After seven months, here we are again. For the fourth time in as many years, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors will face off in the NBA Finals to see who will hoist the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. This rivalry has already created some iconic moments in NBA history: Steph Curry becoming a bonafide superstar, LeBron James doing the impossible and coming back from down 3-1, Kevin Durant finally catching that elusive first title. If you ask some, this year’s Finals doesn’t have the same luster as the ones in years past, possibly because fans feel they know the outcome already. And that may be true. However, I would argue that there are plenty of intriguing storylines to watch for, both “fun” and “not fun.” This is a list of some of those things.
FUN: LEBRON JAMES
No matter what side of the “G.O.A.T.” argument you fall on, it is simply incorrect to consider LeBron James any less than the second-best basketball player of all time (sorry, Kobe fans). At age 33, a LeBron-led team will be representing the Eastern Conference in the Finals for an absurd eighth straight year. What’s crazier – the three-time champion, four-time MVP, fourteen-time All-Star may in fact be better than ever. So far in the 2018 playoffs, James is averaging 34.0 points, 8.8 assists, and 9.2 rebounds per game with a 58.2% effective field goal percentage (the third-highest of his playoff career). On top of that, James hit two back-breaking buzzer beaters in the same week to topple the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors in the first and second round of the playoffs.
LeBron has been both unstoppable force and immovable object thus far and will need to continue to do so if the Cavaliers have any chance at dethroning the reigning champions, which would certainly be “fun.” Speaking of which…
NOT FUN: THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Bleacher Report ran an article last week naming the 2017-2018 Cleveland Cavaliers as LeBron James’ worst supporting cast ever, even worse than the ragtag group that he carried to the 2006-2007 Finals (shoutout Sasha Pavlovic). We can leave that debate to them, but there is no denying that this year’s Cavs squad has left a lot to be desired. Don’t get me wrong – there are players on this team that can be fun. When considering both personality and playing style, JR Smith is arguably the most “fun” player in all of basketball when he is on. Kevin Love can, in fact, do basketball things. Tristan
Kardashian Thompson provides plenty of entertainment on and off the court. However, these guys and the rest of the Cavaliers have consistently produced a product that is tough to watch this year. Maybe that is our fault for expecting a lot out of this roster – did we really expect George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance to come in midway through the season and turn the Cavs back into a superteam? Maybe, maybe not (confession: I 100% believed this at the time). Hill, Clarkson, and Nance have been underwhelming at best through the playoffs, and Hood has completely played his way out of the rotation. This is getting depressing, so I’ll leave you with a fun piece of trivia about this team: 37-year-old Kyle Korver is currently the third-leading playoff scorer on a real-life NBA Finals-bound basketball team. I love Kyle Korver, but that factoid is undoubtedly “not fun.”
FUN: THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Do you guys remember the last scene of the Game of Thrones finale last fall? The White Walkers, who already looked like a force that had no chance in being stopped in their pursuit of destroying the world and every living being on it, killed one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons, turning it into a blue-fire-breathing-ice-dragon-of-death. That is what the Warriors did on July 4th, 2016 when they acquired Kevin Durant. I don’t think anyone need be reminded that the 2015-2016 Warriors were the best regular season team of all time, finishing with a record of 73-9. Steph Curry became the first-ever unanimous MVP, destroyed his own all-time record for three-pointers made in a season, and looked to be on path to becoming a top twenty all-time player. Klay Thompson sunk the fourth-most threes in a single season and had just posted one of the most impressive playoff performances ever, drilling eleven threes on his way to 41 points in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals, effectively killing the Oklahoma City Thunder (oh, hey KD). Draymond Green had become a lockdown-defending, crotch-kicking, basketball super-tool that could be unleashed in any way necessary. But then, the White Walkers ran into 6’8″, 250 pounds of Valyrian Steel in the name of LeBron James, blowing a 3-1 lead and losing the finals in seven games. To respond, they kicked the Thunder while they were down and stole their ice dragon. Since then, the Warriors have gone 28-6 in the past two playoffs and are considered by many to be the most exciting basketball team ever. When they are moving the ball and hitting shots in a way only they can do, there is certainly nothing more fun to see as a basketball fan (unless you are a fan of the team who is being blasted by the aforementioned blue-fire-of-death). Also, note: it is impossible to write about fun without mentioning Nick “Swaggy P” Young. He is very “fun.” More on him in a minute.
NOT FUN: THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Listen, I’m not one of the “the Golden State Warriors ruined basketball and I hate them” kind of guys. However, the Golden State Warriors kind of ruined basketball and I kind of hate them. Not for the reasons many do – I don’t particularly care that they have formed this superteam. This is America, baby, capitalism, all that jazz. What I do care about is the NBA Finals being the most exciting finals in all of sports, and the fact that once they are over, we are left with two months of nothing. but. baseball. Baseball is great – it was actually my favorite sport growing up. But if you can seriously say that you can watch baseball every day for two straight months and not want to stab yourself in the eye with a fork, we need to work on finding you a hobby. The Warriors being this legendary of a team is incredible to watch, but it is somewhat disappointing that they have effectively sucked the drama out of the most dramatic sport there is. I mean, the Houston Rockets were an incredible basketball team this year. They had the best record in the league with 65 wins, they had the MVP in James Harden, and they set the all-time record for three-pointers made in a season with 1,184. They cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs with a pair of gentlemen’s sweeps against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz on their way to the Western Conference Finals. And then, the Rockets ran into the Warriors. To beat the Warriors, you cannot make mistakes, and every single thing has to go right for your team – it’s the only way. Your Hall of Fame point guard goes down with a freak non-contact injury with thirty seconds remaining in a Game Five victory that put your team up 3-2? That’s the definition of some terrible luck. Your record setting three-point shooting team misses twenty-seven straight three-point attempts in the second half of Game Seven? That is almost unfathomable bad luck. In fact, assuming Houston’s regular-season 3PT% of 36.2, the odds of missing twenty-seven in a row are 186,220 to 1. Can’t even be mad, that’s impressive. The Rockets deserved better. They may have even been the better team. But, it doesn’t matter when you are playing this Warriors team. And that is “not fun.”
To finish, a couple rapid fire “funs” and “not funs”…
FUN: JR SMITH v. NICK YOUNG
You can keep your KD v. LeBron talks, I’m here for Pipe God v. Swaggy P. In a series filled with superstars, we’ve also been blessed with two of the most gif-able guys in the NBA squaring off. Both are two of the streakiest shooters in the league, and both are an absolute delight to watch when they get going (note: remember that time that JR shot 18 threes in one game? That was awesome). I am very much here to watch these two launch shots with no regard for whether or not they go in, because that is super “fun.”
NOT FUN: ZAZA PACHULIA ATTEMPTED MURDER
Warriors Center Zaza Pachulia has earned a reputation the past few years as one of the dirtiest players in the league. In fact, earlier this season, Thunder Point Guard Russell Westbrook referred to Pachulia as the dirtiest player ever after he clumsily “fell” onto Westbrook’s knee in a way that looked intentional. Last year, Pachulia slid under Spur’s superstar Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals while he was attempting a jumpshot, causing Leonard to injure his ankle and miss the rest of the series. The Warriors will already be heavy favorites in the series, and the Cavs certainly don’t need Kevin Love receiving a large Georgian elbow to the eyeball, as that would be quite “not fun.”
Did I miss any other potential “fun” and/or “not fun” things? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!