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Monday, June 20, 2016

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Make History by Overcoming a 3-1 Deficit to Win Game Seven on the Road

In one night, LeBron James ensured his place alongside Jim Brown in the Cleveland sports pantheon and he elevated his already lofty position within pro basketball's pantheon. James followed up twin 41 point performances in games five and six of the NBA Finals with a rare game seven triple double as his Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors 93-89 to complete an unprecedented rally from a 3-1 deficit.

That was an epic performance by a player who added immensely to his already impressive legacy that included two championships, two Finals MVPs and four regular season MVPs. Lebron James was not perfect but he came up LARGE when his team needed it most. His numbers were big (27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, three blocked shots, two steals) but that is beside the point because James' numbers are almost always big. What matters is James' impact when game seven and the series were on the line: in the fourth quarter, James scored 11 points, grabbed three rebounds and dished for one assist as he personally accounted for 13 of the Cavaliers' 18 points in the final stanza. James did not shoot well from the field (9-24) but that is to be expected in a tightly contested game seven--and I stated as much in my previous article when I asserted that what will matter is not James' "efficiency" but rather his aggressiveness. James did not settle for jumpers when he had the chance to attack and that is the major reason that the Cavaliers won. James unanimously won Finals MVP honors after averaging 29.7 ppg, 11.3 rpg and 8.9 apg in the series. James joined Julius Erving (1976 ABA Finals) as the only players in pro basketball history to lead both teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots in one playoff series--but, again, this is less about numbers and more about impact, because the deciding factor in this series is that James changed his mindset and approach after Cleveland fell into the 3-1 hole.

James was clearly the best player in this series--and is the best player on the planet--by a landslide but it should be noted that Kyrie Irving played at an MVP level in the Finals. Irving averaged 27.1 ppg versus Golden State and his 26 points in game seven included the three point shot that gave Cleveland the lead for good with :52 remaining in the fourth quarter. Irving completely outplayed the reigning two-time regular season MVP Stephen Curry. 

Kevin Love has consistently been the scapegoat for the Cavaliers whenever anything went wrong but he
had a positive impact throughout the series and particularly in game seven as a rebounder with a team-high 14 boards.

Draymond Green stepped up big time for Golden State (32 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists) in game seven but his foolish actions throughout the playoffs that culminated in being suspended for game five of the NBA Finals are his fault alone. That said, Golden State had game seven at home, Green played very well and the Cavaliers still won, so it is ridiculous to say that the suspension swung the series. The Cavaliers proved that once James played with the requisite aggressiveness the Warriors had no answers individually or collectively.

Curry played well in the Finals by most players' standards, posting a 22.6 ppg average, but he did not place his stamp on this series by performing at an MVP level. The Warriors won the first two games easily without needing much from Curry, so Curry's numbers are somewhat skewed, but again this is less about numbers (as hard as that is for some people to understand in this so-called era of "analytics") and more about impact. Curry was a non-factor at home in game seven with the championship on the line (17 points on 6-19 field goal shooting looks better on paper than Curry actually played) and that is part of his resume now the same way that James' earlier Finals failures are on his resume; James has three great Finals performances to his credit and perhaps Curry will accomplish that as well but right now Curry does not "feel" like a two-time MVP in a world where Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant won just one MVP each.

Curry's backcourt running mate Klay Thompson was solid (19.6 ppg) but not exceptional throughout the series and he also was well nigh invisible in game seven (14 points on 6-17 field goal shooting). Thompson is an outstanding two-way player whose worth cannot be measured just by looking at his offensive numbers but he did not have the impact at either end of the court in this series that Golden State needed from him in order to repeat as NBA champions.

Switching from the key individual players to the team versus team perspective, perhaps the most remarkable team statistic from this series is that the Cavaliers held the Warriors' historically great offense to 11 points in the first quarter of game six to deliver a knockout blow in the first 12 minutes and then limited the Warriors to 13 points in the fourth quarter of game seven to capture the only close contest of the series. James' fingerprints were literally all over that defensive dominance (in terms of some spectacular blocked shots and timely steals) but Coach Tyronn Lue also deserves credit for a great defensive game plan and the entire team deserves credit for executing that game plan.

It is also worth noting that the Cavaliers outrebounded Golden State 48-39 in game seven. Coach Lue resisted the temptation to go small when the Warriors went small during this series and as a result the Cavaliers pounded the Warriors in the paint at both ends of the court, which more than nullified Golden State's record-setting three point assault. The "stat gurus" blithely insist that "3 is more than 2," ignoring the reality that a team that can pound the paint can (1) generate extra possessions with great rebounding, (2) wear down the legs of three point shooters by making them work on defense and (3) erode the confidence of jump shooters by placing them under physical and mental pressure that they are not used to facing. Curry and Thompson are considered by many to be the greatest shooting backcourt in history but they combined to shoot 6-24 from three point range in what may turn out to be the biggest game of their careers. The Warriors succeeded last year where previous jump shooting teams failed because they complemented their offensive fireworks with defensive dominance and because the teams they faced lacked either the mindset or the personnel to effectively utilize size against the Warriors in the paint; this year, the Oklahoma City Thunder used size/paint dominance to push the Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals and then the Cavaliers used size/paint dominance to wear down the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

From a historical standpoint, this series will likely be remembered first for how it redefined James' legacy, second for how it removed the Warriors from the greatest team of all-time conversation and third for how it affected the perception of Stephen Curry's two MVP awards. James is now 3-4 in the NBA Finals and could very possibly end his career at 4-4, but a loss to Golden State would have dropped him to 2-5 and all but ensured a sub-.500 career record on the sport's biggest stage. The Warriors proved to not be the best team of 2016 and, at least by my reckoning, can no longer be seriously considered in the greatest team of all-time conversation. Curry has already won a championship and he is a better defender than Steve Nash ever was so Curry's MVPs are not as suspect as Nash's but--as mentioned above--it just feels wrong that Curry owns as many MVPs as O'Neal and Bryant combined.

Much will be made of the Cavaliers ending Cleveland's 52 year drought for professional sports championships but the Cavaliers franchise is not even 52 years old and the majority of that drought had nothing to do with James. It is significant that James returned to Cleveland after the "Decision" p.r. disaster and fulfilled his promise to win a championship with the Cavaliers and it is even more significant that James did so by attacking the hoop aggressively in the climactic portion of the series; James' ability to change the passive mindset that haunted him in several of his previous Finals' appearances is the biggest single news story about this championship.

On a personal note, the first time that the Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals I covered games three and four in person with a credential from NBCSports.com. Those were the first Finals games I attended in person and I thought that they would always be the most special Finals games of my life for that reason--but I watched this game seven at home on Father's Day as my soon to be 22-month old daughter Rachel fell asleep on my lap. This Father's Day Weekend was all about Rachel for me, pushing Bar Exam prep, the NBA Finals and everything else to the side. My life has changed a lot in the past two-plus years and I don't know what the future holds, so if this game seven recap in some way does not fully match up with the moment or with my previous recaps I am sorry about that but I don't regret it, because the alternative would have been to send the message to Rachel that this game matters more to me than she does--and that is not the case. She will not remember this day or this weekend but when she is older she will know and feel that I always put her first and that I have restructured my entire life to put her first--and she will know that my favorite NBA Finals memory will always be not the first Finals that I attended in person but rather the first NBA Finals that I shared with her.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:59 AM



At Monday, June 20, 2016 2:11:00 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Beautiful writing, David.

At Monday, June 20, 2016 2:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you think this series showed about Curry's weaknesses, if any? Does he have to adjust his game in any way?

At Monday, June 20, 2016 2:59:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

Happy Father's Day and thanks for the personal note on top of this quick turnaround.

At Monday, June 20, 2016 3:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great summary and on point as usual David.

Here are my thoughts on the game and series:

1) Warriors down the stretch was rushing things a little bit. They had some good looks but a few of the attempts from Curry and Thompson were a bit too quick especially when their shot wasn't on. I go back to the "live and die by the three" theory. When they are on they are nearly unguardable, but when the three is off where are they going the generate the points? Curry is a great offensive player but like you have reiterated many times in the past a small guy does not dominate/impact a game as much as a big guy. He doesn't have the physical tools to allow him to attack the basket and finish at a high rate. Thompson is a great two way player but still a bit limited on the offensive end. He does not have a great mid-range game i.e. one two dribble pull-ups or post up game. He relies too much on catch and shoot and coming off picks.

I thought Green should've attacked more in the second half given that he made so many threes in the first and had the Cavs' attention on defense . He made a great drive on LeBron in one possession and should've looked to attack more.

2) Match-ups play a big role in the playoffs. They were doing so many on ball picks for LeBron to create the mis-match with anyone not named Green & Thompson. I thought the Warriors had more trouble guarding Irving than LeBron. Thompson did a great job on Irving but his ball-handling, quickness, ability to finish with both hands and a decent mid-range jumper was a nightmare to deal with.

