A third straight matchup of the Cavs and Warriors in the NBA Finals was highly unlikely even though both teams have rosters chock-full of talent. Such a thing has never happened in the history of the NBA, and that includes the old Lakers-Celtics rivalries. There has always been at least one team that was unable to defy the odds and make it back to play for a third straight championship. The scary thing about this matchup is that there doesn’t seem to be anything standing in the way of it continuing to happen for a few more years to come. This was each team’s easiest trip to the final series of the season yet, as they have made it there with one combined loss between them.
At a Glance
Although the Warriors looked like they were in for a tough matchup with the Spurs after being down by over 20 points in the first half of the first game in their series, an injury to Kawhi Leonard changed the complexion of the game and the series, and they were never challenged after that. The other thing they have going for them is that they added Kevin Durant to a team that already had three all-stars on the roster. Unless they lose someone in free agency in the next few years, they will continue to be very difficult to beat.
The Cavs played six bad quarters in a row against the Celtics to lose a game in their series, but they also completely embarrassed them on their home court a couple of times in the series to prove that they were not a legitimate threat. The Cavs also have LeBron on their team, and he has led his teams to an incredible seven straight NBA Finals. With Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving locked up for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to see them going anywhere either.
With all of the short series and blowout wins in this season’s playoffs, it may be hard to imagine a knock-down, drag-out NBA Finals, but these are two very talented and motivated teams that have a lot at stake in this match-up. It would be unfair to call this match-up a rubber match because each of the series have had vastly different circumstances and players involved. Even though the Cavs had Irving and Love in 2015, they played a combined one game in the series because Irving fractured his kneecap in the first game, and Love was unable to play at all because of a dislocated shoulder he suffered in the first round that year.
Last year, the Warriors had to play Game 5 without Draymond Green because of a suspension that resulted from too many technical/flagrant fouls, and Andrew Bogut missed the final two games with an injury to his knee. This year all of the key players are injury-free and ready to go. The Warriors added Kevin Durant who many people believe may be the second best player in the entire league, and the Cavs added a veteran point guard and sharpshooter in Deron Williams and Kyle Korver. Each of those acquisitions could help decide the winner of this third finals meeting.
Legacies at Stake
The legacies of several players are on the line in this match up, so everyone will be locked in and giving it their best on every possession. Durant wants to be known as one of the best, but this is only his second NBA Finals appearance, and his Oklahoma City Thunder lost to LeBron’s Miami Heat team the first time he made it. He knows that NBA legends are measured at least in part by championship rings, and he doesn’t want LeBron to keep him from one again. The Warriors are such heavy favorites that if they lose, the storyline will probably be that Durant is unable to beat LeBron even with a superior supporting cast.
The series is also big for Steph Curry. The two-time reigning MVP has not played up to his normal level in either of the two previous meetings, and he didn’t even win the Finals MVP the year the Warriors beat the Cavs. Last year, he was playing through an ankle injury, but he underperformed and seemed to get very rattled when his team needed him most. Draymond Green will also be looking to exact some revenge after his emotions and antics aided Cleveland’s comeback from a 3-1 hole last year. The always outspoken and passionate forward will need to keep his hands and feet to himself and his emotions under control if he wants to help bring his team a second championship in three seasons.
Another emerging storyline for the Warriors is that they have been led through this postseason by assistant coach, Mike Brown. Steve Kerr has been trying to manage pain from a spinal fluid leak that has been plaguing him for year. Coach Brown coached LeBron to his first NBA Finals in 2007 and was then let go when LeBron left for Miami. After a short stint as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, he returned to Cleveland to coach for another year before being fired again by Dan Gilbert. I’m sure that coaching the Warriors to a championship over his former team and owner we make things extra sweet for Brown.
There is also a lot at stake for some members of the Cavs and that obviously starts with LeBron James. For the past few years, LeBron has been constantly dealing with comparisons to Michael Jordan, but a win over this year’s Warriors could be the missing piece to his legacy. A win in this year’s NBA Finals would be his fourth, and it would be his second straight over a hugely favored Warriors team. Some experts have already said they think that the 73-win Warriors team the Cavs beat last season was better than any team Jordan ever beat for a title, and now they added one of the league’s best players to that roster. Playing for seven straight championships, winning four, winning a second in Cleveland, and beating one of the best teams ever in back-two-back years would go a long way toward making an argument for LeBron as the best player ever.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love also stand to benefit from great play in the NBA Finals. Irving’s performance in last year’s series really put him on the map around the country as one of the NBA’s elite point guards. His big three in Game 7 was also the ultimate example of the clutch plays he makes down the stretch in close games. With endorsements and notoriety already at an all-time high, another epic performance could take him to the next level.
Love was seen as the scapegoat for all of the team’s problems the last few years and got blamed for not fitting in right with LeBron and Kyrie any time things went south. The team even seemed to start playing better when he missed time because of an injury in last season’s NBA Finals. People harped on his defense and inability to put up big numbers like he did in Minnesota, but with the game on the line in last season’s finale, he stepped up and got a hand in Steph Curry’s face to help seal the Cavs’ championship. His defense has continued to improve, and he is looking as comfortable on offense as he ever has since joining the Cavs. With a good showing this year, Love could really elevate his legacy as well.
With everything that is on the line for so many great players and all the story lines that are swirling around the 2017 NBA Finals, it’s hard not to be excited. Even if you aren’t a fan of either team, this series should be really entertaining. The next great chapter of NBA history is about to be written. Don’t take these times for granted, Cleveland fans, because no one knows how long this ride will last, and as we’ve seen, it might be a long time before we get to witness a team like this again.