There is different kind of pain when you lose in a fight that wasn’t fair. The depression of the moment, as the months go by and it still hurts everywhere, becomes a thirst for a rematch. You go over what happened in your head as if your brain is on autopilot. Game 3, leading the series. Game 6, the series over. You keep hearing echoes. A bunch of someones celebrating on your floor. The loudness in a locker room that isn’t yours. The joy on the court, the sorrow in the stands. It forces imagery that comes in the shape of dreams or a subconscious reality. Revenge is the only cure.
And so here we are, one year later.
The champion facing their foe. The glamour team on the Bay facing the gritty tough team that plays in a gritty, tough town where the champion was crowned.The young superstar and the been around a long time superstar. The second year coach and the three month coach.
While the city of Cleveland was anticipating OKC and home court advantage, the Cavs players, from LeBron on down, wanted the Warriors as a way to erase history, to set aside what happened last June. But it doesn’t exactly work that way. The Cavs lost in game 6. They lost on their home floor. They were thoroughly and completely dominated. They couldn’t compete on the Warriors level who were at full strength while the Cavs were missing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and had to use Matthew Dellavedova as a fill in the hole piece. Of course it was going to be a disaster. But disasters are recorded in books without excuses.
One year later, the Golden State Warriors, set an iconic regular season record of 73 wins. Steph Curry was back-to-back great and was rewarded as such with his second MVP trophy. Steve Kerr continues to fight through back pain and yet managed to rally the troops from a 3-1 hole in the Western Conference Finals. Luke Walton was hired by the Lakers and so this is it for him, this, his 5th NBA Finals. Steph Curry was injured in the playoffs and then came back to thrive. Klay Thompson set a playoff record. Draymond Green, though emotionally reactive and impulsive, kept the team in tact when it looked like collapse was on the radar.
The Warriors have been superb defending champions, a beacon of light for the NBA’s marketing enterprise.
In the preseason, when whispers turned into loud rages that the Warriors were lucky, and that they didn’t do anything special, and that Cleveland was missing people so the Warriors title was compromised, it made the Warriors shut the world out and prove exactly who they were. In other words, when everyone else said put an asterisk in front of their title, the Warriors were saying, watch us do this. The negative spin thrust the Warriors into an anger so deep they went about destroying everyone they faced, happy to shove their excellence down everyone’s throat with a 24-0 start. Who’s lucky now?
While the Warriors blistering excellence train ran through cities beating folk up, the Cavs had their issues with unity and boredom and underachieving and frankly, not looking remotely interested in the regular season, creating a LeBron James conflict. The Warriors games, crammed down his throat, legitimized extraordinary achievement and dominance and history making and celebrating and happiness, while LeBron’s crew was underachieving and uninspired, playing like they were on a prison furlough. They looked like they lost more than the NBA Finals.
In the middle of this Warriors-Cavs opposite narratives, all of a sudden, the NBA changed course. It wasn’t about LeBron James anymore; Steph Curry was the bright star no one could get enough of. Nevertheless, LeBron did everything he knew how to do to motivate those playing with him, including public shaming. But the internal issues with LeBron at the center, the double standard of David Blatt’s preferential treatment that rubbed the veterans the wrong way, caused a change in strategy. When Ty Lue became the coach, he shifted the emphasis, slightly tilting a LeBron James world.
Beginning on Thursday in California, that world will have another chapter. LeBron has had so many. Boston. The Decision. Dallas. The Spurs. Now it is the Warriors. So, yes, the Cavs have their rematch and in their world everything is perfect. Confidence reigns because everyone is healthy and playing well.
The Cavs believe they are the better team even as they lost to the Warriors twice this season. The Finals will prove if they are imaginary dreamers needing the health excuse to justify losing. Or, if the Cavs really are stronger, deeper, tougher.
A lot of this Finals drama is filtered through loss. The Cavs can’t accept the Warriors beat them. They spin it through excuses. The media may love the Warriors but the Cavs have withheld their compliments.
But this is the problem. If any team takes slights and then transitions them into kicking your ass, it is the Warriors.
The Warriors are the best scoring offense in the playoffs. The Cavs are second. The Warriors are the best assist team in the playoffs. The Cavs are second. The Cavs are the best three-point shooting team in the playoffs. The Warriors are third.
According to the numbers, the Cavs defense in the playoffs has been better than the Warriors defense, but look at who the Cavs beat- the Pistons, Hawks and Raptors- not one transformative player in the mix. The Warriors had to deal with James Harden, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. To the Warriors way of looking at things, Kyrie and LeBron are just more talented players they have to figure out.
The Cavs believe their perimeter game, with the addition of Channing Frye, and their inside game, with LeBron James, is an advantage that is going to tilt the series their way. The Warriors believe heavily in just us. No one believed in them in September. Many are picking the Cavs now.
All we know for sure are that two things will happen. The Cavs will get revenge and a title. Or, the Warriors will add their names to the list of back-to-back champions (Celtics, Lakers, Rockets, Bulls, Heat).
LeBron James will be 3-4 in the Finals. Or, he will be 2-5.
Cue up the LeBron James legacy talk, starting now. It will multiply and spawn the trite. Drown out the Steph Curry is the best player talk. It’s going to get ridiculously repetitive. That is the beauty of this Finals which, when you sum it all up, is theater at its best and at its worst.
The 2016 NBA Finals will be dramatic, exhilarating, crisp and provocative. It will not be ordinary. It will not be easy. It will probably go 6 games, at the least. This is what the Cavs wanted.
I remind them, be careful what you ask for. When it ends, one team will be devastated. And one team (and city) will be euphoric.
photo via llananba