I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about how Robyn and baby Bernadette are doing, and I’m happy to report they’re doing very well and becoming a dad has been a life-changing experience. I’ll be writing more on that next time, but for now I wanted to touch on the end of NBA season, culminating in an incredible NBA Finals series between Cleveland and Golden State.
Most people know I’m a pretty big fan of the TV show The Big Bang Theory, and one of the characters, Sheldon Cooper, has an episode where instead of saying “I told you so,” he says, “I informed you thusly.” So on the outcome of the Finals, I’ll simply say:
I informed you thusly.
The predictions that I made in my blog previewing the Finals turned out to be correct almost down to the letter. As I foretold it, the Warriors were too much for the Cavaliers to handle and they ended up winning in six games. So a big congratulations to the Warriors. They were the best team all year, and they confirmed it with a title.
HOW THEY DID IT
There was something about the Warriors all season long that separated them from the rest of the teams in the league. You could see it watching them, and you could certainly feel it playing them.
Toward the latter part of the regular season in Utah, we were really rolling and playing well, and I had gotten to the point where I didn’t think there was one team in the league we couldn’t beat on any given night. But there was one team I thought we wouldn’t beat in a seven-game series, and that was the Warriors. I truly believe, as well as we were playing down the stretch, we could’ve given ourselves a chance to win a seven-game series against just about any other team. But the Warriors were a team I thought, if we played seven games, would definitely get the best of us.
That’s just a credit to that whole team: offensively, defensively, their coach and the mindset of their players. They just had so much talent and depth. What set them apart was that their success goes beyond their star players. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had their struggles throughout the series. But the role players complemented them so well that it was more than the Cavs could overcome.
Andre Iguodala was phenomenal in the Finals. They also brought David Lee — who hadn’t played most of the playoffs — off the bench, and he performed well in place of Andrew Bogut. Every player they brought in off the bench stepped up—Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa— they were all key pieces in one game or another. Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes also played significant roles in their championship.
The philosophy of their team and the mentality of their role players is unique. They all play their roles extremely well. Steph and Klay wouldn’t have had the years they had without the other guys on the team. You watch some of those guys, and they’re constantly looking for Klay and Steph. It’s just the little things their teammates do to make those two guys better.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re both extremely talented players. Steph is seriously one-of-a-kind. But something that goes overlooked is just how the other players on their team made those guys better, just because they’re constantly looking for them. Klay or Steph can come off a screen, reject it, come off the other side, turn it down, go to the rim, kick it out and then run to the corner. Instead of taking a shot or making a play, their teammates just re-screen for them or pass it back to them, and they get another shot.
That’s why they do so well, and it’s a credit to those guys always playing their roles. As a team they know what their identity is and who their scorers are, and even when adversity hits, they have other people to step up.
Iguodala didn’t start a single game for them during the regular season and he came in and killed it, starting the last three games. What do you do when a guy who hasn’t started all year and is averaging eight points per game comes in playing a great all-around game and drops 25, 5 and 5? How do you combat that? It’s tough.
THE REAL MVP
I have extreme respect for what Iguodala did. He clearly had another level than what he was doing during the regular season. That’s not to say that he wasn’t playing hard in the regular season. He just wasn’t starting and wasn’t playing as many minutes. But for him to just accept that and wait for his time, and then when they needed him the most, he showed up the biggest, that’s incredible. I’m sure it involved a lot of swallowing of his pride. That’s selfless, to be honest. It’s a selfless attitude, and that’s pretty awesome. Now he gets to say that he’s the Finals MVP and he has a ring. Nobody is going to remember that he didn’t start during the regular season. They’re going to remember that he was Finals MVP.
But I don’t necessarily agree with him getting Finals MVP. Don’t get me wrong, he played extremely well and had a huge impact for his team. Without him they probably wouldn’t have won. But Stephen Curry is the Finals MVP in my eyes. When you talk about the most valuable player on the Golden State Warriors, it’s Steph Curry without a doubt.
