Warriors lead: 3-0
The sound you heard in game three, as LeBron James passed an alley-oop pass off the backboard to himself for a thunderous jam wasn’t just the roar of a home crowd seeing their hero taking over the early part of a Finals game. It was also the final ovation for a brand of basketball whose time has come to an end. Gone is the era of basketball where any team with a superstar had a chance. Gone is the concept that the best individual talents will automatically win rings. Gone is LeBron’s chance to surpass Michael Jordan. While King James is a generational talent, who would likely bully MJ, in his prime, playing one-on-one, that’s a conversation we shouldn’t even be having right now.
Because the conversation we should be having is this. Are the Warriors ALREADY the greatest NBA team ever assembled? I’d argue no, not yet. But they’re on their way.
Here’s why. Imagine that MJ didn’t win six championships. Imagine that despite his all-time greatness, he was beaten in four of his six Finals runs by the same team, with the same core talent. We don’t see MJ the same way anymore, do we? That’s what’s happening to LeBron James, right now, and we’re too focused on his individual performance to notice. He’s posting preposterous numbers, in this, his eighth consecutive Finals appearance, and kept the Cavs in two of the three games. It’s just not enough. LeBron’s legacy is being not just victimized, but obliterated by this Warriors team. And that’s a good thing. The game is changing for the better because to keep up with Golden State, the entire league is evolving. If you listen to the national media, it’s almost like they want the Warriors to just go away, so we can move forward with the previously scheduled LeBron narrative. It’s not happening that way.
The Warriors are simply too good at too many things to be beaten by consistently by a team with one, or even two offensive-minded superstars. To compete with a team that’s this well- built, it takes balanced offense and stifling perimeter defense, plus a team first mentality that is focused on championships, not stats. Several teams have seen the writing on the wall, and are building their squads to compete. Boston, and GM Danny Ainge, who’ve lost in the East Finals the past two years are chief among them. I’m certain that if they’d had EITHER Gordon Hayward or Kyrie Irving healthy, we’d be seeing a different Finals. The Rockets were built to compete this year with a barrage of three-point shooting and a two-headed dragon featuring James Harden and Chris Paul. They almost got the job done, but the Warriors and the Cavs, for the fourth straight year, are the best the NBA has to offer.
Game one was beyond competitive, requiring overtime for the Warriors to finally pull away for an exhausted LeBron James. Side note: Let’s straighten out review in the NBA, please. NO, the play where LeBron committed a blocking foul on KD shouldn’t have been reviewed under the current rules. YES, the call eventually made was undoubtedly the correct one. LeBron never established and continued moving his upper body to create the contact that stopped Durant’s move to the basket. That’s a blocking foul, ten times out of ten. Saying that it shouldn’t have been reviewed is a distraction. Nothing more. That tells you everything you need to know. The play should have been reviewable. It’s this simple. If two officials disagree, review it. If the head ref doesn’t feel good about a call, review it. Basketball games are not three hour affairs that need to be shortened. Getting some calls right in crunch time is good for the league. Sending out the two-minute report generally causes more problems than it fixes.
Game two was the home performance we expected from the Warriors. A flat-out shellacking that left the Cavs exhausted and frustrated. They should be. Playing against a team that has that many ways to win can’t feel good. It was Steph Curry, making his case for Finals MVP, that carried the load for the Warriors in game two, connecting on nine shots from behind the arc. He might not care if he wins the individual award, but he sure cares whether or not LeBron can be considered. If the Warriors sweep, or win in five games, not even the most die-hard Cleveland fan should argue that their King was the MVP. They’re all going to hate him again after he goes to LA, anyway.
Even as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined for their worst-ever Finals performance in game three, Kevin Durant provided more than enough offense to keep up with LeBron, then provided the late game dagger, a step back three that put Golden State up by six with under a minute to play, and sent all of Believeland to the doors early. His game high forty-two points and thirteen rebounds neutralized a very effective LeBron James, and face to face, it was Durant who got the better of the King, especially as the game wore on.
After an injury-plagued season that had some wondering if the Warriors were vulnerable this year, Durant, Curry and their mates just seem like they’re not content to make this Finals look competitive. Their ability to adjust at halftime and create separation when it matters has them operating on a different level than their competition.
But back to King James, and that amazing, dunk-contest highlight reel slam. What is it worth, in
a game three against a far superior team? Two points. That’s all.
Great teams beat great players in today’s NBA.
Image source: The Onion