NBA Finals: Warriors a big problem for Cavs, and NBA, that isn't going away
If the Cavs can't challenge them in the NBA Finals, can any team for the next half-decade?
OAKLAND, Calif. -- It's one game. That's what Cavaliers fans are telling themselves. That's what basketball fans who want a competitive series in an increasingly non-competitive league are telling themselves. It's one game, and LeBron James always loses the first game (James is 1-7 in Finals Game 1s). It's one game, and it's a long series. Or even if it's going to be like this, with one team rendering all other irrelevant, it won't be like this forever. Or even, hey, this is greatness, we should appreciate it.
There's a lot of rationalization after Game 1 of the NBA Finals, that ended the Cavs' three-game playoff winning streak against them dating to last year's Finals. The Warriors shut down the Cavs completely in Game 1, indicated by the Warriors' 89.2 defensive rating. Kevin Durant had 38 points. When he wasn't otherwise blistering Cleveland, Steph Curry was hitting 3-pointers, going 6 of 11 from beyond the arc en route to 28 points. No other Warrior scored in double figures and did not need to be.
There were fans and analysts hoping things would work out differently. Sure, the Warriors swept through the West, but they were down 20 to the Spurs before Kawhi Leonard's injury. This would be different. The Cavs were another level. They've had their number. On and on.
It was one game.
It was one, impressive, dominant game.
The Warriors won't play this well in some areas, to be sure, for the rest of the series (well, probably not). Draymond Green admitted afterward they probably won't have only four turnovers again. But they'll also play better in other areas. Klay Thompson's going to hit a shot, sometime, probably, eventually. The Warriors missed lots of layups. The Cavs could be better in a lot of areas, for sure. Maybe they will be. Just remember, the Warriors can be, too.
While it is only one game, we're also one-fourth of the way toward the nightmare scenario, a situation where the Warriors not only beat the Cavaliers, but dominate, and maybe even sweep them. That would make them the first team in NBA history to sweep the playoffs, ensuring their place among the all-time teams. There no longer would be any denying this team's greatness, no matter how they came together. It also would signal that the entire NBA season is irrelevant. We went from "the first round doesn't matter" to "the first two rounds don't matter" to "only the Finals matter" as blowout after blowout racked up. Now the team that blew out every team in the East just got blown out.
It's not about the Warriors winning. It's about the games not even being competitive.
It's one game.
But you saw how the Cavs had to try to guard Curry in transition (and he still hit 3s) while trying to guard Durant on the break at the same time (the Cavs did not guard him in some instances). You saw how they had to penetrate Golden State's almost impregnable perimeter defense, only to have to finish over Green and Zaza Pachulia. They had to control the Warriors' second-chance opportunities. They had to control their own turnovers. And they had to do all of this just to remain competitive. There's that word again.
Of course, the Cavs did almost none of these things, so they were blown out. The Cavaliers played badly, but part of that is because everything in this matchup is hard for them. They're a mediocre defensive team trying to guard an all-time elite offense. They're facing a dominant defense. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue put it best when asked after the game about the challenge the Warriors present.
"They're the best I've ever seen," Lue said.
Everything is hard for the Cavaliers, everything is easy for the Warriors -- move the ball, control the pace, create, and make, shots from anywhere. Pretty simply, they win the matchups. All of them.
It's one game.
But all week, media members have asked the same question among themselves: "Am I crazy to think a sweep is possible?" It's a thought few dare speak, lest they disrespect James. He could render that whole idea laughable with a bounce-back in Game 2, where he is 4-3 for his career, as opposed to that dreadful 1-7 mark in Game 1s. But the fact that this is on the table, that there's preemptive conversation about a potential sweep of the defending champions, that's crazy. And if it bears out, it's trouble.
Not for the league, at least not in areas the execs care about. Playoff ratings are up four percent year over year. More people are watching soul-draining blowouts than ever. There are a lot of reasons for this, but part of it is because the playoffs draw many casual fans. And casual fans want to see great teams because they only see them a few times a year. They're not watching that Bucks-Warriors game in February. They're popping on, having it on, and then bailing when the score gets out of hand.
But over the long haul? What happens to a league where one team is so dominant and it's set up to remain at that level for a half-decade? There is no remedy. You cannot change the collective bargaining agreement to limit the Warriors. You cannot break up this team, and they are not going to break up on their own. The Jordan years brought unprecedented popularity to the league. But that was in a different time, with a different signature athlete, with a different media world. People have a lot more options to watch these days.
But hey, it's just one game.
Surely the Cavs will recover in Game 2, and this won't as seem quite as easy for the Warriors. Surely a more competitive series, or at least a competitive game, is around the corner. Surely this isn't the start of a situation where there's no real point for fans of any of the 29 other teams to invest themselves in any hope, because even if they have a top-five player and a good team, the Warriors have the best team with two top-five players and four top-15 players.
Keep the mantra going, for the sake of the NBA.
It's just one game.
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