The rumbling noise of a rematch begun as soon as last year’s NBA Finals ended with the Golden State Warriors drinking champagne in the Quicken Loans Arena’s visitors dressing room.
While the whole world focused on down crediting the Warriors, the Cavaliers went to work with the mindset that they were two injuries away from being the defending champions.
LeBron James dominated the Finals in ways that fans had always hoped he would, but never got to see. His average stats line from last year’s finals is 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.5 blocks in 45.7 minutes. LeBron James was inhuman in that series. He was divine. And, comparisons to Greek gods were more warranting than ever, and more importantly, it was not about his physical attributes anymore, but about his game.
He, for once, had a dominant Finals series that led us to believe if these two teams were healthy Golden State would have no chance.
And, thus begun the new quest to end Cleveland’s title drought. While Golden State opened the season 24-0, 39-4 when Steve Kerr came back on the bench, and finished 73-9, Cleveland was dealing with internal turmoil that spilled out and headlined controversies after controversies.
The lack of respect James showed towards former coach David Blatt, firing Blatt midway through the season despite a 30-11 record and a first seed in the conference, Tyronn Lue’s “shut the f–k up” comments, the comments about maybe playing with ‘Melo and CP3 in the twilight of his career, Kyrie does not distribute the ball, Kevin Love not, really, fitting in, and the most egregious was him training with Wade in Miami. If you want, you can also add the move to unfollow his organization on Twitter.
All of this noise was silenced in the first two rounds of the playoffs mainly due to the weak competition the Cavs faced in Detroit and Atlanta. However, things got a little chaotic when the Raptors mauled Cleveland in games 3 and 4 of the conference finals.
But, in the end it was all covered up with wins. The Cavs downplayed all of those problems, they shuffled aside questions about their chemistry and cohesiveness, but because they were never tested their talents overcame the lack of adversity. But not anymore and this team looks like its quitting, unfairly, on its coach, its superstar, and itself.
So, here we are: Game 3. The single biggest game of LeBron James’ career. The game that will define his legacy. It is a bigger game than Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. The stakes are through the roof, and if James does not perform and Cleveland loses, they will get swept on Friday night. This is it. LeBron James said so himself.
The problems facing the Cavs are James’ uncharacteristic lack of leadership, and he has not been dominant, and Tyronn Lue’s coaching.
LeBron James’ leadership
This Cavaliers squad is in search of its leader who has dissipated. LeBron James is not playing with the same ardor, determination and grit on both ends of the floor.
A year ago, he was feisty and so were his team, but this year he is lazy and so is his team.
The Cavaliers are a reflection of LeBron James, and as long as he will be an anemic version of himself, the team will play that way and Golden State will win with ease. James has never been questioned for his lack of effort on both ends of the floor, and yet here we are questioning the core of his greatness in the looming hours of what is the defining stage of his legacy.
It is time for LeBron James to lead his team and as the old expression goes “put up or shut up”. A year ago, James “became the first player to lead both teams in points, rebounds and assists per game in an NBA Finals,” according to ESPN Stats and Information. This year his numbers are there (21, 9 assists, 10 rebounds), but they are not impactful.
He and his team looked like they have been mentally defeated by Golden State in Game 2. They looked ready to go on vacation, and leave Cleveland as soon as possible. We have seen a LeBron James team lose in the Finals before, but they never looked vanquished, and uninterested.
LeBron James needs to take command of this game, and this series. He needs to show his team the way. Get his teammates involved early, have their backs and go for the Warriors’ psychological throat. James has to want to rip the Warriors’ heart out of their chest.
Tyronn Lue’s coaching
The honeymoon with Tyronn Lue has got to end, and people have to hold him accountable for what he has not done in the first two games of the series: coaching.
Tyronn Lue has tried to combat fire with fire. When Golden State has sent its revolutionary small ball lineup, also known as, “the death lineup”, Cleveland responded with its own version (Irving at the 1, J.R. Smith at the 2, Shumpert at the 3, James at the 4, Love at the 5) and was outscored by 46 points. In contrast, the Cavs have been outscored by one point when playing with a big lineup against the death lineup.
According to John McTigue from ESPN Stats and Information, when both squads play with their small ball lineup the Warriors are shooting 66.2 per cent from the field to the Cavs’ 40. To make matters worse the lethal new weapon that carried the Cavs to the NBA Finals, the three point shot, is killing them now. Once again, when both team play small ball, the Warriors shoot 60 per cent from beyond the arc to the Cavs’ 25.
Tyronn Lue needs to watch last year’s finals, and the few good moments from this year’s edition and play big, slow and physical. If the Cavs don’t make these adjustments, they are done.
A year ago, Mozgov became a force to be reckoned with in the paint against the Warriors. He needs to be unleashed against Andrew Bogut, otherwise the Australian big-man will have his way. Even, if Mozgov is a viable option on offense, his impact on defense, his shot-blocking abilities and rebounding prowess can’t be overlooked.
Lue has to bench J.R. Smith. Period. Smith has been a pathetic, moribund shell of himself. Thus far in the series, before Game 3, Smith has played 69 minutes and attempted a disgraceful nine shots, connected on only three occasions as the starting shooting guard.
Bench him. He is wasting a viable roster spot on both ends of the floor.
Game 3 is the single biggest game of LeBron James’ career, and he will have to dominate from tip off to finish for his team to have a chance, otherwise you can kiss the ring good bye.
The Warriors Came Out To Play This Series
Even without the fantasy Basketball of Kevin Durant in this series, the Golden State Warriors still brought out the brooms like ‘Fantasia’.
