CLEVELAND – I’m over the NBA Finals. Are you?
Championship series are supposed to competitive. This one is not. J.R. Smith’s Game 1 gaffe provided a spoonful of intrigue to a matchup that, on paper, was one of the most lopsided in recent history. That intrigue withered in Golden State’s overtime avalanche and was erased in the Warriors’ 122-103 whipping of the Cavs in Game 2.
Golden State won the championship in Houston. This is a victory lap.
On Wednesday, the Cavs built a 13-point first-half lead, and not a soul in the building should have believed they could hold it. A Kevin Durant 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter cut the lead to six, and his snarl in the direction of fans along the baseline foreshadowed what was coming. Midway through the third quarter, with Stephen Curry playing one of the worst games of his career and only Durant and JaVale McGee – JaVale McGee! – cracking double-figures, the Warriors seized a five-point lead. Then Klay Thompson came alive. Andre Iguodala – back in the lineup after sitting out the first two games with a knee injury – made stops. Even Curry, an appalling 3 of 16 from the floor, knocked down a 3-pointer.
And there was Durant, racking up 43 points, none bigger than his last three – a shot that looked eerily similar to one he made in the same game a year ago. Last season, a Durant 3-pointer from the left wing sealed a Game 3 Finals win for Golden State. This season, it was a 33-footer that swelled the Warriors’ lead to six with less than a minute to play in the Warriors’ 110-102 victory.
Said Kevin Love, “It was pretty reminiscent of last year.”
Added LeBron James: “He’s an assassin, and that was one of those assassin plays right there.”
Look – I don’t begrudge the Warriors for collecting superstars. No one should. How many of us have bolted a job we didn’t like or moved to a city we preferred? It happens every day. And we’re supposed to rebuke NBA players for doing it?
Durant took plenty of heat for jumping on the Golden State bandwagon in 2016, but does anyone think the Warriors would be here without him? He was the Finals MVP last season and with Curry hobbled and the Warriors’ bench thinner than ever, Durant has been the driving force behind a Golden State team that is now one win from its second straight championship.
“He’s one of the best players that I’ve ever played against, that this league has ever seen,” James said. “His ability to handle the ball, shoot the ball, make plays at his length, his size, his speed. So there it is.”
It’s great for Durant, for Golden State. For everyone else? Ratings are great, stars are on display, all that. But can you truly enjoy a Finals when you have no doubt who is going to win? Adam Silver tap-danced around the NBA’s parity problem before Game 1. But the NBA commissioner’s preference for a hard cap, for a way to stop super teams from forming, is well known. League officials will praise Golden State in public and lament the Warriors’ existence behind closed doors.
James is the best player of this generation, arguably the greatest of all time. At 33, he’s enjoying one of his finest seasons, strapping the Cavs to his broad shoulders and carrying Cleveland to a fourth straight Finals. But James is helpless against Golden State. A great game – like James’ 51-point effort in Game 1 – can’t beat them. A complete one – like his 33-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist performance in Game 3 – can’t either. Last season, James had Kyrie Irving, and lost to the Warriors in five games. This season, he will likely lose in four.
“It’s almost like playing the Patriots,” James said. “You can’t have mistakes. They’re not going to beat themselves. So when you’re able to either force a miscue on them, you have to be able to capitalize and you have to be so in tune and razor sharp and focused every single possession. You can’t have miscommunication, you can’t have flaws, you can’t have ‘my-faults’ or ‘my-bads’ or things like that, because they’re going to make you pay. When they make you pay, it’s a 3-0 or 6-0 or 9-0 run, and it comes in bunches. The room for error, you just can’t have it.”
The Warriors are fun to watch, but they have sucked the fun out of the NBA’s signature series. And they will continue to. Maybe Boston comes together next season, while James’ pending free agency could significantly alter the landscape. But this Warriors team is connected, in its prime, with stars seemingly more interested in winning than chasing every last dollar.
They will be favorites to win next season.
They will be favorites to win the season after that.
Can anyone topple them? For the sake of the Finals, the NBA has to hope so.
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