With seven seconds left in overtime last night, reigning MVP and consensus Quite-Possibly-the-Best-Shooter-Ever Stephen Curry took a hard dribble from the left side, stepped back, lofted a rainbow jumper from 19 feet, and…airballed it.
It was just that kind of night for Steph, who finished 5-23 from the field, 2-15 from 3. Two for fifteen. That’s 13%, which is, like, really bad, you know?
LeBron James, on the other hand, was a steamroller. He ended up with 39 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists. And he was even better than the numbers indicate. He more or less, as I was afraid he might, willed the Cavaliers to victory against a superior team.
And the Warriors are the superior team, make no mistake about that. Even with Steph having his worst game in recent memory, the home team hung in there all the way, coming back from 11 points down with 3:14 left to force overtime.
But while the Cavs are clearly the lesser team, they are playing like underdogs should play: desperate, scrambling, making the Warriors work for everything. And much as in Game 2 of the Memphis series, the W’s didn’t seem to know quite how to respond to how they were being challenged. They’ve been so dominant for so long that they sometimes have this look of, “How dare you have the temerity to play that hard against us?”
That sense of entitlement needs to go, and it probably will, as the Warriors suffer through two days (and that’s two weeks in Internet time) of stories about how the Cavs are ascendant, the Dubs’ weaknesses have been exposed, Steph Curry is a fraud who should return his MVP award, and Riley is more interested in kissing her grandfather than what’s happening in the goddamn game.
And all of those things are true, to a greater or lesser extent:
– You have to be impressed with how the Cavs bounced back from the loss of Kyrie Irving. Their defense was simply superb, and their offense got enough from non-LeBrons to stay afloat. They had some help from the officials, who seem to think that Timofey Mozgov is entitled to take as many steps with the ball as he likes. But they also got some questionable calls or non-calls against them down the stretch, so on the whole you have to say they won this game fair and square.
– All throughout these playoffs there have been those persistent whispers that “jump shooting teams can’t win championships.” That is the conventional wisdom, and in this game we saw why: When a jump-shooting team meets disciplined perimeter defense they have a hard time finding shots, and if the shots they do get aren’t going down, they have no fallback position. Warriors center Andrew Bogut was not looking for his shot at all, and their best post player, David Lee, never got on the court. Steve Kerr needs to figure out what to do about this, and I’m sure he’s probably working on it this very minute.
– Steph Curry is not a fraud, but he is a human being. I’m not so sure that LeBron James is. LBJ’s absurd combination of soft skills and Terminator physique was on full display last night, and it is no insult to Steph to point out that he is not the same kind of player. He cannot put his head down and run over people like a boulder rolling through tall grass. He has to play his game his way, and I trust that in Game 3 he will.
– That is true about Riley and while it was cute at the time, there’s a part of me that thinks it might help Daddy’s shot if you were watching the game, baby girl. I’m guessing Riley won’t be in the crowd in Cleveland, but let’s get her down at courtside for Game 5.
This thing is already going long, but I don’t want to leave off without saying, with a straight face and in all sincerity, what a blessing it is that I got to watch my favorite team play in such an exciting game in the NBA Finals, even though they lost. The atmosphere at the Arcata Theater Lounge was not quite as intense as it had been for Game 1, but there was still a lot of energy in the air, a tribe of people living and dying with each little momentum swing.
One of those came with 24 seconds left in overtime, when LeBron had gotten past Andre Iguodala for what looked to be an uncontested dunk, and out of nowhere appeared Undersized Power Forward Draymond Green. Somehow a leaping Draymond matched LeBron’s elevation and strength, met him at the top, and sent the shot away. After that it seemed inconceivable that the Warriors would lose, but maybe that word doesn’t mean what I think it means.
If the W’s had won, people would be talking about that block for decades to come. As it is, it will be a footnote that only you and I and maybe Shea Serrano will remember. But in the moment, it was truly transcendent – like, of course Draymond can block LeBron’s shot; of course anything is possible. In these rare instants one is freed from the inhibiting bonds of linear thinking, given a glimpse of some higher and better realm. And then maybe you come crashing down to earth, hard. It’s still worth it.