One timeout was all that separated the Cleveland Cavaliers from potentially, vitally making this a series. We were so close. We were as close to Heaven as we’ll ever be. But JR Smith had other ideas.
Last night, LeBron James willed the Cleveland Cavaliers to a Finals victory over a vastly superior team in the Golden State Warriors. It was an incredible feat, and it seems less believable the more I think about it. The Cavs have some real talent, but there are also some absolute clowns on that roster, and some of those clowns played minutes late in the fourth quarter of Game 7.
This led me to compare the team to Kanye West’s GOOD Music label, which just released an absurdly fun posse cut called “Champions” that might be just perfect for this moment because of the title and the fact that GOOD Music has plenty of clowns that play in crunch time, too. I think both rap music and basketball benefit from strong personalities. The individuals drive most of the conversation, at the least. That made this string of analogies fun to write, even if they are ridiculous and admittedly completely pointless.
At some point, somebody was going to hit a bucket. Tied 89-89 for what felt like several eternities, because playoff fourth quarters contain multitudes, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors kept hurling rocks at windows several stories above, waiting for the sound of shattered glass. When Kyrie Irving finally shattered that glass to put the Cavs up 92-89, a pin dropping in Oracle Arena would’ve registered many more decibels.
LeBron going down with an apparent injury with just over ten seconds left gave him one more opportunity to lift up a city against the odds, but he’d done that all series. The first missed free throw was vaguely Starks-esque in its presumed defeatism, but then, defeatism doesn’t get you anywhere when you’re trying to win, and it doesn’t seem likely that anybody has ever tried to win harder than LeBron was trying to win Game 7. He did, as we know, and now he is a champion as a Cleveland Cavalier, for the first time and for all time.
Filed under “nothing we don’t already know,” playing with emotions is tricky. At a turn, it looks like Russell Westbrook punching through a brick wall of defenders at light speed, a grass-fed Novak Djokovic urging the crowd to get behind him or Mark Messier shouldering the weight of a cursed franchise, as well as his own guarantee. It looks like Chris Paul scoring 61 points for his grandfather, or Brett Favre throwing for four touchdowns on Monday Night Football. It also looks like Russian hooligans bringing their country’s soccer team to the edge of disqualification at Euro 2016 over fits of violence with other fans and the police.
In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, we saw two facets of this imponderably massive spectrum. Draymond Green’s inevitable suspension for extracurricular activity gave rise to stellar performances from the four biggest stars in Oracle Arena, as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson dared each other into the best game of the series thus far. Whether this acts as fuel to Cleveland’s fire or simply delays the inevitable made it an altogether more compelling spectacle.
Finally, the series we all assumed would happen for much of the season has arrived. In what many will call “a rematch,” NBA Finals begins tonight, with the defending champion (and Greatest Regular Season Team Ever™) Golden State Warriors once again welcoming the Cleveland Cavaliers to Oracle Arena. Calling it “a rematch” is technically correct insofar as the same two franchises representing the same two cities as last year return; however, what makes the Finals so apparently compelling is how much the circumstances surrounding these teams have changed since June 2015.
For all intents and purposes, the Cavs arrive in Oakland a different team entirely from the one that pushed last year’s Warriors to six games, though the chip on their shoulder carries more mass than that of the nearly 400,000 Cleveland residents combined. Golden State, meanwhile, has merely greased the wheels of its finely-tuned apparatus, defying every expectation except their own.
Cleveland sports fans have suffered for 51 years. It is well-documented, even on this site, and the many near-misses over the years have done nothing to alleviate the anguish. Cubs fans feel sorry for Cleveland faithful, because at least they have the Bears, Blackhawks and Bulls in the Windy City. Cleveland’s best claim to a winner lay two and a half hours southwest in Columbus, where THE Ohio State University has returned to national prominence courtesy of its football team.
Desperation in the Bay Area does not nearly reach Cleveland’s feverish pitch, thanks in part to the San Francisco 49ers, the defending World Series Champion Giants and a perennially competitive A’s team. The Golden State Warriors, however, have not won a title since Rick Barry was tossing underhanded free throws while averaging thirty points a game in 1975.
The Eastern Conference Finals are now over, and LeBron James will be attending his fifth consecutive NBA Finals. We got what we expected, which isn’t necessarily what we wanted, but it isn’t what we didn’t want either. In a season full of surprise and intrigue – aren’t they all in the age of Moreyball? – and barring a miraculous, unprecedented comeback from the Houston Rockets, it may very well be that we receive a Cavs-Warriors Finals. That would pit the league’s current MVP, Steph Curry, against the Most Valuable Player of the last decade, James. And that would be barrel-of-chimpanzees fun.
So much of the narrative of the Finals, like the NBA itself, will revolve around LeBron, and that is perfectly alright. What we must not forget, however, is that this next series will feature the Finals debut of J.R. Smith, bomb detonation expert and titan of social media. For that, we should be grateful.