Kawhi!

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Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors are on the verge of winning the NBA’s biggest prize. After absolutely torching the defending champs in Game 4 — AT ORACLE, mind you — the Raptors are almost rapturous as they stand on the verge of winning their first NBA Championship. Who saw this one coming? It is an upset of epic proportions, as the Warriors were supposed to rip the Raptors in Six Games. Instead, it looks like it will end the other way around. And all of Canada is singing “Oh Canada” and dancing in every Jurassic park north of the order.

This steady and stoic superstar rarely smiles or shows any emotion. Yet this 2019 Finals Championship series has been all about the man who has become the NBA’s most dominant and dominating player — Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has been putting up outrageous numbers during the postseason, dispatching the Bucks in six games after falling behind 0-2, just after sending home the Philadelphia 76ers, after falling behind Philly 2-1, with a Game 7, buzzer-beating, series-winning shot. Now in the NBA Finals, Leonard and the Raptors are one win away from dethroning the defending-champion Golden State Warriors.

Looming over Leonard’s play and the Raptors’ success is the fact that he may most likely decide not to re-sign with the team after the season. It has long been speculated that Leonard wishes to play in his home state of California; with his contract expiring at the end of the playoffs, his future will be entirely in his hands. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, Leonard and the Raptors are trying to get their hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Kawhi Leonard has proved and proven that he is a force to be reckoned with. He’s averaging 31 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Not too shabby. He’s leading his team night in and night out, with no excuses for a mistake here or there and no regrets, especially for leaving San Antonio. Yes Kawhi left a good team and a great coach in Gregg Popovich for Toronto. Yes Kawhi has been very good for most of his career. And yes Toronto has also been pretty good for the past few years. But for Kawhi, Toronto was an unknown commodity in uncharted territory, for he was getting a new, first year coach and new teammates — and nothing was for sure.

But all of that seems like ancient history now, as Kawhi has led his new team to the summit of the season and the apex of the basketball world. Kawhi has the third highest scoring average in these payoffs, behind Kevin Durant and James Harden. And now he’s takin it to the reigning champs.

Yes there have been players to leave a team they’ve been with for years for another team. Dr. J did it. Moses Malone did it. Kevin Garnett did it. And Kevin Durant did it. All of these players did it to do one thing: win a championship with their new team. But how ironic is it that Durant is injured and not playing against Kawhi now?

And Kawhi has help. Over the course of the Finals, supporting actors the likes of Pascal Siakim and Marc Gasol and Dennis Green and Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka have filled in admirably and taken turns in helping carry the load as Leonard has led the way. Last night, Serge Ibaka scored 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench for the composed and confident Raptors. That means Ibaka shot 75% from the floor. These red hot Raptors are shooting lights out when they need to and turning back every Warrior threat at raucous Oracle — where home fans were stunned and silenced when the final buzzer sounded.

Not even the presence of Hall of Famer Al Attles, the Warriors’ former general manager, coach and player, could help the Warriors. Attles attended Game 4 and it was the first game in approximately eight months for the 82-year-old Attles, who has had health issues.

As for the reigning champs, they will have to dig deep and stretch wide and strain to reach higher than they’ve reached in order to pull this one out of the hat. The return of KD – Kevin Durant could help, but then again, after missing nine straight games, a herculean effort is what it’s going to take to overtake the red hot Raptors.

The key is that the Raptors believe. They believe in their coach, themselves and their leader. They are confident, they’ve played confidently, and they are in no way, shape or form being overly optimistic or arrogantly simplistic. Yes they are up 3-1, but they still have to win one more. It’s just one more game, but it’s still a full game. As Lowry said, “We aint done nothing yet.” And he’s right because it aint over till the fat lady sings.

But if Leonard leads like he’s led them so far, it’s over. It is absolutely over. And we’ll be crowning and congratulating a new champion come Monday night.

The lessons learned here are these: be humble, because Leonard is as self-effacing as they come. Be heady, as Leonard is one of the smartest, hardest working players in the league. And be happy for those who happen to be having a season of success. Remember, “Rejoice with them that rejoice.” You’ll want others to rejoice in your success too.

The Toronto Raptors: Oh Canada!

