Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics

Did Danny Ainge cost the Celtics this championship? No.

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It’s an obvious and easy target. A changing point in the Celtics season.

Back at the start of February, the Celtics were 37-11, the top seed in the East, three games ahead of Miami, three-and-a-half ahead of the Chicago Bulls. They were title contenders. They had gotten Kendrick Perkins back in the lineup and Shaquille O’Neal had just stepped out with a little hip issue but he was going to be back in a week or so.

Then of Feb. 24, Celtics GM Danny Ainge shocked everyone by changing the Celtics core, trading center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City (along with Nate Robinson) for reserve forward Jeff Green.

The Celtics finished the third seed in the East. They never got Shaq back (not in a meaningful way) and ended up bounced in the second round of the playoffs. It felt like they were never the same after the trade.

Did Danny Ainge do that? Did the Kendrick Perkins trade change the Celtics into also-rans? There are Celtics fans out there calling for Danny Ainge’s head over this move and what they perceive it costs the Celtics.

Those people are wrong. This isn’t on Ainge.

Kendrick Perkins would not have changed this series.

Perkins brings some defense to the table — he can defend traditional big men very well in the post (if you can step away from the basket, like Zach Randolph, it’s a different story). He’s also makes good help rotations and can clog the paint, slowing penetration.

He provides no offense inside — and that is what the Celtics missed most this series. They missed the Shaq from the first half of this season (who Ainge and Rivers and the Celtics doctors expected would be back). They needed a threat inside that balanced out the offense outside. They needed to punish the Heat for playing Joel Anthony. The Celtics offense hummed when Shaq was scoring (or was a threat to score) in the paint, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were getting better looks. Rajon Rondo had more room to operate.

Perkins fixes none of that.

What’s more, the small lineup the Heat had success with would have forced Doc Rivers to bench Perkins for the key stretches of games anyway. The only way to offset that small lineup was a big man who could score in the paint to make them pay for it, and Perkins does not do that.

Maybe he makes some hard fouls on penetration, but that is not slowing the attack of Dwyane Wade or LeBron James. And both of them did serious damage with jump shots anyway.

Besides, when the trade went down we kept hearing about how Jeff Green was the kind of athletic wing player the Celtics really needed off the bench, especially after Marquis Daniels went down. (By the way, what you saw with Jeff Green this season is what you get, don’t expect a leap forward. Ask Thunder fans about it.)

I said at the time I didn’t like the Perkins trade, and you can wonder ho the team would be different with him, but it is not what cost the Celtics this series. This is not all on Ainge.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.