It has been discussed in many different forums that betting the futures market is a sure-fire way to throw away your hard- earned profits.
But keeping an eye on movement in the NBA future market is a whole other story.
It has been discussed in many different forums that betting the futures market is a sure-fire way to throw away your hard- earned profits.
But keeping an eye on movement in the NBA future market is a whole other story.
Through his very last timeout huddle with his team, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said all the right things.
“We’re gonna treat them like they’re the champions,” Brooks instructed his club. “After this game, we’re gonna walk and shake their hands and acknowledge all of them. They beat us fair and square. However hard that hurts, they beat us fair and square. Give them credit.”
Yes, Brooks said all the right things.
It would have been nice if he had done all the right things.
Time will dull the memory of the 2012 NBA Finals. It will be remembered as the long-awaited coronation of LeBron James and show that the Heat dispatched the Thunder in five games, winning the last four.
That won’t reflect how close the Thunder actually came to positioning themselves to win an NBA title. The first four games were decided by a grand total of five points. Games 2, 3 and 4 all were in the balance in the final minute, and Oklahoma City somehow lost them all.
Yes, much of that failure falls upon the players. Russell Westbrook took 120 shots, or 12 more than James. Kevin Durant had 30 rebounds, or the same total as “too small” Dwyane Wade. James Harden had 18 baskets and 12 turnovers. The other five players in OKC’s primary rotation produced a total of three games in double figures.
It’s hard to win when players don’t perform up to expectations. But it’s almost impossible to win when the coach doesn’t, either.
Brooks allowed the clock and not the flow of the game to determine how he used his timeouts. He never fully explored the premise of a zone defense, which has bothered the Heat over the last couple of years. He never went to a 1-3 pick-and-roll, which depending on matchups could have put James or Shane Battier on the quicker Westbrook and Dwyane Wade or Mario Chalmers on the taller Durant.
In Game 3, Brooks sat Westbrook alongside a foul-plagued Durant for more than five minutes of the third quarter, allowing a double-digit lead to entirely evaporate and the American Airlines Arena crowd to get back in the game.
In Game 4, he refused to use a 20-second timeout in the second quarter as a 17-point lead was disappearing with his reserves on the floor, drawing public criticism from his own players.
“I just don’t understand why we start out the first quarter the way we did, with the lineup we had, and all of a sudden we change and adjust to what they had going on,” center Kendrick Perkins said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
And in the final 20 seconds of Game 4 – a stretch that would determine whether his team would fall into a hole that no Finals team had ever climbed out of or pull dead even with the Heat while reclaiming the homecourt edge – Brooks did not address to his players the potential scenario of Miami winning a huge jump ball, with the shot clock having been reset from 0.8 seconds to 5 seconds.
“One play does not determine the outcome of a game,” Brooks said.
Absolutely right, coach.
That one play determined the outcome of the series.
In Game 3, Brooks was hamstrung by Durant’s foul trouble. His superstar picked up his fourth foul with 5:41 left in the third quarter and took a seat in favor of Harden. Just 40 seconds later, he inserted Derek Fisher for Westbrook, who had two turnovers and two wild shots in under 90 seconds.
On Westbrook, Brooks explained he had to “kind of calm him down,” and the move initially looked good when Fisher stuck a four-point play to give the Thunder a 10-point lead. But “calm down” somehow morphed into “go sit in the corner” and Westbrook inexplicably remained on the bench – alongside Durant – until the start of the fourth quarter.
By that time, a lineup of Harden, Fisher, Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka had frittered away the lead, amassing three made free throws in 10 possessions over four-plus minutes. By the time Durant and Westbrook re-appeared, Oklahoma City’s momentum and Miami’s self-doubt had disappeared.
Westbrook is just 23 and by many accounts the game’s most athletic player. In a series in which James averaged 44 minutes and Wade averaged nearly 41, did Westbrook really need to be limited to 39?
“It’s hard to play 24 straight minutes at the high level that he plays at both ends of the floor in a major
playoff game,” Brooks explained.
