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Friday, June 21, 2024

NBA Stat Padding is Not New, and Calls Into Question the Accuracy and Relevance of "Advanced Basketball Statistics"

Tom Haberstroh's June 20, 2024 article about NBA stat padding focuses on discrediting Michael Jordan's statistics for steals and blocked shots that helped Jordan win the 1988 Defensive Player of the Year award, but Haberstroh ignores two larger issues:

1) NBA stat padding is not limited to just Jordan or just steals and blocked shots, nor is NBA stat padding a relic from the 1980s, as Haberstroh suggests. 

2) To the extent that raw boxscore numbers are inaccurate, the "advanced basketball statistics" derived from those boxscore numbers are inaccurate and thus irrelevant.

Haberstroh's laser focus on Michael Jordan's 1987-88 statistics is understandable because the NBA and its media partners are in the entertainment business, and it is not good for ticket sales, merchandise sales, or broadcast ratings to assert that the greatest player of all-time played in the 1980s or 1990s (and forget about the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s); the NBA and media members like Haberstroh benefit from promoting the narrative that the greatest player of all-time is playing right now. LeBron James has openly lamented that the one trophy missing from his extensive trophy case is the Defensive Player of the Year award, so it is not surprising that--since it is unlikely that James will ever win that award now at his advanced age--Haberstroh seeks to elevate James by diminishing Jordan. Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin have made a lot of money crafting narratives for James, so Haberstroh is just running a play from their already successful playbook. When McMenamin cites an anonymous source within the Lakers organization, do you think that his source is LeRoy the ball boy or LeBron the self-proclaimed "King"? McMenamin did not obtain his current position by advancing narratives favored by LeRoy the ball boy, because LeRoy the ball boy has no power. 

Writing an article discrediting Jordan for winning the one award missing from James' trophy case is a proven way to obtain access to "anonymous" sources, and to lay the groundwork for book deals, podcasts, and more. 

How do I know what motivated Haberstroh to write his article? I can't read Haberstroh's mind, but I can read his words, and he framed his article not around a narrative focused on improving NBA stat keeping--indeed, he even asserted that there is no problem now (i.e., we should have full faith in all of LeBron James' numbers, including his likely inflated assists)--but rather declaring in his opening sentence, "It may be the most consequential Defensive Player of the Year award in NBA history." Haberstroh understood the assignment: Jordan has something that James does not have but very much wants, so that 1988 Defensive Player of the Year award must be discredited by any means necessary. Haberstroh makes it clear that his mission is not to set the record straight overall about NBA stat keeping, but just to discredit one player's statistics to undermine one specific award from 36 years ago. The subtitle of his article--"Has LeBron James Been Chasing a Ghost?"--further emphasizes Haberstroh's agenda; writers generally do not write the headlines for their articles, but in this instance the headline accurately reflects Haberstroh's theme and purpose.

Haberstroh is not doing investigative reporting about NBA stat keeping in general, even though he mentions the topic in his article, nor is he examining why individual scoring numbers have soared in recent seasons. That is why we are still waiting for Haberstroh, Windhorst, McMenamin or any of the other well-known NBA reporters/commentators to do an in depth video analysis showing that the scoring totals of many current NBA players are inflated by their deployment of a host of illegal moves, including palming, traveling, and flopping/flailing. It is instructive to contrast the step back move used by Larry Bird, Dell Curry and Adrian Dantley with what is called a step back move in today's game, but such an analysis does not mesh with the NBA's preferred narrative.

Even though Haberstroh clearly states his agenda, that does not mean that his basic premise about Jordan's steals and blocked shots being inflated by home team statisticians is wrong--but instead of focusing just on Jordan to elevate James, let's look at the larger issues. There is good reason to believe that NBA stat padding extends well beyond just Jordan's steals and blocked shots in the 1987-88 season, and the problem is not just that statisticians favor the home team's players. 

An assist is supposed to be a pass that leads directly to a basket, but I charted assists in a number of games for several years and found that Chris Paul's gaudy assist totals are inflated (for more details, see A Brief History of NBA Stat Padding after the end of this article). Inflating Paul's assist totals affects not just Paul but it alters the NBA's official record book rankings of players, and it also renders meaningless the highly touted "advanced basketball statistics" that are treasured by "stat gurus." If assists are being handed out more often than they should be, then the vaunted "advanced basketball statistics" for assists per 36 minutes, assists per 100 possessions, and any player ranking formulas relying on assist numbers are skewed. Further, if Haberstroh is correct that steals and blocked shots numbers are easy to manipulate as well, then those inaccurate boxscore numbers further skew the "advanced basketball statistics." 

On March 31, 2009, I addressed this issue in If Some of the Numbers are Bogus Then How "Advanced" are "Advanced Stats"? My consistent position for over 20 years is that there is some value in raw boxscore numbers, and there is some value in the intelligent use of certain "advanced basketball statistics," but the best way to evaluate players and teams is detailed skill set analysis based on a combination of in person observation, film review, and consideration of the opinions of qualified observers (i.e., reviewing what coaches, scouts, other players, and competent analysts say). As Haberstroh noted in his article, even if Jordan's 1987-88 statistics were inflated, qualified observers at that time such as Pat Riley and Bob Ryan considered Jordan to be an elite defensive player. Similarly, even though it is obvious that Chris Paul's assist totals are inflated, I would still argue that Paul is an elite playmaker based on analyzing his skill set: he makes great reads, he has the ability to deliver a variety of kinds of passes even under pressure, and he understands the right pass to make depending on how the defense is deployed and who is the intended recipient of the pass.

Detailed skill set analysis is not easy, nor does it mesh with our current culture dominated by screaming hot takes delivered in 30 seconds or less, but if you love basketball and respect basketball history then detailed skill set analysis is the best way to evaluate players and teams.

A Brief History of NBA Stat Padding

Charting Chris Paul's Assists Versus the Golden State Warriors (November 1, 2013)

Charting Assists for Chris Paul and Jason Kidd (April 12, 2009)

Rick Barry Interview (February 13, 2009)

Paul and West Lead Hornets to 116-105 Win Over Lakers (January 7, 2009)

Charting Assists for Chris Paul and Tony Parker in New Orleans' 90-83 Victory Over San Antonio (December 18, 2008)

Smooth All-Around Performance by Paul Lifts Hornets Over Heat (November 9, 2008)

Manu is the Man as Spurs Eliminate Hornets (May 20, 2008)

David West Dominates as Hornets Throttle Spurs, 101-82 (May 4, 2008)

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:33 PM

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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Boston Celtics Cap Dominant Season With Dominant Win Over Dallas Mavericks

The Boston Celtics led wire to wire en route to posting a 106-88 game five win over the Dallas Mavericks to clinch an NBA record 18th championship. The Celtics notched just the third wire to wire win in an NBA Finals series-clincher since 1982, joining the 1982 L.A. Lakers and the 1986 Boston Celtics. The Celtics led by as many as 26 points in game five, and their lead never fell below 17 during the second half. 

Jayson Tatum scored a game-high 31 points on 11-24 field goal shooting while also passing for a game-high 11 assists, snaring eight rebounds, and committing just two turnovers. He played a game-high 45 minutes, and he set the tone from opening tip to final buzzer while joining Walt Frazier (1970), James Worthy (1988), Michael Jordan (1991), and Stephen Curry (2017) as the only players to have at least 30 points and at least 10 assists in a Finals-clinching win.

Tatum has been much maligned by many media members--even during what turned out to be a 16-3 postseason run culminating in a championship--so it should be noted that Tatum led the Celtics in points (25.0 ppg), rebounds (9.7 rpg), and assists (6.3 apg) during the 2024 playoffs; even when Tatum is not scoring efficiently, his fingerprints are on everything that the Celtics do at both ends of the court: he is an elite defensive rebounder, he is an excellent playmaker, and even on the scoring plays for which he does not receive an assist he draws the double teams that create open shot opportunities for his teammates. He is the team's one indispensable player, and he led the Celtics in scoring (22.2 ppg), rebounding (7.8 rpg), and assists (7.2 apg) during the NBA Finals. Tatum has now won 68 career playoff games, fourth most all-time for a player younger than 27 behind only Kobe Bryant (76), Tony Parker (75), and Magic Johnson (70). Bryant, Parker, and Johnson each won three championships before the age of 27, while this championship is Tatum's first--but winning multiple championships before age 27 is the exception, not the rule, and Tatum now has won one more championship than six-time champion Michael Jordan and four-time champion LeBron James had won at age 26. 

Jaylen Brown added 21 points on 7-23 field goal shooting, plus eight assists and six rebounds. Tatum is Boston's best and most complete player, but Brown's consistency helped him to earn the 2024 Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP after winning the 2024 Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP. Throughout the NBA Finals, Brown played excellent defense versus Luka Doncic in addition to providing his customary contributions as a scorer, rebounder, and passer. Brown averaged 20.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 5.0 apg during the NBA Finals, but he outshot Tatum from the field (.440 to .388), and that probably made the difference in the Finals MVP voting. Brown averaged 23.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, and 3.3 apg during the 2024 playoffs while shooting .516 from the field.

Jrue Holiday had 15 points on 7-14 field goal shooting, a team-high 11 rebounds, four assists, and a game-best +21 plus/minus number, giving the Milwaukee Bucks yet another reason to rue trading him to Portland for Damian Lillard, which resulted in Boston acquiring Holiday. Holiday has been a key contributor for two of the past four NBA champions, as he helped Milwaukee capture the 2021 title.

