The 2010-2011 Finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks was only the second year since 1999 that one of my teams (the Spurs and the Lakers) were not in the Finals. Think about that - for eleven of twelve straight seasons, I had one of my two teams playing for the NBA championship. And one of those two teams (hint: not the Lakers) then made the Finals two of the next three years, should have won both of those times, and actually won once, as described here in my piece entitled Redemption:
While the Lakers have fallen on hard times, the Spurs have avoided any significant downturns since Clinton the Male was president of the United States, despite the fact that the Tim Duncan pick was the last time they had a pick in the top 20 of the NBA draft. Just as importantly, the Spurs have done it the right way. They have kept the same core of players, coaches, management and ownership. As a former coach, I appreciate the way the Spurs play hard, intelligently and unselfishly - and they seem like genuinely good guys.
All of which led this lifetime Laker fan to eventually (and joyfully) convert to a "heart and soul" Spurs fan. I have learned during that conversion that the team a fan roots for should not be determined by the happenstance of birth or present location. Instead, I chose to become a Spurs fan for all the reasons in the previous paragraph, along with the Popovich factor noted here:
All that then led to this: Two years ago, I exercised my right as a fan to choose a second team to root for in those unfortunate years where the Spurs are not in the Finals. Not being restrained by geography, I did not choose the "other" local team - the Clippers. Instead, I chose the team most similar to the Spurs. I chose the Warriors as my "second team" (behind the Spurs) two seasons ago, after attending a dreadful early season Laker game. This is from my October 28,2013 blog, a full year before the Warriors became the best team in basketball:
Knowing this [the Lakers' collapse and, more importantly, bringing in a bunch of not-very-good one year mercenaries] was coming about, I resolved to see if I could transfer loyalty to a team with guys I like. The Warriors.
Steph Curry went to Davidson, where he hung out with the son of Haverford College roommate and soccer legend Phil Zipin - Phil's son says Steph is a good guy. He is also a great shooter, like I dream of being. So that's one. Laker announcer and former Laker player Mychael Thompson's son is the other guard, also seems like a good guy. Also a great shooter. That's two. Andrew Bogut is from Australia, and we have 2 great friends from Australia. And he is a great passer. That is three. Iguodala is a great defender, team player, seems like a real good guy. That's four. Harrison Barnes, now back as 6th man, went to North Carolina, who I normally don't like, but Tar Heel legend Bob Bennett is one of the best people in the world. So that helps. I really liked Warrior great Rick Barry growing up. And former Claremont player and All-American Chris Greene is a Warrior fan from way back. That is enough for me. Warriors all the way, baby!
Last season, the Warriors were OK, but shackled by a Mark Jackson post-heavy, isolation driven offense. Because Jackson the player excelled at posting up smaller guards, he tried to transform Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes into mini- Mark Jacksons, the worst thing a coach can do. That 2013-2014 team, with the same offensive players everyone raves about this year, were by all measures an average offensive team. Any coach who cannot make Curry/Thompson/Barnes/Green/Bogut into a good offensive team does not deserve to retain his job - and Warriors management were smart enough to make the change.
This year, new coach (and ex-Spur) Steve Kerr installed a Spursian motion offense, he and GM Bob Meyer created a team with Spursian depth, the team continued to play great defense, and the Warriors have been the best team in the league, both in the regular season and through the playoffs. Which is why they are easy for this Spurs fan to root for. The Warriors are rightfully favored in the Finals. I hope Vegas is right.
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1. First, an apology. Uber skier, all-around good guy and brother Mark is turning 60 this Saturday, June 6. As a result, I will be in Telluride, Colorado for the festivities for Game One. Which means I will not able to comment on Game One. Blame my wonderful mother, who decided to have Mark on June 6, 1955, not mindful of the upcoming NBA Finals. I will surely mention this to her Thursday night in Telluride. (In Mom's defense, the NBA Finals used to end well before June.)
