Facing a team as impossibly well constructed as the Golden State Warriors tests the limits of our ability to analyze what we see. The temptation whenever a team loses is to find fault in what they are doing. The premise of any sporting event is that either team could win if they play to the peak of their potential. This Warriors squad may have changed the math, or maybe more accurately, erased the math for one side of the equation.
The Cavaliers are a “Super Team” by any sense of the word. They have three legitimate All-Stars and a handful of high-quality role players. But our traditional sense of a Super Team is this Cavaliers team: One generational player surrounded by an additional All-Star or two, and then some role players. I’d argue this Cavaliers squad ranks among the best Super Teams to ever grace the NBA.
But Golden State is not a normal Super Team. They are a team with two legitimate MVPs; arguably the second- and third-best players in the NBA. Behind them is the likely Defensive Player of the Year. Any one of these players could anchor their own Super Team, let alone be the second or third cog in one.
And then there is Klay Thompson. Maybe no one helps outline this incredible collection of talent better than Thompson. On any given night, he can be the best player on the court. He has secondary skills that make him unguardable. Forget that a 6-7 shooting guard is already on the longer endThe difference between Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry is not their ceilings, it’s their consistency. What Klay can give you every third or fourth game, Curry and Durant are giving you nightly.
That’s the difference in this series. Kyrie Irving has struggled. Tristan Thompson has struggled. J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver have struggled. These are all players that can reach incredible highs, but can’t do it every single night. For the Warriors, a stretch of two or three games where Klay struggles barely registers. They are getting what he can give them from three other players every single night.
For the Cavaliers, this variance didn’t matter against nearly any other opponent. LeBron James is going to be the best player on the court against any team. As long as Irving or Thompson or Kevin Love show up, the Cavs likely win. Higher-variance players like Smith and Korver add another option that again has very high highs, but with less consistency.
That doesn’t work against the Warriors. You’re going against two MVP caliber performances and a Defensive Player of the Year every night. It would take herculean efforts from the entire roster for the Cavaliers to overcome those odds. When you throw on their higher-variance players like Thompson, Andre Igoudala, Zaza Pachulia, or Shaun Livingston, the math stops mathing.
The same goes for Tristan Thompson. While Kyrie has only been slightly below his normal play, Thompson has been a shell of his normal self. In his role as the fourth best Cavalier, this would normally be a concern, but not a catastrophe. Against the Warriors, it’s a death sentence.
I’ve seen people calling the Cavaliers soft or questioning if some of the guys on this squad, the same guys who won a ring last season, have what it takes. They do. They proved they do last year, and should live above any of this sort of criticism. They could very well find a few wrinkles that work and flip this whole series around. If Kyrie comes alive, if Tristan dominates the boards, this team can absolutely make a run, even against the Warriors’ loaded squad. We’re only 12 months removed from them showing us exactly that.
But if not, it shouldn’t be viewed as the Cavaliers failing to live up to their side of the bargain. What changed was who sat on the opposing bench, and even the Cavaliers’ best may not be enough to overcome that.