I’ve been a bit surprised to hear a number of national media types telling me the 2015 NBA playoffs have been a bore-fest and a disaster for the league and that the NBA Finals are a bit of a let down.
While I will grant you that missing out on a Golden State Warriors-Los Angeles Clippers Western Conference finals resulted in a predictably disappointing spanking of the Houston Rockets, and while it should have surprised no one that John Wall’s injury resulted in a substandard Atlanta Hawks team being badly overmatched in the Eastern Conference final, but prior to the conference finals, I thought the NBA playoffs were damn good.
The San Antonio Spurs-Los Angeles Clippers first round meeting was positively epic, the Eastern Conference delivered one of the few marquis matchups it was possible to deliver when the Bulls and the Cavaliers squared off, and while that series may not have gone to a game 7, you’re absolutely crazy if you plan to argue that that matchup was anything but thrilling, resulting in multiple last second finishes and unforgettable performances on both sides.
In fact, the one thing that has marred the NBA playoffs is something quite beyond the league’s control: injuries. When you consider all the elite talent that wasn’t on the floor when it mattered most, these playoffs have been a spectacular success, not a failure at all. And the best part is that the NBA finals matchup between league-best Golden State and planet-best LeBron James is shaping up to be a finals that has no bad result. No matter who comes out on top, this final will have a happy ending.
How do I figure that? Well, consider this: The Golden State Warriors have been nothing short of a phenomenon this season: Steph Curry proved himself to be possibly the best of all the high-scoring point men, showing that it was possible to dominate a game with an offensive attack that was based primarily on outside shooting but also to be a first class distributor of the basketball and a superior defender at the position.
Despite all this, Golden State’s ability to win a title was openly questioned all season, even heading right into the playoffs. It was only when the Warriors rebounded after a tough start in the Memphis series, overwhelming an opponent who was literally a tailor made nightmare matchup for Golden State, featuring an all NBA defensive backcourt and the league’s toughest front court.
Despite this the Warriors went through the Grizzlies like a hot knife through butter once they made a few adjustments after falling behind 2-1.
If the Warriors win a title, it will expand the definition of who is a legitimate contender for the title in the NBA, and in a league beleaguered by the notion that only a select few superstars can possibly win it all, the Warriors stepping up and doing so with home grown stars like Curry and Klay Thompson would send a message to all NBA teams, and in particular young building teams like the New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards that you don’t need to coax LeBron or Kevin Durant into town to make the finals and have a chance to win. That’s Happy Ending #1.
Happy Ending #2 is so obvious I shouldn’t even have to explain it: LeBron James returns to title starved Cleveland.
If LeBron James can resurrect the team from the lottery to the NBA finals in one (count it, one!) season and does so without the services of Kevin Love and, for most of the playoffs, Kyrie Irving… man…
Instead, he graphically demonstrates what that overused phrase that’s nearly become a cliche really means. LeBron, quite literally, makes the players around him better.
They’ve gone from NBA headaches (JR Smith, Iman Shumpert), typical big slow white guys who can’t jump (Timofey Mozgov), and also ran no-names (Matthew Dellavedova), to sharp shooting instant offense guys, high-energy defenders, viable NBA centers, and never-say-die effort guys, and the transformation was not mysterious or slow, it was overnight and it was quite obvious what the difference was — playing with LeBron James brings out the best in his teammates.
A truer definition of superstar there has never been, so whether the Cavs win it all this year (Happy Ending #2) or not (Happy Ending #1), LeBron’s legacy has already been enhanced a hundredfold to anyone who is a true student of basketball. If you want to judge something solely by the number of rings, I suggest you study redwood trees and leave the basketball to the people who truly love the game.
All that’s left for me is to offer you a prediction, and I will give you one: Warriors in 6.
They have simply been playing amazing basketball, and they proved in both the Memphis and Houston series that they are not vulnerable to inside attack.
LeBron, meanwhile, while he has been able to guide the Cavs through the East, successfully navigating a minefield called the Chicago Bulls in the process, simply can’t beat a team as coordinated and talented as the Warriors by himself, and while supporting cast has played remarkably well without their secondary and tertiary stars, they won’t be able to bring home all the marbles without them.
That’ll happen next year. Count on it.