Russell, Wilt, Jerry, Magic, Bird, Jordan, Kobe, and, most recently, LeBron James. There are others that could arguably be in the conversation, but despite what they all brought to the game of basketball, Michael Jordan is and always will be the greatest basketball player of all time. And here’s why…
In the 2015 NBA Conference Finals, both the Cavaliers and the Warriors had commanding 3-0 leads over the Hawks and the Rockets.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series, with only 3 teams managing to force a Game 7.
In 1951, the New York Kicks forced a Game 7 against the Rochester Royals in the Finals, then in 19… hold on… this isn’t even remotely interesting. However, I did uncover this little gem of trivia via that there Twitter.
— Martin Wenzl NBA (@WenzlNBA) May 25, 2015
The Cavs did their part and trounced the Hawks in Game 4, but we were denied the double sweep as the Warriors completely forgot how to play basketball in Game 4 of their series with the Rockets. James Harden annoyingly managed to annoy his way to 45 annoying points forcing an annoying game 5, but then the Warriors remembered that they were actually quite good at basketball.
The Story of The Conference Finals
So what was the story of the round? If Round 1 was about the weight of expectation, and Round 2 was about developing a last shot mentality, two individual performers caught my attention in the Conference Finals, and they had two things in common: Intensity and Effort.
Most of the headlines went to Matthew Dellavedova of the Cleveland Cavaliers. In Game 2 he dove for a loose ball and rolled into Hawks’ sharpshooter, Kyle Korver, who suffered an ankle sprain in the collision.
This wasn’t seen as a big deal until the next game, when Dellavedova got tangled up with Hawks’ big man, Al Horford, falling into his knees. Horford retaliated… sort of… and was ejected from the game. Was Dellavedova guilty of playing dirty, setting out to injure the opposition by deliberately targeting knees and ankles?
Honestly, I don’t think so. I think he was just playing with intensity, sacrificing his body and going for the ball. Was it sometimes a little reckless? Absolutely. When playing a sport like basketball, you have to have some degree of awareness of what you’re doing, and how you might injure other players, but you cannot fault Dellavedova’s intensity and effort during the series.
“What do intensity and effort have in common? They’re both things that you can control.”
The Big Man on The Boards
The other standout performance for me, was Tristan Thompson. If I were picking teams, I’d pick Tristan Thompson first (edit: I have revised this opinion since I first wrote this post!). Seriously. He is the epitome of hard work. Thompson is a player who will bring intensity and effort every night, and he dominated the boards against Atlanta.
Thompson models himself on Dennis Rodman, another player who knew his skills were limited, but is a student of the game, and boy does he work. His efforts in the Atlanta series certainly got him some attention and a big contract offer (edit: the less said about how this turned out the better!).
So we’ve got two players here. Both players who normally come off the bench. Both players who know they aren’t the most skilled, the fastest, the strongest, or the best shooters. But they both know and understand their roles and what they can bring to the team, and they both bring intensity and effort on every single possession that they’re involved in. What do intensity and effort have in common? They’re both things that you can control.
If you’re shot isn’t falling, what can you control? If you’ve committed a couple of turnovers, what can you control? If you’re not feeling great, what can you control? You can control effort and you can control intensity. And whatever else you bring to the game, if you bring those things, just like Dellavedova and Thompson, you’ll get noticed.
Last year, during the NBA Final Series between the San Antonio Spurs and the then LeBronified Miami Heat, I wanted to write about some of the more mental aspects of the game that came up.
I tried to pick out an interesting story or highlight from each game, something that I thought related back to the “Psychology of the Finals” and wrote a short blog post on that topic. For example, after the air conditioning in American Airlines Arena broke in Game 1, I wrote about the need to take control of the environment, rather than letting the environment give you cramp so bad you have to be carried off the court.
I wrote about the need to focus on What’s Important Now! after both teams seemed to spend the whole of Game 2 arguing with the refs. I wrote about the need for Short Memory Shooting, being completely prepared whether you’re a starter or the last guy off the bench, and a whole host of other areas of psychology that I thought characterised the Finals.
I taped each game (Sky+/Tivo for those of you born after 2000 who have no idea what a tape is), watched it the next morning, and wrote a blog while I was watching the game. To be honest, while I really enjoyed writing about the psychology