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Saturday, June 03, 2017

Durant Dominates as Warriors Rout Cavaliers, 113-91

The Golden State Warriors cruised to a 113-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the NBA Finals. The much anticipated--and unprecedented--Finals "trilogy" of two teams meeting three years in a row on the sport's biggest stage became an anticlimactic rout in the third quarter after a relatively competitive first half. Kevin Durant was the best player on the court, by far, leading the Warriors with a game-high 38 points plus eight rebounds and eight assists; he scored inside, outside and everywhere in between while also doing work as a rebounder, playmaker and defender. He had more dunks (six) than the Warriors had turnovers (four, tying a Finals single game record). Durant posted a +16 plus/minus number and did not have a single turnover despite his significant duties as scorer/ballhandler/distributor. Stephen Curry also played very well, scoring 28 points, dishing for a game-high 10 assists and grabbing six rebounds. Curry's plus/minus number (+20) led both teams. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green both shot poorly but they contributed to a stifling Golden State defense that held the Cavaliers to .349 field goal shooting while forcing 20 turnovers.

The biggest story of the game other than Durant's performance is that the Warriors were much more physical than the Cavaliers. It is almost inevitable that in the first few minutes of game two we will see a hard foul or even a flagrant foul by the Cavaliers in an attempt to assert their physical presence in this series. In game one, the Cavaliers played with regular season intensity while the Warriors looked like a team on a mission to win a championship.

The difference in physicality had a lot to do with Cleveland losing the possession game; the Cavaliers actually won the rebounding battle 59-50 (though it did not "feel" that way when watching the game) but they committed 20 turnovers, which is one reason that the Warriors launched 106 field goal attempts compared to just 86 field goal attempts for the Cavaliers. Cleveland held Golden State to .425 field goal shooting but those turnovers (plus the 14 offensive rebounds the Cavaliers allowed) gave the Warriors many extra possessions. The Warriors are difficult to beat under any circumstances but they are probably impossible to beat if they win the possession game by such a lopsided margin.

LeBron James remains the most enigmatic Pantheon player. He has led his teams to eight NBA Finals--but he has lost game one seven times and has won just three of those series. The game one winner ultimately wins the series over 80% of the time in the NBA, so losing the first game places a team at a serious disadvantage. James filled up the box score in game one (28 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists) but he--more than any other superstar who I have observed--has the propensity to produce large numbers that seem small; by the "eye test" he just did not have much impact on the outcome of the game and that subjective evaluation is backed up to some extent by the plus/minus numbers, as James had the worst plus/minus (-22) of any player on either team. James also had eight turnovers, so he played a significant role in the Cavaliers losing the possession game.

James' supporters will say that game one was an example of a great player doing everything that he could but just not having enough help; that is always the rallying cry for James' supporters: he would win the title every year if only he had enough help--but something does not add up in this equation. James is supposed to be the best player in the league, by far, and some people are even comparing him favorably to Michael Jordan (which really needs to stop; as several sensible people have noted, let James surpass Kobe Bryant first before we even bring up Jordan's name). James has two current All-Stars, plus former All-Stars and playoff-tested veterans coming off of the bench to help him now; in Miami, James had two future Hall of Famers (three if you count Ray Allen, a role player by that time) helping him and he still lost twice in the Finals in four tries. How much help does Michael Jordan's supposed peer need in order to win a championship? Kobe Bryant won two of his five championships with nothing more than Pau Gasol (a one-time All-Star before he joined forces with Bryant) and a bunch of role players, many of whom were soon out of the league--and for one of those titles Bryant's Lakers took down a Boston team featuring three future Hall of Famers. Dirk Nowitzki beat LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the 2011 NBA Finals with a supporting cast of two past their prime former All-Stars (Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion) and some solid role players (Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, J.J. Barea).

Kyrie Irving (24 points on 10-22 field goal shooting) and Kevin Love (15 points, 21 rebounds, three blocked shots) both played well in game one, so it is not like James is one man against the world here. The Cavaliers' problem is that they treated the regular season like a joke and they believed that they could turn up their defensive intensity by flipping the proverbial switch. That worked during the Eastern Conference playoffs but it will not work in the NBA Finals--and that tone of deciding which games to take seriously and which games to blow off is set by the team's best player. Jordan and Bryant treated every game like a supreme individual and collective challenge, a veritable war--and they made sure that their teammates had a similar mindset. James is just not wired that way.

