Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Passing Heat

The NBA playoffs have produced highly memorable moments, game-winning shots, performances, and meltdowns. This year, well, you can add “the pass” to it.

There are currently two passes that have made huge headlines in the playoffs. There’s the League Pass that the NBA has bestowed upon the San Antonio Spurs at the expense of the Phoenix Suns, and there’s “the Pass” by LeBron James that has his Cavaliers down by a game to new nemesis, the Detroit Pistons.

Watching the final seconds of Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals between Detroit and Cleveland, the Cavs were down 76-78 with the ball in their hands for either a tie of the win. LeBron James beat Tayshaun Prince on a quick first step that forced Rip Hamilton to help out. Even as the play unfolded, it was obvious that the help that Hamilton put up wasn’t going to stop LeBron from getting off a shot or immortalizing him in some slam-up poster. But the Boy-King elected to pass to a wide-open Donyell Marshall from the right corner pocket. Marshall, who had torched the New Jersey Nets in game six of the Eastern Semis with six treys, missed the shot and the Pistons sank another free throw for an ugly 79-76 win.

Cleveland coach Mike Brown said after reviewing the ill fated “pass” that "Donyell could have had a cup of coffee -- and a sandwich" but acknowledged that James still could have taken the shot.

But that isn’t all that James is taking heat for. There’s the matter of scoring only 10 points and taking no free throws in 45 minutes of action. For all of James’ otherworldly hops, basketball observers had constantly chided him for passing up shots during crunch time preferring to pass off to teammates like Damon Jones, Flip Murray (the year before), Marshall ad infinitum.

Last season, the Cavs hovered around .500 long enough that the fractious Indiana Pacers were clearly in their rearview mirror. A strong post-season where the Cavs nearly upended the Pistons was interpreted that the long-suffering Cleveland franchise and James were ready to ascend to the NBA throne. But instead, the team slacked somewhat back into inconsistency and finished with the same 50-32 record as the previous year. And the gripes about James’ game returned.

Former NBA All-Star and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley has scored James’ propensity to disappear in the clutch. “Four years he’s been in the league,” said the ever-loquacious Round Mound of Rebound. “That’s more than enough to learn how to step up and become prime time. LeBron has to be a little more selfish with the ball during crunch time if he wants to go to the next level. But most of all, he should learn how to finish.”

Last season, after missing a potential game winner against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boy-King passed up a pair of shots during crunch time against the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers.

Said Charlotte Bobcats guard and former Cav Brevin Knight: “’Bron ain’t just in Allen’s (Iverson) and Kobe’s (Bryant) league yet. Those guys make it happen. But he’ll get there. No way he won’t.”

“To be great,” said Boston Celtic great Tommy Heinsohn. “You have to have that willingness to fail. You can’t be afraid to take the last shot.”

“I don’t need to hit the nail on the coffin to put teams away,” James defended himself in the wake of criticisms levied his way. “Clutch playing means knowing what kind of play to make at the last minute. It could be a pass that leads to the basketball or even a stop.”

Nevertheless, basketball observers would still like to see a killer instinct in James. A kind of clutch game that borders on the mythic (see Reggie Miller’s end game heroics). “Just do it,” Barkley jabbed back.

Still, “the Pass” as it now infamously dubbed, will be tabloid, chat room, and water cooler fodder until LeBron James brings his Cavs back. But as it was with a certain former player who used to wear #23 and was constantly stymied by an earlier incarnation of Bad Boys -- every series, every failure is one step up the ladder to championship glory.

Memorable Passes in NBA Playoff History
- Michael Jordan’s pass to Steve Kerr for the game-winning shot over the Utah Jazz in Game Six of the 1997 NBA Finals
- Larry Bird steals Isiah Thomas’s inbounds pass then dishes of to a streaking Dennis Johnson to eke out a 108-107 Game 5 over the Detroit Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals
- John Stockton’s pass to Karl Malone in Game Four of the 1997 NBA Finals with less than a minute to go to give the Jazz a 74-73 lead they would not relinquish to the Chicago Bulls

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