There are few sure things in life. The sun rising in the east comes to mind. So does water being wet and gravity being a one-way deal.
A new entry was added to the list this year: outrageous comments uttered during the POTUS campaign.
But the phenomena of physics and politics don’t carry over to the world of sports. There, we find that “locks” can be picked, defeated by squads that had no hope according to the vast majority of observers.
Baseball is notorious for crowning champions who weren’t the best team all season. One of the most shocking upsets in any sport happened in 1990, when the defending World Series champ Oakland Athletics – supposedly on the verge of a dynasty – were outscored 22-8 in a four-game sweep by the Cincinnati Reds.
The New England Patriots have been on both sides of a shocker. They upended the St. Louis Rams (14-point favorites) in Super Bowl 36, despite yielding 427 yards to “The Greatest Show on Turf.” The Patriots later were undefeated, 14-point favorites in Super Bowl 42, but the New York Giants scored a pair of touchdowns in the final quarter, the clincher with 35 seconds left in the game.
We don’t have to go back very far for the last jaw-dropper on hardwood. Just last summer, Golden State not only produced the NBA’s best-ever record, they jumped to a 3-1 lead in the Finals. Cleveland and LeBron James were poised for another achy breaky heart, the Cavaliers’ second consecutive against the Warriors. But they rallied.
With the NBA season tipping off on Tuesday, what are the odds that the same finalists meet for the third straight year, an unprecedented NBA trilogy?
I’m going to be conservative: Barring catastrophic injuries, World War III or pneumonic plague, there’s roughly a 99.9 percent chance of another Warriors-Cavs match-up in the Finals.
Before you nominate me to guest-star in the next Captain Obvious commercial, I call your attention to this space’s offering last June, perhaps the only encouraging words Cavs fans found after the Warriors won the opening pair games by 15 and 33 points, respectively: “The only thing that matters is the first team with four Ws, not the margin of victory in given contests.”
Yes, I thought the Warriors would prevail. But I likened it to a lay-up more than a slam dunk, and we’ve seen misses on both types. If Golden State can blow a commanding three-games-to-one lead, armed with firsthand knowledge of the possibility after overcoming the same hole against Oklahoma City, there are no guarantees.
Ask reigning MVP Stephon Curry, whose historic super squad failed to capture the ultimate prize last season. Ask James, who along with super-friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh lost a Finals in 2014. Or ask Charles Barkley, the TNT host who said the Warriors had weaknesses before and still have weaknesses now, even with the addition of four-time scoring champ Kevin Durant.
“Let me say this,” Barkley told reporters last week. “I still think they got some of the same issues this year with that team. Can they rebound the ball? They’re going to still be shooting jumpers. They’re not going to get any low-post scoring. Can that type of play hold up through the rigors of the NBA playoffs?
“I’m still going to say the same thing I’ve always said: No.”
Barkley is mistaken to insist that the Warriors do nothing but shoot the J. They don’t have the classic, back-to-the-basket big man for traditional low-post scoring, but lay-ups count as points in the paint, too. The Splash Brothers are also highly-impactful Slash Brothers; according to NBA.com, Curry and Klay Thompson were the seventh- and 26th-ranked guards last season for scoring in the restricted area, often with finishes at the bucket.
Even more than during its 73-win campaign, Golden State will constitute the league’s must-see team. Never have four of the NBA’s top 20 players graced one roster at the same time. Stretches of games promise to be laughable when Curry, Thompson, Durant and Draymond Green are on the floor together. Reporters from several national outlets have moved to the Bay Area to embed with the Warriors.
“People are probably going to say we’re going to win X amount (of games), and I don’t care,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters recently. “What I’m looking forward to is the challenge of our guys putting this together and growing as the season goes on.”
Meanwhile, the Cavs will be virtually inconspicuous defending champs. They’ll be the only team ever that’s a consensus pick to reach the Finals, with legitimate claims that no one believes in them.
“We’re still pretty much uptight,” James told reporters. “We’re not satisfied with what we did.”
They almost surely have a chance to do it again, against a new-and-improved version of the same team.
Don’t bet against either team falling short of the championship round.