So, finally, here it comes, the Warriors and the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. What more can be said? The Warriors, who captured the Western Conference on Wednesday with a 104-90 victory over the Houston Rockets, spent most of a season painting breathtaking views of the Bay Area.
But when has Cleveland – that city with the famous lake – ever seemed so sexy?
Steph Curry and LeBron James. Two rookie NBA head coaches. Two franchises that know more about droughts than the leading climate experts on either coast. The less-than-golden Warriors spent 40 years in the desert before Steve Kerr rode in, rekindled memories of the 1975 championship team, and in the words of Warriors owner Joe Lacob, “proved he could coach.”
The Cavaliers – they lost LeBron to Miami, then won LeBron back to his hometown Akron – reached the Finals once in 2007, but were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
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All of which makes this upcoming Warriors-Cavaliers series new and exciting terrain for the expansion conscious NBA. No Spurs, no Celtics, no Lakers, no Heat, no Rockets, no Knicks, no Bulls, no Pistons, no Clippers (no surprise there, right?). Instead, sellout crowds in the respective cities and television audiences worldwide will witness the only Finals matchup that could conceivably salvage an uncharacteristically injury-crippled postseason.
“It’s great for the league, it’s fantastic for the NBA, not only because of the players involved but because of the fan bases,” said Kerr, who won championships as a player in Chicago and San Antonio. “I played in Cleveland for 31/2 years. I had a wonderful experience there. Those fans are awesome. The fans here are amazing. Both fan bases have supported their respective teams for so many years, and it’s always good to see that loyalty rewarded.”
Both the Cavaliers and Warriors will benefit immensely from the week-long layoff before next Thursday’s championship series opener. For the Warriors, especially, the break comes at an ideal time. Curry, the league MVP, is still bruised and sore from his nasty spill in Game 4. He wore sleeves on both knees and his right arm, though he yanked the arm sleeve off early in the third quarter.
Of greater concern is the condition of Klay Thompson, who was tagged with an inadvertent elbow to his right ear/head by Trevor Ariza. Though he returned to the game after undergoing concussion testing and receiving stitches, he felt poorly and began to display concussion-like symptoms later Wednesday evening; he was to be monitored throughout the night.
The Cavaliers, of course, have been without All-Star forward Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) throughout the postseason. But they have adapted accordingly, and should combine with the Warriors to provide a lively, entertaining series.
But that’s seven days and seven nights away. Wednesday night in Oracle Arena was all about the Warriors, and how after decades of futility, they ended an excruciating basketball drought. This is a franchise that had not sniffed the Finals since 1975, or in other words, the era before John Stockton wore short shorts, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson revived a league, Michael Jordan emerged as the NBA’s one-man corporation, the greatest team ever assembled – the 1992 Dream Team – introduced a global game, the Spurs established a dynasty, and these same Rockets rode Hakeem Olajuwon to back-to-back titles during one of Jordan’s sabbaticals.
Really, since gentleman Al Attles coached Golden State to its only NBA title, the 2002 Kings made a deeper postseason run than their northern California Bay Area neighbors, only to step all over themselves in two potential series clinchers: Before getting jobbed by the refs in Game 6, the Kings squandered a 24-point lead. Two days later, they choked away Game 7 in their own building.
The Warriors refused to let that happen. They refused to let the Rockets hang around for anything other than a short series. It was five games and sayonara, albeit, after a sluggish start.
After short-arming shots and converting only 22.2 percent from the field in the first quarter, Thompson erupted with a 13-point flurry of three-pointers, curls into the lane, quick pullups from the foul line. Defensively, the rangy 6-foot-7 guard helped Andre Iguodala pressure James Harden into the majority of his eight – count ’em, eight – first-half turnovers.
But the thing about the Warriors? Almost every player on the roster is capable of inflicting pain and suffering on the opposition, whether it’s Andrew Bogut going scoreless but dominating the boards, Draymond Green eschewing his offensive struggles and outhustling everyone to loose balls, Harrison Barnes hitting three straight field goals after Thompson’s wobbled bleeding to the locker room, reserves Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston and Iguodala contributing in ways that don’t show up in the box score.
Then there is the little guy, of course, and not to be outdone, Curry not only led all scorers with 26 points, he brought along his daughter, Riley, for his postgame interview session.
“We’ve exceeded a lot of people’s expectations,” suggested Curry. “But this is something that, as players, we’ve been eyeing, and it’s nice to have ourselves where we are: four wins away from a championship.”