An exciting three weeks of NBA playoff basketball will reach the beginning of its end tonight when finals newcomer Toronto hosts Golden State in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
This is a showcase of the inevitable. Before the season even started, everyone knew it was going to be Golden State against either Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia or possibly Milwaukee.
Golden State kept its core of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green while adding another all-star in DeMarcus Cousins, who signed for only $5.3 million. The NBA season was practically over when Cousins put pen to paper. Well, it was effectively over before he even signed.
Still, the NBA has managed to give us some incredible moments throughout these playoffs. It’s been a riveting display of individual performances, buzzer beaters and heated moments.
Damian Lillard’s 37-foot shot over first-team All-NBA selection Paul George sent Oklahoma City packing in the first round. Lillard then was processed two rounds later by a free-flowing, Durant-less Warriors that looked like the team that won 73 games.
Lillard’s shot was the best moment of the playoffs until Kawhi Leonard’s fade-away shot hit what seemed like every part of the rim and backboard before falling. Leonard then proved he was playing better than anyone by winning four straight games against Milwaukee and MVP-candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.
That’s how we got here, and it was amazing. Now, the finals are all that’s left. And we all probably know what’s going to happen. It’s the same thing that happened three of the past four years. That doesn’t mean it has to be a snooze fest.
If there’s anyone who knows what it’s like face a superteam that’s dominated an era of the NBA, it is Leonard. Leonard’s lone championship came as a 22-year-old breakout star in 2014 when he faced the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Leonard, who won finals MVP of that series, had those big three scoring meaningless buckets in garbage time while he sat on the bench with the Spurs double digits in each win.
Five years later, Leonard is back in the final and looks like a top-five NBA player. His defense sets him apart, but offensively, he can score at all three levels. He’s one of the most well-rounded players offensively in the league.
Toronto has pieces around him, too. Kyle Lowry has been great these playoffs. Marc Gasol was a needed pick-up who has helped with interior defense. Pascal Siakam, who should be the NBA’s Most Improved Player, has been a nice second option to Leonard. Toronto also has a solid bench highlighted by Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet.
All of that sounds nice, but it doesn't mean it will help them against Golden State, which is arguably playing its best basketball of the year.
The absence of Durant has made the Warriors play more of the open basketball it played before his arrival. That doesn’t mean they’re a better team. It just means they’re different and arguably more exciting.
The Durant-led Warriors are focused more on isolation basketball and playing through him. That’s to be expected. He’s 7 feet tall and can shoot 3-pointers. Without him, the Warriors move the ball a little more freely. To say Golden State is clicking would be an understatement
There’s a chance Durant and even Cousins come back for the finals at some point. Even if they don’t, Golden State will probably win. Even without those two, they still have three All-Stars and definitely two top 20 NBA players, if not three.
That doesn’t ruin this NBA season or the playoffs. It has been just as exciting as ever, especially in the East. There have been plenty of moments that will stick with me for years to come.
So, if there is a takeaway from the playoffs this season, it's that the journey has been incredible. The destination is what we all expected it to be, but that doesn’t tarnish the fact that the NBA is still one of the more exciting spectacles in sports.