There are lots of people who love basketball — people who can diagram horns sets in their sleep, have a thoroughly thought-out take on what plagued the Denver Nuggets’ pick-and-roll coverage last season (Darrell Arthur and Mason Plumlee should’ve hedged more aggressively on ball-handlers to better use their mobility, duh), and have Twitter alerts set up on their phone for the latest Woj bomb. If you’re one of those people: Mazel Tov! Now scram. This isn’t the article for you.
If, however, you didn’t understand a single word of the above paragraph, welcome. But just because you’ve been too busy reveling in the golden age of television — or stocking up on canned foods for your underground bunker when Trump causes a nuclear covfefe — who’s to say you can’t catch up on the NBA Finals? You’ve still got a few hours. Here’s how to sound basketball-smart, even if you’re basketball-stupid.
The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Why does that sound familiar?
This is the Cavs’ and Warriors’ third go-around, marking the first time in NBA history that the same two teams have played in three straight Finals. Two years ago, the Warriors beat the Cavaliers in six games. Last year, the Cavs stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit and got their revenge. Lebron has played in the Finals for the past seven years, starting in 2011 with the Miami Heat, so he’s pretty much established himself as a permanent fixture this time of year. Make sure to bring this up. This is the kind of historical knowledge you can toss out there in a pinch.
Which players should I know?
Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. You already know who Lebron James is. He’s one of the most athletic players, and also one of the smartest on the court. He’s like The Rock mixed with Stephen Hawking. He’s incredibly good.
Irving and Love are no slouches either. Irving, the Cavs starting point guard is a virtuosic dribbler and shot-maker who is almost unstoppable one-on-one; he scores a ton and regularly makes the impossibly coordinated giants trying to stop look like dumb flailing babies. Irving, though, is a defensive sieve. “Kyrie Irving generates so many points for the Cavs’ offense,” you might say smartly. “Unfortunately, he costs them nearly as many with his defense”
Kevin Love, the Cavs’ power forward, is cut from similar cloth. His three-point shooting and scoring are invaluable for the Cavs. He, too, struggles on defense, especially against teams like the Warriors that force him to play on the perimeter. And have you heard that he’s Mike Love’s nephew? “This postseason is the most effective Kevin Love has played since he was traded to the Cavs three seasons ago,” you, now a master in all things Kevin Love, may remark, “but his slowness might make him almost unplayable against the Warrior’s ‘Death Lineup.’ ”
We’ll get there.
Is anyone dating a Kardashian?
Funny you should ask. Yes. Tristan Thompson, the Cavs starting center, and Khloe Kardashian have been together since August.
What about the Warriors?
Key players: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. Stephen Curry, their point guard, is the reigning two-time MVP and the best shooter of all time. Some people complain that he’s ruined basketball because his incredible shooting range has encouraged kids to eschew fundamentals and try to emulate him, and won’t somebody please think of the children!? To these people, you say: “No.”
Kevin Durant starts at small forward. Last summer he decided to join the Warriors, after spending the first seven seasons of his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who, at the time, were the Warriors’ chief rival in the Western Conference. Durant is destined to be a Hall-of-Famer on account of his knack for scoring — he’s seven feet tall but shoots, dribbles, and fluidly navigates the court like a guard. It’s practically unfair that he is on the Warriors — adding Durant to this team is the basketball equivalent of winning the lottery, then winning a second lottery, then winning a free lifetime supply of Chick-Fil-A. When the conversation turns to Durant’s decision, say: “Part of me selfishly wishes that Durant stayed in OKC because they could’ve had a great rivalry with the Warriors. Still, can you blame him for wanting a ring and to get the hell out of OKC?”
Klay Thompson, the Warriors’ shooting guard, is the second best shooter of all time and a stalwart perimeter defender. He and Steph Curry are called the “Splash Brothers,” because of their three-point prowess. Curry may be more acclaimed, but Thompson is liable to occasionally blackout and score an assload of points; in a game earlier in the season, he scored 60 points in 29 minutes. He also just seems nice. He has a very good dog named Rocco. Most interesting, he might be magic — since the day he autographed a toaster for a fan in March, the Warriors are 27-1, a run which he credits to the magic toaster. When asked about him, you say: “I like Klay Thompson. He’s a good witch.”
Draymond Green, the Warriors’ nominal power forward, is a perennial candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and the Warriors’ most important player. While Curry, Durant, and Thompson get most of the attention, Green is the team’s catalyst and bedrock. On offense, he’s an excellent passer who keeps the defense off-balance; on defense, he can credibly guard anyone alive, from the quickest point guards to the burliest centers. At 6-foot-7, Green is undersized compared to other big men, but he compensates with long arms, quickness, and lots of yelling. This is one proud asshole — last year he kept hitting people in the groin and ultimately got suspended for making deliberate forceful contact with Lebron James’s taint in game four of the Finals, which opened the window for the Cavs’ comeback and eventual triumph. “Draymond presents a weird paradox for the Warriors,” you mention. “His passion fuels their success, yet also has the potential to sabotage them.”
Can we talk about the Death Lineup now?
Sure. The “Death Lineup” is when the Warriors play Green at center alongside Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, their offensively versatile and defensively staunch sixth man, and Durant. This lineup is potent because Green and Durant are tall and strong enough to guard the other team’s big men, but the other team’s big men are not quick enough to guard them or the other three Warriors, making the Warriors basically unstoppable. However, this lineup can only be deployed in short spurts, since it requires so much energy to be effective. Whenever the Warriors look listless, just say, “They gotta play the ‘Death Lineup’ to gain momentum.”
Who’s gonna win?
Probably the Warriors. The Cavs should keep it close since they have Lebron James and the Warriors don’t, but the Warriors are still the better team overall. The Warriors have a preponderance of players who excel on both offense and defense, whereas the Cavs’ roster consists of players who specialize in either one or the other, James excluded. Still, the Cavs won last year and have proven they can beat the Warriors, so any prediction from Warriors-in-four to Cavs-in-six is defensible.
And finally, is Lebron the greatest player of all time?
Who knows? He’s a very different player than Michael Jordan was, so it’s difficult to pick one over the other, especially because there’s no objective way to quantify their respective careers. Gun to my head, I’d choose James, but Jordan is a sensible choice if you heavily weigh championships, since he has six to James’s three. They’re the clear 1a and 1b, so let’s just leave it at that. If you’re asked about this, demur; this is an unanswerable question, and worse, there’s always some be-cargo-shorted boob who insists that Kobe Bryant belongs in this conversation. Heaven forbid the aforementioned boob is your friend. If so, you need better friends.