Al Horford, a five-time All-Star in his 17 season NBA career, had nine points and nine rebounds in game five and won his first NBA title after playing 1086 regular season games and 186 playoff games. Tatum and Brown are Boston's headliners, but Horford is a highly respected veteran who is still logging impactful minutes as a 38 year old.

Kristaps Porzingis missed 10 straight playoff games with a right calf injury, made a sensational return to action in game one of the NBA Finals, and then suffered a lower left leg injury late in game two that forced him to miss games three and four. He scored five points in 16 minutes off of the bench in game five, and his +8 plus/minus number indicates that he had a positive impact during his limited minutes. It is likely that Porzingis will need surgery followed by months of recovery time now that the season is over.

Joe Mazzulla (35) is the youngest coach to win an NBA title since Bill Russell served as the player-coach for the 1969 Boston Celtics. Tatum is 26, and Brown is 27, so the Celtics--who have already reached the Eastern Conference Finals six times in the past eight years--are in great position to contend for championships for the next several years. Their 16-3 playoff record in 2024 is the second best since the NBA went to its current postseason format of four seven game series in 2003, trailing only the 16-1 mark posted by the Kevin Durant-Stephen Curry 2017 Golden State Warriors.

Luka Doncic scored a team-high 28 points on 12-25 field goal shooting, grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, and passed for five assists. The only blemish on his stat line was a game-high seven turnovers--matching Boston's team total--and it is fair to say that this game was a microcosm of the series: Doncic played well against the league's best defense, but the Celtics had the necessary personnel and scheme to guard him one on one without fearing what any of Doncic's teammates would do. Anyone who watched the playoffs knows that Doncic played through an assortment of injuries without making excuses, and after game five he refused to discuss the extent of his injuries, concluding simply that he has to play better. There are many stars who would not have played through injuries the way that Doncic did, and many of the stars who might have played through injuries would certainly have not missed an opportunity to remind everyone just how injured they were: after being swept in the 2018 NBA Finals, LeBron James hastened to mention that he "pretty much played with a broken hand." James never clarified if his hand was actually broken or just "pretty much" broken, and it should be noted that the injury was self-inflicted: James punched a whiteboard after losing game one of that series. It is refreshing to not hear from Doncic how he "pretty much" played through whatever was ailing him.

ESPN's J.J. Redick has repeatedly called Kyrie Irving a "wizard," and Redick joins the chorus praising Irving as the most skilled ballhandler of all-time--but all of that so-called wizardry resulted in 15 points on 5-16 field goal shooting in game five, including 0 points on 0-3 field goal shooting in the first quarter as the Celtics took command and never looked back. Irving averaged 19.8 ppg on .414 field goal shooting during the series, numbers well below what the Mavericks needed from him. Irving was particularly bad during the three games played in Boston, and he candidly admitted that the pressure of playing in front of his former team's fans got the best of him. There is a difference between being a flashy ballhandler versus having the necessary ballhandling skills to defeat a championship-level defense, a distinction that Redick and many others fail to understand or acknowledge. It will be interesting to see how many media members continue to force feed us the Kyrie Irving redemption narrative while ignoring Irving's unrepentant antisemitism and the fact that his Chinese shoe company profits from utilizing slave labor.

The NBA is often a first quarter league, and this game was no exception: the Celtics led 28-18 after the first 12 minutes, and the outcome was never in serious doubt the rest of the way. Every Boston starter had at least eight rebounds as the Celtics outrebounded the Mavericks, 51-35. We are told so much about "pace and space" and "small ball," but the Celtics won this championship by exploiting their old school advantages in size, defense, and versatility that I emphasized in my series preview.

The Celtics enjoyed a dominant 2023-24 regular season, posting a 64-18 record and the fifth best point differential (11.3 ppg) of all-time, and they went 12-3 during the first three rounds of the playoffs--but many pundits tried to convince themselves (and others) that the Mavericks would beat the Celtics in the NBA Finals, and that noise became louder after Dallas routed Boston in game four. If the overrated concept of momentum had any validity, then Dallas would have won game five--or at least been competitive in game five--but this series demonstrated yet again that the NBA playoffs are about matchups, not momentum. After Dallas' game four win, ESPN's Brian Windhorst blasted Doncic--who has emerged as a perennial MVP candidate--as someone who will never win a championship without dramatically changing his game, and other ESPN talking heads spent much of the time between games four and five talking about the potential implications of a Dallas win in game five. The Mavericks did not make some brilliant game four adjustments, nor did the Celtics make some brilliant game five adjustments. The reality is that the Mavericks were content to not be swept on their court, and they did not offer much resistance in game five; the Mavericks' one win was an outlier that did not alter the fact that the Celtics enjoyed significant, decisive matchup advantages.

The Celtics earned this championship without tanking, load management, or building a "super team": they drafted two strong prospects--Brown and Tatum--and then not only patiently developed those prospects into stars, but they built around those stars while tuning out the loud voices who asserted that this duo could never lead the Celtics to a title. The Celtics' patience and wisdom has been rewarded with a championship, and it would not be surprising if the Celtics win multiple titles if they continue to demonstrate patience and wisdom.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:52 AM

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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Mavericks Rout Celtics, Avoid Being Swept

The Boston Celtics' coronation will have to wait at least one more game; after taking a 3-0 NBA Finals lead, the Celtics suffered a record-setting 122-84 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The defeat snapped Boston's franchise record 10 game playoff winning streak and prevented the Celtics from becoming the first team to ever notch a sweep in the Conference Finals and the NBA Finals in the same postseason. Luka Doncic scored a game-high 29 points in just 33 minutes on 12-26 field goal shooting while also grabbing five rebounds, passing for five assists, and committing just one turnover. Dallas Coach Jason Kidd provided a not so subtle rebuttal to Doncic’s critics by correctly noting that Doncic played the same excellent way that he usually does. Kyrie Irving had his second good game in a row at home after being a nonfactor in games one and two on the road; he finished with 21 points, six assists, and four rebounds. The Mavericks emptied their bench for the entire fourth quarter, so their other individual numbers are skewed by what Marv Albert would call "extensive garbage time."

The Celtics shot 29-80 (.362) from the field. Jayson Tatum was their leading scorer with just 15 points on 4-10 field goal shooting. Jaylen Brown (10 points on 3-12 field goal shooting) and Jrue Holiday (10 points on 4-10 field goal shooting) were their only other starters who scored in double figures. The Celtics jacked up 41 three pointers and were outscored in the paint 60-26. They missed the imposing presence of the injured Kristaps Porzingis at both ends of the court, but the larger issue is that they played like a team enjoying a three game cushion while the Mavericks played like a team facing not only elimination but humiliation.

Despite frequent talk about "clutch statistics," the reality is that the NBA is often a first quarter league--and this game is an excellent example of that, with Dallas never looking back after jumping out to a 34-21 lead in the first 12 minutes. The Mavericks led 61-35 at halftime as Doncic poured in 25 points to break Dirk Nowitzki's franchise record for points in one half of an NBA Finals game. The Mavericks had the second largest lead at the end of the third quarter in NBA Finals history (92-60), and they ended up enjoying the third largest win in NBA Finals history.

After game three, ESPN's Brian Windhorst led the charge of the bloviators bleating about how terrible Doncic is and how Doncic must dramatically alter his game to ever have a chance of leading the Mavericks to an NBA title. Doncic had 27 points on 11-27 field goal shooting in 38 minutes in game three, with six rebounds, six assists, and three turnovers--numbers that are virtually identical to his game four statistics--but much will be made of how Doncic "responded to the critics" in game four when the reality is that he has been Dallas' best player throughout this season, this postseason, and this series; the difference in game four is that he received a lot more help from his teammates at both ends of the court.

In the wake of game four, the predictable narrative is that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are failures because they did not lead the Celtics to a sweep, ignoring the fact that NBA Finals sweeps are rare: there have been just nine of them—little more than one per decade in the league’s history, and just three since 1996—with Bill Russell notching just one in his record-setting 11 championship runs, and Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan never achieving an NBA Finals sweep. Jordan's 1996 Chicago Bulls--arguably the greatest NBA team of all-time with Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman alongside Jordan--took a 3-0 NBA Finals lead only to suffer back to back losses before winning game six. The 1982 L.A. Lakers led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson won their first nine playoff games and enjoyed a 3-1 NBA Finals lead versus Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers before losing game five, 135-102. Abdul-Jabbar scored just six points in that loss, and Magic Johnson had 10 points on 4-9 field goal shooting with a game-high five turnovers. The Lakers won game six 114-104 to clinch their second title in three years en route to winning five championships in the 1980s.

It is funny to listen to the talking heads/screaming heads and observe how little they know about basketball history and how little they understand about the natural ebbs and flows of competition. Every possession and every game is not a referendum on a player's legacy, and to suggest otherwise is to demonstrate that one is more interested in providing clickbait than in providing intelligent analysis. The first letter in ESPN stands for "entertainment," not intelligence, and the network decided a long time ago to prioritize sound and fury over logic and reason, with Hubie Brown and Tim Legler being rare, welcome exceptions--but Brown has a reduced role now, and Legler is mostly relegated to cameo SportsCenter appearances.

