Tuesday, June 5, 2007

"The Second Worst Team in Finals History"

As regular readers of this blog (all three of them) know, I am a big fan of Henry Abbott's Truehoop blog on ESPN.com. Today, however, I was not a fan of this article titled "Cleveland isn’t the worst NBA finalist in decades–but it’s close" which received a link in Henry's "Tuesday Bullets" column.

Before writing anything else, it's worth mentioning that while I'm a big Cavs fan, I'm also a realist (and often, during Cleveland games, a severe pessimist). I think the Spurs will win this series, probably in 6 games. I think they're the better team. And this year, the Cavs were pretty inconsistent during the regular season, and had a fairly easy road to the Eastern Conference Finals. That being said, the Cavs have evolved into one of the best defensive teams in the league. They beat the Pistons when nobody in the world gave them a chance, and they have one of the two best players in the Finals. I think they have at worst a puncher's shot to take down the Spurs. So to convince me that the Cavs are the second-worst NBA finalist of all time, you're going to have to put together a pretty compelling case. Let's see what Tim Kawakami puts together to argue that the Cavs truly suck:

"Data: Finished 50-32, second seed in weak East. Before getting to the finals, Cleveland swept an injury-obliterated Washington in the first round, took six games to up-end a bad Nets team in the second, then cleaned out the No. 1 seed Pistons in six."

OK, you've got us, Tim. We played an easy playoff schedule. But, that said, we beat who we had to beat. On the other side of the aisle, though, you have the Spurs--who played a tough series against the Suns, in addition to two series against overmatched teams (Utah and Denver). They didn't have to face the Mavs--arguably the second best team in their conference--because the Mavs lost in the first round. Now, obviously Denver and Utah are more difficult opponents than New Jersey and Washington, but it seems inconsistent to criticize the Cavs for facing a weak schedule while ignoring that the Spurs also played a weaker schedule than they could have. But, fine, the West is harder, etc. so let's give Tim the benefit of the doubt here.

"-Best regular players: LeBron James, Drew Gooden, Daniel Gibson.

-Worst regular players: Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall."

OK, I agree here too. Not sure if Drew Gooden is one of our top-three best regular players, but I won't quibble. And yes, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall have sucked it up in the playoffs (the latter more than the former).

"-What clinched second-worst: Had easiest road to the conference finals in recent NBA history, went 20-21 on the road."

I think we're now beating the "easy road" point to death here. What else does he want the Cavs to do? They won 50 games during the regular season, they drew a favorable bracket, and they took care of business. Plus, it's not like they played Orlando in the conference finals--they played Detroit, the prohibitive favorite to win the East. Detroit imploded, but that was as much a result of the way the Cavs played than anything else--yet Tim classifies them as an "easy" team to beat. Tim seems to be arguing that the Pistons were an easy team to beat because the Cavs beat them. A bit circular, no?

With regards to the road record, the Cavs went 16-12 from January on forward. Not a great stretch, but better than 20-21. During that same stretch the Spurs went 16-11. I thought I'd compare the opponents the two teams faced during those almost-identical road stretches. I found:

10 Common Wins (Boston, Sacramento, LA Clippers, Golden State, Philadelphia, LA Lakers, Detroit, Memphis, Minnesota, Washington)
4 Common Losses (Phoenix, Miami, Utah, Dallas)
3 Cavs Wins/Spurs Losses to Common Opponent (Milwaukee, Indiana, Chicago)
3 Spurs Wins/Cavs Losses to Common Opponent (Seattle, Portland, Denver)
3 Cavs Wins over non-common opponents (Philadelphia, Toronto, Milwaukee)
5 Cavs Losses to non-common opponents (Miami, Charlotte, New York, Boston, Detroit)
3 Spurs Wins over non-common opponents (New Jersey, Atlanta, Houston)
4 Spurs Losses to non-common opponents (Minnesota, Orlando, Memphis, Cleveland)

Remarkably similar--they shared 14 identical results, had 6 "splits" with opponents, and then had roughly the same number of wins and losses to the remaining teams, none of which were particularly good, excepting the Cavs-Spurs matchup).

