TIME Basketball

Warriors Eliminate Rockets, Ending a 40-Year NBA Finals Drought

It was hardly their prettiest performance, but one the Warriors will savor nonetheless

(OAKLAND, Calif.) — After a generation of wishing and waiting, the Golden State Warriors have finally arrived on basketball’s biggest stage again.

Stephen Curry had 26 points and eight rebounds, Harrison Barnes added 24 points and the Warriors advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years with a 104-90 victory over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

“Why not us?” Curry said to a roaring, golden-yellow shirt wearing crowd after the Warriors received the Western Conference trophy from Alvin Attles, the coach of their last championship team in 1975.

The Warriors shook off a slow start and sweated out a shaky finish in Game 5 to close out the Rockets and set up a matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers beginning June 4.

It was hardly the prettiest performance — but one they’ll savor nonetheless.

Yellow streams and confetti fell from the rafters when the final buzzer sounded. The Warriors shared hugs and handshakes, and the crowd chanted “M-V-P!” for Curry, who relished the moment on the court with his 2-year-old daughter, Riley.

“We deserve to celebrate tonight, but we’ve still got unfinished business and it’s a long time coming for the Bay Area,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said.

All five Rockets starters scored at least 10 points, with Dwight Howard leading the way with 18 points and 16 rebounds. But MVP runner-up James Harden had a forgettable finale.

Harden had a playoff-record 13 turnovers and scored 14 points on 2-of-11 shooting.

“Tried to do a little bit too much and turned the ball over and gave them easy baskets in transition,” Harden said. “This isn’t where we wanted to end at. It’s a really good season for us. Next year we want to be better, and we will.”

Curry said he had no lingering effects from his frightening fall in Game 4 that left him with a bruised head and right side. The MVP wore a protective yellow sleeve on his right arm, which he shed in the third quarter after shooting 4 for 12 and the Warriors clinging to a 52-46 halftime lead.

Things got tougher on Curry and the Warriors when backcourt mate Thompson faked a shot that drew Trevor Ariza in the air early in the fourth quarter. Thompson absorbed Ariza’s knee to the side of his head, sending him to the floor.

Thompson, who finished with 20 points, lay on the ground for a minute before walking to the locker room. He came back to the bench after receiving stitches on his right ear.

The Warriors said he could’ve returned, but they never needed him. They started the fourth on a 13-4 run and held off Houston’s last-ditch efforts on free throws.

Barnes highlighted the decisive spurt with a dunk that gave Golden State an 87-72 lead with 7:10 remaining. He flexed his muscles to the sellout crowd of 19,596, which spent the final quarter on its feet in anticipation of a celebration a generation in the works.

Now it’s LeBron vs. Curry.

King James vs. the Baby-Faced Assassin.

The four-time NBA MVP vs. the newly crowned MVP.

The hype has already started for two of the most popular and entertaining players in the world to take center stage for the championship, and it has a week to build even more before starting at Oracle Arena.

The conference title is the biggest accomplishment yet in what has been a rapid rise for a Warriors team that is beloved in the basketball-united Bay Area despite decades of futility.

Warriors co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, sitting courtside next to rapper Kanye West, have turned the franchise into a contender since they bought the team in 2010. General manager Bob Myers, the NBA Executive of the Year, has constructed a talented roster around Curry that has exceeded all expectations. And first-year coach Kerr blended it all together beautifully after Mark Jackson’s messy firing last May.

“I always think of Pat Riley’s great quote when you’re coaching in the NBA, ‘There’s winning and there’s misery.’ And he’s right,” Kerr said. “It’s more than relief. It’s joy. Our players are feeling it. I know our fans are.”

Jackson watched the celebration from the ESPN table at center court, saying on the broadcast he was proud.

The Warriors rolled to a franchise-record 67 wins in the regular season and had little trouble dispatching New Orleans, Memphis and Houston in the playoffs. Now they’re in the finals for the first time since winning the title in 1975 behind Rick Barry and coach Attles, who enjoyed the game sitting in his usual spot at the top of the arena’s lower bowl.

It was a tough way for the Rockets’ run to end. They overcame a knee injury that sidelined Howard half the season to finish second in the West, played without starters Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas in the playoffs and rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round.

