The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors both got into their cars as soon as the playoffs began, punched the accelerator, and haven’t slowed down. It’s almost like they’re in a competition to see who can get back to the NBA Finals first.
The Warriors seem to be “winning” that race. They’re 10-0 so far and have outscored their opponents by 170 points. That’s the best start in the history of the NBA. If the Cavaliers win Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Boston Celtics, they’ll join Golden State as one of only six teams to win their first 10 games of the playoffs.
There’s one take of all this that says the season was exactly what we expected it to be, and is therefore boring. And if all you’re about is the results, that’s just fine.
But if you’re a basketball fan, you should be about the basketball, and that means enjoying the process, not just the results.
The process this season still had plenty to offer.
Russell Westbrook’s historic triple-double pace and James Harden producing more points combined passing and scoring than any player in NBA history resulted in arguably the best MVP race since 1961-62.
This season still offered us one of the biggest in-season trades in years as the Sacramento Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, making the trade season more interesting than it usually is.
There were an incredible number of great individual performances. We saw an NBA record 117 triple-doubles this year, shattering the old record of 78. Sure, Westbrook’s 42 helped to set that record, but even if he’d only had four, it would have been a new high for the league.
Some of those were monster-sized triple-doubles as well. Westbrook had eight 40-point triple-doubles, Harden had seven, and LeBron James had one. That’s 16 just this year. There were only 19 total 40-point triple-doubles between 1983-84 and 2015-16.
There were also 14 50-point games this year, tallied by 10 different players, including Devin Booker’s 70-point game and Klay Thompson’s ridiculous 60-point game with just 33 shots. There were only 19 in the two previous seasons combined.
All told, there were 23 games where a player notched a Game Score over 40, as many as the two previous seasons.
The post-Tim Duncan San Antonio Spurs stretched their historic streak of 50-win seasons to 18. They’ve won 47 or more games in all but one season since 1990. To put that in perspective, only 31 percent of active NBA players have lived through more than one Spurs losing season. And with Gregg Popovich coaching and Kawhi Leonard locked in, it doesn’t seem as though the Spurs will be ending that streak anytime soon.
The Houston Rockets shattered the NBA record for 3-point shots in a season with 1,181, besting the 2015-16 Warriors mark by 104.
This year’s version of the Dubs had the third-most assists of all time and had an assist on an unreal 70.5 percent of their field goals.
None of what is happening in these playoffs sends ripples in time backward through the regular season and un-entertains us. All of those fantastic team performances still happened.
Nor does it make the potential NBA Finals any less entertaining.
Back in the 1980s, there was never much doubt about who would be in the Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers and Celtics met three times in four years (’84, ’85 and ’87). Nobody seemed to be too concerned about the lack of competition then; rather, everyone talked about how Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were saving the NBA.
So let’s not just set aside the result because we knew what it would be. Let’s appreciate the process.
The two prize fighters are getting there in two different ways. Watch it and enjoy it.
The Warriors have ascended to a new height of team ball, sharing the ball in a way that every coach alive should study. And James is taking individual dominance to a level we haven’t seen since Michael Jordan. Sure, he has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but the Cavaliers’ biggest moments in the postseason arguably have come without them on the court.
James has been nothing short of kingly, the Dubs a team of egalitarian superstars.
Sure, the two teams getting to the Finals was a foregone conclusion. But does their smiting everyone in their paths in order to get to one another make the eventual clash of titans any less exciting?
It will be the third straight time the two teams meet, but in some regards, it’s the first –and not because the Warriors have Kevin Durant this time, (though, that does change some things).
What’s more important is that this time all the stars are healthy, and will hopefully get to play the whole series.
In 2015, James carried the Cavs to a loss in six games without Irving or Love to help him out. Last year, Irving played an epic series as the No. 2 scorer and helped the Cavs clinch the first championship for the city of Cleveland in half a century. But the Warriors’ Draymond Green missed a game with a suspension, and Stephen Curry, playing hurt, didn’t seem himself.
For the first time we might see both of these giants at 100 percent throwing proverbial haymakers at one another. It could and should be their best series yet.
The Cavaliers frontcourt of James, Love and Tristan Thompson combined for 70 points and 30 rebounds against the Celtics in Game 1. Can that trio have similar success against the Warriors and make the Dubs pay for going small? Or will the Dubs’ arsenal of shooters and shot creators, couple with such willing passing, make the Cavs pay for failing to try to match up with them?
Will the Cavaliers figure out a way to stop Curry and Durant? They’re 57-11 when both those superstars play, including the regular season and postseason. According to NBA.com, they have a team 64.5 true shooting percentage when both of them are on the court this postseason. And they’re offensive rating is a ridiculous 125.2. The Cavs defense seems to be revived during the playoffs, but can it stop that?
Does the fact that we expected this all season long diminish the struggle when these two teams get to the finish line? After all, they’re not speeding toward each other with such deadly certainty just so they can get to each other. Each team wants to go through the other. And you better believe that will be exciting.