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All-Time Worst NBA Finals Performances

Joel Brigham looks at star players who delivered an awful NBA Finals performance over the years.

Joel Brigham

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Kevin Love just can’t catch a break. Last year, his injury was one of the major reasons the Cleveland Cavaliers were blasted for not winning the championship. This year, after losing the first two games of their NBA Finals series with Love, the Cavaliers absolutely romped the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 with Love sidelined due to a concussion. Now, there are articles saying things like, “Kevin Love Must Come off the Bench in Game 4.”

He seems to be catching endless grief for a player who is undeniably good, but the fact that he’s averaging 16.5 points and 9.4 rebounds in the playoffs this spring doesn’t seem to matter to those who just don’t believe he’s a proper fit with his current team. His Finals numbers are skewed a bit because he only played 21 minutes in Game 2 thanks to the concussion, but in Game 1 he had 17 points and 13 boards in the loss. That is by no means a “choke” game, by any stretch of the imagination.

While Love’s “struggles” in the Finals so far have been blown out of proportion, other stars over the years have actually been awful on the NBA’s biggest stage.

With that said, here’s a look at the stars who put up the worst performances in the NBA Finals over the years (and no, Love isn’t anywhere close to this list):

#5 – LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2007 NBA Finals – It’s been almost 10 years since LeBron James made his Finals debut, but that appearance is one he’d likely rather forget. In his first game in that championship series, legendary defenders Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan took turns defending James, holding him to only 14 points on 16 shots. That obviously resulted in a loss, but then again they were all losses for the Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals. San Antonio swept the Cavs and put a massive halt on James’ trajectory as a future ring winner. It would be a few more years before he’d get his first one (in Miami, obviously).

#4 – John Starks, New York Knicks, 1994 NBA Finals – While Starks isn’t quite on the level of some of the other stars on this list, he was an All-Star for New York in 1994, and that big year from him went a long way toward helping the Knicks charge their way to the Finals in the first season that Michael Jordan had finally retired and allowed them to advance that deep into the postseason. Starks had an atrocious Game 7 against the Houston Rockets, though, shooting 2-18 from the field and missing an ungodly 11 three-pointers in a game that Houston would eventually win, giving Hakeem Olajuwon his first of two rings in the mid-‘90s.

#3 – Ray Allen, Boston Celtics, 2010 NBA Finals – In Game 2 of the NBA Finals that year, Ray Allen knocked down what was then a record eight three-pointers, but he must have used up all of his legs in that contest because he followed it up with a Game 3 that saw him score his first points in his 42nd minute of action that night – and even those were free-throws. He shot 0-13 on the game and uncharacteristically missed eight three-pointers, all of which equated to the worst playoff performance in the career of an all-time great shooter.

#2 – Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers, 2000 NBA Finals – Another all-time great shooter, we think of Miller as this heroic scorer, nailing down the biggest of shots in the biggest of games – but he had his bad nights too. One such off night came at the worst possible time, during Game 1 of the 2000 NBA Finals. Miller must have been overwhelmed by the moment for arguably the first time in his life, as he shot a brutal 1-16 from the field and attempted only three shots from deep, all of which failed to connect. The Pacers did not win those Finals despite much more valiant efforts from Miller later in the series, but it’s easy to imagine how things may have been different had they stolen Game 1.

#1 – Dennis Johnson, Seattle SuperSonics, 1978 NBA Finals – There’s nothing quite like a Game 7 in the NBA Finals, and when a Hall-of-Famer comes into that Game 7 on a tear, it seems almost certain that legendary things are bound to happen. In 1978, legendary things did happen to future Hall-of-Famer Dennis Johnson, but not quite like he’d hoped. Johnson put up the worst shooting night in the history of the NBA Finals, going 0-14 from the field in the final game of the series. The Sonics did win the championship the next year, and Johnson would be named the 1979 Finals MVP, but in ’78 he was about as bad as a great player has ever been in such an important game.

Honorable Mention:

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, 2015 NBA Finals – Even the most unconscious shooter in the history of basketball has his off nights, and when you shoot with the kind of volume Curry does, some record-setting nights (both good and bad) are bound to happen. In Game 2 of the 2015 NBA Finals, Curry clanged 13 three-pointers over the course of the game, which set a new record and served as one of the most atrocious shooting nights for a league MVP in the history of the Finals.

Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers, 2008 NBA Finals – Staring elimination in the face during Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, Bryant completely failed to save his Lakers by shooting 7-22 from the field at the hands of a really tough Boston Celtics defense. Boston outscored the Lakers 34-15 in the second quarter alone, and everything the future Hall-of-Famer threw up seemed to clang off the rim. He’d have plenty of big games in his NBA Finals career, but this absolutely was not one of them.

