Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Warriors superior, but must overcome Finals ‘chaos,’ inexperience

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, right, speaks with Iman Shumpert, second from left, during NBA basketball practice, Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. The Golden State Warriors host the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, right, speaks with Iman Shumpert, second from left, during NBA basketball practice, Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. The Golden State Warriors host the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday. AP

The burden is obvious, inescapable, imposing. Even here in a vast agricultural state, is there a scale large enough to calculate the weight that rests on the shoulders of the Warriors and Cavaliers with the NBA Finals mere hours away?

One franchise hasn’t won the championship since 1975. The other organization has never won the NBA title, period. Instead, the city of Cleveland has spent the past five decades – plus one year – trying to remember what it felt like when its Browns captured the 1964 NFL championship.

All those decades. All those dynamic, dominant NBA teams. All those phenomenal duels and rivalries, many featuring Lakers, Celtics, 76ers, Knicks, Bulls, Jazz, Suns, Trail Blazers. And, of course, no one should ever forget the kick we got from the Spurs.

But that was yesterday’s NBA, a league not far removed from the era of black and white television, the days when championship games were broadcast on tape delay and superstars shuttled between cities sans entourage and on commercial flights. Today’s league is a Twitter universe, and more than a little appropriately, the teams competing for the Larry O’Brien Trophy sprinted ahead of their peers in in what seems like a nanosecond.

One franchise hasn’t won the championship since 1975. The other organization has never won the NBA title, period. Instead, the city of Cleveland has spent the past five decades – plus one year – trying to remember what it felt like when its Browns captured the 1964 NFL championship.

The Warriors and the Cavaliers? Seriously?

Yes, finally.

Stephen Curry and LeBron James. Steve Kerr and David Blatt. Two communities that can write scripts and dozens of sequels about their competing generations who have endured basketball futility. The difference is that while neither team has an abundance of experience at this NBA Finals business, the best player on the planet – the one with two rings and five NBA Finals appearances, by the way – plays for the Cavaliers. Just as excellent shooting compensates for a multitude of basketball sins, James’ dominance enables the Cavaliers to skip a few grades. His presence empowers and emboldens his teammates, and in the often excruciating deciding sequences, he commands and controls the situation.

That counts for something. One game, two games, a title?

The challenge for the Warriors is withstanding whatever James sends their way without stepping out of character. The Warriors are the superior team, a collaborative adventure often punctuated by spectacular ballhandling and passing, lethal perimeter shooting, a stifling defense and unfailing unselfishness. This is their series to lose. If they remember who they are, embrace the moment, resist the temptation to be devoured by what Kerr calls the “chaos” of the Finals, the California drought ends. One does, at least.

But if they succumb to nerves? To pressure? Former Kings shooting guard Doug Christie famously admitted that he “choked” during Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference finals and swore that, if given another chance, he would be better prepared for a different result. Christie is on the laundry list of players who never got that second chance.

“I remember when I was with the Lakers, my second year in the league, and we won Game 1 of the (1991) Finals in Chicago,” Kings executive Vlade Divac recalled. “I can tell you, I couldn’t sleep for two days. I was so excited, thinking, ‘We’re gonna win a ring.’ But then a couple of our guys (Byron Scott and James Worthy) got hurt, and we lost the series in five. It was awful. I have played in so many important games, international tournament finals, but playing in the NBA Finals is almost unexplainable.”

Asked for a prediction, Divac hedged but went with the Warriors. “But it’s going to be tough because LeBron gives Cleveland such an advantage. Warriors have to keep their focus.”

Kerr, who in recent weeks often has spoken about Golden State’s four decades of basketball angst, also has shared stories of his five championship seasons – three with the Bulls and two with the Spurs. He also had assistant coach Luke Walton address the team; Bill Walton’s son won rings with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010 but lost on two previous occasions.

“My rookie year (2003-04), I was on cloud nine,” Walton said. “We had Karl (Malone), Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal). Then we went (four) years trying to get back. Even though Kobe (Bryant), Phil (Jackson) and Fish (Derek Fisher) warned us, ‘It’s not good enough just to get back,’ we were so excited. But (in the 2008 Finals), Boston came in and smacked us around in Game 6. … I tried to paint a picture (to the Warriors) of the different mindset we had on the championship team, and the team when we were just happy to be here.”

Walton, too, acknowledges the luminescent James as offering several degrees of separation. “Like we used to have Kobe to lean on,” he said. “It’s a big difference when you have that guy. But I feel like our guys have been an exception to that rule (about needing experience) all year. It’s tough in the Western Conference getting through all those teams. But 67 wins is nearly impossible to do. So I think this group is the exception.”

NBA Finals, Game 1

Today: Cleveland at Golden State, 6 p.m.,

Ch. 10

NBA Finals

Best-of-seven series will be televised on Ch. 10

  • Today: at Golden State, 6p.m.
  • Sunday: at Golden State, 5p.m.
  • Tuesday:
  • at Cleveland, 6p.m.
  • Thursday, June 11:
  • at Cleveland, 6p.m.
  • Sunday, June 14:
  • at Golden State, 5p.m.*
  • Tuesday, June 16:
  • at Cleveland, 6p.m.*
  • Friday, June 19:
  • at Golden State, 6p.m.*

*If necessary

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