Despite all of the ranting and raving to the contrary, momentum does not exist in an NBA playoff series; the Danny Ainge quip from decades ago is still apt: This is not the Tour de France. In other words, a team that wins by 38 points does not start the next game with a 38 point lead, unlike riders who win a Tour de France stage. Game five will likely have a different flow and tone, and the Celtics will likely finish off the Mavericks to clinch their record 18th NBA title.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:32 AM

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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Celtics Deliver Knockout After Withstanding Mavericks' Initial Punch

The Dallas Mavericks opened game three of the NBA Finals by hitting the Boston Celtics with a 22-9 punch, but the Celtics delivered a knockout by posting a 106-99 win to drop the Mavericks into a 3-0 hole from which no NBA team has ever recovered. The Celtics are the fourth team to take a 3-0 lead in each of the last two playoff series in a season, joining the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, the 1996 Chicago Bulls, and the 2017 Golden State Warriors. If the Celtics win on Friday night, they will become the first such team to sweep both series.

Jayson Tatum scored a team-high 31 points while also contributing six rebounds and five assists. Jaylen Brown had an even better all-around game (30 points, team-high eight rebounds, game-high eight assists). Tatum did most of his damage early, registering 20 first half points, while Brown poured in 24 second half points. Tatum and Brown became the first Celtics duo to each post a 30-5-5 stat line in an NBA Finals game. Derrick White was the only other Celtic who scored in double figures (16 points). Kristaps Porzingis, the MVP of game one and a major factor at both ends of the court, missed game three with a rare lower leg injury suffered late in game two of the NBA Finals. His absence was particularly felt on the boards--Dallas outrebounded Boston, 43-36--and in the paint (Dallas outscored Boston 52-36 in the paint), but the Celtics are so big and talented that they can survive without a player who would be the second option on some very good playoff teams.

Kyrie Irving finally showed up three games into a series that may only last four games, and he scored a game-high 35 points on 13-28 field goal shooting. Luka Doncic added 27 points, but he shot just 11-27 from the field before fouling out with 4:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. He also had six rebounds and a team-high six assists. Those are good boxscore numbers for most players, but they are also acceptable numbers from Boston's perspective considering that the Celtics are containing the 2024 regular season scoring champion primarily with single coverage, which limits the lob dunks and corner three pointers that are the twin cornerstones of the Mavericks' offense. P.J. Washington had 13 points on 3-9 field goal shooting, and he grabbed eight rebounds. Dereck Lively II contributed 11 points on 5-6 field goal shooting and a game-high 13 rebounds off of the bench.

This game was even more of a roller coaster ride than usual for an NBA that has become overrun with high variance three point shooting, but the one constant is that Boston's size poses a lot of problems for Dallas. Correctly deployed size leads to high percentage shots in the paint, wide open three pointers after the opposing defense collapses into the paint, and low percentage shots for a smaller team forced to pass and shoot against long, outstretched arms. Doncic (13 points) and Irving (nine points) came out blazing in the first quarter as the Mavericks built that early 13 point lead, but Tatum countered with 13 first quarter points as Boston trimmed the margin to 31-30 by the end of the opening stanza. The second quarter was a 20-20 tie, but Boston dominated the third quarter 35-19 while shooting 13-20 (.650) from the field, including 5-11 (.455) from three point range. The three point shooting catches the eyes of casual fans and "stat gurus," but the real story is Boston's suffocating defense that limited Dallas to 8-21 (.381) field goal shooting and that has not yet given up 100 points to the Mavericks in a game. 

Just when the Celtics seemed poised to blow out the Mavericks, the Celtics lapsed into poor fourth quarter shooting (7-18, .389) and sloppy ballhandling (five turnovers) as the Mavericks wiped out what had been a 21 point deficit to trail by just one point (93-92) after Irving nailed a jumper at the 3:37 mark. The Celtics closed the game with a 13-7 run, limiting Irving to just two points in that critical stretch.

The story of this game--and this series thus far--is Boston's great defense, but there are media members who are predictably mesmerized by Irving's flashy play. J.J. Redick--who repeatedly slanders the great players of the past while shamelessly acting like Irving's biggest fan--described Irving as a "wizard" and as an "ethical scorer" who does not flop and flail. However, Redick neglected to mention that two major components of Irving's "wizardry" are palming and traveling. Irving's space-creating moves would be much more impressive if he could accomplish them within basketball's traditional rules, because the game he plays now would result in more turnovers than field goals made if Irving played in previous eras when the rules were correctly enforced.

After the game, ESPN's Brian Windhorst declared that Doncic's performance was "unacceptable" and that Dallas can never win a title until Doncic vastly improves his defense and stops complaining so much to the referees. Windhorst is correct that Doncic has reverted to being a defensive liability after playing acceptable defense in earlier playoff series, and Windhorst is also correct that Doncic's whining is not helpful--but Windhorst failed to mention that Irving's plus/minus number in game three was -3, while Doncic's plus/minus number in game three was a team-best +9. Somehow, despite Doncic's "unacceptable" performance the Mavericks won Doncic's 38 minutes by nine points and lost the 10 non-Doncic minutes by 16 points. Further, Windhorst also neglected to note that Irving scored just 28 points on 13-37 (.351) field goal shooting as Dallas fell into an 0-2 hole versus Boston with eight assists, five turnovers, and a -22 plus/minus number. Irving shot 0-8 from three point range and 2-2 from the free throw line in the first two games of this series, meaning that he was not successful from either long range or by drawing fouls.

If Irving were as great as his fans suggest, then Doncic fouling out of game three should not have been fatal. In game four of the 2000 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant took over after Shaquille O'Neal fouled out, leading the Lakers to a 120-118 overtime win and a commanding 3-1 series lead en route to a 4-2 series win.

Windhorst's Doncic-bashing combined with white glove treatment of Irving only makes sense when you realize that LeBron James loves Kyrie Irving, as recent quotes from James show. Windhorst's media career is founded on following James around and presenting whatever narratives best suit James. Criticizing Irving would not sit well with James, so Windhorst knows the assignment. "Windy" is too busy blowing hot air to fairly assess Irving's play, let alone bother to mention Irving's unrepentant antisemitism and Irving's profiting from Chinese human rights abuses, two storylines that are very relevant not only in the big picture but in this series because Irving literally wears his passions on his head, around his neck, and on his feet; Irving openly advertises how he thinks and feels, but no one who is on James' payroll is going to ask questions that punch holes in the popular Irving redemption narrative.

In my series preview, I picked Boston to beat Dallas because the Tatum-Brown duo is superior to the Doncic-Irving duo, and because Boston has the league's best, most versatile starting lineup. Doncic is a great player, and Irving has flashes of greatness, but Tatum and Brown are bigger and more athletic while also being much more committed to playing elite defense. Regardless of what the talking heads say--and fail to say--the reality is that Tatum and Brown are getting the job done at both ends of the court, while Doncic and Irving have to battle to get off quality shots before being hunted on defense.

Even without Porzingis, the Celtics do not look like a team that will make history by blowing a 3-0 NBA Finals lead--and the Mavericks do not look like a team capable of beating the Celtics four straight times.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:24 AM

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Jerry West: The Logo Left Behind a Lasting Legacy

Jerry West passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 86. Younger fans may not understand why West's silhouette has been embedded in the NBA's official logo for over 50 years, but even a brief review of West's accomplishments makes it clear that West is not only one of the greatest basketball players ever but one of the most important people in basketball history. 

West earned induction in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in three separate roles: as a player (1980), as a member of the Team USA squad that won the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics (2010), and as a contributor (2024, in what will now be a posthumous honor). He was one of 11 players selected to the NBA's 35th Anniversary Team (1980). West was also selected to the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List (1996), and the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team (2021).

West made the All-Star team in each of his 14 seasons, he earned 10 All-NBA First Team selections (tied for fourth all-time behind only LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Karl Malone), he won the 1970 scoring title, he won the 1972 assist title, and he made the All-Defensive Team in each of the first five seasons that honor was presented at the end of his career (1969-73). West was the third player to surpass the 25,000 point plateau, and he retired with the third highest regular season scoring average (27.0 ppg), trailing only Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. West finished second in regular season MVP voting four times in an era when only one non-center (Oscar Robertson, 1964) won an MVP between 1957 and 1981. 

West finished his playing career with a 1-8 NBA Finals record, but he earned the nickname "Mr. Clutch" because of his tremendous performances in the biggest games. West declared, "If it comes down to one shot, I like to shoot the ball. I don't worry about it. If it doesn't go in, it doesn't go in." West holds the career NBA Finals scoring record (1679 points), ahead of LeBron James (1562), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1317), and Michael Jordan (1176). West has the third highest career NBA Finals scoring average (30.5 ppg), trailing only Rick Barry (36.3 ppg) and Michael Jordan (33.6 ppg). West won the inaugural NBA Finals MVP award in 1969, and he remains the only player to earn that honor as a member of the losing team. 

Robertson and West ranked 1-2 (in whatever order you prefer) all-time among guards until well into the 1980s when Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan made their marks.

Baylor and West were known as "Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside," and they are still one of the greatest duos in NBA history. West was a big-time scorer while playing alongside Baylor, but when Baylor missed all but five minutes of the 1965 playoffs West took his game to a record-setting level, averaging 46.3 ppg on .453 field goal shooting as the Lakers won 4-2 versus the Baltimore Bullets in the Western Division Finals. West then scored 33.8 ppg versus the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, but Bill Russell and a lineup filled with other Hall of Famers crew beat the Lakers, 4-1. Russell's Celtics were West's greatest nemesis, defeating West's Lakers six times in the NBA Finals. 

Chamberlain joined Baylor and West for the 1968-69 season, but by that stage of their careers those three players were rarely fully healthy at the same time. The otherwise incredibly durable Chamberlain missed 70 games during the 1969-70 season because of a knee injury, and during the trio's four seasons together with the Lakers, Baylor played in 76, 54, two, and nine games before retiring early in that fourth season. Without Baylor, but alongside Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich, West finally won an NBA title in 1972 as a key member of one of the NBA's greatest single season teams; the Lakers won a still-record 33 straight regular season games before storming through the postseason with a 12-3 mark, including a 4-1 rout of a New York Knicks team that won NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.

