The NBA Finals. The most inconsistent championship in all of sportsdom if you're a sports fan. One year it's the most exciting thing you can watch, the next you have no clue when it's even on because you could not possibly care less about who's playing let alone winning. It doesn't have the fanfare or pageantry of the Super Bowl, a game which can outright suck but can still entertain with all of the extra bells and whistles (commercials, halftime show, puppy bowl, booming prostitution industries for the city hosting the game that year, etc.). It's not the World Series which we all know is going to be pretty boring but it's baseball so we're okay with it. It's not the Stanley Cup Finals that will only be watched by the fans of the teams playing. The NBA Finals is the weird one in the bunch where we expect it to be exciting and interesting, and if it's not it doesn't have the luxury of a distracting exterior. You watch that shit for the games and if they suck, well that sucks. Fortunately, this doesn't feel like one of those years where we're going to have to worry about that. Apparently we were good little boys and girls this year in the eyes of the basketball gods, leading them to grant us our ultimate finals matchup in "Steph vs. Lebron II: This Time We're All Healthy". We're gonna go over why this series has all of the (obvious) makings to be a good/great/all-time one, and take a look at tonight's game one match up. Probably lay down a prediction and bet, should you be so bold as to follow my usually solid (read: garbage can) advice. So let's get to it.
If you actually like Lebron then raise your hand... Okay, you three, stop reading and go sit in the corner and put this diaper filled with shit and asbestos on your head. The rest of you normals, this is kind of a scary series, right? This guy, who has become easily one of the most insufferable athletes in the history of athleticism, may have walked in to the perfect setup to win a championship against one of the greatest teams of all time, thereby giving him a huge notch on the "best player ever" belt. This Warriors team just had to BATTLE against OKC to stave off elimination 3 TIMES on their way to these finals, whereas Bron Bron and Co. had themselves a relatively quiet trot to the finals, save two weirdo letdown games in Toronto. We've got a fully healthy Kevin Love playing like he's actually remembered he's good, we've got a healthy Kyrie who's capable of winning games single handedly if he's on fire, and of course a "driven", "blessed", "focused", "zero dark thirty 23" (look it up, it's the dumbest thing ever) Lebron ready to prove he's the best player in the world still. It's all set up perfectly for a pseudo "upset" that would be terrible to watch. Made even worse by that fact that, as much as you may hate the man, he's fucking right: he is the best in the world...
I love Steph as much as the next guy. I am definitely not on the "okay he's starting to get a little insufferable, too" train because to me it's a matter of how they both put themselves out there. Lebron just can't stop being the douche who seems so concerned with his public image while telling us all the time how little he cares about his public image, making it exponentially more annoying. Steph on the other hand genuinely seems not to worry about it as much. His attitude comes off as so much more naturally laid back, as opposed to the guy who keeps telling you how chill he is. But while I may like Steph a lot more, and may wish that he has officially supplanted Lebron as the best player in the league today, I would be remiss to say that he has in fact done so. Cus truth is Bron Bron still got it.
Yes, Steph is the greatest shooter in the history of basketball, yes his ability to take over games late is one of the most exciting things you'll ever watch, but he can't impact a game from start to finish the way Lebron can. Those blowout losses to OKC last series? Once the games started running away, there was nothing Steph could do to stop the train. His shooting couldn't get them out of a 30 point hole. While you can't say Lebron's could either, you can easily say that Lebron would've had much more input on the defensive/rebounding/pacing side of things that would've helped prevent that 30 point hole from ever being dug. That's the main difference, Lebron's ridiculous size and athleticism allows him to contribute all over the floor and at every position, whereas Steph's main contribution will be resigned to filling up the score card. Is that incredibly important and if he goes out and drops 30-40 a game will the Warriors have a very high chance of winning? Absolutely. But if Lebron can match that scoring output and also average a triple double just by playing his all around game, well then look out Cleveland. You may have to deal with actually winning for once in your life.
