1. Finals Time: After a mostly forgettable playoff season, we finally have the matchup most expected/wanted—Golden State v. LeBron. As we discussed during the playoff preview, the Warriors have been so dominant that they are a prohibitive favorite to beat the all comers.
Is there a scenario where the Cavs could beat GS? Let’s look at the reasons for the Cavs to have hope:
- LeBron: Stephen Curry might’ve been the best player in the NBA this season statistically but LeBron James has consistently been the best player of the last decade. The Warriors can throw some pretty good defenders at LBJ (Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and even Draymond Green) but James is one of the few players who can possibly go on a dominant streak regardless of the opposition.
- Stop Curry: The only sustained success against the Warriors in the playoffs came from Memphis, which won Games 2 and 3 of its series against GS. Memphis did a few things that were helpful to note. First and foremost, Memphis somehow got Curry to shoot 4-21 from three in that span. Memphis’ big physical defense helped but it also helped that Mike Conley was a point who was a great defender and made Curry work on defense. The Cavs can make Curry work on defense with Kyrie Irving. On the other side, though, Irving is athletic but doesn’t rate as a great defender. Matthew Dellavedova also rates not great defensively but has been physical enough to annoy/bludgeon players as well.
- Physicality: The Grizz did a nice job slowing down the pace for a few games with a bruising front line. Tristan Thompson/Timofey Mozgov have been effective but they are not as good or as physical as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
- That one time: The Cavs and Warriors split the season series 1-1, with each team winning at home. In the win, the Cavs were able to hold Curry to 5-17 shooting (3-9 from three) and Klay Thompson to 5-13 shooting. The game also featured awesome LeBron (42 pts, 11 rebs). So, this is the blue print for winning the series. Sounds easier on paper than in reality.
In short, the Cavs should be as tough an opponent as the Warriors have seen but, assuming no injuries, holding down Curry/Thompson is not likely. This match up should be more fun than the Conference Finals series but the Warriors will go down as one of the top teams ever. Prediction: Warriors win 4-1.
2. Looking Back to 1974-75: As has been mentioned often on ESPN and elsewhere, it has been 40 years since the Warriors made the NBA Finals. Let’s pause for a minute to remember those old Warriors. The 1974-75 Warriors featured Rick Barry (30.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 6.2 apg), Jamaal Wilkes (who won Rookie of the Year), and decent starters like Clifford Ray and Butch Beard. GS did win the NBA Finals but they did not appear to be world beaters on paper, winning only 48 games.
While there has been much talk about the lack of balance between the East and the West in the current NBA, the problem was much worse back then. Actually, things were really weird all over the NBA. The stars of the 1960s were retired or declining and many new stars were in the ABA. This led to a not-so-exciting NBA in the mid-1970s. The West was so weak that the Warriors actually had the top seed in the West with a 48-34 record. In fact, the only other Western team with more than 44 wins was the Bulls (47-35). By contrast, in the East, Boston and Washington won 60 games and Buffalo won 49. No other team in the East was over .500, which gave the Rockets the fourth seed at 41-41. Out West, the Kings nabbed the three seed with a whopping 44-38 record.
The Warriors matched up with a heavily favored Washington team in the Finals (big names were Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Phil Chenier, and Kevin Porter). Logistical issues ended up helping the Warriors. According to Roland Lazenby in “The NBA Finals: A Fifty Year Celebration,” because of scheduling conflicts the usual format was not available and it was up to Washington how it wanted to schedule thing: “the Bullets could play the first game on the road, then three straight at home. Or they could play the first at home, then two on the road. [Bullets Coach K.C.] Jones didn’t like the idea of losing the first game and getting behind, so he chose to play one at home, then two on the road.”
Jones’ strategy backfired. The Warriors were able to steal Game 1 in Washington 101-95 and then took the next two close games at homes, fueled by Barry and a loud home crowd. Down 3-0, the Bullets faced a hole that no NBA team has ever recovered from. They lost a close Game 4, 96-95 and were swept out. The Warriors won 4-0, but only outscored the Bullets by 16 points for the series.