NBA Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors

Warriors Win: 4-0

As fans in Cleveland bemoan the sweeping of their mighty king from the NBA Finals, and Browns players (who shall not remain nameless: Myles Garrett) who have yet to win a single game at the professional level attack the character of back-to-back NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant, I’m reminded of why people always struggle with greatness when they see it before them. It’s impossible for greatness to present itself without letting go of excitement. This series, which no one thought would be close, had an air of inevitability about it as soon as the Cavaliers squandered LeBron’s superhuman fifty-one-point effort, letting game one slip out of their grasp. The adjustments that Golden State made were swift, and they were decisive. The Warriors knew full well that they had just survived Cleveland’s best punch, as well as Tyronn Lue’s best attempt at stifling the hydra that is Golden State’s offense. The three games that followed, while entertaining, were over before they started.

The illusion of competitiveness is actually far better than parity.

Why?

OK, but you won’t like the answer…

Parity is profoundly boring. If there’s no great teams and no dominant individuals, why watch? Years from now, we’ll likely be talking about how LeBron was one of the greats, but not the greatest, because he couldn’t really compete with the Warriors. It’s basically his bad luck. And we’ll be talking about why the Warriors are all-time great, BECAUSE they went through LeBron’s Cavaliers. The villain creates the hero. You just need to decide who’s the bad guy. But sometimes, the games on the court can’t match up to the one’s we’ve created in our head. Because one team is simply better. Full stop. Golden State is playing chess in a checkers tournament. They’ve brought a bazooka to a knife fight. To mix my metaphors haphazardly, they’re Usain Bolt and the rest of the NBA is Tom Brady (current edition, not even the clumsy kid at the combine). It’s not close. And, to a certain degree, I can see how someone might think that it’s less fun. But here’s the problem. The Warriors probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. More distressing for those of you who are grumbling, there will be another team like this after the Warriors are gone. Maybe not next year. Maybe not the year after that. But micro dynasties happen all of the time in the NBA. Remember the last decade-plus when the Spurs could be pretty much penciled-in to the West Finals on opening day? When the league is at its best, there’s two teams with the potential to dominate playing at the same time, and sometimes they cancel each other out. Celtics-Lakers anyone? You know who thought that was boring?

Knicks fans.

That’s pretty much it.

The problem, this time around, is that the Warriors are playing a different game. And it just doesn’t seem fair. Because it probably isn’t. Their blueprint is evolving the fabric of the game, as well as the construction of rosters. Soon, I think we’ll notice the trend in the draft, too. Tall, but uncoordinated centers and power forwards will no longer be considered “raw talents” by GM’s looking to lift their team from the lottery. They’ll be considered dead wood with suspect knees. Tenacious defenders who can handle the ball and shoot from distance will start dominating the earlier picks in the draft. Even if they’re below six-six.

While you can scream to the heavens that Kevin Durant took the easy way out joining the
Warriors, what did Boston do when they brought in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to play with Paul Pierce? They built a super team from the best available talent. What about LeBron himself and his ill-fated decision to join up with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? (Not four, not five, not six…I still shudder when I think about it.) They were great together, but not that great. Players in the NBA have a level of self-determination that is rare in professional sports. They can assemble as they see fit when it’s their turn to make choices. Why on earth wouldn’t the Warriors try to get better when Durant was available? Why wouldn’t he choose the team where he could put his stamp on the history books?

We shouldn’t be castigating the game’s great athletes for choosing to win.

Game four was the sort of win that has become common for the Warriors in their recent stretch of dominance. They cruised to an early lead, expanded it out of reach in the third quarter, then leveled off and avoided mistakes through the final twelve minutes. They didn’t need to do much at that point, because Cleveland simply had no fight left in them. LeBron put up twenty-three points and was a rock at the free throw line, but he was less Superman, more Clark Kent by that time. Injured hand aside, he was spent. The exertion of the longest season of his career and the strain of carrying a team that simply couldn’t stack up on either end of the floor had worn him all the way down.

So he’ll rest up, ice up and heal up, then go back to the drawing board. Will he stay in Cleveland? Or is he off to greener pastures? I’m not sure yet, but that’s a story for another day.

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