And swept out of Game 4 like Thanos click finger dust, the Portland Trailblazers may have only lost by a bucket (119-117)…and in overtime at that. But with all the Splash they had to contend with this series from brothers Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, they were left dealing with more leaks and holes in all of their own ones like Mickey Mouse in said Disney epic.
This was meant to be the showdown between Dell Curry’s boys Steph and Seth which divided a household. And although the youngest gun stepped up to the plate, swung big in this carnival and knocked them down, big brother was always watching.
Steph Curry averaged over 36 points a game this series. Just read that again. 36 points. Right now we don’t need to talk about Kevin.
The Warriors are a dynasty for the ages even without their best player (although this writer thinks he wasn’t missing this entire series). The first team to make it to five straight finals since the Boston Celtics. The 1960’s Bill Russell Celtics. That’s King James crowning legendary. And Steph Curry with the shot and that facet of the game is just as iconic and dominant as a Bill block.
Give some credit to a blazing Portland side who never gave up despite the box score. They can hold their heads in the PDX. Even in their Moda Center home-stand City Of Roses end in RIP City. Their season eulogy should read as a celebration and commiseration, not a trolling condescension from critically entitled fans who have done nothing to determine the outcome of these games and could never make it this far in their wildest memes. They call themselves “influencers”? Well no one’s going to remember them in 50 years.
The NBA will remember one of their Top 100 greatest of all-time in a half century though. As after hitting the biggest buzzer beater in playoff history against Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, Damian Lillard played through the pain of separated ribs this series and still made the Basketball God’s look down from the hoop heavens with praise. Like New York singer St. Vincent tweeted, “Damian Lillard is my hero”. Even his backcourt brother of splash CJ McCollum in the only small man set up to rival Curry and Klay came out to play against the Warriors after midrange mining the Nuggets into submission in Denver just over a week ago.
But Curry’s red hot triple double, starter, mains and dessert dish of 37, 13 and 11, to go along with a playing not crying, Draymond Green’s day of 18, 14 and 11 assists also was just too much in the clutch. As Stephen and Dray became the first teammates in NBA history to have a triple double in the same playoff game. Forget how much this team can unbelievably keep winning, how does this ball manage to get shared this much?
Well that just may be the secret of success?
The real test is dubbed next however in the Warriors last season in Golden State before they move across that Golden bridge to the Silicon Valley of a digital age in San Francisco. They will play the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks (probably…Giannis…MVP. Sorry Toronto but come on!) and Raptors series. But by then they should have some guy called Kevin back.
I mean come on. This has been getting crazy. This is just out of hand like said ball in Splash City.
Now Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics’ record of eight straight finals and wins doesn’t look far out of reach for Steph Curry and the player and team with the biggest range in the association over the gate of the Pacific.
Welcome to the Toronto Raptors’ Jurassic Park
“In Jurassic Park, Raptor fans wait until after dark. Even if the cold might eat them!”
Fans find a way.
An ace serve or two away from being as legendary as Wimbledon’s ‘Murray Mound’ or ‘Henman Hill’ outside the Scotiabank Arena, the Toronto Raptors Maple Leaf Square’s “Jurassic Park” may just be the ticket for this sold out crowd.
Raptor Klaw, Kawhi Leonard ruled the earth last night. He and the T-Dot at the final tick beat the Sixers in The Six, as his shot bobbled like a beach ball on the surface of a swimming pool before making the biggest splash of these postseason playoffs. Taking longer to fall than Leonardo DiCaprio’s spinning top in ‘Inception’. But this was no dream.
And if you thought the Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto erupted last night, then outside in Maple Leaf Square it was like the volcanoes that killed the dinosaurs after that big ball dropped. An Armageddon even Bruce Willis couldn’t save like he wish he could his career.
Welcome to Jurassic World.
With all due respect to the Linsanity of Jeremy Lin, or pick your poison whoever is your flash card pick of the bench mob pack, but the Jurassic Park crowd fenced in outside of Scotia is the
Forget rain or shine. You see the slickers. These faithful fans will pitch a spot waiting for game time like the ball to drop in Times Square for New Year in New York, sleeping bag lining up all day in their hordes huddled for warmth. These beautiful fans will brave the harshest, most frigid temperatures to be the coldest fans in the game in more ways than one. Part of the ‘We The North’ community in the 6 that the Basketball God’s look down on with pride, whilst other armchair fans watch this game for the throne from home. Or leave early like those suit and tie corporate seats trying to catch that last red eye Matt Bonner home.
Can you imagine of they called game early before Kawhi last night?
I could imagine Drake taking in the CN Tower looking up views of the Jurassic
Well those in the park for recreation stayed until the beautiful end to a game Butler almost delivered bitter. And you could could phantom cam see every emotion in slow motion last night as Leonard’s buzzer beating ball toyed with the rim like three dots on messenger, or Damien Lillard even further downtown in Oklahoma City.
This is the spirit of the stadium and the soul of the squad, expanding the capacity arena and the Canadian ballclubs worldwide fanbase watching on their own Jumbotrons.
And the Toronto Raptors are going to need all the north they can get if they’re going to stop the Bucks in Milwaukee.
But this club has the claws to do it. And if you don’t think they can win in Wisconsin on their own road to being the first franchise outside of the United States to be NBA finalists and who knows what next against the Warriors(?), then just watch this Canadian cornerstone from the Jurassic era.
Extinct in six? Nah! Get ready to hear the North roar.