You know, sometimes, when it rains, it pours. You’re living the life. You’ve got a custom tricked out motorcycle with Manu Ginobili’s face on it, the Spurs are the favorites to win the Western Conference Finals and advance with a shot at their fifth title, you’re high on cocaine, the weather in San Antonio is great, everything’s coming up you!
And then the Spurs lose to the Thunder, the team is exposed as having no defense whatsoever, you’re arrested on possession of drugs, your bike is seized by police, and don’t you know it, that dreadfully hot part of the year has started.
What a bummer.
From the San Antonio Express News:
The owner of a highly customized Spurs theme motorcycle was arrested Thursday on charges that he intended to deliver drugs and was found in possession of less than a gram of cocaine and marijuana.
Phillip Lozano, 34, was released that same day after posting a $3,000 bond to cover the felony charge.
He was arrested when Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies raided a home on Blonde Canyon Thursday morning, seizing $10,000 in cash, an all terrain vehicle, car and that motorcycle — a 2009 Suzuki Hayabusa, which Lozano covered with various Spurs’ logos and Manu Ginóbili’s face.
Dwyane Wade has not been good. No superstar has struggled more in the Conference Finals than Wade, which is bizarre considering his matchups. Wade’s facing Ray Allen, who is better, but not completely back from bone spurs. He should be eating him alive. But the Celtics’ help defense has been brutal in cutting off Wade’s angles. Wade’s still shooting 44 percent vs. the C’s, and 70 percent at the rim, but he’s had a difficult time getting his game in gear.
For Wade, Game 7 Saturday night is a referendum on his legacy. Last year’s playoff run was ultimately about LeBron James and LeBron James only. And while James will suffer a heaping dose of scrutiny should the Heat go down the tubes in Game 7, there’s been a rising trend of questions about how Dwyane Wade isn’t helping matters. He’s been off, and worse, his effort has been questioned, as he spends his time complaining about no-calls instead of getting back on defense.
Should the Heat go down in flames (GET IT, BECAUSE THEY’RE THE HEAT?), Wade’s facing a drastic re-evaluation of his career. You’re already seeing it. “Well, Shaq was really why they won the title!” (despite the fact that O’Neal was in full-on gentle-slide-to-retirement mode already and Wade accounted for about a billion percent of their offense. “The league had a down year that season!” (despite Wade having gone through the Mavericks in their second best team assembled). Wade’s facing a pretty explosive dose of revisionist history if the Heat don’t win the title, especially by losing in this Game 7.
Wade’s always been fearless. That’s who he is. But he’s let the officiating’s interpretation of the Celtics’ physicality get the best of him. LeBron James didn’t complain to the officials in Game 6. He took over. That’s what Wade has to do. He may not be able to at this point thanks to his knee not being in good enough shape. He may not be able to due to age, injury, or the Celtics’ defense. But Paul Pierce is proof you don’t have to play well consistently in this series to have a huge impact. He’s got to play smart, and he’s got to play hard. The Heat can’t spare a man. It’s all hands on deck.
Wade can get past Allen. The problem has been his inability to draw contact on the drive or to hit the pull-up jumper. He’s rushing shots and many of them, he’s just missing. He’s tried angling for some threes, and that’s a bad plan, Wade’s never been a good perimeter shooter. Wade needs to work his way to the middle of the floor. That’s where the Celtics are driving him away from, but it’s his best chance to attack. The Celtics don’t want him there because he’s great there, and the Celtics are weak there. But Allen and Rondo are overplaying to that side, and help defense is coming from the wing to attack the dribble.
But forget X’s and O’s. This is about legacy. This is Dwyane Wade’s moment to validate his career and answer the questions about whether he’s already past his prime. This is Game 7, and it’s time to find out who Dwyane Wade is.
Celtics-Heat Game 7: The Truth about Boston’s Revenge Tour
Game 7 Saturday night between the Celtics and Heat would honestly be better had the Celtics not won the title. You’d have so many legacies on the line. As it stands, this is the Celtics’ push for a second title, which just isn’t as much of a big deal. It’s not even as important as a third title, as that third one is more in line with how we think of traditional dynasties. (Stupid KG’s knee injury in 2009!) But multiple titles still puts them on another level, while the Heat are still desperately clamoring for that first one with this core (Wade and Haslem are similarly “certified” as KG would say).
