A busy summer is ahead with 8 Irish international teams competing in European Competitions. Levels of coverage will differ from competition to competition but we aim to try and help keep you as up to date as possible with all the action across the continent. We recommend you bookmark this page and check in regularly as content will change and update in advance of each team setting off to try and fulfil their European dreams!
In episode 2 of the TCC Podcast Niall and Andy talk about the epic game 6 of the western conference finals, the miserable east, the Irish senior men preparing for Moldova and take a look at the NBA coaching carousel with a sideways glance at gun laws in Texas!
NOTE: We are aware of the poor sound quality again. The mic is an OKC fan. We will have it sorted before episode 3!
What else can you say after watching the way the Cavs smashed the Raptors in Game 1 of the Eastern conference finals?
Toronto started off with a 7-0 lead to begin the game and it went back and forth until the end of the first quarter. It was in the second quarter when the Cavs went small and into their bench with a lineup of LeBron James, Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye.
We all knew that was coming. It was close in the end, but the Spurs had no answer for LeBron James, who started game 2 very slowly but ended up with 35 points and 10 rebounds. Conversely, Tim Duncan started with 11 in the first quarter, but ended up only scoring 7 for the remainder of the game.
The atmosphere in the AT&T Center was strange last night. It seemed flat. The air conditioning was most certainly fixed – local media mentioned that the San Antonio Stars WNBA game the previous night had seen supporters wearing layers – and there seemed to be an air of apprehension among the Spurs fans. They are, and remain, one of the best fan bases in basketball (well, outside of Greece, who has the best basketball fans in the world) but perhaps a wariness had developed among supporters, conscious of the fact that they might have gone too far in their mocking of LeBron James.
James might claim to ignore social media (particularly during the playoffs) and Bill Simmons might argue that “he’s not wired that way”, focusing more on the defeat in game 1 than the criticism he received, but there is no doubt that LeBron was very much aware that the world was laughing at him. And, like he always does at this stage in his career, he responded in the most spectacular fashion.
For a stretch in the 3rd quarter, it seemed as though LeBron had keyed in on the bottom of the net – successive jump shots didn’t trouble the rim whatsoever. The Spurs were still very much in the game, indeed they ended the 3rd with a 2 point lead, but apprehension grew in the stands and seemed to reflect the increasingly erratic Spurs offense. Coach Popovich criticised his players for not moving the ball as the Spurs have been known to do for years and it was a fair criticism, but perhaps some credit should be given to the Heat’s defensive strategy, masterminded by Erik Spoelstra, which dared the Spurs to beat them one-on-one, luring them into a form of the game that the Heat is more comfortable with.
Given I took the Spurs in 6, I expect them to take home court back on either Tuesday or Thursday, but they won’t relish facing the multi skilled monster that is LeBron James on this sort of form.
I’ve written many an article for this website over the past year and a bit that makes it very clear that I am a big fan of the greatest player in the world, LeBron James. Part of the reason I do this is because it is very obvious to me that many, many people are not and dislike him for strange reasons. I addressed most of these in this article from about six months ago.
Last night, TCC was in attendance at game 1 of the 2014 NBA finals to see one of the great finals controversies of our time: the San Antonio air conditioning conspiracy. The best player in the world could not finish the game after suffering from cramps. He is, according to some of you, let’s call you “idiots”, therefore “weak”, “a faker”, “not as good as Jordan or Kobe”.
The curious thing is that these arguments, the arguments of this group that we have decided to call “idiots”, seem to be very strong among people who are either involved the media and therefore have an agenda in creating controversial stories, like Skip Bayless, or are fans of other teams. See how you are agreeing with Skip Bayless? This is dangerous territory for you.
Perhaps the strongest justification for the use of the label “idiots” is the use of arguments that begin “I once…” STOP RIGHT THERE. You? LeBron and you? Come on man. There is still the opportunity for salvation here. LeBron is a six-foot-nine, two-hundred-and-sixty-pounds ball of brute force and fast twitch muscle. You work in insurance. Give me a break.
My major issue with LeBron haters is that they are denying themselves the opportunity to enjoy one of the finest basketball careers ever. The ability to watch games that LeBron plays in is so much greater than it ever was for people who grew up in the Michael Jordan era. You, in your home in Ireland or the UK, can sit down and watch entire games involving LeBron James live, or stream them whenever suits you. You should enjoy it.
Anyway, back to the business of the game itself. It was close, but probably a game the Heat should have won. They had the opportunity to close the game out in the mid-4th quarter, but the Spurs 31-9 run, facilitated by LeBron’s injury saw them off. Danny Green, made to shoot off the dribble all game long and therefore ineffective, was allowed three consecutive catch-and-shoot threes which ignited the Spurs and the sweltering arena. Kawhi Leonard, similarly inhibited by the Heat’s defensive strategy, also hit from deep, before Tony Parker sealed it. The Heat got next to nothing from Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole and wasted a vintage Ray Allen performance, although Allen also tired late and missed a couple of good looks from the perimeter. The fact that the Spurs went 14-16 in the 4th tells its own story about the Heat’s ability to withstand the, um, heat, but it should also be noted that the Spurs, often inaccurately considered to be the old men of the NBA, are actually younger than the Heat, if we ignored their respective “big threes”. Splitter is younger than Birdman; Green, Bellinelli, Diaw are all younger than Allen, Lewis and Battier. Indeed, with the exception of Allen, its tough to make a case that any of the Heat reserves would get much burn if they played in black, silver and white.
I still have the Spurs taking this in 6, but I expect the Heat to come back significantly stronger in game 2 and might just edge it. He’ll pretend he isn’t, but LeBron is absolutely taking in everything that everyone – television personality or insurance administrator – is saying and storing it away. He ALWAYS does.
A TCC video diary is in production, so look for that later today.
Game 6 between the Spurs and the Thunder went to overtime, but the former ultimately prevailed with a 112-107 win, clinching the Western Conference title and forcing a rematch of the 2013 NBA finals – although this time the Spurs will hold home court advantage. The finals changes from a 2-3-2 format to a 2-2-1-1-1 format this year to mirror the earlier rounds of the playoffs and to tire out the media crews who will be on the charter flights back and forward from south Florida to central Texas should this series go past 4.
The Courtside Collective will be in attendance at most of the games in San Antonio (all, if my wife will let me), although my own prediction has San Antonio taking the series in game 6 in Miami – in a sense righting the wrong of last year when they really should have sealed the series until Ray Allen’s wonder shot (seriously, one of the all time greatest shots in any sport, I can’t emphasize that enough) brought the Heat back from the dead and put away the security cordon for another few hours.
These NBA finals will be noteworthy for being the first finals since 2011 not to feature the MVP. That season, Derrick Rose became the youngest ever MVP at the age of 22 as he led the Bulls to the NBA’s best record (62-20) but were beaten 4-1 in the Eastern Conference finals by the Miami Heat. This season, Kevin Durant was on the losing side in his conference finals. On both occasions, the MVP award was taken from two-time defending MVP LeBron James, in what you could argue is (and was) simply a case of voters getting tired of LeBron’s sustained excellence.
After Oklahoma lost in overtime to Memphis in game 5 of the first round (100-99), putting them on the brink of elimination, Durant was branded “Mr Unreliable” by the Oklahoman.
Durant responded with 36 points and 10 rebounds in a 20-point game 6 victory, before the Thunder won game 7 by 11, behind 33 points from Durant.
Durant is as popular a superstar as there is in the NBA. His MVP speech, linked here, was perhaps the least egotistical speech in NBA history.
But there comes a point when questions have to be asked about Durant and his ability to lead a team to a title. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016. Russell Westbrook becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Durant earns $17.8m this season, $19m next season and $20.1m the season after before he hits free agency. Westbrook is getting $14.7m this season, $15.7m next, then $16.7m and $17.8m for the remainder of his contract. Just for comparison, LeBron earns $19m this season, and his opt-in contract is for $20.6m next season and $22.1m the season after (although it’s almost certain he’ll opt out and sign for less money to facilitate another title push next season – at Miami or elsewhere).
LeBron James was, and continues to be, criticised for not winning a title in Cleveland. Who was his Russell Westbrook? Mo Williams? Larry Hughes? Who was his Serge Ibaka? Drew Gooden?
(Interesting side note: the season the Cavs made it to the NBA finals – 2007-2008 – their salary list looked like this: Larry Hughes $13.3m; Zydrunas Ilgauskas $9.4m; Drew Gooden $6.6m; Eric Snow $6m; LeBron James $5.8m).
LeBron was 24 the season he led the Cavs to the NBA finals. Durant is 25. True, LeBron had played more seasons at that age, by virtue of being older and having been able to skip the solitary year in college that NBA rules forced Durant into, and it’s also true that Durant led the Thunder to the finals much quicker than LeBron was able to lead the Cavs there.
One interesting thing about Durant’s MVP speech is just how deferential he was. He thanked so many people – emphasizing what a nice dude he really is – but the way that he thanked some of them, Westbrook in particular, betrayed the fact that he is simply not assertive enough. He is better than Westbrook. There is nobody on the face of this earth (aside from an ESPN talking head, perhaps) who would argue otherwise. He is capable of making shots that nobody else on the planet – LeBron included – could make, but there is something about the mix in Oklahoma, alluded to by Bill Simmons in this article on Grantland, that just does not scream “title”. What is clear is that Durant deeply loves his team-mates. Perhaps that will ultimately be what costs him.
TCC will be reporting live from the 2014 NBA finals, follow us on Facebook and twitter: @courtsideco and @sandersandrew
The schedule, from nba.com is copied below (you don’t need to worry about the network, obviously):
Game 1 – Thu, June 5, Miami at San Antonio, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 2 – Sun, June 8, Miami at San Antonio, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 3 – Tue, June 10, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 4 – Thu, June 12, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 5 * Sun, June 15, Miami at San Antonio, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 6 * Tue, June 17, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 7 * Fri, June 20, Miami at San Antonio, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
In the end it was about as easy as we thought it would be when Indiana was barely shrugging off the Atlanta Falcons in round 1 of the playoffs – or getting blown out at home by the Washington Wizards in the second round – and the Miami Heat toyed with a 50 point lead at times in the 3rd quarter, eventually beating the Pacers 117-92 to win their fourth consecutive Eastern Conference Title.