“Coach makes the decisions,” Westbrook said. “He’s been making them all season. So I just roll with it.”
In Game 4, Westbrook was the best player on the court. His quick start pushed the Thunder to a big early lead and had Heat coach Erik Spoelstra looking for any way to stop the avalanche. Spoelstra already had used one full timeout and didn’t want to use another. So as soon as the clock dipped inside three minutes, he used a 20-second timeout to trigger OKC’s mandatory full timeout.
The Thunder held a 17-point lead until Norris Cole closed the first quarter with a 3-pointer. The Heat gained some momentum and began chipping away. At the 10:19 mark, Brooks used a full timeout, which really didn’t stem the tide.
Even with the extra TV timeout the second and fourth quarters provide, and even with the knowledge of the blown lead in Game 3, Brooks didn’t use his 20-second timeout to allow his team to keep some semblance of control. He ended up not using it for the half, and by that time, the Heat had regained their footing.
However, that omission was nothing compared to the closing seconds, when the Thunder trailed by three and Brooks never informed his team to play straight up and not foul should the Heat win the jump ball. Harden said there was no discussion of that possibility, which is unacceptable at this level of the game.
For those who believe Westbrook should shoulder most of the blame for intentionally fouling with less than five seconds on the shot clock, go right ahead. He is a point guard, an extension of the coach on the floor, the player who must understand clock and score better than anyone, and – most important – convey it to his teammates. And to Westbrook’s credit, afterward he called it a “miscommunication on my part.”
But Brooks has to share the blame. One game earlier, he sat Westbrook for five excruciatingly long minutes to “calm him down.” If he knows his point guard that well – and he has coached him for three-plus seasons – then Brooks should have known whether Westbrook is or isn’t the type of player who comprehends time and score and acted accordingly.
While Brooks was not relaying perhaps the most important instructions of his team’s season, Spoelstra had run to midcourt, raising all five fingers on a hand to let his players know the shot clock. The Thunder even got tipped off by the opposing coach and still didn’t know the rule.
Although Brooks doesn’t have a contract for next season, he was Coach of the Year in 2010, reached the conference finals in 2011 and played for the title in 2012. The belief here is that ultimately he will be re-signed, although the length of his new deal may be an issue.
It should be noted that in the last 10 years, Byron Scott didn’t get a contract extension after consecutive Finals trips and Mike Brown was fired after consecutive 60-win seasons. There also have been whispers about the idea of bringing in a bigger name – perhaps even as big as Phil Jackson – to get the Thunder over the top.
One thing is certain, however. Brooks didn’t exactly strengthen his negotiating position over the last two weeks.
TRIVIA: Mike Miller’s seven 3-pointers in Game 5 were one shy of the NBA Finals record. Who holds it? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Despite standing at the service bar in a tavern in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. and having a net worth of several million dollars, Indiana Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough insisted on drinking from a 40-ounce bottle of beer in a brown paper bag.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Miami Heat forward Shane Battier, explaining the dynamic of role players:
“We’re all role players, every last one of us. Some players just have a bigger role, and their role is to sell millions of dollars worth of shoes and do commercials and get all of the pretty girls. But we all have roles here, and it’s to be professional about it and go about doing your role. … My demographic is 50 and above and 13 and below. Very underrated demographic. They love me, though.”
LINE OF THE WEEK: LeBron James, Miami vs. Oklahoma City, June 21: 44 minutes, 9-19 FGs, 0-3 3-pointers, 8-9 FTs, 11 rebounds, 13 assists, one steal, two blocks, six turnovers, 26 points in a 121-106 win. James did not come out until it was time to celebrate. He assisted on eight of Miami’s 14 3-pointers and became the sixth player in NBA history to post a triple-double in a Finals clincher.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Derek Fisher, Oklahoma City at Miami, June 19: 22 minutes, 0-1 FGs, 0-0 3-pointers, 0-0 FTs, zero rebounds, zero assists, one steal, zero blocks, zero turnovers, two fouls, zero points in a 104-98 loss. That is a long time to be impersonating a statue in a Finals game.
