Sports analysts and media personalities will try to tell the public the NBA Finals turned into Golden State’s favor during the fourth quarter of Game 3. Despite Warriors Head Coach Stever Kerr giving credit of the idea for a small ball line up to his video assistant, it really turned with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter of Game 1.
LeBron James, with all the stats and storylines he added to the Finals, decided to shoot a fadeaway from beyond the arc. A poor shot choice for “the best player on the planet”. Instead of using his size and skill advantage to drive to the rack and either draw a foul or high-percentage look. This one choice led to overtime, the overexertion and breaking of Kyrie Irving’s knee, and eventually a Game 1 loss. Series MVP Andre Iguodala deserves credit for playing great defense and, forcing James into a tough shot. However, James’ size, strength, and skill advantage should have dictated the flow on that play like he did all series long.
Golden State used a combination of small ball, timely shooting, defense, and depth to win their first NBA title in 40 years. They were the best team in the league from start to finish. Losing only 15 total games, and just five at home. Iguodala converted to first man off the bench in the beginning of the year to give Kerr added flexibility. This approach allowed Golden State, a perennial playoff underachiever to take its next step. They got much needed maturity and improvement from their young core of players. The infusion of Kerr allowed the Warriors to play loose and added a savvy leader with Finals experience to their ranks.
Three games into this final this series was a coronation of James’ true greatness. He willed this rag tag bunch of NBA misfits to a 2-1 series lead. Averaging over 40 points 11 rebounds and just over eight assists, James was showing why he was the league’s best player. By the end of the series, James looked overworked and tired even as he posted 32 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists in Game 6.
Statistics aside, James willed the Cleveland team into what most thought was an improbable six games. In the end, Golden State was just too good of a team for one man and a 7-foot Russian to beat. Center Timofey Mosgov gave James all he had, and improved his player stock greatly with his Finals performance.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, all player storylines reverted back to their season average. Matthew Dellavedova returned to the undrafted Aussie who was overlooked in the draft. Despite playing gritty, all-in basketball, Stephen Curry proved to be too much. Curry, after being shut down in Game 2 and and three quarters of Game 3 returned to his MVP form. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert proved to be useful role players, but incapable of playing starter’s minutes. Iguodala sacrificed his starting role only to become a starter in Game 4. His sacrifice paid off with a Finals MVP. His defense and timely shooting proved to be a huge tipping point in favor of Golden State.
This NBA Finals turned into an interesting series even with the depletion of the Cleveland starting 5 and old bench. It featured the league MVP and the league’s best player, two rookie head coaches, great defense and the two best teams. It had a great individual performance pitted against a great team performance with the better team prevailing in the end. Former Warriors head coach Mark Jackson was left to commentate his old team taking the next step without him. It featured a savvy veteran winning a surprising MVP award (How Curry didn’t receive a single vote still baffles me). The series concluded with one team’s title drought ending, and another’s search for its first title delayed for another year.
Overall, this series was an entertaining one. Cleveland just ran out of gas against a superior team. Golden State has the making of a yearly Finals contender. James is left thinking, “what if” with a 2 -4 Finals record. He can hang his hat knowing that he gave his all, and showed the world why he is the League’s best player. Warranting the comparisons to Michael Jordan as the best ever. Each team goes into the offseason with work to do.
Golden State with dreams of repeating, and all of Cleveland with dreams of a long awaited championship.