Oakland, CA — Oh, look: we’re doing this again; Cavaliers v. Warriors, round four. We spent an entire season wondering what team might break through this logjam. But we arrived at the same place, as always. It was fun to wonder if the Raptors had turned the corner, or if the baby Celtics could do the impossible, or if the Philly Process would take an early leap.
Hell, it was even fun to think that the Rockets could actually beat the Golden State Warriors. But the basketball gods conspired to ruin any potential newness, and now we’re here. Let’s take a look at the possibilities!
(a quick aside: holy cow, Bryan Colangelo!!!)
The Cavaliers are severely undermanned, and running on fumes. Kevin Love was or is still in concussion protocol, and LeBron has played more minutes and games this season than anyone else in the Finals. Cleveland has the fifth-best offensive rating in the playoffs, at 107.1, and the seventh-best defensive rating at 105.9. Unfortunately, Golden State has the best offensive rating left in the playoffs, at 110, just behind the Toronto Raptors at 110.1. Golden State is the only team with a sub-100 defensive rating, at 99.7, which is 3.3 points better than their nearest competitor, the Utah Jazz. The Cavs are in trouble.
Golden State’s roster, from top to bottom, is much better than the Cavaliers. Looking at their five best players (Kevin Durant/Steph Curry/Klay Thompson/Draymond Green/Andre Iguadola) versus the Cavaliers (Lebron James/Kevin Love/George Hill/Tristan Thompson/Jr Smith), and it’s not much of a competition.
LeBron is the best player on the planet, and Kevin Love, if healthy, is one of the best twenty-five guys in the NBA, but that’s about it. The collection of talent for Golden State is overwhelming. The only shot the Cavaliers have is that LeBron becomes the best version of the 2009 Orlando Magic: a super duper star surrounded by competent role players. That Magic team, obviously, did not win the title, but that’s the best comparison I can think of.
The stakes are fairly high for both teams. If the Cavaliers lose, then LeBron is almost definitely gone. Kevin Love, I suspect, would soon follow, and whatever contracts they can dump will be dumped. If the Warriors lose, then you’re looking at an aging team who essentially shit the bed on a season they should’ve had wrapped up before Christmas.
Maybe the owners think twice about another max or super max contract for these players; maybe Steve Kerr won’t have as much freedom. But things could go very badly, very quickly, for both teams. If the Cavs win, LeBron might feel compelled to stay, finish his legacy. If the Warriors win, they’ve solidified themselves as the best team since the Shaq-Kobe Lakers and the Jordan Bulls. Legacies will be built on this supposedly boring fourth go-round.
The thing that strikes me the most about this Finals is how much this feels like the end of this new NBA beginning. This Warriors team, along with the Rockets, ushered in the new era of analytics and three pointers. LeBron is in the (what should be, but who knows with this dude) final stages of his prime. Other teams are coming up behind them, the Celtics and Sixers coming to mind most forcefully.
Pardon the weird comparison, but I can’t stop thinking about the Phoenix Suns and the introduction to seven seconds or less. This feels like the end of basketball stumbling around in the dark. It’s been perfected, in the sense of what shots are the most valuable. What can we do now? What frontiers do we cross now? I know this is irrelevant to the contest, but I can’t stop thinking about it.
Anyway. Cavs in seven.