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NBA Finals Game 7 preview: Nobody knows what is happening here

Jonathan Raymond tries to make sense of the NBA Finals up to this point and finds it pretty much impossible – leaving wide open all possibilities for the deciding Game 7.
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors shown during Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. Ron Schwane / AP Photo / June 16, 2016
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors shown during Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. Ron Schwane / AP Photo / June 16, 2016

Remember the first two games of the NBA Finals, when the Golden State Warriors slammed the Cleveland Cavaliers and it looked like the only question was whether the series would end in four or five games?

Then Cleveland took Game 3, and they looked pretty good, right? Then Golden State took Game 4, and it all looked pretty over again, huh?

Then Draymond Green took a cheap shot at LeBron James’ groin, the King roared with righteous fury and the Cavs came back. Now the Warriors are the most fraudulent frauds who ever won 73 games.

Unless, of course, they win Game 7. Then they will be adversity-beating heroes, and James just tragically heroic.

But that won’t happen, that can’t happen – look at how bad they’ve been. And Andrew Bogut is out, with Andre Iguodala a good chance to join him.

The Cavaliers could win this one by 30, or 40, or, heck, 50. Unless, well, they don’t.

More NBA Finals

• Game 6: LeBron James carrying Cavaliers

• Game 5: Draymond Green would have made no difference

Who, really, is to say, with these finals that refuse to be played with any consistency, or appear to make any sense, or simply abide by the precepts of coherence, generally?

Your guess is as good as mine, which is as good as the next person’s, which itself is no better or worse than the silliest, most outlandish outcome The Onion could cook up.

It’s all in play. Nobody knows what the heck is happening here.

Here are some basketball observations that may be, but probably are not, relevant to the course of Game 7:

• The injuries to Bogut and Iguodala stand to rob Golden State of two of their best defensive players. It severely handicaps their ability to play small (with Iguodala), and denies them their one reliable establisher-of-no-fly-zones (Bogut) if LeBron is too much to handle at any point inside.

• Draymond Green cannot both man up LeBron and keep Tristan Thompson in check inside at the same time. He’s probably going to have to focus on the latter, because short of a heavy dose of Festus Ezeli no one else on the Warriors can play that role.

• It is not clear there is another not-Klay Thompson Warriors defender who can do anything against James. Shaun Livingston is probably the best bet of the remaining wings, and Harrison Barnes has managed to not get killed in spurts. But those are not ringing endorsements.

• Warriors coach Steve Kerr could try to line a Thompson-Livingston-Barnes defensive front up top, where the Cavs have been switching Golden State to death and picking apart Stephen Curry. He could try to hide Curry in a corner or in some kind of unorthodox pairing on, say, Kevin Love, and make Cleveland beat them that way. Could be so crazy it works. Probably is a terrible idea.

• He could try to keep a traditional defensive shape, use an Ezeli or Anderson Varejao or Marreese Speights or James Michael McAdoo to help keep the middle occupied in the event LeBron inevitably starts blowing by Curry or Barnes or whomever on the high-screen switch.

• That could, in theory, force Cleveland back out farther from the rim, where they were shakier earlier in the series. The Cavs won the paint points 42-30 in Game 6 and 46-30 in Game 5. The Warriors actually made more threes than them in both contests, and would almost certainly prefer an outside-oriented affair determine Game 7.

• It doesn’t, however, account for the sacrifice in offence that staying big requires. Nor does it acknowledge that none of their four remaining bigs are especially any good at protecting the middle.

Doesn’t sound too good for the champs, does it?

But here’s the thing: The Warriors are at home, and the most important thing they need to do – one could argue really the only thing they need to do – is shoot better. And that is, as it happens, the best thing they do. Just not in the last two games.

Stephen Curry needs to have a big game, Klay Thompson needs to have a big game, Draymond Green needs to have a big game and the threes need to rain down. If they can accomplish that one thing, nothing else may need matter.

If the Warriors come out firing and put Cleveland in a position to play from behind, where more typically they retreat to standing and watching LeBron attack the middle; if they start a guy like Ezeli who can help make that task more taxing, then maybe they can dictate the style of the game again.

There was a moment in the third quarter of Game 6 when Curry – basketball’s premier ball-handler who has been doing shockingly little of it in the finals – seemed to shake his reservations in the urgency of the moment. He was going behind the back again, crossing over, slithering into the lane.

He just seemed to let loose. Thompson, too. They went down 22 about two minutes into the third, and the weight of that seemed to snap them out of their zombie-state. They finished the quarter down just nine.

Pretty much throughout the last two rounds of the play-offs, Golden State have seemed varying degrees of clammed up. They’ve managed to overcome it more often than not – just – but if they can really play fluidly, comfortably, they can turn Game 7 into the kind of run-and-gun shootout that almost always favours them.

And that, really, is the good news for the Warriors. If they can find that magic inside of them one last time, all these match-up hypotheticals, all these tactical options, they pretty much mean nothing.

For as bad as the last two games have gone for them, and for as uninspiring as has been their stuttering march to this Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, that 73-win magic remains an element they possess no other team can quite match – and that includes these very impressive, LeBron-at-his-best, Cavaliers.

But if it’s missing? Who knows. And if anyone tells you they do with a degree of confidence greater than a shrug, they’re lying.

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Updated: June 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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