LeBron James defends a championship, becomes a legend

Arm wrestle anyone? He'll win that too
Even before the Heat’s game 7 victory over the Spurs, LeBron James had done all there is to do on a basketball court. He is a four-time league MVP, NBA champion and finals MVP, nine-time all-star and two-time Olympic gold medalist. King James has been a champion for a long time.

But the leadership and heroics James displayed by leading his Heat team to a stirring title defence means LeBron has now become something even greater.

LeBron James is now a legend.

A lot of neutrals who were watching the final 7 games of this NBA season would have hoped that the underdogs San Antonio Spurs would upset the man that was responsible for the ‘decision’ (something even the departing NBA commissioner David Stern found deplorable) and who publicly proclaimed that he would see Miami win eight titles (something that is now admittedly well in play!).

Even though his none-too-insignificant abilities are worthy of respect, it is still very difficult to root for the man.

However, one can do nothing but applaud the greatest basketball player on the planet for absorbing the most executive, analytical, expert and armchair criticisms that have ever been thrown at an individual, and using them as motivation to win back-to-back NBA titles.

LeBron and coach Eric Spoelstra will, to their credit, divert the inevitable attention that will fall on the efforts of James back to the all- round team performance, which was admittedly mighty.

But make no bones about it, this is Lebron’s team; and without his super hero efforts in game 6 and 7, the Larry O’Brien trophy would now be covered with the fingerprints of Duncan, Popovich and Parker.

This is not to belittle the other member of Miami’s roster. But the fact is that even LeBron’s teammates know the above statement to be true, as was evidenced in the team’s joyous reaction to their leader’s MVP award.

To the man, they are no doubt grateful for participating on the King’s court.

As rightfully as LeBron was roundly and deservedly cut down for the strange 2011 finals effort and subsequent defeat, he just as deservedly needs all the plaudits one can meter out where this Heat victory is concerned.

The NBA uses the word ‘Big’ as the tag in its advertising campaign accompanied by footage of NBA stars making ‘big’ plays.

For next season, James’s stat lines from the final two elimination games of this absorbing finals series need only accompany ‘Big’. We will all know what the NBA is getting at.

James’ game 6 and 7 performances were, considering the stakes, the biggest and most effective of his career.

Last year, Miami faced a young OKC Thunder team that wilted on the big stage and under the weight of a combined big three effort. This year, Miami faced a ‘big boy’ series, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich coined it.

This was no place for a champion with anxiety and confidence issues, something that was alluded to in 2011 and was seemingly apparent during LeBron’s game 3 and 5 efforts this year.

But on consecutive nights, with their season and ‘legacy’ on the line, the ‘big three’ was the group wilting as it was often reduced to a ‘big two’, and James was called upon to carry the load.

For example, game 6 saw Chris Bosh come up with some game-saving plays while Wade was quiet. In game 7, the big man laid a goose egg on offence and was barely visible in defence, while Wade came on with 23 points and vital rebounds.

And while these schizophrenic performances were going on around him, LeBron held his nerve to play two of the most ‘clutch’ games seen in finals history.

Cometh the hour, cometh the King.

But despite the heroics, one cannot ignore how easily it all could have been catastrophically different for James and the Heat.

Indeed, the closeness with which the Spurs came to recording a famous finals victory could now be used in any dictionary, referenced under ‘near miss’.

There has been much analysis of every Spurs play that occurred in that extraordinary final 22 seconds of regulation game 6.

Ginobilli and Leonard’s free throw misses are stand-outs, as was the failure of the Spurs to secure rebounds that led to LeBron’s late second chance three-pointer and that shot by Ray Allen.

But as the excellent Zach Lowe points out in this amazing Grantland piece, there are many incidents that occur throughout a basketball game that all have equal bearing on an outcome.

Lowe reminds us that no one event can ever be blamed for defeat.

But Tony Parker will no doubt go over that final second drive in game 6, Ginobili will no doubt stew over that no call, and from game 7, Tim Duncan will be haunted by his point blank miss to tie the game with 30 seconds to go.

