The NBA Finals were a sight to behold and the Golden State Warriors were a cut above the rest. The postseason sparked the imagination and whetted the appetite for extraordinary basketball. The team at KweséESPN looked back at the NBA Playoffs and Finals and found some of the most thrilling touch-points to review.
1. The NBA season is over: what did you think of the Playoffs and Finals overall?
Lee Nxumalo (LN): I thought it could have been more competitive, but I don’t necessarily blame it on the Warriors being a ‘super team’. I think the Cavaliers came in thinking that they could win if LeBron went crazy while everyone took a backseat, and I think that led to their demise. Had they made the adjustments that they made in Game 3 earlier, it would have been a seven-game series.
Kaunda Chama (KC): I am in two minds about the Playoffs. The fact that the Warriors swept through the Western Conference and the Cavaliers almost did the same thing in the East took some excitement out of the postseason, although at the same time, it was exciting to see that happen.
The Finals did not disappoint. From the start of the regular season, everyone expected the Cavs to meet the Dubs in the Finals and that’s just what went down. The Warriors almost set a massive record by nearly going unbeaten in the postseason. I think the fact that the Cavaliers were able to win at least one game in the Finals made things more interesting as well because it was not an easy win for the unbeatable Golden State team.
Cyrus Rogers (CR): The whole postseason was special for me. I’m a Warriors fan so I’m a bit biased, but it was incredible watching them and the Cavaliers go to work. I think more competition from the other teams would have been great, though. The Warriors were a real force in the Finals. This could be the start of the dynasty.
Fidel Maithya (FM): Well, people in many quarters and some so-called knowledgeable basketball fans have been critical of the season but personally I saw the growth in the game. One example for me was the upsurge of such teams like the Utah Jazz who ended up fifth in the Western Conference playoff seeding. A young group of players upset the likes of the LA Clippers. Granted the Clippers were without their star players, but from deep down in my soul, I felt they could beat them in a seven-game series regardless.
Akinbode Oguntuyi (AO): Most of the results were predictable, but the manner in which some came was shocking. For instance, we all knew it would likely be a Cavaliers v Warriors Finals, but we didn’t foresee the sweeps on the way there. In all it was an unexpected Playoffs culminating in a predicted Finals.
2. Where do you think it went right for the Warriors in the Finals?
KC: The Warriors played Warriors ball and that is what won them the Finals. They shared the ball generously and shot well from range. It was as simple as that, they kept to their system and it worked well, and this time they had a former MVP and top scorer in Kevin Durant added to the squad, which gave them an added edge over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
FM: Many people focus on the potent Warriors offense, I saw their tenacious D. With the addition of Kevin Durant, they had a seven-foot player who could play multiple positions as well as guard those multiple positions. They had in Durant a player who could protect the cup as well as the perimeter. His lateral speed rivals that of LeBron, so I guess that trade really worked out well in the end.
LN: Their chemistry and the fact that they had multiple scoring options. If one or two players had a bad night, it didn’t adversely affect their chances of winning.
I think people overlook how much of a unit this team is. There is something to be said about how they all play unselfishly and any coach can tell you how difficult it is to get players to do that – especially with a star-powered cast like the Dubs. I’m pretty sure Gregg Popovich said something similar after the Spurs series ended.
AO: The first factor is outside of the Warriors and has to be the lack of preparation of the Cavaliers. The relatively easy passage through the East probably dulled the Cavs a bit. Even though their lack of depth was glaring all season. Having said that, the presence of Kevin Durant was a major factor, but his effectiveness was borne out of the Warriors’ team-first ethic. And that was a major factor for the Champions.
CR: The Warriors will look at the trade for Kevin Durant as the turning point of their season. He was the catalyst for the improved Finals performance. I think another thing that went right for them was that they kept cooler heads this time out. Last season Draymond Green didn’t play Game 5 due to suspension and Andrew Bogut then got injured in that game and missed the rest of the Finals. The Warriors were a lot more patient and didn’t panic this time round.
3. Where do you think it went wrong for the Cavaliers?
LN: They blew up defensive assignments – the defense on Stephen Curry was awful. And if you don’t contain or limit Steph, you open up the game for the rest of the Warriors to score. There were so many moments where I was shaking my head and screaming because I would see the Cavs get caught up in double-teaming Steph (which has been proven over and over to be ineffective) and Steph would punish them by passing to open teammates. That is why you would have several bench players score in double-digits.