2. Depending on what we see in the Finals, these NBA playoffs have been the strangest in memory. At times, it has been like the old TV show MASH -- every playoff series was heavily influenced by injuries, often season ending injuries. We also had to endure way too many hack-a-lousy free throw shooter contests. Also, while there were some great games and exciting endings, (e.g. Spurs--Clips Game 7) there were many more blow-outs than great games. The Number 1 seed in the East, Atlanta, ended their otherwise magical season by losing their last game by 30 points. We also witnessed back-to-back blowouts where the team that just got crushed became the crushor in the next game. Strange times indeed.
3. Similarly, James Harden might have had the strangest back-to-back playoff games ever. In Game Four against the Warriors, Harden was unstoppable, scoring 45 points on only 22 shots, going 7 for 11 from 3, with only 3 turnovers. In Game Five, he was eminently stoppable, and went from being the best player on the floor to the worst. He went 2 for 11 from the floor, and made no 3s. The reason he took only 11 shots? Harden had an NBA playoff record 13 turnovers. While I don't like watching him play (watching one guy dribble the ball for much of the shot clock is not my idea of good hoops), Harden amazingly carried this Rocket team to the third best record in the league. Nonetheless, Game Five against the Warriors will mean that the Dictator will have a long winter.
4. One unreported factor of the Warrior Game Five victory against the Rockets was their offensive rebounding. While not a team you think of crashing the offensive glass (because you think of them making every shot they take), in Game Five against the Rockets, the Warriors got 19 offensive boards on only 44 missed shots. Put another way, they got 43% of their own misses back. Offensive rebounding will be a key statistic to watch in the Finals between the Warriors and the Cavs. Both the Cavs and the Warriors switch many screens on the perimeter. While this helps cover the pick-and-roll, it also often leaves guards with box-out responsibilities on larger players. The guards' ability (or inability) to keep those bigger players off the glass will be huge.
5. When Lebron is playing, as he seems to always be in the Finals, the first question is who will Lebron cover. I think the Warriors have an advantage here. There is not a natural guy for Lebron to cover. He won't want to cover Curry, but also is not suited to chasing Klay Thompson through all the screens and back-cuts. So Lebron may be somewhat wasted on the Warriors' fourth best player Harrison Barnes - but Lebron can't ignore him either, as Barnes proved with his 24 points to close out the Rockets. If Lebron covers Green instead, Tristan Thompson will need to cover the much more mobile Barnes, which creates more problems.
Unfortunately for long-suffering Cleveland fans, the Cavs weaker defenders (Irving, Dellavedova and the crazy JR Smith) will have to defend the Splash Brothers. (The other Cav guard, Shumpert, is a good defender.) Especially if Irving's knee is still funky, that could allow Curry and Thompson to do what they do best -- make shots. And for Curry, to create shots for his teammates.
6. On the flip side, the Warriors have a bunch of good wing defenders to throw at Lebron: Barnes, Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala can all take turns on Lebron - and they will have Bogut in the back line to help out on drives. Of course, Lebron must be very happy he won't have to see this in the Finals:
The Warriors have also had excellent practice focusing on the "one key guy" on the other team. The Warriors just spent 5 games defending the Dictator. Though Harden is clearly a different type player than Lebron, the Warriors spent those games perfecting concentrating on that one guy dominating the ball while remaining aware of the other players. A great dress rehearsal for the Finals.
7. All that being said, the Finals may come down to the one class I was truly bad at: Chemistry. This Warriors team has been together several years, and play well together - on both ends. When they are not turning the ball over, it flies around the court and often results in great shots for the Ws' excellent shooters -- very Spurs-like. The Warriors defensive rotations are often seamless and flawless, which comes from playing together for several seasons.
Compare that to the Cavs, who are like an all-star team (with only two All-Stars). Of the Cavs' top 7 players, only two, Irving and Tristan Thompson, played together before this season. (This would have extended to the Cavs top 8 players if Kevin Love were not injured.) Two players, Mosgov and Smith, didn't even join the team until mid-season.
Lebron's ability to take this team of strangers to the Finals is either (1) further evidence of the weakness of the East or (2) even more evidence of Lebron's greatness. Or both. If Lebron and the Cavs defeat an excellent Warriors team and deliver the championship to long-suffering Cleveland fans, we will know it is the latter.