Steph Curry (left) and LeBron James have their sights set on winning the 2016 championship. For Curry, a title would be his second straight, both against James. For James, it would be his third overall.
Considering how such unpredictable circumstances still led to such predictable results in who became the title combatants, even the LeBron James haters may have a soft spot for the object of their ire right about now. Vegas, after all, has pegged Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Co. as prohibitive favorites to repeat, which would leave the sport’s King a pedestrian 2-5 when it comes to these championship series things.
by Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
So, we got what we wanted.
Now what …
Not for nothing, but the NBA Finals rematch between Cleveland and Golden State, which tips off with tonight’s Game 1 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., almost seems as anticlimactic as it was expected.
That the defending champion Warriors almost didn’t make it, needing seven games and an insane amount of 3-pointers by the Splash Brothers to get past Oklahoma City in the West, pretty much has been shrugged off as no biggie.
That the Cavaliers, finally healthy in a physical sense, struggled in every other sense and had so many issues with trying to hit their stride that they underwent a coaching change at midseason and then a philosophical change on offense in the postseason, pretty much has been shrugged off as the same.
Yep, never a doubt. Uh-huh, sure …
Considering how such unpredictable circumstances still led to such predictable results in who became the title combatants, even the LeBron James haters may have a soft spot for the object of their ire right about now.
Vegas, after all, has pegged Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Co. as prohibitive favorites to repeat, which would leave the sport’s King a pedestrian 2-5 when it comes to these championship series things.
Kinda rough stuff for a guy still trying to challenge Michael Jordan’s “best ever” status, or to at least gain approval from the masses.
Spare me the tears. Not buying it. Yet.
Right now, regardless of what happened last year or earlier this season during an embarrassing blowout loss at Christmastime that pretty much served as a “pantsing” in front of a national television audience, Cleveland actually appears to be – gasp – better. Or, at minimum, playing better ball.
Something happened to Golden State in the playoffs. After setting a single-season record for wins, the Warriors got pushed a bit by Portland and then to the limit by the Thunder. Frankly, as impressive as it was in seeing them rebound from a 3-1 deficit, they weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders while winning the final three games of the series.
If not for Thompson’s other-worldly effort in Game 6, when he drained 11 3-pointers from all angles possible, often with a defender right up in his grill, en route to 41 points, Cleveland would be facing OKC this time around.
Oh, the Cavs had their own issues with Toronto in the East, actually “allowing” the Raptors to get up off the canvas after decking them with a couple haymakers in Games 1 and 2. But they never seemed as if they were out of control, or in danger of not reaching these Finals.
Golden State has for weeks.
Prevailing wisdom states that is because the Warriors spent themselves with shooting for 73. Reality, though, is that Curry’s injuries have made him and the team more vulnerable to playing less than exceptional, and the Warriors haven’t exactly displayed a healthy respect for the opposition, either.
Failing to do so against a squad led by the game’s best player – sorry, Steph – likely would prove fatal.
Now, who would have wanted that?
BEYOND THE ARC
A few observations as to what we may see in this NBA Finals ... and from who.
KID 'N' PLAY Gotta say, the one thing that strikes me most about Steph Curry isn’t so much his shooting success, but, rather, the insane, almost “irresponsible” attempts he takes from the floor. Think about it. Is there anyone in the NBA game today who takes more out-of-context, out-of-mind shots? Has there ever been? This guy pulls up from any spot on the floor and lets it fly in loosey-goosey fashion, and incredibly sinks many of the most outrageous. Often it’s harder to gauge whether it is more inconceivable that he took a shot or made it. He’s very kid-like in the way he plays, especially in how he just up and fires, almost without any thought or conscience. It’s one of the things most endearing about his game, and probably one of the things most annoying to his detractors. The oversized jersey hanging off his shoulders for years added to his “youthful” look out there. But, apparently, he’s filled out a bit, or decided to go a tad more stylish, leaving his, um, shot selection as his primary, “underage” calling card.
PERSONAL FAVE He ain’t the best player on the floor. For that matter, he often ain’t even on the floor. However, there is something just so almost indescribably special about Cleveland backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova that makes it so easy for me to enjoy, and his presence in this Finals only makes it all the more intriguing for me. Tough, scrappy, pesky, annoyingly persistent, more talented than most credit him as being, “Delly” is like a Matthew Barnaby in sneakers and shorts. You know, the guy everyone loves to hate – unless he’s on “their” team … and even then, you know, well, uhh. Dude was a dynamite college player at Saint Mary’s, where he set the standard for career points, assists, games played, free-throw percentage and 3-pointers made while leading the Gaels to three NCAA Tournament berths in four years. He also burned the Warriors with a career playoff-high 20 points in Game 3 of last year’s Finals as the Cavaliers took a 2-1 series. We won’t talk about the fact he shot just 19 percent from the floor the rest of the way as Golden State took the next three games to win the title. Then again, also won’t talk about him being “dirty,” a ridiculous charge made by the anti-white player brigade. Hey, anyone who can stick it to Villanova, especially when it is undeservedly “gifted” a 2-seed, as Delly as his mates did back in the 2010 tourney, gets special dispensation from me.
HE'S A BAAAAD MAN Won’t even get into the current comparisons being made to Kevin Durant (thanks Screamin’ A), or even Curry, because they’re all silly, overtly rationalized debates fueled by a dislike for LeBron James. Will just say this, don’t even particularly like the guy, or get mesmerized with the way he plays, but he is, hands down, the best the set of eyes behind this article has seen. Now. Ever. What he did in last year’s Finals, even in defeat, ranks among the greatest sustained individual performances in American sports history, especially considering the circumstances that led to it being essentially him, and him alone, aside from a brief stint in the spotlight for Delly, against the Warriors. When your “worst” game in a series includes 20 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists, and your next worst one in the same series reads 32, 18 and 9 … uhh, not sure it’s possible for you to take a back seat to anyone. Even if your team didn’t win.
THE 'X' FACTOR Klay Thompson is the key to the series, or how the Cavaliers handle him is. It’s not that guys like Curry and LeBron won’t be the focus throughout the series, or that others lack any star quality whatsoever and never show up. It’s that Thompson, should he get piping hot, as he is prone to do from time to time, actually has the tools to be the most lethal weapon on the floor – even when Curry and LeBron are out there and playing great, if not phenomenal. The guy doesn’t hold the NBA record for points in a single quarter (37) for nothing, and, frankly, what he did by draining a playoff-record 11 3-pointers in Game 6 against Oklahoma City in the conference finals saved the Warriors’ season. Expect him to go off at some point. If the Cavs counter or manage to recover, they’ll be fine. If not, forget it.