Thursday, June 2, 2016

Golden State v Cleveland? Mere Anti-Climax








Golden State Warriors will battle the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA title. What's wrong with this announcement?

Everything.

The NBA championship has already been settled. It happened early in the week. The problem is that it happened in a series with a misleading title. The Golden State Warriors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in game 7 to win the Western Conference Finals. But Golden State did more than win the West. That was the unofficial NBA title series. They really won the league championship, their second in a row.

Hail the NBA champion Warriors!

Though billed as the NBA championship, this series between Golden State and Cleveland is just an anti-climax. Remember back in the 1980 Olympics, the "Miracle on Ice," when the US hockey team upset Russia, David v Goliath-style, in a semifinal round? Everybody treated that like a Gold Medal win. But it wasn't. The US still had to play Finland, a much lesser opponent, to claim the Gold Medal, which they did.

Golden State is in the same position as that 1980 US hockey team. The Warriors already beat the toughest competitor, Oklahoma City, but they still have to knock off another team, Cleveland, which is not as tough, to officially take the title.

The main question is whether the Warriors can get revved up enough to play the Cavaliers, who aren't as good as the best in the West. Cleveland wouldn't fare well against the other top Western teams. The Thunder would whip the Cavs in a seven-game series. So would the rugged San Antonio Spurs, who have the best defense in the NBA but only finished third in the West.

Cleveland won the East, but so what? In the playoffs, they powered through the powder-puff schedule like a buzz-saw through balsa wood, first shutting out Detroit and Atlanta. They had a little trouble with Toronto, losing two in Canada after blowing out the Raptors twice in Cleveland. What happened is that the Cavs got lazy and over-confident on the road, mailing in two low-intensity performances. But then Cleveland restored order in game five, showing Toronto who was boss with a demoralizing 116-78 victory, followed by a game 6 rout, cinching the Eastern crown.

Now the Cavs finally have to face a top-notch team. Cleveland is well rested, having played fewer games and having faced weak competition. But the Cavs have a huge problem--inferior defense. LeBron James will play at his usual high level, but rest of the Big Three, point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Love, don't have the skills to shut down the Warriors fast-paced offense, which is highlighted by deadly three-point shooting. When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson get in rhythm, they are unstoppable. The Thunder couldn't do it. The Cavs certainly can't.

The Warriors' only problem is energy and maintaining interest. That seven-game series against the Thunder was tense, brutal and draining. It may take a while for the Warriors to recover. They also know Cleveland isn't as formidable as the Thunder so they may be mentally in low gear for a game or two. So don't be surprised if Golden State loses one of the first two in Oakland.  

Bottom line: the Warriors, with Curry and Thompson, are simply much better than Cleveland, with a superior starting five, defense, offense and bench. Cleveland has the best all-around player, James, but that's not nearly enough. It shouldn't take six games, but even if it takes seven, the Warriors will officially win a title they unofficially already own.