TRILLION WATCH: Our hopes were high when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra emptied his bench at the three-minute mark of Game 5, inserting noted do-nothings Juwan Howard, Ronny Turiaf and Terrel Harris. As luck would have it, all three managed to dent the boxscore, meaning the season’s last week was devoid of any trillions. Nonetheless, the postseason title is a three-way tie at 4 trillion among Howard (May 24), teammate Joel Anthony (June 7) and Boston’s Ryan Hollins (May 4). The runaway regular season winner was Quincy Pondexter of Memphis, who recorded a staggering 11 trillion March 20 at Sacramento.
TWO MINUTES: It is clear that the NBA’s popularity is on the rise. After five straight years of single-digit TV ratings, the Finals has produced three consecutive years of double digits. Lakers-Celtics in 2010 did a 10.6, Mavs-Heat did a 10.2 last year and Heat-Thunder did an 11.8 this year. It is worth mentioning that Oklahoma City is by far the smallest market ever to host a Finals, ranking 28th in the league and 35th nationwide. It is over 16 percent smaller than San Antonio, the previous smallest Finals market. … The Heat became the first team to trail in three playoff series and win a championship. … On Thursday, we addressed the upside for both teams in the Hornets-Wizards trade. However, we should not ignore the downside for both teams, either. For the Wizards, there is concern about their team salary for the 2013-14 season, the first with the supertax of the new CBA. Emeka Okafor has an early termination option on his $14.5 million salary and Trevor Ariza has a player option for $7.7 million, both of which seem unlikely to come off the books. The Wizards also
have a handful of young players due for extensions that summer, including John Wall, who may warrant a max salary. Unless they can find a taker for Andray Blatche, the Wizards are going to find themselves with limited future financial flexibility – which has been their problem for quite some time. The issue for the Hornets is filling out the rest of their roster. They have no intention of retaining Lewis, leaving them with five players under contract for next season: Jarrett Jack, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith, Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez. Eric Gordon will be retained through a qualifying offer, Gustavo Ayon’s make-good deal likely will be guaranteed, and Anthony Davis and the 10th pick will be assured roster spots. But that brings the total to just nine, six shy of a complete roster. That’s a lot of spots to fill for a small-market team clearly in rebuilding mode. … Russell Westbrook has a message for Skip Clueless and all of the other self-important idiots in the media who ridiculuosly believe what they write or say is impacting in any way how players approach the game: “Let me get this straight – what you guys say doesn’t make me happy, make me sad, doesn’t do anything. It’s all about my team and us winning a game. I don’t have a personal challenge against you guys, and it’s not me against the world. It’s not the world against me. It’s me and my teammates trying to win.” … There were a pair of strange personnel decisions made by NBA teams this week. First, the Bobcats completed their coaching search by hiring a relative unknown in Mike Dunlap, who began last season as an assistant to Steve Lavin at St. John’s before taking over when Lavin was stricken with prostate cancer. Dunlap was part of Charlotte’s initial interview process but was not among the three finalists – Jerry Sloan and current NBA assistants Quin Snyder and Brian Shaw. When Sloan pulled out, Dunlap was brought in again and tabbed by owner Michael Jordan. You have to wonder if this is another cost-effective crony hire by Jordan; Dunlap has a relationship with George Raveling, who is tight with Jordan through their work with Nike. Dunlap excels in player development, and his hiring could have been a real coup had he been able to lure player development guru Tim Grgurich to Charlotte, which Dunlap admitted was unlikely. But it is difficult to devote time to developing young players – and the Bobcats have a boatload of them – when you have to prepare your team for opponents on a nightly basis. And keep in mind that Dunlap’s emergency elevation at St. John’s last season represents the extent of his head coaching experience at Division I or above. Jordan once hired college coach Leonard Hamilton to guide the Wizards and dumped him after one disastrous season. If the Bobcats are to take steps toward respectability, this can’t be another Hamilton hiring. The second bizarre move was new Hornets owner Tom Benson clearing out president Hugh Weber and replacing him with one of his guys from the NFL’s Saints. There may not have been a person more instrumental in keeping the Hornets in New Orleans than Weber, who joined the team in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, managed the Hornets through their temporary relocation to Oklahoma City and worked tirelessly on a grassroots season-ticket drive that even Benson admitted ultimately made the Hornets attractive enough to purchase. “It is important to note that if it were not for his leadership and running the Hornets during a very difficult time, this sale would have not happened,” Benson said in a statement. “He made the transition very smooth and he should be commended.” If that was the case, then why not find a new role for Weber, whose value to the team was clearly tangible? Instead, Benson gave Saints VP Dennis Lauscha control of the Hornets’ business operations and also brought in Saints GM Mickey Loomis to oversee the basketball operations above GM Dell Demps, whose track record also has been pretty solid. Look, it’s Benson’s team, he can hire whomever he wants, and Lauscha and Loomis are pretty sharp tacks. But you have to wonder about his decisions to dispatch and diminish the role of two people who have kept the Hornets propped up in very difficult times. … Among the players on the Heat collecting their first championship ring was Juwan Howard, one of just three 1994 draft picks still active (Jason Kidd and Grant Hill are the others). On his eighth team in his 18th season, Howard played just 190 minutes this season and 24 in the postseason but was able to get on the court to finish out the Game 5 celebration. Howard, 39, hasn’t said that he is retiring, although many assume he will. “We’ll all be working for him someday,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’ll be a GM or a coach, whatever he decides. That’s what he was acting as this year anyway.” Scott Skiles, Rex Chapman, Tyronn Lue, Michael Curry, Robert Pack, Mark Price, Kevin Pritchard, Mark Bryant, Howard Eisley, Avery Johnson and Nick Van Exel are just some of Howard’s former teammates who have become NBA coaches and executives.
Trivia Answer: Ray Allen had eight in Game 2 in 2010. … Happy 79th Birthday, Sam Jones. … If Tom Benson is serious about changing his team’s nickname to something more indentifiable with New Orleans, he could stay in the insect family and call it the Hissing Cockroaches.
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.
The two best words in sports are Game Seven.
When it comes to the NBA Finals, Game 5 isn’t too bad, either.
Either one team has a 3-1 lead, which means the trailing team will scratch, claw, bite, fight and cheat to stay win. Or the teams are tied 2-2, which means both teams will scratch, claw, bite, fight and cheat to win.
Our collection of the best Game Five showdowns of the David Stern Era includes three in which the series was tied and two where a team held a 3-1 lead. There are big names such as Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade and not-so-big names such as Vinnie Johnson and Latrell Sprewell. Avery Johnson appears as both a player and a coach.
Tonight, it likely will be the Oklahoma City Thunder scratching and clawing to avoid the end of their season – and get the Finals back on their court. We could be in store for a memorable performance from Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Or it could be the night that LeBron James gets his championship.
Before the Thunder and Heat tip off, spin through our list of best Game 5′s below.
5. SPREWELL DUELS DUNCAN: The lockout-shortened 1999 season will not be remembered for its quality of basketball. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Finals, where the San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks both made their names with grinding defense. The Spurs cleared 90 points once; the Knicks had a high of 89 and low of 67. It was tough to watch until Game 5, when Spurs forward Tim Duncan and Knicks guard Latrell Sprewell engaged in a duel that seemed entirely out of place in this series. Sprewell scored 25 of New York’s last 34 points on a variety of pull-up jumpers and drives, giving the Knicks belief that they could stave off elimination and send the series back to San Antonio. Duncan scored 15 of his 31 points in the final 24 minutes, torturing Kurt Thomas with mid-range bank shots, hooks and pump-fake drives for fouls. At one point early in the fourth quarter, Sprewell had scored 21 of New York’s last 25 points and Duncan had scored 14 of San Antonio’s last 15. Ultimately, the game-winning shot was a short corner jumper by San Antonio’s Avery Johnson with 47 seconds to play. On New York’s last two possessions, Sprewell missed a 15-footer when he was forced to arc a shot over the 7-foot Duncan that came up short. The Spurs won, 78-77, for their first NBA title. After starting the season 6-8, they won 46 of their last 53 games including the playoffs.
