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The 2014-15 season will culminate in what appears to be a match-up for the ages. The Warriors vs. the Cavaliers: two inherently different teams composed of polar opposite, MVP-worthy superstars. For all of their inherent differences, they are inexplicably linked by the similarities between their respective cities, over-achieving rookie head coaches and explosive offensive tendencies.
The eye-test deceivingly depicts a tale of two evenly matched teams, yet, on paper, an entirely different story is told. These paper-laden statistics depict the Warriors as Goliath to the Cavaliers’ David.
Regardless, this series is not devoid of great storylines. Whether this series ends in 4 games or goes the distance to a 7th game, it ensures to be a thrilling matchup with engaging headlines. As we inch closer to the June 4th date, here are the four most convincing storylines of this year’s finals.
Both cities lack the bright lights of an LA, Miami or New York, but they make up for it in pure grit and toughness. Their loyalty to their teams is unquestioned. Cleveland finished the season 2nd in attendance and Oakland finished closely behind at 7th. They are regularly recognized as two of the best basketball crowds in the NBA, yet their teams have historically struggled. The last time the Warriors won the championship was in 1975, when Rick Barry, another sharp-shooting superstar, took the league by storm. The Cavaliers have never won a championship and this is only their second trip to the Finals. Both of these Finals trips have occurred in the Lebron James era. Regardless of which team is victorious, one thing is clear: one of these cities will be relieved of a long-lasting and overdue burden.
At this point last year, Steve Kerr was still commentating games for TNT and David Blatt was coaching overseas with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Fast forward a year and these two will be coaching against each other in the NBA Finals, which is unprecedented for two rookie coaches.
This season has not, however, been a flawless fairytale for either coach, as both have had to respond to various levels of scrutiny.
Steve Kerr was quickly criticized for obtaining a head coaching position that many, including Stephen A. Smith, felt he did not deserve.
Stephen A. Smith references racial implications that may be behind Steve Kerr’s hiring.
Much of this criticism can be explained by the unfair firing of Mark Jackson, who was a beloved player’s coach and a spectacular color commentator. Although Mark Jackson’s firing did not appear to be justified at the time due to their perennial playoff appearances, their recent ascension into a historically great team shows just how much potential was going undeveloped in the Mark Jackson era. Clearly, the Warriors front office got it right. With Mark Jackson, the Warriors were a good team capable of consistent playoff appearances. With Steve Kerr at the helm, they have had one of the all-time great seasons and are on the cusp of an NBA Championship.
David Blatt faced an entirely different type of scrutiny. His hiring, unlike Steve Kerr’s hiring, went relatively unnoticed. He was not inexperienced. This was not his first coaching gig. In fact, he had been coaching in Europe and Israel for the past 20 years and had compiled a 225-55 record over the past 4 years with Maccabi Tel Aviv. It was about time that he got a shot at the NBA. Things quickly changed, however, when the best player in the world, Lebron James, announced his return to his home state. Expectations quickly rose. This team wasn’t just expected to compete. They were expected to win immediately. Uncertainty regarding David Blatt’s ability to lead this team to the championship was brought to the forefront.
As the season progressed, Blatt often suffered as the piñata for the Cavalier’s failures, especially during their early struggles. On November 22nd, when the Cavaliers were a mediocre 5-7, critics blindly pointed to Blatt’s inability to bring the team together. Kevin Love’s inability to fit in, Kyrie’s inability to be a pass-first point guard and Lebron’s evident decline from the previous year were often overlooked in an attempt to take the job of a man, who had not even had the opportunity to establish his system.
Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless debate whether David Blatt should be fired after the Cavaliers’ early season struggles.
Looking back, this criticism seems to be a long way gone. The Cavaliers finished the season as one of the top four teams in the league and cruised to the NBA Finals through a weak Eastern Conference. As much criticism as Blatt has endured, he has provided the steadying leadership and coaching throughout the season and playoffs as Kyrie, Love and, even, Lebron have missed extended periods of time due to injury. Their ability to add so many new pieces and persevere through an injury-filled season has been unprecedented. Just ask the 2004 Lakers or the 2014 Mavericks. It isn’t always easy winning with so many new pieces; yet, the Cavaliers have found a way to get it done and the man that is behind a lot of that success is David Blatt.
Embed Skip Bayless’ Tweet here.
Remember when Kyrie and LeBron would never click and Blatt was about to be fired? Look at ’em now.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 27, 2015
Skip Bayless reflects on the Cavaliers’ forgotten early season struggles. (Via Twitter.com) As we head into game 1 on June 4th, both Kerr and Blatt have something to prove to their naysayers. Kerr seems to have much less to prove considering the historic success the Warriors have enjoyed this season. Blatt, on the other hand, will continue to receive the piñata treatment if the Cavaliers are not victorious.
The best basketball body on the planet vs. the best shooter of all-time. High school phenom vs. 3 years at Davidson. Family man vs. family man. MVP vs. MVP. The storyline of Lebron and Curry is the story of two superstars from two seemingly opposite sides of the spectrum.
Curry is a frail, undersized guard and lacks all of the elite physical abilities of Lebron; yet, his ball handling, shooting ability and work ethic is unparalleled. This comes as no surprise considering that his father, Dell, showed him the NBA life at an early age. He knew what he had to do to succeed at the NBA level. And he has done just that.
Stephen Curry’s work ethic and motivation have led directly to his NBA success.
