The Cavs and Warriors are simming toward an NBA Finals threematch, which is what we all want after their seven-game masterpiece of a sequel last year. Golden State is 8–0 in the playoffs with an average margin of victory of 16.5. The margin of victory in Cleveland’s wins has been a bit smaller and the Cavs had to put together the largest halftime comeback in playoff history in Game 3 against the Pacers, but they’re also 8–0.
There’s something to be said about the historical greatness of both teams — it’s rare for a team to make the Finals at 12–0, and there’s a sizable possibility of both teams pulling it off. But it hasn’t exactly been exciting to watch. There have been fun series in these playoffs — the Celtics and Wizards pummelling each other, the Rockets-Spurs chess match, Russell Westbrook’s attempt to single-handedly beat Houston, a Jazz-Clippers series that went seven games — but it all seems unnecessary. Nobody is challenging the Cavs or Warriors, which is fine — if anybody did interfere with their epoch-defining Finals showdown, I’d be upset — but it does make the interim a bit boring.
Perhaps most affected by the tedium are the Cavs and Warriors themselves. They’ve kind of motivated themselves with the carrot of ensuring they pull off sweeps in the first few rounds to earn extra rest to preserve their bodies for later rounds. But they’ve also been spotted doing things expressly to keep themselves entertained, as if their opponents are fidget spinners to keep their minds from drifting.
These are my favorite moments of Golden State and Cleveland battling boredom during these playoffs:
7. LeBron Preventing the Raptors From Committing an Illegal Substitution
Some perceive LeBron James as a crybaby, entitled enough to presume that the NBA’s on-court representatives must protect and reward him on every play. That imaginary LeBron James would have virulently yelped at officials to draw their attention to a piddly rules violation by an opponent, but in Game 3 of the second round, James actively prevents Raptors youngster Norman Powell from committing one.
If Powell had gone to the bench, he might have been called for an illegal substitution and cost the team a technical foul, a mistake LeBron himself has made over the years. Powell didn’t have a problem with an opponent helping him, but did complain that James was trying to “son” him by grabbing his jersey instead of communicating the situation verbally. He was completely and totally sonned, a 23-year-old saved from making a stupid mistake by the charity of one of the greatest players of all time.
How James was supposed to act here is a matter for basketball ethicists to debate. We want True Basketball Heroes who prefer to beat opponents at their best, and compose mournful poems when opposing stars get hurt. But we also want players so obsessed with winning that they’d do anything — anything — to win. Do we want a player so virtuous he stops an opponent’s needless violation, or one who crafts devious plots to trick them into violating Subsection 12, Clause 8 of Rule 37B? What would Jordan do? (If your WWMJD Magic 8-Ball answers “gamble excessively,” “retire,” or “play professional baseball,” shake it again.)
Personally, I think — or at least I hope — that in a pivotal moment of a crucial game, James would have let his enemy screw up. I truly cannot imagine the screechgasm Skip Bayless would have the morning after LeBron lost the Finals because he stopped Klay Thompson from inbounding the ball illegally. But he felt comfortable saving the Raptors a point — at least it kept the game close.
6. Ian Clark Shooting Pool With Rudy Gobert
This happened between Games 3 and 4. Gobert sent it out on Snapchat, which means it sadly disappeared. It’s explainable — Clark isn’t the Warriors’ best player by a few miles, and he and Gobert have a friendship that dates back to when Clark was on the Jazz and he and Gobert were repeatedly sent down to the D-League together. It probably wasn’t even competitive — Gobert and Clark have publicly discussed how much better Gobert is at pool.
I’m going to L.A. for work next week, and I’m trying to make sure I have some free time in between work stuff to say hi to people I know who live in L.A. I enjoy that an NBA player is treating his business trip the same way. “Hey man, I know we haven’t talked in a while, but I’m in town for a big meeting next Wednesday. Maybe we can grab a beer Tuesday night after I beat your team by 27?”
5. LeBron and Draymond Troll Fans
During Game 4, LeBron had time to WHAT ARE THOSE a fan’s shoes:
Lesson: Don’t spend thousands before you spend $495 on the new ZO2 Primes.
