By: Tim Van Duyne
This year’s NBA Finals are just what America wanted, or at least what NBA fans wanted. It’s the best player vs. the best team; the home town hero, turned pariah, turned home town hero again; the baby-faced assassin/MVP who propelled his team to the Finals; LeBron vs. Curry; Good vs. Evil.
It’s going to be great television.
The Warriors haven’t made it to the Finals since Rick Barry carried them there back in 1975. Cleveland hasn’t had a major championship team since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964 (yea I said “championship” not Super Bowl). Both fan bases deserve this year’s Larry O’Brien trophy. And America deserves a thrilling NBA Finals.
If you’re a casual NBA fan you may have seen some of breathtaking plays Steph Curry and the Warriors have made this season. But you might still be wondering what makes the Golden State Warriors so good. The Warriors were able to own the NBA’s best record (67-15) simply because they were the best offensive and defensive team this season. Golden State averaged the most points per game at a whopping 110 points a game. Although, the more incredible stat was the Warriors defensive rating, which was number one in the league. The Warriors held opponents to 98.2 points per 100 possessions, and when your scoring 110 points/game that adds up to a lot of wins.
But numbers don’t do the Warriors justice. You have to watch them play. It’s amazing how fast the Splash Brothers and company play. Golden State has an up-tempo, free flowing, fastbreaking and unselfish style of play. They play like a much younger Spurs team on crack. They are just as, if not more, unselfish as the Spurs. They are constantly moving the ball looking for the open man and the extra pass. Golden State dished out an NBA best 27.4 dimes/game in the regular season. No team has averaged 27 assists/game during the regular season in the last 20 years. I’ll say it again, this team is fun to watch.
Curry is lightening in a bottle. He has the ability unlike any other to catch fire immediately and swing a game at any moment. When this happens you don’t want to be in the bathroom or in the kitchen grabbing another beer, because he’ll score 10 points before you get back. His playoff line is incredible and also shows that he isn’t just a three-point specialist. Curry’s playoff line: 29-5-6 and two steals/game, 46% FG, 43% 3FG, 82% FT. He definitely deserved the MVP award. He outplayed the MVP runner-up James Harden in the Western Conference Finals (Harden had one of the all-time worst performances in a decisive playoff game. In game five of the WCF he Shot 2-11 and had a playoff-record 12 TURNOVERS!) and he will now look to dethrone the four-time MVP LeBron James.
Curry isn’t willing his team to victory quite like LeBron. That’s because Curry has a more than formidable cast around him. Clay Thompson is the two to the Splash Brothers one-two three-point punch. Draymond Green has become one of the most important players on the floor for the Warriors. He was the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up to the Spurs Kawhi Leonard. He is great at making decisions on the offensive end. He plays at the high post, setting screens for the splash brothers and rolling/popping off those screens for easy buckets. Andrew Bogut isn’t as offensively gifted as he used to be, but he can still rebound for Golden State. And I can’t believe I’m just mentioning his name, but Harrison Barnes is the most dynamic player for the Warriors, and he comes off the bench! He is instant offensive. He can hit the corner three, or pump fake his man and dunk on the next man up. Barnes can play both the three and the four. More importantly, he can guard both positions, and he might be tasked with guarding LeBron for most of the Finals. This Warriors team is tremendous at both ends and is primed to win their second title in franchise history.
Now onto the big-bad Cavs and the leader of the death star LeBron James.
LeBron is easily the most hated player in the NBA. He is the most polarizing figure. You either love him or hate him. The reasons why people hate him are: 1. Because of the 2010 “The Decision.” This was his biggest mistake. The decision was tacky and self-absorbed. The planning and thinking on the part of LeBron and his “brain trust” were poorly done. Jim Gray, weasel journalist who loves to berate his interviewees with a waterfall of annoying/redundant questions, came to LeBron with the “brilliant” idea to host a 75-minute-televised show to announce which team he would go and play for. I imagine Jim’s pitch to LeBron went something like this. “Hey, LeBron would you like to do something no other player in the history of sports has done and come on this nationally televised show with me to announce your decision? It’ll be 75 minutes of you and I talking about life and what shows you’re watching. Then, once we sell enough advertising, we will finally get to your decision, which totally won’t stick a knife through all the hearts of Clevelanders and make you seem like a total douche to all of America. What do ya say LeBron?” This was his one legitimate mistake in which people have a reason to genuinely dislike him for.
- He complains too much. Wake up America. All NBA players complain about calls.
- He’s a flopper. He really doesn’t flop as much as fans think. This is just the perception of LeBron. Chris Paul and James Harden flop more than a fish out of water, but people rarely say a bad thing about them (ok, Harden does get shit for his flopping but is still hated less than LeBron).
- Some people may still resent all of the attention that he has garnered since he was a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary high school to the 24/7 media coverage on whatever LeBron does today. He’s the greatest player on the earth right now. He was a transcendent talent in high school and was the most anticipated high school player to jump straight into the league. The attention he gets can be a little bit incessant at times, but he is great and the majority of sports fans want to follow great stories and players. LeBron is that. Why wouldn’t ESPN devote the majority of its coverage to the best player of the last decade?
So I fully expect this series to be billed as Good (Steph Curry)vs. Evil (LeBron James). But LeBron hater or not, if you can’t come to grips with the fact that LeBron is the best player on the planet right now then you’re delusional.
LeBron is the focal point of an exciting Cleveland Cavaliers team. He has carried a group of players that consists of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov, Mathew Dellavedova, a hobbled Irving and James Jones. Take LeBron off this team and the Cavs get swept in the first round, if they even make it that far. This supporting cast isn’t as bad as the 2007 Cavs team LeBron carried to the Finals, but it definitely ranks as the second worst team that he has brought to the finals.
LeBron has been terrific in willing his team to 12 victories and an Eastern Conference Championship in this year’s playoffs. In a pivotal game five in Chicago LeBron played flawlessly for four quarters in the Cavs 106-101 victory over the Bulls. He scored a game-high 38 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, dished out six assists, blocked three shots, picked up three steals and (maybe the most impressive stat) didn’t turn the ball over once. That’s as close to perfect as a basketball player can get. The Cavs went on to win the series in six over the Bulls. Then in the ECF he was one assist away from averaging a triple double (30-11-9.3) for the series. The Cavs swept the number one seed Atlanta Hawks en route to LeBron’s- and James Jones’(which is kind of funny that he will forever be tied to LeBron’s greatness)- fifth-straight NBA Finals appearance. The only other player to lead their team to five-straight Finals was none other than Mr. 11 rings Bill Russell. This is a remarkable feat even in a diluted Eastern Conference.
So will LeBron be able to continue his tremendous play and take down the best team in the NBA? Will Steph Curry be able to continue with his dazzling and unpredictable play, and his scorching red-hot three-point shooting? Can the best player beat the best team? Will the baby-faced assassin dethrone king James? We’ll have to wait and see.
My prediction: Warriors in seven. I think it’ll be a classic NBA Finals. Curry wins the Finals MVP, with Barnes being a close second choice. LeBron’s “five straight NBA Finals achievement” gets watered down with a 2-3 record. And most importantly, Riley Curry will get on stage with Drake and rap “Blessings” after she steals the MVP trophy from her dad. (Ok, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but we all know Riley makes another appearance in this series.)