One week ago, the mere existence of a Game 7 seemed unlikely as the Oklahoma City Thunder blew out the Golden State Warriors to take a 3-1 series lead. But the defending champions won three in a row to reach the NBA Finals for the second straight year, defeating the Thunder 96-88.
The obvious and most direct implication of that victory is clear: the Warriors move on while the Thunder go home. But like most things in sports and life, one action often has a number of ripple effects, some more clear than others. At least five other implications stand out from the Warriors’ Game 7 win Monday night.
LeBron Gets the Tougher Rematch
LeBron James was surely excited when the Thunder looked to be in control for the Western Conference Finals. While last year James lost in six games to the Warriors, he won easily against Kevin Durant and the Thunder four years ago to receive his first title.
James has owned Durant overall in their head-to-head meetings, winning 17 out of 21 times including the playoffs. This season LeBron’s Cavaliers won a tight game against the Thunder in December before blowing out Durant and crew in Oklahoma City in February.
The Warriors, on the other hand, have had the upper hand against LeBron James. They have won five straight in the matchup dating back to the NBA Finals. The version of the Cavaliers without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, such as Golden State faced in the Finals, cannot score enough to beat the Warriors. The version with their stars cannot defend enough to beat the Warriors.
LeBron James traded the foe he always beats for the one he has trouble beating, something he can’t be happy about.
NBA Finals Open In Oakland
With a 73-9 record, the best in NBA history, the Golden State Warriors will rightly have home court advantage in the Finals. But Cleveland’s record of 57-25, while worse than Golden State, was two wins better than the Thunder’s final mark of 55-27. If Oklahoma City had won, they would have traveled to Cleveland for Game 1. Now the Cavaliers have to go on the road themselves.
For the millions of fans who will be watching from home, this is not a major change. The game will still begin Thursday at 8 pm CST, 6 pm PST. But for fans in those markets their plans were up in the air. Those in the Cleveland market didn’t know if they were attending a game Thursday or next Wednesday.
For those who have to travel – members of the media, NBA officials, and the teams themselves – they didn’t even know which city they would be in until last night. It is the way the system works, but it means that once the buzzer sounds a lot of logistics burst into motion.
Durant’s Future Is Now More Uncertain
It is a hard picture to paint that depicts Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder after a trip to the NBA Finals. If he had led his team to a Game 7 victory, Oklahoma City would have had a great chance to deal LeBron his fifth NBA Finals loss and take home their first championship. Who would leave after a title?
But the Thunder lost, and that injects a heavy dose of speculation and uncertainty into the Thunder offseason. Will Durant consider other teams? If so, can Oklahoma City convince him to do a sign-and-trade? Or will they lose him for nothing?
The Golden State Warriors are one of the teams rumored to have interest in adding Kevin Durant. It is hard to say whether losing to the Warriors in Game 7 makes him more or less likely to consider them as a possible destination. On the one hand, the bitterness of losing such a tight series does not evaporate overnight. On the other, the Warriors demonstrated they are a team and a culture that win, and that may appeal to Durant.
Regardless of where he plays next year, the possibility is at least open that it’s not in a Thunder uniform.
Steph Curry is Back
Outside of a few bursts of magic, Steph Curry was showing that he was not fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him out for two weeks. He was scared away from taking layups, wasn’t getting as much push on his jumper, and wasn’t displaying the lateral quickness that makes him so dangerous out on the three-point arc.
That evaporated over the last five quarters of play, as Curry closed Game 6 in dominant fashion and was amazing in Game 7, pouring in shots from all over the court. He used his patented crossover to shake Thunder bigs multiple times, and a reverse layup in the first quarter announced to the world that he was back.
That and the swagger he sprinkled around the court as he played, knifing into the paint or drilling shots from 25 feet. The old Steph Curry is back. If he’s sticking around for all of the playoffs, the Cavaliers could be in for a rough ride.
The NBA Won Monday Night Too
Oklahoma City is a small market. That does not mean they are not profitable, and both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are highly marketable and bring revenue in for both the franchise and the league.
But they are not the Warriors. Based in the Bay Area, the Warriors have both a larger fan base and more with deep pockets. They have expanded their purview into East Asia, making connections in China and the Philippines.
That’s not even mentioning the fact that Steph Curry is the most popular player in the league right now, officially taking trophies and the official mantle from LeBron these past two years. This extends to the financial side, as the Steph Curry brand is highly lucrative. With no disrespect to Kevin Durant and the Thunder, Steph Curry is the most marketable player in the NBA and his presence in the Finals is a net win for the league.