Monday, June 6, 2016

Golden State Warriors Dismantle Cavs for 2-0 Series Lead

The Golden State Warriors, despite their struggles thus far in the playoffs - particularly against OKC - nonetheless were a historically successful team. Not only are they the defending champs, and should be afforded the respect that such a position requires, but during the regular season, they were the winning team in NBA history. And despite getting into trouble in the Western Conference Finals, they ultimately survived and made it back into the NBA Finals, even after so many people had written them off.

Yet still, prior to the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James boldly predicted that the Cavaliers, who had not lost a single playoff contest to the point, would sweep their way not only through the Eastern Conference Finals, but through the NBA Finals, as well. It did not matter who they would play, according to James. It could be OKC, or it could be Golden State. Not only was this Cleveland's year, but he basically predicted that they would win the title with an unprecedented level of dominance.

Now, I will admit to never having been a big fan of what amounts to bragging. True, it can be exciting when it comes true. We just lost the GOAT ("Greatest of all time") in Muhammad Ali, and he sure liked to boast and make wild predictions. But usually, he made those predictions come true. So did Joe Namath in Super Bowl III. Mark Messier predicted the Rangers would stave off elimination in Game 6 at New Jersey during the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, and despite being down by two goals at the time, Messier himself scored the hat trick to get the Rangers through and force a decisive Game 7 - which the Rangers ultimately won, on their way to the Stanley Cup. And I can still remember how exciting it was to watch Reggie Miller, when he began to feed off of someone, particularly Spike Lee.

However, for each instance like this, you get other predictions and guarantees that go flop. The Knicks, particularly Patrick Ewing, made a habit of predicting championships, although the Knicks during his era never won one. Numerous members of the Denver Broncos boldly predicted that they would stun the prohibitive favorites, the San Francisco 49ers, in Super Bowl XXIV. They lost, 55-10. Several Buffalo Bills players expressed disappointment that the Giants had beaten the 49ers to reach Super Bowl XXV, and one Bills player let everyone know that he was getting his finger measured for a championship ring. The Bills fought hard, but lost, Super Bowl XXV, the first of four straight losses in the big game. In 1994, following the lead of the 1985 Chicago Bears, the Pittsburgh Steelers made a music video, drawing attention to themselves. Later in the playoffs, they lost at home to San Diego, who were the big underdogs, and who got dismantled in the Super Bowl. Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers claimed that they were the new dynasty in the NFL after winning Super Bowl XXXI, but they lost convincingly to the Denver Broncos in the next title game, and never returned again during the Favre era. In 2011, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade poked fun at Dirk Nowitzski's illness during a game, and just appeared overly cocky as the Heat were favored to win it all. But the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in that series. Lennox Lewis got into trouble a couple of times himself by being cocky in the boxing ring, but the most famous example of this came in South Africa, when he had failed to train properly for the higher altitude. He was clearly struggling during the fight that he was heavily favored for, but instead of taking extra precautions, he dropped his gloves and dared Rahman to give him his best punch. Rahman did, and Lewis collapsed, failing to beat the count and losing his world title. 

So, why James felt the need to speak up about how dominating his Cavaliers would be in these playoffs, well before they actually won a title, is beyond me. He himself already got into trouble during an NBA Finals controversy, when he and teammate Wade showed immaturity in poking fun at the sickness of an opposing player. You might have thought that this incident, coupled with Miami's surprised loss in the series, would teach him something about respecting opponents. Apparently not.

In fact, the Cavs struggled a bit in the Eastern Conference Finals when the Raptors managed to win Games 3 and 4 at home. Yes, Cleveland was the superior team in that series, and showed it by winning the series convincingly. 

But remember, he claimed the Cavaliers would be perfect throughout the playoffs. 

Now, the Cavaliers have suffered two more losses to start this NBA Finals, essentially being beat down in both games in Oakland. They will return to Cleveland to try and make a series of this, but the pressure is really on, and personally, I do not think that James's prediction helped the Cavaliers, so much as it hurt them. 

The Golden State Warriors showed character by overcoming a 3-1 series lead by OKC, and won three straight games wile facing elimination. That is a rare achievement, but the Warriors managed it nonetheless, with their backs against the wall.

Now, the Cavaliers are not quite in that dire of a predicament, but they need to start winning games, and fast. They cannot afford to lose either of the next two games in Cleveland, or there will be a sinking feeling that this series is over. And LeBron James, who sometimes seems more preoccupied with trying to clarify his legacy of greatness rather than of doing what it takes to win series like this, needs to do more than simply predict clean sweeps. He needs to forget the idea of dominance over his opponents, and just focus on winning one game at a time. 

Otherwise, these Cavaliers, who have been the most exciting thing to happen to the city of Cleveland in terms of sports in a long while, will be just one more story of disappointment and disillusionment. 

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