The defending champs took another blow while the Hammers ironed out another top dog and Manchester City earned another easy three points.
The defending champs took another blow while the Hammers ironed out another top dog and Manchester City earned another easy three points.
Manchester United started off the summer as one of the most active – and shrewd – clubs in the world. By the time the Reds crossed the pond and arrived in the United States for their Guiness-backed preseason tour in late July, the team had already signed Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich ($22 million), Memphis Depay from PSV ($31 million), Morgan Schneiderlain from Southamtpon ($38 million) and Matteo Darmian from Torino ($19 million).
But as the minutes tick by and we get closer and closer to the close of the summer transfer window, the grade on Louis Van Gaal’s report card continues to drop. Since Van Gaal sealed the aforementioned moves, which were all viewed as pretty good pieces of business, he’s had to sell Angel Di Maria to PSG ($67 million) at a $13 million loss after the Argentine spent just one season at Old Trafford, and the David De Gea situation has completely evaporated, with Van Gaal dropping the Spanish star for new-signing Sergio Romero while also refusing to sell De Gea to Madrid. Now it seems like Romero may be United’s first-choice keeper all season long while also not capitalizing on the sizable fee that they could have gotten from Los Blancos for the Spanish international.
What’s worse is that United have swung and missed on several top talents, the most damning of which was former Barcelona forward Pedro Rodríguez, who was instead scooped up by defending champion Chelsea because United, one of the world’s three richest clubs, haggled over a $30 million buyout fee that Barcelona were never going to budge on. On top of Pedro, whose presence would have added a perfect balance to the Red Devils’ attack, United have also been rebuffed on offers for Sergio Ramos, Thomas Muller, Gareth Bale and, most recently, Neymar.
While they seemed to have a real shot at snagging Ramos away from Madrid early on in the transfer for window, now it seems like United are making bids for untouchable players just so that nobody can accuse them of sitting on their hands as Pedro spurned them for the Blues and as bitter rivals Manchester City splurged for Wolfsburg talisman Kevin De Bruyne (this on top of their previous splurge for Raheem Sterling, England’s most expensive player ever, just over a month ago).
At the very least, United’s new signings have looked decent in the early portions of their respective United careers. Schneiderlin has been solid in midfield and has done a good job organizing play, Darmian has looked a capable Premier League defender and Romero has been excellent in goal, allowing just one goal in five matches between EPL and Champions League play. Memphis netted a brace and assisted on two in United’s 7-1 thumping of Club Brugge over two legs in the Champions League playoff round, although he’s still looked a bit shaky in league play as he attempts to adjust to life in the Premiership. Schweinsteiger has been less impressive as he attempts to finding his footing in a United shirt. The former Bayern man has yet to play more than an hour in any of his five appearances this season, and at his age you have to wonder if there will ever be a point where he will be a consistent member of Van Gaal’s Starting XI.
Speaking of that Starting XI: If the start of the season is any indication, there’s little reason to believe that United will be a serious title challenger during this campaign. If the transfer window closed with the Premier League season kicked off, than maybe United would be closer to the the rest of the pack, but with Chelsea snagging Pedro and City adding De Bruyne, it would appear as if the top two finishers from last season have set themselves up for another mano-a-mano race for the title.
Through three league games, United have only mustered one goal – a decently taken finish by Adnan Januzaj, whom Van Gaal promptly criticized in the postmatch press conference, in the sides’ 1-0 win at Aston Villa. Their other two results were a 1-0 win at home against Tottenham opening day thanks to a Kyle Walker own goal and a scoreless draw against Newcastle last week despite finishing with a sizable gap in possession (66-34) and shot attempts (20-7). The flip side, of course, is that the Red Devils have yet to concede a goal in league play, which is a testament to the fine form of Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Darmian, Romero and Daley Blind, who has handled the switch to centerback quite well thus far.
But with the creativity and talent that Van Gaal has in his lockerroom, as well as the amount of cash he has to spend to bring in some attackers that can get him goals, one goal out of three games is not an acceptable output. After experimenting with Depay as the #10 against Spurs and then surprising us all with the insertion of Januzaj into the line-up against Villa, it’s clear that Van Gaal isn’t 100% comfortable with his team selections. Pedro would have solved a lot of issues for LVG, as he would have instantly earned a starting spot on the right flank, allowing Mata to slide into the #10 role, where his lack of pace would be less of an issue and where his vision and passing would shine brightest, Depay to play on the left-hand side, which allows him to cut in on his right foot, and for Rooney to have a bit more support up the field.
But with Januzaj in the hole and Mata forced wide, Rooney hasn’t had much joy linking up with his midfielder partners, and the English international was struggling mightily to get off the mark as the lone striker before fetching a much-needed hat trick against Club Brugge on Wednesday. There were hopes of Rooney surpassing 20 league goals this season now that he’d have the lone striker spot all to himself, but based on current form, it seems like United will need a more creative and pacey player on the right to help Rooney reach that mark.
With the kind of money that he has at his disposable, it is entirely possible that Van Gaal has a blockbuster transfer up his sleeve as the deadline nears. If the Dutchman were able to swing a move for Schalke’s Julian Draxler or Southampton’s Sadio Mané before the final tick of the clock, then perhaps United’s season will be upswing by New Year’s.
But short of a major move in the coming days, United will be entering the fall portion of their schedule having been outshined in the transfer market by major rivals City and Chelsea. And with a lack of homegrown talents sprouting up, if the Red Devils want to return to the glory days they experienced under Sir Alex Ferguson, that has to change.
Armed with the opportunity to take the top spot in the table after less than convincing opening day showings from the likes of United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, Manchester City went the Hawthorns and put together an utterly dominant performance that left the Baggies looking like a Sky Belt side. West Brom put on a very negative performance, sitting back and giving City the ball without every troubling themselves to pressure them up the field. City easily counteracted that tactic as their midfield maestros Yaya Toure and David Silva dominated in the pockets of space between West Brom’s defensive lines. Toure netted a brace, including a tremendous strike from outside of the box, but I’d expect David Silva to be credited with the first goal as it was his flick near the six-yard box that secured the goal. Either way, both players were fantastic, and even as the rest of the TV-rich Premier League snaps up talent from all over Europe, it’s City’s duo of Silva and Toure that commands the middle of the park like no other pair when they are on form.