I understand that the Warriors are a great team but there is no reason for the Cavaliers to lose by more than 20 points. There is no reason for James to commit twice as many turnovers as the opposing team or for James to be outplayed at both ends of the court by his primary matchup, Durant.

This series is not over--at least not yet. The Cavaliers will be more physical in game two and they may very well seize homecourt advantage. Even if they lose game two, they proved last year that they can overcome a deficit, as they bounced back from trailing 0-2 and then 1-3 to eventually beat the Warriors. Of course, such an improbable comeback is even less likely this year now that the Warriors have added Durant to the mix--but James is always the main story in any game or series. Will he assert his will and dominate the proceedings the way that Pantheon players do in the Finals? As I have often stated when writing about Jordan, Bryant, James and other all-time greats, this is not about numbers--it is about impact. When Michael Jordan played in the NBA Finals, no one doubted who was the best player on the court--and the same is true for most other Pantheon players (unless they were facing another Pantheon player and I am not quite ready to put Durant in that club just yet). For all of James' wonderful accomplishments and despite his gaudy Finals numbers, it is far too often not clear that he is the best player on the court when the championship trophy is up for grabs.

The Cavaliers kept game one close for the first half. If they execute at both ends of the court--specifically, cut down the turnovers, stop giving up so many offensive rebounds and attack the hoop on offense--then they absolutely can compete with and even beat the Warriors. James has to set the tone, though, and in game one the Cavaliers followed his lead on offense (too many turnovers) and on defense (poor execution individually and collectively).

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:45 AM



At Saturday, June 03, 2017 4:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are bang on about James' supporting cast vs Jordan and Bryant's. It baffles me every time I see a James supporter and media say that James has had weaker supporting casts in his career compared to Jordan and Bryant. For every championship that he has won he played with two current all-stars and a bunch of solid role players that were either vets or former all-stars along with some of the greatest 3 point shooters in the history of the game.

Bryant on the other hand played with only Gasol who was good, but weren't as great as Irving or Wade was in big games. The fact that he managed to beat the Celtics who had 3 future hall of famers (with a bum knee and broken right index finger) speaks a lot about his greatness and his ability to impact games despite not putting up as flashy numbers as James. In contrast, like as you mentioned James always fills the stats sheet, but when you apply the "eye test" his impact seems much smaller than what the numbers suggest. It's as if he aims for a certain number and by the time he reaches those stats if his team is down he will give up thinking that "even if we lost I did my job and people will only critique my supporting cast". You see it a lot when it's time for him to bail the team out at the end of the shot clock he passes up the "hand grenade" as you call it to his teammates so that his FG% would not be affected.

I think that James out of all the pantheon players is probably at the bottom when it comes to bringing your team back from a deficit. More often than not he gives up or doesn't have the killer instinct from the get go and things go south very early. He is however in my opinion, a great front-runner probably top 3 or 5 in the pantheon list.

I also think that people do not give enough credit to Bryant for his 08 playoff run. He was so phenomenal but it was overshadowed by the loss to Boston. People forget that he had no Bynum and a hobbled Ariza and took the Celtics to 6 games (would've been 7 if they didn't blow game 4). You give James that supporting cast in the West I don't know if he would have made the Finals.

At Sunday, June 04, 2017 10:47:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I swear Van Gundy is trolling now, tonight he called Steph and Durant "maybe the best duo ever!" I don't know they are the best duo of the last ten years let alone ever, they haven't won anything yet..!

At Monday, June 05, 2017 8:55:00 AM, Anonymous The Internet Drunk said...

How do you feel about Durant now being elevated in prominence and the inevitable amount of promotion he will receive and is beginning to see upon potentially winning the Championship and maybe becoming the new "Best in the World" hyperbole?

At Monday, June 05, 2017 11:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the one hand, we definitely should be careful not to jump too quickly to all sorts of conclusions about the greatness of the current teams/duos/players we're seeing in the finals.

On the other hand, I don't think the correct reaction is to dismiss those claims out of hand.