The Warriors were one obstacle Houston couldn’t clear.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Howard and Bogut were called for double technical fouls in the second quarter. It was Howard’s seventh technical foul of the postseason, meaning he would’ve been suspended if there was a Game 6. … Howard also was called for a foul after extending his arm while setting a hard screen on Andre Iguodala in the final minutes that drew a replay review. … The Rockets last won at Oracle Arena on Dec. 13, 2013.

Warriors: Golden State is 46-3 at home this season, including 7-1 in the playoffs. … The Warriors are 16-2 in close-out games at home, the best winning percentage of any team.

FINALS MATCHUP

The Warriors and Cavaliers split two games this season, with each winning on its home floor. James sat out Golden State’s 112-94 win on Jan. 9 in Oakland, and he scored a season-high 42 points in the Cavs’ 110-99 win in Cleveland on Feb. 26.

TIME

LeBron, Cavaliers Earn NBA Finals Spot by Sweeping Hawks

Hawks Cavaliers Basketball
Curtis Compton—AP Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Atlanta Hawks DeMarre Carroll battle for a loose ball during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Cleveland on May 26, 2015

The Cavaliers are in the NBA Finals

(CLEVELAND) — The championship LeBron James craves more than any other, the one he came back home to get, is within reach.

The Cavaliers are in the NBA Finals.

James scored 23 points, Kyrie Irving provided a boost after missing two games and Cleveland reserved a spot in the finals with a 118-88 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night to win the Eastern Conference title.

By sweeping the top-seeded Hawks, the Cavs earned their second trip to the finals, where they will face either Golden State or Houston starting June 4.

It will be the fifth straight visit to the league’s showcase event for the inimitable James, who returned to Cleveland after four years in Miami to try and end this city’s championship drought dating to 1964. The Cavs are four wins from doing it, and if they can, James will have a title that would put him in a class by himself. Other players have won more championships, but none has ever done it for his ring-starved home region.

“We have everything it takes to win,” James said after the Cavs were presented with the conference trophy.

However, they’ve got their eyes on another one.

“Cleveland,” owner Dan Gibert said, addressing the crowd. “We’re not settling for this.”

Jeff Teague scored 17 and Paul Millsap 16 for Atlanta, which won a team-record 60 games during the regular season and made the conference finals for the first time since 1970. But the Hawks were no match for the Cavaliers and had no answer for James, who nearly averaged a triple-double in the four games.

J.R. Smith added 18 points and Tristan Thompson had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Cavs, who were handed new caps and T-shirts following the win and were joined by family members on the floor to celebrate.

But unlike 2007, when James ran into center Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ arms at the final horn, he was very business-like after the clock hit zero.

Standing at center court, he turned to Smith and reminded him there was work still undone.

“Four more,” James said.

It was a tough way for the Hawks to end a remarkable season. They survived a tumultuous offseason, and their young roster gelled in January when they became the first franchise to go 17-0 in a calendar month. They went on to win 19 straight, improved their record by 22 wins over last season and beat Brooklyn and Washington to make their first conference finals since 1994.

But an injury to starting forward Thabo Sefolosha in April was followed by DeMarre Carroll injuring his knee in the series opener, before Kyle Korver’s season ended in Game 2 with an ankle injury.

Those all hurt, but it was James who inflicted the most pain.

James carried the Cavs to their first finals appearance eight years ago, when they were swept by San Antonio. Cleveland was a heavy underdog then and it was assumed the Cavs would get back again. But James left in 2010 to join the Heat, a move that dropped the Cavaliers from relevance and into the draft lottery four straight years. But those days are over — Cleveland and King James reign supreme in the East.

The Cavs got through the last two rounds without forward Kevin Love, who sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. His arrival last summer, joining James and Irving to form a Big 3, made Cleveland the team to beat in the East.

It didn’t go exactly as planned under first-year coach David Blatt, who left his family in Israel to take the Cavs’ job.

“We’re in Cleveland,” Blatt cracked. “Nothing is easy here.”

The Cavs lost center Anderson Varejao to a season-ending Achilles injury in December and they were 19-20 before trading for Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, a trio that transformed Cleveland.

Irving, who missed Cleveland’s previous two games with tendinitis in his left knee, scored 16 and the All-Star point guard looked better than he has in weeks.

Unlike Game 3, when he missed his first 10 shots, James started much better and scored 15 in the first half as the Cavs opened a 17-point halftime lead. They pushed it to 20 early in the third, withstood a brief rally by the Hawks and spent the fourth quarter playing their reserves and getting ready for a party and some time off before the finals.

This was Cleveland’s night from the start.

