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The Bow, The Ow and The Wow: LeBron’s Finals Journey

The 2015 NBA Finals for LeBron James was a microcosm of a career and a tribute to a once in a lifetime athlete

– Kevin Donnan


Some of you are preparing to *click* out of this article, and I understand.

Because outside of Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez, there is no more polarizing athlete on the planet than LeBron James.

You don’t need to be a NBA expert to know of LeBron James‘ career. Generational talent right out of high school, playing in Cleveland, “The Decision,” the flops, the money, the MVPs, the politics, “The Heatles,” the titles, the commercials, and of course “The Return.”

Through it all, whether you’re the obsessed or the casual observer, you typically reside in one of two camps:

1. LeBron James is an overrated, cramping, preening, flopper. Or,

2. You’ve named your children in tribute to the names of James‘ fictional Nike family, The LeBrons.

Nike
Nike

(Which means that those children, if not blessed with intestinal fortitude, will most certainly learn to acquire some as you try walking around with the names: Wise, Business, Athlete and Kid.)

Of course, James recently completed his sixth NBA Finals in 12 seasons. No matter on which side of the fence you reside, and in spite of his record falling to an overall 2-4 in the title series, this edition of The Finals, which was his fifth in a row, truly cemented his legacy as the greatest player of his generation, perhaps all time, and one of the most divisive players who has ever set foot in the sports arena in the eyes of fans.


The Bow

After earning a split on the road in the first two games, clearly James was confident. As a road team, a split is the ultimate goal, and has set the stage for innumerable upsets and “can-you-believe-its.”

In Game 3, though, LeBron pulled out one of those rare moments in sports. Say what you want about The King, but very few have had the keen sense of the moment as he has over the course of his career, and Game 3 was another demonstration.

A minute or two before tip-off, James strode towards his place at the circle, stopped, and made eye contact with a legend. That glance has become a now legendary moment. James‘ simple bow of acknowledgment to Cleveland legend Jim Brown was one of the most beautiful gestures of respect, admiration and love that has ever been seen in sports, and one that will not fade from memory anytime soon.

Later, in an article on clevelandbrowns.com, Brown called the move “one of his greatest sports moments.” There is no way anyone can underscore the power of that statement when you take into account the legacy of Jim Brown, the athlete and the man.

The demonstration of respect to one of the most legendary athletes in the city and the country elevated James‘ status as a true sportsman, and a young man who is respectful and reverential of the past and those who helped blaze the trail without fear, and with nothing but courage and character.


The Ow

USATSI
USATSI

With Cleveland entering Game 4 owning the only lead they would ever have, the Cavs mirrored their unabashed leader’s awkward fall under the backboard in the 2nd quarter. Detractors called it an embellishment that, might even make, yes, LeBron James blush, but his tumble into the camera lens rattled the Cavs. Once James emerged from the floor, this tumble was no joke, he was cut, required stitches, and was down for a few minutes.

(The sad fact, is that LeBron‘s skull was not the only, ahem, body part that was shown to the world in Game 4, but I really want this to be about basketball.)

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It was the defensive plan of the Warriors where the pain really emerged for the Cavaliers. In his first start of the series, the Warriors started defending James with eventual series MVP Andre Iguodala. James shot a miserable 7-for-22, and had his lowest point total of the series with 20. Two games later, Iguodala was named MVP specifically for his defensive play against James.

The 103-81 blowout elevated the Warriors back into the confident and mentally unflappable crew that had dominated the league all season. With home court re-established, and Steph Curry finding his touch again, the clock was striking midnight on the supporting cast. A bench that likely didn’t realize just how they had caught lightning in a bottle began falling to earth in spite of the heroics of James.


The Wow

For nearly all teams, losing two all-stars (Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving) in one season, let alone in one playoff tournament, typically spells complete and utter doom. But the sheer will of James, in spite of those losses, is what truly brought it all home.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports/REUTERS
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports/REUTERS

LeBron was the first player in Finals history to lead both teams in points-rebounds-assists (38-PPG, 13-RPG, 8APG), and captured that amazing designation by literally playing all five positions at any given time. When he wasn’t posting up, he was bringing the ball up the floor as the point guard.

He also was responsible for more than 38 percent of his team’s points. Only Michael Jordan ever posted a higher share, and the difference is within one-tenth of a point.

After Game 5, he said that any team he played on could never be considered a true underdog, and that he was the best player in the world. While these remarks only stoked the fires of his critics further, it’s hard to argue with the inherent facts.

