All the way through, the 2016-17 NBA year was one of frustration for most of us. The regular season was a showcase for the extreme competitive disparity that has long plagued the league, now more-so than ever, and the playoffs once again were marred by key injuries.
It seemed that the NBA Finals were a better time than any to bounce back and recover some entertainment value. LeBron James was playing some of the best basketball of his career as he and the Cavs stampeded over the inferior Eastern Conference, and the Warriors, while having swept the Spurs, had been completely dismantled in Game One before Kawhi Leonard went down with an ankle injury.
It was the man (long despised for it) who created the “Super Team” versus the most extreme version of a “Super Team” that the American sports world has ever seen. It was a Finals series drenched in irony, and after splitting their first two matchups in the previous two seasons, the tension between teams was at the top of the thermometer.
The media outlets—ESPN, FS1, Sports Illustrated—were optimistic: “What a storyline!” They said.
Unfortunately, contrary to what the “NBA is rigged!” conspiracy theorists will have you believe, basketball doesn’t have to give us a cinematic ending to every story.
The Cavs were outmatched. It’s about as simple as that—a team with three elite players (Curry, Green and Durant) along with an all-star (Klay Thompson) and plenty respectable depth (Iguodala, Livingston, West and McGee) is just too difficult to beat.
It wasn’t even that Cleveland was weak, either. LeBron may have played the best individual losing Finals in history, averaging 34 points, twelve rebounds and ten assists per game on 56 percent shooting. Kyrie was as slippery and suave as ever, scoring 29 points per game. Yes, Kevin Love was largely ineffective—but his mismatch versus Draymond Green is a strong one.
The grit of the Cavs was admirable, especially in Game Four, their undebatable magnum opus. They managed to outgun the team with the most artillery in history, and the entire time, it was impossible not to get the sense that they were playing with a kind of rabid hunger. Down 3-0, they weren’t willing to back down yet.
It was impressive on an every level.
The Warriors, though, amazed with their fast paced ball movement and an incredible series from Kevin Durant. This series was just as much a sequel to the OKC vs. Miami series in 2012 as it was to the Cavs vs. Warriors saga—the prior was the last time LeBron vs. Durant was seriously discussed, but Durant managed to bring that conversation back on the table with his phenomenal 35 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game for the series.
Perhaps the stat that tells the most just how extreme the Warriors dominance was is actually a very strange one. Because the Cavs were so consistently worried about the Warriors outrunning them down the court, Stephen Curry ended up gathering eight rebounds per game.
That’s what the Warriors did this year. They distorted our perception of the basketball court in the way that M.C. Escher paintings twist our perception of the world around us, flipping it inside out and challenging everything that was previously thought possible.
However, they have left us with important questions, and not the kind we are used to asking when the season is complete.
Is a team this great actually a good thing? (Probably not.) Will a team-up of this caliber happen again? (Yes.) Can the regular season ever recover its entertainment value? (Only if it’s shortened.) Can the playoffs ever recover their entertainment value? (…)
One thing can be certain: This series was a historical landmark of basketball. Champions have always held influence over the future of the game—from the plethora of high volume scorers trying to be like Jordan, to the centers who couldn’t shoot because they learned how to play from watching Shaq, to the organic ball movement of the 2014 Spurs.
Only time will tell what change comes from this Warriors team, but I predict that, just like the offense that Steve Kerr/Mike Brown ran this year, it will hit fast.
Categories: Pro Sports