Not one, not two, not three, but four straight years of the NBA Finals featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. Through all of the bellyaching and annoyance behind it being another matchup between these two heavyweights, there lies a lot to look forward to.
In the first matchup back in 2015, the Dubs ruined a homecoming for King James. In 2016, we saw the Cavs come back from a 3-1 deficit to win their first title as a franchise. The Larry O’Brien trophy went back to the bay as the Dubs got redemption last year. All three years have provided us with an enthralling level of basketball even though last year was a bit of a letdown, as the Dubs won the series in five games. The series ended shortly as Golden State beat Cleveland in five games With that being said, 2018 could be different.
1. The Cavs are playing with house money
Cleveland has nothing to lose here. They are playing their fourth series of this postseason and you could make the case that the Pacers, Raptors, and Celtics were all better than them on paper. They are not panicking when they go down 0-2 and James is not pressing, especially in Game 1s. They seem content with going out in the first two games and seeing what their opponent has to offer. What has been lost in all of this is the fact that they have not had home-court advantage since round one.
Outside of Kevin Love’s 13.9 average, no other player is averaging double digits besides the Ohio native himself in James. That is not to say that the king does not have help, as Kyle Korver is tied for fourth in three-pointers made (44) and is effective drawing charges as he is top 15 in that regard. George Hill has been their best defender with a 103 defensive rating. Tristan Thompson and JR Smith have been wild cards that play best at home. The supporting cast is ineffective on the road while unreal at home. Even with James, their run has been remarkable, so in the Finals they have nothing to lose.
The pressure is all on the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
2. The Warriors look mortal
Speaking of the champs, they appeared immortal all season up until they faced Houston. The Rockets showed that if you get Steph Curry on an island on defense then you have a good shot at getting points with whoever has the ball against him. Draymond Green’s ineffectiveness on the offensive end was highlighted in the conference finals. Overall, they displayed a fearless mindset the minute the two teams collided.
Despite there being a blueprint out there on ways to exploit them, beating the Warriors four times is going to take an immense amount of focus, intensity, and clutch ability. The Rockets beat them three times (including both first halves of Game 6 and 7), but they just couldn’t get that fourth win.
It’s tough to beat the Warriors when they have the fourth leading playoff scorer in Kevin Durant (29 points per game) alongside Curry and Klay Thompson, who are averaging more than 20 as well. All Green does is average a near triple double with 11.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 8.1 assists, but he’s struggled a bit with his shooting percentage. Let’s not forget they have Green and Durant as potential forces that hope to stop James. However, the closest player to being a “LeBron Stopper” is Andre Iguodala. His health is the x-factor for this series.
The bench will be important for GSW as well, as during their reign of terror they have provided quite the spark when needed. However, no one on the bench has been a consistent threat the entire playoffs.
We know the Warriors are top heavy. They have always been that way, but the Warriors are vulnerable with an inconsistent bench, an unhealthy Iggy, and a slumping Green.
3. LeBron is on a mission
James is always on a mission as he is playing in his eighth straight NBA Finals. The naysayers have been there all year, as many thought Durant would overcome James as the best player in the world. People questioned if he drove Kyrie Irving out of Cleveland. Finally, the fingers were pointed at him when they made a slew of trades in an attempt to kick start their season during the trade deadline.
All James has done is taken the criticism and turned it into one of the best seasons we have ever “witnessed,” especially at age 33. Compared to Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan’s regular season stats at age 33, James is averaging more rebounds, assists, and three-pointers made, and had a higher effective field goal and three-point percentage with a lower usage percentage. His points per game were second only to Jordan.
“If LeBron were to pull this off, the debate would be over forever… even the staunchest Michael Jordan supporters would say Jordan never ever faced a team like the Warriors."@ShannonSharpe on what is at stake for LeBron in the NBA Finals pic.twitter.com/aTQB2V5Gl3
The King is averaging 34 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 8.8 assists while shooting 54.2 percent in the playoffs. His points, field goals made, and minutes lead the entire 2018 playoffs. He might appear to be numb to what is being said about him or his legacy being on the line, but his performance says otherwise.
The Rockets might have wanted the Warriors, but it is safe to say James wanted them BADLY.
Both teams have been gearing up all year for another title run. They are both battle tested and have what it takes to win it all. Last year, we might have already known the outcome before the start of Game 1, but this year it seems as if both teams are capable of being crowned as the best team in basketball. Now, we wait until Thursday for the fun to begin.