So far, most experts have reduced this year’s Finals to a few storylines. The main takeaways are that LeBron’s legacy is tarnished, Duncan is easily a top 10 all-time player, D-Wade is finished, and 2014 Miami was no different than 2007 Cleveland. Some of these conclusions are accurate. Duncan probably does deserve to be in the same breath as Bird and Magic now. Wade does look pretty damn close to retirement. LeBron might as well have had Damon Jones and Candace Parker’s brother on the wings. Maybe most of all, experts are declaring the end of an era. And it’s not the one you might expect. It’s not the Spurs era, which seems to drag on year after year, no matter how old Duncan gets. It’s the end of the Big 3, proclaim overeager Heat-haters. There are a few more takeaways we can glean from this year’s Finals though that may be overlooked with all of the focus on Duncan and LeBron.
- Maybe the East was worse than advertised.
Is it possible that maybe we overrated the East? It sounds crazy to think, considering all the East bashing this season, but the East may have been worse than we thought. Coming into the season, most experts saw the Pacers and Nets as worthy challengers to the Heat. Gradually, people either forgot about the Nets, or realized they simply were not that good after their horrendous start to the season. The Pacers, though, tore through the first half of the season and seemed ready to finally overtake the Heat. Once the Pacers fell apart after the All-Star Break, the Heat suddenly had a cakewalk in the East. Playing the Bobcats and then a team whose go-to-guy is Joe Johnson in the first two rounds of the playoffs isn’t exactly taxing. And then the Pacers were just a shell of last year’s version, leaving the Heat able to coast through the East with no real test. The only team really capable of dethroning the Heat was the Pacers, and without them playing well, the Heat had no one to stand in their way.
- Not One, not two, not three: How many Finals Will LeBron lose?
LeBron is now 2-3 in the Finals. This is at least as perplexing as it is damning to his legacy. We can give LeBron a pass on his first Finals defeat, when he carried a weak Cavs team to the Finals, only to be promptly swept by the Spurs. How can you discredit LeBron for bringing a team that only won around 20 games without him, to the Finals? The next two losses are where the trouble begins for LeBron. His disappearing act in the 2011 Finals against the Mavs has been well-documented and is easily the low point of his career, but after that season, it seemed that he had finally figured it out. After winning two rings, it was difficult to envision him ever losing in the Finals again. Maybe the best player of the post-Jordan era shouldn’t get two passes for Finals losses, but it makes no sense to put the blame on LeBron for this year’s loss. He had no help and played a great series statistically. Still, Jordan never lost in the Finals. LeBron isn’t even .500 in the Finals. He looked calm all series long in the post-game press conferences. He laughed at ridiculous questions and told everyone it’s just basketball. That’s something you’d never hear from Jordan or Kobe or Bird or Magic. Or Duncan.
- America still hates LeBron.
I guess we already knew that.
- The Pacers must be the most demoralized team in the league right now.
For a few reasons. First, the Pacers now realize just how far away from a title they are. They were technically only six wins away from a championship, but they are a clear level beneath the Heat, who looked to be at least five levels below the Spurs. The Pacers played this season on the thought that getting by the Heat would be their stiffest challenge. We can now see that’s far from true. Second, and more frustrating for the Pacers, is the rise of Kawhi Leonard, whose rights they swapped on draft night a few years ago for point guard George Hill. Now, nearly everyone believes the Pacers’ weak link is point guard. Meanwhile, Leonard has ascended to a future superstar, 22 year old Finals MVP. Just imagine Paul George and Kawhi Leonard on the wings if you’re a Pacers fan.
- Will Mario Chalmers ever start again?
Chalmers may have been the worst player in this year’s Finals. He averaged just over four points, nearly three assists, and two turnovers per game. His minutes dwindled by the end of the series, and was benched in favor of Ray Allen in Game 5. Chalmers was never a great starting point guard, but he was at least competent. His confidence looked shot by the end of the series. It’s difficult to judge his career arc, having been on such loaded teams. There’s no telling how he would’ve developed on another team, but it sure looks like the Big 3 stunted his growth, and it looks like Norris Cole should be the Heat’s starter next season.