What a great story!
LeBron James returned home and formed his Big Three Remix, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals.
He made everyone forget about “The Decision.” He validated management’s faith in rookie coach David Blatt. He played at a superhuman level, allowing the championship-starved citizens to rejoice as the town’s title drought ended, despite two-thirds of the star trio being out with injuries.
The NBA couldn’t go wrong with that tale of perseverance, resilience and an unsung hero nicknamed “Delly.”
That’s not what happened. But the league still capped the season with an unbelievable warm-and-fuzzy adventure.
The Golden State Warriors compiled the NBA’s best record and reached the Finals with an MVP in Steph Curry, a rookie coach in Steve Kerr and an 11-year veteran who previously had started every game in his career but came off the bench all year.
But Andre Iguodala changed the course of the Finals when he was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4. He played superhuman defense on James, knocked down shots, crashed the boards and found the open man. He allowed the Bay Area to celebrate the franchise’s first title since 1975.
Golden State’s version made the final cut – not Cleveland’s alternate ending – and the NBA couldn’t be happier with the Warriors’ tale of unselfishness, sacrifice and a surprise Finals MVP nicknamed “Iggy.”
You can argue that a Cavs’ victory would’ve been a better narrative, the prodigal son’s homecoming culminating with a rare celebration in one of our most hardscrabble cities.
But that’s no better than the Warriors earning the O’Brien Trophy after a scintillating season of ego-less, position-less basketball that very well could transform the game.
I’m not sure anyone besides former Celtics great Dave Collins is convinced that NBA now stands for “No Bigs Allowed.” There’s certainly no reason to believe 7-footers in basketball have gone the way of the dinosaur.
However, there’s always room for good teammates doing what’s best for the team, even if it works against their own interest.
The minutes for Golden State center Andrew Bogut dwindled steadily during the series, from 28 to 25 to 17 to three to none and none again. As an added indignity, backup center Festus Ezeli was a force in the clincher Tuesday night, tallying 10 points and four rebounds in 11 minutes.
But Bogut was as selfless as Iggy in accepting a bench role. Both had an example in David Lee, the former All-Star who entered the campaign with 276 starts in 278 career games with the Warriors (averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game) but started only four times this season.
“At one time or another, every single guy sacrificed this year,” Lee said Tuesday in a postgame news conference. “In Game 3 of the Finals we figured something out in the fourth quarter and we decided to go small.
“On any other team, a guy like Andrew Bogut is angry and causes a fit. Instead, he’s the first one up cheering off the bench. So everybody has had their time to shine this year and that kind of sacrifice is how you win championships, and we were able to bring it home.”
They brought it home because they were the better team. They also were the better-looking team, a sleeker and sexier unit playing a faster, looser and more fun-loving style than the damaged-goods Cavs, whose only hope was James transforming into a “Hulk smash!” monster.
In a recent blog post, Cowen lamented the transition to 3-point-centric hoops that marginalizes traditional centers, “the isolation game, the over dribbling, the one-on-one play and the lack of involvement of the big man in the game that I used to love.”
Cowens admits that he sounds like a grumpy old man. I imagine he could hold quite the gripe session with old-school NFL fans who despise the absence of fullbacks and the preponderance of forward passes in today’s game.
The Memphis Grizzlies play a throwback brand of basketball with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the post. They had a 2-1 series lead against the Warriors, just like the Cavs. In both series, the Warriors shifted to a higher gear and reeled off a “3” – as in mini winning streak.
“I would say this is vindication for Mike D’Antoni if nothing else,” Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry told Bleacher Report, in reference to the former Suns coach who shook the NBA with his seven-seconds-or-less, hoist-a-bunch-of-threes offense.
“We played like he’s been trying to get this league to play forever,” said Gentry, who coached under D’Antoni and now takes over in New Orleans. “For all the people that said you can’t win a championship being a three-point shooting team and really a low-post presence or anything like that, we just did it.”
They did it with a baby-face assassin who’s sometimes outshined by his baby daughter and his mother. They did it with a 6-foot-7 pit bull in the middle, a chip off Michigan State’s block, posting a triple-double like another former Spartan. They did it with players sacrificing their glory for team goals. And they did it with a five-time NBA champion at the helm, adding a ring as a coach on his first try.
What a great story!