But the Celtics aren’t approaching it that way. This is their revenge tour. Everyone who doubted them, said they were too old, too slow, and that their star power couldn’t match up are getting a lesson in how experience matters in the NBA, the greatness of these players, and what… ugh… excuse me, I’m about to gag on cliche… makes a champion.
And for the Celtics to get past the superteam Saturday night, they need The Truth. Paul Pierce has to have a good game. Not a great game. We haven’t seen Pierce have a great game since he sprained his MCL in the first round, and the Celtics are still here. They can survive him having a bad game as long as he has a few plays that shift the momentum. Much like Game 5. Lost in the Heat collapse and the dagger three that Pierce nailed in James’ face was that once again he had a pretty terrible game. Pierce has the toughest assignment offensively and defensively in this series. When he has the ball, he’s either got the best perimeter defender in the NBA, LeBron James, latched onto him, or Shane Battier’s tricks and grit tweaking him at every turn and hot.
But he’s got to come through. Pierce has to hit shots. He doesn’t have to improve his shot selection, God knows that’s not going to happen. But he’s got to rise and fire. One key is he has to get to the rim. Pierce has struggled at the rim in the playoffs (54.5 percent) vs. the regular season (63.5 percent). He’s got to use the post to get the turn and attack the rim or draw the foul. He needs to nail those slow-set trailer threes when Rondo finds him. And he’s got to find a way to get to that elbow sweet spot. The Celtics have leaned on Rondo and Garnett. This is Game 7. It’s time for the franchise guy to take them home.
Pierce’s Boston legacy is reaching pretty epic proportions. He passed Larry Bird on the points list in franchise history. He’s threatening to land multiple titles which will put him up there with some of the all-time greats even if he’ll never reach that hallowed ground, which is a shame. What’s amazing is that it hasn’t been Pierce’s best seasons that have netted him the most success. It says a lot about how awful those early 00’s teams were around Pierce that his MVP-level play didn’t take them to the promised land.
But here they are. If Garnett is the angry ferocity of the Celtics, and Rondo the driven determination, Pierce is the source of their swagger. It’s Pierce who has the most confidence in his game regardless of percentages or circumstances. Much like this Celtics team, no matter how many things suggest he’s in the midst of failure, he finds a way to come out on top. The Celtics need that attitude, that swagger, that player tonight in Game 7.
It’s time for the Truth.
Celtics-Heat Game 6: LeBron crashes his own funeral
I made that remark to my wife Thursday night as the Heat took the floor for Game 6 in Boston when I saw LeBron James, a serious, almost somber look on his face. James is a known “happy-go-fun” guy, often to the annoyance of teammates and opponents. Sure, he tries to look serious during parts of the game, but usually it’s more of a blank look. On Thursday, he looked downright dour, and it was easy to make the jump to conclusions that he had arrived for his own public funeral, the “we come to bury LeBron, not to praise him” event of the century, a Boston Mean Party. I took it as a sign he knew it was over, the series was done, the Celtics had won, he had failed again.
I was wrong. 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists. 98-79 Miami over Boston. See you on South Beach for Game 7 Saturday.
It wasn’t a cold-blooded performance. That would imply that he felt nothing. And as much as an exhausted James attempted to downplay any change of motivation, to say he just went back to his habits, this one felt different. He wasn’t seething with anger, he wasn’t rioting against the Celtics’ harassment and mocking of him throughout this series (which James would have been crucified for but what else is new). He wasn’t frontrunning or showing them up. This wasn’t M.J.’s shrug or Magic’s exuberance, or Bird’s fury.
You got the sense as James calmly and determinedly went back to work on defense after every make, every bucket that this wasn’t LeBron vs. the Celtics, or even LeBron vs. the World. He was withdrawn, as if fuming at himself for any moment where he felt happiness at shots going down. “Can’t stop” was the message. And after the game, after dropping 45 points on 26 shots, 15 rebounds, and having left Paul Pierce a shattered, sad, broken mess of the offensive juggernaut he is, there was no smile or satisfaction from James in post-game interviews. He wasn’t talking about what a great win it was. He was cold, resigned. “We had to win this game.” That was the message.
And while I have no choice but to believe James will revert to the pompous, pouting child he comes across as (and make no mistake, I consider this to be a problem in portraying himself to the world; I have no idea who James is on the inside, I’m not sure anyone does), whether the Heat win or lose Game 7. Win, and there’s a risk he could feel that he accomplished something when he hasn’t, lose and he could turn defiant that he can be knocked off his pedestal, the way he was in last year’s Finals after elimination, talking about people going back to their lives.