4. THE MICROWAVE HEATS UP LATE: After gaining a split of the first two games of the 1990 Finals on the road, the Portland Trail Blazers were ideally positioned to upend the defending champion Detroit Pistons – and promptly lost their first two games on their court to fall into a 3-1 hole. The Blazers showed some resolve, however, and held a 90-83 lead with two minutes to go. The series appeared to be headed back to Detroit, but Pistons reserve Vinnie Johnson had other ideas. Known as “The Microwave” for his ability to heat up quickly, Johnson made a leaning jumper and drew a foul at the 1:50 mark and pulled up for a short corner jumper with 1:21 to go that made it 90-88. At the other end, Detroit’s vaunted defense was digging in, getting stops and rebounds, and a jumper by Isiah Thomas tied it with 36 seconds to play. Portland’s Terry Porter threw away a pass, and Detroit capitalized as Johnson buried a jumper over the much taller Jerome Kersey with 0.7 seconds remaining, stunning the raucous crowd in Portland into silence. The Blazers missed a desperation shot and the “Bad Boys” secured their second straight championship. Johnson finished with 16 points off the bench, a role he relished throughout his career. How he never won a Sixth Man Award is one of the league’s great mysteries.
3. BIG SHOT ROB SAVES THE SPURS: The 2005 Finals were a matchup of the last two champions – the San Antonio Spurs (2003) and the Detroit Pistons (2004). It also paired coaches and good friends Gregg Popovich and Larry Brown against each other. But there was not a lot of intrigue through the first four games, which saw the Spurs win twice by a combined 36 points on their floor and the Pistons win twice by a combined 48 points on their floor. But Game 5 did not follow the series script with 12 lead changes, 18 ties and two-time Finals MVP Tim Duncan struggling with missed shots, missed free throws and turnovers down the stretch. But Duncan was bailed out by reserve Robert Horry, who lived up to his nickname of “Big Shot Rob.” Horry did not score until closing the third quarter with a 3-pointer but finished with 21 points. His 3-pointer with 1:17 left in regulation gave the Spurs an 88-87 lead, and the teams headed to overtime after a driving layup by Detroit’s Chauncey Billups and a free throw by Duncan, who had missed six in a row from the stripe. Duncan also missed a bunny at the end of regulation and fumbled away a pass in the final minute of overtime with Detroit holding a 95-93 lead. But Billups missed a drive, giving the Spurs one last chance. After a timeout, Horry inbounded into the left corner to Manu Ginobili and Rasheed Wallace – marking Horry – doubled down on Ginobili, who whipped a return pass to Horry, who drilled the go-ahead 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds left. Detroit’s Richard Hamilton missed at the buzzer, and the Spurs wrnt home with a 96-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The Pistons actually won Game 6, their first win in San Antonio in eight years that produced the first Game 7 in the Finals in 11 years. But the Spurs regrouped to dethrone the Pistons for their third championship in seven years.
