Hello, casual basketball viewer! The NBA Finals begin tonight, pitting LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers against Ayn Rand’s Golden State Warriors in a rematch of last season’s Finals, which the Warriors won in six games. Here’s what to expect, what to look for, and what to pretend to know about each of the participating teams, in order to achieve optimal viewing satisfaction.
They’re the defending champs and one of the best teams in NBA history, coming off a regular season in which they won a record 73 games. Broadly speaking, they have the best offense in basketball, one of the very best defenses, a phenomenally deep and versatile roster, and a fast, exciting playing style, highlighted by quick passing and tons and tons of three-pointers. They’ve been the heavy favorites to win this season’s championship since, uh, like Game 4 of last season’s Finals. Also they are vile techno-libertarian scum.
Of course even you, casual basketball viewer, know and performatively worship point guard Stephen Curry, Golden State’s magical Vine teen. He’s the best shooter of basketballs who ever lived, and this season became the first unanimous winner of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. He has a good sports baby and pretty much everybody loves him except for sour cranks such as myself. If you are watching the Finals in a public place, you need to know the following about Curry:
- His name is pronounced STEFF-en, not STEE-ven, and commonly shortened to “Steph” (pronounced, weirdly enough, Steev*)
- He injured his knee earlier in the playoffs and has only recently seemed to return to full power
- When he does ordinary basketball stuff, like catching a rebound or walking from here to there without dying, the custom is to react as though he has shot lightning from his fingertips and/or to write 900-word thinkpieces about how he is the inventor of fun
- When he does amazing basketball stuff, like tossing in a shot from near half court as easily as if it were a free-throw, literally pull your head off and spike it on the ground like a football
But also, there’s Klay Thompson, his fellow guard, who pretty much singlehandedly dragged the Warriors past the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals with a heroic three-game barrage of three-point shooting. He lacks Curry’s flair and improvisational brilliance, but he’s an astoundingly great shooter in his own right, a terrific defender, and a fair bet to quietly be the biggest reason why the Warriors repeat as champions.
Then there’s Draymond Green, Golden State’s pudgy, pugnacious Swiss Army forward. He defends bigger players and smaller ones; he passes; he scores; he rebounds; he crane-kicks opposing centers in the dick and balls. The next time he commits a flagrant foul, he will trigger an automatic one-game suspension for himself, so look for the referees to do everything in their power to avoid giving him one, because he’s certainly not going to stop doing dirty shit on purpose. The very tall and fast Thunder made him look like George Costanza in the conference finals, but he’s good, and may be a particular problem for the Cavaliers. You’re expected to grudgingly concede his brilliance while secretly hating his guts.
Finally, there’s forward Andre Iguodala, who is not really all that great a basketball man, but who is a very good defensive player, and who will spend lots of time playing defense against LeBron James in the Finals. That’s what he did last season, and he was named Finals MVP for it.
Some guy at the bar just said “the Death Lineup is coming soon.” Is he about to reenact the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?
Possibly not! In the context of the Golden State Warriors, “Death Lineup” is a basketblogger term for when they play a small lineup featuring Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green, and forward Harrison Barnes together, eschewing a traditional lumbering center in favor of terrifying flexibility, versatility, and range at both ends of the floor. It’s their trump card in important stretches; figuring out how to counter it will be one of the principal challenges facing the Cavaliers in this series.
On the other hand, if you are not in a sports bar, probably you should head for the exit when the “Death Lineup” talk begins.
Because you live in the Bay Area, or are a native of the Bay Area, or prefer having your rooting gratified by success, or are Satan.
They’re expected to! The Thunder made the Warriors look more, uh, vincible (?) than they’ve looked in a long time, but still, this is one of the best basketball teams ever assembled.
California. The Warriors represent the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area.
*Just reiterating: It’s pronounced Steev. Make sure to pronounce it Steev. Good ol’ Steev Curry, out here tossin’ in some treys from downtown!
They took a 2-1 lead in last year’s Finals despite LeBron James being pretty much the only healthy player on the roster who could so much as dribble a basketball from the foul line to the restricted area without accidentally kicking it through the wrong team’s basket. This time around, they’re not missing their second- and third-best player, but still: their deal is LeBron. If they will win Cleveland’s first major-sport championship since 1964, it will be because of LeBron.
You know LeBron James as Smug Kia Pitchman Who Is Not Blake Griffin, but also as Romantic Comedy Sidekick, but also, he’s one of the handful of best basketball players who ever lived. At 31 and with an outrageous amount of basketball behind him, he’s entered the part of his career where he kinda cruises along during the regular season, meting out his exertion in carefully rationed portions, hoping to preserve his capacity to go full Wrath of God for the Finals, where he has now gone six seasons in a goddamn row, holy shit how is that possible? It’s been a success this season: Not only are the Cavs in the Finals again, but they got there without LeBron having to do everything every night; as a consequence, he looks healthier and more spry than he has during any of his past trips to the Finals, literally the prior five of which he’s been in; for chrissakes he could drag your local high-school team to the Finals, dude’s ridiculous.
