NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 6: The LeBron referendum

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James_solo.jpgUsually when a sportswriter makes the statement “Game X is the most important game of Player X’s career” it belies a rather pathetic lack of imagination and a pandering to traditional cliched writing. Every playoff game is the most important one, because every one could end up defining his career. What do people remember more, Hakeem Olajuwon’s performances in the Finals, or his domination of David Robinson? That’s what can happen. You have to approach every game like that, because these things aren’t scripted.

So please understand the gravity of the situation when I say that Game 6 in Boston of the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals is the most important game of LeBron James’ career.

The once-and-future-King may never reach his throne if he were to fail tonight to carry his top-seeded Cavaliers to a win. James, as you may have heard in about a billion ways and we told you the other night, had a performance that puts a blemish on his ridiculously brilliant career, one which threatens to submarine his entire legacy if Boston closes out at home as any Finals contender would do.

James’ performance has been shredded from coast to coast. We’re not talking “oh, hey, bad time to have a bad game” territory. We’re talking “maybe this guy just doesn’t have the will of a champion, because he had zero effort” land. It has brought about what may be the most staggering repudiation of a player’s status as the pre-eminent Greatest Player of Our Time. James faces a mark against his permanent record that would be akin in the job marketplace to “once set fire to his boss’ office while engaging in inappropriate behavior with the cleaning lady on the boss’ desk.” That’s what “doesn’t have the will to be great” means in the NBA for a player of his status.

One thing that’s been occurring to me over the past two days, along with how ridiculous it is that people are questioning whether he is the best player in the NBA* , is that James has never needed the drive to succeed. He just has. Since he was probably 13, he’s been a phenom. A legend. He was the best player on the court, until he arrived in the NBA, and then he was probably second or third at worst, and then only for a few seasons. He made the Finals at age 22. He was the MVP at 24. He’s averaged 49.9 wins per season since entering the league. He has had the full weight of Nike behind him since the beginning. He has been the crown jewel of the league arguably for the last four seasons. He’s never been faced with a situation where he was legitimately challenged to the degree he is now, never faced with so much pressure to be the difference between a win and a loss.

This isn’t to say that this should be all on him. Every great player has had great players step up to provide support when the shots aren’t falling. And the Cavs have never, not with all their trades, not with all their time to do do, have never brought in a true number two option for James. They thought it would be Antawn Jamison, but Jamison has ran into a matchup nightmare in the Celtics. It’s just not every game you have to check Kevin Garnett who suddenly feels 30 again. Shaquille O’Neal brought 21 points on 11 shots in Game 5, but it was largely irrelevant. And Mo Williams? Do we really even need to bring him up?

So tonight James is on his own. 1 on 5. And if he wants to live up to the expectations that have been built for him, or that he has built for himself (depending on who you talk to), he’s going to have to put it all on his shoulders.

Or elbow, as it were.

And by playing, by not sitting out, by not opting for surgery, if indeed he needs it as the rumors continue to suggest, he has opened himself for this. The elbow will not be accepted as an excuse. It will not be considered brave that he tried to play through a severe injury. It will be only that he shrunk in the biggest moments. His Game 5 in 2007 will be a footnote. His Finals appearance will be overshadowed by the valley of nothingness his past two years. And with the very real possibility of him relocating to another franchise in the next two months, this may be his last shot at a championship for a few seasons.

This is how quickly things can change. This is how fast you can go from the best player, on the best team, headed to a championship, to a weak-willed self-entitled player that lacks the killer drive.

The truth, of course, lies in the middle. But that doesn’t lower the expectations on him for his career, for his season, for tonight.

If anyone can rise up in this situation, well, it’s probably Kobe Bryant. But it’s also Dwyane Wade. And Paul Pierce. And Steve Nash. And LeBron James. He can do this.The Celtics are gameplanning for him, but it does not mean they can stop him. When he chose to in Game 5, he drove, he collected fouls. Were he to execute as he is capable of, he could simply foul out the entire Celtics’ frontcourt. But he has to accept the hit, and he has to commit to the drive.

Maybe the jumpshot will return. Maybe the two days of rest will be enough for the elbow. Maybe the constant hammering by the media will motivate him to be what he needs to be. Or maybe the shots will just drop.  But this is not a situation where James can rely on the favorable fortune that has been bestowed on him throughout the last 15 years of his life. Tonight, he cannot be a passive recipient of fate.

Tonight, he has to be the whirlwind instrument of it.

*Does anyone remember how brilliant he was in the regular season? I recognize the importance of the playoffs, but those games did count, and without them, you don’t make the postseason.

Report: P.J. Carlesimo not joining Sixers staff despite mutual interest

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This week, the Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach, opening up a spot for a lead assistant on Brett Brown’s bench in Philadelphia. Reports indicated that veteran coach P.J. Carlesimo was the frontrunner for the job, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that that isn’t happening.

So the Sixers’ search continues, and one would have to imagine that the Colangelos will be looking for a veteran, only fueling speculation that they aren’t quite sold on Brown long-term. It’s worth keeping an eye on the situation.

Warriors know Game 7 back home for Finals trip won’t be easy

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Stephen Curry #30 and Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors react in the second quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors’ goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won’t matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

“I’ve learned that our players are tough, they’re mentally tough,” Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. “I don’t know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they’ve firmly confirmed that. It’s been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game.”

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered “We ain’t going home!” – and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors’ summer plans.

“We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we’ve got some momentum. But it can work in reverse,” Kerr said. “One game changes everything, and we’ve got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out.”

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday’s winner.