The other key storyline was the City debut for Raheem Sterling, who is, at least at the moment, the most expensive signing in the world for the 2015 summer transfer window. Sterling’s pace and positioning made a great chance for him near the end of the first half, but he spoiled the finish when he failed to curl the ball around the keeper. Nonetheless, Sterling and leftback Aleksandar Kolarov seemed to have a great understanding down the left hand side. The Serbian international was one of the best players on the pitch as his forays forward were always dangerous, and he nearly netted himself a goal off of a gorgeous piece of play that slid him in on goal at a nifty angle, but he just overhit the ball on the finish. Ricky Lambert worked hard in his debut for the Baggies, but with club-record signing Salomon Rondon coming over from Zenit, you have to wonder how Tony Pulis will end up balancing the playing time between his three capable forwards (Saido Berahino being the other).
All-in-all, it was a strong start for City, and they’ll have a chance to build on their top-of-the-table form in a Sunday afternoon tilt against Chelsea at the Etihad.
This was an entertaining tie between two teams that spent most of last season flirting with positions nobody would have pegged them for – relegation for Newcastle and a Champions League spot for Southampton. Perhaps Southampton deserved better seeing as Cisse’s equalizing goal when the Magpies were down 1-0 was chested in three inches in front of the goal following a lucky deflection off the cross, but Georginio Wijnaldum’s header on a counter-attack that put Newcastle up 2-1 was all class, giving the Geordies’ $22 million signing a debut performance to remember. Southampton would draw even with a fabulous header from Shane Long that was made by a tremendous cross from dangerman Dusan Tadic. We didn’t see much of Newcastle new boy Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the return of Jay Rodriguez for Southampton after a year off due to injury was a welcome sight. Both of these sides seem to have the quality to make some noise in the league this season, and they kicked the season off with a cracker of a match.
In what may have been the most drab of the opening day contests in the Premier League, Liverpool seemed to play as if they didn’t know they bought a $51 million striker. Christian Benteke wasn’t given much of a chance to show off why he was worth that kind of money in his debut for the Reds as his support players failed to provide him with any kind of service. Adam Lallana and Jordan Ibe were particularly poor as wide midfielders, and Brendan Rodger’s new pairing in the middle of the park – former Man City man James Milner and new captain Jordan Henderson – failed to have a remarkable impact on the game. Even lively #10 Philippe Coutinho had a performance that lacked much substance, but it was his moment of clarity and clairvoyance that provided Liverpool with all three points on the afternoon. The diminutive sparkplug smashed a screamer from way outside of the box in the 86th minute to rescue the match from becoming the first scoreless draw of the season.
The Potters were a bit worse off than I was expecting for their home opener. Stoke have injected a fair amount of creativity and industry into the side over the summer but their big-name signings didn’t quite gel against Liverpool. That said, more help is on the way as former Bayern Munich winger Shaqiri is prepared to make a move to the Britannia Stadium after initially rebuffing Stoke’s inquiries earlier in the summer. Placing Shaqiri alongside former Barcelona man Ibrahim Afellay in the attack with Chelsea loanee Marco Van Ginkel supporting in midfield, Mark Hughes’ men should enjoy a lot more entertaining performances than their no-show on Match Day 1.
In what was easily the most surprising result of the weekend, the Hammers went into the Emirates and held down Arsenal’s star-studded attack, pouncing on their chances to take three points from a title contender away from home. A hype-filled pre-season for the Gunners, which included a Community Shield triumph over Arsene Wenger’s arch-nemesis, built up to a letdown performance in their league opener during which their passing wasn’t precise and their inspiration was lacking. A fantastic free kick from West Ham’s $15 million man Dimitri Payet found the forehead of Cheikhou Kouyate and then the back of the net in the first half, and centre forward Mauro Zarate added the insurance with a tremendous strike from outside the box in the 56th minute.
What’s perhaps most dispiriting for the Gunners is that a world class keeper probably would have kept both shots out of the back of the net, but an out-of-form Petr Cech found himself out of position and off balance on both goals, perhaps succumbing to the nerves that came with his first Premier League start for the North Londoners. Once West Ham got on the board, Slaven Bilić’s side happily sat back and let Arsenal come onto them, keeping their shape for the full 90 minutes while only allowing Arsenal a couple of clear chances. West Ham’s new centreback combo of Winston Reid and recent addition Angelo Ogbonna, who arrived from Italian giants Juventus for $12 million over the summer, was fabulous, keeping Arsenal’s dangerman Olivier Giroud from causing any havoc in the box, and 16-year-old (YES, 16) Reece Oxford, who completed 95% of his passes in his top flight debut while out-shining Arsenal’s defensive midfield combo of Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin, gave the Hammers stability in the middle of the park against an Arsenal side that lives to slice teams open.
West Ham look a good side that can push for a high place in the middle of the table if their injury luck improves (they are already without striker Enner Valencia due to ankle and knee ailments). Arsenal are still a sure-fire bet for a top-four finish, but if Wenger was looking to quell the idea that they still need to buy a world-class striker and more help in defense, his side failed him on Match Day 1.
In a game that featured the league debuts of sexy new signings like Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, it was the less heralded signings of Matteo Darmian and Sergio Romero that made the biggest difference in the league’s opening contest. Schneiderlin was fine in midfield, but Schweinsteiger couldn’t do much as a 2nd half substitute and Memphis was generally awful. Romero, on the other hand, did well to hold his clean sheet with a few fabulous saves, and Darmian looked really good on that right hand side. United did deserve a goal in this game even if Kyle Walker was credited with the own goal that got Untied the three points, but this was not a performance that Louis Van Gaal will be happy about. LVG’s famed “philosophy” is all about possession, creativity and industry, and we saw very little of that against Spurs. In fact, Tottenham actually enjoyed the (slight) majority of possession, which is a bit of a surprise for a match at Old Trafford.
This game probably deserved to end in a draw, but Tottenham’s #10 Christian Eriksen spoiled an early chance with an over-hit dink over Romero and the chances were few and far between after that. Spurs would have to be the move encouraged side even in defeat as they played one of the league favorites even away from home after a nightmare of a week scheduling wise that had them playing a mid-week friendly in Munich on Wednesday before returning to England for the first kickoff of the season on Saturday afternoon. Toby Alderweireld, who anchored Southampton’s defense last season and was bought from Atletico Madrid for $17 million over the summer, looked excellent in defense, and Spurs as a whole looked really solid at the back.
