So here we are now. The matchup we wanted. The matchup we deserve. It would be remiss to begin talking about Cavs v. Warriors II without first mentioning the incredible series that the should be Seattle Supersonics Still gave us. In one fell swoop they gave us the dueling notions that this Warriors team is beatable and that no one can stop Golden State. The Zombie Sonics surprised everyone by racing out to a 3-1 series lead. They finally solved Steph Curry they said. They have the athleticism and the length to win. Billy Donovan is a genius. Draymond Green hates babies. Then with all the pressure on the Warriors, their record-breaking season and legacy on the line, they rattled of 3 straight wins, joining the 1968 Celtics and 1995 Rockets as the only defending champions to overcome a 3-1 deficit.
The Warriors are 2-1 favorites to beat the Cavs and opened as +5.5 favorites for Game 1 Thursday night at 9pm (ABC) in Oakland. Here's a rundown on the big storylines surrounding this series which could go down as the most watched in NBA history*.
*Monday night's Thunder-Warriors Game 7 was the highest rated cable broadcast in NBA history and LeBron makes everything bigger. Population Oklahoma City: 610,000 Population Northeast Ohio: 4,300,000 (more than Oklahoma). For those wondering, the '98 Bulls-Jazz series has the highest rating.
Love and Kyrie are Healthy
This is the biggest hope and plea from Cleveland fans. Unfortunately, too many think it is a foregone conclusion that the Cavs will automatically win because they lost 4 games to 2 last year without their 2nd and 3rd best players. It won't be that easy. For as much as Kyrie is going to dominate offensively, both he and Love are defensive liabilities. Love is not as bad as Kyrie on this end but matchups could create issues against the Warriors. How can you justify playing Matthew Dellavedova over Kyrie because he's a much better defender? Kyrie needs to get that together. J.R. Smith might be a better fit on Curry but that puts Irving on Klay. On the other hand, Kevin Love is an excellent rebounder and shooter and Kyrie could average 35 a game against Stephen Curry. In other words, he could run through him like curry.
Cavs Can Shoot 3's
The 2016 playoff Cavs have been hitting 3's on a level unprecedented. They lead all playoff teams in 3's made and attempted per game along with an impressive %43.4 percentage made. Trade deadline acquisition Channing Frye is shooting a blistering %58 from 3 point land, leading all players with 20 minimum attempts. J.R. Smith has been getting into the mix. The Cavs and Warriors both set records for most 3 pointers in a playoff game seemingly back to back earlier this year. This is important for those who remember Tristan Thompson miss 18 bunny shots a game and Timofey Mozgov lose control of the ball 2 times per possession in last year's finals. If the Cavs can hit 3's at a better rate than last year (%29.3), that could be a game-changer.
The Warriors have their vaunted "Death Lineup" where they go small ball and exhibit fluid versatility and offensive prowess. The Cavs have more of a "Death from Old Age Lineup" with Richard Jefferson in his 14th year in the league. (what's crazier is that this is LeBron's 12th) Golden State's lineup of Draymond Green at center with Andre Iguodola, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, and Steph Curry wreaked unmatched havoc on Cleveland last year and they're poised to do so again this time around. Cleveland must come up with a similar lineup of it's own. Perhaps some medley of Kevin Love, Channing Frye, LeBron James, J.R. Smith, and Kyrie Irving. The Cavs have the offense but defense is where this battle will be decided.
Since 1986, I remember every collapse and tragedy endured by Cleveland fans across all sports except for indoor soccer. The Force never wavered. They were my favorite Cleveland team. In an effort to exorcise the demons that have haunted Cleveland since their last major sports title in 1964, I rank the most likely ways the Cavs suffer an unforgettable loss.
5. LeBron James tears his Achilles while performing his pre-game ritual of throwing powder into the air. It's caught on tape
4. Due to an unexplained outbreak of the Zika virus (everyone's looking at you, Anderson), the Cavs are forced to guard Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with a combination of Craig Ehlo and Gerald Wilkins. All they do is make game winning shots at the buzzer.
3. With a 1 point lead in the waning seconds of Game 7, Kyrie Irving fumbles the ball near the Cavs baseline. Kevin Love tries to save it but ends up throwing it right to Edgar Renteria (a late season Warriors bench acquisition) for an easy layup as time expires.
2. A tattered Delonte West shows up to Game 6 in Cleveland at the side of Gloria James. J.R. Smith smiles and winks at Gloria. LeBron spends all of halftime tweeting Chinese philosophy tropes and then leaves the arena. The Cavs lose in 6.
1. Fuck Art Modell.
This. Is. It. The best chance for a title in Northeast Ohio in a long time. It's a tough feeling knowing that you're almost there but all of the universe is stacked against you. And against the easily hateable Warriors of all teams. With Draymond's dickfooting around, Steph Curry's childish arrogance, and the arc of perhaps the greatest team of all time. If Golden State wins again, they'll talk about how many more they can win and their place in history but overshadowed by it all will be that LeBron failed again and he's leaving. In the end, LEGACY and LEBRON are intertwined. He's the greatest in the world. He's the Prince that was Promised (by Stern to the Cavs before the 2003 Lottery). Just a kid from Akron living the Northeast Ohio dream. And this June, dreams will come true. Finally.
The Cleveland Cavaliers in 7. They want it more and they have the best player in the world.