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.

Jakob Poeltl with huge poster dunk for Raptors. Yes, Jakob Poeltl. (VIDEO)

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The scouting report on Jakob Poeltl coming out of Utah said he could run the floor well and he was a good finisher around the rim.

But we didn’t expect this.

During the Raptors win Sunday against the stumbling Hawks, Poeltl filled the lane on the break, got the rock, and nobody was going to stop that finish. Least of all Tim Hardaway Jr., he just ends up in the poster.

Hassan Whiteside: “Portland was my second option”

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 28: Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Charlotte Hornets at American Airlines Arena on October 28, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Entering free agency last July, Hassan Whiteside said his first choice was to stay in Miami — then Pat Riley gave him 98 million reasons to stick around. While the Heat have been up and down this season, Whiteside has thrived as the franchise player in Miami.

Last July he also met with Dallas, but it turns out that was not his second choice. Here is what Whiteside told Erik Gunderson of the Miami Herald before his team fell to the Blazers on Saturday.

“Portland was my second option,” Whiteside said at the team’s Saturday shootaround in Portland. “I would have came here.”

Interesting. There were reports the Blazers chased Whiteside, but it didn’t seem that serious. Apparently, it was. If The Blazers got Whiteside, would they still have spent $70 million on Evan Turner? Probably not. And suddenly a lot of things look better in Portland.

For Blazers fans, watching their team try to outscore opponents while playing terrible defense this season — in part because of a lack of rim protection behind their undersized guards — it’s easy to imagine how much Whiteside would have changed the picture in the Northwest. But at this point, that’s just fan fiction.

JaVale McGee tries to inbound ball for wrong team, Warriors bench cracks up (VIDEO)

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JaVale McGree has become a solid contributor for the Warriors off the bench, giving them a needed shot blocking presence. He’s not getting a ton of run (seven minutes a night), but he’s efficient when he’s out there.

Still, there is his reputation as the guy most likely to end up on Shaqtin’ a Fool. He hasn’t done anything like that for a while… until Saturday night, when after a made free throw he tried to inbound the ball for the Suns for a second.

The Warriors bench was laughing under their shirts and towels.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves battle back to top Hornets 125-120 in OT

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, left, looks to pass around Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. Minnesota won 125-120. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Perhaps this was the type of win the talented and young Minnesota Timberwolves needed to get on a roll.

Andrew Wiggins scored 29 points, Karl-Anthony Towns added 27 points and 15 rebounds, and the Timberwolves showed late-game poise by erasing a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Southeast Division-leading Charlotte Hornets 125-120 in overtime on Saturday night.

“The more close games you’re in and the more you win, the better you get,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Repetition builds habits. When you see things happen in a game, it slows everything down.”

Zack LaVine added 17 points and Ricky Rubio had nine points and 12 assists for the Timberwolves, who snapped a four-game losing streak and avoided being swept by the Hornets for the third straight season.

“We came back and really made some really winning plays down the stretch,” LaVine said. “That’s what happens when you keep fighting. We’ve been fighting the last four or five games and been in those positions but we got over that hump. It feels good. Now we need to keep it going.”

Towns, a dominant force on the glass all night, had six points in overtime, including a backbreaking follow off a missed shot with 21 seconds left to put the Timberwolves up by six. Towns sealed the victory with two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining.

Charlotte appeared on its way to its fourth win in five games, leading 104-97 with less than one minute to play.

But Minnesota battled back to tie the game in regulation with LaVine, Rubio and Wiggins all hitting 3-pointers in the final 39 seconds. Wiggins’ pull-up from 31 feet in transition with 8.9 seconds tied the game at 106.

The Hornets had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Kemba Walker missed everything on a step-back 18-footer at the buzzer.

“There were a lot of mistakes on the defensive end and we gave up some big baskets,” Walker said. “We missed some rotations and we have to be better down the stretch.”

Walker led Charlotte with 22 points and eight assists. Frank Kaminsky had 21 points and Nic Batum had 15 points and 12 assists.

TIP-INS:

Timberwolves: Wiggins and Towns were a combined 22 of 42 from the field. … Blocked 10 shots.

Hornets: The Hornets have given up an average of 16.5 points per game in the first quarter in the last two games, compared to a season average of 27.1 points. … Cody Zeller had four blocks.

STRONG OT START

The Timberwolves took advantage of the momentum they had built at the end of regulation, opening overtime with a 7-0 run.

“You know, it always looks better when the ball is going in,” Thibodeau said. “When we’re getting the right shots and sharing the ball, everything looks a lot better. Obviously, playing from a lead is important and we haven’t been doing that.”

NOT PHYSICAL ENOUGH

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he was “especially disappointed” with this loss because the team had emphasized getting its defense set and physicality in terms of blocking out.

“They crushed us with the block outs in the fourth quarter,” Clifford said. “They had at least four that might have led to nine points. That can’t happen. It’s been discussed and we’ve watched it and the reality is we either going to become a more physical group or we’re not going to win – at least not every night.”

TOWNS PASSES GARNETT

Towns established a new Timberwolves record with his 27th straight game with at least one blocked shot. He had two blocks against the Hornets.