It’s time to Break It Down!
The wait is almost over. The NBA Finals begin tomorrow. Under most circumstances, there is a good chance I would have penned a written homage to Memorial Day for this space. The Holiday, which was Monday, kicks off the summer season, but more importantly, is a federal holiday in the United States, observed on the last Monday in May, honoring the memory of people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. These brave men and women not only served, but also made the ultimate sacrifice.
As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a hoops fan. I have multiple rooting interests, including my collegiate alma maters, Fayetteville State University, and the University of North Carolina, and two professional squads, the Lakers (life-long), and the Timberwolves (familial connection). The college season ended long ago, and tomorrow, the NBA’s pièce de résistance kicks off.
The T-wolves endured an inglorious First Round exit. Although, by becoming eligible for postseason play for the first time in 14 years, even though it took all 82 Regular Season games, plus a five-minute overtime to do so, the organization likely considers the season at least a qualified success. However, the reward, dubious though it may be, for earning the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference Playoffs, is to begin by playing the Top Seed. It’s a system designed to reward the higher seed, and Houston, which earned the best record in the NBA this year, prevailed easily.
The Lakers, on the other hand, missed postseason play for the fifth year in a row. Oy vey!
Putting all that to one side, it’s about to go down! Prime Time starts tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. For the first time since 1979, both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals required 7 games to determine which team would represent their respective Conference in the NBA Finals. Both higher seeds went up 3-2, only to lose games 6 and 7, including the last one at home.
In the end though, the basketball gods had their way, and for the fourth year in a row, the Finals included some variation of the best player in the world (today) slotted against the best team in the world. Moreover, for the first time in history, the same two teams are meeting in the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.
Once again, the Cleveland Cavaliers will take on the Golden State Warriors for the Title. On paper, neither the Cavaliers, nor the Warriors were overwhelming favorites to advance to the Finals. The Cavs fell behind the Pacers 3-2, and then fell behind the Celtics 2-0, then 3-2. Needless to say (they’re in the Finals, after all), they rallied to win the last two games against both teams.
Then there was Toronto. The Cavs played the Raptors after the Pacers, and before the Celtics. The Raptors had the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs swept them. Rumor has it; somewhere, at some point, the Cavs ripped out the Raptors’ collective heart, and ate it…or tossed it into the sea, or something to that effect. Anyway, the end result is, the Finals start tomorrow and LeBron and the Cavs (in that order) will be present, accounted for at 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA (Oracle Arena), home of the Golden State Warriors. Along the way, at every point the Cavs were counted out, LeBron did what LeBron does, and as a result, they are making what has become an annual trek to the Finals.
The Warriors did not have the torturous journey the Cavs had in reaching the Finals. In the First Round, they fell behind the Spurs 1-0, then 2-1, before winning three straight to close out the series. In Round 2, the Pelicans were able to tie the Series at 1-1, before the Warriors closed out with three consecutive victories. Then came the League leading (record-wise) Rockets, who took three of the first five games before one of their most pivotal players (Chris Paul) went down to injury. Houston partisans will insist Chris Paul’s hamstring is the only thing separating the Rockets and this year’s NBA Finals, and probably a Championship. While that may be true, we’ll never know. What we do know is the Rockets will have the off-season to think about it, and…Andre Iguodala missed more games than Paul. Now, if the Cavs beat Golden State, and Iguodala doesn’t play, well…
By the way, don’t even mention Haywood and Irving in Boston. But really, that’s an entirely different story.
In full disclosure, I have a highly diversified skill set. Unfortunately, master prognosticator is not in the package. Nonetheless, if I were to make a projection about the outcome, just as Vegas is doing, I’d pick the Warriors. Even without Iguodala, they have four All-Stars, in Curry, Durant, Thompson, and Green. Let’s not kid ourselves though. The Cavs have LeBron, and there is a good chance they will have Kevin Love, sooner or later. Once again, on paper, they will be overmatched. However, the truth is, it’s been a long time since a team with LeBron has been truly overmatched. He routinely bends the curve on the unexpected, and as he proved against the Pacers, and again against the Celtics, he can often transform the improbable into the, been there, done that.
Let’s be clear, though. The Warriors present a different kind and level of challenge. If he’s unable to go, they will miss Iggy. He has established himself as the team’s most effective Lebron defender. Still, they have four aforementioned All-Stars. They also have experience playing the Cavs on the biggest stage of all, and have prevailed when doing so, two times out of three over the past three years. They’ve now even won a game 7, on the road. In the event the Finals should require 7 games, the Warriors would have the small comfort of playing the game at Oracle, rather than at Quicken Loans Arena. There is a reason I say small comfort. The fact is, despite my previous assessment, there is a caveat. If the Cavs and Warriors find themselves in a Game 7, all bets are off (figuratively speaking, of course, as I am not betting). In other words, if it should come to Game 7, I would expect LeBron and the Cavs to prevail. To be perfectly clear, I do not expect it to come to that, but if it does, go with The King. “The Jump-off: Act IV!”
I’m done; holla back!
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