I’ve been following the Golden State Warriors for a little while now. I saw them achieve 73-9. I saw them go down 1-3 in the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder (led by a certain Kevin Durant) and then come back to win the series. I saw them go up 3-1 in the Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers and seemingly lock up the perfect season before crumbling. I saw the chase down block.
Now the block is considered the iconic play of the 2016 Finals. And it is that. But for me the most important play of the series was by Kyrie Irving. A contested (and made) three with less than a minute remaining was when my heart sank. I knew the Warriors were going down. The season would not be perfect.
Fast forward a year later and there was another three pointer. This time by Kevin Durant. This time my heart leapt. I am going to stick my neck out and say that this will be the defining moment of the 2017 Finals. It encapsulates almost the entire Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry in one possession. Irving had gone supernova and made basket after basket to give the Cavaliers the lead. Warrior fans were suddenly worried as they tried to block out memories of last season where they had lost Game 3 after winning the first two comfortably.
Durant brought the ball out after grabbing a defensive rebound. He dribbled purposefully towards the basket as LeBron James waited. The Warriors are a team built on teamwork and passing the ball. Iso-ball is not in their DNA. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson lurking around the three point line, there was not much reason to try to shoot over a 6’8” tall, extremely athletic man.
Durant being Durant, never broke step and calmly drained a 26-footer.
It was all so fitting, the man brought in to overcome the Cavaliers shot a three (the definitive Warrior shot) over James, the man who in essence is, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The 2016-17 Warriors super team are different. They are not reliant on Curry to run their game anymore (although it does help that he is averaging almost a triple-double in the Finals). Durant has taken up the scoring pressure on himself (especially in the all-important fourth quarter) along with upping his defensive game significantly. And Thompson is just too good a shooter for the opposing team to leave alone. This leaves defenses tearing out their hair in frustration as they try to pick these three up when the Warriors barrel down in transition.
Last year, opposing teams had figured out that leaving Barnes open was the only way to combat the Warriors. This time, his replacement Durant is the guy opposing teams need to put their best defender on. Needless to say, the entire scenario is not ideal if you are coaching against the Warriors.
The effect of adding Durant has been ridiculously noticeable. The Warriors have waltzed into the Finals after sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs. They have not lost a single game in the playoffs and are 15-0. This streak is already historic as it is the longest in NBA, MLB or NHL postseason history. On Saturday they will have a chance to go 16-0 and set a record which can never be broken, only tied. But then this team is no stranger to setting records.
The Cavaliers were supposed to give the Warriors the competition they needed. The playoffs had been described as boring because everyone knew what was going to happen and who would land up in the Finals. However, when the Cavaliers went up against the Warriors, it wasn’t quite so easy. King James has performed miracles in the past and is most certainly capable of performing them again. Irving was a major reason for the Cavaliers prevailing last season and is an extremely good clutch player. And this year, Kevin Love is actually playing well as he merrily crashes both the defensive and the offensive boards.
It hasn’t quite worked out for the Cavaliers. It’s not like they have played badly through the series. James in particular has been at his usual high standards even if Irving has sputtered a bit. But as Love has stepped up, the team is playing more or less at the same level as they did in the 2016 Finals. Except that isn’t enough anymore. The Warriors have taken a big leap forward. James himself said that to win against this team, you have to play at A++ level. The Cavaliers couldn’t do that.
A one-team dominance is not good for the NBA. The Warriors are a juggernaut but even their fans will get bored of them winning every match. We watch sports because of the unpredictability. This is why Game 3 was so exciting. The Cavaliers lead for over 23 minutes and were leading almost till the very end until the Warriors went 11-0 in the last two minutes. But that last quarter made for some amazing basketball.
Game 3 was important because it showed us that Warriors are not unbeatable yet. The Cavaliers got physical and stayed locked in on defense. They were even able to survive a Thompson scoring spree as Irving showed his big game chops. If the Cavaliers had just one of Love or JR Smith firing, the game would have been theirs.
Game 3 gives the Cavaliers and the rest of the league hope. The juggernaut is here. But it can still be stopped. Yes, it will take an extraordinary effort from extraordinary players. But isn’t that what the Finals are all about?
Updated Date: Jun 09, 2017 17:15 PM