Following pregame introductions, James slapped hands with members of Gilbert’s family and then with his boss. The two mended their broken relationship last summer, paving the way for James to re-sign with Cavs and try to deliver the title he couldn’t during his first stint.

James had a bounce in his step and it wasn’t long before he delivered one of his patented windmill dunks, prompting the Hawks to call a timeout while James ran the length of the baseline screaming at Cleveland fans to “Get up!”

Moments later, Irving showed he could get up after being knocked down.

He drove to the basket for a layup and was fouled hard. Irving, though, quickly popped to his feet and James, who was on the bench at the time, walked several feet onto the floor to salute his teammate.

The Cavs know they’ll need a healthy Irving to take the next step — the one to the top.

HARD TO WATCH

Like anyone who saw it on TV, James said watching the nasty fall taken by Golden State’s Stephen Curry during Game 4 in Houston was difficult. “It was pretty horrific,” he said. “I thought he lucked out by getting his hand out of there. Because if he would have landed with all his weight onto his arm, he could have broke his wrist or arm. And, I’ve been there before.” James broke his wrist on a similar tumble in high school. “I know exactly what he was going through at that point and time,” he said.

KORVER SURGERY

Korver will undergo surgery Wednesday on the badly damaged ankle he injured when Matthew Dellavedova rolled up on him while diving for a loose ball in Game 2.

TIP-INS

Hawks: Among Atlanta’s other notable accomplishments this season: a 12-game road winning streak, a 12-game run against Western Conference teams, a franchise record 13-game streak against Eastern teams.

Cavaliers: James is now 8-0 in the playoffs against Atlanta. … James isn’t the only Cleveland player heading to his fifth straight finals. So is swingman James Jones, who played four seasons with James in Miami. … Cleveland is 26-2 at home since Jan. 19.

TIME Photos

Photos: The Week in Sports

Kickoff of the World Cup, the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup and the U.S. Open all made for a week packed with sports. Here are TIME's best photos from these athletic events

TIME Football

This Powerful Anti-Redskins Ad Will Play During the NBA Finals

The California tribe Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation paid to run the minute-long commercial during the NBA Finals

Sports fans will see more than ads for fast food, cars and beer during commercial breaks in Tuesday night’s NBA Finals. An anti-Washington Redskins ad will run during the game’s halftime, in the hope that the NFL will force the team to change its name from what many consider a racial slur.

The California tribe Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation paid to run the minute-long ad, an edited version of the commercial above, which was created by the National Congress of American Indians. Adweek reports that a 30-second ad slot cost advertisers $460,000 in the 2013 NBA Finals.

The ad, called “Proud to be,” highlights tribes across the country. The final voiceover says, “Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t…” before flashing to an image of a Redskins helmet.

While the Redskins name and logo has been a source of controversy for decades, it received particular bad press after Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life after his racist rant was leaked to the public. NFL player Richard Sherman told TIME’s Sean Gregory that he didn’t think the NFL would have the same response.

“Because we have an NFL team called the Redskins,” Sherman said. “I don’t think the NFL really is as concerned as they show. The NFL is more of a bottom line league. If it doesn’t affect their bottom line, they’re not as concerned.”

The Redskins is preparing for a political fight over its name, hiring a lobbying firm in May after 50 Democratic senators sent the NFL a letter asking for a name change.

The National Congress of American Indians praised the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation for airing the ad during the NBA finals, and said it would send a “loud and clear” message to the league and the team.

“Contrary to the team’s absurd claims, this dictionary-defined racial epithet does not honor our heritage. The Change the Mascot campaign continues to gather strength every time that people are educated about the origin of the R-word and its damaging impact on Native peoples,” NCAI Executive Director Jackie Pata and Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in a statement. “By airing this ad during the NBA Championships, the message will be brought into the living rooms of millions of American all across the country.”

TIME NBA

12 Most Awkward Moments of the NBA Finals (So Far)

The first two games of the series have seen San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat players grimace, flail and collapse to the ground

TIME nba finals

Don’t Blame LeBron’s Cramps, or San Antonio’s A/C Breakdown, For Heat’s Loss

LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts after cramping up against the San Antonio Spurs during Game One of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 5, 2014 in San Antonio.
Andy Lyons—Getty Images LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts after cramping up against the San Antonio Spurs during Game One of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 5, 2014 in San Antonio.

The oppressive Game 1 conditions were unfortunate. But they did not decide the game, or this series.