3) I thought for the first three quarters LeBron was back to being the passive LeBron again. There were multiple times where he got into the paint looking to pass or wasn't sure whether he should shoot or pass. He played great in the fourth though. He was looking to attack and made plays. It wasn't efficient to his standards but the impact was significant. Even if he missed shots he is making the defense play and this creates open shots for others and offensive rebounds. Kobe plays like this all the time but he gets nothing but critique about his FG%. People pick on his 2010 Game 7 vs Boston about how bad he shot. Yes, he was forcing shots in the first half and he admitted he wanted it too bad and that got the best out of him. But just his aggression and presence on the floor allows others to get good looks and offensive rebounds. People forget that year he played with a broken index finger on his shooting hand and a bum knee.

At Monday, June 20, 2016 3:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


4) Game 5 was the turning point for the Cavs. I thought the absence of Green forced the Warriors to play Barnes at 5 and Iguodala at 4 guarding Love and less time on LeBron allowed him to take advantage of Livingston and others that was guarding him. Of course, gotta give credit to LeBron for being more aggressive and trusting his jumpshot will fall. After game 5, he was able to gain the confidence on his perimeter game which opened up the game for him in Game 6 (best game of the series and one of his best playoffs performances of all-time). He had the aggression and attacking mentality from the get-go. It wasn't like Game 6 Boston 2012 but it was close.

5) Irving deserved MVP as much as James. I think for majority of the series he was out trying to attack and picked up the slack for LeBron when he was being too passive. LeBron obviously posted amazing numbers for Games 5 to 7 but I thought Irving made the most important runs (Game 5 and third quarter tonight) and that big 3 with a minute to go. His defence on Curry was actually not bad and got better as the series went on.

6) Stats vs eye test/actual impact - There is no question about LeBron's greatness and certainly one of the top 10 greatest players in most people's eyes, some would even put him top 5 or 3. But I think Games 1 to 4 showed again LeBron's uncanny ability to post great all around stats. But his actual impact on the court was no where like the stats suggest. It's interesting because after today's win people on twitter were saying the Kobe vs LeBron debate can be put to rest. From what I have seen, Bryant's effectiveness in the playoffs as a whole was more consistent and impactful vs LeBron's even though LeBron has posted better all around stats. It was pretty amazing how he was able to take that 08 Laker team to the finals that year and get two games almost three from Boston considering the starting lineup was Gasol, Odom, Radmanovic, Bryant and Fisher. They took out the defending champions San Antonio Spurs in five games who swept LeBron's Cavs the year before. His 09 and 10 Laker teams were not as talented or as great as people suggest them to be. The argument about Bryant has played with a better supporting cast in his title runs compared to James is completely ludacris. The praise that James receives for leading his teams to the championship Bryant cannot dream to get them.

At Monday, June 20, 2016 5:39:00 AM, Blogger Dennis said...

That is sweet at the end. As a father of 2 daughters I know how you feel.

At Monday, June 20, 2016 8:13:00 AM, Anonymous Bill Smith said...

Great write-up David. I came here after the game ended, hoping to find a well written summary of the game and was not disappointed.

I wonder if we now give LeBron credit for his skills as a GM? If you believe the behind the scenes stories, he's just architected a team that upset the 73 win Warriors in only their second season together and first as a healthy team. Many GMs struggle for decades to win a championship.

In all seriousness, there was some gritty basketball from Cleveland with Love, JR and TT filling out their roles. Kyrie and LeBron proved to be the 1-2 knockout punch for the Warriors, some amazing offensive sequences from them. I praise Cleveland for their tireless defense as well, they really put in the effort.

The Warriors looked listless down the stretch and didn't seem to have a plan B when the "bad shot" 3s were not going down. You can't really blame them for persisting, but you hoped that maybe they'd take a more measured approach in the final 5 minutes with the game on the line.

On a personal note, I can relate to your situation, having recently become a father. Basketball has taken a backseat but I still get a kick out of watching the odd game here and there... and checking your blog of course :)

At Monday, June 20, 2016 8:39:00 AM, Anonymous Eric L. said...


I've always been a longtime reader and follower of your spot-on analysis. Your last paragraph at the end shows us what it's all about: family. Happy Father's Day to you and I'm so happy you got to enjoy it with your daughter.

On another note, what a series for the ages. This is easily LeBron's greatest accomplishment in his professional career.

Looking forward to your NBA Season Review and/or Preview. Will you be providing us basketball insight during the Rio Olympics?

Have a wonderful summer!

At Monday, June 20, 2016 9:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is kind of said that Curry and the Warriors ended up choking in such a spectacular fashion.

The success of Curry was good for the game IMO as while it lasted it did show people that someone with relatively "normal" physical attributes could be the top player in the league.

An illusion that was eventually brutally shattered in the playoffs by teams playing him physically.

Too bad, but that is life.

At Monday, June 20, 2016 10:31:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Great write up, I haven't seen game 7 yet except for the last few minutes (ongoing work) but I'm keen to catch up on it over the next few days.

Without having seen the game but having seen the others, Curry can either come back hungrier or fade away after this. "Tragic" Johnson certainly did it. He needs to own the fact he has not been great. Hopefully GSW come back hungrier next year, if KD goes back to OKC I can't wait for the playoffs next year even though they are just finished!

Is it interesting to anyone that the champs seem to have more questions than the losers? GSW will come back and be contenders next year, pretty much unchanged I would imagine. Will the Cavaliers look the same?

At Monday, June 20, 2016 11:33:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

It's almost as if LeBron was reading your blog and took it to the heart ;-)

Enjoy time with your girl, she will become adult sooner than you'd think. I sort of miss changing diapers now.

At Monday, June 20, 2016 11:49:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Great write-up. My thoughts:

1) First and foremost, all due credit to Lebron. Probably the greatest Finals performance since Erving in '76. I'm gonna nitpick the Cavs a lot from here on, but there's no question that Lebron James turning on God-mode for three games (on both ends; people won't talk about his D, but he was freakin' everywhere) is the single biggest reason things wen the way they did.

2) That said, let's go ahead an cool it on the "they beat a team that won 73 games" thing. They went 1-3 against the team that won 73 games, then 3-0 against the hobbled version of that team.

3) Bogut doesn't post gaudy numbers, but he does matter for the Warriors, both as a rim deterrent, and as a rebounder. He also matters rotationally, as his absence required more minutes for the Speights/Varejao/Ezeli trio, none of whom should be logging major minutes in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

4) Hard not to call Game 7 a choke job from the Warriors. I get that Curry is probably hurt, but he and Thompson were probably the best players in the league at their respective positions during the regular season, and they disappeared when it counted most. Curry especially, with a lot unforced turnovers and a lot of missed open shots.

5) Let's cool it on the "Irving guarded Curry so well" nonsense. Irving didn't guard Curry much this series (with Shumpert on him for long stretches and CLE switching everything when Irving was), but when he did Curry scored something like 1.37 points per possession, which is ludicrous. Irving was hopeless guarding Curry, and Lue went to great lengths to keep GSW from taking advantage of that.

6) That brings me to my biggest surprise of the series: coaching. Lue did a great job, and Kerr did an arguably bad one. Curry was killing the Cavs on ISOs against Irving, but Kerr stubbornly stuck to the PnR where they kept switching Lebron or Thompson onto him (who pretty much justified his stupid contract with the improbably great job he did in those situations). I get the "dance with the girl that brung ya" logic, but the playoffs are also about adjustments and- especially when Love wasn't out there- Cleveland was prepared for GSW's PNR game.

7) Love did a great job rebounding, and a terrible job of everything else.

8) I said before G7 that the way GSW could win if Lebron was on fire was by getting going from 3; they did not do that, shooting only 36% from outside after going for 42% in the regular season and 40% in the WCF. Steph and Klay, particularly, shot only 25% from 3 in game 7, and that's pretty much death for that team.

Circling back around, all due credit to Lebron, who's nosing up a few spots in my all-time rankings into that Bird/Oscar/Barry/Shaq/Kobe/West tier. Gotta feel for the Warriors, and I'll always be curious if the series would have played out differently with GSW staying healthy and/or unsuspended.

At Monday, June 20, 2016 1:35:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Interesting Statistical Post-Script Post:

* Curry shot 13 threes with no defender within at least 6 feet of him in this series. He made 3 of them (23%). During the regular season, he converted 46% of those shots (and attempted a little under 1 more per game).

* Overall, on "wide open" shots, Curry made 47% in the regular season and 27% in the Finals.

* Klay, by contrast, made 70% of his open 3s in the Finals, up from 46% in the regular season, though he took about .5 less per game.

Hard to say if Curry was injured, fatigued, or just crumbling under the pressure, but whatever it was, it was certainly bad timing.

At Monday, June 20, 2016 1:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great performance by Lebron and disappointing showing from Curry. Imagine how good lebron would be if he had a jumpshot and a midrange game.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 4:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you!

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 4:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Curry's weaknesses:

1) Can be worn down by physical play.

2) Can be shockingly careless with the ball.