Put in this perspective, the Cavaliers should be glad that Love is a consistent rebounder and three-point shooter, even if he’s clearly not on the level of LeBron James himself or any of Golden State’s big stars. He’s not the worst, either. Some of the most revered names in basketball history have been way more disappointing in big games.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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NBA Daily: Zach LaVine Has Solid Debut With Bulls

Zach LaVine put together a solid performance for the Bulls in his first game back from injury.

James Blancarte

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The Chicago Bulls are turning a corner this season. Zach LaVine is healthy after completing a year of rehabilitation from an ACL injury. LaVine’s return comes at a critical moment. The team is 13-7 over the last twenty games. Many of the wins in this stretch are over current competitors for a potential spot in the playoffs. This includes wins against the Charlotte Hornets (in overtime), the Philadelphia 76ers and three wins (one in overtime) against the New York Knicks. The stretch of winning ties into the return of forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic. Having these key players back and winning this many games recently has changed the dynamics of what had been shaping up to be a losing season.

LaVine played in his first game of the season on Saturday and hit three of four three-point baskets while scoring 14 points in 19 minutes played. LaVine described how he felt physically and about the team’s recent run.

“I thought I did pretty good. I was tired as hell at first. But, we got the win,” LaVine said. “We’re going to keep this thing going.”

The team went into this season having parted ways with their franchise player, Jimmy Butler, in a trade that was derided by many for being lopsided. The trade netted the Bulls LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn and the sixth pick in the 2017 draft in exchange for Butler and the number 16 pick. The trade also allowed Butler to be reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. For the Bulls, Dunn has greatly improved from the poor play of his rookie season in Minnesota. In addition, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen, whom has already displayed some serious talent and potential. Now with LaVine in the lineup, the Bulls can see the total value of the trade on the court.

So, where do the Bulls now stand? According to FiveThirtyEight, as of January 14, the Bulls are projected as having a three percent chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 32-50. This is a jump from less than one percent (essentially zero percent) back on December 11, 2017. Still, three percent is not the most reassuring projection.

In addition, the recent shift to winning basketball also puts Chicago’s 2018 draft pick in a more precarious position. On December 6, 2017, the Bulls were 3-20 and were on pace to have one of the worst records in the league, if not the worst. Now every win moves the pick further away from a likely top three or even a potential number one pick and moves it closer to a top-10 selection or even middle of the first-round pick.

At the moment, the team is 16-27, good enough for 12th place in the Eastern Conference behind the Hornets, Knicks, 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Being 6.5 games back and having seven more losses than the Bucks means the Bulls will need to continue winning at a high rate to make up the difference in the time left in the season.

LaVine didn’t hold back when it came to expressing his optimism regarding the team’s potential.

“I think we can make a push for this thing,” LaVine said. “That’s our job to do. That’s our job to do that,”

LaVine isn’t paying much attention to skeptics who still don’t believe the Bulls have much change to win anything meaningful this season.

“You know, we can’t control outside thoughts or anything,” LaVine said. “We’re ball players, we go out there and try to win every competition. You know, I think we’re good. I think we’re going to be good.”

In LaVine’s absence, Mirotic and Portis (despite their offseason scuffle) have emerged as two of the team’s best players. In addition, center Robin Lopez has done an admirable job keeping up his effort all season long while fulfilling his role as a veteran leader for the team. Lopez described the atmosphere on the team as positive recently in an interview with Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders.

Despite the reason for optimism, it must be noted that the franchise might make another big trade that would diminish the team’s ability to be competitive this season. Despite his recent on-court success, reports are that Mirotic would like to be traded and that the Bulls asking price is a first-round pick.

Until such a move occurs, the Bulls appear poised to maintain their recent rate of success. Every win could cost the Bulls what could be a top overall pick in 2018. Regardless, the Bulls are surely feeling better about the results of the Butler trade, especially after LaVine’s impressive Chicago debut.

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NBA Daily: Lopez’s Enjoys “Old Guy” Role on Young Team

Robin Lopez is the old man on a very young Chicago Bulls team, but he says the camaraderie is a big reason why he’s happy there, and why the team is overachieving so much this year.

Joel Brigham

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When the Chicago Bulls started the season 3-20, nobody was surprised that they stunk. Everything was fine. They were supposed to stink. That was the entire reason they traded away Jimmy Butler for younger players in the first place. They wanted got their rebuild underway in earnest. (more…)

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