We take a look at the five things to notice in the NBA Finals, the league’s best-of-seven championship final which starts on Thursday.
Golden State and Cleveland meet in the NBA Finals for the third year in a row, with the Warriors taking the title in 2015 but being dethroned in 2016 by the Cavaliers, who rallied from 3-1 down to win the best-of-seven series in the greatest comeback in finals history.
Each major North American sports league has now had a “Threepeat” championship round, the NHL between Detroit and Montreal from 1954-56, the NFL from 1952-54 between Detroit and Cleveland in the pre-Super Bowl era, and Major League Baseball in 1921-23 between the New York Yankees and New York Giants, who later moved to San Francisco.
The Warriors seek a fifth NBA title in franchise history on the 70th anniversary of their first, which came in 1947 when the team was based in Philadelphia.
The Cavaliers seek their second NBA title overall and in a row. It comes 10 years after Cleveland’s first NBA Finals appearance, when the team was coached by Mike Brown, the Golden State assistant coach who has guided the Warriors in the playoffs due to complications following back surgery for Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Golden State became the first team in NBA history to start the playoffs 12-0. Eight prior teams have reached the title round unbeaten, but none had so many games to win to get there.
And three of those clubs then lost the finals. The most recent prior team to enter the NBA Finals unbeaten was the 2001 Lakers, which went 11-0, lost the opener of the finals, then won four in a row to defeat Philadelphia.
On that Lakers squad was current Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue.
Cleveland went 12-1 in this year’s playoffs after entering the post-season on a four-game losing streak to end the regular season. It’s the first final with teams having a combined one loss since the 1950s.
If the Warriors win in five or the Cavaliers sweep Golden State, the champion would have the best one-season playoff win percentage in NBA history.
The NBA Finals feature seven of the past eight NBA Most Valuable Players — Cleveland’s LeBron James (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013), Golden State’s Kevin Durant (2014) and Stephen Curry (2015, 2016).
There are seven 2017 NBA All-Stars and 11 players who have been All-Stars in their careers, as well as winners of seven of the last eight MVP awards, the most in either category since the 1983 NBA Finals.
All-Star personal matchups will feature LeBron James against Kevin Durant at small forward, Kyrie Irving versus Stephen Curry at point guard, and Kevin Love against Draymond Green at power forward.
In an international matchup at center, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson of Canada will go against Zaza Pachulia of Golden State, who could become the first player from Georgia to win an NBA crown.
Golden State’s Klay Thompson set the record for most points in an NBA quarter with a 37-point third quarter against Sacramento on January 23, 2015. Cleveland’s Kevin Love ranks second after a 34-point first quarter against Portland on November 23, 2016.
LeBron James had not won an NBA title when he and Kevin Durant first collided in an NBA Finals.
That was in 2012 when James and the Miami Heat beat Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, giving “King” James his first crown.
James averaged 28.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists in the NBA Finals that year. Durant has not reached the finals since until now. This will be James’s seventh in a row and eighth overall, but he is only 3-4 in finals.
James has 17 NBA Finals game wins, two shy of the active leader mark of 19 shared by San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
LeBron James ranks seventh among all scorers in NBA Finals history with 1,079 career points, needing 98 points to pass Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time list, which would put him behind only Jerry West (1,679) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,317).
James passed Jordan as the top playoff scorer in NBA history last week. James is a three-time NBA Finals MVP, with Jordan at six the only player to win the award more often.
Cleveland’s Kyle Korver and Golden State’s David West are both 36-year-old former All-Stars who will each play in the NBA Finals for the first time in their careers. Each does so in his first year with his club.
Among active NBA players, only Utah’s Joe Johnson has played in more playoff games (112) without playing in the NBA Finals than Korver (104) or West (95).
Korver, in the top five among all-time NBA regular-season 3-point shotmakers, is one of only two active NBA players from the second round of the NBA Draft, the other being Golden State’s Pachulia.
Provided by AFP Sport
The NBA Finals are finally upon us with the trilogy showdown between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. This will be the first time in Finals history that two teams meet three years in a row in what is shaping up to be another classic series.
Continuing their dominance in their respective conferences to reach the final round, the two superteams will face each other with loaded and healthy rosters. Barring any sudden injuries or ejections, we look at the matchups that will decide this year’s NBA Finals.
Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving will go head to head in a matchup that could make or break each team’s offence. When Curry is hitting on all cylinders, the Warriors are virtually impossible to beat and his scoring average of 28.6 outclasses Irving in the playoffs. Irving is no slouch on offence, averaging a solid 24.5 point, but defences are naturally preoccupied with his teammate LeBron James, which helps the Cavaliers guard establish a rhythm on the offensive end.
Both point guards aren’t lockdown defenders and are more focused on putting the ball in the basket. Irving is a clutch player who can make huge shots (as he did in last year’s Finals that sealed the Game 7 win for the Cavaliers), however, Curry is a two-time MVP that scores more and that is the difference maker here.
