Can Cleveland end the city's long sports drought? Will Golden State capitalize on the 40th anniversary of its last title?
POSTED: May 28, 2015 2:04 PM ET
The Finals Preview
Matt Winer, Isiah Thomas and Dennis Scott preview the The Finals between the Warriors and the Cavaliers.
LeBron James satisfied?
Not with four more wins needed to finish the story properly.
Same goes for Stephen Curry.
Grinding your way to The Finals, for the fifth straight year for LeBron and for the firs time ever for Curry, is just another step on the path to bigger things ... a place in history and the chance to bring a parade to streets that have either never seen one or at least haven't seen one in decades.
The goal for LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers has always been to crown his homecoming with a Larry O'Brien Trophy. Curry and the Warriors laid out their plans in training camp, a Larry O'Brien Trophy or bust.
The GameTime Crew discuss Stephen Curry and LeBron James, the current and past MVP.
So it's fitting that the four-time MVP and the reigning KIA MVP would square off for supremacy after traveling two very different paths to get here. The Warriors looked like a lock for months, running roughshod over the league nearly all season, while the Cavaliers had to survive an early season transition period, with so many new faces in the mix, before emerging in the playoffs as the true beasts of the Eastern Conference.
"To be able to sit at a point in the season and see us at 19-20 and watching my team struggle and me sitting out two weeks," LeBron said after the Cavaliers swept the No. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals. "They wanted coach [David] Blatt fired, we needed a new point guard, could LeBron and Kyrie [Irving] be able to play together. So many storylines were going on. So to be here representing the Eastern Conference in The Finals, it's special, very, very special. And for myself, I think we all here know how long it's been since a champion has been in this city. You can try to not focus on it and say it's not about that, but we all know it."
Same goes for the Warriors and the 40-year drought between titles and appearances in The Finals for the Warriors.
"It's special, I think, for everybody and the Bay Area to be proud of this accomplishment," Curry said after the Warriors finished off the Houston Rockets in five games in the Western Conference finals. "It was kind of a weird feeling to celebrate knowing we have four more wins to a championship. You want to be proud and you don't want to take for granted how hard it is to get to this point. But we got four more to go."
After four seasons in Miami where he graduated from great player to champion -- twice -- LeBron returned home last summer with his eyes on the prize of delivering a championship to title-starved Cleveland.
You want to be proud and you don't want to take for granted how hard it is to get to this point. But we got four more to go.
– Kia MVP Stephen Curry
Never mind that LeBron had to push past the competition in the Eastern Conference playoff chase without Love (shoulder surgery in the first round against Boston and out for the remainder of the playoffs) and with Irving (foot and knee injuries limiting him throughout) only a shell of his All-Star self. The substitutes -- Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert -- have more than made up for the absence and shortcomings of those stars.
The Cavaliers wouldn't be here without them.
Curry and the Warriors have been on this championship mission since they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs a year ago. A new coach, Steve Kerr, and a renewed focus in the wake of that disappointing finish to the previous season sparked something in these Warriors.
Curry and fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson took their games to the next level. Draymond Green developed into one of the truly elite two-way players in the game while Harrison Barnes resurrected his reputation and career after coming close to being relegated to role player status.
A team with superior depth, skill, camaraderie and flow is always a threat to reach this point of the season. The Warriors, a juggernaut from the start of the season to now, left no doubts during a 67-win that saw them leave the rest of the field in the dust.
As much as LeBron believes his destiny will only be fulfilled by bringing a championship to his native Northeast Ohio, Curry, who coincidentally was also born in Akron, believes that the time is now for his Warriors after a 40-year title drought.
"He's a guy who has won two straight rings before and [reached] five straight Finals," Curry said of LeBron. "He's an accomplished player who knows what to expect in The Finals. But he had to win his first one, and it's our time to take advantage of home court, the momentum we built and get it done."
1. Can Draymond Green handle LeBron James one-on-one? Green's answer would be a resounding yes. There is no challenge too great for the Warriors' emotional and vocal backbone. If he uses the Kawhi Leonard how-to-deal-with-LeBron DVD as his guide, he might have a chance to slow LeBron down. And that is always a wise strategy for slowing down LeBron's team (see the past two Finals while LeBron was in Miami). LeBron will see a variety of defenders, but Green will draw the primary assignment and should make things extremely interesting.
2. Can Cleveland's role players continue to perform at a level above and beyond their pay grades? Absolutely. Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones and especially J.R. Smith have all come into their own as the postseason has progressed. The rhythm they have right now playing off of LeBron is something special. A nine-day layoff should not bother that rhythm. Thompson and Mozgov will be critical to the Cavaliers' title hopes against the Warriors' undersized frontline of Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes.
GameTime: Warriors' Legacy
GameTime takes a look back to the Warriors teams of old, and how this year's squad stacks up.
