“It’s part 3 of the battle between the Cavaliers and Warriors in the NBA Finals. With both teams having one championship in their favor, this could be the title that settles the war once and for all. Even though Cleveland shocked Golden State with a huge comeback in last year’s series, the NBA odds aren’t in their favor. The Warriors are the betting favorites at -7 heading into Game 1 and have the home field advantage. It’s going to be very interesting series.” — David Strauss, MyBookie.
This time last year, basketball fans were preparing to watch an epic NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. As the series unfolded, the narrative focused on the Warriors capping off their record-breaking season with a championship. On top of that, all eyes were on LeBron James as he was attempting to win his third ring against arguably the best regular season team of all-time.
As you might expect, the Finals lived up to the expectations and as we all know, Cleveland became the first team in NBA Finals history to come back from 3-1 down (sorry that I can’t think of any corny jokes) to defeat the Warriors. Not only did the city of Cleveland shake a hex that hovered over them since 1964, they were no longer at a crossroads that made fans in Northeast Ohio lonely.
From the time when LeBron yelled “Cleveland, this is for you!,” basketball fans clamored for yet another rematch between the two teams. That feeling was heightened after July 4th, 2016 as Kevin Durant took his talents to the East Bay. As KD joined a team that won 73 wins the two teams were destined to face each other again.
Despite exciting individual seasons from Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the central narrative of the NBA this season was an inevitable third matchup between two teams vying for a chance to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Sure enough, we got what we wished for. For two weeks, we will get a heavy dose of wildly entertaining hoops that will be filled with an assortment of ankle-breaking crossovers, three-pointers and rim-rocking dunks.
So without further ado, here are 11 things that we care about in this year’s NBA Finals.
Kyrie vs. StephThere is nothing more exciting than two of the best point guards in the NBA going toe-to-toe.
(Photo Credit: Cavsnation.com)
In the past two years, the duel between Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry was pegged to be the one of the marquee matchups of the NBA Finals. Though there were glimpses of what could have been, injuries played a key role in limiting that. In 2015, Irving only played in Game 1 and Curry wasn’t himself last year as he battled a knee injury. Now both players are healthy and playing at a high level expect a ball-handling and shooting exhibition that will keep fans on the edge of their seats.
Richard Jefferson Posters
For some reason, Richard Jefferson drinks from the fountain of youth and morphs into a 27-year-old against the Golden State Warriors. We saw it during last year’s Finals and on Christmas Day; Jefferson turned back the clock and posterized Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. A similar showing in these Finals is what the culture needs, so we’ll be waiting for R.J. to add to his dunk catalog against one of his former teams.
Klay Thompson’s Demeanor
Even though Golden State are entering the Finals undefeated, Klay Thompson hasn’t played at an All-Star level. Thus far, he only has two games of over 20 points and he is only shooting around 36 percent from deep. A lot of Klay’s issues hinge on taking bad shots that are not in the flow of the offense. Not to say that Kevin Durant is another problem, but we remember Thompson’s comments from the summer were in anticipation of life with his new teammate. Coincidentally, his play has regressed as Durant continues takes off. Coupled with being in a shooting slump and having to face their archrival in the Finals, it will be important to keep an eye on Thompson’s demeanor as it could put a damper over the Warriors.
Can Kevin Durant Shake His Hex Against LeBron James?
It’s been well-documented that Kevin Durant tired of being associated with the number 2. We know the story about him being the second-best player in high school and that label has followed him to the NBA. The glaring presence that’s preventing KD to man the top spot in the league is LeBron James. Although Durant is far and away one of the most talented players the NBA has ever seen, he’s had a heap of trouble against LBJ. Dating back to his days as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant’s head-to-head record against James is 5-17, which included him losing to James in the 2012 Finals. It appears that James has the mental edge over Durant, but could that change? It remains to be seen, but Durant has the perfect team to finally end his hex against LeBron.
Shaun Livingston’s Midrange Game
Shaun Livingston’s throwback game in today’s three-point happy league is a thing of beauty. Watching Livingston operate from 17 feet and in poetry in motion. His efficient, but lithe footwork blended with an air-tight handle makes him tough to guard in that area. Like last year, it’s expected that he will make his mark often as one of the top players on Golden State’s bench.
Who’s Going to Win The Harrison Barnes Masonry Award?
In last year’s Finals, Harrison Barnes took a page out of John Starks’ book and missed crucial shots that could have perhaps changed the landscape of the series. It seems like in every Finals series, there is someone who shrinks when it matters most. Both teams have streaky shooters, so it will be interesting to see who will take home the Harrison Barnes Masonry Award.
Draymond Green’s Battle Against Himself
It’s no secret that Draymond is the most intriguing player in the NBA and the heartbeat to the Warriors. When he is at his best, Golden State is close to impossible to beat. His multifaceted skill set make the Dubs a matchup nightmare on offense and defense, but his antics are a detriment, as evidenced last June. Although Green continues to play with Saginaw pride, he’s curtailed the “dirty play” that warranted some controversy. As you might expect, Green will not temper his emotions because this is a moment that he’s been waiting for, but he has to find a balance to exhibit passion and when to keep it in check.
The Battle of the Enforcers
Cleveland has Dahntay Jones and Golden State has David West and Matt Barnes. I know it may not happen, but if all three are on the court at the same time, expect someone to be fined.
J.R. Smith’s Potential “Henny Game”
J.R. Smith’s mission to make America lit again was a success as he spent most of his summer shirtless as the Cavaliers celebrated their championship. This year, he’s battled some personal issues with family and a few nagging injuries that kept him off the floor. For most of the postseason he’s been relatively quiet, but now the stage is at its grandest, we are due for a game where Earl Smith III shows us that #hennythingispossible.
On Kevin Love Avenging Last Year’s Finals Disappointment
Kevin Love found redemption as he made arguably the biggest stop in Cavs basketball history in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, but outside of that, he played poorly. The four-time All-Star was often out of rhythm against the Warriors. In six games, he scored just 51 total points and he shot 36 percent from the field. It even came to a point where the then-35-year old Richard Jefferson would take his minutes. This year, Love is entering the Finals playing some of the best basketball in his career. If Love keeps it up, last year’s showing will be an afterthought in route to a second championship.
Where Could LeBron’s Legacy Go From Here?
At this point in LeBron James’ career, it’s all about enhancing his legacy. His place among the NBA’s Mt. Rushmore is cemented, but the end goal is to be the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. In the words of the “ghost” that LeBron is chasing, “the ceiling is the roof”. With a fourth championship, James will in a terrain that will inch closer him closer to Michael Jordan. Although they played in different eras, at the same age as Jordan, James would have more championship rings, MVPs and possibly Finals MVPs more than “His Airness”. Even if James loses a fifth time in the championship, the narrative of his career wouldn’t change much. Given that a team that won 73 games the year before had to add a former MVP to their team to dethrone the King would be a slight compliment to his greatness.
Game Odds: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors, Game 1
- Cleveland Cavaliers +7 -110
- Golden State Warriors -7 -110
- 225½ O-110 / U-110
- Cleveland Cavaliers +260
- Golden State Warriors -320
Columbus, Ohio born. Ron is a first-ballot healthy hairline hall of famer. He spent the summer of ‘08 eating calamari pasta because of OJ Da Juiceman. He also loves to write about sports while listening to Sada Baby. Follow him on Twitter @Ron_Hamp