LeBron James is many, many, many things to many different people, and in so many ways this series represented the odyssey that began when he left St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Brilliance, drama, passion, and of course, a little showmanship for good measure.

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny his ability and his desire to win, with all of the flops, cramps, televised “Decisions,” and everything else that goes with LeBron being LeBron.

I don’t understand why this superstar isn’t more embraced. From one end of the spectrum to the other, you simply can’t ignore or take your eyes away anytime he’s on the court.


Kevin Donnan is a regular contributor to The Scoop and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.

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Could the Finals MVP be a Loser?

There’s a saying that the hardest truths to see in life are the ones that are staring you straight in the face, right in front of you. Don’t quote me on that.

With regards to who should be this year’s NBA Finals MVP, the answer is so glaringly obvious that I’m surprised anyone would actually try and say otherwise. What’s the counter-argument?

“Oh, well, a member of the losing team hasn’t been Finals MVP since 1923.” Or whenever.

NBA.com
NBA.com
It’s 1969, actually, and the man to do it was Jerry West. His Lakers lost the series in seven games, but he led all players in the series in minutes, field goals, free throws, defensive rebounds, assists and points.

That’s pretty much exactly what LeBron James is doing. I don’t see how even the most irrational of LeBron haters can go to bed at night after watching him in this series without having gained a little more respect for him.

We shouldn’t forget that Golden State was ranked No. 1 in overall in defensive efficiency throughout the regular season. When the Finals started a week ago, I was a bit stunned to see LeBron begin to pick them apart like he did, and then to see him do it again and again.

USATSI
USATSI
Golden State hasn’t been in a position this year where the same team gets to game plan for you a maximum of seven separate times. We shouldn’t be surprised that this is happening, especially with a player like LeBron who is so hell-bent on delivering a title to Cleveland AND having to do it with a supporting cast from the local YMCA.

It reminds me of what Russell Westbrook did earlier in the year during his ridiculous run of triple-doubles. He had no other choice but to carry his team and the numbers reflected what needed to be done.

If we’re going to hold the term “Finals MVP” to what it really means, then yes, absolutely LeBron is the Finals MVP. Cleveland would be losing every game by 25 points without him. With him, they STILL have a chance to win the series against a far superior opponent, albeit one without any prior Finals experience.

AP Photo/Ben Margot
AP Photo/Ben Margot
Stephen Curry or Andre Iguodala would be the only other viable candidates at this point, and I received a hearty dose of skeptical laughter after I suggested the latter at a Game 5 watch party, but really, Iguodala has been LeBron‘s kryptonite for the last three games.

He nearly had a triple-double in Game 5, and Steve Kerr even calls him his “security blanket.” His veteran moxie and experience have been essential to Golden State not collectively crapping themselves on the biggest stage in the league with the world’s best player on the other end doing his absolute utmost to will the Cavs to a title.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Curry showed in Game 5 why, if LeBron doesn’t win the award, he is the most deserving of the award. His ball-handling, composure and shot-making ability combined to liven the Warriors’ collective spirits and give them the final boost of energy needed to put away a Cleveland team which refuses to die, even they were running on fumes just days ago.

For those who cast the ballots at the end of this series, which I think will be Tuesday, they shouldn’t let 46 years of history sway them from picking LeBron. If we’re taking the award for what it is, then LeBron is the clear-cut choice, no questions asked.

It would be an injustice to pick anyone else.


Zack Cunningham is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @Zackerson.

 

Leaving a Legacy: Why the 2015 Finals are a Defining Moment

SportsUnbiased.com
SportsUnbiased.com

The annual skirmish for the Larry O’Brien Trophy is here. Mister O’Brien was not only the NBA Commissioner for roughly a decade, but also a former Postmaster General, just ahead of future President, Lyndon Johnson, in the 1960s. For those of you keeping track, the trophy was first given this name for the 1984 NBA Finals: a classic duel between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. That series further solidified the reign of one team over another for yet another season, as the fans poured out onto a familiar hardwood court, filled with a rather familiar cloud of cigar smoke.

Believe it or not, a mere eight franchises out of a possible 30 have taken home this trophy during these 30 some-odd years. For the first time since 2006, we will see a brand new team added to that illustrious list, regardless of who happens to win. As for myself, at the end of it all, I really just want the same thing that most professional basketball fans want: a competitive, 7-game series, complete with controversial whistle-blowing and as many down-to-the-wire finishes as humanly possible.