West is a member of my basketball Pantheon, and is without question one of the top five guards of all-time, along with fellow Pantheon members (listed chronologically) Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant. West, Johnson, and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only players to win an NBA Finals MVP, an NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award, and an Olympic gold medal. 

How great was West? Picture Stephen Curry with an excellent vertical leap and elite defensive skills--or, as West put it, "A wolf who ate dogs":


I described West's 2011 book West by West as "a unique contribution to sports literature: it is not an autobiography or even an 'as told to' story; West writes (p. XII), 'the approach that I have taken, in collaboration with Jonathan Coleman, is one that is built on deep reportage...nothing less than a full-scale attempt to bring forth the truth, to rely not just on my recollection of things, but to do something more ambitious: investigate myself, speak with others, and come to grips with what I find.'" I encourage anyone who is not familiar with West's life and career to read my review--and then to read West's book.

West was an important basketball figure from the late 1950s when he was a collegiate star at West Virginia through 2024 when he served as an executive with the L.A. Clippers until his death. After his playing career ended, he posted a 145-101 record in three seasons as the Lakers coach, including the best record in the league (53-29) in the 1976-77 season. West then moved to the Lakers front office and played a major role in building two of the greatest dynasties of the past 40 years: the Showtime Lakers won five NBA titles in the 1980s, and the Shaq/Kobe Lakers of the early 2000s won three straight championships. West felt disrespected by Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, and West moved on to Memphis, where he built the Grizzlies into a 50 win team in 2004 after the franchise had never won more than 28 games in each of its first eight years of existence. He then worked in the Golden State Warriors front office during that team's 2015 and 2017 championship seasons. West only won the Executive of the Year award twice (1995 with the Lakers, 2004 with the Grizzlies), and I agree with former Utah executive Scott Layden, who declared that the award should be named after West; a strong case could be made that West is the greatest executive in NBA history, if not North American team sports history.

It is a cliche to call a person "unique": few people have qualities that are unusual or rare, and even fewer people fit the literal definition of "unique" by being truly "one of a kind."

Jerry West's combined record as a player, coach, and executive is unique: no one else has ever played at an elite level in the NBA, then coached a team to the best record in the NBA, and then built multiple NBA championship teams as an executive. 

Jerry West will be deeply missed, but never forgotten.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:58 AM

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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Kyrie Irving's Unrepentant Antisemitism and his Profiting from Chinese Human Rights Abuses Are Ignored by Most Media Outlets

Kyrie Irving arrived to game two of the NBA Finals carrying a keffiyeh. This is not the first time that Irving has displayed a keffiyeh at an NBA game; regardless of what the garment may have represented in the past, what it represents now is support for Hamas' October 7, 2023 mass casualty terrorist attack against Israel, and Hamas' declaration of its intent to perpetrate such attacks "again and again and again" until Israel is destroyed. Irving has also worn a necklace with a map of Israel covered by a Palestinian flag, and after the October 7 attack he has been silent about Jewish victims but instead posted to social media, "Where are all you tough talking Media Heads that get on TV and social platforms to condemn people who stand by the oppressed?? Crimes are being committed against humanity and most of you are silent. Cat got your tongue? Or you’re afraid of actually standing for something real." Thus, Irving not only blatantly ignores the full dimension of the atrocities committed by Hamas, but he falsely accuses Israel of war crimes while advocating--via the symbols he proudly wears--the replacement of Israel with a Palestinian state (i.e., advocating genocide of Jews). Anti-Zionism is antisemitism, and Irving is a raving anti-Zionist who is not criticizing specific Israeli policies but rather advocating that Israel be destroyed and replaced by a Palestinian Arab state.

Further, during a January 2024 game Irving demanded that a Jewish fan take down a Jewish pride sign. Irving exercises his freedom to express whatever hate-filled vitriol is floating through his head while also seeking to repress other people's freedom of expression.

It would be considered unacceptable for an NBA player to deny the horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade, or to post social media comments making false allegations against Black people, so it is also unacceptable for an NBA player to openly display antisemitism--and Irving's conduct documented above demonstrates that he is antisemitic.  

Irving has the right to wear or display whatever garments he wants to wear/display, but the NBA also has a right--and an obligation--to make clear where it stands. The NBA has been very vocal about supporting Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, and other selected causes, so its silence about surging antisemitism is noteworthy and disturbing. The Mavericks' majority owner, Miriam Adelson, is Jewish, as is minority owner Mark Cuban, and it is disappointing that using Irving's talents to try to win an NBA title is apparently more important to them than the deplorable stances that Irving takes regarding the Jewish people and Israel. 

On top of Irving's unrepentant antisemitism, he and many other NBA players promote shoes that are made by Chinese companies that use slave laborers. The NBA is demonstrating that it cares more about profits than human rights, and that extends to the disparate treatment that team owners receive after engaging in misconduct or presiding over a workplace with rampant misconduct; thus, Mark Cuban fared better than Robert Sarver, who fared better than Donald Sterling. 

I have often written about racism and the Civil Rights Movement, and I have drawn attention to movies like "Black Magic" that powerfully describe history that must never be forgotten. I have written about Chinese human rights abuses, as noted above. Collectively, the Jewish people have been vocal supporters of the Civil Rights Movement, and some Jews paid the ultimate price for such support. Jews spoke out for Blacks because it is the right thing to do, without expecting anything in return--but the widespread and growing antisemitism in the Black community, as reflected in the support that Irving receives in the Black community for his antisemitism, is very disappointing.

Between games one and two of the NBA Finals, Vince Goodwill asked Boston Coach Joe Mazzulla a rambling, incoherent questions about Black NBA coaches, and then Goodwill wrote a rambling, incoherent column after Mazzulla failed to take the (race) bait. Does Goodwill's attempted foray into social advocacy extend to antisemitism and to Chinese persecution of Uighur Muslims, or does he specialize in selective outrage calculated to bring maximum attention to himself? I have mixed feelings about giving Goodwill the attention that he craves, but he is already a national media figure, so calling him out for failing to ask the most important questions is important even if that gives him more attention.

Goodwill is not alone in his selective approach regarding bigotry and persecution. Will Brian Windhorst, Dave McMenamin, Mike Wilbon, Stephen A. Smith, or any of the other national media members covering the NBA Finals report about Irving's antisemitism and Irving's promotion of shoes built by Chinese companies that are flagrant abusers of human rights? 

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:11 PM

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Monday, June 10, 2024

Chet Walker Made a Significant Impact on and off the Court

Chet Walker--a key member of Philadelphia's 1967 NBA championship team that set a since-broken record for regular season wins (68)--passed away on Saturday at the age of 84 after a long illness. Sam Smith, who now works for Bulls.com after making his name covering the team for the Chicago Tribune and writing the best selling book The Jordan Rules, penned a must-read tribute to Walker, tracing the arc of Walker's life from childhood in Mississippi and Michigan to leading Bradley University to the 1960 NIT title to a great NBA career highlighted by seven All-Star selections, an 18.2 ppg career scoring average, and tremendous durability (he played at least 76 games in each of his 13 NBA seasons). Walker played seven seasons for the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers before playing six seasons for the Chicago Bulls. Walker averaged at least 21.5 ppg in each of his first three seasons with the Bulls, and he set a franchise single game regular season scoring record (56 points) that stood from 1972 until Michael Jordan scored 58 points in a 1987 game.

Walker was one of the "NBA 14" who paved the way for the huge contracts that today's players enjoy, but Walker's activism came at a price: his career ended abruptly when no team would sign Walker after a 1975 season during which he averaged 19.2 ppg in 76 games, and he had to wait a long time before being inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, an honor that he belatedly received in 2012. Walker chose Billy Cunningham, Adrian Dantley, Earl Monroe, and Isiah Thomas as his presenters, and those four legends represent a cross section of Walker's impressive life on and off the basketball court: Cunnningham was his teammate, Dantley incorporated Walker's moves into his Hall of Fame caliber arsenal, Monroe played against Walker in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, and Thomas shares Chicago roots with Walker. Walker produced "A Mother's Courage: The Mary Thomas Story," a movie about Isiah Thomas' mother that won an Emmy.

Years ago, I asked Cunningham--a teammate of Walker's on Philadelphia's 1967 championship team who later coached the incomparable Julius Erving on Philadelphia's 1983 championship team--to compare those two legendary squads, and he told me, "Dr. J would match up against Chet Walker. Julius was obviously better in the open court offensively than Chet and a better shot blocker. Chet was a better one-on-one player offensively and would probably try to post up Julius and do things like that." I asked Cunningham to elaborate about the Erving-Walker comparison, and he replied, "Julius was the greatest open court player who ever played. Chet Walker was a better jump shooter and he had, I think, a little bit more of an arsenal in the set offense. But by no means am I taking anything away from Julius Erving."

There is statistical evidence supporting Cunningham's description of Walker's offensive arsenal. Walker finished in the top 20 in field goal percentage six times--including sixth during Philadelphia's 1967 championship season--and he ranked in the top 10 in free throw percentage six times, including leading the NBA in that category in 1970-71. Walker ranked in the top 10 in free throws made seven times. Walker was a dependable third scoring option (19.3 ppg) behind Wilt Chamberlain (24.1 ppg) and Hal Greer (22.1 ppg) on the 1967 championship team, and when the Bulls needed a clutch basket during the early 1970s they usually relied on Walker.