Had any of these moments gone the way of the Spurs, we could now be talking about James and the Heat’s legacy being under threat, along with the potential break up of the ‘big three’.

The fact that we are not has much to do with the efforts of a champion and, in turn, the creation of a legend.

Hey LeBron, don't hide, be Hyde!

LeBron James was true to his word and game 4 saw the best player on earth reaffirm that infinitely grand title by following through on the brilliantly understated promise of being ‘much better ‘.

In the Heat’s road win over the Spurs, James’s stat line (33pts, 11 boards, 4 dimes, 2 steals and 2 blocks) stood out like a beacon of truth, shaming the all too real lie that he told in game 3.

But if the tone of Miami’s 2013 playoff run continues in the same key, it’s the turn of mere adequate LeBron to reappear from the devastatingly long shadow that was cast by unstoppable LeBron of game 4.

There has been much talk of James’ Jekyll and Hyde type performances over the past few games.
Inconsistency and a willingness to settle for 18 foot jumpers before game 4 had reminded everyone of that unfortunate and baffling finals performance of 2011.

LeBron’s ‘worst’ performance in these finals thus far came in the game 3 blow out loss where James had 15-11-5-2, passable enough numbers for any ordinary player.

But of course LeBron aint no ordinary player, and these numbers were jumped on as signs of a failing superstar unable to carry his teammates to victory.

The points came on 7-21 from the field and did not include a single free throw, more polite Dr Jekyll than angry Mr Hyde and very un-James like.

These criticisms maybe warranted but it also fails to pay due respect to the stifling defence played by the Spurs, personified by Danny Green and his impersonations of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

Thou shalt not pass indeed!

Unfortunately for San Antonio they were so effective in shutting down the Heat’s big 3 in game 3 that it seemed the catalyst Miami needed to unleash a devastating game 4 vengeance.

Much like the Ghostbusters warned, if you shut it down you may not like what emerges.

James was down right vicious.

The Heat don’t need good LeBron in the style of a morally sound, merely effective Dr Jekyll from Louis Stevenson’s 19th century tale of split personality.

The Heat needs a stat stuffing, all court monster angry at what has gone on before and desperate to make someone pay.

Mr Hyde in a Heat jersey.

LeBron did that in Game 4 and has now vowed to Hyde up again in game 5 by stating ‘enough is enough’ – it’s time for King James’ merry men to once again win back to back games in this see sawing Miami Heat post season.

To do this he will need Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade to again answer the call.

In game 4 Bosh was the player the Heat constantly need him to be, spacing a well drilled Spurs defence and bringing his more than capable yet often mysteriously missing defensive skills to the fore.

Wade also stepped out of his bizarre funk.

We don’t know what the issue was with Wade’s form over the first three games of this finals series, but its safe to say that if he reproduces his Game 4 heroics of 32 pts 6 steals 6 boards and 4 assists, the Heat will be harder to beat than a concrete piñata.

But there in lies the challenge for coach Spoelstra and his side.

The Heat have not won back to back games since their second round series against a depleted Chicago Bulls. And for a team that recorded a franchise record 27 straight regular season wins the up and down nature of this recent stint must be nauseating.

A lot is being made of the must win situation that the Spurs find themselves in going into today’s game 5. And its true, heading back to Miami having to win both road games to secure the title seems unlikely even for such a storied fight filled franchise.

But based on the pattern of the Heat’s recent post-season play the same ‘must win’ pressure could also be weighing heavily on Miami.

This makes LeBron’s split basketballing personalities and the performances of his fellow big three members even more vital, and today’s game all the more intriguing.

Hello Spurs; Is It Danny Green You're looking For?

Has anyone seen these two in the same room?
During Game two of this NBA finals series a friend made the throw away remark about San Antonio Spurs sharp shooter Danny Green’s resemblance to the 80s crooner Lionel Richie.

