Despite an ending to game one that none of us could have predicted, the NBA Finals have played out almost exactly the way we expected through two games. It’s a 2-0 advantage for Golden State, and with the insurmountable odds that LeBron James and his teammates are staring down, the questions of where the King will hold court next season have already begun.
In this latest edition of the roundtable, three Stiffs writers breakaway from the NuggLife to talk game one, debate Steph-KD and speculate over LeBron’s next decision.
Let’s go in a circle!
JR Smith forgot the score, and amidst the chaos, we forgot that many expected game one to be a blowout before it even began. Were you surprised to see the game so close? Would this series still feel wide open had the Cavaliers won?
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): Not surprised it was close, I generally expect the road team to have a better chance in game 1 than 2 because there’s more unknowns in that first game against an opponent. This series WOULD BE wide open if the Cavs had won, and at the end of the day all Golden State has done is defend their home court which is what they are supposed to do. It does put the pressure on Cleveland though, they absolutely have to get the next two games, there’s no coming back from 3-1 against this Warriors team.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): It’s hard to predict the reaction of everyone had Cleveland won Game 1. I was surprised, especially because it felt like the only player performing well was a certain member of royalty. LeBron put on a show in Game 1, and it showed just how tortured a player can be after leaving it all out on the court. Had Cleveland won, I would have kept faith with my pick of Warriors in 5 though. They are just too talented. It’s really unfair.
Brendan Vogt (@Bvogt422): My appreciation of LeBron James is no secret, but I never really expected Cleveland to win more than one game, and I definitely didn’t expect them to contend in game one. It would be foolish to say that a victory might’ve swung the entire series in Cleveland’s favor, but it would be just as foolish to deny that stealing game one would have at least flipped the narrative surrounding this series on its head.
We’ve seen Golden State fall back on Kevin Durant’s isolation ability quite often, but we’ve also seen Curry galvanize his team and the crowd with vintage shooting performances in the third quarter. Has this series shed any light on the debate between Curry-Durant and where they stand in the unwritten world rankings?
Vogt: This type of question is inevitable and it can be exhausting as it leads to the splitting of semantic hairs; “Kevin Durant is a more talented two way player. But Stephen Curry has a bigger impact on his team!” That said, somewhere underneath all the bickering online and the bizarre definitions of greatness is an interesting discussion to be had here. It’s hard to calculate the utility in this context—the way these two players impact the game is drastically different. But there’s no question that the Golden State crowd reacts with more enthusiasm and blind passion when Curry scores than his fellow MVP-club member. It’s hard to beat a Durant-led team—but it feels impossible to stop a third quarter avalanche from the Warriors when it’s punctuated by shimmies and fist pumps from the bay’s golden child.
Mikash: If anything I think its made it more confusing. Against the Houston Rockets it looked like KD was clearly the better player but two games into the Finals and Curry has been the best player for Golden State. I still tend to lean toward KD as the better player because I think he has more versatility and is clearly a better defender, but Steph is the greatest shooter ever to live and when the object of the game is to shoot a ball through a hoop, well, being the greatest ever at doing that puts you in pretty rarefied air...still going KD though.
Blackburn: I’ve always thought Curry was the identity of Golden State. Durant is the amazing, dynamic scorer who just gets buckets at any point, and he clearly makes Golden State better. While he was considered an improved rim protector this year, secretly, his defense wasn’t the borderline elite contribution many believe it to be. I would take Steph, but I understand wanting the more versatile player.
You knew I was going to ask you, so here it is — where do you expect LeBron James to play basketball next season, and is that answer any different from where you’d prefer to see him play?
Mikash: Cleveland. I’m not buying LeBron wanting to go to the west so he can tangle with Golden State a round earlier every year. The only possible team that might get him over the top if he joined would be the Rockets and still to me that seems like a long shot. In the east the Philadelphia 76ers seem like an obvious choice but you have this Colangelo nonsense and then I also wonder if LeBron really believes a group of young twenty year olds, talented though they may be, is what he needs to beat the Warriors. I think he kicks this decision down the road for one year and takes one more shot at it with the Cavs. Where I would prefer him to play is obvious, Denver, so this line of thinking is a little bias because the Nuggets would have the flexibility to make a run at LeBron next summer. Hired his former coach, signed two of his close friends, tried to sign another and left him impressed with your pitch, hanging out with the owner on yacht trips...look all I’m saying is there is some smoke here, whether or not there’s a fire is up for debate (there probably isn’t).
Blackburn: All I will say to Zach’s Nuggets-LeBron statements: the Nuggets’ core plus LeBron is infinitely better than Cleveland’s. And for that reason, I think he will go to Houston. The Rockets were so close this year, and the one thing they were missing was a forward to match up with Kevin Durant. In Game 7, Trevor Ariza went 0/12 from the field. Replace him with LeBron, go way over the tax to re-sign Paul and Capela, and bring back a Harden-Paul-LeBron-Tucker-Capela lineup that could slow the Warriors way down pace-wise. It’s going to be hard watching Harden and LeBron stay at halfcourt while they watch Paul take his turn isolating against a big man on a switch, but pairing three of the top 10 passers of all time would be fun.
Vogt: I have no freaking clue. One would think that Durant’s decision—and the most recent antics of one JR Smith—would earn LeBron a pass for virtually any path he chooses to take this summer, but that might not be true. Perhaps others, and the King himself, view Houston as too similar to Durant’s move—joining a completed product, instead of serving as the big bang in the genesis of an unforeseen championship era. You might also be able to say the same thing about Philly, which leaves us with the Lakers. There has to be a reason why LA is the oldest rumored destination of the bunch, but it it just doesn’t make sense without the subsequent construction of a new super team. Paul George? Kawhi Leonard? Both?
At the end of the day, Bron can’t stay in Cleveland. Not if he wants to catch that ghost. I’d like to see him wind up with the 76ers and here’s why: I don’t want Boston fans to be happy. Long live LeBron James and his Eastern Conference reign.