Welcome to the B/R NBA Round Table. Our four lead writers, Bethlehem Shoals, Holly MacKenzie, Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Rob Mahoney have answered three questions about the NBA. Read their responses to the questions below and chime in on the conversation.
LeBron deferred again on Tuesday night in crunch time. What does this tell you about his character? Or is it simply a matter of a player making a smart basketball play?
Shoals: I understand that, at this point, LeBron James is the hundred-pound elephant in any discussion of the NBA. And the game-by-game hysteria surrounding him certainly wasn’t a model invented for dear old LBJ.
But could we just maybe give it a rest or stop and breathe instead? Sometimes, James doesn’t make the best (or maybe just obvious) decision. Sometimes, though, he just isn’t perfect. Sometimes he is mortal or outplayed. I used to think LeBron was bad for the sport of basketball because it was too easy for him. Now, I think he may be bad for it because of the way we frame his career. It’s enough to make you want to tune out and mow the lawn or something.
MacKenzie: It tells me that he executed the final possession play that his coach drew up for Mario Chalmers, the Heat’s best three-point shooter, to get a shot off. I don’t think last night is a situation where we look at LeBron and what he did wrong; he stuck to the game plan for the final possession.
It’s funny, because when you watch LeBron, it feels as though there isn’t a player in the league who can stop him if he decides to go to the basket. Maybe he’ll get to the point where he realizes this. Maybe he won’t. Either way, every time he the Heat lose a game, I’m not willing to heap all of the blame on his shoulders because he isn’t being the player we feel he should be while he’s still the best player in the league.
Strauss: It is the latter, and I don’t believe I can divine much regarding a player’s personality from afar. At this point, I think we’re reacting to what we think the narrative will be with the Heat. I’m not even sure many folks are killing James for what happened on Tuesday. There are more people responding to the criticism than there is actual criticism.
Mahoney: I’m with Holly. James was the decoy on that particular play, and considering that the Heat had no choice but to attempt a three, I have little problem with that function. It also doesn’t hurt that Chalmers was able to manufacture an open look with a pump fake and an escape dribble, something incredibly hard to do when a three-pointer is the only offensive option.
It also tells me that LeBron, thankfully, is capable of operating in a framework other than endgame hero ball. James isn’t completely immune to the temptation of taking his man one-on-one, but he’s shown that playing during the final minutes of a close game has virtually no bearing on his style of play. If a set is drawn up for him to create, he creates. If a lane is open, he takes it. If a pass is the right play, he makes it. There’s little more to it than that, save for exhaustion, a few schematic blunders and the bludgeoning power of an obtuse narrative.
Kobe says he doesn’t take charges. Maybe it’s time he started?
Shoals: The problem with charges shouldn’t be whether they’re good or bad, honorable or vile, but why we can’t distinguish between a smart charge and a flop. It should be easy, and we know it when we see it. But taking a charge is a smart play, especially for someone who isn’t a shot-blocker or finds themselves overmatched physically, while a flop is acting that attempts to elevate the trivial—sometimes not even near the basket—into a potentially game-turning event. The latter should also involve refs being more judicious or at least thinking harder. If the offensive foul were such an inherently coward idea, demand it be written out of the rule book. Plus, so many stars get away with as many offensive fouls as they do travels. You have to look at who is leading the, ahem, charge here.
MacKenzie: I thought this was interesting because Kobe Bryant didn’t say he doesn’t take charges because he doesn’t want to; he said he doesn’t take them because he doesn’t want a messed up back like Scottie Pippen or Larry Bird. Bryant is a student of the game. He pays attention to the past and the present while hoping to extend his own future as long as possible.
One thing that isn’t up for discussion with Bryant is his willingness to do anything to win. We’ve wondered if there was a price he isn’t willing to pay. The trip to Germany for treatment this past offseason, playing through all of the various injuries, it appears that Bryant’s limit is willingly putting his body in harm’s way when it isn’t necessary. Luckily for Bryant, he plays with shot-blocking big men and can get away without having to step in to take the charge.
Strauss: Flopping helps your productivity while increasing risk of injury. At this stage, I think Kobe’s smart for avoiding contact. His team’s doomed anyway.
Mahoney: I’m no doctor, but I’d suspect that Kobe isn’t one, either; the link between charges taken and back injuries seems sensible enough, and yet I have a hard time picking out any players with back problems from the ranks of the league’s leading charge-takers. Even those who have been sacrificing their bodies for years seem to dodge serious back injuries, while many of the more storied and consistent cases of chronic back problems are among those who rarely—if ever—step in to take a charge.
All of which means: I shrug at the notion. There’s definitely a physical toll that comes with this kind of contact, but I’m not sure this particular line of reasoning is sound. Not a huge deal either way, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to write off a valuable defensive maneuver so completely.
If you’re Doc Rivers, what are the three top action items on your team’s chalkboard heading into Game 3?
Shoals: I hope that enough of the stars align that night. Really, all the Celtics can do is hope they get enough out of their aging team for them to play the game that’s worked for them this year. Otherwise, they will face the depressing and inevitable reality that Father Time hit harder and faster than expected.
MacKenzie: There’s one action: Score the basketball. The Celtics weren’t overly bad defensively in their Game 1 loss to the Sixers. They struggled offensively because Philadelphia is a great defensive team. The basketball isn’t going to be pretty in this series. All Rivers can do is get his team to stay the course, run their offense and hope that the shots fall tonight.
1. Get younger.
2. Score more.
3. No chest bumping of officials—they are people too.
In all seriousness, the Celtics have a slightly above average team, but a nice path to the Finals. The Heat are diminished without Bosh, and the Pacers are a talent-lacking “whole is greater than the sum” unit. If Boston can get past the pesky Sixers, they might just be Finals fodder for San Antonio or OKC.
1. Implore Rajon Rondo to be a more aggressive scorer. Philadelphia’s on-ball defense is capable of limiting Rondo a bit, but considering the injuries across Boston’s roster, I’m not sure the Celtics have all that many alternatives.
2. Work Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass against Thaddeus Young whenever possible. Elton Brand and Lavoy Allen have both done pretty solid defensive work, but Young presents a rare opening for exploitation.
3. Pray that Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are feeling spry. Boston’s defense isn’t the problem, but its offense has again drifted into a particularly dangerous zone. If Pierce and Allen are both limited by their respective ailments, I fear for the Celtics’ playoff lives.
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