For the first time since 2017, the Golden State Warriors will meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
Should be a barn burner, as LeBron James does his Atlas routine, putting the entire team on his shoulders as he again heads into the series as a major underdog minus home court advantage. This will be the most consecutive finals matchups in the history of the “four major North American sports.”
Unfortunately, this is the least interesting of the four matchups. I certainly don’t think this Warriors team is better than last year’s squad, but if they’re worse, it’s not by much. Cleveland is a rag tag group of role players being pulled along by the greatest of all time, depending on who you ask.
For starters, the Warriors are putting up these marks through the postseason (17 games):
- 110 offensive rating
- 99.7 defensive rating
- 10.3 net rating
And here’s what the Cavs have done through 16 playoff games:
- 107.1 offensive rating
- 105.9 defensive rating
- 1.2 net rating
That’s a huge gulf in quality. Cleveland was one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA this season, especially in transition, where the Sixers just demolished them back in the spring. If Philly can roll up and down the floor with ease, who knows what Golden State will do. I’m stunned that Boston only scored 79 points in game seven, but I guess that’s the case when you shoot 29-85.
Take your pick of statistics beyond that snap shot. LeBron is playing 41.3 minutes per game in the playoffs. The Cavs are playing with the second lowest pace (93.85) while the Warriors have the 6th highest (99.66), so that will probably skew towards GSW and LeBron will be exhausted by game three. Personnel-wise, you’ve got Kevin Love coming back from concussion protocol, the only other Cav to average double-figures in the playoffs. Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry are all shooting better than 46% and averaging at least 20 points per game.
It’s incredibly lopsided, and the bookmakers see it.
The Warriors opened as -850 favorites and ballooned to -1200 before falling back:
— OddsShark (@OddsShark) May 29, 2018
LeBron hasn’t been this big of an underdog since the 2007 finals, when the Cavs were +360 against the Spurs. His starting teammates that season were Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. They were swept by Tim Duncan and company.
James has only been a favorite in two of nine finals appearances, the 2011 series against Dallas and the 2013 series against San Antonio. He won as an underdog against OKC back in 2012, a series he won.
Consider the last two series between these teams. The Cavs (with Kyrie) had to come back from 3-1 down in 2016 to win in seven. They lost 4-1 last year and needed a historic performance just to win a single game. Among the NBA records set in game four were 49 first quarter points, 86 first half points, 13 three pointers in the first half, and 24 threes overall. They needed all of that to win a game. Golden State came back and put up 129 at Oracle in game five to end the series.
Think about how one-sided that series was and consider the fact that GSW was only a -300 favorite last year. If you thought that was ugly, what happens this time around?
That’s why I think there’s a lot of fan fatigue heading into this series. People just aren’t excited. Warriors/Rockets was the NBA finals and the only thing we’re gonna get from this series is more useless arguing over whether LeBron or Jordan is the best ever.
Maybe more interesting is the idea that Houston winning probably would have helped the LeBron-to-Philly sweepstakes. If Chris Paul doesn’t injure his hamstring, the Rockets likely get it done in 6 or 7 and go on to win the title. Instead, they’re looking for that extra oomph to get over the hump, and maybe that comes in the form of LeBron James. Would he head west to try to dethrone Golden State? Who knows.
And I can’t help but laugh when I hear Sixers fans argue about Brett Brown, because how much coaching did Ty Lue, Mike D’Antoni, or Steve Kerr do in these conference finals? Not much. When you’ve got superstars on your squad, the best thing you can do is get the hell out of the way. I know anti-Brett Brown types would be flipping out if the Sixers missed 25-straight threes, but the Rockets have played that way all season long. They were going to live or die by the three and ended up with the latter. And for all of the praise heaped upon Brad Stevens, what do you want him to do when Terry Rozier goes 2-14 in game seven? Put in the backup backup point guard?
I can’t remember the quote verbatim, but it goes something like this: players win games, coaches lose games, and refs ruin games. That’s applicable to any sport and that’s generally how fans and media make their judgments.
Whether you’re tired of it or not, pinnacle GSW is what the Sixers are trying to replicate. They run, they pass, they chuck three pointers, and when they’re hitting (every third quarter this spring), it’s beautiful to watch. When they’re off, they’re really off. They had 16 turnovers last night and gave up a ton of offensive rebounds and still won by 9 on the road despite shooting 10 fewer shots than the Rockets. More than any in-game coaching, it’s about having four All-Stars on the floor who can make buckets. That’s the modern day NBA.
Like I said this season, if you want to criticize Brett Brown for trying to build a Warriors-styled team with a similar system, that’s fine. You see many similarities in the way the teams play. GSW doesn’t have a monstrous interior presence like Joel Embiid, but they value passing and assists and generally suffer the same deficiencies. Adding a max free agent gets the Sixers closer to being Warriors 2.0, which may or may not be folly.
I think we all knew that Golden State or Houston would inevitably be here, going all the way back to preseason predictions. It doesn’t diminish anything that the Warriors have accomplished over the years, but it is getting a bit stale.