The only way to describe the 2018 NBA Finals is by saying that it wasn’t even close. Any other description or analysis of the series is just someone trying to sound smarter than they actually are.
There really wasn’t a lot to these Finals, and we knew it coming in. As soon as the Rockets started bricking threes in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, we knew we were headed for a dud of a Finals. The Cavaliers would have no shot against Golden State. Houston winning would have made things very interesting, however. And Boston, well, Boston would have been fun either way. Who knows what that team could have done to either Western Conference team! The Celtics could have switched everything against the Warriors with their length, and defended one-on-one quite easily against Houston. Matching offensive output might have been an issue, but it would have at least been a compelling series.
Just because the Finals sucked though doesn’t mean we have to blowup the playoff format, have the league regulate how many good players each team gets, or go to a hard cap. When Warriors owner Joe Lacob said the team was “light years ahead,” it caused some steam to rise. People didn’t like it. And yeah, it was a little cringeworthy. But the reason people cringed and seethed at it was because he was 100% right. Nobody, not even LeBron James, who just had possibly the best year of his career, can catch up to it. Not one other team in the league has an answer yet and it’s been four years. That’s not the league’s or the Warriors’ fault. Sorry for smart people making smart decisions, I guess. And sorry that there’s 10+ atrocious GMs in the league right now as well. I didn’t know taking advantage of those things was considered unfair.
The Warriors demolished Cleveland. And the saddest part was that they didn’t really have to try. Game 1 was right there for the Cavaliers until JR Smith decided to make what might go down as one of the greatest gaffes in NBA history. And the craziest part was that Cleveland played a typical Cleveland game with poor defense and no one besides LeBron hitting shots which led to LeBron having to do everything. Per my preview, that was not the formula for Cleveland to even stay in a game, let alone win.
The formula did prove correct though, thanks to JR and thanks to a mysterious overturned charge call on Kevin Durant, which should have absolutely stayed as called originally. I understand that LeBron was standing at a weird angle when his feet were set, but they were set square, and he took the brunt of the contact. Aren’t these the things that replay is supposed to show us?
I understand that call will drive Cavs fans crazy considering the way the game ended, but it’s not like it didn’t give them a chance to win.
It’s been said enough, but Game 1 was really the only chance Cleveland had to win a game this series. They got a ridiculous LeBron performance and another guy to show up (Kevin Love, who was 9-20 with 21 points), and caught Golden State only shooting 36.1% from three. But poor defense and the rest of the team shooing only 34% from the field sunk them; you just can’t afford either one of those against Golden State. Add in the JR gaffe, and you’re toast. The Cavs knew they couldn’t win in overtime, and it showed.
Game 2 didn’t get any better for Cleveland. You could tell LeBron was gassed after Game 1, and wanted to get his teammates going. Good thing they showed up.
Cleveland shot only 33.3% on threes and could not give a crap defensively. They never switched on pick and rolls, leaving two guys guarding the ball-handler and the roller wide open for a layup at the rim. They didn’t closeout. Game 1 was still fresh in their minds. They knew they couldn’t win, and they didn’t want to try.
LeBron had help, actually more than he did in Game 1. But the Warriors came out much more prepared than I expected. Their effort fluctuation has been so great this season that it can span weeks to minutes within a quarter. This time, it turned around within a couple days. They were all-out firing: Hit every soul-crushing shot, tried on the defensive end (Which, against some of these Cavs, is like locking down), and flat-out obliterated Cleveland. Good offensive showings form George Hill and Kevin Love didn’t matter when Golden State was shooting 57.3% from the field. Stephen Curry hitting nine threes was a nice boost as well (It’s kinda insane he didn’t win Finals MVP, by the way). Games 2 and 4 from him were a treat. He had at least three “He did not just hit that” shots in those two games.
If the Warriors were gonna let one go, Game 3 would have been it. Their effort should have been poor based on the trends we observed all season. “Eh, we’re up 2-0!” should have been the attitude.
That wasn’t exactly the case. The effort was poor, but it wasn’t as dramatically poor as we might have expected. Kevin Durant certainly put some effort it, single-handily winning Golden State Game 3 thanks to his 43 points, 13 rebounds and six threes.
KD was the only Warrior who gave a crap in Game 3. Poor shooting performances from Curry and Klay Thompson were probably just cold shooting nights rather than being rooted in poor effort, but both of those sources still lead to the same outcome. Defensively, the Warriors were checked out. This allowed the Cavaliers to get some of their role guys going. Love had 20 points and 13 rebounds. JR Smith was terrible but still had 13 (When you’re talking about this Cavaliers team, 13 points from someone who’s not LeBron or Love is incredibly valuable), and Rodney Hood showed up after not playing all series and poured in 15 off the bench. Seriously, he was cooking. A bunch of people used this as an excuse to hit on Tyronn Lue for not playing him earlier. I’m sorry, but when was Rodney Hood every reliable in any game ever? Let alone the Finals? Oh yeah, and what did he shoot in Game 4? 4-14? Yeah, sounds about right. Lue’s not great, but lets not harp on him for not playing Rodney Hood in a freaking NBA Finals game.
Game 3 came down to the wire. The Cavaliers missed some shots down the stretch, and Durant made them pay with that 33 foot dagger from beyond the arc. I mean, that shot was completely ridiculous.
I thought losing Game 3 was almost equally as bad as losing Game 1 for Cleveland. Golden State shot 3/17 from three if you remove Durant’s attempts. Curry and Thompson were horrific. LeBron had 33 with another triple double, and Cleveland got two role players to show up. And still lost.
Sometimes against the Warriors, there’s just nothing you can do.
Game 4 was the Steph Curry show. The Cavs weren’t stopping that whether it was in Game 1 or Game 7, let alone down 3-0 in Game 4. Once he got hot, it was over. The Cavs knew it and weren’t gonna do anything about it.
Cleveland lost to Golden State not only because the mismatch was so great, but because they didn’t try to do anything reduce its impact. LeBron’s performances were ridiculous, but he needed to have more on the table, and it was a little surprising that he didn’t. Somehow, it felt like LeBron had more in the tank this series. The constant differing to teammates, lack of aggression going to the rim, and what almost felt like nerves when Cleveland needed him to takeover, in 3rd quarters or at the end of games, cost the Cavs two games this series. Whether it was whatever hand injury was self-inflicted after Game 1, a belief that he knew this team couldn’t beat the Warriors and didn’t want to embarrass himself trying, a simple lack of care considering he could be on a new team in a couple weeks, or simply the grind of the season and the workload catching up to him, LeBron’s passiveness hurt the Cavs. I don’t know how many times this series I went “Why are you kicking out?” while watching Cleveland’s offensive possessions. He knew those shots were not going in.
Even if LeBron did complete the superhuman task I described above, it probably wouldn’t have been enough. LeBron’s best is still no match for Golden State. LeBron’s best individual performance might have come with this Cleveland team, but his greatest career achievements, and what will push him over Michael Jordan, just won’t. They didn’t come this year, and won’t next as well.