You could see Cleveland’s game plan was focused on Steph. They tried to make it difficult for him, and he made the passes he needed to and Andre got a bunch of open shots as a result. But Steph still averaged 26 points per game. For the Cavs entire defense to be keyed on you and to still score like that deserves a ton of credit. Some of the shots he made were insane. You just shake your head, tip your hat to him and move on.
He did things similar to LeBron. The only difference was that he didn’t have the size to post up, so every time he came off pick-and-roll, they were trapping him or making him see two people, and that made him get the ball out of his hands. He was driving into at least one or two guys every time. Cleveland did a great job defensively on him. The nights he struggled, he was getting past his man, but he had two or three guys waiting for him after that. They were being physical with him, they were fouling him and he overcame all of it to have a great series. That’s why I think he deserved the Finals MVP.
A lot of people were saying that LeBron should have gotten it even though the Cavs lost, but I don’t agree with that. I think the Finals MVP needs to go to the best player on the team that wins. That’s how they do it for the regular-season MVP, otherwise LeBron should win the league MVP every year. He is the best player in the league. If there’s a league-wide draft, who are you’re going to pick No. 1? It’s LeBron, no question. He’s the most valuable guy in the league. But the MVP has been given to the best player on the best team. So if you’re going to do that in the regular season and give Steph the MVP, which he rightly deserved because his team was the best, I think you have to do it in The Finals, too.
In a way, I feel bad for LeBron after watching that series.
You could see it on his face a little bit at the end. He was just so exhausted and trying to do everything he could, but it just wasn’t enough. Golden State’s whole game plan was focused on him, and he still was still somehow able to average 35 points, 13 rebounds and almost nine assists. That’s really unheard of. He was basically going 1-on-5 every game, because when he drove to the basket, the whole defense was keying on him.
The strength to do that each night — physically and mentally — is what I don’t think many people understand. You can say that you understand, but until you actually go out there, you really can’t. It’s a situation I’ve been in before, though not anywhere near on the same level as LeBron just was. There are some nights where the game plan is all on you. You get by your defender, and there’s another guy waiting. That’s extremely difficult and frustrating, because while you’re trying to do everything you can, for whatever reason, it’s not working for you. For him to go out and face that every single game, he had to be exhausted.
You can nitpick and say that if he would’ve shot the ball better from the outside, it would’ve made a difference. Maybe that would’ve made it a different series. He had to shoot a bunch and missed a lot of shots. If he would’ve been more efficient, he would’ve been pretty much unstoppable. But when you’re playing 46 minutes and you have the entire offensive load on you, it’s nearly impossible to be efficient, create for your teammates and be engaged defensively. He did about as much as you could ask from him. Probably more than they should’ve asked.
So I think — I hope — people understand how great a player he is after this series.
It was easy to see how amazing he is as a player, but more than that, you saw just how amazing he is as a guy who can make his teammates better. That’s one of his greatest attributes. He basically made guys who weren’t household names into “Steph Curry stoppers,” and all these things they really aren’t.
I alluded to it in the last blog about LeBron being underappreciated and undervalued. It’s hard to say that he’s undervalued, just because people talk about him so much. But I think this needed to happen for people to understand how great he is.
Even though he lost, it still builds onto his legacy—which is pretty amazing and extremely rare. It just speaks to how good he is as a player. Most people, when they lose, get a fair amount of criticism. Even LeBron, when you look in the past when he lost, people were hating on him and saying, “He’s not a finisher. He’s not a closer.” I don’t think anybody is going to doubt him after this series.
After what he just did — bringing that team within two wins of a title — people should have a greater appreciation for him. It should make everyone say, “This guy is incredible.” The athlete that he is and what he brings to the table — I don’t think there’s any other guy in the NBA besides LeBron James who could literally go to any team, and they instantly become a title contender. It’s pretty cool for me to be able to say I competed against a guy like that.
DEFENSE AND DEPTH
All that said, Golden State did a tremendous job on him.