Bournemoth’s debut in the top flight of English football was an entertaining one, and it’s already clear that this is a side that will play on the front foot as much as possible this season. Villa were in the middle of the pack in the Premier League as far as possession went, but they were on the wrong side of a 60/40 split away at Dean Court. Bournemoth bossed the midfield, kept Villa danger men Gabby Agbonlahor Jordan Ayew, a summer acquisition from French side FC Lorient, off the ball and seemed a comfortable side in their first Premier League tie, but they squandered a few tight chances and a single moment of excellence from Villa’s new center forward Rudy Gestede spoiled the home fan’s opening day celebrations.
Villa could have done more to win the ball back in this game for me, but for a team playing its first league game since selling danger man Christian Benteke, they did well to get three points away from home. The Lions went shopping in France over the summer and brought what appear to be two gems back to the Premier League. Midfielder Jordan Veretout is the obvious one. The 22-year-old cost around $10 million from Nantes, and after finishing last season as one of the best creators in Ligue 1, he looked like he’ll do the orchestrating for Villa’s attack this season. Veretout played in the middle of the park and drifted wide at times, completing 87% of his passes and keeping play alive whenever Villa did have the ball.
Villa’s other impressive newcomer was my man of the match on the day: left back Jordan Amavi. The 21-year-old Frenchman arrived from Nice for $12 million over the summer and immediately gave Aston Villa a creative and dangerous threat down the flank that also has the pace and work rate to track back and defend. Amavi was the sole source of joy for Villa for a 10- to 20-minute stretch in this match, as his eye-catching work on the ball allowed the Lions to foray up the pitch down the flanks. Amavi also mixed in a couple of juicy crosses and he was incredibly confident on the ball, and at the age of 21, he looks like he has the room to grow into one of the best left backs in the Premier League.
Bournemouth should improve once they get their new signings in tune with the rest of the squad. 10 of the 11 names in the starting XI were returning faces for Bournemoth, but it would seem as if they’ll need the inspiration and creativity of a player like Max Gradel, who spent some of his early years on loan at Bournemouth before making a permanent move there from Saint-Etienne this summer, to maintain a spot in the top flight heading into next season. Once there is some familiarity with the new faces, Bournemouth’s exciting, diverse play should, at the very least, cause a thrill during the clubs first tour of the Premier League.
Drawing at home freshly-promoted Watford is not exactly the most convincing way to start off what is a crucial season for “the Martinez way.” Everton dominated possession as you’d expect, notching close to a 70/30 split, but Watford were the more dangerous team on tilt all afternoon, creating chances on the counter and converting their opportunities in front of goal. The Hornets kept their shape well for the majority of the game, but a Ross Barkley screamer knotted the game at 1 in the 76th minute, and an awful mistake on the edge of the box led to an another equalizing goal for Arouna Kone in the dying embers of the game. Everton look like a side without any kind of spark. Without Leighton Baines, Barkley was the only player that moved play along into semi-dangerous areas, and striker Romelu Lukaku almost never got on the ball before he was able to hold up play on the edge of the box and create the equalizing goal for Kone. Martinez has spent virtually no money in the summer, with his only two key signings being former Man United midfielder Tom Cleverley on a free and a permanent deal for Barcelona product Gerard Deulofeu, who spent the 2014 season at Goodison Park on loan. Considering the fact that the only transfer rumors that Everton are in involved in would mean the departure of wonderkid John Stones, this looks like it could be another punchless season for the Toffees.
In what was a shockingly inviting contest, Leicester City seemed to maintain the strong form that they closed last season in, mopping up a Sunderland side that looked totally over-matched in the first 45 minutes. Riyad Mahrez was the danger man for the Foxes as the Algerian international might have had the most impressive individual performance of the opening weekend. He netted a brace (likely the only one in the league thus far if David Silva gets his way), he played key passes, he put the ball on the net, he got by defenders and he forced a few fouls. It was a complete performance that deserved a 10 grade even though he was subbed off in the 77th minute. The Foxes also got a stellar performance from midfielder Marc Albrighton, who kicked off his second season in Leicester with a magnificent one-goal, two-assist performance. With Mahrez causing trouble on the left and Albrighton running things on the right, Sunderland got completely overrun early in the game and they never really had a chance once they got down 3-0.
What was a pretty up-and-down, interesting contest was marred by a bit of controversy. The Canaries had what they thought was a magnificent equalizing goal when striker Cameron Jerome raised his boot and flicked in a goal in the 70th minute, but it was disallowed as the referee deemed that he had raised his boot to a dangerous height. It’s true, his boot was pretty close to a defenders head as he went to strike it towards goal, but for me, you can’t make that call when there is no malicious intent and the kick produces such a pretty goal. But Norwich City would have to do without, and before the final whistle blew, Palace talisman Yohan Cabaye etched his name on the score sheet with a debut goal after arriving from PSG in the summer. Despite the home defeat, Alex Neil’s men looked pretty good at times, but you do get the feeling that their return to the Premier League may be short lived. Palace look to be a much improved side thanks to the addition of Cabaye, and with 22-year old English winger Wilfried Zaha looking better and better, the Eagles should be in for a fun season in Alen Pardew’s first full year managing his former club.
In what was my favorite tie of Match Day 1, the Swans went in the home of the defending champions and played superior football to that of the Blues, though they did have to settle for a point at Stamford Bridge. Of course, a point at Stamford Bridge is nothing to sneeze at for any team in the Premier League, and the way that Swansea played should be even more encouraging for Gary Monk. You could argue that neither of Chelsea’s goals were deserved, as Oscar’s free kick snuck past Lukasz Fabianski as the Polish international waited for a touch from the onrushing attackers that never came.and as Willian’s cross flukely deflected off of Federico Fernández for an own goal.
Swansea, on the other hand, got a class goal from newly signed Andrew Ayew and a well-deserved penalty earned and converted by striker Bafetimbi Gomis to get the result. The former Marseille man impressed with his composure and savvy in front of Thibaut Courtois’ goals when a parried header fell to his feet; the Frenchman himself hit the ground, but he was able to get up while maintaining possession and then had the wherewithal to tuck the ball into the opposite corner. Courtios would later abandon his net when Gomis found his way through on goal in the second half, leading the Belgian keeper to stick a foot out and trip Gomis in the box, notching a penalty and a red card. Although he constantly found himself in offside positions, Gomis was always threatening Chelsea’s back four with his runs and it seems as if another double-digit goal campaign is in the cards for the former French international.
