June 16, 2017

AKABAS | 10 NBA Finals Questions, Asked and Answered

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When the NBA season came to a close on Monday night, I had too many thoughts to sort out, so I decided to let my friends do it for me by sending me questions. Below are my answers to 10 questions about the 2017 NBA Finals, ranging from most simple to most complex.

Very Simple Questions

Is ball even life?
– Brian R.

Yes. Ball is still life.

Does Zaza Pachulia actually deserve a ring?
– Noah B.

Every time I remember that Zaza won a ring I get a little sadder. The amount I get sadder is a bit more than the amount I get sadder every time I remember that LeBron missed that seismic dunk over Draymond Green in the closing seconds of Game 7 last year and about the same as the amount I get happier every time I remember that JaVale McGee won a ring.


Simple Questions

Is Wanda Durant actually the real MVP?
– Chris K.

I don’t know what parenting strategies she used on Kevin, but she nailed it. He probably came home from school one afternoon in second grade and was like, “Mom, this group of kids keeps beating me up in the playground. What should I do?” and Wanda was like, “Kevin, you go to those kids who keep beating you, you look them in the eye, and you join them so that you can go beat up all the other kids with them.”

Kidding. Wanda Durant is a dedicated, strong, loving mom and the real MVP. Frankly, anyone who goes through 9 months of pregnancy is the real MVP.

The other night, David West instigated the scuffle between him and Tristan Thompson, but the Cavs ended up with two technical fouls as opposed to just one for the Warriors. Shouldn’t the one who instigated the situation be held responsible?
– Brian R.

I’ve written this before, but is there any good reason that technical fouls are assessed during the game itself? Just review the tape after the fact and fine whoever deserves to be fined. There’s no need to discipline grown men like kindergarteners and have their behavior actually affect the outcomes of games.

As for the particular play in question, I disagree with you. Just because West instigated the situation doesn’t mean that Thompson should be able to just walk up to him and kiss him.


Seemingly Complex Yet Actually Simple Questions

How much does this loss hurt LeBron’s legacy, and is this fair? What else could he have done?
– David R.

If anything, this series was a win-win for LeBron’s legacy. Nobody criticizes him for his 2014 loss and they won’t for this one either. Sure, his Finals record dropped to 3-5, but now his supporters can always point to the fact that his best seasons were spent battling perhaps the greatest team of all-time – one that was specifically created to stop him. If LeBron can’t match Jordan’s six champions, then, in a strange way, Kevin Durant’s joining the Warriors was the next best thing that could have happened for his legacy. He finally gets to be the fan-favorite underdog with no pressure to win, and now needs just one more ring to put him in strong GOAT contention.

Plus, he somehow managed to top himself again in terms of putting up numbers in The Finals. We’re at the point where if someone traveled back in time from this date next year and told me, “The Cavs just got swept in The Finals, but LeBron averaged 45-15-15 on 60% shooting,” I would be like, “Hmmm,” and then I’d go back to whatever I was doing… and then I’d be like “Holy s***, humans invent time travel within the next year!?”


Moderately Complex Questions

Could the Cavs possibly have done much better during their blowout losses?
– Todd W.

It can’t be overstated how little defense, particularly transition defense, they played during Games 1 and 2. Guys were literally walking back as Durant waltzed in for dunks. Yes, Deron Williams made scoring a basketball look as painful as oral surgery, but the Cavs’ problems were almost entirely defensive. Even in Game 5, LeBron and Kyrie remained inhuman, J.R. Smith (a truly beautiful human being, I might add) hit seven threes and Tristan Thompson awoke from cryosleep, and they still lost! You can’t surrender 129 points and expect to win. Durant and Curry are going to hit tough shots, and you’re probably not winning anyway unless two or three of Golden State’s Big 4 go cold, but stuff like this and this simply cannot happen in an NBA Finals game.

