By: Same Page Team
After a long wait, the NBA Finals begin tonight as the Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Golden State Warriors. To help prepare, we got Grant, Osubronie and Reynolds together to talk up the final games of the 2014-15 basketball season.
1) Which player does these Finals mean the most for?
In less than next two weeks, “The Decision” could be removed from the memory of thousands of Cleveland Cavalier fans. The burned jerseys, the angry open letters, all could be forgotten. With the weight of an entire city on his shoulders, there isn’t a player that these Finals means more to than LeBron James. After a season filled with issues with his teammates, coaches and injuries, he has a chance to quiet his critics and move closer to the greatness that was predicted for him so many years ago.
When LeBron chose to return to his hometown team at the peak of his career, the same fans that spurned him welcomed him with open arms. Now, after leading the Cavs to the Finals, the LeBron story has come full circle. He could finally give Cleveland the championship that has eluded them for 45 years. It seems like he’s ready to me.
What makes this Finals more impressive is he’s doing it all by himself. With Kevin Love out indefinitely and Kyrie Irving hobbling up and down the court, LeBron has dragged a bunch of misfits to the highest stage in the NBA. The issues with team chemistry and the rookie coach appear to be a thing of the past. He has somehow managed 28/10/8 through three rounds of the playoffs and is primed to face his biggest challenge. The most efficient player in the world verses the deepest team in the league, only time will tell if LeBron can actually bring Cleveland “Together”.
I know LeBron is the popular answer to this question. But a win would mean more for Cleveland that it would for King James himself.
This series undoubtedly means more for the Stephen Curry than anybody else. See, LeBron already has a title, two of them in fact. And as I’ve written before, while many are hoping that we’re entering the golden age of Warriors basketball, it’s insanely hard to reach the NBA Finals and even harder to get back, especially when you play in the steel cage that is the NBA’s Western Conference. Many young teams have gotten their shot at the title and never gotten back. The Blazers, both Drexler and the Jail versions, Kemp and Payton’s Sonics, Webber’s Kings, both Barkley and Nash’s Suns, the Thunder (so far). Some of these iconic teams never even got past the Conference Finals. Making the Finals is a monumental task. And now that G-State has done it, it means they’re going to run into the complications of bigger contracts, bigger expectations and a target on their backs from opponents. It’s a tough road to sled, but actually winning the title makes everything a little bit easier.
If Curry can lead the Warriors to their first title since 1975, he becomes permanent royalty in the Bay Area and joins an elite group of historical superstars. Have a look:
Kareem. Moses. Larry. Magic. Isiah. Michael. Hakeem. Timmy. Shaq. Dwyane. Kobe. Dirk. LeBron.
That’s the complete list of defining superstars on NBA champions in the past 35 years. You didn’t have to ask for any of their last names. You didn’t question their greatness. There is no question about who was the Number One on their team.
All of those things are already true for Steph Curry. Or as he may soon be known, simply ‘Steph’. Now he just needs the ring.
With the big names already taken care of, let’s take a look down the depth chart here. In a lot of ways, this Finals series will determine the pay model for the two key forwards in this series: Tristan Thompson and Draymond Green. It may also end up shaping the salary model for the rest of the league, but let’s take this one step at a time.
For Thompson, a more old school (whatever that means anymore) big man, he’s set to leverage his extreme rebounding ability and skills at the rim into a potential windfall. We forget now that Thompson was once the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft. We remember, however, that his numbers have generally been down this year versus the last two. Still, in these playoffs, he has been a revelation, averaging almost a double-double and giving nightmares to every forward from Al Horford to Cleveland Public Enemy no. 1, Kelly Olynyk. (Would the Raptors pay 12-15 million a year for his services? Yesssss.) Thompson is coming off his rookie contract at the end of the year and it will be time to pay up for his particular set of skills.
Green, meanwhile, could potentially cement himself as the premier “play making 4” in the league. This is the guy who was once the forgotten forward at the end of the Warriors bench, coming off the bench for David Lee, and originally drafted after Festus Ezeli. No big deal. Green’s rise has been such that a player with his skill set (able to guard every position, shoot 3s, run the break, pass well, rebound strongly) is now arguably the top asset in the league. And now, look out: Green is a restricted free agent and about to get paid. Like Thompson, he’ll set the bar for what these new age skills in basketball are now worth.
2) Which fan base needs this Finals win the most?
Before the arrival of Steph Curry, the only highlight you could see of the Golden State Warriors history was watching Baron Davis rise up and destroy Andrei Kirilenko at the rim. In the playoff round that preceded that dunk, the Warriors became the first 8-seed to beat a 1-seed in a seven game series. Since we aren’t old enough to remember the days of Rick Barry, which was the last time the Warriors and the fans of Golden State had a championship to celebrate, I think 40 years is a long enough wait. The fans of the Bay Area deserve more, especially after establishing themselves as the loudest opposition in the NBA. They have stood by their team through so many losing seasons. It feels only fair that they are now four winning games from the parade they so rightly deserve.
This year the Warriors proved that their fans were among the best in NBA history. With the help of their boisterous crowd, the Warriors went 39-2 at home. Monty Williams, coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, was recently quoted saying, “I’m not so sure the decibel level is legal, and I’m serious,” He is one of the many opposing players and coaches that have come and had more than a difficult time adjusting to the energy of the fans. Maintaining an attendance of just under the 18,000 capacity while having the NBA’s second worst winning percentage in 16 of the last 20 seasons proves that these fans don’t know what it means to quit. Fear not, Warriors fans. This is your time. In two weeks you will have that parade.
Look, I grew up in the Michael Jordan era of basketball. I remember him being so unassailably great that every year, it seemed like 29 teams vs Michael and the Bulls and if anyone else even bothered to show up for the NBA Finals, Mike was going to put them down. He had no real rivals. He did it every year!
