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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

James, Irving Excel as Cavs Avoid Elimination

What is the difference between LeBron James attacking aggressively and LeBron James playing passively? The answer to that question is not found in the boxscore but rather via the eye test: watch game five of the 2016 NBA Finals to see what it looks like when James attacks aggressively and watch game four of the 2016 NBA Finals to see what it looks like when James plays passively.

Facing elimination on the road, James delivered an outstanding performance in game five as his Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors 112-97. James finished with 41 points on 16-30 field goal shooting. He also had 16 rebounds, seven assists and just two turnovers. Kyrie Irving matched James' point total while shooting 17-24 from the field to become just the second player (Wilt Chamberlain is the other one) to score at least 40 points in an NBA Finals game while shooting .700 or better from the field. It is rare for two teammates to each score at least 40 points in the same NBA game and this is the first time that two teammates each scored 40 points in the same NBA Finals game.

As Isiah Thomas, Vince Carter and Tim Legler noted after the game, James set the tone from the start: he aggressively attacked the paint and when defenders played off of him to discourage him from driving he unhesitatingly took and made jump shots from both midrange and beyond the three point line. Thomas said that when the best player sets the tone then everyone else follows. Thomas stressed how important it is for the best player to look to score early in the game.

Doug Collins made the same point before game five when he reviewed what happened in game four. Collins cited James' gaudy looking game four statistics but said, "These aren't winning numbers...It׳s not about looking at the statistics afterward." Collins declared that for the Cavaliers to win this series they need for James to be the best player on the court at least four times but that after four games in the series he had only done it once.

James scored 25 points on 10-18 field goal shooting in the first half of game five. He had nine rebounds and no assists. He was the first player to attempt 18 field goals in one half of a Finals game since Kobe Bryant in the 2009 Finals. Any time Bryant had a half like that, guys like Mike Wilbon would wrongly blast Bryant for shooting so much and not having any assists but at halftime Mark Jackson correctly praised James: "We've been waiting to see this LeBron James all series long." Jackson pointed out that the lack of assists did not mean anything because the Cavaliers were utilizing actions that created scoring opportunities for James and that James was rightly attacking to score instead of looking to pass. James was taking good shots, so it did not matter that he was not accumulating assists.

Jeff Van Gundy's halftime analysis was also right on point. He said that the analytics guys (who I call "stat gurus") would not approve of James' shot selection because he took several midrange jump shots (the dreaded "long twos" that the "stat gurus" are trying to eliminate from basketball) but that James was right to take such shots when the defense gave him so much space. This is exactly the point that I made several years ago when I compared James and Bryant: Bryant was more valuable (and more successful in terms of winning championships) than James because Bryant consistently took and made midrange shots; Bryant's willingness and ability to do this opened up the entire floor for Bryant and his teammates. The San Antonio Spurs have had a great defensive team for almost 20 years but they struggled to deal with Bryant because of his mastery of the midrange game. In contrast, the Spurs went 2-1 in the NBA Finals versus James in large part because James could not or would not take and make such shots.

Overall, the first half of game five was some of the best and most enjoyable NBA basketball I have watched in quite some time. The 61-61 score was the highest halftime point total in the Finals since Magic Johnson led the Lakers to five titles during the Showtime era. I remember when NBA Finals games routinely had halftime scores with both teams scoring more than 50 points. Those games were so much fun to watch.

In addition to James' fine first half production, Irving blistered the nets with 18 points on 8-10 field goal shooting, while Klay Thompson shot 6-8 from three point range and led the Warriors with 26 points.

A key moment in the game happened early in the third quarter, when Golden State center Andrew Bogut injured his left knee while blocking a shot. After Golden State failed to score in transition, Cleveland enjoyed a 5 on 4 advantage as Bogut writhed in pain just off of the court behind the Warriors' basket. Instead of attacking the hoop, James passed the ball and Kevin Love missed a long three pointer. Bogut left the game after the ensuing stoppage of play and he did not return to action. Golden State Coach Steve Kerr elected to go small for most of the rest of the way but Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue rightly avoided the temptation to go small as well. Lue kept Love and/or Tristan Thompson on the court and the Cavaliers used their overall size plus the driving abilities of James and Irving to good effect to punish the Warriors in the paint.