But as good as Ayew and Gomis were, Swansea’s goal scorers weren’t the top performers on the pitch for me. Those honors go to creative Ecuadorian winger Jefferson Montero and English midfield maestro Jonjo Shelvey. Montero was a terror for Chelsea to contain all afternoon as he used his pace and flair to fly past Branislav Ivanovic, cutting inside to create opportunities for his teammates. You could argue that both goals could be created to Montero even though he didn’t get an official assist for either. It was Montero’s cross into the box that eventually fell to Ayew on the first goal, and it was Montero’s presence that played Gomis on for his charging run towards Courtios when he earned the penalty. Because Montero was causing so much trouble for Ivanovic down the flank, William often had to drop back to fill in for Ivanovic, and given his lack of defensive awareness, he unwittingly played Gomis on and allowed him to surge towards goal without the hindrance of the offside flag.
Shelvey ran things all afternoon from the center of the park. With Chelsea playing a bit higher of a line than we’re used to seeing, Shelvey was always looking to pick out long balls to Gomis over the top, Shelvey was credited with six key passes, tied for the most in the Premier League after the first round of matches, and 12 long balls against Chelsea, which is an absurdly good performance against one of Europe’s top defensive sides. Gary Monk’s side has always played an attractive brand of football, and after seeing how well they got on against Chelsea, there’s no reason to believe this won’t be a season to remember for the Swans.
Here’s a fun game: Name as many top 30 scorers from the 2007-08 NBA season as you can.
There were quite a few present-day superstars (LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo, Paul, Dirk, Durant, Howard and Bosh), a couple of former superstars that have since aged into role players (Vince Carter, Amare Stoudemire and Richard Jefferson), some retired all-stars (Allen Iverson, Michael Redd and Tracy McGrady), a number of career scorers (Kevin Martin, Carlos Boozer, Al Jefferson, Antawn Jamison and Jason Richardson), and one guy in particular whose place on the list would make you say “Really?” based on his production in the 2014-15 season.
That guy is Andre Iguodala.
Adam Silver has been pretty busy over the past couple of weeks as the general manager of the All-Star teams. Injuries to Kobe Bryant and Blake Griffin allowed Silver to bestow all-star honors upon DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Lillard, two players that were very deserving of a spot on the team, and once Dwyane Wade was officially ruled out for this weekend’s festivities, Silver was back to work finding someone to take his place.
I don’t think anyone would have minded if Silver decided to add another Western Conference player to the game instead of honoring another borderline candidate in the East, but he did have a couple of decent names to consider before he landed on the final deserving all-star in the East: Kyle Korver.
The 33-year old Korver will make his first career all-star game appearance after an absolutely stunning start to the season on the best team in the East, yet his selection isn’t exactly a crowd-pleaser. Korver’s main competition for the final spot, Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight and Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic, offer more in the way of per game stats and all-star-y arsenals than Korver, which had some wondering why neither of those young guns made the cut.
Vucevic is an advanced stats wonder with an all-star caliber PER (his 22.17 PER ranks 4th against centers behind Cousins, Marc Gasol and… Whiteside!). He averages 19.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game for the Magic, shoots 54% from the field, utilizes a pretty nice post game for a big man in 2015 and looks to be a franchise caliber player for a Magic team with a lot of potential. He’s also someone compiling stats on a bad team and one of the worst defensive bigs in the league; of big men that face at least five shots at the rim per game, Vucevic allows the second highest percentage in the league at 57.4%.
He’s a good young player that is inching closer to the 20-10 threshold that generally tends to denote that you are pretty talented, but Vucevic’s defensive issues and lack of team success make him the clear outsider here.
The Knight-Korver debate is a little more contentious. Knight is having a career season in his fourth year in the league, blossoming into an above average lead guard under Jason Kidd’s leadership. Knight is averaging 18 points, five assists and four rebounds a game on 43%/41%/89% splits and he’s been a big reason that the Bucks have gone from having the worst record in the league last season (I totally forgot that Larry Drew managed to have his team playing worse than the 76ers last year) to within arm’s length of home court advantage in the East.
There’s a problem, though, and it’s a pretty glaring one. According to NBA.com/Stats, the Bucks merely tread water when Knight is on the floor; Milwaukee scores 100.2 points per 100 possessions and allow 100.7 points per 100 possessions when Knight is in the game. What’s worse: When Knight has been off the court, the Bucks have compiled a net rating of +9.3 points per 100 possessions, easily the best (or worst in this case) off-the-court net rating of anyone on the team. So, using these numbers, one could deduce that Knight is not exactly a positive presence for the Bucks, in spite of his commendable individual stats. The Bucks score and defend better at their best rates when Knight isn’t in the game and they are the definition of average when he’s on the court. Does that sound like an all-star to you?
Look at these same numbers for the Hawks and there isn’t a question about which player has an “all-star” impact. When Korver is on the floor, the Hawks score 112 points per 100 possessions, which would lead the league over the course of a whole season (the Clippers currently lead the league with an offensive rating of 110.6), and they have a net rating of +11.6 points per 100 possessions. When Korver is off the floor, the Hawks score 98.2 points per 100 possessions and have a net rating of -2.1 points per 100 possessions.
So, to recap: Korver on the floor = best offense and No. 2 net rating in the league; Korver off the floor = the Hawks score a tad more efficiently than the Charlotte Hornets, who have the second worst offense in basketball, and possess a net rating of a fringe contender in the East.
That’s a pretty monumental individual impact for someone on a team that is heralded and praised for its lack of reliance on a star player. Truth be told, the Hawks wouldn’t be anywhere near where they are now without Korver. Sure, he may lack the ability to score one-on-one or to break down a defense on the dribble, but even though those things are easier to notice, they aren’t the only skills that can bend defenses.
Korver is such a remarkably accurate shooter that his mere presence on the floor boost the efficiency of the Hawks offense tenfold, and the fact that he is currently on pace for perhaps the greatest shooting season ever – Korver would be the second player in NBA history to put up a 50/50/90 season (Steve Kerr did it first in 1995-96) – doesn’t hurt either.
This is a player that is shooting 53% from three on six attempts from deep a game, which is absolutely unbelievable when you consider that a lot of his looks are as contested. In fact, per NBA.com’s SportVu data, Korver is shooting 45% from three when he is guarded tightly this season, which by itself would be the third best three-point percentage in the league.