The road to NBA stardom was not always easy, however. Curry was an undersized guard coming out of high school and was ranked the 36th best PG in his high school class. He only received scholarship offers from VCU, Davidson and Winthrop. He chose Davidson and the rest was history. In what now seems to be urban legend, Curry averaged 25.3 points per game over his college career and carried Davidson, a team that hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1969, all the way to the Elite 8 in his sophomore year. With the NBA came more obstacles, in the form of major ankle issues, but yet again, Curry persevered. Through these struggles, Curry remained loyal and made this promise to the Warriors fanbase: Embed Stephen Curry’s Tweet:
Promise to all the Warrior fans…we will figure this thing out…if it’s the last thing we do we will figure it out — Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) November 12, 2009
And 6 years later, they have finally figured it out through the leadership of that undersized and often-doubted guard. For the umpteenth time in his basketball career, Curry will go up against bigger and more physically talented individuals, but he will, again, be the most skillful, motivated and confident player on the court come June 4th.
Lebron’s growth as a basketball player perfectly contrasts that of Stephen Curry’s growth. Lebron was born with great God-given gifts: a 6’8 240-pound frame, the ability to run and cut like a running back and the vision and passing ability of an elite NBA point guard. He did not have to go to college. There was no doubt about the player that he would one day become.
There were, however, obstacles that came along with this God-given once-in-a-generation-type talent. Lebron was constantly in the national spotlight. He was a phenom. The heir to the throne. The next Michael Jordan. These high expectations are a major weight to carry and Lebron has been carrying them for almost 14 years.
Unlike Curry, Lebron didn’t have a father to show him about the NBA. His mother was rarely even around. Lebron just had basketball. And he made the most of it.
Today, Lebron is a 2-time NBA champion, a 4-time NBA MVP and most of all; he’s a family man. He’s accomplished almost everything an individual can accomplish in the basketball world; however, there are two major things left on his checklist:
a) Winning a championship for his hometown Cavaliers
b) Surpassing Jordan’s 6 championship rings
The latter seems awfully unlikely. Lebron is now 30 years old and there are is a plethora of young talent by the likes of Anthony Davis, Durant, Westbrook, Harden, George and Curry, who are all going to be ferociously competing for an NBA championship over the next decade.
The first option, however, is the primary driving force behind the rest of Lebron’s career. If Lebron can bring a championship to the cursed city of Cleveland – a city he once abandoned – he will be truly crowned as a legend. He has the perfect opportunity to deliver the first and all elusive championship to the city of Cleveland.
Curry and Lebron are two polar-opposite superstars, who are set to face off in a final that could be the best of the decade. They have trans versed 2 completely unique paths on their way to this moment; yet, here they stand and they could not be more similar. Two family men and two MVPs in a battle of Goliaths to deliver a much-needed championship to their respective cities.
For Curry, it is a chance to place the icing on an impossibly unpredictable career.
For Lebron, it is an opportunity to become a hometown hero and be revered as a legend in Cleveland, Ohio.
Regardless of who wins, one thing is for certain: the two best players over the course of the season and playoffs will be facing off in the finals.
Lebron James praises Stephen Curry and compares Curry to himself.
These two teams were not the preseason favorites coming into the season. Those acclimations belonged to the Spurs, Bulls and Clippers; yet, Cleveland’s success isn’t all that surprising. For all we know, it was expected. It doesn’t matter how many times Lebron claimed that he wasn’t guaranteeing a championship. Everyone in the basketball world knew that it was championship or bust.
LeBron on the Finals: “I can’t guarantee a championship but I can guarantee we will play our asses off”
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 27, 2015
The Warriors are a completely different story. No one expected them to be where they are right now. No one except themselves.
The Warriors have been very good for the past 3-4 years; however, they failed to cross over into the side of greatness under Mark Jackson. With Steve Kerr at the helm, a healthy Andrew Bogut, a great bench led by Shaun Livingston and the emergence of Stephen Curry, the Warriors have surpassed greatness and become all-time great.
As these two teams prepare for the showdown beginning June 4th, it seems almost impossible to separate them. They are each led by a worthy superstar and a historically great rookie coach. They each have secondary stars in Thompson and Kyrie, who can both take over and win games. They both have defensively elite big men in Bogut and Green and Thompson and Movgov. It appears that their starting lineups will virtually cancel each other out.
There are, however, two areas where these teams don’t match up so evenly and that is on defense and in bench production. The Warriors are the superior team in each category.
On defense, the Warriors were a league-best with a defensive rating of 101.4. The Cavaliers’ struggles on the defensive end were highly publicized. They finished 18th in defensive rating with a rating of 106.3. The general trademark for past champions has been great defense. The past two champions, the Heat and Spurs, were consistently top 5-ranked defensive teams. If the Cavaliers are to beat the Warriors, Kyrie and company will have to find a way to step up and slow down Stephen Curry, Thompson and the explosive Warriors bench.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, bench production tells a similar story. The Warriors bench, led by Livingston and Igoudala, has the 6th best offensive efficiency rating and the 7th best defensive efficiency rating. The Cavaliers bench has been dreadfully bad the entire year. They rank second worst in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. With Thompson moving to the starting lineup in the absence of Love, that bench has now lost its best player. Clearly, this did not affect the Cavaliers throughout the Eastern conference playoffs as Lebron dominated and set up his teammates for great opportunities. But the Warriors are not a weak Eastern Conference team. They are the best and most versatile defensive team in the league. They will be able to throw a plethora of defensive players on Lebron, including Thompson, Barnes, Igoudala and Green. Lebron’s teammates, especially the bench, will have to step up. Considering the strength of the Warriors’ bench, this will not be as easy as it was against Eastern Conference teams.
If the Cavaliers don’t find a way to win one of these categories, this series will be over quickly. Lebron James should still have vivid memories of this as the Spurs absolutely dismantled the Heat with their defense and bench play and won by a NBA Finals record margin. Regardless of the equally matched offensive capabilities of their starters, ultimately defense and bench play will determine the victor as it has so many times in past Finals.
Prediction: Warriors win series 4-2
By: Hasrit Sidhu