By Steve Lichtenstein
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We waited all season for this?
The 2016-17 NBA campaign was as predetermined as any in my lifetime, and that includes all those years when the Lakers and Celtics vied for title after title. At least the 76ers made the guys from Boston sweat most postseasons.
The Warriors and Cavaliers were destined for a repeat Finals showdown since pretty much last summer, when Golden State filched free agent forward Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City to add to its star-studded roster. The East? Whether you think LeBron James is the GOAT or a nod or two below, you must acknowledge that he hasn’t been challenged too often en route to seven straight Finals.
With this in mind, we accommodated a six-month sludge through a meaningless regular season, including an awful post-All-Star game stretch that was highlighted by good teams resting their top players and bad teams tanking.
We sat through three rounds of playoff routs, where injuries took the juice out of several series with competitive potential. Even the seven-game Celtics/Wizards Eastern Conference semifinals featured just one game decided by single digits, though another went to overtime.
All so we could enjoy Round 3 of Cavs versus Warriors, the rubber match between the league’s two titans. Everyone wanted to see James and his iso-ballers versus the Golden State machine.
Through two games, it has been like one of those early Mike Tyson fights. You know, the ones where the refs had no power to stop a bloody mess.
The Cavs dropped both games in similar fashion, hanging close for two-plus quarters before collapsing in the second half. The Warriors’ margins in their victories were by 22 and 19 points.
Despite James’ iron will and body, the Cavaliers are no match for the Warriors’ pace and athleticism. Golden State’s defense has been remarkable in the way it has closed out on Cleveland’s 3-point shooters, holding the league’s best long-range bombers (43.5 percent) through three playoff rounds (and No. 2 during the regular season at 38.4 percent) to just 19-for-60 (31.7 percent) from behind the arc in the Finals.
With all of the Warriors’ weapons, James can’t take breathers on defense. He looked gassed in the second half of both games due to Golden State’s frenetic pressure on both ends.
Some will undoubtedly say that Cleveland’s home cooking will cure the drama deficiency, that a few generous whistles in a partisan atmosphere will allow for the tide to turn Wednesday during Game 3. After all, the Cavs were in the same spot a year ago, and even went down 3-1, before they ran the table to take their first NBA championship.
But that might as well have occurred in a different dimension. This time around, it’s Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving who appears to be banged up, not his counterpart, reigning league MVP Stephen Curry. In addition, Warriors glue guy Draymond Green is not a technical foul away from garnering a one-game suspension, a scenario that cost Golden State during its potential close-out at home in Game 5 last year.
And Golden State now has Durant, a top dog and MVP candidate in any other city who has been willing to play within the Warriors’ team concepts. He has been thriving in the playoffs, a dominant force in every facet of the game, after an injury-shortened regular season.
I’m not going to argue that the one-sided nature of this postseason is “bad for basketball.” It’s certainly not for the business of basketball. Television ratings through the first two games of the Finals are slightly up from last season and fans across the nation adore the Warriors. I also agree with ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy’ s assessment during Game 2, that the high level of ballhandling, passing and shot-making exhibited in this series so far has been unparalleled.
Besides, the NBA has never been about team parity. It has been about superstars. Russell, Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Bird, MJ, Kobe, et al. And now we have the evolution into an era of superstars joining forces to form superteams. I guess we should feel lucky that we have one in each conference, even if the Warriors went beyond anything we’ve ever seen with their 14-0 run this postseason.
Sorry, but it still feels anticlimactic to me. Is it too much to ask for a close game on Wednesday?
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