Heat-Celtics Game 7 Preview: The thing about chaos is it’s fair

10 Comments

You want to know the truth about this game, the hidden, ugly, “no one will talk about it because it’s like running a news report on the Disney Channel about how Santa isn’t real” truth?

Game 7 between the Heat and the Celtics? All that drama, all the impact on legacies and careers and the huge mega-importance of this game?

It’s a coin flip. Game 7 is nothing but a coin flip.

In reality, Game 6 was as well. These two have battled to the marrow throughout this series. All that talk bout officiating and conspiracies and clutch? That’s a result of two evenly matched teams going down to the wire in nearly every game. The gap in point differential, after the Heat blew the Celtics out of the water in Game 6? 1.7. That’s it. The two teams are separated after six games by less than a bucket. There is no better team. And we hate that.

We abhor the idea of the better team not advancing. It strikes a chord in us that fires off our cognitive dissonance alarms like nothing else. The better team has to win. But what if there isn’t one?

Boston’s offense has overperformed in this series. You can talk about clutch players and experience and rising to the occasion all you want. I think there are times when those cliches hold true. This is not one of them. They’re facing a dominant defense in its own right, and to be honest, they take a lot of pretty terrible shots. I don’t care what’s in your guts or between your legs, you’re not going to hit contested pull-up jumpers at a high rate, especially not from mid-range, and especially not against a defense as good as this one. But here it is. And there are concrete reasons that go beyond luck. Rajon Rondo’s singular brilliance. That play where he tip-passed it to Mickael Pietrus is a great example. But think about what had to happen there. Wade has to block Bass just right. Not so hard that it flies over Rondo’s head, not soft so that a Heat player collects it. He has to tap that ball just right, and that’s on Rondo and his brilliance. But he has to get it just over James also reaching. Pietrus has to have the wherewithal to stand in the corner and be ready for the catch, Mickael Pietrus being known for his heady play and stable mind on the court, and then has to knock down a massive shot. This is part glory of championship teams, and part ridiculousness of chaos. Anyone breathes different on that court and the entire story changes.

Think I’m just bagging on the Celtics? Try this. Miami? Just as much of an outlier. LeBron James has an off-balance jumper. He just does. George Karl has talked about it. David Thorpe at ESPN has talked about it. Coaches and scouts and experts have talked about it. He doesn’t trust his jumper, but he feels the need to go to it. If Michael Jordan never existed, LeBron James is the best player, ever. I firmly believe that, and not because he’s No.2 behind Jordan. He’s not. But having grown up and watched Jordan like so many kids of his generation, the push-off on Russell, the shot over Ehlo, he learned the same thing. You win games by hitting big jumpers. This, from a 6-8, 280 lb. hulking monster of unstoppable force is insane. But it’s what he is. And in Game 6? Every outlier came home to roost. Does that take away from his ability or the magnificence of that game? Absolutely not. Hitting those shots takes a phenomenal amount of concentration, just like Pietrus’. It takes the ability to create those shots in the first place. It takes resolve and determination and God-given ability, all of which James showed in an absolutely brilliant performance from stop to finish.

It’s also not bloody likely to happen again. Can it? Sure. Will it? Again, it’s not probable.

What does this tell us about Game 7? It sets up the same things we knew before. It comes down to who makes shots. Sounds simple, right? But that’s not what a series is about. It’s about adjustments and counter-adjustments and effort and preparation and more than anything talent and execution. But Game 7’s are about who has it that night. The Lakers had it in 2010. The Spurs had it in 2008. The Celtics had it vs. Philadelphia, the Clippers vs. the Grizzlies, the Lakers vs. the Nuggets. It doesn’t always mean both teams are even. But one team will have the extra arc on the ball to tilt it in, the rims will forgive one team more than the other, and that will determine all of this. So much pressure, so many consequences, so many lives changed, and it all hinges on the wings of a butterfly, the temperature in the arena, the bead of sweat trickling down LeBron James’ forehead. Think about that when you compare it to your life’s biggest moments.

We’re all victims and subjects and participants in chaos, and in fate, and here’s really no place better to be.

These teams are incredibly evenly matched and the outcome does not determine who is the better team. They are both great teams. The Celtics can blow them out, the Heat can blow the Celtics out, it can be an overtime or triple-overtime or an ugly or beautiful game and it won’t change what we’ve learned. These teams are both worthy of the Finals. One goes, one goes home. That’s life. That’s chaos.

That’s fair.

Steven Adams says Thunder late-game struggles on him, not Westbrook/George/Anthony

Getty Images
2 Comments

In the first half of games this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 91.7 points per 100 possessions. In those first 24 minutes, the Thunder are outscoring teams by 12.7 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA (Houston is first).

However, in the fourth quarter, the Thunder defense is 18.1 points per 100 possessions worse. Their offense stagnates late in games with a lot of “you take a turn and then it’s my turn” isolation between Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony.

The Thunder have nine losses this season, and OKC lost double-digit leads in six of those. Monday night it was a 19-point lead against New Orleans where the Pelicans — without DeMarcus Cousins — came back to win 114-107.

