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Injuries had major impact on playoff outcome this season

Curry, LeBron could have encore performance one year from now

POSTED: Jun 17, 2015 12:11 PM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell


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— Congrats to the Golden State Warriors, the NBA's best team wire-to-wire, who erased a 40-year championship dry spell that included some rather gruesome stretches that nobody in the Bay Area even remembers right now.

The NBA usually gets it right every year and once again, there's no doubt the Warriors were a rung above all other teams, and if we're being fair about it, they were also the healthiest team, too. Which leads us to the first of the 5 Things We Learned about the 2014-15 NBA Finals:

Kyrie Irving's Injury

Kyrie Irving drives, lands awkardly and appears to sustain an injury on the play.

Injuries hurt the season down to the painful end

Cavs-Warriors was a fairly entertaining series and at times a very good one. But those cosmetics masked everything that was wrong about it; namely, injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving that robbed us (and especially Cleveland) of a potentially better spectacle and different result.

But here in the Season of Hurt, did you expect anything different? Once again, the NBA absorbed some costly injuries, which only continued a bad trend of the last four or five years. Not only are players falling, stars are falling, and the game simply suffers when the top players are wearing Gucci loafers instead of high tops.

You could even make a case, at least an arguable one, that Oklahoma City could've represented the West instead of the Warriors had Kevin Durant stayed healthy, especially with the way Russell Westbrook closed the season. Even in the playoffs, injuries refused to show mercy: John Wall, Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Pau Gasol, Mike Conley, etc., all missed time because of pain.

The Cavs were damaged goods when Kevin Love suffered a shoulder injury in the first round and Kyrie Irving had a freak accident which fractured his kneecap in the first game of The Finals. And so, while we should be quick to salute the Warriors for a job well done, one of their greatest accomplishments aside from 67 wins and Stephen Curry winning Kia MVP was remaining in one piece.

Andre Iguodala Highlights

Andre Iguodala's Game 6 highlights.

Strength In Numbers was a great Warriors' slogan

Digest this for a moment: Golden State beat the Cavs in 6 despite just 2½ games at MVP level from Curry, and 41 percent (30 from deep) shooting from Klay Thompson, and getting below-par production from Draymond Green for the first three games. That's a testament to the depth of a team that always found a player willing and able to compensate. This truly was a very good team, as in t-e-a-m.

A few years ago they signed Andre Iguodala to be a leader and serve in a starring role. Well, here in the championship series, he became the only Finals MVP to come off the bench, which Iggy did the first three games. Iguodala was tremendous on both ends and finished strongly. A statement game and series from him.

But at various points throughout the series, the Warriors got quality play from David Lee (who, like Iggy, made sacrifices in his role this season), Green (closed with a triple-double), Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli and in Game 1 (before his missed Game 2 dunk benched him for good), Marresse Speights. Speaking of help ...

Smith's Late Three

J.R. Smith and the Cavaliers continue to fight as Smith hits a contested three pointer.

Smith, Shumpert were indeed Knicks after all

Look, we'll be fair about this: The Cavs don't make it to The Finals without J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, who came to the club at midseason and flourished to a degree in the playoffs. At one point while things were going good, Smith tweeted this: "One team's trash is another team's treasure." Yes, the emancipation from the Knicks was saluted by the basketball world and Phil Jackson was made to look like a fool.

To be blunt, though, Smith and Shump were terrible in the Finals.

They offered LeBron no relief and were actually hurting the Cavs when they were on the floor. Because Smith and Shumpert gave nothing, the Cavs had to turn to such players as Matthew Dellavedova and James Jones to play roles that were beyond their capabilities. It was pretty sad to watch. Smith shot 31 percent (29 from deep) and at times appeared to just hide and run away from the ball when his slump intensified. Smith also made poor decisions with the ball that sucker-punched his team. Shumpert plays a position that demands scoring, and yet he shot 25 percent and only once scored in double digits. His defense, which is his forte, was fine at times, yet without Irving and Love, the Cavs needed scoring. Specifically, they needed players to make open jumpers when LeBron was doubled. Not only did Smith and Shumpert fail, but they couldn't create their own shots, either, or get to the free throw line.

Steve Kerr is built for this job

What a year for Kerr. It began last summer when he was approached about the Knicks job by his former mentor and then had the frame of mind to turn the gig down. The Warriors should send a championship ring to Marv Albert, who advised Kerr against working for the Knicks (Marv has beef with Knicks owner Jim Dolan). Also, Kerr's family is West Coast-based; the family home is in San Diego and a daughter attends college in the Bay Area.

GameTime: Steve Kerr

The GameTime crew discuss Steve Kerr winning the 2014-15 NBA Championship with the Warriors as a rookie head coach.

Kerr replaced Mark Jackson, who had a bad relationship with Andrew Bogut, reportedly didn't get along with the son of owner Joe Lacob and was hesitant to upgrade his assistant coaches at Lacob's request. Kerr is a polished communicator who's a down to earth, warm and funny guy with little ego. That went over well in the Warriors locker room, where players felt welcome to make requests, and Kerr quickly won over Curry, who was a Jackson guy.

But Kerr was skillful in The Finals, benching Bogut (and getting no flack from the center) and turning Iguodala loose after the Warriors fell behind 2-1. Through it all, he remained himself, never showing stress or becoming flustered, until he was drenched by victory liquid.

Curry, James might do this again soon

Don't you get the idea that it's possible? At the very least, the MVPs were worth the price of admission. LeBron dragged his team to a sixth game while Curry's burst of brilliance in Game 5 put the Warriors in control.

It's true that Curry didn't even get a single vote among the 11 media members that chose the series MVP, but that didn't mean Curry wasn't important to the Warriors. Iguodala won for being consistent, but Curry once again did the little things that largely went unnoticed. For example, more than a handful of Iggy's open jumpers came as a result of Curry drawing extra defenders.

LeBron simply had, statistically at least, the best performance in an NBA Finals. You could also say he had the most impossible job, trying to haul a team missing a pair of All-Stars and loaded with role players who were unaccustomed to dealing with the shine of a championship series. It's rare when the losing player of a series gets four MVP votes, as LeBron did. In simple terms, nobody in the series was more valuable, because without LeBron, the series is a sweep and folks are watching women's soccer.

Curry and LeBron easily were the reason why the ratings for the series set records for an NBA Finals at ABC. And the good news for the networks is these two players could make a return soon. Curry is young and in his prime and with a team built to last, provided the Warriors don't fall victim to the injury bug like so many other teams. The Cavs will get Love back (assuming he doesn't sign elsewhere this summer) and Irving back and likely a more motivated LeBron next season.

So: Anyone up for Warriors-Cavs II, this time at full health?

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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