Since these two superteams are meeting in the Finals for a third straight year, I think the best place to start with this rambling post is to revisit last year’s Finals, which was something I was reluctant to do for a long, long time.
Last year, as you know (if you’re reading this), the Cavs improbably came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the title in Oracle Arena. As a long-time Oakland sports fan, I’m no stranger to crushing losses. The 2002 Super Bowl (a.k.a. the Tijuana Bowl) immediately comes to mind, but it wasn’t nearly as devastating as last year’s loss. Part of me is embarrassed to share this because I know, in the end, sports is just sports, but I had a horrific night of non-sleep after our Game 7 loss last year. I probably slept three hours, tops; I awoke a few times and stared off in the dark and couldn’t go back to sleep because I couldn’t stop from thinking of every single goddamn thing that had to go wrong in order for the Warriors to collapse like they did at the end of that series: Curry slipping on a wet spot in Houston in the opening round and injuring his knee; Draymond’s accidental (I think) kick to Steven Adams royal jewels in the Western Conference Finals, which was basically the equivalent of a yellow card, contributing to his subsequent suspension in the pivotal Game 5 of the Finals; our epic, grueling seven-game series against the Oklahoma City Thunder; Bogut’s injury in the 4th quarter of Game 5 in the Finals; and the Warriors season-long chase for the regular season record for wins, a grind which finally caught up to the Warriors at the end of the Finals. That sleepless night, after seeing Kyrie Irving hit a dagger three-pointer in the closing minutes I couldn’t help but think that if even one of those acts had not happened we would have won a second straight title. The day after Game 7, like one of our then-summer interns—a born-and-bred Cleveland Cavaliers fan—I was still in disbelief that the Cavs actually fucking won (let alone beat us three times in a row).
A few weeks ago, I finally mustered the will to watch the replay of Kyrie’s game-winning shot over Steph Curry in Game 7.
Now I can’t fucking wait until tip-off tomorrow.
Like I wrote in my 2016-2017 NBA Playoff Opening Round Predictions, I feel like this entire season has been geared up to be the Warriors’ equivalent of the Spurs 2014 Vengeance Title (as Ringer columnist, Shea Serrano, puts it)—and if there’s one story plotline I have a debilitating weakness for, it’s sweet revenge.
This entire season, just like last year, I’ve been chirping the same line, and that is: the only way the Warriors don’t win this year’s championship is if one of their major players gets injured. Last year, I humbly believe I turned out to be correct in saying that. If you watch Steph Curry’s highlights in the 2015 NBA Finals and compare it to his play in last year’s Finals, it’s evident that he was playing injured. He was not close to 100% healthy. Curry didn’t have his usual burst, quickness, and his lateral movement was clearly compromised. See his last possession in Game 7 of the Finals against all-world defender Kevin Love, then compare that to this possession against Rudy Gobert a few weeks ago:
I know I’m a biased hometown fan, but I think Curry’s injury alone ultimately tipped the series in Cleveland’s favor. And then there was Bogut’s injury at the end of Game 5—a game we were going to lose just like the Warriors were going to lose Game 1 of this year’s Western Conference Finals before Kawhi Leonard went down. (For what it’s worth, Kawhi would get my MVP vote just ahead of LeBron.) Bogut wasn’t one of our top three players, but it was a significant loss. In my heart, I don’t think there’s any way we lose Game 7 at home with our two best frontcourt defenders playing. (Bogues was also an excellent screener.) At the very least, having Bogut in the line-up would have meant we sure as fuck wouldn’t have seen Kerr give Festus Ezeli and Anderson fucking Varejao a combined 20 minutes in the most crucial game of the season. So for me, it’s very simple—the last two championship-winning teams were the ones who happened to be the healthiest at the end. (For the record, I personally believe the 2015 Golden State Warriors would have still beaten the Cavs if Love and Irving weren’t injured, but there’s no way to prove that.)
