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Exhibitions of Excellence: LeBron James and Goran Dragic Take Center Stage

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Usually when teams win in stunning fashion or in a blowout as much as we praise the winner we are quick to point out all the mistakes that the loser made in defeat. Yesterday LeBron James and Goran Dragic had performances that no defense could stop. If James' performance was impressive for its utter dominance in crushing the Celtics from the outset of the game, Dragic's was a masterpiece that capped off an 18 point comeback victory for the Suns over their perennial rival Spurs, resulting in a 110-96 Game 3 victory.

When the Cavaliers and Celtics tipped off at 7PM last night I was waiting to get seated with a couple of friends outside of California Pizza Kitchen. I was watching the game from a distance during our wait and couldn't make out the score, but everytime I watched it seemed the Celtics would miss a shot and the Cavaliers would turn it into points on the other end converting in the open court, or operating with maximum efficiency in halfcourt sets.

On almost every one of these possessions it was James leading the way either scoring on his own or creating for others. Since I can't accurately describe what I was watching in great depth I'll let Chris Broussard do that for me.

In the first quarter, James hit a turnaround jump shot; a reverse layup; a fadeaway; three conventional J's; a driving layup; a right-handed, bad-elbow reverse jam that would have scored well in the All-Star Game's dunk contest; and all five of his free throw attempts.

His solo performance was better than that of the Celtics combined, as he outscored Boston 21-17 to give the Cavs a 19-point lead. And that's not even to mention his four rebounds (to the Celtics' five).

In all ways imaginable James delivered the perfect riposte in the first quarter of Game 3 to the Celtics' impressive Game 2 victory in Cleveland. I missed the second quarter as the table we were seated at was out of sight from the TV's.

By the time I got back home the second half was just underway. I started flipping between the Cavs-Celtics, Yankees-Red Sox and Flyers-Bruins games and everytime I came back to the Cavs game, what really stood out to me was their defensive intensity and commitment to rebounding. LeBron in particular was vocal anytime a teammate missed a rotation or failed to collar a rebound.

One instance I remember clearly came midway through the fourth quarter, with the game already in hand for Cleveland, J.J. Hickson failed to roll quickly after setting a pick for Lebron and ended missing a contested opportunity. LeBron really got in his face after the next stoppage in play and even after he sat, the effort on both ends of the floor given by the rest of his teammates never let up.

When LeBron is hitting his jump shots he's unstoppable because nobody can stop him from driving if you have to contest him from the perimeter. Yesterday he was doing exactly that from the get go, brought a focused effort on the defensive end and instilled that in his team. That's what's expected from a two-time MVP and in a game the Cavaliers needed to regain the homecourt, James put in a dominant performance in all aspects of the game.

Out in San Antonio last night the Spurs faced a must win Game 3 after dropping the first two games of their series against the Suns in Phoenix. With the crowd rocking Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and crew jumped out to a 39-21 lead early in the second quarter.

Phoenix began chipping away at the lead cutting the deficit to 6 at halftime with San Antonio ahead 50-44. By the end of the third quarter the Spurs lead had dwindled down to one.

Enter Goran Dragic.

Actually Dragic entered the game with about two minutes left in the third quarter as Alvin Gentry looked to rest Steve Nash before a pivotal fourth quarter, only he never needed him as Dragic did his best Nash impression over the course of the next 14 minutes.

With Dragic handling point guard duty, leading the rest of Phoneix's reserves at the beginning of the fourth quarter he caught fire and barring a miracle clinched the Suns a spot in the Western Conference Finals. He scored 23 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, hit 9 of 11 shots from the field, including a perfect 4-4 from the three point range.

Most impressive was his ability to take advantage of the mismatches he faced on the pick and roll by constantly abusing Duncan, McDyess, Blair or whichever big man the Spurs switched on him, driving with confidence to the hoop. Dragic used an array of head and ball fakes around the hoop to get defenders in the air and then would spin back the other way to finish.

When the Spurs tried to combat him by defending him with either Ginobili or George Hill, Dragic often passed the ball, then would move to the wing where he'd receive a pass and drive strong to the rim, including one particularly impressive drive past Ginobili from the left wing. That was nearly as impressive as the three he made over Hill afer getting fouled on the shot.

Jon Barry kept insisting that the Spurs needed to force Dragic to give the ball up by trapping him on the pick, but with the way the Suns were moving the ball and converting on open looks it was a pick your poison kind of scenario. Unfortunately for the Spurs both options were hemlock with Dragic firing on all cylinders and scoring within the flow of the offense.

In both James' and Dragic's performances to insist that the defenses played poorly would be to take away from two equally impressive exhibitions of offensive excellence against opposition noted for their defensive prowess. James eased Cavaliers fans' psyche in giving the homecourt edge back to Cleveland, while Dragic rid Phoenix of their San Antonio hex in giving them an insurmountable 3-0 series lead. Sometimes good offense beats good defense and when players perform as well as James and Dragic played yesterday it renders any defense useless.