There’s a lot of blame and finger-pointing going on in Oklahoma City, but Steven Adams said less of that should be at the three stars and more of it should be at him. Via Royce Young at ESPN:

“Mainly me, to be honest (should be blamed). Because the play itself you have to execute it properly and it has to be legit down to the t. I screwed up my feet on a couple of them in terms of spacing. … Everyone plays a part in the plight so you can say yeah the shot doesn’t go in which sucks. But to get them that shot I didn’t help them.”

Adams can take on a little of the blame, but this is a team thing right now — everyone has earned some blame. Billy Donovan as coach, role players like Andre Roberson or Patrick Patterson who have not lived up to expectations this season, and yes Westbrook/George/Anthony have earned some blame, too. It’s a little bit of everything.

There’s also time for the Thunder to figure it out, but they are on the clock as this is a one-year experiment in Oklahoma City (no way they pay the whopping tax coming next season to keep all three stars and Adams, no matter what ownership says publicly).

C.J. McCollum: I told Evan Fournier during altercation ‘ you’re sweet and soft like those crepes you eat’

AP Photo/Steve Dykes
4 Comments

C.J. McCollum blew kisses at Evan Fournier when they got into a confrontation during the Trail Blazers’ win over the Magic last week:

But apparently the incident was even better than that!

McCollum on The Flagrant Two podcast, as transcribed by Colin Ward-Henninger of CBSSports.com:

“I just felt like he disrespected me by putting his hands on me,” McCollum said. “Obviously, I’m not trying to get any fines or anything of that nature and I told him he was sweet. He’s French, and I said that, ‘you’re sweet and soft like those crepes you eat.’ “

Did McCollum actually say that in the moment, or did he come up with the line after the fact? I want the former to be true, so I choose to believe it.

Report: Nuggets Paul Millsap out three months due to wrist surgery

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There were big sighs of relief in Denver when Paul Millsaps’ X-rays on his injured wrist came back negative. There were fears of a fracture suffered against the Lakers last weekend, but word from the team is it was just a sprain. He sat out the game against the Kings, but the timeline for his return was not expected to be long.

Except it has turned out to be a little more than a simple sprain. From Sham Charania of Yahoo and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Millsap — who signed a three-year, $90 million contract with Denver over the summer, after spending seven seasons with the Jazz and Hawks — is averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. More importantly, he has been key to Denver’s defense going from one of the NBA’s worst to the middle of the pack this season. He’s started the season getting a handful fewer shots a game then he did in Atlanta last season, and Millsap was slightly less efficient, but like the team as a whole he seemed to be finding a groove and looked better during the recent streak when Denver won 4-of-5. He and the Nuggets were figuring out how to play together.

The Nuggets have been 4.5 points per 100 possessions better when Millsap has been on the court this season, and that will not be easy to replace.

While Kenneth Faried got the start with Millsap out last game, it was Trey Lyles who stepped up — and who Denver needs to step up with Millsap out. Others will have to step up with some defense while he is out.

LaVar Ball on Luke Walton: “They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son.”

Getty Images
10 Comments

Luke Walton is trying to create a professional environment around his young Lakers’ core. One where they expect the players to put in extra work without being told they have to, one where the coaches guide the development, but it’s ultimately the player in charge of his own course. Basically, Walton is treating his young players like adults and is asking them to respond to it like professional adults. It’s what he’s seen Steve Kerr do in Golden State and it works. It’s how Gregg Popovich has created a dynasty in San Antonio.

LaVar Ball sees the world very differently. He’s old school, from the “do as I say” mold.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that after the Lakers’ ugly loss last Friday to the Suns, the Lakers media spoke to LaVar Ball about his son’s play and Ball took a shot at the Lakers’ coach. Here are the quotes, via Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report.

“They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son. I know how to coach him,” LaVar Ball said. “I tell him to go get the victory. Stop messing around.”

Does he have a problem with coach Luke Walton?

“No, I have a problem with losing,” Ball responded.

I have multiple thoughts here, which means bullet points.

• I am breaking my own rule with this post, which is “don’t cover LaVar Ball, he’s just meaningless click bait.” I debated the point, but I think there is a legitimate basketball reason to cover this post (keep reading).

• Things Luke Walton cares more about than what LaVar Ball thinks of his coaching style: How much extra guacamole costs at Chipotle; if Netflix has “Golden Girls” to stream; what shoes Lakers’ sideline reporter Mike Trudell is wearing during postgame interviews; which Van Halen album “Dance the Night Away” is on; which show won the 1974 Tony for Best Musical.

Lonzo Ball‘s struggles with his shot this season — 31.3 percent overall, and he is struggling from three and around the rim — are well documented. It’s clear he is in his own head about it at this point. What can keep him there longer is conflicting advice from his father and his coach. So far, Lonzo seems to be siding with the coaching staff, for example, he credited assistant coach Brian Shaw for telling him to rebound more aggressively, then push the ball himself. LaVar will want to take credit for that, too. Lonzo needs to listen to his coaches, take his father’s advice for what it’s worth, and find his path.

• LaVar is lucky that the level-headed, mature-for-his-age, hard-working Lonzo was his oldest son. Just from what I see on the outside, not sure either of the other two Ball children could have handled this scrutiny nearly as well.

• Luke Walton is working to create something sustainable with the Lakers, they are not going to let anything (or anyone) bump them off that path.