3) Has become increasingly reliant on shooting three pointers well beyond the arc, as opposed to exploiting defenders who play him tightly by driving past them to shoot midrange jumper, floater or layup. It is not clear if this is due to being worn down by physical play, an injury, overconfidence in his three point shooting or some combination of these and other factors. I have heard it said that a 30 foot shot that would be a bad shot for anyone else is not a bad shot for Curry but I disagree. Curry can make 30 foot shots at a higher rate than probably anyone else but it is still a bad shot and unless Curry has no choice because the clock is running down he should avoid taking such shots.

4) Curry's quick hands and superior anticipation skills enable him to get a lot of steals and to typically be at least a solid team defender. However, his individual one on one defense declined markedly during the playoffs and his team defense was awful. He is not usually a bad defender but he was a bad defender during most of the 2016 playoffs. I think that the decline in his defense was due to being worn down physically, which also affected him mentally. It is worth noting that Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to championships in 2009 and 2010 while dealing with an avulsion fracture in his finger, a knee that later required surgery and assorted other injuries. Curry may have been injured but if the injury is not an ACL tear or an Achilles rupture then the greatest players of all-time figure out how to compensate and overcome. No one remembers that before the 1983 playoffs Moses Malone suffered a knee injury that caused the 76ers to be concerned if he would be able to play in the postseason. They actually shut him down for a few games, which cost the 76ers a chance to become the first team to win 70 games. I doubt that his knee magically healed but Malone compensated and, along with fellow All-NBA First Teamer Julius Erving, led the 76ers to a championship with a 12-1 playoff record.

5) This is a subjective critique for which I cannot offer objective proof but I believe that at some point Curry and the Warriors went from being appropriately confident to being arrogant about their abilities and dismissive of their competitors. The Warriors should have known better than to bait LeBron James after game four or to act like winning the title was a foregone conclusion. James can be a sleeping giant at times and it was very unwise to grab his attention after he spent the first part of the series playing passively. I have never seen James overtly take a matchup as personally as he did with Curry and the Warriors after game four. The Warriors' hubris came back to bite them in a big way and Curry was a part of that, along with Thompson and Green (who said after game five that the series would have been over had he played, a statement that James disproved in games six and seven).

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 5:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you. I wrote the recap while Rachel slept soundly in her crib. I wonder if she will read these articles some day and, if so, what she will think of them? She already knows the word "basketball" and she tries to imitate me dribbling a ball.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 5:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that the Warriors rushed at times. It is evident that the pressure of game seven with so much on the line affected them.

There is so much focus on James and Curry--understandably so--that little attention is being paid to Irving's breakout performance throughout the 2016 playoffs and especially in the Finals. Irving played at an elite level and his scoring/FG%/overall play in the Finals were MVP quality for a "normal" Finals. I understand your point that Irving had many clutch moments but I can't quite go along with saying that he deserved the MVP as much as James. Irving was indispensable but James was the most valuable and most dominant after posting 41-41-triple double in the last three wins.

I agree with you that LeBron played too passively for large stretches of the first three quarters. I also agree that Kobe does not get enough credit for his game seven performance versus Boston. Kobe faced a much bigger and tougher defensive squad than LeBron faced this year, Kobe had multiple injuries and Kobe attacked relentlessly throughout the series. FG% matters but what matters even more is for the best player to attack relentlessly and not weigh in his mind before each shot whether or not this is going to affect his FG% and "efficiency."

I suspect, sadly, that in the eyes of many this game and this series did "put to rest" the Kobe-LeBron comparison. I think that is foolish and shortsighted, because Kobe went 5-2 in the Finals compared to LeBron's 3-4 and because Kobe will always best LeBron in two important respects: (1) Kobe always gave his best and (2) Kobe, despite what the "stat gurus" say when they salivate over their spreadsheets, had a better all-around game than LeBron because Kobe had no skill set weaknesses: Kobe could score from anywhere, he rebounded well for his position, he was an outstanding defender and he was the Lakers' primary playmaker throughout his career, while James has exploitable weaknesses in terms of his shooting outside of the paint, his willingness/ability to post up and his free throw shooting. A LeBron James triple double is not better than a Kobe 35-6-5 game during which Kobe was aggressive offensively for all four quarters while also either playing free safety on defense or else shutting down the other team's top perimeter threat.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 5:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you! There is nothing like the father-daughter bond.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 5:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you.

LeBron also broke his arm patting himself on the back when he explained during SportsCenter that he came back to Cleveland with "the blueprint" and that he had to convince everyone in the organization from top to bottom that he knew what he was doing, even when some people "didn't like it."

I think that he did learn a lot about winning while he was in Miami and I think that his fingerprints are all over the construction and mindset of this Cleveland team but LeBron did not have to say all of that. When Ali, Reggie Jackson and Deion Sanders boasted, there was an element of humor that took the edge off in some way. Kobe has always been more defiant than boastful; he never called himself the best basketball player on the planet but he said things like "Don't shake a tree because a leopard might fall out" after some Nuggets trashtalked him several years ago.

Whatever his flaws, though, LeBron got the job done, he did it his way and if he wants to brag there is nothing that anyone can do about it except try to beat the Cavs next year. In fairness, some of LeBron's comments might have been in response to the Warriors' woofing, including their GM saying that Golden State is "light years" ahead of the rest of the league.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 6:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you!

This is going to be a very hectic summer for me, including taking the Bar Exam and looking for a first year associate attorney position, plus some other matters, so I doubt that I will be able to provide much if any Rio coverage.

I hope that my situation will be stable and clarified soon and I definitely look forward to writing my season previews this fall.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 6:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


While I agree that it feels right now like there are more questions about the champion than about the runner-up, I suspect that the Cavaliers will return pretty much intact.

If LeBron leaves, it somewhat takes the shine off of the idea of him "going to college" in Miami to learn how to win in his hometown. Would his next SI letter be titled, "I am now going to the most stacked team to prove that I can win in a third different city?" LeBron is a businessman who has the right to manage his career however he wants but he clearly has enough talent alongside him to win in his hometown so why go anywhere else?

There will probably always be speculation about Love either leaving or being traded but Love's best chance to win is in Cleveland so he will not likely leave and the Cavs probably cannot get full value for him so there is little incentive to trade him.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 6:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is not entirely fair to say that the Warriors "choked." The Warriors did not perform up to their usual level, but the Cavaliers deserve some credit for that.

It is fair to say that the physicality successfully employed by OKC and Cleveland against the Warriors--which is but a fraction of the physicality employed routinely in the 1980s and 1990s--strongly suggests that the Warriors could not win a seven game series against the great teams of the past 20-30 years regardless of which set of rules was used. The 1996 Bulls are obviously better than the 2016 Cavaliers and if the Bulls were time transported to the present era then Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Harper could certainly do everything and more than James, Irving, Love and Thompson did. The Bulls likely would have left Jordan on Klay and they would have worn Curry out with Harper and Pippen.

James dropped about 30 ppg on the Warriors and he did not even play hard for the whole series; if GS went small versus the '96 Bulls then MJ would have dropped about 45 ppg on them--it would have been like his performance versus the run and gun '93 Suns, but MJ would have scored even more against these Warriors. By '96, Jordan was a chiseled 230 pounds and LeBron's extra 25 pounds or so means less than Jordan's willingness to attack at every opportunity.

Whoever Curry guarded--Harper, Pippen or MJ (highly unlikely unless there was a switch)--would head straight to the post for some, as Shaq would put it, "barbecued Warrior chicken." Curry got into foul trouble versus the Cavs, who did not fully exploit him in the post, and he would have gotten into worse trouble against a team that would not let him hide for one possession.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 6:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, the time flies and I do savor every moment with Rachel. Some unfortunate circumstances have forced me to miss out on some precious moments in the past few months but I am working hard to make sure that won't be the case for much longer.

I changed her very first diaper in the hospital and I have happily changed many, many diapers since then. She "supervises" now and when she thinks the job is done she will inform me, "All done, poopy diaper."

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 6:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You cannot refer to the "hobbled" version of GS this year without noting that the Cavaliers did not have Irving for almost the entire series last year. Even if you want to argue that the Cavs were better off in that matchup without Love--and I think that 14 rebounds in game seven with a +19 plus/minus number refute that notion--it is clear that Irving is a stud.

I agree that Bogut's absence hurt the Warriors but most observers--including you--claimed before the series that Cleveland could not match up with the so-called "Death Lineup." Cleveland destroyed that lineup, particularly in the latter part of the series. Kerr was running Ezeli and Varejao out there because he knew that his "Death Lineup" was getting killed. I have said for the past two years that the way to beat the Warriors is to stay big and pound the paint. OKC did this and nearly beat the Warriors, while the Cavs did this and won the title.

I disagree that GS choked, as I explained in an earlier comment.

I agree with most of your assessment of the coaching matchup.

