This week, John Wall can do no wrong, ever again, and if any of you lousy, no good, tax-evading slobs speak ill of him in any capacity, there will be repercussions. Don’t do it. Elsewhere, Kobe Bryant calls out his teammates with a branded metaphor, and both the brand and his teammates responded. Also, the Warriors have come out to play-ee-ayyyy, and we’re completely ignoring the tour of glorified British welfare recipients.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln
At this point, we have become accustomed to superstar injuries in sports. For every Cal Ripken, Jr., there are dozens of Paul Georges, each shining intensely before falling at a most inopportune time. In the cases of players like George, who can be the only contributor in specific areas most of the time, the team surrounding the star can only do its best to plug the gap and hope for a miraculous turnaround time. For those teams, season-altering injuries often spell disaster, leaving bloated pundits and defeated fans to point fingers.
What’s happened to the Oklahoma City Thunder should by no means be largely season-altering, nor should the loss of reigning NBA MVP and scoring champion Kevin Durant cause immense concern for the long-term prospects of the team. The operative word in that sentence is “should,” twice over, because what we may witness is an opportunity seized on the parts of both head coach Scott Brooks and the man who will dictate the Thunder’s fortunes for at least the next six to eight weeks, point guard Russell Westbrook. How Oklahoma City responds to the temporary loss of its hero may unlock the door to the Western Conference and reveal the true potential of one of the league’s most talented and divisive players.
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.
This is Kawhi Leonard’s world. We’re just living in it.
In an NBA Finals that was supposed to be dominated by the Big Three, Tim Duncan’s potential farewell, Gregg Popovich’s in-game interviews and Pat Riley’s slicked back hair, there has been a runaway star in a player who seems to want to be anything but. Kawhi Leonard is the soft-spoken, three-pointer-making, slam-dunking phenom who is leading the San Antonio Spurs against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
We’ve finally made it. After all the hubbub surrounding the playoffs, the near-upsets of the first round and the predictable Conference Finals matchups, we are finally at the NBA Finals. Vince Carter sent us back a decade in his playoff performances, but he + Dirk ≠ the second round. The Wiz kids did what they could to throw the East into oblivion, but the Pacers stood up when they needed to do so. Try as he might, Kevin Durant is still second-best (in his own conference!). The San Antonio Spurs machine continues to crank out tiki-taka victories. The Miami Heat have the world’s best player and a bunch of pretty decent complements. Lo and behold, it’s a rematch of the 2013 Finals, when we saw the scariest basketball player on the planet for a brief spell.
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.
“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.
The San Antonio Spurs may be the best-run organization in the NBA by many standards, but one area in which it may have a clear-cut, unparalleled advantage made itself apparent prior to the Spurs’ 114-97 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals. Elsewhere, Kevin Durant deservingly wins the MVP award over LeBron, and Mark Jackson sees his way out of Golden State, for better or (more likely) for worse.
Let’s talk about the playoffs. LaMarcus Aldridge is staking his claim as the best power forward in the game. Blake Griffin, meanwhile, is shakily maintaining his throne after a disappointing first game against the Golden State Warriors. Chris Paul’s family lineage indicates a history of assistance, but the fourth quarter is when he takes it all upon himself. The Mavs are stressing out the usually unflappable Spurs, whose now 38-year-old anchor must take more responsibility. Wizards gonna Wiz, and Grizzlies gonna Grizz. The Hawks are up on the toast of the East, the Indiana Pacers, and their defensive master has more in common with Russell Stover than Bill Russell. The Thunder are not dominating as usual. Even the Bobcats are pushing the mighty Heat, with Al Jefferson trying to do his best Willis Reed impersonation. This is the first round of the NBA playoffs. Does it get any better than this?
The ongoing grotesque carnival of human misery that is the New York Knickerbockers “basketball” franchise is at it again, with reports surfacing that the team met with 11-time NBA champion and maniacal guru Phil Jackson about possibly becoming the next head coach to stroll the sidelines of Madison Square Garden. No word yet on incumbent Mike Woodson’s reaction yet, though I have an idea of what it might look like. Elsewhere, the Lakers receive a full-on franchise posterization courtesy of their in-house rivals, and LeBron is not into sleeves.