The human psyche is hard-wired for the legend of lost kings roaming in forgotten nothingness and then returning to reclaim their throne from a big bad wolf and establishing law, order and justice. It is the stuff of myth and legend. It is meaning, it is the cosmos… It is the story of lost humanity seeking salvation and receiving redemption. That legendary, mythical, meaningful, je ne sais quoi is the central allure of the Bible, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the animation classic The Lion King among other cultural greats.
In one modern example of this drama we have LeBron James looking to reclaim his status as the undisputed king of basketball. The plot-twist is that the big bad wolf, arch-rival and nemesis in this case is one diminutive (by NBA standards) Stephen Curry who has stormed into the NBA and broken an un-written rule that the NBA is supposed to be a physical game. Steph Curry pranced onto the NBA big-stage wearing Under-Armour sneakers and shooting 3-pointers like tomorrow was never going to come. This coupled up with his legendary ball-handling skills had fans arriving for Golden-State-Warriors-games hours early just to watch Steph practise, not even play.
At a deeper level, Steph Curry’s meteoric rise represents a dilemma that basketball and sports in general face in this new era of ADHD audiences. With youngsters spending more time on their phones, Nintendo wii’s and playstations than out climbing trees or playing with a ball (whatever type it may be), drawing kids onto the basketball court is ever more necessary to get children interested in the game. The attendant marketing and influence of NBA was at risk of being gobbled up by digital games and Snapchat. Now a child watching 6-foot 8′ LeBron dominating opponents on the court will despair of ever attaining that size or skillset. On the other hand, Steph weighs in at a much more attainable 6-foot 3′ but has a skill set that can be acquired and makes a big difference on the court. On that basis that same despairing child is more likely to get out and play the game. As a result he is likely to follow the NBA and in this manner, the NBA maintains its influence and relevance to the next generation.
That being said, in the basketball universe you can tell a person’s age by which great player they favour. The oldest I know prefer Michael Jordan, he of the Chicago Bulls 23 vest and whose shoe brand still outweighs many clothing lines. MJ is Obama’s favourite as can be evidenced by his Medal of Freedom award. After MJ came Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers who flamed out into the night like a comet from the Kuiper belt. Then came LeBron James of Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers. My generation of ball-players know him as King James despite his scant 2 NBA rings. Stephen Curry is the newest contender for king of the ring. By competing for this title Steph is preventing King James from getting his 4-5 rings and thereby interrupting an ongoing coronation.
So those are the stakes being played for in the coming finals matchup between Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. That being said, what you will read below is my take on how it might play out this season. Before we begin it must be noted that the GSW are a team that has been built from the ground-up for shooting from the 3-point perimeter and beyond. The traditional basketball mindset considers this a revolutionary change in philosophy and perspective. And it is, because it totally opens up the floor and makes defense much much harder. The amount of space that needs to be covered requires a much higher expenditure of energy. Towards the end of a game heavy on 3-points players just get exhausted. This is exactly what happened in last year’s final series; after one game LeBron simply collapsed on the floor. This year we may just see the tables being flipped. As has been said by an astute observer before, range can mean everything. Teams not dynamic enough to adapt to this form of play will be caught ‘flat-footed’ like French knights marching into a hail of longbow arrows at Agincourt. The results resound down through history.
When Miami Heat vs. Toronto Raptors was at 3-2 in Toronto’s favour, it was statistically improbable for Heat to win the series. The level and intensity of playoff basketball makes it very hard for a team to both claw back to 3-3 and then go on to win 3-4. So by forcing game 7 on the Raptors Dwayne Wade was kind of sending some brotherly love King James’ way. Or might this be wishful thinking?
The way things have been going, Raptors will likely be swept by the Cavs in 4 games. Looking at the quarterly scoreline of Game 2 of Cavs vs Raptors shows that Cavs were able to impose their will on the Raptors. In quarter 1 they got the gas out the Raptors tank. In quarter 2 they built a solid lead. And then in quarters 3 and 4 they practised defense while matching basket for basket, for the most part. As a King James fan it is tempting to think that after the magnitude of the Game 1 win the Cavs toyed with them. So much so that Kyle Lowry had to leave the bench mid-game and go ‘decompress.’ The heat was on and the pressure was just too much. Now in terms of defense, Toronto are rated 4th overall while the Cavs are rated 5th. Golden State Warriors feature in defensive rankings except as the hardest team to make 3’s against. That is to say that GSW are winning their games on the other end of the court, offensively.
Let us return to our first observation, that the level and intensity of playoff basketball makes it harder for a team to win a series once it is down 3-2. By the same logic, it should be harder to win the championship through four 5-game or 6-game series(es). Cavs have been executing flawless victories against all their playoff opponents so far. Remember when GSW won the last final it was because they had tired out a benchless Cavs. Something had to give then and if GSW don’t sweep OKC fast something will have to give this time too.
Meanwhile in the Western Conference, Game 3 of GSW vs. OKC this coming Sunday night is gonna be lit like a rocket. OKC will be nursing a grudge because of Game 2’s scoreline. GSW on the other will be trying their damnedest to impose the natural order of things. It can only be a tussle of wills and skills, and it will likely be a tiring one. As noted by one astute commentator, the only thing that can beat GSW right now is the schedule. When Bucks beat GSW it was a prior double-overtime game which caused 2 injuries. As a by the way, Western Conference teams are generally better than Eastern Conference teams.
So what is different this time?
- The Cavs will be rested while GSW will have been tested.
- Cavs are shooting as well as GSW from the perimeter. Their current form has broken records for 3-point shooting in the playoffs.
- King James is out of the driver’s seat and is now playing as an offensive forward. It takes the offensive load off him while allowing the Cavs to both shoot and drive which makes them a much harder proposition to defend against.