Watching the Golden State Warriors’ emphatic NBA Finals Game 1 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, a thought kept entering my head. Yes, I was spellbound by Kevin Durant’s performance, a 38-point night which seemedunfair. I was amazed by Stephen Curry’s movement and shooting. I admired Kevin Love’s 21 rebounds and LeBron James’ continued brilliance.
But there was an inescapable thought I couldn’t get out of my head while watching the entire thing, a perverse notion that made me chuckle every single time: Can you imagine if the poor Celtics were in this series?
Game 1 served as a vicious reminder that these two teams are so far above everyone else in the NBA right now it’s laughable. The Cavaliers, who just steamrolled through the entire Eastern Conference, needing just 13 games to reach the NBA Finals? They looked completely overmatched in Game 1. The Warriors rolled them, and the scariest part of that was that, other than Durant and Curry, the Warriors didn’t shoot the ball well. They were rusty … and smashed the team that was clearly the East’s best by 22.
The Warriors won with their defense and by taking care of the ball. If Klay Thompson and the other shooters wake up … well, there’s a reason they’re being talked about as one of the greatest teams of all time.
But try to imagine the Celtics in this series against the Warriors. The Celtics, who won 53 games this season and finished first in the Eastern Conference … What would they do? Yes, Brad Stevens would be able to get some buckets for them off of inbounds plays and smart offense. The Celtics guards would make life hard for Curry and Thompson at times. If Isaiah Thomas was healthy, he’d score some buckets.
But who is guarding Durant? Jae Crowder? Jaylen Brown? [Gulp] Kelly Olynyk?
If the Wizards are more your speed, imagine them in this NBA Finals against the Warriors. Sure, their starting five could hang with the Warriors starting five for a few minutes. But what would happen when they went to the bench, and the Warriors put out a second unit featuring Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and one of the shooters (heck, just pick one)? And the Wizards would put out … Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings.
I’m not trying to be mean or laugh at these teams. (Though it is a little funny.) It’s just so stark looking at it this way. I texted my friends David and Jesse, both NBA fans, last night, saying I couldn’t help but think the Celtics would lose every game to the Warriors by 60.
David provided a little more nuanced analysis: “The Celtics would have nobody to guard anybody.”
The Celtics would have nobody to guard anybody. That’s it right there. Looking at the ball movement last night, the depth, the totality of the Warriors’ excellence, the fact that, when all else failed, they could go to Durant – a seven-footer with 28-foot range and handles – to get them a bucket, it just became so clear that these teams were so far and away better than everyone else.
In the West, sure the Spurs or the Rockets could maybe hang with the Cavaliers in a series, but I still think James and Co. put them away. And then you have this Warriors team.
If I’m an NBA executive for another team watching this series, it would be hard not to think: Forget it. Let’s stock up with young guys and wait for the salary cap to break these teams up, or wait for them all to retire, becausewhat is the point? The Warriors and the Cavaliers are that good.
I have no idea if this is good or bad for the league. I really don’t. Yes, the competitive balance is out of whack. But man, it was also fun watching a team as good as the Warriors were last night, a team playing the game as well as I’ve ever seen it played. (I hope the Cavaliers can win a game or two here and at least give us a series that is fun to watch. I think they’ll be able to. They’re a phenomenal team, and they were sloppy on Thursday night.)
The Warriors and the Cavaliers should give us beautiful basketball. And a nightly reminder that no one else in the NBA is even close to these two teams.