Votes seem inconsequential on this day. Even the result of the game seem inconsequential. All that will be remembered on this day, Day 25 of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, is that Lebron James completely stunned the basketball world. Not in the usual way he does, by flashing glimpses of basketball genius, but in a way that made us question our belief in the legitimacy of a basketball hero.
So much has been said of Lebron James since Game 5 that quite frankly, it’s baffling. I’ve never seen anything like it. “Lebron James” was a trending topic on Twitter for about 12 hours straight after this game. What I kinda feel sorry about for Lebron is that this unprecedented backlash is more a sign of the times, than an indication of the magnitude of failure his Game 5 was. What I mean by that is Jordan, Magic, Bird and Kobe all have had bad playoff games – even when it really mattered. As Adande writes, “Magic choked at the ends of Games 2, 4 and 7 in the 1984 Finals”. We know Kobe has had his questionable playoff games, including a handful of games in the 2004 Finals. Even Michael Jordan slipped up from time to time, including a lousy Game 5 in the 1989 Conference Finals against Detroit when he finished with “only” 18 points (he had been a human wrecking-ball up till that point averaging 35+). The difference is, especially with Michael and Magic in the 80s, is that nature was able to take its course, reaction and over-reaction reaching a nice equilibrium without ever overwhelming the senses of the innocent NBA bystander. Contrast that to today where within minutes of Lebron’s game the Internet and TV media is absolutely flooded with impulsive outbursts (from experts and otherwise) before you’ve even had a chance to digest what happened and think reasonably about it all. Adande nailed it: “That’s what happens when you can send comments to Twitter or Daily Dime Live just as soon as a shot is missed. We make things definitive when they’re actually still formative.”
The point I’m trying to make here is that plain and simple, everyone is overreacting. And like I said on Twitter, that doesn’t surprise me, because people have always tended to overreact to anything Lebron James does. He’s brought it about himself thanks to a relentless pursuit of fame and a marketing campaign that feels like he’s trying to sell you shares in his company, rather than play great basketball. He’s a hype machine, and when shit hits the fan that machine just keeps on running – in reverse. Woj wrote a killer piece on LBJ yesterday, and I whole-heartedly agreed with all of it when I read it. But reading it one day later it just seems to reek of panic-stricken hyperbole. Like a stressed woman in the kitchen screaming obscenities after burning her croutons – just chill the fuck out, the soup will still taste nice… they’re only croutons…
That’s what I’m expecting from Lebron James tomorrow in Game 6. A massive fuck-off bowl of soup to pour on the face of everyone who tried to tear him down over the last 24 hours – which includes, I might add, 90% of the basketball world. Yes, astute reader with your hand up, what’s that you say? I said the exact same thing almost a year ago? Ahhh so I did:
This is the part where I don’t make sense. For everything I’ve said so far, I still think Cleveland can win the series. The logic behind it? There really isn’t any. I know Lebron can’t do much more than he’s doing, and I know those match up problems won’t go away. But sometimes I’m just stubborn and the only way I’ll concede defeat or wrongness is to endure it. I’ve built up a certain amount of respect and expectation for a guy as great as Lebron, it’s taken years, and it doesn’t wear off easily. Sometimes your pre-conceived notions about a player and the realms of possibility have been shattered so many times that when they’re confronted by a wall you simply brace yourself and wait for them to crash through. When they do, it only heightens your trust in them. When they don’t, it’s like a girlfriend cheating on you; you never look at them the same way. So I’m forced to put my faith in Lebron. I don’t want to believe he’s cheating on me, I won’t believe it. My brain cannot visualize him walking off the court in Orlando, blue and white streamers falling from the sky, with Stern handing the Conference Trophy over. I just can’t see it, and I won’t believe it until I do.
Almost spooky how accurate that sentiment still is for me, with the Cavs down 2-3 on the eve of Game 6. So the question you’re probably asking is, at what point do I have to face the facts that Lebron is cheating on me? At what point do the burnt croutons actually become a big deal? That point, of course, is when the soup also tastes like shit. That’s when you start thinking to yourself, maybe the missing croutons really do matter… maybe this whole dish isn’t what it’s stacked up to be? Maybe I should stop using cooking analogies in my blog? Whatever. Bill Simmons probably said it best: “At the same time, every career has a tipping point when you have to pour cement on the foundation of a career, have it harden and say, ‘How this plays out will probably determine who this player is going to be’”. For Lebron, that is happening tomorrow. Game 6 is his soup dish. If he nails it, the Cavs win Game 7 and Lebron goes back to work on building that foundation. If he doesn’t, the whole thing might topple down on him and it could get ugly. Real ugly. I wouldn’t give a shit (honestly I’m not that big a Lebron fan) if it didn’t have such a monumentally important outcome. Simmons called it the “game that could determine how the next 12 years of NBA titles unfold”. That is one big soup dish right there.
3 votes – Ray Allen. His best game of the series couldn’t have come at a better time. His back-to-back threes at the beginning of the third completely broke the spirit of the Cavs and their fans, and the margin wouldn’t drop below double-digits again. I have written a lot about Ray on this blog, mostly references to his smoothness and shaving habits. But in all seriousness, what Ray Allen is doing now is very special. To me, he’s honing in on finishing his career a Top 10 shooting guard of all time. We wouldn’t have said that about Ray Allen two years ago, even after winning his first ring. But his durability continues to surprise people, and his impact on games is second-to-none when he’s firing. Ask yourself this: if Ray churns out another quality season or two, do you rank him above Clyde Drexler? Allen Iverson? Reggie Miller? For me the answer is “yes” to all of those, and if the Celtics win another title (or make another deep playoff run littered with Ray heroics) its an indefensible “yes”. Just know that I’ve gone from being an amused Ray-observer (thanks to my Ray-obsessed pal Wibo) to someone who feels genuinely privileged to be watching him every game. He was arguably the most memorable thing about last year’s playoffs (in that epic Bulls-Celtics series), and his effort in this game (25 points, 6-9 threes) might prove to be just as memorable if the Celtics hang on to win the series. No matter which way you look at it, Ray Allen still remains an incredibly important player in this league.
2 votes – Kevin Garnett. Remember the KG that anchored the Celtics historic defense in 2008 and built a team camaraderie that drove them to a title? Yeah, it’s easy to forget about that guy when his douche-bag alter ego surfaces – as it has for much of the past two seasons. I’m inclined to agree with Simmons when he says KG had a basketball epiphany during his cat fight with Q-Rich in the first round. Because since then I’ve seen more of that 2008 KG, and less of his douche-bag brother. He seems more focused, and far more aggressive on the offensive end. How’s this for a stat: only once in the entire 2009-2010 season did KG take 20 field goal attempts in a game, and that includes the first round of the playoffs. In the Cleveland series? He’s already had two of those games. Something’s changed. More than likely, KG has just figured out that Antawn Jamison is a hopeless mismatch for him, something which only just dawned on me watching this game. The bad news for Cavs fans (and Orlando fans) is that KG just seems like he’s hitting a groove right now.
1 vote – Paul Pierce. He had to respond to the doubters after his average performances so far this series, and he did that in Game 5. His 21 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists was the best all-round Celtics performance on the day. He defense on Lebron continues to be great (despite Lebron not needing defense for most of this game) and if there’s any guy that is primed to bring the house down in Boston in Game 6, it’s this man. Get you wheelchairs ready people. The Truth is here.