Monday, June 12, 2017

Warriors - Cavaliers Game Four: The Seduction Of The Ugly Win

OG Ugly Winners
Sorry I'm so late to the party on this, but personal life intruded; first time I've been in front of a keyboard and able to put thoughts to screen.

I saw this one in the midst of a travel trip, from yet another sports bar near yet another highway, and it was clear to me from jump that the Warriors just weren't fully into matters. Closeouts weren't as crisp, shots stayed out, and Tristan Thompson emerged from a series-long slumber to provide extra chances and utility for the Cavs. What resulted was the most points in a first half in Finals history, a sizable lead that never shrank to true discomfort level, and the first Warriors loss when they had their four all-stars in the lineup in, gulp, four months. No sweep, no perfection, and given the fact that the Cavs came back from 3-1 last year, no one in California feeling all that thrilled about having to go longer.

But the most telling point to this game was the number of technicals, and the fact that the ESPN crew couldn't keep who had which straight, leaving many to think that Draymond Green was going to be ejected in the third quarter. That was followed by nut shottery, whether intentional or retaliatory or not, by Dub C Zaza Pachulia, and days of wondering if the Dubs are mentally tough enough to sake this vampire once and for all.

Here's the thing about technical fouls: they tell you a lot more about the officiating crew than they do the players. NBA players can be high-strung, short-sighted and profane, but they are also remarkably consistent people; the guy that gets techs this month is almost always the guy who got them last month, and vice versa. When you see a bunch of them called, it's because teacher has lost control of the class, rather than the class decided to come to school unruly that day.

And that crew was, well, one of the worst I've seen work a Finals game in some time. Whistles were late, replayed was used as a crutch, all of the techs were whistled, and the third quarter took so long, I thought I was going to have to put down a security deposit on my bar stool. Games like that don't speak to Playoff Basketball or True Intensity or any of that hogwash; the Dubs didn't bring their "A" game of concentration and defensive effort, and Cleveland took advantage. But it's a lot easier to maintain a lead over a tsunami band like the Dubs when the whistle is going off so often, and de facto timeouts are coming fast and furious as the refs go play Peep Show.

It's also, well, the only way the Cavs can win this series; thug it up, clog things up, generate pace and extra timeouts with post-whistle staredowns and pose offs. It won't come naturally to them, because they do to other teams what the Dubs do to them, but this is America 2017. Win by any means necessary, even if you need the Russians to help you out. (Whoops, sorry, that last one shouldn't have been out loud.)

As for what happens next, I think the Dubs come out with better defensive focus in Game Five, Stephen Curry gets aggro, and the Cavs don't have enough answers, short of ref malfeasance. But if it somehow becomes another Thug Life game, Cleveland could continue to extend the series, and get fresh tongue baths from the media, who desperately don't want to be seen as aiding and abetting super team team up.

So in the next game, watch for techs, and late whistles, and players trying to do their own justice for past and present slights. If they are all in play, this could go deeper. If not... it's going to be an exorcism for all of the guys in Dubland.

One that, given how far these teams are ahead of their rivals, might just happen again next year...

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