin McHale low post repertoire before shooting and scoring.

Paul is a very good and very scrappy two-way player, but he also is one of the most overrated players of the past decade. The supposed, media-created MVP race between Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul was ridiculous.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 2:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

You make valid points regarding Jordan and James. I don't evaluate them solely or even primarily based on the Finals but my point is that James' advocates often are very selective about the stats/facts that they prefer to compare: for instance, they love to mention James' eight straight Finals appearances but then they gloss over the 3-5 Finals record. My points in that regard is that if we are going to make such comparisons then let's throw in all of the relevant facts, which would include head to head records against MVP caliber players, overall Finals record, consistently being the best player on the court, etc.

I would take Jordan over James primarily because Jordan's two-way skill set was more complete and because Jordan's mentality/competitive mindset was better than James'. Those factors led to the results: more championships, better head to head record against the best players of the day, etc.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 2:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I agree that James looked more fatigued than disinterested in game two and I agree that his worst games are better than many players' best games.

I don't even bother comparing James to "mortal" NBA players. When I compare him to others or criticize him, it is strictly in reference to the 10 or 15 greatest players of all-time.

I think that it is fair to criticize James the GM because he keeps leaving teams that supposedly do not provide enough help despite the fact that his actions (as described in this article and in other articles) played no small part in however much help he had at a given time. I don't think that Kobe insisted on getting a max contract at the end of his career; the Lakers essentially gave him a lifetime achievement award at a time when they knew they were not really contending anyway.

James has seemingly picked the GM, the coach and most if not all of the players. Then, he is seemingly going to leave, with the Cavs being stuck paying a record luxury tax burden. Placing all of the facts under consideration, I do consider him "responsible" for his career Finals record.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 2:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Plus/minus is inherently noisy except in large sample sizes but I feel comfortable quoting it as long as I provide context in the same article. I am not blindly using that number to suggest that he was the worst player last night or that his impact was equivalent to Korver's but merely to suggest that his impact was perhaps not quite as great as a cursory reading of his box score numbers would suggest.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 2:51:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

I agree that Jordan is better than James for the reasons you stated, but I am hesitant to pinpoint that as the primary reason he won more; I think, for the most part (or at least during his title runs), Jordan had better support and weaker competition. Now, to be fair to the anti-James argument, Lebron's best supporting cast may have been 2011, when he no-showed against the Mavericks (which Jordan certainly would not have done) but I am unsure which if any of Jordan's titles Lebron could not have won given the same help/opposition.

This is an oversimplification, but if we pretend greatness is graded on a 100 point scale then for me, somebody like Jordan or Erving would be a 100. Somebody like James (or Kobe) would still be a 98 or a 99, though. When the margin is that slim, I think the bigger difference maker, in terms of results, is supporting cast/coaching/competition.

All that said, I do believe Lebron left at least one title on the table in '2012, and potentially a second in '2010. I am one of the minority who do not believe Jordan left any on the table in '94 and '95, but for whatever it's worth it seems like most people who aren't me feel that way.

Other than that I mostly agree with everything you wrote. I picked out the +/- because in this case I don't feel it's especially indicative of his overall performance given the context, but if your point was only that his statline did not translate to the kind of dominant impact it might imply, then I agree with that as well.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 5:40:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

You make an excellent point about how LeBron's personal statistics seem to have a more neutral impact on winning than most people want to acknowledge. I would never accuse him of chasing stats at the expense of winning as that is simply not the case but there are narratives surrounding him that just don't add up. If James has the ability to carry a bunch of "scrubs" to the Finals then he should have no problem winning at this level when surrounded by at least two other All-NBA caliber players and he has lost three times in those scenarios. James supposedly went one-on-five during his first stint in Cleveland and that produced a 66 and 61-win season. This means that the Miami Heat superteam should have won at least 70 games every year and four straight championships, especially considering that the formation of that team made an already weak conference even more watered down by making Cleveland and Toronto completely irrelevant.

