By Jason Keidel
America woke up to a wall of eulogies.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, it seems. After one game, Game 1, of the NBA Finals, a 22-point loss to a near-perfect performance by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors, we’re being told the Cavs have a microscopic chance – of winning a game. The series is already lost.
This is what we do, and what we are. Prisoners of moments, myopia, and the ADD nature of social media.
Lost in all the premature postmortems is the fact that this essentially happened last year. The Warriors wiped the floor with the Cavs over the first two games, bolted out to a 3-1 lead, and lost the series. After four games of the 2016 NBA Finals, the Warriors were already crowned the greatest club in NBA history.
Yet we did not, have not, learned from something that happened exactly 12 months ago between the same two teams.
They’re not the same, you say. The Warriors have Kevin Durant. As LeBron James noted in the aftermath of last night’s whipping, you’ve added a supreme scorer with an epic hardwood IQ to a team that won 73 games last year. Very true. But, let’s remember a few things beyond last year’s historic comeback.
There’s no way LeBron will have twice as many turnovers (8) as the Warriors had as a team (4). There’s no way the Warriors will be that good every game. And there’s no way the Cavs will be so sloppy every game (20 total turnovers). There’s no way Tristan Thompson will have another, anemic stat sheet (three shots, zero points, four rebounds). There’s no way Cleveland will roll out another red carpet to the bucket for Kevin Durant, who strolled unmolested into the paint for six dunks and countless easy looks. There’s no way every Cavalier – from LeBron to the 12th man – will be a minus in the plus/minus metric, while every Warrior was a plus.
But beyond the stratospheric performance by the Warriors, and the surreal sloppiness by the Cavaliers – the 16 turnover differential is the largest in Finals history – there are a few things the Cavaliers can’t have over the next few games if they care to compete in the NBA Finals.
Kevin Love must shoot better than 30.7 percent from the field (4-for-13). Kyrie Irving can’t have twice as many turnovers (4) as assists (2). J.R. Smith, perhaps the most unpredictable player in the series, must do better than four shots, three points, and two turnovers. Smith had more fouls (1) than assists, rebounds, and steals combined (0).
Kyle Korver, the sharpshooting mercenary Cleveland signed this season, can’t go scoreless on just three shots. Cleveland can’t have seven players scoring at least two points while the Warriors had 12 total scorers.
That’s the micro, the minutiae. The macro, the longview, is that LeBron James must take better care of the ball, of course. And while he is, and must be, the best player on the team and the floor, the rest of the Cavs can’t roll off the hardwood in his wake. Irving must remember he’s the one who delivered the death-blow last year in Game 7, a three-pointer over the arms of Steph Curry.
We, as sports devotees, as a collective, can’t write the epitaph before we have a body. While it sounds daunting that 70 percent of teams that win Game 1 of the NBA Finals win the NBA title, that leaves ample elbow room for the greatest player on the planet and the defending world champions to redeem themselves. And despite the gruesome optics from last night, as sublime as the Warriors looked last night, all they did was hold serve.
Golden State won a game 12 months in the making. They’ve stewed for a year, watching Cleveland take victory laps, get fitted for rings, and own the bold ink since June 2016. For an entire year the Warriors waited to stomp the Cavaliers. And Kevin Durant has waited five years, since his OKC Thunder lost to LeBron’s Miami Heat in 2012.
Let’s wait a few more games before we write the headlines, and the eulogies, for 2017.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.