Game Five of these NBA Finals is supposed to be the coronation of the Golden State Warriors as the new Greatest Team In The History of The Third Dimension And All The Ships At Sea.
Then again, that was Game Four’s principal function, and we all remember how that turned out.
Given the new reality, though – that the Cleveland Cavaliers are as capable of kicking the Warriors in the how’s-your-father as the other way around – Game Five has taken on a new role.
The harbinger of what the famous Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson liked to call “squeaky bum time.”
And yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.
The Warriors could have finished the job – the job of winning a championship, not the chase for historical superiority that seems to arouse us intellectually a lot more than it does them. Instead, they booted all over themselves in a 137-116 loss that was actually far closer than it deserved to be.
After all, if a team with the best defense gives up the most points in a Finals game in each of the first three quarters and the sixth-highest total over (out of 820 games), a 21-point loss is a veritable gift.
And yes, no matter what the venue, no matter what the officiating level, no matter what external pressures. It’s the Finals. Nobody grades on a curve.
So since Friday brought back such a rush of old story lines (Where It All Went Wrong, Part Deux), Monday is now a test of Golden State’s character, dignity and worth as human beings – all because they didn’t sweep a very good team on its home court, and all because if they don’t win Game Five, it’s 2016 all over again, only this time it cements their legacy as choking hyenas.
That is, if:
(A) They have an actual legacy like that based on one win and one loss in the Finals.
(B) You believe them capable of playing such a shoddy level of defense for a second consecutive game.
(C) You think their bravado runs a mile wide and an inch deep.
If none of the above are true, all Game Five means merely a dream deferred three days. But if the Cavs win again, as they did a year ago?
Yep. Squeaky-bum time.
The origin of SBT was actually 2003 and the nerve-wracking Premier League. Ferguson was using the phrase to gig Arsenal, which led by as many as eight point in March but ultimately was caught by United at the end. The operative quote:
“They (Arsenal) have a replay against Chelsea and if they win it they would face a semi-final three days before playing us in the league. But then they did say they were going to win the treble (the Premiership, the Champions League, then called the UEFA Cup, and the FA Cup), didn't they? It’s squeaky bum time and we've got the experience now to cope.”
As it became prophetic – Man U won the league and Arsenal croaked up at the second group stage of the UEFA Cup, leaving them only with the FA Cup – it became a staple of sports phraseology. It was the classic example of believing nothing until it becomes fact.
And now, it is here. Maybe.
The Warriors might well hammer the Cavs Monday as they did in Games 1 and 2 and close out the title as most people expected. Indeed, the 18 games of these three finals are a study in hypercycling and therefore not a trustworthy barometer of the future.
The margins of the 17 games are, in order:
8, 2 (Cleveland), 5 (Cleveland), 21, 13, 8, 15, 33, 30 (Cleveland), 11, 15 (Cleveland), 14 (Cleveland), 4 (Cleveland), 22, 19, 5, 21 (Cleveland). If you can find a pattern in that, you’re a little too conversant in the ways of the ganja.
But the Warriors have always created suspicions that they give in to their comfort level a bit too readily, believing, sometimes prematurely, that they can break a team’s will at will.
This is most likely a delusion created by the fact that they haven’t lost 50 games in the last three years, a first in this sport. But there is a sense that if the Warriors do not finish the Cavs Monday, they go back to Ohio finding the oxygen getting thin and the lungs starting to self-sear.
Yep. Squeaky-bum time.
The solutions are easy – defend fiercely from the start and make early shots; ignore the fans and the blathering class, and view this as a game that demands immediate and unabating ruthlessness. Stay out of early foul trouble (which is very much in their control no matter what you may think otherwise) and make the Cavaliers do the reacting and chasing.
You know. Play Games 1 and 2.
Otherwise we are looking barrel-first at Squeaky Bum Time as Sir Alex Ferguson actually defined it – as that time when those who have dared to presume start wondering if their presumptions were, well, presumptuous.