Cavs were also very stubborn in relying on Bron, Kyrie and Love to do all the scoring. JR Smith, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert were mute because they are used to letting the Big Three do all the scoring. And while that works in the Eastern Conference, it won’t work in the Finals. AND IT TOOK THREE GAMES FOR THEM TO REALISE THIS!
FM: Well, there are 80 million things I can point out but I jest. On a serious note, though, LeBron James went out on a limb for most of the players on the current roster but none of them returned the favor except for Kyrie Irving and JR Smith. Honorable mentions have got to go to Kyle Korver and Tristan Thompson, the 80-million dollar man. Korver did not exactly set the playoff world alight with his shooting, but I take particular exception to Thompson who had a protracted battle at season’s start over a new contract. Things got out of hand so bad that James had to step in and bat for him. The result? A five-year, 82-million dollar contract. The return on investment? Five rebounds a game in the NBA Finals. I need not say anything more. Steph Curry had more rebounds in that series than the guy whose only job was to rebound the basketball.
KC: The Cavaliers were victims of an efficient system. They let the first three games slip by allowing the Golden State Warriors to outplay them and being 3-0 down did not give them much wiggle room. Had they played like they did in Game 4 throughout the entire series, then they would have made the Warriors work harder for their second title. They basically did not bring enough punches to the fight.
AO: Tristan Thompson was not effective, and the bench was almost non-existent. The big players need the supporting cast to win. And Cavs had none.
CR: An over-reliance on the Big Three was one of the main contributing factors. When they were negated or had an off day, then the Warriors’ first five and their bench went to work. The Dubs got the most out of their players as opposed to the Cavs.
4. What was your favourite moment of the Finals?
AO: Game 4 was my favorite of the series. My favorite moment was when KD hugged his mum Wanda, after Game 5. It erased the memories of the hurt KD falling into her arms in tears after the loss in 2012.
LN: When LeBron James threw the alley-oop to himself to dunk in Game 4. That moment will stick with me forever. I’ll be in a queue getting groceries with my grandkids (by God’s grace) and that moment will still amaze me.
FM: Game 2, with Stephen Curry on an isolation play against LeBron James in the second half after a pick-and-roll switch. They call it the dance and rightly so. I have never seen LeBron so befuddled by an opposing player. It was great to watch, kind of reminded me of that skinny kid in the park who takes on a more athletic and complete player and just annihilates him on the dribble.
KC: My favourite moment of the Finals was when the Cavaliers finally put up a good fight in Game 4 and pulled one back. A sweep by the Dubs would have been good for them and their fans, but not so good for fans in general. Seeing the Cavaliers fight back and actually win was great.
CR: I can’t split either of these moments so I’m breaking the rule, but both moments involved LeBron James. Firstly, when Curry dribbled James into another area code (mind you, it looked suspiciously like double-dribble) and then LeBron’s self alley-oop. Both plays were spectacular.
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5. Kevin Durant was named MVP – who would your honourable mention for MVP go to?
KC: Undoubtedly LeBron James. It’s not easy to average a triple-double in the Finals and he did. He played his socks off and carried the Cavs on his back for most of the series.
FM: For me it would have to be 2015 finals MVP, Andre Iguodala. I mean the man balled out of his mind and to be honest, I think there would have been a Game 6 if not for his 20 points on his 9-for-14 shooting, 64 percent from the field. Let’s not forget he took turns guarding LeBron and Kyrie in that game.
AO: It’s unfortunate a player from the losing team can’t have it. LeBron James averaged a triple-double. That’s awesome. MVP stuff.
LN: LeBron James. I personally think he should have won it. But I know no one’s trying to hear me out on that one.
CR: Has to be LeBron James. What a player he is. There will always be discussions and comparisons between him and Michael Jordan and rightly so. They are both once-in-a-generation type of players.
6. Which African player would you love to see in the Finals next season?
FM: Mr Alphabet himself, Giannis. Terrific player with the right mindset to become a champion. An athletic player who can play in all five positions. I’m hoping he’s working on his jumper this summer. Once he gets that as part of his arsenal, watch out NBA.
KC: I would like to see Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Finals. It’s sad that the Bucks are not yet championship worthy yet.
AO: Serge Ibaka. He’s elite. He’s paid his dues, and is due a place in the Finals.
LN: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Can the Spurs front office work some magic to get him? Lol.
CT: Giannis Antetokouonmpo is my pick. He is one of the most complete and competitive players in the NBA today. He keeps improving with every passing season. Once he develops a solid mid-range jumper, then he becomes the African Kevin Durant. He’d light up a Finals, for sure.
By the KweséESPN Sports Crew