I don't know what injuries Curry and Thompson had but I do know that Love suffered a concussion early in the series. Even after a person is cleared medically, a concussion can affect a person for a while. Also, Love has made the difficult transition from All-Star to role player (in terms of how the Cavs use him); during the Finals, the Cavs asked him to rebound and occasionally shoot three pointers. As you mentioned, he rebounded well, particularly in game seven. Love only attempted three three pointers per game and he never got in rhythm. However, he defended well enough--even against Curry in switches!--that the Cavs could play him 26 mpg, which is something that you explicitly did not expect prior to the series.

The Cavs rarely went completely small, which I would define as putting James at center; a lineup with Love or Thompson at center, James at power forward and Jefferson at small forward is not small by any reasonable definition, since James is as big as Karl Malone--and such a lineup is clearly not small when Green is at center and Iguodala is the power forward.

Irving played excellent defense during the series. I disagree that Curry had much success against him and I disagree that Lue was trying to avoid that matchup. The Warriors set screens and used motion to try to get Curry matched up against Cleveland's bigs but Curry did not do much when LeBron, Thompson or even Love switched on to him. Meanwhile, Irving did just fine when he was switched on to bigger players, while Curry was exploited every which way but loose by Irving and nearly every other Cav he faced.

Irving clearly outplayed Curry in this series. To suggest otherwise betrays a bias against Irving (or for Curry). Irving outdid Curry in literally every statistical category (he even edged Curry in three point shooting, .405 to .400) and Irving made many big plays late in games while Curry was invisible in the clutch.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 7:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have a few thoughts regarding your statistical postscript:

1) The sample size of 13 is small and probably includes some randomness like half court heaves, "hand grendades" to beat the shot clock, etc. If Curry had made three more of those shots then he would have been around his season average. I think that you are implying that Cleveland was "lucky" that Curry missed wide open shots but this could just as easily be attributed to sample size randomness and/or Curry being worn down by Cleveland's physicality to the point that he did not have the legs to make open shots.

2) Again, Curry missing "wide open" shots had at least something to do with Cleveland punishing him physically at both ends of the court.

3) Klay is bigger and stronger physically than Curry, so perhaps he was less affected by the physicality. Or, his shooting fluctuations might also just be sample-size randomness.

The big storylines of this series are (1) LeBron is unstoppable when he attacks aggressively to score, (2) Kyrie Irving is a beast, (3) Golden State is uncomfortable dealing with size at both ends of the court and (4) Cleveland is a very capable defensive team even with Irving and Love on the court at the same time.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 7:57:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I do not have the game 7 numbers, but prior to that Curry was scoring 1.37 points per possession against Irving and Irving was scoring below 1 against Curry. The sample size was in the high 20s in both cases. I agree that Irving had a better overall series, particularly offensively, but the Cavaliers success against Curry defensively had a lot more to do with bigs- mostly Lebron and Thompson- being able to handle Curry on the switches Golden State was committed to forcing than it did with Irving being able to guard him straight up. On the other end, Irving did most of his damage against Klay (a normally better but slightly less fleet defender) or on switches.

Regarding Curry's wide-open misses, my primary point was not that Cleveland was lucky, but that Curry was not living up to his billing as the league's greatest shot-maker. As I said above, I do not know the cause (only Curry does, and maybe not even him). It is possible that CLE's defense wore him down, that he was already injured/worn down, or that the issue was psychological. It is also possible that it is a small sample size fluke, but that strikes me as unlikely when discussing one of the most consistent shooters of all time, particularly since the eye-test backs up the idea that he did not look "right."

That said, I do think Cleveland was lucky both that Draymond stupidly hit Lebron in his double-dribbles, and that Bogut/Iguodala got hurt. I am not sure I agree that GSW was lucky last season to avoid Kyrie/Love as I think that a healthy GSW would beat CLE both years, and they were healthy last year (and Blatt's defensive strategy against GSW was much worse than Lue's).

I agree that the primary story is that Lebron was unstoppable. I also agree that Kyrie Irving played the second-best offensive ball in the series. I disagree that he did anything especially meaningful defensively, but I think the third story should be how deftly Lue was able to hide him/Love.

Regarding the death lineup, what I mostly said all-season was that CLE could not beat a full-strength GSW team, which I continue to believe. As far as the Death Lineup goes, it is an extremely effective "secret weapon" but is best deployed over short spurts as it forces defenses to change what they would otherwise be doing and punishes larger lineups in late-game situations by pushing the pace and testing their speed/conditioning. It does rely pretty heavily on the two best shooters in the world shooting like the two best shooters in the world, and without that factor it cannot survive on the boards.

I do not think I have ever said or implied that it should be the Warriors' primary lineup, and if I did I was mistaken. What works like gangbusters for four minutes in the fourth quarter is not necessarily a great idea for the first twenty-four minutes of the game (see also: isolation oriented offense).

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 8:19:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"Cleveland is a very capable defensive team even with Irving and Love on the court at the same time."

I respectfully disagree. They would have been hard-pressed against any team that committed to attacking either or both of those players in isolation, or the combination of them in the PnR. Lue was judicious about making sure Love rarely/never guarded Curry's preferred pick partners, and GSW stubbornly kept trying to attack Tristan Thompson off the switch, which proved disastrous.

I suspect San Antonio would have remorselessly posted Love with either Aldridge or Duncan (diminished, but still capable, especially against someone like Love).

OKC likely would have attempted to isolate Westbrook against Irving whenever possible, though I suspect LUe would have taken Irving mostly off of Westbrook (like he did with Curry) to mitigate that. Failing that, I suspect OKC would have attempted to target Love in the PnR, as they have a lot more capable roll options than GSW (who has a lot of good pop options, but only really Draymond as a danger heading towards the hoop).

I do not know why Kerr kept trying a PnR that was clearly not working as his primary offensive weapon, but I'm certain that Cleveland is relieved he did.

I also think it's a little silly to criticize anyone for an incorrect pick in a series where only three games involved both starting lineups. Had you told me before the series that Green would miss a game and Bogut would miss two (and Love one), I may have picked differently (though in the interest of honesty, I think I'd have picked GSW in 7 instead of 5; hard to say for sure in retrospect).

I do think I was pretty clear throughout the season when I made my various "only GSW and SAS are real contenders" claims that I always clarified them with an injury caveat; I do not think an injury diminishes a championship (most series have them), but I do think they are nigh-impossible to predict and shouldn't normally factor into projecting a series unless someone in it is already hurt or extremely injury prone.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 8:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If LeBron had a reliable jump shot and midrange game--plus the mentality to attack at all times--then he would be the 6-8, 260 pound Kobe Bryant and he would have won at least five titles by now.

Similarly, if Shaq had the mindset of MJ or Kobe then he would have won six or seven rings instead of four.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 8:25:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

In the interest of fairness, though, here are some things I was definitely wrong about:

* I dramatically underestimated Lue.

* I was too quick to write-off Lebron's defense, which went from unbelievably bad in Game 1 to some of the best I've ever seen later in the series.

* I was too quick to assume Curry would play like an MVP.

* I overestimated GSW's home court advantage.

* I didn't actually think about it specifically ahead of time, but I would have wrongly assumed Thompson would do a better job on Irving than he did.

* I did not for a second think that Tristan Thompson was as good of a defender as he is, especially when isolated against Curry.

* I assumed Harrison Barnes would play for the contract he wants, not the contract he has.

* I assumed Kerr, normally a very willing adjuster, would find a way to work around whatever wrinkles the Cleveland defense threw at his offensively historic team.

* I assumed Draymond would be too smart to get himself suspended during the Finals, and I didn't think the Warriors would be dumb enough to bait Lebron the way they did before the series was over. I think you're correct that that was an extremely dumb thing to do.

* I assumed Curry would be able to stay out of foul trouble.

* I assumed Curry would be more willing to attack the rim.

It's not an exact science.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 8:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My assessment of Irving's defense is based on the eye-test more than any one set of numbers. From what I saw, Irving was active and engaged, he did not miss many assignments and when he was switched onto bigger players he acquitted himself well. One would think that if Golden State forces a switch then whoever Irving was guarding could post him up but that did not work for Golden State on a consistent basis.

Meanwhile, Curry was consistently missing defensive assignments and he was either unable or unwilling to guard Irving as Irving put up Finals MVP caliber numbers. Since Curry could not guard Irving, that meant that Thompson had to do so and such cross-matches can create a host of other problems.

Considering that Irving's numbers bested Curry's across the board and considering the totality of those players' respective impacts on the series, it is clear that Irving outplayed Curry, even if Curry scored at a certain rate on particular possessions when Irving was deemed to be the primary defender (and I am not sure I understand who makes such designations and how such designations are determined before the statistics are generated, but I am pretty sure that such numbers do not necessarily reflect the reality of how the game is played even if they can be carried out to two numbers past the decimal point).

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 8:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Oh, I don't disagree that Curry played bad D. I disagree that Kyrie played good D. I would definitely take Kyrie's series over Curry's (though I would still take Curry in general).

