The NBA 2017-18 season finally draws to a close, and it is much the same as last year, with the exception that the Warriors didn’t slip up but instead crushed the Cavaliers 4-0 to take their 3rd title in 4 years.
The Facts: They’re really incidental at this point, but for the record, the Warriors jumped out early on the Cavaliers. Cleveland didn’t look broken yet, but it was coming, already down nine after quarter 1. I think the real deciding point was in the 2nd quarter where LeBron James pushed his team to the briefest of leads, and it was at this point where the trajectory of the game might ...might...have changed.
When Stephen Curry dropped a deep three to close out the half and the lead pushed back to nine, it was all but over. Cleveland’s best quarter couldn’t even put a dent in things, and with the death quarter coming up, there was really no point in tuning into the rest.
James finished the game taking only 13 shots on the night despite 41 minutes of play. It was disclosed after the fact he may have been playing with a fractured hand after game 1. While I’m always dubious about players admitting injuries after the fact, the way James played after game 1’s 51 point explosion lends credence to the injury.
Meanwhile, Kevin Durant won his second Finals MVP in a row, finishing the game with a triple-double, and his effort was capped by a game 3 masterpiece. It’s difficult to say any of the Warriors played below their own personal standard. Curry had big moments that showed why he’s the most important player on the team. Draymond Green was directly responsible for JaVale McGee somehow shooting 80% for the series. Klay Thompson, after surviving an injury scare in game 1, was consistent throughout, keeping Cleveland’s defense guessing, and is probably my personal favorite Warrior at this point. Cleveland didn’t take anything away from what Golden State likes to do — because they couldn’t — and that more than anything else is the story behind the story of the 2018 Finals.
I’m sure we could all say we reached this same conclusion because it isn’t...ahem...rocket surgery — the last meaningful question of these playoffs was answered when Chris Paul announced he couldn’t go in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Which is not to say there were no additional interesting questions to be asked or answered, but as for meaningful questions — no, that was it. And that’s what leaves me with a mild bitter taste, because there wasn’t even enough there after game 1 to make the Finals interesting on any level.
In the context of the NBA itself, there are a few stray questions to be asked, but likely the only meaningful one is whether LeBron would consider joining the Rockets next season to pursue one last legitimate run at a ring. If he doesn’t go there, it is difficult to see a different outcome next year as well; heck, we predicted it before this season even began with regards to both the Rockets AND the Thunder. The thing is, I don’t even take any pride or satisfaction in watching Houston falter in the exact progression we predicted — a CP injury and then Harden evaporating before our eyes (you might even say Thunder fans knew it in 2012). The hardest thing to do in the NBA is to figure out how to 1) identify the weakness(es) that can kill you, and then 2) do something about it. The Warriors did it by acquiring Durant so that, when Curry gets banged up, they have a plan B. Houston almost figured it out with CP, but then learned that their plan B needs a plan B if they’re going to run it back next year.
In the context of the Thunder, there’s an interesting analogy at play for me. Two seasons ago I wrote this — one of the most satisfying and enduring legacies that Russell Westbrook will always have is his willingness to do two things concurrently: 1) To fight in the shade, to persevere without abandon despite the grim reality that it would never be enough to scale the mountain, and by doing so in the manner which he played, to 2) provide his detractors with all the ammunition they need to have semi-justifiable position to denigrate Westbrook’s efforts and accomplishments. (aside — this is one of the harsh realities of sport — Harden will win MVP this year, but so what? He failed when it mattered most, just like Westbrook did)
And so we have LeBron, who in similar way persevered against the Warriors, not just this year, but for the entirety of his stop (right?) in Cleveland. He demonstrated his unparalleled mastery over the game, elevated numerous spare parts to leading roles in the Finals, and if not for the Warriors dynasty, would maybe have bumped off Teddy on Mt. Rushmore. LeBron fought in the shade too, and that will be part of his greatness, right? Or...maybe an asterisks. If you quite reasonably take into account a bogus suspension by Draymond Green in 2016 and an all-time clutch shot by Ray Allen in 2013, James quite possibly be looking at a 6 Finals losing streak on teams that he largely had a hand in constructing, and in multiple locations.
Do we look at that as a bug or a feature of LeBron’s legacy? And would it be any different if it were Russell Westbrook?