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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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Golden State Versus Cleveland Preview

NBA Finals

Golden State (58-24) vs. Cleveland (50-32)

Season series: Golden State, 2-0

Cleveland can win if…LeBron James continues to perform at a record-setting level and if the Cavaliers continue to play much better defense than they did during the regular season.

LeBron James has been spectacular during the 2018 playoffs, averaging 34.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 8.8 apg, 1.4 spg and 1.1 bpg while shooting .542 from the field. Cleveland outlasted Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals as James averaged 33.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 8.4 apg, 1.1 spg and 1.1 bpg while shooting .524 from the field. James seemed like he was either pacing himself or in what he has called "chill mode" during substantial stretches of the regular season but he is fully engaged now and he is making it look foolish to consider anyone else to be the real MVP. If you need to win one playoff game or one playoff series and you have first pick among all active NBA players, there is no way that you take anyone other than James.

While James has been fantastic, it is worth remembering that basketball is a team sport and that James' individual heroics would have been in vain were it not for the fact that his much-maligned teammates have stepped up during the postseason, particularly at the defensive end of the court versus Toronto and Boston.

James' most talented and productive teammate is Kevin Love (13.9 ppg, 10.0 rpg during the 2018 playoffs), who missed Cleveland's game seven win over the Boston Celtics after suffering a concussion in game six of that series. Even though Love is Cleveland's second best player, in certain situations the Cavaliers perform better when he is not on the court, as Tristan Thompson and Jeff Green are more skillful defenders who can guard multiple positions after switches. In this series, Love's defense will likely be targeted by the Warriors but the Cavaliers will need Love on the court to post up, to space the floor by shooting three pointers, to provide timely passing and to rebound. Love is still in the NBA's concussion protocol, so his status for game one and the rest of the series is unknown at this time.

Former All-Star Kyle Korver has provided excellent shooting (team-best .449 3 FG%) and has even contributed defensively at times. George Hill missed three games during the first round but he is a key piece for Cleveland, a heady point guard who can shoot, defend and pass. J.R. Smith has struggled with his shot throughout the playoffs and the Cavaliers need for him to get going to have a realistic chance to beat the Warriors.

Golden State will win because…the Warriors have survived the regular season gauntlet plus a seven game series versus the Houston Rockets and those experiences have revived their sometimes wavering focus.

Winning two championships in three years and advancing to four straight NBA Finals is mentally, physically and emotionally draining. The cracks showed for the Warriors this season as they battled injuries, mental fatigue and boredom. Like the Cavaliers, they did not always seem fully engaged with the task at hand. Falling down 3-2 versus the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals was perhaps just the challenge/wake up call that this group needed and the Warriors responded very well: they routed the Rockets at home in game six after falling behind by double digits and then they overcame a double digit deficit on the road to capture game seven.

Kevin Durant is averaging 29.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg and 4.1 apg during the playoffs while shooting .479 from the field. He averaged 30.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 2.7 apg while shooting .461 from the field during the Western Conference Finals. Durant has reverted to playing too much isolation basketball at times, perhaps because Stephen Curry was out for the first six games of the playoffs or perhaps because Durant wanted to personally outduel his former teammate James Harden of Houston; Durant accomplished that mission, as Harden averaged 28.7 ppg, 6.0 apg and 5.6 rpg in the Western Conference Finals but he shot just .415 from the field and he committed 34 turnovers, seven more than any other player.

The Warriors are at their best when they are passing and cutting to get everyone involved in the offense. They are also a very stout defensive team, as demonstrated by holding Houston to under 100 points in the last five games of the Western Conference Finals.

Curry is averaging 24.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 4.9 apg during the playoffs while shooting .472 from the field and .385 from three point range. He does not always look quite like himself as he recovers from a left MCL sprain but he has nevertheless often still been the best player on the court. Harden scored a few more points than Curry during the Western Conference Finals, but Curry had more impact at both ends of the court on the outcome of the series.

Klay Thompson would be the number one option on many teams but he is the Warriors' third option, scoring 20.5 ppg in the playoffs while shooting .462 from the field and a team-high .426 from three point range. Thompson is also an outstanding defender, though the Warriors survived his early foul trouble in game seven at Houston to post a come from behind win.

