You can bet the Lakers won't hang balloons in the rafters like they did in 1969

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1969_celtics.jpgSee if this sounds familiar:

The Lakers are the glamour team, the team with the huge stars in the prime of their career. The Lakers have steamrolled the West on their way to the finals and were the betting favorites. The Celtics have some name players too, but they were injured and generally considered too old by the pundits. They had finished fourth in the East, then surprised everyone in the playoffs. It all came down to one game for the NBA title — a Game 7 in Los Angeles.

Sound like 2010? Try 1969.

The year men first walked on the moon. The year of Woodstock — the real, first Woodstock with Jimi Hendrix, not some 90s ripoff that would let Sheryl Crow play. The year the Beatles played their last public concert. When long hair and anti-war protests were the rage. When gas was 35¢ a gallon.  Even then it was still Lakers and Celtics.

The Lakers had three of the game’s all-time greats on the roster: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain Elgin Baylor. The Celtics had stars like Bill Russell — who was the player coach — and Sam Jones, but they were both injured.

It had been one great finals just to get to a Game 7. West went off for 53 in Game 1, John Havlicek answered with 43 in Game 2. The whole series had been like that, punches and counter punches.

It all came down to a Game 7 at the Fabulous Forum. No home team had ever lost a Game 7 in NBA finals history, which meant Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was feeling cocky. He thousands of balloons put in the rafters to fall when the game was over, and he had choreographed what the band would play.

What he did was motivate the Celtics, who were angered by the balloons. (Not as angry as West, who was livid.) In his great book “Jerry West: The Live and Legend of a Basketball Icon,” Roland Lazenby has this quote from Bill Russell on the game:

I was the coach and I said to my players, “It may be a better show to watch them take those balloons down one at a time.”

Boston came out hot, hitting 8 of their first 10 shots. The Lakers got it close, even tied it in the third quarter, but on this night they had no answer for Jones. West had tweaked hamstring and while he could still shoot — he had 42 points — but Jones was hot and had 24 of his own.

So was Russell, who was attacking Chamberlain and got him in foul trouble. Wilt had five fouls then tweaked his knee with 5:45 left in the game. Chamberlain asked out to rest it. With three minutes left, Chamberlain leans down to coach Butch van Breda Kolff and asked to go back in. Coach says, “We’re doing well enough without you” and leaves him on the bench. Really smart.

It’s a one-point game with little more than a minute left. Jerry West knocked a ball loose but it bounces to Don Nelson — yes, that Don Nelson — who is standing near the free throw line and he throws up a rushed shot from the free throw line that hits the rim, bounces straight up to about the top of the backboard then falls right back through the basket.

That ended up being the winning shot.

The Celtics celebrated winning a title on the Lakers home floor. It was the Celtics 11th title in 13 years. It was also the last one for that dynasty. Jerry West was named MVP in a losing cause.

We’ll see if history repeats itself Thursday.

2017 NBA playoffs have been historically uncompetitive

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
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The NBA Finals so many wanted to see – Cavaliers-Warriors III – is here.

At least it will be.

Today is the first of six off days before the 2017, which begin June 1 in Oakland.

The lengthy delay is the product of an underwhelming postseason featuring few competitive series and numerous blowouts.

Golden State swept its way through the West, and Cleveland dropped only one game (to the Celtics in the conference finals) while winning the East. There have been only two Game 7s, but considering the magnitude, neither felt that compelling. Blake Griffin‘s injury undercut the Clippers against the Jazz, and Celtics over Wizards felt inevitable with home teams winning each game of the series. Between, there have been several lackluster games and series.

There have been just 74 playoff games this year – the fewest before the Finals since since the NBA instituted a best-of-seven first round in 2003:

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That’s 74 of a possible 98 games – 76%, the lowest since 1999 and seventh-lowest ever.

Even if the Finals go seven games, it will be the fewest games in a postseason since 2007. If the Finals go five or fewer games, it’ll be the shortest postseason in this playoff format.

And it hasn’t just been quantity. The quality of games has been lacking, too.

Though there were more blowouts last year by nearly any measure, the 2017 postseason’s average margin in pre-Finals games (13.5) is fifth-highest all-time and second-highest since 1959 (behind 2016, 14.2).

Combine the two factors, and these are the drabbest playoffs in nearly 50 years. Here’s each postseason plotted by average margin in pre-Finals games and percentage of possible games pre-Finals:

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This probably just confirms what you’ve seen: The 2017 playoffs have been in a rut.

We’re all counting on the Cavaliers and Warriors to salvage this postseason, but considering how deep the hole is, anything less than an epic Finals probably won’t cut it.

Kyrie Irving crosses over Avery Bradley, hits 3-pointer (video)

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Avery Bradley got around one screen then, thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s excellent ball-handling, lunged at another that wasn’t coming as Irving hit a 3-pointer.

LeBron James beautifully pass-fakes, makes layup in transition (video)

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LeBron James is a treasure.

Shaquille O’Neal’s big toe is seriously jacked up (PHOTO)

shaq o'neal
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Remember how we we all freaked out when we saw pictures of LeBron James‘ feet back in 2013?

You probably didn’t want to be reminded that it existed, but it does. Still. And apparently jacked up feet is the consequence of a lifetime of playing professional basketball. Once can only assume it has something to do with tight shoes and constant, hard changes of direction in said tight shoes.

We got yet another vision of what basketball shoes can do to feet on Thursday when TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal showed off his, er, little piggies.

Much to the horror of the Internet in general, it was Shaq’s right big toe that took social media by storm. Mostly because it’s not even close to pointing in the right direction.

I’m going to show you what it looks like. Be forewarned, it might just be NSFL.

Via Twitter:

Oh. Oh … why?

Social media reacted appropriately and proportionately:

Shaq did have issues with that toe during the course of his career, and at one point it was so bad that he had to have surgery to remove bone spurs from the toe in 2002.

That still doesn’t explain why it’s all over your TV and the Internet, but here we are. I am sorry.