Back in the Finals Again
The two teams that nearly everybody thought were going to end up in the NBA Finals ended up arriving at the exact place that they were supposed arrive at. Two teams that were probably scribbled onto chalk boards all across the sporting world spectrum before these playoffs began are in the Finals. Again. For the second straight year. The Cleveland Cavs and the Golden State Warriors. The beasts from the East and the best from the West. They are who we thought they’d be.
Though they were both supposed to arrive at the Finals, the two teams got there in two entirely different ways. One team breezed through all of their playoff series to get there, while the other one had to play their asses off to come back from the brink of disaster.
The Beasts from the East
It’s not exactly a surprise that the Cleveland Cavs made it to the Finals. They were head and shoulders better than every other team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. They might have struggled earlier in the year (for them, a record of 30 or so wins in their first 40 or so games is considered a “struggle”), but they ramped up their game later in the year to where they were crushing teams down the stretch and playing their best ball of the year leading up to the post season.
Then they began the Eastern Conference playoffs, not only as a red hot team, but they also were simply better than their opponents of the first two rounds, the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks, and they swept both of them in four straight games.
Their next opponents were the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. The Cavs won their first two games at home to stretch their playoff unbeaten streak to ten wins in a row. As often happens in playoff series, the team without the home court advantage (this time Toronto) came back strong and won their first two games at home to seemingly make it a competitive series at 2 to 2.
But as it also happens in series like this, after four games, the better team figures out the weaknesses of their opponents and usually is able to defeat their inferior opponent in the later games of the series. In this case, the Cavs
crushed Toronto in the fifth and sixth games of the series to win it in six and advance to the finals.
This is the sixth straight season that a LeBron James team has made it to the NBA Finals. It’s an amazing statistic really. That means that for all of the Eastern Conference during that time (a whole career for some players), NOBODY could even play in an NBA final unless they were either on the same team as LeBron James, or if they switched leagues and were lucky enough to play in the Western Conference for one of the juggernaut teams. James has dominated that much. Either the rest of the Eastern Conference is really bad or LeBron James is REALLY good.
The Best in the West
While trying to predict who is going to make the finals from the East has now become a kind of annual foregone conclusion, the West is an entirely different story. Containing three of the four best teams in all of basketball (along with Cleveland), the West in recent years has become a powerhouse where the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
The last five representatives in the NBA Finals from the West have been either the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder. They have completely proven themselves to be in an elite trio (we’ll call them Tier One), showing themselves to be noticeably superior to the rest of the usual Western Conference playoff suspects. The L.A. Clippers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trailblazers (who would be Tier Two) are good enough to regularly “make” the playoffs, but they have yet to prove that they belong with the big boys.
As good as the teams of “Tier Two” want to think they might be, they are only fooling themselves if they think they are ever going to win a championship coming from the West when all of them have yet to prove they can win a seven game series against any (and you would have to be good enough to defeat ALL) of the teams from “Tier One.” So what the Western Conference playoffs usually turn out to be is a bunch of series where the Tier One teams knock off the Tier Two teams until they have to play each other.
This year, the Warriors posted the best regular season record in NBA history with a 73 and 9 record. They cruised into the Western Conference Finals without really even breaking into a sweat.
In the other half of the bracket, the Spurs and the Thunder brushed aside the usual suspects from Tier Two (of course, any teams that would be in “Tier Three” would be barely able to even make the playoffs, much less be good enough to actually beat anybody while there) and met in the conference semi-finals.
The Spurs, who are getting up there in age, could not keep up with the younger, more athletic and explosive OKC Thunder. That’s two straight years now where the Spurs have fallen to teams they used to beat all the time, and it appears that the great championship run of the team led by the trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli has finally ended.
Their conquerors, the OKC Thunder, would go on and play the Warriors for the right to face what everyone knew was going to end up being LeBron in The Finals. After splitting the first two games in the Bay Area, the Thunder went back home and shellacked the Warriors two straight to take what should have been a commanding 3 to 1 lead in the series. With anyone else, it WOULD have been commanding. But the Warriors are a team that won 73 out of 82 games this regular season. Not an easy team to defeat four times in seven games under any circumstances. Not to mention with a season on the line.
The Warriors went out and won Game Five at home. That was expected. Game Six would be at home for OKC. With loud, raucus, crazy, passionate fan support. This was the game that Oklahoma City HAD to win. It was a game, of course, that the Warriors HAD to win too. OKC knew they had to slow down Steph Curry. They knew they had to contain Draymond Green. They forgot about Klay Thompson. Even though OKC led much of the game, and even led the game late, they kept allowing Thompson to hit treys to always keep the Warriors close. Then in the crucial final minutes, OKC committed some key turnovers, the Warriors capitalized, and the Thunder opportunity was lost as the Warriors prevailed in a great Game Six.
Game Seven repeated the formula in almost the exact same way (which, by the way, was a microcosm of the entire series). The Thunder played well, got the lead early and led for most of the game (like they did the series). The Warriors, thanks to Thompson and Curry’s great shooting, kept close enough to stay in contact. Then, late in the game (like the series), the Warriors hit the big shots, made the key stops and proved that they were the better team when it mattered. You don’t win a record 73 regular season games without in the process teaching yourself HOW to win. The Warriors had the poise (and the out of this world shot making ability) when it mattered. They move on to the Finals.
So the Warriors will play the Cavs in the Finals. This is a repeat of last year’s Finals, where the Warriors took out the Cavs in six games. The Warriors are an even better team now than last year. But the Cavs took the series to six games with JUST LeBron James and a rag tag bunch of teammates, but WITHOUT the Cavs’ second and third best players, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Many people thought the Cavs would have beat the Warriors last year if their best players had been healthy. Well, now they ARE.
Can Cleveland stop, or at least contain, the amazing outside shooting of Curry and Thompson? Is LeBron James and Cleveland, WITH his great teammates healthy this year, good enough to knock off the team with the best regular season record in history? Tune in for Game One tonight. It should be a great series.