By Casey Gisclair
The NBA Finals have been fascinating.
The games have been close, the endings have been dramatic and the star players have had the ball in their hands with all of the chips on the table.
But neither team is playing the type of basketball one would expect from an NBA Champion.
Indeed, these NBA Finals have been pretty stinkin’ ugly—both teams have serious skeletons in their respective closets that have been exposed in front of the whole world in this series.
The unpleasant style of play got me thinking: when has there been an NBA Championship team weaker than either contender this season? To me, it’s been quite a while.
Let’s start with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron James is an amazing player. There is no denying King James is the best basketball player on the face of the planet, but with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the bench with injuries, it’s laughable that this team held a lead in the NBA Finals after three games.
Besides LeBron, what can the Cavs do to harm an opponent? Give the ball to JR Smith? That clanking sound you just heard is another one of Smith’s three-pointers chipping paint off the rim.
The only shot Smith has connected on in the past month was the Rick James pimp slap he delivered to Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder in the first round of postseason. Since then, Smith’s been good for a whole lot of nothing on the offensive end for Cleveland.
Iman Shumpert? Nice piece, but all defense. Tristan Thompson? See what was just said about Shumpert and repeat. Mike Miller, James Jones and Shawn Marion would not be so bad if this were 2005, but it’s not, and that ancient trio are not legitimate threats in the 2015 NBA Finals.
On a roster that’s razor thin because of injury and without worthwhile role players, basketball fans are relegated to an NBA Finals that features a one-two punch of James and Timofey Mozgov—a career 7 point per game scorer.
Mozgov has been very good. I mean no disrespect to his dynamic play, but an NBA team that thin and that offensively deprived should be getting run-ruled in the NBA Finals—over and over again.
But the Cavs haven’t been beaten soundly. In fact, they have been competitive in the series because they are facing an inexperienced Warriors team that is both enslaved by the jump shot and totally spooked by the moment.
Seriously, it’s like there are shackles on the Warriors players that prevent them from going into the paint. Almost every, single shot that Golden State shoots is from 17 feet and beyond. Most are from behind the 3-point line.
I get what the Warriors are trying to do. The three-ball is an unbelievable tool, and it’s absolutely 100 percent where the game is heading in the future. However, there still is a place for a two-point bucket within the sport – especially when the shots from afar aren’t falling like has been the case for Golden State in a lot of this series.
How many times in the Finals have we seen a Warriors player drive the ball into the paint, get all the way to the rim and bypass the layup to kick it out to the perimeter for a three-point shot?
How many times did that shot then clank off the rim, which led to the Cavs regaining possession and going the other way?
The answer is far too often than any team in the NBA Finals should. The Warriors need to learn the benefit of attacking the basket. Even if the shot doesn’t fall 100 percent of the time, a paint presence still makes the opponent prone to foul trouble—which is something the Cavs cannot afford to be in with a thin bench.
Golden State is young, and the Stephen Curry led group has never been to the NBA Finals. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr is a rookie coach still finding his way, and this team, in this situation, reminds me of when the Oklahoma City Thunder made the NBA Finals versus LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012: great team but just too raw to win it.
Golden State is the same way. Except they just might win it because the foe on the other side is just as bad—if not worse.
The question now becomes—how far back do NBA fans have to look back to find a less dominant NBA Champion?
The San Antonio Spurs and Heat teams of 2012-14 would definitely beat these guys—I think in short series, too.
The 2011 Dallas Mavericks could be debated, but that team had an answer for everything. Dirk Nowitzki in his prime and an abundance of role players? They get a pass.
The Kobe Bryant- Pau Gasol Los Angeles Lakers had too much juice. So too did the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen Celtics in 2008. The 2007 Spurs weren’t as good as the 2014 bunch, but they still were incredible.
That brings us to the 2006 Heat, which I think may end up being the closest we come to a true comparable foe as we will get. Miami had Dwyane Wade, yes, but Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t himself at that time in his career, so maybe they weren’t quite up to snuff.
If not that 2006 Miami team, we’re going back for a while, because all of the early 2000s and 1990s champions were pretty darned good.
Golden State and Cleveland have produced an exciting and interesting NBA Finals.
But producing a great NBA champion compared to other title winning teams of the past?
Nah, I think not.