Klay Thompson’s production has dwindled since the arrival of Kevin Durant, but the guard is still dangerous. He’s averaged a mere 14.4 points during the postseason but Thompson is a solid defender on the perimeter and can have an impact with his passing and shooting in transition.
J.R. Smith is a streaky shooter for the Cavaliers and can hit 3s when the offense is clicking. However, his scoring is too often dependent on LeBron getting him open shots. On the defensive end, Smith is at times a liability, but that’s more the case of lack of effort or miscommunication than ability.
The battle of the former MVPs will be one to behold. Durant and James are two versatile players that can play different positions throughout the game. LeBron will be the primary defender on Durant for the most part, as even if they switch positions no other player on the roster can handle Durant’s length and scoring ability.
LeBron is averaging a stellar 32.5 points with 8.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists. As great as James has been through the playoffs, expect a drop off in these numbers during the Finals as James will be using an exorbitant amount of energy trying to slow down Durant.
Durant has been shooting an impressive 55.6 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from downtown, which has translated into 25.2 points per game. Adding to his great offensive ability, Durant has been averaging 7.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Like James, these numbers are likely to decrease while he matches up against a dominant player in the Finals.
LeBron is the best player on the planet and has been ‘Jordanesque’ during these playoffs. He’s a notch above Durant with his ball distribution and defensive prowess.
Kevin Love is a game-changer for the Cavaliers with his rebounding and 3-point shooting and his performance in the playoffs has been impressive as he’s averaged a double-double with 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds. Even so, Draymond Green is the better all-around player for the Warriors and the ultimate Swiss army knife. Green is disruptive on defence, collects rebounds, shoots the 3-pointer and distributes the ball.
Green is averaging 13.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 2.9 blocks, all while shooting 50 percent from the field. His contribution will be vital to the Warriors success in this series and he can do much more than Love on both sides of the ball.
Tristan Thompson will go to battle with Zaza Pachulia under the rim during this series. The Cavaliers keep Thompson on the floor during crunch time because of his offensive rebounding skills and he rewards them by averaging 9.3 boards, including 4.2 on the offensive end to keep plays alive. Thompson can also be a threat in the pick-and roll-schemes Cleveland run.
On the other hand, Pachulia is a savvy player that can defend, but is mostly a liability on offence for Golden State. His rough style of play and physicality will not be enough to contain Thompson in the post and the Cavaliers will attempt to exploit this matchup.
The Warriors are coached by Mike Brown, but Steve Kerr continues to contribute despite his health condition. Golden State’s game plan was implemented by Kerr and the players have adjusted to playing for Brown since he took over. The Warriors are undefeated in the playoffs and some of the credit should go to Brown for the postseason run they have achieved.
On the Cleveland sideline stands Tyronn Lue, who is a solid coach and has proved to be able to draw up plays and schemes that lead to wins. In last year’s Finals, he kept his squad determined and fundamentally sound despite trailing 3-1 to the Warriors and ultimately coached them to the series win.
There is no clear-cut advantage in coaching on either side, but the Warriors are much improved on defence, boasting a 99.1 defensive rating in the playoffs, while Cleveland stand at 104.6 points allowed per 100 possessions.
The Warriors added a former MVP and one of the best players in the NBA in Durant. Both teams were evenly matched in last year’s Finals, with three All-Star calibre players on each team. Durant shifts the balance of power in favour of Golden State.
If Durant continues his stellar level of play and efficiency on offence, his team will be too tough to overcome with home-court advantage.
Chris Paul is likely to face a decision this summer between seriously pursuing a title and securing what could be his last massive contract.
The point guard has been linked to the San Antonio Spurs and according to ESPN, the franchise is exploring the possibility of pursuing the soon-to-be free agent.
Paul is technically still under contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, but has long been expected to exercise the early termination option in his deal to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason.
Though the Spurs are currently strapped for cap space, the Clippers view them as a legitimate threat to sign away the nine-time All-Star, according to the report.
Los Angeles hold the high ground for offering Paul the most money, with the 32-year-old eligible for a five-year, $205 million contract. That type of money is only available to Paul because, as the president of the Players Association, he fought to change the NBA’s 36-and-over rule (which prohibited players from signing a five-year max deal if their 36th birthday fell during the contract) to 38-and-under.
At 32, Paul stands to reap the benefits of the rule change by locking down the mega deal which only the Clippers can offer. It’s a sizeable advantage in Los Angeles’ favour and Clippers coach Doc Rivers didn’t appear concerned when he told TMZ Sports Paul “absolutely” will be staying.
San Antonio, meanwhile, would have to renounce rights to their free agents and likely trade away salary to open max cap room to offer Paul four years and $152m.
However, the Spurs can offer Paul a chance to do something he’s yet to achieve in his Hall of Fame career: reach the Western Conference Finals and potentially even win a title.
Paul could fill the void of longtime point guard Tony Parker, who at 35 and fresh off a ruptured quadriceps tendon injury, is a major question mark going forward. With MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich, widely considered the top coach in the league, Paul would have the chance to add the missing piece to his stellar career.