Wednesday, June 10, 2015

NBA Finals Game 3

   “If you can bend and not break,” said Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt after last night’s 96-91 win over the Golden State Warriors to take a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals, “you’ve always got a chance.”
   The guy’s not from here, but he’s starting to sound like the most Cleveland-like Massachusetts-bred joint citizen of Israel you’ve ever met in your life.
   Underestimated. Maligned by outsiders. Threatened with reckless, sadistically gleeful rumors of imminent unemployment.
   As a kid, he was a scrappy, undersized irritant of a point guard whose mother instilled in him a nerdy love of books literally by throwing The Iliad at his head[1]. He grew up to be a vagabond coach widely admired by peers throughout the world but who somehow, until this year, never got what, deep down, he was yearning for — a decent offer to coach in the U.S.
   Yes, after he was hired, LeBron James then fell in his lap, a preposterously lucky break but certainly nothing that made his new gig easy.
   But the coach heard from a young man of his acquaintance  — some kid who was born and raised here  — that in Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
   And that was music to David Blatt’s ears.

   Dare we call the glass half full?
   Dare we call the Finals half won?
   Dare we greet the news that a whopping 84 percent[2] of teams that take a 2-1 lead in the Finals go on to win the title with happiness? Rather than, Oh hell, I just jinxed it! Thompson, at least, was a lottery pick and an important part of the team’s rotation from Day One.

Speaking of percentages
   I’ve seen it in person now, with my own eyes, and I can verify that nobody employed by the Cavs has betrayed even a smallest hint of surprise at the play of the replacements for the missing 67 percent of the Big Three.
   As for everybody else, Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson have emerged as exponentially better players than even the biggest homers would have dared hope.
   Nobody — be they on Dan Gilbert’s payroll or be they otherwise — is suggesting that Cleveland is better off without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love[3]. In fact, it seems pretty likely that if those guys were healthy, Cleveland would be dominating Golden State rather than eking out wins that make it hard to breathe or get to sleep afterward[4].
   Here’s the thing, though: The Cavs sort of are dominating the Warriors.
   They’re utterly dictating the pace and style of play, marching the ball down the court, slowing the game down, muscling up man-to-man defense and dominating the boards. The Warriors know what they’re doing and, as yet, they’ve been unable to do much about it. Even Golden State’s late-game runs have only once (in their overtime win in Game 1) appreciably altered the pace of play.
   The smartest basketball minds around are scrambling to figure out how this is happening and mostly failing to do so. And then there’s this meme, which, at this point in this exhausting and wondrous season, is probably as good an explanation as any:

   That said, the other players on the Beacon Town Beavers were garbage. Scott “Teen Wolf” Howard had to carry them. But the Cavs’ Teen Wolf is just a difference-making, overachieving role player — “the most Cleveland-like Australian I have ever met in my life,” said David Blatt.
   It’s LeBron, that most regal and fearsome of NBA alpha dogs, who’s carrying this team.

[1] Yes, it’s more complicated than that. Blatt recalls the incident fondly.
[2] That’s 47 out of 56.
[3] OK, there are a few hot-take hacks out there saying that, but they’re idiots.
[4] Speaking personally. Though I know I’m not alone.

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