WARRIORS VS CAVS: TAKE 3
Basketball experts were proven right with their prediction. The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers are locking horns for the 3rd time in 3 years for the right to hoist the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy.
The Warriors almost effortlessly destroyed the pretenders to their throne in the West during the regular season while the Cavs performed erratically relegating themselves to 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
With their (the Cavs’) lethargic performance during the 82-game grind, the “uninitiated” were quick to dismiss the defending champs doubting their chance of reaching the championship round. Conversely, those with keener basketball sense knew that the Cavs were either disinterested in winning games that do not count or were simply reserving their strength for the playoffs.
The inconsistencies on the part of the Cavs could also be attributed to injuries to key players, the need to rest the stars of the team, and the mid-season changes in their line-up.
But when the playoffs gates were opened, the Cavs were like hungry lions unleashed. The players who came back from injury got their rhythm back, the new players got fully integrated into the system, and their key players were seemingly playing with fresher legs and sharper focus. Result? They decimated their playoff opponents, losing only once to the top-seeded Boston Celtics for an impressive 12-1 win-loss record in the playoffs.
More impressive though is the Warriors’ clean slate (12-0). They did not lose a single game in the Western Conference playoffs. However, some experts are not giving the Warriors full credit for such a feat due to Kawhi Leonard’s injury in Game 1 of the Warriors-Spurs series. Many even believe that the Warriors would have lost that game had Leonard not gotten injured.
As it is, it’s Warriors versus Cavs once more.
The oddsmakers installed the Warriors (-270) as the heavy favorites and the Cavs (+230), the underdogs.1
Even majority of ESPN sportswriters predict that the NBA trophy will be reclaimed by the San Francisco Bay team. 23 out of 28 who were asked see the Warriors winning the championship with 8 of them saying that the Cavs might win just a single game.2
That much respect the Warriors are given. That’s nothing new for the Cavs. They’re in a familiar territory.
The Cavs were also the underdogs in 2015 NBA Finals. The Warriors defeated them 4 games to 2 but it should be noted that that series was played without Kevin Love when he suffered an injury in the Cavs’ playoffs series with the Boston Celtics. Kyrie Irving got injured as well in Game 1 and did not play the rest of the championship series. But notwithstanding the injuries to those key players, the Cavs extended the series to a game 6 even managing to race to a 2-1 lead.
In the 2016 NBA Finals, the Cavs were give the same tag (underdogs) with the Warriors being predicted to breeze through them having then achieved a seemingly improbable NBA milestone… they set a regular season 73-9 win-lose record eclipsing the Chicago Bulls’ record of 72-10 that stood for 21 years. And when the Warriors raced to a 3-1 lead, their fans started to release the confetti in celebration.
But the whole sporting world knows what happened. the basketball gods had other plans. They allowed the team from Cleveland to set a seemingly improbable record of their own. Given up for dead, the Cavs, with all their key players finally playing together in championship games, rose from the grave to become the first team ever to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win an NBA championship.
That was of course, the most painful way to lose a championship. The Dub nation knows that. They are aching for a payback. They were aware that during the 2015 NBA Championship, the Cavs, with Lebron James as the only legit superstar in the lineup to carry the team, they were stretched to a Game 6. The following year (in the 2016 championship series), they witnessed how potent was the combination of Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love that even when they had what was believed to be an insurmountable 3-1 lead, they lost.
The Golden State Warriors’ front office have probably concluded that the team’s main core of Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have had and will have a hard time dealing with the Cav’s troika of Lebron, Kyrie and Kevin. So, they recruited another superstar… Kevin Durant.
Now, the Warriors have 4 superstars as against 3 of the Cavs. Thus, it doesn’t take a genius to understand why the former are the overwhelming favorites to win the 2017 NBA Championship trophy.
Why is it logical and completely understandable that the Golden State Warriors are heavily favored?
With the inclusion of Durant, the Warriors now have 2 MVPs in their lineup bringing to 4 the total of All-star players in the team. They also registered the best win-loss record in the regular season (67-15) winning 27 of their last 28 games including 12 straight in the playoffs. NBA records show that they ranked first in offense and their defensive efficiency is way above the league average.
On the other hand, the Cavs came 4th in offense and way below the league average in defensive efficiency.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to write-off the Cavs. Why? They have Lebron James in the line-up who knows what it takes to win. He’s been playing superbly in the playoffs. And don’t forget the brilliance of Kyrie and the resurgence of Kevin, not to mention the quiet effectiveness of Tristan Thompson who might as well be the 4th superstar in Cav’s uniform. If Tristan Thompson does not deliver the way he used to (and the way he ought to) and the Cavs end up losing the NBA crown, then the front office of the Cleveland Cavaliers must recruit an additional player, another superstar, in response to the Warriors adding a Kevin Durant in their line-up for clearly, if there’s one reason the NBA championship trophy returns to the San Fracisco Bay area, it’s Durant.
But as the late coach Rudy Tomjanovich said after the Houston Rockets repeated as NBA champions in 1995, “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of the champion!” However, as to which NBA champions (2015 or 2016?) would say so when the current NBA season concludes, remains to be seen.
1Source: Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook (Thru: NBA-ESPN)
2 Source: http://www.espn.com/nba/