The Golden State Warriors emerged from the deepest, darkest subterranean cave imaginable and found themselves on the NBA mountaintop. Having survived the Oklahoma City Thunder via a seemingly impossible climb out of a 3-1 chasm, the Dubs reached the NBA Finals and realized quickly the hardest work was over.
The only thing left to do was survey the surrounding lands, all of which the Warriors—nearly buried mere days ago—had thoroughly conquered. Appropriately, none of this makes any sense—geologically, topographically or rationally.
The Cleveland Cavaliers aren't putting up any resistance at this, the league's ultimate stage. And that doesn't make much sense, either.
If the cave-mountain metaphor isn't doing it for you, think of it this way: Golden State barely scraped by the absurdly tough pop quiz that was the Thunder. And now the final exam against the Cavs feels more like a handful of extra-credit questions for which the Warriors long ago memorized the answer key.
It's not supposed to be this way. Every step of the NBA's full-season slog is meant to get harder. There's a battle for playoff positioning during the year, then four sequential seven-game tests of (purportedly) increasing difficulty.
Instead, the Warriors have reduced the Finals to something that looks and feels like those ho-hum mid-January formalities during the regular season. For two games so far, Golden State has goofed around, played conspicuously imperfect basketball, missed open shots, turned the ball over and then gone on to win by gross margins anyway.
The Warriors took Game 2 by 33 points Sunday, despite coughing up the ball 20 times.
Maybe things will change. LeBron James might find a way to slow the game down and work his way to the foul line 20 times via juggernaut drives. A return to Cleveland might produce the offensive flow and spacing that yielded so many three-point buckets earlier in the playoffs.
Cleveland could always catch Golden State getting randomly complacent, as they do. Draymond Green, the early front-runner for Finals MVP, might finally start showing some wear. The NBA season is often called a grind, after all. It's long, it's grueling and it breaks teams down.
But this year, the Warriors are the grind, and they're reducing the Cavaliers to dust. Although, even invoking the term "grind" makes what Golden State is doing seem like work. Maybe "pulverize" is the better descriptor, as long as we're clear in pointing out the pulverization is pretty much effortless.
"It's hard for me to pinpoint what's not working and what could work right now," James told reporters after the 33-point drubbing in Game 2. "We can't have as many mental lapses. ... These guys put you in so many mental positions where you have to figure it out, and they make you pay for it when you don't."
The ease with which the Dubs continue to hammer the Cavs shows up in ways great and small. According to NBA.com (h/t Ian Levy of FanSided), the Warriors have outscored the Cavs in the paint by a margin of 104-82 during the first two games of the Finals, yet just 24 of those 104 points have come on drives.
Relatedly, Golden State has only attempted 20 total free throws in those two games. Together, these stats show the Dubs are getting point-blank looks without working hard off the dribble in one-on-one situations and without letting the Cavaliers get close enough to foul.
In other words, many Golden State buckets look like this:
The blown assignment there belongs to James, and though he's hardly the only culprit on defense, he's also been a victim of the Andre Iguodala shutdown machine on the other end, per Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com:
The Warriors are getting layups and dunks in the NBA Finals while also hamstringing a four-time MVP.
And they're doing it easily.
Combined with stifling defense, supreme confidence and roster depth that Cleveland can't match, Golden State is turning what's theoretically hard into one giant uncontested layup. So far, the Warriors have outscored the Cavs by 48 points. And they've beaten Cleveland seven straight times dating back to last year's markedly tougher Finals series.
Thanks to the Dubs, the balance of this engagement feels like a formality. It's not supposed to be that way, but the Warriors built their remarkable season on the ashes of "supposed to."
You're not supposed to construct offenses around the 26-foot off-the dribble threes of a point guard. You're not supposed to field the league's most dominant five-man unit with a 6'7" center. You're not supposed to win 24 straight games to start the year with an interim head coach.
And you're definitely not supposed to set the all-time wins record, trot out the first unanimous MVP in league history and then come within a hair's breadth of missing the Finals entirely. Improbably, the Warriors achieved every one of those things. Incomprehensibly, they almost fell to the Thunder and permanently asterisked them all.
Maybe this'll be the legacy of this historically significant Warriors team: They've warped the connection between expectation and surprise.
We used to be startled when a player sank a quarter-closing 40-foot heave. Now, the collective intake of breath whenever Stephen Curry flings one up belies the crowd's anticipation that it'll go in.
Just listen; you can hear it happen.
Extend that reformatting to the Warriors' season and playoff run, and everything starts to make sense. Golden State has flipped paradigms all year.
Crushing the Cavaliers twice more—which shouldn't happen when one of the greatest players in league history stands in the way—would be a fitting final subversion in a season riddled with them.