3. Who has more pressure on them to fulfill the expectations of this season, the Warriors or Cavaliers? There are equal amounts of pressure on these teams, equal amounts of outlandish pressure on both sides. Cleveland has been clamoring for a title of any kind for generations. They got swept in 2007 by the San Antonio Spurs, so making up for that disappointment looms large for LeBron and Co. The Warriors are celebrating the 40-year anniversary of their last NBA championship team, so the timing couldn't be better. They'll play with more internal pressure than anything, having fixed their eyes on a title during a record-setting regular season and managed the gauntlet that is the Western Conference playoff race. The pressure is piled up equally.
4. Which rookie coach will rise to the occasion and shine in the pressure cooker that is The Finals? Steve Kerr has experience (as a player) in this realm that David Blatt simply does not. So it makes sense that he would be the one to make the quickest and most effective adjustments in this series. We haven't seen two rookie coaches in The Finals since 1947, the first year of the NBA when Harold Olsen of the Chicago Stags faced off against Eddie Gottlieb of the Philadelphia (and now Golden State) Warriors. The track record and historical karma would appear to favor Kerr.
5. Are we forgetting about the Warriors' reserves because of how well Cleveland's role players performed during the playoffs? Foolishly, yes. It's easy to get caught up in the Warriors' first unit and their explosive abilities to score the ball and defend at a high level. But the key all season for this team has been their balanced, depth and versatility. Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli and David Lee have all played their roles to perfection. The Warriors boast the deepest and most versatile bunch of role players in the league and this group should be ready to shine on the biggest stage.
KIA MVP Steph Curry is the maestro of the Warriors' splendid pace and space attack, working at an elite level as both a scorer and facilitator. The free-flowing nature of the Warriors' offense is as obvious as it is tough to stop. Built around arguably the best shooting backcourt in NBA history, the Warriors can attack from all angles and they share the ball in a way that doesn't allow defenses to lock in on just the Splash Bros. They also have Harrison Barnes coming into his own and capable of being a takeover player in isolation sets against bigger and slower defenders.
GameTime: Stephen Curry's Postseason
Rick Kamla, Mike Dunleavy, and Brent Barry discuss Stephen Curry's postseason play.
The Warriors are a volume shooting team that loves to force the action and while they do not boast a go-to inside presence offensively, Curry can probe the paint and finish on his own and find teammates for open looks. The Cavaliers are an excellent defensive transition team and they'll have to be to limit the effectiveness of the Warriors' cadre of offensive weapons.
Kyrie Irving is the nominal point guard, but LeBron James runs the show, leading the playoffs in usage rate by a wide margin. The Cavs' offense is not that complex. A pick-and-roll or a post-up for James will often get the defense moving and result in an open shot or drive to the basket. Irving and J.R. Smith can both take advantage of weak-side close-outs.
The Warriors will start defensive possessions by trying to stop James in transition and end them by trying to keep Tristan Thompson off the glass. Golden State had the No. 1 defense in the league, in part because their personnel allows them to switch on most screens and cut off dribble penetration. No team has as many guys who can defend James as the Warriors do. Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala will all get the assignment at one point or another, while Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson could also stay in front of him if called upon on occasion.
The Warriors go with Curry first and Thompson second when they need a basket at crunch time. They're both elite shooters capable of working beyond the 3-point line, in the mid-range, off the dribble and either inside or out. They're both fearless with the ball in their hands and the game on the line and equally capable of going on extended runs when they're simply unstoppable. The fact they're top-notch free throw shooters makes them even more dangerous with the ball in their hands and the game on the line.
LeBron will always have the ball in his hands with the game on the line for the Cavaliers, no matter how many plays Blatt draws up for him to throw the ball in on an out of bounds play. LeBron can always call his own number, but he's most dangerous when he's driving to the basket with the option of finding an open shooter for an uncontested basket. He draws so much defensive attention that he makes spot-up shooters like J.R. Smith, James Jones and even Iman Shumpert infinitely more dangerous than they would be otherwise.
Andrew Bogut's always been the Warriors' true wild card. If he can hold his own down low and stay out of foul trouble, he takes this team to another level with his defense, passing and work as a rim protector. He'll be joined by David Lee in this category, because Lee might be a better fit against Cleveland's frontline than Festus Ezeli. The Warriors need a big man tandem to serve as the wild card in this series based on the way their Cleveland counterparts are playing coming into The Finals.
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Vince Cellini gives a essay on shooter extraordinaire J.R. Smith.
If J.R. Smith doesn't have a wild card tattoo anywhere on his body, he might want to get one before Game 1. He's the human wild card and for the Cavaliers he's the most volatile force, good and sometimes not so good. No one relishes the role the way Smith does and no one on the Cleveland roster is more interested in taking and making difficult shots at crunch time. Whether or not he's on the floor at those times in this series remains to be seen.
Two stars and teams with destiny on their minds make for an intriguing matchup in any series, but especially The Finals. The Warriors have been the best team in basketball this season, bar none. But the Cavaliers have been the best team in the playoffs. Kyrie Irving's ability to play at his peak will go a long way in determining what sort of chance the Cavaliers have of winning this series. Halfway through the regular season the Cavaliers were just playing average basketball. The Warriors, on the other hand, head into this series with a clear focus on the prize they have been chasing since training camp. They've essentially been playing for the Larry O'Brien Trophy since October. Warriors in 6.
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