Regardless of who did end up winning the NBA Finals last season, game seven of the NBA Finals gave fans something that was seemingly nonexistent in all but one of the other six games: a show.
Last season’s NBA playoffs seemed to have a recurring theme – most games were blowouts. Whether the winners of individual games ended up winning the series or losing the series, it seemed unavoidable that most playoff games last year had been decided by double digits. The Western Conference seemed to be stronger than it had ever been, boasting the record-breaking Golden State Warriors, the star power-heavy Oklahoma City Thunder, the deep San Antonio Spurs and the unlucky but talented LA Clippers. For the first time in four years, the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams all boasted winning records, showing a considerable improvement in competition in the East, as well. Despite these landmarks, most playoff games continued to be decided before the fourth quarter.
Game 7 of the NBA Finals was only the second game in the series in which the Cavs and the Warriors actually competed with each other, and the evolving NBA strategy of small ball is to blame. In the past, when the game was based around getting to the paint and strong play from the center position, we would see games come down to the wire on a nightly basis. Today, as the three-point shot has become the go-to shot for almost every team in the NBA, we see the intensity of NBA games decrease substantially, due to the frequency of blowouts. This happens because when a team is centered around long 2s and 3s, it is easy to get into a funk. Every player has a bad shooting night here and there, which would normally prompt that team to look towards their big men for consistency in the paint. However, because they have stopped looking to big men as frequently, NBA teams have begun to focus on coming out of a funk by simply shooting through it. This results in horrendous shooting numbers, and, a blowout. Long range shots in the NBA are all about momentum; every team in the NBA has players that can hit 3s, but when they have no momentum, they will have no confidence, and when they have no confidence, their 3P% for the game will average under .300. When a game is all about momentum, it is easy to see why so many games in the NBA this season have been complete blowouts to one side.
The reason that the Warriors’ record was as good as it was could have been because of the fact that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson simply had less off-shooting games than the star shooters of other NBA teams, and when one of them had an off game, the other one shot the lights out. While small-ball is clearly the strategy that works in the NBA today, is it positive for the game of basketball as a whole?
The answer is, absolutely not.
Today, it is so much harder for a fan to get his money’s worth by going to an NBA game. Every fan of any NBA team loves to see his favorite team decimate their opponent, but not at the expense of being decimated by another team the next night. Fans want to see close, hard-fought NBA games, especially in the playoffs, when many fans find that their NBA team hasn’t made it into the postseason and they just want to see good basketball. Likewise, with every kid in America wanting to be Steph Curry, an unavoidable emerging trend in our youth will develop. Every kid who plays basketball is going to be popping 3s, nonstop, which will go well for about 5% of the nation.
The NBA has been going in a 3-pointer-centered direction for the past couple of years, and the results of this are beginning to materialize. It doesn’t take a mathematician to understand that three points are more than two, but it also doesn’t take an NBA analyst to understand that consistent blowouts are boring to watch. If the NBA hopes to retain its appeal as an exciting league where a comeback can happen at any second, NBA teams should revert back to mixing it up with post moves, rolling to the basket and high percentage shots. However, with the success of teams like the Warriors and with the early playoff exit of more old school teams like the Spurs, such a reversal of trends is unlikely to happen. Just wait until the 4-pointer is invented.