In terms of the teams, GS is clearly something special. The NBA has seen teams that have had greater success in the finals (Russell's Celtics, Jordan's Bulls, the Shaq/Kobe Lakers), so it's at least reasonable to think they may not be the best ever.

Still, they've done things no other team has (best regular season record over 3 seasons of all time, first team to sweep to the finals and win the first two games of the finals), so it's also not unreasonable to claim that they might be.

You could make a reasonable case for, and you could make a reasonable case against. Such comparisons inevitably require counterfactuals that cannot be verified, so we're stuck with more or less reasonable speculation :)

On JVG's duo claim, I don't think it's worthy of "trolling" status. It very well could be wrong, but if it is, it's not because they haven't won anything yet.

The same applies to a duo as with a single player, "RINGZZZZ" is a rather imperfect measure of quality/skill. It has its place in a player's resume, of course, but as a measure of the skill set of a pair of players, it's not particularly relevant.

I'd take Stockton-Malone over Fisher-Horry, for example, despite any protestations of "Stockton-Malone never won anything".

Having said all that, as I indicated above, JVG may well be wrong (I honestly don't remember whether he said "the best" or "one of the best" which matters a great deal, of course), but I don't think it's so ridiculous as to fall to the level of trolling.

If the Warriors go on to win and the general public's view of Durant's skill goes up substantially, then I think that will just reinforce the widespread problem of assessing an individual's skill and greatness based on rings.

Durant didn't magically become a substantially better player this season; he's just playing on a better team.

Durant is an amazing player, and one of the best offensive talents of all time; winning a ring with the Warriors this season shouldn't affect that evaluation one way or another (either negatively, as in "Oh, the only way he could win a ring was with a stacked team.", or positively, as in, "Oh, he has a ring now? Maybe he really is one of the greatest.")

On James, I think it's somewhat similar to the question of the standing of this GS team.

Are there solid reasons for a person to pick him as a potential greatest? Certainly. People will gripe (not without some merit, as each of these pieces of evidence have some weight) about his finals losses, his bad games (I'll leave speculation about his inner mental state, such as "chilling" or "quitting" to others), and such, but the man has been to 8 finals, including his current streak of seven consecutive appearances.

This alone is an astounding accomplishment, even adjusting for the relatively easier Eastern conference.

Cases can be made for and against James quite reasonably. As much evidence as we all incorporate, though, and as much fun as making the cases can be, we're ultimately stuck with some unverifiable counterfactuals.

At some point, I think it makes the most sense just to enjoy the skill on display.

Just my $0.02 :)

At Monday, June 05, 2017 7:20:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I think it is ok to dismiss claims out of hand not because they are provably false, but because they assume too much that hasn't happened yet to the point of being hyperbolic.

For example I can say that the number 1 draft pick this year could maybe be the best number 1 pick of all time, which no one could prove isn't true but most of the evidence that might support or refute that opinion doesn't exist yet.

That is how I feel about the durant/curry duo comment, they haven't even won a championship yet and we are crowning them "maybe the best duo in NBA history" with a straight face? Come on! As I mentioned Lebron/Wade have had more success within the last 5 years, give them time to build a resume...

At Monday, June 05, 2017 9:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Andrew: If you're talking solely about championships won together or something like that, sure.

He didn't say they were the most accomplished or successful, though.

My point, as I stated pretty clearly, was that it's not a ridiculous claim if you're just talking about the skill sets of two teammates.

Again, even then, as I said more than once, he may well be wrong (again, can't remember if he said "one of" or not; if he did, I'd agree, but if he didn't, I wouldn't).

I also never said that there was nothing in the realm of possible NBA-related sentences that could be dismissed out of hand; I was addressing these particular claims.

In terms of establishing their skills, I'll go out on a limb and say Curry and Durant have a smidge more evidence supporting their greatness than in the case of the inapt analogy to the next #1 pick.

At any rate, it seems you're thinking in terms of accomplishments of the duo as a duo, in which case you're obviously right.

I was looking for a more charitable reading to ascribe to a generally reasonable person like JVG, but to each his own :)

At Monday, June 05, 2017 9:38:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

FYI he said "maybe the best duo ever."

I think the more interesting discussion is whether Durant/Westbrook is better than Durant/Curry. I don't know the answer to that question.

