Monday, June 6, 2011

the finals: where amazing basketball is ignored.

If you follow basketball at all, or perhaps in more than a half-hearted manner, you know that the NBA Finals are happening. You know that LeBron James teamed up with Dwyane Wade in South Beach and brought Chris Bosh with him to play for the Miami Heat. You know they're playing against the Dallas Mavericks, with loyal soldier Dirk Nowitzki raising his game to the highest level it's ever been just in time for the most important games of his career. You probably also know that the Heat beat the Mavs in the 2006 Finals, in a series that some remember with more than a glint in their eyes for the way the refs called the game and the amount of times Wade went to the line.

If you don't follow basketball, you're probably much like the gentleman behind me at the bar last night, explaining the game to his wife: "Remember when we were at Brad's for Easter? And we were watching the NBA Playoffs? Yeah, this is still them. Can you believe it?" And I mean no insult when I say this, but you're probably the type of person who is interested in stories with headlines like this: "Mavs Motivated by Miami's Premature Celebration?" and "Is LeBron James 'Shrinking' From the Moment?".

As I said, I mean no insult, but it has to be said: these headlines, these stories, are inane. They're pointless, beyond striving for clicks in the Internet era, and they ignore the fundamental truth to what's been an amazing post-season for the NBA: the Finals are happening and they are demonstrating some great basketball!

For those who complain that the NBA is a one-man offense, isolation play after isolation play, we've seen what happens when two superstars and a legitimate third option come together. We've seen what happens when they don't have anyone to back them up (the troubles of the Miami Heat in December and January weren't because James or Wade were struggling) and we've seen what happens when role players step into their roles willingly and successfully: Udonis Haslem is averaging 5 points and 2.6 rebounds in the Finals, while Mario Chalmers joins in with 11 points and 2 assists - does anyone think it's a coincidence that the Heat are playing at the level they are?

On the other hand, the Mavs swing the ball with precision. In last night's game, they had 18 assists on 28 field goals, hardly a sign of a team that's dominated by one presence, even though everyone on the court knows Dirk is a born shooter. Jason Terry shot a poor 38%, while still kicking in 15 points and Dallas still had a chance to win the game.

Lastly, these games have been defensive stands, where a lot of analysts assumed that Miami would be smacking around the Mavs with their star-studded offense. No team has scored more than 95 points in the three Finals games so far. With the exception of Game 1, where the Mavs just came out flat, both games have come down to final possessions.

Instead of enjoying the game or analyzing what actually happened on the court, a lot of the media are simply crafting their narratives. Who cares that Dwyane Wade played a monster game last night, with 29 points and 11 rebounds, let's ask about LeBron not being the alpha dog. By pigeon-holing the games and the Finals as a whole into the story-structure that they want, a lot of the media, and the people who read those stories, are missing out on the high level of basketball that's being played.

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