I cannot count how many times I stood out of my seat within the last 2 months. While a small portion of this can be contributed to my newly rejuvenated love for FIFA, a majority of the credit has to go to this year’s NBA playoffs, specifically the Finals series. While it can be argued, the Western Conference Semi-Finals were the series we all hoped and dreamed for, the Finals gave us two of our generational talents pitted against each other, each with an incredible amount of pressure on the line. Now it is over. It becomes difficult for me to process what happened after a series like this; everything starts to bleed together, leaving me with a mess of mental Jell-O to try to organize; I always end up feeling as if I won’t be able to truly remember the feeling of this year’s Finals. Thank God for statistics and facts, though! For my mental health and hopefully others’ too, I decided to choose five stats or facts I thought accurately represented what we just witnessed. Then I wrote my opinion on each one, tried to remember every part of every Finals game, compiled some interesting and representative statistics, and hopefully slipped in a few J.R. Smith related jokes.
- First NBA team to comeback from a 3 to 1 deficit in the Finals
- The Warriors managed to secure yet another record late Sunday evening, but probably not one they’ll remember when they end up in whatever high-ceilinged senior citizen home Bill Russell currently resides in. After nearly every professional and amateur NBA fan picked Golden State to dismantle LeBron and company, the team who beat Michael Jordan’s regular season win record lost on their home court. They didn’t just lose though – they lost to a man chasing his legacy, uncomfortably aware of the stage he was on, using every moment to accelerate himself into the discussion of being the best basketball player of all time. He dominated the headlines in arguably the single most influential game of his legacy and did so by overcoming a hurdle no team had cleared in the history of professional basketball. Let’s not forget just how painful this has to be for Curry and the Warriors, though; while I don’t have sympathy for the millionaires and billionaires paying upwards of $100,000 for courtside tickets, I do feel bad for Curry and the legitimate Golden State fans. The only thing more crushing than losing the NBA Finals despite going up 3 games to 1, is losing the NBA Finals despite going up 3 games to 1 after coming back against a 3 game deficit yourself the series before. If it weren’t for the unanimous MVP award, the record-breaking season, and potentially the most adorable family in the public spotlight, I would feel bad for Steph Curry.
- LeBron James led the series in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals
- This series felt like the result of a year’s worth of ignoring LeBron. Throughout the entire season, Sports Center hosts, radio personalities, and beat writers only wanted to deliberate, articulate, and debate exclusively about Steph Curry and this Warriors team, and rightfully so. A record no one really believed would ever be broken was, and that’s worthy of attention. However, I think LeBron disagreed with the public and he showed that by dominating almost every game of the Finals. There was little question he was the best player on the court; outscoring Curry in six of the seven games and almost averaging a triple double through the series, but he played differently than he had in prior Finals series. 2016 LeBron was seen intentionally stepping over Draymond Green, embarrassing him almost as much as Allen Iverson embarrassed James’ coach Tyrone Lue in the 2001 Finals. 2016 LeBron blocked Steph Curry and the entire Warriors’ team so emphatically that Riley Curry probably thinks James’ is now her actual dad. 2016 LeBron put up 41 points twice in the same Finals series while still managing to have a combined 18 assists, 24 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 7 steals throughout both those games. Safe to say 2016 LeBron changed the way we look at his career as a whole. 2016 LeBron is my favorite LeBron.
- First player to openly weep on the hardwood after securing the first title for Cleveland in 52 years
- Ok, so I didn’t actually fact check this one but I’m pretty sure it’s true. The two-and-a-half-hour period following the first Cleveland championship in over five decades was a misty eyed one. If I had to guess, J.R. Smith probably cried for four hours straight Sunday night. His body must have been dumping out as much liquid as possible in preparation for their reported immediate trip to the XS nightclub in Vegas. The best part of the night though, was watching LeBron’s reaction to finally bringing a title home. It may have been the only time we’ve seen a truly vulnerable James. He looked embarrassed but at the same time quietly delighted with the attention as he collapsed to the floor, unable to control his super-human sized body after the emotional victory. Tears streamed down his cheeks while he alternated between covering his face from the cameras and smacking the floor, releasing the weight of all the expectations and pressure culminated over the last two years. As far as history goes, this is one of the most memorable Finals performances. The narrative seems like fiction; a seemingly make believe tale about a king reclaiming his crown, something you’d expect out of a sequel to an only OK movie. But as a basketball fan, in the context of a Hall of Fame career that will be scrutinized and debated for years to come, last night was a cool moment.
