The Prestige

Somewhere between Chris Paul’s hamstring injury in Game 5 and their dubious, NBA playoff-record streak of 27 consecutive missed three-pointers[1] in the second half of Game 7, the Houston Rockets lost the best chance any team was going to have of felling the Golden State Warriors. It was foolish for any of us to doubt them – not that all of us did, mind you, but some did – and now, the team which stands to define a generation sits four wins away from its second straight title and third championship in four years.

The proposition was always thus: beat the Warriors, a team with four current All-Stars, five probably Hall of Famers and a wealth of role players to fill in the gaps, four times in seven tries. Even after the Rockets won 65 games, grabbing the top seed and home court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs, it was never a real possibility that Golden State would lose until and unless such a catastrophe actually happened.

After going down 3-2 and entering halftime of both Games 6 and 7 down by double-digits, Golden State calmly and mechanically worked its way back, outscoring Houston 64-25[2] and 58-38 over each game’s second half, respectively. As always, the Warriors were able to turn to all of their other stars if one didn’t shine so brightly. That didn’t turn out to be a problem.

Klay Thompson had another memorable, season-saving Game 6, putting up 35 points on 23 shots, including going 9-14 from three. Steph Curry chipped in 29 of his own in the same game, saving Durant from the embarrassment of a pedestrian-for-him 23-point effort. Curry followed that up with a near-triple-double, going 27 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in Game 7.

So, Curry’s health is fine, or at least it’s fine enough for him to have just averaged 25 points on 47% shooting, including 36% from distance. As for Andre Iguodala, Golden State’s own LeBron stopper who garnered Finals MVP honors in 2015 for, err, allowing James to average 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists over six games[3]? He is still trying to get to the bottom of his knee injury, but the Warriors figure to let James do what he wants anyway, and just make sure no one else can.

At 33, James continues to do things nobody else can. Because that includes Chris Paul and James Harden, the latter of which is this year’s presumptive MVP, one might suggest that perhaps the Cavaliers can muster one more all-time playoff performance for their franchise hero, a man destined for free agency this summer. But even with Kyrie Irving and a healthy Kevin Love at his disposal last year, the Cavs were only able to claim a single victory.

I was exhausted just watching LeBron overcome the Celtics’ youthful onslaught nearly singlehandedly. With Love in concussion protocol, are we to believe that the Cavaliers are going to have something more for Golden State, that the Finals will somehow unlock the likes of Jordan Clarkson, or super-George Hill, or Rodney Hood, who essentially knocked himself out of Ty Lue’s rotation?

The truth of the matter is, Cleveland would be lucky to be within ten points by the time the final buzzer sounds in any of the next four games they play, all of which they will probably lose. The Cavs’ best hope at managing one single victory lies with a Curry-esque performance from Kyle Korver, or Tristan Thompson grabbing 25 rebounds, or Kevin Love showing out in a throwback Minnesota Timberwolves performance.

LeBron will show up, only because he always does, and his tired legs figure to hold a few more eye-popping moments, like last year’s alley-oop to himself in traffic. It won’t matter. The Warriors are too much. They’re always too much, and if a team tailor-made to match up with them went out the way the Rockets did in Games 6 and 7, there’s nothing that any of the rest of us can do to stop them.

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

“The money is not important to me. I’ve made so much over my career. But I do know that I want to be here, I love playing here.” – Kevin Durant

What’s more, there is no real end in sight, barring injuries. Klay Thompson is already talking about taking a $50-$80 million discount, depending on how you view his contract situation. Durant is going to opt out this summer in order to restructure his contract and maintain his snug fit in the Bay Area. Green is signed through 2020, Curry through 2022. Golden State could lose one, perhaps even two, of these four for an entire season and still be the title favorites.

These Golden State Warriors play truly exceptional, truly beautiful basketball. It doesn’t matter that the team coasts through a half at a time, or that they can withstand any one of their players getting in a shooting slump with relative ease. They only need to be locked in, really, for half a quarter to seal a game, and now that they’ve withstood the Rockets’ best punch, their only opponent will be themselves.

The Cavaliers may very well be entering their final stretch of Eastern Conference domination, with LeBron James set to leave. Only a miracle can save them from a sweep; four miracles in quick succession are surely too much to ask. I hope I’m wrong, and that some combination of James’ brilliance, the Warriors’ malaise and all the luck of James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish can win Cleveland a single game, let alone make this a competitive series.

Free agency opens July 1.

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[1] The odds of which happening, by the way, are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 in 72,000

[2] Including a preposterous 31-9 in the fourth quarter of Game 6, when all dreams truly died hard

[3] Rattling off James’ numbers here admittedly minimizes Iggy’s performance, which was stellar in a similar way to how Kawhi Leonard’s had been in his own Finals MVP-winning performance the year before (James’ numbers in that series: 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists). That’s the score: you stand in front of LeBron, you win an award.

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