Jaylen Brown would not be a $300 million player without Walker's sacrifices. A role player like J.J. Redick who shamelessly mocks the basketball stars from the past would not be a famous multi-millionaire without Walker's sacrifices that helped transform the NBA into a multi-billion dollar business. It would be great if Brown, Redick, and everyone else who benefits from the NBA's huge pot of gold acknowledged their debt to Walker and the other members of the "NBA 14."

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:27 AM

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Balanced Celtics Overcome Doncic's Triple Double to Take 2-0 Lead

Luka Doncic's seventh triple double of the 2024 NBA playoffs was not enough to prevent the Boston Celtics from beating his Dallas Mavericks 105-98 to take a 2-0 NBA Finals lead before the series shifts to Dallas for games three and four. It is a bad sign for the Mavericks that the Celtics won despite narrowly losing the rebounding battle (43-41) and shooting just 10-39 (.256) from three point range; this was the Celtics' "B" game at best, and they still nearly won by double digits. In game one, the Celtics were at their best while building the largest first quarter lead (37-20) in NBA Finals history before cruising to a 107-89 win, but in game two the Celtics demonstrated that they are so superior to the Mavericks in terms of overall size and in terms of having multiple players who are elite at both ends of the court that they have  sufficient margin for error to win without being at their best.

Boston's Jrue Holiday was the best all-around guard--and perhaps the best all-around player--in game two with a team-high 26 points on 11-14 field goal shooting, a game-high 11 rebounds, three assists, and no turnovers in 41 minutes. Milwaukee's trade of Jrue Holiday for Damian Lillard--which resulted in Boston acquiring Holiday from Portland--turned out to be disastrous for the Bucks and a blessing for the Celtics. Holiday has 38 points and no turnovers so far in this series, the second most points with no turnovers in the first two games of the NBA Finals since the NBA began tracking individual turnovers in the 1977-78 season, trailing only Michael Jordan (70 points and no turnovers in the first two games of the 1998 NBA Finals, also known as the Chicago Bulls' "Last Dance.").

Jaylen Brown had another strong game, contributing 21 points, seven assists, and four rebounds, with the only blemish being his team-high six turnovers. "Stat gurus" who worship "advanced basketball statistics" may focus on Jayson Tatum's 6-22 field goal shooting, but Tatum had a game-high 12 assists plus nine rebounds; his defense, rebounding, and playmaking were crucial for Boston, and his 18 points on inefficient shooting were a bonus. Numbers matter, but what matters more is that Tatum impacts the game at both ends of the court, and that his talent distorts Dallas' defense, creating open high percentage shots for his teammates (even on plays for which Tatum did not earn assists). Derrick White added 18 points and five rebounds. Game one hero Kristaps Porzingis had 12 points, four rebounds, and two blocked shots in 23 minutes before sitting out the final 4:40 of the game after tweaking his lower right leg. Porzingis missed 10 straight playoff games with a right calf strain, so his health status is a cause for concern for Boston even though he insisted right after the game that he will play in game three no matter what. 

Doncic led the Mavericks in scoring (32 points), rebounding (11 rebounds) and assists (11), but he had a game-high eight turnovers and his 12-21 field goal shooting is a testament to his immense talent, because he had to work very hard for every shot that he made. The Celtics defended Doncic one on one for the most part, with Brown and Tatum shouldering the bulk of the load and each doing an excellent job even though Doncic posted gaudy boxscore numbers. P.J. Washington had a solid game (17 points, seven rebounds), but Kyrie Irving again fell well short of expectations, finishing with 16 points on 7-18 field goal shooting. He added six assists but he still has not made a three point field goal in this series, and his 2-2 free throw shooting marked his first free throw attempts in two games versus Boston's elite defense; the Irving redemption narrative being forced down our throats by many media members is on hold for at least one more game--but even if Irving plays well in game three his unrepentant antisemitism and his complicity with China's slave labor policies/widespread human rights abuses should not be forgiven or forgotten; those things are much more important than how well he shoots or how his team performs.

It is fair to say that we need a recount on the assertion by TNT's Stan Van Gundy that Doncic and Irving are the best offensive backcourt of all-time; so far in this series, they have been the best offensive backcourt for one quarter out of eight: in the first quarter of game two, Doncic (13 points on 5-7 field goal shooting) and Irving (eight points on 4-5 field goal shooting) staked the Mavericks to a 28-25 lead before combining to score 27 points on 10-27 field goal shooting the rest of the way.

The biggest threat to the Celtics' championship hopes is their propensity for squandering too many offensive possessions with low percentage three pointers early in the shot clock; such shots are not conducive for team success in general, and they are particularly senseless in this series when the Celtics enjoy such pronounced matchup advantages every time Brown, Holiday, or Tatum attack the hoop off of the dribble. The Mavericks are just not able to consistently stay in front of Brown, Holiday, or Tatum, which results in either high percentage close range field goal attempts or else high percentage drive and kick three pointers (which are much better shots than three pointers jacked up early in the shot clock without first challenging the Mavericks in the paint).

Dallas fans may say that the Celtics merely did what they were supposed to do at home and that the Mavericks can get back in this series by holding serve at home, but the reality is that teams that have taken a 2-0 NBA Finals lead won the series 31 out of 36 times--and the five exceptions to that historical rule featured all-time greats Bill Russell (1969 Celtics), Bill Walton (1977 Trail Blazers), Dwyane Wade (2006 Heat), LeBron James (2016 Cavaliers), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (2021 Milwaukee Bucks). If the Mavericks will four of the next five games, it will be because Doncic has one of the greatest Finals performances of all-time and because the Celtics drifted away from high percentage paint shots to low percentage three point shots.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:03 AM

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Thursday, June 06, 2024

Celtics Take Big Early Lead, Rout Mavericks in Game One of the NBA Finals

The Boston Celtics did not accidentally post a 64-18 regular season record, nor did they just stumble to a 12-2 record in the Eastern Conference playoffs; they are big, deep, and versatile--and with Kristaps Porzingis back in the fold they are now at full strength. Prior to game one of the NBA Finals, it was fashionable in some quarters to pick the Dallas Mavericks based on the notion that the Mavericks navigated a tougher postseason journey thus far--but in game one the Celtics asserted their dominance early, and they dominated most of the game en route to a 107-89 win. It is also fashionable to call game one a "feel out" game, but the reality is that the winner of game one of the NBA Finals has captured the championship 70% of the time.  

Six Celtics scored in double figures, led by Jaylen Brown's 22 points on 7-12 field goal shooting. Brown also had six rebounds, three steals, three blocked shots, and two assists. Porzingis had a sensational return to action after missing the last 10 games due to a calf injury, scoring 20 points on 8-13 field goal shooting in 21 minutes off of the bench. He added six rebounds and three blocked shots. Jayson Tatum had a quiet offensive game by his lofty standards (16 points on 6-16 field goal shooting, game-high six turnovers), but he posted game-high totals in rebounds (11) and assists (five). Derrick White (15 points, five assists) and Jrue Holiday (12 points, eight rebounds, five assists, game-best +22 plus/minus number) made significant contributions at both ends of the court.

Luka Doncic scored a game-high 30 points and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, but the Celtics can live with Doncic shooting 12-26 from the field and posting just one assist versus four turnovers. P.J. Washington was Dallas' second leading scorer with 14 points, and the Celtics can live with that as well--which is not to say that Washington played poorly, but just to note that the Mavericks are not going to win many playoff games when Washington is their second leading scorer with just 14 points. Jaden Hardy had 13 points in 11 minutes, but he scored 11 of those points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter with the outcome of the game long decided. The Kyrie Irving redemption stories will have to be put on hold for at least one more game, as Irving finished with 12 points on 6-19 field goal shooting along with two assists and three turnovers. Irving did not make a three pointer and he did not attempt a free throw.

Porzingis scored 11 first quarter points on 4-5 field goal shooting while also snaring three rebounds and blocking two shots. The Celtics built the largest first quarter lead in NBA Finals history, 37-20, while shooting 13-23 (.565) from the field and holding the Mavericks to 9-24 (.375) field goal shooting. The Celtics pushed the margin to 29 (58-29) at the 4:11 mark of the second quarter before the Mavericks closed the first half with a 13-5 run to pull within 63-42 at halftime.

Doncic outscored the Celtics 10-9 during the first 7:32 of the third quarter as the Mavericks slashed the deficit to 72-64, but then Tatum and Brown steadied the ship by attacking the hoop on offense. Brown also asserted himself defensively. The first eight minutes or so of the third quarter were the Celtics at their worst, jacking up three pointers and not playing high energy defense, but that proved to be just a brief interlude in the middle of 40 minutes of dominance.

Doncic is so skilled that he can score at least 25-30 points versus any defense, but the Celtics are able to match up one on one with Doncic and Irving, which makes it difficult for the Mavericks to create the lob opportunities and open three pointers that they feasted on when opposing teams trapped Doncic and Irving during their three previous playoff series. The Celtics not only match up well with Doncic and Irving but they also have several perimeter players who can expose Doncic and Irving defensively.

In my series preview I declared, "Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are an even better two-way duo than Doncic and Irving, and Boston has the NBA's best, most versatile starting lineup." The Tatum-Brown duo is collectively bigger than the Doncic-Irving duo, and the Tatum-Brown duo significantly impacts the game at both ends of the court while the Doncic-Irving duo primarily impacts the game on offense.

