The news from the NBA Finals is all good, kids, and it is this: Nobody has any narratives left to invent. The events of Games 1 and 2 have savaged all the preconceptions, conceptions, and the way it’s looking, the post-conceptions of this series. Nobody has any idea what’s coming next, and nobody with any intellectual integrity has the nerve to give it even an honest try.
The Golden State Warriors won Game 2, 109-104, but their comfort zone (and maybe their chances of winning the series) diminished by losing a player to injury every 16 minutes. The Toronto Raptors should have won Game 2 but fell victim to the same forces that make the Warriors seemingly indomitable and now go west for Games 3 and 4 gripped with that ol’ Oaktown doubt.
Put another way, based on performance and health through two games, your Finals MVP is either Fred VanVleet or Doris Burke.
And all this is why this is going to be a great Finals. Because nobody knows anything.
Much of this lack of conventional video-driven wisdom is caused by Golden State’s almost hilarious injury list, which grew by two Sunday night when Klay Thompson gronked a hamstring and Kevon Looney got clocked in the chest to go with Andre Iguodala’s nightly leg issue. Warriors team doctor Rick Celebrini got as much mention on Sunday’s broadcast as Pascal Siakam, and there’s a cheap line in noting that Toronto’s coach is named Nick Nurse.
Oh, and of course Kevin Durant remains a mystery wrapped around a calf. People who know nothing guessed he might be called upon for Game 3 if the Warriors were down 2-0 because that’s how proper medical care works, but his leg remains obnoxiously mum on the subject. The long-held belief that his return is the ace the Warriors will play at just the right moment to give this series order and finality is now running against the unforeseen possibility that the Warriors might collect too many injuries for Durant’s return to remedy. “Just the right moment” could become “What the hell kept you?” in the minds of the deep thinkers, which is why the deep thinkers always have to drink alone.
But Toronto’s work so far also lends more to doubt than assurance. They ridiculously outplayed Golden State in the first half Sunday but led by only five at the interval, then came out for the second half and were immediately overwhelmed like they were the Portland Trail Blazers. Once again the Warriors fell behind by double-digits and laughed at the math, and once again an opponent got the third-quarter heebie-jeebies. Golden State would do itself a world of good by taking the court for the anthem in Game 3 with the scoreboard reading Raptors 14, Warriors 3, and whatever Steve Kerr is giving them as a pregame speech should be scrapped for his second-half speech, or cartoons.
And yet the Warriors, having overcome a 12-point first-half deficit, barely held onto what was at one point a 13-point second-half lead. This seems to mean that no comfort can be taken by looking at the point margin and saying, “This team is doing well and that team is not,” thus removing a handy and old-fashioned yet normally reliable analytic tool.
This makes for a festival of “Yeah, but [fill in the blank]” when confronted by some blowhard’s hot take on what they have just seen. The Raptors cannot be trusted because they are going to Oakland, and the Warriors cannot be trusted because they are losing employees at a preposterous rate. Everything you believed before the series is questionable, and everything you thought you knew after Game 1 was reversed by the developments of Game 2. You can’t, if you’re a Warrior fan, do the “heart of a champion” cliché when their muscles, tendons and skeletal structure are under such stress.
All this is good, nay, great for your entertainment because it beats back the relentless rise of the blowhards. There are no inevitabilities, no mathematical tendencies upon which one can rely. Home/road records, records when down in the series, recency biases—none of them make sense when the questions of who can show up for work and who can keep the mental goblins at bay are more elemental.
And to determine those things, the only cure is to watch the remaining games in open-minded bafflement. This is the series we should want and the one we all deserve, after all the months of proclaiming the Warriors’ dominion and Durant’s future, all the declarations and specu-guesses about the nature of the Golden State dynasty. Basketball, typically cursed by too many sure things, now has what the Stanley Cup has enjoyed for seemingly decades: no earthly idea. We finally got a finals in which every question has the always-comforting answer, “Beats the hell out of me.”
Ray Ratto is staying with his pre-series prediction of Pistons in 11.