2. DWYANE WADE GETS THE MICHAEL JORDAN TREATMENT: The 2006 Finals had perhaps the biggest 180 in NBA history. The Miami Heat had lost the first two games and trailed by 13 points midway through the fourth quarter of Game 3 before recovering to win that game and blow out the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 to even the series and turn Game 5 into the pivotal game of the series. The Mavericks led by as many as 11 points in the first half and still held a nine-point lead late in the third quarter when Heat guard Dwyane Wade began a parade to the free-throw line not seen since Michael Jordan was winning championships in the 1990s. Ultimately, Wade scored 43 points and made 21-of-25 free throws, which identically matched the numbers for Dallas. Down the stretch, Wade dueled Dallas sub Jason Terry, who scored 10 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter. Wade scored 17 points in the period, including the last 11 – and a short jumper with 2.8 seconds left that forced overtime. The extra session would have made the Ringling Bros. proud. Neither team led by more than two points, with the Mavericks squandering a huge chance to open some breathing room when Josh Howard missed two free throws with 54 seconds left and Dallas holding a one-point lead. Gary Payton – who also had a huge basket at the end of Game 3 – made a tough banker to give the Heat the lead with 29 seconds to go. Dirk Nowitzki, who had a somewhat quiet 20 points, splashed a corner jumper with 9.1 seconds left and ran down the court with his tongue hanging out as Dallas reclaimed the lead. But he had nothing to celebrate moments later as Wade – after averting what should have been a backcourt violation – weaved his way through several defenders without ever looking at a teammate and getting bailed out with a dubious foul call on Nowitzki, who put his hand on Wade’s hip but didn’t appear to push or shove him. For comparison’s sake, Nowitzki’s foul is a love tap compared to LeBron James’ hook on Kevin Durant at the end of Game 2 in this year’s Finals. There was 1.9 seconds to go, and Dallas had one timeout – which Howard inexplicably used between Wade’s free throws. Howard denied calling timeout, saying he was asking coach Avery Johnson when he wanted the timeout. Referees Bennett Salvatore, Joe DeRosa and Joe Crawford determined Howard had indeed called for time, and that left the Mavs with all 94 feet to negotiate after Wade knocked down the go-ahead free throw. A half-court shot by Devin Harris was no good, and one of the most controversial finishes in Finals history was in the books. After the game, Crawford gave a statement to a pool reporter regarding the timeout, Mavs owner Mark Cuban openly questioned the lopsided officiating, and Howard got into a locker room tiff with our editor-in-chief, who had the temerity to ask him about the last timeout. (Josh and I cleared the air prior to Game 6-CS)
1. JORDAN LEAVES THE JAZZ WITH A SICK FEELING: In the hours leading up to Game 5 of the 1997 Finals, the whispers began to grow louder. Michael Jordan was sick. He had a stomach virus, apparently from a bad pizza from room service. He might not be able to play. And even if he did, he would not be Michael Jordan. His pregame consisted of lying down on a table in the trainer’s room with all the lights turned off. It was a huge window of opportunity for the Utah Jazz, who had won the previous two games on their home floor and looked positioned to return to Chicago with a 3-2 lead. At the outset, Jordan clearly was not himself and the Jazz pounced, opening an early 36-20 lead. Jordan somehow found the strength to score 17 points in the second quarter and cut the deficit to 53-49 at halftime. The Jazz rebuilt their lead to 77-69 before Jordan’s indomitable will again took over as he scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer that snapped a tie and gave the Bulls an 88-85 lead with 25 seconds to play. The Bulls held on for a 90-88 win as Jordan finished with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in perhaps the biggest inspirational performance in Finals history. After the game, Jordan had to be helped to the locker room, where he gave a couple of quotes to a pool reporter before trudging to the bus, beads of a feverish sweat still building on his forehead. Lost in Jordan’s remarkable effort were a number of poor plays and decisions by the Jazz, who prided themselves as one of the smartest teams in the NBA. Karl Malone shot 1-of-6 in the field in the second half, including an airball prior to Jordan’s 3-pointer. He allowed Toni Kukoc to sneak in for an offensive rebound on Jordan’s missed free throw to set up the go-ahead shot. And after the Jazz scored to make it a one-point game, Malone – playing with five fouls – refused to foul Scottie Pippen and allowed the Bulls to escape for a dunk that virtually sealed the win.
If you’re looking for an illustration of why Celtics-Lakers is the best rivalry in the NBA – and perhaps the most enduring of any in the four major pro sports – then read the piece below.
Before each game throughout the NBA Finals, we have been encapsulizing the top five Game 1s, Game 2s, etc.
As the Thunder and Heat steel themselves for what should be a pretty intense Game 4 tonight, we offer you our top five Game 4 showdowns in recent NBA history.
All five games include the Lakers, and all but one of the matchups includes the Celtics.