Raptors Logo. 2

Ok. So the Raptors ripped the reigning NBA royals a new one. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear you all the way over here. 

Yes the Raptors won Game One. No, the Warriors did not look like the Warriors. Yes, it was the first NBA Finals game outside of the good ‘ole USofA.  No, Durant did not play. And yes, the fans were pumped and primed and the energy in the building was crazy. And no, the Warriors did not match the Raptors’ intensity. So there; a Game One win for the home team.

But just who were those guys in the home whites? Kawhi turned in a pedestrian performance as he ONLY scored 23 points. But the rest of the Raptors? Who were they? And where did that come from?  I mean a guy named Pascal Siakam scored 32 Points!  Thirty-Two points! On 14 for 17 shooting! Seriously?  That guy shot 82.3% from the floor?!  Are you serious? In other words, that guy, that guy who has a 10 point career scoring average, took 17 shots and missed three.  That only happens once in a never. Is this a dream or what?

Ok — let me try this explanation another way, as I try to lower my blood pressure – breath, breath . . . . Pascal Siakam just played in his first NBA Finals game.  His FIRST. Siakam is averaging 18 points per game in the playoffs and he averaged a very respectable 16.7 for the season.  But his unexpected 32 points in Game One was the most points in an NBA Finals debut since Kevin Durant had 36 for Oklahoma City in 2012, and it made Siakam the first player to score 30 or more on at least 80 percent shooting in a finals game since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2004.

Those two players, Durant and Shaq, were top-two draft picks, as were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan, the other players since 1970 with 30 points in an NBA Finals Game 1 within their first three pro seasons.

So, do you believe in miracles?  This guy from Cameroon, who was going to be a priest, turned to basketball and now turns in the performance of his life when his team needed it most. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. As I watched Game One in disbelief, I realized that it appears that we may, just may, have an upset in the making?

While I’m pulling hard for “my” Warriors, it appears that the team from up North has all of the farm animals lined up to make a dress for the ball.  The newest entry on the long list of sports Cinderella’s thinks she can dance her way into the prince’s heart, and the pumpkin is ready and waiting outside. That’s the pumpkin that just got turned into a riding carriage. We’ll see.

Here’s how Jackie MacMullan from ESPN saw it:

“TORONTO — When you are champions, you stick with what got you here. For the Golden State Warriors, the formula in these 2019 playoffs had been fairly transparent: identify the best player on the opposing team — see James Harden and Damian Lillard — and harangue him into a night of frustration and disappointment.

Thus, the blueprint against the Toronto Raptors was to reduce Kawhi Leonard’s basketball life to misery, or at the very least considerable discomfort. Blitz him, double him, triple him if necessary, force him to give up the ball and dare the others to beat you.

It was a sound strategy on paper — except the “others” were not only expecting it, they were aiming to exploit it. So, it was a collection of “complementary” Raptors who vaulted Toronto to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals 118-109 in a raucous Scotiabank Arena, delivering a roundhouse right to a team that so often has seemed invincible.

On a night when Leonard, who had been the most transcendent player in the playoffs, was a mere mortal, players such as Pascal Siakam happily filled the void. Siakam, the 24-year old forward who once was on a path to the priesthood — until a visit, on a lark, to a summer basketball camp in his native Cameroon detoured him on an improbable basketball journey — scored 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting. It was a prolific performance that would have been unthinkable two short years ago, when he was a raw, unpolished player who couldn’t shoot.

At all.

‘I was joking with him the other day,” teammate Fred VanVleet told ESPN. ‘We used to shoot together in my rookie year, and me and the guy rebounding used to duck sometimes because his shots would come off the rim so hard.

‘He had some bad misses. But what you are seeing now is the result of a lot of hard work. You can just see his confidence soaring.”

And the confidence of the Raptors is soaring as well. Not only do they think they can win, they believe they will win. And that’s how we should be: full of faith, void of fear and brimming with confidence that the Lord of Hosts, the King of Glory. shall fight for us. Regardless of the opposition, notwithstanding the competition, we must trust and believe that we are victors, not victims. We must cling to the Old Rugged Cross and to the truth that we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us.

As for the Warriors, they have their work cut out for them, with or without Durant.

