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NBA Finals

NBA Finals: Game 6–A Survivor’s Tale

“I’m going to the gym. I’m all jacked up.”–MAMBINO Contributor El Mariachi, 12:17 am Eastern Time
 
We didn’t watch Game 6 everyone–we survived it.
 
It’s been echoed over and over again all night and all morning. It’s not hyperbole: this was one of the greatest Finals games ever. Off the top of my head, only a handful of games are in it’s company over the last 30 years: Mavericks-Heat Game 5 in 2006, Bulls-Jazz Game 6 in 1998, Pistons-Lakers Game 6 in 1988 and Lakers-Celtics Game 4 in 1987. There are others, of course, but there’s no doubt about it: last night’s epic Game 6 already ranks in the Top 10 of greatest Finals games ever, perhaps even penetrating the sacred sphere of greatest contests in American sports history. It was that good.
 
It’s not just the dramatic finish and the toe-curling proximity to which San Antonio was to a championship, but rather the ebbs and flows of such an excellently played contest that really makes this game stand out. Even the last two Game 7s (Boston/LA in 2010 and SA/Detroit in 2005) lacked the 48 minutes–make that 53 minutes–of artistry that last night’s bout had. Celtics-Lakers was a sloppy affair, with both teams shooting poorly, Kobe Bryant chucking away a 6-24 night and the final combined score ticking in at just over 160 combined points. Spurs/Pistons had the same feeling of inertia, slogging towards a 4th quarter that was largely out of reach for Detroit. Game 6 was dynamic from beginning to end, with each team playing crisply, trading blows and fighting to a standstill up until Bosh emphatically landed the controversial finishing blow. This game was so finely played, with so many featured players, that it’s hard to remember one seminal moment in a myriad of them. That’s what sets last night’s game apart–painting a masterpiece without muddling the colors. … Read more...

NBA Finals: One game away from…Danny Green, Finals MVP?

Danny Green wasn’t ever a blue chip NBA prospect. Unlike many of his North Carolina ilk, Green was highly recruited, yet not the type of college player whose talent would propel him towards an early entrance into the NBA Draft. He spent all four years at UNC, capping off his collegiate career as a key role player on the 2009 NCAA Champion Tarheels. Embedded as deep into his amateur career as would be in his professional career, Green was overshadowed by the better players on the floor. Surrounded by Ty Lawson, Tyler Hanbrough, Ed Davis and Wayne Ellington, Danny played his part while his teammates grabbed national headlines and lottery pick status. Green finished the year nearly getting skunked in regular season accolades, barely making an All-ACC team (Third Team, no less), let alone anything as lofty as an All-American selection
 
He found a place in the NBA, but just barely. The Cleveland Cavaliers took Green with the 46th pick in the 2009 Draft, giving the swingman the opportunity to make the team out of training camp without any guaranteed money. With a sweet long range shot and the requisite defensive chops to make Roy Williams’ tough rotation, he certainly had enough skills to make it as a NBA player, but only with a ton of hard work and the right system to take advantage of his very specific talents.
 
But, as Adam Morrison, Joe Alexander and Shelden Williams will tell you, all the potential in the world might not save your NBA career. Green languished in the Cavs system for his rookie year, playing in only 20 games with the big league club, whilst being sent down to the D-League throughout the year. He was cut as soon as the 2010 season started, a dubious distinction considering how rancid the post-LeBron James Cavaliers were. Green was then picked up by the San Antonio Spurs, but he was far from the steady professional he is now–in his first year with the Spurs, he was waived within six days of his first signing, then spent months in the D-League on a non-NBA contract, and the signed again in March 2011 for the stretch run. He only played 8 games that year for San Antonio, but obviously someone on the coaching staff or the front office saw something significant in the young guard’s game.
 
Last season, Green broke out into a full fledged contributor, starting in 38 games and playing 66 regular season contests for the Spurs in 23 minutes a night. His defensive acumen wasn’t just reputation–it was fully formed in it’s execution. Moreover, Green was every bit of the shooter he looked in college. At the close of the 2011-2012 campaign, he threw down an unreal .436 3P% from the 3-point line, forging himself a permanent role on the reborn run-and-gun San Antonio offense. Green was the perfect component for what coach Gregg Popovich wanted to run: a young, long athlete who was willing to run the floor, play defense on every possession and could knock down a jumper anytime the ball was in his hands. He averaged 9.5 ppg and 3.4 rpg, career-high marks only topped by this year’s numbers: 27 mpg with 10.1 ppg, while starting all 80 of his appearances.
 