NBA playoff series are decided by matchups, not momentum. Game two starts 0-0, not 107-89, and the outcome of that game will be determined by the extent to which the Celtics exploit their matchup advantages; if they attack the hoop on offense and defend the paint on defense, they will beat the Mavericks--but if they jack up three pointers early in the shot clock and play with low energy defensively then they will give the Mavericks a chance to steal homecourt advantage. The Celtics took a 2-1 advantage in the 2022 NBA Finals only to lose game four to the Golden State Warriors and then fall in six games. The Celtics enjoyed similar matchup advantages versus the Warriors that they enjoy now versus the Mavericks, but they did not relentlessly exploit those matchup advantages in 2022; it will be interesting to see if they have learned from that painful lesson.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:39 PM

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Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Kyrie Irving's Chinese Shoe Company ANTA is Involved in Human Rights Abuses, Including the Use of Slave Labor

The recent announcement that Kyrie Irving signed his father to a shoe contract was presented as a heartwarming and unique story of familial love. There is no doubt that Irving timed this announcement to coincide with the NBA Finals in order to garner maximum media attention, and thus obtain the maximum possible profits from sales of the new shoe.

An important part of that story was left out: ANTA and other Chinese shoe companies that have NBA player representatives are involved in human rights abuses, including the use of slave labor.

How many media members are knowledgeable enough and have enough intestinal fortitude to point out ANTA's sordid track record? Since Irving decided to make this announcement on the eve of the NBA Finals, will even one media member dare to question Irving about this during any of the NBA Finals media availability sessions?

It must be noted that Irving is not the only NBA player who has a shoe deal with a Chinese company; other current and retired players with such deals include Precious Achiuwa, Jimmy Butler, Alex Caruso, Hamidou Diallo, Spencer Dinwiddie, Aaron Gordon, Udonis Haslem, Gordon Hayward, Kevon Looney, Terance Mann, C.J. McCollum, Austin Reaves, D'Angelo Russell, Klay Thompson, Fred VanVleet, Dwyane Wade, Andrew Wiggins, and Lou Williams

All of those players should be called out, not just Kyrie Irving--but the NBA cares about profits, not people; the Chinese persecution of Uighur Muslims does not concern self-proclaimed "progressives" in general, nor does it concern the NBA--which touts itself as the most "progressive" sports league--in particular. "Progressives" speak out about alleged human rights violations in Gaza because this serves their preferred antisemitic/anti-Zionist narrative, but the reality is that they don't care about Muslims in Gaza, China, or anywhere else, because if they cared then they would speak out against China instead of focusing their attention on false allegations against the only democratic nation in the Mideast.

Will anyone have the guts to ask Irving why he proudly wears a keffiyeh to show his support for Hamas' terrorism against Israel and the Jewish people while also profiting off of the enslavement of Uighur Muslims in China? Will anyone ask Irving to speak out against Hamas' persecution of Gazans, including stealing the aid provided by the international community? Does anyone care about Irving's blatant hypocrisy of claiming to care about Muslims when in fact his Chinese shoe company is persecuting Muslims?

Or are we just going to be subjected to the Kyrie Irving redemption narrative devoid of facts and context? That narrative is rapidly descending into propaganda actively promoted by sympathetic media outlets and media members.

Irving often states that Kobe Bryant was his mentor. Bryant spoke out against Arab/Islamic genocide in Sudan. Will Irving ever speak out against Arab/Islamic genocide and totalitarianism? Or is Irving so wrapped up in promoting antisemitic conspiracies that he cannot bring himself to speak out against Arab/Islamic countries and movements that are antisemitic? Irving mentions the rights of indigenous people. Is he aware that Arabs/Muslims colonized and depopulated a vast swath of territory extending from Morocco all the way to Pakistan? Will Irving ever speak out about the Arab/Muslim persecution of indigenous African, Mideast, and Asian communities?

Irving cannot have it both ways: he cannot insist on being judged only as a basketball player but then also tout himself as some kind of humanitarian philosopher while he is promoting antisemitism and profiting off of human rights abuses.

Former NBA player Etan Thomas spoke out against the Brooklyn Nets suspending Kyrie Irving for promoting a film containing antisemitic tropes. Thomas has been very critical--in a baseless and uninformed way--of Israel for alleged human rights violations. When will Thomas speak out against Irving and all of the other NBA players who are profiting from China's human rights abuses? Former NBA players Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf say a lot about Israel and Gaza; have they ever spoken out against Chinese persecution of Muslims? Thomas, Hodges, Abdul-Rauf, Irving, and others are making it clear, based on what they speak about and what they are silent about, who and what they actually represent; what they actually represent has little to do with fighting oppression. They are advancing an anti-democracy/anti-capitalism/pro-Marxist agenda; anything that they believe advances that agenda will be mentioned, and anything that they believe does not advance than agenda will be ignored. China is a communist country, so Chinese oppression does not advance an anti-democracy/anti-capitalism/pro-Marxist agenda. That is why Irving wears a keffiyeh while profiting from Chinese persecution of Muslims, and that is why Thomas, Hodges, Abdul-Rauf, and others are so pro-Irving and so silent about China.

ESPN knows about and has covered the fact that Chinese shoe companies with NBA player representatives use slave labor and commit human rights abuses--but will Mike Wilbon, Stephen A. Smith, Brian Windhorst, Dave McMenamin, or anyone from ESPN's wall to wall NBA Finals coverage have the courage to call out Irving's hypocrisy? Irving is using his status as an NBA star to profit off of Chinese oppression, and he has used his huge social media presence to promote antisemitism; media members have an obligation to question Irving about these topics.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:39 AM

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Sunday, June 02, 2024

Boston Versus Dallas Preview

NBA Finals

Boston (64-18) vs. Dallas (50-30)

Season series: Boston, 2-0

Dallas can win if…Luka Doncic produces efficient 25-plus point triple doubles, Kyrie Irving continues to be an effective second option, and the Mavericks' young big men control the paint. Doncic is having a playoff run for the ages, with a league-best six triple doubles in 17 playoff games as the Mavericks upset three higher seeded teams (the L.A. Clippers, the number one seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Minnesota Timberwolves) to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since Dirk Nowitzki carried Dallas to the 2011 NBA title. During the 2024 playoffs, Doncic is averaging 28.8 ppg (seventh in the league), 9.6 rpg (ninth in the league), and 8.8 apg (first in the league); he earned the Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP after averaging 32.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg, and 8.2 apg versus the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals. Lloyd Daniels and Toni Kukoc were both dubbed "Magic Johnson with a jump shot," but--at least from a statistical standpoint--that is who Doncic has resembled during this playoff run: he is the most productive passer, he rebounds like a center from the guard position, and he is a prolific scorer who has made more three pointers (57) that any other player during the playoffs. What distinguished Johnson, though, was not numbers or hype, but the ability to lift his team to five NBA championships, and that is the next step for Doncic.

Irving is enjoying his most successful postseason since he was the second option on Cleveland's 2016 championship team; this is not just about numbers--although his 2024 playoff statistics are excellent (22.8 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.9 rpg, .485/.421/.828 shooting splits)--but about his seamless acceptance of the second option role. Irving averaged 27.0 ppg, 4.6 apg, and 3.6 rpg versus Minnesota in the Western Conference Finals. When Irving is on the court with Doncic, the opposing defense is stretched to the breaking point: Doncic and Irving both need to be tightly guarded anywhere within 25 feet from the hoop, five other Mavericks are each shooting at least .350 from three point range during the playoffs, and Daniel Gafford and rookie Dereck Lively II are each shooting better than .600 from the field primarily by feasting on rim runs that are opened up by the attention paid to Doncic, Irving, and the three point shooters.

Midseason acquisitions Gafford and P.J. Washington have both started every playoff game and made major contributions. Gafford is averaging 9.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, and a team-high 1.8 bpg during the playoffs, while Washington ranks third on the team in playoff scoring (13.6 ppg), and third in rebounding (6.7 rpg). Lively II ranks first on the team in playoff field goal percentage (.667), and second in rebounding (7.2 rpg).

Coach Jason Kidd deserves a lot of credit not only for mentoring Irving to blend in with Doncic and the rest of the team, but also for maximizing the talents of Gafford, Washington, and Lively II.

Boston will win because…Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are an even better two-way duo than Doncic and Irving, and Boston has the NBA's best, most versatile starting lineup. Tatum is averaging 26.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg (seventh in the league), and 5.9 apg (10th in the league) during the 2024 playoffs. He averaged 30.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, and 6.3 apg as the Celtics swept the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and he was a legitimate contender for the Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP award that he had already won in 2022. Brown is averaging 25.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, and 2.6 apg during the 2024 playoffs, and he earned the Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP after averaging 29.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, and 3.0 apg versus the Pacers. Tatum and Brown are bigger than Doncic and Irving, and are much better defensively while being, at worst, comparable offensively.

Boston's other starters are two-time All-Star/six-time All-Defensive Team member Jrue Holiday, two-time All-Defensive Team member Derrick White, and five-time All-Star Al Horford. When 2018 All-Star Kristaps Porzingis returns from his right calf injury, either he or Horford will be a potent sixth man. Porzingis was the starting center before he got hurt, but it is possible that the Celtics will bring him off of the bench now to preserve the continuity that they developed during the 10 playoff games that Porzingis missed. 

Holiday scores, rebounds, passes, and defends. He has championship experience, and he fills whatever role he is asked to fill without complaints or drama. White is a bigger, younger version of Holiday (but without the championship experience). Horford does not have the mobility or endurance that he had in his younger days, but he can still be a potent weapon at both ends of the court, as he showed in game three versus Indiana (23 points, five rebounds, three blocked shots) and the game five series clinching win versus Cleveland (22 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots).

