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.

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?

The King Still Reigns

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LeBron James is still the reigning king of the NBA. Period. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, LeBron is getting better with age.  If you love sports, like I do, and you practically loathed LeBron, like I did, after seeing yet another virtuoso performance from LeBron James, you have to at least consider changing your vote for the G.O.A.T.  

Some said that he was the best ever at 20. Now he’s 33 and he’s arguably better than ever. Some say that James has been equally mystical and egotistical, and shall we say downright cavalier?  But he has also earned the right to brag and to boast, especially after his performance in the playoffs this year with multiple 40 point performances. But for now we’ll focus on yet another Game 7 masterpiece.

LeBron single handedly willed his team to a 87-79 Game 7 victory over the Boston Celtics ON THE ROAD in front of a harsh and hostile Boston Garden crowd (ok TD Garden, but for us old heads, it’s still Boston Garden).  James played in his 100th game of the season and logged a full 48 minutes. He finished with 35 points on 12-of-24 shooting with 15 rebounds and 9 assists, another near triple double. And it seemed like an “off” night because of tiredness that certainly led to uncharacteristic turnovers and missed free frows. But James also had timely blocks that help bolster the Cavs “D” which stifled the Celtics down the stretch.

LeBron James snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as the “C”s showed that they just didn’t have quite enough to dethrone a destined and determined James who finally got some help from his supporting cast.  Jeff Green, a Cleveland reserve, nearly stole the show from LeBron by scoring 19 points and grabbing 9 rebounds to give the Cavaliers a stunning Game 7 win when Boston had gone undefeated at home in the playoffs. This is the same Jeff Green that had open heart surgery a few years ago. Open Heart Surgery!  And the win was even the more memorable and remarkable because James did it by winning twice after Kevin Love — maybe the most capable of his otherwise underwhelming supporting cast — was lost to a concussion early in Game 6.

Do I still love Michael? Of course. And Kobe won five championships. Five.  Magic and Bird were phenomes, but what we are seeing from the reigning king is nothing short of legendary. He’s going to the NBA Finals for the eighth season in a row. Eight in a row? Who’s done that before? Nobody. Yes I keep going back to Michael’s six-for-six Finals victories, accomplished via two three-peats, but eight Finals appearances in a row? Even his harshest critics, myself included, can’t argue with that.

AND . . . the Cavs went down 3-2 in the series, with Boston playing great ball and their rookie sensation Jayson Tatum having the best playoff’s by a rookie since Magic 38 years ago. But LeBron found a way to win, again. It remains to be seen what will happen in the Finals, but we may well  see the Warriors and the Cavaliers competing for the crown one more time.

And so the lesson is crystal clear. Once again, LeBron James proved the doubters wrong and proved that patience works experience, and experience breads hope. Because of our experience, we know what God can do.  We know that our Lord is still the King. He still rules and reigns. And because our Lord is still the King, you may not be favored, and you may not have the best team, and you may not play pretty, but you can still find a way to win.

You absolutely can.  

Predict Your Future

Embiid and Simmons

Here’s a sports prophesy that I hope comes true: The Philadelphia Seventy Sixers will win it all, in 3 years or so, give or take.  There. I said it.

Sports prognosticators predict wins and losses and victories and defeats. But this is not a prediction, per se. I have a prophecy,  that I hope comes true. It’s a  Type 1Prophecy, meaning it’s a prediction made based on human intuition and analysis of facts. It’s not from God, even though I hope heaven is in on this one.

There are true prophets and false prophets. And no true prophet wants to be confused with a false prophet.  And the problem with prophecy is that in order to be valid and legitimate it has to come true. So, based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m going to prophesy.  It’s a sports prophecy. So here goes: the Sixers will win the NBA Championship within 4 years.  (Did I say 3 before?) There I said it, and here’s why:

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons seem destined to be at dynamic duo set out to destroy defenses across the NBA for quite some time.  So why not shoot for the top?

In LA, Embiid scored 32 points against the Clippers and then, just two short nights later,  Embiid put up monster, if not historic numbers: he scored 46, that’s Forty Six points, had 15 rebounds and 7 assists and 7 blocks against the Lakers at Staples Center. Not too shabby for a second year big man that can hit threes with ease.   And Simmons was one rebound short of ANOTHER triple double.  And thus Simmons and Embiid have saved the Sixers.

Simmons is a Saviour; or, as some would say, he’s a savior of sorts. He was the No. 1 Pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and he’s going to a team and a city that is in desperate need of saving. And so far, Simmons is averaging 17.8, points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. Not bad for a rookie.  And the 76ers other all-star candidate, Joel Embiid, is averaging 23 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.

The Greek work for Saviour is Soter, meaning deliverer. To deliver from danger and death is the purpose of intent and the supreme significance of Biblical salvation. To deliver means to rescue and to defend, both morally and physically, as opposed to being lost and destroyed. And to deliver and save is the herculean task of a Saviour. To save is to revive and retrieve and resurrect to life and health and wholeness.

For Philly, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are just what “The Dr.” ordered., becaseu the City of Brotherly Love is in dreadful need of some real relief and release.  And you may be too. So predict your future. And call out for salvation, because you need to participate in your own resurrection.

