Turns out that having Kevin Durant on your team is better than not having him. Who knew?
The stakes entering last night’s Game 5 were familiar: Cavs down 3-1 traveling to Oracle, the door to a comeback cracked open just wide enough to keep it interesting. LeBron had been his usual magnificent self, putting up numbers that rivaled last year’s (he ended being the first player ever to average a triple-double in the Finals), even if the performance itself felt like it was maybe half a notch below that. Kyrie had been similarly spectacular, carving the Dubs up in ways that would’ve been laughable had they been on an And-1 mixtape, only he was doing it in the NBA Finals against arguably the greatest team of all-time.
Unfortunately, this year the comeback just wasn’t meant to be, because, KD.
Not that many people truly expected anything different. Of course Durant thrived on a team that won an NBA-record 73 games last year and has a great front office, a great system, two of the ten best shooters of all-time, a perennial DPOY candidate who also happens to be a perfect offensive glue guy, and two of the ten best role players in the league. This is what was expected, and I don’t say that to take anything away from Durant, because he was everything you could ever hope he would be and more. The guy had arguably the most offensively efficient Finals ever, averaging a shade over 35 a game on 65% TS, while simultaneously making it hard on LeBron at the other end (despite his numbers), and he was the the best player on the court for atleast 2 of the 5 games in the series.
Simply put, KD made the difference everybody thought he would make. There’s honestly not much more to say than that, so instead of recapping further, let’s instead let’s ask a couple of questions that need asking as we head into the summer.
What do the Cavs do next?
Because it’s pretty hard to make the argument that they should feel comfortable running this back next June. Even if you want to argue that the series could (and maybe should) be 3-2 right now and heading back to Cleveland, it’s not, and if anything, the Warriors should be even better next year as they continue to get more comfortable with each other and guys like Patrick McCaw come into their own. So what can the Cavs do to give themselves a chance?
Keeping the core intact and signing someone who can actually help will be tough due to the cap situation. Kyle Korver and James Jones provide the biggest salary cuts, but all told the Cavs payroll will actually increase next year without them. It’s unfortunate, because there are a bunch of guys who could probably be tempted by the opportunity to dethrone these Warriors, but most all of them will demand more than the Cavs will be able to pay. They may be able to convince someone like JJ Reddick or Rudy Guy to come in for below market value, but it seems unlikely.
That means they probably need to move somebody. But who? And where?
The most popular (and probably most logical) idea seems to be moving Kevin Love, but I’m really not sure what you get back for him. He’s going to be 29 years old with an injury history, and for all his talents he’s a liability on defense when the game’s being played at the highest level. It’s a shame cuz I love Kev, but the Warriors are the benchmark and he’s arguably too marginalized against them to be making $22M+.
The ideal move would be for a Jimmy Butler or Paul George type, somebody who can create and knock down shots, give LeBron a rest on defense, and help keep the offense humming when LeBron and/or Kyrie are on the bench. Landing either of those guys seems like a pipe dream though, considering they’re both on conference rivals who would have to be convinced to take Love (and probably some other stuff) in exchange for their best player.
Discussing other options would be equally as speculative, but as you can see there are a lot of variables in play here, and that’s before you even consider that LeBron could throw a massive curveball into the whole situation by bouncing for the West Coast next summer. Either way, it’s going to be fun watching it all play out.
Should Ty Lue still be the guy?
There were a couple of reasons that lost the Cavs these Finals. Obviously chief among them was the talent of their opposition, with the egg laid by Cleveland’s role players not far behind, but you also can’t discount just how poor Ty Lue was this series. The strategy in games 1-3 (“Let’s turn our backs on what worked last year and try to run with them”) was awful, as were the rotations in games 1-5.
A few examples from last night: his 2nd quarter decision to stick LeBron out there with a ragtag bunch of misfits completely derailed the Cavs momentum and led directly to that 21-2 Warriors run that blew the game open. Even worse was his decision to leave Deron Williams out there for big minutes in the late 3rd and early 4th, despite of the fact that anyone with eyes could see that he was so terrified of the moment that he couldn’t even complete a pass.
I’m happy that the guys seem to like him and that he’s occasionally able to hold LeBron accountable for things, but his game management was atrocious in this series and has to be better moving forward.
Had he stayed in OKC, could this KD have beaten the Warriors? And how should that question affect how we think about him?
My gut says yes, but I’m already over 1500 words here so the argument will have to wait for another time. Just wanted to pose the question.
Disregarding the previous question, how should these Finals change the way we think about KD?
I would argue he’s a Top 5 forward ever. He’s one of the most prolificly efficient scorers we’ve ever seen, capable of getting buckets in the post, off the dribble, and off the catch and shoot out to atleast 30 feet. He has career averages of 27-7-4-1-1 on 49/38/88 shooting, and those rise to 28-8-5 on 51/39/88 if you look only at his prime (2014-present). This year we’ve seen a vast improvement at the other end of the floor, as well, both in terms of his individual commitment and to his understanding of how to rotate and defend as team. He even held down the fort at center for stretches in the Finals. I guess we probably need to see it for a few more years before it’s a consensus, but really, how many people can you say are ahead of him?
LeBron, Bird, and Duncan? Definitely. Who else though? It gets murky surprisingly quickly.
Elgin? I’ve only heard the stories and watched the highlights, so it’s hard to have an opinion. Ditto for Doc, though I think we can say confidently that neither had his range (though to be fair, neither had the incentive to develop it either).
Malone? Barkley? Scottie? Garnett? You could make cases for any of them, but gun to my head I think I’d take KD over all of them. Just give it the old Simmons table test: who brings the most to the table, and who takes the least off? The version of Durant we’re now watching stacks up pretty favorably against all those guys, and as the cherry on top, the guy just went toe-to-toe with the King and basically played him to a stalemate; what more evidence do you really need?
Where does this Warriors team rank all-time?
It’s difficult to argue hypotheticals, but at the very least they’re in the conversation with any squad ever, right? Looking back through history, who could beat these guys in a best of 7?
In the 80s, the Pistons, Celtics and Lakers certainly could’ve given them a series at their best, but I’m not sure how good the matchup is for any of the three. It was just a different game back then.
Regarding the Celts, most teams can’t play two bigs against the Warriors; how marginalized would their legendary frontcourt be? How would Bird fare against Durant? What about Ainge against Thompson?
The Lakers would maybe have a better chance, because I’m not sure who guards Kareem or where Curry hides on defense. However, those Lakers also liked to run, and couldn’t you argue that Showtime plays right into Golden State’s hands?
Honestly the team with the best chance might’ve been the Pistons. They actually matchup decently well at each position and would’ve been happy to take the Dubs into the meat grinder. Isiah was Isiah, Dumars and Rodman were both 1st team All-NBA defenders, and Laimbeer, Mahorn, and Salley could match Draymond’s ‘tude. Fun to think about, but tough to say for sure.
Moving into the 90s, only the Bulls are even worth considering. They played with the relatively slow pace necessary to limit the Warriors microbursts and are one of the few teams that could’ve matched up defensively against the “Death Lineup”. They also had this guy named MJ who probably would cause some problems, but again, you can’t definitively say they’d walk it.
In the modern era there are only three options. The ’01 Lakers, ’13 Heat, and peak-Spurs would’ve all been interesting, but it’s hard to say any besides the Lakers would’ve been favored in a series.
What we’re watching here is one of the teams that you’ll tell your grandkids about. These Warriors are already chasing history, and it feels like they’re still just getting started. Hate them all you want, but make sure you atleast enjoy it while it lasts.