It seems inevitable that we are headed toward a Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals, and there has been little drama getting there.
© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Last night in Oakland, the Warriors absolutely SHREDDED the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs, 136-100. The Dubs punished the Spurs starters so thoroughly in the first half that Popovich sat the first stringers the entire fourth quarter while Bryn Forbes, Davis Bertans and, if you can believe it in 2017, two-time NBA Champion Joel Anthony strolled up and down the court, draining minutes away while Jeff Van Gundy body shamed Mark Jackson and Mike Breen flipped through his giant fucking rolodex of possible time killing topics.
It was a bummer.
In game one, the Spurs—coming off a dominant Kawhi-less win against Houston—were blowing the leaden-legged Warriors out at home, flashing some macro-competitive potential for the series while still dragging the audience through yet-another blowout win on their televisions. Something like the 15th of the last two weeks. Until, of course, Leonard sprained his ankle on a misplaced Zaza Pachulia foot, and the Warriors took the reins from the wounded Spurs, and won the most depressing exciting game of all time.
Popovich, normally extraordinarily moderate in responses about opponents, tore into Zaza, specifically, to gathered reporters on Monday morning. From that soliloquy:
"We're playing very possibly the best team in the league… 9.75 people out of 10 would figure that the Warriors will beat the Spurs. Well, we've had a pretty damn good season, we've played fairly well in the playoffs, I think we're getting better, and we're up 23 points in the third quarter against Golden State and Kawhi goes down, like that. And you want to know if our chances are less and you want to know how we feel. That's how we feel."
Gregg's aggravated, extended jag against Zaza and the whims of fate and injury, I think, probably captured the feeling of not only this series, but the whole playoffs thus far. We are sitting with a conference finals matchup of the top two seeds. One of those teams has lost both a Hall-of-Fame point guard and their best player to nasty leg injuries, and is, as a result, relying on LaMarcus Aldridge, maybe the most mentally unequipped and aesthetically dull player you could feasibly put in that position. The other team is overflowing with talent, has not lost a game these playoffs, and looks destined for an early return to the Finals.
Before we even got here, though, the second round was a flurry of blowouts. The Rockets, probably the most reasonable challenge to Warriors orthodoxy available in the West, lost Nene, and then everything else. They huffed and puffed late in a heartbreakingly close Game 5, then turned in a Game 6 dump for the ages. The Jazz and the Raptors each were swept by the nigh unstoppable Warriors and Cavaliers, with Toronto's future thrown into jeopardy. The Wiz and the Celtics played seven, but even that competitive and relatively close series was absolutely marred by Washington's heinously unfair bench play and bizarre player rotations.
The highlight of the whole dang playoffs so far has probably been, uhh, the Grizzlies eking out a couple in their first round series against the Spurs? The Bulls taking an early series lead against Boston before Rondo got injured? Damn, forgot about Rondo getting injured. Even Utah's 4-5 first round upset wasn't exactly life affirming, what with the Los Angeles Clippers slowly losing their minds on national TV while Joe Johnson and a rotating cast of sick/healthy small market stars strolled on and off the court, delicately picking the meager Clippers remains off their shaking, panicked, aging bones.
I swear to God, it gives me no joy to write about the broad spectrum playoff malaise to which we've been treated. As far as I, Corbin Smith, the handsome writer is concerned, there is no better sport in the world than the NBA Playoffs: a nutty and unpredictable gauntlet that truly tests the mettle of the competitors. Bizarre and insanely difficult in equal measure, a fucking beautiful gift given to sports fans every year.
There's nothing like it in the world. I honestly hope that tonight's Cavs-Celtics game is balls out, the Spurs go home Saturday and shove whatever they can find down Golden State's throat, and the finals are a masterpiece of blood and sweat and hate, no matter who is in them. I hope this article is universally panned as a sportswriter panicking about the random fluctuations and coin flips of sports all coming up "BORING" one after another and ascribing meaning to those coin flips.
But, then again, even Pop is feeling it, he said it right there: "9.75 people out of 10 would figure that the Warriors will beat the Spurs." The overinflated dominance of the Warriors in conjunction with the buffet of sub-competence that the Cavs have been feasting on has made this whole thing seem like a foregone conclusion to the viewer, and the whole league seems like they're content to go along with it. I mean, Christ, the country's most prominent NBA Writer is firing up his podcast rig and beginning his interview with the Finals color man with "Hey, this Warriors thing is pretty inevitable, huh?" That fucking sucks!
And the whole of this inevitability, this foregone conclusion, has been packed away in this Warriors/Spurs series. Even as the Spurs seemed to be getting a handle on making it interesting, fate itself, or Zaza, it's hard to tell the two apart anymore, took it away like it was nothing. What a buzzkill, man.