A few minutes into the third quarter of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals between the Warriors and the Spurs, Zaza Pachulia, either by accident or on purpose (but definitely on purpose), slid his foot under Kawhi Leonard as Kawhi, the light in my heart and the joy of my life, attempted a jumper. Kawhi came down, landed on Zaza’s foot, turned his already injured ankle, and then, just like that, poof! The promise of an interesting and competitive and fun series vanished forever. Kawhi missed the rest of that game (the Spurs were minus-25 after he left, which of course makes sense; it was like yanking the engine out of a car and then dropping that car into the Daytona 500), and he missed Game 2, too. So now the Spurs are down 2–0 and have to beat the Warriors (with Kevin Durant) four times in five games to advance to the Finals, a task comparable to eating an entire submarine or running a one-minute mile.
It’s clear that, barring some sort of bizarro accident where Steph Curry and Kevin Durant and Draymond Green all get hurt at the exact same time (maybe they all clonk heads together reaching for whatever pretend slight it is they think has been thrown at them), the Warriors are going to win that series. (To be sure, they were heavy favorites to win it even before Kawhi had his leg axed in half.) Additionally, it’s also clear that the Cavaliers are going to beat the Celtics in their conference finals matchup. And so, rather than ask Who’s Going To Win?, it feels more appropriate (and also more fun) to ask: What’s More Likely … ? Let’s pair some smaller potential story lines and figure out which of the two has the greater likelihood of coming true.
What’s More Likely: The Spurs win two or more games against the Warriors, or the Celtics win two or more games against the Cavaliers?
Neither one of these seems very likely. The Cavs were dominant against the Celtics this season; I keep flashing back to that late-season game between them where the Cavs just pretzeled up the Celtics and tossed them in a dumpster. And the Cavs have been extra dominant in these playoffs: They’re averaging more points per game than Boston, more rebounds per game, shooting a higher overall percentage from the field, and also shooting a higher percentage from 3. And the Cavs are definitely going to start out with an advantage seeing as they’ve played approximately one playoff game in the past four months and the Celtics finished their Game 7 win over the Wizards and then had to start preparing for Game 1 against the Cavs 30 minutes later. So that’s all definitely bad for the Celtics.
THAT SAID, I think you still have to lean the Celtics’ way for this category, if only because the Spurs have already gone down two to the Warriors, which means they’d have to go 2–1 to get to two games won. Meanwhile the Celtics could go 2–3 to get to two games won since their series hasn’t started yet. The Celtics just have more slack in their rope, is all.
What’s more likely: Steph Curry dunks in a game or Isaiah Thomas loses another tooth?
Tough. Steph Curry dunked only three times during the regular season, and he has dunked exactly zero times in the playoffs. Isaiah Thomas lost zero teeth during the regular season, but he has lost one tooth in the playoffs. This one’s a toss-up. I’m going with Isaiah, mostly because his teeth are almost always elbow-high when he’s on a basketball court.
What’s more likely: We get another Marcus Smart vs. LeBron James dustup or Draymond Green receives more than three technical fouls in this round?
Without looking it up, how many technical fouls do you think Draymond Green had this past regular season? Here’s a hint: It was the most of his career, and seven times as many as he had his rookie season. Here’s another hint: He did not break the all-time record for techs in a season. That still belongs to Rasheed Wallace, who received 41 of them in a YEAR, which is goddamn incredible. So how many was it? How many techs do you think Draymond had?
Answer: Draymond had only 14 technical fouls in the 2016–17 season. That’s it. I thought it was way more than that. I assumed he was definitely in the 20s, and possibly into the 30s. But nope: just 14. And here’s a thing that will surprise you: That’s actually the same amount that the charming, beautiful, cherubic, tiny little hummingbird Isaiah Thomas had. Isaiah is a sneaky devil, it seems. Or maybe it’s one of those situations where he’s just so cute that him doing something wrong doesn’t even bother you, like when you let a puppy chew on your fingers and you giggle while he growls.
Anyway, I say all of that to say: Draymond is very good at walking all the way up to that You’re About To Get T’d Up line without stepping over it. (The only player in the NBA better is Patrick Beverley, who is an absolute master at charming referees during dead balls.) I don’t figure Draymond gets more than two techs this round, if even that.
Marcus Smart, however, will absolutely get into it with LeBron in the coming days. It will happen because (a) they have a history that already includes Marcus trying to run up on LeBron; (b) they have a history that includes LeBron openly mocking and disrespecting Marcus, and I’m talking about that time last month when he blocked Marcus and then high-fived people in the stands IN BOSTON; and, maybe most importantly, (c) Marcus ain’t afraid of shit. This one is happening. Book it.
A semirelated sidebar: I remember watching that clip in real time of LeBron blocking Marcus’s shot and then high-fiving those Boston fans and then being disappointed in them for it. The more I think about it, though, the less upset I am. I mean, it’s LeBron we’re talking about. How many times in your life do you get a chance to high-five him, right? I wonder how disrespectful he would have to be to me or someone I know before he reached out for a high-five and I didn’t oblige him. It’d have to be pretty bad, I think. Like, if it was Christmas Eve and we were all at my mom’s house and he walked in and started making fun of her to her face and he said some tasteless Yo’ Mama joke and then turned around and reached out to me for a confirmation high-five while he and his entourage were all laughing at her, I think there’s still an 85 percent chance that I’d high-five him right there just out of respect for his playoff run this past decade. :(
What’s more likely: Kawhi Leonard sends a tweet or Gregg Popovich says the word "Twitter" during a press conference or a between-the-quarters interview or a huddle during a timeout?
Two things here:
(1) The advantage has to go to Pop. He just says so many things, especially during the playoffs, like that time he was shouting "I want some nasty" during a playoff game, or that time he told his team, "The next guy that misses a free throw is gonna buy me a new car" during a playoff game. Seems much more likely that he’d somehow work the word "Twitter" into something than Kawhi actually sending a tweet, which has happened only four times in the three years that he’s had an account.
(2) The best thing about Kawhi Leonard’s Twitter account is that he started it in June 2014, after he won Finals MVP. I hope that it was a thing where, up late one night — like 10 p.m. or even 10:30 p.m. — he decided he really wanted to let loose, and so he drank a big glass of water (not a normal glass of water, though; it was one of those ones where you pour that powdered flavoring into it and it makes it taste like bad lemonade or whatever) and then opened a Twitter account using a desktop computer.
What’s more likely: Kevin Durant mentions Russell Westbrook (directly or indirectly) during the postgame celebration after the Warriors advance to the Finals or Russell Westbrook sends a cryptic Kevin Durant message of some sort after the Warriors advance to the Finals?
Both of these things are either extremely likely to happen or extremely unlikely to happen, if that makes any sense. If Kevin does it, it’s probably going to be by accident. Someone will ask him what it means to get back to the Finals and he’ll say something like, "I was in a spot before where we got the Finals once and weren’t able to get it done …" and then a mega tidal wave of "Kevin Durant Throws Shade at Russell Westbrook"–type articles is going to wash across all of Basketball Internet so quickly and so ferociously that nobody will survive.
If Westbrook does it, it’s going to be on purpose, and it’s going to be a thing he’s been planning since the day after Durant left. It’s gonna be like one of those Rube Goldberg machines — that’s how complex and creative it’s going to be. There will be 100 pieces and 1,000 movements, all of which will get stitched together perfectly into this gorgeous "Wait, Russy Has Been Working on This Since Last Summer" culmination, like how they used to always do with the final two episodes of Breaking Bad each season. That’s how it’s going to happen. Or it won’t happen at all. It’s a coin flip, really.