Editorials — June 9, 2015 13:30 — 2 Comments

NBA Finals Predictions Game 3

Willie Fitzgerald, Spike Friedman, Shaun Scott, Leah Baltus and I (Jake) love basketball and the NBA. We’ll be riveted tonight watching the third game of what could be one of the greatest Finals matchups in recent history. Leading up to the show, we couldn’t help but offer our predictions. Here they are:


Shaun Scott: In tumultuous times, we need to have a conversation about why the 2015 NBA Finals matter. I mean, black lives do; and so does the 2016 presidential election. The sustained dialogue we’ve been having about gay and trans identity because of Caitlyn Jenner is important, too. But why do the Finals matter?

As the series heads back to Cleveland tied 1-1, LeBron’s transcendent talent is unfolding in all the ways that his most prominent detractors insisted it wouldn’t. Anybody who has ever been overworked at home or in the office, or underpaid relative to wealthy employers can identify with the way he’s squeezed the last ounce of potential out of a severely injured Cavs roster these last few weeks. He might not have won the MVP (and we’re crazy if we think Kevin Love’s midseason statement that Russell Westbrook deserved the award isn’t motivating LeBron in these Finals), but he’s in the middle of showing why he probably should’ve gotten a nod for Coach of the Year.

But why does this matter? What exactly is at stake in these games? What does the triumph of the definitive Millennial athlete mean societally? Why has the nation suddenly taken to cheering for Cleveland? Is it absurd that I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a children’s game played by multi-millionaires? Aren’t all of us who are participating in this post writing from the Seattle-area?; wouldn’t it be absurd of us to not recognize that Cleveland deserves the same outpour of civic goodwill as we enjoyed when the Seahawks won in 2014? The NBA may be a massive distraction, but as far as distractions go, isn’t it excellent?

Jake Uitti: One thing I’ve thought is odd about basketball, or sports in general, is how I can look at the TV and just know who I’m rooting for. I don’t choose, I don’t argue with myself, I look up and something inside – my heart?? – tells me I’m either rooting for Golden State or Cleveland. And this series, it’s the LeBrons.

I lived in Cleveland for a very short time before moving to Seattle, so there’s that. I know how rusty that section of the rust belt is, how the team and it’s centerpiece superhuman is so important to the culture and the economy. But, Shaun, your question is poignant: why does this series matter culturally?

I always think of the meat-head yellers who I’ll eventually see in a bar disparaging LeBron for whatever reason – his money, their arrogance, their thinly veiled self-hatred – if he loses/chokes and I don’t want those fools to have a platform to bitch. So, seeing James win would nullify those voices. Also the idea of Greatness unfolding in front of our eyes is exciting to me. What will the world look like culturally and financially if the Cavs and LeBron get a ring, get four rings? I want to live in that world, the same way I want to live in a world where Jay-Z has a billion dollars. It doesn’t affect me personally, tangibly, really, but I still want it because, in some way, it feels different and more promissing than what came before it.

Leah Baltus: At this point LeBron is bringing to bear a new kind basketball archetype: the on-court orchestrator. So much has been made of his physical dominance (try drinking every time you hear someone use the words “freight train” to describe him) and his basketball IQ, but what’s emerging now is the full extent of his leadership. For as strange and canned as he can be during interviews sometimes, LeBron is a masterful communicator and motivator; he not only understands what his teammates need him to do on the court, he understands what they need to hear and how they need to connect in order to succeed on the court themselves.

And boy is LBJ motivated. To give his homeland a championship. To create hope amid Rust Belt despair. To prove you can’t count out guys like Dellavedova. To defy the odds. To further cement his legacy and influence. As much as the Warriors want to win for the first time in a generation, it’s hard to believe that their motivations have the same stakes. Unlike in 2007 when the Spurs swept the Cavs in LeBron’s first Finals appearance, LBJ is now mature enough to recognize “the moment” he keeps talking about. If he pulls this off, the cultural consequences are huge. It’s no wonder the TV ratings are as high as they’ve been since 2003. (That in itself is cultural currency, particularly in today’s fractured media environment.)

Stylistically this series is fascinating. Everyone seemed to think that the beautiful, scorching 3-ball offense of the Warriors was unstoppable, that the New Style of basketball had essentially vanquished its post-up predecessors. But after Game 2, who can be so sure? Turns out that the old-school, bruising defense of the East can still mess with the jump-shot delirium of the West. Plus, how weird is it that the Cavs actually made more threes than the Warriors on Sunday night? As LeBron said after the game, this kind of basketball isn’t “sexy and cute,” but it’s as gritty as all get-out—and isn’t grit a more valuable trait than splash in this life? Shouldn’t it be?

I can’t wait to see what unfolds in Cleveland on Tuesday. If the Warriors chalk up Curry’s shooting struggles on Sunday to an off night, they may find themselves vulnerable to the same smothering defense that corked Steph in Game 2. If the Cavs can add a little confidence to their next performance—and they should, at home—they might finally ignite their offense. Also, will the refs start calling holds and reach-ins? Will Steve Kerr unleash some kind of genius adjustment to let loose his MVP? Will Delly be nursing a leg injury? (It looked like he may have pulled a hamstring in one of his heroic dives…) The suspense is already killing me!

JU: I almost can’t believe the reality that the Cavs are better without Irving and Love in the playoffs. In the regular season this wouldn’t work, but in the gritty, slowed-down, defense and rebounding reality of the finals, it might actually be true! The style of basketball in the playoffs and, even more so, in the finals makes me giddy. I still remember the Celtics/Lakers in the late 2000’s with Gasol and Perk battling for a rebound that essentially meant the series. It’s so tight, every possession magnified. It’s a style of basketball I love and for that I do hope the Cavs win.

