NBA Playoffs Shootaround: The Hunger James

LeBron JamesSo much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You’ll find takes on moments you might’ve missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.

Witness

For 48 minutes, the best basketball player alive was just that, and with his team on the brink, we were treated to one of the most dominant performances in playoff history. The 40 points and the 18 rebounds are simply ridiculous, and the way LeBron James carried every part of another lackluster first half was even more so. When LeBron James is truly incredible, it has nothing to do with speed, power, or anything of the like. When he’s the most perfect basketball player man, God, or anybody else could think up, it’s when he’s doing this:

The pass was the second of its kind Sunday afternoon, the first being one along the baseline between two defenders. For many players, it’s their defense that shows how keyed in they are to a game. Buckets fuel effort on the other end, and in turn, there are more buckets. For James, whose defensive effort needs no extra edge, it always has been and will be the passing. The boost from a feeling of invincibility on the offensive end has nothing to do with the physical. It’s the way the floor appears to him, and the way he sees it like maybe one or two other men on earth can. Forty and 18 is fine, but what’s scary is how easy he can make it for everybody else.
Robert Mays

Siri, Tell Chris It’s Going to Be OK

Don’t mock hotspacho till you’ve had it, man.
Chris Ryan

Reading Is Brondemental

Sunday was a milestone day for books, reading, literacy, and inspiration.

More often than not, when athletes are seen attempting to pump themselves up before a game, they are wearing large Beats By Dre headphones atop their heads and it’s safe to assume they are usually listening to the hip-hops. While nothing is wrong with that, it is worth noting that I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen someone walk through the tunnel with reading material. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, just that I’ve missed it. I’m sure Grant Hill shows up to the US Airways Arena in Phoenix with a stack of papers he’s grading and a fully annotated copy of A Brief History of Time, but I can’t imagine anyone else using a book as a pump-up tool.

But on Sunday, LeBron changed all of that. This image, captured before Game 4, a must-win for the Heat to avoid going down 3-1, shows LeBron reading the best-selling YA novel The Hunger Games. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I know about the main character, Katniss Everdeen, and have come to the conclusion that she is extremely brave. How brave? Based on a query to my one-stop-shop for answers, Wiki Answers, titled, “How is Katniss Everdeen brave?” the answer is “she decided to go into the hunger games instead of her sister and basically risked her life for her sister to have one more year of safety if her name gets called next year.”

Wow. That’s crazy brave.

This brave young woman and the story of how she risked her life for her loved ones obviously connected with and was internalized by LeBron, because after putting the book down, he proceeded to have 40 points, 18 rebounds, and nine assists, while only sitting a little more than four minutes. And most important, the Heat won. Again, crazy brave.

And to think, it’s all because of a book. Words on paper, not sounds, were the inspiration for this performance. This is huge. Books have had a rough few decades when it comes to the youth and convincing them that reading is cool, but what’s better for the American education system than kids assuming a book can help you be a winner? Is it true? Who knows, but this is no different than my preteen assumptions that the combination of lemon-lime Gatorade and Jordan XIIIs would be the catalyst for at least 18 points and seven assists.

I salute you, LeBron, for inadvertently making reading cool again, even if that book is simply a fancy iPad case.
Rembert Browne

So You Get a Tech Just for Going Up to a Guy and Saying, ‘I’m Batman?’

What is the world coming to? — Ryan

On Boston vs. Philadelphia

For years, Andre Iguodala has taunted us with a collection of useful tools — jet-pack leaping, keen court vision, the ability to pluck a rebound and gallop for the opposite bucket like a palomino — but never developed into the new cornerstone of the Sixers franchise. At present, Andre is still a wing player who can’t shoot and a muscular specimen who doesn’t post up. He’s a bootleg version of LeBron James, but at nearly the same price tag. After another offseason of trade speculation, Iguodala became a first-time All-Star by deferring to young teammates for scoring while maintaining his reputation as a hounding perimeter defender. While his deficiencies have not vanished during the 2012 playoffs, he’s surprisingly produced several of those game-seizing moments that cause Philly fans to merrily clink Yuengling bottles. Against the Bulls, he sealed the series with timely free throws. And over the weekend, his fourth-quarter explosion against the Celtics (two 3-pointers and a long jumper) made it feel, for the first time in ages, that the Sixers had an A.I. who could carry the team to relevance. While they may lose to Boston, for now, Philadelphia Freeway has yet to be ushered out of the playoff picture.
Ben Detrick

