The 2018 NBA Finals are officially over as the Golden State Warriors swept LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers to win their third championship in four years. Kevin Durant won his second consecutive Finals MVP award since joining the team, and is blamed for “ruining the league.” And although I won’t completely disagree with that claim, I will say this – don’t just blame KD, blame Kelly Olynyk too.
Game 4 of the 2015 NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals had the second-seed Cleveland Cavaliers up 3-0 over the seventh-seed Boston Celtics, along with a healthy LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love intact. With 5:24 left to play in the first quarter, Love and Boston’s Kelly Olynyk both went for a loose ball as Olynyk tugged at Love’s left shoulder in the process. Love bolted to the Cleveland locker room and would require surgery to repair his dislocated shoulder and torn labrum — forced to sit out the playoffs.
Though more reliant on their two All-Stars, Cleveland still cakewalked to a finals matchup against Golden State, but not without suffering any consequences. With Love out, the team looked to James and Irving to handle the ball more. This means more plays, attention and physical pressure for the two. Irving would go down with a fractured kneecap in Game 1 midway through overtime, leaving LeBron by himself to fend off the team with the best record in the league. If Olynyk doesn’t tear out Love’s shoulder, then: Love plays in the 2015 Finals, one more player can handle the ball, and the chances of Irving getting injured are minimized.
So, the Cavs lose in their first finals meeting against Golden State in six games, and the Warriors enter the 2015-2016 season with their confidence through-the-roof. They go on an absolute tear to start off the regular season, going undefeated in their first 24 games. In fact, they’re so caught up with how good they are, they decide to try and break the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls’ regular season record of 72 wins in a season.
The Warriors accept the daunting task of winning about 90 percent of their regular season games, and tire themselves out in the process. Curry misses the first two games of the first round match-up against Houston due to an ankle injury, and when he returns to the court, he injures his knee. If Golden State eases off the gas pedal in the regular season, Curry is fully healthy by the time playoffs roll around.
Nevertheless, the Warriors continue to thrive in the playoffs, and rush Curry’s recovery doing so. Because Curry was never 100 percent in the playoffs after the Rockets’ series, he wasn’t as effective later on. It also didn’t help that their conference finals match up with the Thunder was a long and grueling seven games, only for that to be followed with another series that went the distance.
The Warriors infamously blow a 3-1 lead to the Cavs in the 2016 Finals, and win Kevin Durant signing in free agency as a “consolation” prize. Curry’s lack of full health in that playoff run haunted Golden State during that year’s final. The chances of the unanimous 2016 MVP being injured back then would’ve been minimized if the team didn’t chase regular season records. And the only reason why they chased that record, is because they won the championship in 2015. Golden State had a huge chance beating the Cavs once Irving got injured, with the chances of that happening being reduced if Love was around to also handle the ball. But most importantly, none of this happens if man-bun Olynyk doesn’t yank out Love’s shoulder out of its socket.