It’s tempting. Too tempting, really, especially if you’ve joined the LeBron vs. Jordan debate over the last few years. Remember Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, when Michael Jordan, nearly collapsing on the court because of the flu, still scored 38 points to lead Chicago to a crucial Game 5 victory in Utah (the Bulls would clinch the series at home in Game 6)? And Thursday night we had LeBron James, cramping in the San Antonio sweat after the arena’s air conditioning system malfunctioned, being carried off the court in the fourth quarter, before the Spurs closed the game with a 16-3 run to beat Miami 110-95.

MJ would not have done that. Man up, LeBron. It’s tempting.

But it’s ludicrous.

James, remember, played pretty great in the oppressive heat. He scored 25 points in 33 minutes on 9-17 shooting, while grabbing 6 rebounds and dishing out 3 assists. “Rather than seeing this as a sign of weakness, or that he’s fragile, I think it’s the opposite,” says Dr. James Gladstone, co-chief of sports medicine at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “He pushed his body as far as he could go.”

And while San Antonio’s A/C malfunction is embarrassing and a potential danger to fans and players, it should not have stopped the game, despite the protestations of the NBA Players Association. “The playing conditions for tonight’s game were completely unacceptable from the opening tip,” Ron Klempner, acting executive director of the union, wrote in a text to Bloomberg. “In a situation like this, there needs to be more open communication before a decision is made that could potentially place players at risk.”

But players weren’t slipping all over the place. If anything, the game was a throwback — to outdoor summer hoops in the park, to the 1980s, when the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers played in 100 degree swelter at the old Boston Garden. Everyone played under the same conditions. No team had an advantage. The better team won. If you like the Heat, harp on that. Not the heat.

TIME Basketball

Sterling’s Surrender Is Gift for the NBA

BASKET NBA RACISM CLIPPERS
ROBYN BECK—AFP/Getty Images Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling attends the NBA playoff game between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors on April 21, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

On the eve of the Finals, the disgraced Clippers owner agrees to $2 billion sale of his team, and drops a lawsuit against the league

On April 29, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that he was banning Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for life, thanks to the racist remarks he made in a private conversation that were caught on tape, and broadcast to the world. Silver also said he was terminating Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers, forcing Sterling to sell a team he took so much pride in owning. On that afternoon, right after Silver’s press conference, if I would have told you that the Sterling family would sell the Clippers a little over a month later, for nearly quadruple the previous record price for an NBA franchise, to the former CEO of Microsoft no less, and that Donald, who’s fond of suing people into submission, would drop his outstanding legal claim against the league on the day before the start of the NBA Finals — that the mess would be pretty much over in early June — you would have called me hopelessly naive and even a nutcase. Rightfully so.

The NBA, it turns out, is living in dreamland.

Sterling is saving the league and its fans a massive headache, by agreeing to his wife’s sale of the team to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, and by dropping the $1 billion anti-trust suit he filed against the NBA last week. Reality must have finally set in for Sterling. Because based on some of the assertions coming out of his camp over the last week, it was becoming clear he had no shot in this fight.

For example, in an interview with CNN last week, Sterling’s attorney Max Blecher made this absurd assertion: “If the NBA would have done what I think they should have done and to say ‘we’re rejecting the use of this illegally used evidence and not violating charges,’ no sponsor would have left in the first place.”

Say what? First of all, sponsors started fleeing the Clippers right after they heard the tape, before Silver used “this illegally used” evidence to issue his punishment for Sterling. The sponsor exodus gave Silver good reason to boot Sterling: under the NBA’s constitution, conduct that has an “adverse affect” on the league’s members can result in termination of ownership. A loss of sponsorship money was a clear, quantitative measure of “adverse affect.”

And second, the thought of sponsors factoring the technicality of California’s recording law into their decisions is laughable. “Oh, so that tape is probably illegal because California requires both parties to consent to being tape-recorded. No problem: we’re sticking with you, Donald Sterling and your racist remarks!” Come on. Sponsors don’t care about these legalities because they know customers don’t care. Under Sterling, people wanted nothing to do with the Clippers — whether the tape was legal or not, his words were loud and clear.

When those kinds of absurd statements are part of your case, you don’t really have a case.