Sure, I conceded, both men have ill conceived facial hair and a seemingly unflappable disposition. But for me that’s where the physical similarities end (though I have no way of knowing the breadth of Green’s singing talent).

However if you are talking metaphorical similarities, well I got a list of them longer than Lionel Richie’s hair care bill.

For starters Richie had plenty of hits, Dancing on the Ceiling, Hello and Three Times a Lady to name but a few.

But during the game three blow out win over the Heat Richie’s dubious basketballing doppelganger Danny Green rewrote a version of an even bigger hit in All Night Long.

The only music he used was the sound from snapping nets as Green rained down three after three after three all night long against a bewildered Miami audience.

While many of Richie’s pop hits are, in this writers humble opinion, at best insipid and at worst nauseatingly saccharine, Green’s stop and pop three point daggers have for Spurs fans been equivalent to anthemic renditions of inspiring war cries.

Danny Green has arrived in this series, shooting a blistering 70% from 3-point range on the way to averaging 18 points during this finals series, up from 10.5 during the regular season.

Belying the Spurs big three, Green may well prove the vital spark the Spurs need to catch fire in their search for a fifth NBA title.

For the past few games Green, along with Gary Neal, has picked up the scoring slack that a literally hamstrung Tony Parker and a quiet Tim Duncan let sag for the second game in a row.

Neal and Green scored 51 of the Spurs 113 points total on a combined 13-19.

It was Neal and Green, not Parker and Duncan, who were the Spurs in the Heats side early on, catching and shooting with a deadly accuracy not seen since Pat Garrett patrolled the Texan prairies.

While Neal caught fire early Green waited until the second half to meter out his 3-point blitzkrieg, eventually finishing with a game high 27 points on 7-9 from beyond the arc.

But for all the razzle-dazzle while shooting the lights out, arguably Green’s greatest contributions have come on the defensive end.

His ability to stay with a gliding Wade or bullocking LeBron has much to do with the Heats naval gazing on their stuttering running game and public discussions on how best to combat a stifling and frugal defence.

While no one should doubt the likelihood of a LeBron led resurgence in game four his and the Heat’s performance thus far has alarmingly resembled the most ineffectual aspects of the series loss to the Mavericks in 2011.

Any time James is found settling for 18 foot wing jumpers is concerning for a team that relies on its star dominator doing exactly that from 10 feet and closer.

James is at his most devastating when attacking the paint, but apart for a desperately brief period during the third quarter of game three this mode of attack was non existent.

Ominously, LeBron has vowed to be better in game four.

The scary part for San Antonio is they know he can’t be much worse, a point that seems unfair to make about a player whose game included 15 points, 11 rebounds five assists and two steals, respectable statistics for any mere NBA mortal.

But Superman has proved on many occasions to be more than that, and right now the Heat need a super hero to once again inspire a performance that will come off the back of a curiously lacklustre post season effort.

Meanwhile, the Greg Popovich legend continues to grow.

Gary Neal and Danny Green, along with Kawhi Leonard, have become the latest personifications of the clichéd Spurs ‘system’ that is so ardently spruiked by coach ‘Pop’.

Popovich has carved out a sizeable reputation by taking unwanted, lowly or undrafted role players and turning them into essential, bona fide contributors.

It is a system that often sees San Antonio anointed the standard bearer to NBA small market success. Players are required to ‘buy’ into a culture of all for one and one for all, and are recruited on their willingness to do so.

Fittingly the leaders of this misfit band of bit part players have been the Spurs own version of the three musketeers.

For 12 years Messrs’ Ginobili, Parker and Duncan have guided less illustrious teammates through the rigours of an NBA season, and have three championships as reward.

They are now two games away from a fourth.

If Greg Popovich ever thought to give up coaching basketball he may well think of taking up marriage counselling, such is his success in marrying players like Danny Green and his fellow unheralded heroes to the Spurs system.

San Antonio is once again reaping the rewards of a relationship born on trust and perseverance., and come this time next week they may once again be Dancing in the Street.