The NBA Finals and the Myth of Momentum

As great a player as he was—and he was indisputably one of the five best players in NBA history, don’t @ me—Magic Johnson is one seriously awful analyst. You can’t watch him on TV anymore thankfully, but you can certainly follow him on Twitter (@MagicJohnson) where he is a master of unintentional basketball comedy:

Here is the thing about momentum from one game to the next in the NBA: it is a lie. A big, fat lie. Because if the Warriors didn’t have it afterwinning Game 2 by 33—and they sure as hell didn’t, seeing that they lost Game 3 by 30—how the hell do the Cavs have it now? Maybe, just maybe, each game should be viewed as a separate occurrence. And maybe, just maybe, NBA players are able to take things one game at a time, like they say after, oh, EVERY SINGLE GAME.

Let’s pretend for a moment that all of those postgame clichés are actually true, especially the “one game at a time” thing. Think NBA players can’t compartmentalize? Let’s ask LeBron James, who was called out repeatedly following the first two games at Oracle and respondedfirst with words and then with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and one only-LeBron-can-do-that alley-oop in Game 3. It’s like the Cavaliers are a good team and LeBron is a historically good player or something. Who knew?

Meanwhile, it seems like panic about superstars is a zero-sum game, asall that angst about LeBron has shifted to unanimous MVP Steph Curry, who hasn’t looked like himself through the first three games of the finals. Maybe it’s because, I don’t know, he isn’t himself? He was brilliant through the last three games of the Thunder series, but it’s not inconceivable that the knee he injured back on April 24 against the Rockets isn’t quite right yet. That seems far more likely an explanation than his suddenly having forgotten to play basketball, or a sinister Monstars plot, or even the Cavaliers having figured him out.

Takes and perception can make sudden shifts, reality generally doesn’t. And while the finals have been a roller coaster ride so far, every game a blowout, single-game results should not inform larger truths. The Cavaliers are not terrible because they lost Game 2 by 33, the Warriors are not terrible because they lost Game 3 by 30. The Warriors still lead the series 2-1, they still have home court advantage, they should still be overwhelming favorites to repeat. One game does not change that. The players know this. The media, not so much.

There are two days between games this year, travel or not, which leaves plenty of airtime and column inches (is that still a thing?) to fill, leading to much hand-wringing and doomsaying. The pendulum swings wildly with each result, even moreso when said results also swing wildly in either direction. Blowouts aren’t much fun for viewers, but they’re blessings to writers on deadline (who don’t have to worry about scrapping an entire game story at the last minute following a furious comeback) and hot-take purveyors who can spout all kinds of nonsense—oh hi Stephen A.—knowing full well it will be forgotten following the next game, when they can feel free to say something else entirely. The internet saves everything, yet somehow it has no memory.

As for the teams, we can talk all we want about adjustments, but after 100 or so games they will be mild ones. Steve Kerr will not bench Curry, or suddenly decide to run the entire offense through Andrew Bogut. Curry said after Game 3 that he has to play “a hundred times better,” and while that’s what everyone wanted to hear, it’s not even close to the truth. The Warriors are not a superstar and a supporting cast as much as they are a religion or a cult, a group of disparate personalities united by faith. Curry is their best player, it’s true, and when everything is working he is both the most fervent believer and the source of others’ belief. But for everything to work, everyone has to work. It’s that simple, really. This is how you win 73 games, how you beat a team as good as the Cavaliers by double digits in Games 1 and 2 even when Curry isn’t in kill-everything mode.

Game 3 wasn’t nearly as much of a wake-up call to the Warriors as it was to those pundits and fans ready to write the Cavaliers off after two bad losses. No reassessments, just a reset. “I’ll have my troops ready to go on Friday, ready for war,” Draymond Green wrote in his finals diary for The Undefeated last night. “That’s what it’s going to be.”

And if you thought he was worried, nah.

“We’re in a great spot. Everyone is going to panic and say, ‘It’s a different series now, the Cavs did this and the Cavs did that.’ And I like where we are at. I know there is one simple adjustment in order to change the game, and that’s play hard.”

Mike Tyson once said everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. The Warriors got punched in the mouth last night. They should still stick to their plan. It’s worked pretty well for them so far.

source: BY

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