NBA Finals: Warriors the challenge LeBron's greatness deserves, and it's not over
It may feel like it's over, but it felt that way last year, too
The battle of the best player of all-time versus perhaps the best team of all-time doesn't seem fair. But it didn't last year, either.
It's not over.
Despite the overwhelming way Cleveland lost, its star continued to assert his place as, possibly, Michael Jordan's equal. He, which ties the all-time record with Magic Johnson. That LeBron went 29-11-14-3-1 should be another line on his all-time-great ledger, one that keeps adding up, line by line, Finals by Finals, in a way no career has outside that of Jordan.
But the stunning excellence of the other team also offers a chance at Michael -- and a sobering reminder to be careful what you wish for, or what you chase. Some mountains are too high, too dangerous, and too steep to offer a fair challenge. Greatness waits, yes, but so does a fall that can have nothing to do with your own skills.
This mountain -- the Warriors, and perhaps their own status as the greatest team of all time -- now has Kevin Durant. He went off for 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals and five -- five! -- blocked shots Sunday night. He was a roving wrecking ball, dashing the Cavs time and again with a merciless greatness augmented by a team that for obvious reasons won 73 regular-season games without him last season.
That team still, of course, has Steph Curry.: 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
Klay Thompson found his groove, finally, scoring 22 on 8-of-12 shooting, including hitting 4 of 7 from deep.
And the rest of the Warriors played frantic defense, hassling LeBron's overmatched teammates, en route to a 2-0 series lead and the overwhelming cry: It's over.
Utterly, totally, truly unfair.
And no matter.
LeBron has staked his claim. He wants to pass Jordan. He's said so, time and again. Fine. Climb that Everest. But understand life isn't fair, and this team now in front of your goal -- itself trying to win history -- presents both a chance at immortality and the very real risk that your talents and skills will be rewarded with the perception of failure.
Fair doesn't figure into it. But the way so many are looking past LeBron and his team could.
There is a chirping self-righteousness out there, so many enjoying LeBron's (perceived) fate in this series and the Cavaliers' (perceived) inability to compete. Fine. Write them off. Point to Cleveland having lost Game 1 by 22 points and Game 2 by 19 points as proof that with Durant now in tow Golden State is the end of LeBron James' quest for GOAT, parity in the NBA and any enjoyable Finals for a very long time.
Maybe you're right. Maybe the Warriors win in four. Maybe this team is too good, truly.
But it's also true LeBron has learned to feed off of that doubt and to whip up his teammates into better versions of themselves in response.
If anyone can make these notions that these Finals are already over soon look silly and shortsighted, it would be the best player of all-time. If that is LeBron James -- and it may still be -- this series could change, quickly. Just like it did last year, when Cleveland lost Game 1 by 15 and Game 2 by 33 and was left for dead.
Win one game -- Wednesday's Game 3 -- and the momentum shifts, the narratives loosen, and perhaps LeBron's teammates start to show up.
That starts, if it starts at all, by getting home and getting actual help from Kyrie Irving. While Kevin Love had 27 points in a stellar offensive outing, the rest of LeBron's teammates vanished. Particularly his co-star. Kyrie was 8 for 23, with 19 points, and he looked like an overmatched role player trying to do too much.
Which I suppose is better than JR Smith, who was an overmatched role player trying to do too much, at least the few times he touched the ball. He was 0 for 2, with four fouls, a turnover and the worst turn-around 3-pointer since … he was here at Oracle last year.
Is that LeBron's fault?
Would it have been Jordan's fault, too?
No. And no. And it doesn't matter.
But LeBron and the Cavs have been here before, where the world had labeled them losers too soon and the Finals were supposedly over after two games. And while Durant is now a Warrior, and Draymond Green presumably won't be kicked out of another game for kicking someone in the private parts, some things stand out from Game 2.
The Warriors turned the ball over 20 times, including eight times from Curry. That's an opening.
Cleveland overwhelmingly won the points in the paint battle, 60-40. That's an opening.
Irving was awful, again. That can be an opening, in the sense he is certainly capable of Finals heroics against the Warriors.
And LeBron -- even in defeat -- looked like a star capable of dragging his team into competition with a team so good and so deep and so laden with talent it threatens the league's very notion of fairness and fun, interesting Finals basketball.
The Warriors are the worthy challenger that LeBron's greatness, and his goals, deserve.
But last season, at this very point, LeBron was the challenger the Warriors' greatness deserved. We just didn't know it at that point.
Now we do.
Now, as we all look to Game 3 in Cleveland, we should remember that greatness can be fleeting, moments and certainties change, and LeBron James is capable on a basketball court of things that seem impossible.
Including -- just maybe -- beating in this Warriors team a group that seems truly and totally unbeatable.
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