By the way, the number of Game 7s for the NBA Finals SINCE that magical 1984 season is staggeringly low. There have been six occurrences: three on the back end of the 20th century, and three more, here, in THIS century. That’s an average of about once every five seasons. However, there is a good chance that we will see a six-game series, as this is a much more common result. Some would say that the NBA has little to no parity when it comes to competition. I would hesitate to disagree with that claim, except when it comes to the NBA Finals. You see, in order for there to be a Game 6, both teams have to have lost at least twice. Does anyone complain when a baseball game is tied in the 8th inning, but is decided before the bottom half of the 9th has begun? Do football fans want EVERY single game to go into overtime? The point is, Game 7s should NOT be an every-year trend in the NBA. If it happens too little, there might be no one interested enough to see it happen, but if it happens too often, the effects of diminishing returns might make the exciting moments a lot less exciting.

USATSI
USATSI

The focus of the 2015 NBA Finals, no doubt, is on the current MVP Stephen Curry and the game’s current, most dominant player, LeBron James. Is anyone else reminded of when Magic Johnson led the Lakers to the Finals in 1988? He was from Michigan, returning to Michigan, to try and defeat the Detroit Pistons. Stephen Curry, from Ohio, will return to Ohio to attempt to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Let us not forget about LeBron‘s deep roots from the area, too. How quickly things have shifted just in the past five years: the betrayal of his hometown team, the “underachieving” four consecutive Finals appearances in South Florida, the current chance at redemption for a city that hasn’t won a championship in ANY of the four major sports since the pre-Super Bowl era of the NFL. Does anyone else remember the last time a player participated in five straight NBA Finals?

NESN
NESN

Well, the two previous players to do so, overlapped each other to appear in 10 straight NBA Finals, during arguably the best era of the league. Yes, this would be Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Obviously, it is a very narrow list for LeBron James to be a part of, AND Michael Jordan is not ON the list with him, THIS time.

If there is any discussion about which city/area is hungrier for this championship, let me try and set the record straight: it is not even close! The Bay Area might have been a hungry sports town before the 1970s arrived, but since then, they have won eight Super Bowls, seven World Series Titles, and one NBA Championship. Yes, that is correct. The Golden State Warriors have won an NBA Championship.

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

It was in the year of 1975, led by Hall of Fame great Rick Barry. They were, in fact, a long shot to win it that year, but they overcame the odds, particularly in the post-season. For a more modern comparison, try and remember the story of the 1994-’95 Houston Rockets. It is eerily similar. As for this season, on paper, the Warriors have to be the favorites, but there is something strange going on over there in Cleveland. No matter how bleak things have looked for the Cavs, LeBron and company have managed to will their way all the way back to the Finals.

The Michael Jordan/LeBron James comparisons do not always add up: Jordan was a skinny Shooting Guard, while LeBron is a massive Guard-Forward hybrid. One guy played out three full seasons in college, while the other jumped into the league right out of high school. The dissimilarities, for me, are in much greater numbers than the actual similarities. However, if there is one similarity, it is definitely on the line right now. It is the legacy of domination. No, LeBron cannot be 6-0 in the Finals, but he CAN be 3-3. Jordan was the most dominant player for his time, AND he backed it up with both personal and team accolades.

NBA
NBA

When watching LeBron James in this series, think back to Michael Jordan in 1993, versus the Phoenix Suns, and 1998, versus the Utah Jazz. Those were the only two occasions in which Jordan‘s Bulls were the visiting team going in. Furthermore, 1993 was one of only two occurrences in which Jordan was facing the current MVP on the other side of the court. The other occurrence was in 1997, against the same team as in 1998. What did Jordan do in 1993? What did he do in 1997 and 1998? The answer is the exact same for ALL three of those sample questions, and THIS is why Lebron‘s legacy matters in 2015!

As for Stephen Curry, well, he need only think about what happened to those virtually unblemished MVPs inside of those aforementioned examples: Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.

Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated

The only thing either of them failed to accomplish was winning a championship, and they both failed versus the same dominant player. Curry is still young, but allow me to ask this quick question about the NFL great, Dan Marino: how many times did he go back to the Super Bowl after he reached that stage in only his second season as a pro?


Alex Moore is a Contributor at The Scoop.

