Saturday, June 23, 2012

It's About Damn Time

As a surprisingly raucous Miami crowd chants "MVP..MVP..MVP..." Stuart Scott asks Lebron James, "Given everything you've been through, with the clock at triple zero's. What's the first thing that ran through your mind?"
Lebron pauses a second, shakes his head in a "I can't believe this happening" type of way, and says "It's about damn time."
It is about damn time that Lebron gets a championship, it is about damn time Lebron silences the haters, it is about damn time Lebron James lifts and 1,000 lbs weight off his shoulders. Those are the not the only things it's about damn time for, looking forward to the future and reflecting on the present (is that even possible) I list a couple things that it's about damn time for.
It's about damn time... Erik Spolestra gets off the hot seat: In the midst of all the post game celebrations and interviews, second to only the King, Coach Spo looked the most relieved. With the title or bust expectations placed on his head Spolestra was in a tough situation. Do I think he was a fantastic coach throughout the playoffs? No, and I don't think an argument can be made otherwise. However, Pat Riley's prodigy was able to escape the criticism and in the biggest upset of the finals other than Mike Miller, Shane Battier, and Norris Cole knocking down trey after trey Spolestra out-coached Scott Brooks. I would say that Spolestra submitted the best coaching series of his career, and his ability to put the right people in at the right times was truly uncanny. Lebron wasn't the only one to exceed expectations in the clutch, and Erik Spolestra earned his job as the 2013 Miami Heat coach. Which leads me to someone on the other end of the spectrum...
It's about damn time... Scott Brooks loses his job: This summer Thunder GM Sam Presti and majority owner Clay Bennet will have to decide whether to resign coach Scott Brooks to a new deal. After his absolutely awful performance in the finals and his very questionable handling of the San Antonio series I think it is clear the Thunder should look for a new face. Brooks routinely put James Harden on Lebron even though Lebron has at least three inches, 30 pounds, nine inches of vertical, and is considerably faster. Brooks did this in order to keep Kevin Durant out of foul trouble, but he persisted with it into much of a elimination game without ever realizing the consequences. It was a solid strategy to put someone besides KD on Lebron, but why would that guy be Harden? Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive specialist who also matches up with Lebron much better than Harden. If not Thabo I would have rather Brooks put Serge Ibaka on Lebron than Harden because he physically matches up better, and has a good defensive pedigree unlike Harden. If Brooks had put Thabo on Lebron then Westbrook would've guarded Wade (who he matches up well with), and either Durant, Harden or Fisher on Chalmers. By putting Thabo on Lebron Brooks has to make a decision between going big with Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka, putting Harden on Chalmers, or putting Fisher on Chalmers. Sure Thabo was excruciatingly bad on offense in his limited touches, but if he had kept that up then I would have liked to see Brooks at least try Ibaka on James. Besides his matchup problems defensively Brooks had plenty of guffaws on the offensive end. Most importantly was the simplicity of OKC's offense. I imagine coach Brooks drawing up their plays on a clipboard, Harden isolation, Westbrook isolation, Durant isolation high/low post up, Harden pick-and-roll, Westbrook pick-and-roll, Durant right side pin-down screen for iso or quick jumper, and fast break. That is it, and I don't think any other play was ever actually run. These are not bad plays, it is just that a competent coach should have a little more variety, and he should pick his spots better. I don't know if it is Brooks fault or the players, but consistently their were situations when Durant would have a hot hand and Brooks would run a Westbrook high screen. Or even worse when either Durant or Westbrook would demand the ball, and James Harden would wave them off to jack up a bad shot off a pick and roll. Finally, what was most frustrating was his rotation. In the third quarter of Game 3 Brooks let the game slip away by keeping both Durant and Westbrook on the bench as the Heat made a storming comeback and took the lead. In other times throughout the series he would keep James Harden in even though he couldn't make a shot and Derek Fisher seemed like a better option (yes James, I hate to break it to you, you sucked that much.). He would also play people for extended stretches and not mix it up enough causing fatigue, and a lack of challenges for the Miami Heat to cope with. An example of the last complaint is when Brooks would go at least half a quarter without Serge Ibaka touching the floor. Six minutes plus of Nick Collison and Perkins? In the championship? Not spacing the floor at all for your all-star perimeter players? Geez Scotty, it's not that hard. Some might argue that firing Brooks would cause problems among such a tight knit team, but one man won't have that problem. Enter Phil Jackson. He coached Jordan, Pippen, Shaq, Kobe, and Kwame Brown. No one else can put that on their resume. In all seriousness he would be perfect for the Thunder. The triangle would work well at times to give teams a different look from all the one-on-one basketball the Thunder currently employ, and he would be able to manage the touches of three stars who deserve them (that's right James, your getting a second chance. You had a absolutely horrendous finals, but instead of diverting a paragraph to you I will take shots at you throughout the column. Kinda like you taking iso threes and impossible layups whenever your team was in a big moment. But I am giving you a second chance, I've seen you perform beautifully at times and Game 4 against Dallas tapes are begging for me not to neglect you.). I mean isn't this the perfect job for a coach who is not willing to go anywhere but a good situation, and is in the hall of fame for his ability to manage great talents and great teams. I mean c'mon sometimes things are too simple.
