NBA rivals unable to find antidote to dominant Warriors
When facing a behemoth as daunting as the Golden State Warriors, it is commonplace for those attempting to offer words of wisdom to the opponent to fall back on parlance that offers little in the way of hope – 'pick your poison'.
On the surface it is sound advice. Give free reign to the players you least mind hurting you and key on those who are crucial to your opponent's success.
Throughout broadcasts of the 2018 NBA Finals it was proffered as the best defensive strategy for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they sought to somehow stop the Warriors.
If that was the Cavaliers' plan in this series, it failed emphatically.
The Cavs were swept aside in brutal fashion by the Warriors, who clinched successive championships, and a third title in four years, with a 108-85 rout on Cleveland's home court on Friday that capped a 4-0 series win.
Stopping the Warriors entails finding some way to slow down four-time scoring champion and now back-to-back Finals MVP Kevin Durant, and two-time MVP Stephen Curry, widely regarded as the best shooter of all time.
At times it appeared as if the Cavaliers were picking their poison when defending the duo. But when one struggled, the other picked up the slack.
Durant was poor in game one, but Curry, aided by J.R. Smith's infamous lack of game awareness in the closing seconds of regulation, was brilliant in closing out a thriller in overtime.
Both excelled as the Warriors cruised in game two, though Curry stole the show by breaking the record for most three-pointers in a Finals game with nine successful attempts from beyond the arc.
Wanna know what it’s like in the BACK-TO-BACK CHAMPS locker room? pic.twitter.com/XMC418ajmR— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 9, 2018
However, when Curry followed that with a dreadful shooting performance in game three, scoring only 11 points as the Cavaliers consistently trapped him, Durant delivered one of the all-time great Finals displays, hitting 15 of his 23 shots for 43 points while also recording 13 rebounds and seven assists.
Both Curry (37 points) and Durant (20 points) excelled in the closeout game, the Cavaliers, an already poor defensive team, offering the token effort of a group of players resigned to their fate.
Trying to stop both Durant and Curry is a near-impossible task and it is made that much more difficult by the assistants the duo have at their disposal.
To label Durant and Curry's team-mates as a supporting cast is to do them something of a disservice and the Cavaliers would not dare leave Klay Thompson, just as proficient as Curry from deep in the eyes of many, unguarded.
40+ and 6+ - Players with 40+ points and 6+ 3-pointers made in a #NBAFinals game:@KyrieIrving (June 9, 2017) - 40 points, 7 3-pointers@KDTrey5 (June 6, 2018) - 43points, 6 3-pointers— OptaLarry (@OptaLarry) June 7, 2018
Yet in a vain attempt to keep the series going the Cavaliers did pick their poison, and allowed the likes of Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to shoot when in possession from three-point range.
But Iguodala, in just his second game back from a bone bruise suffered in game three of the Western Conference finals, delivered the most deflating of blows by hitting on half of his six three-point attempts, hammering home a truth the NBA has had to learn the hard way, picking your poison against the Warriors does not work.
Durant, Curry, Thompson and Green are all future Hall of Fame players who excel at scoring on a regular basis, and their talents are supplemented by the veteran presences of Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and JaVale McGee, the latter duo providing consistent scoring contributions throughout the Finals.
Simply put, the Warriors' collection of talent is too vast to pick your poison against them.
LeBron James will head into the offseason, and possibly to a new team, with drawing board in hand trying to formulate a way to repeat his heroics of 2016 against Golden State.
The Houston Rockets came agonisingly close to knocking them off their throne in the conference finals but, for now, the Warriors are a team to which the rest of the NBA is yet to find an antidote.