Lórenzo's Way-Too-Late 2016 NBA Finals Analysis
I don’t know if these really classify at ‘hot takes.’ I’d consider these more as thoughts I had entering the game and observations made during. I really wanted to write all of these in the immediate aftermath of the game, but I figured giving myself a day or two to sit on them might prove that these thoughts were far more emotional than logical.
A month later, and naw. I believe everything I thought then and that I’ll write now. But, some of you might view these as still very scorching opinions here, and the catchphrase ‘hot take’ seems good for clickbait, but whatever. To begin:
1. I fully expected Game 7 to be the most important NBA game I’ve ever watched. It was exactly that, and probably a little bit more.
So, for what it’s worth, that was a fantastic basketball game. It wasn’t as pretty as Golden State would’ve liked, but it still flowed really well, and aside from the last 5:00 of the 4th quarter - when Kyrie and Steph and Klay and LeBron were all rotating taking terrible shots - I thought the pace of the game was far better than the past Game 7 Finals games I’ve seen. Putting context aside as best as possible - which is actually impossible here, but I’m trying - this was a compelling basketball game.
But, now, with context, these stakes were enormous.
Bron simultaneously playing for his legacy and the ‘Greatest Player Alive’ title. Steph with one last chance to cement himself as the offensive player of this generation. Back-to-back championships for Golden State, with a stake in the Best Team Ever discussion and a run at a for real dynasty. Cleveland getting its first sports championship of any kind since … Jim Brown? I don’t even know.
I was nervous as all hell from the moment the game started. I’d been actively rooting for Golden State, but watching LeBron do this is everything I’ve ever wanted from the guy, and it was entertaining to watch the entire time. The fact they won Game 5 - in Oakland, by 20 - and the way they won, with Kyrie dominating but somehow, with LeBron having 41-16-7 - let me know LeBron believed. He did. He took his team on the road in a Finals-ending elimination game and won. I don’t want to dwell too much on what exactly it is LeBron just did, because he’ll be a prominent person throughout, but it was clear he did not intend to lay down. I’d started to root for him in this series the same way I cheered for Kobe in his final game. Because even though I wanted to see this two-year run end in another ring for Steph, LeBron deserved this. He really did.
It felt like the lead Golden State had at halftime was gone 30 seconds into the third quarter. LeBron was not laying down. Cleveland kept it close, just like they needed to. Steph didn’t seem to have the urgency I would’ve liked. Missed a couple open looks. I don’t really have a Steph Curry hot take, but he looked exhausted. I don’t know if Cleveland did that to him, or if was a bit of what he took from Oklahoma City too, but I saw a defeated guy the other night. I know he wanted the title, very badly, but he didn’t seem to have much juice left. The breaks.
My homeboy said Kyrie pulled a Steph on Steph to win the title. And damn it hurts to admit he’s right, but that’s exactly what happened. I watched the whole arc of that basketball, knowing there’s no chance Kyrie makes a 24-footer off a crossover in the biggest moment of his professional career, and he proved me wrong. SportsCenter ran on the ticker that LeBron made the clinching free throw, but that free throw was irrelevant to the proceedings. Cleveland won their ring the moment Kyrie nailed that shot.
The game couldn’t have been scripted better: Draymond stepping up and saving the team and maybe winning Finals MVP for his 32-15-9 performance in Game 7 despite missing Game 5 for repeatedly hitting folks below the belt; Golden State getting out to the halftime lead, only for Cleveland to keep the game competitive until the game’s closing minutes; crazy defensive sequences — THAT BLOCK! LeBron’s not a human, dog. — up to a clutch shot that wins the game. Bron did it. He fulfilled a promise some thought had become a pipe dream, me included.
Hell of a game. You get a tied championship Game 7 in the final two minutes, and you’re lucky. It sucked, because somebody’s legacy was bound to take a hit, but I feel so blessed to have seen it all live.
2. Earl Smith III is an NBA champion.
I mean, this one is fairly self-explanatory. I remember J.R.’s McDonald's All-American game. That game is the worst thing that could’ve ever happened to J.R. Smith. First shot he took was a 28-footer, and it went in.
