Flash forward – is it 5 years ago?

LeBron James is in an interesting and enjoyable phase of his career: the “I will do whatever it takes to win even when I literally have to drag my team to wins” era.  Five years ago the Heat asked him to do the same thing at the start of his astounding prime, and now, despite all the extra mileage on his legs, the Cavs are asking him to do the same.  Basketball wise it makes sense to ride the greatest player of his generation (and probably #3 or 4 all time) but he is no longer a young 26 year old.  However, due to the massive amount of injuries and the loss of Kevin Love, LeBron is going into the Jordan ’96 portion of his game.  Even when he shoots badly or is a subpar defender he has to do just enough to get the Cavs the win and not surprisingly, he is managing to gut it out game after game.  Sometimes the things he does are spectacular and we as fans suddenly remember, and are stunned, that Bron is in fact only 30.  His block on Derrick Rose with the Cavs leading by two was a huge play by a big time player and completely swung the momentum of the series.  LeBron and his staggering iq of the game have turned him into what we have always envisioned he would become: a force of nature in the low post, a physical freak on defence and a player who is literally unstoppable in transition.  He is a devastating player and crunch time killer who thrives on pressure and as he put it recently, “just put the ball in my hands and I will win it”.

What must it be like to be fans of an opposing team and have to see LeBron on the court.  Psychologically it must be shattering, knowing he can take over and will his team to victory.  He no longer cares about home court or who he has to play because he truly knows what it takes to win.  It drives him now, it consumes him.  Like Jordan or Bird or Magic or Duncan it is what matters most to him.  We should enjoy this LeBron because like all those who came before him, he won’t be around forever.

Heat Repeat!

From the beginning of the season, when the new look Lakers came together and through OKC’s ups and downs and the Spurs rise, I had one point: The Heat Will Repeat.

They did. 

LeBron games had a legacy game and when it mattered most he came up with one of the best games of his career.  In fact, with his back against the wall twice he came through and managed to win two incredibly tight games.  The Heat will go down as one of the best teams of all time and rightly so.  They have the best player in the world (and one of the top six ever) and they are back to back champs – the first since the Lakers. 

Huge contributions from role players again and one of the most clutch performances ever by James.  Welcome LeBron, to the Pantheon.

 

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – May 12, 2011

Nearly 24 hours have passed since one of the best basketball games I have ever witnessed, and I am still not sure if I can coherently put into words what transpired for me during Game 5 of the Miami – Boston series.  While the game was not outrageously good or historic in any way: it was the most tense I have ever been watching a basketball game

At one point, in the third quarter, with the Heat down six and looking finished I was unsure if I could finish out the game.  It would be too painful to watch, I figured.  Boston will extend the lead, James and Wade will leave their hearts on the floor but they will fall short.  Game 6 would be a forgone conclusion and there is no way a Game 7 would be a good situation for the team. 

Then, incredibly, Lebron and Wade seemed to realize that they are two of the top five guys in the game and assaulted the Celtics so brutally some crimes were definitely committed.  Some thoughts on each of the big three (aided by the highlights…):

Chris Bosh – You can call them “two and a half men” all you want, but Bosh may have ended KG’s career by faking the exhausted Hall-of-Famer out of his nikes before unleashing a dunk that nearly tore the roof off Miami’s arena.  All series long, Bosh has pulled up for jumpers when KG is in his face.  Sometimes he would knock them down, but more often then not, KG would change the shot.  Last night, with the tie on the line, Bosh went for it and slammed the ball with such ferocity that I was able to forget the fact he had been completely outmanned to that point.  Not the best of efforts from Bosh in this series but an important question must be asked: Just how much do you need from Bosh when Wade and James are unstoppable?

Dwyane Wade – Firstly, the fact that Kobe supplanted Wade on the All-NBA First Team is an absolute travesty.  Switch the two of them (as Bill Simmons has suggested) and the Heat would not win 50 games; the Lakers would be a much better team and we would not be envisioning a Heat – Mavs Finals right now. 

