It was bound to happen. Two of the best teams in the NBA (sorry Atlanta) facing each other for the championship.
Even with a relatively impressive 12-2 record in the postseason, LeBron James had to do everything by himself all over again. The Cavs lost Kevin Love in the first round against the Boston Celtics, after a rough tangle for the offensive board with Kelly Olynyk that resulted in a shoulder injury. To make matters worse, Kyrie Irving has been battling recurring tendinitis injury on his left knee since the 2nd round battle against the Chicago Bulls. Even with all odds stacked against them, LeBron and the rest of the hobbled Cavaliers still found a way to bring this team back in the NBA Finals, their 2nd trip since 2007, by sweeping the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals round.
James may have not won his 5th regular season MVP, but he’s due to get his 3rd Final MVP this year. He’s averaging a near-triple double in the postseason with 27.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, and 8.3 apg and it’s not like the Eastern Conference really has been a walk in the park for him. He was up against a young and hungry Boston Celtics, who matched them physically, but still managed to sweep them off the opening round. He faced arguably the league’s toughest defense in Tom Thibodeau and his Chicago Bulls, and was close to being down 3-1 before hitting the game winner at the buzzer of Game 4. And he had another monster game to put the nail in the coffin, per se, against Atlanta Hawks to move them one step closer back in the Finals.
The Golden State Warriors are also in the big stage once again, their first trip since 1975, thanks to Stephen Curry. Curry used the regular season to prove why he’s the MVP, and he’s using the postseason to prove why he’s the Finals MVP. He had more than a handful of outstanding plays, most coming from desperation games.
Game 3 against the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round saw him put a dagger of any comeback dreams for Anthony Davis, as Curry shot a desperation three in the corner to push the game to OT. Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2nd round proved that Curry won’t shy away from the challenge, setting the tone for Golden State and making sure that the series is tied for the pivotal Game 5 back in Oracle Arena. Against the 2nd seed, Houston Rockets, in the Conference Finals, Curry took the challenge of matching up with James Harden, the runner-up MVP this season, by breaking the postseason record for 3 point field goals made in a fantastic Game 3. Heck, he even brought his own daughter to the podium and won the hearts of many. Entering the grand stage, Curry is averaging 29.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and 6.4 apg, while shooting slightly better in the 3pt range (from 44.9% compared to 44.3% in the regular season).
It’s also the first time that 2 teams in the Finals were led by rookie coaches. Steve Kerr, who had Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich as mentors, led Golden State to their best record in team history (67-15), while going 12-3 in the postseason. People commend former head coach, Mark Jackson, for creating the core of the team but it was Steve who built an empire out of it. David Blatt faced early criticisms as the coach of the Cavaliers. He was hired to fast track the rebuild of the team, until they signed LeBron James . Despite championship expectations, Blatt guided the team through the ups and downs, and learned how to be a real coach in the big league.
Their paths wouldn’t intertwined without the help of the role players. Andre Iguodala, a star in Philadelphia, made himself the prototypical 6th man off the bench for Golden State. Shaun Livingston wasn’t even supposed to be here after suffering a grueling injury, but he’s now living the life of an NBA player again, backing up the MVP while looking to complete his dream of being an NBA champion. Iman Shumpert and JR Smith were considered trash by the New York Knicks, until they were treasured by the Cavaliers. They decimated the Chicago Bulls in the 2nd round, through hot shooting behind the arc. Matthew Dellavedova is making a name for himself as the player you hate but love to have on your team. He has been playing well in the absence of Kyrie.
Klay Thompson and Draymond Green hold the keys to the series, if you ask me. Even though both are bonafide stars, a team needs to outlast LeBron, and Curry will need the help of the two more than ever. They’ve been recognized as the second and third fiddle to the MVP, but have been showing the league that they’re no pushovers too. Kyrie Irving will have to be healthy to cause enough problem for the Warriors, and ease the defense on LeBron James. The 7 days of rest and recovery will be very pivotal for him and the Cavs, and it may very well be the thin line that separates them from being the champions or the runner-up .
As you can see, there are a lot of storylines to watch between this match-up. Which is why I can’t wait for the Finals to start in a week.
For the first time in a long time, no sports team dynasty will be part of it. The fans of Cleveland deserve to be here, after all the heartbreaks they had endured in the dismal history of Cleveland sports. The fans of Golden State are also worthy to share their voices, who have always been one of the best fans in the NBA. At the end of the day, it will come down to which superstar will shine brighter than the other. It’s the best player this season (Curry) against the best player in the world (LeBron).
– David Gamboa
(image from: http://bit.ly/1J7zz2a)