NBA Finals Post Series Analysis: What We Learned
By Jaime Gonzalo
Kobe Bryant has bowed out, the Warriors set the best regular season record while beating the odds in the western conference finals, and the Cavs meshed together beautifully to form one of the strongest powerhouses in the eastern conference.
The game just keeps on evolving. Legends rise and records fall. Against this real-life arena battles, GOT episodes just don’t compare. Competitive drama and sheer wizardry goes through the roof in such face-offs as that the Splash Brothers and Lebron James. And then came the epic. The much-frustrated odyssey of King James for the vindication of his Cavaliers, inexorably driving into a monumental clash of the newly crowned, dynasty-hungry Steph Curry and the Warriors. Basketball gods would have nothing less than this as last year’s injury-plagued crown duel left far too many unanswered questions. Cage hounds of both sides were baying for blood—and got what they wanted.
From what was was arguably one of the best finals series in the history of the game, come these points worth pondering:
8. The end of a 52-year drought for the Cavs—You get yours, if you play (and pray) long and hard enough.
Lebron and the rest of the Cavs knew they’d have a real battle against the reigning Golden State Warriors c. Many counted them out after a horrendous 2-0 start in the championship series.
They got their chins up a bit with a game 3 win, only to be rocked back on their heels again with another game 4 drubbing, right before their home fans. Stats-wise, this was the doom dagger. Cavs were done for. No team in NBA history had ever come back from 3-1 deficit. But fate had a dirty trick, Draymond Green, the plague of King James, got suspended out of game 5 for less than wholesome court tactics. That, plus an ocean of grit dredged up from the depths of their despair, the Cavs blind-sided the NBA world with back-to-back games 5&6 wins. They had pulled off a miracle and driven the Warriors to one of the most improbable game 7 winner-take-all showdowns in NBA history.
The game lived up to the hype and expectation. You never saw a more relentless back and forth struggle, neither team gaining more than 8 points over the other. There was even a 4-minute long basket drought where both sides went for a total of 6 trips at the hoop—layup drives, mid-range pops and 3-point heaves—for absolutely nothing. Cavs and Warriors seemed to be playing each other out to impotence.
7. James wasn’t just playing, he was Lebroning.
Two years ago, Lebron wrote a letter to the Cavaliers fans promising that he would return and bring home a championship for his beloved Cleveland. Fans turned on Lebron when he left the Cavs for the Miami Heat but welcomed him back with open arms last year with the hopes that he can take the Cavs out of their slump.
Together with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the team seemed unstoppable but they ultimately fell short against the Warriors last year, with Lebron at the center of all the criticism once again. There were plenty of factors in play last year, such as Irving and Love being out due to injury. The Cavs expected Lebron to shoulder the responsibilities of the whole team but the Warriors’ offense was just too much for the Cavs, and so the Warriors took home the trophy.
Lebron started this year with a ton on his back, the fan-blaming, the clutch-time-choke thingy, even a lot talk about being over rated (in a way that Kobe never could be)—on top of actually carrying the team and providing the sparks, in points, energy and presence, every single time out on the court. It made all the difference, even in the face of the death-cold reality of a 3-1 hole. To say that James just soldiered on would not do justice. Rather, he Lebroned through it all. Keeping the faith. Keeping the Cavs with him. All the way.
All the way is what characterized his one final gem of the final game. That awesome, soaring chase-down block on Igoudala was as much a final nail on the Warrior coffin as any other.
6. One player stepping up can mean a whole lot—even when it seems like it’s too late
After a shaky start at the beginning of the series, Kyrie Irving found his form back and went full “Uncle Drew” on the Warriors. There is no question who the better point guard of the series was—Kyrie was a more effective point guard for the Cavs than Steph Curry was for the Warriors, period.
When Lebron was missing his shots, Kyrie would step up and convert while pushing his team to continue to strive and never give up. He would eventually shoot the dagger 3-pointer that would end the Warriors season.
Tristan Thompson committed himself to the down and dirty defence work. . The Warriors’ vaunted irresistible blitz play foundered on the immovable defensive barriers of Thompson and Lebron. On the offense, Thompson rebounded his heart out at every single play that mattered.
5. Confidence can undo you
The Warriors made it to the championship after coming back from 3-1 down themselves against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Without question, this caused some fatigue for their players.
Although the Warriors may have been fatigued by a drawn-out knockout series with Oklahoma City Thunder before the finals, they cruised through the first two games against the Cavs. Tthis may have boosted their confidence a notch too high.. It showed in Curry’s fancy handles like his behind the back left lefty passes that would sometimes go astray. It was apparent in how calm Curry stayed even in tough court moments, obviously thinking that he could will his team to victory at any point. Overconfidence can be overdone and it could blind you to the competition’s growing strength.
The more games they played with the Warriors, the more the Cavs learned how to defend the seemingly unsolvable Splash Brothers. Indeed, after some time, the Cavs shut down Curry and Thompson’s relentless shooting and forced other players like Green, Barnes, and Livingston to step up in field goals.
Green’s temper would also be a factor in this series. His cheap shot on Lebron in Game 4 got him suspended for the potential series clincher in the Oracle Arena for Game 5. Without Green, the Warriors lacked in depth and had no answer for the Cavs— even in their home town—losing what could’ve been a 4-1 series ender.
Bogut was also out of the series after an ACL tear forced him out of competition. Coming into the final game of the series, it’s safe to say that the Warriors were demoralized and for the first time in a long time, they doubted themselves. Curry and Thompson both choked badly in Game 7, with Green doing most of the work.
4. Resilience is key
Since last season’s disappointment, many questions and criticisms have been thrown at the direction of the Cavs, more specifically at Lebron James.
The Cavs sacked their head coach David Blatt mid-season despite their impressive record because they believed something was missing in the locker room. In stepped Associate Head Coach Tyronne Lue and things seemed to shape up from there.
Then they dropped two straight games andcriticism came pouring in again. People said that Kyrie was a “ghost,” that Lebron wasn’t a good team leader, that JR Smith didn’t deserve a spot on the team, and even that Tyronne Lue wasn’t fit for the job as head coach. Media was exceptionally good at making the Cavs look bad.
Lebron had a fleeting chance to display his accustomed grace in victory after Game 3. But even that was quickly eclipsed by the nightmarish game 4 when the Cavs practically lost to the Warriors bench. Disbelievers piled up with doubters to dismiss the Cavs as all but done for and to paint the Warriors as a shoo-in repeat champs. Few other NBA teams than the Cavs have had to deal with as much disrespect and put-downs when going into a championship series. Well, the Cavs put their heads down—not in discouragement—but in stubborn, mule-headed resilience and determination, and rammed their way through.
3. Experience can bring a prodigy down
The Warriors has one of the youngest rosters in the game today. The Cavs on the other hand, have a lengthy list of veterans on their roster. Lebron isn’t particularly old, but he will soon be passing his prime.
That being said, the experience that the Cavs possess is far greater than the talent of the young Warriors team. People expected the Warriors youth to prevail since it’s been a long grueling season and last year’s finals proved just that. In the end, Experience got the upper hand. After playing so many games against the Warriors, the Cavs figured out the jigsaw puzzle that no other team could. After tough losses against the young guns, they figured out a way to isolate their star players with amazing defense. When they did, there was no stopping them. Lebron and Kyrie shined with 41 points each in Game 5, a feat no two other players have ever done in finals history.
Everybody thought that the Warriors would ruin basketball because of their shooting game that no one had an answer for—until the Cavs stepped in and showed the world the fundamental basketball is still key to winning to Championships.
Indeed, experience beat youth in this year’s finals. That being said, the Warriors have a very bright future ahead of them and fans can expect more fireworks next season.
2. The Cavs can make HISTORY
Like previously stated, no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals. Not ‘til now, that is.
At 3-1 down, the Cavs had to win at the Oracle 2 times to stay in the series. The Oracle Arena is one of the hardest grounds to play on because of the roaring fans and its incredible atmosphere. Any player would feel pressure playing against the Warriors in their home ground—especially if it’s win or go home.
Most bettors still had their money on the Warriors coming into Game 7 because of the home-court advantage but none of that mattered to what Lebron saw as his destiny.
Lebron, Kyrie, Jr Smith, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love all showed up on Game 7 to make history.
1. Champions aren’t made by stats alone.
After the regular season, many people believed that the 73-9 record setting Warriors were the best team to ever step foot into a basketball court—even better than Jordan’s 72-10 bulls back in the ’95-‘96 season. This could have all been true if they won the Championship but they fell short.
They lost another 9 games in the play-offs and couldn’t produce a trophy winning season in the end, which proves that there still is no better team than the team that brought home the trophy to Chicago after a 72-10 regular season.
What most pundits said at the beginning of the playoff is on point—73-9 is nothing without a ring. They may have the best regular season record ever, but they will also have an asterisk on this season for the remainder of their history. Jordan, Pippen, Kerr, Rodman, Longley, Harper, Kukoc and the rest of the ’95-96 bulls still deserve the right to be called the best team that’s ever stepped foot on a basketball court.
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