Secondly, about last night, Wade played like a man possessed.  As he has done for the entire series, Wade was willing to do whatever it took to win.  He stole the ball; chased every rebound; dunked with impunity and truly played alongside Lebron.   This was not the typical scenario of one of them standing in the corner waiting for some piece of one-on-one brilliance.  Rather, they played off each other brilliantly.  In one stretch, Wade got angry at KG and played some of the best basketball I have ever seen.  It was Jordanesque.   Wade ran down the court, dunked and then knocked away KG’s pass with perfect timing.  He was unstoppable all the way into the final frame.  All the credit may go to LeBron for his final shots, but the lion’s share belongs to Wade.  He rose far above the challenge this time.  The Heat were not going to lose as long as he was on the court. 

Apparently you can beat a contender that traded its best post player; was playing with a one-armed point guard; had more injuries than Canucks defensemen Sami Salo (once ruptured his testicle…); was banking on Shaq playing significant minutes and was led by Jermaine O’Neal.  Let’s face it: you are not beating two of the top five guys with that lineup. 

Although, at times they made a nice run at it.  Ray Allen could not miss in the first three-quarters.  Paul Pierce played hard despite foul trouble (and was torched repeatedly by LBJ).  The venerable KG did his best but at the end they were holding together scraps.  This team was a shadow of itself.  In what playoff scenario did the Lakers / Celtics go a combined 1-8 in round 2?

Lebron James – James saved the best for last.  He shook off a terrible shooting performance in the first half to effectively kill the Celtics Big Three in the second half with some of the most clutch play he has demonstrated.  His three pointer with less than two minutes left sparked one of the best basketball sequences of his entire career.  That three, on the heels of a big stop and Bosh’s career defining slam, killed the Celtics completely (I had wanted to send my buddy, ADub a message saying “I think that just killed the Celtics” but was petrified Ray Allen would come right back and hit some crazy 30 footer with three guys in his face).

At that point in the game, the Celtics were dead on their feet – O’Neal, O’Neal and Rondo were all struggling to even get upright – and truly it may have been Bosh’s thunderous dunk that finished them off, but Lebron’s three was the headshot.  He had Boston in his sights JFK style and this was the kill shot.  This was the moment he came to South Beach for; the moment he dreamed about.

At first, I had a huge feeling of dread and yelled “Nooooooo!” because LBJ loves that shot and hits about 30% of them.  If he missed it would have led to some sort of long / bad rebound to Boston + a soul killing Ray Allen 3 that would have led immediately to Game 7.  But…

Lebron grasped the moment and did not let it go. 

The ball made a faint whisper as it scorched through the net.  After that?  We were watching someone play NBA Jam and Lebron was on fire.  Incredible can barely describe how he played for the next minute.  Another three, over Paul Pierce, then a steal and series clinching jam in quick succession.  LBJ scored 10 points in the last two minutes and turned a close game into a blowout. 

The Old to Young turnover continued: first the Spurs, then the fall of the Mamba (greatest quote ever: Kobe telling writers he is going to remember all the “********” who said he was done.  Quick note to Kobe – without Dwight Howard, it ain’t happening), followed by the loss of the Celtics.  My brother – a Celtics fan – had a great reaction.  He sent me the following messages as the game was going on:

“I can’t even watch Lebron strut around, you didn’t earn ****”

“This conversation is over.”

“Only a Grizzlies win could temporarily cleanse the burning hatred of rage I have for Miami”.

Needless to say, Just Ross did not have a good conclusion to the evening.   

Either the Hawks or the Bulls await the Heat in the Eastern Finals (I am cheering like crazy for the Hawks!!!  Have never cheered for an opponent this hard before, ever).  The toughest test may be next, but LBJ and Wade will be right there to put the team on their backs, and given the rest of the team (imagine how many points the Heat would score if ANYONE else on their team played respectably?  James Jones / Mike Bibby / Mike Miller all gagged on totally open looks.  LBJ would average 10 assists easily.  I cringed every time Wade or Lebron gave up any type of shot to create something for someone else…even wide open.  I would have murdered James Jones if he missed that open three with no one around him for 20 feet).   

The Heat…is rising! 

(Editors Note: Please strike that last, horrific pun from the record, in a season of terrible puns, that was without question the worst yet)