This season, the Golden State Warriors have had a tendency to bury their opponents early, unleashing a deluge of threes, dunks and general jaw-dropping ridiculousness that pushes contests hopelessly out of reach, and turn entire fourth quarters into garbage time. In sizing up the NBA Finals, fans and pundits alike have expected the Cleveland Cavaliers to succumb to one of these flurries, especially given Cleveland’s depleted roster of cast-offs and oldsters. Yet LeBron James has rallied this unheralded band of benchwarming detritus to rise to the challenge and stay competitive with the best team in the league.
Bay Area fans would surely prefer to see gaudy blowouts accompanied by feats of undeniable dominance, but the closeness of these games better benefits the sport of basketball, and makes for greater entertainment.
Granted, the Cavs are not a thing of beauty; their style does little to amaze or inspire. As phenomenal as LeBron James may be, circumstances have forced him into monotonous patterns, perpetually pounding the rock in isolation while his teammates wait on the other side of the court, just four more spectators for half the shot clock. Matthew Dellavedova and his cringeworthy jumper are often painful to watch, while JR Smith is an unstoppable force of terrible decision-making. But as a unit, Cleveland has rebounded, hustled, and ground out possessions in a way that has staved off annihilation and kept slim championship hopes alive.
Those hopes took a major hit on Sunday with a Game 5 loss, but it could have been much worse for the King and company. After Golden State finally erupted at the end of Game 4, it was tempting to imagine they had solved the pesky Cavs, and from there onward would whip up cataclysmic yet tidy whirlwinds of offensive carnage at will, transforming the series into a laugher. The fact that they didn’t might be your saving grace if you’re in Ohio and looking for solace.
As the series shifts back to Cleveland for Game 6 on Tuesday, the Warriors have all the momentum, and it seems highly conceivable that they will find that switch, flip it, and blast off to glory before halftime even hits. Or, perhaps, the Cavs continue to ugly it up, scrapping and clawing their way to another improbable win and a return ticket to Oakland for a decisive Game 7 on Friday. And no matter where you live, if you like basketball, you have to admit: That would be kind of fun.
Alec MacDonald is a writer and editor who lives in Oakland, California. Alec is a 2015 Dat Winning fellow.