Even still, Green never seemed to forget his place in the San Antonio system–he was a role player, plain and simple. He has succeeded despite a career of disappointments and well wishes on future endeavors. There’s very few times where he tries to overextend himself and try to penetrate the lane like Tony Parker, or launch off-balance jumpers like Manu Ginobili. For better or worse, Danny Green is Danny Green, and he’ll c… Read more...

NBA Finals Game 3 Thoughts and Game 4 Notes

Three games gone in the NBA Finals, the “Fo, Fo, Fo, Fo” calls for a spotless Miami Heat playoffs seem like a faraway fairytale, prancing on a cloud with unicorns and mermaids. The reigning champs look to be at a significant disadvantage against the San Antonio Spurs, though they’re down just 2 games to 1. The 4-time champs have owned Miami despite a narrow margin of victory in Game 1–after all, it’s not outrageous to say that San Antonio has controlled the series for 10 of the 12 quarters played thus far.
 
Game 3 was an absolute thrashing on the part of the Spurs. In a completely lopsided 113-77 blowout, San Antone hit a NBA record 16 three-pointers, including and outrageous 13-19 clip from Danny Green and Gary Neal. Now, if you’re a casual NBA fan and you don’t know who those two guys are, their games on the court make them seem as unglamorous as the 9th grade chemistry teachers they’re seemingly named after. However, in a complex series of screens and cuts, the two wingmen were able to shake free time after time, getting uninhibited looks from long. They combined for a backbreaking 51 points, accounting for twice the output of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili (25 points). Though this was the primary narrative of the game, a few other factors stood out:… Read more...

NBA Finals Game 1 Thoughts: It’s a Spurs world, and Miami just lives in it

In the aftermath of an epic Game 1 win last night, a few thoughts stemming from the NBA Finals:
 
It’s San Antonio’s world, and Miami’s just living in it
 
92-88 game, with a 2-point differential in the last 29 seconds? Sounds like a close game.
 
But it wasn’t. Not nearly as much as the final score would have you believe.
 
The Spurs completely dictated the pace of the game, and Miami should be so fortunate that they even kept it that close. The most telling numbers:… Read more...

NBA Finals Preview: LeBron’s revenge denied?

2) San Antonio Spurs vs. 1) Miami Heat
 
How are the Spurs taking this in 7 games?
 
A 27-game win streak, the league’s MVP and the 10th best record ever in an 82 game season at 66-16. Nigh indomitable, no?
 
No. Not for these San Antonio Spurs.
 
The MAMBINO crew got together via e-mail this week and took our prediction poll, as per usual every round. However, unlike all the other rounds, the Heat weren’t a unanimous pick to win the series. They weren’t even the pick to win the series. MAMBINO had taken the Spurs in 7 games.
 
Perhaps the reasons are as simple as they’re the hottest team playing right now. The Spurs annihilated two of their three playoff opponents in two distinguished sweeps, with the war-torn Lakers going down in the first round and the stunningly over matched Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals. There almost hasn’t been any area in which San Antonio has faltered in the past to months; they’ve rebounded extremely well, forced turnovers, scored efficiently and played shut down D (the Spurs haven’t allowed 100 points since Game 2 against the Golden State Warriors). They are executing their offense and defense to the letter, throwing screens upon screens for their cutting wings and using a revitalized Tim Duncan as a deadly force in the high post. It doesn’t seem to matter who the San Antonio is playing either: the uptempo Warriors tried to run the Spurs into the ground with Harrison Barnes acting as a small-ball power forward, while the Grizzlies tried to use Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to bully their way inside. Both times San Antonio adjusted and re-adjusted, using their versatile roster to combat any offensive strategy their opponents tried.
 
No team has played as consistently well as the Spurs have since mid-April, Right now, they look like the best team in the league. It’s not a coincidence then that they have arguably the second best (or best) player in the playoffs. That’s Tony Parker.… Read more...

Los Angeles Lakers fans must root for LeBron James and the Miami Heat

No playbooks, no advanced metrics, no salary cap. Just pure, unadulterated, Lakers fandom.
 
And the fan in me knows that for the sake of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, I cannot, under any circumstances, root for the San Antonio Spurs.
 
Even if that means pulling for LeBron James and his Miami Heat.
 
