NBA

Warriors still not comfortable with new role as NBA's villains

Jay Asser 1/06/2017
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Kevin Durant.

Don’t let this distract you from the fact the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.

That’s what the Warriors have been relentlessly hearing for the past year after being turned into a punchline by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

From being a win away from completing a historic campaign in which they set the record for most wins in a regular season, to being crying Jordan face’d into oblivion, the Warriors suffered the ultimate fall from grace. They were the belle of the ball, the rare dominant team that was liked and not loathed.

And then LeBron snatched all that admiration and respectability, though much of it was self-induced as the Warriors saw their confidence suddenly viewed as arrogance and their loose, fun-loving play deemed reckless.

Now, they’re the NBA’s biggest villains, not only battering opposing teams on a nightly basis, but the concept of parity in a league that has ultimately become repetitive the past three years.

Kevin Durant’s decision to jump ship from Oklahoma City and join the bandwagon only stoked the flames and took their newfound ‘unlikeability’ to new levels. That’ll happen when you’re a 73-win team and add a former MVP, which is the equivalent of Bill Gates winning the lottery.

Golden State and their fans should have known hatred would follow, but they’ve struggled to reconcile embracing the villain role with the desire to still be liked. You can somewhat understand their unrealistic expectation that even as they embarrass teams, they should still be cheered, considering that’s exactly what was happening before their collapse against Cleveland.

But in the words of Machiavelli, it’s better to be feared than loved. And this iteration of the Warriors is by far the most fearsome.

Golden State missed their chance a year ago to finish off basketball’s version of a perfect season, but they now have the rare opportunity to go down as the greatest team ever.

Though they won six fewer games this season, the Warriors were clearly better than their record-breaking 2015-16 as they somehow increased their average point differential from plus-10.8 to 11.6, which ranks fourth all-time behind the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (12.3), the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (12.3) and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (12.2).

Unlike last season, Golden State have been even better in the playoffs, where they’ve won games by an average margin of 16.3 points – the highest for any team ever entering the Finals.

And what could end up being the most impressive stat of all is something no team – not the three-peat Los Angeles Lakers or Jordan’s Chicago Bulls – has ever accomplished.

Sweeping LeBron is a highly improbable task in and of itself, but in doing so the Warriors would pull off the ‘4-4-4-4’ and go through the postseason a perfect 16-0 on their way to a championship.

If Golden State want to erase the bad taste from the title-less 73-win season and put an end to the 3-1 jokes, all while going down in history as the most dominant team, there would be no better way.

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Ranking the best Finals of the past decade

Laith Malhas 31/05/2017
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The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet for the third time in a row with LeBron James playing in a record 7th consecutive NBA Finals.

Continuing their rivalry is a great theme for the fans despite the league’s struggles with parity and the looming gap in talent between these two teams and rest of the NBA.

The league has evolved and devolved in certain aspects during the past decade but the Finals have failed to disappoint in most years. The Championship round does not always go the distance and in some cases, teams are swept in an underwhelming experience for basketball fans.

However, the last decade has seen three game seven finishes and other exciting matchups which have ended in six games with compelling storylines:

10) 2007 – SAN ANTONIO SPURS V CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

In perhaps one of the most one-sided rounds of the past ten years, the Spurs thoroughly dominated a young LeBron who was appearing in his first NBA Finals at the time.

Adding on to his inexperience was the weak team he propelled to the championship round, his supporting cast was no match for the veteran Spurs who had two All-star caliber players in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to assist their Superstar Tim Duncan.

Duncan averaged 18.3 PPG and 11.5 RPG with his running mate Parker scoring 24.5 PPG, the tandem proved to overwhelm the lesser talented Cleveland roster. James was held to 22.o PPG on .356 percent shooting from the field.

RESULT: SPURS IN FOUR

FINALS MVP: TONY PARKER

9) 2012 – MIAMI HEAT V OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

The No2 seeds out of each conference met in the Finals in what was advertised as a clash of the titans between LeBron and Kevin Durant.

The Thunder stole game one and went on to surrender their lead as the All-Star trio of James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh took over the series. LeBron broke through and won his first NBA title that for years had eluded him.

James averaged 28.6 PPG and 10.2 RPG while Wade contributed with 22.6 PPG leading their team to win the next four games in impressive fashion.

