Well, it has finally happened. The Warriors have officially been crowned a dynasty. It seems as if the entire media world, as well as every single fan, has pretty much come to a consensus on this. Winning 3 titles in 4 years will always seal the deal on achieving dynastic status, and winning 73 games in the one season you don’t win the title especially helps in ascending permanently into the NBA’s pantheon.
The Warriors made quick work of the Cavaliers in the Finals, brushing aside the historic effort LeBron James put forward in his quest for a fourth championship. Many, including myself, predicted a brief Finals, as the Cavs were really not a strong team, and needed herculean efforts from LeBron in the Eastern Conference Playoffs to even reach the finals (besides that series against the Raptors. The Raptors really stink). Beyond the general weakness of the Cavs, the Warriors had just won a game 7 on the road against an excellent Houston Rockets team, so the Finals really appeared to be just a formality.
However, despite the narrative and appearance of a quick and easy Finals, this series was not a walk in the park for the Warriors. Yes, I know it was a sweep. I know that the Warriors won by like 30 in game 4 to seal it. Basketball is a nuanced game, however, and a series score or a game score will not tell the whole story.
First, Game 1. Let’s all be honest with ourselves. The Warriors had no business winning game 1. As has plagued them throughout this season, and their entire run at the top of the NBA, turnovers and general sloppiness were the downfall of the Dubs. As anyone who watched Warriors basketball this year can tell you, the Warriors can be the most dominant basketball team of all time. They can also look like they’re a bunch of strangers playing pickup basketball together for the first time at a local playground. Game 1 was far closer to the strangers-at-the-park side of things than the historically-great-team side. Turnovers weren’t a *huge* issue, actually, as Golden State only ended up with 8, and the Cavs finished with 4 more than them, surprisingly. Instead of turning the ball over needlessly, however, the Warriors demonstrated laziness in another way. Rebounding. The Dubs were outrebounded 64-42. Cleveland beat the Warriors 19-4 (!!!!!) on the offensive glass, which is an especially damning stat, considering the fact that allowing an offensive rebound is what almost lost the Warriors the game.
So, this is where we talk about JR Smith. As everyone knows by now, he grabbed an offensive rebound with about 5 seconds left in a tie game, and inexplicably dribbled the clock out, instead of taking a shot or calling a timeout. Without an inexplicably dumb play, the Warriors would have lost that game. But, it’s better to be lucky than good, as they say, and the Warriors survived.
Two games later, in game 3, the Warriors survived an uncharacteristically bad performance by Stephen Curry, and relied on Kevin Durant to shoot them to a victory on the road. Again, it was simply not the best game from the Warriors, and if Kevin Durant hadn’t anthropomorphized the word “efficiency” then Golden State would have lost the game.
The Warriors tied it all together in game 4, however, and rode great games from Steph and KD, a weirdly heroic effort from the three-point line from Andre Iguodala and huge minutes from JaVale McGee to a sweep to take home their second title in as many years, and their 3rd total in the past 4 seasons.
Thus concluded another NBA season. Many considered the Warriors title to be an inevitability. And while the Warriors were the favorites, and ended with the trophy in their hands, that doesn’t mean the season was boring in any way. Here are some of my highlights and lowlights from another extremely entertaining NBA season.
The Rockets take the first game of the season from the Warriors.
This game, the very first of the season, was the seed that grew the sprawling tree that is now the Warriors-Rockets rivalry. It appears as if these two teams will duke it out for the Western Conference title for the foreseeable future (pending Chris Paul’s contract negotiations), and in the very first game of the season, we got a taste of what was to come later that year in the playoffs. The Rockets beat the Warriors in an extremely tight game, and it really looked as if Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ GM, had put his “obsession” with the Warriors to good use, and had concocted a roster of extremely versatile defenders and knock down shooters that could beat the Warriors at their own game.
Gordon Hayward goes down with a gruesome ankle injury.
Hayward, the most coveted free agent of the previous summer, was playing in his very first game of his career with the Boston Celtics, in Cleveland against LeBron and the Cavs. It was both teams’ first game of the year, and the Kyrie vs. LeBron matchup (Kyrie had demanded a trade away from Cleveland during the summer) was supposed to be not only the story of the night, but the story of the entire season in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, not long after tip-off, Gordon Hayward went down with an absolutely brutal ankle injury, one that brought to mind Kevin Ware and Shaun Livingston injuries of the past. His injury cast a shadow over the game, and over the Celtics season as a whole, as Boston would constantly be wondering “what if?” for the entire year. If there was a silver lining to be found from this injury, however, it is the emergence of Jayson Tatum and the continued development of Jaylen Brown. More to come on those two later, though.
