As we watch in awe as a 33-year-old Lebron produces arguably his best stretch of play in his 15-year career, let’s throw a little respect on the Black Mamba ( aka “Little Flying Warrior” apparently).
All 6 dunks in the video are phenomenal and serve as a reminder that Kobe took his hops with him as he reached the latter stages of his career. The Kris Humphries/Gerald Wallace double poster is probably my favorite, but you could make a strong case for each one. This man was as ferocious a competitor as we’ve ever seen. He played with an angry disposition that turned opponents in his path to scorched earth.
With 7 straight Finals appearances and two rounds left to make it 8, Lebron James has been arguably the most consistently dominant force the Eastern Conference has ever seen. The last time Lebron failed to make the Finals, Antawn Jamison was still on the Cav’s roster and the team that bounced them from the playoffs was the Celtics in the last year of their infamous big 3 of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. Fast forward 8 years to 2018: despite great efforts by a Pacers team led by Victor Oladipo, “The King” still prevailed to keep his first round series winning streak alive and the hopes of an 8th straight finals appearance on the horizon.
It was not a typical Lebron first round to say the least. It featured Lebron playing big minutes (averaging over 41 minutes per game) and seemingly doing it all for his team, but not in the typical breeze-through fashion we are used to seeing at this stage. From game winners, to a controversial block that should have been a goal-tend, this series was no walk in the park for the Lebron-led Cavaliers. Only two games were decided by more than 5 points, both games that Indiana won with ease: 121-87 and 98-80. The Cav’s biggest wins were by 4 on both 4/29 and 4/22. To put things in perspective, before dropping game 1 to the Pacers in this series, Lebron had 21 straight first round wins. It is safe to say this Pacers series was the most tested Lebron has been in the first round in the last decade.
The first round series win secured Cleveland a ticket to play Toronto in the second round, a familiar foe. In 2016 the two squads faced off in the Eastern conference finals. Lebron easily took care of the first two games at home, dropping the next two at Toronto, then winning the next two and sealing the deal with a 113-87 blowout win in Toronto for game 6. He would go on to complete the epic 3-1 comeback against the Warriors in the Finals that year, delivering one of the best playoff performances the NBA will ever see.
Fast forward one year later to 2017, Lebron is facing Toronto yet again, except this time one round earlier in the Eastern Conference Semi’s. It only took Lebron 4 games to oust the Raptors from the playoffs this go-round. The closest game was game 4 in Toronto and the Cav’s won 109-102. The Cav’s also played the Pacers in the first round this year, easily handling them in 4 games. This years path has been the same as last years was, but this year feels far different.
You have Lebron for the first time in his career after a series (especially a first-round) exclaiming to reporters that he is worn out and spent. The Raptors have been sitting and waiting for days to see who they will be playing next round. They are the first seed in the conference and boast the best bench in the league. Their star Demar Derozan is looking better than ever and Dwayne Casey is coaching this team as good as any other coach in the league (yes even Brad Stevens). Cleveland is tired and coming into a rested Toronto’s building for game 1 on a short turnaround. This game 1 feels like it is going to be different. This series feels like it is going to be different. This Raptors team is better than they have ever been before, and the Cav’s are showing weaknesses we have not seen from them before; Following what seemed to be an experimental season for them after the departure of guard Kyrie Irving in the off-season. Could this be the year that Toronto gets over the hurdle and dethrones the King?
Despite all signs pointing in Toronto’s favor, game 1 did not go as they would have hoped. In fact, they had the lead the entirety of the game during regulation until the last bit. This is only the second time in the last 20 years that a team has won a game in the postseason without leading at any point in regulation. They built a 14 point lead early on and spent the rest of the game letting Cleveland slowly chip away at it to eventually tie it late and force an overtime. The Toronto game plan seemingly went out of the window in crunch time when the Cav’s were charging back and the panic within them ensued.
When it comes down to it, Lebron James has their number and is in their head. He owns MAJOR real estate here. There is no other explanation. Yes he did get more help from others on his team. He did have a triple double and then later came out to say it was his worst game of the season after shooting 12-30 from the field. All this being said, it was still enough to get the win for his Cav’s. Toronto dealt with the ultimate disappointment. They were so close to winning this game. They had the ball with the game tied and one last chance. This one last chance turned into what felt like 15 chances between all the tip-in efforts, but the rim had a lid on it and none of them fell for the Raptors. Overtime was next, and despite not a single point scored by Lebron James, the Cavaliers prevailed with a few clutch threes from Smith and Korver and enough defense to fend the Raptors off after securing the early OT lead.
The most help for the Cavaliers though; It came from the Raptors themselves. They called a timeout in crunch time to draw up a play, only to have them get a 5 second violation called on the in-bounds. This gives the ball back to Cleveland, wastes the productivity of the timeout, and gets Toronto even more in its own head then they already are. There was no excuse for the Raptors to not close this one out. All the signs point towards the fear of Lebron. Lebron might have gotten more help from his teammates than usual with JR smith eclipsing 20 points and Korver hitting 5 threes, but on an off night for Lebron, the Raptors have to seize the opportunity and take advantage when they can. Lebron did not let his shooting woes get to his head like he has in the past, and when the Cavaliers needed a bucket the most and the game was on the line towards the end of regulation, Lebron kept delivering.
