So here we are. The moment that most thought would happen before the NBA season began. Warriors and Cavaliers playing for the championship. A rematch of last year’s Finals in which Golden State prevailed in six games.
Momentary aside: It is this expectation that drives people who aren’t totally into the NBA just crazy beyond belief. There is order in the NBA that happens in no other sport. The chalk is just that. Home court advantage matters more (especially in Game 7s). In fact, in NBA history there have only been two champions (1969 Celtics as a four seed, and 1995 Rockets as a 6th), who have ever been seeded lower than third. But because of that chalk, what you generally get are the teams who’ve been the best all year actually playing for the title. No interlopers allowed.
That aside sets the stage for what, quite frankly, could be the most compelling Finals series since Magic and Bird were doing their thing back in 1985. This will mark the eighth time since 1979 that we’ve had the same teams in the Finals in back-to-back years. In six of the seven prior times, the team which lost the year before won the rematch. The only exception being the Bulls of 97-98 which beat Utah.
A year ago the Warriors won, but there are more than a few who want to put an asterisk on it because the Cavaliers didn’t have Kevin Love for the entire series, and didn’t have Kyrie Irving after the fourth quarter of Game 1. There are no excuses here in the return match (at least until some key player isn’t available). All hands are on deck.
While the Warriors try to win back-to-back, the Cavaliers are trying to win their first ever title since joining the NBA in 1970, and trying to end a 52-year title drought for the city of Cleveland – dating to the Browns 1964 NFL Championship. LeBron James left a great situation in Miami to come home to try to accomplish this.
We’re going to see some unbelievable shooting in this series. Before this year the NBA record for three-point field goals in a playoff game was 20. The Cavaliers have exceeded that total three times in these playoffs, including 25 (most ever in regular season or playoffs) in Game 2 vs. Atlanta. The Warriors did it twice, including 21 in Game 6 in their spectacular rally vs. Oklahoma City. They have both made over 200 three-pointers in these playoffs. They are the embodiment of the pace and space modern NBA.
There will be several aspects of this series that will require close attention. Tops among them will be the relative emotional state of these teams, while Cleveland was pushed to six by Toronto, they eventually sealed the deal with two blowouts, and all four of their wins in the series were blowouts. They’ve had time to rest and recover. But how much do the Warriors have left after having been read their Last Rites vs. OKC?
Can the Cavaliers really try to outshoot the Warriors? While they’ve had great success in transforming themselves over the last year, it would seem they’re playing right into the Warriors hands. Do Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith REALLY want to get into a three-point contest with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson?
Can Draymond Green walk the fine line that will allow him to not be suspended for this series? One more technical foul or one more flagrant foul will force him to sit a game. Green’s versatility as a defender, rebounder, offense initiator and secondary three-point shooter would be greatly missed against the Cavaliers.
Will Cleveland try to take a page from Oklahoma City and try to play a little bit “bigger” to make Golden State pay for going small? Does a guy like Timofey Mozgov (in mothballs for the most part) play a role in this series?
Ultimately, because it’s the NBA and home court matters (Golden State is 48-3 at home this year, Cleveland is 40-8), and a deciding game would be played in the most raucous house in the NBA where the only noise heard is the the noise generated by an incredible fan base, give me the Warriors in an incredibly memorable seven games, cementing their place along the 1996 and 1997 Chicago Bulls as having the greatest two year run this sport has ever seen.