The relentless excellence of the Golden State Warriors and the gritty performance of the Cleveland Cavaliers is not the story here. What will be remembered a decade from now, what will be the first line of the first sentence of the chapter titled LeBron James loses to Kevin Durant, will have to do with aesthetics: one star who had to do everything, one star who didn’t. It will be followed by the summary of a 4-1 predictable outcome, a Warriors historical series win, and, Cleveland suffering one more time even as LeBron James dropped 41. It’s the Cleveland story. Great has its limitations.
Every writer knows the arc of a story can change on a dime. But. It is pretty depressing in Cleveland when it used to be paradise on earth.
It was one year ago when the moment Cleveland had been waiting for actually came. That is rare. Usually we wait and wait and wait and the moments pass us by. This time, in Cleveland, because of Kyrie Irving, paradise was here. Found. A reality. A year later the reality is as sobering as all those years that have submerged the city of Cleveland into their pessimism that is their birthright. A decade ago, they were swept in the Finals. Ten years later they were not. But a loss is still a loss. LeBron James was 22 years old then. He is 32 years old now. A lifetime has happened to Cleveland and you can count on your fingers the ugliness: The Decision, Dan Gilbert’s hurt feelings psychosis, Anthony Bennett, trading Andrew Wiggins. Against the Warriors, the Cavaliers needed Andrew Wiggins. They needed one more creator who could make shots and defend. That ship has sailed. This is what is left.
The Cavs reorganized their identity by becoming a three point shooting team. Except they didn’t count on the Warriors being the best three point shooting defense in the league. You don’t shoot 38% from three against the Warriors. You just don’t. Cleveland didn’t. The Cleveland identity, which revolves around LeBron James, has come to this fork in the road. It is time to bury the conjecture of the best ever debate about LeBron James. It doesn’t matter in the present tense. The Cavaliers are trying to hold their head above water. How do they keep James?
The 71-72 Lakers were 12-3 in the playoffs. The 85-86 Celtics were 15-3 in the playoffs. The 95-96 Bulls were 15-3 in the playoffs. The 2000-01 Lakers were 15-1 in the playoffs. The Warriors were 16-1. What they did was unprecedented and the Cavaliers were mere spectators.
You can put money on LeBron James being LeBron James. The series turned in game one when, unlike last year, Klay guarded Kyrie exclusively. Klay was willing to give up scoring to take out the only other Cavs playmaker. It worked to perfection. The other moving parts the Cavaliers added were disasters.
Trades show their value during the playoffs and Kyle Korver and especially Deron Williams added more holes to a boat with leaks. It was an impossible task to beat the Warriors. The Cavs were underdogs for a reason.
And so the 2017 NBA Finals was the mythology of sports intersecting with the mythology of man. Sport lost. Man won. Many were the losers, not to mention the city of Cleveland. The lens will highlight the worst night of the Cavs professional life.
Reputations being what they are, gain and loss is the bottom line here. LeBron James is 3-5 in the Finals, a repetitive loser to the Warriors and Curry, a first time loser to Durant. In the coming weeks we will be immersed in a nauseating analysis of what Michael Jordan would have done that LeBron didn’t, conveniently forgetting that this is LeBron’s 7th Finals in a row and he doesn’t have the advantage of three other All-Star iconic shooters. The Warriors were the better team.
Looking back, game 3 in Cleveland turned the tide so even optimists were glum. The ending was heartbreaking but predictable because the Warriors have so many skilled shooters and the Cavs just don’t. Game 4 was the Cavs desperation on display. The last home game of the 2016-17 season, one without a repeat. In Game 5 the Cavs did the best they could carried by LeBron and Kyrie but Kevin Love couldn’t find his shot.
But all that is in the rear view mirror now, the pluses and minuses, the mistakes. The Cavaliers stand alone, of course, in misery. There is no forgetting a NBA Finals loss. The sorrow of this will last a lifetime. While the Warriors will bathe in champagne showers and flaunt their perfection.
It is the final chapter, the last moment of the NBA year. Ecstatic in Oakland. Dark in Cleveland.
photo via llananba