First things first: They get no credit for making the Finals. LeBron James could win three playoff series in the East with any four Supreme Court justices as his running mates. Account for that, and what have these bozos contributed to the effort?
Hey, maybe the Cavs are better off without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, went the murmured refrain during last year’s Finals, when the hobbled Cavaliers defended and rebounded and LeBronned their way to a 2-1 lead and it seemed, for a minute there, like defending and rebounding and LeBron might actually Do It. It’s not quite true—especially not along the length of a regular season, when some nights even LeBron James needs some other dudes who can eat possessions without barfing them down the front of their jerseys—but the more accurate telling is no less depressing: Against these Warriors, in a playoff series, it makes no difference. Irving and Love; Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov; Mo Williams and Sasha Kaun; James Jones and a crayon drawing of Shaquille O’Neal in a Superman costume—take your pick. The Cavs will lose. By a lot!
Go ahead and try to isolate the tactical/strategic reasons why the Cavs can’t even give their vile techno-libertarian opponents a decent game. Eventually you start to notice patterns emerging, as the reasons pile up. They can’t hide Kyrie on defense and Kyrie chokes the life out of the Cavs every time the ball is in his hands and actually it’s not good offense when Kyrie jerks off his handles for 14 seconds just to get himself a contested 17-footer can be lumped together as Kyrie just kinda sucks bird, doesn’t he? Love can’t switch onto anybody in pick-and-rolls, so the Cavs have to trap and give up those downhill 4-on-3 death-by-ball-movement buckets the Warriors love so much; Love also can’t hang back and defend the rim because he’s short and stumpy-armed and soft and has a vertical leap that just barely gets him over the lines painted onto the floor; Love might actually be a big gaping wound on the floor for the team that traded Andrew Wiggins to get him; Love’s out with a concussion anyway, so who cares. Reckless klutz Dellavedova can’t help. Iman Shumpert can’t help. Mozgov can’t help. Richard Jefferson, bless his eager 74-year-old heart, can’t help. Even when they try to get out of LeBron’s way, they don’t make his job easier: their defenders don’t come with them. They’re bad. The pattern is: The Cavs are bad.
The Warriors make lots of teams look bad, of course. They went 73-9 in the regular season, for chrissakes, and are probably the best team the NBA’s ever had. And so maybe you have an impulse to say that they’re just making the Cavs look shitty. What difference does it make? Thirty-one-year-old LeBron James gets you, what, let’s be conservative and call it 75-percent of the way to a championship just by showing up to the arena on time most nights; the other 14 Cleveland Cavaliers couldn’t cover the rest of the distance, in 2016, if you gave them a billion tries. And swords!
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This doesn’t exonerate LeBron, either! As the New York Times’ Harvey Araton detailed today, LeBron pretty much assembled this team. He engineered the Love trade; he’s believed to have brokered (or pushed for) the deal that landed J.R. Smith, Shumpert, and Mozgov in Cleveland; the Cavs re-upped forward Tristan Thompson to appease LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul; he’s widely reported to have been the driving force behind the midseason replacement of coach David Blatt; the back of the bench is stocked with souvenirs he picked up along the way, Mo Williams and James Jones, both useless. Some of these moves improved the Cavaliers; none of them elevated them much beyond where they’d be if nominal general manager David Griffin built the team around LeBron by throwing darts at a list of everyone on earth.
Here was a fun and telling moment from the third quarter of last night’s ass-kicking. Just about halfway through the quarter, Klay Thompson hit a three to push the Warriors’ lead to 12, a manageable number in most circumstances that might as well have 72 zeroes after it in a game between these two teams. Coming back down at the other end, LeBron called for a screen from J.R. Smith and got the switch he wanted: Leandro Barbosa defending him, rather than Andre Iguodala. Okay! LeBron, isolated on the left side, against a teensy lil’ Brazilian dude he probably outweighs by 80 pounds or more! Time to cook!
LeBron took a moment to size Barbosa up. Bash the lil’ fella down into the post? Or drive right by his wee ass, to dunk or draw defenders off of shooters? Or call for another screen? Or ...
... maybe just punt. What difference would it make? A good look and a contested double-pump three-pointer are the same shit when the outcome is certain: meaningless. Empty numbers. The Cavs are frauds, and LeBron knows it, because he made them. Boooooooooooo.