At Tuesday, June 21, 2016 9:11:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

Lighter side... this is the first time you sounded mellow. Fatherhood probably took a lot of your rough edges off. Lol...
A decade back, you were arguing fiercely against biased reporting/analysis. Taking up law perfectly suits you as you always argued logically and within reason.
Salute again.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2016 1:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that it is not an exact science. I was wrong, too. I picked Golden State over Cleveland before the playoffs began and then when I made my Finals pick after the matchup was determined I chose incorrectly a second time.

My disagreement with you regarding OKC and Cleveland revolves around your insistence that OKC and Cleveland could not even compete with Golden State unless something very unlikely or improbable happened. You seem to believe even now that something improbable happened in both series, as opposed to acknowledging that OKC and Cleveland do in fact have the proper personnel to match up with the Warriors.

While I picked Golden State to win both series, I also outlined a blueprint for how those teams "could" beat the Warriors. OKC followed that blueprint and almost pulled off the upset. The Cavs spotted Golden State 2-0 and 3-1 leads before following the blueprint, after which the Warriors had no answers. Did the Green suspension have an impact? Sure, but collecting technical fouls and flagrant fouls is part of who he is; I am no more shocked by his suspension than I was shocked when Dennis Rodman got ejected and suspended at various times during the Bulls' second three-peat. Game Four was already decided when Green lost his mind. Why didn't he just get up and resume play? What purpose was served by swiping at James when Green knew that he was literally inches away from being suspended? That is a lack of focus and mental toughness on his part.

Green had the game of his life in game seven at home and the Warriors still lost, so obviously his presence or absence in one game did not swing the series.

As for Bogut, yes he starts but in reality he is the team's sixth or seventh or eighth best player. The Warriors missed him but this was supposed to be the deepest team in the league and, in the minds of some, the best team of all-time. I'm not buying the idea that if the sixth, seventh or eighth man is healthy then the outcome changes.

The Cavs used size and a smart game plan to wear the Warriors down. The biggest key was James' aggressiveness. The Cavs won every game in which he spent the majority of the time driving to score, not pass. Game seven was a toss up most of the way as James drifted in and out of attack mode but in the fourth quarter he attacked and even though he was not "efficient" he produced almost all of Cleveland's offense while also shining on defense.

I have always been a big believer in what James can do when his mind is right. I am probably one of the few people who picked Cleveland to beat Detroit in 2007. During his first stint in Cleveland I picked the Cavs to beat Orlando in 2009 and Boston in 2010; his failures in those series--despite posting gaudy numbers--made me realize that I had to factor his mental state into my predictions, a realization reinforced by the 2011 Finals.

I never doubted that Cleveland could beat Golden State but I wondered if James would attack to score on a consistent basis. Sometimes, it seems like James would rather pass and lose so that he can say he made "the right play" as opposed to taking the responsibility to score, with the attendant risk that he might lose anyway and then be blamed for shooting too much. Windhorst wrote a fascinating piece proposing the theory that James thinks too much and dwells on the past too much and there might be something to that; MJ and Kobe are every bit as smart as LeBron in my opinion but MJ and Kobe have the ability to block out the past and focus on the next play, while James ruminates about prior plays while the game is still being played. I don't usually agree with Windhorst but that particular theory makes some sense. Lue kept telling James to attack no matter what, a message that either Blatt did not deliver or that James did not accept from that particular source. James received a similar message in Miami from Wade.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2016 1:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I stick by most of the substantive points that I have made here over the years but you are right that my presentation of my arguments has "mellowed." Fatherhood, Law School and some other life experiences have definitely changed my perspective about myself and the world around me. I have learned that I have a lot to learn. Not that I didn't know that before but I have learned to be more open to other perspectives; even a wrong or losing argument may raise some valid points and, in court, a losing argument can win if it is not countered correctly. Two years of being trained about how to argue has, paradoxically, made me less argumentative while also making me more capable of winning an argument without letting my passion overwhelm the logical points that I am trying to make.

I appreciate the compliment about my logic. While I can get fired up and "fierce," I have always tried to make well-reasoned and logical points. I may be wrong at times--no one is right all of the time--but I try to explain the reasoning behind whatever position I take on a given subject.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2016 2:36:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


I do not disagree that Green is at fault or that he should have been suspended. I do doubt that Cleveland would have won Game 5 or the series had he not done it, and I would posit that if the series were played 100 times, he would probably only do something that got him suspended 15 or so time (which is still far more than anyone else except perhaps JR Smith).

This, however, I disagree with: "I'm not buying the idea that if the sixth, seventh or eighth man is healthy then the outcome changes. "

Bogut is the team's only true big man of anything approaching starter caliber (Green is a very capable 4/5 in the right lineups, but is not a "big" in the traditional sense). He serves as an important deterrent for them in the paint, and is their best rebounder and shot blocker. He is also a very smart if low scoring offensive player, and the team's best pick-setter.

Perhaps more importantly, his backups are all deeply flawed options. Ezeli is raw and offensively inept, Varejao is a corpse, and Speights has no defensive skill set whatsoever. Playing Green too many minutes at Center is rebounding suicide (and reduces the efficacy of the Death Lineup in an number of ways, not least by increasing Green's fatigue).

Speights/Varejao/Ezeli were a combined -15 in Game 7 across 26 minutes. They scored 1 point on 7 shots. The Warriors won by 11 in the 22 minutes they didn't play. Are you *really* confident Bogut wouldn't have mitigated a little bit of that?

Given the closeness of Game 7 as it was, I find it hard to believe that Playing 16-20 minutes of Bogut instead of 23 of his dangerously incompetent backups would not have meant a few extra rebounds, a few more contested looks at the rim, and a few better better picks set. I think that 16 minutes of Bogut over the flotsam and jetsam is worth easily 4 points in most games, and especially so in a game where the Warriors were getting butchered the way they were on the boards; his backups totaled 3 boards, Bogut was averaging about 5 or 6 in the playoffs (and is much better about boxing out, tipping balls, and otherwise making rebounds easier for teammates than any of them, as well).

Heck, consider that one block or rebound can be a four point swing by itself; he stops one extra shot that leads to a fast break layup, it's a whole different game.

His replacements also went 0-7. Bogut, for the series, was shooting about 47%. He is a better passer than those guys, and likely would not have taken 7 shots... but he almost certainly would have made one that they missed, as he's both a better finisher and makes smarter choices about shot selection.

I know you are justifiably suspicious of advanced stats, but for what it's worth almost all of them rank Bogut as much better than GSW's sixth-eight best player.
Win Shares: 3rd
Box +-: 3rd
Defensive BPM: 1st
VORP: 3rd
On/Offs: 4th

I'd say something here about how defensive players/rebounders are undervalued/unappreciated, their impact goes beyond their box stats, etc. etc. but you've heard all that from me before, so instead I'll remind you of your own favorite dictum: Size matters in the NBA. Bogut's the only particularly good Warrior with size.

TL;DR Andrew Bogut is GSW's best paint presence, and I think he's probably worth at least 4 points a game over his backups, and probably significantly more than that.

Moreover, I said all season that injuries can change things. CLE went 1-3 against healthy GSW, and 3-0 with guys out. I really don't think that Lebron just happened to turn into a more aggressive player those three games so much as that it was easier to attack without Green/Bogut around.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2016 4:14:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

As for OKC, I freely admitted I underestimated them. I also pointed out that they were playing much better D than they'd played all season in the playoffs (they were), that Curry was coming back from an injury and didn't seem himself (he was and he didn't), they were keeping it together in crunch time, and that their role players were playing well above their norms. All four were true, and when they ceased to be true, they got beat.

Now, let's look at "aggressive Lebron" and see how much of that is confirmation bias:

G1: 5-14 in close, 4-7 otherwise (2-4 3s)
G2: 6-11 in close, 1-6 otherwise (1-5 3s)
G3: 9-17 in close, 5- 9 otherwise (1-2 3s)
G4: 9-13 in close, 2-8 otherwise (1-5 3s)
G5: 8-12 in close, 8-18 otherwise (4-8 3s)
G6: 12-17 in close, 4-10 otherwise (3-6 3s)
G7: 7-13 in close, 2-11 otherwise (1-5)

Let's average some of those numbers out (rounding slightly for ease of reference):

Wins: 9-15 in close, 5-12 otherwise (2.5-5 3s)
Losses: 7-13 in close, 2-8 otherwise (1.3-5 3s)

Pretty close, with the biggest difference being taking 6 more shots (and making most of the extras), mostly from midrange.