Unless Draymond Green plays for a different team, there will be an eternal debate if he is really a great player or if he is just a very good player who has been fortunate to land on the perfect team for his strengths/weaknesses. Green defends, rebounds, passes and has the luxury of taking less than 10 field goal attempts per game during the playoffs because the Warriors do not need his scoring.

Andre Iguodala, who won the 2015 NBA Finals MVP largely because he at least made LeBron James work for everything that he got, has missed four straight games due to a bone bruise in his left knee. His status is still questionable. Iguodala's absence was felt at both ends of the court during the Houston series.

Other things to consider: Last season, the Warriors and Cavaliers became the first two teams to meet in three straight NBA Finals; the closest thing that we have seen to that in the past several decades happened in the 1980s: the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-Magic Johnson L.A. Lakers faced Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers three times in a four year span from 1980-83 and then the Lakers faced the Larry Bird-Kevin McHale-Robert Parish Boston Celtics three times in a four year span from 1984-87. The Lakers are viewed as the team of the 1980s mainly because they won two out of three times in both of those matchups.

James' biggest supporters say that his personal 3-5 mark in the NBA Finals should not be held against him in the greatest player of all-time conversations because James is carrying teams to the Finals that otherwise had no chance of getting there. However, it does not make sense to "credit" James for winning the Eastern Conference eight years in a row (and nine times total, including 2007 during his first stint with the Cavaliers) without also acknowledging that it is highly unlikely that he would have accomplished the same feat in this era had he been playing in the Western Conference. Magic Johnson is remembered not so much for leading the Lakers to eight Western Conference championships during the 1980s but rather because he won five titles in those eight appearances--and it is not like the Lakers faced the Sisters of the Poor in the NBA Finals: the Lakers beat strong Boston and Philadelphia teams, plus a rising Detroit team that soon won back to back titles.

James' won-loss record in the Finals is fair game when ranking the greatest players of all-time; context should be considered--which is true of any statistic or fact--but it would be odd if James becomes the first player who is measured by conference finals wins as opposed to championships, which is the rhetoric that some of his supporters seem to be spouting.

James' Cavaliers are clear underdogs in this matchup but there is a strategic road map to maximize their chances of victory. That road map obviously starts with James being far and away the best player during the series; the Cavaliers also must defend at an extremely high level for sustained periods of time, they must limit their turnovers and they must run selectively: when the Cavaliers have an advantage in transition they must push the ball to score but if they don't have an advantage then they must slow the game down and use the size of James, Love and Thompson to wear down the Warriors in the paint.

The Warriors must cut down on the careless turnovers and they must maintain an appropriate confidence level, one that involves being focused on the task at hand without skipping steps and relying on talent to carry the day.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:07 PM

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A Tale of Two Game Sevens: The Difference Between Being a Superstar and Being an All-Star

NBA fans received a special treat this Memorial Day Weekend: two game sevens in the Conference Finals, something that has not happened since 1979. Home teams win game sevens 80% of the time but this time around the road team prevailed both times: Cleveland beat Boston 87-79 to win the Eastern Conference for the fourth straight time and Golden State defeated Houston 101-92 to win the Western Conference for the fourth straight time. This will be the first time in NBA history that the same two teams have met in the NBA Finals four years in a row.

A player's career should not be defined by one game, one series or even one season but it is fair to say that over a period of time a superstar will display the ability to consistently elevate his play in crucial moments in order to lift his team to victory. This trait is not necessarily defined by statistics but rather by impact, which may be hard to quantify at times but is recognizable to those who watch the sport with an informed eye. LeBron James struggled to have that kind of impact during some of his early playoff runs, culminating in disappointing performances versus Boston (2010 Eastern Conference semifinals) and Dallas (2011 Finals). While those failures will always be on James' resume, James has without question learned from those setbacks: he added a post up game, a midrange jump shot and even a three point shot to his offensive arsenal--and, more importantly, he finally accepted that as his team's best player he must carry the scoring burden during key moments against top playoff teams. As a result, James has led his teams to eight straight NBA Finals (Miami, 2011-14; Cleveland 2015-18) and won three championships (2012-13, 16). James has also authored some signature performances in elimination games, including several pressure-packed game sevens.