Lakers fans everywhere have been without a horse in the playoff picture since the first round. The Show met its end with a quiet, anonymous sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, but even the team’s foremost nemese have been vanquished for weeks. Their STAPLES Center hallmate Clippers were manhandled by the Memphis Grizzlies in the last four games of a six game series. Their eternal foes from Boston had a prideful 4-2 exit against the New York Knicks. Even recent Lakers killers like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder had their championship hopes effectively killed in the first round, with Russ going down with a torn meniscus. With the exception of everyone’s most despised enemy in the Miami Heat, Lakers fans haven’t had much to cheer for–or against–lately.
 
However, as painful and disgusting as it may sound, Lakers Nation has to be rooting for LeBron in Game 7 tonight.
 
The primary reason? Legacy.
 
In the NBA, it’s all about heritage and rings, career achievements and leadership. Every player is responsible for defense and offense, staying healthy and trying to contribute on the court whenever possible. Unlike the NFL, where it’s extremely difficult to compare offensive and defensive players, or MLB in regards to pitchers versus hitters, comparing centers to guards isn’t as much of a stretch. Every NBA player has the same responsibility, no matter who we’re talking about: score points and prevent your opponents from doing the same.
 

(Read on at Silver Screen & Roll!)
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Five Stages of Grief: LeBron James Manned Up and Got a Ring

“The best thing that happened to me was us losing in the Finals [in 2011], and me playing the way I played. It was the best thing to ever happen to me in my career because basically I got back to the basics. It humbled me. I knew I was going to have to change as a basketball player, and I was going to have to change as a person to get what I wanted.” – LeBron James

          It pains me, but I’ll just come out and say it: LeBron James has an NBA title and is the best basketball player in the world. The last few years I’ve been able to put him into the Steve Nash category of flawed MVP winners, knowing that I’ll take the Finals MVP’s Kobe has earned over all the regular season accolades in the world. But instead of folding like a house of cards, LeBron leveraged his failings and the media criticisms to respond, improve, and become an NBA champion. In the last two weeks, my feelings towards him have come full circle and I’ve slowly worked my way through the grief cycle:
Step 1, Denial: At first, I didn’t believe that he’d ever get the title. I thought that Boston would pull through or the deeper OKC squad would give the Heat more than it could handle. Whoops.
Step 2, Anger: As the Heat started to build a commanding series lead, I was angry with Scott Brooks for his inadequate schemes and adjustments. Dude never listened to me, for all the screaming I did at my television.
Step 3, Bargaining:  LeBron continued his march toward a title and I got desperate. I started pleading with forces larger than myself, carrying around rabbit’s feet, four leaf clovers, and even trying a rain dance.
Step 4, Sadness: The Heat showed resilience instead of a collapse and sadness swept over me as the Thunder slowly melted down. Seeing LeBron’s face before Game 5, I knew the transformation was complete and a title was a foregone conclusion.
Step 5, Acceptance: A few days later, I’ve finally come to accept this brave new world but can’t help but wonder, how’d we get here?

The King: Far From Anointed
           Despite being crowned before he’d left high school as the next great, LeBron’s success was anything but guaranteed. As a huge Magic Johnson fan, I loved the way he played point forward and saw the game like no one else in the league today. I’m not sure that I’ve ever admitted it (much less publicly), but I actually bought a LeBron shirt when he entered the league and used to love watching him play before his brief stint as an evil entity. I appreciated his skill, phenomenal court vision, and willingness to pass more than resident Lakers’ blackhole Kobe Bryant. The problem with LeBron was that his incredible talents were as much of a curse as a blessing and led his career to become the NBA equivalent of a giant pressure cooker. The media and the fans expected nothing less than pure dominance from Day 1.
           Reflecting on the way we’ve treated this wunderkind for the last decade, I’ve come to the conclusion that in sports you are judged by two primary criteria: if you reach your potential and how much you win. Until now, I think he was more like Michael Jordan in the 1980’s. People would go out of their way to describe him with a huge asterisk until he won the big one, saying, “He was a great scorer, but…” That changed when Jordan stepped up, smacked the Bad Boy Pistons in the mouth, and beat Magic Johnson in the NBA Finals. Jordan certainly had lofty expectations thrust upon him, but nothing compared to LeBron James, which is also largely a function of the modern media environment. Looking at LeBron James, he arguably has the best body and talent of anyone in NBA history. H… Read more...

