The 2017 NBA Finals was the stylistic apex of the modern game. Regardless of whatever your personal feelings are towards the individual characters in this blockbuster film, that was box office magic. It was the oddest combination of unbelievable competition taking place in an environment in which the final result was seemingly never in question. Five games didn’t seem appropriate, but winning a single game against the Warriors didn’t seem fathomable either. The Cavaliers fought like hell.
Instead of getting into petty arguments/debates over legacy ramifications and all-time rankings (discussions that you can’t win or lose these days), I’m going to outline what I will ultimately remember from the 2017 Finals. I will preface this list by saying that this is coming from a Cavaliers supporter, extremely proud of the effort they demonstrated against a vastly more talented opponent.
10. LeBron going off the backboard
It isn’t one of his greatest individual plays ever, yet the sheer creativity of it is remarkable. For LeBron to pull off a completely unprecedented move during Game 4 of an NBA Finals in his 14th season is dumbfounding. How fun was LeBron and Kyrie in transition the whole series? Absolutely mesmerizing.
9. Game 4 officiating debacle
Being an NBA referee is as hard of a job out there. Fouls can be called every possession, but they can’t be called every possession. What other profession has to constantly fight that underlying principle. Think about it.
That being said, Game 4 was totally unacceptable. The disgrace reached its climax when Draymond Green’s hack of Tristan Thompson wasn’t even reviewed for potentially being flagrant. The refs gave up.
Green had a technical that was reassigned to Steve Kerr when the refs realized his second technical, which he didn’t deserve, would have ejected him from the game. Then, theoretically on thin ice at this point, Green proceeded to annihilate Thompson’s precious dome with his forearm. No review ensues. After the game Green called out the Cleveland crowd for “…not being the sharpest”. Look in the mirror Draymond.
8. JR Smith
In January, JR Smith’s baby girl, Dakota, was born five months premature. She weighed one pound. He counted her age not in years, but in days. Dakota was discharged from the hospital in late May. A miracle.
In Game 5 of the Finals, JR finished with 25 points on 9-11 shooting in 41 minutes. He kept aCleveland’s chances alive until late in the 4th quarter with his patented deep prayers. I’ll remember JR’s year for more important prayers being answered.
7. Free Throws
That is 73-80 between Golden State’s MVP’s for the Finals (91.3%). On the Cavaliers side, LeBron James shot 24-37 from the line (64.7%). LeBron took 68 shots within 10 feet of the rim, while Durant had 37 and Curry only 29. Combined, Durant and Curry took less shots than LeBron did within 10 feet, yet they ultimately shot more than double the amount of free throws. The “LeBron has the whistle” argument has never been coherent.
Potentially the most aggressive attacker throughout, Kyrie Irving, shot just 20 free throws. Half of Curry’s output. The “NBA is rigged” crowd after Game 4 must have not been aware that the Warriors actually shot five more free throws than the Cavaliers that night (27-36 vs. 21-31). Amongst many other factors, the questionable free throw disparity played a key role in paving the way for Golden State to win in five. No one is talking about this.
6. The Q and The Oracle
I went to Game 3 of the Cavs/Pistons 1st Round series last year. It was the only playoff game I’ve ever attended. The atmosphere was starkly different from a regular season game in Detroit over the past few years, but still left something to be desired.
From Game 3 forward the large majority of spectators were on their feet throughout the night. I haven’t paid super close attention in the past to this, but the fact that it notably stood out means that it isn’t necessarily the status quo. That’s pretty neat.
You can also get a sense of a crowds energy through Mike Breen’s voice. It noticeably ramps up when he is battling decibels from the stands. Compare 2017 Finals Breen vs. Knicks February home game Breen, and you hear two different souls.
5. Durant’s uncalled 3rd foul
4. Kevin Love’s inability in the post
Love has long been regarded as one of the premier low-post machines in the NBA. This rare skill was supposed to be challenging for the small ball Warrior lineups to counteract. To the contrary, the Warriors more than welcomed Love post touches against the likes of Green, Durant, and even Klay Thompson.
Love was an awful 8-21 on shots at the rim. His post game has gone from distinct weapon to oppositional advantage. Love compounds near rim misses by typically glaring at an official and then arrogantly trotting back on defense well behind the play. He did this twice during the closing minutes of Game 3. Inexcusable.
During the 3rd quarter of Game 5, Love got a switch onto Thompson. After receiving the entry pass, he began his back down. Unable to move Thompson by force, and lacking the confidence to make an actual post move, Love proceeded to kick the ball out to LeBron as the shot clock expired. That possession might have sealed his exit from Cleveland. LeBron’s facial expression was of pure disgust.
Love is a tremendous asset, but against the Warriors he comes up short on both sides of the ball. In the two winnable games that Cleveland lost, Love shot 1-9 and 2-8. I’d be shocked if he’s back next year.
3. The last three minutes of Game 3
Basketball is a make or miss sport at the end of the day. Kyle Korver’s botched corner three was the most significant miss, and the Durant dagger three in transition was the pinnacle make. They happened six seconds apart. Few sequences have been as demoralizing for a team as that one. Golden State’s 11-0 run over those final three minutes decided the 2017 Finals, plain and simple.
2. Individual Greatness
LeBron James: 33.6/12/10 on 56% shooting. In 206 minutes over five games, his +/- finished at -7 against maybe the greatest team of all-time. Despite not winning the title, I’ll argue that this was LeBron’s most complete postseason run and that the 2017 Finals was one of the best series of his illustrious career.
Kyrie dropped 40 in Game 4 with seven threes. His 38 in Game 3 is a great “what if”, as he shot 0-7 from distance. Kyrie is simply as talented as anyone on the planet.
Kevin Durant: The rhythmic transition triple over LeBron in Game 3 was the iconic moment, but Game 5 was his finest hour. When the Warriors were leaking oil midway through the second half, Durant was there to steady the ship. The timeliness of his 39 points on 14-20 shooting was the difference; the Cavaliers just couldn’t get comfortable.
Steph Curry: What a difference a year makes. Outside of Game 4, Curry averaged 30 points playing second fiddle. Time to get paid!
1. LeBron and Durant
From 2006-2011, the league wanted Kobe and LeBron to meet on center stage. It never materialized. Durant was on the precipice of that level in 2012, but he wasn’t quite there yet. From an aesthetic standpoint, you can’t beat two positionally similar players going at it in their respective primes in the NBA Finals. The 2017 Finals gave us our wish.
The series result won’t be the overriding memory of this Finals for me. LeBron delivered Cleveland their championship last year in historic fashion. Durant, a league MVP, joined the greatest regular season team ever. The NBA is a very predictable league. Every NBA Finals since 1998 has featured either Kobe, Wade, Duncan, or LeBron. Four guys over 19 years. That’s incredible. Barring injury, Golden State wasn’t going to lose four out of seven. They lost two games in the last three months for goodness sake.
This was about LeBron and Durant, the heavyweights of the post-Jordan era (Kobe too). As of right now, we’re bound to witness it again in 11 short months.
Time for the draft!