This year, since both teams march into the Finals with beaucoup rest and excellent health, I don’t think the Cavs stand a chance. Both teams are offensive powerhouses with their own contrasting styles of play, but in the end, the Warriors are also a defensive juggernaut—and the Cavs are not. Simple as that. The Warriors have a handful of excellent two-way players while the Cavs only elite two-way player is LeBron James, the Shaquille O’Neal of all-time NBA small forwards. (The Cavs do also have Tristan Thompson, who I like to call “Fetch” because he gets paid $82 million to chase other men’s balls; he’s an above-average defender who can also be a significant offensive contributor by getting offensive rebounds and cutting to the basket for alley oops.) Kyrie and LeBron can be match-up problems for the Dubs, but how can the Cavs stop a healthy Steph? Or KD? And if Klay gets going—and he will, at some point in this series—who on the Cavs can stop him? Old Man Jefferson!? Or Iman Shumpert (who will be best remembered by NBA fans for his hairstyles instead of his actual play)?
Historically, LeBron’s best offensive supporting cast have been a fleet of shooters spaced around the perimeter. But the 2016-2017 Cavs roster is replete with offensive players with shitty defensive chops: Kyle Korver, Channing Frye (who’s singular talent in the NBA, despite his height, athleticism and incredible wingspan, is knocking down wide-open three-pointers), Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Against a smart, veteran, hyper-focused and super-talented team like the Warriors, having one of these chumps on the court is going to be like dropping blood in a tank full of piranhas. Having two of these lackluster defenders on the floor is going to be murder unless the Warriors have an off night when their shots just aren’t dropping—and those nights do sometimes happen. But it won’t happen 4 out of 7 games. I’d bet my left testicle on that.
Even with the Cavs trapping him with two defenders to hide Kyrie’s shabby defensive ability (especially on pick & rolls), I think Steph is going to have a big series. Since last year’s improbable loss, when he chose to not offer excuses on his Finals performance and tell the media just how banged up he was, he’s been focused on this moment, and I think he’s bent on playing within himself and making the Cavs pay. Remember that pissed-off face he made in a postgame interview after Game 3 of the 2015 Finals when reporters were insinuating that Delly was outplaying him? Don’t let his peach-fuzz beard and his kind and humble manners fool you—he’s a baby-faced fucking killer, and I think he’s going to be particularly amped to try to outduel Kyrie this year now that he’s not hobbled. KD’s going to be absolutely solid, just like he was in his first and only Finals appearance when he shot 55% from the field. Draymond’s going to keep his hands to himself. He is going to neutralize LeBron whenever he’s man (and stupid) enough to go against him one-on-one, and Iggy is also looking to redeem his play from last year’s Finals. And don’t forget our big men—David West has been playing a loooonnnnng time in search of his first ring, and I think his passing is going to slice up Cleveland’s interior defense when he comes off the bench, and I can’t wait to see our guys toss the ball in the general direction of the hoop for JaVale McGee to swoop up and dunk all over Cleveland’s front court. On offense, we have too many weapons for Cleveland to stop, and we have more remedies on the defensive end to slow down their attack. (It’s worth noting that Cleveland only cracked the century mark three times in the 2015-2016 NBA Finals. Overall, our defense—even without Draymond for a game, minus Bogut for two games, and a physically-compromised Steph—did enough for us to win. Our offensive execution is what failed us in the last three games, especially Game 7.) Last year, I think the Warriors—and their fans—underestimated the Cavs. Frankly, our team was a bit too cocky. Hubris contributed to our fall. But they’ve been humbled. After closely following this team for the past five seasons, I don’t think they’ll repeat that mistake again.
Out of begrudging respect for LeQueen and Kyrie—who is a clutch motherfucking baller—I think they’ll win a game. But otherwise, in the end, I expect and anticipate complete and merciless domination by the Warriors.
And since LeQueen fucking hates Steph and the Warriors so much, I want nothing more than the Warriors to be like Arnie in The Terminator when he socks and rips out a punk’s heart from his chest.
No mercy, Dubs. No fucking mercy.
Warriors in 5
- LeBron’s record streak of winning a road game in 29 consecutive playoff series will be snapped.
- JaVale McGee or Patrick McCaw will be the Warriors’ surprising X-factors.
- Kevin Durant will be the Finals MVP.
- This Halloween, LeQueen will not have his guests step over a Steph Curry dummy to enter his mansion.