Put another way:

GSW Healthy: 7-14 in close, 4-7.5 (1-4 3s)
GSW Injured: 9- 14 in close , 5-13 (3-6 3s)

So the big change there is making more shots at the rim (not surprising, less Bogut/Green) and shooting way more from midrange, and way better from 3. So far, it looks like you're right that he was more aggressive, but wrong that it's about attacking the paint/getting to the rim; it seems like a willingness to take (and the fortune to make) jumpers is the big difference. But of course driving/posting doesn't always end in a shot, so let's look at a few other factors:

G1: 16 drives, 3-6 FG, 2FTA, 4 assists, 1 TO
G2: 15 drives, 4-6FG, 4FTA, 0 assists, 4 TO
G3: 15 drives, 2-7FG, 4 FTA, 0 assists, 2 TO
G4: 21 drives, 5-8FG, 2 FTA, 0 assists, 4 TO
G5: 9 drives, 6-8FG, 2 FTA, 0 assists, 0 TO
G6: 10 drives, 5-9FG, 0 FTA, 0 assists, 0 TO
G7: 15 drives, 4-8FG, 4 FTA, 0 assists, 1 TO

Wins: 12 drives, 4-8FG, 2 FTA, 0 assists, 0.6 TO
Loss: 17 drives, 4-7FG, 3FTA, 1 assist, 3 TO

Healthy GSW: 16 drives, 3.5-9FG 3FTA, 1 assist, 3 TO
GSW Injured: 11 drives, 5-8 FG, 2 FTA, 0 assists, 0.3 TO

So... yeah. Driving actually wasn't helping Lebron, at least by the numbers. With Bogut/Green both in the paint, he was more turnover prone and less efficient (but oddly more aggressive). This backs up the "the jumpers were the real difference" implied in the above. But we still haven't looked at post ups, so let's do this one more time in the next post.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2016 4:17:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

G1: 3 post touches, 1-3FG, 0FTA, 0 assist, 0 TO
G2: 3 post touches 1-1FG, 0 FTA, 0 assist, 0 TO
G3: 4 post touches, 3-3FG, 0FTA, 0 assist, 0 TO
G4: 3 post touches, 0-1FG, 0FTA, 1 assist, 0 TO
G5: 1 post touches, 1-1FG, 0FTA, 0 assist, 0 TO
G6: 4 post touches, 2-2FG, 0FTA, 1 assist, 0 TO
G7: 2 post touches, 0FGA, 2FTA, 0 assists, 0 TO

Wins: 3 post touches, 6-6 total FG, 0.5 FTA
Loss: 3 post touches, 2-5 total FG, 0 FTA

Basically, the only difference is make-or-miss. Same number of touches, way different conversion rate.

Healthy GSW: 4 post touches, 5-8 total FG
Not Healthy: 2.5 post touches, 3-3 total FG

So, conclusions:

* Lebron didn't really care whether Green/Bogut were there in terms of post ups/drives, and actually went at GSW more when they were (though he was a little more efficient when they weren't).

* When he was more aggressive driving, Cleveland lost.

* When he made his jumpers, and to a lesser extend his pos-upt shots, they won.

* Mostly, though, the difference as far as Lebron goes was a willingness to shoot jumpers, and the ability to make them. He produced about 13.5 ppg per game in wins on drives/post-ups, and about 12.5 ppg on jumpers, and another 9 on fast breaks/second chance/misc FTs. In losses, 14 at the rim, 6 on jumpers, and 3 on misc FTs/second chance/fast breaks. That six point difference is mostly explained by 4 extra FTs (caused by jumper fouls/penalty situations), and I assume the other two are usually one extra fast break bucket in games where GSW is down a rebounder.

* Biggest difference for Lebron? Shot volume and efficiency. He shot way more in wins, and made way more of them (especially on the perimeter). So, ultimately, you were half right; it was about aggressiveness, just not the kind you meant.

...but it might be time to retire the "he wasn't aggressive enough attacking the paint the first few games" claim.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2016 6:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


How would you explain LeBron's ability to pad stats but on many instances his true impact doesn't reflect the stats he posted. I know LeBron fans would not agree on this but game 4 was a prime example of LeBron going "well if I pad my stats it doesn't matter if we lose cos I did my job", especially with those layups at the end of the game.

For the first three quarters of Game 7 I thought he reverted back to his Game 4 self. When GSW was leading by 7 at the start of the third it was Smith who opened up the momentum and Irving carried it through. LeBron was basically standing at the top of the key passing the ball and did not look to attack. I thought if they were to lose this game LeBron would hear it from the world,

It'll be interesting to see how effective he would be once his athleticism fades away and/or unlucky major injuries like an achilles rupture. He is still able to get away most of time with just using his size and strength and bully his way to the hoop especially in this series as I think the lack of interior size for GSW gave him the freedom to attack at a high rate. Iguodala did a fantastic job the whole series though. The Spurs were the team that exposed his weakness the most in 2007 and parts of 2013 and 2014. It's also amazing how he still doesn't have a consistent post up game and his footwork when he gets into the paint on a hop or trying to fake the shot and go up again his pivot foot always moves. But the refs hardly ever calls them. There were quite a few of them in the fourth quarter in Game 7.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2016 2:38:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks, great post David! Congratulations on becoming a father. As a father of two, I must say that nothing in life gives one more joy, even when the children become teenagers. I have always appreciated your intelligent arguments and hopefully after you become a lawyer you'll still find time to write about basketball.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2016 3:18:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

Do you believe Kyrie Irving can lead a team to a title as the best player? Or is just better suited to be the number 2 guy?

At Thursday, June 23, 2016 2:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Bogut's absence hurt GS--but only because James, Thompson and Love attacked the paint (and Irving as well). If James and the Cavs had not attacked, then GS could have gotten away with playing the small ball "Death Lineup."

James' high school coach Keith Dambrot said that James' mentality changed in the last three games of the series and that James attacked the paint much more aggressively. Dambrot said that James sometimes tries to involve his teammates to a fault and that this kind of unselfishness can actually backfire. In other words, Dambrot basically said exactly what I have been saying about James for the last 10 years or so.

The numbers that you cited are interesting but I don't think that they prove what you seem to think that they prove. For one thing, some of the numbers are skewed by the garbage time buckets that James scored in the paint when game four was over and the Warriors basically just let him drive.

Also, I am much less interested in how many shots James attempted in the paint than I am in the manner with which he attacked. Mark Jackson talked about this repeatedly, stating that James needed to drive with a score first mentality and only pass as a second option. Lue kept imploring James to be more aggressive.

So, regardless of what the numbers say or how you interpret them, James' mindset changed during the second portion of the series and that changed everything. When James drove to score, it affected Golden State's entire defense--and it opened up the jump shot for James, as JVG mentioned and as you alluded to in one of your comments.

I disagree with your conclusion that when James drove, the Cavaliers lost. That certainly is not what I observed during the series, nor is that what Mark Jackson, JVG, Doug Collins, Paul Pierce, Tim Legler or any other credible analyst observed.

I agree with you that it is important for James to take and make open jumpers. JVG said the same thing. The idea is that James has to drive to score to force opponents to concede the jump shot and after that happens James has to shoot that jump shot with confidence. James should not settle for jumpers when he can get to the lane but he must take and make jumpers after he has forced the defense to concede that shot to him.

I disagree with your "health" narrative. Bogut is obviously better than Varejao or Ezeli but Bogut is not stopping a determined James--and even a healthy Bogut would have only played 15-20 minutes at the most, so James would have had 25-30 minutes to go to work against the smaller lineups. Green and Iguodala are excellent defenders but they cannot actually stop James if James plays aggressively. The only player in the league right now who can stop James is James.

If I had believed that James would play aggressively for most of the series then I would have picked the Cavs with no hesitation but ever since 2009-11 I have always had that doubt in the back of my mind when James reaches the Conference Finals or Finals round.

All that being said, James did exactly what he needed to do and I give him all the credit in the world for it.

I probably should have said more in my article about how spectacular and important his block on Iguodala was, but then I might have gone off on a tangent about how Julius Erving--not James--pioneered what is now called the "chase down" block and Erving logged a lot more of them than James has :) Erving did some chase down blocks in the ABA that other players are still talking about 40 years later and he had a bunch of them in the NBA, too. I remember Erving running down Ricky Pierce in a playoff game when Erving was 37 years old and in his last season!

At Thursday, June 23, 2016 2:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't have an explanation for it but I agree with you that LeBron does post some empty numbers at times. Some have accused Wilt and even Oscar of the same thing. I always dismissed that notion about those guys but watching LeBron on a regular basis has convinced me to be even more skeptical of numbers--or any one set of data/information/opinion--than I would be anyway.

In the third quarter of game seven, I wondered if LeBron would fade and Draymond Green would win the MVP with a Walt Frazier/James Worthy kind of stat line. I will never criticize James for his field goal percentage in game seven, the same way that I did not criticize Kobe's FG% after his epic game seven performance versus Boston. Game sevens are brutal and it is about guts more than "efficiency." I think of the 76ers outlasting Boston in game seven in 1977 or the Bulls grabbing about a million offensive rebounds to beat Indiana in game seven in 1998 when Jordan and Pippen were not "efficient."

I predicted that Wade would struggle as he got older because he is relatively short and because as his athleticism fades he has to rely on his inconsistent jump shot. The advantage that James has over Wade is that he is much taller and stronger. James can be successful through his mid to late 30s if he hones his post up skills and he can be very successful if he develops his midrange jumper and his free throw shooting touch the way that Karl Malone did.

At Thursday, June 23, 2016 2:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The teenage years seem a long way off now, though I know that time flies for a parent.