“It’s going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7’s going to be even tougher,” Curry said. “Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It’s win or go home. So we can’t expect just because we’re at home that we can just show up and win.”

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

“Lot of people probably counted us out,” Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

“This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We’ve got to take advantage of it,” Durant said Sunday. “Go up into their building, and it’s going to be great atmosphere. … No matter where you play, you’ve still got to play. That’s how we look at it.”

That’s partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

“We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game,” Donovan said. “We’re disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven’t lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they’re a resilient group.”

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

“I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go and give it everything I’ve got for Game 7.”

Adam Silver on integrity of NBA: ‘It’s the most sensitive issue for me’

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22:  Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association announces that the 2018 NBA All-Star game will be held in Los Angeles at Staples Center during a press conference at Staples Center on March 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The NBA’s decision not to suspend Draymond Green for his kick to the groin of Steven Adams in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals was a controversial one. The league reviewed video evidence and interviewed people involved and determined the kick was not intentional, but upgraded it from a Flagrant 1 to a Flagrant 2, giving Green enough flagrant foul points that his next flagrant foul of any kind will result in a suspension.

The lack of a suspension in this case, though, led to questioning from fans about the NBA’s motivations, something commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged on Sunday in an ESPN radio interview. Silver took exception to the idea lobbed at the league by some fans that they would prefer the Warriors to advance to the Finals over the Thunder, and reiterated (rightly) that that isn’t a motivation for the NBA.

Here’s a transcription of Silver’s comments, via the Bay Area News Group:

Silver acknowledged he has heard the conspiracy theory that the league prefers Golden State reach the Finals instead of Oklahoma City.

“I hear it, and it’s the most sensitive issue for me, and it goes to the core integrity of the league and frankly to my integrity,” Silver said.

“Even from a business standpoint, it would be impossible to predict which Finals would have a greater following. It depends on how many games, how close the games are. I can only thus sort of swear to the world that we do the best we can and that we don’t prefer one market or one team over another.”

The truth is, as popular as the Warriors are, there’s no bad matchup here for the league in terms of ratings. If the Warriors win on Monday, the Finals will be a rematch of last year as Golden State tries to cap off their record-setting regular season with a second straight title against a version of the Cavs with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving healthy, unlike last season. If the Thunder win, the league gets a second Finals duel between LeBron James and Kevin Durant, which hasn’t happened since 2012, when James was in Miami. The Warriors play in a bigger market than the Thunder, but market size doesn’t matter nearly as much as it used to. James and Durant do just fine, popularity-wise, playing in the 18th and 43rd largest media markets in the United States, respectively. A lot of people are going to watch the Finals no matter which team wins the Western Conference Finals. And Silver knows that.

Pelicans’ Dejean-Jones killed after going to wrong apartment

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Bryce Dejean-Jones #31 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) New Orleans Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones was fatally shot on his daughter’s first birthday after kicking down the door of what he mistakenly thought was his girlfriend’s apartment in Dallas, a death that rattled the NBA over Memorial Day weekend.

“We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life,” the Pelicans said Saturday in a statement.

Dallas police said Sunday they would not have more information about the shooting until after the holiday and did not answer The Associated Press’ question regarding whether the man who shot the 23-year-old Dejean-Jones would face charges. It is legal in Texas for people to use deadly force to protect themselves from intruders.

Dejean-Jones was visiting his girlfriend for his daughter’s first birthday and had gone for a walk early Saturday, according to his agent, Scott W. Nichols. His girlfriend lives on the fourth floor, and Dejean-Jones, who was visiting the complex for the first time, went to the third.

A man living at the apartment was sleeping when he heard his front door kicked open, police Senior Cpl. DeMarquis Black said Saturday in a statement. When Dejean-Jones began kicking at the bedroom door, the man retrieved a handgun and fired. Dejean-Jones collapsed in an outdoor passageway, and he died at a hospital.

Dejean-Jones’s father told KCAL-TV that his son was “tenacious.”

“He has had so many things that have happened to him along his path,” K.C. Jones told the station. “He made up his mind that he wanted to do what he was doing – play pro ball. And whatever it took, he was going to get there. He was going to do it.”

In Dejean-Jones’ only NBA season, which ended in February because of a broken right wrist, the 6-foot-6 guard started 11 of 14 games and averaged 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.

Nichols said Dejean-Jones had nearly completed his rehab and was set to begin shooting with his right hand again next week.

“It’s shocking this happened,” Nichols said. “Wrong place, wrong time, I think.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called it a “tragic loss” and said Dejean-Jones “had a bright future in our league.”

Dejean-Jones was signed by the Pelicans last summer after not being selected in the 2015 draft.

“I just lost my best friend/cousin last night enjoy life because you never know if tomorrow is guaranteed,” Shabazz Muhammad of the Minnesota Timberwolves wrote on Twitter.

Dejean-Jones was part of the 2014-15 Iowa State team that went 25-9, captured a Big 12 title and made a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. He also played at Southern California and UNLV; he was suspended late in the 2013-14 season from UNLV for conduct detrimental to the team, and announced that he was leaving USC midway through the 2010-11 season.

Former Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg, now the coach of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, added in a statement that Dejean-Jones was a “passionate and talented player that lived out his dream of playing in the NBA through hard work and perseverance.”

Julie Keel, a spokeswoman for Camden Property Trust, the real estate company that owns the apartment complex in Dallas, confirmed that the complex’s apartment manager had sent out an email to residents saying that the person who had been shot had been trying to break into “the apartment of an estranged acquaintance” and that this person had “inadvertently” broken into the wrong apartment.

Black said he could not confirm that Dejean-Jones was trying to access an acquaintance’s apartment.