James' performance on Sunday versus Boston ranks among his very best and most significant, as he posted 35 points on 12-24 field goal shooting while also leading both teams in rebounds (15) and assists (nine) in a full 48 minutes of action. James' teammates did their part by playing excellent defense collectively while also making just enough shots to keep the defense honest. There is a lot of talk about how James is doing so much with little help but if you look back at pro basketball history most championship teams are led by a player who accepts the burden of scoring a ton of points and/or drawing so much defensive attention that his less talented teammates have wide open shots; that is not meant to take anything away from James but rather to emphasize how much he is making it clear that his name belongs on the short list of candidates for greatest basketball player of all-time. During the second half of James' career, he is showing that he understands aspects of basketball greatness demonstrated by Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, who each led their respective teams to at least five NBA titles.

I have steadfastly resisted the temptation to rank the players within my Pantheon but I will say that James' level of play during the 2018 playoffs is most impressive. I wish that James had the Jordan/Bryant mentality about every single game--including regular season games in January and February--but during the playoffs James is accepting the challenge to be great and to impose his will on the game. He is not standing passively beyond the three point line but rather he is attacking the hoop, while also selectively unleashing the midrange and long range shots that he gradually added to his repertoire over the past few years.

James was fantastic during Sunday's game seven at Boston but his performance was only a little above "average" compared to his numbers during the series (33.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 8.4 apg) and during the entire 2018 playoffs (34.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 8.8 apg). When he is engaged, James is clearly still the best/most outstanding player in the NBA. Whether or not he is the "most valuable" depends on how you define "value," as his Cavaliers only posted the fourth best record in the East while often looking even worse than that ranking.

The other game seven featured two former regular season MVPs--Kevin Durant (2014) and Stephen Curry (2015-16)--plus the presumptive 2018 regular season MVP James Harden. Durant and 2017 regular season MVP Russell Westbrook teamed up to lead Oklahoma City to a 3-1 lead over Curry's Golden State Warriors during the 2016 playoffs but after Golden State won that series Durant decided that since he did not beat the Warriors he might as well join them. Durant played marvelously well while winning the 2017 Finals MVP as the Warriors captured their second title in three years, though it is a little hard to assess Durant's "value" since the Warriors had already posted 73 regular season wins (in 2016) and won a title (in 2015) without him.

Another interesting subplot of the Golden State-Houston series is that before Harden forced his way to the Rockets he had been Oklahoma City's third option behind Durant and Westbrook; that seemed to be an ideal role for Harden but Harden wanted to prove that he could be the man. Unfortunately for Harden, since departing Oklahoma City he has assembled a playoff resume that makes it abundantly clear that when the chips are down he is not James, Durant or Curry--and Monday's game seven is just the most recent example confirming this.

During Golden State's game seven win over Houston, Durant led Golden State with 34 points on 11-21 field goal shooting, including 5-11 from three point range. He also had five rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and just two turnovers. Curry added 27 points on 10-22 field goal shooting, including 7-15 from three point range. Curry  contributed 10 assists, nine rebounds and five steals.

Yet, despite both of those players playing very well, Houston took a 54-43 halftime lead and was 24 minutes away from advancing to the NBA Finals. That type of situation is where a superstar takes over and imposes his will on the game. Instead, Harden posted a -13 plus/minus number during game seven, tied with Clint Capela for second worst on the team behind only Trevor Ariza (-15), who shot 0-12 from the field in 42 scoreless minutes. Harden finished with 32 points on 12-29 field goal shooting, including a couple meaningless buckets in the last minute that barely boosted his field goal percentage for the game above .400. He shot an abysmal 2-13 from three point range, "leading" a record-setting barrage of missed three pointers: the Rockets now own the NBA single game playoff records for most three pointers missed (37) and most consecutive three pointers missed (27). The Rockets started out 6-14 from three point range as they built a 15 point first half lead and then they made just one of their next 30 three point attempts.

When comparing Harden to MVP caliber players, it is worth looking at Harden's entire series, not just game seven. Harden missed 22 straight three pointers over a three game stretch, including an NBA playoff single game record 0-11 performance in Houston's 98-94 game five win. Harden scored 19 points on 5-21 field goal shooting in game five but the Rockets prevailed thanks to Chris Paul's clutch second half scoring. Paul injured his hamstring in the final moments of game five but the Rockets still had a golden opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals in game six; the Rockets led 61-51 at halftime but collapsed in the second half, scoring just 25 points as Golden State won 115-86.

