OAKLAND — Who is the pressure on for the 2017 NBA Finals?
Most who follow the NBA will say it’s the Warriors. A 73-win team added Kevin Durant, has gone 12-0 in the postseason, had better bench play and scores in more varieties than past teams. Vegas agrees with this assessment and has the Warriors listed as -260 favorites, meaning if you bet $100 on the Warriors you only make $38.46 back.
What does pressure even mean? It means who will face the most backlash if their team falls short. Using that as a barometer, LeBron James won’t face much pressure at all. He’s already delivered Cleveland a title and most basketball pundits agree he’s working with a lesser roster. In the meantime, disparaging meme-makers on Twitter are already preparing to skewer Durant — and Steph Curry for that matter — should the Warriors fall short. Fair or not, Curry’s first title will be labeled a fluke if he can’t outperform Kyrie Irving in back to back NBA Finals.
It’s up for interpretation if this was gamesmanship, but Steve Kerr disagreed with the narrative that the Warriors should be overwhelming favorites.
“They’re the champions. We’re not,” Kerr said Monday at practice. “I saw the quote from Kevin Love. I’m surprised too, like what the hell is everybody talking about? Are you kidding me? They’re a great team, they’re the champs. We’re trying to take what they took from us last year.”
Here’s the quote from Love that Kerr was referencing.
“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love told reporters Saturday in Cleveland. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”
Part of me agrees with Kerr. More than ever, the regular season and this particular postseason did not matter much in 2016-17. As soon as Durant signed with the Warriors on July 4, it was a foregone conclusion a trilogy would happen.
In my mind, the “overwhelming favorite” narrative was inescapable once Golden State lured Durant away from Oklahoma City. Kerr and his team embraced it all year, often wearing Super Villain T-shirts at practice. Kerr is smart enough to understand how these narratives impact the mindset of a team, and he’s subtly trying to remind everyone how great of a team Cleveland really is.
Should the Warriors head back to Cleveland with the series tied 1-1, they’ll understand this “overwhelming favorite” narrative more.