In Appreciation of the 2017 NBA Finals

There are large-scale, long term discussions and debates to be had about both Finals teams and basketball itself now that the season is over. The Warriors defeated the Cavs and the league may never be the same. I want to talk about that, at length, at some point. But not now. Today, and maybe for a few weeks, I want to appreciate what we got in these Finals. So let’s do that.

1. The Threematch

Sure, that term is clunky and by no means universally used. But I liked it. Not everyone liked the fact we were seeing these same two squads in the Finals again, but I enjoyed that too. For starters, it wasn’t the same squads at all; Kevin Durant changed everything. Even without that, how could you not want to see a rubber match? After splitting the last two Finals, with last year’s coming in the most dramatic fashion, these guys needed to settle the score. Bad blood got to fester for a year. Media and fans got to squabble over which side was worthy of praise or scorn or if these teams’ very existence was bad for the sport. The drama was inherent, and it all needed to be decided on the court. We’re blessed to have gotten to see just that.

2. Kevin Durant and LeBron James

You can debate if these are the best two players in the NBA. But you can’t deny that they’re two of the best. And not only did we get to see them play each other, we saw them guard each other for a good chunk of the series. Two of the best, most freakishly gifted athletes in the history of the game squaring up over and over and over. Surprisingly, it didn’t disappoint. You know the saying an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? This was more like two unstoppable forces colliding. I’m not quite sure how to describe what happens at the point of collision, but I do know it looks pretty badass.

Durant won Finals MVP with a stat line of 35/8/5 and shooting splits of 55/47/92. That’s just silly. As a man who cannot be outdone, LeBron averaged himself a tidy triple double for the series, with 33, 12 and 10. It wasn’t enough, but it was the most any human could hope to do. That outstanding futility sums up the series.

3. Earl Joseph Smith III

More commonly known as J.R., he’s the bacon that you can wrap around any meal and improve it. He delivered LeBron his triple double by nailing a three in the final seconds of Game 5, and that probably wasn’t one of the top-5 coolest things he did in the series. He may have gotten lost on defense a dozen too many times, but you gotta let the man be himself. Each of his shots seemed a little crazier than the one before (31 of his 37 shots were threes) but J.R. shot 54% and, even more incredibly, 58% from three. He even inserted himself into a fight he didn’t need to be in in Game 5 and got a technical. J.R. proves the duality of man. He of the rash decisions and crazy shots is also this man at the same time:

I respect him so much.

4. Rihanna

Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images

She showed up to Game 1 in Oakland, turning Jeff Van Gundy into Brent Musburger with his on-air thirst and (allegedly) talked trash to Durant. She stayed faithful to LeBron, her favorite player, got burned for it, and took it in stride.

She’s perfect.

5. Player Moms

6. Incompetent Officiating

Just kidding! This part sucked. Hey, it couldn’t be perfect.

6. Role Players Getting Ran Off the Court

Both Golden State and Cleveland are obviously top heavy, but the fate of numerous bench guys in this series proves just how far up the best players are. JaVale McGee and Channing Frye can’t handle a pick and roll on the perimeter? Sorry. A one dimensional player who isn’t performing well at his one dimension? See ya, Kyle Korver and Iman Shumpert. Committing a bunch of stupid fouls and failing to make layups? Off you go, Zaza Pachulia. Keep getting minutes despite all-around ineffectiveness? Yeah, I don’t know how to explain Deron Williams or Patrick McCaw either.

The top four players for each side just took the lower levels of each side to the woodshed. I can only imagine being fairly good at your job then having to compete against some of the most skilled people to have ever done your job. I worked construction in high school. What if one summer I found out Jesus was building a house across the street and we had to make our house better than his. I would have taken a few DNP-CDs, no doubt about that.

I digress. Ultimately, the Warriors had more guys that could hang than the Cavaliers, and that made the difference. And even though he couldn’t stay on the court long, we still got…

7. NBA Champion JaVale McGee

This is real. If you can’t enjoy that, there’s no saving your soul from the inky black depths it’s sunk to.

8. Scheming

With teams this incredible, a good bit of scheming can make all the difference in a game. Better writers than I can break down exactly how defenders communicate through off-ball movement or how ball handlers react to different techniques of defending a pick and roll. I just can see enough to appreciate those types of plays in real time. The ones where you have to rewind the game because someone just got wide open and you’re completely unsure how, or a defender stopped a drive at the rim and you have no idea where he came from.

A good chunk of the smartest, most athletic players in the league were featured in these Finals, along with two inventive coaching staffs to boot. (Special mini appreciation here for Steve Kerr, who manages to scheme through pain we can’t fully understand.) Seeing these teams have to get creative and intelligent rather than relying on pure talent or skill makes the games that much more interesting.

9. Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Klay Thompson, Tristan Thompson

It was easy to focus so hard on the biggest (in the literal and probably figurative sense) of top four players on each team. So we need to give credit where it’s due. Curry had a Finals that would have been MVP-worthy in almost any other year – here, he was relegated to third-best. Kyrie put up 30 points per game and had several plays per game that could make a fan swoon and a defender collapse to the fetal position. Green and K. Thompson weren’t as offensively potent as expected, but their defense was equally if not more important. Both Love and T. Thompson struggled early, but became the players we needed over the final 3 games. All these dudes are great at what they do and it would be a mistake to overlook that even for a second.

10. Basketball!

I don’t really have an interesting or intelligent take here. I just think that basketball is really great and fun. I’m sad that I won’t have the NBA in my life for a few months. Luckily, there’s the draft and the new Big 3 league and free agency. Oh, and takes. There will be lots of takes to keep us occupied. Enjoy them, and your summer.

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