The Cavaliers built a double digit lead and were ahead 93-84 entering the fourth quarter. At that point, James had scored 36 points on 14-23 field goal shooting, while Irving had scored 29 points on 12-15 field goal shooting. As mentioned above, James set the tone for Cleveland's attack and Cleveland would not have won without him performing in that fashion but it is interesting that in this do or die game Irving, not James, turned out to be Cleveland's closer. Irving pumped in 12 points on 5-9 field goal shooting in the fourth quarter, while James limped to the finish (metaphorically speaking, not literally) with just five points on 2-7 field goal shooting in the final stanza.

Van Gundy often states that shot selection should be judged on quality not outcome (i.e., it is possible to make a bad shot or miss a good shot). Irving took the same kinds of shots in game five that he took in game four. Irving is demonstrating during this series that he is not afraid of the moment and that he is willing to attack offensively on a consistent basis, providing more proof that Mike Wilbon's criticism of Irving's game four performance/shot selection was misguided and ill-informed. James' commitment to attack wavers from game to game--and even within a single game, as we saw last night--but Irving consistently has an attacking mindset. Irving reminds me a little of Andrew Toney. Irving is flashier than Toney (though Toney had a devastating crossover move) but otherwise they are very similar: both attack to score, both are deadly at the hoop, in the midrange and beyond the arc (though the three point shot was not a big weapon during Toney's era) and both are very capable passers despite not having a pass-first mentality. Toney was physically stronger than Irving and Toney was a more consistent defender who could, at times, be relied upon even to defend larger players.

While it is tempting focus primarily on James, Irving and Thompson (who finished with 37 points), it must be noted that Stephen Curry--winner of the past two regular season MVP awards--has yet to put his stamp on this series. Curry finished game five with 25 points on 8-21 field goal shooting. Curry's defense during the Finals has been inconsistent at best and while his commendable movement off of the ball has created shot opportunities for his teammates it is not enough for an MVP to just be a decoy. Golden State had an opportunity to clinch the championship at home and instead of taking over the game Curry was, at best, the fourth best player on the court. Unlike James, Curry does not have a problem with being aggressive; Curry is not playing differently than usual but his effectiveness has dropped and he should not get a free pass either because his team is still leading the series or because the dominant narrative is that in terms of individual legacies this series is mostly about LeBron James. Curry should be expected to perform at an MVP level and he should be held accountable when he fails to do so.

The Cavaliers still face an uphill struggle to win this series; they must beat Golden State at home in Cleveland and then win game seven on the road. Bogut's availability is unknown at this time but Draymond Green will return to action after serving a one game suspension in game five. Green's suspension is a polarizing issue but my take is that the NBA has two choices regarding Green's repeated karate chops and karate kicks to the groin area and his assorted other dirty plays: the NBA can either go the NHL route by letting players "police" such activity (which would mean that Green's victims would be permitted to retaliate in kind) or the NBA has to punish Green in escalating fashion until he decides to control his behavior. Green should have been ejected and suspended for his kick to Steven Adams' groin during the Western Conference Finals; there is no way that was an accident and even if it was an accident I agree with Frank Isola's point that such contact is still unnecessary and excessive to the extent that it should be punished. In other words, if it was not on purpose then it was dangerously reckless.

Kenny Smith once said that if you do something bad once that does not make you a bad person but if you do bad things repeatedly then maybe those actions represent who you are. I have not heard Smith's take on the Green issue specifically but I think that Smith's general observation is correct. Regarding Green, he has done multiple actions on the court that are flagrant and/or dirty, including repeatedly delivering blows to opposing players' groins. Green's conduct is unacceptable. If he had done this in the 1980s, he would have gotten his butt kicked. Rick Mahorn said if Green had done that to him once he would have cracked Green upside the head as hard as he could and taken whatever punishment the league dished out. Green's conduct is dangerous and inexcusable because (1) hitting someone in that area could cause permanent damage and (2) if the NBA does not get this conduct under control someone is going to go the Mahorn rout and crack Green upside the head, which could rapidly degenerate into a full-fledged fight/riot the likes of which the NBA has not seen since the infamous Malice in the Palace.