During the regular season, the Celtics ranked first in blocked shots (6.6 bpg), first in fewest turnovers (11.9 tpg), second in scoring (120.6 ppg), second in defensive field goal percentage (.453), second in rebounding (46.3 rpg), fifth in points allowed (109.2 ppg), and eighth in field goal percentage (.487). Their 11.3 ppg scoring differential is historically great, trailing only four legendary championship teams: the Chamberlain-West 1972 L.A. Lakers (12.3 ppg), the Abdul-Jabbar-Robertson 1971 Milwaukee Bucks (12.3 ppg), the Jordan-Pippen 1996 Chicago Bulls (12.2 ppg), and the Durant-Curry 2017 Golden State Warriors (11.6 ppg).

Other things to consider: The Celtics have been the NBA's most dominant team this season. The only chinks in their armor are (1) their stubborn insistence on jacking up more than 40 three point field goal attempts per game even when they enjoy higher percentage matchup opportunities inside the arc, and (2) their tendency to relax, as illustrated by their two double digit home playoff losses this year to markedly inferior opponents (Miami and Cleveland). 

It is great to shoot open three pointers created off of drive and kick action or from offensive rebounds when the defense is in scramble mode, but it is not optimal to just hoist three pointers without regard to time, score, and matchups. Tatum and Brown in particular most focus first on attacking the hoop to score; after the defense loads up to stop their drives, the three point shot will open up for them and for their teammates. 

The Celtics' tendency to relax has not harmed them during the 2024 playoffs, but they cannot afford to give away anything to the Mavericks.

Both teams are strong defensively, which means that the star players may be held below their typical field goal percentages. The term "efficiency" is thrown around a lot, but is poorly understood. For examples, Lively II has a 2024 playoff field goal percentage of .667 but that does not mean that he is Dallas' most efficient offensive player nor does it mean that he should be attempting 20 shots a game. He is attempting less than five shots per game, mainly dunks and put backs, and his high field goal percentage is a direct product of the defensive attention drawn by Doncic and Irving. Players like Doncic, Irving, Tatum, and Brown should be judged not just on their individual field goal percentages but rather on how efficiently they run their offenses.

Dirk Nowitzki shot .416 from the field in the 2011 NBA Finals, but he attracted so much defensive attention that his Mavericks shot .454 from the field overall while upsetting the heavily favored Miami Heat. There is a big difference between shooting low percentage shots that do not challenge the defense, and shooting high percentage shots that force the defense to react. During the 2011 NBA Finals, Nowitzki attempted 46 free throws and 19 three pointers; he attacked the hoop, he forced the Heat to pay extra attention to him, and he drew fouls that put the Mavericks into the bonus. Even though Nowitzki had a low field goal percentage, he broke Miami's defense--and, on top of that, he consistently dominated in the fourth quarter with the outcome of the game in the balance. Kobe Bryant had a similarly great performance in the 2010 NBA Finals versus an even better defense than the one Nowitzki faced in 2011

Ideally, Tatum, Brown, Doncic, and Irving will each shoot at least .450 from the field during the 2024 NBA Finals, but that number alone--or the "advanced" shooting numbers that are often spouted by "stat gurus"--is not how their Finals performances should be defined. The star players must distort the opposing defense to consistently create high percentage shots for their teams.

In short, there is a difference between shooting in the low .400s while jacking up "logo" three pointers early in the shot clock, and shooting in the low .400s while driving to the hoop, attracting double teams, and drawing fouls. LeBron James did not become a champion until he learned this; James Harden and Damian Lillard are two highly-hyped players who are unlikely to ever become champions because they have never learned this.

This series will be legacy-defining for several players, but more so for Doncic and Tatum than anyone else; one of those players will win his first NBA title. It is easy to assume that both are young enough and talented enough to return to this stage several more times, but nothing is promised or guaranteed in this life. 

It is possible that the Mavericks will keep all of these games close, and manage to win four of them thanks to Doncic and Irving rising to the occasion down the stretch, but I predict that Boston will win in six games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:34 PM

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Friday, May 31, 2024

Doncic and Irving Dominate as Mavericks Humiliate Timberwolves to Advance to the NBA Finals

The Dallas Mavericks' one-two punch of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving delivered an early knockout blow to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and each finished with a game-high 36 points in Dallas' 124-103 win. The Mavericks closed out the Timberwolves in five games, clinching the series on the road and setting up an NBA Finals matchup with the Boston Celtics. Doncic shot 14-22 from the field, led Dallas with 10 rebounds, and tied Irving for team-high honors with five assists. Doncic earned the Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP. Stephen Curry won the inaugural Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP in 2022, and Nikola Jokic won the 2023 Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP. Irving shot 14-27 from the field while also compiling five assists and four rebounds.

For much of this series, Minnesota's supporting cast played well enough while their two stars--Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns--delivered subpar performances. In this game, Edwards and Towns played well while their teammates disappeared. Edwards scored 28 points on 10-18 field goal shooting while grabbing nine rebounds and passing for a game-high six assists. Towns had 28 points on 9-20 field goal shooting while snaring a game-high 12 rebounds and not being whistled for a single foul after spending much of this series committing stupid fouls. Rudy Gobert had a quiet game (nine points, five rebounds, no blocked shots). No other Minnesota player had more than eight points or more than four rebounds. The usually steady Mike Conley scored seven points in just 21 minutes as he battled a recurring calf strain.

For a substantial portion of this game, the only suspense was whether the Timberwolves would outscore Doncic and Irving; in the first quarter, Doncic outscored the Timberwolves by himself, blistering the nets for 20 points on 8-11 field goal shooting while the Timberwolves could only muster 19 points on 8-26 (.308) field goal shooting. Dallas led 35-19, and if you listened closely you would have sworn that you heard someone say, "1, 2, 3, Cancun." The Timberwolves' body language screamed, "We would rather be anywhere else other than here trying to compete."

In the second quarter, Doncic seemingly said "Tag, you're it" to Irving, and Irving responded with 15 points on 5-5 field goal shooting.

Here are the first half scoring totals:

Doncic/Irving: 44 points on 17-27 field goal shooting.

Minnesota: 40 points on 15-44 field goal shooting.

Overall, Dallas led 69-44. "This is an embarrassing first half performance," TNT's Stan Van Gundy declared as the Minnesota crowd booed their listless Timberwolves.

During TNT's halftime show, Charles Barkley called out unnamed people on other networks who praised Minnesota's game four adjustments. "Adjust that," Barkley declared. Barkley is right that so-called adjustments are overrated by people who do not understand how to watch/analyze basketball, and I have made this point for years; in my recap of game two of the 2021 NBA Finals, I discussed at length ESPN's fascination with mythical adjustments:

Many of ESPN's talking heads have been obsessed for years with "in game adjustments" but Jeff Van Gundy is one of the few ESPN commentators who downplays such talk, perhaps because he is the only current ESPN commentator who has actually coached in the NBA Finals. During the 2010 NBA Finals, Van Gundy explained that playoff series are not decided by in game adjustments because "You are who you are by this time of the year and you have to go with your best stuff and expect them to go with their best stuff." During last night's telecast, Van Gundy made similar points, and after the game he mentioned that NBA games are often decided by one or two key plays, or simply by shots made/missed, and that there are not adjustments that can change those things.

Bill Russell refuted the in game adjustment nonsense years ago, cautioning, "You have to make adjustments that your team can make" and explaining, "When I played, when we had to make adjustments we would adjust not to what we did wrong but we would try to get back to what we did right and do that. That is the only way you can take control of the game," to which I added, "The idea that a coach can come up with something completely new between games--let alone during a 15 minute halftime break--is absurd and that is why San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich gives snarky answers when media members ask him stupid questions about what kind of adjustments he is going to make."

Unfortunately, many NBA commentators do not understand what they are watching, and are incapable of coming up with anything other than declaring that a team lost because that team's coach did not make the right adjustments. Stephen A. Smith repeats this tired refrain after almost every game, not realizing that his nickname is "Screamin' A", not "Strategy A" (though "Strategy F" would be an accurate assessment of what passes for analysis by him).

Perhaps when someone is paid millions of dollars per year to pose as an expert about something for which he does not have anything approaching expert level understanding there is pressure--self-imposed and/or from the bosses who sign those checks--to make bold statements and assertions.

The Timberwolves won game four because their stars outplayed the Mavericks' stars, and because overall Minnesota played with a very high energy level. The Mavericks routed the Timberwolves in game five because the Mavericks' stars outplayed the Timberwolves' stars, and because overall Minnesota played with a very low energy level. After game four, I wrote, "Game five will be very interesting, because the Timberwolves will show if they are satisfied just to avoid being swept, or if they are excited about the opportunity to win at home and put the pressure on the Mavericks to win game six in Dallas to avoid game seven in Minnesota."

The Timberwolves were quite content to just avoid being swept. Cue Keith Olbermann's catchphrase for such games: "Get a roll of stamps and mail it in." At some point in this series, the Timberwolves either decided that they could not beat the Mavericks four times or that it would take more effort to do so than they were willing to expend. That is not meant to take anything away from how well Dallas played, and how well Jason Kidd is coaching the Mavericks; the point is that the first four games of this series were close because these teams are evenly matched, while the fifth game was a blowout because Minnesota had checked out mentally and tapped out physically.

Doncic and Irving "only" combined for 18 third quarter points, so after 36 minutes the Timberwolves had outscored Dallas' dynamic duo 73-64--but the full game score was 97-73, Dallas.

