LeBron James, an excellent basketball player, is an even better puppeteer as he tries to pull the Golden State Warriors’ strings to bait them into mistakes.
LeBron James’ lifeless body laid flat on the Oracle Arena floor as the wine and gold clashed with the white, blue, and yellow above him. The spectators roared and everyone, immediately, went on high alert. The inevitable was here.
In 2011, the Golden State Warriors played the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 17 in the Quicken Loans Arena and no one cared. The Dubs were 5-8 and the Cavs were 6-7 and on their way to a losing season in the lockout shortened year. No one cared that these teams came together.
Nowadays, they can’t get together without dealing with some kind of high-intensity drama. Tensions running high is the inevitable I spoke of earlier. Everyone cares when these teams get together now.
Draymond Green fouled James in the second quarter of their MLK Day matchup. The reigning Finals MVP was dribbling full speed down the middle of the floor. He turned, saw Green, braced himself, and took the hard contact.
Green fouled him hard. Partly because Green is a big man, partly because he was running full speed at another person running full speed at him, and partly because that’s what you have to do to slow James down. So, yeah, he got him pretty good.
But he didn’t hit James’ face. And he didn’t tackle him like all Northeast Ohio tried to claim (perhaps they should re-visit the 2015 NBA Finals if they need a crash course on what a tackle looks like). Green didn’t hit him hard enough to warrant that type of reaction from James.
But the Cleveland superstar knows exactly what he’s doing. By exaggerating and by laying on the floor as if someone shot him, he energized his own team. He knew that it would become a big deal and that Green would be caught in the middle of it.
James knew that if he sold the hard foul, Green would be given a flagrant foul. He’s been hit harder during games with higher stakes, but never by a player with Green’s reputation. The officials hold the leash extremely tight when it comes to the Warriors’ All-Star.
On Christmas, Green picked up two early bogus foul calls and then he was given a technical foul for expressing his frustration from the other side of the court. And, of course, there was the famous incident in Game 4 which led to Green’s eventual suspension. James knows how all of this works.
He’s a puppeteer; a master manipulator. And you can’t blame him. When you go up against a team as stacked as Golden State, you need to win the psychological battle. He knows he can bait the Warriors and, especially, Green.
James is banking on being able to cause the Warriors to be irrational. At this point, it’s the only way he’ll beat them. If they remain level-headed and focused like they did on MLK Day, the Cavaliers don’t stand much of a chance.
So far, it’s worked. Throwing himself on the ground like a corpse and complaining to the league has worked for James. He knows he can get under Draymond Green’s skin so he does it.
James has been around for a long time and his basketball IQ is unprecedented. It’s smart to try to get your strongest adversary to be irrational and force them to get into trouble. Baiting Green into technicals, Klay Thompson into poor shots, and Steph Curry into tensing up is the best strategy possible.
Golden State can’t give in though. Draymond Green needs to realize that he’s too important to the team to get frustrated at some of James’ antics and pick up silly technical fouls. Even so, there are plays like the flagrant foul, that Green can’t avoid. Still, he and the team need to remain focused.