The custom with LeBron is, at some point in the Finals he will be driving toward the basket, a defender will rake his arm down the front of LeBron’s body, he will muscle the ball up to the rim anyway and then look for a foul call, and you will clown him for being a “flopper,” even though your favorite NBA player would have flown apart like a matchstick sculpture of a teacup from contact half as violent as what LeBron just scored right through.
The Cavaliers also have Kyrie Irving, who played pretty well in Game 1 of last year’s Finals before injuring himself. Think of him as an extreeeeeemely poor man’s version of Stephen Curry: He doesn’t shoot as well, he doesn’t pass as well, he doesn’t defend as well, he’s smaller, he might not actually be especially good, but, like Curry, he can handle the hell out of the basketball, likes to trash defenders off the dribble, and can go on some crazy scoring runs all by himself from time to time. The Warriors will attack him mercilessly when he’s on defense, where he’s bad.
Then there’s Kevin Love, who, buhhhhhhhh. Listen. Who the hell knows. I don’t even know if Kevin Love actually is a good basketball man at all. Maybe he will make a bunch of three-pointers, get some tough buckets down in the post, acquit himself serviceably on defense, and throw some lovely long outlet passes that lead to transition baskets for the Cavaliers.
Or maybe he will do this ...
... while also being turned into a human “Yield” sign at the defensive end of the floor, and the Cavaliers will forfeit the Finals out of shame. Nobody is less reliable than this neurotic curly-haired dork. His game is the basketball equivalent of a just-adopted shelter dog.
Lastly, there’s J.R. Smith, who is capable of being good or extremely bad, but in any case is very important for the Cavaliers. The best-case scenario for the Cavaliers has him basically cancelling out Klay Thompson. The worst-case scenario for the Cavaliers has him forgetting to bring the Gatorade bottles that don’t have molly in them to the game.
Don’t they also have the funny Russian guy who does good commercials?
Yeah! That’s Timofey Mozgov. He was good in last year’s Finals, but the Cavaliers barely use him now, opting instead for Channing Frye, who gives them, oh, call it a generous 75-percent of the traditional center stuff (rebounding, shot-blocking, help defense), but roughly 2,000,000-percent of the freakishly dead-eye three-point shooting. If Mozgov plays much in these Finals, it likely will mean the Cavaliers are searching desperately for a lineup that can punish the Warriors for playing small.
That’s Matthew Dellavedova, who did an admirable job defending Curry in last year’s Finals, despite possessing precisely zero basketball skills, and who is also an intolerable, skittering little pest with a penchant for doing the type of reckless shit that gets people hurt. He’ll play regular minutes in this series, but like with Mozgov, if you see a lot of him, it likely means the Cavs are in big trouble. In his case, it’d be because Irving is completely failing on defense. Broadly speaking, only Warriors fans are hoping to see lots of Matthew Dellavedova in this series, which is another reason to hate their guts.
Back in January, the Cavs fired their coach, David Blatt, even though they were in first place and cruising to a top seed at the time, and even though he’d coached them to last season’s Finals. They replaced him with his assistant coach, former guard Tyronn Lue, amid reports that actually, Blatt was a ridiculous doofus who’d done his best coaching when LeBron was all but using him as a hand puppet.
Hilariously, this meant that Lue coached the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game less than a month after coaching his first-ever NBA game. Blatt, by the way, just signed a contract to coach an obscure Turkish team, and is the saddest man.
Because you live in Ohio, or are a native Ohioan, or like underdogs, or detest consensus, especially among basketbloggers. Or because you have been conditioned by years of blogging to shake uncontrollably and wet yourself at the thought of the smug takes that will be unleashed if LeBron James falls to 2-5 in the Finals in his career.
Sure! I don’t particularly feel like they will, but they can. They have a long list of ifs they need to break their way. If they can score inside efficiently enough, and rebound enough, they may be able to force the Warriors to keep a traditional big man on the court more than they’d like to, which will prevent the matchups from making Kevin Love even more of a defensive liability than he always is. If they can cobble together a respectable effort on Curry-Green pick-and-rolls without having to catapult Irving and Love out of the arena altogether, they may have enough firepower to hang in there without LeBron grinding himself to exhaustion in the first four games of the series, the way he had to last year. If if if. They’re underdogs for a reason! For, uh, lots of reasons, actually.
But also, they have LeBron James. He got them halfway to winning the Finals last season, pretty much all by himself, against basically this exact same Warriors team. Anything is possible.
No. This blog is over.