After making an unlikely comeback down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, reigning MVP guard Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are set to face off in an NBA finals rematch against forward LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Becoming just the 10th team in NBA history to mount a 3-1 comeback, the Warriors enter the finals carrying momentum.
Unlike the Warriors, the Cavaliers had no problem reaching the finals, finishing their Eastern Conference Playoffs run at an impressive 12-2, including two 4-0 sweeps against the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks. James, who has now reached the finals for the sixth straight year, will look to slow down the Splash Brothers and avenge last year’s loss, this time with a healthy roster.
There is a lot on the line for both teams. For the Warriors, they burden the pressure of becoming arguably the greatest team of all time. After a 73-9 regular season record that edged out the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ 72-10 record, they will look to immortalize their names in the record books and avoid failing to close an otherwise historic season without a ring.
For the Cavaliers, it is about finally winning a championship and about James — the supposed chosen one — finally leading them there. He returned from his hiatus in Miami, equipped with the experience of winning it all twice, and while injuries to teammates played a large role in his inability to win last season, he finally has a team. If he wins, he will be lauded as the city’s savior; if he loses, he will remain the anti-hero full of empty promises.
While I am not a huge fan of James, my objective view of this upcoming series is that the Warriors will win in six: They will split two in Oakland, split two in Cleveland and win in Oakland before ultimately winning in Cleveland.
The Warriors will ride their hot hands into game one. Oracle Arena will be loud, Cleveland will be rusty and the shots will fall in favor of Golden State. But as James so often does, he will make adjustments and adapt to Golden State, opting to either get his teammates more involved — averaging seven assists per game in the playoffs — or deciding to take over the game himself.
As James adjusts, shots will begin to fall for Cleveland. Their beyond-the-arc barrage is led by an array of sharpshooters in guard Kyrie Irving, guard J.R. Smith, forward Channing Frye and forward Kevin Love. Collectively, the team shot a scorching 50.6 percent — 77-of-152 — from three in the Atlanta sweep, facilitated by James’ unparalleled ability to find his open teammates. They will outshoot Golden State to take a 2-1 series lead.
Golden State, specifically the Splash Brothers, have a particular knack for staying hot and not remaining cold, as well as an incredible knack for shooting their team back into seemingly unwinnable games.
It is already unlikely that both Curry and Thompson will be off on the same night, and as evidenced by game seven against the Thunder, they can quickly turn their poor shooting nights around. When they’re hot, they’re hot, to the tune of 11-of-18 from three for Thompson in game six and 7-of-12 for Curry in game seven. The Warriors will find their stroke again and manage to win the remaining games.
While winning three straight games against a healthy Cavaliers’ roster, including two in Cleveland, might seem a little far-fetched, remember that this Warriors team is the greatest regular season team of all time, and we just watched them take three in a row against an arguably better Thunder team.
Moreover, the Cavaliers have also shown a propensity to cool off on the big stage, as evidenced by last season’s finals where Smith and guards Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert shot 29.4 percent, 23.1 percent and 32 percent from beyond the arc, respectively.
Having a healthy Irving and Love helps, and newly acquired Frye has been on a tear, but the numbers do not lie as such role players have demonstrated an inability to help out James on the biggest of stages.
While I predict that Curry will win his second ring with the Warriors, matching his MVP count, the series could very well swing in favor of Cleveland given James’ penchant for carrying his team when needed.
However, one thing is for certain: The 2016 NBA finals will be entertaining and competitive, as each team fights for its share of history.
And while I ultimately hope to see Curry raising the Larry O’Brien trophy, James and his determination could very well send Curry back to the kids’ table.
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