Well hello there, casual basketball viewer. No, you have not accidentally clicked on an extremely old Deadspin post—the Golden State Warriors really are hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals tonight, the fourth straight year they’ve done exactly that. Are you excited? No? Not excited at all? In fact, even though you rooted for exactly this outcome during the contentious and drama-filled conference finals, now that it has arrived it feels as though the NBA has exhumed a stinky old corpse for the sole purpose of burying it again? Well, look, goddammit, I’ve gotta blog some damn thing to account for my time, and it might as well be this.
Anyway, here you’ll find some useful stuff to know, to pretend to know, and to look out for, as you nurse a beer and chat about work with some friends and maybe glance up at the score every once in a while for the next week or (probably not) two.
Let’s start with the defending champs.
Golden State Warriors
What is their deal?
For just a minute there it really did start to seem like this was the year a combination of age, roster thinness, injury, the boredom of the competitively fulfilled, and a Western Conference rival fixated down to its DNA on getting past them might combine to stop the Warriors short of this point. The Rockets had them on the brink after Game 5 of the conference finals, but melted down (hilariously, to be frank!) in the second halves of games 6 and 7, and now here we are again, with no particularly convincing reason to believe the Finals will tip-off anywhere but the Bay Area in the next half-decade.
You know these assholes. Sure, they settled for the West’s second playoff seed this year, and sure, the scare in the previous round might have made them seem creakier and more vulnerable than usual, but they’re still the Warriors. They still have two of the league’s top, what, four or five players, and four of its top 20 by any sane reckoning; they still have, in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant, three of the greatest shooters in the history of the sport; they still possess, by a margin measured in light-years, the league’s strongest combination of talent and system and smarts and internal cohesion. If—if!—there’s maybe an empirical argument to be made that their highest gear is not quite as otherworldly as it was last season, or even the season before that, it doesn’t change the reality that this almost certainly is still the best and most loaded basketball team ever.
They’re, uh, favored, is what I am saying.
I refuse to debase myself by pretending not to know who their key guys are.
That’s fine. Let’s just look at some video of those guys doing cool stuff, instead.
Here’s Steph Curry:
Here’s Kevin Durant:
Here’s Klay Thompson:
And here’s Draymond Green:
Now, I do have a couple of Actual Basketball Notes, here.
First, the Warriors will be without 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala at least for Game 1, if not longer, as he deals with a leg injury. Though Iggy’s not more than their fifth-best player, his absence actually could matter, especially if it lasts more than just the one game: He won that Finals MVP award almost exclusively due to his defense on Cleveland’s LeBron James—in a series in which LeBron averaged 36 points and 9 assists per game. Think about that for a second. You can win the frickin’ NBA Finals MVP award for defending a dude who averages 36 and 9.
This is a testament both to LeBron’s greatness and to the vital importance—even for a team as loaded and as heavily favored as the Warriors were then and are now—of slowing him down, even if only marginally, over a full series. Iguodala defends LeBron about as well as anybody else in the sport, and, crucially, he can do it without having to sacrifice too much energy at the other end of the floor, where his job, even when he’s not guarding the best player in the world, is mostly just to ping the ball out of his hands quickly, smartly, and accurately, run in transition, and pump up the occasional corner three-pointer. If he can’t go, the work of checking LeBron will fall at least in part to Durant. He does a fine job of it, but that’s certainly not an ideal use of his energy, and it at least theoretically puts him at greater risk of foul trouble.
(Then again, just about the worst-case scenario for the Warriors here is that they win the championship in six games instead of four or five.)
The second Actual Basketball Note concerns Curry. This is not exactly a spicy take to issue regarding a slim 30-year-old scoring guard with an extensive history of lower-leg problems, two years removed from the two-season stretch during which he annihilated every shooting benchmark worth mentioning and revolutionized the entire sport, but: I think Steph is pretty definitively declining at this point, and even if you are a veritable font of haterade like me, that means you should not lightly discard opportunities to see him Do The Shit on the biggest possible stage.
Don’t get me wrong! Steph is still the most extraordinary shooter in the game, if not by percentages then by his unmatched range, his fearlessness, the absurd quickness of his release, and his still unparalleled ability to use those to warp and stretch the contours of halfcourt play into unrecognizable and unmanageable shapes. But he has lost a step, particularly off his once-terrifying ability to create separation for himself off the dribble via slick flurries of crossovers, feints, and step-backs: He just doesn’t dart and spring around as quickly as he used to, and his step-back moves don’t cover nearly as much ground as they once did. Whether age or injury took this from him, it’s unlikely he’ll ever get it all the way back, and it portends all the rest of what he’ll lose, eventually. So, watch the damn Finals!