Some people say that LeBron James instigated the incident by pushing Green down and then stepping over him. James was appropriately punished for his conduct: he received a foul and a technical foul on the play. There is no excuse for Green targeting James' groin, regardless of how much or how little contact Green actually made. It is ironic that Green allegedly called James a word that rhymes with "itch," because I cannot think of a move that is more "itch"-like than repeatedly hitting other men in their genitals. Such actions do not prove Green's toughness and I am sure that he would not act this way outside of an NBA arena where he has referees and security personnel to protect him.

Green's absence does not in any way tarnish Cleveland's win. Green took himself out of action by repeatedly committing flagrant fouls, so his unavailability is no different than a player fouling out or getting injured. Those things are part of the game and if the Warriors or their fans are angry then they should direct their anger at Green, whose conduct could potentially cost the Warriors the championship. A big part of winning a championship is staying poised. If all it takes to get Green to lose his poise is to "disrespect" him by stepping over him then if I were an opposing coach I'd send my 12th man in the game to "disrespect" Green in the first quarter. If Green felt the need to be macho when James stepped over him then Green could have just said the magic word to James--"scoreboard"--and pointed to the numbers showing that Golden State was about to take a 3-1 series lead. Or, Green could have done what so many other "macho" NBA players do: he could have pointed his finger at James and acted like he wanted to fight while making sure that 10 other people stood between them. Green knew exactly what he was doing when he took aim at James' groin and Green felt comfortable doing this because he has gotten away with it before (or because he is so mentally weak that he got caught up in the moment instead of putting his team first).

Green's teammates predictably rallied behind him publicly but I would be willing to bet that the coaching staff--if not the players--has told Green in no uncertain terms to not take any other actions that could potentially rewrite the ending to Golden State's dream season.

Golden State is a tremendous team that likely will eventually win this series but at this point no one can honestly say that James does not have enough help. The Cavaliers won both games during which he was fully engaged and played in attack mode and the Cavaliers would likely be leading the series if he had been fully engaged from the start of the series, as Collins suggested. This is not about James scoring a certain number of points or taking a certain number of shots. This is about James driving to score (not pass) and about James unhesitatingly taking midrange shots when the defense completely shuts off his driving lanes by clogging the paint. Cleveland has no chance to win if James spends most of the game driving to pass and if he refuses to shoot in favor of giving the ball to teammates who are less open than he is. How James plays the rest of the way will give some indication if his game five performance was more about winning a championship or simply about making a one game statement. Is James content to show the world what he is capable of doing or will James accept nothing less than winning the championship? To win the championship, James might have to shoot 10-30 from the field, if by being aggressive James changes Golden State's defense and tilts the floor in a way that creates offensive rebounding opportunities and other open shots for his teammates. This is not about being "efficient"; this is about a superstar's willingness to be consistently aggressive and live with the results.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:10 PM



At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 7:37:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"at this point no one can honestly say that James does not have enough help. The Cavaliers won both games during which he was fully engaged and played in attack mode and the Cavaliers would likely be leading the series if he had been fully engaged from the start (as Collins suggested)."

I respectfully disagree. I do not think a home win against a somewhat less than engaged Warriors team, nor a road win without GSW's best defensive player and 2nd best passer, prove anything at all. Part of the reason James was able to play "aggressively" in this game was that Iguodala was moved largely off him and onto Love as a result of Green's absence; Iguodala has done an excellent job this series of denying James good lanes to the hoop, or too many open jumpers, and contesting him at the rim (and Green has done an excellent job helping onto him when Iggy gets beat).

