The Road to the Finals: Duel For The Decade
What more can we say about these two teams? This is the fourth straight year these two teams have matched up in the NBA Finals. The rosters have changed, résumés have changed, and the stakes are slightly higher. Allow me to explain.
Two months ago, this blog published an article regarding NBA history and how the decades tell the tale. NBA history is very easy to skim over if you’re in a rush. George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers drove history in the 1950s, Russell’s Celtics dominated the 1960s, a dark age of drugs and tape delays plagued the 1970s, Magic and Bird saved the game in the 1980s, Jordan took the game globally in the 1990s, and Tim Duncan/Kobe/Shaq defined the 2000s era of basketball. The 2010s were supposed to be the LeBron era. And for a time, it was without question. LeBron has appeared in all but one NBA Finals (2010), his movement controlled the league and what teams were doing, and he was winning. That was until a team in the East Bay rose to prominence.
Now think back to the Summer of 2014. The dynastic ambitions of the Miami Heat had been killed on a warm night in San Antonio. Following this, LeBron returned to Cleveland to join forces with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with two rings in his back pocket. The Warriors were nowhere in the title picture. Hiring Steve Kerr just looked like a team desperate to take the next step from first-round eliminations. Now consider what we know now: The Cavs would go on to appear in three-straight NBA Finals. Also, imagine a scenario where the Warriors don’t exist. Could LeBron beat a James Harden-Dwight Howard Rockets team on his own? There’s a good chance he could’ve done it. Could he have led the now healthy Cavs to a Finals victory over the KD-Russ Thunder? I believe he could. Could he make it three in a row by beating his old nemesis in the San Antonio Spurs? Once again, I believe he could. Without the existence of the Warriors, LeBron could have had five rings, looking for his sixth, and have a 5-2 Finals record. The GOAT debate would be over (though some people already believe it’s over). Unfortunately for LeBron, the Warriors do exist and they look poised to build a dynasty at his expense.
What the Warriors have done to LeBron’s era is cut it in half. Yes, LeBron is still the best player of this decade. But ever since 2015, LeBron has not been the game’s driving force. That distinction belongs to Golden State. They have a transcendent player in Steph Curry that has ushered in a new style of play. Golden State took LeBron’s Miami blueprint to its apex with the Kevin Durant signing. Ever since 2015, the league has been dictated by them. How to beat them, how to be like them, how to join them, and so on. All we can say about LeBron is that he’s the best player. And for the first time in NBA history, it feels like that title is a little empty. So let’s say the Warriors win another championship. Who would this decade belong to then? And since they’ll likely be favored again next season, what if the Warriors make it three in a row and four out of five to close the decade? Just a thought about what’s on the line here. While this series likely won’t impact anyone’s legacy, it will write history. But once again, these are just my thoughts.