The Cleveland-Golden State rematch is the seventh time since the ABA-NBA merger that the same two teams have met consecutively in the NBA Finals.
Conventional wisdom within the realm of historical NBA trends tell us definitively that the Golden State Warriors will win this series.
They are the toast of the 2016 NBA season. They have the first ever unanimous MVP, two other all-stars and a 73 win record. When the Bulls won 72, they were chauffeured to the championship. When the Sha-kobe Lakers won 67 in 2001, the title was theirs from the beginning of the playoffs.
The only reason to doubt this time around is the name of a particular transcendent star whose team is on its own historical title chase.
The Warriors and Cavs were #1 and #2 this season in made three-pointers per game during the regular season. Golden State made 13.1 a game, while the Cavs made 10.7. But the Warriors attempted only .7 more per game than the Cavs, and shot it at 41.6%, compared to Cleveland’s 36.2%.
If LeBron and the Cavs try to engage the Warriors in a three-point contest, they will lose. And they will lose convincingly. The Thunder were forced into a shootout in game seven; they shot 7 of 27 from deep while the Warriors shot 17 of 37. In an eight point game, those makes were largely the difference.
The way Cleveland will turn this into a series? LeBron has to control the paint with wild efficiency and dominance. Dellavedova—remember last year’s Finals?—must be a successful pest to Steph Curry. Kevin Love and Tristian Thompson must rebound, rebound, rebound. There can’t be possessions where Cleveland plays good defense for 24 seconds only to allow an offensive rebound and a three-point kick out.
While playing on the road, every jolt the Golden State crowd gets means less chance for the Cavs to win. Every 30 foot three pointer, every passing sequence leading to a Bogut dunk, every back-to-back Curry basket followed by a Ty Lue timeout means bedlam from the crowd.
Bedlam from the crowd means more Draymond Green swagger.
More Draymond Green swagger = Better Warriors team
Unfortunately for Cleveland in this series, the margin for error is razor thin.
Fortunately for Golden State—as they showed the world last series—the margin for error is the size of Kansas.
In last year’s NBA Finals, LeBron literally/physically/psychologically carried a roster of misfits to a 2-1 series lead. With the injuries + a rookie head coach who was in the process of being castrated by LBJ, that was that particular team’s ceiling.
With this team, you have to like the chances at a seven game series or an upset victory.
But Golden State’s vast improvement over last year’s team—a 67 win championship team—cannot be taken for granted.
This is a team on the brink of the greatest singular season ever in league history, perhaps in the history of American team sports.
The only question in the hours before the start of the 2016 Finals: Is there enough will and heart and talent and intelligence in all-timer LeBron James to snatch the Warriors’ place in history?
A compelling question, but a long shot nonetheless.
Warriors in seven.
Image via AP