A month ago this wouldn't have been a category worthy of much discussion. The Warriors, with a record setting 73 win season, would have clearly been considered the better team, and while they most likely still are, this healthy and hungry looking Cavs squad is no damn slouch. The aforementioned Kevin Love 2.0 is playing the way we all thought he would when he first came to Cleveland, Tristan Thompson has solidified himself as a true banger down low, Delly and the rest of the bench/role players are playing their parts in the selfless way you need to in order to be a championship team, and while Kyrie is still prone to the "uh what the fuck" turnovers and mistakes, he's cut them down severely these playoffs and has had a hand full of games that make you say "shit, if he plays like that and Lebron just shows up, how do you beat this team?" Bottom line is that this Cavs team is just that, an actual team. Lebron has made it to the finals with plenty of squads that he's dragging to the finish line, whether it be due to injury or just overall lack of talent, but this is one of those years where that sure as shit ain't the case. This Cavs team is talented and willing to play the way they need to to win.
But so are the Warriors. Hey, did you hear they set the record for wins this season? Oh I mentioned that already? Good, just making sure. Not enough people seem to talk about that. Anyway, this team is really really good. It's actually kind of disgusting when you look at their bench. The amount of times this season that I've said the sentence "holy shit that guy's on their team?! I always forget that" is absurd. Let's list the names in a rough order of importance: Curry, Thompson, Green, Barnes, Bogut, Igoudala, Livingston, Ezeli, Speights, Barbosa, Varejao. That's 11 players that could star or start on virtually every other team in this league. That's fuckin crazy, and the craziest part is that they're all happy! They all like their roles, however big or small they may be. To get 11 players with legitimate NBA talent on one team and not have them killing each other for more PT is an accomplishment in it's own right, and speaks so much to the job that Steve Kerr has done with this squad over the last couple of seasons (we'll get more in to the coaches next). The awful "team first mentality" cliche is usually insufferable because it's hard to not seem like a bullshit thing when guys are making tens of millions of dollars, but you can't argue that the Warriors have actually cultivated a genuine team first approach, and it's paid dividends. Oh and P.S., Klay Fucking Thompson!? The guy who single-handedly won them the last series? The other bonafide superstar on this team who gets overlooked way too often. Yeah he's here too, and ready to keep reminding people that he's really fucking good. Between him and Steph, the offensive output is always projected to be a non-issue, and if the Warriors as a whole can do a better job this series than they did against OKC of sticking to their usually great team D, I think they can thwart this troubling "upset in the making". But to do that against a rested Cavs squad that's clicking at the perfect time is a tall ask. Impossible ask for this team? Obviously no, but difficult? Fuck yeah, which is why this series should be awesome.
Stevie The TV Kerr
That will catch on. This guy is the shit. If you listen to him talk, watch his sideline demeanor, and just take in his surfer bro-ey look, there's no way you wouldn't want to play for that guy. He's smart, a great communicator, and a tough dude. Not only does he have a great gameplan for his team to follow on the reg, he has the charisma to make these millionaires actually want to do it night in and night out. There's no question that when it comes to which team has the coaching advantage, it's Golden State. One, for all of the reasons I mentioned above and then some in regards to his obvious coaching talents, and two, because...
Tyronn Lue/Lebron James/Okay, let's be real, mostly just Lebron James
The Cavs don't have a fucking coach. Or they do, but he wears number 23 and plays all 5 positions whenever he wants to. I'm sure Tyronn Lue (aka the guy who Iverson made his bitch and turned in to one of the greatest sports gifs of all time**) is a good dude and maybe even a good coach, but don't try to tell me for a second that his coaching has had any affect on the way this team has played since he took over for David Blatt (R.I.P.). That's the only reason he's there, yo. Cus Bron Bron couldn't stand having a guy who actually wanted to act like a coach in Blatt, so he got him sent back to Europe and had the guy who's entire career has been founded upon being walked over (literally) in Lue put in place.
So, sorry Tyronn, but you're not really a factor in these finals. Coach James, however, is. As much as their real coach may be insignificant, notice that I never said the Cavs coaching situation was a bad one. It's a funny one, because trying to act like Bron Bron isn't running the show 24/7 is absurd in an entertaining way, but it's not necessarily all that bad, in my eyes, that Zero Dark 30 23 is the real man at the helm. The guy sees the floor better than almost anyone in the league, and his knowledge of how every position should work gives him an understanding of the game that I'm sure is lightyears beyond most players'. And we know he's not an overly selfish player, almost detrimentally so. Watching him pass up game winning shot attempts for a smart pass was like one of the most infuriating things about Lebron when he was coming up, and that speaks to his overall desire to make the right decision for the team and not for himself. It feels almost contrived a lot, which is why it's not necessarily a trait that I'm lauding him for, but at the same time if you're telling me this guy, with absurd talent and a vast understanding of the game, is the playing coach of the Cavs this series, I'm gonna go ahead and say that that's not the worst thing in the world for them. He may not be Steve Kerr, but he's fuckin smart and, unlike Kerr, can actually take the game in to his own hands if his coaching doesn't seem to be working out the way he'd planned.