Korver may not fit the typical all-star mold of a ball-dominant high-flyer whose game is constantly immortalized on Vine, but it’s tough to argue that his impact isn’t on par with that of the very best players in the league, and that makes him an incredibly deserving all-star.
As is the case every time Team USA is forced to make cuts to get their roster down to a specific number for an international competition, some very good players were left at home this summer when the National Team departed for the 2014 Basketball World Cup. A tragic injury ended Paul George’s summer and Kevin Durant withdrew from the team to focus on his new contract negotiations, but even with those two big names involuntarily out of the selection pool, USA Basketball Chairmain Jerry Colangelo still had to leave Damian Lillard, Chandler Parsons, John Wall, Bradley Beal and Gordon Hayward, among others, off his final roster.
Even though Team USA is loaded at point guard with Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry representing the United States in Spain, it will still surprising to see both Wall and Lillard left off the final roster, and either Parsons or Hayward seemed to be a lock to make the team to provide a hybrid forward option. Instead, Colangelo prioritized big men and brought Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried with him to accompany superstar Anthony Davis.
Without a doubt, Plumlee is the most surprising member of the squad, given that he just completed his first season in the NBA and has very little on his resume other than some solid defensive chops and a strong recommendation from Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Of course, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski is also USA Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, so that recommendation goes a long way.
Past Plumlee, though, Kenneth Faried is the selection least likely to catch on with common NBA fans. After all, ever since the Dream Team, Team USA rarely throws out a line-up without a superstar at every position, and Faried’s inclusion on the roster as well, as his spot in the starting line-up, doesn’t quite move the needle in the way that we’re used to with this team. But that doesn’t mean it was the wrong move. On a team full of stars, most of whom operate as the first or second options with their domestic clubs, having someone like Faried that lives to do the dirty work creates a balance between talent and grit that is necessary on a team that will always garner the opposition’s best effort.
It goes without saying that Faried was far from a lock to make the team when he came into camp. Outside of those that had previously suited up for Team USA in a major international competition, everyone that was in Las Vegas when training camp tipped off was fighting for a spot. And though he may not stand out above his NBA peers when doing an evaluation based on pure talent, when you are looking to construct what will end up being a super team no matter how you slice it and your selection process includes intersquad scrimmages, you’re giving a great shot to a player like Faried to force himself onto the roster.
Faried thrives in a training camp environment. Not only because it offers him an outlet for his pent up energy on a daily basis, but also because his ceaseless activity makes every practice feel like a playoff game. If anybody on the floor is just going through the motions, Faried is going to show them up, and with every loose ball that he chased down and with every rebound he grabbed during camp, he moved himself up the depth chart and above the names that ended up being crossed out.
Just a couple of days into the Vegas training camp, Colangelo was asked about what kind of players he was looking to fill out his roster with, and he went out of his way to praise Faried and the attitude he brought to the floor.
“We’re going to end up with some specialists,” Colangelo said. “Now, I’ll just use a name. He may or may not be that guy, but Faried … Energy, rebounding. We looked at tapes of yesterday’s scrimmage. He came in and, within a minute, he was responsible for six points for his team, getting two offensive rebounds, getting out on the break.”
Faried did up being that guy, or at least one of them since Kevin Durant’s unexpected withdrawal opened up another roster spot in the late stages of camp. Faried impressed the coaching staff by never taking a play off and by making sure that he was always working harder than everyone else on the court. And you can bet that he was keeping track of who was letting their guard down.
“It helps me to see how certain guys work everyday and how they get after it,” Faried said about being around his NBA peers. “I just want to see the way these guys approach the game. To see if they approach the game the way I do or if they are lackadaisical.”
Faried creates his own edge in this way. He feeds on the lethargy of his opponents and feasts on the unsuspecting. Routine and uncontested rebounds become backyard brawls with Faried around; his ample athleticism and uncanny desire will put him in places nobody expects him to be, his always revved motor empowering him to maximize his athletic talents. He earns everything that is given to him, and that includes his spot in this team. As he puts it, if he was working harder than guys in camp, then they really didn’t want a spot on the team.
“Because when you are not working as hard when you are in the position you are,” Faried says, “that means you don’t really want that position.”
Faried is far from a perfect player. He has flaws that are often exposed in the NBA realm. He lacks range offensively, he’s frequently out of place defensively and he’s not much more than a finisher on the offensive end. He has limitations that saddle him in the “role player” category, although he’s a productive one. The thing is, Team USA doesn’t necessarily need perfect players up and down their roster, not when you have three of the best point guards in the world, a budding Hall-of-Famer in Anthony Davis, and potent scorers like Klay Thompson and James Harden. Those guys are going to carry the scoring burden, which means there is definitely a need for someone like Faried to supplement them with his energy, rebounding and improving off-ball movement on offense.
Through two games in Spain, Faried is averaging 13 rebounds per 40 minutes, one of the top marks in the tournament, and he was Team USA’s best player in their unexpectedly competitive game against Turkey, putting up 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting while pulling down eight rebounds (three offensive), nabbing three steals and blocking two shots. It’s already abundantly clear that Faried is a crucial player for this team and he’ll be entrusted with the task of guarding one of the Gasol brothers if Team USA winds up facing Spain in the gold medal game.
And though winning gold has become somewhat of a formality for Team USA, there’s no denying that an experience like this can have a profound impact on young players like Faried, and he knows that better than anybody.
“This is going to boost everything about me,” Faried said. “My intelligence, my basketball IQ, my leadership, my feel for the game. Even my passion for the game.”
“People say I’m passionate enough,” Faried continued. “But this is going to make me even more hungry.”
A man with Faried’s drive and energy saying that he’s still got an appetite for intensity? No wonder they call him the Manimal.
Like a lot of folks, once I heard the rumors that LeBron James was going to announce his free agency decision on his website, I spent a lot of time refreshing LeBronJames.com just so that I could say that I saw the news first. Several times I questioned what I was doing, but I always figured that it wasn’t much worse than refreshing my Twitter feed incessantly.
Of course, it wasn’t necessary. LeBron ended up letting the world know he was returning to Cleveland with a tearjerker of an essay published with the help of Sports Illustrated, and the people that went as far as to strip code from his website for any clues on his decision ended up being disappointed. I still enjoyed the anticipation of a surprise, though, and I became particularly interested in something that was prominently displayed on the site: LeBron’s I PROMISE bands.
