The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year. The clash may be as great as last year’s instant classic. That will not change that this was perhaps the most boring season in NBA history.
A tired, predictable season and resulting playoffs solidified the NBA’s status as the most boring league in American pro sports. Only the existence of the Scottish Premiership saved the NBA from claiming the international sports title as well. (Celtic F.C. won again?! Crazy.)
The 2016-17 NBA regular season was tedious. The biggest story was Kevin Durant joining Golden State. Consider that. The best regular season team in NBA history added one of the league’s top five players as a free agent. They took him directly from an Oklahoma City Thunder team that gave Golden State its biggest challenge of last year’s Western Conference Playoffs.
Once you get past the heel turn, that was the least interesting thing that could have happened. It all but guaranteed the West would be even less competitive. Golden State’s top competition during 2016-17 was comparisons to the past two seasons.
What was the NBA’s second-most compelling story? The league’s biggest stars rested during what were purportedly the NBA’s biggest regular season games. Teams couldn’t even put up the pretense that the games they were charging fans (and ESPN) full price for actually mattered. The faintest whiff of trouble in the air was ESPN’s unhappiness with its milestone TV deal — a more interesting storyline than anything that happened on the court.
The regular season played out about as anticipated. Some teams got a bit better. Some teams got a bit worse. But there was no change at the top. The Rockets took over Oklahoma City’s role as the third “challenger” in the West (a season after giving up that role itself). Boston did barely beat out Cleveland for the No. 1 seed in the East — though the Cavs were “so concerned” that they rested players down the stretch. This season’s final month spent most of its time arguing which non-championship player, Russell Westbrook or James Harden, should win the MVP award when LeBron James was clearly the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Following that dud of a regular season? An equally uneventful playoff season. Half of the series lasted five games or fewer. Only two of the 14 went to a seventh game. Higher seeds won 12 of the 14 series. The two exceptions were a No. 5 seed (Utah Jazz) upsetting a No. 4 seed (an injury-ravaged Los Angeles Clippers) in the first round, and Cleveland (the real No. 1 seed) beating Boston as expected.
Cleveland and Golden State have combined for a 24-1 playoff record (best ever). Most of the games were not even close. Of the Warriors’ 12 wins, 10 came by double-digits. The Cavs did face a quality effort from the Pacers in the first round, despite the sweep. After that, Lebron & Co. hit their stride, winning seven of the next nine games by double-digits.
There was a brief moment where it looked like the established order might be overturned. No. 2 seed San Antonio led No. 3 Houston 3-2 entering Game 6, after winning Game 5 in overtime. But, the Spurs were without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. The opening was there for the Rockets to pounce. Then, the Nerdlucks possessed James Harden’s talent, and Houston choked horrifically, losing Game 6 by 39 points at home.
Even if Houston had pulled out that series, it’s unlikely the Western Conference Finals would have been more competitive. The Rockets are 3-18 against Golden State over the past three seasons (including playoffs).
The NBA Playoffs became so dire that ESPN resorted to running this poll as a discussion point. The WWL broke the “in case of a July emergency” glass sign during the Conference Finals.
Which ranking (in order) is most correct, for the NBA's GOAT?
— ESPN Radio (@ESPNRadio) May 25, 2017
This entire NBA season has been waiting around for the inevitable Cavaliers vs. Warriors rematch. Now, it’s here. The league gave us the better part of a week to let that soak in.
Perhaps Cleveland vs. Golden State lives up to the hype. Maybe we get a tight seven-game series with narrative twists. There are controversial calls. Draymond Green does something odious. We get enduring GIFs, maybe even a meme. Game 7 hinges on a decisive moment for the ages involving Kevin Durant.
If this happens, don’t be grateful. At a time where there are more entertainment options than ever, such a Finals would be the least that beleaguered NBA fans deserve.