Every Good Player Needs A Good Coach

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Every good player needs a good coach. And every great player needs a great coach. And such is the story of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won Game Six of the Western Conference Semi-Finals — IN HOUSTON, mind you — on the strength of their best, leading role players, namely Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But/and they needed help, and they got big help from their supporting cast:  Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston, plus the rest of the bench.

And therein lies the lesson: In Game 6 against Houston, Steve Kerr employed his bench superbly. Maybe he should have used them more earlier in the playoffs, but as they say, “better late than never.”

Steve Kerr is a great coach.  And he has to be to coach the band of brothers that he has on his roster. Greatness needs greatness to succeed.  And we’re seeing the secret of Golden State’s success in the chemistry between the players and the coach.

Here’s a case in point: Steph Curry received his second foul early in the first quarter of Game Six, and Kerr immediately took Steph out of the game, much to his chagrin. When Curry got back to the huddle, Kerr was blunt with the two-time MVP.

“He keeps it real with us,” Curry said of Kerr after the game. “There was a moment tonight where I had my second foul when I fouled James on the three, and I saw on the board that he had put Quinn in. Obviously, I had a reaction to that. I walk into the huddle and he keeps it real.” 

“He’s like, ‘How can I trust you to not get your third when you know how big this game is right now and you put yourself in a situation — a predicament to get your second foul? So, I got to make a decision.’ Put Quinn in. Quinn was ready. Obviously, I didn’t like it, but we have a strong relationship where he knows I’m not going to lose confidence in that moment, and whenever I get back on the floor, hopefully good things will happen.” https://sports.yahoo.com/steve-kerr-had-blunt-message-223457898.html 

Steve Kerr knows which buttons to push and he knows when to yell and when to whisper. He knows his players. He knows their strengths and weaknesses and their bents and their dents, and he knows how to get the best out of them.  Sounds a lot like Psalm 139, right?

Psalm 139 speaks of how well God knows us. He knows our ins and our outs and our ups and our downs. And He wants to see to it that we are victorious in every situation. That’s why we must believe and rely on our Heavenly Head Coach. He knows us, and He wants to see us be the best we can be.

Here’s how Mike Cruz from ClutchPoints reported on the Warriors Game Six win:

“Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala were the stars of the Golden State Warriors’ series-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night. But as much as they led the defending champs to their Game 6 win sans leading scorer Kevin Durant, the Warriors banked on their motto, “Strength in Numbers,” to propel them back to the Western Conference Finals.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he was proud of how each of the Warriors’ supporting cast made their mark in their Game 6 win and wondered why he didn’t deploy them earlier in their 2019 postseason, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

‘Houston puts the fear of God in you,” Kerr, halfway through a postgame Corona, told The Athletic. “So we played it very close to the vest the first five games, just allowing our best defenders to be out there the whole time, thinking we got to do this. Then look, we’re forced to play the bench and they’re fantastic. And I’m like: ‘Well, what the  . . . ? What was I thinking? I should’ve played them earlier.’ But I’m just proud of them.’

The Warriors’ bench has been its thinnest since the Steve Kerr era began in 2015. Kerr has played his stars nearly 40 minutes per game over this playoff run so far. But with Kevin Durant slated to miss the rest of the series against Houston, he had no choice but to dig deep into his rotation, going 11 deep in Game 6.

Needless to say, Golden State’s unsung heroes delivered in every way possible. Kevon Looney continued his impressive play with his hustle, rebounding, and improved ability to finish around the rim. Veteran guard Shaun Livingston, likewise, turned back the clock and gave them an offensive spark off the bench.

Andrew Bogut started in place of Durant and was part of their solid start to Game 6. Jordan Bell gave them a spark with his defense and athleticism, while backup guard Quinn Cook gave quality minutes with Curry struggling and saddled with foul trouble in the first half.

The Warriors could possibly get injured stars Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins back at some point during the Western Conference Finals. Kerr could definitely try to use his bench more moving forward to give his stars fresher legs as they get deeper into another championship run.”

From Repeat to Three-peat? Who is Going to Stop the Golden State Warriors?

