I’ve been in mourning over the end of the NBA season, but after a couple weeks of bereavement I’m finally ready to recap this year’s Finals and BSB(R) tourney.
The Golden State Warriors wrapped up a historically badass 2014-15 season by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals. After the 7th-best regular season ever (as measured by SRS) and an MVP award for the baby-faced assassin Steph Curry, the Dubs’ magic continued into the playoffs. There, they went 16-5 without ever facing elimination, capping the season off with a victory over a dominant LeBron James and his not-so-dominant teammates. Watching Curry and the Warriors this year was nothing short of witnessing greatness.
Before we get into more specifics of this year’s Finals, let’s wrap up this year’s Big Shot Bob (Rob) tournament. Take a look at the final table (click to enlarge):
As we knew before the Finals even started round, Dave “Blue Nose” Attewell is the winner of this year’s BSB(R). Rounding out the top six contestants were Dan Leifer (73), yours truly (73), Andrew Wise (72), Rosie Morrison (70), Daniel Miller (70), and Bryan Ryan (70). An impressive 22/36 people correctly predicted the Warriors to win. And of the 17 people to predict a Warriors-Cavaliers final, 16 correctly had the Dubs over the Cavs.
Back to our tourney winner–Dave’s dominance was uncanny. His score of 87 was 2.5 standard deviations above the mean (59.6). The 14-point difference between Dave and the second place finisher was as large as the difference between the second-place finisher and the person who finished 22nd. Blue Nose Dave truly was the Steph Curry of the BSB(R), and in that spirit, here is a hybrid of their faces.
Dave’s victory earned him a guest post here at AGR, which will likely be some comparison between the dangers of austerity and the tortured life of a Knicks fan.
Below, AGR recaps the NBA Finals. As entertaining as our write-ups are, however, we highly recommend the epic mini-movies that the NBA produces for each game (Game 1, Game 2, Game 3, Game 4, Game 5, Game 6).
NBA Finals Recap
This year’s Finals was a series of firsts: A first-time MVP, two rookie head coaches, two teams that haven’t won an NBA championship in 40+ years, and one team with no players having ever reached the Finals.
Game 1 was a thriller that started off with Cavs domination, who went up by as many as 14 in the early going. Slowly but surely, the Warriors found there way back into the game; heading into the fourth quarter the game was tied courtesy of this steal and slam by Iguodala as time expired. The final period was back-and-forth drama, featuring a shoeless three from Iguoadala, a game-saving block on Steph Curry by Kyrie Irving, and this sequence of misses from LeBron and Shumpert as time expired, allowing the game to go into OT. There, the Warriors went small, the Cavs went cold, and Kyrie Irving went down with a fractured kneecap (he wouldn’t return for the series). The Warriors would win 108-100, despite LeBron’s line of 44 points, 8 boards, and 6 assists.
Game 2 was a similar story: A back and forth game generally dominated by the Cavs went into OT. Iguodala once again played fabulous D on LeBron, and what he and Curry (5-23 FG, 2-15 3pt) lacked on offense for the Dubs was made up for by Klay Thompson’s 34 points. Once again, the Cavs had a two chances to win the game in regulation–this time a missed layup from LeBron and a missed tip-in from Tristan Thompson. Overtime went differently for the Cavs this time around–it was “Delly” time. Dellavedova grabbed a huge offensive board and drained two free throws to give the Cavs the lead; following that he forced Curry into an airball on the opposite end, securing a 95-93 victory for the Cavs. LeBron would once again post video-game numbers (albeit on inefficient shooting): 39 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists.
Going back to Cleveland, the Cavs had the momentum after getting a split in Oracle. To this point, no Warrior had consistently excelled and their two defensive anchors–Green and Bogut–had struggled mightily. In Game 3, the Cavs once again controlled most of the game, going up by as much as 20 in the third quarter. The Warriors made sure to put up a fight, though, behind David Lee, who had barely seen the floor in recent games, and Steph Curry. Down 17 to start the fourth quarter, the Warriors cut the lead to 1 after a Curry 3-pointer with 2:45 left. Delly (20 points, 5 boards, 4 assists) came to the rescue with a ridiculous and-one floater. Curry would continue to make things interesting–he made four three-pointers in the final 2:45–but a clutch three from LeBron (40-12-8 with 4 steals and 2 blocks) and timely free throw shooting (the Cavs made 10-11 FT in final 2:27) secured the Cavs’ 96-91 win.
You wouldn’t know it from the final score, but Game 4 featured serious drama. The main storyline was Kerr’s decision to start Iguodala (who hadn’t started a game all season long) in place of Bogut to disrupt the Cavs’ fast starts and tempo-control. The idea started with 28-year-old special assistant Nick U’ren, who had been inspired by the Spurs’ use of Diaw against last year’s Heat. At first the move looked like a mistake; the Cavs jumped to a 7-0 lead, aided by slick passing from LeBron. But over time, Iguodala’s ability to hit open shots, make plays for others, finish in transition, and D up LeBron proved to be a game-changer for the Warriors. The Cavs managed to keep the game close–they were down only 6 going into the fourth–but the Warriors pulled away. The Cavs’ duo of Thompson and Mosgov combined for 40 points and 23 rebounds on 15-26 FG, but LeBron struggled. He went 7-22 from the field (20 points, 10 boards, 8 assists), hit his head on a baseline camera, and accidentally flashed his junk while adjusting his uniform during a timeout. Meanwhile, Curry’s hot shooting in the second half of Game 3 carried over to Game 4, and might have even spread to his teammates. The Warriors blew the game open in the fourth, winning 103-82.
Returning to Oakland, the Cavs hoped to steal their second straight in Oracle and recover from their brutal home loss. Game 5 was neck and neck until the Steph Curry show. The game was tied after the first quarter and the Warriors stole the some momentum going into the half behind Harrison Barnes’ and-one tipslam over LeBron to go up 51-50. Going into the fourth with the Warriors up 5, LeBron seemed determined to take over the game–he scored 10 of the team’s first 13 points (assisting on the other 3), capitulated by a deep three-pointer as the shot clock expired to put his team up 80-79 with 7:45 to go. From there, though, it was all Chef Curry. He responded to LBJ’s three with a his own crazy three, this one off the dribble over a shaken Dellevadova. That shot would spark a 25-11 run to close the game, with Curry scoring 15 of those 25 points and 12 of the Dubs’ final 13. The dagger? Another absurd three off the bounce over an outstretched Delly. LeBron finished with 40-14-11, but Curry’s 37 points and clutch threes proved too much in the Warriors’ 104-91 win.
Down 3-2 with their backs against the wall, the Cavs faced elimination for the first time all playoffs. The Warriors smelled blood, and played like it to start out the game. Down 13 heading into the second quarter, the Cavs clawed their way back to cut their deficit to two at the half, partially thanks to this Tristan Thompson tip-slam. The momentum wouldn’t follow into the third quarter; despite Curry only scoring one point in the third, the Warriors rallied behind Festus Ezeli (of all people), taking the life out of the Cavs with plays such as this crazy and-one putback dunk. The Cavs would put up a fight in the fourth, cutting the lead to 80-73 early in the quarter, but the Warriors caught fire from deep behind smart passing from Draymond Green (16-11-10 and others. Ultimately, the game was a microcosm of the series–fantastic playmaking and clutch shooting from Curry; transition buckets, open jumpers, and smothering D from Iggy; smart all-around team ball from Draymond; Warriors role players outplaying those of the Cavs; rebounding and efficient scoring from Mosgov and Thompson; non-existent guard play from the Cavs; and inefficient (yet impressive) do-it-all heroics from LeBron James (39-18-9 on 13-33 FG). Final score: Warriors 105, Cavs 97.
Before I lock myself in a basement to cry until November, I’ll offer some final observations and thoughts on this year’s Finals:
- Andre Iguodala won the Finals MVP, and it was well-deserved. He won all three games that he started, played fantastic D on LeBron James, helped control the tempo, finished in transition, hit open jumpers as well as he ever has, and made plays for others when necessary. His free throw shooting was abhorrent, but he more than made up for it, and it showed in the W-L columns. Curry had a case–he played well all but one game and is the engine that drives their offense–and LeBron did, too (he averaged 36-13-9 and carried his team like no other player has before in the Finals), but Iggy’s hardware was rightfully earned.
- LeBron was fantastic. Anyone who has followed his career has always been curious what would happen if LeBron dominated the ball as he did this series; it was both magnificent and exhausting. He posted historic usage rates, but at the cost of scoring efficiency. Some of that was Iguodala, some of it bad luck, and some of it fatigue.
- On the other hand, you can’t help but wonder how much juice LeBron has left in the tank after five straight trips to the Finals and reaching 30 years of age. LeBron shot 39.8 FG% and 31.0 3PT% in the Finals. Over the course of the playoffs, the had career-lows of 22.7 3PT%, 48.7 TS%, and 30.7 FTr% (free throw rate). It’s unclear how much of this is bad luck (shots missing; not getting calls) versus getting older, but it’ll be on LeBron to rediscover his efficient ways in years to come.
- While Mosgov and Thompson held down the fort down low all series long, the Cavs guards and wings crumpled after a strong playoffs. The four players who received significant minutes–J.R. Smith, Delly, Shumpert, and James Jones–shot 33 for 115 on threes (28.7%) and 56 for 192 overall (29.1%). That’s so, so bad.
- Anyone who watched this series can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Kyrie and Love had been healthy. No one can say the Cavs would have won, but it certainly would have been a closer series. LeBron would have had more energy, the team’s offense would have been deadly rather than anemic, and most importanly there’d be more bodies to take minutes. Also interesting: What does the Cavs’ success without Love mean for his free agency this summer?
- On the Warriors’ end, the Finals was a story of health, insane depth, and versatility. The Warriors didn’t really play Bogut after replacing him with Iggy; while Bogut had looked sluggish the first three games, he was also the anchor of a league-best defense this season and a DPOY candidate. The fact that the Warriors could win so handily while benching him and barely playing an All-Star caliber player in David Lee says so much: it speaks to the the versatility of Iggy, Barnes, and Green; the level of sacrifice these guys were willing to make; the fearlessness of Steve Kerr; and of course, the value of D’Antoni-style basketball. That brings me to my final point…
- The Warriors won because they were great–teams that are as successful in the regular season as they were (especially when they stay healthy) more often then not win the championship. But the question remains: how imitable is the Warriors’ style of play?Were the Warriors great because they were embraced small-ball, allowing them to get out in transition, stretch the floor, and drain threes? Or was was their success contingent on their personnel? Not every team has a Steph Curry to launch threes off the dribble and stretch a defense 30 feet or a Draymond Green to guard 5 positions and make plays for others off the dribble. It’s a copycat league, and it will be interesting to see, for instance, whether we’ll see more and more “playmaking bigs” like Green, or whether his skills are too rare to bank on when constructing a roster and style of play.
Once again, congrats to Dave Attewell and the Warriors for ending the playoffs in dominant fashion. In the mean time, it wouldn’t be an AGR post without a top 10 to leave y’all with until next November. Enjoy.
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