Durant averaged 30.6 PPG in the Finals but his teammates were not as productive.

RESULT: HEAT IN FIVE

FINALS MVP: LEBRON JAMES

8) 2009 – LOS ANGELES LAKERS V ORLANDO MAGIC

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were coming off a disappointing loss in the previous Finals against the Boston Celtics (later on the list). The team seemed to take out their frustrations on a less talented Orlando squad that had Dwight Howard, who was having a tremendous year but lacked players around him that could create offence.

Bryant rose to the occasion and averaged a superb 32.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists in five games. Howard averaged a whopping 15.2 rebounds per game but the Magic could not establish a well-rounded scoring offence to contend with the Lakers.

The ‘Black Mamba’ won his first title without Shaquille O’Neal that year giving him a combined four titles in six NBA Finals appearances.

RESULT: LAKERS IN FIVE

FINALS MVP: KOBE BRYANT

7) 2014 – SAN ANTONIO SPURS V MIAMI HEAT

The Spurs got their revenge from the 2013 Finals ( later down the list), defeating the Heat by record margins. San Antonio beat the more talented Miami crew using elite ball movement and suffocating defense to blow them out on three different occasions.

A star was born in these Finals, Kawhi Leonard proved his championship mettle by posting 17.8 PPG with 6.4 RPG. Leonard’s defence was a game-changer for the Spurs as he helped slow down LeBron throughout the series.

The loss would prove to be the end of the ‘big three’ in Miami as James elected to go back to Cleveland the following season.

RESULT: SPURS IN FIVE

FINALS MVP: KAWHI LEONARD

6) 2015 – CLEVELAND CAVALIERS V GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

In their first meeting against each other in the Finals, the Warriors took advantage of a hobbled Cleveland roster. Kevin Love was out for the season and Kyrie Irving was gone after his injury in Game 1, James was left to pick up the pieces.

LeBron had one of the greatest singular performances in Finals history, averaging a historic 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists. James scored 40 or more points in three games against the Warriors but his ‘Ubermensch’ ability could not save the series for Cleveland.

Steph Curry averaged 26 points and received help from Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the x-factor of the series was Andre Iguodala who helped contain James with his solid defense and contributed on offence with 16.3 PPG.

RESULT: WARRIORS IN SIX

FINALS MVP: ANDRE IGUODALA

5) 2011 – DALLAS MAVERICKS V MIAMI HEAT

The No2 seed Miami met the No3 seed Mavericks in a series which oddsmakers favoured the Heat to win. It was the first Finals appearance for the ‘Big Three’ in Miami but the stage seemed too intense for LeBron at the time.

James had another sub-par performance in the championship round, averaging 17.8 points and seemed like a shell of himself against the Mavericks. On the opposite side was Dirk Nowitzki who was determined to win a title before his window of opportunity closed.

Dirk had an overall great performance scoring 26.0 PPG, collecting 9.7 RPG and shooting .368% from downtown. Jason Terry continued his side-kick role and contributed 18 PPG while hitting clutch shots in key moments during the series.

LeBron moved to (0-2) in the Finals as the Heat could not win more than two games giving the Mavericks their first title in franchise history and Dirk’s first championship ring.

RESULT: MAVERICKS IN SIX

FINALS MVP: DIRK NOWITZKI

4) 2008 – BOSTON CELTICS V LOS ANGELES LAKERS

The greatest rivalry in NBA history was revived in 2008 when the two No1 seeded teams clashed in the Finals. The Celtics had reached the championship round after the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen during the offseason.

Boston defended their home-court taking a (2-0) lead heading to Los Angeles, the Finals format was (2-3-2) at the time. After establishing the lead, the Celtics stole game 4 in Los Angeles which proved to be the series-changing moment.

The Lakers held their ground in game 5 and headed back to Boston where things got ugly for the Phil Jackson led crew. The Celtics blew the Lakers off the court with a 39 point thrashing that led them to their first title since 1986.

Paul Pierce averaged 21.8 PPG, Garnett added a double-double collecting 13 RPG and Allen topped it off with 20.3 PPG while shooting .524% from the 3-point line. The one-two punch of Bryant and Gasol could not overcome the ‘Big Three’ in Boston who were dominant on defence and offence.

