The best player or the best team?
That’s what this rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will amount to when the NBA Finals commence Thursday in Oakland, Calif.
The Warriors are the greatest collection of NBA talent in the modern era, and that’s no small statement, considering Tim Duncan and David Robinson played together in San Antonio and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh became Miami’s Big Three.
But Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are something else entirely. That was illustrated in a league-best 67-victory season by the Warriors leading the NBA in offensive efficiency and finishing second in defensive efficiency.
The Cavaliers’ regular season was a little bumpier. Cleveland finished with 51 victories, behind the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings. But the Cavs’ 12-1 playoff march to the Finals showed once again that LeBron James might be the most dominant athlete in team sports today.
James is the queen on a basketball chess board: the piece that controls the action like no other. When one player on a championship team is simultaneously its best point guard offensively and power forward defensively, there’s an inevitability about the outcome. ...
Except against these Warriors. It’s Curry’s and Thompson’s shooting and Green’s wide-spectrum defense and Durant’s improvisational gift for creating high-percentage shots.
This one is the tiebreaker, after the Warriors won two years ago and the Cavaliers knocked off Golden State last June. The teams have a week off after mowing through their respective conferences.
Ten thoughts on what we’re about to see:
It’s about time
The gap between these teams and the other playoff qualifiers was wider than we anticipated. It reached a point in the West where just having a lead over the Warriors, (versus an actual post-season victory) served as bragging rights. The Cavs were pushed in individual games in the first round by the Indiana Pacers, but even the Celtics were drilled in two home-game blowouts.
They travel well
Normally in a matchup of this quality, home-court advantage would count for a lot. In this case both teams have been so impressive away from their own arenas, I’m not sure it matters. Betcha the Cavs will win one of the first two in Oakland and the Warriors take at least one in Cleveland.
The Kerr factor
The Warriors going undefeated the first three rounds, with coach Steve Kerr debilitated with a spinal condition, shows not only the collective talent Kerr oversees, but the planning Kerr did. He installed an experienced head coach, Mike Brown, as his top assistant and they strategized in advance for what would happen if Kerr’s spinal condition flared up.
That GOAT discussion
The banter comparing James’ resume to Michael Jordan’s for Greatest Of All Time makes for good sports-talk on a slow day. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have considered James’ accomplishments on Jordan’s level. Now it’s a legit discussion. I respect how Hornets owner Jordan steers clear of the subject. Anything he says would be so dissected it would lose any meaning.
I like what Kerr said this season about how it’s in Curry’s job description as this team’s point guard to figure out how to integrate Durant’s talents. All that really matters is everyone is on the same page now, not in November. Mission accomplished.
Irving’s and Love’s place
James is more like Magic Johnson than Jordan in that he’s even more a passer than a scorer. That means Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love get a slew of open looks, but it also means deferring for guys who’ve never previously been No. 2 or 3 on their teams. Both look more comfortable in those roles this season.
X-factor for each team
The Cavs’ Kyle Korver, picked up in trade from the Atlanta Hawks, is shooting 42 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs . Reserve Warriors center JaVale McGee was all but out of the NBA, and now he’s playing impactful minutes in these playoffs.
That the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in last season’s Finals has to burn on a daily basis. It’s not often the perceived favorite can walk in with such an underdog mentality.
No more loser town
Cleveland certainly deserved the Cavs’ title and the Indians’ World Series appearance for so many years of failure from its teams. No harm in being a little greedy this spring.
Warriors in six.