Like most basketball fans, I’m excited about tonight’s game seven of the NBA Finals. Yet, I’m also annoyed. It seems like two superficial narratives have overtaken one of the most compelling stories of the series.
First off let’s deal with the complaints. This isn’t the first NBA Finals where there have been some questionable calls. Here’s the issue simply. Steph Curry isn’t as good a defender as his teammates. Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala are elite defenders who move their feet to deny opponents space and access. Curry defends with his hands a lot and reaching generally results in foul calls, and it will specifically result in more foul calls when it’s such a conspicuous contrast to the rest of the Warriors. Were some of the foul calls in Game 6 ticky tack? Sure, but no more so than those in any other finals. Secondly, Game 7 isn’t a referendum on Curry or LeBron James greatness. If LeBron decided to retire over the summer he’ll still rank as one of the 10 or 12 greatest NBA players. Curry has won consecutive MVP’s, very few players in the history of *any* league have done that. This game isn’t going to prove which one is better; it’ll prove which team played better Sunday night.
Now, then the narrative that excites me and it should excite every Cavaliers is the rapid maturity of Cleveland coach Ty Lue. Lue has been an NBA head coach for less than six months! One of the Warriors biggest advantages going into this series was the difference between Lue and the Warriors Steve Kerr. Kerr is a Coach of the Year recipient who has won titles as a coach and as a player, and he has played for two of the best coaches in Association history. Lue got the job after a controversial midseason firing of David Blatt in Cleveland. Yet late in this sereis, Lue is outcoaching Kerr, out X’ing and O’ing the guy. In the early games of the series the Warriors attacked by running plays right at Cleveland’s weakest defender, Kevin Love. Lue took note; in games five and six, the Cleveland offense ran pick and rolls right at un hunh, Curry. Meanwhile on defense, Cleveland is doing exactly what the Oklahoma City Thunder did using their rangiest frontline player on Green and enabling him to rotate between defending the interior and trapping perimeter pick and rolls.
What annoys me is that this kind of strategy 101 is obscure. I’m at best a casual NFL fan (it’s what happens when you work on Sundays for 12 years), yet NFL telecasts take pains to let you know the different offensive and defensive alignments on the field and sometimes even point out zone rotations in the secondary. NBA telecasts don’t do this and neither does the coverage in nearly every avenue outside of ESPN’s Zach Lowe and some excellent blogs. We need to smarten up; the NBA has a playground element to it but there’s a lot more going on.