I won’t argue that the first two games of these NBA Finals were great television, or that last night’s Game 3, which was thrilling and spectacularly played and felt like a Game 7 from the perspective of someone rooting for the Cavs, did a whole lot to salvage this series. The Warriors are now up 3-0 and a sweep seems all but guaranteed, and there’s really nothing less fun than a sweep in the Finals.
Maybe fixating on fun misses the point, though. The Warriors turning the Cavs to ash, first in dominating and then in cruel fashion, may not be a good time, but neither is watching an avalanche swallow up a mountain village. This makes the sight no less awe-inspiring.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate what the Warriors have done through the first three games of the series is to look not at the gaudy statistics they’ve put up, but at what the Cavs have done while losing. LeBron James is averaging 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in this series. He’s shooting 55 percent from the field and 38 percent from behind the arc, numbers that should and in almost any other circumstances would have him on his way to cementing his legacy as the best player of all time with yet another championship. He can’t buy a win, though, and his struggle is producing unthinkable statistics:
Kyrie Irving hasn’t been on LeBron’s level, but he’s still averaging 27 points per game for the series and last night’s 38-point performance was exactly the kind of sidekick-becomes-hero game the Cavs needed to help swing the series in their favor. It meant nothing. Golden State counts Kevin Durant as a sidekick.
There have been plenty of collective and individual disappointments for the Cavs, but never once during this series have I felt like I was watching a flawed or dysfunctional team. The Cavs have enjoyed more passages of great, championship-caliber basketball than they have bad or even mediocre basketball, and don’t stand a goddamn chance. It’s a truth that’s hard to wrap your mind around: The Cleveland Cavaliers are a truly great team featuring the best player in the world playing at the peak of his powers; they have two All-Stars in their primes; they are playing fierce, crisp basketball on the biggest stage; and all of this will likely add up to a humiliating sweep.
Such is the power of the Warriors, and it’s why even if you haven’t necessarily enjoyed their cold and unrelenting domination of the Cavs, this isn’t a series to write off alongside meaningless and disappointing Finals past. This is something we’ve truly never seen before: an all-time great team meeting another team good enough to be in the midst of its own dynastic reign, and then running that team right off the floor.
After Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, I wrote that the Cavs had turned the Boston Celtics into a punchline. Here was a dogged Celtics team that spent all year grinding away to secure the top seed in the conference, and their only reward was getting pantsed by LeBron James. The Warriors have spent the first three games of the Finals telling an even crueler version of the same joke. The Cavs rolled into the Finals with a 12-1 playoff record, an offense that scored a cosmic 120 points per 100 possessions through the first three playoff rounds, and LeBron James playing the best basketball of his life. And then—
Maybe this punchline is too mean to even qualify as a joke. Besides, it’s hard to laugh when you’re completely slack-jawed.