The $1 billion anti-trust suit wasn’t going anywhere either. How can it be credible, when it asserted that a forced sale of the team could result in a lower purchase price than a non-forced sale? The team sold for $2 billion, nearly four times the previous record for an NBA team. Was Sterling supposed to get $4 billion? If anything, the forced sale drove up the price, as big rich names rushed to outbid other big rich names. Ballmer paid a prestige premium to be the savior of the Clippers.

So here we are, the Heat-Spurs rematch tipping off Thursday night, these Finals ripe with anticipation. And we might not hear a peep about Sterling all series. Has any commissioner, of any sports league, ever had a higher approval rating than Adam Silver does today? Not that it’s guaranteed to last: this $2 billion price tag for the Clippers might cause Silver headaches down the road. Because come collective bargaining time, players always use rising franchise values as leverage. If they’re exploding, the players argue, we deserve a larger share.

But these worries can wait: the earliest the players can opt out of the current agreement is 2017. Let Silver enjoy his accolades. And it’s now time to get really excited about the Ballmer era in L.A. As a courtside entertainer/agitator, he might just rival Mark Cuban.

The team’s player development staff must be psyched.

TIME NBA

Hey LeBron, I Double Dare You To Shoot

Detroit Pistons v Miami Heat
Marc Serota—Getty Images LeBron James, #6 of the Miami Heat, looks on during action against the Detroit Pistons at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on February 3, 2014.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich dared LeBron James to take open jumpers a year ago, a strategy that messed with his mind and almost won San Antonio a title. Will he try it a second time around?

Last year’s NBA Finals saw one of the great strategic gambits in basketball history almost pay off. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wanted to keep the greatest player on the planet, LeBron James, from penetrating into the paint, where he’d inevitably posterize someone, draw a foul, or pass to an open teammate. For seven games, Popovich instructed his players to lay off LeBron a bit, almost daring him to shoot. No matter that James was one of the best perimeter shooters in the NBA. Conventional defensive wisdom says stay tight on the outside shooters. Popovich, however, tried a curveball. Give LeBron something to think about. Why am I so open? Mess with his head.

“Teams say, ‘man, what are we going to do to stop LeBron?'” says Idan Ravin, a personal trainer and coach for prominent NBA players like Carmelo Anthony—he’s also worked with James—and author of a new book, The Hoops Whisperer. “They’re not going to stop s–t. When you’re that good, nobody is going to stop LeBron but LeBron. It’s not any different from trying to ice kicker in the NFL.”

Popovich’s “icing LeBron” strategy, for the most part, worked. Until Game 7, that is, when James scored 37 points in Miami’s 95-88 win over San Antonio, giving the Heat back-to-back titles. With 27.9 seconds left in the game and the Heat up by two, James hit the game-deciding mid-range shot.

Still, by daring LeBron to settle for jumpers, San Antonio came as close as possible to neutralizing James and stealing the series. If it wasn’t for Ray Allen’s miracle game-tying three at the end of Game 6—a shot that came off a LeBron miss and Chris Bosh offensive rebound—the title was San Antonio’s. After the series was over, James all but admitted that the Spurs’ strategy was getting to him, and he had to give himself a pep talk to fight through his struggles.

“Two‑and‑a‑half games I watched film, and my mind started to work and I said, ‘OK, this is how they’re going to play me for the whole series,” James said then. “I looked at all my regular‑season stats, all my playoff stats, and I was one of the best mid-range shooters in the game. I shot a career high from the three‑point line. I just told myself why—don’t abandon what you’ve done all year. Don’t abandon now because they’re going under. Don’t force the paint. If it’s there, take it. If not, take the jumper.”

The Spurs-Heat rematch—catnip for any fan of great basketball—tips off Thursday night. One of the key questions of this year’s edition: Will Popovich play a similar game of chicken with LeBron’s outside shot? “It’s a pretty old school strategy, really,” says Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, one of the best perimeter shooters in basketball history. “You just want to throw him off a bit.”

But some new-school stats give Popovich ammo to try it again. During the regular season, James was a deadly three-point shooter from the corners: He shot an incredible 60% from the left-corner, and 52% from the right corner, according to NBA.com. But on shots in the 16-24-foot range, from straight-away and on the right side of the floor, James shot about 32%, below the league average. (On the left, he shot 36% closer to the foul line—comparable to the league average—and an above-average 46% as he got closer to the corner). In the playoffs, on “catch-and-shoot” field goal attempts from the outside, he’s shooting just 35% from two-point range, and 33.3% on three-point attempts.

