Nothing easy… we’re going to Game Seven baby! Game Seven! GAME SEVENNNNNNNN! – Zaza Pachulia
I’m going to say something I never thought I’d say. It took a long time to get to this point, but since we’re here, I might as well tell the truth.
I give up trying to figure out these NBA Finals. The twists, the turns, the mouthpiece tosses. I really don’t know how Game 7 will go and I’m still trying to figure out how we got here. It’s not worth it to sort out the particulars of the first six games of this series because the Finals actually makes less sense to me when I do.
But we can at least try to decipher the first six games and look ahead to Sunday night’s Game 7. The key word: try.
For one thing, we’ve found our Finals MVP. Ironically, it’s the same person that should’ve won the award last year: LeBron James. He’s actually leading every statistical category in this series, as noted by ESPN Stats and Info:
LeBron James leads everyone in everything … literally pic.twitter.com/gvhXehdaDV
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 17, 2016
James has so clearly been the best player on the floor in this series. Moreover, no player on the Warriors has distinguished himself nearly enough to wrest the award away from him, and that holds true even if Golden State wins Game 7. If you’re only watching the Finals and didn’t follow the regular season, you would think that LeBron was the unanimous MVP and not Steph Curry. That’s saying something.
And there’s more bad news for the Warriors. Andre Iguodala, last year’s Finals MVP and primary LeBron defender, suffered a back injury in last night’s game. While he’s definitely going to play on Sunday, his health may be the difference in the game. There’s another thing I never thought I’d say.
And Iguodala’s injury has other ramifications, too. The Warriors are already thin in the frontcourt, with Andrew Bogut out for the Finals with a knee injury. Without his minutes and the normal services of Iguodala, players like Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes would likely have to spend more time guarding James.
Green may be able to hold his own, but the bigger question mark is Barnes. After I wrote about how Barnes would need to play better for the Warriors to win a championship, he promptly had the worst game of his life in Game 6. Barnes went for 0 offensive rebounds, 0 assists, and 0 points last night. This is hard to do (especially as a starter), but the legitimately did nothing on the offensive end of the floor. So who knows where his mind is right now.
Yet another issue for the Warriors comes from an unlikely source: Steph Curry. The back-to-back MVP struggled with foul trouble in Game 6, fouling out for the first time this season. After his sixth foul, he had this memorable reaction. He would assuredly like to forget it:
Soon after Steph fouled out, his wife, Ayesha, tweeted out this thought. I don’t even know what to say about it that would correctly encapsulate its stupidity:
Ironically, after saying she “won’t be silent”, she deleted the tweet. It was a good move, as the tweet only received at least 28,758 retweets. It’s not like the whole world saw it or anything.
But, regardless of his wife’s thoughts, Steph needs to stay out of foul trouble in Game 7. The Warriors need his offense on the floor to win their second straight championship. Even though he’s been outplayed by Kyrie Irving in this series, he is still capable of going off at any particular time. His chances of doing so are exponentially greater if he doesn’t have to go to the bench with early foul woes.
And then there’s the issue of the Warriors’ “death lineup”. While it had flourished earlier in the series, it was outscored 27-9 in Game 6. Part of that is the injury to Iguodala, but the Cavs deserve a great deal of credit here. On multiple occasions, the team used pick and roll action to switch Curry or Klay Thompson on James. Curry’s foul trouble, combined with LeBron’s massive height and strength advantage over both players, led to several easy baskets for Cleveland.
The other problem is that without Bogut’s rim protection, the Warriors have no way of stopping these switches. If Green (who plays center in the death lineup) helps on LeBron, he leaves Tristan Thompson open. Because Bron is such a good passer and Thompson is so good at cutting toward the basket, the result often ends in an alley-oop dunk, as it did several times in Game 6.
Golden State has several issues. These issues are so significant that they may make the difference in this series. But this is about more than the Warriors; it’s also about LeBron.
We’ll never know why James was so much less assertive in the first four games as compared to his last two. However, since he and Kyrie Irving decided to take things into their own hands the last two games, the Cavaliers have been a totally different team.
There is one Cavalier player, though, who could seriously step things up in Game 7: Kevin Love. Last night, Love only played 12 minutes, plagued by foul trouble and ineffectiveness. At this point, Tyronn Lue may want to bring Love off the bench outright, as he’s only getting role player minutes in his current capacity. Richard Jefferson once again stepped into his role and outplayed him, and he may be worthy of the Game 7 nod. Then again, the Cavs got here with Love, so their allegiance to him in their starting lineup is very understandable.
At this point, I’m about out of ways to figure out this series. I don’t know how we’re here, with the greatest regular season team in NBA history on the verge of the worst collapse the league has ever seen. But this series really is even; both teams have scored 610 points over the course of the last six games. In spite of the fact that none of the games have been within single digits, the NBA Finals is as even as it could be.
I have a feeling Game 7 is going to be epic. It will pit the league’s two biggest stars against one another in a winner-take-all bout to determine legacies and history. I’ve given up trying to figure out this series, so I’m going to enjoy Sunday night’s game as the culmination of a fascinating NBA season.
You should too.