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Scaletta | Epic Warriors-Cavaliers clash not a bad thing for NBA

(Photo by Prensa Internacional/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
Photo by Prensa Internacional/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

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.

Undefeated Teams After 10 Playoff Games, NBA History
Team Oppo Diff
Rk Tm Season G W L W/L%
PTS PTS PTS
1 GSW 2016-17 10 10 0 1.000 1171 1001 +170
2 LAL 2000-01 10 10 0 1.000 1040 899 +141
3 CLE 2015-16 10 10 0 1.000 1085 951 +134
4 SAS 2011-12 10 10 0 1.000 1041 919 +122
5 LAL 1988-89 10 10 0 1.000 1126 1033 +93
6 CLE 2016-17 9 9 0 1.000 1033 943 +90
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/19/2017.

 

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.

Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, left, defends against Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

AP Photo/Ben Margot

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.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Jonathan Thomas

    May 20, 2017 at 8:13 am

    LeBron has won a playoff game in every arena on the road in the playoffs including Golden State twice in last year Finals. James has won a playoff game on the road in 27 series throughout his career, the most in NBA history and the four-time MVP revealed he loves playing on the road more so than at home during the playoffs.

    I love it… It seems to me all the stars are aligning up to favor the Cavs again.

    Cavs steal that first game that series will be over.

    https://youtu.be/C3-k-6qj45c
    https://youtu.be/rxtBSSCwmrg

  2. Jonathan Thomas

    May 20, 2017 at 8:12 am

    That GSW defense won’t matter… LeBron is ascending like Jordan, Magic, and Bird before him. He will pick apart that defense. Mark my word!
    And, the scary part of all of this Irving, Deron Williams, and JR are still not clicking that will happen in the Finals.

    Here are several things to look for.

    LeBron will slow the game down… I see him and Irving will pick and rolling Curry to death.
    And, say stop this, when they try to help Curry that ball will swing to one of the Cavs 3 pointers. Swish!!!

    Now, on the Curry side when Zaza set a screen Tristan is fast enough to cut off that corner. Shumpert and Tristan will trap and LeBron will steal the ball when Curry tries to pass out of it.

    The Cavs really have the biggest advantage on the bench.
    When you bring in McGee… Cavs will bring in Fyre.
    McGee won’t camp out in that paint and help like he is doing now if he does…. LeBron will fire those passes to Fyre and Korver for those 3 point corner shots. Swish!!!

    The Cavs have the counter-balance to what GSW does. This team is built to win in the playoffs.
    This is why Brad Stevens stated, that Cavs have the perfect team for LeBron.
    Even the people in Boston quote’ to one of the reporters that LeBron has ascended his game like Tom Brady.

    Yep… this is what I been saying this whole playoff run. You could see it.

  3. Nick Belmont

    May 19, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    Kelly, and I truly mean this and am aware of the gravity of the statement, you are the Greg Popavich of logic in sports writing.

    I will attempt to add and contrast, however.

    Looking back on this stretch of ball a decade or two from now will probably be a great little wrinkle in the beautiful landscape of NBA history. The only time the Finals saw the same two teams in three consecutive years. The greatest team of the generation vs. the greatest player of the generation. 1-1 in the first two meetings under extenuating circumstances and the universe pretty much demanded Cavs v Dubs III. You’re right, it IS awesome.

    But I think the reason people are annoyed (at least why I am) is because of how the teams were constructed is VASTLY different than those Celtics/Lakers teams or Bulls/Jazz. The Warriors were a beautifully built team playing, probably, the best brand of basketball we’ve ever seen. And everyone was so happy when they beat the Cavs after LeBron decided to put together his second super team. But now that Durant decided to ring chase in the middle of his prime and, because of a salary cap anomaly, made his own ridiculously insane super team, it’s running people outside those two cities the wrong way.

    You hope your team can move the pieces around the right way and figure out something that other teams’ executives couldn’t, like the Warriors did in 2015. Or you just have faith that your singular talent can overcome any obstacle like Popavich or Jordan. In the case of these Warriors and these Cavaliers, the driving force of their greatness is mostly due to their respective best players was their decision that that was the place they could most easily win a title. It’s unnatural.

    Now, I am NOT a world class athlete, but I was an elite athlete for as long as I was competing in whatever sport it was I was doing. And I fully, truly and completely preferred to have the odds against me. I called my own fouls and whenever the two teams would bicker like petty 12 year old girls about something I would just grab the ball and throw it to the other team and say, “let’s just play!” and told my team, “we’ll beat them anyway”. And I loved that shit because when I did win, there was nothing anyone could say to take it away from me. I didn’t whine so I could play with my buddies who were better than everyone else, I didn’t bicker about little calls that could have swung the game, I gave my opponent every advantage I reasonably could. I won anyway.

    With these teams, it’s like, they stacked the deck, and people don’t feel like they deserve to be in this position. Jordan and Pippen were drafted and developed together. Stockton and Malone were drafted together and developed together. Bird, Parish, Havlicek developed together and fought the mighty Lakers. Parker, Duncan and Ginobli vs Kobe and Gasol and then them vs Pierce, Rondo and Garnett and Allen. The excecutives put the teams together and the players played. These stars today are competing in the offseason as much as they’re competing on the court. By deciding where they have the best chance to win. We don’t like that. We want our heroes to prevail DESPITE their obstacles, not because they avoided them.

    So you’re right, this year has been a whirlwind of excitement and that excitement is going to continue hopefully through game seven of the NBA Finals. But the dark cloud of the fear of a two team league where one of the biggest reasons a generational player reaches the promised land isn’t a part of their game they worked on in the offseason, but where they chose to sign, still looms large over our heads.

    Hopefully the salary cap stabilizes and they fix the broken CBA and this all gets closer to normal where FIVE teams instead of TWO have a realistic shot at the title comes back. Then we can look back at this piece of history and appreciate it for the unique, indulgent fun that it is. But in a league where the biggest starts just attempt to find the path of least resistance to a ring so they don’t end up like Reggie Miller, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Charles Barkley, the competitive spirit has truly died, and, in my opinion, so has the sport.

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