The sheer hopelessness for Cleveland has now come into clear focus. Down 0-2, the Cavaliers will now have to win 4 of the next 5 against a Golden State team that hasn’t lost yet in this post-season. A team that’s 29-1 over their last 30 games total.
And a team that has Kevin Durant now, too.
The quick rejoinder is that the same thing happened last year. Yes, it sure did. An 0-2 hole on the road, both big blowouts. But if ever there were a single truth in sports it would be this: “Last year ain’t this year.” It never is. Things always change. And in the case of Cleveland, things have changed toward the impossible.
What is also going to become accepted narrative once this year’s romp is over, is that last year’s Cavs title was essentially a fluke.
Yes, a “fluke.” Not underserving. Not merely “lucky” but rather a glitch of sorts.
It took the perfect combination of events down 3-1 to pull off that comeback. Most importantly, it took Golden State reverting to a BAD shot-taking chuck-n-chase team in the final minutes of Game 7. With the score tied at 89-89, Golden State basically panicked. Their offense stagnated into desperate heaves, and they found out that while Steph Curry might have been the 2-time league MVP, he’s not the kind of MVP that can pick up an entire team when the game is on the line, and carry them home.
So now you see what we all figured would be the case almost a year ago: a Warriors team PLUS Kevin Durant would be borderline unfair some people squealed last summer. They were right. Perhaps even without the word “borderline.”
So as we fans get ready for our own little internal “exit interview” for the state of this league, I think it’s worth asking what IS and what IS NOT a “problem” for Adam Silver’s league. Let’s begin.
SuperTeams: NOT a problem.
But, with a caveat. You need a good 3 or 4 of them (just two won’t do) and it also doesn’t work if there’s a SUPER-SuperTeam (like Golden State).
It’s one thing for Silver to say that teams just need to be smart, patient, and a little lucky. It’s another thing to ask fans to buy season tickets during that painful walk. In theory, the Sixers were doing it “right” until Sam Hinkie got fired. In theory, it’s worth waiting a year for the injured-before-he-got-started Ben Simmons gets up and running.
The Sixers have finished 14th, 15th, 14th and 14th in the East the last 4 years. Adam Silver didn’t buy a ticket for that pile of shit (plus parking, and concessions) for 41 nights a year.
I was pondering what my Wizards might look like against this Golden State team if they had snuck into the Finals, like a college kid at somebody else’s wedding? My god, it would have been ugly. Otto Porter is supposedly our “third-best” player, and a guy in line for (gulp) MAX money this summer. Welp, he shot 28% from three in the playoffs, and took a ZERO in points in 36 minutes of run…. in Game 6 vs. the Celtics!
And yet.. and yet… we were 1 game away from making the Eastern Conference Finals. “We’re close! No, we’re not. It’s hopeless.”
Already the league is moving to close down these ridiculous DNP-CD’s brought on by Coach Popp and the Spurs about 5 years ago. You just can’t sell tickets for the big name teams and big time stars to out-of-town crowds, and then say the guy is “tired.” Play less minutes per night if you have to, or park your DNP-CDs at home. Your choice. And then there’s the pervasive concern that players don’t really give full effort (or even close) on any given night. And James Harden’s despicable (non)performance in their Game 6 ouster to the Spurs should simply never, ever happen.
Money/TV Exposure: NO F***ING PROBLEM!
At least the NBA is awash in financial security thanks to the new TV deal, and on top of that it’s clear that partners like ESPN are putting considerable resources into promoting the product and not just writing the checks.
Star Power: NO PROBLEM
The NBA is a league of compelling characters, whose faces are clearly visible to the public (unlike the NFL). Moreover, unlike hockey or baseball, where every player’s basic motions, and moves look the same to all but the highly trained eye, basketball provides a wide range of athletic superheroes, all of them with very unique styles. Whether it’s the jitterbugging and rainbow splashing of players like Curry and Isiah Thomas, or the angular and explosive styles of Westbrook and Kawhai Leonard, the NBA is a fascinating league to watch from a pure athlete standpoint.
Style of Basketball: UNDECIDED
Make no mistake, I am as shocked as anyone about how fluid and jack-it-up these high stakes games are starting to look. The NBA is becoming a bomb-and-chase league, where there is literally NO concept of a “bad shot.” That said, the exciting by-product of this, is that more and more games are still not over despite 25 point leads. Also, do we really want to go back to the Jordan Era Finals, where the Jazz once WON a game, 77-74?
One-game suspensions, levied after the game via video reviews, is the only way this cancer can be contained. Nothing turns off fans more than horrible calls, based on pure fakery. You don’t just start to question the legitimacy of the games, you develop a real contempt for the floppers themselves.
And there’s a bunch of other issues the NBA is mostly immune from, that are bedeviling other leagues. Baseball still grapples with PED cheats. Football has to come to terms with concussions (which will never fully go away). And interestingly, the NBA hasn’t been beset by nearly as many high profile and ugly domestic violence cases as has the NFL.
Lastly, and this credit belongs fully to the new commish Adam Silver, the league is no longer deemed by many fans as being shamelessly rigged. The old boss David Stern, had turned the perception of the NBA into that of a streetside 3-card monte dealer. The big teams and big names were GOING to get into the finals. By hook, or by crook of Stern’s finger on the scale.
I don’t feel that way anymore under Silver. It’s an honest league, just one that is going to have to come to terms with a Warriors team, that might be in line to win 5 Championships in a row.