2016 NBA Finals Aftermath
We all knew that heading into game 7 that history would be made one way or another. But now that the dust has settled, what does the result mean for all those involved? There’s a lot to get through so let’s start at the top.
Throughout the entire regular season and even in the first 2 games of this series, people felt that LeBron had lost a step. It’s easy to be a prisoner of the moment, but honestly, the criticism was right; James was not playing up to his standard. The funny thing is during his career, he has been known as a guy who has posted insane numbers in the regular season before dropping off in the NBA Finals, but this season was the complete opposite as he took this series by the scruff of the neck after game 3 and never looked back. The numbers of 29.7 PPG (49% FG, 40% 3PT), 11.3 RPG, 8.9 APG, 2.6 SPG, and 2.3 BPG for the Finals are crazy as it is, but they don’t even begin to tell the story. After the Cavs fell down 3-1, James put up 36.3 PPG (51% FG, 42% 3PT), 11.7 RPG, 9.7 APG, 3 SPG, 3 BPG. WHAT!! Re-read those numbers, and put it into perspective that this came against a Golden State team that had defeated the Cavs 9 out of the previous 12 games (including 4-2 in the Finals the year before).
So that’s what he did, but what does that do for his legacy?
Honestly, everything. We finally saw what LeBron is capable of at his very best. In my opinion, he moved past Bird as the greatest Small Forward of all time (and that’s not a claim that I take lightly). He also entered the must-include list of top 5 players of all time, which quite honestly, is only him and Jordan. You can have LeBron at anywhere from 2 to 5 now.
Is this an overreaction?
No. Absolutely not. What James did was historic in the past 3 games, and is substantiated by his career.
So is he there with Jordan?
No. Just as his career substantiates what he did before, we also have to take into account the bad when comparing him to Jordan (or any other great, for that matter), and some of those inexplicable losses knock him down for now. Jordan delivered a standard that no one has approached (yet). If you thought LeBron’s back to back 40+ point games were impressive, consider this: MJ averaged 41 PPG (51% FG, 40% 3PT) against the Suns in the 93 Finals. In that series, he also poured in 8.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 0.7 BPG. Admittedly, those supporting numbers aren’t as good as LeBron’s, but averaging 41 PPG in the NBA finals is just ridiculous. Also, James leading both teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks, and steals is brilliant for a series, Jordan led the Bulls in the 97 playoffs in all of those categories. You can make the argument for LeBron vs anyone right now, with the exception of Jordan. That could change with time though as LeBron is only 31.
I guess they knew what they were doing all along. Tyronne Lue did a brilliant job, and not just as a motivator. He saw the OKC blueprint of attacking Curry, and ran with it. We all knew Curry’s defence was no-where near his offensive game, but we had no idea how big of a liability he was. He used screens at every possibility to get the match-up that he wanted, and Golden State had no counter. Defensively, the Cavs aren’t getting the credit they deserve. Sure, the Splash Brothers crashed and burned, but has anyone actually stopped and asked why? It’s not as if they deliberately sabotaged their own season. It was the Cavs’ physical defence and ability for everyone (including their bigs) to switch on the perimeter that wore down the Warriors. The Cavs need to lock in Lue for a big contract, he’s a great coach.
Golden State Warriors
Where do we even start here? How do we even start? 73-9, down 3-1 to OKC before surviving by the skin of their teeth, to being up 3-1 and losing two games at home to drop three straight and the series. Unbelievable, honestly. And now they become a tragic example rather than the standard of excellence. Teams will always be judged by playoff success before anything else. And forget the 73 wins, just the mere fact they were up 3-1 and were beating the Cavs by an AVERAGE of 27 points, but still managed to lose that series is just head scratching. People will compare this to the Patriots in 07, but the only similarity is the regular season dominance. What happened in the Finals is more similar to the Yankees/ Red Sox in 03, when the Yankees held a 3-0 lead and lost 4 straight. I had said multiple times during the playoffs that this Warriors team was a “live by the 3, die by the 3” team. I want to amend that, though. If you can take that 3 point shot away, they’re screwed. This isn’t simply about if they’re on, they’re unbeatable. It’s if you have the defenders to switch on the perimeter, you will make them very beatable. They’re not a great team. It’s that simple. They are too one dimensional, and great teams do not drop a 3-1 lead (especially with 2 home games, and you’ve beaten that team 3 out of 4 games by 25, 33, and 21 points).
It’s unacceptable, and I think they know it. There has been a precedent recently of a team coming back from heartbreak in the Finals. In 2013, the Spurs lost in a much more brutal fashion after 2 offensive rebounds by Chris Bosh and one of the most iconic 3’s in league history by Ray Allen. The Spurs lost that game in overtime, and then game 7. The next season, however, the Spurs got their revenge by beating the Heat by a record margin. But that is the Spurs, one of the most disciplined franchises we’ve ever seen. Who honestly knows how this Warriors team will respond. It’s entirely possible that they implode. If that is the case, what do we make of them? A one hit wonder who lucked out in the playoffs where every team they played had their starting point guard injured? It’s a fair question.
The backlash has already begun on him. All great players have gone through it, from Magic to Jordan to Shaq to Kobe to LeBron to Durant. Even some of the greatest winners of all time cop it for being on a good team (Bill Russell and Kareem, for example). People might confuse this criticism with hate, but it’s not. There’s plenty of legitimacy to what is being said. Curry was an absolute liability on the defensive end, and was wildly inconsistent on offense. Everyone will point to his underachieving in game 7 as a choke, but game 5 was even more unforgiveable. With Klay Thompson firing and dropping 37 points, Curry was outscored by 16 points by Irving (41 to 25) and looked completely rattled. You don’t expect that from a top tier player in the NBA, let alone the first ever unanimous MVP. How he responds will be what his legacy is built on.
As heroic as LeBron was, it would have been for nought if Kyrie Irving didn’t dominate the way he did. 27 PPG (47% FG, 41% 3PT), 4 RPG, 4 APG, 2 SPG. More importantly, it was his defence on Curry that slowed him down along with him torching the MVP. The Warriors tried to switch, but Lue found a way to get the match-up of Curry isolated on Irving more often than not, and Irving made him pay. This often led to Curry becoming frustrated and forcing up horrendous shots that led to more easy baskets for the Cavs in transition. As great as LeBron was, he couldn’t do everything. It was Irving who was their first option in the half court, and it was Irving who hit the championship winning 3. This guy will be a hall of famer when it’s all said and done.
You knew this was coming. The league is under such a huge microscope now because of their continued shenanigans despite fans becoming more and more aware of their motivations. Everyone knows that the upgrading of the Draymond foul from a non-foul to a fucking flagrant foul to get him suspended was an obvious move by the league to extend the series. Everyone knows that, and in a dream world, it’ll lead to one of two things. Either the NBA admits they do manipulate calls/ decisions to extend the series like the WWE does, or they’ll try to magically eradicate the issue. The former won’t happen, because it’s admitting to fraud. But I don’t think they can go with the former either because too many fans are aware of the B.S. This is like steroids in baseball, and it’s possible that congress will have to get involved before we see any serious change. In order for congress to be involved, it’ll take a few more insiders to publicly speak out. It’s unbelievable for such a rich league like the NBA, that greed is undermining its integrity.
This was a pretty boring Finals. Every game was a blow-out until game 7. But the ramifications of this series were massive, and we’re just starting to see the ramifications now.