This is it, folks! It’s time for the NBA Finals once again! And for the third straight year, we have the swashbuckling Cleveland Cavaliers of the East going against the sharpshooting Golden State Warriors of the West. It is Chapter 3 of the NBA’s latest rivalry – the first time in the NBA for 2 teams to eyeball each other in the finals for the 3rd consecutive year. And delirious fans are in hoop heaven, weighing in on who will come out winning, and who will end up whining.
Twice, the two magnificent gladiators had met at center-stage. Twice too, the results of the clash of titans had teetered and tottered.
The sharpshooting Warriors would outshoot a game but injury-riddled Cavaliers in the first episode of this rivalry. With two of the Cavaliers’ famed Triple Threat namely Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love decommissioned by untimely injuries, Lebron James would heroically try to carry the team throughout the entire series.
Alas, to no avail. Lebron, despite the brawn, would eventually wilt, as the Warriors outran, outshot, outmanuevered, outhustled and literally, outnumbered him. Heavily favored during the regular season with the NBA’s newest triple trouble offering consisting of James, Irving and Love, the Cavs’ campaign would fizzle out with the injuries to two legs of the triad. And that dream for a coveted crown for championship-starved Cleveland would end in frustration once again. Read: Lessons from the Epic Warriors-Cavs NBA 2015 Finals.
Chapter 2 of the developing rivalry in 2016 was a different story. This time, it was the Warriors who were favored to repeat as champs, having finished the regular season with a dominating 73 – 9 win/loss record. The irreverent Dubs were now the newest darlings of the league, after toying with the NBA’s traditional 3-point shot records. The shoe was now on the other foot. The Warriors were clearly favored to repeat as NBA World Champs. But this time around, it was the Warriors who would go through some anxieties with Steph Curry hobbled by a distracting knee injury.
Despite this however, the well-oiled Warrior machine raced to a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 lead. For the fans of regular season MVP Steph Curry, it was now time to party. But the momentum of this Warrior juggernaut would suddenly change when Draymond Green was suspended for a flagrant foul in Game 4. Read: Warriors vs Cavs: Who Will the Cage Gods Favor?
This was all the Cavs needed to turn things around. Taking it a game at a time, the Cavs would eventually become the first team in NBA Finals history to have survived a 1-3 deficit to engineer a dramatic comeback and steal the coveted crown. Read: NBA 2016, Nuthin’ But Amazin’!!!
This year, the two arch-rivals have remained dominant in their respective conferences. During the playoffs, Golden State would take the minimum 12 games to demolish the Portland Trailblazers, the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs. They would annex the Western Conference Championship convincingly, registering double-digit leads in 10 of the 12-game playoff ride.
Cleveland, on the other hand would take 13 games, sweeping both the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors, and then allowing the Boston Celtics to steal a game, before finally booting them out. Similarly, the Cavs would register insurmountable leads in preparing for this grand showdown with their western counterparts.
And so, for the third straight time, we see the same 2 adversaries eyeball-to-eyeball entering the ring of death. This time, both teams are walking into the hardcourt relatively healthy. With no health issues, with both parties at their proverbial best, there should be no excuses, no if’s and but’s, no nonsense. For this is chapter 3 of one of the NBA’s most-riveting storylines, the now-seething rivalry between the Cavs and the Dubs.
What’s the difference between the teams this year and last year?
The defending champs Cleveland Cavs didn’t tinker much with their winning combination. They brought in 3-point specialist Kyle Korver and former all-star point Deron Williams. They could be relied on for specific situations in this Finals series.
On the other hand, Golden State showed more creative audacity by re-shuffling a bit, and taking in bits and pieces to plug perceived problem areas for the long playoff grind. But their biggest move would have to be the acquisition of former league MVP Kevin Durant from Oklahoma. KD’s arrival has further boosted an already stacked Warrior weapons arsenal, making all-star guard and Splash Bro mainstay, Klay Thompson, a mere 4th option! Wow, when you have a proven gunslinger like Klay demoted into a mere 4th option, you have got to have an unbelievably strong shooters’ gallery!!!
Drawing up the inevitable match-ups, I believe that Lebron and KD will eventually cancel each other out. Kyrie Irving and last year’s regular season MVP Steph Curry will cancel each other out as well. Kevin Love will have his hands full against the mercurial Draymond Green. And the Cavs JR Smith will fall a bit short pitted against the Dubs’ Klay Thompson. This is not to mention a swarm of Warrior gunslingers such as Andre Igoudala and others.
The Cavs have 5 current and former all stars in 4-time MVP Lebron, Kyrie, Kevin, plus new acquisitions Kyle Korver and Deron Williams. The Warriors have six: 2-time MVP Steph, 1-time MVP Kevin, Draymond, Klay, plus Andre Igoudala and David West. Thus, this gigantic showdown will feature 7 of the 8 latest regular season MVP awardees, plus 11 current and former all-stars, the biggest number by far in a NBA Finals.
But the series will be won eventually by whoever is able to dictate his tempo on the other. The Warriors are at the forefront of reinventing basketball with their small-ball game. They will need to perpetually speed up the tempo – in both offense and defense – to gain a significant advantage. If the Warriors are able to maintain their fast pace, then they will recapture the crown they lost oh-so-painfully last year.
The bigger, brawnier Cavs, while recognizing the need for speed and the 3-point range, will need to stop the Dubs from running. If the Cavs are able to slow down the pace and check the Dubs’ long-range artillery fire from beyond, then they will retain their crown.
After all is said and done, what does my magic mirror say? My magic mirror Moira sez: Golden State Warriors winning the crown in 6 games. What’s your pick?
(Pics courtesy of gamingzion.com, SI.com, Ezra Show/Getty, footwearnews.com, clutch points, burntx.com, hindustantimes.com, NBA.com, wiscnews.com, for the win, bleacher report and sporting news.)