Should I root for the Warriors?
You should root for the Warriors to get gastroenteritis.
What do they need to do to win?
They need to avoid eating any suspicious seafood between now and the 17th.
Will Steph Curry nail anybody with a flying mouthpiece in this series?
God, I hope so.
What is their deal?
The Cavaliers flipped half their rotation midway through the season to get younger and more athletic ... and have gotten very little, bordering on nothing, from the young and athletic players they acquired. They limped into the postseason in the dreary middle of the East’s weak playoff field. They barely survived the callow Indiana Pacers in the first round; then, after sweeping away the terminally neurotic and self-defeating Toronto Raptors in the second, they barely survived the callow and injury-ravaged Boston Celtics in the conference finals. Their second best player is going through the NBA’s concussion protocol and may not play tonight; their next best players after him are Jeff Green and Kyle Korver, in some order. They’re not a good defensive team and lately they’re not really a good offensive team either. They’re inarguably worse than the Cavs team that lost to these same Warriors in five games last spring. They’re ... not good? I kind of think they’re just not good. And they’re appearing in their fourth consecutive Finals.
If you want to point out that’s because the East blows, fine. That’s certainly part of why they’re here again! Then again, the East also blows for the other teams in the East, and none of them are in the Finals instead of the Cavaliers. That’s because the Cavaliers have Le—wait, that goes in the next section.
This is a farce.
Aw, come on.
I won’t do it.
Please just do it, my editor is watching.
Who are their important players to watch?
YOU DUMMY, IT’S LEBRON FRICKIN’ JAMES!!!!!!!!
More than any of the friggin’ eight others in his career, this trip to the Finals belongs pretty much solely to LeBron. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone carry a team as totally and constantly—and successfully!—as LeBron carries the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers, a teetering junk heap of a squad whose season by all rights ought to have ended a little over a month ago at the hands of the deeper, sharper, more talented, and more versatile Pacers. These chumps have no business playing official games in June. But LeBron does, and so he hoisted them onto his back and dragged their sorry asses all the way here. Now more than ever before, it’s very silly to pretend he’s not the greatest player of all time. He’s the greatest player of all time!
He’s also, like Curry, aging. He’s 33 years old and has put his freakish body through a flat-out ridiculous amount of NBA basketball over the past decade and a half. He made these Finals by the skin of his teeth, and the odds against him returning will be worse basically every day between the end of this season and the end of time. I know his annual Capistrano-ass return to the Finals has attained a certain drudgery, but please, please, please do not waste this opportunity to watch LeBron James and to see what can be brought out of him by coming this close to the biggest prize his life’s pursuit has to offer.
Hey, what the hell, let’s mention some other dudes who will have to do some stuff in this series, if the laughably overmatched Cavs are to do more than humiliate themselves.
Guard George Hill, whom the Cavs acquired from the Sacramento Kings back in February, has a history of defending Steph Curry about as well as can be expected of anybody. At a few points in these playoffs, he has appeared capable of doing some stuff on offense, too, which is more than can be said of many of his fellows in Cleveland’s rotation.
You remember Kevin Love, right? He got his brain rattled last week; the uncertainties of concussion recovery will make him even more of a walking question mark than he ordinarily is, whenever he returns to action, if he returns to action.
If I start to write a paragraph premised on the idea that there are things Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, and J.R. Smith can do that would help the Cavaliers win, my hands will detach themselves from my wrists and stuff themselves into the garbage disposal. Therefore I am not going to do that.
Should I root for the Cavaliers?
Sure. Root for the two remaining northern white rhinoceroses, both of which are female, to repopulate their species, while you’re at it. For all the dang good it will do!
What do they need to do to win?
A list of potential Finals outcomes, ranked in order of plausibility, gets like seven or eight deep—depending on how likely you figure a meteor strike to be—before you get to one that has the Cavaliers winning the championship with this busted-ass roster. Basically they need to play the best basketball of their entire damn lives, for seven games. And a crocodile needs to bite Kevin Durant’s arms off.
I’m done with this blog!