NBA Finals: Mavs win Game 4, but all eyes are on LeBron

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The Miami Heat lost Game 4, 83-86, in part because of LeBron James. That’s okay. Players are allowed to have off nights. They’re allowed to struggle. They’re allowed to be passive once in awhile, and frankly, it’s human nature to ease off the gas from time to time. But in doing so, they strengthen the possibility of their team losing, and open themselves up to a very specific criticism. Having a bad game isn’t some great evil to be met with moralistic damnation, but it is worthy of an accurate appraisal, and the reasonable exploratory questions that will inevitably follow.

So, I’ll bite. I’ll ask the question we’ve all asked ourselves, with an acknowledgment upfront that neither I nor any other basketball scribe hold all the answers: What the hell happened to LeBron James?

It makes little sense to discuss LeBron’s struggles without making note of the incredible defense played by the Dallas Mavericks. They didn’t pit Shawn Marion or Jason Kidd or DeShawn Stevenson against James and leave that poor, solo defender to their own devices; every Maverick on the floor was tuned to James’ frequency. They had his pick-and-rolls swarmed. They had his jump passes covered. They had five defenders functioning in harmony in an attempt to limit the best player in the NBA, and they succeeded. The pressure is still on James to find his way out from under the constant zone coverage geared to thwart him (and he’ll have to do better than the brand of idle facilitation he tried to fly with in Game 4) but Dallas did a hell of a job in executing their game plan.

That said, most dimensions of James’ struggles were of his own doing. It’s difficult to mount a defense of a star player who refuses to go to his strengths, even as he faces a talented defense geared to stop him. After all, accessing those strengths regardless of circumstance is James’ job. He’s paid and revered for his ability to do what no one else can, and when that ability fails him, his very identity as a player comes under fire by whisper. Playing poorly for a single game doesn’t make LeBron James anything less than he was a day ago, but it introduces the idea — however fleeting and faint —  that the greatest basketball player on the planet can be contained. It’s a hushed message that will neither be confirmed nor denied on this night or even in these NBA Finals, but one that observers of the game everywhere must grapple with.

There’s no problem with James initiating the offense or playing the roll of a creator for others, but his Game 4 struggles didn’t stem from merely assuming point guard duties in the face of an aggressive defense. James didn’t pass; he passed poorly. He turned the ball over four times to hedge the impact of his seven assists, and committed a handful of near-turnovers that didn’t quite blemish his stat line but nonetheless halted the Heat offense.

James may be the closest thing this game has to perfection, but even he has his limits, his moments of hesitancy, his in-game vices. In a way, Game 4 didn’t tell us anything about James that we didn’t already know; James is a man of immortal talent guided by mortal sensibilities. That isn’t an indictment so much as a reality, and it’s no more true of James than it was of Jordan, Bird, Magic, or Wilt. The game’s greats are safe in their critique-proof pantheon, but those players had poor games, too. Accounts of those games don’t often show up in mythologized magazine sidebars or rosy retrospectives, but they’re there — the nights of maddening turnovers, a quick trigger, disinterested defense, or just horrible matchups — buried beneath lore upon lore.

James struggled to even get into the flow of the game, much less produce within it. But he’ll be back. He’ll be back, and we’ll all feel rather silly for wondering where he’d gone off to, as if a failure to engage in fully actualized basketball had somehow shifted James into another dimension. LeBron didn’t disappear. He didn’t cower. He didn’t back down from a challenge, or engage in any other sin of purely rhetorical relevance. He had a bad game at a horrible time, and we’re right to wonder why. We’re right to try to understand, just as I’m sure LeBron himself will try his damnedest to wrap his head around the events of the last few hours. It’s all very confusing, and jarring, and odd. But it’s nothing new. Individual failure is inherent to the game, and as much as we’d like to pretend that LeBron’s Game 4 shortcomings were further evidence of some inescapable character flaw unique to him and other miscreants alone, the product of James’ sin wasn’t so different from that which occasionally tarnished all of those who came before him and all who will come after him.

Basketball — even on the NBA’s biggest stage and for its biggest star — can be a struggle.

Move over Charles Barkley: Giannis Antetokounmpo has the worst NBA golf swing (VIDEO)

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Look, nobody is expecting an NBA player of Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s length to have a pretty golf swing. He’s the kind of tall that I wonder if golf science is even able to make clubs long enough for him that are still mechanically sound.

But that didn’t stop the Milwaukee Bucks star from hitting the driving range recently, and boy is his swing bad. Like, Charles Barkley bad.

Watch at your own risk, it is not pretty.

Via Instagram:

Giannis Antetokounmpo, aka the Greek Freak, knows he should stick to basketball. 😂😬(via Snapchat/g_ante34)

A post shared by Golf Digest (@golfdigest) on

That’s cool, at least Antetokounmpo knows the deal.

That’s the thing about golf anyway. It’s not about how good you are, it’s about realizing at what level you suck at it.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics’ 3s too much for Wizards in 123-111 win

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BOSTON (AP) Isaiah Thomas had 33 points and nine assists, and the Boston Celtics made 19 3-pointers to beat the Washington Wizards 123-111 Sunday and take a 1-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.