- Kyrie Irving averaged more points per game than any other teammate LeBron has had in any of his NBA Finals appearances (yes, this includes D-Wade, Miami Heat apologists)
- It seems like just yesterday that everyone was making jokes about Kyrie Irving and his style of basketball. He was dissected on a daily basis. Accused of not passing enough, playing too much isolation basketball, and playing defense about as well as I would if given the opportunity Irving was on the tip of every pundit’s tongue. He was in a slump, shooting poorly from the field and even worse from behind the arc. Until games 4 and 5. Between those two games, Irving scored a staggering 75 points while shooting at a much more impressive 60% field goal percentage. His defense took a step in the right direction too, combining for a total of 8 steals after game 3. More importantly though, he was finding LeBron just as much as he was making shots for himself. It was exhilarating to see James defer to Kyrie in the final minutes of Game 7 and watch Kyrie sink a three pointer in Curry’s face, but it was more fascinating to realize this was finally a LeBron team. A LeBron team passes if it makes sense, because he trusts every individual to fill their role and that’s exactly what Kyrie did in that moment. Kyrie isn’t valued in the same way a traditional point guard is, he doesn’t pass first for the most part and he isn’t at the top of the key running a well-oiled offense. But that doesn’t mean he can’t find a way to drastically contribute to an offense run by LeBron James. This series proved that.
- Warriors lost as many games in this post season as they did all season long
- What a disappointing end to such a remarkable season for the Warriors. The roller coaster of emotion that was the regular season may have been just too exhausting for them to make a successful playoff run. Despite going up 3 games to 1, Curry and Thompson couldn’t close out on multiple occasions and now their 73-win season will be right there with the New England Patriots undefeated season; success with no championship to show for it. However, I don’t think it should be viewed through an entirely negative lens. If you think Draymond Green won’t remember his game 5 suspension and feel immense responsibility for this series, then you’re underestimating the second round draft pick and his ability to play with a chip on his shoulder. If anything, next season’s Warriors will be ready to fight. Without the pressure of a historic regular season outshining their playoff narrative, they will be able to enter the 2017 race ready to be fiercely competitive. Sure, some role players may be missing. The human air ball himself, Harrison Barnes, will probably be missing wide-open 3-pointers for some other team who will pay him far too much money after the salary cap increases again, but that may be the most beneficial thing that happens to the Warriors during the offseason. The only time in recent memory, where a championship coach has been questioned for his late game lineups was during the infamous game 6 when Greg Popovich sat Tim Duncan, allowing Chris Bosh to get the most important rebound of his life and find Ray Allen in the corner. Steve Kerr wanted to make sure he was in the conversation too though, replacing Ezeli with Barnes in the final minutes of Sunday’s game 7 in what is a decision that will now be questioned by every media member in ESPN for at least 2 weeks. The good news is hopefully next season Kerr won’t have to make such an unwinnable decision, and who knows, Kevin Durant is still a free agent this summer.
As this season comes to an inevitable close, the Finals series we were left with seems representative of the 2015-16 season as a whole. History was made, critics were hushed, and the Warriors lived and died by the 3 pointer. The future is promising for the NBA though; where will the Timberwolves be next season? Who from this year’s draft class will be the 2016 Devin Booker, a late lottery pick who surprises everyone with his immediate contribution to his team? Is LeBron following the Cavs Twitter account again? Will Kevin Love still be sponsored by chocolate milk and banana republic next season? A boat load of questions that can only be answered by keeping your ear to the floor and your fingers on the pulse of the most exciting and entertaining sport in the world.
By SAM CLARK / Contributing Writer