After waiting more than a week, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers are set to tip off the 2015 NBA Finals Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
Golden State is appearing in its first Finals in 40 years. The Warriors swept the Washington Bullets in 1975 for their only championship on the West Coast. They will be gunning for their fourth title in franchise history. Cleveland is still searching for that elusive first championship in its 45th year of existence. The Cavaliers last reach the Finals in 2007, when they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
From Steve Kerr and David Blatt being the first rookie head coaches to meet since the NBA’s inaugural season in 1947 to Andrew Bogut and Matthew Dellavedova becoming the first Australian duo to meet, there are many storylines to this dream matchup. However, the spotlight will shine brightest on four-time MVP and two-time Finals MVP LeBron James and the newly crowned MVP Stephen Curry.
For James, his legacy is once again at stake. Although King James is making his fifth consecutive Finals appearance and sixth overall, he hoisted the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy only twice. If James can take the Cavaliers to the promise land, he would have finally succeeded in bringing a long-awaited championship to Cleveland, which has not held a victory parade for its professional sports teams in 51 years. It would also guarantee his permanent participation in any “greatest of all time” conversations.
“I understand the drought our city has been in as far as a major championship, so it’s a huge motivation inside of me,” James said. “And it’s helped me get to this point, but I’m not done. I’ve still got a lot left in me in this season and I’m going to command a lot out of my guys. I’m going to command a lot out of myself and hopefully we’re able to come through.”
“I’ve said many times that LeBron made a very courageous and also heartfelt decision to come back home and to take the responsibility of trying to bring a championship to Cleveland,” Blatt said. “That’s no small thing, because there is a lot that goes along with that. And the dynamic of that whole story has been very, very special, and very, very involved, and he’s handled it beautifully.”
There would be no shame for James if the Cavaliers lose. They would have lost to a far superior team. But James’ image would take yet another hit. If he loses his second straight Finals, three in five years and fourth overall, he will never be considered the greatest of all time despite all that he achieved in his career.
The Warriors will make life very difficult for James. The all-versatile Draymond Green is expected to be the primary defender. Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes will also get their opportunities. It will be fascinating to see what Warriors’ assistant coach and defensive guru Ron Adams has up his sleeves.
“When you’re guarding a player like LeBron, he’s not going to see one guy the entire series,” Green said. “When you’re guarding him, you have to throw different guys at him. You can’t give him a steady diet of anything because obviously he’ll figure it out and he’ll pick it apart. So you just have to contain, throw different guys at him and we’ll see how it goes.”
James is usually the toughest player to defend in any series. However, that honor in this series belongs to the current MVP.
Reggie Miller set the previous record for most 3-pointers made in a postseason with 58 in 2000. Curry already has 73 splashes with at least four games to go. Curry is perhaps the best shooter the NBA has ever seen. But there is more to Curry’s game than just the 3-pointers. He finishes at the rim better than anyone. Kyrie Irving is expected to defend Curry, but how effective he will be will depend on the health of his left knee.
“It’s definitely tough because obviously mentally and physically you want to be in line,” Irving said. “It’s just like some of the things I’m thinking about doing mentally, you know, your body just kind of stops and you catch yourself a little bit sometimes. You’ve got to get off the ball. But for me, it’s just about finding my spots and seeing where I could be more effective out there for my teammates.”
Both teams will be rusty in Game 1 after more than a week of rest. The Cavaliers need to find a way to steal the first game if they want any shot of winning the title. Even if Cleveland manages to win the first game, it might not have enough to stop Golden State. Kerr and his coaching staff have been excellent in making the right adjustments between games.
Prediction: The Warriors win the NBA championship in six games and finally reward their fan base, who has been nothing but loyal despite all the turbulent times. Oakland will hold a victory parade for the first time in 26 years.