Life is funny. We all know how this feels — you seemingly have everything in order, you're ready to attack the world, the sky is blue, the air is fresh, and you want to scream "BRING IT!" And then, out of nowhere, the gods drop something in your lap that changes everything — injury, accident, sickness, financial hardship, it can be anything.
Whatever it is, that obstacle now forces you to change your approach. Sometimes, though, there just may not be enough time to win. You do your best, you attack, because that's all you can do.
It can change that fast, and probably has on all of us at some point.
Sometimes, basketball is a sweaty metaphor for life. When Kyrie Irving blocked Steph Curry's seemingly wide open layup with 25 seconds to go in regulation last night and the score tied at 98, the Cavaliers probably felt great about their chances of stealing Game 1 and, in turn, winning the NBA title. At that moment, this felt like a seven game series.
Ten minutes later, a couple minutes into overtime, Kyrie Irving crumpled on the ground like a pretzel, his already injured knee now re-mangled. Angrily and probably a little scared, Irving and his 23 points limped off the floor into the locker room where he sat the rest of the night in a steady, slight stream of tears.
Irving's season may now be over. For his long-term health, it probably needs to be. And now LeBron James is left to fight the Golden State Warriors alone. A seven game series turned into a possible four game sweep in the blink of an eye. It can change that quickly.
108-100, the Warriors take Game One. There were winners and losers, so let's get to them….
4. Steph Curry
It took a little while for him to get untracked, but Curry's mere presence on the floor, especially in Oakland, is a ticking time bomb for his opponents. Even when the Warriors were trailing by 15, you knew it was early and a Steph-storm was coming at some point. In many ways, the Cavs lost this game in the first half, when Curry and Thompson were both struggling and the Warriors managed still to be virtually even by halftime. Curry finished his first NBA Finals game with a solid, efficient 26 points on 50 percent shooting to go with eight assists. Most harrowing for the Cavs? Curry only had two 3-pointers and the Warriors still won. You have to win the "non-Steph three blizzard" games if you're playing the Warriors.
3. LeBron James
Put aside the final possession of regulation, where LeBron pigeonholed himself into a precarious fadeaway shot from deep. King James was stupendous all night long, finding his jumper once again and bullying his way to the rim, especially early. Honestly, my only criticism would be that he stopped bullying in the fourth quarter. Every time he decides to stay outside the paint, the Warriors have to be ecstatic. The only remotely decent byproduct of the Irving injury is that we will now see LeBron go into "Kobe/MJ on steroids" mode, a mode we've never seen before. With no Irving, James will take at least 35 shots every night, LOCK.
2. Marreese Speights
Rocket fans should be thankful that this guy missed the Western Conference Finals. (Actually, if he had played, they probably still would've lost in five, so maybe it doesn't matter. Anyway….) Speights only played nine minutes last night, but they were nine important minutes and his eight points in those nine minutes came at a time when the Warriors were struggling for offense. His elbow jumper is one of the more underrated deadly signature shots in the league.
1. Andre Iguodala
I am as big an Iggy critic as there is. I thought he was overpaid as a max player in Philadelphia (which turned out to be true), and I've always thought his athleticism masked a lot of really questionable and shaky shot selection. People tend to react proportionally much more approvingly of Iguodala's good plays than they do disdainfully for his bad plays, of which there were always more. After last night, I will back away from my Iggy hate for a day or two. He was tremendous, going 6-8 from the field (every shot seemed huge, too) and playing the best defense of any Warrior on LeBron. Amazingly, one game in, Iguodala is the frontrunner for the Finals MVP award. (This will obviously change. It always does with Iguodala.)
4. Kyrie Irving's knees
I have no emotional investment in Kyrie Irving, his well being, or how he performs in this series. To me, he's just another really good basketball player, but I will admit there was something about watching him go down last night that struck a chord with me — the slow walk back to the locker room, his shift in emotion from stoic to angry once he was behind the curtains, his being on the edge of tears talking to the media. This was going to be a great series, and had all the makings of an Irving "coming out" party. And now? Now it may be the next brick to fall out of the wall that is Irving's long-term health. Just awful.
3. Offensive sets
There was a funny point in the second half of the game when Cavs backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova hastily carried the ball into the front court and shoveled it to LeBron on the wing. Play by play guy Mike Breen (who is awesome, by the way), in the ultimate euphemism, said "Dellavedova sets up the Cavaliers' offense." If by "setting up the Cavaliers' offense" Breen meant "giving it to LeBron and getting the hell out of the way," then I suppose it's accurate. When they needed buckets, it was constant ISO ball for Cleveland, and you know what? Now, with Irving possibly done, it's the Cavs' only chance.
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2. ESPN's celebrity tweet vetting process
ESPN has this thing they do (and to be clear, as a network, they're not alone) where they run a steady stream of tweets from other sports celebrities at the bottom of the screen in which they are giving their opinion/reaction to what we all just witnessed. I get it, Twitter is this buzz-gen thing whose continual, subliminal presence at the bottom of the screen makes everything on the screen feel more relevant. I guess my only question is "Who is vetting these tweets, and where exactly is the metaphorical floor for the definition of 'celebrity'?" Because I'll be honest, I couldn't give two shits what Ben Tate is thinking about the NBA Finals….
1. J.R. Smith
Smith is about as mercurial an NBA player as you'll find, just as capable of shooting his team into a win (Game 2 vs Atlanta, eight threes) as he is shooting them out of one (last night). In some ways, Smith's night broke the worst possible way for Smith and Cavs, as he hit 2 of his 3 shots, and knocked down a 29 footer to close out the half. That would be it for Smith. For the night. He never got to the line, and in the second half he went 0-6 the rest of the way. With Irving possibly done, LeBron will need something big from someone else. Smith has the highest ceiling of any of his remaining teammates. The most unreliable player in the series just became really important last night.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.