LeBron James unanimous Finals MVP after legacy-cementing series

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OAKLAND — There was 1:50 left in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and it was tied, 89-89.

Kyrie Irving had missed a floater in the lane, four Cavaliers were down around the offensive glass, and the ball bounced out to Andre Iguodala, who took the rebound and was off to the races. He pushed the ball up court, passed to Stephen Curry who gave it right back, and it looked like Iguodala had a clear path to the layup that would put the Warriors ahead.

Then LeBron James happened.

That play was a microcosm of the entire 2016 NBA Finals.

Golden State was up 3-1, going home and seemingly in control. A repeat title seemed inevitable.

Then LeBron James happened. The Warriors didn’t see him coming and couldn’t do anything to stop him.

After back-to-back 41-point games that carried the series to seven games, LeBron posted a triple-double in Game 7 — 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. He wasn’t just the best player on the court, he reminded everyone that he is the most dominant force in basketball right now, one of the all-time greats. LeBron was an absolute force of nature for the final three games of the series. He silenced his critics (well, at least for a day).

He was the obvious and unanimous choice as Finals MVP.

He cemented his legacy, adding to a long list of accomplishments being the man who brought Cleveland its first major professional sports title in more than five decades. He broke down in tears while holding the Larry O’Brien trophy because of that.

“I’m true to the game, and I know what I bring to the table,” LeBron said after the game, holding his daughter in his hands. “I came back for a reason. I came back to bring a championship to our city. I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew what I learned in the last couple years that I was gone, and I knew if I had to — when I came back, I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get back to a place that we’ve never been. That’s what it was all about.”

LeBron averaged ridiculous numbers through the Finals: 29.7 points, 8.9 assists, 11.3 rebounds, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks per game. In the three elimination games for his Cavs this series he averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks a night LeBron’s game has always been about how he wasn’t just elite at one thing, he is elite at nearly everything. He showed that this series.

But that wasn’t his biggest contribution; it was his leadership that convinced the rest of his teammates that a historic comeback was possible.

“Learning from a guy like that is amazing … that guy led us all year,” Kyrie Irving said. “He knew what it took and how to lead us. We all just took it from there. We all were great in our roles.”

“For me, when I came up (to the interview podium) after we lost Game 4 at home, I said, hey, listen, we’ve got to take one possession, one game at a time,” LeBron said. “We’re going to Golden State, so we’ve got to fly home anyways, so why not have another game? And I believed in that. And my guys believe in me as their leader every single day. I preach to them every single day. I’m their leader, and they allow me to lead those guys every single night. I was just true to that….

“I told my guys before the game: Listen, there is a game to be played, but there’s not many guys, there’s not many teams that get an opportunity to be in the NBA Finals in a Game 7. There’s just not….” LeBron said. “I just told the guys: Don’t take this for granted. Don’t take it for granted. Let’s go out. Our coaching staff gave us a great plan; let’s go execute it.”

Over the past few days, and after the win, several Cavaliers talked about the sense of calm LeBron exuded despite the long odds of a comeback. How did he do that?

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” LeBron said. “I can sit up here and say — I don’t know if it was “The Godfather,” I don’t know if it was “Couples Retreat” that I watched, I don’t know if it was “Ocean’s 11, 12, and 13,” I don’t know if it was the “Revenge of the Nerds” that I watched. I really don’t know.

But I was just so like, listen, you’ve put everything into the game. The game always gives back to people that’s true to the game. I’ve watched it. I know the history of the game, and I was just calm. I was calm. I was focused. I was locked in.”

This was LeBron’s third Finals MVP (he got the award both times he won in Miami). He joins some select company, the only players to win three or more Finals MVPs are Michael Jordan (six), Shaquille O’Neal (three), Tim Duncan (three) and Magic Johnson (three).

“LeBron, he deserves it. He’s a hard worker. He’s been the face of the NBA for 13 years…” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “The biggest thing with LeBron and the reason why I say he deserves it is because of the person that he is. He’s a giver. He’s always looking to take care of people. He’s always been nice to everyone. If anyone deserves it, LeBron James definitely deserves it.”

He does deserve it.

And he has given Cleveland sports fans what they wanted most.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.