The more and more I looked at them and after I read about their purpose, I began to think about LeBron and the premise of promises and I started to believe that coming home was his plan all along. I started to think that LeBron made a promise to himself the day that he left Cleveland – or, perhaps, once he fully realized the impact his departure had – that he would come back to the city and redeem himself for ripping out its collective heart and stomping on it back in 2010.
LeBron had to leave Cleveland back then. I think even Cavaliers fans would admit that now. James had proven himself as one of the greatest athletes and talents the game had ever seen during his seven years in Cleveland, but the team simply couldn’t provide him with the supporting cast that he needed to vault himself into the legendary company that he sits in today.
Nobody can describe what his time with the Heat meant to LeBron more better can than he did. He said going off to Miami for four years was to him as college is to regular kids, which, of course, LeBron never had a chance to experience as the most hyped high school athlete of all-time. It’s such a symmetrical and spot on analogy.
LeBron choosing the Heat was literally the first time he was ever able to get away from home, and with the move came the ability to decompress and evolve without the pressure that comes along with momma’s cooking. I think most people would agree that the pressure to succeed in school and to bring home A’s was infinitely higher in high school than it was in college because our parents were always on top of us. But even if our GPAs were lower in college, I wouldn’t doubt that’s where we learned more, because the focus wasn’t on books or standardized tests, the focus was on finding ourselves.
And that’s what LeBron did in Miami. He’s matured so much since he went down there. The turning point for James was after those 2011 Finals, when he finally collapsed under the immense and unprecedented pressure that was weighing down on his broad shoulders. Right after the decisive game of that series, he used the NBA’s press pedestal to proclaim his superiority over the blue collar folks, or the kind of people that define the city of Cleveland.
But then he went into hibernation for the summer. He stayed away from everybody and even off the court for a while. Then he got to work on his game and he emerged the following season as a humbled man and a more complete basketball beast. He steamrolled through the Thunder in the Finals, smashing the only player in the league left standing as a peer, and rode a Ray Allen miracle shot to a second title before the dominant, legendary and respectable Spurs got revenge this season.
And now he’s back. He had to leave because he needed to win – and he did. Now he’s returned with a chance to bring a title back to the city of Cleveland, something that would make far more than a legendary basketball player. To win a championship in the most downtrodden sports city in America, just a half-hour away from where he grew up, would make him one of the most iconic sports figures of all-time. Whatever is a step beyond giving someone a key to the city, that’s what LeBron is going to get. They may elect him mayor of the city off write-in votes alone.
LeBron has known this all along. He would have stayed in Cleveland and had four more cracks at delivering a championship to the city over the past few years if he could have, but as one of the smartest men in sports, LeBron was all too aware that the Cavs weren’t equipped for a championship, and he knew that he couldn’t risk four prime seasons betting on the Cavs getting him better second and third options than Mo Williams and over the hill Antawn Jamison.
He couldn’t have handled the way he left better, for sure, but if his return didn’t atone for that TV special in and of itself, the essay he wrote about what the city means to him should end all of the bad blood. My mom starting choking up after reading the first few lines of that letter; my mom is a die hard San Antonio Spurs fan from Corpus Christi, Texas. I asked her why it made her cry. “It’s just the things he says,” she replied, not quite sure how to put it into words.
But that’s exactly what LeBron did in that letter. He succinctly summarized everything he has been thinking for the past four years without holding anything back. The way he speaks about the area, saying that “our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time” in regards to winning it all, how he says that he wants to raise his kids in the same place that he was raised, there’s an obvious bond there that was never truly broken no matter how much The Decision hurt both sides.
For all of the questions about LeBron’s loyalty from four years ago, this move proves that he’s always held a special place in his heart for the Cavaliers, not only because he had to get past that hurtful attack by Dan Gilbert, but because he’s passed up greener pastures for rolling hills of Ohio. Without a doubt, Cleveland gives LeBron a great shot at winning championships (mostly because they have LeBron), probably at better odds than the Heat would have. But there were other situations out there that made more sense if his sole purpose was to rack up as many rings as possible to aid his chase the ghost of Michael Jordan. Instead, he’s prioritized getting just one more in the city of Cleveland, showing a touch of humanity that Jordan could never uncover.
That’s why I think LeBron had promised himself this day would come, the day that he returned home for a chance to earn the crown that he was bestowed upon him back when he was a lanky teenager at St. Vincent–St. Mary. I think he promised himself that he would return for redemption and forgiveness. I think he promised himself that he would give the final leg of his prime and the fleeting years of his career back to the city that made him who he is. I think he promised himself that he would set an example for his kids about values, maturity and the importance of home while raising them in his backyard.
I think he promised himself that he would make Cleveland proud to call him their own again.
If there was a team in the league that you would least expect to have a no-hitter thrown against them, it would be the Colorado Rockies. As a team they lead the majors in batting average and slugging percentage and they rank third in on-base percentage behind the Athletics and Pirates. They’re second in homers, second in runs scored and they lead the league in BABIP, which means they’ve been so good when putting the ball in play that they’re bound to regress at some point.
And yet, there was Clayton Kershaw making them look silly on Wednesday night, striking them out 15 times en route to his first career no-hitter, which would have been a perfect game were it not for an error by Hanley Ramirez. Of course, Kershaw makes almost everybody look silly, but Colorado’s rare sputtering on offense was indicative of a team that has been derailed by injuries and of a ballclub that just can’t seem to strike a proper balance between a dominant offense and a dormant pitching staff.
Colorado has gotten off to an exciting start offensively thanks to the MVP-caliber play from Troy Tulowitzki, more consistent brilliance from second year third baseman Nolan Arenado, a surprisingly great start from Charlie Blackmon and and strong mixed and match contributions from outfielders Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, Michael Cuddyer and Brandon Barnes.
Franchise cornerstone Carlos Gonzalez has had the worst start of any Rockie offensively – batting just .255 with a .307 on-base percentage in about 200 at-bats before going on the DL – and it hasn’t mattered because just about everybody that Walt Weiss has put in the line-up has been able to hit around or better than .300 and get on base at a solid clip.
But even with their stellar collective efforts offensively, the Rockies sit nine games back of the first place Giants and, at four games under .500, they will also have to contend with the Dodgers should they ever put things together to make a run towards the top of the division. And that’s because Colorado is totally lacking effective and consistent options on the mound.
