The NBA Finals, Finally

The NBA playoffs have come to their long awaited climax: the third straight Finals matchup […]

David Peterson / 6.1.17

The NBA playoffs have come to their long awaited climax: the third straight Finals matchup between the Cavaliers and Warriors. Neither team has been slowed down at all thus far. The Warriors are 12-0 and the Cavs are 12-1. The average margin of victory across the playoffs has been a disappointingly wide 13.5 points, and both teams made quick work of their conference finals foes – including 30+ point beat downs of the Spurs and Celtics, respectively. So there’s a lot of pressure on this series to deliver.

Still, there have been some memorable moments in these playoffs: the electric first round matchup of MVP hopefuls in Russell Westbrook and James Harden, John Wall and his Wizards in 7 rough games against Isaiah Thomas’s Celtics, the Grizzlies battling the Spurs. But that’s fried calamari compared to the steak and lobster that is Cavs v. Warriors. They memorably duked it out on Christmas Day, with down the stretch heroics from Kyrie Irving and highlight reel dunks from the extremely likable Richard Jefferson, who also managed to step on Kevin Durant’s foot and trip him to seal the game. Jefferson by the way is an excellent snapchat follow and hosts a funny podcast with teammate Channing Frye.

Expectations can be counted on to breed resentment and heighten pressure, lessons that Steph Curry, Lebron James and Kevin Durant have all internalized in their own way. Steph won 2 straight NBA MVP awards, but failed to take home Finals MVP both seasons. A loss here would mean a 1-2 record over the past 3 finals and 0 MVP awards, despite being the best player on the best team in the league record-wise over those 3 years, disappointing at best and career-marring at worst. Lebron is still “chasing the ghost” of MJ’s 6 titles and his best-player-of-all-time moniker, and, though he’s playing arguably the best basketball of his career, 3-5 in the Finals has nothing on Jordan’s 6-0. Although he passed Jordan’s career playoff point total this year, he needs to get 6 titles before he can be called flat-out better than Jordan.

As for Kevin Durant, my favorite study of human nature in all of sports, he needs to win this title in order to not look like a complete fool. And yes, we must be brought low before Christ can do His unconditional loving work on us, but it can bring out a whole slough of conflicting emotions when we watch this brutal process happen to someone else. Nihilistic glee is fun and easy, but sympathy comes tougher. Durant joined up with the Warriors last summer, a few weeks after they bounced him from the playoffs. Needless to say, Thunder fans weren’t happy. As the backlash to his leaving Oklahoma City proved, we fans naturally adopt a purchase on our favorite players. We cheer for, love and begin to identify with them. The same happens with TV-show characters, politicians, celebrities, you name it. And that’s what makes it so confounding when they, inevitably, humanize themselves. Kevin Durant could not get over the fact that people hated his decision to jump on the 73-win bandwagon. He didn’t realize that we had all been speaking through him, projecting an underdog mindset, a fiery competitiveness onto him that it should have been clear from his demeanor on the court was a fiction. The story we were telling about Durant was very different from the way he saw himself, and the disconnect there sure looked raw and human when it was revealed. You may disagree with me here, but his decision sure demanded reaction.

All this to say, there’s a lot of myth-building that occurs when we watch sports. Some of it is done by commentators and sportswriters – it’s their job after all. And some of it is our tendency to separate people into winners and losers. These tensions are on full display in the Finals. Lebron winning puts him firmly on the path to G.O.A.T. and paints Durant as a different kind of goat. Curry wins and he’s had one of the best 3-year spans in NBA history. They’re stories we sense while watching as we root for one outcome over another and often they reflect what we hold deep in our hearts. Worth some introspection? Maybe. But basketball isn’t the sport for that. It’s all instinct. And that’s why we like it so much.

Stray story lines:

  • Javale McGee got a ton of heat from Shaq via Twitter and TNT this year. An all around odd incident. But he played the basketball of his career against the Spurs and may be finally putting his shaqtin’ a fool days behind him. He’ll be tested this series.
  • Kyrie Irving thinks the world is flat. That may or may not come up during the Finals.
  • The consummate X-factor, Draymond Green, could easily wind up as the series MVP, as long as he doesn’t disqualify himself from the proceedings like he did so critically last year. No kicking, please.
  • Steph Curry has a righteous beard going.
  • Will J.R. Smith keep his shirt on if the Cavaliers win it all?
  • Lil B lifted his infamous curse on Kevin Durant when he moved to the Bay Area, but don’t be surprised if we hear from the Based God before it’s all said and done.