This is it. One of the most anticipated Finals matchups in NBA history is spilling over the brim with hype and hyperbole. This is the 3rd fight between Rocky and Apollo and we’re not talking about practice this time. This is as real as it gets.
We all remember the summer of 2014 when many in Ohio were contemplating how to forgive LeBron all while being giddy af that he might return to the Cavs. That season ended with a hobbled Cavs squad facing a rising Warriors team that was destined for dynasty. Without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, it was shades of LeBron’s 2007 Cavaliers team that was swept in the finals. There’s no such thing as a moral victory in any title game but LeBron and the Cavs surprisingly took Golden State to 6 games (and had a 2-1 lead). LeBron had never been better.
That Braveheartian performance gave many hope that a healthy Cavs team could really take down 73-9 Golden State in 2016. And I, dear reader, walked amongst them and I too believed. (and predicted right here)
And what followed was one of the greatest Finals series we’d seen since the hallowed 1980’s. The Cavs came back from a 3-1 deficit and denied the Warriors their place in history in the most embarrassing fashion. And so the scene is set and the trilogy is nearly complete.
Kevin Durant frustrated a lot of NBA fans when he signed with Golden State last July. Only the staunchest of LeBron stans and the most casual of Cavs fans thought there was a chance Cleveland could beat Golden State in the Finals again. Durant, looking for his first title, had unwittingly become the NBA’s chief villain and Golden State was the team we loved to root against.
And that’s put LeBron in a new position. The former NBA’s chief villain finds himself perhaps more respected and loved than ever before for a variety of different reasons. First and foremost, for bringing the first title to Cleveland since the year the Beatles invaded. Bron’s legacy is cemented in Northeast Ohio.
Then you have the Golden State haters who see the Warriors as being too full of themselves and demand they fall back down to Earth. They stand aside those promoters of parity that would like nothing more than to see super teams fail just so they can feel like their teams have a chance next year.
And there’s a growing group, their voice starting to be heard. This is the contingent that wants one of their own, a player they grew up with, to be remembered as the greatest ballplayer who ever lived. And that is another underlying theme of these historic Finals. If LeBron James beats this Golden State Warriors team, he becomes THE argument against Michael Jordan being the best player of all time.
Every year, the games get more scrutinized and with social media, literally millions of opinions get heard. There will be controversial endings to games and untimely fouls will lead to allegations against the NBA of fixing outcomes. But just let them play. This year’s postseason didn’t have a ton of great games let alone a memorable series. But that has been the trend in the NBA. Still, we have the series we wanted and it should be a fantastic one.
But for the Cavs to make that so, they have to catch all the breaks. Golden State is the better team by almost every metric. The Cavs can’t lose the turnover battle, Tristan needs to be a monster on the offensive boards which won’t be as easy this year, and they’ll need to seek edges in other areas like free throws. And Mike Brown needs to Mike Brown.
Really though, in the end, the Cavs have to outperform Golden State in almost all areas. Kevin Love has been playing great as of late and continuing that is key if Cleveland wants a chance. It’s going to be simply exhilarating watching these teams make buckets. Golden State plays better defense than the Cavs and they’re pretty much unstoppable on offense.
Cleveland will need to play better D than they have all season but their only real shot is to somehow outpace the Warriors in scoring. That seems obvious but my point is that they’re not gonna be able to keep the Warriors from scoring a lot of points, only the Warriors can do that.
Common sense, and all the stats, and frankly the eye test all say the Warriors should win in 6 or less. But this is also LeBron’s eye test. The whole world watching as he goes against perhaps the most talented starting 5 ever assembled as a heavy underdog but also a defending champ who triumphed against all odds but a year ago. If you believed last year, you can’t stop believing this year. If you can come back from a 3-1 deficit, you can do anything.
Cavs in 7
Ben Galli covers NBA basketball for Pencilstorm.com Follow @bengalli33