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 Houston said they would. They had Chris Paul teamed with James Harden, and they were up 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals. Then Chris Paul went down with a hamstring injury, and he DNPed in Games 6 and 7. No matter, the Rockets couldn’t hit the side of a barn, and missed twenty-seven three pointers in a row in the Game 7 loss at home.

LeBron said he could. King James once again carried a team of nobodies and no accounts to the NBA Finals only to find out once again that you can’t beat the Warriors without balanced scoring and more than a little luck on your side. What’s that? We don’t believe in luck? Well then it must have been Providence, right?

The Cavaliers were leading the Warriors in Game 1 ON THE ROAD at the Oracle in Oakland when a charge call was reversed and LeBron was called for a block. Durant hit both free throws and gave Golden State back the lead. But don’t blame the loss on the referees. The Cavs had a chance to win in regulation when JR Smith inexplicably dribbled out the final 4.7 seconds of the clock, forcing overtime. George Hill missed the free throw that would have given Cleveland the lead. But JR grabbed the offensive rebound and could have made a point blank layup to win the game. Say it aint so.  

So Houston couldn’t. And LeBron and the Cavaliers couldn’t.

Now the Golden State Warriors are, once again, the NBA champions after they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in a clean four-game sweep of the 2018 NBA Finals. The series was far closer than the series outcome would suggest, as the Cavaliers took Game 1 at Oracle Arena to overtime and led for much of Game 3 in Cleveland, but Golden State’s overwhelming talent behind Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green was just too much for the Cavaliers to handle. This is the third championship in four years for the Warriors, and it leaves not only the Cavaliers, but the rest of the league with plenty of question marks.

2018 NBA Finals - Game Three
CLEVELAND, OH – JUNE 6: Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 yell and celebrate with Kevin Durant #35 after Durant scored 43 points in Game Three of the 2018 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers  at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Warriors appear primed for a run of dominance that should span for at least another few years, potentially bringing their championship total into the range of Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers or Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The rest of the NBA’s players will do whatever it takes to prevent that from happening, and it all starts with LeBron James. His free agency will dictate who Golden State’s greatest rival is next season, and he likely has already formed his own ideas on how to beat this Warriors juggernaut. https://origin-assets.247sports.com/ContentGallery/Golden-State-Warriors-defeat-Cleveland-Cavaliers-to-win-NBA-championship-and-players-respond-on-Twitter-118908129So who’s going to stop Golden State? No one. They can only beat themselves. And no one can stop you when you make up your mind that you’re going to get the job done and you lean on Heaven for help.

Are You A Warrior?

Kevin Durant is a Warrior. Since he came into the NBA and especially since he came to Oakland in the summer of 2016, Durant has proven that he has guts and grit, boldness and backbone. He’s as cool as the underside of a pillow and smooth like silk with ice water in his veins; and he’s not afraid to pull the trigger.

Kevin Durant is a warrior with grit. And the key word here is “grit.”  To grit ones teeth means to clench them together. In sports and in life, when you  clench your teeth, it means that you bear down but you don’t buckle under; you may bend but you don’t break; you bounce back from way back in order to come up big when the game is on the line and performance matters most.

Kevin Durant is a winning warrior. He’s a champion in the arena who is mentally tough and knows what it takes to win. A warrior is a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.  Once again, Kevin Durant did just that as he torched the Cleveland Cavaliers with 43 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in the NBA Finals, specifically Game 3, when Klay Thompson was cool and Steph Curry was cold. But when Golden State needed a leader and a scorer and a warrior, the Warriors turned to the former NBA MVP to save the day.

Kevin Durant is a Golden State Warrior. And he’s shown great vigor and valor when it was needed most. LeBron is also a warrior. This season, perhaps more than any other season, he’s had a herculean playoff run. But the ride is over. LeBron’s time in Cleveland is coming to a close, and some say his career may be winding down as well. And it’s another warrior that’s aggressively and unapologetically throwing down hammer and pinning LeBron to the mat.

And so the question is this: are you a warrior? Are you living with vigor and valor, carrying teammates on your back and scoring at will, doing all of the little things that it takes to win at the highest level? The lesson is literally laid out before us in plain sight: stop trying and start doing. After watching LeBron score 40 points a game nearly night in and night out just for something to do, and now seeing Kevin Durant slam the door on LeBron, it gives us gumption and gusto to live our lives like warriors.

