Well, that was anticlimactic.
(Note: other contending names for this article included “The Conference Finals Conundrum” and “The Conference Finals Calamity” but let’s face it: these series were far worse than a calamity or a conundrum.)
Before these series even started, we saw this outcome as a possibility, but tricked ourselves into hoping they would be competitive. At least, I did. The Hawks are a team, I said. DeMarre Carroll can subdue LeBron. The Hawks can’t be quite as bad as they looked at the end of the regular season. Right?
On the opposite side of the Mississippi River, I hoped for things such as James Harden cancelling out Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson single-handedly, Dwight overcoming Andrew Bogut’s impeccable post defense, and Josh Smith and Corey Brewer continuing their heroics from Game 6 of the conference semis. Admittedly, I hoped for a little bit too much from our friends in Houston.
The Hawks were never going to beat the Cavs, period. The team that won 19 straight in the regular season could have – in fact, they did, three times. But this isn’t the same Hawks team. Thabo Sefolosha was more important than anyone sensed at the time of his injury. Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll’s injuries didn’t help remotely, either.
The Rockets were extreme ‘dogs to knock off G-State as well, but calling a six or seven game series seemed reasonable. Of course, I failed to consider variables such as Jason Terry’s horrendous defense, Dwight Howard’s ever-present wimpiness, and the curse of Lil’ B.
I mean, most of these games hurt to watch. Physically, mentally, even emotionally (shoutout to Steph Curry’s fall. I think if I were a Golden State fan I would have been in tears throughout halftime.). The Hawks-Cavs series was probably the worse of the two. Even when the games were close, Atlanta looked bad, Cleveland was Kyrie-less and Love-less, and you never really thought Atlanta had a chance. Especially when Al Horford jumped on Matthew Dellavadova and got tossed. Whether he should have been ejected and what impact it had on the game is a whole other story (spoiler alert: Horford shouldn’t have been ejected and it probably cost them the game). In the same game we had LeBron suffer the tweakiest tweak we’ve ever seen in a basketball game, limp up and down the court the rest of the game, collapse to the floor dramatically when the buzzer sounded, and bring up his injuries every time he was asked a question in the post game. Come on LeBron, this wasn’t the flu game. We have Dellavadova diving at people’s legs for thirty minutes a night, Kyle Korver was out, DeMarre Carroll looked like he should have been out, and Atlanta couldn’t score consistently unless Jeff Teague was barreling to the hoop in an out-of-control fashion and drawing fouls. I mean, this series was done from the start, although I expected Atlanta to win at least one.
At least Golden State-Houston was close for the first two games. They were good games. Curry and Harden were trading punches, Dwight was being Dwight (interpret that as you wish) and Draymond Green was guarding all five positions like usual.
Game 3 was downright ugly. I watched the entire game only because Stephen Curry was going off, but the Rockets looked heartless. Harden shot 3-16. It was bad.
Give the Rockets credit for bouncing back from the blowout to win Game 4, but anybody who thought they had a chance of winning game 5 on the road was kidding themselves. The reason Golden State has trotted through the regular season and playoffs with domnation is simple: they are stacked. Curry is the third best player in the league. Klay Thompson is arguably the best two-way shooting guard in the league. Draymond Green is getting a max contract this offseason. Andre Iguodola is playing very well, and they have another great defensive player in Andrew Bogut to play the paint.
Now, let’s look ahead to the final series of the season
Prediction: Golden State wins 4-1
I see no reason to pick Cleveland to win more than one game against the Warriors, one of the best teams I’ve ever seen. LeBron has put the team on his back, carrying a team without its second and third best players through a terribly weak Eastern Conference. In doing so, he has drawn comparison to the 2007 Cavaliers, who would have been lucky to win 20 games without James. If you compare the starting lineups in the Finals from the two seasons, here’s what you see:
PG – Kyrie Irving (hobbled)
SG – J.R. Smith
SF – LeBron James (30 years old)
PF – Tristan Thompson
C – Timofey Mozgov
PG – Eric Snow
SG – Larry Hughes
SF – LeBron James (22 years old)
PF – Drew Gooden
C – Zydrunas Ilgauskas
The 2015 Cavs seem slightly stronger if you take out LeBron, but not strong enough to make a huge difference from the 2007 team that was swept by the Spurs when you take into account that Kyrie is not remotely healthy. But Irving, who is not a great defensive guard to begin with, will have circles run around him by either Curry or Thompson. Dellavadova won’t do much better unless he dives at their feet and tears their Achilles. Draymond Green should play a similar role as Kawhi Leonard in last year’s Finals: not stopping, but limiting LeBron’s production. James has got to be exhausted from these playoffs, and he just can’t beat the Warriors without help from his teammates. Thompson shouldn’t be able to dominate the boards as he did against Al Horford and Paul Millsap, both weak rebounders.
Golden State is flat out better at every position except the three, and Draymond Green is far better than the average small forward. Or power forward. Stretch center? Whatever you want to call him, he’s a beast.
A sweep wouldn’t shock me, and neither would LeBron willing the series to 7 games by averaging 40 a game. But the sides are too lopsided. It seems that Cleveland will have to wait another year for another shot at their championship, making the drought fifty-one years.
They can thank Kelly Olynyk for that.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Sean Gallipo