Plus, the Cavs won three crucial games on the road in the playoffs, when road games matter (games 4 and 6 against New Jersey, and game 5 against Detroit) and should have won games 1 and 2 against Detroit as well. So while the Cavs aren't a great road team, they did improve over the second half of the season, and performed about as well as the Spurs (at least in terms of record).

"-Why not the worst: That LeBron Guy. And that’s the only reason."

Yes, LeBron rules. Thanks for pointing that out.

"-Most illusory stat: They went 2-0 against the Spurs, drawing possible talk that the Cavs create match-up problems for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Co.

But the first loss was the second game of the season, on a San Antonio back-to-back, the night after the Spurs went into Dallas and knocked off the team that knocked them out of the conference finals the previous year.

And the second loss was in Cleveland on Jan. 2–not an official San Antonio back-to-back, but the Spurs had to travel on New Year’s Day."

It's a fair point that regular season games don't mean that much. But let's not forget that the Cavs played the Spurs in their third game of the season, two days after they played the Wizards to start the season (a "must win to prove ourselves" win.) Now, that's not as emotionally intense as playing the Mavs, but it's something. What's more striking is Tim's excuse for the Spurs losing the second game: they had to TRAVEL on NEW YEAR'S DAY. That's it? Come on--the Spurs had one day off between every game in the Jazz series, and they didn't lay down and die because of it.

To recap: so far, Tim has offered, as proof for his grand theory of Cav suckitude, three arguments:

1.) The Cavs had an easy run to the Finals (which is outside their control and assumes the flawed premise that the Pistons are bad).
2.) The Cavs' had a poor road record (which is almost identical to the Spurs' from January on, and ignores recent successes in the playoffs).
3.) The Cavs had one more day to rest before their games against the Spurs than the Spurs did.

What else does Tim offer? Nothing. NOTHING.

Like I said before, I think San Antonio is the better team. I'm willing to buy that the Cavs may lose to them because San Antonio has gelled over the past few months, is playing better basketball, has figured out a better rotation, etc. All of these observations are true. But Tim doesn't make any of these arguments. Instead, he makes some wild, less-supportable claims and, in doing so, gets himself noticed in a national, reputable sports blog.

Which is why I say to Henry--come on. If you're going to link to that, can't you link here once in a while? :)


ian said...

Agreed. Kawakami is especially brutal on the recent Eastern Conference teams because they're all in recent memory. He's lacking historical perspective. The teams he named were good defensive teams and had a superstar playing at the top of their game (Iverson, Lebron, Kidd).

The champion Pistons and Heat also went through that terrible East. Essentially, to Kawakami, if you get through the East and win the finals, you're great. If you lose, you're one of the worst teams ever.

robino2001 said...

A couple of things from the opposite view.

The thing that the NBA has right is the giant layoff before the finals - especially when someone like James gets in - because fans for the underdogs find ways to convince themselves it's their series. It goes both ways - SA fans are starting to buy into some of the hype they are reading. Saturday night, I was sure this series goes 4, maybe 5 games. You posted you thought it would go 5 yourself. Now, a few days later, my thought is the same but Spurs fans everywhere else are buying into the 'maybe they do draw the series out/maybe they have a chance'. Same with Cavs fans - many of which are now convinced they have it locked up.