They got cold feet, folded, and simply did not play the game they played for the three and a half quarters before. Whether it be the playoff jitters, the fear of Lebron, or just a freakish stretch of terrible offense, they had no answers down the stretch last night. This has seemingly been a three year theme for the Raptors, with Lebron being the gatekeeper for them. I am not sure they will find the key this year after what I saw last night. It looked mighty familiar and it is getting quite evident that the thought of Lebron and the history of the two teams makes the Raptors uneasy. They should try caring less and playing like it is a regular season game, because when the stakes have been the highest, the Raptors have been at their worst. The Raptors have at least 3 more games left to prove me, everyone else, and themselves otherwise. I am personally hoping for 6 more games and a close game 7 in Toronto to see how the Raptors deal with the pressure in their own building and if Lebron really does have them shook at the thought of him. Only time will tell.
A brief update to any and all interested parties from Hobey Jiranek:
If you have been one of the 126 different visitors (474 page views) to our site since the launch in March, thank you. We hope some of the sporadic and disjointed content has been of some interest.
After a torrid start, content has plummeted in the past few weeks. Obviously, that is not in line with our long-term goal of becoming a steady producer of sports-related media, but we offer no apologies for this absence, nor do we expect that anyone wants apologies.
We are in the midst of what we are calling a “ultra-soft launch period”. The jargon is intended to be extremely vague and we recommend that you suspend any expectation as to the regularity or specificity of our output for the time being.
What I can promise you is that we have a renewed vigor in the GSM brand during this initial growth phase. I, Hobey Jiranek, along with my ground-floor GSM partners, namely Cullen Graves, Mac Mombello, Kevin “Sultan of Swat” Fleming, Max Skinner, and the young John Irby, have sworn an oath to continue the development of this infantile project and we are excited for what the future holds. That being said, we remind you to tamper expectations, that way, you can only be pleasantly surprised.
Finally, if you have made it this far, you have achieved true GSM supporter status. With this title comes no responsibility, but great reward. Send an email to email@example.com before 4/20/2018 with your mailing address and we will mail you an exclusive, first edition, Guru Sports Media sticker. Again, tamper those expectations, but this is just the beginning of the benefits you can expect from your continued support and interest.
With the start of the playoffs just 25 days away, playoff bound teams have just a handful of regular season games left to get primed for the NBA’s second season.
What that preparation entails varies by team and circumstance, but one common aspect of playoff preparation is developing strategies to effectively utilize depth. This often means adding rifts, sets, and other tactics to allow more involvement from secondary players. In a seven-game series, a team has more time to adjust and scheme for an opponent’s primary options, opening up opportunities for lesser-known players to emerge in the playoffs.
Throughout NBA playoff history, we have seen a long list of unlikely heroesproduce spectacular playoff performances, whether it be within a series, game, quarter, or even single play. Here are a few examples:
Mike Miller‘s Seven Threes-Pointers, Game 5, 2012 NBA Finals:
Missing much of the season due to injury, Miller entered the Heat’s Game 5 against the Thunder averaging just 4.41 points-per-game over the playoff run. However, the twelve-year vet and career 40.7% three-point shooter had a flashback game to his early days in Memphis, scoring 21 points by knocking down seven-of-eight from three-point land to secure a 121-106 win and a first ring for Lebron.
Kelly Olynyk Closes Game 7, 2017 Eastern Conference Second Round
In one of the more memorable performances from the 2017 playoffs, Boston’s Olynyk took over the role of Mr. 4th Quarter in Game 7 of a thrilling series against the Wizards, scoring 14 in the final quarter to punch Boston’s ticket to the ECF. Averaging 9.0 points per game off the bench, Olynyk finished the game with a season-high 26 ponts.
After losing Kevin Garnett to a season-ending injury, Davis, in his second year, stepped into the starting role and delivered multiple clutch performances, including this buzzer beater to save the Celtics in an 3-1 elimination game against the Magic in the ECF in which he scored 21 points and had six rebounds. The Celtics would lost the series in Game 7. Davis finished his career averaging 8.0 points per game and joined a long list of clutch playoff shots from unlikely sources like Derek Fisher, Steve Kerr, Big Shot Rob Horry.
Even if it doesn’t lead to a signature moment like the above, in the often razor-thin margins of the playoffs, increased production and value from a bench player can easily make the difference in a single game or even series. With that in mind, we have highlighted a few such secondary players (averaging <25 mins) that have the potential to become this year's unlikely heroes with breakout playoff performances:
Monroe appears to be finding his niche on his third team of the season. In his last four games with the Celtics, the former lottery pick is averaging 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in 23.5 MPG, giving Brad Stevens a needed interior offensive boost to the Celtics second unit. While Monroe can be exposed defensively against a smaller lineup, his offensive upside looks like it may be an excellent fit for a Celtics team that leads the league in defense rating, but has been mediocre offensively, particularly on the glass.