It's about damn time... we saw the full potential of the Miami Heat: When three all-stars, two of the top five players in the world, the reigning MVP, and Juwan Howard took their talents to South Beach we expected big things. Last night the epitome of what the "not one, not two, not three..." thing was all about was realized. The Heat played like the Spurs, only if Lebron was Tony Parker, and Matt Bonner on steroids was having the best night of his career (to further the comparison Wade was Ginobili, Bosh was Duncan, Battier Stephen Jackson, Chalmers Gary Neal, Haslem Kawhi Leonard, Norris Cole Danny Green, and Juwan Howard most definitely the guy selling beer in the stands. I'm sorry I couldn't find Ronny Turiaf, and James Jones comparison but Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter were too important to be either of them.). The Heat passed the ball beautifully, Wade and Bosh played very solid all-star level games, Lebron put in an all-time great closeout performance, and most importantly the role players were fantastic. I mean if I told you that Miller, Battier, and Chalmers combined to score the same amount as Bosh and Wade combined (44 if you were wondering. I'm sure no one was wondering but I still felt like putting that in there.) you would either think it was a Heat blowout or a Heat collapse, and due to Bosh's injury and Wade's up and down play I think you would lean toward collapse. In order for the Heat to reach their full potential I think the above listed needs to happen, Wade and Bosh both need to play well, Lebron needs to be incredible (defense, rebounding, passing, and scoring.), role players need to make open threes, everyone needs to give a shit, and their defense has to be swarming. If the Heat did that they would unlock their full potential, last night's defense I wouldn't describe as swarming, but for much of the first half and for a stretch in the third quarter it could be described that way. Throughout this series and the whole playoffs the Heat had been inching closer and closer to that, and last night it was achieved. At first it was tough to watch because I wanted the Thunder to win, and I really wanted to see a competitive series. However, as the game went on I gradually accepted the Heat as champions, and I was able to appreciate the beautiful basketball being played.
It's about damn time... Kevin Durant tries to be selfish: In last night's game there were pivotal moments when KD tried to do to much (specifically when in the third quarter the Thunder cut it to five, got a rebound, and KD lost the ball in transition ending a Thunder run and starting a Miami one.). At the same time though it was fun to watch Durant really demand the ball, and not seem to care if he pleased his teammates. Durant was the only one who put in a good performance last night, and if the rest of the team had stepped up we might be looking back on how great Durant was. I don't actually want Durant to always be selfish on offense, what makes this team work, and what makes him so special is his unselfishness. Durant though can get a quality shot at will, and having him demand the ball sometimes is a good thing. Hopefully Durant will review the tape, and learn how he can balance demanding the ball while not trying to do to much and committing turnovers. Knowing his work ethic and desire to improve I'm sure KD will keep improving in this area.
It's about damn time... we appreciate what makes sports special: I'm sure by now everyone who didn't watch the game has seen the video of Lebron's celebrating at the end. Watching the sheer joy and happiness on Lebron's face reminds me of why we care about sports. Sports are not just a game, nothing that is just a game can bring contentment like that. Games make people happy, Lebron was fulfilled. There two completely different feelings, and this is what makes us care so much. The highs and lows of following a sport, or playing a sport are unlike anything else. Because the lows are so painful it makes the highs that much sweeter. Lebron didn't care about all the negative attention he has received from the media. Lebron didn't care that he was a King, "the chosen one", a 3 time MVP, what Lebron cared about was that he was a NBA champion. Another thing that makes team sports so great is that winning with a group of guys that you connect with makes it all the more better. Lebron didn't just succeed, he succeeded with some of his best friends right by his side. After the game I was in awe, partially because of the great basketball I had just witnessed from the Heat, and partly because of everything I just wrote about. I called up my best friend after the post-game stuff and just gushed all my thoughts about the game into the phone (I'm sorry for not letting you talk much, I was overwhelmed.). After that I stood in the shower for probably fifteen minutes just soaking in (no pun intended) everything. Watching Lebron be so happy made me happy and made me reflect on sports. It was so amazing to see the amount of emotion he had, and it brought out a ton in myself. Being so overcome myself I can only imagine the feeling Lebron had. Last year I was a Lebron hater, this season I was amazed at his first couple months but then disappointed and upset with his last few. In the playoffs it all came together for me and him. Marv Albert's famous call, "Lebron James with no regard for human life" wasn't true. Lebron cared a lot about others, but last night he was happy with himself. Lebron James was content and fulfilled. It's about damn time.

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