Thomas played just a day after attending the funeral for his sister, who died in a car accident earlier this month outside of Tacoma, Washington.

Al Horford added 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Jae Crowder finished with 24 points.

The Wizards were more energetic at the outset, jumping out to a 16-0 advantage and leading by as many as 17 points. But the Celtics rallied in the second quarter with Thomas briefly sidelined after getting one of his two front teeth knocked out.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 27 points. John Wall added 20 points and 16 assists.

Washington starter Markieff Morris played just 11 minutes before leaving with a sprained left ankle in the second quarter.

A rivalry has been simmering between the teams since last year, when Boston swept the season series.

They split their four regular-season matchups this season, but each included intense moments.

Sunday’s matchup was played at just as high a level, with a frenzied pace at times and physical play underneath the basket.

After the Wizards’ early scoring flurry, Thomas lost his tooth in a collision, and initially played through it. He found his tooth during a timeout, but started the second quarter on the bench while getting it repositioned in the locker room.

His teammates went on a 13-2 run without him to cut into Washington’s lead.

Boston led by 15 at the end of the third before a 9-0 spurt by the Wizards to start the final period closed the gap.

Thomas arrived back in Boston early Sunday. It was the second cross-country trip for him since Chyna Thomas died in a car accident last month, the day before the Celtics opened their first-round series against Chicago.

The Celtics star flew with Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and assistant coach Jerome Allen.

During player introductions, Thomas pointed to the TD Garden rafters when his name was called.

TIP-INS

Wizards: Shot 10 of 23 from 3-point line. … Morris turned his left ankle after landing on Horford’s foot after a made jumper. He stayed in the game to complete his three-point play, then checked out. … Washington shot 62 percent (16 for 26) in the first quarter. … Grabbed the first 12 rebounds of the game.

Celtics: Didn’t score their first field goal until 6:42 remained in the first quarter, on a layup by Avery Bradley. … Didn’t register their first rebound of the game until the 5:57 mark. …Kelly Olynyk has scored in double figures in three of his last four games, after doing so just twice in his first 11 career playoff games.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

John Wall waits 2 years, gets revenge in post Instagram sniping at Hawks PG Dennis Schroder

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John Wall and Dennis Schroder seem to have a bit of a rivalry going. Wall’s Washington Wizards closed on Schroder’s Atlanta Hawks on Friday in Game 6, with Wall throwing down one of the more impressive individual performances of these playoffs.

Wall scored 42 points to go along with eight assists, four steals, and two blocks.

One of those blocks came late against Schroder, which helped save the game for Washington.

Now, Wall has taken his revenge on social media for a post that Schroder posted two years ago. The Hawks bounced Washington from the playoffs in the second round in 2014-15, and Schroder posted a photo to his Instagram showing him squawking at Wall.

Wall posted the same kind of photo after the Wizards beat Atlanta in Game 6 this season.

Via Instagram:

Washington goes on to play the Boston Celtics in the semi finals on Sunday.

Clippers, Jazz prepare for Game 7 in L.A.

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LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul was adamant the sun would not set on Paul Pierce‘s NBA run in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

“I looked over at ‘Truth’ during one of (those) timeouts and I said ‘You’re not ending your career in Utah,’ ” said Paul, referring to Pierce’s popular nickname. “We told him that. We just said we want to keep this thing going for him. Paul was big tonight. Like the 3 he hit over there on the wing, and stuff like that. Just his energy and his voice in those different timeouts I think was huge for us.”

With a crucial 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6, the Clippers will attempt to extend the career of the 39-year-old Pierce, who is retiring at season’s end, and capture the series Sunday in Game 7 at Staples Center.

The winner advances to the second round to meet the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven affair beginning Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Paul, whose two late free throws sealed the win against the Jazz, led the charge by scoring 29 points, dishing eight assists and allowing the Clippers to avoid elimination in the opening round for the second straight season. The Portland Trail Blazers bounced them last season in six games, aided by injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin.

And as Paul loathes to hear, the point guard has never guided a team past the second round.

“This is what we talked about before (Game 6),” said Paul, who has become the Clippers’ main force offensively with Griffin out of the playoffs again, this time with an injury to his big toe. “Doc (Rivers) said to go out there and give yourself a chance. We knew we couldn’t win both games (Friday), and we wanted to give ourselves a chance.”

Utah will have another opportunity to end Pierce’s career on Sunday despite missing a chance on its home court. After the Jazz won Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward made it clear he didn’t want to return for a Game 7.

Hayward, though, is humming a different tune now.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were three years ago,” Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. “If you had told me at the beginning of the year you’d be in a Game 7 against the Clippers in L.A., I’d have been like, ‘Bring it on.’ “

The Jazz will be forced to bring their best with center Rudy Gobert hobbling again. Gobert, who sustained a hyperextended left knee in Game 1 that kept him out of the lineup for two games, sprained his ankle in the second half of Game 6 and was forced to the bench because of it during critical stretches.

Gobert said the ankle wouldn’t hinder him Sunday.

“I sprained it on somebody’s foot,” said Gobert, who finished with 15 points, nine boards and three blocks, according to the Tribune. “I tried to run through it, but that didn’t work out. I’ve had a lot of sprained ankles before. I will be good.”