RESULT: CELTICS IN 6

FINALS MVP: PAUL PIERCE

3) 2010 – LOS ANGELES LAKERS V BOSTON CELTICS

The Lakers represented the Western Conference for the third straight year and Kobe got the matchup he was hoping for, a revenge sequel against the Celtics. This time around the Lakers possessed home-court advantage and were eager to take advantage of that fact.

After relinquishing the home-court advantage in a game 2 loss at home, the Lakers went on to take game 3 in Boston in a nail-biter. The Celtics were able to regroup and win game 4 and 5 to return to the Staples Center with a 3-2 series lead.

Game 6 was a blowout win for the Lakers tying the series up for a Game 7 battle at home. Subsequently, the Celtics lost their starting center Kendrick Perkins to a knee injury while the Big Three had fatigued throughout the drawn out series.

Bryant and the Lakers sealed the win late in game 7 off of two clutch 3-pointers from Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) and were able to triumph over the Celtics in a dramatic finish.

Kobe averaged 28.6 PPG and Gasol added 18.6 PPG with 11.6 RPG. The championship win gave Kobe his fifth and final title, this was the last Finals the Big Three in Boston would reach as they split soon after.

RESULT: LAKERS IN SEVEN

FINALS MVP: KOBE BRYANT

2) 2013 – MIAMI HEAT V SAN ANTONIO SPURS

The Heat made their third consecutive Finals appearance and were defending their crown against a veteran squad led by Duncan and Parker once again.

James had his chance to avenge the embarrassing loss to the Spurs in 2007 when his Cavaliers were swept in the Final round.

The teams split the first two games in Miami and headed back to San Antonio tied 1-1. Game 3 was a blowout win for the Spurs, beating the defending champs by a Finals record 36 points. Game 5 was much of the same as San Antonio took a 3-2 lead in the series and were keen on closing the deal in Game 6 at the American Airlines Arena in Florida.

In one of the most dramatic finishes of the past decade, Game 6 had a classic ending to regulation when Ray Allen hit a game-tying 3-pointer to send the game into overtime and essentially saved Miami’s season. The Spurs faltered and lost 103-100 booking a game seven on LeBron’s home floor.

James scored 37 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Heat to a 95-88 victory over the Spurs. The win gave LeBron his second title in one of his greatest overall performances in the Finals, posting 25.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG and 7 APG.

RESULT: HEAT IN SEVEN

FINALS MVP: LEBRON JAMES

1) 2016 – GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS V CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

This rematch of the 2015 Finals had everything NBA fans wanted to see, LeBron and company were back healthy this time around as Love and Irving were ready for battle.

The Warriors were coming off the greatest regular season record in league history (73-9) and were attempting to supplant the 96′ Chicago Bulls as the greatest team ever.

Golden State won the first two games at home and appeared well on their way to another title. Cleveland took game 3 but was stunned in game 4 as the Warriors pulled off a 108-97 victory giving them a 3-1 lead. The theatrics did not end there, Green’s altercation with LeBron resulted in him being suspended for game 5 in Oakland.

Teams leading 3-1 in the Finals were 32-0 all-time before this year, the lead seemed insurmountable for the Cavaliers but they still had the best player in the world. Cleveland went on to win game 5 with Green absent, the best of seven shifted back to Ohio where Lebron scored 41 points and tied the series at 3-3.

With a chance to secure his legacy and deliver his promise to the city of Cleveland, LeBron managed to muster up another great performance and one of the most memorable blocks in NBA history. The spectacular defensive play stopped Iguodala in his tracks giving the Cavaliers one more chance at winning the game.

Irving headed down the court with time winding down, dribbled to his sweet-spot and got a one on one matchup with Curry. The clutch point guard hit a step back 3-pointer that gave Cleveland the lead and sealed the improbable comeback.

James averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists and 2.6 steals helping him win his third NBA title further cementing his legacy as one the best to ever lace them up.

RESULT: CAVALIERS IN SEVEN

FINALS MVP: LEBRON JAMES

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LeBron versus Durant and four others thing to look out for in the NBA Finals

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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.

HISTORIC FINALS TRILOGY

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.

HOT PLAYOFF START ROLLS ON

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.

ALL-STAR PLAYER MATCHUPS

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.

DURANT-JAMES RIVALRY SPARKS

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.

KORVER, WEST REACH FINALS

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

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