LeBron James and Anthony Davis entered the Western Conference finals with a playoff record of 26-11 as a tandem. After two games in Denver, their record now stands at 26-13 due to the Jokic-Murray tandem outperforming them. The Nuggets’ 108-103 victory over the Lakers gave Denver a 2-0 series lead, just two wins from the Finals.
The Jokic-Murray Tandem Dominates
Adjustments were made to the Lakers’ starting lineup, and players like Rui Hachimura, Bruce Brown, and Tristan Thompson had notable contributions. The Nuggets have been the dominant force in this series, largely due to their stars outperforming the Lakers’ duo. This was particularly evident in the fourth quarter of Game 2, where Jamal Murray single-handedly scored 23 points, almost doubling the combined total of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who managed 12 points in the same period.
During the playoffs, LeBron James and Anthony Davis consistently performed well when they were in good health. They have managed to achieve two surprising victories this postseason, displaying different levels of dominance throughout. In the 2020 conference finals, when both LeBron and AD were at their peak, they collectively contributed an impressive average of 58.2 points, 16.6 rebounds, and 11.6 assists per game against the Nuggets.
LeBron and Davis Are Being Outperformed
In two games, the Jokic-Murray tandem was averaging impressive numbers: 62.5 points, 26.5 rebounds, and 18.0 assists. Jokic had a triple-double with 23 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists, while Murray struggled initially but scored 37 points in the final 12 minutes. In contrast, James and Davis faced difficulties. LeBron finished with 22 points, missing attempts at the rim and going 0-6 from beyond the arc. Davis, single-covered by Jokic, converted only four of his 15 shots for 18 points. Defensively, Davis struggled to contain Jokic, leading to adjustments in the Lakers’ coverages. Hachimura and Reaves contributed 43 points for Denver. Consistency from James and Davis is crucial, as their performance against less talented teams won’t suffice against the Nuggets due to age, altitude, or fatigue.
Denver is pulling ahead in the playoffs. Jokic’s defensive weaknesses remain hidden, and they won Game 2 after a shootout in Game 1. Despite the Lakers targeting Jokic, the Nuggets had an impressive defensive efficiency. The Jokic-Murray tandem has consistently outperformed James and Davis, and Denver is getting closer to the finals, exceeding expectations.
Since 2008, when coach Dawn Staley arrived on campus, the Gamecocks have amassed SEC conference titles, Final Four appearances, and national titles. They knew exactly what to do when they secured their third consecutive trip to the Final Four with an 86-75 victory over No.2 Maryland, extending their undefeated season. It appears that they have had plenty of practice in cutting down the nets.
Freddy Ready’s Achievements with the Gamecocks
Freddy Ready, the team’s director of player development, who has been with the program since 2002, overseed the procedure. Being ready, staying true to his name, and after the Gamecocks’ second conference championship in 2015, he recognized the need for structure. He explained that there was a hiccup. If you let people cut willy-nilly, the nets will lose the structural integrity needed to be worn as a celebratory necklace. This is a rookie mistake. Under Staley, his program commits errors infrequently and seldom repeats them. So, Ready stood by the ladder, steadied players and team personnel as they ascended, and explained to them precisely where to cut.
Each person receives small pieces of the net. There is one exception: seniors. The graduating participants are permitted to take not only a single thread but also a complete nylon diamond. This requires some additional trimming. However, this is a privilege. Ready explains that if you cut too many diamonds, it will be ruined. Therefore, they only grant this privilege to seniors. There are likely no more deserving seniors than the current set.
This group represents the most accomplished recruiting class in the history of the program. In their four-year careers, “The Freshies,” which is the nickname they earned as undergraduates, have compiled a record of 129-8. South Carolina has gone from a rising power to a heavyweight that invites dynasty talk, and after winning the national champ last season, they are now the favorites to repeat.
Cut the Nets Into Pieces!
Their Elite Eight victory over Maryland proved this. The Terps began the game with speed and physicality, forcing turnovers and complicating the play in the half-court. After the first quarter, Maryland held a 21-15 lead over the Gamecocks. This was by far the Gamecocks’ toughest test in March. However, there was no sense of panic. Instead, South Carolina remained steadfast in its signature defense, gradually increasing the pressure until it was oppressive. South Carolina took advantage of the fact that Maryland was forced to bench its best players for extended stretches due to foul trouble. The victory made it simple to recall why the Gamecocks are unbeaten. It was also difficult to imagine how they could lose.
Under Freddy Ready’s watchful eye, the seniors had to ascend the ladder one by one to cut down and get pieces of the nets. He reminded them that they could now go for the diamond, however, most of them didn’t.