A lot is being made about how LeBron is carrying a team of nobodies but is his supporting cast that much worse than Kobe Bryant's from 2008-2010? An All-NBA caliber big man, a Sixth Man of the Year and a bunch of solid role players/veterans is basically what Kobe had during that time and I don't remember anyone commending him for his bravery. I distinctly remember him being bashed every time his team lost a game, especially when he scored a lot of points as this was "proof" that he took his teammates out of the game with his selfishness. LeBron's game one performance was historically great and necessary but the media perception of that game would be completely different if it were Kobe with the exact same numbers.

This all might seem hypercritical of James but it really is a measured rebuttal to the media's obsession with elevating him above every other all-time great while utilizing some of the most coddling double standards I have ever seen.

 
At Monday, June 04, 2018 10:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 3x James went up against Duncan, Duncan didn't really play that great. James was only the 3rd best player in the 2007 Finals. If he's getting outplayed by Parker, no excuse. Then, Duncan was basically a glorified role player the other 2 times way past his prime, and James again was getting outplayed once in 2014 by Kawhi, a role player at the time. But yes, he's had a much tougher road than Jordan did, well, kind of. James has had a much easier road to the Finals than Jordan did, and really only has had to go up against one legit team most years.

And Kobe's contract didn't hurt LAL. I thought we were past that stuff now, you're listening to the media too much. Kobe would've taken whatever LAL gave him, and they could've added other solid players if those players would've chosen LAL.

James is having a great Finals, but still only the best player on the court in one of the 2 games so far. His numbers in game 2 seem like the usual misleading numbers he's often had in his career suggesting more impact than what's there.

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2018 12:59:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Nick,

I know this is nitpicky (Nickpicky?), as I agree with most of what you’ve written here, but I don’t know if this Warriors team would “smoke” the 96 Sonics. I think of all the teams Jordan faced in the Finals, this was his toughest matchup. That team would translate quite nicely to today’s game (they could essentially be a better defensive version of the Rockets). Every relevant member of the top 8 players could shoot from deep (even the resident Rodman instigator Frank Brickowski shot well, albeit in limited attempts), and the team was savage on the defensive end.

The Sonics’ perimeter defenders were all elite but especially Payton and Hawkins. (Even without handchecking they'd still be good. I mean, these two did, you know, give Jordan all he could handle). Payton would be a handful to defend as well (able to slow it down and post).

The Warriors still probably win, much like Jordan’s Bulls did, but I believe it would be close. I mean, game 2…was a brutal loss that would have changed the entire series.

Still, your larger point remains true, Lebron has faced tougher competition in the finals and I don’t think it’s all that close really. Though, I agree with Anonymous that he’s had a far easier path to get there.

I also agree with Anonymous that this Kobe’s last contract narrative needs to die. The Lakers tried to lure top free agents, but after Bryant’s Achilles gave out and Steve Nash’s back gave out and Dwight Howard gave up, nobody was coming to the Lakers to play with a 35-year-old Bryant. And it had nothing to do with his personality. It just had to do with biology.

I guess you could make a case that Kobe’s contract hurt the on court product. But, it certainly didn’t hurt the Lakers future. If he had taken less, brought in Carmelo or something terrible like that, the Lakers would’ve been good enough to just miss the playoffs and wouldn’t have Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma and may not have gotten Randall. Jury is still out on whether Russell will amount to an all-star level player, but the Lakers probably don’t get him either. They probably still get rid of Jim and Kupchak, but maybe not.

So, Kobe’s “albatross” contract really did everything it was supposed to. It let the rest of the league know that the Lakers take care of their own regardless. And, it allowed the Lakers to suck for three years and amass top draft picks. As a lifelong fan of the Purple and Gold, I was happy with it then, and am even happier with it now.

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2018 1:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you're part of the biggest choke in NBA/ABA history as Erving was in 1975, he's not getting a 100 rating amongst other things. His team was 11-0 against STL during the regular season, then got beatdown 4-1 in the 1st round.

James is way overrated, but it'd be hard to expect anyone to be able to lead this CLE team over GS. Possibly Kobe or Jordan would have a chance, but still very unlikely. Maybe Kobe or Jordan wouldn't have been able to win in 2016, though I don't think James' performance that Finals is anywhere near as great as Nick is making it out to be. However, Kobe and Jordan would each definitely have more than 3 titles by now. Even in the 2007 Finals, if James plays like his normal self, is the best player on the court, and doesn't get outplayed by Parker, CLE could've definitely won that series. However, James stunk it up, but his team was still in every game.

