So that’s it. It’s over. 8 months, 1230 regular season games, 79 playoff games and a newly-crowned NBA champion later, the 2016/17 NBA season is finally finished.
The narrative for this season began way before the first game tipped off on October 25th. On July 4th Kevin Durant shocked the entire NBA community by announcing that he would be leaving Oklahoma City to join the Golden State Warriors in an article published in the Players Tribune. After the initial smoke of disbelief had gradually cleared, we began to comprehend the gravity of what had just happened.
The Warriors were a team that had just broken the single season win record with 73 wins the previous season, breaking the record previously held by Jordan’s 1995–96 Bulls, and were a game away from winning their second consecutive NBA Championship had it not been for a certain Lebron James deciding he wasn’t going to allow yet another stain on his legacy, pulling his team back from a 3–1 deficit to grant James his own form of bragging rights.
This team had now added Kevin Durant –one of the greatest scorers in NBA history. All I could think last offseason was that this was already a forgone conclusion. There was no way any team currently in the association could even have any chance of contending with this team. Durant was the perfect replacement for the teams one prevalent weak link in Harrison Barnes, turning the Warriors into a quadruple-headed force to be reckoned with.
Fast forward a few months, and we enter the 2017 NBA Finals with the Warriors going 12–0 in the playoffs, and the Cavaliers nearly as perfect had it not been for Marcus Smart making some absolutely insane shots in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Ever the optimist, I stuck with my Cavs in 7 predictions up until the last game of the season. Even at the age of 31, Lebron still had one of his best statistical seasons to date and came into the Finals averaging 32.5 points, 7 assists and 8 rebounds through the Playoffs. I was still not ready to doubt Lebron, even with the magnitude of the task ahead of him.
The Warriors trampled over the Cavaliers in the first two games of the Finals, beating them by 22 points then 19 points respectively. Through these two games, Steph Curry averaged 30 points on 45% shooting from 3, and Durant averaged 35.5 points shooting over 50% from the field. All the while Lebron was averaging a triple-double and shooting over 55% from the field, but even this was not enough to overcome an offense that finished the series averaging 125.8 points per game.
The Cavs absolutely should have won Game 3. They were in control most of the game and they just blew it. On one of the possessions with Cleveland only up 113–107, Lebron gets stripped on a layup attempt and he and Love clearly think it’s a foul. Whilst they are arguing with the refs over the play Curry drives down the middle of the court to bring it to a four-point game.
In the last minute of the fourth, I don’t know what was going through Lebron’s head. He saw Durant running down the court and there was literally only one thing he was going to do. Lebron was a step too late to close out Durant and he consequently pulled up and sunk the three-pointer to put the Warriors up.
Cleveland then crumbled on the last possession, ultimately forfeiting the game.
Game 4 was one of the best games we saw all Playoffs. Throughout this game it seemed like both Lebron and Kyrie were literally unstoppable. Kyrie shot an incredible 58% from three and finished the game with 40 points. Lebron also backed up his case again, finishing with another triple-double with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. It seemed like in this game the Cavs realised that they were not going to win on their own defensive efforts, and that resultantly the only option was to essentially beat the Warriors at their own game — by scoring a profuse amount of points.
Game 5 was a similar story to Games 1 and 2. Despite keeping it level up until the break, Cleveland couldn’t stop the Warriors pulling away in the final quarters, just like they had done earlier in the series. J.R. smith played like he had a certain tweet to back up, but otherwise the rest of the Cavs just looked finished. The game finished 129–120 and the Warriors won their third ever NBA championship.
The warriors are just an exceptional team and arguably one, if not the best in NBA history. Even when you look past their four incredible starters: in Curry, Thompson, Durant and Green, you still have a team that is incredibly deep with a number of multi-dimensional role players.
Andre Iguodala is another player who has already more than proved his value. He comes on the court and produces at a level that would warrant a starting role on most other NBA teams. David West is another key piece in the Warriors rotation; an old school forward who is still carving out minutes as an impact guy. Shawn Livingston is a lengthy guard who creates nightmares for opposing guards. Just imagine you’re Kyrie Irving in the Finals. As well as putting up your own stellar number yourself, you have to spend most of the game chasing Steph Curry around the court, for Livingston to then come on and beat you into the post where his height gives him a significant advantage over a smaller guard like Irving.
Throughout the year I was under the impression that the Cavs were as equally stacked as the Warriors and maybe they are. Unfortunately, they needed every player to bring everything they had in order to have any chance of beating the Warriors. Deron Williams — who back in 2010 was vying with Chris Paul for the title of the best point guard in the league- has seen one of the better falls from grace that the league has ever seen and was an absolute non-factor in the Playoffs, averaging 4.3 points in 14.6 minutes of action.
Who knows what happened to Tristan Thompson in Finals? Thompson, who had been the teams second leading rebounder through the season, couldn’t seem to get a rebound to save himself and finished the series averaging 5.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. J.R. Smith started all five games in the Finals but didn’t find his stride until Game 3, which by then was too late.
The defensive matchups in the NBA Finals were probably the one of the biggest factors in the series that wasn’t talked about enough. The Warriors players such as Green, Klay, Durant, Iguodala and Livingston who have all shown themselves to be more than capable of guarding multiple positions. A defense that per basketball reference ranked second in the league, coupled with the best offence in the league is going to be difficult to keep up with no matter who’s on your team.
The Cavs, on the other hand, ranked 21st in defensive rating during the 2016–17 season. As gifted as they were offensively there are a few players on the roster who were just straight-up defensive liabilities in the Finals. Korver and J.R. Smith are both very one-dimensional and big problems on defense for the Cavs. Channing Frye gets torn apart by defensive switches to the point that he couldn’t warrant more than 11 minutes in the Finals.
One thing I will commend the Warriors for is the great culture they have instilled over their organisation in the last few years. It is a system in which every player from the starters all the way down to last player on the bench knows their role and executes it perfectly. The Warriors front office have been very tactful, but at the same time very lucky in some of their acquisitions over the years, that has allowed them to mould their players into perennial All-Stars. They have shown the value of keeping a team together and building on their performances every season and resultantly, the Warriors model is one that all teams looking towards the draft this summer should aspire to. The culture they adopted was something that obviously attracted Kevin Durant to the Golden State last summer, and now they have him locked in until 2018. It would be not at all unrealistic to expect to see the Warriors as the favourite to win the title again come next season.
As for the Cavs, the future is not so optimistic. Based on what we saw in the Finals, it doesn’t appear that this team has any chance of beating the Warriors in their current form. That would then suggest that they need to add new talent to the team in order to contend with the force that is Golden State. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Cleveland have very little cap space as well as very little ways of creating significant room to sign another All-Star. The only viable option seems to revolve around a trade involving Kevin Love. However, the choice for the Cleveland front office will be whether or not to give up on Love after he’s shown flashes of being great but still appears to be the weakest link in Cleveland’s current Big Three. Personally I don’t think there are many better players that you can replace with Love but obviously something has to be shaken up in order for the outcome to be different this time next year.