Ben Simmons rises from the ashes, as does the 76ers franchise.
Another high 76ers draft pick with an injury history (looking at you, Markelle Fultz). A story as old as time. This time, however, Ben Simmons got healthy, and then stayed healthy, and then lit the league on fire. Simmons played with the smarts and ability of an All-Star veteran, as he threaded needles with passes no one would think possible, and shut down fastbreak opportunities for his opponents with transition defense one would expect from Kawhi Leonard or Draymond Green. The Simmons and Embiid pairing instantly proved to be possibly the most exciting young duo in the league, and the future looks bright for Philadelphia (especially if Simmons can learn how to make a jump shot. Or even a free throw. Or even attempt a jump shot).
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope briefly can’t play in non-California road games.
I feel like this one kind of went under the radar, but it was one of my favorite stories. As a Warriors fan, I will always hate the Lakers, so watching KCP not only have an awful year in terms of playing basketball, but also literally not be able to travel outside of the state of California due to legal trouble was laugh out loud funny. Can you imagine not being able to play one of your starters on a random Tuesday night in Utah because them being at the gym means that they would literally be running from the government? Wild.
The Rookies take over.
Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, Bogdan Bogdanovich, Lauri Markkanen, and Dennis Smith Jr., among others, all had surprisingly good years. Those first three in particular, Simmons, Mitchell and Tatum, are star players already, and have serious potential to become the next generation of superstars in the NBA. This year’s draft class wasn’t supposed to be all that strong, but with Mitchell, Kuzma and others drastically overplaying their draft positions, a mediocre draft turned into a really good rookie class. Even Lonzo Ball, deemed a bust early in the season, started producing at a high level, and brings back memories of a young Jason Kidd or Rajon Rondo with his passing and defensive abilities.
The Utah Jazz keep winning basketball games.
The Jazz, written off by everyone following Gordon Hayward’s decision to leave for Boston, really surprised everyone this year, and even rattled off an insanely impressive winning streak of 11 straight games. This winning streak was really the coming out party for Donovan Mitchell, as he proved himself as more than just a high-volume shooting guard. Aside from Mitchell, the Jazz role players proved themselves in a big way this year. Rudy Gobert solidified himself as one of, if not the, best defensive centers in the game, and showed an ability to shoulder a bigger load on offense, as he was super efficient as the roll man in a pick and roll, and showed off really good hands in gathering pocket passes, which he would then calmly and strongly finish around the hoop. Joe Ingles, everyone’s favorite substitute teacher, also stepped up this year, and showed off his lethal shooting ability, as well a weirdly good ability to get into the paint and beat people off the dribble, despite his um, subpar athletic ability.
Giannis takes a leap forward
(That heading was kind of a pun, because of the outrageously long strides that he takes when he runs). Seriously, though, Giannis went to another level this year. I think it’s pretty clear at this point that he isn’t just a “potential” guy anymore, and that he’s a bonafide superstar. Of course, this isn’t to say that he’s top-5 or even top-10 (I think he’s top 10, but you can make the argument against it). But, he comfortably earned himself a second-team All-NBA selection this year, and led the Bucks to the playoffs. Now, one would probably want his teams to start winning a little bit more, especially considering how bad the Eastern Conference is right now, but the Bucks coaching situation this year was awful, with Jason Kidd being at the helm before he was fired, and then Joe Prunty taking over as interim head coach, so it’s hard to expect Giannis to do literally everything for his team. He’s been improving every year, though, and if he can finally develop a reliable jump shot, he will really be unstoppable.
Lillard steps it up as well.
Similar to Giannis, Damian Lillard had an excellent year this past season, and really solidified himself among the best NBA players. He earned himself a first-team All-NBA selection, and navigated Portland through the brutally tough Western conference, all the way to a playoff spot. Of course, Portland fell apart in the playoffs and got swept by the Pelicans, but they kind of always fall apart in the playoffs, so what did you expect. Speaking of playoff chokers…
The Raptors have an all-time great regular season, then get swept by the Cavs
Being a Raptors fan has to be one of the worst things ever. The team had an amazing regular season, riding their all-star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan and a youthful, surprisingly good bench, to the first overall seed in the East, and a season in which they set a myriad of franchise records as a team. But, in the end, as all Raptors seasons have during their recent successful years, they were defeated by LeBron James. This time was particularly embarrassing. After all that I mentioned, all of those records and wins, the Raptors still got swept by the Cavs. And the Cavs really weren’t all that good this year! Ah, Raptors. (also, Drake was killed by Pusha T just weeks after the Raptors season ended, so it’s been a tough go of it for all of Toronto recently)
The Kawhi Leonard and Markelle Fultz injury sagas.
