The Warriors and Cavaliers were always going to meet in the Finals.
We knew this last June when the buzzer sounded on Game 7. We knew this in July when Kevin Durant signed with Golden State. We knew it in preseason. We knew it on Christmas, at the trade deadline, at the end of the season, and going into the conference finals. None of this is surprising. Whether that’s good or bad, it’s the truth. That the Spurs have offered up so little fight after Kawhi Leonard went down, or that the Celtics have been straight-up embarrassed in their series vs. the Cavaliers, it doesn’t really matter. You’re just talking about the difference in how competitive it is, not the end result.
Except, that difference is important. Even if you know who the two best teams are, you still want competitive, compelling basketball in the path to get there. You want people to be able to argue about who will come out of the conference, and if the underdog really has a shot. You want some level of drama, and for the best team to win. That’s the ideal NBA playoffs: super-competitive seven-game series resulting in the two best teams in the league facing off in the Finals.
These playoffs… have not been that. And these conference finals certainly have not been.
And so we’re left to wonder: would we have been better off with the Rockets and Wizards?
The Warriors went up 3-0 on the Spurs Saturday night with a 120-108 victory in Game 3. The Spurs put up a fight, kind of, but at no point did you ever think the Spurs were really going to win that game. Even when the Spurs led, it felt like an adorable push from a massively overwhelmed team trying to make the best of things in a bad situation.
Let’s go ahead and get the elephant in the room and shove him out the door. Yes, Kawhi Leonard is hurt. (Tony Parker, too. And David Lee went down in Game 3 as if things weren’t bad enough.) And yes, they were up 20 points when Leonard went down in Game 1. If you want to extrapolate that out, and say that the Spurs would have won, that this one player, as great as he is, changes absolutely everything in a seven-game series, then fine. I can respect that. I understand it. It’s an easy conclusion to reach.
But consider this: When Leonard is out, you look at the Spurs’ roster, and you’re overwhelmed by the uninspiring, unimpressive set of weapons that the Spurs bring to the table. Leonard makes the other Spurs better, for sure. He contains on the perimeter, he make tough shots constantly. He’s masterful. But without him? LaMarcus Aldridge clanging mid-range jumpers? Patty Mills getting devoured by bigger defenders? Danny Green, a great player and spot-up shooter trying to create on his own?