The Celtics are viable championship contenders. But viable championship contenders are not supposed to be blowing 18-point third-quarter leads. With Friday night’s Game 4 win, were the young, likable Sixers serving notice that they’ve cracked the code against their creaky opponents? Or was the epic letdown (which followed Game 3′s thrashing, and, early on, looked ready to repeat it) just part of the 2011-12 Celtics’ ungainly, idiosyncratic charm? After the Celtics — playing without Rajon Rondo, suspended for bumping ref Marc Davis in Game 1 — won Game 2 in their first-round series against the Hawks, Doc Rivers had this to say: “This team, I don’t know how good we are or what we’re going to do, but we do dumb things at times and it gets us in trouble, and then we tend to play well when that happens … It’s just an interesting group of guys.” Friday night took care of the “dumb thing.” Tonight, let’s see if they get the “play well” part going.
Amos Barshad

Baby, Even the Losers …

Blake Griffin sat alone outside his corner locker with a towel around his waist, his elbows on his knees, and dried blood on his face. The murmur of a half-dozen interviews could barely be heard over the rustle of clear plastic garbage bags. Thirty minutes earlier, the most successful season in Clippers history had ended, and already bags filled with shoes and workout gear crowded the floor.

Across the room, Chris Paul had just finished getting dressed, and with his son in tow, he made his way into the hallway. While sitting and waiting for Griffin, a still-sweating Tim Duncan came to say hello. Duncan asked the younger Chris about Sea World and spoke quietly with the elder about something that didn’t seem like basketball. Fifteen minutes or so passed, and finally, Paul and Griffin took the podium, where the first question let Paul say everything he needed to.

Does it make it any easier knowing that you lost to the best team on the planet?

“Nope.”

The sentiment isn’t surprising coming from one of the league’s most notoriously competitive players, but it’s the expectations of everyone else in Staples Center on Sunday night that were the most telling part of what this season has meant for the Clippers. Down the stretch, as their team once again battled back from a double-digit deficit, the crowd was as loud as it had been all season. When DeAndre Jordan threw home a lob from Eric Bledsoe to make it 92-87 with five minutes remaining, the 3-0 series hole didn’t matter. In a playoff game in May against the best team in the world, 19,000 people in Clippers gear were on their feet believing their team could win. That, as hard as it may have been for Paul to see, says enough about how different things have become.

All week, Griffin had been asked about how much could be learned from playing a series against Tim Duncan, and again Sunday night, both he and Paul espoused the virtues of the Spurs. The past four games were at times a brutal reminder of how far the Clippers are from the NBA elite, but they can take solace in the fact that they had a chance to measure themselves at all. The gap between Duncan and Griffin mirrors the one between their respective franchises. The disconnect is between polish and promise.

That promise was evident in places throughout the Clippers lineup Sunday. Along with his busted lip, Griffin had more than a few scratches across his face. With the two seasons he’s had, it’s easy to forget that they’re his only two seasons. Griffin spoke Sunday night of how much his game needed to improve, and with half his upper lip covered in a bandage, there was little doubt the effort needed to do so would be there.

The other takeaway was Bledsoe, who at times was the best player on the floor for L.A. In a series where (an admittedly beat-up) Chris Paul had trouble getting to the rim, Bledsoe got there with ease over and over Sunday. He scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and added three steals. The decision now will be whether his value is highest as a complement to Paul or as a trade piece. The calls will be coming.

The most pressing decision, though, will deal with the future of the man who preceded Paul and Griffin at the podium Sunday night. Two months ago, it didn’t seem like Vinny Del Negro would make it another game, let alone to mid-May. Now, the time comes to decide whether he’s the guy to steer the franchise through what is a crucial season in the effort to lure back Paul and Griffin. The lobbying for another chance began during Sunday night’s postgame press conference as Del Negro spoke of the need to surround Griffin and Paul with “certain types of players” if the Clippers were to be successful. The question is whether Del Negro is the man to lead them.

That a coach who won a playoff series for the Los Angeles Clippers might be on his way out is reason enough to consider the season a success. When Paul arrived, the hope was that with him would come relevancy the franchise had never experienced before. They’ve gotten even more. Both Griffin and Del Negro spoke about the expectations Paul has brought not only to the fans but to everyone in the Clippers locker room. That notion was evident when Paul was asked if he took any solace in taking a team to heights it had never before reached.

“Not really. I mean, it’s cool … I don’t know. I want to win,” Paul said. “This is not a great feeling sitting here answering what we could have done. I think this is just going to make us hungry. I tip my hat to the Clippers fans, to the Clippers faithful who came out and supported us. And I want them to know this isn’t it.”
Mays

Filed Under: Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Indiana Pacers, Lebron James, Miami Heat, NBA, NBA Playoffs, Philadelphia 76Ers