The Golden State Warriors are four games away from cementing their place as the most successful team in NBA history. After breaking the 1995 Bulls’ record for most wins in a single season, it’s championship or bust for the Warriors. In what has seemed like an inevitable collision course, LeBron James and the Cavs are waiting for one of the most anticipated rematches in Finals history. With tip-off for Game 1 coming at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 2, The Western Front takes a look at the biggest storylines that emerged from the Conference Finals.
THIS YEAR THE CAVS ARE HEALTHY
For Cleveland fans, the saving grace from last year’s Finals defeat was the team had been stricken with injuries leading up to their matchup of with the Warriors. Kevin Love was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round and Kyrie Irving was lost after Game 1 of the Finals.
LeBron came out firing, leading the series in scoring, assists and rebounding while leading the Cavaliers to a 2-1 series lead. Ultimately, the depth of Golden State and the shooting from the Splash Bros., Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, proved to be too much for the depleted Cavs to overcome.
This year the tables have turned for the Warriors.
While Curry recovered to deliver some clutch moments in the Western Conference Finals, it’s clear the right knee sprain sustained in Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the divisional round still haunting him. Only time will tell if the unanimous MVP’s injuries will linger in the Finals.
After a rocky start in the locker room, the Cavaliers appear to have finally become comfortable with one another. Whether you believe LeBron had former head coach David Blatt fired or not, the players have managed to rally together and are playing at a newfound level at the right time of the season.
Head coach Tyronn Lue has James and his teammates clicking in a way that was never present with Blatt in charge. Players are joking with each other in press conferences and appear to be having fun. The team is also moving the ball around better, with James adding seven assists per game. If the Cavs can continue to play as a single unit, Golden State is going to have a far more difficult opponent this year.
CURRY VS LEBRON
Perhaps the most intriguing story of this Finals is the budding rivalry between LeBron and Curry. While the two respect each other’s love and dedication to the game, there is a friendly rivalry and it will be exciting to see it come to head.
Despite recently being named the unanimous MVP, Curry’s accolades and records still spark conversation about his play style. LeBron added fuel to this fire when he made comments about the interpretation of the phrase “most valuable.” LeBron hasn’t had a consistent rival during his career, especially not in the Eastern Conference. Now facing a Warriors — a team that is built to contend for the next several years — a second time, fans are excited to see if Steph and LeBron can become this generation’s Bird and Magic.
The self-proclaimed “greatest player in the world” has a lot to live up to in these Finals. Should he lose, James will be 2-5 in the Finals and his bold statement will continue to lose its validity. James has come to represent not only the Cavaliers, but the city of Cleveland as well. Cleveland has never seen a more well-rounded basketball team with a better shot at the championship. Should James lose, will he stay?
Should he stay?
A win for Cleveland will not only pull the spotlight back onto James, but it should highlight the importance of Irving and Love. Last year’s Finals proved LeBron can’t carry the Cavs on his own. If Cleveland wants to see more of the King, this championship will not only win the city its first ring, but will hopefully convince LeBron not to leave the city a second time.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FRYE
The Cavaliers picked up power forward Channing Frye from the Orlando Magic in early February right before the trade deadline. While Frye is a roleplaying bench player, he has lit up every team in the playoffs so far. He’s hit 15 three pointers and rebounded just as efficiently, averaging four a game.
Frye has not only proven to be a perfect addition to the Cav’s drive-and-dish playstyle, he also adds depth the Warriors will have trouble covering. Having the 6-foot-11 forward consistently hitting threes will force the Warriors to play bigger, relying on Andrew Bogut and Marreese Speights defensive abilities outside the paint. Will he be able to impact the team in the same way 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala did for the Warriors?
WHICH TEAM HAS THE DEEPEST ROSTER?
The Warriors have enjoyed watching forwards Draymond Green, Iguodala and Harrison Barnes step up their games. Behind Curry, Iguodala and Green have the most steals per game and Green currently has more blocks per game than any other Warrior. While the spotlight will be on Curry and Klay, the importance of Green and Iguodala cannot be underestimated.
If the Warriors are going to have a shot at beating a fully healthy Cavaliers squad, Bogut and Speights will need to be faster on defense. Iguodala proved a dominating defender against James in last year’s finals with eight steals and two blocks, but with a lightning-fast Irving and smooth-shooting Love to cover as well, Bogut and Speights will need to be comfortable playing fast defense or face a long series riding the bench.
Up to this point, the Warriors look to have a deeper team. Cavs backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova has yet to move into the playoff spotlight, and big man Timofey Mozgov is averaging just one point a game in the playoffs. The Cavaliers will need to isolate and overpower the Warriors defense, relying heavily on the skills of James, Irving and Love if they want a chance at the ring.
Never before has Cleveland seen a more comfortable team than what they have now. After such dominating performances against the Pistons and Raptors, they have smelled blood in the water and are circling that ring. The Warriors hot hands remain on fire and are looking to finish their history-making run with a championship. The King is back with his cavalry and the unanimous MVP is ready to shoot the lights out. It’s showtime.
ANDERSON VAREJÃO GETS HIS RING
In an unusal twist, Warriors backup center Anderson Varejão is guaranteed a championship ring regardless of the series outcome. Varejão, who had been a Cavalier since 2004, was traded to Portland right before the trade deadline. After Portland cut him, Varejão signed on with the Warriors. A fan favorite in Cleveland, Varejão should recieve a ring, should the Cavs win the championship.