At Monday, June 05, 2017 11:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Depending on how long KD/Curry stay together and how well they do team-wise given how stacked GS is, it's a reasonable debate, but all speculation at this point, so not much credence to it yet. Obviously James/Wade have accomplished more team-wise than KD/Curry at this point, but as far talent level between both pairs, I'd take KD/Curry. Just depends how long they can keep this up.

Interesting point about KD/RW. RW is the best player in the nba currently, and KD could only reach one Finals with him, and that was with another future MVP candidate. KD/Curry have been the best 2 players in the Finals so far. But, even if James was outplaying both, GS would likely have won the first 2 games still. GS is just so ridiculously good. They blew it last season, and Irving played like a true MVP. Hard to see either one of those things happening again.

James' supporters would have a point if he was truly the best player in the Finals, but so far just the 3rd best player. To be fair to him and even though he has a ton of help, GS is just too good if they're playing remotely like they should, which they have through 2 games.

James is playing great so far, but he looks like his usual stat-stuffing self without the impact a similar stat from most players would have. And KD is certainly outplaying him on both ends. Of the 7 current AS in the Finals, he looks easily like the least tough AS out there. He's whining a lot, playing shoddy defense, and not hustling as much as he should. CLE should lose in 4-5 games, but the games should at least be competitive and no excuse for James not playing better. But, never know, CLE rebounded from this deficit last year.

As far as James being the 'best player' in the game, that's really rarely the case. He was the best player in the Finals only 3x in 8 tries so far, and often only the 3rd or 4th best player in the Finals while sometimes being outplayed by role players and non-AS. He should be the best player in the game, but barely a top 5 player for this regular season and that's with KD getting hurt. Now, clearly not the best player in the Finals. What he should be and what he is are two completely different things. On paper, he's the best player of all-time. But, it's been awhile since he's actually played like the best player in the regular season.

At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 7:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Internet Drunk:

Right now, Durant does look like the best player in the world. He did not have a better regular season than Westbrook and his career resume does not yet match LeBron's but on the biggest stage he is basically eating LeBron's lunch (LeBron is playing well but Durant is playing even better).

If people start comparing Durant to Kobe or MJ after winning one title, then that would be out of hand.

Right now, I have not heard or read anything that sounded out of hand.

At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 8:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The best duo of all-time discussion is interesting. I think that a player can be among the greatest of all-time without winning a title but it is harder for a duo to rank among the best without winning a title, at least in my estimation; two MVP players who stay on the same team for a reasonable amount of time and are both healthy should probably win at least one title. In chronological order, here are some duos that I think have to at least be in this conversation:

1) Russell-Cousy
2) Kareem-Oscar
3) Wilt-West
4) Kareem-Magic
5) Bird-McHale
6) Moses-Doc
7) Jordan-Pippen
8) Shaq-Kobe
9) LeBron-Wade

Every 1A guy and most of the 1Bs won at least one regular season MVP award. West won a Finals MVP but did not win a regular season MVP. McHale was fourth in '87 behind Magic, Jordan and Bird. Pippen arguably should have been the '94 MVP. Wade's best MVP finish was third and he was top 10 three times alongside LeBron.

I only included duos who won at least one title together as the two best players on the team in the post-shot clock era. It feels like Duncan should be on this list somehow but it also seems like every time he won a title there was a different second option and none of those second options were quite as good as any of the 1A or 1B options listed above.

At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 9:41:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I think if you were trying to get Duncan on there, you'd go with Robinson, who was still really freakin' good in '99 (if not so much in 03).

At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 9:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


David the fact is the cavs are playing maybe the greatest team in nba history and there not much they can do im not saying the warriors can beat the 96 bulls 01 lakers 87 Laker or 86 bulls but they got a good chance. Fact is there three point barrage is like no other they can defend they athletic they can play slow down or uptempo. They have four allstars 3 all nba player and 2 mvp in they prime lebron and cavs are going against godzilla.

Love played great

Lebron played well but he is kindif camping on defense I like to see him kep his aggressiveness

Irving is a glorified terrell brandon he does nothing but score. He doesnt defend rebound or play make for his team.

The cavs bench is weak and old with too many players who are one dimensional and past they prime.

I see the warriors sweeping this series. This is a top 5 team of all time they not better than the lakers or bulls maybe in jordan pip shaq kobe etc but they right up there


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