As the 2016-2017 NBA playoffs progressed, it looked more and more like the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors were destined to meet once again in the Finals. Both teams were coming in on a roll and almost made it to the finals as the first two teams to reach the championship round undefeated. (That record was nixed when the Cavaliers dropped Game 3 of the ECF against the Isaiah-less Boston Celtics). But even with that little hiccup, we still got what we wanted. Curry versus Kyrie. Lebron versus KD. Klay versus K-Love. Cavs and Dubs, year three. Let’s get ready to rumble.
Road to the Finals
Once again, it’s the pesky Celtics that ruined what would have been a fairy tale story. The Dubs had locked down the top seed in the west with a league-leading 67 wins. It wasn’t 73 wins from last year, but it was still the best record in the NBA. The Cavs held the top spot in the East for most of the regular season, but a string of losses and Boston putting together a win streak saw them lose the top seed in the east to the Celtics on the last month of the 2017 season. As mentioned before, the Dubs set a new record in the playoffs as the first team to go 12-0 before entering the finals (The 2001 Lakers were 11-0). The Cavs had a chance to do so, but they underestimated the Celts and let one slip in their series.
New Kids on the Block
While both teams have relatively the same core group of players from, last year’s classic, there have been some key additions. The biggest difference is definitely Kevin Durant as the new starting small forward for the Warriors. This made their big three into a big four. KD is a definite upgrade over Harrison Barnes from last year’s finals. The Warriors also replaced Andrew Bogut and Mo Speights with the trio of Zaza Pachulia, David West, and JaVale McGee. On the other end, the Cavs lost Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov, but added depth to their bench with Kyle Korver and Deron Williams.
The biggest matchup here is definitely among the point guards. Kyrie Irving was the hero of last year’s finals and one of the biggest factors in the ECF against the Celtics. Curry is coming off of a solid season, and is still considered by many as the best shooter in the league. Both are considered by many as the two best point guards in the NBA, but both players are entering the finals with a chip on their shoulder and a hunger to prove themselves. Curry wants to show that world that he is still MVP caliber, while Kyrie (who was snubbed in the All-NBA team selection) also wants to prove that he is among the top guards in the league.
The other big matchup to watch in these finals is Lebron versus KD. Without a doubt, these two players are the best small forwards in the league. Lebron is entering his 8th straight finals appearance, while KD is only going to be playing in his second. The first time these two met in the finals, they were both playing for different teams (Lebron for Miami and Durant for the Thunder during the 2012 NBA Finals). The sequel mirrors that last matchup as both players may need to carry their team to win the finals. Regardless of this marquee matchup, they probably won’t be guarding each other on the floor. Draymond will be likely be guarding Lebron, and Love will be shadowing Durant on the other end. But when things get tight down the stretch in some of these games, don’t be surprised if one or both of these alpha dogs ask for a switch to guard the other.
The X-Factor to this series for both teams will be a player named Thompson. For the Cavs, Tristan has to assert himself on the post and provide an inside presence to open up things for the Cavs big three. On the other side, Klay has to snap out of his shooting slump in these playoffs if he wants to give the Dubs a fighting chance at capturing the title. Either player is capable of turning the tide in their favor with one career game.
What this means to the Warriors
This championship means a lot for most of the Warriors. Last year’s defeat against the Cavs was bitter because they had lost a 3-1 lead. They waited an entire year to exact their revenge, and they got their wish in facing the same squad that had defeated them. Revenge will be sweet because they have a chance to prevent the Cavs from repeating, something that was done to them last year. The Warriors roster features several players without any championship rings including Matt Barnes, Zaza, David West and of course, the infamous Javale McGee.
But among the Warriors, the stakes are probably the highest for KD. Durant laid everything on the line last summer when he joined the Warriors. Winning a title with Golden State will justify all the hate and media bashing he got all year long. It will have been worth it if he gets a ring. Winning a championship will be vindication for KD. Another storyline to follow here is the fact that the Warriors are most likely going to be coached by Mike Brown. Brown famously got his start as the longest Coach of Lebron James during his early years in Cleveland. Brown was let go when Lebron took his talents to South Beach, and was axed again when he returned from Miami. It would be ironic if Brown won his first title against Lebron and the Cavs.
What this means to the Cavs
The Cavs have a lot of first time winners on their roster including new key additions Deron Williams and Kyle Korver. A repeat championship will validate last year’s ring and place the Cavs as one of the best championship teams in years. Winning back to back is not easy. The Dubs couldn’t do it. Not even the 5-time champion Duncan-era Spurs repeated as champions. A win for the Cavs will launch Lebron into GOAT status. Another ring for the King means he will have four championships, and his second for “The Land”. This also pushes him into new heights as the leader of two teams that have repeated as NBA champions. It will definitely bring his legacy closer to the untouchable status of Michael Jordan. But a loss for Lebron will be devastating. This will put his record to 3-5 in his finals appearances. In comparison, Kobe’s finals record is 5-2, while MJ sets the golden standard going undefeated in his six finals appearances.
These two teams are playing at the top of their game. Both squads are relatively healthy and each team is riding a win streak (or in the Cavs’ case 12 wins in the last 13 games) into the finals. Some would say it’s too close to call, but the Dubs may have an edge because of their home-court advantage. For the first time in these playoffs, the Cavs are playing the first two games on the road where the Warriors will likely take both home games, and drop two games in Cleveland. There will be at least one game when Lebron takes over and puts up a 38-15-11 (and one amazing chase down block) box score. However, last year burned an important lesson into the minds of the Warriors and they won’t take anything for granted in this Finals series. Golden State Warriors over the Cleveland Cavaliers, 4 games to 2.