You may have noticed that the NBA playoffs were not very good this year. Too many blowouts. Too much certainty that Cleveland and Golden State would not only win their series, but would win virtually every game along the way to the Finals. It has put everyone in a bad mood, including Kevin Durant, who flatly told people to stop watching if they didn’t like the games (then apologized, for some reason).
Fortunately, there is Draymond Green, who addressed the situation thusly:
Everyone wants to say, ‘Ah man, this is boring and this, that and the other,’ but you usually don’t appreciate something until you don’t have it anymore,” Green said. “And so, I think maybe there’s just a lack of appreciation for greatness. But then when you look at a situation, most people have never reached greatness. So maybe there’s just not an understanding of what you’re watching. I think you’ve found two great teams, and we’ve played that way, and maybe people don’t appreciate it because of a blowout or because of a sweep.
“But people may want to be careful, because I think right now you’re witnessing greatness. Two great teams, great players, and that’s what it is.”
From an NBA PR perspective, that has to be something close to the perfect answer on this question. But is it true? Is what we’re watching a coincidence? Did two of the greatest teams of all time happen to have made a simultaneous rise. Is their steamrolling of the rest of the league is now about to pay off with an epic finals that makes it all worth it?
It does make some sense. The Warriors have two players who have won MVP awards, and the Cavs have (maybe) the best player of all time, playing as well as he’s ever played, plus a few other guys that are pretty good (or whatever).
One of the difficulties with this argument is that the analytics aren’t very useful for showing how good these two teams are. This is particularly true of the Cavs, who spent the regular season content just to play well enough to get one of the top two seeds, and stay healthy for the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight’s algorithm probably still has somebody else coming out of the East. The Warriors look more like an all-time great team than the Cavs do, and their 73-9 record last season, without Durant, would provide them a good deal of historical footing to make that claim, had they not blown a 3-1 lead in the Finals … to Cleveland.
There is no point in splitting hairs over what “great” means in this context. Compared to the rest of the NBA, these are two great teams. Compared to the rest of basketball history? We’ll see.