 

2015 Stanley Cup Finals Preview

2015 Stanley Cup Final Logo

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Chicago Blackhawks

Game 1: @Tampa Bay June 3
Game 2: @Tampa Bay June 6
Game 3: @Chicago June 8
Game 4: @Chicago June 10
Game 5: @Tampa Bay June 13*
Game 6: @Chicago June 15*
Game 7: @Tampa Bay June 17*
*if necessary


Tampa Bay Forwards

CTV News
CTV News
The Lightning has what are perhaps the top two lines in the league. Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, and Alex Killorn are their first line. Midway through the conference finals series against New York, Stamkos finally found his playoff goal-scoring touch, and that line is dangerous every shift. The “Triplets” line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat are a nightmare for the opposing coach to match up his defensive unit. Johnson leads the league in playoff scoring with 12 goals, 9 assists and a +6 rating. The Lightning also have former Dallas Stars captain Brendan Morrow. Although he may be a role player, only getting 6-8 minutes a game, he can play his physical brand of hockey without taking the amount of punishment he took when he was in Dallas. Morrow is their veteran locker room presence and the oldest player on the roster by 5 years.

Chicago Forwards

AP Photo
AP Photo
As good as the top two lines for Tampa Bay are, Chicago can answer by having the ability to roll all 4 of their lines without hesitation. They are led by Jonathan Toews and a healthy Patrick Kane. During their playoff run of 17 games, Toews has 9 goals, and 9 assists for 18 points, and is a +5 in playoff games, while Kane has mixed in 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points, and a +6 rating. Chicago also has the only Conn Smythe winner in Tampa Bay history, Brad Richards, who should make his presence known to his former club. Brandon Saad has had an amazing playoff run, and is sometimes on a line with Kane and Toews. Some may say Patrick Sharp is “buried” on the third line, but it may be done on purpose. Sharp being on the third line presents a difficult defensive assignment for Tampa Bay to match up; it could be a huge mismatch that could prove to be pivotal in the series

Advantage: Chicago

As great as the top two lines are for Tampa Bay, the Blackhawk group has two lines to match them, and then two more to throw at the Lightning. The ability to run 4 lines throughout an entire game can wear on a defense. Maybe not the first or second game, but the end of the series could have the Tampa Bay will to win tested.


Tampa Bay Defense

CBS Sports
CBS Sports
The last series against New York gave me the confidence to say that the pairing of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are one of, if not the best set of blueliners in the league. They can shut down the opposing top line and then dare the other three lines to beat them. If Tampa Bay has a fault, it is waiting to see if the bottom end of the defense can match the play of Stralman and Hedman. If not, they may be a liability.

Chicago Defense

Denver Post
Denver Post
If Hedman and Stralman aren’t the top defensive pair in the league, then Chicago has them with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Keith is second in the playoffs in minutes played per game, with 31:35. Niklas Hjarlmarsson is on the second unit, and has the ability to be a top defenseman in the league for years to come. The third pair of David Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey could be where Tampa Bay tries to strike. If they can play well as a pair, goals will be hard to come by for the Lightning.

Advantage: Chicago

This is due to the experience of wins and knowing what it takes to make the final push to be the first team to 16 wins in the playoffs.


Tampa Bay Netminder

IB Times
IB Times
Ben Bishop is coming up large when Tampa Bay needs him. Bishop may have had a bad game 6 against New York, giving up 7 goals that night, but he was perfect in game 7, where he was a 2-0 winner. Bishop has posted a 12-8 record with a 2.15 goals against and a save percentage of .920. He is the first goalie in history to send his team to the Stanley Cup Final with a road shutout in game 7 and the first to have two shutouts in his first two game 7s of his career. But as the game 6 outing against the Rangers showed, he can be prone to giving up goals in bunches.

Chicago Netminder

FOX Sports
FOX Sports
Corey Crawford…the first thing I think of is experience. He had a shaky start to the playoffs, but once he finished off Nashville in round one, he has been solid. Crawford has put up a 9-5 record during the playoffs with a 2.56 GAA and a save percentage of .919. Crawford beat a great young goalie in the Western Conference Finals and should use that to fuel his play in the final round.

Advantage Chicago


Series Prediction

Chicago_Blackhawks_LogoEven though I may see Chicago as having an advantage in the three areas of focus, it is by the slimmest of margins. This series should give us what all hockey fans want at this time of year: a seven game series with a few overtime games sprinkled in. In the end, I feel Chicago wins this in 7 games.


Matt Molina is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.