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.
Wade In The Rafters. The Heat Rises To 3
How’s this for a Flashpoint in NBA history?
Tonight the Miami Heat gave us ‘The Flashback’. DeLorean riding back to the future of last season. Were Dwyane Wade rocking a red Heat hot bomber jacket that was all “Great Scott” Marty McFly had his number three jersey under all that retired, as the Heat rose his 3 to the rafters in a flash.
After ‘One Last Dance’ for Dwyane last season were he swapped jerseys like trading cards, Wade and his former coach and President Pat Riley watched his last jersey go up past the nosebleeds to the ceilings he smashed, arm in arm like a proud father watching a home video of his sons wedding on the highlights of the jumbotron.
The relationship is exactly like that. Built on a fatherly foundation.
Miami has had a matrimony with Wade from the Chicago towns own All Star start, championship run on his own and then post Bulls and King reunion return to redemption.
Some may say Shaq. 90’s purists Zo Mourning and Timmy Hardaway. Others the greatest of all-time LeBron James forming like voltron with another Heatle that’s about to have his jersey retired, Chris Bosh. But let’s face it when it comes to Miami Heat players and franchise faces, D-Wade is the G.O.A.T.
Legacy. Legacy. L3gacy.
This is the way of Wade. How its been and how it will always been up in the air of those American Airlines. A father first and always part of the Miami family when the South Beach welcomed him like Will Smith, this guy is for life like Bad Boys and the number 3 that Martin Lawrence’s Marcus has framed in his own living room rafter raise for the latest sequel.
What you gonna do?
This was a Florida city union like pink or turquoise neon, or the ’till death do us part loyalty of ‘Bad Boys II’ and ‘LA Finest’ spin-off star Gabrielle Union. The port of Miami Rick Ross rocked the mic and even King James sent a video tribute from his Californian Lakerland as fellow retired club legends Chris Bosh and Ray Allen were in awe attendance.
“Life is good” Wade said like Nas for this two hour special that seemed ready made for an ESPN documentary. 30 for 30 or 3 for 3.
3 in ’03 to infinity for his sweet 16. The sun will never go down on the legendary legacy of Miami’s adopted son.
And in a tragic start to 2020, like Chi guy Wade embracing an emotional Allen Iverson in a Kobe number 8 tribute throwback this moment was the answer to the pain from our prayers.
Now all that is left is one last step to the Hall.
Chicago, All-Star 2020 blows in the Windy City for Kobe
Like Eliot Ness, that’s what Common’s city of Chicago is when it comes to this court. All greatest of all-time thanks to the statue outside the United Center that they have to bring in from the cold when ice gets in it’s cracks like the veins of new Minnesota Timberwolves cold front player, D’Angelo Russell (he should be here. These lost Lakers are just glad Brandon Ingram is). Forming a duo with Karl-Anthony Towns as dynamic as that one of Star Marbury and the uncut gem of Chi-towns own Kevin Garnett heading for the Hall.
And just like the Big Ticket, the Rose that grew from concrete and the way of Wade who was moved to tears, the rapper slash actor, author and Microsoft poet Common (who fittingly won MVP of the Celebrity Game in his city. Even after Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith said “c’mon Common you can’t even dunk donuts in coffee” after giving Dwight Howard’s athletically graceful, camera flash freeze, cheese smile, spin dunk an 8 (Kobe?)) put on for his city like Barack Obama and of course the statue of the G.O.A.T. M.J. with a poetic rap that waxed lyrical on hoops history and it’s nuanced nostalgia.
Shouting out the real King MLK and Kobe before Magic made a moving speech, all players behind him dressed in warm-up white and Jennifer Huston brought the not a dry eye in the arena, house down with her tribute that beat the hardwood like the commercial Dr. Dre one for this California love in Chicago, like the National Anthem of treasure Chaka Khan in a 23 jersey.
Common also had rhymes for each player introduction for all those who would take to the floor dribbling across the Chicago skyline, as he rocked the mic like fellow Chicagoland legend Chance The Rapper halftime and injured All-Star Dame Lillard, who still got to play this weekend as Dame D.O.L.L.A. The first player to perform on this stage of Basketball’s Grammy’s, bringing out ‘Tha Carter’ himself Lil’ Wayne and a Mamba Forever leather that we all want to cop for this year’s Winter jacket.
From saying “Sixteen-time all-star, three-time NBA champion/ We continue to witness his reign / One of the greatest to play the game/ From the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James”, to “A four-time all-star / He handles the rock like Gibraltar / From the Boston Celtics / Give it up for Kemba Walker”.
But hey, I’ve got one for you all, “like the Beard and the Brow he runs the show/so where the f### is Alex Caruso”.
But to the beat of his own raps and his milk carton brother Kanye, even if every event was set off by the “GO” vocal of guitar hero John Mayer on his Common collaboration with ‘Jesus Is King’ walking God, Mr. West (from the bam, bam Bam Adebayo BAM Skills Challenge bucket win. To the Buddy Hield buzzer beating on the last ball of the last rack, Devin booking, beating and winning the Three-Point Shootout (still one of the best and most underrated events of the weekend)), this night of all the All-Stars was all about the one who should have been in the crowd cheering with his daughter courtside.
From Superman, Dwight Howard returning and bringing back the red cape out of the phone booth, with 24 on the chest, to Man Of Steel and former Lex Luthor like enemy Shaq filming on that old camcorder again. In one of the best but most controversial dunk contests that saw an all 50 and 7-foot-5 Tacko leaping Aaron Gordon robbed again like when he cleared the mascot (seriously I don’t mean to leap to conclusions, but these guys need to get over jumping over things…literally. Only Leonardo DiCaprio gets over this many people).
This time by the South Beach, bringing the Heat in the Windy City, tornado storm of Derrick Jones Jr. Air Gordon won’t be back (thanks for that judges. Dwayne Wade said in the Skills Challenge his mind can be changed…ain’t that the truth), but let’s hope the backboard ball touching, Woody Harrelson Venice Beach wear honoring Pat Connaughton will be. Because white men can jump too in an epic exciting weekend of Chicago, 2020 that in the Olympic year of Tokyo, 2020 showed all the world’s a Basketball stage like the Rising Stars game (Konichiwa Hachimura).
For the main event of the biggest weekend on the schedule itself Team LeBron all wore number 2 on their blue jerseys for GiGi and Team Giannis 24 forever for Kobe (a bald Khris Middleton even sometimes from the nose bleeds making it look like Mamba was there…which spiritually he was like his mentality), to another LeBron like Kobe dunk running the floor like Bean and the 24 second shot clock that decided the fourth quarter of an entertaining All-Star Game that was more than the legendary lay-up line and was actually a competitive affair.
That’s just what happens when you win the game on a free throw (157-155, King over Freak) as Laker and hometown Chicago hero Anthony Davis did the honors after filling the stat sheet with the game on the line. But, the All-Star MVP now beautifully renamed the Kobe Bryant award went to another Los Angeles King in Clipper Kawhi and his 30 points. Who dedicated his award to the late legend it’s named after, as fans had their fill of their favourite weekend of the mid-season they love like the hearts of a mid-Feb Valentine.
Just don’t ask him what he had for dinner.
For Team LeBron. For Kobe. For GiGi.