By Michael Lark
If there was ever any doubt about the greatness that is Stephen Curry and the 2016 Golden State Warriors, those suspicions were laid to rest on Monday night. Battling back from a 13-point deficit to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors now find themselves in an NBA Finals rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It was just a few short days ago that the Warriors found themselves in a 3-1 series hole before eventually climbing their way out, due in large part to the offensive shooting heroics of Klay Thompson and Curry.
“It took us until the last minute to get it done, but we’re back,” Curry said of the Warriors return to the NBA Finals.
According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the Warriors are 2-to-1 favorites to capture their second straight championship. Last season, they defeated the Cavs in six games during the Finals for the franchise’s fourth NBA title and their first in 40 years.
With an NBA record 73 regular season wins already under their belt, the Warriors added a 3-1 series deficit comeback to their resume, becoming just the tenth team in NBA history to do so.
Unlike their counterparts, the Cleveland Cavaliers faced little adversity en route to their second straight Eastern Conference title. In the first two rounds of the 2016 NBA Playoffs, they swept the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks by an average margin of victory of 10.5 points.
While the Conference Finals provided the Cavs with a slightly tougher opponent in the Toronto Raptors, they always seemed to be in complete control of their destiny, closing out the series in six games, while conserving energy along the way.
When Thursday’s contest kicks off, it will be an opportunity for Cavs’ forward LeBron James to reprise his role as the best basketball player on the planet. After the “Chosen One” won two titles with his buddies Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami with the Heat, he returned to the franchise that drafted him last season only to come up empty while falling into the shadows of now two-time NBA MVP Curry in the process.
While this will be the second straight year the two teams will square off, things will undoubtedly be different. This time, four-time league MVP James will be with co-stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Last postseason, Irving was out for the series after breaking his kneecap in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, joining teammate Kevin Love who had already been lost for the season due to shoulder surgery. James hopes that a healthy Cavs team will be the difference maker that puts his team over the top.
“We’re better built to start the finals than we were last year,” James said. “Doesn’t matter who it’s against. I mean, that’s not a headline. It’s obvious.”
Bringing the city of Cleveland its first major sports championship in more than 50 years against a 73-win offensive juggernaut would almost assure James would supplant Curry as the best player in the world. James has had an MVP-like performance averaging 24.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.0 assists, while shooting over 54% from the field during the Cavs’ 12-2 postseason run; compared to Curry who has averaged 26.7 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.9 rebounds.
During the regular season, the Warriors won the two and only meetings between the two clubs, but a lot has changed since then. It’s been over four months since they last met and Cleveland has since replaced head coach David Blatt with Tyronn Lue, in effort to move to a more up-tempo style of offense.
Unless the Cavs can discover a way to contain the Warriors potent offense or Curry’s ankle injury that forced him to miss four games suddenly flares up, the Warriors three-point shooting and home court advantage will be too much to overcome and the Cavs will fall short in their quest for their first NBA title. Expect this series to go the full seven games, with the Warriors being crowned NBA champions once again.
NBA Finals Schedule – All Times Central
Game 1, June 2 CLE at GSW, 8 p.m. (ABC)
Game 2, June 5 CLE at GSW, 7 p.m. (ABC)
Game 3, June 8 GSW at CLE, 8 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4, June 10 GSW at CLE, 8 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5, June 13* CLE at GSW, 8 p.m. (ABC)
Game 6, June 16* GSW at CLE, 8 p.m. (ABC)
Game 7, June 19* CLE at GSW, 7 p.m. (ABC)