Much like a beloved film series which is being dreadfully dragged into a fourth movie, part four of the Golden State Warriors vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers meeting in the 2018 NBA Finals was by far the most disappointing part of the series. With the Warriors sweeping the Cavaliers into their third championship win in four seasons, it was the ending we all expected, but with a surprising amount of adversity along the way.
Despite the Finals being a repeat of the previous three seasons, the league’s parity increased significantly from the previous season. In 2017, the Warriors sole playoff defeat came at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the Finals. This year, however, the Warriors were defeated a total of five times and only managed to sweep the Cavaliers in the Finals (in large part thanks to JR Smith’s infamous Game 1 blunder).
The surprise team of the season was the Houston Rockets, who, bolstered by the addition of Chris Paul, were able to finish with a league-best 65-17 record. The Rockets actually held a 3-2 series against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before Chris Paul suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in the waning moments of Game 5.
Ask any Rockets player and they will tell you that they would have been NBA Champions if it were not for this injury. The Rockets held double-digit leads in both Game Six and Game Seven, and it is very easy to see how the addition of the best pure point guard of this generation would change the result of at least one of those games.
The parity of the league did not only improve with the Rockets’ rise as a legitimate challenger to the Golden State Warriors. The tides of change also took hold in the East as a number of young teams took very large leaps forward this season.
Let’s begin with the Boston Celtics, who have overcome a string of bad luck to go onto the Finals. These blunders include losing All-Star wing Gordon Hayward to injury in the first game of the season, losing All-Star guard and marquee off-season acquisition Kyrie Irving to a season-ending knee procedure and losing seven games to Lebron’s Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Led by Head Coach Brad Stevens, a guy is who is the best young mind in all of basketball, The Celtics overcame these injuries and will surely be a Finals favorite when at full health. For now, they have a solid, young core in Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier who will only get better playing alongside Hayward and Irving.
In addition, the Philadelphia 76ers were finally able to reap the benefits of “The Process,” as Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid led the Sixers to 52-30 finish. They lost a tough series to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. If they make any splashes in free agency this offseason, the 76ers could very well be in the driver’s seat in the East next year.
Some honorable mentions for blossoming teams that are not yet title contenders go to the Utah Jazz, led by star rookie Donovan Mitchell, which once again made to the second round despite the departure of Gordon Hayward and the Indiana Pacers, led by Most Improved Player Victor Oladipo, which managed to actually improve despite the departure of Paul George. Throw in solid seasons from the New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks and you’ll be quick to see the bright future for this league.
The tone of this piece would have been much darker last season, however, this season was one of the more successful ones in recent history. As the world awaits LeBron James’ third decision, it just goes to show how quickly things can change in the world of sports.