The more things change, the more they stay the same. A 101-92 victory by the Warriors in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals Monday night set up part four of the seemingly never-ending NBA Finals match-up that is Cleveland-Golden State.
It’s been nearly four years since the prodigal son, aka LeBron James, returned home to the Cavaliers. Each season since then has concluded with the same two teams going head-to-head with the Larry O’Brien trophy on the line. Golden State won two of the first three series with victories in the 2015 and 2017 Finals, but evidently aren’t done with the King and crew.
Remember the last time two teams faced off in four consecutive NBA Finals? Still thinking…don’t. The Cavs and Warriors are the only teams to ever compete in four straight Finals against one another. It’s something that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson never did, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell couldn’t do, and certainly no team in the 90’s wanted to do against Michael Jordan.
So basketball fans nationwide should be overcome with joy at the history we have the privilege of witnessing firsthand, right? Not exactly.
A large group of basketball fanatics have already written the Cavs off, some of whom did so the moment Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors. People have voiced their frustrations by saying things such as “LeBron doesn’t have any help!” or “Four all-stars is too much to overcome!” and “Super teams are ruining basketball,” as they angrily fit a week’s worth of insults into an ever-expanding character limit on Twitter.
So should you even care about the NBA Finals? My answer: maybe. “Way to take the easy way out, Cory,” says the reader after shaking the newspaper in disgust.
There are arguments to be made on both sides, the simplest being that the Finals are simply a four-game formality for Golden State before they’re awarded their second straight Finals victory. It’s quite a compelling argument, too. Just look at the numbers.
The Warriors boast four All-Stars in Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, compared to Cleveland’s two, being LeBron James and an injured Kevin Love. Durant, Curry, and Thompson are all averaging north of 20 points per game in the playoffs. While LeBron is leading all postseason scorers with a 34.0 point average, Love is the only other player with a double-digit average (13.9).
James only guarded Durant on a combined 20 possessions in the two regular season meetings between the Dubs and Cavs. In that span, Durant shot 66.7 percent from the field. On the flip side, Durant covered James for 77 possessions during the regular season and held the King to less than 12 points and 16.7 percent shooting beyond the arc.
The Cavaliers enter the 2018 Finals with a notable emission that was pivotal in the first three, that being Kyrie Irving. Irving averaged 29.4 points in the 2017 Finals, as well as 27.1 in the 2016 Finals.
The Warriors will also have a better bench than last season, as long as Andre Iguodala plays. Iggy may not have played since game three in the Western Conference Finals, but role players such as Jordan Bell, Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, and Kevon Looney have stepped up in his absence.
Now if you think the Cavaliers can’t overcome the ferocious dragon that is Golden State, think back to the infamous 2016 Finals. Cleveland won its first NBA Championship against the record-setting Warriors after overcoming a 3-1 deficit. I’m not saying it will happen, but it’s not quite impossible.
It’s the Warriors’ series to lose, no doubt about it. But these Warriors seem more human than in previous years. Last season, Golden State lost just one postseason contest on the way to their second title win in three years. This year, the Dubs have dropped five games, including three in a seven-game series against Houston. Even though the Rockets missed an NBA Playoff record 27 3-pointers in a row and were sans Chris Paul, the Warriors only won by nine.
Houston kept the Warriors guessing with big performances from Eric Turner, Trevor Ariza, and Paul when healthy, in addition to Harden’s contributions. Even if you have Durant and James cancel each other out, the Cavaliers’ supporting cast has to step up. JR Smith, George Hill, and Rodney Hood not only have to put up 12+ points per game, but contributions have to come from Tristan Thompson if Love misses an extended period of time.
Everything has to go right for Cleveland to even have a chance.
LeBron may possibly be having his best postseason to date, and that means nothing is out of the realm of possibility, but my brain says Golden State in five.
The NBA Finals begin on Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. EST when the Golden State Warriors host the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith