When the Finals got hot before: Game 5, 1984, Bird vs. Magic in “heat game”

20 Comments

SAN ANTONIO — It was hot, temperatures above 90 degrees, in the AT&T Center for Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals. LeBron James cramped up, the Heat players wilted and San Antonio went on a 26-9 run to end the game and win Game 1.

It was wild — but it was not unprecedented.

Thirty years ago almost to the day, June 8, 1984, the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in what became known as “the heat game.” It was reportedly 97 degrees in the old Boston Garden— a building that didn’t have air conditioning in it (why would you need that in an arena also used for hockey?). Boston was suffering through a heat wave and that made the building sweltering, more so that what the Heat and Spurs faced Thursday night.

The enduring image of 2014’s Game 1 is LeBron James being carried off the court with cramps. The enduring image out of  1984 comes at the 3:44 mark of the video above: a 37-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the oxygen mask over his face, sucking in air as he tries to get rested and back on the court.

“I suggest,” Abdul-Jabbar said after the game (via NBA.com), “that you go to a local steam bath, do 100 pushups with all your clothes on, then try to run back and forth for 48 minutes. The game was in slow motion. It was like we were running in mud.”

It was so hot referee Hugh Evans had to stop at halftime due to dehydration, reported Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe.

The 1984 NBA Finals was the one everyone had been waiting for, finally Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were going to square off on the NBA’s biggest stage (it was David Stern’s first Finals as commissioner, he certainly lucked into a lot of things early in his tenure). The series didn’t disappoint, going seven games (with Bird and the Celtics ultimately prevailing, the first salvo in the great rivalry of the 1980s).

Bird owned Game 5 — 34 points on 15-of-20 shooting, plus grabbing 17 boards. And like the Spurs after Game 1 this year (with Tony Parker saying it felt like a European gym and Tim Duncan saying it was like the Virgin Islands where he grew up) Bird said after the game he was used to this.

“I play in this stuff all the time back home. It’s like this all summer.”

(As a side note pointed out by my boss Rick Cordella, maybe the most classic part of the above video is near the end, at the 6:15 mark, when a guy just lights up a cigarette in the building as the fans celebrate, Mad Men style. That was just a different era.)

Stuff happens in an NBA Finals. Unexpected stuff. What matters is who adapts, who adjusts, who just finds a way to play through that and win.

In 1984 that was Larry Bird and the Celtics.

Thirty years later round one goes to the Spurs.

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.

LeBron James all good with Reggie Jackson’s free throw gamesmanship, “I’ve done it before”

Getty Images
1 Comment

Let’s set the stage: Sunday night, the fast-rising Pistons led the fast-rising Timberwolves by three with  6.2 seconds left when Jimmy Butler drew a foul on a 3-pointer. Butler drained the first two free throws. Before the third, Reggie Jackson interrupted to talk to Stanley Johnson, who was in rebounding position. Butler missed the free throw, and Detroit held on to win 100-97. Here’s the play in question.

It was a bit of gamesmanship by Jackson.

LeBron James was asked about the move at Cavaliers shootaround and endorsed it with a smile on his face.

“I’ve done it before. I won a playoff series before doing that actually. So, I’m all for it.”

That series was in 2007, overtime of game 6 of a first-round playoff series against Washington, and the victim was the Hibachi, Gilbert Arenas. The Cavaliers were down 1, Arenas had two free throws, missed the first, then LeBron stepped in. Arenas missed the second, and the Cavs went on to get the win.

Is interrupting free throws about to become an NBA thing? If it works, players will do it.

Warriors pose for photos with Jahlil Okafor’s dad’s ‘FREE JAH’ shirt

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
3 Comments

Jahlil Okafor‘s father has not been shy about speaking out on his son’s behalf. NBA players are advocating for the 76ers to grant Okafor, who’s out of the rotation and on an expiring contract, his desired trade or buyout.

When both join forces…

Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry appear to really enjoy Chukwudi Okafor’s shirt. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily calling on Philadelphia to do anything. But they hadn’t to know how it’d be perceived.

It’s easy to predict free agents will avoid the 76ers as a result of the Okafor situation, but few anticipate getting stuck similarly. Players overwhelmingly value money, winning, role and location. If Golden State’s stars are applying any external pressure, it shouldn’t really move Philadelphia more than anything that has already been said and done.

A couple of Lonzo Ball’s triple-double assists look dubious (video)

Harry How/Getty Images
2 Comments

Lonzo Ball draws outsized attention because his father, LaVar Ball, lures onlookers and because the rookie plays for the high-profile Los Angeles Lakers.

So, when Lonzo gets a triple-double – like his 11-points, 16-rebound, 11-assists game against the Nuggets yesterday – it draws scrutiny.

Mo Dakhil of The Jump Ball:

The NBA defines an assist as a “pass that directly leads to a basket. … An assist can be awarded for a basket scored after the ball has been dribbled if the player’s pass led to the field goal being made.”

I wouldn’t describe either of those passing as leading directly to a basket. Ball’s teammates each hold the ball for a moment after receiving the pass then take two dribbles against set defenses.

But assists are subjective, and the Lakers aren’t alone in offering a home-court scorekeeping advantage.

Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice

So, criticize/laugh at the Lakers. But your favorite team probably manipulates assists in its favor, too.