Sooooooo, are you a warrior? Do you have the faith and the courage to take and make the big shot when your life is on the line? With the help of Heaven, you can.

 

The 2018 NBA Finals: Leftovers Warmed Over

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We’ve seen this movie before, right? I mean, remakes are great, but by the time they got to Rocky XV, I fell asleep during the credits– the PRE credits.  I love watching a favorite movie again and again, don’t you? (Matrix fans unite!) But some people want something different all of the time. Don’t get me wrong, because the Warriors and the Cavs absolutely deserve to be in the NBA Finals.  Correction — LeBron, a.k.a. King James and Steph Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and all of the rest of the Warriors deserve to be in the NBA Finals, with an honorable mention to Jeff Green of the Cavs for the way he played and helped LeBron in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

If the 2018 NBA Finals are must see TV,  why are some people tired of eating Cavs/Warriors leftovers? Becasue they want something different. Their tired of eating manna every morining (or every year).  Get it?  The spiritual tie in is so surreal. We get to watch high level, high caliber basketball, yet we’re tired of the same ole, same ole. But it’s still good. It’s absolutely still good.

Oh well. You can’t please everybody. So the Warriors and the Cavs will play and we’ll watch the Warriors win another Larry O’Brien Trophy.  Right? 

So who ya got?

Why You Should Be Watching The NBA Playoffs

James and Simmons
The NBA’s Past, LeBron James, and it’s Future, Ben Simmons

LeBron James. Ben Simmons. Joel Embiid.  James Harden.  Kevin Durant. Anthony Davis. Giannis Antetokounmpo. And that’s just to name a few. These athletes are why you and I should be watching every possible game of these 2018 NBA Playoffs.   And it’s just the first round.

Let’s start with LeBron.

How long has LeBron James been in the NBA?  Fifteen seasons?  Wow. But time is no factor because he says he’s like fine wine; he just keeps getting better with age. And to prove it, just look at his stats, which are staggering.

James has:

3 NBA Titles

3x NBA Finals MVP

3x NBA All-Star Game MVP

4x NBA MVP

14x NBA All-Star

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Yes, LeBron James is still the king of the NBA. And this year, King James is trying to lead his rag tag, bumbling, and sometimes blundering band of basketball bums to at least the Eastern Conference Finals. But it won’t be easy. The Cavaliers are in trouble because LeBron does not have a strong supporting cast. But then again, James has been to the finals with less talent.  So we’ll see.

But LeBron is at the end of the line in Cleveand. And Ben Simmons’  Hall of Fame career is just getting started. Could this be the passing of the torch?

Philly’s phenomenal young rookie, Ben Simmons, had a double double and was 3 assists shy of a triple double in Game 3 on the road in Miami. His partner in the prime of his life is Joel Embiid who returned from an eye injury wearing a mask and led the Sixers with 23 points and seven rebounds. Not too shabby for a seven footer who needed to knock the rust off. Philly won a rough, tough, physical game which was close through 3½ quarters. But the Sixers pulled away and put Miami away down the stretch and won by 20. It was an impressive team win to say the least.

So who ya got?  The Houston Rockets have James Harden who is trying to prove that he is indeed the League MVP and can lead his team to the Promised Land of an NBA Title.  But not so fast. The defending Champs, the Warriors still have something to say, and the upstart New Orleans Pelicans are leading favorite Portland 2-0, and they are winning Game 3 handedly. But don’t sleep on the Philadelphia 76ers.  Don’t do it. They’ve got their best player back and they’re playing their best ball, so the sky is the limit for this young talented team. I’m just saying.

To be the best you’ve got to beat the best.  What’s true in sports is also true in life. Living life involves tests and trials, and in order to come out on top, we’ll need to bring our best. But sometimes our “A” game isn’t quite enough. That’s why we need the help of Heaven. The enemy of our souls tries to throw everything he has at us in an effort to knock us off and knock us down and ultimately knock us out. 

But have no fear. This is The Year of Jubilee.  This is the year that God shows off and shows out and shows up for us. Believe you me.  God is at His best when we are at our worst.