Beyond that, GSW is still up despite a relative no-show from their MVP; he is likely to have at least one huge game by the time it's all said and done.

If Cleveland wins G6, they will have a chance to prove something, but I do not expect them to win G6 and I certainly do not expect them to beat a full-strength GSW team in Oracle... because they don't have enough, even when Lebron is on his A-game. GSW is simply better and deeper, and it should be absolutely terrifying for Cleveland that Irving has- at least on offense- outplayed Curry for the series, Draymond Green has missed a game, Klay has had a few off nights, and they still trail. Things have gone as well as they reasonably could hope for CLE, and they're still screwed.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 8:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If the Warriors were less than engaged that is their fault. They were engaged enough for the past year to set records for total wins and road wins, so I am not buying any excuses for game three.

James gave the business to whoever guarded him yesterday, at least for the first three quarters. Iguodala is a great defender but if James hits him with power drives to score or quick spins in the post there is no way that Iguodala can stop him without fouling.

Part of the reason that Curry and Thompson have been held somewhat under control is that is Cleveland's game plan: deny them the ball as much as possible and hope/assume that Harrison Barnes, Livingston and others can't win the series. So, I disagree with the idea that everything has gone Cleveland's way by happenstance.

The Warriors are the better team. I picked them to win the series. However, I disagree with the notion that there is no way for Cleveland to win or that LeBron has a legitimate excuse based on the quality of his supporting cast. If LeBron played hard for the entire series and still lost, that would be a different matter.

I think that you have underestimated both OKC and Cleveland and are now looking for reasons to justify that. OKC clearly "could" have beaten GS, something that you said all season long was impossible. Cleveland clearly can at least compete with GS, something that you said could not happen with Love and Irving on the court at the same time.

By the way, not to revisit the whole Dragic thing, but I am pretty sure that never in Dragic's life has he had three games in a row as good as the ones that Irving just put up in the NBA Finals against the reigning two-time MVP. Irving is a very special player and there is no GM in his right mind who would take Dragic over him.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 11:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, come on now, CLE is definitely showing they can beat GS. Maybe GS is very fortunate James has had 3 off games, Love is only averaging 9 and 6 while missing a game, JR Smith is shooting/playing poorly overall, TT can't make a FT to save his life, and Delly has been awful. It goes both ways.

When James has stayed aggressive and brought his 'A' game, CLE has won by 30 and 15. There's no reason why James can't at least maintain aggressive play. If the only thing James changed about his play in the finals so far was to stop being passive, I can't see CLE not being up 3-2 at worst so far.

I can't tell who's been better overall necessarily: Irving or James. Irving has certainly outplayed Curry. Irving is definitely a great offensive player, but his defense has been solid. He has a lot to do with Curry's struggles.

Curry's definitely a great player, but we're seeing that GS success is more about their entire team than any single player. He needs a lot of help.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2016 12:17:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

2 excellent articles as usual... salute.
Re curry... i share your assessment of curry's inconsistent defense this series. On point as usual. I also think curry was not as aggressive taking advantage of mismatches as he had during the okc series. Curry strives for excellence as he set a personal goal of wanting to joining the 50-40-90 club, and he did, but he doesnt shy away from half court heaves that most superstars (kd, lbj) do that may drag down shooting percentages. But just on game 5 alone, curry passed up 4 (off the top of my head) 1 on 1 opportunities to hit a side step 3 or drive against thompson/love after a pnr action left them single coveraging him, to pass to a covered perimeter player. Curry is fearless but he either is not aggressive enough or is overthinking the game (he had many turnovers in earlier games). You are right that curry shouldnt be given a free pass for not stepping up during the finals consistently as superstars are expected to.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2016 1:47:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


If you're going to give Cleveland credit for Curry and Thompson's weaker performances, then you should probably give GSW credit for James'. That said, i don't think either defense deserves too much credit; Curry (and to a lesser extent Thompson) are missing more open looks than usual, and James has been unable to leverage his athletic advantage consistently or make enough jump shots to survive without doing so. I think Iguodala and Green have affected James more than anyone on CLE has effected the Splash Bros, though.

