Ding dong the witch is dead! How does it feel? Pretty complicated, I must say. But here's an attempt to zhiv through some of the headlines and nuances of the moment, as the NBA Finals are over and the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the world and came back from a 3-1 deficit and grabbed the championship from the defending Golden State Warriors. It was epic, regardless of your allegiances. For Clipper fans, it was pretty interesting.
I'll start by saying that my sympathies were pretty clear all the way through: I wanted Golden State to lose. They're a likeable and very talented team, actually, and I like a bunch of their players individually and in a vacuum, along with their coach and their GM. They were talented and complementary and organized to the highest degree, and they seemed invincible. Casual fans were happy to jump on the Warrior bandwagon this year, if they hadn't done so last year. Just a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine said "you know, women love the Warriors. It's amazing." When does that happen? They're highly skilled and not especially threatening. They play fast, hit shots, and they're fun.
But if you're a Clipper fan you've had dreams of being at full strength, with a healthy and prepared team, getting a chance to take them on in a playoff series. The last time they met in a playoff series the Clippers won, but the Warriors had won every series they had played since then. Something was always wrong, some player missing, there was always some glitch when the Clippers would meet the Warriors in the regular season over the course of the last two years. And the Warriors just kept winning, all the time, at a historic rate.
The Clippers are a win-now team, with Chris Paul playing in his prime. Doc Rivers was brought in to take the Clippers to the highest level of competition, to get past Memphis and compete against San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The Warriors were something of a surprise, joining the elites, and their dominance was shocking.
And yeah, their path to the title last year was a little too... well, let's just say it wasn't a standard gauntlet. They were called lucky, and the road was pretty smooth. The Clippers knocked out the defending champion Spurs. The Clippers had a 3-1 lead over Houston, and we all know that no good teams ever choke away 3-1 playoff leads except the Clippers, right? Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were hurt. The Warriors won the title. And they made it look easy.
One of the primary features of their championship season is that they were really good at the beginning of the year, and they never let up. And then this season they doubled down on early season excellence, and they played the best regular season ever. There's no real way to dispute that. The West still had plenty of great teams and great players, and the Warriors ran all over everybody. And they had fun doing it, along with their devoted, knowledgable, and enthusiastic fans. What's not to like?
Casual fans that I met over the last month seemed to lean towards the Warriors camp. Unless you have an axe to grind, why wouldn't you like the Warriors? But some of us aren't casual fans. And so, if the Clippers were beat up and troubled in new, excruciating ways and the anvil fell once again with exquisitely painful timing, and they weren't able to compete directly against the Warriors once again, for me at least I wanted somebody to beat them, for some team to find a chink in the armor. Invincibility is no fun, unless you're the one who is unbeatable.
Perhaps the biggest and most amazing element of this epic saga is how the Warriors came back from a 3-1 deficit against OKC, only to lose themselves after being up 3-1 against Cleveland. Sarcasm aside, losing a series with that kind of advantage, as the Clippers did against Houston last season, is incredibly rare, and it really is something that good teams just don't do. It also requires virtual direct intervention from the basketball gods. The things that teams can't control, and heroic possession of unlikely players, e.g. Josh Smith against the Clippers, can also come into play.
And maybe that's the cruelest irony of what just happened to the Warriors. They actually earned this championship by winning that series against OKC. Their backs were against the wall, they stepped up with phenomenal and inspired play, and they denied a great, brutal, amazing team that was more than scary. Their victory over OKC silenced all of the doubters who might have thought they had an easy path the year before. This time they were tested, and they willed their way to a stirring and improbable win, like true champions.
Ahem. They were up 3-1 against Cleveland when the basketball gods finally rung the GSW doorbell. Actually, at that point it wasn't the gods, it was the hubris police, attacking unnecessary arrogance. Clipper fans have their own view of Draymond Green. We have a hard time giving him any credit at all, since he was the scrub sent out by Marc Jackson to throw a cheap shot on Blake Griffin (cue youtube video) and instigate a technical. I have to give Green a lot of credit, as he has turned himself into quite a basketball player. GSW fans feel like the NBA robbed them by suspending Green, while his own coach said that he would go all the way up to the line with getting technicals and could easily cross it, and for outsiders and naysayers like ourselves it's obvious that the third time is the charm, and you can only get well-deserved techs for acting like an arrogant instigator and kick people in the balls so many times. So yeah, that was pure hubris, a different element--but it set up the gods' intervention with Bogut's injury in the midst of the game 5 defeat. No Green in game 5, no Bogut the rest of the way, and now it was the Warriors dealing with adversity. Another item GSW fans are mentioning is Curry being beat up, but that doesn't seem to make any sense at all after what he did in the OKC series. Man, that 8 hour period when it looked like the Clippers might have an advantage with Curry out for two weeks, if they could knock out Portland quickly, that seems like a long time ago. Curry was fine--the Cavs just played great defense against him, and Kyrie outplayed him, pure and simple.
As far as yesterday's game goes there were the three gigantic critical plays made by the champion Cleveland Cavaliers, and defending Curry was play #1, basic mortal NBA basketball, a brief but crucial defensive stand made by Kevin Love. I think we support KLove around here (against the Warriors, at least), as he was having such a tough time in the series, and he got hurt last year. In this game he was getting all sorts of KLove rebounds, and hitting free throws, but his hero 3s just wouldn't go down. So it was really nice to see him hanging in for 4 seconds or whatever it was against Curry, and Curry's makeable shot off one foot failing to go down. Sad! (not.) Play #2 was Kyrie's shot, which was fairly standard elite level NBA Finals absolute clutch stuff, a real star making a fantastic star play, and winning the game. It would be immortal if it weren't for the fact of play #3, The Block, which was just sheer superhero stuff. When some one said this morning that Iggy might have known LBJ was coming, I said there's no way, he was behind Curry when Curry made the pass forward on the 2 on 1 break--the basic idea being that there's never a fourth person in a 2 on 1, not in a game played by humans.
So it's over. The Warriors are human, and they lost a 3-1 lead and game 7 on their home floor, and yes it was ignominious in every deeply satisfying way, if you're a Clipper fan who didn't want a GSW dynasty to block the Clippers from any chance at glory. Let the free agent follies (DJ! Banana boats!) begin again.
All hail Lebron, all hail the King.