History teaches us not to overreact to the opening game of an NBA Finals. Older fans recall the Celtics blowing out the Lakers, 148-114, in Game One of the 1985 Finals in the Boston Garden, then losing the series in six.
We need only go back to last June, when the Warriors beat the Cavs by 15 and 33 points in the first two games and lost in seven. It was the fourth time in LeBron's six Finals that the Game One loser won it all, and the fifth time the eventual champ trailed at some point in the series.
Still, based on what I saw Thursday night, James is in trouble in his seventh straight Finals. The Warriors were as dominant as expected, exploiting the Cavs' interior D and holding them to 35 percent from three-point range.
You never count out LeBron. Cleveland should be better in Game Two. But the Cavs have no answer for Kevin Durant and have trouble penetrating the league's best defense. It's risky to put too much stock in one game, but in this case it reflects the superior team. On to this week's Mailbag.
Mike Stetter asks: The NBA and NHL are a study of contrasts. One has top seeds coasting to the inevitable rematch. The other has parity with overtimes and an eighth seed in the final. I'm a bigger hockey fan, but I've been drawn more to the NBA product. What can we learn from this?
@InForAPennyJDRF asks: Is criticism of the Cavs-Warriors final warranted? The NBA has trended w/ 2 dominant teams for years (Lakers-Celtics et al).
Sully: I made those an entry because they both deal with the question of competitive balance vs. dominant teams and sustained rivalries, and which is better for a sports league in the long run.
I didn't care for all the blowouts in the early rounds of the NBA playoffs, but the ratings were good. Fans love to see historically great teams, even when they're rolling over inferior opposition.
Dynasties have been good for the NBA. During the Eighties, either the Lakers or Celtics -- or both -- appeared in nine of the 10 Finals. Fans didn't complain about them meeting three times in four years. They looked forward to it. They wanted to see Bird vs. Magic one more time.
The league thrived when Michael Jordan and the Bulls got to six Finals in eight years in the Nineties. People called the Spurs boring, but true hoop fans relished the understated brilliance of Tim Duncan. It was great drama when LeBron came along to challenge them for league supremacy.
What troubles me is when the dynastic teams aren't pushed, as in this year's NBA playoffs. It's refreshing to see a conference upstart bring out a team's best, the way the Pistons did to the old Celtics and the Bulls to those Pistons before Jordan broke through.
The Stanley Cup playoffs have a charm all their own. A Cup overtime is as dramatic as anything in sports. Buffalo fans know how it feels when a team makes a run, as the Sabres did as a seventh seed in 1999. Nashville reaching the Cup final as an eighth seed has been a great story.
But stars drive interest, and that's why the NHL folks were praying for the Penguins to get to the final. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin trying to go back-to-back is a great story. It would be even better if the same two teams were meeting in a rematch, like the Cavs and Warriors.
Patrick Allen asks: Am I insane to be excited about a new, unproven Bills staff? I can't determine if I'm a complete delusional homer, or have confidence in "smart" choices in our Coach and GM. Dick Jauron was considered a smart coach at one time.
Sully: You're not a delusional homer, just an honest fan. Your point is well-stated and reflects the general feeling in town right now. Bills fans like what they see in Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane. But the honest ones realize it's partly a reaction to the past dysfunction.
The Jauron line is an LOL for me. He went to Yale, didn't he? He talked a good game and was organized. So were Gregg Williams and Doug Marrone. You never know about a coach until he's in command on the sideline. It's early to compare McDermott with Marv Levy, as Bill Polian did.
The optimism among fans has to do with the apparent functionality of the football operation and a sense of competence and vision. Considering how things were done in the past, it's warranted. The Bills hired a succession of general managers for the wrong reason and it set them back a decade.
But base competence doesn't mean they'll succeed. Every NFL team has smart people running the show. The typical team is well ahead of the Bills right now in roster-building. Time will tell if McDermott, Beane and Co. have what it takes to close the gap and be real contenders.
Tom Shannon asks: 3% chance of the Bills making the playoffs according to some experts. Knocks my rose-colored glasses off. What're your odds?
Sully: One site has them at 90-1 to win the Super Bowl. So three percent to simply make the playoffs seems a bit low. In a league where teams go from last to first on a regular basis, it's hard to see any team with odds that low to simply get in. All right, except for last year's Browns.
I'd put the Bills at around 8 percent to make it. Playing in a division with the Patriots always hurts. What I want to know is the odds of any team missing the playoffs 17 years in a row in the NFL.
@GraysonTumult asks: How important is it for Botterill to start off his tenure by landing Cal Peterson?
Steve Ratka asks: It concerns me that Petersen announced he was leaving Notre Dame and hasn't signed with the Sabres. Is another 'Vesey' situation where he intends to wait them out before he goes UFA and picks his spot?
Sully: Like Jimmy Vesey, Peterson has the right to wait 30 days and sign with any team of his choosing. It's become more common for college players not to sign with the NHL team that drafted them and become free agents.
I suppose Jason Botterill could make a persuasive pitch to the young goaltender, but I doubt it matters who is employed as the Buffalo GM. John Vogl tells me Tim Murray laid the groundwork for a possible signing. If Peterson goes elsewhere, it was likely his intention all along.
It's not as big a deal as the Vesey situation. Vesey was an accomplished forward who was ready to step in right away for the Rangers this season. Peterson is a goalie and will need some time in the minors. Plus, the Sabres don't have an immediate need at the position.
Alex Davis asks: Which role player on the Cavs needs to have the biggest impact in order for the Cavs to have a chance?
Sully: Depends on what you consider a role player. Center Tristan Thompson is a starter, but he needs to fill his role. Thompson is limited offensively, but he averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds in last year's Finals. He was by far the top offensive rebounder in the series and a defensive presence.
He was invisible in the opener, contributing zero points and four boards. The Warriors had a field day down low, scoring at will and getting little physical resistance. Thompson has to be an inside factor.
I'll close with a reflection on the Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the Eighties. If a team had dunked seven times in a half, as Golden State did Thursday, someone would have been taken to the ground.
Toughen up, Cleveland.