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2018 6:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I would be interested to see your list of top 10 "chokes" in ABA/NBA playoff history. The St. Louis team that beat the Nets was very talented, with Marvin Barnes, Freddie Lewis and Maurice Lucas. If Lewis had not gotten hurt during the next round, St. Louis may very well have beaten Kentucky (the eventual champion that year). Erving led his teams to the Conference Finals in 10 of his 16 seasons and he only lost in the first round four times, including each of his last two seasons (when he was 36 and 37 years old and no longer an elite player). Erving's playoff career is very underrated; a summary of his playoff accomplishments can be found at the end of the fourth article in my series about his playoff career: http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2013/07/julius-ervings-playoff-career-part-iv.html

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2018 7:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rodman got 3 MVP votes in '96 Finals, compared to MJ's 6 votes -- which is amazing, considering the natural bias to MJ prior to the Finals. In Game 6 in '98, MJ shot 15-35. Let's not pretend that he was constantly the best in every Finals. He benefited immensely from fellow players (Pippen, Rodman, Grant, plus shooters like Kerr and Paxson) and a great HC (Phil Jackson).

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2018 8:08:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Jordan-

I live in Seattle, and the Sonics are (or were, damn you Clay Bennett!) my second favorite team behind the Suns (I chose poorly, I know). That said, I don't think that team would do well against these Warriors.

While it's true that *technically* most of that team shot well from 3 that season (though Payton didn't), Kemp's high percentage was a product of taking only 12 all season (he is a career 27% shooter from 3); I'm sure the Warriors would be happy to see if he could maintain that clip, and I'm pretty confident he couldn't. I do think Payton vs. Curry would be fascinating, but I am not sure who they have to slow down Durant and/or Klay; even if we allow that Hawkins can put one of them in the mud (I'm skeptical), the other is matching up against Detlef, who isn't the guy.

Meanwhile, on the other end, Kemp would *destroy* the Warriors on the boards but I do think Draymond could guard him pretty well, and I'm not sure how the Sonics would counter/try to counter the "Death Lineup." Perkins, as I remember him, was not fast enough to play against that lineup though perhaps that's later career Sam fogging my judgment. I also don't think Kemp would much like or excel at having to chase Draymond/Iggy/KD/whomever he gets switched onto around on the perimeter.

Back on the defensive end, Payton was a world-class defender but the hand-check was a big part of why; with his low center of gravity, great positioning, and incredible (for his size) strength he could steer guys basically wherever he wanted them to go; with that option gone, I'm not sure he's *quite* the Glove we remember. Additionally, against the Warriors' screen-happy offense I'm not sure he could fight through them quickly enough to challenge Curry's lightning-quick shot (nobody really is, which is why everyone resorts to either switching or trapping).

All told, I think the Warriors are a worse matchup for that particular Sonics team than the Bulls were, and the Bulls still won in 6.

As for the Kobe contract, I brought it up only as a "I don't really like using off-court stuff to evaluate a player's place in history" point. I think it pretty inarguably hurt the Lakers on-court during those three years, but I agree with you that it was a fine tanking tactic. Much like Lebron's meddling as a GM*, I don't think it should materially influence the evaluation of Kobe-the-player, though apparently I made that point poorly.

*Which, incidentally, may be a little overblown; the biggest move the Cavs made since he's come back was trading Kyrie, and he tried to stop them from doing that, so it's not like this year's team is exactly his hand-picked preference.

 
At Tuesday, June 05, 2018 8:21:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

I'd be super curious to see your own list of Top 10 Playoff Chokes, given your encyclopedia-like recollection and deep knowledge base. I feel like my own list would be heavily recency-biased, personally (as I would suspect many other commenters' might be). I've seen a lot of those old first and second round series, but I haven't revisited many of them in the last 10-15 years and for the most part haven't seen them as often or as recently as I've seen, say, the equivalent Finals (and even there my recall is sometimes spotty).

