Yes….finally. We have arrived. After weeks and weeks of predictable playoffs, we have the matchup we all want.
It’s the defending champs, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors: Part 3. It’s never happened, two teams going back-to-back-to-back in the Finals.
But there’s so much more to this matchup! Not only will the winner take the rubber match, but for the first time in over 30 years, we have 7 All-Stars suiting up.
- The Warriors’ All-Stars: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
- The Cavaliers’ All-Stars: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Each of these players is playing for a ring but more than the ring they are playing to add another layer to their legacy. Playing a game of word association, here’s one word per player to define the legacy on the line for each.
Kevin Durant - Validation
On July 4, 2020 KD announced to the world that he was leaving the OKC Thunder to hook up with the 73-win, record breaking Warriors. Almost immediately, he was decried as a bandwagon jumper. Legends spoke about how they themselves wanted to win a title “on their own”, and that Kevin was taking the easy way to grab a ring.
Since then, the Cupcake (as Thunder fans affectionately referred to him when he returned back to OKC) has had to talk constantly about why he left. That, and his cold, cold breakup with Russell Westbrook.
For Kevin, this season has had nothing to do with stats, or team wins. His numbers were still impressive, and he won the most games in his entire career…all irrelevant. This was all about getting to the Finals, and winning. Nothing else would suffice.
For Durant’s legacy, a win this year validates his decision.
Steph Curry - Confirmation
Last year, Curry became the 1st ever unanimous MVP, the 2nd year in a row he earned the trophy. This year, it’s unlikely he will receive a single 1st place vote.
Did Steph really stink that bad this season? Of course not. He didn’t post outrageous stats, or shoot 58% from 25 feet out again (yes, he did that last year), but it was still an All-NBA level. The first half of the year was a little rough, but he heated up after the All-Star break, and has been a force in the playoffs.
But when your team adds a 4-time scoring champ, you’re bound to lose some numbers off the bottom line, and that will cancel out a lot of post-season hardware.
For Curry’s legacy, a win this year confirms that he is still the man, an MVP-type player.
Draymond Green - Redemption
One swift kick swung the Finals last year. In Game 4, Green decided it would be a good idea to stick his foot in The King’s crown jewels, earning him a 1-game suspension for the next match.
As you recall, Golden State was up 3-1 and only 1 win away from their 2nd title in a row to complete the most successful season in NBA history. That kick kicked open the door for Cleveland to get back in the series, and we all know what happened next. The Warriors are hung with the 73-asterisk. It’s the great “What If?” from last year’s playoffs.
This year, Crazy Draymond has continued his path to the asylum. Quotes and techs galore, he’s still in the media for most of the wrong reasons. Despite being one of the most versatile players and a dominant defender, he’s best known for having a little too much Ron Artest in him.
This year, more eyes than ever will be on Crazy Draymond. Every movement will be dissected and analysed. Every bump, staredown and chirp will be televised, blogged and tweeted about.
For Green’s legacy, a win this year redeems his style of play, and his character.
Klay Thompson - Recognition
Remember when Charles Barkley said that Klay was the best 2-way player in the NBA. Well this year, although his stats are almost a mirror image of last season, Klay didn’t make any of the All-NBA teams.
In this GSW offence, Klay has flown mostly under the radar. When KD and Steph on the floor, Klay can sometimes be ignored. A shame, considering he may be a better shooter than Steph himself.
He needs another night when he puts up 60 points in 29 minutes, and less nights when Zaza Pachulia outscores him.
For Thompson’s legacy, a win this year gets Klay recognised for the lethal 2-way player he truly is.
Kyrie Irving - Affirmation
Russell Westbrook. James Harden. Steph Curry. Chris Paul. John Wall. Isaiah Thomas.
So many amazing point guards in the league right now, and it seems that Kyrie has gotten lost in the shuffle.
The former #1 pick doesn’t get the respect he once used to. He was the #1 option at one time in his career, but that was pre-LBJ, and pre-playoffs.
Even with his clutch 3 to put the game away last year, Uncle Drew still isn’t getting any love, having not making any of the All-NBA teams this season.
His handle his unmatched. His finish at the rim is elite. But Kyrie looms in the shadow of several other PGs in the league, and LBJ as well. Time for him to get some shine.
For Irving’s legacy, a win this year affirms himself among the point guard elite.
Kevin Love - Perception
For years, Love was looked at as a player who put up big stats for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but couldn’t get him team to that next level (sounds very DeMarcus Cousins-esque). Now, he’s one series away from being a multiple-time NBA Champion.
Kevin has had to sacrifice a lot…not being the alpha dog, or even the 2nd in command. The 3rd banana can be a tough role to move into, but Chris Bosh managed to make it work, and now he’s a borderline HOFer.
Last year LeBron called out Love in some not-so-subtle ways through social media, and the message seemed to sink in. Now, Kevin needs to step up his defence and production once again for the Cavaliers to win title #2.
For Love’s legacy, a win this year changes how he’s perceived, from Stat Stuffer to Ring Grabber.
LeBron James - Ascension
LeBron’s run through the playoffs has been historic. Along the way, he became the all-time leading point producer in the playoffs, and secured a 7th straight trip to the finals.
The level of play has generated conversations about just how great he’s really been. Less and less is he being compared to Kobe Bryant… now, legitimate discussions are occurring about him and Michael Jordan for the title of GOAT.
This year may be his biggest challenge ever. The Warriors are loaded up, and could be even more dangerous than last year’s squad. And if Golden State gets up 3-1 again, it’s unlikely they’ll choke away a lead again.
LBJ will have to be the best player on both ends of the floor, for the whole series. Driving, dunking, dishing, passing, stealing, blocking, rebounding. All the boxes need to be checked off.
If he can continue his level of play from the first 3 rounds, then Cleveland will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the 2nd straight season.
For James’ legacy, a win this year ascends The King to the throne of Greatest Of All Time.