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Although the NBA certainly got the most desired matchup for fans and casual admirers of the sport, Kyrie Irving’s fractured left kneecap left many feeling deprived of what could have been an even more memorable finish to the season. While Cleveland quite obviously missed Kyrie on offense (as well as Kevin Love), their defensive replacements did make an impact. We saw Matt Dellavedova bother the heck out of offensive juggernaut Steph Curry, as well as how effectively Tristan Thompson could work the glass on both sides, and be utilized as a center when Cleveland attempted to play small ball.
In any event, Golden State closed out LeBron James and the rest of the Cavs in six games on the road, something I thought they were incapable of doing. I figured a mixture of factors would play in to why a seventh game would have been forced. First off, I had doubted the Warriors ability to close out on the road due to their lack of playoff experience and the nerves of actually becoming NBA Champions. Secondly, I did not think LeBron would let them win on his home court. Now it is much easier to see how and why the Warriors won: they are far more talented on both ends, not to mention deeper and of course healthier. Injuries are a part of the game, as unfortunate as they may be, and Golden State dodged concerns of their own against Houston (Klay Thompson’s concussion and Curry being upended after biting on a pump fake). This series could have started 3-0 in either direction, so with that being said, let us take a look back on how this all played out.
Game 1 lived up to the hype of the matchup. There was a decent pace, moderately high scoring, LeBron going off (which would prove to be the trend this Finals), and FREE BASKETBALL! Who doesn’t love NBA Finals OT?!? All in all there were 11 ties and 13 lead changes in this game as Cleveland went eight deep while Golden State rolled with their standard 10-man rotation. Despite LeBron dropping 44 points, he settled for a garbage jump shot at the end of regulation as opposed to driving to the cup for a layup and/or drawing a foul. Andre Iguodala was on the defense, and if it weren’t for Timofey Mozgov knocking down two free throws with 30 seconds left, and Kyrie blocking a Curry layup down the stretch, this game would not have gone to overtime. Some, myself included, feel that LeBron reverted back to his old ways and settled for a jump shot instead of getting to the rack. In any event, overtime was played and Cleveland lost more than the game.
Kyrie went down with a season-ending injury, thus leaving the Cavs with an extra short bench, specifically at point guard. Game 2 was still great however. LeBron was incredible this whole series as he dropped a triple-double (39-16-11) in Oracle Arena, while Dellavedova harassed Curry all game. With another night of FREE BASKETBALL, LeBron and the Cavs evened the series and took it back to Cleveland. Game 3 was real cause for concern for Warriors fans. As they went into Cleveland, they still looked out of sync and rhythm. They had yet to play to their full potential, but it was obvious that once they hit their stride, they would blow this series off its hinges.
LeBron was a freak again, but the real story was Dellavedova going off and playing stellar defense on the league MVP again. He won the fans over and essentially the game. The Warriors made a fierce fourth quarter comeback in spite of their game-long struggles, but it wasn’t enough. Dellavedova’s energy lifted the team as he picked up some of the slack created by Irving’s absence. One had to think he would live up to the challenge and provide his team one great game. He did, and fans actually thought he could help carry them to a title. I went to Game 4 in Cleveland and you would not believe the amount of “Delly is Open, “The Delly now serving Curry,” other gimmicky gear, and Dellavedova jerseys were in Quicken Loans Arena. Dellavedova even received louder cheers than LeBron during the player introductions.
As someone that wanted to see the Dubs pull it off, I was concerned as all hell for them. They were still flat, and were clearly missing some (or several) of the ingredients that had lifted them above their competition all year. Was Charles Barkley right? Can jump-shooting teams not win a championship? Is LeBron actually great enough to essentially carry a lineup that, without Irving and Love, is similar in talent to his 2006-07 squad to the promised land? Well Game 4 left me with zero doubts that Golden State would pull this off, as they found their stride and blew the Cavs off their home court. I was hoping I would witness a sweep just to see the whole Finals ceremony and be around that energy, but I would instead settle for a solid victory.
Golden State had been down 2-1 earlier this postseason against Memphis and prevailed to advance. After Game 4, it looked like a similar scenario would present itself. Although LeBron posted historic stats, including two triple doubles, he received little help from his supporting cast. How can you blame him? They were not built to win without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert were excellent complimentary players throughout the season, but they cannot shine brightly on the big stage without displaying flaws. Golden State won Games 4, 5, and 6 in what were basically blowouts. Andre Iguodala provided a needed spark and energy on both ends as he relished the challenge of checking the world’s best player after being thrown into a starting role in attempt for the Warriors to go small.
