Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
On those rare occasions when you discover the oft imagined but ever elusive picture that is worth 1,000 words, it’s kind of funny how you react. It’s a genuine feeling and a pleasurable one. You get the sense that you just discovered a treasure, and that’s what an all encompassing photograph like the one above really is.
All I could think when I saw that picture was “Wow.” That’s not the most distinct reaction and one that I have had for far more rudimentary things. But while it wasn’t an epiphany-like feeling, I think it properly captures the essence of that photo.
Because you see, that’s LeBron James, smiling ear to ear, essentially laughing in the face of one the all-time greats, palming a basketball with his left hand, seemingly taunting Kevin Garnett by flaunting his outstretched arm right in front of his docile face. Garnett, the ultimate ball breaker and no-nonsense taker, is completely submissive, which is a look I’ve never seen on the Big Ticket, looking defeated with a face that depicts a mind figuring out the future is bleak. Garnett’s tame look tells the whole story, and that story seems to be a career defining one.
Garnett has been incredible this season with last night being no exception – Garnett put up 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting while grabbing 10 boards in yet another throwback performance from KG this post-season. His reinvigoration since the all-star break has been the stuff of legends – a seemingly worn out specimen in the first half of the year, Garnett decided he wasn’t yet ready to walk into the sunset, transforming himself into the best defensive player in the league once again, someone whose guts have the same longevity as Moses.
But the look on Garnett’s face as James sliced and diced the Boston defense, drew contact and put the ball in the basket anyways, followed by that snarky reproach, transmitted a sad but true realization: After doing everything possible to get back to the pinnacle, I’m not sure we can beat this guy.
‘This guy’, of course, was LeBron James. James seemingly thwarted the Boston demons that had haunted him during his Cleveland days last season when his new buddies in Miami helped him dispatch the Celtics in five second round games. But Boston, in what has become a yearly storyline since they won the 2008 title, didn’t think Miami won things fair and square. Rajon Rondo’s broken arm muddied things up for Boston and any disadvantage for a team at a talent disadvantage can spell the end of things. Thanks to Derrick Rose’s ACL tear, they’ve got their shot at redemption.
Things aren’t all that different this season, with Ray Allen essentially playing on one leg and Avery Bradley’s umpteenth shoulder dislocation forcing him to shut things down for the season. But the odds are a bit even this time around, with Chris Bosh out for at least a few more games with an abdomen injury.
Even discarding the inherent injury excuses that both sides have, there’s a sense of inevitability with Miami getting back to the Finals this season. Bosh or not, the Heat are a better team right now than they were last season. LeBron and Dwyane Wade got pushed around in the first few games of the Indiana series and have responded by digging deep to unveil a previously unseen symmetry, just recently developing into the brilliant basketball duo that everyone simultaneously hoped for and doubted when the two came together. Even better, the kind of chemistry we are starting to see from them isn’t the kind of thing that a Bosh return will interrupt. If anything, it only makes them more dangerous, with the weakside cutter likely to garner less attention when a pick-and-roll/pop threat like Bosh on the floor.
Miami no longer looks like the improper step child of the NBA. The way they joined forces is still far from likable, admirable or even agreeable, but LeBron and Wade aren’t doing things the wrong way on the court any longer. Last season, the Celtics were the good guys, something previously unthinkable, because despite their rough persona, they played within a team concept extremely well, whereas the Heat broke traditional basketball flow with ill-advised isolations and an overdose of hero ball.
Now the Heat look like a functional group, spearheaded by a pair of superstar players that have grown to play extremely well together, a development that has made them into the most dangerous team in the NBA. If Boston had a fully healthy squad, this series would probably go a wee bit longer – and the Celtics certainly won’t die easy even while banged up – but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think that this version of the Heat isn’t headed straight for the NBA Finals.
No matter who the Heat will face in the final round of the post-season, we should be in for another iconic and legacy defining photograph. I don’t know who or what will inhabit that photo, but I hope it has half the message that this one does.
Because what that photo says to me is that there is a new era in the East. The big bad Celtics had their reign, but the superpowered Heat have evolved to a new plateau, driven by the desire to avenge their Finals lost last season, and ready to stick their flag right at center court to symbolize that the new Eastern Empire is on South Beach.