The 2017 NBA Finals are over and don’t let anyone tell you that it wasn’t an incredible series.
I picked LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven, and I was wrong. How the Golden State Warriors did it is a little incomprehensible and probably will be for the next couple of seasons. They blew a 3-1 lead last year and then recruited Kevin Durant, who decided to join forces with them. Draymond Green thought it was an incredible consolation prize and it certainly was. Their road to the Larry O’Brien trophy touched down in Portland, Utah and San Antonio, but it was the city of Oakland that got to witness one of the NBA’s best teams take down one of its greatest players.
Durant was spectacular. I don’t care about his decision. He played out of his mind, and it was almost necessary for him to win this title to avoid the harshest slander. The Finals MVP averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists while boasting a true shooting percentage of 69.8 percent — absurd. He hit huge shot after huge shot and was undoubtedly the difference-maker. Durant was so good that he spawned hypotheses of being the NBA’s best player, and while it’s not true, he’s the only one who’s within reach of LeBron James. Until further notice, James and Durant are the two best basketball players on the planet, and it’s up to the field to show that they’re worthy of being in that conversation.
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Stephen Curry also went bonkers this series and handed the reigns to Durant with no hesitation. For anyone who thought Curry was just a shooter, these five games officially changed that. He averaged 26.8 points on 44 percent from the field, but 9.4 assists led the team, and his 8.0 rebounds put him third behind Durant and Draymond Green (10.4). Additionally, he played tenacious and aggressive defense and capitalized on Cleveland’s sloppy play by collecting 11 steals in the five games.
Green was still huge despite not being talked about much. It’s not a shock he got overlooked either. His offensive numbers were modest — 11 points a night on 34.5 percent from the field — but he’s still the heart and soul of the league’s most elite defense, and that’s something no champion can go without. Another guy who wasn’t mentioned much (on offense) was Klay Thompson. Ever since signing that toaster, the Warriors have demolished everyone in their way, and it came at the expense of Thompson’s jump shot. I don’t think he minds.
In the five games, Klay made 30 of his 70 attempts but went 17-of-40 from downtown. He shined the brightest on defense, for sure. Klay switched from Kyrie Irving to LeBron to Kevin Love to Tristan Thompson for the entirety of the series, and James was the only one who beat him consistently. That’s not Klay’s fault either because there wasn’t anyone slowing down LeBron. Kyrie struggled at times to take Thompson off the dribble, and he and Avery Bradley are the only two guys I’ve seen be able to hang with Irving on the perimeter for multiple possessions in a row.
The quietest star of them all was Andre Iguodala, and he, for the third-straight year, showed how much of a spark plug he is off the bench. Let’s not forget that there was a time when Iggy was a poor man’s LeBron James. (This is true, believe it or not. From 2007-2012, four guys in the league who averaged 17 points, five assists and five rebounds a game over the course of those years: LeBron, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Iguodala.)
He remained one of the Warriors’ most versatile players, and, regarding plus/minus, he was the most impactful. With Iguodala on the court, Golden State was 20.2 points better per 100 possessions; with him off, they were 11.8 points worse.
All the other Warriors had moments, but this was a case of the best team beating the best player. And it’s ignorant not to point out how incredible LeBron James was in this series.
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He kept Cleveland afloat for five games. When Love, Irving, J.R. Smith and others were inconsistent, James did everything he could to make sure his team remained competitive. He became the first player to average a triple-double in the Finals — 33.6 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists with a true shooting percentage of 63 percent. James matched Durant and Curry shot for shot and play for play, and he took the challenge of trying to guard the Slim Reaper on the other end. To blame him for the Cavaliers loss is just wrong. If he came up short, then it’d be warranted.
But he didn’t. It was as simple as Golden State playing better for longer periods of time and making the plays they needed. Outside of James, Irving was the only other Cavalier who was consistent, and he finished the series with 29.4 points on 47.2 percent from the field.
Love was a non-factor in Game 7 and had just six points on 2-of-8 shooting. Tristan Thompson got off to a slow start in the first two games, and by the time he came around, it was too late. Compounding everything was Cleveland’s total inability to do anything with LeBron off the floor, and the lack of production from the bench was something that Golden State took advantage of whenever they could. And rightfully so. Cleveland’s bench put up just 92 points on 30.6 percent shooting. The Warriors had 145 on 50.8 overall, and the shots they were getting were easy looks.
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The Finals were decided by the guys not named Kevin, LeBron, Steph and Kyrie, and Golden State’s group outplayed Cleveland’s. With that said, something that worries me more than anything else is taking the greatness of James and Durant for granted. We got to watch two of the best ever trade blows with each other, and it was everything we hyped it up to be. Durant’s decision leaves a sour taste in a lot of mouths because, after all, he did join a 73-win championship runner-up. However, the league isn’t in danger because of his decision and the Warriors dominance. It’s in danger of having one of the most entertaining one-on-one battles get overshadowed by a dumb narrative.
Think about the future for a second. It’s a gorgeous day, and you’re sitting outside when your child (or grandchild) comes to meet you and just talk about basketball.
“Wait, you got to see Kevin Durant and LeBron James play the best basketball of their careers against each other in the Finals?!”
You’ll be able to look at that kid and tell them about how great it was; how LeBron was an unstoppable wrecking ball who bullied every single Warrior; how Durant buried demoralizing shot after demoralizing shot no matter how many Cavaliers guarded him. You know how your ears perk up when your grandfather tells you about Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson and Jerry West? Roles will be reversed, and you’ll now be the storyteller, painting a picture that the numbers just don’t grasp.
The only unfortunate thing about the 2017 Finals was that it ended so soon.
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