Cleveland played right into Golden State’s small-ball plan in Game 5 in taking their best big man off the court in Mozgov. This was foolish as Cleveland owned the offensive glass. If they were going to have LeBron, JR, and Shump chucking shots all game, they needed to have Mozgov and Thompson there to eat up second chance opportunities. The Cavs catered to Golden State’s adjustment, and ultimately became exposed, as LeBron was often their biggest player on the court. Many writers claimed that if you were taller than 6-foot-9, you had no business being on the court.
Despite the defeat, LeBron was great. The best individual performance I have ever seen. He had no help and none of the blame should be on him solely. I read a great thought on Twitter about LeBron haters and it stated “To those who harp on LeBron’s 2-4 record in the Finals: Would you rather him lose earlier and not carry depleted teams into the Finals?” A brilliant thought in my eyes. LeBron has reached the Finals in six out of the 12 seasons that he has been in the league. Regardless, the Warriors were the better team and they had been all year. Much like San Antonio winning as the best TEAM last season, the Warriors proved that the best TEAM can beat the best PLAYER.
LeBron was the first player ever to lead both teams in scoring, assists, and rebounds. He also accounted for the second most points scored for his team (percentage-wise) behind a certain Michael Jordan. LeBron averaged 35.8 points 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists this Finals, however he also missed roughly 20 shots a game. Obviously you would rather see LeBron shoot 35 times compared to JR, and these numbers are a direct result of LeBron taking it upon himself to win his hometown a ring. With that being said, he was not awarded MVP. I would have had no problem with LeBron winning the award as he clearly was the best player on the court; however he was not the most valuable. You cannot be valuable if your team loses, much like Russell Westbrook put up insane numbers shouldering the load while Durant was out hurt, but his team still lost games and ultimately missed the playoffs. LeBron had a major impact on this roster however. Without LeBron, this team is far from playoff-bound, and the roster surely doesn’t feature players like JR, Shump, Mozgov, (the always entertaining) Mike Miller, James Jones, Shawn Marion, or Kevin Love. Additionally, the only time the Finals MVP went to a losing team’s player was the very first year it was awarded (1969) as Jerry West, the logo himself, took home the hardware as the Lakers lost to the Celtics in seven games.
Enough reiterating that LeBron is the best in the world, we already knew that. Let us celebrate the Golden State Warriors for being a phenomenal team start to finish. They won the third most games all time (83) behind the 1996 Chicago Bulls (84) and 1995 Bulls (87) including the post season. Steph Curry became the first player in NBA history to face and defeat each of his All NBA Teammates in the NBA Playoffs, and he also joined a star-studded list of players to win the regular season MVP award and NBA Finals in the same year. Steve Kerr joined an esteemed list of first year coaches to win the title and the Warriors cemented themselves in NBA history. I am glad they won for three main reasons: 1. I did not want to see LeBron on Sportscenter for the next month. 2. I wanted the Western Conference to win as it is much more competitive. And 3. I do not think Golden State will have this type of success next season. Curry’s ankles are always reasons for concern. Draymond Green is due for a payday. David Lee has played his last game for the club allegedly. And perhaps most importantly, can a jump-shooting team continue to replicate this level of success?
In closing, congrats to Andre Iguodala and the NBA Finals MVP voters for recognizing his impact on the series. He held LeBron to 35 percent shooting from the field, provided energy in transition, knocked down open 3’s in the corner, and has been a humble star throughout his entire career. I am pleased to see guys like Iggy, David Lee, Shaun Livingston, and Leandro Barbosa earn a ring, as well as a coach from the San Antonio Spurs coaching tree. I am thankful to have witnessed the regular season matchup between these clubs in Cleveland, and to have had the opportunity to see Game 4 in person. As we enter the offseason we can look forward to the draft and speculate what teams will square off next year. Perhaps we’ll even see a rematch.
I hope Golden State will recognize what Marc Jackson did to groom and develop this team, as well as what the great Don Nelson did for this squad years ago. Congrats to the Golden State Warriors, and let’s see if they can come out to play next season too.