I believe the Cavaliers had the talent to play with the Warriors, at least when comparing the starting lineups. LeBron-Kyrie versus Durant-Curry is a wash, Love was just a 26-13 guy a few seasons ago and Thompson is better than any Golden State center by a mile. This wasn’t really the David and Goliath situation people made it out to be. It was two very talented teams, one of which has a better bench and a far better coach, but also just played with a lot more energy on defense.

Did people underestimate KD?
– Tal A.

I certainly did, and I can’t really make any excuses for why I did because Durant has the fourth highest playoff scoring average of all-time and scored 31 points per game in the 2012 Finals. I should’ve realized how much energy guarding KD would suck out of LeBron (there’s a reason LeBron hardly scored in the fourth quarter), but I also thought the Cavs were going to throw Jefferson or Shumpert at him more (if LeBron is guarding Durant and still getting cooked then at that point you’re just wasting his energy). What I really didn’t comprehend is that Durant is apparently a center now?!? The Warriors would have been toast last year if Draymond Green had gotten into foul trouble like he did this year, but now they can just toss out a Curry-Thompson-Livingston-Iguodala-Durant lineup and unleash living hell on the world.


Is Kyrie the best finisher of all-time?
– Tal A.

Even this seemingly benign question, like so many others, falls into the trap of underrating Michael Jordan, who was the best finisher of all-time, hands down. The countless “Michael Jordan Top 10 layups” videos on YouTube don’t even account for the fact that he was also one of the greatest dunkers in history. Maybe if you’re talking about strictly under-the-rim finishes you go with Kyrie, who is physically incapable of taking a normal layup, but makes unorthodox layups look like a piece of cake. Other guys have been better at elevating and hanging in the air (Julius Erving, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade) or had a sheer will to finish through contact (Isiah Thomas, Allen Iverson, Kevin Johnson, even LeBron), but nobody’s ever used angles and spin like Kyrie. Here’s my list of the top finishers of all-time:

(1) Space Jam Michael Jordan
(2) Actual Michael Jordan
(3) Kyrie Irving
(4) Isaiah Thomas (I legit celebrate when I finish over someone five inches shorter than I am in a pickup game, so anyone who finishes over guys 15 inches taller needs to be respected and admired)
(5) John Doe in Se7en
(1,578,941) Zaza Pachulia

Does LeBron leave Cleveland, since he’s delivered on bringing a chip?
– Brian R.

It’s hard to tell a year in advance, but just remember that at basically every point in his career, LeBron has done the thing that gives him the best chance to win more championships, so if that’s leaving Cleveland to play for his first superteam, then that’s what he’ll do. (LeBron saying “I don’t believe I’ve played for a superteam” is like Alexander Graham Bell saying he never used a telephone).


Seemingly Simple Yet Actually Complex Questions

If OKC was able to keep Harden, Westbrook and KD together, would they have won a ring?
– Jon B.

With three MVP-caliber players, you have to think they would have found a way, but it’s not so cut and dry. Westbrook and Durant suffered season-ending injuries in 2013 and 2015, respectively, so I think you have to eliminate those two years. We’re really looking at 2014 and 2016, then.

In 2014, OKC lost the conference finals to a Spurs team that was just so good: a perfectly assembled roster of experienced veterans, specialty role players and Kawhi Leonard that gelled at exactly the right time. San Antonio won its home games by 17, 35 and 28 points. None of the Thunder’s subs made an impact, and Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw took advantage, each scoring double figures off the bench. Would Harden have made up that gap? It obviously depends on whether or not he would have blossomed into the player we’ve seen him become if he were playing alongside Durant and Westbrook, and, if he did, then whether or not those three would have been able to share the spotlight. Regardless, I wouldn’t put my hypothetical money on that hypothetical OKC team taking down those Spurs, especially if they’d had to let Ibaka go to keep Harden and avoid paying the luxury tax.

I think the Thunder would have had too much talent not to win in 2016, considering just how close they were in reality, but would they have stuck it out after failing to win in the 2012 Finals and then not reaching The Finals any of the next three seasons? Tough to say.


Complex Questions

10 more coming next week!