THE NBA FINALS PREVIEW
At long last, the moment we've been waiting for since the Playoffs started in April has come. While the teams representing each conference may not be a surprise, we've seen some pretty surprising moments – from Isaiah Thomas dropping 33-6-6 the day after his sister tragically died, to Kawhi Leonard's Mamba-esque performance being spoiled by a Marc Gasol game-winner – and that was just the first round.
If you peep our 2017 Playoff Preview, you'll see that they're mostly right (I was out of my mind to have bet on James Harden). As evident by our success, this year's playoffs have been mostly chalk, and we have finally reached the climax that we have been waiting for since one Kevin Durant chose to take his talents to the Bay last July.
While this year's playoffs aren't nearly as boring and stale as everyone says they are, this is the series everybody wanted (and expected) to see. Cavs v. Dubs 3.0. LeBron "The Decision" James vs. Kevin "The Betrayal" Durant.
Two heavily criticized generational talents going toe-to-toe in a cinematic winner-cement-legacy best-of-seven series. What more could anyone ask for? This will be the first time I will witness the two best players in the NBA have been competing against each other for a ring (curse the basketball gods for never bringing us a Kobe-LeBron Finals).
If KD loses, the shitstorm he'll face next year will make this year's look like a Thousand Oaks summer afternoon (if you know, you know). On the other hand, LeBron winning will actually put him in the MJ conversation we all love to hear get airtime on SportsCenter.
As a salty Lakers fan that lives in the past, I secretly want LBJ to lose because then I can pretend it's ok to still compare him to Kobe (a comparison he has surpassed after last year's Finals), even though seeing him pull off another miracle like last year would be fucking incredible. I also want to see KD win because he doesn't deserve half of the flack he gets for leaving Russy behind in OKC.
Regardless of the result, this will definitely be an entertaining finals to watch, and below you can enjoy Nev's take on what this Finals means for each squad.
As we approach the most anticipated Finals of the century, we see two teams playing their best basketball of the year. I think it is hard to argue, however, that the matchup does not favor the Warriors coming out of the West.
While LeBron’s ability to improve the performance of those around him is a phenomenon not seen previously, the offseason acquisition of Kevin Durant, poses a near insurmountable gap for one man to bridge. I’m not ruling out a Cavs series win, but there is little evidence to suggest that they would do so in less than seven games.
With that being said, I think the more fun perspective to look at this from is the implications a ring would bring each franchise and its main components, as well as how devastating a potential loss could be.
The moment Kevin Durant decided on the gold and blue, there seemed to be a collective groan from the basketball world. This officially plastered the Warriors with the dangerous label “Super Team”.
The hoops community’s general consensus was that Durant was “selling out” for a ring. Seen as one of the NBA’s top players, basketball pundits were foaming at the mouth to see Durant attempt to cement his legacy by going to a second-tier team (the first tier consisting solely of GSW & the Cavs).
If he had gone to, say, the Clippers or Celtics, either would have been immediately considered a title contender. But instead, he chose the “easy option”, vying to sign a two year, $54 million deal. This vilification of Durant, a demure figure, has put him in a position where only a title could silence his naysayers.
When Thunder management decided to allow James Harden walk away from a franchise that could almost taste a championship, they hedged a bet that left Westbrook and Durant to their own devices. And while we can speculate about the true nature of the two stars’ relationship during their tenure together, it would be hard to resist the allure of a Warriors organization beckoning with big money and the promise of a dynasty to come. No matter the circumstances surrounding KD’s decision, the fact remains that this series will define the public’s opinion of the viability of Durant’s choice to abandon his beloved Oklahoma City.
We can all look back and say that LeBron made the right decisions by taking his talents to South Beach and then to return to Cleveland, which resulted in three rings. Whether KD can bring a trophy to the Bay or not carries heavy implications.
Next we have the Baby-Faced Assassin, which is a nickname which I personally think has too many syllables and absolutely no ring to it, pardon the pun. Steph Curry has been (fairly) criticized for not showing up in big games, as well as relying too heavily on the 3-pointer. The latter doesn’t hold much weight when attempting to predict a series winner, but I felt obligated to include one of social media’s major qualms with the Chef.
Frankly, the “Warriors blew a 3-1 lead” bit was tired within weeks of its uninspired conception. I may be biased as a Bay Area native, but it strikes me as a little lazy that it was the crown jewel of the industrial meme factory for so long. Steph, as the best player on them Warriors, bore the brunt of this.
While you can say that he doesn’t have the killer instinct that other superstars have, Steph’s impressive play throughout the playoffs thus far (29 PPG on 50% shooting) indicates that he’s entering the rubber match in stride. Plus, the pressure on him to perform has been alleviated due to KD’s presence. However, it works both ways. If Steph loses the Finals again, then he will forever be the Internet’s easiest target. Let’s just hope he doesn’t turn that disgusting mouthpiece/chew toy into a projectile again.
