Times are different.
LeBron is teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Michael Jordan said the other day he wouldn’t have done that, he wanted to beat Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, not partner with them. Not everyone — including our own Ira Winderman — buys that.
But Magic Johnson said he agrees with Jordan.
“We didn’t think about it ’cause that’s not what we were about,” Johnson said at Baruch College in New York, according to Bloomberg News. “From college, I was trying to figure out how to beat Larry Bird.”
Let’s also be fair here — Magic didn’t have to.
He was drafted onto a team with Kareem Abdul Jabbar near the peak of his powers, one of the greatest centers and offensive weapons ever to play the game. That team also had sharp-shooter Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon and Michael Cooper among others. Pretty soon the Lakers added guys like Bob McAdoo and a few years later drafted James Worthy (thanks to a steal of a trade).
Magic didn’t need to join forces, he was drafted into a powerhouse lineup. Bird had McHale and Parrish. Jordan was not alone — Scotty Pippen and a host of perfectly complimentary role players.
Nobody wins a title alone. You can debate if you want whether LeBron should have waited in Cleveland for them to build a roster around him, but nobody — not Magic or Bird or Jordan — would have won a title with the rosters LeBron has had.
The battle has, stupidly, raged on between supporters of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Both sides seem to believe their preference is irrefutably the choice for the best player in NBA history.
And because they did not play in the same era, the question will never be answered. No doubt in 50 years they will write columns about Jordan vs. LeBron, just like their fathers, and their father’s fathers before them.
James has certainly seemed to take a bit of a leap in the eyes of the NBA community this season, likely because of his wonderful performance at age 33. He’s also single-handedly won two playoff series this year. It’s been incredible.
But LeBron rising above Jordan has also brought out some more reasonable takes. Former Chicago Bulls legend and Jordan running mate Scottie Pippen spoke up recently about the debate, giving a measured analysis that I think is pretty strong.
In short, Pippen basically said you can’t compare the two because of the eras, the style, and the fact they just don’t play the same position (if LeBron even has a position, that is).
That sounds right to me.
Chewbacca was at Game 3 in Cleveland Saturday. Sitting courtside.
Why? Because growing up on Kashyyyk he played a little hoop and admires LeBron James‘ skill? Because Drake gave him the tickets? Maybe. I mean, it’s not like that was just a clever little publicity stunt for a movie.
After the Cavaliers’ win, Kevin Love decided to make a little joke of it with noted humorist Kendrick Perkins, and it went over as well as expected (with Dave McMenamin of ESPN catching it).
That’s vintage Perkins.
Cleveland dominated Game 3 Saturday night. They played harder, to start. The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure on the ball was better, they were sharper rotating out to shooters and covering passing lanes. Cleveland’s role players stepped up and helped LeBron James.
Boston, meanwhile, wilted in the face of that pressure Saturday, something it has done a few times on the road these playoffs. The Celtics got away from the things that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guard Terry Rozier put it more bluntly, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:
“I feel like we needed this (loss) to get us back … to get us ready for Monday,” Rozier said.
Rozier later added, “We needed to get our butts whipped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”
Cleveland is a championship team — from LeBron James on down through the core guys, they all have rings. They have been down before, and heading home it was expected they would play with force. Cleveland’s back was against the wall and they responded.
From the Celtics’ perspective, they also got a little too fat and happy and were not ready for what the Cavaliers came with in Game 3.
Now the pressure is on Boston to push back, to get back to their level of execution and do it under pressure. Make the Cavaliers prove the improved defensive effort was not a one-off game. The Celtics must move the ball and play with some pace, then see if the Cavaliers can keep it together in the face of crisp play.
When this series heads back to Boston Wednesday, it will either see the Celtics in control up 3-1, or the series will be a best of three (with the Cavs still having to figure out if they can win on the road). At home, the Cavaliers are going to play with force again and have some depth. We’ll see if Game 3 was enough of a wakeup call for Boston.
Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.
Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?
That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.