I will definitely keep writing about basketball in the future. The two year JD program, followed by Bar Exam/job search and coupled with changes in my personal life have limited my writing time but I am too passionate about this sport to give up on offering my opinions/observations.

At Thursday, June 23, 2016 2:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Irving is definitely better suited to being the number 2 guy, which is my default take regarding just about any great player who is less than 6-4 or 6-5.

That said, not many players can average 27 ppg in the Finals while repeatedly starring in clutch moments. Of course, the big question is whether or not Irving could do that if he were the primary option that the other team had to worry about. Golden State had to deal with James first and worry about everyone else second.

I could see Irving being the best player on a Cleveland championship team 3 or 4 years from now with a slowed down LeBron James averaging 18-7-5. James would still be attracting attention but he would clearly be the second option and he no longer would be erupting for 40-plus points or high-scoring triple doubles (as opposed to the Jason Kidd 13-10-10 triple doubles, which James will probably be able to do when he is 35 or 40 if he avoids serious injury).

The one concern that I have about Irving is that he seems to be a little fragile physically (mentally he appears to be even tougher than James). As I have mentioned during the Finals, Irving just reminds me a lot of Andrew Toney. Toney was a beast, as anyone who remembers the early 80s will tell you, but he was never the same after being stricken with some foot injuries. When I watch Irving I always feel like he is one step away from being out for a month. I hope that I am wrong about that, because I enjoy watching him play.

At Thursday, June 23, 2016 7:46:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

About LeBron James, he has been pretty durable throughout his career. Injury free. If he avoids injury I believe he will be a first team all NBA in the next three to four years. He may not ever win league MVP again, but I think he will be a top candidate.

I do agree with you that Kyrie Irving is better suited to being a number 2 guy. But I don't really think it has anything to do with his size as you stated.Just for some reason I just don't believe he is capable of being the best player On a contender and being league MVP.

In 4-5 years James may be more of a second guy by then and obviously Kyrie will be the number one guy. But maybe Kyrie will be a better player by then or Maybe his weaknesses will be magnified. As of right now I guess you could say he's like Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. Can be that number one guy on your team, but not on a contender.

Here's something interesting. Obviously the Cave don't win a title had LeBron not returned. But how good do you think they'd be the last two years?
With Kyrie and Wiggins. But I believe people will talk a lot about how Thompson, Waiters and Bennett were not worthy of being picked that high in the draft.

At Thursday, June 23, 2016 12:28:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"I agree that Bogut's absence hurt GS--but only because James, Thompson and Love attacked the paint (and Irving as well). If James and the Cavs had not attacked, then GS could have gotten away with playing the small ball "Death Lineup.""

I agree 100% with this, and I think it's a big enough difference to swing a game (particularly game 7, which was so close). They can't attack the paint the same way when he's at the rim.

"For one thing, some of the numbers are skewed by the garbage time buckets that James scored in the paint when game four was over and the Warriors basically just let him drive"

Ok, let's allow that premise and remove G4 from the average.

Losses: 15.5 drives, 3.5/6 FG, 3FTA, 2.5 TO, 5.5 passes
Wins: 15 drives, 4-9 FG, 2 FTA, <1 TO, 5 passes

To your point, he did shoot three more times in those wins (though it only yielded half a made bucket more) and passed a slight bit less, but it seems the bigger difference is that he was less turnover prone; given that Bogut and Green are the best help defenders on GSW (and that a healthy Iggy is better at forcing them than a hobbled one), that might have an easily identifiable cause. I'd say there's a good to great chance that- as you alluded to in your Bogut comment- the presence of better paint defense forced him into more passes/TOs. I'm not sure that's an issue of his personal aggressiveness as much as it is the GSW defense.

"determined James--and even a healthy Bogut would have only played 15-20 minutes at the most, so James would have had 25-30 minutes to go to work against the smaller lineups. Green and Iguodala are excellent defenders but they cannot actually stop James if James plays aggressively."

You don't think Bogut's worth 5 net points or so over Ezeli/Varejao across 20 minutes? Two extra rebounds are worth almost that. Throw in one more made shot (near-certain), assist (likely), block (very likely), or even a few cancelled drives by Lebron/Irving when he's in the paint (near-certain), I think it's an easy call to make. I am less sure that he would have swung Game 6, but I would not rule it out, either, especially given some of the questionable rotational decisions Kerr was forced into by his absence.

At Thursday, June 23, 2016 12:28:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"I disagree with your conclusion that when James drove, the Cavaliers lost. That certainly is not what I observed during the series, nor is that what Mark Jackson, JVG, Doug Collins, Paul Pierce, Tim Legler or any other credible analyst observed."

That's fine, his number of drives are a matter of objective fact. We can quibble over the results- but it is patently and provably false to claim he drove more in wins.

"it opened up the jump shot for James, as JVG mentioned and as you alluded to in one of your comments."

Kinda? The Warriors were mostly daring him to shoot jumpers all series. The bigger difference as far as mentality goes is that he was more willing to do it later in the series; early on he'd pass up open jumpers to swing the ball to his less-talented teammates, which... didn't help.

Tl:DR- His alleged improved driving results, minimal though they are, are more a product of elite defenders Green/Bogut being replaced with Varejao/Speights (and Iggy being hurt), and the thing that actually won him the series was a willingness to shoot the jumpers GSW kept giving him. I remain pretty certain that had GSW had their starting lineup the entire series, they would have won either Game 5 or Game 7. I think it is unlikely that a CLE team that had so far gone 1-5 for the season against that lineup would suddenly reel off three straight, even given Curry's underperformance and Lebron's increased jumper accuracy.

Ultimately, I agree with you that Lebron was more aggressive later (though I disagree on where that aggression most paid off), but I disagree with the idea that, in order of importance, Bogut's absence, Iggy's injury, and/or Green's suspension did not affect the ultimate outcome of the series, or Lebron's numbers in those last three games.

At Tuesday, July 05, 2016 2:22:00 AM, Anonymous Bill Smith said...

OK, do we now all berate Kevin Durant for blatant ring chasing? :)

Huge move by KD and unexpected on my part at least. I thought he would be champing at the bit to clean up the Warriors after taking them to the brink this season. Paul Pierce's commentary was on point - "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em".

At Tuesday, July 05, 2016 12:26:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


My opinion? That's the new reality of the NBA, and pretty much has been since at least '08, if not '04. I don't think slamming guys for it makes much sense, since most of this generation of stars are willing to do it; even Wade is threatening to bolt Miami for CLE or SAS right now.

Particularly in the case of a team like OKC, which has often succeeded in spite of its front-office (the Kanter deal, not getting a better initial haul for Harden (though Adams has grown into something awesome), the whole Reggie Jackson situation, the mishandling of Durant's foot injury, etc., you can't blame the guy for wanting to spend his prime somewhere where he has a better chance to win. If he'd stayed, OKC was going to be perennially capped out if they kept Westbrook/Adams next year (and in that case, they'd pretty much have to), and they haven't demonstrated the ability to attract the kind of crucial role players that title teams need.

Now, you can quibble with him going to as dominant a team as GSW, I guess, but I think the whole point of free agency is given the players control of their own destiny, so it doesn't bother me. I'm also not convinced they're going to be quite as unstoppable as people think, though they're certainly a title favorite so long as they're healthy... but I don't think they'll be any more dominant than, say, Lebron's Heat or the Shaqobe Lakers.

At Tuesday, July 05, 2016 2:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's about slamming guys or not, but understanding their copouts. Mostly started with James, who if he played up to his potential and wasn't so passive in his first go-around with CLE, he should've won at least one title by 2010. The amount of help James or Curry or whoever needs now is ridiculous.

Durant has nobody to blame but himself for losing to GS. He's a good closer overall, but not really historically. OKC shouldn't have had so much trouble in crunch time last season or in final two games of WCF. He has to do better. I don't quite understand the OKC front-office stuff. I think they've done a great job overall. Their team was certainly good enough to win it all in a season with 73 and 67-win teams. That's pretty impressive. But, it ultimately comes down to the players.

I'll be interested to hear how invaluable Durant is though when GS fails to reach 73 wins. I can't see them replicating that again regardless of who joins them.

At Tuesday, July 05, 2016 3:56:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

My first impression: Durant gives them a tall, MVP player who is less prone to being worn down by defenders throughout the playoffs and games and can rebound. This should be a ridiculously talented offensive team, with multiple offensive weapons on the floor at any time.

On the negative, it's still a pretty small-sized team. I don't know very much about Zaza Pachulia but he seems relatively interchangeable with Andrew Bogut. Durant is tall but lanky and not a very physical player. This still seems like a team that could be defeated by pounding them in the paint. I'm curious to see how their defensive focus will hold with losing Barnes, Bogut, Ezeli.

At Tuesday, July 05, 2016 4:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I will be sitting for the Bar Exam three weeks from today, so as much as I would love to crank out a 3000 word article about Durant that will have to wait until after the Bar Exam.

I do encourage readers to continue to comment here about the free agency process and I will read every comment, though I may not respond until July 29 or thereabouts.

