The Killer Elite
A funny thing happened on the way to my guarantee that the San Antonio Spurs were going to be in the Western Division Finals against the Golden State Warriors for the right to be in this year’s NBA Finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that is way too good to be dismissed as mere fodder for the NBA’s elite teams (because they are also an elite team every bit as good as the “big three” of Cleveland, Golden State and San Antonio, and this writer should have known that), soundly defeated the Spurs in six games and have advanced to the conference finals themselves.
The Warriors and Cavs did their part and pretty easily won their second round series and moved into the select group of the NBA’s “final four” playoff teams along with the Thunder, with the Miami Heat and the Toronto Raptors still left battling for that last spot. It is interesting to note that the last four finals participants (remember that we aren’t in this year’s finals yet) before this year have been either the Miami Heat or the Cleveland Cavaliers from the East (in other words, whatever team LeBron James has been on) against Oklahoma City four years ago (Miami beat OKC), the Spurs three years ago (the Heat beat the Spurs), the Spurs two years ago (San Antonio got revenge and beat the Heat), and the Warriors last year who beat the now James led Cleveland Cav team.
Unlike the other major sports, the elite teams almost ALWAYS seem to make it into the NBA Finals. Think about the matchups back in history. In the 1960’s, it was almost always the Boston Celtics against the L.A. Lakers. (In the 1970’s, there was a unique decade of parity, with nearly every year bringing in a new champion). In the 1980’s it was almost always the Lakers vs. either the Celtics or the 76ers. In the 1990’s, it was the decade of the Chicago Bulls. The 2000’s was the decade where the L.A. Lakers or the San Antonio Spurs won most of the time, and the 2010’s have been the Spurs, OKC and Warriors going up against some form of LeBron James team from the East.
So the elite teams are still always seeming to survive all of the playoffs and are always ending up playing in the finals. Another element of these elite teams is the fact that they all have their “superstar” or superstars that have historically always been a part of these elite teams that make it into the finals. Bill Russell (Celts) vs. Jerry West Lakers, Magic Johnson (Lakers) vs. Larry Bird (Celts) or Dr. J (76ers), Michael Jordan (Bulls) beat everyone, Kobe and Shaq (Lakers) vs. Tim Duncan (Spurs), and the LeBron James teams against (still) Tim Duncan (Spurs), Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (OKC) and Stephen Curry (Warriors).
The point of all this is to acknowledge that the Spurs and Warriors definitely qualified as elite teams, but that the Thunder should have been included also. It was a mistake to say there is a big three out there in the hierarchy of the NBA when the Oklahoma City Thunder have shown that they too belong in “the club” and that it should have been “the big four” instead. They could be good enough to win this whole thing themselves.