Plus, can you imagine the joy on LeBron’s face – being shot out of his whole body like lightening – if they win? It could power the entire city of Akron.

Willie Fitzgerald: Whoa now, let’s pump the brakes a little bit. The Cavs are absolutely not better without Irving (or without Love – you could make a case that Love was a bad matchup in both the Chicago and Atlanta series, but they’d take his rebounding and shooting in this series in a heartbeat. The Cavs played Mike Miller for six minutes last night; Mike Miller; semicolon; Mike Miller).

Cleveland will feel the loss of Irving more acutely on Tuesday night, when the Dubs throw some wrinkle into his defense to try and move the ball out of LeBron’s hands, or to at least push him those crucial three steps further from the basket. Irving’s an incredible creator with the ball in his hands, and the Cavs simply don’t have another person who can make something out of nothing.

The Cavs team we saw last night was effective (they got the W, after all) and holy-shit impressive, but I’m not going to say better. In Game 2, Cleveland brought a broken table leg to a knife fight. In Game 3, Kerr and defensive guru Ron Adams are going to bring, man, I don’t know, a sack full of nickels? A lightsaber?

I’m interested in Steph Curry’s off shooting night. A lot of credit needs to go to Dellevadova and to David Blatt and his staff’s gameplan. They made the rest of the Warriors beat them, and the Warriors, save Klay Thompson, weren’t up to the task.

After the game, Curry said he knew all game that he was “off.” We’re all artistically-minded people (I, for one, have strong opinions about Cheez It package design), and I’m sure this is familiar territory. You wake up and you slather your toast with peanut butter and sip your coffee and you open your Word doc and then… nothing. When the gap between what we expect and what we actually accomplish is great, it’s an agonizing distance.

Both Curry and Kerr shrugged off Steph’s worst-ever shooting game as an aberration. I believe that’s what it is: a bit of statistical noise (with some Delly feedback thrown in for good measure). I don’t think Curry’s taking this casually, though. Come Game 3, I think he’s going to paint a masterpiece.

Also, I think we’re missing the big question here: which beloved ’80s video game character will Anthony Davis kill next? And will he just throw a basketball through each of them, shattering them like so much pixelated confetti? He has to kill Pac-Man next, right?

JU: Poor Pac-Man – he’ll probably finish 6th in MVP voting, too!

I don’t think from an 82-game perspective the Cavs are better now. But given the nobodybelievesinus-plus-we’re doing it for the city-plus-reboundingdefense they might be better, er, more effective as a unit for 4-to-5 more games.

Kerr and Curry HAVE to shrug the crappy night off, they have no choice. There is no time for doubt and self-reflection. Couldn’t you see three months from now, if the Cavs win in, say, 6 games, Golden State saying that they knew Cleveland’s defense was superior to their lack of experience/relatively young minds and how in 2016 they’re now ready for it?

What a finals though! After Game 1, I thought the Cavs were sunk; now, after Game 2, I wouldn’t be shocked if they won three more in a row. The series is probably going 7 with about 3 more over times…

Spike Friedman: I want to dive in here and talk about Kevin Love for no particular reason. I miss Kevin Love. I wish Kevin Love were healthy. And, running contrary to the narrative of this season, Cavaliers Kevin Love and Minnesota Kevin Love are the same guy. THEY’RE THE SAME GUY.

Sure you might not think so based on stats like “how many points Kevin Love scored” and “how many rebounds Kevin Love rebounded,” but please let me prove it:

Two-point field goal percentage? Minnesota: 47.9%, Cleveland: 48.0%. Man that seems like the work of the same guy.

Three-point field goal percentage? Minnesota: 36.2%, Cleveland: 36.7%. Same guy!

Free throw percentage? Minnesota: 81.5%, Cleveland: 80.4%. SAME GUY!

Assists? Steals? Blocks? Minnesota: 2.7/0.7/0.5, Cleveland: 2.4/0.7/0.6. SERIOUSLY, SAME GUY!

So what went differently? Love fulfilled his ultimate destiny as a pure stretch four, and traded some two’s and offensive rebounds for spot-up threes. Also he got shade thrown at him by LeBron for no particular reason given that HE’S THE SAME GUY WITH THE SAME SKILLS.

Well, maybe he is no longer that guy after getting Kelly Olnyk’d, but he was the same guy, and I’m genuinely sad he isn’t playing right now.

Warriors are still winning this in six.

SS: I predicted that Kelly Olynyk’s abuse of Kevin Love would finally bring white-on-white crime into focus for the mainstream media, but that didn’t really materialize, did it?

So while we’re on the topic of predictions: where is this series going? I picked Warriors in 6 last week, and nothing has changed, except for the fact that I’m actively cheering for the Cavaliers at this point. I thought I could watch the series as a neutral observer – like I have the previous 4 times LeBron was in the Finals – but that officially ended when I saw how much winning meant to him after Game 2.

JU: My new prediction: Cavs in 7. With this in mind, though, I can’t forget the fact that the Heat with LeBron got a split in the first two games against the Spurs last year in the Finals in San Antonio and I thought it was looking good for them the rest of the series. Somehow this feels different though. There’s social and civic weight on LBJ’s shoulders and it feels like, in a way, the Warriors are just happy to be here. I know I am way reading between the lines but f*ck it! Go Cavs!


We are all writers in Seattle.


  1. Lauren says:

    It’s Caitlyn Jenner.

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