Indiana had brought in just an element of doubt to the inevitability that the Heat, leading 3-1 going into game 5 in Indiana, would run away with the series after taking such a commanding lead in the series, with their 93-90 win on Wednesday night. It was, however, a win that took place in the context of LeBron James having one of his worst ever playoff games, indeed games ever, with 7 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 3 turnovers and 5 fouls and Indiana still only won by 3 and Miami had a shot to win it – James kicking to Bosh in the corner who saw his three point attempt rim out.
Indiana have been the definition of inconsistency these playoffs and questions will be asked about how they go forward from here. Frank Vogel’s job is apparently safe and there is no chance they would trade Paul George, who now seems on the verge of making a couple of tweaks to his game to launch him into the category of superstar by most people’s definition. David West is the model of consistency and professionalism. Other players’ futures are less certain.
Lance Stephenson remains an enigma. The moronic “choke” gesture he made to LeBron in the playoffs two years ago which fired James up; blowing in LeBron’s ear, cupping his face, standing over him after he was knocked to the ground; implying he was going to force Dwyane Wade to do something to injure his knees; and the 25 points in game 2 that looked like they might help the Pacers to a win in a game where no other starter scored more than 14. Larry Bird had told Stephenson to stop trying to “get in LeBron’s head” – something he failed at spectacularly – and yet he still tried in game 6. Stephenson knows how to rile some players – Evan Turner and he got into a fistfight at practice this season – but clearly doesn’t know when he’s beaten. I genuinely would not have been surprised if he had grabbed LeBron by the nuts this series. Or pulled his shorts down. There is a lot of chatter on the internet that Stephenson’s antics have caused a number of teams – including Indiana – to drop their interest in the former second round pick out of Cincinnati. Indeed, demand for Stephenson has been bipolar this offseason, perhaps finally hitting the trough in game 6.
There are rumors the team will not pick up Scola’s option for next season. Scola is rumored to be a target for Houston, who, thanks to the somewhat bizarre amnesty-ing of him, cannot re-sign him until his contract expires in 2015. Other teams will be casting admiring glances on a player who remains an offensive force, even if he cannot always guard quicker 4 men and is too short to defend the 5. Hibbert has also been enigmatic but has a lot of money coming his way and, in a league where 5 men are becoming ever more versatile, will struggle to find a comfortable match.
Miami now await the winner of the San Antonio-Oklahoma City series which looks certain to go the distance. Game 6 in Oklahoma is tonight and I’m sure more are expecting another home blowout of the visitors. San Antonio have struggled to deal with the return of the “out for the season” Ibaka, but seemed to find their groove in game 5, even if it was at home.
Miami will certainly fancy themselves against the one-on-one oriented OKC offense which tries to play to the strengths of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – and Reggie Jackson to an extent – and they will be ready for the shot blocking prowess of Serge Ibaka after yet another series against Roy Hibbert who, for all his faults and failings this postseason, is still a full four inches taller than Ibaka and was only 0.4 blocks per game behind Ibaka in the regular season. Ibaka scores more, and more efficiently, than Hibbert and we should probably call a halt to the comparison there given Ibaka is more of a 4 man than a 5, a role usually played with little-to-no skill by Kendrick Perkins until he gets in foul trouble and is replaced by provocative rookie Steven Adams.
The Spurs offer more of a challenge to Miami who are no longer able to run teams off the floor as they were in seasons past. The team is tired after four consecutive runs to the NBA finals and will have to dig deep against the Spurs who I have beating Miami in 6 in the Finals.
The Courtside Collective will be in attendance at the 2014 NBA finals so keep following us on Facebook and twitter! @courtsideco and @sandersandrew for all the latest!
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the $2 billion offer for the LA Clippers tabled by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (net work estimated at $15 billion) is the highest bid the Sterlings have received for the team after the NBA began its move to force them to sell up and move on.
Some are speculating that Ballmer might move the team to Seattle. Some are flatly denying that he would. Neither know for a fact.
Just FYI, here are a few facts:
1 – Steve Ballmer has $15bn, maybe more.
2 – Steve Ballmer was part of a group that offered to invest $150m in the KeyArena just north of downtown Seattle in an attempt to keep the Sonics in town back in 2008.
3 – Steve Ballmer was an investor in Chris Hansen’s proposal to build a new arena in the SoDo area of Seattle in an attempt to get a team back to Seattle, where it would be renamed the Sonics (all the teams records remain in Seattle and did not transfer to Oklahoma).
4 – Steve Ballmer was part of a group, along with Chris Hansen, who attempted to buy the Sacramento Kings with a view to relocating the team to Seattle. This attempt also fell through.
5 – Ballmer has said that it would be “value destructive” to move the team to Seattle.
There is no logical reason for buying a successful team in Los Angeles and moving it to Seattle – LA is a bigger market…UNLESS you are the 51st richest person in the world and have a desire to bring a basketball team back to Seattle (one of the great basketball cities in the US) as part of your legacy.
Time will tell.