Prior to Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals, I wrote — and said on our podcast — that the 2016 NBA Finals had become boring not because of the lopsided outcomes but mostly because it seemed that there were no other adjustments to be made for either team.
In fact, it seemed difficult to remember a Finals series in the last decade that could so easily be understood to the outside observer.
I feel like I have a better grasp of this series and all of the ins and outs of it that I have of any series before.— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) June 13, 2016
So with us now staring at a Game 7 after Draymond Green was goaded into a suspension, Andrew Bogut suffered a season-ending injury, and LeBron James went supernova for two games, the commentary on the series went in a predictable direction: analyzing the character of each team's stars.
There's a reason people say legends are made in championship rounds and it's not merely the pressure that comes from the games — a good part of it is the fact that more media have more time to focus their attention on one matchup and every. single. personality. involved.
And what makes the Golden State Warriors particularly interesting is that there's a perception that they've never faced adversity and, as we've all heard, adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it.
Stephen Curry's Game 6 outburst, in which he threw his mouthpiece at an owner's family member, has become the symbol of the Warriors finally completely unraveling this postseason, as described by Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. But when we look back on this series, Game 5 might be the better touchpoint for character analysis.
It was obvious that no matter what the outcome of Game 5 was, Draymond Green's absence would make him and his character central to the narrative, as people have been saying things similar to what Kawakami said after Game 5 all season: "Green isn't the MVP, Curry is. Green isn't LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, but he's the Warrior most responsible for their defense and their lead in this series, and now he owes the Warriors one more game."
Liked way @GuyHaberman put it (paraphrase) "Draymonds not the teams MVP/best player but he is the teams player with the most responsibility"— sam esfandiari (@samesfandiari) June 15, 2016
And many people have rightfully reflected on what Sam Amick of USA Today described as the, "...central question at hand: both on and off the floor, how much Draymond is too much Draymond? He is the rare athlete whose special competitive spirit can lead to inspiration or implosion." Bethlehem Shoals of GQ elaborated on Green's foundational value to the Warriors as well as anyone.
For most of the regular season, Green was bold and defiant without detracting from the Golden State’s effectiveness. But in the playoffs, Draymond Green has occasionally lost control. And for the Warriors, this might be a problem beyond winning this year’s title...Decoding Draymond Green is almost beside the point because he’s so damn effective. Green isn’t just the glue that holds the Warriors together, he’s their insurance. As long as he’s on the floor, Golden State—who over the course of the playoffs, have gone from indestructible to beset by doubt—will be some semblance of their 73-9 selves. The so-called "Line-Up of Death," which puts Green at center, isn’t just the signal best example of the team’s innovative thinking—it’s a virtual showcase for everything that makes Green so special.
Marc Spears of The Undefeated wrote a great piece about Green's experience of Game 5 across the way at O.co Coliseum that further fleshes out how Green sees himself as a leader.
News of the suspension Sunday night had nearly brought Green to tears, according to a source, knowing he couldn’t help his "brothers" in a possible championship-clinching Game 5...Watching the game was painful for Green. He was "hurting," according to a source. He yelled at the screen in disappointment as the Warriors’ struggled defensively, allowing Cavs All-Stars James and Kyrie Irving to combine for 82 points. There was nothing Green — a first team NBA All-Defensive Team selection — could do...As Game 5 wound down, and the realization of a Game 6 hit him, Green changed his demeanor, a source said, and became increasingly excited about the challenge ahead.
But with the Warriors losing Game 5 while Curry was still on the floor, we started to see more questioning of his character, which Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report wrote is appropriate given his performance in a series that the two-time MVP hasn't been able to close out.
The Warriors openly acknowledge they are wired to lose focus unless they feel challenged. It's time to wonder how much of that character flaw is Curry's....In one sequence, Curry missed the sort of shot his team expects him to make, then he got roasted on defense…and then proceeded to make a tone-deaf gesture urging his teammates to keep after it. The occasions where Curry tried to go solo for difficult shots everyone is OK with him taking at times felt awkward. His feel for the moment was off. He was, in the words of Warriors coach Steve Kerr, in "a little bit of a hurry."
Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News group further wrote about how this series will define the Warriors' legacy and character as a whole on the court in the eyes of those who have give them, "The 'soft' label, inspired by their finesse offense..."
But Steph Curry might have put all this talk into perspective better than I or anyone else can when asked the very question by Kawakami prior to Game 6.