I agree that game 3 is largely GSW's fault, and that game 5 is Draymond's fault. I do not think either of those factors mean that Cleveland has "enough" to beat GSW, I think they mean that GSW has to shoot themselves in the foot for Cleveland to have even a puncher's chance.

I disagree that Iguodala can not slow/stop James on the drive or in the post, as he's done both several times this series (often resulting in strips). James can beat him sometimes, but it is not the sure thing proposition you're making it out to be, particularly when he had Draymond's help.

Irving has played much better over the past three games- particularly defensively- than I have ever seen him play before. If he played at that level consistently I would have a different estimation of him. As is, it's three games and he's laid some eggs in the series as well.

Curry's defense has slipped dramatically, and he deserves a lot of scrutiny for that. I do not know the reason by I suspect that Curry is fatigued or perhaps has some sort of lingering injury as his consistency on both ends has dropped precipitously.

I have been plenty willing to admit that OKC over performed my expectations. That said, they still lost three consecutive close-out games for exactly the reasons I doubted them, so it's not like I was completely off-base.

I maintain that Cleveland can't play defense with Love/irving sharing the court. In CLE's two wins, Love missed one game and the player who is one half of the pick-and-roll I've been saying they cant' defend missed the other.

I am not engaging on the Dragic bait.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2016 5:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


While in general it is true that if a player struggles offensively then the defense should be given some credit, I disagree with your Curry/James comparison. The Cavs have made a point of denying certain looks to Curry and Thompson. Yes, the Cavs have had some lapses and Curry/Thompson have not always exploited those lapses but the Cavs' game plan clearly is to concede certain shots to other players in order to keep Curry and Thompson reasonably in check.

In contrast, when James has attacked to score or shot open jumpers without hesitation he has been dominant. JVG, Mark Jackson, Collins, Isiah, Grant Hill, Shaq and just about every other analyst who understands the sport has stated this, repeatedly, during the series. James has been stripped primarily when he has held the ball in the post too long or driven tentatively while looking to pass. When James catches the ball and makes a quick, decisive move--either a drive from the elbow or a quick move in the post--he scores or gets fouled at a very high rate. Also, James has been almost unstoppable when he attacks the hoop in transition instead of veering off to the side to run some kind of set for a player other than himself. When James gets stripped, he is holding the ball low--i.e., in position to pass, not shoot.

As for OKC, yes the Thunder lost three close-out games. I, too, picked against them in the series--but, unlike you, I clearly stated that they had the capability to win the series if they played a certain way and I predicted that the series would be very competitive if they did so.

Similarly, I picked GS to beat Cleveland but I also laid out a blueprint for Cleveland to be effective and that blueprint has worked when Cleveland utilized it. GS is bothered by size at both ends of the court. We have seen that in the past two series. If James attacks aggressively, there is no GS player who can guard him and if GS has to commit two players to James early in the shot clock then that opens up opportunities for other Cavs. When James holds the ball or gives up the ball too early the Cavs' offense is not effective. Again, this is not just about James attacking but also about James attacking early and attacking quickly. Sometimes, James waits so long to attack that even when he attacks there is not enough time to swing the ball and punish the Warriors for double teaming him. This is what Lue means when he says he wants more pace. You can hear him on the sidelines screaming for pace and screaming for James to attack.

What would the Warriors do if James consistently caught the ball on the left block--not 12 feet away facing the hoop, but on the left block--and immediately spun baseline with a power move? Are you telling me that Iguodala can stop a steady diet of that by himself? I don't believe it. Bogut or Green would have to come over. That means that Thompson or Love would be wide open for a drop off pass or an offensive rebound. If a wing player slides in to cut off that pass, then J.R. Smith is wide open for a corner three pointer.

