The NBA Finals don’t look like a fair fight anymore. After losing Kevin Love in the first round, the Cavaliers will now also be without Kyrie Irving for the rest of the series. Unless something crazy happens, Golden State will win without much drama.
All the talk about asterisks is silly, but it’s true that it’ll be as nondescript a championship as there’s been recently. No big wins against great teams, no great series for the Warriors. The only thing that could make the run truly memorable at this point would be for Stephen Curry to take over and show how dominant he can be with signature performances.
Curry was guarded well in Game 1, with perimeter defenders and big men working in unison to avoid giving him room. He still scored 26 points and dished out eight assists — solid numbers but not particularly impressive. The highlights involving Curry in Game 1 had him on the wrong end of two Irving blocks. He did enough to lead his team to the win, but he wasn’t close to being the unstoppable force he was for long stretches during the regular season.
LeBron James stole the show by scoring 44 points and almost willing the Cavaliers to the upset. On the Warriors’ side, Andre Iguodala got some well-deserved attention for his fantastic defense and efficient scoring. Yet the only lasting memory that’ll come from that game will be Irving’s injury and how it robbed us of what could have been a thrilling series.
With Irving now out, the Warriors won’t need to cross-match on defense and Curry will be able to rest, as Matthew Dellavedova is an assignment he should easily be able to handle. Game 2 will be the perfect opportunity for Curry to go off offensively. The Warriors won’t likely need him to, but the audience does. Golden State fans will take the Larry O’Brien Trophy and be happy about it no matter how they get it, but unattached fans need a playoff moment to remember one of the more dominant regular-season teams in recent history by, and Curry is the only one who can deliver it.
It would almost be unfair for Curry and the team to cruise to a championship after facing shorthanded team after shorthanded team, never being able to show just how amazing they could be. There were random nights in December in which the Warriors were fascinating to watch, and the idea of seeing how they’d fare in the playoffs was tantalizing. Instead we got a sweep against the overmatched Pelicans, four blowout wins over the Grizzlies after dropping two games and a destruction of the Rockets in the conference finals.
Curry did have a ridiculous 40-points-on-19-shots game against Houston that’ll look even more impressive when we look upon it in the future. That’s the defining moment of this playoff run for him, and under normal circumstances it would be more than enough. Unfortunately, the way the Finals are shaking up and his performance in the regular season demand more. With the Warriors ultimate triumph being almost a foregone conclusion at this point, what we need is at least one more signature Stephen Curry performance to close the door on the Cavaliers. It’s almost the only reason to keep watching these games.
The Warriors would have likely won it all even if they had to face the best opposition at full strength in the postseason, and Curry getting MVP was an unquestionably good decision. Beating Cleveland in a business-like fashion would in no way cheapen the great season Golden State had. If they keep this group together they’ll continue to contend for years and could win multiple championships. If that happens, this era of Warriors basketball will be remembered no matter what.
Yet if this season taught us anything, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. Draymond Green could leave, an injury could strike at the wrong time and the Warriors might not find themselves in this situation again. If this is just a transitional year before James wins his next championship and Anthony Davis emerges as the best player in the league, what Curry and the Warriors have done could unfairly become a footnote, simply because there won’t be anything overly impressive about their postseason run, to no fault of theirs.
What can prevent that from happening is an explosion by Curry in which he rains fire and destroys anyone who’s put in front of him, offering a permanent reminder that what we are seeing is special. If that happens, even the most cynical among us will be forced to remember and appreciate these Warriors and the unique player that led them to a title.
The hard work is mostly done. Barring a catastrophe, Curry will be an NBA champion. Now he has three games to make the series and the season memorable by giving us one more showcase of his amazing talent.