They did everything they could to try to stop the best player in the world. He’s going to score, but they forced him into tough shots, made it difficult for him and wore him down. That’s a huge reason why the ended up winning the series. They utilized several defenders to make him take tough shots and take contested step-back shots, or make him really have to bully somebody and use all kinds of strength to score. That’s just so tiring, and you could tell by the end of each game he was really worn down. So Golden State did a great job defensively.
Cleveland played really well on the defensive end, too. They stayed disciplined to what they wanted to do. The only thing I would like to have seen them try to do was make Draymond Green more of a scorer. The last game of the series he had a triple double, and that’s when he hurts you the most, when he’s able to be a facilitator and still have 16 or 17 points. I would’ve tried to make him score 25 or 30 points, and not let him make his passes, because that’s what he’s best at. But at the end of the day, the Warriors have so many weapons, it’s just so hard. The Cavs players kind of just ran out of gas.
To be able to roll as deep on a NBA roster as the Warriors do is something that’s pretty rare, just because of the way the NBA works. We’re in this era of teams bringing a few stars together, but it leaves the back end of their roster a little short. Boston had success doing that, and then LeBron, Wade and Bosh did it in Miami. But the thing that separates Golden State is they were nine or 10 deep—not just three really good players.
That’s unique because you have to have people there who buy into it and don’t cause a problem. David Lee had to accept that his role wasn’t going to be as big. Andre Iguodala, who would start on just about every team in the NBA, had to say, “Ok, I’ll just come off the bench,” and really just take a back-seat role the entire year. Guys have to take less money to be there and things of that nature. That’s really rare because money talks, and it’s hard to ask guys to turn down bigger offers to win basketball games. It’ll be interesting to see if they stick together. Some of those guys are on the verge of getting paid big-time. We’ll see if they decide to leave or stay.
But for this year, not only did some of those guys do that, but then they bought in to the concepts across the board. They jelled and bonded, and the chemistry they have is huge. They bought into who their scorers were, and let offense happen without anybody else trying to do too much. It allowed Draymond Green to grow into his role, and then step in and start. It’s all a sign of the respect they have for each other. They’ve all been playing together for at least a couple of years, and they proved that it’s a process for sure.
By the end of the process, they really had a full team, probably one of the best teams historically to ever play the game. They won 83 games in total. That’s an unbelievable season. I think you can consider them among the historically great teams, because there aren’t many teams that have won that many games in the regular season then continued to win and dominate in the playoffs as well. Sometimes you just have those teams that are really good and really dominant.
You have to be a little bit lucky as well. They didn’t have any injuries this year, which is something that devastated the Cavs. If Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are in uniform, it’s a different series — no doubt about that. The Warriors still would’ve been too much, in my opinion, but who knows then. You’re talking about two stars added with LeBron, so he doesn’t have to do too much. So having a little bit of luck too is also a good thing.
I also give a lot of credit to Steve Kerr and his ability to put those guys in the best situations possible to succeed. I wasn’t inside any of those huddles or anything, but I have imagine he got them in the right mindset to buy into their “Strength In Numbers” mantra, to rely on and trust in each other. There’s also credit due to the Golden State organization and the coaches before Kerr. Mark Jackson started building that team in the right direction, and getting to the point they have is always a process.
Success in the NBA is not generally something that just happens overnight. Teams don’t just go from nothing to The Finals, unless of course, they have LeBron James. He’s the one guy who has been able to do that for teams.
Seeing the Warriors build to it they way they did is certainly a confidence builder for other teams in the league that are building, like us in Utah. It gives you a little bit of assurance that, if you stick to the process and the plan of how the organization is moving things forward, you can definitely put a team together and make a big run. That’s not to say that anybody can do it. You obviously have to have the talent and players, and people have to buy into that. But I think the Jazz are headed in the right direction. We certainly took a big step last year. With the 2014-15 season now officially behind us, I’m looking forward to a new one now, and helping Utah take another big step forward.