Legacies Rewritten After the Dubs Bury Cleveland
With a four-game sweep of the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors of Oakland, California, won their second consecutive/third NBA Championship in four years. From the opening tip the Warriors showed more energy and determination to win the pivotal closeout game and it showed in the blowout 108-85 final score. The Warriors were led by the sharpshooting and leadership of two-time league MVP Stephen Curry along with the agile seven-foot mercenary Kevin Durant. Combined the duo accounted for 57 of the Warriors 108 points.
As LeBron did one year earlier, KD nearly averaged a triple-double, averaging 28.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game. While Curry, the Warriors floor general averaged 27.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game.
Three-time champion, four-time league MVP, LeBron James was active and highly productive in this series. LeBron's ability to take over games has earned him special recognition throughout his career drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan. His size and speed make him a nearly unstoppable force offensively. This was most evident in Game 1 when Lebron nearly willed his Cavaliers to victory by driving and scoring in the key at will. Unfortunately for the Cavs, when the game was on the line, and Lebron had the ball in his hands with the clock expiring and a poor defender guarding him, he deferred to an inexperienced teammate and passed up an open shot to steal Game 1.
LeBron received harsh criticism for not competing on defense. His unwillingness to guard the Warriors' best player helped keep him fresh deep into the fourth quarter of each Finals game. LeBron attributed the amount of plays taken off defensively to his burden of shouldering the majority of the Cavaliers offensive load. While the close games provided quality television fodder, they did nothing to cement LeBron's legacy as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time). In this Finals, LeBron was overly deferential, passive, and nothing more than the greatest stat stuffing machine in league history. LeBron's epic statistics gathering missions are easily mistaken for legendary. But quitting on his team in the third quarter of an elimination game was unbefitting the championship spirit of the self-proclaimed "king".
By sending the Cavaliers home in this dominating a fashion, the Warriors, for all intents and purposes, forever ended the debate over which of the two (MJ or LeBron) is most deserving of the title G.O.A.T. Here's a tip - it's not the guy who chose stat stuffing over playing defense for four games.
Fans of basketball young and old were deprived of the opportunity to watch a championship series culminate with competitive grit and power of will to overcome adversity. The Cavs folded like origami midway through the third quarter of Game 4. Sadly, even LeBron James stop fighting with more than fifteen minutes of basketball left in regulation. In consecutive sequences the entire Cavs defense stood idly by and watched Warrior players collect offensive rebound after offensive rebound. Curry's shotmaking, Draymond Green's shot blocking, Klay Thompson's defensive intensity, and Durant's otherworldly production, ultimately drained the fight out of Cleveland.
So much so that LeBron's composure was tested during a timeout early in the third quarter. LeBron could be seen visibly upset and defeated as he wildly gestured in exasperation. It was as sad a performance as it was embarrassing. People who supported the Cavs all year deserved better. Cavaliers players didn't just embarrass their franchise, their refusal to compete in the second half embarrassed the game of basketball. Observers were left with one intriguing storyline: the rightful recipient of the Finals MVP award.
This off season, the NBA must remedy it's Finals MVP award voting. Executives need to decide whether to create two awards – one for the most excellent performance overall and one honoring the Finals scoring champion. Though KD averaged one more point, Curry outplayed his Warriors teammate in three of the four games. At the very least, Curry played well enough to earn co-MVP. To say Curry was robbed of an award seems hyperbole. But no other words adequately describe the NBA's embarrassing oversight in this instance. Curry was not only the best player in Game 2 and Game 4 of the Finals, Curry was the best player on the court in three of the four games. His Game 3 woes should not have rendered him ineligible from MVP contention.
Warriors front office executives should view KD being awarded MVP as a blessing in disguise for the franchise. That elusive Finals MVP award will keep Curry hungry and allow him to establish a long-term goal that will elevate his superstar play to another level.