Keep in mind that our historical cut line is 1984, when David Stern first became commissioner and the playoffs first went to a 16-team format that required all teams to play four postseason rounds. So we are not even including some of the classic Celtics-Lakers matchups of the 1960s, when the teams met a staggering six times in the Finals.
All of those showdowns were won by the Celtics. The rivalry has been much more balanced during Stern’s reign, as you will see below.
5. THE CELTICS STORM BACK: In 2008, the Celtics and Lakers met in the Finals for the first time in 21 years. Neither team broke through on the road through the first three games, and that trend looked like it would continue in Game 4 as the Lakers opened a 35-14 lead after one quarter. The lead grew to 24 points with less than five minutes before halftime and was still 70-50 midway through the third period when the Celtics finally awoke. Boston got a huge boost from bench players Eddie House, James Posey and P.J. Brown while LA was getting nothing from reserves Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar and Ronny Turiaf. The Celtics closed the quarter with a 21-3 run, and when Leon Powe scored to open the final period, the game was tied. “The air went out of the building,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. The Lakers briefly rebuilt a four-point lead before the Celtics took control for good with an 11-2 burst triggered by Posey’s 3-pointer as a swarmed Kobe Bryant went without a shot for three minutes. Posey stuck in the dagger with another 3 for a 92-87 lead at the 1:13 mark, and the Lakers never again had the ball with a chance to tie. Posey scored 18 points, three more than LA’s reserves. The Lakers were limited to 33 second-half points in a crushing 97-91 loss that virtually assured Boston’s 17th championship, which the Celtics secured five days later on their home floor.
4. DJ DRILLS A DAGGER: The 1985 Finals between the Celtics and Lakers featured huge momentum swings. Boston won the first game on its home floor by 34 points, then abruptly lost the next two and found itself fighting for its series life in Game 4 at the Fabulous Forum. In the final minute of a tense fourth quarter, the Celtics forced a miss on a baseline skyhook by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But Magic Johnson – who had a triple-double with 20 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds – sneaked in for the offensive rebound and putback that tied it, 105-105, with 17 seconds to go. With the luxury of holding for the last shot, the Celtics initiated their set with Dennis Johnson at the top and Larry Bird coming off a right side curl. On the catch, Bird was doubled by Magic. He took one dribble to freeze Magic, then pitched back to Dennis Johnson, who buried an 18-footer at the horn for the win that evened the series. The shot capped a simply spectacular game for Dennis Johnson, a Finals MVP in 1979 with Seattle who had 27 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds while adding to his resume as a clutch performer. The Finals went 12 years before seeing another pure buzzer-beater.
3. KOBE BRYANT COMES OF AGE: Despite Kobe Bryant’s meteoric rise to superstardom over his first four years, the Lakers were still Shaquille O’Neal’s team when they met the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 Finals. O’Neal won MVP honors that season, and Bryant was still the beta dog, intermittently picking his spots in and around O’Neal’s dominance. But in Game 4, he fully emerged from Shaq’s shadow. Bryant badly sprained his ankle in Game 2 and sat out Game 3, which the Pacers won on their home floor to get back in the series. O’Neal was his usual unstoppable self with 36 points and 21 rebounds. But he missed a potential game-winning jumphook at the end of regulation and fouled out with 2:33 left in overtime, handing the reins to Bryant, who wasted no time proving he was up to the challenge. On consecutive possessions, he answered baskets by Rik Smits with jumpers. After the second one, he retreated on defense while pushing his palms downward, as if to tell his team, “Calm down, I got this.” Which he did, putting home a reverse layup off Brian Shaw’s miss with 5.9 seconds to go. The Lakers survived a potential game-winning 3-pointer by Reggie Miller and held on for a 120-118 win, regaining control of the series in one of the more underrated Finals games in NBA history. At practice the following day, I bumped into Bryant as he left his media session and headed down a back corridor for treatment on his ankle. I told him that Game 4 would always be remembered as the day when he emerged from Shaq’s shadow. “Really?” he responded, sincerely pleased. “I hope so.”
