Getting here, the trilogy nearly complete, was as inevitable as spring becoming summer. The moment after Kyrie Irving crushed into jagged pieces the Warriors heart [courtesy of a game winning three] you knew what would happen next- next being twelve months later. Look no further than the losers side of the court. Steph Curry’s sad face, Draymond Green’s glumness, Harrison Barnes in despair, Steve Kerr’s acceptance. Grown men all had the collective expression of what the f____ happened to our perfect season, followed by: We’re not done, revenge is our birthright.
Just think about what the Cavs did in 2016 on a Sunday night in June.. They demoralized a team everyone said was one of the greatest in history, 73 wins perfect. Line the Warriors up with the 1971-72 Lakers, 1985-86 Celtics, 1995-96 Bulls and you wouldn’t find much to pick apart except the normal Jerry West, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan sports arguments. It was preordained.
Except the greatest team, with the greatest shooter, with a revolutionary style of play, lost. The Warriors could win 73 games but they could not win a game 7 at home in front of screaming then nervous fans to take the title. How’s that for irony. The Warriors, fatigued or whatever excuse of the moment applies, couldn’t stop iso scorers [LeBron James, Kyrie Irving] and worse than that, they couldn’t do what they had done all year to get them to 73 wins nirvana: drain threes. The Warriors had the worst game, at the worst moment, on the worst day of the NBA calendar. Give the Cavs credit for their defense but when you are a historical team the last thing anyone expects is to see you in misery and depression, juxtaposed near a happy LeBron James, laughing and crying and holding that trophy in your face.
In June of 2016, LeBron James was finally redeemed, as he led his team where no other NBA superstar every had, back from the dead, a 3-1 hole. He was myth now, he was fable, he was superhero, he had witnesses, he put Sodom and Gomorrah back together again, he was finally The King. The Warriors balloon he helped deflate. It was over in Oakland. It was over in Oakland. It was…over.
Until it wasn’t.
The Warriors signed Kevin Durant. As a basketball move, it was a way to stack the deck, work the system, make true what Warriors owner Joe Lacob arrogantly said about the Warriors being light years ahead of every other NBA organization. Lacob looked more than clueless when the Warriors lost a game 7 at home. But he bounced back wooing Durant.
Kevin Durant was the LeBron equalizer. Not that Durant has beaten LeBron consistently in his career. He hasn’t. But Durant is one more scorer the Cavs, particularly LeBron, has to defend. LeBron turned Harrison Barnes game into corn meal mush in the 2016 Finals. Let’s see what LeBron can do with Durant.
So the setting was cemented in July. In one corner, the champs trying to defend their title. On the other side, the aggrieved losers who want atonement, they are desperate for a re-do except in spots you cannot do over. You have to live with your shortcomings, with your weaknesses and what you could not accomplish. The Warriors had to turn the page and try to win the title back. It’s less about payback and more about take it right now.
The trilogy, as it is now being called, is the best this sport has to offer. While the moniker of trilogy isn’t a compliment or an endorsement, it is a fact. A year after greats Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen exited stage left with titles in their pockets and NBA records under their names, the playoffs were an utter disaster of Titanic proportions. It’s not just that the Cavs and the Warriors are better than anyone else. It is that they are significantly better, abundantly better, a Biblical dominance. There are no 1A’s to be had in the ever widening gulf of drowning franchises begging for mercy.
The playoffs have always had dominant players we say are special and teams that won a lot of regular season games but they still were competitive affairs and interesting. In the 80’s when the Celtics were winning, the Pistons were coming close. When the PIstons were winning, the Bulls were coming close. When the Lakers were winning, the Kings were coming close. All the great players were not on the same team so there was intrigue in the product.
Frankly, I don’t care if LeBron gets to number four. I don’t care if Mike Brown’s career is finally redeemed. I don’t care if Curry can somehow have a significant NBA Finals. I don’t care if Iggy can grab another MVP trophy. I don’t care about revenge or defending a title or Draymond’s moods. It is pretty simplistic where we are, those of us who do not live in Oakland or Cleveland. Is good basketball too much to ask for?
The NBA and the collective bargaining agreement have ruined the product. Teams now stack the deck if they can. There are no longer teams that are on the hunt, that are next. Boston had the number one seed and even with Isaiah Thomas they were royally punked. No one in the West can match up with the Warriors. The league is too young, or the great players like Carmelo and Wade are too old, or there are not enough players who are skilled perimeter scorers and can defend in transition. College kids do not stay in school long enough.
Two months of brutal playoffs hand delivers this trilogy. In part one, the Warriors beat up on an injured team that had to drag Matthew Dellavedova into the limelight. In part two, the Cavs came back from the dead because Draymond Green couldn’t control himself and it was appropriate justice he had to watch his team go down in flames.
And so here we are, part three. Everyone except Steve Kerr is healthy. A week of rest means no one should be tired. Style makes fights. And NBA games. Two great iso scorers vs. two dynamic shotmakers. Both teams drain the three and have benches with players that used to be starters but whose careers have faded and yet they only need 14 minutes to change the series.
The last time a team won a Game 7 and then won the title the next year, Bill Clinton was President and Outkast had a hit, Players Ball. The Houston Rockets beat the Knicks in 7 games in 1994 and then beat the Magic in a sweep in 1995. 22 years later it is the LeBron James quest.
When in doubt, despite the calamity of this playoff season, I go with the champions. They are the champions until someone beats them. And they have LeBron James. End of story.
photo via llananba