The NBA Finals are underway, and for the fourth year in a row, the Golden State Warriors are going up against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both franchises had tougher roads than usual getting to the Finals, but who will hoist that trophy once the series is over is still unknown. But we got someone who knows what that playoff pressure is like firsthand.
On our inaugural Basketball & Shit column featuring former NBA Player and All-American Rod Strickland, CASSIUS gets his opinion on the LeBron James Michael Jordan debate, J.R. Smith’s game-changing mistake and much more.
CASSIUS: LeBron is balling out of his mind. How do you feel about the Jordan v. James debates?
Rod Strickland: LeBron James has been ridiculous over the season and even better during this playoff run. I agree with MJ being lifted as the best basketball player of all time. We could also add Magic to the list, but I’m starting to think about LeBron differently after this season. LeBron has taken his game to another level; he has improved in all facets of his game. His post-up game is refined, he has mid-range game and has added a signature fade away that is unstoppable. Add all of that with his great basketball mind and you have one of the all-time greats that will be in the discussion as the best ever long past his career. No one thought LeBron would be in the NBA Finals after all the changes that were made to the team. They even struggled in the first round against Indiana and were lucky to get out of that on top. I didn’t believe Cleveland had the energy, team chemistry or supporting cast to get through Indiana. They ran through Toronto, but it’s hard to count that series because the Raptors looked like a little brother playing against a big brother he could never beat. They looked intimidated by LeBron but that speaks to his greatness. Then we have the Boston Celtics, with an upcoming bunch of young players led by rookie Jayson Tatum, minus two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. I believed the confident, energetic well-coached team would beat Cleveland. He’s now in his 9th finals, with 3 Championships and one to be determined. If you put all of that together with this playoff run, I won’t say he’s the GOAT but I won’t say he’s not.
C.: What did you like about the Cavs in Game 1?
R.S.: It seemed to be a concerted effort by the coaching staff to slow the pace of the game down and control the tempo. LeBron handled the ball and set the table, getting the team into the offense later. They posted Kevin Love and J.R. Smith early in the game, as well as attacking the paint with drives, putting pressure on the defense, but more importantly getting quality shots for floor balance and to keep the Warriors out of their transition game. Cleveland knew they had to limit turnovers and quick shots to make it more of a half-court game. Golden State does a great job of jumping on opponents in the third-quarter and they came out focused and sped the Cav’s up and opened up the lead, but Cav’s hung in there and never let the Warriors get big runs. In the end, it was a great game, LeBron was in his bag with 51.
They’ve got two of the best shooters of all time, and then Kevin Durant is right behind them…
C.: Is this where Houston failed?
R.S.: Houston tried to beat Golden State with the 3 point shot. I don’t think there is a team in the NBA that can beat the Warriors like that. They have two of the best shooters of all time, and Kevin Durant is not far behind, along with being a 7ft mismatch on any defender. I thought there were plenty opportunities for Houston to drive the ball and get quality 2 point baskets that would have given them a better chance to win.
C.: As a former player, what’s your opinion on the fight that almost broke out between Draymond Green and Tristan Thompson, and just on-court fighting in general?
R.S.: I thought it was unnecessary. The unwritten rule needs to be unwritten. I believe you play to the end, I have no problem with shooting the ball at the end of a game. If you don’t want them to score, guard them. Put a hand up, but don’t walk away from the player. You absolutely should never jeopardize getting kicked out or suspended for a game over a meaningless shot. As far as the fighting goes, I’m with Charles Barkley on that, the worst you will get is a mush or a tap and then it’s broken up, it’s more posturing than anything else.
C.: As you’ve been in the locker room, what’s the vibe like when someone makes a mistake as big as J.R. Smith?
R.S.: I’ve experienced making a bad decision in a game before; we all have. When I was in San Antonio playing against Portland in the second round of the playoffs with a chance to get to the conference finals, I had a lapse in judgment. I made a careless behind the head pass to a teammate that cost us a chance to go to the conference finals. I thought he was cutting but he popped to corner and the ball was stolen. I hustled to recover and tried to steal the ball and committed an open court foul. They got to shoot foul shots, plus the ball, and to add insult to injury I fouled out and couldn’t redeem myself. We lost the game and it was a long lonely ride home. So I understand the feeling, but I will say this, especially at the end of a game with 4-5 seconds left, I would have looked at the score and clock several times while playing out in my mind the next play. That rebound would have been a bucket or a foul. But this is sports and anything can happen.
C.: Considering the state of the Cavaliers, do you see LeBron leaving?
R.S.: I don’t know but it will be an interesting offseason. Just listening to people, it seems like LeBron and the Cavs owner are not on good terms, team talent is on the decline and I don’t know if they have the cap flexibility to make any strong player moves. He returned to Cleveland with a promise of a championship and he fulfilled that so his business may be done. One thing we know about LeBron is that he makes his own decision and media and others don’t have any influence. He got flak for going to Miami and also coming back to Cleveland and he basically shut all that talk down by winning championships, so why wouldn’t he believe he could change the next organization into a champion? I like that he is recreating what a legacy is supposed to look like. You can play with the same organization, be a perennial scoring champion, have six NBA rings, or you can play with two or more teams, be a triple-double threat night after night, win three NBA rings, and still be considered the GOAT. LeBron has proven that he is a great decision maker on and off the court and wherever he lands, we’ll probably be watching him on TV in June.