I’ve always said Draymond is the spirit of what we do. You see it out on the floor. That’s what he brings. Everybody leads in a different way, and I don’t want to be a prisoner of the moment and say Game 5 was a direct reflection of who we are as a team and who I am as an individual, as a player, as a leader. I was out there doing what I was trying to do to help our team win and it didn’t work. So that happens in sports. It happens in our game, and nothing’s going to stop me from coming back and doing what I do to help lead my team in Game 6. So I’m comfortable with that.
For what it's worth, I do think adversity tends to reveal character — there's no way to fake an inability to navigate your way out of a pressure cooker as your instincts will guide you or self-doubt will begin to settle in. Yet the problem with trying to evaluate character on the fly is that making snap judgments in the short-term inappropriately limits the time scales.
Do we punish Michael Jordan for losing to the Detroit Pistons three straight times or leading his team to a pair of threepeats? Do we doubt the San Antonio Spurs for failing to win back-to-back titles or laud them for figuring out how to respond to a devastating loss in 2013 to win a fifth title in 15 years in 2014?
Do we keep harping on LeBron James' record in the Finals or marvel at his ability to elevate his game to heights beyond even his already-legendary status against all kinds of odds?
The thing about adversity is that you don't actually leave that pressure cooker until you let it crush you or figure out a way to diffuse it. And in that sense, the character is revealed in whether you emerge the victor or the vanquished. Both of these teams will have an opportunity to prove their character after Game 7 in how they respond over the next couple of years. And we should be far more concerned if the lingering burden of adversity now this stops them from coming back and doing what they do.
LeBron has taken over the NBA Finals
As much as the focus is on the Warriors' character right now as they head into the final game of their season, few athletes in recent memory have ever been the subject of character studies quite like LeBron James. But after winning two games in a row against the Warriors, there has been a ton of positive press for LeBron as the hero while the Warriors have been villainized.
- Bill Reiter of CBS Sports wrote about how this series eventually forced LeBron out of passivity into "takeover" mode, which he had an accomplice for.
- Bryan Toporek of BBallBreakdown wrote about the importance of LeBron finding his jumpshot in this series while Adam Mares of ViCE Sports went in-depth about how LeBron's shot selection and decision-making has been just as important as the shots falling.
- Dan Feldman of NBC Sports wrote that, "LeBron has dominated consecutive Finals games in a way Jordan – and everyone else in this era – never did...LeBron’s combined game score (81.7) is – by far – the highest by an individual in consecutive Finals games."
Andrew Bogut's injury
- Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group reported that Andrew Bogut is not fully absolving J.R. Smith for his role in the injury he suffered during Game 5.
- Unfortunately, Tim Reynolds of the AP reports that Bogut "...will need a miracle to be ready in time for the Olympics given that there's almost no way he can participate in any training with the team beforehand."
Out of context Harrison Barnes takes (offered without comment)
- Mike Pandador of Hoop-Ball: "Harrison Barnes is a knight. It's pretty hard to get beaten by a knight on its own, but as a complementary piece a knight can be pretty dangerous."
- Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group: "In his final week before restricted free agency, Harrison Barnes is giving the appearance that he has departed early from the NBA Finals."
- Ben Leibowitz of SI: "If "Playoff Barnes" was nothing more than an anomaly, it’s impossible to justify a max deal for him this offseason."(h/t danielholl for the FanShot)
- Kirk Henderson of MavsMoneyBall: "Barnes is an O.J. Mayo redux."
...but Barnes about to get paid because...
The NBA salary cap is going to make free agency ridiculous
Shams Charania of Yahoo reported that the projected salary cap for the 2016-17 season will be $94 million in comparison to this season's 70 million.
Next year's salary floor is $14.6 million above this year's salary cap.— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) June 17, 2016
Wolves would need to spend about $17M just to get to salary floor. Summer's gonna be nuts.— canishoopus (@canishoopus) June 17, 2016
NBA agent just told me: "Expect some funky trades at the deadline and funky waiver claims so that teams get to $84.6 million salary floor."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 17, 2016
Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors summarized the Warriors' offseason outlook, which took a brief look at all eight free agents...which is currently $92 million
There are certainly other links, tweets, vines, and videos that I have missed, so feel free to drop links from this morning in the comments, create a FanShot with links that we can share on our social channels, or write a FanPost if you have a longer commentary to share with the community. And please rec the ones you really like so we can promote the best ones to the front page.
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