James should not be dribbling the ball past the three point line unless the Cavs are running a screen roll action with him and Irving to obtain a favorable switch. Otherwise, James should be doing his work from 15 feet and closer. Do you think that Green can guard James for 40 minutes in the post and have the energy to rebound, make plays and score?

If James plays correctly, we are almost certainly heading toward a game seven. It will be interesting to see James' mindset. Like I wrote before the series, if James scores 10 points on 5-6 shooting in the first quarter then the Cavs are in good shape--but, it's not so much about numbers as mindset. When Golden State plays the so-called "Death" lineup, James should be salivating; I picture Doc, MJ or Kobe just destroying that lineup, because those guys took pride in dunking on seven footers and they certainly would not have settled for jumpers against a team whose tallest guy is 6-7.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2016 12:22:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


The Warriors have worked pretty hard to keep James from consistently catching the ball on the left block, for starters, and have guarded him well there generally. For the series, he is shooting 57% within 9 feet (though of course that includes uncontested breakaways and the Green-less paint of game 5); during the regular season he made 65% of those shots. He took about 11 of those shots per game in the regular season, and has been taking 13.5 in this series. He has been both more aggressive and less effective in the paint against the GSW.

The biggest difference for him in Game 5 was that he was making his perimeter jumpshots (10 of them, by my count). Additionally, many if not most of Iguodala's strips have come with James in mid-air attempting a shot, so I disagree there as well. The Warriors have worked very hard to deny him clean lanes, and they've been able to mostly help onto him in such a way and with precise enough timing that Love/Thompson are not easily reachable at the rim (the Warriors are great at not helping off scoring threats one pass way or at least contesting that passing lane while helping).

Curry is taking 8.4 shots per game with a defender 4 feet or more away from him and making just 40% of those looks, so I'm not giving Cleveland the credit for that either. In the regular season he took 9 of those per game and made 49%.

Curry shot over 70% from beyond 25 feet for the season, so I don't really think he's a guy who has specific "spots" that they're keeping him off of, either.

Thompson they are affecting somewhat, though (although he's still making 40% of his 3s).

I do not disagree that James should not be listlessly dribbling 20 feet from the rim, nor do I disagree with your overall ranking of him (I have him about 15-17th overall, you seem to have him near the bottom of your 14 man Pantheon), but I do disagree that this is a particularly winnable series for him even under the best of situations. His team has played maybe 6 good defensive quarters this series (4 of them without Love, natch), and the last two of them came with the Warriors' most effective lineup unavailable. It is telling that the Warriors are +36 for the series with Green and -22 without him as he is both the lynchpin of their defense and the secondary ballhandler of their best lineup's offense, as well as their primary PnR roll man.

Cleveland does not have the personnel to beat an engaged/full strength Warriors team more than once or twice over seven games, and possibly not at all on the road. They were gifted game 5 by Draymond's stupidity but that does not change the fact that they have neither the defensive skill nor the offensive potency to beat the Warriors consistently.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2016 12:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think David is discrediting GS defense. It's just more about James passivity than anything else, though. He has all the natural gifts, but is unwilling to use them completely all the time. CLE has made it very tough on Curry/Thompson when engaged. I don't think they're missing more open looks than they normally do. And Curry probably is fatigued from the long season, but fatigued also from the CLE making him work so hard. It's been a long season for everyone, and I'm sure nobody is exactly 100%. Curry's not alone in this. Everyone's fatigued.

Nick, you said OKC had no chance to contend. Not only did they beat and make 67-win SA look fairly ordinary, they were up 3-1 before losing to the best regular season team in nba history. Yes, OKC had some problems, which they nearly figured out enough, primarily late-game situations that came back to bite them in the end. GS needed a nearly miraculous series comeback that's rarely done coming back from a 3-1 deficit, and a record-setting performance from Thompson in game 6 to just barely escape out of the WCF. It's one thing if you said OKC had just a fighter's chance to win, but you were adamant they had no business competing with GS, even after they beat SA. James has only been fully engaged in 2 games. No surprise ClE has won both, and both in blowout fashion. CLE blows out GS in game 3 with/without Love or even if GS didn't take it easy. Game 5, who knows, but CLE probably wins if Green plays. If CLE(primarily James) played like this every game, each game would've been up for grabs. GS deserves some blame, too, for coasting, being stupid(Green), and inconsistent play(primarily Curry/Thompson).

