The NBA season finally comes to an end this week and might possibly have already ended if Golden State, favored by 8.5 to 9 points, was able to defeat Cleveland Monday night.
What appeared to be a virtually certainty following a pair of impressive double digits wins to open the NBA Finals (wins by 22 and 19 points) got a bit interesting when the series moved to Cleveland for Game 3.
In control for most of the contest the Cavs seemed on the way to an easy win to draw within a two games to one deficit, leading by 6 points late in the fourth quarter.
And then Golden State showed why they’ve been the team to beat all season by outscoring the Cavs 11-0 to earn 118-113 win an stand one win away from making history.
Aside from winning their second NBA Title in three seasons the Warriors were on the verge of completing a perfect 16-0 post season and establishing a mark that could only be equaled but never surpassed barring an expansion of the Playoffs format in the future.
The way in which the Warriors won Game 3 might have been the proverbial dagger to the heart of the Cavaliers and that was reflected in the opening line for Game 4. After Golden State opened as 2 point road favorites in Game 3 and closed as 3 point favorites (after being as high as minus 4) the linesmakers opened the Warriors as 6 point road chalk for Game 4. The money came in on the Cavs and Golden State closed at -5 as they took the court looking to clinch the Title.
Cleveland did not want to be embarrassed by a Game 4 loss that would not only complete that historic sweep for the Warriors but would be accomplished against the defending champions.
Sprinting to a 49-33 lead after one quarter the Cavs scored an NBA Playoff record 86 first half points, building an 18 point halftime lead and cruising to a 137-116 victory that derailed those historic hopes of Golden State and putting the Cavs in the same position they were in last season, trailing 3 games to 1 headed back to Golden State for Game 5.
Cleveland will be buoyed by their Game 4 win that has them thinking they can pull off a second straight comeback. Of course this comeback would be historic as no NBA team has overcome a 3 games to none deficit.
But Golden State was itself embarrassed by its performance in Game 4 and returned home for Monday’s Game 5 intent on ending the series and obviate the need for a Game 6 on Thursday or a Game 7 on Sunday.
My thoughts prior to the Finals suggested that Golden State would win in 6 games with a clear possibility that it would last only 5. Much of that assessment was predicated on Cleveland being competitive in the first two games at Golden State, possibly even earning a split before heading home. But after the Warriors’ domination in those first two wins in which the play of Kevin Durant’s addition to the roster had the huge impact expected, it became difficult to envision Cleveland being able to win 4 of the next 5 games to successfully defend last season’s Title.
Should the series return to Cleveland for a Game 6 with the Warriors up 3-2 Golden State would be the play if laying no more than 3 points whereas a play on Cleveland would require at least +6.
If the Cavs are successful in forcing a Game 7 and thus be in position to make history of their own by completing that 0-3 comeback the play would be for history to be denied for a second time in these Finals with Golden State the play at minus 8 or less.
The last two paragraphs are expected to be moot as the most likely scenario will have already taken place by the time you are reading this with Golden State having won the NBA Title on Monday night with Kevin Durant being named the Finals MVP.
But in the truest form of Reality TV, the games must still be played and that’s why we love this thing called sports.
As this season ends next season effectively begins within the next few weeks with the annual NBA Draft and the onset of free agency. There has been much debate in the past couple of seasons about teams, when they have no realistic chance to make the Playoffs, to begin “tanking” games in order to improve their chances of securing a high draft position in the next draft lottery.
Tanking is not trying to lose games but rather not putting forth a best effort to win games. That can be done by giving extended playing time to backups, using ill-conceived on court player combinations and a myriad of other tactics that decrease the chances of winning. Tanking does not generally involve a lack of effort by the players on the court but rather from how the players are used.
At the heart of the “tanking” debate are two fundamental issues – the rather elusive but all inclusive “integrity of the game” and the shortchanging of the fans of tanking teams who pay good money to attend games and support their team(s).
Tanking is not new by any means. In fact, it was effectively the reason for the institution of the lottery more than 30 years ago to discourage teams from losing games in order to “achieve” the league’s worst record and thus secure the top draft choice. In those days the draft order was determined by giving the team with the worst record the first choice, the team with the second worst record the second draft choice, etc.
In order to discourage teams trying for the top draft choice in that manner a lottery was instituted that effectively did not guarantee that the team with the worst record would get the top draft choice. The lottery system has been modified several times over the years but the incentive for “tanking” still exists.
So here’s a simple suggestion for eliminating the incentive to tank game that would preserve the game’s integrity and allow fans that attend late season games to have expectations that their team will play to win.
The Lottery should consist of just the 14 teams that do not make the Playoffs. Each team would have an equal chance of earning the top draft choice (1 in 14). The NBA can determine if the Lottery will be for only the number one choice, the top three choices, the top five choices or some other number after which the remaining teams would draft in reverse order of their records.
Yes it is simplistic but it does address many of the issues that have developed over the past several seasons that may not have readily occurred to those in charge three decades ago.
History has shown that just because a team has high draft choices season after season success is not guaranteed (the fact that a team continues to have high draft choices is obvious proof of that).
Much more goes into building a winning franchise than just high draft choices and on court failure should be neither rewarded nor encouraged. Enjoy the off season.