LeBron also has no real rivals, but he’s a bit of a different animal. He’s been to five finals and won two. He can’t be penalized for losing in ’07, when he was 22 years old and dragged maybe the least deserving Finals team ever through the East. He can definitely be penalized for 2011 against Dallas, when he withered in the spotlight. And he deserves to be praised for his dominance the past three seasons in Miami, as well as his truly excellent first season back in Cleveland, mid-season vacation notwithstanding. So cheering for LeBron to win that third title, to truly supplant Bird as the greatest forward of all time and to bring a title to the poor, poor Cleveland sports fans is really a noble cause.
But the NBA fans need the Warriors to win this title.
The Warriors are the new era of NBA basketball, the evolutionary version of the 7 seconds or less Suns, except with elite defense. They’ve built their team through shrewd trades and excellent drafting- there isn’t a single top 5 pick on the roster except Andrew Bogut, and he was acquired for Monta Ellis, originally a second round draft pick. They’re a completely complementary team and they play like it. Fans are sick of slow down, one on one ISO ball, which always seems to be dying off and then somebody manages success with it and it’s back again, like a mosquito that’s trapped somewhere in your car. The fans are hungry for team basketball and the Warriors give it to them in the best possible way. A title for Golden State (and a title defense next season) would be the most dynamic and fun thing to watch for NBA fans. I want to see Steph battle Westbrook, Paul and Harden each spring — true rivals in every sense of the word. The Warriors surprised everyone by jumping to that elite level this year (67 wins!) under Steve Kerr; I want to see them try to do it again now that the league is ready for them.
Reynolds: Would you be ready for tearful Dan Gilbert, bedecked in his bow tie, to receive the Larry O’Brien trophy from Commissioner Adam Silver? Shudder. Yes, it’s a tough image to accept. But if we can set that and those goofy messianic commercials aside, a win for Cleveland would be something special. By God, Cleveland could use a win.
Let’s recap: The Cleveland Indians have been in the MLB since 1901 and have won two World Series titles. The last one came in 1948. To give you some perspective, World War II had just ended. The Cleveland Browns (still the worst team name in pro sports) have been in and around the NFL since 1946. They’ve never been to the Super Bowl. Cleveland does not have a pro soccer or hockey team, though it is safe to assume they’d suck too. And finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been in the NBA since 1970. The franchise has never won a championship. Their last run to the Finals featured a young Lebron James and a cast of bums (seriously) getting steamrolled by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. It’s hard out there for your Cleveland sports fan.
Cleveland has long been thought of as a joke in professional sports. And while I’m from Toronto and want TO-based teams to win everything, it is heart-warming to see another loser city get its chance. It gives hope to us in other loser cities. If Cleveland can do it, maybe we all can. Yeah, I can sit through a crying Dan Gilbert if it means I can be imbued with that kind of hope. Cleveland rocks!
3) Who ya got?
There is no way to stop the best player in the world LeBron James, but you can attempt to slow him down. The trio of Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala will be able to limit LeBron from scoring 60 points a game and being the floor general he has become so used to being. The Golden State Warriors have the league’s best defense and the deepest bench. When you add the exceptional shooting of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, it becomes a recipe for disaster for any opposing team.
The Warriors are too strong on both sides of the floor to let an injury-riddled Cavalier team beat them four times. I can’t see the Cavs beating them more than twice, period. Although, the Cavs have been just as unbeatable at home during the playoffs and despite LeBron always winning on the road, they will not be able to overcome the hostile Oracle Arena fans. The injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will prove to be too much as J.R. Smith tries to overcompensate as a leader in their place. LeBron will prove yet again that he is the best basketball player in the world, but the Warriors will just be too much. LeBron will have to wait another year to bring a championship home. The Warriors will win in 5 games.
There is an old addage that when in doubt, you should always bet on the team with the best player. Well, LeBron James is still the best player in the NBA. Steph Curry is the best shooter and possibly the best creator, but LeBron still holds the overall belt. He’s a force of nature and there’s no way he’s going to get swept.
But we saw what happened to James’ Miami Heat team last season when they aged even slightly against a fast-paced Spurs team that spread the floor magnificently and drilled triples with reckless abandon. This Cavs team is different than that version of the Heat, playing a slower game, getting physical on the glass and hoping that either Kyrie or JR Smith can heat up from distance to compliment anything/everything LeBron is doing.
It’s not going to be nearly enough.
LeBron may hold an edge over Curry, but with Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving banged up, the rest of the Warriors dwarf the Cavaliers by such a ridiculous margin that this is going to be a beat down of epic proportions. I can’t call a sweep, because LeBron James can still take over a basketball game and he’ll get the Cavaliers at least one game, two at the most. But the old addage doesn’t apply here, because I’m not in doubt.
Warriors in 5.
Reynolds: Remember what I said up there for the previous question? Forget all of it. The Cavaliers are going to get sandblasted by the Warriors. Lebron James is a godhead at this point, but when the Miami Heat played the San Antonio Spurs last year, we saw what happens when a thin James-led team meets a deeper roster. They get whiplashed to death. This year’s Warriors are like the Spurs on cocaine; they’re fired up, high-octane, long-limbed, and smothering. They’re all of the adjectives. All this, and I haven’t even specifically addressed the transcendence of Steph Curry.
I feel for James, for the lack of Kevin Love, for the hobbled Kyrie Irving, for the spirit of Matthew Dellevadova, for the heart of Timofey Mozgov, for the emergence of (Canadian) Tristan Thompson, even for the absurdity that is J.R. Smith in the Finals. I do. But the Warriors are the team this year and they are winning in 6 games. And that’s that.