All that I can say right now is that, purely as a fan of the sport as opposed to looking at the interests of any particular team, I am disappointed that Durant left OKC. He obviously has the right to do so--and I will save the analysis of whether or not this was his best option for another day--but personally I feel disappointed. I am surprised but not shocked; I thought that he would stay but that if he left he would go to San Antonio or Golden State.

I find it easier to predict how a player will perform than how he thinks. I believed MJ when he said in 1993 that he would never come back and I was wrong--but when he shot 7-28 from the field in his first game many people thought that he was washed up but I (correctly) thought that if he has the stamina and footwork necessary to get off 28 shots then he can regain his shooting touch.

So, I definitely have some thoughts about the new Warriors (and the new Thunder and new Bulls and new Knicks) but I will save those thoughts until I have the time to express them in long form style.

Keep the comments coming and I will rejoin the conversation in about three weeks!

At Tuesday, July 05, 2016 4:32:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Was curious about your thoughts about the Knicks actually. :) Good luck with the Bar Exam, David! Best wishes and looking forward to any comments/write ups you might have when you return.

At Tuesday, July 05, 2016 9:30:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Good luck on the Bar Exam! I have several thoughts regarding the KD situation, as well as some of the others, but they can wait until you post the relevant blog.

At Tuesday, July 05, 2016 9:41:00 PM, Anonymous Bill Smith said...

Nick F:

I was being facetious with the Durant dig; I fully agree that Durant is entitled to do what he wants as a free agent. More power to him, just as LeBron before him in 2010. There is no real honour in "winning the right way" and when presented with an opportunity to play on what may be a team for the ages, Durant took it.


Agree with your comments regarding the Warriors and defense, they will still be susceptible to a loss against a physical team. On the flipside though, the defense's job just got a lot harder as they now have to cover the very versatile Durant as well as the Warriors' other weapons. That is a very, very tough workload for any defense.

Durant will also allow Curry to be the best version of himself. As we saw in the Finals, Curry struggled a little when faced with playoff intensity defense. He still hit his shots, but those nifty drives to the hoop were not dropping as consistently. With Durant drawing the defense I can only see that Curry's life on offense gets easier, particularly in the playoffs.


Agree with you on the signing from the fan's perspective. We had the makings of a very competitive GSW-OKC rivalry next season, but I think it's safe to say that is blown out of the water now. The Spurs appear to be on the decline, although they'll still be a great team with the Gasol addition. However, the gap between them and the Warriors appears to be wider now. At a macro level, I want to see more competition in the NBA, not less!

Good luck with Bar exam!

At Wednesday, July 06, 2016 2:26:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Isaiah Thomas mentioned this and I think he was right, one of my favourite eras of basketball was the 80s with super teams. It is going to be very interesting seeing how they put this particular team together and it will be a great challenge for up and coming teams and stars to cut their teeth on.

It is also a great opportunity for Lebron. This signing should motivate him. If he can win it all next year against a team like this he will be writing a new chapter to his legacy.

At Wednesday, July 06, 2016 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I think the most fascinating sub-plot here is actually Westbrook. First, does he get traded? If so, where? Apparently they're considering it if they can't get him to sign an extension for fear of losing him the same way.

Second, if he doesn't get traded, this will be a great test of how much his numbers actually mean. Based on what we saw in 2015, I wouldn't be surprised to see him average 30-9-9 then miss the playoffs. Adams, Roberson, and Odladipo are the only defensive players currently on the roster; it will be interesting to see if they add more or try to survive without. Will Kanter/Waiters (if he returns) play like they played in the the playoffs, or will they revert into the players they've traditionally been?

At Wednesday, July 06, 2016 1:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure if GS is actually better now. Durant will help Curry and vice versa, but at the same time they'll each take away from each other. Losing Bogut was huge during finals. As much as the death lineup of GS was supposed to be so great, in reality, it can only be great in very limited, isolated instances. GS lost in 1st round in 2014 without Bogut. GS better figure out their center position as they lost their top 2 centers.

I doubt Durant going to GS will affect James any. CLE could only face GS in the finals. Having that cakewalk to the finals is huge, whereas it will be hard for GS to make the finals still. CLE likely doesn't even make the finals if in the West.

If OKC can find suitable replacements for Durant and stay relatively healthy, they should still reach 50 wins.

At Wednesday, July 06, 2016 1:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next season is shaping up to be quite interesting.

Pachulia more or less gives the Warriors back the size they lost with Bogut, with at least the added bonus that it's much more dangerous for teams to try to hack-a-Pachulia (about a 75% shooter, compared to Bogut's 55%).

If you just look at a potential revamped death ball lineup, then you're basically just substituting Durant for Barnes.

That gives you extra length, a noticeable bump in foul shooting, a lot more offensive versatility, and a bit of a bump defensively (not sure the defensive skill set is all that different, but hey, height matters).

With the way the Warriors play I doubt this will be a big problem, but the only real downside to that swap on the death ball lineup would be if the chemistry isn't there.

I was originally worried that they'd be without a reasonable traditional center, but with Pachulia that's shored up pretty well (and hey, maybe Jones and Ndiaye get polished up to a reasonable level; at the very least, bring Ndiaye in for garbage time to guard Boban just for the spectacle of it all).

Of course, then there's the inevitable signing of Ray Allen... :)

At any rate, I can't wait till the dust settles with all the other moves so we can start sizing things up. The one thing I'm a bit saddened by is seeing Duncan's retirement looming more and more certain. The Spurs' grabbing Gasol sort of reinforces that.

This isn't really surprising, but part of me was holding out hope that Duncan would have one last great year and then retire. I suppose it could still happen, but it doesn't seem at all likely.

At Wednesday, July 06, 2016 10:34:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Various non-GSW interesting stuff:

* Wade/Rondo/Lopez to CHI, Rose/Dunleavy/Noah/Gasol to elsewhere. Chicago's going to be a tirefire this year unless there's another move coming, as Wade/Rondo don't play defense anymore and McDermott hasn't figured it out yet; Butler can't guard three guys at once. Not really sure what Chicago is going for here; seems like they should have either dumped Butler and started a full rebuild or tried to build around him to contend; Wade and Rondo both take the ball out of his hands and provide no spacing, so this isn't that.

* Miami's got an interesting year ahead of them. Dragic should look better without having to defer to Wade, but they lost Deng (who was huge for them) too, and really haven't added any of what they needed (shooting, depth at Center, shooting again, a little more defense). Knowing Riley, they may still have a big move coming, but as-is right now they have a PG and Center who are good, but need shooters around them with only one shooter around them (Richardson), a PF who may or may not play (and may or may not work alongside their maxed out Center), a bunch of interesting young guys... and that's it. If they don't have another move coming, look for them to win in the 43-46 range, but get whipped in the playoffs due to lack of depth/shooting.

* C'mon Sacramento. Just trade Boogie already. I wanna watch him without watching your crappy team.

* Boston's already the 2nd best team on the East, but they're also a sneaky potential Westbrook destination if OKC decides to move him. They have the cap to absorb his deal, buttloads of (good) 1st rounders, and interesting pieces to offer in return (Smart/Brown as good young players, Thomas as either an interim PG or a moveable asset that's probably still worth another first rounder if OKC goes full teardown (which they should)).

* Dunleavy is a sneaky great pickup for Cleveland. Really like him as the first swing off the bench for them.

* Utah's got top four potential in the West all of a sudden. Hill, Diaw, and Johnson are all great pickups for them; they're a true A-level creator away from being a legitimate contender (which makes them another interesting Westbrook possibility, though I don't know if they have the assets to get it done).

* SA: We'll see if this "Duncan's retiring" talk is anything but a filthy lie. I won't believe it till I see the stake through his heart and the garlic stuffed in his severed head.

At Sunday, July 10, 2016 9:20:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

What do people think of Simmons? Colour me impressed with his passing. I'm worried he will get found out in the nba though because he truly seems to be pass first, and is scared to shoot. As opposed to Lebron, who was really more of a scorer, this guy really reminds me of Magic.

At Sunday, July 10, 2016 11:25:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

Good luck on your endeavors. But please do not leave us loyal readers who appreciate your valuable input. Enjoy your journey...

At Monday, July 11, 2016 1:23:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Tim Duncan just retired.

No other player broke my heart as a fan more often than Duncan. I hated- and still hate- the Spurs, but I always respected Duncan. How could you not? He was one of the three or four greatest defensive players of all time, and a 20-10 guy on top of that, while also being probably the second or third best pick-setter the league's ever seen and a way above average passer.

Never cared about his own numbers. Never lost his cool. A robot sent from the future to hurt Suns fans and win titles.

I'm glad he's gone, but I'll also miss watching him play.

At Monday, July 11, 2016 3:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you.

I'll be back here in about three weeks with a post about the free agent signings and a post about Duncan's retirement.

This site is very important to me and I enjoy sharing my thoughts with my readers, so I cannot imagine a time when I would completely stop posting. My absence right now is temporary and in service of a larger goal.


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