We're seeing similar things with CLE as with OKC. CLE is clearly showing they can compete well with GS. No matter how good a team is, rarely is there not another team that can at least compete with them. CLE should've destroyed TOR, and TOR made it a series, for example. It's hard to win 3-4 straight games against most teams. Since Love missed a game, shouldn't that actually help CLE according to you? GS would be a 60+ win team without Green, which would be better than CLE's win total.

Iggy could slow James once in awhile, but not 'stop.' James does look much better when he's not tentative/passive, regardless of who's guarding him.

I don't understand GS going small so often, especially with Green out in game 5. They need to stay big as much as possible for the large portions of the game(having either Bogut, Ezeli, Varejao, or Speights in there), and then maybe go small in isolated situations like at the ends of quarters. Especially since James is bigger than anyone in GS small lineup, he should be destroying them in these situations.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2016 3:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting stats Nick, but again, what do they actually tell us? Do you really think they can definitively tell us anything? James has played very passively for 3 of the 5 games, there's no denying that. If he actually has been more aggressive than he was during the regular season, that still doesn't change the fact that he's not being that aggressive overall. It's a small sample size, too, with 5 games. 2 games(which is 40%) could greatly exaggerate the stats, too.

I don't think the end results of James' possessions is what we should be looking at primarily. Against a good defensive team, we'd expect him to do a little worse than average. It's about staying aggressive consistently, which then opens up opportunities for his teammates. Every game he's consistently aggressive, CLE does much better. And CLE actually was ahead in game 4 in the 4th quarter without James' consistent aggressiveness. Love played that game, and so did Green, so that debunks your no Love and/or no Green theory.

It's hard to say where James should be ranked, though his career isn't over yet. I have a hard time putting him behind Bird, and Bird is in almost everyone's top 10. While James greatly underachieved once reaching the finals, he still has 7 finals, winning 2(maybe 3), though playing in the weak East with consistently stacked teams has helped him a lot in making all of these.

Maybe CLE can't beat a fully-engaged/full-strength GS team, but guess what, they haven't been. GS would have a hard time beating a fully-engaged/full-strength CLE team as well, who haven't been either as well. It goes both ways. I don't agree with Green's suspension, but it's his fault he was that close and based upon his previous actions, there's a case there. GS would've had a very hard time winning game 5 even with Green. CLE certainly does have enough to beat GS, which we've seen. They just haven't been willing enough to compete at the highest level consistently.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2016 9:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you.

It is so easy to get caught up in the LeBron storyline and ignore/downplay anything else.

This series is important for Curry's legacy as well and his level of play should be scrutinized, too.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2016 10:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


That's a good and fair point, especially with his Malone-esque drop on making open shots. I wish we knew whether or not his poor(ish) play is more a consequence of injury or of a Lebron-esque mental failing. He's had strong games/moments, but he hasn't been consistent since coming back at the end of the Portland series.

At Thursday, June 16, 2016 4:32:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I don't have anything to add to your points on Lebron, I agree with much that was written. I do wonder if in a different world if Lebron had let people get him the ball in his spots if he would have been even more dominant. I think if he had let his team mates do a bit more playmaking and ran off them he could have been the best ever.

Your Curry criticism is spot on. I am a fan (who isn't?) but the Finals stage has not been kind to him. He does his job but I don't think he has taken over this year or the last. He still creates quite a large gravity effect and works hard as you say, but he isn't acting like a superstar. My opinion is that he is probably injured, but unfairly or not Kobe never got a pass so I won't give it to Curry 2 finals series in a row. Yes he is a point and it is tougher for them when they go deep in the playoffs, but to craft a legacy he needs to overcome these adversities and perform on the big stage.


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