Jordan Lyles, a talented 23-year old whom the Rockies acquired from the Astros along with Barnes in the Dexter Fowler deal, has been their best arm. He’s got a solid 3.87 FIP and he’s got the second lowest flyball rate in the league at 21.2%, which is vital for a pitcher that calls Coors Field home. But, as a symbol of the Rockies luck this season, Lyles broke his hand two weeks ago and is currently on the disabled list.
Lyles’ injury, as well as the putrid performance of Franklin Morales, led to the promotion of top prospect Eddie Butler from Double-A. Not only did Butler’s major league career get off to a rocky start on the hill – giving up 10 hits and six earned runs to the Dodgers in his big league debut – he also experienced some shoulder inflammation and has since landed on the DL.
Colorado had little production from any of their starters before Lyles went down and things have only gotten worse since. After a strong 2013 campaign, Jorge de la Rosa has had his walk and homerun rates rise significantly and his FIP has gone from above average a season ago to a horrid 4.80 mark this season. Just about all that is left for the Rockies on the mound is rookie Tyler Matzek, who has looked good in his first two big league starts.
Lyles great start gave the Rockies’ pitching staff hope, but his injury combined with De La Rosa’s surprising struggles has led Weiss to search for any kind of fix for his rotation, and the answers don’t seem to be presenting themselves. It would appear as if this is destined to be a down year for Colorado meant for their young arms to gain some experience going forward.
But their offense is so good that calling this a rebuilding year at this point would be premature. It’s quite clear that Colorado’s pitching staff can’t continue to put up what has been the league’s worst FIP by a wide margin over Baltimore, but if they can manage to trend upward ever so slightly, there’s hope for this team to make some noise, because Troy Tulowitzki is in the midst of what may end up being the banner season of his tremendous career.
It’s somewhat ironic that Tulo, who has had a troubling history of injuries, is having his best year ever during a season in which the rest of his teammates are dropping like flies, but the Rockies are still hanging around in the NL West by virtue of his glorious bat. Through 69 games, Tulowitzki has an ungodly .356/.445/.653 slashline, he’s hit 18 homers, putting him on pace to smash his career high of 32 homers set back in 2009, he’s driven in 45 runs and he’s got some of the best defensive numbers of his career.
Across the board, just about the only guys that keep company with Tulowitzki numbers wise are Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig, and he tops them in most categories. Tulowitzki currently leads the league in all three slash categories (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage), he has the top weighted on-base average in the league – and if he keeps up the pace, his wOBA of .467 will be the best the league has seen since Barry Bonds’ cartoonish .537 mark in 2004 – and Tulo also leads the league in weight runs created.
Even with Arenando and Cuddyer on the DL, the Rockies have been able to sustain at the plate, Kershaw’s near perfect game notwithstanding, because Tulowitzki spearheads a group of exceptional contact hitters.
Blackmon’s awesome season, which started with that ridiculous 6-for-6, five RBI, four run, four extra-base hit (three doubles and a homer) way back in the first week of the season, has given the Rockies another .300 hitter with pop. He’s sitting at 12 homers and 44 RBIs right now, second on the team in both categories, on top of a team high 12 steals. And guys like Dickerson, Stubbs and Barnes sprinkle the ball across the field whenever they’re called into action.
The Rockies have always been a fun offensive team to follow because of their home ballpark, but this season they’ve actually compiled a pretty complete set of hitters that hit well for contact and power and get on base efficiently. Unfortunately, their poor pitching staff has put them in a hole in what has been a competitive division over the years. It’s tough to see a miracle emerging from the mound, but if the Rockies can get any sort of improvement from their starting rotation, Tulowitzki seems poised to carry his team to the post-season.
MIAMI – The World Cup started on Thursday afternoon, which meant it was time for my personal tradition of cramming as much soccer-related information as possible into my brain so that I have at least some understanding of what I am watching throughout the tournament. Of all of my research, what interested me the most was reading about Spain and how their national team was inseparable from a certain style of play.
I had never heard the phrase “tiki-taka” before reading about the Spanish national team. At first I thought it was a unifying rallying cry like “Ubuntu” was for Doc Rivers’ Boston Celtics. Instead, tiki-taka represents Spain’s unique style of play, which is defined by constant, whip-smart passing, perpetual movement off the ball and a benevolent group of players.
Now, tell me if that doesn’t sound just a little bit like a certain basketball team from San Antonio that just eviscerated the two-time defending NBA champions on the road in back-to-back games to secure a 3-1 edge in the 2014 NBA Finals.
Of course, the Spurs have their own saying that symbolizes the fabric of their organization: Pounding the rock.
Gregg Popovich’s favorite mantra is a reference to an old quote by Jacob Riis about a stonecutter’s dedication to his craft in lieu of results and how his ultimate success comes not because of his last strike of the rock, but because all of the ones before it. In short, the quote, which hangs on the wall in the Spurs lockerroom, sums up Popovich’s “process over results” philosophy.
And throughout these NBA Finals, the Spurs have never wavered from their process, which heavily entails that tiki-taka style of succeeding collectively on every possession, and it’s put them in a position to claim their fifth banner in Game 5 on Sunday night.
San Antonio’s steadfast unity has never been more clear than in Games 3 and 4, where the Spurs used an unprecedented combination of unselfishness, smarts and individual creativity to dismantle what has been the most vaunted post-season defense in the league over the past few years. The Spurs had a historic shooting performance in Game 3, but their dominance was sustainable because it was rooted in their fundamental style of play, and yet another brilliant group effort allowed San Antonio to flourish again in Game 4.
It’s not easy to make this Miami team look vulnerable defensively, at least not when they are locked in. But the Heat either haven’t found that extra gear that they’ve relied on in years past or they have and the Spurs are too good for it to matter. Based on the way Miami reacted to San Antonio’s second straight annihilation of their defense on their home floor, constantly peering at the ground looking dejected and defeated, I’d say it’s the latter.
What’s even more impressive than what the Spurs did to Miami’s defense is how they made them look on the other end. Ironically, the star-studded Heat are not all that different than the anonymous Spurs when it comes to sharing the basketball and the credit. Like Tim Duncan, LeBron James has always been one of the more magnanimous teammates in basketball.
