It’s that time of year again: 364 days and 23 hours since the end of the conference finals, the NBA Finals are here! The brave Cleveland Cavaliers will seek to defend their championship from the vile and heavily favored Golden State Warriors, whom they vanquished in last season’s Finals by coming back from a three-games-to-one deficit in the greatest thing that has ever happened in sports. The re-rematch (they also met in the Finals before that, which the Warriors won in six games) begins tonight and, if the rest of the playoff schedule is any indicator, will end at some point in the year 2019.
What do you, a casual sports enjoyer, need to know in preparation for watching the games? I am glad you asked! Here is an extremely thorough and helpful primer on the participating teams, which will bring you up to speed on all the important stuff so that you can fool your friends and coworkers into thinking you did not just learn what the word basketball refers to this morning during your commute.
We’ll start with the favorites.
I know, right? It’s like, when will they just fuck the fuck off already! Oh, wait, you weren’t commiserating. You were asking who these people are.
The Warriors won the championship the season before last, won an NBA-record 73 games last season, and then added Kevin Durant, one of the sport’s two or three best players and one of the greatest scorers in history, to their already insanely stacked roster. They won 67 games in the regular season and have not yet dropped a single game in these playoffs (an achievement only slightly muddled by the fact that they were getting their dicks jump-kicked off in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals before San Antonio’s Kahwi Leonard landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot and died).
If you want to argue some other team’s claim to some particular way of defining “best team of all time,” that’s fine, so long as you acknowledge that these Warriors have, at least, several competing claims to that honorific. What I am saying here is, they’re probably the best NBA team ever. And they can go to damn hell!
Liking the Warriors isn’t quite as internet-cool as it was in the previous two years, thanks to stuff like familiarity, oversaturation, a reasonable correction to the lunatic heights their hype reached last winter, fairly widespread distaste for Kevin Durant having chosen to join them after they knocked his Oklahoma City Thunder out in the conference finals last year, and LeBron James having balled them up and dunked them into the dumpster in the 2016 Finals. Also, they are the team of choice for triumphal Bay Area technolibertarian swine, which, I dunno, maybe that turns you off. If it doesn’t, consider that they’re also the team of ex-Deadspinner Kevin Draper. Who can also go to damn hell!
But hey, sure, root for them if you want. They’re outrageously good and the basketball they play is outrageously beautiful. The bastards.
I probably don’t need to tell you to keep an eye on Golden State’s superstar guard, Steph Curry, both because he already is one of the most famous sports celebrities alive and because your eye will find him all on its own. He’ll be the guy flinging the ball into the basket from 35 feet away like it is nothing.
Steph’s the best shooter who ever lived, an absolute savage when he’s feeling himself, and he will be itching to lay waste to the Cavaliers, as well as to the idea that his relatively down performance in last season’s Finals reflected more than a bum leg. No lead will be big enough to get him to ease up voluntarily, in this series. If he puts it on the Cavs half as thoroughly as he probably wants to, it will be some of the cruelest waste-laying ever televised.
Curry isn’t the only Warrior who’ll be looking to make a big, visible statement. Draymond Green, Golden State’s do-everything forward and the league’s best defensive player, may very well have blown the last Finals when he earned a Game 5 suspension for serial testicle mauling; the Warriors lost that game at home, and the whole tenor of the series changed. He had the game of his life in Game 7, but by then the rest of his teammates were too busy pissing down their legs to keep up. He’ll be the sorta potato-shaped guy gesticulating wildly and screaming at the players on whichever team isn’t doing very well at any given moment. (I honestly don’t know whether he is my favorite or my least-favorite Warrior, but he’s definitely one or the other.)
And then there’s Kevin Durant, who will be looking to validate the most sour, miserable point of all: Uhh, everybody who said I was a front-running buster for hitching up with the super-team that humiliated me in the 2016 conference finals, was, uhhh...whatever, fuck you, I have a ring now, shut up. The tenets of right-thinking sports fandom in 2017 say we’re all not supposed to heap scorn on a star player who joins the opposition instead of grinding himself to death for the sake of destroying it—seeking the best place to do one’s job, after all, is not only every worker’s right but a totally understandable and fine thing to do—but also, Durant is a big ol’ chicken who, seeing that he could neither defeat the Warriors nor surpass LeBron James individually, decided to punt on both challenges, and that both rendered the league more top-heavy than it had been and made this season feel like an empty formality, so the most fun possible thing would be for LeBron to dunk him into the toilet while Draymond Green yells at him and Steph Curry carefully avoids eye contact, and then for Russell Westbrook to crash through the ceiling and RKO him into hell.