2. THE JUNIOR, JUNIOR SKYHOOK: In 1987, the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals for the third time in four years. The Lakers were rested and won the first two games at home rather easily, averaging 133.5 points. The Celtics got back in the series with a home win in Game 3 and appeared positioned to win even the series as they opened a 16-point lead in the third quarter. The Lakers staged a furious rally to tie the game with 5 1/2 minutes to go, then rallied again after Boston rebuilt an eight-point lead two minutes later. An alley-oop dunk from Magic Johnson to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gave the Lakers a 104-103 lead with 29 seconds to go. Larry Bird drilled a 3-pointer to reclaim the lead for Boston, and LA went to Abdul-Jabbar, who was fouled. He made the first shot and missed the second, and the ball was ruled out of bounds off Kevin McHale, allowing the Lakers to retain possession with seven seconds to play. The Lakers called timeout and went to Johnson, who used a hesitation dribble to get into the lane and floated a running hook – which he later called a “junior, junior skyhook” – over the outstretched arms of McHale and Robert Parish with two seconds left, silencing the Boston Garden crowd. Bird was able to get free of James Worthy for a 3-pointer from the left corner that bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded, giving the Lakers a 107-106 win and a 3-1 series lead. In the moments after the game, James Brown of CBS interviewed Johnson in the cramped corridors of Boston Garden. During the interview, shouting could be heard in the background. It was Celtics GM Red Auerbach, reading the referees the riot act.
Go to the 3:45 mark of the video below for Red’s rant.
1. THE CELTICS BULLY THE LAKERS: The 1984 Finals began with the Lakers nearly taking the first two games on the road from the Celtics, who were rescued by a timely steal by Gerald Henderson to win Game 2. Back in Los Angeles, the Lakers pounded the Celtics in Game 3, and Larry Bird called out his team in the media, calling it “a bunch of sissies.” Only he didn’t say “sissies.” He said a word that begins with P and is a synonym for a cat. The Celts decided that they would go down fighting. Bird shoved Michael Cooper in the second quarter and nearly came to blows with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the third period. But the most memorable altercation was Kevin McHale’s clothesline takedown of Kurt Rambis on a fast break that resulted in several scuffles with multiple players coming off both benches. In today’s game, McHale would have been suspended for at least five games, and many others would have been facing bans of at least one game. But incredibly, no one received as much as a technical foul. Despite the rough stuff, the Lakers led by five points with a minute to play but allowed a three-point play on a follow shot by Robert Parish, who later stole a pass by Magic Johnson after Larry Bird sank the tying free throws. In overtime, a three-point play by James Worthy gave the Lakers a 123-121 lead before Bird tied it with two free throws and – after Magic missed a pair from the line – gave the Celts the lead for good with a turnaround jumper with 16 seconds left. Worthy drew a foul, but when he missed the first free throw, Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell walked across the lane and made the “choke” sign. Boston held on for a 129-125 win as Bird had 29 points and 21 rebounds, Parish added 25 and 12 and Dennis Johnson had 22 and 14 assists. Abdul-Jabbar scored 32 points, Worthy had 30 and Magic Johnson had a triple-double with 20 points, 17 assists and 11 rebounds. It is inarguably one of the greatest Finals games of all time.
Do the Miami Heat have the momentum after their second straight NBA Finals win over the Oklahoma City Thunder?
Not necessarily. I am not a big believer in momentum, because I believe each game in a series is an opportunity for each team to create its own positive forward energy.
In Game 3, the Heat did make a concerted effort to get the ball inside. They held the edge in second-chance points and fast-break points, indicating an advantage in effort. And they have prevented the Thunder from getting their transition game in full gear.
However, Oklahoma City’s chances to win the last two games have been undermined by Kevin Durant’s persistent foul trouble and some poor offensive execution at crucial times.
If the Thunder can correct those issues, Miami’s “momentum” heading into Game 4 may be fleeting.
I talked about this dynamic following Game 3 with CineSport’s Noah Coslov. Click the video box above for the segment.
For my postgame column on the Thunder’s immaturity, click here.
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