OAKLAND, Calif. — There is a sign posted on the wall inside the Golden State Warriors locker room, high above the corner stall belonging to Kevin Durant. It keeps with the tradition of cheesy team slogans, meant to convey the importance of the group above all else. It reads:
The message has taken on new meaning during the Finals, after the Warriors’ 132-113 demolition of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2, and not in a promising way for the NBA. The NBA waited for this matchup. An epic Finals would be worth the cost of a noncompetitive playoffs. June would redeem April and May, and the NBA would sail into the summer as the hottest league in professional sports. Instead, the Finals is in danger of becoming a competitive dud.
It is performance art, and watching Durant and Steph Curry together occasionally moves the viewer to a place near levitation. But that’s not what sports promises. The Finals was supposed to be ultimate theater, a historic clash, The Thrillogy. It is instead about the Warriors, just about the Warriors.
These Finals must be making the league nervous. The team with the best player can never be counted out, and LeBron James remains the best player in the world, despite the argument Durant is currently submitting. It would be a mistake to dismiss Cleveland. It would be equally foolish not to recognize the strong chance that for the remainder of the Finals, and perhaps beyond, the Warriors’ only competition will be history.
“Sure, the fan in me would love to see more competition at times,” Commissioner Adam Silver said before Game 1. “But on the other hand, I’ve said it before, I think we should also celebrate excellence.”
The Warriors’ pursuit of a 16-0 playoff record will make for a dramatic story line regardless. But the games themselves may dissuade viewership. In Game 2, Draymond Green fell into foul trouble, the Warriors committed 20 turnovers, James played like a Transformer and the Cavaliers still never came within 11 points in the fourth quarter. The Warriors led by 21 with 3:47 left, at which point Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue emptied his bench. Did we wait two months to watch Dahntay Jones against Ian Clark?
The Cavaliers won the title last year and rampaged through the Eastern Conference this spring, losing once in 13 games. The Warriors have turned them into the Washington Generals.
Yes, the Cavaliers trailed 2-0 in last year’s Finals, too. They were not facing a team with Kevin Durant, or a healthy Steph Curry, or a Draymond Green who hadn’t piled up so many flagrant fouls he stood on the verge of a suspension. The Cavaliers can try to convince themselves they have been here before. But they haven’t seen a team like these Warriors because nobody has.
“We’re different,” Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said. “We got a monster in K.D. We got a healthy Steph Curry.”
The one place unconcerned with hand-wringing over competitive concerns is the Warriors’ locker room. Do not tell the Warriors about the death of parity, not when the 2016 Larry O’Brien trophy resides in Cleveland.
“We’re not the champions right now,” General Manager Bob Myers said. “I would say that. We don’t have the trophy. Cleveland does. So I don’t know that we’ve done anything, short of we’re up 2-0. Other people can say that. But I’ve been here before, and we didn’t win. We’re pretty honest about where we are. I know that wound is still fresh.”
“We know this is far from over,” Durant said. “We know how hard it is to be the best team in the league. So we got to just keep going, man, keep our foot on the gas and keep getting better every day.”
As the Warriors insisted their focus would not relent, the Cavaliers drew on their experience last year. Kyrie Irving repeated the Cavs would not waver. A reporter asked if the Warriors’ talent made it difficult, and Irving did not hesitate. “Hell, no,” he said.
“They’re the defending champions,” Livingston said. “We lost last year, being up 3-1. We were up 2-0. We’ve been here. We have to stay hungry and know that it’s a long way to go. The hardest thing to do is win a championship.”
That may be true, but right now the Warriors are making it look easy — too easy for the good of the NBA. A championship series should be about competition. After two games, this one has been about only the Golden State Warriors.