In the absence of Jimmy Butler the 6’10” third-year power forward out of Yugoslavia has moved into the Timberwolves starting rotation and quickly made a name for himself. He averages just 6.0 points per game over the course of his career, but Bjelica has been excellent in March, averaging 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds in 36.6 minutes per game, while hitting at an incredible 44.1% rate from three, including six-of-nine from deep in a 30-point outburst against the Wizards.
With Butler expected to return for the playoffs, it is unclear where that will leave Bjelica in the rotation, but it is hard to imagine Tom Thibodeau won’t find some minutes for the lethal shooter, particularly on a team that is last in attempted three-point field goals (22.2 per game).
Back in Indiana, Stephenson looks to be hitting his stride in his role as a veteran coming off the bench. He had a season-high 25 points on 10-15 shooting while adding five boards and five assists in Saturday’s loss to the Wizards, followed by 16 points in a win over the Lakers. Currently set to play the Cavaliers in the first round, the Pacers will need all they can get from their sporadic second-unit led by Stephenson, Corey Joseph, and Domantas Sabonis.
At his best, Stephenson can be an instant spark; a sensational play-maker whose swagger and fiery personality can rally his teammates and the crowd. Then, there is the other Lance Stephenson we have seen: an erratic, selfish player, that has displayed immaturity and disinterest that alienates him from teammates. Now in his eighth year, with the most playoff experience on the roster, this talented young Pacers team will need Stephenson at his best if they are going to make any noise.
CJ Miles, Toronto Raptors, 10.4 PPG, 38.4% 3P, 18.9 MPG
With a 19-2 record since February 1st, Toronto is cruising to a first ever Eastern Conference regular season banner. Integral to that success has been the play of 13-year veteran CJ Miles and the Raptor bench that leads the NBA in efficiency. A free-agent addition last off-season, Miles has exceeded expectations as a vital component of the effort to replace the offensive production of departed P.J. Tucker (Houston) and Patrick Patterson (OKC).
After shooting a career-high 41.3% from deep last season, Miles has continued to be extremely effective on the offensive end, posting one of the most efficient statistical seasons of his career, including a career high 19.8 points per 36-minutes. At 6.5 attempts per game, second on the team behind Kyle Lowry (7.6), Miles has been central to Dwayne Casey’s increased focus on the three-ball, an essentially compulsory component to success in the modern NBA.
Miles is a mediocre at best defensively, but that is largely offset by stout defense from the young and talented group surrounding him on the Raptor bench, including Jacob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet. Dubbed the “bench mob”, the Raptors bench has arguably been the best second unit in the league. This allows him to lock in on his role as a shooter that spaces the floor and stretches opposing defenses. Having recorded seven games with five or more made threes, Miles has the ability to quickly change the complexion of any game.
Ed Davis, Portland Trailblazers, 5.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 19.1 MPG
Davis is rarely going to put up large point totals, but he influences the game in a number of other ways that contribute to the overall of success of his unit. Most notably is his elite rebounding ability, which has been even better since the All-Star break at 9.2 rebounds per game in just 20.6 minutes, making him fourth in the league at 19.1 rebounds/48 minutes, behind only Deandre Jordan, Andre Drummond, and Enes Kanter. He is averaging 2.7 offensive rebounds and, while he doesn’t shoot often, he is efficient at 59% FG on the season (64.6% since the break). Davis’ athleticism makes him a versatile defender, a valuable trait against a team like the Warriors that likes to play small ball.
The Trailblazers have been the hottest team in the league since the break, reeling off 13-straight wins before last night’s loss to the Rockets. They have defied expectations all year long, thanks in no small part to the production of Davis and fellow reserves Evan Turner, Shabazz Napier, and rookie Zach Collins. Davis’ ability to anchor this group on the defensive end while creating second opportunities on the offensive glass will go a long way towards Portland having success this postseason.
This list could easily be extended to 30-40 players, but these are a few that stuck out. Some other names to watch include:
The Madness has commenced and it has not disappointed. Starting with an OT thriller as Rhode Island took down Trae Young and Oklahoma. Day one set the tone for what should be a compelling, wide-open tournament. Let’s take a look at the top moments from Thursday:
The body control, hand-eye, and awareness in midair are just insane. This would be a 40+/50 dunk in the NBA contest, he just did it in the middle of a tightly contested tournament game. Insane. Texas Tech went on to win 70-60 after trailing to 14-seed Stephen F. Austin at half.
Rob Gray Unstoppable in Houston’s First Tourney Win Since 1984
The last time the University of Houston won a tournament game, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were on the floor, advancing to the 84 championship game where they lost to Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas.
Senior point guard Rob Gray ended that drought Thursday, scoring a career high as he led Houston to a 67-65 victory over San Diego St.
Buffalo Cruises Over Zona
We had our first bracket buster, as 13. Buffalo man-handled 4. Arizona, was a popular pick to make a deep run. Possible #1 draft pick DeAndre Ayton ended his college career with a somewhat underwhelming night, still finishing with a 14-point, 13-rebound night. Ayton wasted no time making his intentions clear, declaring for the draft soon after the game. Buffalo guards Wes Clark and Jeremy Harris combined for 48 points and will look to legitimize the Cinderella tag against Kentucky on Saturday.