Surprisingly enough, he didn't walk off the court, decommit from North Carolina, and declare for the NBA right there. After a somewhat bizarre career in which he got drafted by New Orleans, became something of Carmelo's sidekick in Denver, spent a half-season exiled and scoring ridiculous amounts of points in China, and suckered people into believing he'd gotten his act together in New York, J.R. Smith became an indispensable part of a professional championship team in – of all places – Cleveland, Ohio.
That last paragraph is one big LOL.
I still don't know what to make of Earl. But everybody's opinion is irrelevant now. He's immortal. He's a champion. I'm sure he's having the best summer of all-time right now.
3. Good for Kyrie. But he's still Kyrie.
Kyrie Irving is only a few months older than I am. Just like Chappelle and Wayne Brady hold it down for black actors, I'll always hold it down for basketball players born in 1992. I think he's a fantastic talent, a guy who can get buckets with the best of them and make you look silly while doing it.
But come on, dog. The difference between Kyrie the Champion and Kyrie the Pariah is that he made the same bad shots he's always taken. After Game 2, I was texting friends asking if they'd rather have Damian Lillard or Kyrie, considering Dame led a pretty-below-average Portland team to way more wins than folks expected in a tough conference while Kyrie never plays 75 games and couldn't get Cleveland very far in an Eastern Conference that was generally Miami & Friends. But after Game 7, folks were all over ESPN saying Kyrie had figured out how to play with LeBron and that he's not as selfish as he was and that IN THE COURSE OF THREE GAMES, all their chemistry issues were out the window. I mean, sure, winning a championship can cure that stuff, but I'm sure 65% of those shots had Bron yelling NO! until they went in.
But I guess this is all moot. Kyrie had one of the greatest Finals games of all-time in Game 5 and then hit one of the clutchest shots ever in a Game 7 for a title. So what do I know?
4. Somebody is going to pay Harrison Barnes $20 million to play professional basketball for them next season, and probably for 3 seasons after that.
That somebody turned out to be the Dallas Mavericks, and no shade to Harrison, because I can't hate on him for making his money.
But, I mean, after that Finals performance? He missed so many open jumpers I was ready to jump through my television. Harrison Barnes is probably the only '92 baby I can't get behind, because I'm fairly certain he's not that good at basketball. He's better than me, sure, but that's a fairly low threshold to clear. The money that got generally thrown around this summer makes me want to get back in the gym heavy for the next few months and try out for a team soon. I'm good for at least $1 million. I'm a great glue guy. I can keep guys motivated in the locker room. Best practice team player of all-time. Just give me a shot, coach.
I just hope Harrison Barnes proves to be worth that money, man. Because 10 points a night and a bunch of wide-open misses ain't worth 20 M's, dog.
5. LeBron James is, at this current moment, the second-greatest basketball player of all-time.
Haters gone hate. Kobe stans gone be Kobe stans. I get it.
But, be honest with yourself, is there another basketball player ever who can do what LeBron just did?
I'll be real: I never thought Bron could live up to the hype. I firmly believed Carmelo deserved to go #1 in the 2003 draft, and I didn't understand how Melo didn't win Rookie of the Year in 2004. I always thought LeBron would be very, very, very good. But legendary? Ha.
Now? I have nothing else bad to say about that man.
You want to say he's not clutch? He had 3 must-wins back-to-back-to-back, two of them in Oakland. In the first one, he put up a 41-16-7. In the second one, a 41-8-11. And in the last one, a 27-11-11. And that block. I cannot emphasize that block enough.
Do you see those numbers?!
4 MVPs. 3 titles. 3 Finals MVPs. A TITLE IN CLEVELAND, OHIO, where he is now a legend and a god simultaneously. First guy to come back down 3-1 in a Finals series, against what I still believe is the greatest basketball team of all-time. He cemented his own legacy, saved Michael's, and might've destroyed Steph's and the Warriors at the same damn time.
It's him and the GOAT, man. That's it.
And at this point, I'm not willing to say he can't surpass him either.
Consider me a witness.