Here are a few points to defend my Spurs...

a) The loss in November was a given going into the game, in my mind. James on national TV out to prove a point against one of the powerhouses to start a year, coupled with the Spurs going back-to-back with Dallas (I think a late game too, ~11:30 ending plus travel?). For the last 10 years, even more so the past 5, the Spurs lose back-to-backs, no matter the team (see Bobcats, Bucks, whoever). They improved this year but last year something like all but 5 or 6 of their losses were off of back to backs. The loss at Cleveland, I don't remember so I can't comment on it.

b) So coupled with the previous point, these games were early Nov and Jan. Maybe it's common knowledge in SA and not so much across the NBA community (though I think it is...), the Spurs are a different team by the All-Star break. They go through the motions the first 40 games, then crank it up for the last 40. Their 'Rodeo roadtrip' was horrendous this year until two wins at the tail end of it - and they haven't looked back since.

c) then to kinda ride the last point again - yes, Cleveland has played well the end of the year, also. Hell, Cleveland isn't a bad team - but I think they're a 6 seed in the west (7 if you give Denver a full season with a complete team). They went 1-5 vs Phoenix, Dallas and Utah (didn't look for Houston results). A 50-32 record is a great year for y'all, and I congratulate the team and their fans for the best record since 93 or 94 I think. The Cavs are growing into the team to beat in the East for the next 10 years (with the Bulls if they keep their young core together). The last Spurs season with a record like that was a 53-29 run in 99-00. We haven't had a record below 50-32 since the Robinson injury/tank year of 96-97 which got us Duncan. Sure, this is the past, I completely understand. But this has all been done in the Western conference - obviously the more dominant conference since MJ retired in 98 give or take the one or two teams in the east each year. While none of the past stats will matter in this series and by no means does it hand the trophy to SA, it helps show that this is what the Spurs are made for and essentially expect... which leads into the final point.

d) I've read for days now that the Spurs have never played a defensive team like this. All year I've heard how the Spurs can't handle the defenses of Phoenix, Dallas and Utah. Are they better than Cleveland - I won't act like I know - I haven't watched Cleveland enough this year. But this is similar to the 'SA can't handle the Suns offense and the defense will stop the Spurs'. But you never hear how SA would put up 110-120 playing the Suns style and beat them at their own game. What my rambling point comes down to is 1) I don't believe the Cavs defense is anything more special that what's been thrown at SA over the last 5 years and 2) the Spurs and staff are typically good enough to adjust to whatever is being thrown at them. SA loses one of the first 2 games seemingly ALL THE TIME... and then typically go on to win in 5 or 6 because of the adjustments made.

Who has had the best defense in the league for the last few years - SA. This team practices against their own defense every day - why wouldn't they be aware of how to play it?

I know I've rambled and might not have made much sense, but I've been reading things on this series for days now and I had to express my thoughts/feelings somewhere. Message boards are loaded with the usual stuff no matter what the board. While I'm not one of the "regular readers", I felt as if something I responded with here would be read and possibly responded to/refuted in a somewhat personable/mature manner.

Good luck to your team in the days and years to come and here is to hoping for a fun and entertaining series no matter who the fan is for.

Ryan said...

a) The Cavs SUCKED on nationally televised games this year. The fact they beat the spurs proves how much of a matchup problem the Cavs are for the Spurs.

b) LeBron took the first half of the season off as well, or did you not get the memo ESPN sent out EVERY episode of SportsCenter this year?

c) 1-1 against Houston, so the Cavs were 4-6 against the "elite" in the West. The Spurs were 6-4 against the top 5 in the East, not really that big of a difference.

Bottom line is match-ups. The best way to say who is going to win isn't record in the regular season. It isn't conference they play in, but rather, how do these teams match-up against each other. Cavs fans say we have won 3-4 and 2-0 this year. Spurs fans say we are a different team now. Hello! The Cavs are a different team now too. Gibson, did he even play against the Spurs before? 5 minutes in one of the games, none in the other. Eric FREAKIN' Snow was a starter when both of these games were played. The Cavs match up better than anyone in the publics eye will admit. Here's to a nice long series!

raimhotep said...

Lebron and the cavs are bums... Pull out the lebroom cause it is going to be a sweep.. Parade in San Antonio friday.