Look, I like the Warriors. Watching this Golden State team when they’re hot offensively remains one of the most enthralling basketball things I’ve ever seen. People have said the Warriors are ruining basketball with how easily they win, which is basically the greatest compliment anybody has seriously levied at any NBA team.
And I actually kinda liked the Finals. Game 1 was one of the best LeBron performances we’ve ever seen. Game 2 was one of the best Steph Curry games we’ve ever seen. Game 3 was one of the best Kevin Durant games we’ve ever seen. That’s what I wanted going in.
But then there was Game 4. I love basketball, and perhaps slightly more than I love basketball, I love watching teams that have just won basketball championships. And I think I can confidently say that the Warriors’ close-out victory was the least entertaining championship-clinching game I’ve ever watched.
Statistically, we just saw the most lopsided NBA Finals ever. The Warriors swept the series while outscoring the Cavaliers by a combined 60 points, the largest Finals margin of victory ever. But the first three games of the series were all relatively close—Game 1 went to overtime, Game 2 was a seven-point game in the fourth quarter, Game 3 was tied with three minutes left. The last time Game 4 was even within single digits was the start of the second half. The Warriors led by 21 at the end of the third quarter and 23 at the end of the fourth.
But even a championship blowout can be exciting, as we watch players get closer and closer to achieving a goal they’ve dreamed about for their entire lives, with the fans in the stands celebrating the clock’s countdown like it’s 11:58 on New Year’s Eve. But it was hard to get that Friday night, as the Warriors twiddled their thumbs in front of a Cleveland crowd that accepted their fate. It started to seem odd that, with about six minutes left, the Cavs still had their starters in—before you remembered that this was an NBA Finals elimination game. It didn’t seem like it, as the Cavs seemed resigned to their fate for most of the second half. The crowd and effort level felt like January, not June.
LeBron James left the game with about four minutes left, dapping up every player on the court before exiting. His exit immediately turned the focus of the game from the fact that the NBA’s championship was about to be decided to the fact that James might be playing his last game as a Cavalier. Here’s the most depressing tweet I’ve ever read:
Pretty devastating scene in the Cavs locker room. LeBron, ice on his knees, feet in an ice bucket, right hand wrapped in ice and a towel over his head is slumped back in his chair. Everyone else quiet with 1000 yard stares.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) June 9, 2018
The most damning thing about Friday night is that the Warriors, champions for the third time in four years, just didn’t seem that excited about winning. We’ve seen Steph Curry celebrate 3s by shimmying or pumping up the crowd; we know he can get genuinely excited. This, however, is what a dude looks like when he’s happy, but knows he needs to kick it up a notch for his rookie teammate:
The thing I will remember most about Golden State’s on-court celebration was owner Joe Lacob delivering a 32-minute long joy vacuum of a speech in an already-empty Cleveland arena. The iconic moment of the celebration was Wikipedia maven Klay Thompson Googling himself to see whether the Internet had correctly updated to call him a three-time NBA champion:
Klay reacts to google’ing himself and it now saying “3-time NBA Champion” lmaooo pic.twitter.com/dJsEiOxPPl— LeRob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) June 9, 2018
For some reason, “he just Googled himself!” doesn’t quite have the same ring as “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!” to me.
It should be noted that some of Golden State’s players seemed genuinely thrilled. First-time NBA champ Nick Young couldn’t contain his excitement, on the court or off it. Rookie Jordan Bell got to slur his words on live television:
But the veteran Warriors, like Curry, Thompson, and Durant, couldn’t get that hyped. It does seem like they were excited about the prospect of partying with each other later, but knew the real fun couldn’t start while cameras were rolling.
One of the criticisms of this Golden State team was that they often lacked urgency, knowing that they could sleepwalk through a first half, but had enough talent to blow teams out with a third-quarter knockout punch if they just kept things close. Amazingly, they attacked their post-victory moments with the same detached logic. They have become so familiar with the ebb and flow of a victory post-game that they knew how to properly conserve their energy for the less important parts. It was the most clinical championship celebration I’ve ever seen.