I didn’t think I’d see Cleveland win a professional sports championship, but here I am, writing about the Cavaliers’ historic 3-1 series comeback over the record-breaking, but now disappointing Golden State Warriors. It’s one thing to beat a 73-9 team in the playoffs – it’s another to beat them three consecutive times. Here’s my fast five from the series.
1. Kevin Love had the last laugh.
Near the end of the series, Cleveland’s star power forward was practically seen as a walking albatross. From his atrocious shooting percentages to his awkward presence on the court, many people thought the Warriors completely neutralized Love.
Although the big man shot only 33 percent from the floor, Love made a triumphant return in the series’ final game, with the highest on court plus/minus (+19) out of anyone on the Cavaliers. That doesn’t mean he was Cleveland’s most important player, but with team-leading 14 rebounds, Love provided size on the inside to dominantly outsize Golden State, who certainly missed the seven-foot presence of injured center Andrew Bogut. In his place, the Warriors often played the likes of Festus Ezeli and Harrison Barnes, who were both tremendously outmatched in the paint and often carried by Draymond Green.
2. What was Steve Kerr doing in the second half with his lineups?
I could talk about Kerr not having Stephen Curry on the floor with nine minutes left in the biggest game of the year. Or the lack of minutes given to Leandro Barbosa, along with the 11 minutes given to Festus Ezeli.
However, I’m going to let NBA Twitter do my work.
— PTBNLeandres (@sleandres) June 20, 2016
I’m going to blame Kerr forever if we lose this game. Just too fucking cute with these rotations. Play the best damn players already!
— EvanZ (@thecity2) June 20, 2016
There’s 9 minutes left in the NBA season and Curry is still on the bench?
— CelticsLife.com (@CelticsLife) June 20, 2016
3. The 2016 NBA Finals was a tossup.
For the first six games, the point differential between the two competing teams was exactly even. If you saw that on its own, you might think that each individual game came down to the wire, but all those games were double-digit victories for the winning team. It’s only fitting that the final match was a nail-biter, although I thought it would end, er, somewhat differently.
Here’s the NBA Finals with the lowest amount of point differential between the winning and losing teams. Bolded and italicized are the years when the losing team outscored the season’s champion in the series. As far as seven-game series goes, the 2016 NBA Finals was as close to a coin flip as you could get. Bolded and italicized are series where the winning team actually finished with less points overall than the losing team for the series.
4. Stephen Curry fell from the heavens harder than any MVP ever.
In sports culture, we have a tendency to simplify things based on results and not the process. Because the Warriors were unable to cap off their historic season, there’s already a good amount of blame going Curry’s way, considering his awful Game 7 performance.
Even the best players in the NBA suffer a drop in production from the playoffs grind, facing the league’s best. Look deeper into the numbers and you’ll find that Curry’s fall from grace is closer to Icarus than he’d like to admit.
Because of Curry’s age, it’s unfair to hold his drop in production as a standard for him to follow for the rest of his career. However, if you’re a Golden State fan, Curry’s disappointing playoffs run has to be heartbreaking – especially if he wants to be considered the best player on the planet. Speaking of which…
5. Hail to the King.
What else is there to say about the world’s best player? Along with leading both teams in every volume box score category (minutes, points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals), James led the series in GameScore (26.5) and acted as his team’s leading defender, rebounder and offensive player. No one was even close to him in terms of consistent on-the-court impact. If the Cavaliers lost Game 7, he was still so far and away the MVP of the series.
Though it’s obvious that James isn’t quite the shooter or athlete he was when he was younger, he doesn’t have to be. At this point, his consistent playoffs brilliance illustrates a man who saves himself for the postseason, while still maintaining a baseline level of excellence for the rest of the season.
This is not to suggest that James somehow doesn’t care about regular season games or that he’s better now than he was in his athletic prime, but being able to “flip the switch” against better competition is invaluable, as the 15-1 playoff 2001 Lakers demonstrate. Losing regular-season MVPs will not matter for James if he’s asserted himself to a point where he can coast for most of the season and consistently dominate on the league’s biggest stage, as he’s shown over the last two Finals. Maybe even the last eight years.
Given his unique career arc and accomplishments, James doesn’t need to get a certain number of rings to cement himself as one of the greatest of all time. At this point, he shouldn’t be compared to anyone: James is the point of comparison for everyone else. That doesn’t mean he’s definitively better than a player like Michael Jordan, but James already has his own place in basketball immortality.
Welcome back to the throne, LeBron. Then again, did you ever really lose it?