Draymond Green was a little bit more involved. He actively tried to antagonize the Utah fan base:
And signed a sign meant to dis him:
He admitted the Jazz fans fueled his fire:
“Their fans talk a little too much … shut up. No, I wasn’t really feeling their fans. Shut up. They don’t make sense. Some guy kept telling me to shoot the ball. Do you not realize I’m shooting 55 percent from 3 this series? Why would you want me shooting the basketball when I’m shooting that great? Now of course I missed a few last night and like, whatever. I’m gonna shoot the piss out of it tomorrow, so that’s cool. Their fans just weren’t very smart. They talk too much. Shut up.”
Playing the Raptors and Jazz was not interesting. Playing their fans kind of was.
4. Roasting Channing Frye’s Shirtlessness
I can’t understand most of what is being yelled here, but I do know that (a) the Cavs are having a lot of fun and (b) Channing Frye, a 33-year-old millionaire, ends it by endorsing Hot Topic clothing.
3. LeBron Spins a Basketball During a Game
LeBron said it was “bait,” and that he was using the move to suss out how Serge Ibaka was going to guard him, and that it wasn’t meant to be disrespectful.
But the fact that LeBron wasn’t actively trying to disrespect Ibaka doesn’t change what was happening here — he was taking a moment to ponder the best way to destroy Ibaka. It was the same mindset that went into LeBron making himself shoot lefty during a game for no particular reason. He’s just trying to figure out how to entertain himself during basketball games that were boring him.
2. LeBron Faux-Drinks a Beer
With a 16-point lead in Game 1 against the Raptors, after missing an and-1 layup, LeBron spotted a server carrying beer and pretended to take a swig:
I would’ve expected this in a situation where the play brought LeBron near the server, but no. He committed to the joke from a distance. He saw the beer from about 15 feet away, thought, Hey, she has alcohol! You know what’d be funny?, and proceeded to gallop over in her direction to complete the joke.
LeBron James has played 1,268 NBA games, playoffs included, and there have been servers carrying food and beer on the sidelines in each one of them. But only in this moment did he think of this joke.
After the game LeBron clarified he prefers red wine — we know, dude, we see your Instagram — and in the days after he took issue with the brewery tweeting the picture of him with the beer, since NBA players aren’t allowed to endorse alcohol. With that said, you should all drink the Edmund Fitzgerald porter by the Great Lakes Brewing Company. It is good.
1. Golden State Players Complain About Utah Nightlife
After the Jazz beat the Clippers in Game 7 in the first round, Andre Iguodala and Matt Barnes complained that they had been rooting for the Clippers, because Utah has “no nightlife,” especially in comparison to L.A. Utah turned that into a little bit of a gag — Jazz forward Joe Ingles offered the Warriors a car so they could drive to Las Vegas, the Jazz made T-shirts, and the city’s tourism bureau even launched a website. Apparently, this was the first time anybody pointed out that the city where bartenders once had to stand behind big glass walls to produce drinks in restaurants is not exactly party central.
But jokes aside, I don’t think we analyzed this line of commentary with the seriousness it deserved. This was Utah’s first trip to the second round of the playoffs since 2010. Meanwhile, Iguodala feared the basketball wouldn’t even be interesting enough to keep him motivated:
For years we’ve assumed cities with stellar social scenes like Miami had a home-field advantage. Visiting players would come to town, party too hard, and end up hungover and weakened for games. The Warriors posited the opposite. Clubbing is apparently crucial to maintaining their circadian rhythms and mental stability.
Yes, the basketball has been boring. But seeing the Warriors and Cavs demonstrate how unchallenged they are by a series of very good basketball teams has been inspiring. They have reached a plane where partying is not a distraction, but a critical tool to ensuring they remain stimulated mentally against opponents who aren’t up to the challenge. Watching these apex predators play with their prey might not be as thrilling as a fair hunt, but it’s arguably as fascinating. You just have to give up hope for the soon-to-be food.