There’s one overriding thought that’s going through my mind as I watch these NBA Finals. It lingered in the first couple games and came out full-bore during Golden State’s third-quarter meltdown in last night, what ultimately cost them in a 96-91 loss to Cleveland in Game 3. That thought is this—what’s all the fuss about this Warrior team?
At a certain level, I do get the fuss. They won 67 games in a Western Conference that remains vastly superior to the East, however these Finals turn out. Golden State ranked at or near the top in so many key statistical categories throughout the season that I know they’re not a fluke team. Even though I didn’t pick them in this series, I won’t be surprised if they win the championship.
What I can’t figure out is why everyone thought they were an unstoppable force. Prior to the Finals, every report was that NBA insiders considered this series virtually over before it began, and that was prior to Kyrie Irving going down.
But why? Yes, Steph Curry is great. I’m not worried about a bad shooting game like he had in Game 2. That’s part of a being long-range gunner and he really heated up in a desperate fourth-quarter comeback last night that nearly succeeded. But this team has no way to get easy points inside, they default to just jacking up the three and they aren’t very physical.
I love Draymond Green, the Warriors’ answer to Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson as that underrated player who does all kinds of hustle things. The fact Thompson is clearly playing better than Green is one big factor in Cleveland’s 2-1 series lead, but that could change in a heartbeat. What’s more important is that in spite of my regard for Green, he’s not a guy you just throw the ball to when things are coming undone.
Andrew Bogut isn’t either, even when he’s healthy, like he is now. Harrison Barnes is wildly inconsistent. So basically we have two great guards in Curry, and running mate Klay Thompson, that rely on shooting a lot. And they do have Andre Iguodala, a tough guard and good on-ball defender. Again, I’m not denying that they’re good, denying what they did in 82 games and three rounds of playoffs or even denying that they could win the next three games. I’m just trying to figure out what so many genuinely intelligent observers thought they were unbeatable.
Part of it is the Cavs’ injuries. I felt at the outset that they would be better without Kevin Love. They just don’t need another three-point shooter. Not with J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert and James Jones and when it comes to purely inside play, Thompson is better than Love. I’m not knocking Love as a star-caliber player, simply saying that this team is better off without a third star to share the basketball.
The injury to Irving is a similar case. I don’t think Cleveland is better off without Irving in the big picture, for this series in particular, having to replace him with Dellavedova is forcing the Cavs to continue on with their deliberate pace, which Golden State does not like to play. And it makes them tougher defensively. I want to reiterate that Cleveland is not better without Kyrie, but the unique dynamic of this matchup is making his absence work for them.
I’m not writing Golden State off. My prediction of Cleveland in six presupposed that the teams would split the first four games and that further presumed that each team would get a win in the other’s building. Which would suggest a Warrior win on Thursday.
But this is my first sustained exposure to Golden State. During the regular season, I subscribe to the NBA Season Pass package and as a Celtics fan, I watch virtually all their regular season games. I knew the Warriors by reputation and statistical review. I watched them a few times in the Western Conference playoffs, and now am getting a full dose of this team. I’ve got no beef with these team and I like Curry and head coach Steve Kerr, but I’m going to repeat my question—what’s all the fuss about?