Monday, June 20, 2016

The qualitative dimension of victory pt II

A year and a week ago I last updated this blog.  The Warriors and the Cavaliers faced off yet again in the NBA finals.  That series was characterized by slow games that didn't really showcase particularly good basketball.  Competitive sure, but not good. This time the outcome was different.  LeBron and his healthy Cavs overcame a 3-1 deficit, as Golden State had in the Western Conference Finals this year, to beat the favoured defending champions.

In another series that didn't showcase particularly good or competitive basketball.

The Cavs are the champs.  They won the last game of the year.  They are the last team standing and they are the best.  This is why we play the games.

The Warriors, alternatively, are not the best.  They aren't the worst.  They just aren't the best.  The Warriors lost their last game, the last game of the season.  They lost to a team that was better than they are.

So time for a fun little game:  Two teams play each other 9 times in the season.  Team one wins 5 games, team two wins 4.  Team one scores 918 avg 102.  Team two scores 882 avg 98.  Team one goes 88-18, 15-9 in the playoffs.  Team two goes 73-30, 16-5 in the playoffs.  Team one never loses back to back games all year during the regular season.  They lose two straight for the first time in the Western Conference Finals.

The only time that they lose 3 straight is the last 3 games of their season.

Which of these two are the better team?

What is more of a measure of excellence: doing things that matter consistently or being consistent when it matters most?

There just isn't a right answer to this.

The Warriors answered every challenge except the last one.  Against the best 5 teams in the league during the regular season - the Cavs, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Raptors - the Warriors went 14-1.

The Cavs answered the last challenge at the last possible moment.  Against the best 5 teams in the league during the regular season - the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Raptors - the Cavs went 6-5.

The Warriors won the West.  They won the West that had the Spurs team that won 67 games.  They beat the Thunder team that beat that team and has two MVP candidates and two future Hall of Famers.  They lost their best player, this year's MVP, for a two-week stretch and still won the West.

The Cavs won the East.  They obliterated the Pistons and Atlanta, who had no chance of reaching the Finals, and then got a brief scare from the Raptors.  They didn't beat anyone on those teams that will probably be in the hall of fame.

So just to be clear: The Cavs weren't as excellent, having an easier time of it to begin with, had everything possible go their way (including having one of their best players getting injured and then playing much, much better without him), and managed to win the last game of the season.  The Warriors were excellent at every opportunity, when every team gave them their absolute best every night, lost their best player for a stretch, had one of their best players suspended for one of the last games of the season, and lost the last game of the season.

LeBron said it best this year with regards to the MVP award: how do you measure value?  Only in rare occasions can victory ever really bring with it certainty.  The Warriors had one of those rare opportunities to be the unambiguous best team in basketball.  But they failed.  Just as LeBron is more valuable to the Cavs than Steph Curry is to the Warriors regardless of any voting, aren't the Warriors still the best team in basketball regardless of who won the last game?  The Cavs won the last series by the slimmest of margins.  The Warriors dominated a season.

The simple answer is no.  They didn't win the last game.  But if anyone wants victory to silence all the doubters, few victories can accomplish this.  Because, again, not all victories are equal.  And so winning at all cost can never give us the certainty that we really want.

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