For the last month-plus, we've been witnesses to some moments of truly glorious basketball.
There have been upsets, buzzer beaters, incredible defense, and amazing offense.
Remember Joe Johnson's game-winning drive to the basket against the Clippers?
Probably not, that was 40 days ago — which during the NBA playoffs might as well be a decade.
We have had great moments this NBA postseason, but more than that, we've gotten duds.
The Warriors never were challenged; the Cavs lost only one game on the path to the NBA Finals. We're about to head into the month of June and so far the biggest debates of the postseason have been: Are the Clippers going to break up? (We ask that every six weeks); Is LeBron James as good or better than Michael Jordan? (how about we wait and see — he's 32...); and is Zaza Pachulia a dirty player?
Seriously, we've spent a lot of time debating Zaza Pachulia's career. If that doesn't signal a deep boredom, I don't know what does.
The NBA playoffs might have provided some strong moments and good performances, but they haven't provided much drama, and while great shots and dominant teams are enticing, nothing sells like drama.
All of this to say: These NBA Finals better be good.
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The NBA Finals better be good because we've spent the past 11 months knowing, deep down, that there were only two teams that were going to play for the championship, and while there were some ups and downs in the regular season, nothing has happened over the past nine months or five weeks that's come even close to challenging that assumption we made last July.
Before last year's Finals we were treated to perhaps the best Western Conference finals of the century (including 2002's jobbing of the Sacramento Kings), and then we had a Finals that will be remembered for a century. There was high-level basketball and high-level drama. The NBA has $24 billion coming its way from ESPN and Turner whether you watch the games or not, but last year you had to build your day around the NBA playoffs — it was the best show on TV by a long shot.
This year, you could have fast-forwarded from October on. What'd you miss? The Cavs took the second half of the season off to rest up for a postseason in which they were barely challenged.
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Yes, the Warriors and the Cavaliers facing off in the Finals for a third straight year is cool. It's the first time in NBA history two teams have played in the Finals for three straight years [a fact I had a hard time believing -- it seemed like the Celtics and Lakers played each other in the NBA Finals for entire decades -- but it checked out], but without the classic sitcom intrigue of "will they or won't they?" the show has been lacking.
And yes, watching the Warriors and Cavs play their best ball is spellbinding.
And no, there's never been true parity or competitive balance in the league, and I'm not advocating for there to be.
But what I am saying is after nine months when meaningful surprises were rare and deep intrigue was nowhere to be found, the Finals better pay out. We've invested a lot of time into this thing.
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There are three feasible scenarios for these Finals (outside of serious, series-altering injuries, which no one should wish on anyone):
The Cavs win in six or seven: Great for the NBA and all fans outside of the Bay Area — LeBron escalates the Jordan-v-LeBron conversation to another level for years to come and the Warriors are left wondering if they should change course after coming up empty in back-to-back Finals.
The Warriors win in six or seven: Good, but not great for the NBA — the league gets its two best teams to play a competitive series that justifies the past nine months. You only remember the end anyway, people.
The Warriors win in four or five: Terrible for the NBA and all fans outside of the Bay Area. Golden State's presumed dominance is confirmed and the Warriors roll with that superteam core for the next half-decade. Cleveland, already deep in salary cap hell (and about to be deeper), can't add another big-time player to the fold, but the Cavs do consolidate more value contracts in an effort to close the gap with the Warriors, leaving their competition worse. LeBron remains hungry and invincible and there's no team in the East even close to competing with Cleveland again next year — so why pay attention until Cavs-Dubs IV starts next June?
If the final option — the Warriors landslide — happens, those four wins better be super competitive. We're going to need at least two buzzer-beaters. Because if not, the 2016-17 season — for all of its amazing moments — will have been a waste of time.
The crux of the matter is this: The 2017 NBA Finals can make, or break, the season.
And to think this fate could have been avoided if the NBA agreed to smooth over the salary cap...