But for a night, it was there. All of it. Honestly, James could have played better. Those five assists are on the low side. I’m not criticizing. I’m pointing out how insane that is. He scored 45 points on 26 shots against the best defense in the NBA, had 15 rebounds, and leveled Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett defensively and he could have played better. That is insane, but then, his night was insane, his season has been insane, his life has been insane.
There were two that got me, both in the third. He waited for Rondo to reach, spun, and then, instead of trying what he normally does, which is to barrel into Kevin Garnett and attempt a rolling scoop shot around KG, he quick-shot a floater just over Paul Pierce’s outstretched arms. Perfect.
Later in the third, he caught the ball in the shallow post vs. Rondo on the baseline. How many times have I seen him catch that, face-up, and then take five seconds trying to figure out the defense before shooting a face-up fadeaway? Granted, last night he would have hit the fadeaway. Hell, he would have hit the fadeaway if he was on the moon. But instead he immediately caught and spun. It was a fadeaway, but it was in rhythm. It was decisive.
He ran back on defense and went back to work. The game was over. He was not through.
So now we wait for Game 7, and another chance for James to make all of our vitriolic dreams come true or ascend to this next level of greatness he can aspire to. We wait to see how the Celtics respond to being embarrassed, how the Heat respond when they have to help James out, and most importantly we wait to see which LeBron James we get.
I’ll tell you one thing, if he’s not smiling in Game 7, we’re gonna need reinforcements.
Build your skill set in the comfort of a rebuilding team with low expectations. Take the next step as an exciting bad team in a new environment with a surprisingly rabid crowd. Make the jump to the playoffs and put a shock on the champs, showing that you’re coming. Learn what disappointment is in a Conference finals loss to a stellar team that would go on to win the NBA championship. Come back stronger. Smarter. Better. Win your division. Beat the team who beat you last season. Beat the team who beat you the year before. Beat the standard bearer in the West.
This is Kevin Durant, and he was always destined for this.
From the moment he stepped onto the scene, from D.C. to Austin, Texas to Oklahoma City, this was coming. He even came with the big debate about him or another player who wound up star-crossed. This is how legends are built in the NBA, and now it’s Durant’s time for ascension.
There will be no questions about Kevin Durant going without a field goal in the fourth quarter of Game 6. Because Wednesday night was not about one game. It was about five years of building, five years of development, five years of smart drafting and player development by Thunder general manager Sam Presti, five years of a small city buying in, five years of Durant game-winners, big shots, and prolific performances.
There will be comparisons to Michael Jordan in 1991, to the greats in this game over time. There will be questions of whether he’s ready to win the NBA finals, or whether this team can really get it done.
But do not be confused. What has happened in the middle of the okra fields in Oklahoma is not some smoke-and-mirrors job. It’s not about a falsehood built on a dream. This is reality. It’s been coming for years.
Durant’s game is a force of its own now. It’s not just the swift shooting, the range, the quick release. He has added so many weapons. He’s able to make the smart play. He’s able to slip the screen. He finishes with authority, he presses when he senses vulnerability and he hesitates when the defense adjusts. And he defends. Tenaciously, using those long arms and quick feet. He’s no longer the skinny-waist kid throwing up threes. He’s the skinny-waist man playing a complete game. This is the nexus of Kevin Durant and it’s a sight to behold.
When the Thunder faced a double-digit deficit at halftime on Wednesday and it appeared the Spurs would push the series back to San Antonio and a miserable Game 7, Durant set the tone. Immediately in the third, he sparked the team. He finished with 14 points in the quarter, missing two shots and a field goal on 11 total attempts from the field and stripe.
Durant can do all those other things now, that’s why he’s a different player. But he’s also the same. He’s a scorer. That’s his core. And these playoffs have been about huge shots from Durant, his range burying the opponent, his length rattling them. Durant is the best offensive weapon in the league, and that’s why the Thunder are moving on.
Who’s to say the Thunder won’t get beaten in the finals, another step that Durant and company have to live through in his career? What if the Thunder’s good fortune runs out? No one remembers teams that make the finals and lose. Durant could fall by the wayside, could become just another team that reached the gates but couldn’t get through — another almost st0ry.
But somehow, this feels different, this year or next, the year after or the year after. This is all part of the plan. This is the story of Kevin Durant.