Is the 2017 NBA Finals one of the most exciting Finals ever, or is it the most predictable and, by extension, one of the most boring ever? Does it even matter?
We know this is the most watched Finals in nearly two decades but has anybody genuinely enjoyed watching a championship blowout (save for Golden State fans and the Kick LeBron James While He’s Down Watch Party)?
Championships, legacies and player contracts are all being laid out tonight. This series will be career-altering for three future Hall of Famers and regular season MVP’s — which is crazy to think that it holds importance of such magnitude — but regardless of which side of the spectrum fans view the legacies of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and LeBron James, they cannot deny the fact that this series is one for the most unique, complex, talked about, game-changing (literally) Finals ever.
As Francis Underwood said, “History has a way of looking better than it was.” Nostalgia is the most fulfilling emptiness. A turbid approximation of your best days only to remind you that those days have long since departed. So while more than enough criticism has been dished out to each player and team, in time, history will age well for the Cavaliers and Warriors and for the three grand masters playing a historic series of blitz chess.
Kevin Durant and Steph Curry
If KD re-signs with Golden State, which he almost certainly will, then Durant, soon to be 29-years-old, and Curry, 29, are situated to have similar second-half careers. They would be the two placeholders of a Golden kingdom of an unprecedented state. With Klay Thompson under contract until 2019 and Draymond Green signed through 2020, a second championship in three years could mark the beginning of a dynasty the likes of which have never been seen.
It will be interesting, however, to wonder what the career arch and legacy of Curry will be. It begs the speculation that, because the league has never seen two stars of such grand magnitude share a team at the peak of their primes, will one of them end up taking a backseat that might, dare I say, lessen how great they could have been? As we have began to see through most of the playoffs and especially in the Finals, Durant is the more impactful player compared to Curry, despite having one MVP award compared to Curry’s two. We have seen throughout history that one star player inevitably needs to suppress their full potential for the better of the team. Granted, Curry has never been able to carry a team in the way Durant or LeBron James can, which can be attributed to his physical size, but watching the Curry of last year making 402 three pointers in a season may be a peak never to be repeated.
Much has been written on Curry — how he is one of the nicest players in the NBA; how he welcomed Durant with open arms; how we accepted toning down his play to allow Durant to get comfortable on the team; how he willingly bought into Steve Kerr’s motion offense. Curry is a nice guy who, understandable, seems to like winning more than personal glory, and nobody can blame him. If his sacrifices bring him two or three more championships then he will get the last laugh, but it still is interesting to ponder how long we could have seen Curry’s never-before-seen MVP form. How well would he have held his ground compared to the amazing seasons Russell Westbrook and James Harden just had?
As for Durant, if he does take control of the the Golden State mantle, his dominance of the league may have just begun. After all, there is no power like being the best player on the best team in the association. Career wise, if the Warriors follow through on their goals and become the dynasty they hope to be, this will be the best move of Durant’s career. His spot in Springfield, Massachusetts is already sealed. Potentially adding a few more rings to his resume will only solidify his claim as one of the most gifted players of all time.
Time heals all wounds. Scabs become scars that blend into the tone of our skin before we can even remember how they got there. The detailed intricacies of those marks become a story we accept with more and more grace as time passes because the pain they brought has long since subsided. So while there are a great number of people who do not respect the decision Durant made to leave Oklahoma City for the smooth breeze of the bay, it is second-nature for the human mind and body to heal. The critics will witness Durant collect his well-deserved championships and accolades, and that is how they will remember him — not for the player he was, but for the player he became. Breaking through the wall, Durant has learned, is a bloody endeavor.
And Still King
LeBron James will most likely lose another Finals. How unique a career he has lead to fail more than he has succeeded in the biggest stage of his profession, yet still be the best player on the court. James is averaging a triple double through four games, a feat that he will be the first and only to accomplish in the NBA Finals. James is posting 31.8 pts, 11.8 reb and 10.5 ast while shooting 54-39-70 respectively. “In the 166 minutes that James has been on the court in the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers have outscored the Warriors by 6. He’s the only Cavaliers player with a positive plus-minus. In the 26 minutes he’s been off the floor, the Cavaliers have been outscored by 31.” per a tweet from ESPN reporter Cassidy Hubbarth.
If you have watched these Finals, you would be puerile to place the cause of defeat on James. This is not an attempt to make an excuse for James. He is the best player in the NBA and this Finals has only reaffirmed so, and he does have a talented team with the help of two other All-Stars. But Golden State is simply the better team, and the better team should win. Those two points are not mutually exclusive; James can be the best player and not have the best team. The narrative should be that this is rightfully the Warriors championship, not James lacking the “clutchness” or “killer instinct” or the skill needed to win. The Cleveland Cavaliers cannot realistically ask for more from James; he has given them his all, playing 41.4 minutes per game, the most of any player this series.
This is a series that I never gave the Cavaliers a shot at winning so I write this with the assumption that Cleveland will lose, but James, individually, has not shrunk beneath himself. He is unequivocally the MVP of these Finals, regardless of what the status quo of “Finals MVP” has been set to. Durant will win Finals MVP because the Warriors will emerge victorious, and Finals MVP always goes to a player on the winning team, but the Warriors were a 73-9 team that had a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals before Durant. The Cavaliers without James would be a team that maybe make it to the second round of the playoffs, and without James in this series — I just laughed out of embarrassment thinking about how a LeBron-less Cavs would match up against the Warriors.
Kingdoms will eventually lose some battles even with their king leading the front, but without their king, they fall into destruction and chaos. They are a fraction of themselves; a facade their leader masked so well it takes this long to appreciate the burden he carried.
Dubs v. Cavs
Let’s be honest, this isn’t a REAL rivalry. A real rivalry has hatred and chaos and technical fouls and discrete elbows and fist being throw (and nut checking punches wait what) and coaches screaming and fans talking trash to players and getting kicked out of games and chaos. Beautiful, delightful chaos. That sounds a lot like game 4..
That’s because that was game 4. The refs were out of control, calling phantom calls that had even the most biased fans feeling a spark of suspicion, however well-received that suspicion was. But game 4 was only the second time we have experience that magnitude of hatred between these two teams, the other occasion being game 5 of last years NBA Finals: The Return of Dray (I just made that up right now. Nobody called that game “The Return of Dray”).
The lack of real rivalry between the Warriors and Cavaliers stems from a most organic ingredient of what nurtures a rivalry: the familiarity of the players on both sides. In 2015 Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were missing due to injury. 2016 was perfect because all the important players were present and playing their hearts out. 2017 had the potential to turn this battle into a rivalry until the Warriors signed Durant. That changed everything because the paradigm shift suddenly tilted too favorably to the Warriors; on top of the fact that the Cavs brought in several new role players, on top of the fact that both of these two teams are too nice to play hate ball or say mean things about each other. Draymond Green is the meanest person in these series and he is just ITCHING to go at it with somebody, but the Cavaliers are so cavalier that no player will scrap with Green on or off the court.
Sigh. If only we could morph Dahntay Jones’ attitude with Tristan Thompson’s skill set.
Next year, if we see these two team back in the Finals for four consecutive years, again the match ups and players might be too different to the point of unfamiliarity, more so from Cleveland’s roster. Rivalries are brewed from watching the same players and stars go at it over and over and over and over again, and as much as the NBA wants this to be the next Lakers v. Celtics rivalry, to mention the Warriors v Cavs in the same category is a tasteless insult to the two most storied franchises in NBA history.
A true rivalry has to be earned.