LeBron’s reign ends — D-Book’s moment — Coach K retires

Friday, June 4th, 2021

  The Opening Tip

  • The last time LeBron made the playoffs but missed the Finals, we were in high school. 
  • Devin Booker had a signature game last night. 
  • Is this the end for Portland’s backcourt duo?

Tonight's playoff game

1. LeBron’s 10-year playoff vice grip, by the numbers

LeBron James lost a series that wasn’t the NBA Finals last night for the first time since 2010, when the Celtics upset his Cavaliers in the ECSFs in six games. It was also his first first-round loss ever. He had been 14-0.

The decade of LeBron, by the numbers...


27-1

His official record in first-rounds, conference semi-finals and conference finals since 2011: 27-1. As in, he won 27 straight non-Finals series before last night.


18 franchises

During this run, LeBron beat 18 franchises at some point in the playoffs, or 60 percent of the league.

That includes … 

  • The Celtics (five times)
  • The Pacers (five times)
  • The Raptors (three times)
  • The Bulls (three times)
  • The Hawks (twice)

And 13 other teams (once).


7 MVPs

He’s beaten seven players since 2011 in the playoffs who won the MVP at some point: Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Steph Curry. (He also lost to Curry, Durant, Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki.)


10 years, 9 Finals

This is the one we’ll all remember -- even though he lost five of them. (Mike would never.) Sorry, sorry.

[READ: Is this the beginning of the end for LeBron?]

2. Daily GIFAll Devin Booker needed was not Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson

In the most important game of his NBA life last night, Devin Booker -- the first known lover of Applebee’s to knock LeBron out of the playoffs -- dropped an easy 47 points, including thutty-three (George Gervin voice) in the first half and six made 3s in the first quarter. (Michael Porter Jr. also did that last night).

Booker’s been in the league since 2015. Before this season, he had scored a bunch of points on hopeless teams led by a who’s who of random coaches. (Earl Watson, Jay Triano, Igor Kokoskov.)

It’s almost like you shouldn’t judge a player until he has a good coach, an All-Star teammate, a solid big man and a few awesome role players.

3. Trivia time

Carmelo Anthony lost his 11th first-round series last night, tied for most all time. In all, he’s won three NBA playoff series and advanced past the first round twice. Which two years did he do so?

Answers at the bottom.

4. It feels like the end for Portland

Damian Lillard (30) and CJ McCollum (29) aren’t spring chickens anymore. They aren’t an upstart team, and that’s why losing last night to the shorthanded Nuggets at home in an elimination game felt like it might be the end for this Trail Blazers team.

They … 

  • Ran it back after being swept in the first round by the Pelicans in 2018, reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2019. That was an organizational triumph, but how many ra-ra speeches can there be?
  • Have had the same coach in Terry Stotts for nine seasons, which is what two days are to a Mr. Meeseeks -- an eternity

Our guess: They fire Stotts and clear out the front office (hello, Oregon native Danny Ainge … ), then trade McCollum for a different type of player to avoid the redundancy of him and Lillard.

Or … maybe Lillard will listen to Big Perk and finally request a trade.

[READ: Lillard says ‘it's back to the drawing board']

5. I have a quick and somewhat melodramatic Coach K story

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski announced on Wednesday that he plans to retire following the 2021-22 season, which means, among other things, the following generation of sports writers will never understand the struggle of trying to spell Krzyzewski.

I covered him and Duke on and off when I worked at a small daily newspaper outside of Raleigh from 2017-19, and I had only one interaction of note with him.

What happened:

  • In Jan. 2018, Zion Williamson had just committed to Duke. Krzyzewski held a victory lap thinly veiled as his weekly conference call, and reporters from the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, etc. all took turns asking enlightened big-picture questions about recruiting and the one-and-done era. 
  • I, eagerly, punched in the numbers on my dial pad to request the floor and asked confidently, What were your first impressions of Zion? 
  • Context: You are not allowed to directly ask a coach about a recruit who hasn’t signed yet. It’s a stupid rule  -- especially since this whole conference call was vaguely about Zion -- and it doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but it’s a legit third rail topic in the archaic world of college basketball. 
  • I, the reporter with the Rocky Mount Telegram surrounded by the Posts and the Timeses, did not know that. 

Krzyzewski initially got very nasally and angry -- “he hasn’t even signed yet, OK?” I heard audible groans from other people on his end and a few reporters on the call tweeted out some form of can you believe this guy? I immediately freaked out, got super flustered, and tried to talk through it by asking some jumbled follow up question about “not overlooking Wake Forest.” (They played Wake the next day.)

To his credit, Krzyzewski, sensing my supreme embarrassment, calmly and thoughtfully answered my throwaway question like I was David Halberstam asking about the meaning of life.

It immediately eased the tension of the call when, conversely, a public roasting of one small-town reporter was definitely in the cards. 

So … shoutout to Coach K for that.

-- SE

[READ: The source of Mike Krzyzewski’s legacy-fueling rage]

6.  Quick hits

  • According to a report by Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus, Chris Paul intends to decline the final year of his contract and become a free agent this offseason. 
  • Last year’s conference finalists roll call: Celtics are out; Lakers are out; Heat are out; Nuggets are in the second round without Jamal Murray.
  • who told MPJ that if denver lost tonight he had to get vaccinated?
  • Austin Rivers, who the Knicks benched and cut this year, hit the dagger that sunk Portland last night. 
  • On Wednesday, Trae Young nailed a 35-footer then bowed to the MSG crowd while they were trying to applaud their Knicks for a good season. He was a great heel all series.

7.  Reads

  • The KD vs. Giannis showdown could define this postseason [The Ringer]
  • How Danny Ainge came to the decision to step down with the Celtics [The Boston Globe]
  • A Los Angeles Lakers sequel that failed to live up to the original [ESPN]
  • Coach K announces his retirement [Yahoo Sports College Podcast]

Trivia answer:  2008-09 with the Nuggets, 2012-13 with the Knicks.


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