Understanding the intricacies of LeBron's Game 5 letdown

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lebron celtics game 5.pngLeBron James had a rough Tuesday night. He shot 3-of-14 from the field as his team struggled to escape from under the heel of the Boston Celtics. Cleveland lost by 32 points on their home court, and when that happens to the best team in the league (record-wise, at least) boasting the best player in the league, the people will demand answers.

How could this happen? And why?

The how part is slightly easier to figure out, as behind LeBron’s very poor performance was a team of highly-paid bystanders. James had an off-night in terms of execution, focus, and effort, but this team is theoretically constructed to withstand that. In fact, plenty of players are being compensated very well to ensure that this very thing doesn’t happen. The acquisitions of Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison were supposed to make this situation avoidable, yet when James turned in a sub-par game on the Cavs home court, those teammates — which were rumored to be a championship-level cast — vanished as well.

For further analysis on that topic, I’ll defer to FanHouse’s Tom Ziller:

Completely putting the blame on LeBron here…masks very real issues. The Celtics play absurdly good defense and match up particularly well against James. Williams can’t guard a single person on the Boston roster. Jamison, O’Neal, Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas still aren’t comfortable with each other on offense or defense, and the Celtics’ scorers are hitting some tough shots in this series. It’s not like LeBron is shooting 3-14 against folding chairs. Boston had the league’s No. 5 defense this season, despite a year filled with injuries to key cogs. And with so few Cavaliers scoring with any efficiency, the Celtics have been able to send two good defenders at LeBron as soon as he makes his move. (Despite that, James had 12 free throws and seven assists Tuesday.)

On one hand, it’s tough to entirely blame those, like Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who set out to crucify James after they witnessed him make frequent defensive mistakes, float on the offensive end, and hoist his fair share of errant jumpers. He’s the best player in the sport, and he’s supposed to play accordingly in the playoffs.

Ziller notes that LeBron’s Game 5 isn’t as simple as many media reactions indicate, and he’s right; to deny the significance of Boston’s defensive brilliance and the futility of James’ teammates is to ignore a crucial part of the story here.

The Celtics are no slouches on the defensive end, and while their first round series against the Heat may not have provided the best example given Miami’s limited offense, the enduring effectiveness of Boston’s D over the course of the regular season is beyond commendable. There was no question they were going to turn basketball from play into work for LeBron, and they’ve done just that.

Ultimately, the best way to properly address James’ night may be to show rather than tell. Kevin Arnovitz did just that over at TrueHoop. Others could watch that very video and see  justification for their verbal lashings of LeBron, the pariah, but I see a guy that’s just completely out of sync. His passes were off to an irregular degree, his shooting troublesome, and his focus waning. It’s easy to maintain that focus when your team is in control of the game, but with neither the Cavs or LeBron clicking, he floated.

It happens. He deserves to be criticized for it, just not drawn and quartered. Being the best in the world doesn’t remove the possibility of having a bad game — mentally as well as physically — at an inopportune time, and that’s what we all witnessed last night.

   

Report: Nuggets’ starter Will Barton out 5-6 weeks with surgery to repair groin muscle

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Non-contact injuries can be the worst.

Against Phoenix over the weekend, Denver’s Will Barton went in for a relatively uncontested reverse layup, but as soon as he lands he grabs his hip and goes to the floor in obvious pain. It did not look good.

There wasn’t much in the way of information from the team.

However, a report from Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated gives us more details.

The adductor muscles are traditionally called the groin muscles. It’s a series of muscles that help the hips move and are connected to the thigh.

That’s bad news for Denver, a team off to a fast 3-0 start including a win over Golden State. Barton has averaged 16.5 points per game and five rebounds a night in 27 minutes per game through the first three, and he’s been hot from three shooting 55.6 percent. Expect the defensive-minded Torrey Craig to get the bulk of the minutes with Barton out, but both Juancho Hernangomez and Trey Lyles could see a little extra run as well.

Draymond Green on Lakers-Rockets suspensions: ‘Garbage,’ ‘A little bit of a double standard’

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Warriors star Draymond Green got suspended one game during the 2016 NBA Finals.

Brandon Ingram (four games), Rajon Rondo (three games) and Chris Paul (two games) got suspended longer for their roles in the Lakers-Rockets fight Saturday. But not long enough to appease Green.

Green, via Mike Media of The Mercury News:

“That was garbage,” Green said. “I’m never in favor of guys losing money. But I got suspended in the NBA Finals for attempting to punch somebody. Guys punching each other are getting two games or three games. I attempted to punch somebody, and not in the face, either.”

“It seems like a little bit of a double standard going around this thing,” Green told Bay Area News Group. “That’s just me, though. I could be wrong. I don’t got all the answers.”

Green received the lightest punishment of the four. The NBA agreed his offense was the least egregious. A simple ranking of each player’s conduct does nothing to prove Green’s point. This is just a matter of how to scale the differences. Even then, Green has a weak case.

Remember, Green wasn’t suspended directly due to his altercation with LeBron James. Green received a retroactive flagrant foul for the incident, and combined with his prior flagrants, that triggered an automatic suspension. If Green hadn’t already committed so many flagrant fouls in the playoffs, he wouldn’t have gotten suspended based on only the dustup with LeBron.

This really gets back to the earlier question: Why does the NBA suspend players? It’s self-sabotage for the league to keep good players off the court. Green hits on a good point about the extreme difference between suspending someone in the regular season and suspending someone in the playoffs. I’d favor enforcing (most, if not all) playoff suspensions during the following regular season. The league can still set its desired line without undermining the product on the court when it matters most.

PBT Podcast: Three key early season impressions

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The NBA has been impossible to ignore the first week of the season — and not just because players are spitting on each other and throwing punches.

Pace and scoring are way up, which has made the league even more entertaining.

A few teams — Denver, Milwaukee, even Detroit among others — have been very hot, while a couple of teams we thought would be good have stumbled.

Keith Smith from Real GM and Celtics Blog joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to talk about their early season impressions, and take questions/comments from listeners on Twitter. That means the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks even get some love. The Thunder defense… not so much.

We want your questions for the podcast, and your comments, email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com. As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Lakers’ Brandon Ingram says he expected longer suspension

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The general consensus to the NBA’s suspensions – Brandon Ingram four games, Rajon Rondo three games, Chris Paul two games – for the Lakers-Rockets fight: Too lenient for the Lakers.

Even Ingram said he expected a harsher penalty.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Ingram started the incident by pushing James Harden, and then Ingram hostilely confronted a referee. Once Rondo and Paul began exchanging punches, Ingram came in swinging. Not long ago, Ingram would have received a longer suspension.

But under NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the league hasn’t cracked down as hard.

This comes down to a bigger question: Why does the NBA suspend players? Prohibiting good players from playing lowers the quality of the product on the court in future games. It’s at least somewhat self-sabotaging. To some degree suspensions are designed deterrents, though players often don’t consider the repercussions during heated moments. But suspensions are also about appeasing fans who want to see an orderly system that keeps players in check.

So, with so many people calling Ingram’s suspension too short, maybe the league failed here. On the other hand, the objections don’t rise to the level of outrage. Most people seem OK with Ingram’s suspension, even if they would have preferred longer.

I doubt Ingram – or any player, for that matter – feels emboldened to fight because he got suspended just four games. Silver has been more lenient because fighting has mostly disappeared from the league. If it became rampant again, David Stern-era penalties might return. That potential deterrent still hovers, and we’ll all move on fairly quickly from Ingram’s suspension while enjoying watching him play again soon.

So, this seems about right.

Rondo getting just three games for spitting on and punching Paul, though…