How could we mention social media without talking about the man Twitter loves to hate, Draymond Green. The multi-faceted small forward will prove to be a key chess piece in the series and a danger to opponents’ scrotums. His defensive prowess and ability to unselfishly distribute the ball to his scorers is peerless in the annals of NBA history.
The Cavs recognized this last year, and made an attempt to rattle his permeable mental game. Perhaps LeBron knew that even with three flagrant foul points (four necessary for a suspension) Draymond could not resist a blow to an unguarded groin. Draymond has made it clear in the past that he has a hatred of the Cavs, which has added a fuel to the fire to this sure-to-be classic matchup. Draymond’s big mouth and unhinged competitive spirit will make him an obvious target for those who wish him ill if the Warriors go down.
Contrary to the brazen outspokenness of Green, the series will hold a different sort of impact for Klay Thompson. Ever the “chill” one, Thompson has been forced into a tertiary role in the Dubs’ offense. This has become increasingly apparent during this playoff season, averaging 10 less PPG this year, compared to his integral 24 point average last year. Pending a Golden State loss, Joe Lacob and Golden State management may be forced to see Thompson as a valuable bargaining chip for some much-needed beef down low.
The Washington State product has seen decreased production this year, after his insistence that the acquiring of Durant would not require a sacrifice on his part. Due to a more democratic spread of the ball, Thompson’s average time of possession has been slashed dramatically. In his impressive 60 point effort against the Pacers, he had the ball for an unprecedented 90 seconds. This means that while Klay is taking approximately the same amount of shots, he is taking a quick shot nearly every time he touches the rock, which is negatively effecting his shot percentage.
Never the one to voice any complaints, Klay has largely remained quiet about his ultimate role on the star-studded team. Nonetheless, these circumstances have spurred many a conversation about the shooter’s future in Oakland. The 2017 Finals could shed some light on the All-Star’s future.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of the spotlight with regards to the ring on line has fallen on megastar LeBron James. Entering his staggering 8th Finals appearance (7th straight), LeBron is in jeopardy of going 3-5 pending a loss this year.
This would be crippling for any future comparisons to the widely accepted GOAT, Michael Jordan, who never lost one of the six Finals he participated in. As of now, the argument for BronBron as the greatest to ever play have never been stronger. He seems to have aged like a fine wine, but how much longer can he sustain his inhuman play?
The Cavs may not have a better shot at a title than this year. Coming off seven days of rest, the other #23 should be primed for another monster series against the superpower in the West. The ramifications of a fourth ring are indelible for LeBron’s highly publicized legacy.
If he can pull off a victory against this Warriors team, heavily regarded as a favorite, then it would be ludicrous to posit that James is not a top-2 all-time player. It’s so hard to accurately finger James’ rank amongst storied winners such as Jordan, Bill Russell, and Larry Bird when the whole debate has generational undertones. Those who saw Jordan in his prime seem to hold onto his GOAT status with feet firmly planted in cement, while the youth cite LeBron’s ability to single-handedly elevate his teammate’s effectiveness as unmatched.
This conversation will undoubtedly continue through the remainder of LeBron’s career as well as its aftermath, but this Finals in particular will prove to be an arguing point for either side depending on its outcome. Some have offered that Steph has more to lose in this matchup than LeBron, but a losing Finals record will surely put a damper on the latter’s lasting image.
The only other member of the Cavs cast that these Finals will have a resounding shockwave for will be Kyrie Irving. The one-on-one nightmare has been praised for his otherworldly handles, but many will claim that he is not the complete point guard that Chris Paul is. Will Kyrie ever be a serious MVP candidate, or will he be remembered for his ankle-breaking crossovers and finishing ability?
These Finals may not reveal the answer to this question, but it gives Irving the platform to make a statement as a force to be reckoned with moving forward, at a point in his career where his ceiling is blurred. At 25 years of age, Kyrie relies on quickness and agility to create scoring opportunities for himself. Will he continue to develop the more finesse-based areas of his game, or will he begin a slow decline? The first three years of his career with the Cavs sans-LeBron, Kyrie was surrounded by a dismal surrounding cast. It’s unclear going forward whether he’s a player a franchise can build a winning team around. Kyrie has four more years on his contract, with the option to dip out after next season. The outcome of this final stretch of the 2017 season could be a good indicator as to the Australia national’s choice to remain with the franchise that drafted him first overall in 2011.
Kevin Love is another main factor for the Cavs and has been hot as of late, but he’s been put on the backburners in the media due to a frank lack of time for any other subjects besides the Warriors and LeBron. He’s worth mentioning, however, as his effectiveness from behind the arc and inside the paint could prove to be a matchup problem for the undersized Warriors. If Love can hit four or five threes per game, this series could be closer than some are projecting.