The fourth quarter was, to borrow Marv Albert's famous description, "Extensive garbage time."

Although this game was not decided by "adjustments," it should be emphasized that Jason Kidd has done an excellent job coaching Dallas. His two star players respect him greatly--as they should--and Kidd shows his respect for them by not telling them what to do but simply noting what he would do if he were still playing. Kidd's court vision and basketball IQ are off the charts, and it is evident that Doncic and Kidd have both responded well to his patient guidance not only in terms of offensive decision making but also in terms of more sustained effort defensively.

The Irving redemption narrative is a popular talking point--as if playing basketball proficiently absolves Irving from his unrepentant antisemitism--but Doncic is not new to blowing out higher seeded opponents in closeout games: in 2022, Doncic led the Mavericks to a 123-90 rout over the number one seeded Phoenix Suns, and early in the second half of that game Doncic had outscored Phoenix 30-29 by himself, foreshadowing the treatment that he just gave to the Timberwolves. Doncic is like a mini Nikola Jokic: he plays at his own pace, he is an elite scorer, rebounder, and passer, and he uses strength and guile to make up for a lack of blazing speed. Irving provides wonderful complementary scoring and playmaking, but Doncic runs the show and sets the tone.

The NBA Finals start next Thursday, so there will be plenty of time to analyze Boston versus Dallas (and plenty of time for ESPN's "experts" to talk about the "adjustments" that each team should make). Many media members will hype up Irving's return to Boston and Kristaps Porzingis' return to Dallas, but the most significant story here is the top of the marquee showdown between Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum: which superstar and perennial MVP candidate will win his first NBA title?

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:28 AM

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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Edwards and Towns Outduel Doncic and Irving as Timberwolves Avoid Being Swept

I enjoy analyzing complex basketball strategies, but--as Charles Barkley succinctly put it during TNT's Western Conference Finals game four telecast--sometimes basketball is a simple sport: if your team's stars outplay the other team's stars then your team has a great chance to win. That simple story explained what happened in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 105-100 win versus the Dallas Mavericks: Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns outplayed Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Edwards scored a game-high 29 points on 11-25 field goal shooting, and he led the Timberwolves in both rebounds (10) and assists (nine). Towns scored a series-high 25 points on 9-13 field goal shooting, including 4-5 from three point range. Towns was far from perfect--he fouled out in just 30 minutes of playing time as he still has not cured his habit of committing stupid fouls, and he grabbed just five rebounds--but the good outweighed the bad: he shot efficiently from the field, he attacked the paint more often than he had in recent games, he was both more accurate and more judicious on this three point attempts, and he posted his highest scoring total in his last nine playoff games. Mike Conley was steady as always (14 points on 5-9 field goal shooting along with seven assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes), and Rudy Gobert scored 13 points while tying Edwards for team-high honors with 10 rebounds. 

Doncic posted his league-leading sixth triple double in the 2024 playoffs (28 points, game-high 15 rebounds, game-high 10 assists), but he shot just 7-21 from the field, had a game-worst -13 plus/minus number, and shot 1-5 from the field in the fourth quarter with the outcome up for grabs. Irving scored 16 points on 6-18 field goal shooting while dishing for four assists but amassing a team-high four turnovers. Dallas keenly felt the absence of Dereck Lively II, an active and energetic center who suffered a neck injury in game three of this series. Minnesota outrebounded Dallas 40-38 and outscored Dallas in the paint 46-36. 

Facing not just elimination but the humiliation of being swept, Minnesota stormed out to a 24-12 first quarter lead, but Dallas trimmed that margin to 27-20 by the end of the first quarter and then went ahead by three points in the second quarter before settling for a 49-49 halftime tie.

Minnesota won the third quarter 29-24 as Towns scored 10 points on 4-4 field goal shooting after scoring just five first half points. Minnesota enjoyed a fourth quarter lead in each of the first three games of this series only to fall apart down the stretch, but in this game Towns (10 points), Gobert (eight points), and Edwards (six points) dominated the final stanza. Dallas countered with balanced but inefficient fourth quarter scoring, matching Minnesota with 27 points but shooting just .435 from the field while Minnesota shot .526 from the field.

Game five will be very interesting, because the Timberwolves will show if they are satisfied just to avoid being swept, or if they are excited about the opportunity to win at home and put the pressure on the Mavericks to win game six in Dallas to avoid game seven in Minnesota. The Timberwolves are bigger and deeper than the Mavericks, but that did not matter in the first three games because of how much Doncic and Irving outplayed Edwards and Towns. The Timberwolves are capable of replicating in game five at home the effort level and efficiency that they displayed in game four on the road.

What struck me most about this game, though, is the pregame commentary about Kyrie Irving. Many media members are pushing the Kyrie Irving redemption narrative, but Barkley is one of the few media members who has the courage to speak the truth about Irving. Barkley declared that many of Irving's problems were "self inflicted," noting specifically, "You can't say antisemitic stuff." Barkley concluded that Irving deserved both the criticism he received and the suspension handed down by the Brooklyn Nets in 2022 in response to Irving's unrepentant antisemitism. It is very disappointing that Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kenny Smith--who rightly do not hesitate to speak out about a host of social issues--remained silent about Irving's antisemitism, particularly at a time when both antisemitic vitriol and antisemitic violence are at unprecedented levels. In their initial response to Irving's unrepentant antisemitism, Johnson and the TNT studio crew did better, with the exception of Smith, who has consistently been off target about this issue.

Some points that I made in my November 4, 2022 article about Irving being suspended are worth repeating and emphasizing:

I know better than to try to persuade people who are willfully blind to the truth, but when thinking about who has power, what are the limits of free speech, and what is the nature of objective historical truth, it is interesting to keep in mind a few facts that I have mentioned in my previous articles about Irving:

1) Irving has more social media followers than the Jewish population of the world. Irving has over 20 million followers, while there are fewer than 15 million Jews in a world that has a population of nearly 8 billion people. When Irving boasts that he has an "army" supporting him, that is not an exaggeration. He is far from powerless both in terms of his personal, generational wealth, and in terms of the influence that he wields. If each of his followers spreads his messages to just five more people, Irving potentially reaches 100 million people every time he makes a social media post.

The Jewish people are so powerful that less than 80 years ago a third of their population was massacred in Europe while the Jewish people were unable to get immigration quotas lifted in any major Western country, including America.

2) No one has challenged Irving's free speech right to post whatever he wants to post. The First Amendment protects against government restriction of a citizen's free speech rights--but just like Irving has a right to say what he wants to say, other people have a right to respond to him, to question him, and to decide to not employ him or do business with him.

3) I have seen some people assert that the film that Irving promoted speaks the truth, and I have seen other people say some version of "everyone has a right to speak his truth." 

Regarding the first sentiment, the movie that Irving promoted asserts that the Holocaust never happened, that Jews controlled the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and that Jews worship Satan. Those statements are all demonstrably false. This would be equivalent to a white supremacist stating that slavery never happened, that Black people are responsible for harming white people on a massive scale, and that Black people worship Satan. If you support Irving's promotion of antisemitic falsehoods, then you have no standing to challenge white supremacists who state that they are not attacking Black people but rather defending white people, and you definitely need to stop talking about so-called "micro-aggressions." To be clear, I find both white supremacy and Holocaust denial to be offensive; I condemn both. I just don't want to hear about "micro-aggressions" from people who endorse "macro-aggressions" that contradict historical truth and contribute to a climate in which antisemitic violence is soaring to unprecedented levels.

Regarding the second sentiment, this notion that there is not an objective truth but that each person has his or her own "truth" is precisely what George Orwell warned about in his classic dystopian novel 1984. If words lose their objective meaning and if history can be whatever each person believes it to be then we have no shared past and no shared future because there are no longer standards for what is right, what is wrong, what is true, and what is false. There are far too many people in our society who would love to take our educational system in that direction. The Soviet Union tried it, China is doing it now, Cuba is doing it now, and we have seen--without fail--that every nation that goes down this path ends up persecuting its own people and terrorizing its neighbors.

To anyone who suggests that the above commentary does not belong in a game recap, my response is that Irving's on court revival and his off court issues are two separate matters, but too many people are acting as if Irving's willingness to be a better teammate has some connection with the abhorrent views that he promoted and refused to disavow--and as long as that confusion is being propagated and as long as even otherwise standup people like Ernie Johnson are silent I will speak loudly to confront the confusion and the silence. 

It is demonstrably true that Irving had a negative impact on team chemistry with multiple teams prior to being acquired by Dallas last season. He has not been in Dallas very long, but up to this point it appears like he has become a better teammate and--for the first time in his career--is demonstrating leadership qualities. Good for him as a basketball player--but what Irving says, does, and stands for away from the basketball court is far more important, and I will conclude by repeating the key point that I made two years ago when Irving promoted antisemitic tropes, and that I repeated in this article, because the truth about this simply cannot be stated too many times:

If you support Irving's promotion of antisemitic falsehoods, then you have no standing to challenge white supremacists who state that they are not attacking Black people but rather defending white people, and you definitely need to stop talking about so-called "micro-aggressions." 

During yesterday's pregame show, Kenny Smith made the bizarre statement that he urged Stephen A. Smith to stop criticizing Irving because they are all from the same neighborhood. Would Smith apply that same reasoning to preclude white people from criticizing racists who come from their neighborhoods? The normalization of antisemitism is frightening, and portends doom for our society, because any society that targets the weakest groups has lost its moral bearings.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:40 PM

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