On the John
Enjoying the show in the NBA playoffs
Originally completed April 18, 2010
I would be interested to know my grandfather’s thoughts on LeBron James or Derrick Rose going iso at the top of the key. I am certain that would be a fascinating discussion. One thing Papa never understood was the reverence my brother and I shared for Mario. “Why does the little man keep breaking the bricks with his head?” he would ask, passing through the basement after Chanukah, swinging his Manhattan.
And the one thing I never understood was Papa’s enthrallment with the Utah Jazz. Here I was, a teenager getting high on three years of swift domination from my favorite professional sporting team. And my grandfather is actively admiring and studying my team’s chief opponent. He spent the majority of Game 6 in ’98 marveling at the rhythmic perfection of each Stockton to Malone screen roll. Sometimes, in an effort to snap him out of it, I would shout things like, “Papa – the Bulls!” But he had evolved beyond the team-by-location stage and now demanded focused brilliance and mathematical precision.
Mort Pierce was a man of discipline; he worked to maintain his own perfection and never failed to achieve it. I had no chance swaying him away from those boring mountain men, and I rarely tried.
So I wonder if I could turn him on to the thrill of the modern clear-out offense. I don’t wish it every possession, mind you. When they come, they come, and I invite them.
Especially when performed by Super-Basketball-Performers like LeBron and Rose. These players – along with Kobe, Wade, Durant, Melo, and Dirk – possess the skills and dimensions ideal for hoops success in ways that no previous generation did.
Those skills were on wide display during yesterday’s Game 1 in Cleveland. Due to his teammates’ lack of offensive initiative, Rose found himself taking full responsibility for Chicago’s total point production. His back-buckling dribbles left even the great James humbled at one point, maneuvers Rose repeatedly employed to infiltrate and expose the Cleveland de-fense.
A look at the numbers and nothing more might lead a man to believe James put forth a lesser effort than the Chicago point, yet LeBron was actually the standout. He made fewer plays, perhaps, but each one seemed more certain, more emphatic, and with greater impact than anything Rose was doing. If James was Brando, Game 1 was a prototypical Godfather performance. On screen less than you remember, yet every scene a knockout.
Indeed, each James play seemed to dent the Bulls’ total confidence. His four blocks were startling in their cruel efficiency. He was on the receiving end of an alley oop that incited the crowd to extreme enthusiasm, while his free-wheeling ability to create any offensive opportunity that suits him was consistently crushing to his opposition.
That is perhaps his greatest basketball skill, and maybe, just maybe, the one I enjoy the most. It is the combination of total will plus hoops mastery that allows the great James to endlessly storm the rim in wicked conquest, and every so often when the offense is stalling, it is players like LeBron that wave the “clear-out” arm at their teammates and impose upon the basket.
This is where the commonly held maxim that NBA games need only be viewed in the final three minutes crumbles to pieces. True, the drama is usually settled down the stretch. Scoring is limited in football, baseball, hockey, and soccer – you don’t want to tune into the final five minutes of a 14-10 Bears-Packers game in which the scoring was settled in the 2nd quarter.
NBA games are often decided in the final three minutes, but that drama is enhanced by the time put in from the opening. Yes, you could start watching an NBA playoff game in the 4th quarter, just like you could start watching The Godfather at the baptism scene. But why would you want to?
Besides, basketball is only secondarily a game of results. It is, at its center, a game of actions. The more you appreciate and enjoy the actions, the more you enjoy the sport. Be it Stockton-to-Malone or LeBron-to-the-basket, no matter. If you enjoy the game of basketball, then a game of basketball entertains from tip to horn.
It was LeBron’s unique skills for the Attack that allowed him to close out this ballgame in fine fashion. Having chopped the Cleveland lead from 22 to seven, the Bulls were trying desperately to stake the unlikely upset. With the Cavaliers leading 88-79 and under three minutes to play, Luol Deng drove to the basket and was promptly stripped by a fierce gang of Cleveland defenders. The ball was flipped to James, who was now running, running, running. The kid Rose was out ahead and found himself turned around and sprinting, and still James was running, nearly at the basket, nearly there, charging at Rose before dribbling to his right to position Rose on his left hip. Into his steps as he passed the foul line, but now Deng was charging from behind, and as James rose for the righty layup, the defender Deng chest-bumped James in his back as Rose tried to seal the Cleveland star off from the basket. James absorbed the hit, flipping the ball toward the backboard on the down swing of his jump…
And as the ball splashed through, Deng and Rose could only watch the Cleveland crowd erupt, James nearly decapitating the official as he swung his fist skyward in celebration. It was a brilliant moment of basketball beauty, one I was only too pleased to witness.
Copyright 2010, jm silverstein
BY THE WAY…
Did LeBron’s close-out layup remind anyone else of MJ’s layup in the closing minute of Game 4 against Phoenix? In game situation and physical movements, they were nearly identical. Flip ahead to 7:17 in this clip…you be the judge…