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OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after defeating the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Photo: Ronald Martinez, Getty Images / 2016 Getty Images

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

At some point, somebody was going to hit a bucket. Tied 89-89 for what felt like several eternities, because playoff fourth quarters contain multitudes, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors kept hurling rocks at windows several stories above, waiting for the sound of shattered glass. When Kyrie Irving finally shattered that glass to put the Cavs up 92-89, a pin dropping in Oracle Arena would’ve registered many more decibels.

LeBron going down with an apparent injury with just over ten seconds left gave him one more opportunity to lift up a city against the odds, but he’d done that all series. The first missed free throw was vaguely Starks-esque in its presumed defeatism, but then, defeatism doesn’t get you anywhere when you’re trying to win, and it doesn’t seem likely that anybody has ever tried to win harder than LeBron was trying to win Game 7. He did, as we know, and now he is a champion as a Cleveland Cavalier, for the first time and for all time.

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Filed under “nothing we don’t already know,” playing with emotions is tricky[1]. At a turn, it looks like Russell Westbrook punching through a brick wall of defenders at light speed, a grass-fed Novak Djokovic urging the crowd to get behind him or Mark Messier shouldering the weight of a cursed franchise, as well as his own guarantee. It looks like Chris Paul scoring 61 points for his grandfather, or Brett Favre throwing for four touchdowns on Monday Night Football. It also looks like Russian hooligans bringing their country’s soccer team to the edge of disqualification at Euro 2016 over fits of violence with other fans and the police.

In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, we saw two facets of this imponderably massive spectrum. Draymond Green’s inevitable suspension for extracurricular activity gave rise to stellar performances from the four biggest stars in Oracle Arena, as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson dared each other into the best game of the series thus far. Whether this acts as fuel to Cleveland’s fire or simply delays the inevitable made it an altogether more compelling spectacle.

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So, Canada. The stereotypes abound for our neighbor to the north, from being polite to the point of apology to a seeming national mandate to wear flannel and grow beards to an unconscious appetite for maple syrup and Molson. At the moment, the country’s greatest export is a former teen actor-turned-living PBR&B emoticon who has enough #VIEWS to spawn several generations of memes. Innocuous, vaguely socialist and definitely non-confrontational: this is the Canada we know and love°.

A nation with seven (7) NHL teams and only one NBA franchise has this season seen its hockey teams fail to produce a single playoff participant – when half the league goes to the playoffs – and its basketball team reach its final four. Thus far, the Toronto Raptors have played two seven-game series and are arguably lucky to have escaped both on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Nevertheless, Toronto did make it, and though the spectre of the league’s most dominant player awaits them, it would seem foolish to write off the resident reptilians.

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uncontestedshot.com

Jacque Vaughn’s time in Orlando has come to a merciful, if somewhat misguided, end. The Magic have parted ways with the 39-year-old former point guard who struggled to coax the NBA’s fourth-youngest roster at the start of the season to competitiveness in a historically feeble Eastern Conference. Elsewhere, the Eastern Conference named an entire starting five as its Player of the Month, and Adam Silver is reportedly open to changing the playoff structure.

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Courtesy of USA Today

Courtesy of USA Today

As far as measures of retribution are concerned, this NBA Finals went off without a hitch. The Heat lost to the heat before losing to the Spurs. Which one was more impactful will be Twitter fodder for months to come, though the answer is truly (painfully?) obvious. Tim Duncan re-asserted his claim as the best player of his generation, as well as his astute normcore brilliance. Kawhi Leonard has become the Duncan to Duncan’s David Robinson, hopefully. LeBron James has some serious pondering ahead of him. Basketball is fun.

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lance-stephenson-lebron-james-blow-ear

How do you solve a problem like Lance Stephenson? The third-year man has averaged a career-high 13.9 points per game for Indiana this year, though he has struggled mightily in the last two games. The bigger story which has emerged, however, is what pundits call his “antics” and what the Internet simply dubs “trolling.” In Game 5, Stephenson used a questionable defensive tactic by blowing into the ear of LeBron James, who was in the midst of a foul-troubled, seven-point game which was the worst of his playoff career. Elsewhere, Russell Westbrook is the crux of the Thunder discussion, as he has pretty much been since the James Harden trade, and Gregg Popovich doesn’t want to hear any more of your stupid, stock interview questions.

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Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Paul George, the do-everything swingman whose up-and-down season has mirrored the fortunes of his Indiana Pacers team, suffered a concussion in Game 2 against the Miami Heat. Early pessimists pinned him as missing the rest of the series, but now it appears as though he will be ready to play Game 3 on Saturday night in Miami. Elsewhere, Serge Ibaka is facing a similar situation, and his return couldn’t come soon enough for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who face an 0-2 deficit to the all-conquering San Antonio machine. Also, Cleveland wins the draft lottery for the third time in the last four years, prompting questions of faith and critical reason in the city by the lake.

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Tim Duncan loves Bob Segar, nondescript plaid and Diet Pepsi.

Tim Duncan (probably) loves Bob Segar, nondescript plaid and Diet Pepsi.

“Excellence is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

No player in the NBA has been as consistently great over the last fifteen years as Tim Duncan. The Big Fundamental has come to embody the difference between excellence and success as well as the parallels between them, as he has achieved both. Even through his 30s, Duncan has played at a high level, delivering double-doubles and smart defense at every turn. What may be even more impressive, however, is Duncan’s demeanor as a bastion of calmness and understated brilliance, both on and off the court. He is the anti-#LETWESTBROOKBEWESTBROOK. In an era of increasingly ridiculous and individualistic postgame attire and behavior, the Spurs are the iconoclast professionals who simply show up and do their jobs at an alarmingly efficient rate. Duncan has become a hero to those who value utility and grace under pressure, perhaps unwittingly setting the league’s standard for professional basketball normcore as a fashion non-statement.

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griffin

Editor’s Note: NO DONALD STERLING THIS WEEK. If you want your fill of that, head to James Vasiliou’s post from April 30. But, and it really does go without saying, Donald Sterling is a supreme scumbag whose documented racism only reveals the tip of a much larger, more complicated iceberg that doesn’t have much to do with basketball.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I meant to make a post composed entirely of this gif much sooner because it is so perfect. It has everything: Blake Griffin, having fouled out of the first playoff game against the Warriors on April 19, looks positively incredulous at the scoreboard, such to the point that he forgets he’s got a full cup of water in his hand, which he promptly tosses on probably the only Warriors fan in the entire front row of the Staples Center. They share an exchange, which allows Griffin to live up to his marketable, likable persona. It’s pretty adorable, all things considered. Elsewhere, an Oklahoma City newspaper lambasted its anointed one, who angrily dropped 36 on Memphis that night. The Pacers have their backs to the wall, no thanks to their Hoya hero. Also, we’re reminded of the fact that this is Damian Lillard’s universe.

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Bogut

One of the most consistently entertaining teams in the league this season has been the Golden State Warriors, with the long-range bombs of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, as well as the lockdown defense and all-around excellence of Andre Iguodala, contributing to the spectacle. The sixth seed in the mighty Western Conference will face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, which looked like a deceivingly even matchup on paper until a rib injury removed key cog Andrew Bogut from the lineup. Elsewhere, I promise this is the last time I talk about the New York Knickerbockers basketball franchise until the end of the playoffs. Also, the Pacers are in dire need of a renaissance from both Paul George and Roy Hibbert if they want to make their date against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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