As a self-declared basketball-addict, I despise stagnation. I don’t like teams that are predicated on the success of only one or two players. I don’t like it when you know where the ball is going to go and who is taking the last shot. Those narratives are simple to me. They don’t do basketball and its wonders any justice.
Instead, basketball should be defined by team. Sure, superstars are amazing. We salivate over what they do on the floor and praise them if they are of the same high caliber off the floor. I love superstars as much as the next person; however, superstar talent should cater to the offense that is implemented around them. Not the other way around.
Basketball is a wonderful thing and stagnation will ruin it for the most part. But throughout the past two nights in these amazing and historical Conference Final match-ups, two shots have caught the globes attention.
First, lets visit James Harden’s dagger in the heart of the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs were on a run and it looked as if they were destined to come back. With about 30 seconds left on the clock, the Spurs were only down two. They were playing excellent defense on Oklahoma City and were beating them to their own spots.
Kevin Durant had just flared to the middle of the floor after setting a screen for Westbrook to pop to the top of the three point line with. Because Durant was there, his man was also waiting for Harden. That area of the floor was sealed off unless the ball was going to Durant. When Harden finally saw Durant in the paint it was all but too late because Stephen Jackson had position to potentially tip a pass and force a turnover.
An important part of this play was an error by Manu Ginobili. He left Thabo Sefolosha wide open for a corner three as Harden was pulling the ball out of the paint. Had Harden gotten him the pass, it was a wide open look for Thabo who had been hitting his shots for a portion of this series.Seeing this, Ginobili only gives a hard flash to Harden and then retreats back to his man.
Because of this, when Manu retreats, Kawhi Leonard, Harden’s defender, allows Harden to have the right driving lane available to him. Harden lets the hero in him take control at this juncture in time.
Harden uses a crafty in and out dribble to freeze Leonard where he stands. Once Leonard realizes that Harden isn’t going in that direction, he tries to beat him to the paint to stop him from getting an easy shot or a foul at the rim. Harden then uses one more dribble to freeze Leonard once more. Then steps back and lets the rock fly.
By the time Leonard contests, its too late. The ball is already in the air. It drops. This shot sealed the game for the Thunder. With 28.8 secconds left they were down 106-101.
Hero ball would win this night. Score: Heroes-1 Me-0.
The very next night we would see a similar display of heroism in more epic proportion. The Boston Celtics and the rival Miami Heat were writing the latest entry in their journal of epic battles. This was a back and fourth game. Run after run came by–it was as if this were a boxing match between two heavyweights. This game could potentially have NBA Final implications and can cement and ruin legacies. It was a must-win for each of the respective sides.
This time, with just under a minute left, Boston is up one point on the Heat, 87-86. This game is coming to its climax at a late point–fans are at the edge of their seats. You can hear the teeth chattering, the legs shaking, and the silence of a pen dropping would be the equivalent of an avalanche.
Paul Pierce got the ball from Rondo at the top fr the left arch. He was going to work at the top of the right wing. Originally, Shane Battier was matched up on him. I thought that was a “lesser of two evils” match-up at that point. LeBron James was the other choice and, lets face it, Pierce hasn’t really had a good game all series. Who would he have a better chance against, Battier or James? I’ll let you answer that on your own.
After receiving the ball Pierce begins his dribble. Almost immediately, Rondo sets a screen for Pierce. I was confused because Rondo had James on him and setting the screen would allow Miami to switch defenders and leave Pierce with James. Apparently this was the desired look because Pierce relished in the moment.
Pierce had gotten free of James in the fourth quarter and at other instances during this game. He had gotten some good looks that he just wasn’t hitting. He was working from his favorite elbow spot all night and his stepback was working so I figured if he was going to have the ball that’s where he’d go.
No, that’s not what happened. I was wrong. This turned into an isolation at the top and, honestly, with this look I thought that Boston would lose. Pierce looked James in the eyes as he was dribbling and then glanced at the rim. Then, without hesitation, Pierce pulls up for the three point attempt and drills it. A classic hero move by one of the NBA’s recent heroes. Pierce put Boston up 90-86 and Boston would go on do win the game.
It was said that they wouldn’t have a shot in this series. They’ve proved a lot of people wrong. Among those people you can see my face. Last night–especially–I was proven wrong on two counts.
Boston up: 3-2.
Basketball heroism: 2-0.