NBA Finals Game 5 Running Diary: The Miami Heat and LeBron James Are NBA Champions

(At perhaps a seminal moment in NBA history, we here at MAMBINO HQ knew it’d be important to document a minute by minute running diary during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. LeBron had lived up to his various monikers so far this series, but could he close it out in the biggest game of his career? Or would OKC send this back home? Read on for some in-game thoughts)

Pregame Introductions: We’ve talked for years about how LeBron is some sort of indestructible robot cyborg created to play basketball and assassinate all comers – he actually looks like it tonight. He’s stone-faced, walking slowly and with purpose. He’s even got a slight tick in his neck, as if part of his cold, mechanical programming is somehow malfunctioning. Despite the connotation of his pistons misfiring, that’s not a good sign for the Thunder.

Pregame Shotaround: I see Wade throwing up J’s, but Bron is sitting on the bench, fists to his head, mouthing some sort of mantra, which is probably something like “I’m going to murder everyone tonight”. I’m a little worried that he might be putting a little bit too much pressure on himself. I feel like he’s excelled these playoffs because he’s had the mindset of “this is what I do, I dominate”, and then gone out there and done just that. Obviously the gravity of the situation has affected his play, but he seems almost silently angry rather than stoic. Curious.

11:23: Chalmers steals, followed by a LeBron dunk that screamed “We are not losing tonight”. Uh-oh.

10:48: Sefolosha fouls LeBron mid-jump. LeBron shakes it off with that robotic tick. He’s like a black T-800 with fewer weaknesses and bad facial hair.

10:27: Westbrook jumper clangs hard off the iron. At least we know he isn’t wilting to any criticism.

9:32: Westbrook has taken 3 of the team’s 4 shots and hasn’t even looked for his teammates. It’s either stupidity or extreme confidence.

8:42: After getting doubled in the lane, Westbrook forces the ball to Ibaka for an easy bucket.  A really difficult pass right past Battier’s outstretched fingertips. Say what you want about his gaffe at the end of Game 4, he’s playing phenomenal, CONFIDENT basketball right now.

8:14: KD with his first bucket of the game, 18 feet from the basket. He’s looked a little passive early.

7:43: Interestingly, the Heat are leaving all the OKC shooters wide open to try and stop Westbrook. Luckily for Russ and the servers at Twitter, he’s making these baskets.

7:09: Pretty oop from Chalmers to Wade, who finger-rolls it in. A lot hasn’t been mentioned about Wade, but he’s really been locked in for the past 3 quarters. Say what you will about his off the court attitude, but despite stupid sound bytes comprising 65% of his speech, he gives 100% full effort every night on the hardwood.

6:02: James Harden’s first hoop barely touches the rim. Not a great sign for the Thunder  who desperately need his production tonight. Not just the points, but a spark off the bench. OKC hasn’t displayed that fire they showed in the first quarter of Game 4 since, well, that first quarter of Game 4.

5:14: Ibaka gives Wade a wing 15 footer, and he puts it in his face. No preening, no trash-talking and most shockingly of all, no complaining to the refs. Wade, like James, is all business tonight. Uh-oh.

4:34: Perkins nice put-in around the hoop. With this team, it’s amazing that Perkins ever gets touches. I mean, sometimes plays are designeRead more...

Preparing for a World Where LeBron James Has An NBA Title

Just…imagine it.

LeBron, feet shuffling nervously as he wears an ill-fitting hat that awkwardly rests upon his massive dome, looks deliriously up towards a loving Miami crowd, who for the first time in six years, have all stood uniformly at attention 30 minutes after the final buzzer has rung. They do so at the sight of a dozen men, as well as the coaching staff, trainers, wives, children and various hangers-on, impatiently waiting for the sight of a giant gold ball, like a group of kids behind the banister on Christmas morning. James is flanked dead center by his compatriot and friend Dwyane Wade, still spouting “Yes, we did. Yes. We. Diddddddddd!” phrases ad nauseum, and on the other side a humbled Erik Spoelstra, whose face erupts in a genuine joy that puzzlingly has seemed to elude a man whose reached the zeniths of the coaching ranks in just his mid-thirties.

James, who, at the final buzzer fell to the floor in celebration, ironic for a man who just had the weight of the world lifted off of him, stands tall with his chin up. Twice before he heard within 100 yards that these ceremonies were taking place, but never had he actually seen one up close. As he giddily looks side to side, with friends, family and co-workers constantly shouting out his name and the coordinating congratulatory sentiments, the Commissioner gives his usual speech about how this is a team that came together, defied the odds and ultimately, proved to be a worthy champion. All of the sudden, a smile rarely seen on the embattled Chosen One’s face flashes from free throw line to free throw line. His owner Mickey Arison says a few words to Stern, but at this point, LeBron can’t hear a damn thing. But it’s not his surroundings. The roar of the crowd can’t come close to contending with the din created by a million different thoughts racing in his head like the locomotive train he emulates every night on the court. In a moment that plays to him like a slow motion highlight, Arison turns to James, and hands him the Larry O’Brien trophy. Astonishingly, the tears don’t flow; the rush of sheer jubilation won’t allow for such reflection. Instead we watch as the three-time MVP, one of the greatest athletes on the planet and one of the best players in NBA history, has finally fulfilled the destiny that so many doubted he’d ever achieve. LeBron James has just won the NBA title.

