Monday, June 15, 2015

The NBA Finals: Darwinism Made Plain

Next Step: 3 Point Arc
Tonight in Oakland, the Cavaliers went small and competed like mad. J.R. Smith was hot early. LeBron James might have had his best game yet of the Finals, in that he was an efficient scorer and connecting from the three point arc. Tristan Thompson gave them a rebounding presence, and while the Warriors kept getting high percentage looks at the rim, they were unable to separate with their trademark transition and threes game. Other than Leandro Barbosa, no Dub benchie did much to hurt them, and with James logging a near triple double in the first half, you would expect the road team to get some separation. Especially with the Warriors giving up cheapies at the free throw line.

They trailed at the half anyway. And while the game was very tight up until the end, with James and Stephen Curry trading haymakers in second half dueling minutes that will light up cash registers and ratings boxes worldwide, the closing, crushing Warrior run shouldn't have been much of a surprise to anyone. This isn't hockey, where a hot goalie or a lucky couple of bounces can swing games. It's not football, where it's a one-game playoff where a single bad ref call, turnover or misstep can swing the balance. It's not baseball, where a starting pitcher can make winning more or less impossible in either direction. It's hoop, where the sheer rule of meaningful data -- hundreds of shot attempts, so many minutes, etc. -- makes the following statement more or less impossible: the best team lost.

You can have very close games, and series. You can have upsets, where a team doesn't play their best at the close, or an underdog team raises their game in unexpected ways. But by the end of a series, you can usually tell who the best team is without looking at the score, because they haven't had hope beaten out of them.

Down the stretch, with Stephen Curry doing his best in the world defender shake to get enough space to rain down threes, and the Warriors pulling down offensive rebounds like they were impulse items in a checkout line, no Cav seemed willing to step up and end the bleeding. James drove the paint and didn't get calls, or settled from distance and hit a few, but stops were few and far between, and the only reason the final score wasn't the same 20-point runway as we saw in Game Four was because a few clean looks stayed out around the four minute mark.

Whether it's fatigue or the huge disadvantage the Cavs have in coaching (David Blatt has ran Matthew Dellevedova into the ground, tossed Timofey Mozgov overboard because the Dubs won with smalls last game, and still doesn't do enough to get his secondary guys clean looks beyond James Does Everything), or the simple fact that the Dubs have four of the six best players in this series, and should be winning handily...

Well, the meat grinder that is the NBA Finals does not care. The best team will win. And every player on the floor knows it, and it's starting to creep into their body language. The same way as the best players will get on the floor, which for the Dubs has been the "going small" movement of rampant offensive effectiveness, combined with gutty work on the toil side of the ball.

If James can force Game Seven, on short rest after a flight, against this emerging juggernaut... well, it will be one of the biggest and best reasons to call him not just one of the five best players in the history of the game, but maybe even more than that. (Seriously, the idea that you could win an NBA Finals with nothing but vagabonds after injury... plainly insane. Along with the idea that anyone else should be getting an MVP vote for the series. Losing team be damned.)

Right now, not seeing it, and for anyone who thinks the Dubs would rather celebrate at home... well, they didn't against the Grizzlies, or Pelicans. Besides, the best team doesn't generally fool around at this point. We'll see soon...

1 comment:

snd_dsgnr said...

Absolutely agree regarding the Finals MVP. The best and most valuable player in this series has been LeBron, and it isn't even close. I read somewhere that the Cavs are scoring 97.2 points per 100 possessions when LeBron plays and 54.6 when he sits. Now granted those numbers are probably skewed a bit by the very small sample size of the latter category since James has been playing 45 MPG, but still! He's been amazing, I don't think I've ever seen a player take on so much of the workload on both ends of the floor and have his team be competitive.

Honestly the fact that the Cavs have won two games in this series is, in and of itself, pretty insane.

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