But the Spurs have completely disrupted Miami’s championship rhythm. San Antonio has executed defensively with the same devastating precision and imperative attention to detail that makes them a terror to guard on the other end of the floor. Anytime that LeBron or Dwyane Wade got into the paint in Game 4, they were met by the long, extended arms of Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, and San Antonio blew up some of Miami’s more complex offensive sets all game long by switching on all screens.
So, in what was a must-win game for the Heat if they were going to keep a three-peat within the realm of possibility, Miami looked more and more like Cleveland throughout the night, at least from LeBron’s perspective. Wade turned in the worst game of his Finals career, scoring just 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting, Chris Bosh was nowhere to be found after an initial burst in the opening minutes, Ray Allen only got two open looks courtesy of some lucky bounces and I’m pretty sure someone filed an actual missing persons report for Mario Chalmers.
The third quarter essentially summed up the game for the Heat. James shot 7-of-8 from the field and scored 19 of Miami’s 21 points during the third period and the Spurs still won the quarter 26-21. Given how little his teammates were contributing, LeBron was probably longing for the days when Larry Hughes and Boobie Gibson would hit a three every now and then, although that trio got throttled by the Spurs, too.
And, as usual, the Spurs were operating on the opposite end of the spectrum. Game 4 marked the second straight game where neither of San Antonio’s perennial powers were individually brilliant. Instead, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Duncan once again looked like Leonard’s overqualified sidekicks.
Leonard’s out of this world talent has only been surpassed by his uncanny acumen over these past two games. The defense he has played on James – moving his feet like Baryshnikov in sneakers and waving his arms around like the wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man – has been befitting of comparisons to Scottie Pippen, and his emergence as not just a finisher with the ball, but as another fluid cog in San Antonio’s rhythmic offense has kept things humming along. Despite two below average games to start this series, Leonard’s play in Miami may have been enough to make him the favorite for Finals MVP should the Spurs close this out.
It’s too simplistic to say that San Antonio has put on a clinic over the past two games. In fact, that may be belittling what they’ve done. Calling their offensive execution a clinic means they are setting some kind of example for others to follow. While that may be true about their selflessness, the kind of ball movement that the Spurs consistently display is not easily replicated.
We can talk about how the Spurs play the right way, but what’s more true is that they’ve found the right combination of players – a unique and perfect blend of light’s outs shooters, quick dribble penetrators, nimble and cunning defenders, Picasso-like passers and, most importantly, dedicated brothers – to fit their rare, adventurous and ravishing tiki-taka style of pounding the rock.
And now they are just a win away from being cemented as one of the best teams in NBA history.
SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs outscored the Miami Heat 16-3 in the final four minutes of Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals.
They did so by rediscovering the precision and the ball movement that had escaped them in the game’s previous three quarters, when they were turning the ball over like it had a bunch of splinters lodged in it. Manu Ginobili was threading the needle to Tim Duncan on pick-and-rolls, Danny Green broke out of his shooting slump with a trio of Tar Heel triples, and Tony Parker had a pair of big shots. After turning it over 21 times in the first 44 minutes of the game, San Antonio committed just one possession-ending error down the stretch, and it allowed their collective brilliance to shine through.
Also playing a role: The fact that LeBron James didn’t play during those final four minutes.
Thanks to a broken AC, everybody in the arena was forced to deal with an unrelenting, literal heat throughout the night. Interestingly enough, San Antonio’s cast of foreign players pleaded that the playing conditions weren’t that bad given their experience playing in inferior conditions overseas.
Nonetheless, for a player that has had documented issues with cramping, the combination of heat and humidity, which was so bad last night that the corridors of the AT&T Center glistened like a freshly mopped floor, caused muscle contractions in LeBron’s left thigh, rendering his left leg motionless late in the game.
And because it is LeBron, this has to be about more than a rare physical malfunction for the game’s greatest player. Forget the fact that LeBron dealt with a very similar issues in Game 4 of the 2012 Finals, only to come back into the game and nail the game-changing three, no, LeBron’s “cramps” last night were clearly a manufactured effort by James to bow out of a close game. If not, LeBron not checking back into the game, despite his own intentions to do so before his coach shot down his efforts, must mean that he’s not as tough as Jordan or Kobe.
We’ve come to expect some level of dismissible discourse when it comes to LeBron, but placing any of the blame for last night’s result on him robs us of the opportunity to examine the real issue with the way the Heat lost Game 1.
Miami’s meltdown without LeBron is understandable, but not totally excusable. We are not even two full years removed from people criticizing LeBron for having to get help from other stars to win a title, and now we’ve reached a point where the Heat couldn’t muster more than three points with LeBron off the floor down the stretch.
James is obviously the center of the Heat’s universe and things are going to change drastically if he’s not on the floor. But why does that mean that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh get a free pass for what was a punchless effort from them after LeBron exited the game? Would LeBron get the same treatment were it Wade that went out with an injury, leaving James with some added responsibility?
Why does Wade, whose campaign to be known as the third greatest shooting guard of all-time was recently kickstarted by Mark Jackson, get away with a two point fourth quarter, without a single point in the final four minutes? Wade and James have never been a perfect match offensively, and yet, when Wade was put in a position where the offense was relying on him, he failed to deliver anything at all. How does that go unnoticed while talking heads blab about LeBron not being superhuman enough to overcome an ailment that would sideline anybody?
Wade was an astounding minus-21 in the final nine minutes of the game, which is when LeBron’s issues starting flaring up. Bosh was a minus-15 in his six fourth quarter minutes. Individual plus/minus is a very hit or miss stat, but in this case it clearly illustrates just how poor an effort the Heat got from Wade and Bosh when they needed it the most.
It’s fitting that this whole thing played out against the Spurs, a team that has won two decisive games this post-season against the Blazers and Thunder with Tony Parker missing the entire second half. A popular narrative about this series may be about the battle of the big threes, but San Antonio is way more capable of operating sans one of their stars than Miami is when James has any kind of ailment, which is ironic given how Wade and Bosh are often portrayed as LeBron’s crutches by those that belittle his accomplishments.
People will use last night as an example of James’ imaginary issues in big moments, but I see what transpired in Game 1 as further proof of his greatness. That the team completely collapsed in his absence is nothing if not a statement on how integral he is, even on a team with two other superstars.
The main reason LeBron went to Miami was so that he could offset some of the unreasonable burden that he carried with him in Cleveland. Wade and Bosh were supposed to be the other pillars that prevented such a disaster from taking place if LeBron was off his game.
But last night they were buried in the rubble.