In light of the tonights round two re-match between the Cavs and the Warriors, I thought it would make sense to review how yuge their rivalry has actually been.
The Cavaliers and Warriors are giving non-NBA fans the ability to say there’s no parity in the league. Real fans know its skyrocketing in top-to-bottom competitiveness, juggling teams with new entertaining play styles, developing dominant and smooth young talent, and showcasing the growth of the league’s image in eyes of the public.
The positive state of the league legitimizes the legacy that these two great teams will leave behind. We are talking one of the strongest teams a top two player all-time has ever had versus a trend-shattering, trigger-thirsty, record-setting Golden State Warriors.
LeBron himself has discussed this comeback championship as the greatest accomplishment in his lifetime. On the other side, we had a free agent former MVP join a two-time reigning, unanimous MVP. This story is remarkable.
With another victory over this team, LeBron James will pass Jordan in thousands of minds across the globe. And for good reason. LeBron has been at peak efficiency in these playoffs. Per 100 possessions in the past two playoff escapades, The King is nailing in averages of 35.5 points (37 at home), 13.1 rebound, 10.1 assists, 2.6 steals (3.2 at home), and 1.5 blocks.
In fact, LeBron’s advanced statistics in the finals since reuniting with the Cavs have been immaculate. He has a rebound percentage of 15.6%, a preposterous assist percentage of 48.4%, a steal percentage of 2.4%, and a block percentage of 3.5% (5.9% in last years finals!!). Jordan’s career averages in these areas are 9.3% reb, 29.4% ast, 2.4% stl, and 1.2% blk for all six of his NBA finals. They have nearly mirroring numbers in terms of true shooting percentage and usage (Jordan 56% and 36.1% vs LeBron at 52% and 37.1%), but it is clear that LeBron is blowing Jordan out of the water in terms of creating opportunities for teammates and eliminating opportunities for the opposition. Not only did LeBron have one of the most impressive finals victories of all time in terms of individual performance, but he also did it against a blasphemously nasty Golden State Warriors roster. That has recently become more blasphemous.
It isn’t just LeBron, his teammates are playing the best ball of their careers as well. Kevin Love has perfected his role with more consistency and spark in the start of games (including his 34 point Klay-esque first quarter). His averages of 21 ppg and 11 rpg are the highest since coming to the Cavaliers, all while sinking 39% of his threes, the highest since his 2010/11 campaign in which he only made 88 (he already has 94 in 35 games this season). His accuracy could be attributed to better shot placement, as the Cavs are working to transform Kev into a corner specialist. 35% of his three point attempts come from the corner, the highest in his career. Additionally, the Cavs are trusting Love in isolation and high post situations more frequently than they have in the past. His FGM are still assisted at a high rate, but the numbers have dropped from all areas of the floor. Cleveland giving him a bit more free range as a scorer is instilling a level of confidence in Kevin Love that up to this point he has not shown.
Kyrie Irving is affirming his role as a prolific scorer. His 33.9 points per 100 possessions is his best of his career. He is cutting and moving off ball better than he ever has, creating more space for himself and for other shooters on the team. In contrast to Kevin Love’s decrease in assisted FGM, Kyrie’s assisted FGM rate has grown to the highest since LeBron coming to town. This takes pressure off Irving to create every shot inside of the three-point line off his handles, and lean on the offensive scheme and passing of his teammates instead. The coaching staff’s strategies and player’s self awareness are falling into place at the right time. They are finally able to capitalize on specific strengths of their personnel.
LeBron’s opponent is a story within itself. This Warriors organization was built from the ground up with smart managerial decisions, confident draft selections, and proper development strategies. They busted on the scene in 2015 with their first NBA Championship since Rick Barry was huckin up free throws from between his knees in 1975. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the two best shooters of all time, collided on one championship team. Throw in an exquisite bench, the vision of Mark Jackson (he gets a bad rap as an analyst, but people forget he built confidence and a playmaking foundation in this core), a freak of energy and drive that is Draymond Green, and you have the makings of one of the most revolutionary NBA Champions to hoist the trophy. Their pace and style of play were (and still are) unprecedented.
I was watching the Cavs vs Magic 2009 ECF earlier, and Mo Williams made a half court shot. Marv Albert lost his mind, saying he heard they draw up plays for situations like this, and that Mo Williams is a player who unlike others, looks forward to these shot attempts. If any player in the NBA now makes a half court shot, it immediately gets ranked below the 118 other shots Steph has made from that distance. Steph Curry is the transcendent type of player to turn making half court shots into another day in the life. He has legitimate four-minute long YouTube highlight reels of him hitting solely halfcourt and beyond shots. The man is an alien. I wish there was a statistic kept for most appearances on ESPN’s Top 10, because there is no way Steph isn’t near, if not on top of that list.
Oh, they have another superhero sniper. Klay Thompson does unfathomable things. The microwave feature in 2k was created solely to give to Klay. He is the only player in NBA history who makes my heart start palpitating after he hits two shots in a row. Just two. That is all he needs. He makes two shots in a row, you go leave for a bathroom break, you come back, and Klay Thompson just went on a 14-0 scoring run in the past 2:45 (Or 37 points in a quarter, or 60 points in three quarters on 11 dribbles). People overlook Klay’s all around ability as the best 1v1 defender on this team. I would be curious to see him on another NBA roster where he could really lose his mind and showcase his potential as the top 10 player in the league that he is.
Draymond Green doesn’t get a paragraph of praise, he’ll get a completely separate post of desolation and disgust that I’ll release at a later date.
Enter Kevin Durant. Oh, three All-NBA players, an NBA Championship, and a record 73 win season weren’t enough? Here, take this 6-11 shooting guard who won MVP a couple of years ago. I admit being a certain level of sour towards KD because of his snub to Boston. The man is young and immature, but he just wants to win a freaking championship. Since debuting as a Warrior, Durant’s efficiency as a player has skyrocketed, as has his predicted standing in the MVP race (He is placed 2nd on basketball-reference.com’s algorithm factoring in previous year’s voting results and current performance). Easy Money Sniper.
Add all of this together and we get a video game scenario matchup. LeBron is going complete supersaiyan against an army of Monstars. Lets brew an imaginative hypothetical to put it in perspective for Michael Jordan faithful’s; After MJ took out John Stockton and the Mailman in 1997, suppose the Utah Jazz added Hakeem Olajuwon to their finals berthed team. Now imagine they had one more All NBA player on their team in addition to Stockton and Malone, say, Latrell Sprewell. Sprinkle in a little more hypothetical nonsense and give the Utah Jazz the 1995 NBA Championship when Jordan was still striking out on the Barons.
Meaning Jordan, returning to the game of basketball, would’ve had to take on a team with three All NBA players that just got a fourth player of MVP caliber. Sound familiar? Even then, this story wouldn’t have been as riddled and colorful as LeBron vs. the Monstar Warriors. And less you forget, this is hypothetical. This current rivalry we are witnessing is so befuddling and awe grasping that it can only be matched by a completely falsified fairyland story requiring the complete restructuring of another era. LeBron James vs. The Golden State Warriors is the best storyline the NBA has ever seen.
All statistics were drawn from basketball-reference.com