Going in, the mental advantage tips to the Cavs. The Cavs can lose one and maybe even two games and still feel that they can come back, still feel like “so what, we’ve done this before.”
On the other hand, if Curry, Durant and Green lose even one game early in the series, they are going to be mystified and annoyed. And setting Green aside for a moment, Curry doesn’t deal with irritation particularly well. Think back to the look on his face in Game 5 last year when he sat on the floor scowling at the ref during his infamous foul-out. In fact, just think about the almost perpetual look on his face of superiority and dismissiveness. He carries a sense of entitlement that showed up again in an interview on Saturday when he said “They are quote unquote the Champs”. The words “quote, unquote” as defined by the Cambridge dictionary are “said to show that you are repeating someone else’s words, especially if you do not agree.” So what, he got beat but somehow should have been crowned?
But let’s start with Game 1. The Cavs appear to respect the challenge. Lebron called them a juggernaut.
Do the Warriors return the sentiment? They say they do. Do we believe them? Curry may recognize his challenge with resilience as he noted their need to get off to a good start but does his team have the mental ability to interrupt Kevin Love’s fortified self-confidence? How will the mind-games of Kyrie – who seems to feel as if he is indeed an actual warrior – match up against such entitlement in Curry, vengefulness in Green or the doubt and maybe even desperation in Durant? Kevin has to be wondering something to the effect of “what if all this DOES NOT work?”
Speaking of doubt, LeBron willed the Cavs to their Championship through the fear of letting Cleveland down once again. This year will be about him, not the fans. He intellectually thinks he is the greatest player ever, he emotionally isn’t 100% convinced. If you look in his eyes and listen closely, you can deduce a fleeting flicker of doubt. Maybe it’s maturity. Maybe it’s smart risk management. Regardless, at the outset, this mental state is an asset.
CHANNELING EMOTIONAL ENERGY
Ultimately, the winner will be determined by who is more skilled at channeling their most negative feelings. When the fear of losing strikes – as it inevitably will – who will face it head-on? Who will be able to turn their exasperation into determination and focus? Whoever does will be the 2017 NBA Champions.