In what should be remembered as the most transparent, courageous and illuminating press conferences in the NBA Finals history, LeBron James went beyond confirming what anyone that has ever seen an NBA game knew:
The Golden State Warriors were overwhelmingly more talented than the Cleveland Cavs.
The King, who didn’t reveal he played the last three games of this Final with a broken bone in his right hand, invited us in for a rare glimpse as to why talent alone does not set apart the Warriors, who Friday night won their third NBA title in four years by sweeping the Cavs.
James on Thursday marveled at Golden State’s basketball IQ. Which is ironic in a way.
If Draymond Green had not committed one of the lowest IQ fouls in Finals history, the Warriors might be viewed today as the greatest dynasty of this century.
In Game 4 of the 2016 Finals, Green hit James below the belt. The Warriors won to take a 3-1 lead but Green, one of the few players in the league that cannot be steamrolled by James in a one-on-one matchup, was suspended for Game 5.
The Cavs rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the series.
James’ etched his name into Cleveland sports lore. And Green arguably prevented Golden State from becoming the first team to win four straight titles since the Celtics in the ’60s.
Whether or not the Michael Jordan-led Bulls or the multi-headed Warriors are the greatest in modern times continues to make great late-night debate fodder at your local pub.
The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are poised to rise in the East but will they have the talent, chemistry and IQ of Golden State? Can Houston keep its core together? Even if it does, do the Rockets have team IQ to unseat the Hydra known as the Warriors?
Klay Thompson was the most lethal head in Game 1. Steph Curry held rank in Game 2, with an NBA Finals record nine 3-pointers. Kevin Durant dropped a personal Finals career-high 43 in Game 3 as Curry struggled. Curry responded Friday night with 37 points.
Durant won his second NBA Finals MVP. Curry certainly could have. And the Warriors only had their 2015 Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala, for two games because of a leg injury.
The Warriors have been accused of taking shots too early in the clock, of not having an interior scorer and occasionally coasting until the third quarter. But they have three titles in four years. Probably four in a row without Green’s low blow.
They are good. They are smart. They know how to win. And they know you know.
“That’s how you know we’re a great team is when everybody’s coming after us,’’ said Durant.
“Whether it’s opponents, whether it’s different coaches panning for us, whether it’s the fans, the media that hate us, it feels good when you’re the team that everybody’s gunning for. It makes us better. It makes us come to work and try to play at that championship level every single day, and that’s the hardest part.”
STAR OF THE GAME: Curry or Durant? Durant or Curry? Curry scored a game-high 37 points on 7-of-15 shooting from behind the arc. Durant followed his 43-point effort in Game 3 with a triple-double – 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. As Durant said when asked if Curry deserved MVP, ‘Does it matter?’
STAT OF THE GAME: Those Golden State 3rd quarters. They outscored the clearly exhausted Cavs 25-13 in the third to turn a nine-point halftime lead into a blowout. Honorable mention: The Warriors went 16-for-16 from the line.
KEY STRETCH: We don’t give our star athletes much wiggle room. If they speak in clichés they’re boring. If they say what’s on their mind, they’re open to anyone’s interpretation.
James’ insightful answers in Thursday’s press conference were laudable and provided insight into just how daunting it is to maintain greatness. But how did some of his teammates feel when they heard him say:
“In order to win, you’ve got to have talent, but you’ve got to be very cerebral, too,” James said. “Listen, we’re all NBA players. Everybody knows how to put the ball in the hoop. But who can think throughout the course of the game?’’
He’s correct. J.R. Smith’s Game 1 time lapse will follow him for the rest of his career. Green’s ability to get into Tristian Thompson’s head was a perfectly executed trap. Rodney Hood has some game but his confidence is below sea level.
While James spoke on Thursday, he didn’t reveal he broke his right hand punching a whiteboard after the Game 1 overtime loss. James scored a personal Finals high with 51 points. His production, while still remarkable, declined to 29 points in Game 2, 33 in Game 3 and 23 in Game 4.
“I let the emotions get the best of me and pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand,” James said following Friday’s 108-95 loss.
Would a healthy James had changed the outcome of this series? C’mon.
QUOTE OF THE SERIES: Will LeBron stay in Cleveland or shift the balance of power in the NBA?
“I mean, I have no idea at this point. The one thing that I’ve always done is considered, obviously, my family. Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that. So I don’t have an answer for you right now as far as that.”