I am not writing about politics today. We don’t write much about basketball here. So I will rectify that slightly. I am also not predicting that Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers will win basketball’s championship. They are still down 3-1. I’m old enough to remember the Cavaliers coming back from exactly this deficit in the NBA Finals. But that means only that I am old enough to remember last year. Still, chances are the Golden State Warriors will take their rightful place as NBA champion. No, I’m not saying Kevin Love, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and their Cavs will defy predictions of the outcome. But they have already defied the experts and the stats in terms of the pace at which they took the game to the Golden State Warriors last night.
Cavalierly defying expectation
Cleveland has been “turrible”, to (probably) quote the Round Mound of Rebound, at matching the pace of the Warriors. So, I gathered round my family. The beagles braced themselves, realizing that a sporting event would soon have their master bombarding their oversized ears in exultation. My household vibrated in anticipation of seeing a historic sweep of the entire playoffs. After all, the Warriors were a team on an absolute mission. Even when LeBron and Co. were up 6-0 in no time flat, I said, they have to slow it down to have a chance. Then the beagles peacefully slumbered on the couch. My wife went to bed in 2nd quarter.
Good thing no one pays me for my opinions on sports. The Cavaliers maintained an absurd pace throughout the game. They set a scoring record for a Finals quarter. Cavalierly, they set a scoring record for a Finals half. By the final buzzer, they scored 137 points, one short of tying a Finals record.
Of course, people well compensated for their sports opinions also opined that the Cavs had to slow down the series, make it ugly, to win. I’m not even saying they’re wrong. It’s hard to look at the series as a whole thus far and not come to the conclusion that the Warriors are superior at this UNLV-style track-meet. A sample size of one against a theory does not require a scramble to redefine all your wisdom. And proving everyone wrong, while it may make for good motivation, makes for lousy strategy. But, again, I’m not writing about politics today.
Kevin Love, in particular, defied expectation
Kevin Love was singled out as the player who was holding back his team from being able to match the frenetic pace of the smaller, more egalitarian, ball-movement based team from Oakland. The story went that his slow-footedness left him frequently exposed on defense. His rebounding becomes less valuable when the opponent rarely misses. And Golden State rarely misses when they are left open shots by a defender chained to the lane. And he’s a liability on offense if he’s clogging the lane on that end, letting defenders help on James or Irving without penalty.
Last night, he went 6-8 from Believe-Land 3-point-land. The points are nice, and Kevin Love had 17 of his 23 in the tone-setting first half. More importantly, that spaces the floor to enable LeBron’s incredible triple-double performance – taking the Finals record from the great Magic Johnson – and Kyrie Irving’s 40-point spectacle. He provided his signature rebounding, snagging two monster offensive boards, and drawing fouls on the smaller Warriors. He also ran the floor well, leading to a whole new flow for the defending champions.
Most importantly, and most surprisingly to critics, Love put in a superior defensive performance. He dominated in the post, as one would expect of Big Love. But he did not get lost the same way on pick-and-rolls and made the Warriors think twice about their passes. Most critically, he pitched in to trap Stephen Curry early in the game, showing him a different look, which made Curry uncomfortable while forcing the ball out of his hands. Getting the ball out of Stephen Curry’s hands proved to be monumental. The former-MVP never looked comfortable and underperformed.
I was wrong
So I tip my cap. I admit I was wrong. The Cavaliers were … erhm … audacious and flouted the basketball wise-men. But we shouldn’t over-adjust our sights after one missed shot. That’s how wise-men are often wrong about, any number of other fields. But, I swear, I’m not here to talk about politics.