Game 1 (Betting Line: Golden State -6):
Tonight's game is in Golden State and the Warriors are coming off of a big time game 7 comeback win. If they can ride that emotion in to this game, then they shouldn't have too hard of a time taking this first game. But I'm not going to lie, that -6 line is super weird to me. I expected it to be -7, and while that doesn't seem like a huge deal (it's just a fucking point, after all), to me, -7 says Vegas could see a blowout home win, while -6 says they think this could be a fucking nail-biter throughout. I know I may be making a leap with that and I honestly have no math to back that up (research for blogs? Puh, I say), but I'm going on gut here, and that line at -6 is telling my gut that this isn't a straight up Warriors line. So, since I'm gonna bet the Warriors anyway just out of principal, here is my spin job on this to convince myself that even though this line scares me, it's still smarter to take the Warriors. Hope it's helpful for you, too.
Game 1's are always weird for Vegas to properly predict, and usually the one game in any series that is most affected by exterior storylines. There's a lull in the action, there's a lot more talk than there is play going on (obviously), so that talk finds it's way in to the lines more so in this game than it will at any other point in this series. There's been a lot of people saying exactly what I said earlier: the Cavs are well rested and healthy, while the Warriors just came out of a straight war with OKC, so if ever there were a time that a lesser Cleveland team could overcome the champs, it's this time right now. While that is a fair way of looking at this series, the Warriors don't give a shit about that, and they've got plenty of blowout wins against good teams on their 73 win season to point at and say "yeah, we don't care much about how people think things are supposed to happen." So would it surprise me if this were the game that they just clicked for all 4 quarters and dismantle the Cavs to the tune of an old-fashioned rout simply because everyone thinks that's not going to happen? Not at all. Seems very apropos for this team, so I'm going with that. Could totally be talking myself in to a terrible bet, one in which I'm ignoring my usually solid read of the line, but that's why we gamble, folks. My gut is good but it's not batting 1000 by any stretch, so I'm betting against it and going with my heart/inability to bet on Lebron James to win anything ever. Hope it works***!
Again, I'm going with the heart/anti-Lebron bet here. I call Warriors in 6. Lot of people think this is going to 7, but as I said before and as I truly believe, this Warriors team LOVES telling people to shut the fuck up. They love saying that you don't know what you're talking about on their way to domination. I don't think anyone is going in to Lebron's house and coming out with more than one game, but if they can snag that one and then hold it down at home, you know, the place where they lost like 3 times all season, then this may be a more anti-climactic series than most of the experts anticipate. And I hope it is, nothing will be more of a fuck you to Lebron than him not only losing but doing so in an unforgettable fashion. Not in an embarrassing fashion, that would just set him up for a comeback later in his career, but a truly indifferent one. One where he plays well, his team plays a good series, but they just get beat without many fireworks. Would be boring to watch which would be the most damaging thing that could happen to LBJ, therefore the funniest thing that could happen, therefore the ting that I'm most rooting will actually happen. Totally separate note, it's so weird what we root for as fans when our own teams suck and are never in the picture this time of year (go Sixers...).
So there you go. Boom. There's the scoop on this series, and a pretty in depth one if I do say so myself. If I'm wrong about any of it, well fuck you for believing me I guess. And if I'm right, your welcome for the free money. I love you, good-bye.
* The emoji thing he came out with today is a little much, if we're being honest. While I do think people who are looking for reasons to hate Steph are REALLY blowing it out of proportion (dude, he's a mega star and has publicity people, I'm sure he's not sitting there designing his own emojis. I'd take this over him pretending to be the funniest part of an Amy Schumer movie any day...), it is sort of an annoying look just because the idea of emojis is annoying in general. Just keep staying quiet, Steph. You're getting too big these days to say or do anything, people are just waiting to jump on the "hate Steph" train. Do the Jeter/Leo move and just don't ever talk to anyone and let us read of your amazing antics and fill in the blanks for ourselves. Tried and true way to never become annoying.
*** (Throws up everywhere)