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Throne Game Theory Revisited: Road Warriors Take Over NBA

Felipe Melecio takes a look at LeBron, Curry and the NBA Finals as a battle of the best player in the world against the current MVP. A team quilted together vs. a true team.

NBA Finals, LeBron James

Way back at the beginning of the 2014-2015 basketball season, I wrote a piece about LeBron James being the “King of the Basketball Realm” and Cleveland the new center of the NBA universe:

The storyline of the King returning to his rightful kingdom was too good to pass up. All other players would be looking up and kneeling before his highness before they scheme ways to remove him from power; remove him from his throne.

The piece dealt with this idea of basketball fans having this folklore mentality when it comes to the NBA and its superstar players. An idea similar to the stories we’ve read about Robin Hood, King Arthur, Lord of the Rings, and yes, even Game of Thrones. You can’t really use these analogies in any other sport. This fits too perfectly with basketball.

In the Beginning…

At the start of the NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were heavy favorites to win the NBA title this season and LeBron James was the heavy favorite to win another MVP award.

And the rest of the NBA took notice, as Cleveland played with a big target on their back. They also had to deal with internal conflicts as the team was not clicking right away. Players like Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving had to reluctantly accept new roles on this team.

For a while, the season looked bleak for the Cavaliers. It was January and the beginning of a new year. Cleveland was a disappointing 19-16. Winter had arrived.

S.O.S. Save Our Season

And then they did something many people saw as desperate. They swung a deal. Involving three teams. They received reinforcements. The rest of the league laughed. Those players were Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.

A couple of days later, they traded for yet another former New York Knicks’ player in Timofey Mozgov. The league laughed some more:

How are you going to save your season with all of these former knick players

This was the consensus. It couldn’t be done. The new roster would not be good enough. It actually got worse.

However, they forgot one thing: the best basketball player on the planet was still on the team. With this rag-tag team of misfits and underachievers, the King was able to pace the club to a second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Despite losing Love early in the playoffs and Irving seeing very limited time due to injury, James and the Cavs would bulldoze their way into the NBA Finals, the fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance for King James.

The Sun Always Sets…

Meanwhile in the West, an up-and-coming team was working on revolution. The reigning champion, San Antonio Spurs, were seeing a legit contender develop. It was not the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, or Dallas Mavericks.

It was a team from the Bay Area in northern California. This team does not really belong to any city. It belongs to a place where gold is everything. A “golden state,” if you will.

The Golden State Warriors got off a to a roaring start with their fast-paced game, efficient shooting, and newfound commitment to defense. Golden State would finish with the best record in the NBA.

According to stats giant, fivethirtyeight.com, the Warriors would finish as the fourth best team of all-time (currently the third best team of all time now). Not just for this season, not just in their franchise’s history, but NBA history.

If this wasn’t enough, rising superstar, Stephen Curry, would continue to improve his game, learning to finish strong near the basket to go along with his lethal three-point shooting. Curry would be rewarded by winning the league’s MVP award.

Curry and the Warriors would meet worthy foes in the wild and treacherous Western Conference playoffs, but they found ways to overcome their weaknesses and handedly defeated their enemies, en route to an NBA Finals appearance which seemed to be part of their manifest destiny at the start of the playoffs.

Best of the Best Square Off

Just like the numbers suggested, the top two teams in the NBA would meet for the most prized possession in their sport, the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The NBA Finals was a battle of the best player in the world against the current MVP. A team riddled with injuries vs a team full of depth. A team that could dominate the paint against a team that did their damage from long distance. Power against speed.

Just as James has done throughout the playoffs, he willed his Cavs and placed his teammates in the right places to succeed. James was the main point of attack, the first line of defense, the floor general, and even head coach. With James’ leadership, the short-handed Cavaliers stole a game in Oakland and even took a hard-earned, 2-1 lead in the series.

Then the Warriors collectively had an epiphany. After making lineup changes, Warriors’ head coach, Steve Kerr, decided to sacrifice height for speed and versatility. Enter Andre Iguodala.

Iggy made his first start of the season in Game Four and the entire dynamic of the series changed drastically to the advantage of the Warriors. Combining veteran leadership, tenacious defense, surprising athleticism, and a needed scoring punch, Iguodala ignited a Golden State victory in Game Four of the series, winning the match by 21 points.

The players, as a team, had finally unlocked the way to beat the mighty King James. Utilizing their team play and maximizing their depth, the Warriors would outpace and wear out the Cavaliers the rest of the series. The Warriors would win their next two games by an average of 10.5 points. Games Five and Six were never really close, however.

The King is Dead…Long Live the King

As the last, waning seconds of the sixth and deciding game of the series were winding down, James conceded the match and the series, going over to Steph Curry to congratulate him on his team’s victory. James then quickly went to the Cleveland bench and began to ponder.

He had done so much for the team, setting up others to score, scoring points in bunches for himself, trying to move the right chess pieces on defense, attempting to call the right plays on offense. If it appeared as if he was coaching the team, it’s because he was.

This offseason, however, he now has to play another role; general manager. Does he stay or does he go? If he stays, who is he bringing with him next year? Many suitors will want to play alongside the King, but only a few will be hand-picked to be his trusty knights.

Drained and exhausted after appearing in his fifth consecutive NBA Finals, the crown on James’ head grows heavier as he continues to ward off newer and younger challengers. For now, it’s rest and recovery as James will need time to mend both physical and mental wounds.

Come training camp in the fall, James will restart the cycle to defend his crown alongside his team and try to push for an unfathomable sixth consecutive NBA Finals’ appearance. As always, it will be a long, arduous battle to get there, but if anyone is capable in achieving the unthinkable, it’s LeBron James.

A Long Way to Victory

After 40 years since their last championship, Golden State has won another title. Curry, the league’s current MVP, struggled at the start of the series, but was able to figure things out as the series went on, eventually finding his signature three-point shot and finding ways to embarrass the Cleveland defense.

But the theme with Golden State has been about the team and their incredible depth. They couldn’t have won without the sacrifices of others. Klay Thompson had to sacrifice his offensive game and had to focus on defense. Andrew Bogut, the starting center, had to grab bench as the team was better off with a smaller lineup. David Lee, a starting power forward on most teams, was relegated to limited action. Draymond Green, who early on in the series could be best described by his last name, would finish Game Six with a triple-double.

Despite Curry arguably being the team’s most consistent and efficient player on offense, the Finals’ MVP went to the player who made the most impact on the team; Andre Iguodala.

It is difficult to predict where these Warriors will go to next. At its core, they are a young team and have potential to go on multiple title runs. Many question their up-tempo game and their over-reliance on the three-point shot. Plus they play in a very difficult conference.

For now, they finally have their title. A basketball crazy town finally has validation. The funnest team in the NBA has been certified. For now, they are the new emperors of the basketball realm. They are the team that every other club aspires to be and the team every other basketball club will be gunning for. For now, they own the throne…

…at least until LeBron James is done mending his wounds. Then the entire ordeal begins anew.

Photo Credit: By Keith Allison from Kinston, USA (LeBron James) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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