Remember the hot NBA debate over who the MVP was?
And the speculation that another couple of NBA Finals featuring LeBron James and Steph Curry might revive the classic Bird/Magic dramas that helped save the league?
That was before the NBA opened a Finals series and the stars didn’t show up.
That was before the most likely MVP candidate was the collective Golden State Warriors bench.
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That was before Thursday’s Game 1 turned into a huge dud for those expecting historical developments.
This would decide whether James could lead the Cavaliers in the dramatic ending of the title drought known as the Cleveland Curse.
Or, it would allow the Warriors to lay claim to the greatest season in the history of the NBA, already having secured the record 73 regular-season wins.
Instead, ABC is left to promote today’s Game 2 as “The Battle of Role Players.”
How must that feel in a league that is presented as a showcase for the above-the-title marquee players who draw the viewers?
It got this way on Thursday (a 104-89 Golden State win) when the Warriors’ bench scored 45 points, which happened to be two points more than the game’s brightest stars LeBron James, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson totaled.
Curry, the league MVP, and his splash sibling Thompson, who set a playoffs single-game record of 11 3-pointers during the Western Conference Finals, combined to make a scant eight baskets in 27 shots Thursday.
Meanwhile, backup point guard Shaun Livingston matched those eight hoops in just 10 attempts to lead the Warriors with 20 points.
It left this first skirmish in the rematch of last year’s Finals pairing seem like such an anticlimax after the buildup.
Some of the best drama in Game 1 came when Warriors coach Steve Kerr put his fist through his clipboard. Kerr offered an insightful explanation for his assault on a defenseless clipboard. “We lost our intensity; it felt like a November game instead of a June game.”
Exactly. That’s what was wrong with it.
On top of that, it dragged. At the low point, nettlesome Cleveland backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova appeared to treat the front of Andre Iguodala’s shorts with the same disrespect Kerr showed for his clipboard.
Iguodala understandably expressed his objection. The contretemps triggered an endless replay review by officials that allowed CBS to show a dozen different angles of Dellavedova’s indiscretion — including slow-motion replays.
Yes, we get it. Please stop. That’s very unpleasant.
And while credit goes to the Golden State front office for constructing a roster with so many effective veteran role players, and to Kerr for manipulating so many favorable matchups, it’s not what viewers want to see.
We want to see Curry and Thompson nailing contested 3-pointers from improbable distances, and LeBron executing absurdly athletic power drives to the hoop.
Although James finished with a nice line (23 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists), he made only nine of 21 attempts with four turnovers and a slew of bobbles and blown bunnies in close.
It’s inevitable that shooters like Curry and Thompson will get out of rhythm and go cold.
But LeBron’s game seemed uncharacteristically ineffective. He looked so consistently human.
The Warriors kept raking the ball out of his hands, and when he didn’t get the foul calls, his frustration became obvious.
“We had a chance in that third quarter to do something special, but we didn’t counter and do it,” James said. “Didn’t make it happen in the fourth quarter.”
No, the Cavs didn’t. But more specifically, James didn’t.
James carries weighty expectations. He’s led his Miami and Cleveland teams to six consecutive Finals. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.
But when your nickname is “King” and you have “Chosen 1” tattooed across your back, having a good stats line in a loss isn’t enough.
This guy is a champion. He plays hard and works to get others involved. But at 31, his power game seems more easy to shut down.
The way Michael Jordan became a more effective jump shooter late in his career, James is going to have to adapt his game to meet the regal expectations placed on him.
Otherwise, this series could end up being a forgettable showcase for Golden State’s bench guys.