The Warriors have known nothing but “yes” this season. Theirs has been a hand ride so unbothered by either real or media-inflated adversities that they have almost come to believe it is the way it will be all the way until the parade. They have come to believe this because all around them, from the truest acolytes to the national reviewers to the daily statistical and video summaries, the evidence is incontrovertible.
This season is theirs.
But in a hilariously perverse twist, they are being slapped back to the reality every other NBA team has lived this year at the worst possible time – by a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is ravaged but not unbowed by injuries that by rights should have crushed them by now.
In this odd season, dominated as it has been by injuries to high-profile players, the Cavs have somehow managed to reach the Finals without their second-best, third-best and fourth-best players, and not only reach but play better in each successive game.
More metaphorical still, the Cavs have been inspired to their 2-1 lead both by the seemingly indestructible LeBron James and the bomb-squad neophyte Matthew Dellavedova, whose unrestrained forays both toward the floor and other people’s chairs have charmed his teammates and coaches, inspired love from the customer base at Quicken Loans Arena and turned this series into a festival of the improbable.
And in an additional twist on “so you think you know the future, eh smart ass?” the seemingly pain-resistant Warriors are now banged up. Draymond Green’s back has seized up to the point where he has been more liability than aid. Klay Thompson has been concussed and then kneed in the thigh. Stephen Curry has been hit in the head and until the late minutes of Game 3 was being branded by Internet neurologists across the nation as having his shot concussed.
In sum, the hard and vengeful nature of this NBA season has finally reached out and gobsmacked the Warriors in Games 99 and 100, and the Warriors seem momentarily disoriented by this realization – so much so that Steve Kerr’s canonization has halted as he has gone to the “I didn’t like our body language” card.
By that, and by a Cleveland defense that starts with the Cleveland offense, an isolation-based thing in which James controls the ball for 14 seconds and then decides what to do with it. It doesn’t often result in points (he is currently on pace to shatter the record for most shots missed in a final, 98, by Michael Jordan against Phoenix in 1993), but it does result in clock-eating that has produced a staggering 44 percent usage rate, and it also allows the Cavaliers to get back on defense at such pace that the Warriors have been reduced from averaging 21 fast break points per game to 13 in the Finals, including only four in Game 3.
Will this change? One would think so, but then one didn’t think the Warriors would be punching uphill once the Cavs lost Kyrie Irving to go along with the already civilian-clothed Anderson Varejao and Kevin Love. The Warriors have been reduced by James and Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson to figuring out how to coax offense out of the hunched-over Green, the uneven Klay Thompson and the all-too-spotty Harrison Barnes, who took his second oh-fer of the postseason.
This is not a new strategy, either, but the Cavaliers have thus far figured out a way to successfully implement it while having 60 percent of its starting roster (or 20 percent, depending on how many times you count James) in casual clothes.
So there are really only three questions to demand answers to before Game 4 either relocates the series or turns it into a potential rout:
One, Is Kerr being outcoached by James?
Two, Do The Warriors Finally And Fully Comprehend The Sports Meaning Of “Desperation?”
And Three, If Not, Do They Know Just How Galactically An Off-season With 80-Some-Odd Wins Is Going To Suck If The Some-odd Doesn’t Reach 83? After all, you know what they say about eating the bear before the bear eats you.