June 25, 2016, 2:38 pm
Before we get into it, I’m going to leave the same disclaimer as last week. If there’s anything you want to read about, leave a comment, tweet at me @Mike_Pandador or us @HoopBallTweets, hashtag #OneBigThing and I’ll get to it. I promise I will. I won’t let you down.
So anyway, I was wrong.
To be honest with you, I was getting a little tired of writing about this matchup. I was upset that the Cavs pulled off a Game 6 victory not only for the sake of my ill-fated ‘Warriors in 6’ call but also because I just wasn’t sure how much was left to say. I thought I would just be relieved when the Finals had ended, but again, I was wrong.
Game 7 was an absolute delight. It’s hard to put into words, which sucks for someone who’s trying to write about it, but it was one of the most fun games I’ve ever been able to watch. There are just some moments where you put your feet up and think, ‘man, this is great.’ The kind that make you wish these two teams could just keep playing forever. Last Sunday’s game was constantly great. Constantly thrilling, gripping with tremendous ebb and flow.
With every punch came a counter. The entire game was Cleveland throwing hands at Golden States’ pursuit of history as well as picking at that little voice in your head that promised the Warriors wouldn’t lose at home; that LeBron James and company were merely delaying the inevitable.
Even when it felt like Cleveland’s victory was a very real possibility, surely there was a Golden State surge on the horizon. At 89-89, Cleveland had hung in much longer than most had expected. This is Oracle and surely the Warriors will score more points in the final 280 seconds of action.
Not three in a row. Not here. Not like this. Until suddenly, it was three in a row and it was there and it was just like that. Cleveland’s victory was a reality.
Now, I don’t normally do this, but I’m about to pull back the curtain. Here’s a look at the original draft of this column, written in the early hours of Monday morning:
1,500 words of that.
There’s little left to be said about LeBron James’ sheer brilliance. His performances are transcendent; he’s capable of things that most other humans on the planet can barely dream of doing.
If you were stubborn enough to keep LeBron out of Michael Jordan’s class before, you have no ground to stand on now. We’re seeing a once in a lifetime talent excel at his craft, and the lengths to which some will go to deny his greatness is astounding. It’s rare to see a boy touted as a phenom, and rarer still to see him grow into the spotlight, weighed down by expectations since middle school. Not only has LeBron James met those expectations, he’s skyrocketed past them.
LeBron James is not what we hoped for. He’s better.
Beyond the thrill of watching excellence incarnate, I’m also pretty happy for Kevin Love. In life, there are a lot of situations that just aren’t for you. I mean the royal you (pretend it exists), so don’t be offended. Everyone has a few things that they’re really good at but there just happen to be a lot more that they suck at. It happens.
Kevin Love was never going to blow the doors off in this matchup, and that’s fine. He didn’t become a garbage player overnight; he just didn’t fit. It was a constant cycle of Kevin Love’s deficiencies being put on blast and while some of the criticism is valid, I’m still happy to see someone take things in good spirits and come out on top. He had a really good Game 7 where he played to his strengths and made his presence known. With the Cavs leaving Oracle as champions, it seems like a lot of the trade winds have stopped blowing. Even if he isn’t the perfect fit, he was a big part of the team’s success. For now, there’s no more ‘they should trade Love’ or ‘he’s not gonna work in today’s NBA’ kind of talk.
Good for him. I hope he gets tan lines from carrying those wrestling belts all summer.
As for Golden State, there’s definitely some things to sift through. That’s not to take away from a truly fabulous year, but there’s no doubt that they’re disappointed. They should be. They had this one.
There was a point in Game 7, like I mentioned above, where the mood shifted and everyone fully braced for Cleveland’s win. While the Warriors could and should be vilified for going scoreless in the final 4:40 of the biggest game of the year, the seeds of defeat had been sown all series long.
Golden State, for whatever reason, seemed hypnotized by the allure of its bigger players. When Andrew Bogut went down the Warriors chose to thrust Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao into big moments rather than go small. Harrison Barnes’ struggles and Andre Iguodala’s ailments didn’t help the case for going small, but they certainly didn’t hurt as much as Varejao’s presence on the floor.
I’ve been pretty outspoken about my anti-Varejao stance, but his Game 7 stats are brutal. 8:29, 1 point, 0 rebounds and -9. Ezeli was also a -9, albeit in 10:45 and with some unfortunate bounces on good looks early in the game. While it’s admirable that Steve Kerr refused to concede the glass, the rebounding battle was never one that they could win.
If performances earlier in the series weren’t enough to concern Golden State’s decision makers, Game 7 served as their reckoning.
Coming into the series it didn’t look like the Cavs had any personnel mismatches that would allow them to dictate the terms of engagement. The Warriors erred by trying to counter Tristan Thompson and played right into Cleveland’s hands.
Beyond that, the Warriors were sloppy and disorganized, throwing bad passes and working their way to silly shots. For the first time in a long time, loose and fun didn’t work. The Warriors looked vulnerable. They looked human.
They looked like runners up.
As a jaded Raptors fan, I admit that I was thrilled with the early returns of the Finals. As Cleveland found a way to extend the series, I couldn’t help but fall for the idea of the Cavs pulling it off. For LeBron. For the story. For Cleveland.
As nice as it was to have the city of Cleveland at the bottom of the totem pole, there’s something immensely satisfying about seeing people celebrate so hard after waiting for so long. Everyone deserves one, and northeast Ohio got theirs.
When the last bits of confetti fell, the last Witnesses testified and when JR Smith finally found a shirt, the Warriors and Cavs joined the other 28 teams and looked to the future.