Jeremiah Short, Feature Columnist
19.94 million people on average watched the 2015 NBA Finals, which was won in six games by the Golden State Warriors. The series featured the league’s MVP (Stephen Curry), exciting action and possibly the greatest individual performance in NBA Finals history by LeBron James (35.8 ppg., 13.3 rpg., 8.8 apg.), who lifted an undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers team to two improbable victories.
While the series was exhilarating and captivating, did we get the best NBA Finals? No.
Here’s why not.
1. The Cavs were undermanned: It’s been well-documented that the Cavaliers were without two All-Stars–Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving–due to post-season injuries. Love was injured in the first round. Irving broke his kneecap in the first game of the NBA Finals. The two stars succumbing to injury not only took away the Cavaliers second and third option, but it also took away two more bodies from the roster, which showed up late in games.
With Love and Irving in street clothes, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert were expected to do something they’ve never done…perform consistently at a high level.
Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson brought it. Matthew Dellavedova had a few nice games. But as James put it after Game 6, the Cavs “ran out of talent.”
2. Inexperienced coaches: The 2015 NBA Finals was the first time since the NBA was known as the Basketball Association of America that rookie head coaches opposed each other in the Finals. David Blatt was in his first year coaching on American soil. Steve Kerr was a rookie head coach but was a general manager and won five championships as a player.
In most NBA Finals, there are moves and countermoves and countermoves to those moves. In the 2015 Finals, Kerr inserted Andre Iguodala and forced the Cavaliers to play a faster pace than their roster allowed them to play.
What did Blatt do in response? He played James Jones a little more and only played Mozgov, who scored 28 points in Game 4, nine minutes in Game 5. That was his countermove.
There’s a reason Blatt may not be coaching the Cavaliers this time next week and why Kerr can’t pump his fist too much as a brilliant basketball mind for starting a 6’7 player(Draymond Green) at center.
3. The Warriors may not have been best in West: The Warriors had the best record in the NBA (67-15). But it’s fair to ask if they were truly the best team in the West.
As they advanced through the Western Conference playoffs, the Warriors benefited from the opposing team’s point guard being limited or out completely. In the first round, Jrue Holiday was limited to 20 minutes a game. In the second round, Mike Conley played while dealing with broken facial bones. Patrick Beverley, an ace defender, wasn’t available at all for the Houston Rockets.
What position does the Warriors best player, Stephen Curry, play? Point guard.
Curry performed at a historic level…averaging over 30 points per game and 40-plus percent from three-point range. Why would he not? There wasn’t much resistance.
Even with all the caveats, it doesn’t mean the 2015 Finals wasn’t great. It was great. The highest ratings in the post-Jordan era reflect it.
For the past twenty years, the NBA Finals were dominated by the Chicago Bulls, LA Lakers, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. It was refreshing to see something a little different.
Curry is a fresh, likable face who the league can promote. He has a great family, is clean cut and became one of the best players in the NBA through hard work and perseverance. He wasn’t blessed with freakish talent. He got in the gym and put in the work.
I think the average American can relate to him. LeBron is “the best player in the world.” But he should be. He’s 6’9, 270 and the most gifted basketball player and maybe athlete of all-time. It’s not easy to relate to him.
Whether they’re relatable or not, we’ll be seeing a lot of both players the next five years. The Warriors are poised to go on a run. Two of their core pieces–Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson–are locked up for the next few years. And the Warriors are expected to match any offer given to restricted free agent Draymond Green, who was the glue that held the Warriors team together this season.
The Cavaliers have some decisions to make. Kevin Love could opt out and Tristan Thompson is a restricted free agent. They can’t keep both. Regardless, James is in his prime and Irving is about to enter his. With the salary cap increasing after next season, the Cavaliers can place better ancillary pieces around James and set themselves up for Championship contention over the next five years.
There will be other Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals. This year’s wasn’t their best. But we’ll have plenty of opportunities see it in the coming years.
That’s something to get excited about.
Catch me on the “SportsKrib” on Wednesday’s 8-9 Central and Thursday’s 8-10 Central. Follow me on social media @DaRealJShort or check out my facebook page JShortJournalist or my Google Plus page J.Short- Journalist.