Conversely, James is shooting 68.8% on drives to the hoop. Only one player in the rotation in this series has a higher playoff mark: Bosh, who is shooting 71.4% on drives. (This stat raises a whole other hoophead question: Why the heck does Bosh, who is 6-ft 11-in, settle for so many outside shots?)

So if Popovich wants to dare LeBron to fire away, go for it, we say. Not that it won’t backfire. Mullin recalls one prominent example. In January of 1990, while playing against Michael Jordan and the Bulls in Chicago, Warriors coach Don Nelson—a Hall of Famer known for his unusual tactics, like turning the 7-7 Manute Bol into a three-point shooter—told his players to let Jordan catch the ball at the three-point line, back way off him, and dare him to fire away. “He’s looking at us, like, ‘what, are you serious?'” Mullin says. The strategy made sense: In his first five seasons before that one, Jordan was pretty horrendous from downtown, shooting 20% on three-point attempts. “He figured it out a couple of minutes in, saw it as a challenge, starting launching threes and laughing at us,” Nelson, now retired, tells TIME from his home in Hawaii. (Popovich spent the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons as an assistant to Nelson with Golden State). Jordan hit seven of his twelve three-point attempts, and finished with 44 points in a 132-107 Chicago win. “Oh, I remember that game,” Nelson says, with a laugh. Beware poking the bear.

Mullin’s college coach at St. John’s, Lou Carnesecca, tried icing LSU’s “Pistol” Pete Maravich, the greatest scorer in college basketball history, during a December 1969 game at the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii. Years earlier, Carnesecca heard Clair Bee, one of the great early basketball innovators whose Long Island University teams finished undefeated in 1936 and 1939, say at a clinic that “the unorthodox thing can work well sometimes.” With that in mind, Carnesecca told Jim Smyth, who drew the unenviable assignment of guarding Maravich, to “turn your back and walk away” every time Maravich touched the ball. Flummoxed, Maravich finished the first half with 13 points—an encouraging total for most players, but below average for a guy who scored 44.2 points per game during his college career. An excited Carnesecca ran into the halftime locker room screaming “we got him!” But he decided to mix it up and go back to a conventional strategy in the second half, pressuring Maravich to force tougher shots. “That was the end of the great experiment,” Carnesecca, another hoops Hall of Famer, says today, cracking up at the memory. “The fucking guy got 53 on us.” St. John’s lost 80-70; Maravich’s 40 second-half points outscored the entire St. John’s team.

Despite Carnesecca’s Pistol Pete misstep, Mullin, now an adviser for the Sacramento Kings, thinks the key is mixing things up: playing LeBron tight on some possessions, giving him room on others. “The risk, for great scorers, is that the floodgates start opening up,” Mullin says. James may be more prepared for San Antonio’s strategy this time around, and disciplining himself to not over-think when he’s open. And to counter, Popovich might try something totally new.

So at the very least, these Finals promise a fascinating chess match, that will result in either a three-peat for the Heat, or a fifth title for San Antonio, cementing an all-time dynasty.

Your move, Mr. James.

TIME NBA

Adam Silver is Serious About Punishing Donald Sterling

Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated’s cover story on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sheds light on the man behind the microphone at the league’s press conferences

The NBA commissioner who banned Donald Sterling from the league for life comes into focus thanks to Sports Illustrated’s inside look at his upbringing. Diversity, it seems, has always been a part of his background. One of his closest friends growing up, Masawani Jere, is the chief of the Ngoni tribe in an African village in Malawi called Emchakachakeni.

The two met in high school in Westchester, N.Y., when Jere’s father was a counselor to Malawi’s United Nations ambassador, SI reports. While Jere’s parents regularly traveled to and from Africa, Silver’s were separated—his father in Manhattan, his mother spending winters in Boca Raton—and the two bonded over being on their own. Though Jere moved back to Malawi in 1986, the two remain close, and when Jere’s son was born, he received a Spalding basketball hoop as a gift from Sterling.

The story also cites his other close friend, Regan Orillac. “I’m Irish Catholic,” he said. “[Maswani] is African. Adam is Jewish. We were an odd group, but we made a little family.”

His upbringing, which was spent mostly alone with these friends while his parents were away, prepped him for his solo act with the NBA. While the league has formally charged Sterling for his racist rants and scheduled a hearing to take place two days before the NBA finals, many are skeptical the punishment will actually be seen through. But Silver tells SI: “I know what is appropriate here. I have no doubt.”

Read More at Sports Illustrated

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