Klay Thompson, Curry’s sharpshooting backcourt mate, also is an important Warrior. Honestly, he is as safe a bet as anybody but LeBron to go completely nuts, average 30 a game, bottle up Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving at the other end of the floor, and win the series pretty much by himself. Unfortunately that is literally all there is to say about this silent stone-faced robot from outer space.
Two postseasons ago, Andre Iguodala won Finals MVP for, uh, “holding” LeBron James to averages of 35 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists in Golden State’s six-game win. That’s not gonna happen this time around.
Yeah, they’ll (probably, standby) be coached by associate head coach Mike Brown for part or all of the Finals, as his boss, Steve Kerr, deals with ongoing health problems related to his bad back. Brown was LeBron James’s coach for years in the latter’s first stint in Cleveland; whether that gives either of them an edge, here, is anybody’s guess.
Realistically, they need to not die. For all the clowning they rightfully receive—and will continue rightfully receiving for all the rest of the life of the human race—for blowing a 3-1 lead in last year’s Finals, literally any kind of loss in these Finals would be as bad a collapse as that. This is both true and me setting the stage for holding them to dull relief if (when) they eventually win.
They’re the friggin’ champs!
The Cavs took a step backward this past regular season, settling for the East’s second seed as their defense wobbled and LeBron James firmly embraced the idling-until-the-playoffs stage of his career, but they’re 12-1 in the postseason so far, their only loss coming via a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end a game they’d led by over 20 points, in a series they led 2-0 before ever playing a home game. What I’m saying, here, is: They’re solid. If their opponents were not almost certainly the best NBA team ever, we’d be talking about them as juggernauts. Instead, they enter this series looking like desperate underdogs.
They don’t need your damn support! They’ve got LeBron. You can go to hell.
I mean, there’s LeBron James, of course. You know LeBron.
LeBron might be the best basketball player of all time. If you replaced him with literally any other player in the NBA, including any one of the Warriors, the idea of the Cavs winning so much as a single game in this series would seem baldly ludicrous. You would laugh at the mere suggestion of it.
Then there’s Kyrie Irving. The slippery little guard came into his own as a postseason doomsday device last year, thanks to his singular talent for getting baskets for himself when isolated against a single defender, and hit what turned out to be the championship-winning bucket, a pull-up three-pointer right in Curry’s face, in the final minute of Game 7. When LeBron gets tired from running the offense and/or defending Durant, the Cavs will get him 20 seconds of rest sometimes by just letting him stand on the three-point line with his hands on his hips while Kyrie dribbles himself into a basket. It’s a real tactical benefit!
The challenge, like last year, will be figuring out the best use for him at the other end of the floor, where he’s never really been much of a defender, and where the Warriors will pick on his lapses whenever they are not picking on Kevin Love’s lapses. If he can hang in there on defense, then him playing Curry to a draw, or even outplaying Curry, is almost as likely as me reeeeeally regretting typing this sentence.
Oh, hey, right: Kevin Love. The doofus forward rescued his reputation with a heroic defensive stand against Curry in the last minute of Game 7 last year, and has mostly played like a genuine star this postseason—the first real stretch of star-quality play he’s put up since he came to Cleveland from Minnesota a couple years ago. He can shoot and rebound and score in the low-post and, holy shit, he’s so good at firing long outlet passes off of defensive rebounds that he’s actually turned that into a cool, telegenic basketball skill, but in order to do all that stuff he will have to defend well enough to keep the Warriors from turning him into a weathervane, which will be the big question for basically the entire rest of his career.
And finally, yes, I have to include burly offensive-rebound machine and dogged defender Tristan Thompson on the list of important Cavaliers, now that he has bedeviled the Warriors in two straight Finals (and for the only slightly lesser reason that he received the Zach Lowe Benediction earlier this week). He will be the extremely large square-shaped bear catching all of the rebounds, if things are going well for the Cavaliers. If things are going poorly for the Cavaliers, he will be the extremely large square-shaped bear watching the proceedings from the bench, because the Cavaliers are playing from far behind and have turned to Channing Frye to play center, because he can shoot three-pointers and Thompson cannot.
How clever of you to notice. Can we move on?
There is not a thing with their coach. Their coach is Tyronn Lue, but really their coach is LeBron James.
They will need at least four players, and probably more than that, to play the best basketball of their lives at least four times in the next couple of weeks. One of those players will have to be LeBron James, who, if he does indeed have the ability to attain yet another higher level of basketball greatness, will probably radiate visible light as he does it, like Jesus at the Transfiguration. This seems disturbingly plausible.
Find out for your damn self! This blog is over.