Off the top of my head, I feel like the Celtics and 76ers gave up some 3-1 leads to each other at various points in the 80s and maybe also the 60s, and of course OKC let the Warriors come back to life against them (then the Warriors did the same against Cleveland, though at least they had some injuries and suspensions to help that along). The Suns got Shaq specifically to deal with Tim Duncan in '08 and then promptly went down 3-0 to him. A fair case could be made for the '84 76ers if we're going out of our way to try and pick on Doc, but I think that had at almost as much to do with the Nets overperforming as it did the 76ers underperforming. Obviously Dallas in '06 and '07 was really bad.

Almost everyone the Rockets beat in '95 would be a candidate, but most especially Orlando. '04 Lakers pooped the bed against a beatable Pistons squad, but again injuries were part of the problem with Malone and to some extent Kobe.

I feel like the 60s Lakers choked away some leads against Boston, but also: forget it Jake, it's 1960s Bill Russell-town.

 
At Thursday, June 07, 2018 5:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

"Choke" is a loaded word. My point was to challenge the notion that Anonymous has actually seriously ranked such playoff series; it seems more like he is just trolling the notion that Erving belongs on the short list of contenders for the greatest player of all-time title.

I have never made a list of such "chokes," though I did write an article about the 10 biggest playoff upsets based on regular season win differential: http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2010/05/pro-basketballs-greatest-playoff-upsets.html

The New York-St. Louis series tops that list but losing unexpectedly is not necessarily the same as "choking." St. Louis was a young team that peaked at the right time (and soon imploded) and exploited New York's one weakness: lack of size/physicality. The Nets overreacted with several player moves the next year that turned the Spurs into a perennial contender (though, of course, the Nets won one more title thanks to Erving's brilliance).

 
At Thursday, June 07, 2018 6:02:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Nick,

You make fair counterpoints. I'm a little biased toward Payton, who often gets overlooked in top point guards of all time lists, and whom I am very, very fond of (he sucked in the playoffs for the Lakers, but he was vital for helping the team navigate the season). The who guards KD question is...well, the question everyone in the league faces today. Lebron wonders as well. lol.

I think with reps and the freedom to fire away, a guy like Schrempf would be a mismatch problem of his own as would Perkins (both could just shoot right over Green). But, yeah, neither is guarding KD. And you remember correctly about Sam. Even during his prime, he was closer to molasses than fast. On the Sonics, he was 36.

So, my follow up question is...do you think that team far overachieved? Or, were the sum of their parts really that good? If they faced any other team in the finals that year, I think they win it. (Loved that team btw...best team in NBA Jam lol).

 
At Friday, June 08, 2018 9:48:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Jordan-

I wouldn't go so far as to say they overachieved. They were great for their era, they're just poorly suited to deal with a hyper-modern offense like the Warriors run.

I don't know that they would have beaten Orlando in the Finals (not sure who guards Shaq) but then at the time I didn't think they could beat Hakeem, either, and they swept him. Personally I think that fatigue--Rockets having just gone through two Finals runs--may have been a factor, but I of course can't prove that.

 
At Saturday, June 09, 2018 7:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not ranking anything, but I haven't come across anything worse than Nets/Spirits in 1975. I'd be interested in hearing anything worse than this series. I'm not talking about the rest of Erving's career, just this year, and not necessarily what happened after any series started, though GS/CLE in 2016 definitely up there, but wouldn't have said that before that series started. I suspect this 26-game difference is likely the largest deficit overcome by an underdog by a large margin, but could be wrong. All the #1 seeds losing 1st round up there, too. Duncan is the only supposed Pantheon member included here that I know of, but maybe it happened with Wilt before when there were only 2 rounds for conference champs, though that'd be mean they'd probably get a 1st round bye, so not that the same thing.

The Nets absolutely destroyed the Spirits in the regular season with most games not very close as I already mentioned, then lose badly in the 1st round. A 58-win team vs a 32-win team(barely the 7th best team in the league, wouldn't make the playoffs most years), huge difference. And I was mainly responding to Nick's agenda of his player rankings.

 

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