Harden shot 5-9 from three point range in Houston's game one win, then made just eight of his next 44 three point attempts. Houston Coach Mike D'Antoni was unconcerned: "Boy, he's due, right? Next game he might make 10 straight, right? The thermostat will go off." The thermostat did not exactly go off: Harden shot 4-12 from three point range in game six as Golden State won 115-86 and he followed that up by shooting 2-13 from three point range in game seven. Harden shot 19-78 (.244) from three point range overall during the series and 52-174 (.299) from three point range during the 2018 NBA playoffs. That is just not good enough for superstar status, particularly for a player who is touted as the best one on one player ever primarily because of his supposedly unstoppable stepback three pointer; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook was unstoppable, as was Michael Jordan's turnaround shot in the midpost, but Harden's shot is nowhere near that category.

When Harden's three pointers are not falling, his backup plan is to flop/fall down and pray that the officials bail him out with foul calls. Just to be clear, Harden is a strong and talented player who has a knack for drawing fouls; it is also true that he is a flopper who tries to fool the officials, which is a tactic that should not be necessary for a player who supposedly has an unstoppable weapon. Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan both had the ability to draw fouls but during crunch time situations they put the ball in the basket as opposed to relying on an official to save them.

Again, this is not about judging Harden based on one game or even based on one series but rather based on a consistent pattern. For instance, Harden had a game six meltdown as the San Antonio Spurs eliminated the Rockets during last year's playoffs; while his individual game seven numbers versus Golden State this year are much better than his game six numbers versus the Spurs last year, it should be noted that Harden has now presided over the largest blown halftime lead for a home team in a seventh game. Rather than making excuses for Harden, root causes must be sought and identified. Magic Johnson led his team to victory as a rookie on the road in game six of the 1980 NBA Finals despite not having the services of injured regular season MVP Abdul-Jabbar and Walt Frazier led the Knicks to the 1970 NBA title despite regular season MVP Willis Reed being hobbled by injury. Paul is not Abdul-Jabbar or Reed, so if Harden is as good as he is supposed to be then he should be able to take over for a 24 minute stretch.

"Analytics" is a popular topic in NBA circles but when evaluating Harden and the Rockets I utilize the analytics that I applied to Gilbert Arenas years ago: a player (or a team, for that matter) that relies too much on erratic three point shooting without having a sound backup plan on offense and consistent effort on defense is not going to win a title; as I wrote about Arenas, if he shoots 6-9 from three point range in one playoff game and 1-9 in the next that adds up to a solid .389 three point percentage but his team would likely go 1-1 at best, losing the second game for sure and possibly losing the first game as well unless the team defense was very good. Just like Arenas had no backup plan other than to jack up more and more shots, the current Rockets have no backup plan other than to jack up tons of three pointers. The Rockets are a high variance team, which is why I predicted that they could very well blow out the Warriors by more than 20 points in one game and still lose the series. 

The Rockets pushed their three pointers at all costs concept about as far as possible this season, winning 65 games and advancing to the Western Conference Finals--but I will stick to my guns until proven otherwise: (1) no team is going to win a championship playing this way and (2) no team is going to win a championship by relying on Harden as its best player. All Harden had to do to reach the Finals is have one signature half in either game six or game seven; Paul and his teammates had carried him to the brink of the Finals but Harden twice proved incapable of taking the final step. We have seen this script with Harden in the playoffs for years and it is unlikely to change. Some might argue that if Paul had been healthy then the Rockets would have won. That might be true, just like it might be true that if Golden State's Andre Iguodala (the 2015 NBA Finals MVP) had been healthy then the Warriors may have won the series in less than seven games, but if Paul had been healthy and the Rockets had won it is almost certain that Harden would have had a subsidiary role, as he did during Houston's game five victory.

Some may defend Harden by stating that Durant and Curry can rely on each other while Harden lacked enough help with Paul sidelined due to injury--but the reality is that Harden has been hyped up as the consensus regular season MVP and his team enjoyed home court advantage in game seven based on lapping the field during the regular season. The second halves of both game six and game seven were prime opportunities for Harden to validate his status as the game's best player--but he emphatically failed to do that and, as a result, James, Durant and Curry will battle for the real heavyweight crown, regardless of what hardware Harden will receive for his 2018 regular season exploits.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:39 AM

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