Now, I’m not predicting anything here, contrary to that long, drawn out scenario I just painted. The goal of this post is to prepare everything for a world where LeBron James wins a NBA title.

The Miami Heat currently hold a 3-1 series lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder, a deficit that has only been overcome eight times in NBA history. None of those teams, however, were in the NBA Finals (though three were in the Conference Finals). While it’s still possible that the Thunder pull a massive upset, especially with two of the next three possible games at Oklahoma City, that outcome is highly improbable. Not only statistically speaking, but also watching how the Western Conference champs fumbled away Game 4 over and over again.

What I’m shooting for here is not to jinx the Heat, or prematurely proclaim them champions, but rather, to prepare all of our loyal Mambinites who no doubt loathe LeBron and his ilk, for the scenario that could damn well come true tonight. I repeat, this is just a precautionary measure. Think of this as rehab – we’re not only going to tackle the problem here, but we’re going to help you prepare to r… Read more...

The 2012 NBA Finals: One of the Most Historically Significant…Ever

Let’s ignore the usual rhetoric for now. We’re going to take the LeBron fourth quarter statistics and put them off to the side. We’re going to, for the moment, disregard his erratic and immature behavior that even we here at MAMBINO can’t shy away from critiquing. We’re going to stop talking about the questionable nature in which the Miami Heat came together two years ago. This isn’t going to be about how Dwyane Wade has slowly morphed into one of the most despicable on and off-court character in the league. Hell, this isn’t going to be a sychophantic pedestal-job on Kevin Durant, Russ Westbrook and James Harden that we’ve professed to loving so much more than Bron and his ilk.

The prevailing storyline might be if the Miami Heat can finally win their title that they pissed off the entire world while questing to do so. The secondary yarn here is if LeBron James, by all accounts and MVP trophies the best player on the planet, can carry an unorthodox and limited team to a title. And a footnote to all of this is if Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Russ Westbrook – all under the age of 24 – can upstage their celebrity opponents and upend them for their first championship.

That’s not what’s important here. Is it a big part of the story? Yes, it is. Very. Extremely. LeBron, Wade and Bosh are all in their ninth seasons, with only Wade capturing the ever-elusive chip in 2006, though with Shaquille and Alonzo at his side. Durant, Russ and Harden surpassing them would be a fantastic story that the NBA-watching public could absolutely engorge themselves with – the thought of the noble, beloved, blue-collar Thunder from the humble breadbasket of America defeating the glamorous villains hailing from the neon-satured, sun-soaked South Beach would be a screenplay come to life.

For the NBA-head though, this isn’t just a tale of the young, hard-working Thunder vanquishing the evil thespians from Miami. This is a match-up of the two best teams in the NBA. Lasting up to seven games, this year’s Finals pits six of the NBA’s best 20 players against each other, highlighted by the consensus top dog in James and the runner-up in Durant. As anyone who watched Tuesday’s Game 1 will attest, this isn’t just about a set with star-power – this is going to be a tough, grinding series that no matter who the victor is, we’ll all agree that the trophy was well-deserved.

The Oklahoma City Thunder versus the Miami Heat isn’t just going to be a great Finals. This is one of the most historically significant Finals ever. And heres’ why.
I’ve spoken at length about the “generationalism” there is in the NBA. Determined sometimes by draft class, age or style of play, groups of players are often banded together with an unmistakable bond that fans always seem to identify them by.

There was Jordan’s generation, and before that, Magic and Bird’s. After Jordan, it was Shaquille, Timmy and Kobe ruled the roost. The specific players mentioned up top is always up for debate, but in the end, no one’s really questioning whether or not these guys were the leaders of their peers.

What’s incredible about the NBA is that unlike baseball, football or hockey, there seems to be rules that adhere to the game decade after decade. One of these rules, or concepts I should say, is that for the past 30 years of NBA basketball, there is a definite breaking point, a specific event, that delineates generation… Read more...