Let’s start with Kawhi. He hurt his quad. He was recovering from his quad injury. All seemed normal. Then, recovery took a little longer than expected. Fine. The Spurs are known to be careful with their stars, nothing out of the ordinary. Kawhi comes back after a while, suits up for something like 9 games. Performs fine, but is clearly rusty. Then, he goes back to being inactive. It’s the quad again. Apparently, he never fully healed. Recovery once again takes longer than expected. He doesn’t play for the rest of the season. Then, the reports start coming out of San Antonio that say that he doesn’t want to play for the Spurs. Or has not talked to any coaches. That he’s living in New York with his “team,” who is telling him he needs to get to a bigger market in order to better market himself. We never fully figured out what was going on. He might have been healthy ever since he played those 9 games, but didn’t want to be in San Antonio. He may have been hesitant about coming back, and felt hurried by the Spurs’ doctors, and thus felt wronged and resentful. Maybe he gets traded this summer. Maybe he doesn’t. It’s all a big mystery, and easily the last thing anyone expected from the guy who was supposed to be the “low-maintenance superstar”.
Next, Markelle Fultz. Like Kawhi, no one really knows what happened with Fultz’s injury. He hurt his shoulder. We know that. Why didn’t he play for almost the entire season? Why didn’t the team ever update us? Why were there reports that his shoulder got hurt because he re-did his shooting motion? Why did he re-do his shooting motion in the first place? Why did he only workout behind closed doors? Is it true that he got the yips, or some kind of mental block preventing him from shooting? Has he gotten over it? There are way too many questions here, and we probably won’t ever know the answers. We’ll just have to wait to see him shoot in a game next year, and decide for ourselves.
All of the other basketball stories.
The rise of Victor Oladipo in Indiana. The shameless tanking of Dallas, Phoenix, and Memphis. The Warriors sleepwalking through the regular season. The Rockets absolutely storming through the regular season. The Boston Celtics taking the East by surprise, even after Kyrie Irving went out for the season. The race for the last playoff spots in the West, between the Nuggets (who surprised people this year, in a good way), the Pelicans (who recovered from Demarcus Cousins’ injury very well), and the Timberwolves (who really disappointed people this year. Looking at you, Andrew Wiggins). And all of the other stories.
All of the strange/funny storylines throughout the year
JR Smith throwing a bowl of soup at a Cavs’ assistant coach. The Rockets literally taking a secret tunnel underneath Staples Center in order to fight the Clippers, but really to specifically fight Austin Rivers. You had Joel Embiid talking trash to everyone on twitter, and then backing it up (until that Boston series in the playoffs). Kyrie Irving being concerned about player safety during a game where the Bucks painted their court in a throwback style, because Kyrie thought that the Bucks were literally using a court from the 1970s. Ben Simmons going an entire season (!) without even attempting a three point shot. Kristaps Porzingis very publicly courting model Jen Selter, and then Selter attending a Knicks game sitting courtside. Fergie’s awful, awful nation anthem at the all-star break. Magic Johnson being fined for tampering twice because he couldn’t stop talking about other teams’ players he wanted to sign. Bobby Portis punching Nikola Mirotic, and then the two becoming the Bulls’ best two-man combination (talk about a one-two punch am I right?). Derrick Rose just straight up leaving the Cavs in the middle of the season for no clear reason. Tom Thibodeau signing like half of his old Bulls rosters to his new team. All of that was great. BUT, it’s not the real reason the NBA was so entertaining this year. That would be….
THE BURNER ACCOUNTS.
Oh my goodness. Everyone has one! And half of them got caught! Let’s start with Kevin Durant. He was caught tweeting out messages defending himself and his decision to sign with the Warriors, and trashing Russell Westbrook and the Thunder organization. Why was he caught? Because he forgot to sign out his official, verified Kevin Durant account, and switch to one of the anonymous accounts that he made to defend himself. So, yeah. Pretty lame move. Hard to defend, to be perfectly honest. Then came the big one.
About 10 days ago, the Ringer put out a story detailing their investigation into the use of FIVE (sheesh!) anonymous, secret twitter accounts used by 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo. Colangelo, who has since been fired, and has also since put all of the blame on his wife, used the Twitter accounts to not only defend his fashion choices (people called him out for having abnormally large collars. He disagreed.), but to also, and this is really the bad part, to defend decisions made by himself and the rest of the 76ers front office, by revealing confidential team information. You really just can’t be doing that.
All in all, this NBA season was wildly entertaining. From on the court action, to off the court antics, the league played out like a reality show more than a professional sports league, and I think we’re all the better for it as fans. Entertainment is always fun, as long as it’s not your burner account getting exposed.