The last time the Sizers had the No. 1 pick was 20 years ago. Simmons was the No. 1 pick in 2016 and Markelle Fulz, who has barely played, was the No. 1 pick this year. A generation ago, as it is hoped now, the No. 1 pick became a Saviour of sorts, and went on to become Philly’s favorite son: Allen Iverson. “AI” didn’t win an NBA championship, but he was named the NBA Rookie of the Year for the 1996–97 season. Iverson was also the NBA MVP for the 2000-2001 season, and just this year he was voted into the NBA Hall of Fame.

So While I hope Embiid and Simmons deliver, I don’t have to hope about Heaven. There is a heaven and there is a hell, just like the Bible says.  Isreal became a nation, just like the prophets predicted, and we are living in perilous times, just as the Apostle Paul, a New Testament prophet fortold.

 As for my predictive prophecy about the Sixers wining it att, the city and the fans feel and sense that their redemption draweth nigh. With Ebiid’s 46 point performance against LA the other night, the wait for a good team is over. Now we just have to wait Embiid and Simmons to become a great team, and deliver a championship.  Just like Moses arriving in Egypt to deliver the children of Israel from the clutches of Pharaoh, Jesus came and delivered all who believe in Him from the power of sin and shame.

As a Philly fan, I long for another glorious season of winning and ruling and dominating in ANY sport, so why not start with roundball? (or football  for that matter– GO EAGLES! Fly Eagles fly, on to victory . . .  I just had to get that in.)

Anyway, to the Philly faithful, sports salvation is here. And for everyone else, if you want to be saved, salvation is yours for the asking.

Refuse To Lose

Kyrie Irving NBA Finals

Game Four of the 2017 NBA Finals could have been the highest high and one of the lowest lows for each team.  For the Cavs, they could have been swept right out of the Finals on their home floor.  Ouch.

On the other hand, for the Dubs, aka the Golden State Warriors, they could have won their 16th straight playoff game and gone undefeated in these playoffs. They could have run out of Quicken Loans Arena and soared out of Cleveland and galloped off into the sunset as the best playoff team ever. I said could have, aka shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Instead, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers mustered more than enough mettle and played like a pack of rabid, wild wolves protecting their young in order to avoid being swept out of the Finals.

Instead, the Cavaliers played with the resiliency of POW’s breaking out of solitary confinement and overtaking their evil captors en route to saving a town full of forlorn fair maidens.

Instead, the Cavaliers didn’t just stave off elimination; they made a collective statement by scoring the most points in a quarter and in a half in NBA Finals history. Wow. Who saw that coming?

So what happened?

I’ll tell you what happened; Kyrie Irving and Lebron James told their teammates that they absolutely refused to lose to Golden State on their home floor and they absolutely refused to be swept into insignificance. The Cavaliers refused to lay down and roll over, as they put on an impressive performance that has become one of the highest points of their not yet over season.

Kyrie Irving played with disciplined reckless abandon that was infectious and contagious. Now, it’s the Golden State Warriors who have to come out and prove that they are worthy of winning a championship. So where was this high wire, high scoring, center ring, almost circus act during the first three games?

Fear is a fierce motivator. Fear of failure leads to fight or flight. And last night, those Cavaliers put up a fight second to none. They got out to a big lead and anytime the Warriors even tried to get close, Kyrie and LeBron took out the hammer and lowered the boom.

The question is, can the Cavs play like this again in this series? The odds say no, but then again, the way they played last night, the Warriors better be wary of letting these rabid wolves come back from the brink and giving them an outside chance of doing the impossible.

Let It Happen or Make It Happen?

Durant and LeBron

The phrase “Let it happen” can often be used in a situation where someone may be trying to force something like a relationship, or a deal, or a connection. The phrase is applicable in life, and of course, in sports. “Make it happen” is mainly used for advice for friends, but may not always be the right thing to do. This phrase accompanies a sort of ideology that some things are meant to happen, while others are not; therefore one should not force things.

On the other hand, “make it happen” means to do something and complete it, usually under extreme circumstances. And in case you’re wondering, I’ve obtained this privileged prudence from the wonderful wisdom of www.urbandictionary.com.

Game Three of the 2017 NBA Finals is one of the biggest games in the history of the sport. Why? Because tonight we will see which one works. Are LeBron and the Cavaliers trying to make it happen? Or are Kevin Durant and the Warriors so good that they will let it happen?

So which is it? Should we let things happen or make things happen? Should we yield our will or impose our will?  Should we lay ourselves on the altar or grab hold to the horns of the altar? Which one works?

As we live and breathe, both are simultaneously true.  We must both let it happen and make it happen, both and all at the same time. God will do His part and we must do our part. As a wise man once said, “pray as if everything depends on God, and then live as if everything depends on you.”

Yes the just shall live by faith, and, at the same time, faith without works is dead. So the axiom and the truism is this:  God has done His part; it’s now up to us to do our part. We let it happen by trusting and praying and believing. We make it happen by loving and caring and forgiving.  I call it the marriage of theology and practice. Letting it happen and making it happen are opposite sides of the same coin.

So make it happen, but only after you let it happen.