VIDEO: 2017 NBA Finals Preview: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Assistant Editor // June 1, 2017
Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavaliers
ABOVE VIDEO: The defending NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers will try to become the first team since the 2012 and 2013 Miami Heat to win back to back titles as they face the Golden State Warriors for the third straight year in the NBA Finals.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The defending NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers will try to become the first team since the 2012 and 2013 Miami Heat to win back to back titles, as they face the 2015 NBA Champs, the Golden State Warriors for the third straight year in the NBA Finals.
That team, like this Cavs team was led by four time NBA MVP, LeBron James.
Whether or not you believe LeBron belongs in the conversation with the player many believe is the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan, you cannot deny King James his due in terms of where he belongs in NBA history, which is near the top of that list.
James just completed his 14th NBA season and tonight will appear in his seventh straight NBA Finals and eighth overall.
What makes players like James great is how they defy things such as age.
At 32-years-old this post season, LeBron is averaging the second most points per game in his career during this playoff run.
His 32.5 PPG are second only to his 2008-09 postseason in which James averaged 35.3 points in 14 playoff games. James moved past Jordan (5,987) as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in playoff history in the Conference Finals.
James’ overall game has been a thing of beauty to watch. Aside from his 32.5 PPG, James is pulling down 8.0 rebounds and dishing out 7.0 assists per contest.
Ironically, Michael Jordan, who was 34 in his final playoff run, averaged 32.4 points per game which resulted in his sixth and final championship.
ABOVE VIDEO: Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James addresses the media the day before Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
“The Rubber Match” as this year’s NBA Finals is being called, is the third straight year the Cleveland Cavaliers are facing the Golden State Warriors for the NBA title, marking the first time in NBA history that the same teams are meeting in The Finals for the third consecutive season.
This has happened once each in the other three major North American pro sports. However, it’s been 61-years since it last happened when the Detroit Red Wings faced the Montreal Canadiens in Stanley Cup Finals from 1954-56.
Two years ago the Cavaliers took a two games to one series lead before the Warriors won three straight to capture their fourth NBA title and first since the 1974-75 season.
Last season Golden State broke the Jordon led 1995-96 Chicago Bulls record for most wins during the regular season with 73 and appeared to be on a collision course with NBA history, as they looked to repeat as champs.
ABOVE VIDEO: Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors – Game 7 – Full Highlights – Jun 19, 2016 – 2016 NBA Finals.
Led by unanimous league MVP Stephen Curry, Golden State went 8-1 in the first two rounds of the playoffs before Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder nearly derailed their season by taking a 3-to-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals.
Golden State would come all the way back to win the series and seemed to be back on track winning three of the first four contests in the NBA Finals from James and the Cavaliers.
Greatness tends to prevail and the Cavaliers didn’t quit, as Cleveland would go onto pull off one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports and most certainly in the history of the NBA.
LeBron James averaged 36 points over the final three games and with the help of teammates like Kyrie Irving, who averaged 27 points over the seven game series, became the first team to come back from that far down to win in The NBA Finals.
James was historic as he captured his third NBA Finals MVP.
ABOVE VIDEO: Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving addresses the media the day before Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
In last year’s Finals, LeBron became the first player in NBA history to lead both teams in all five major statistical categories for an entire playoff series with 29.7 points (208), 11.3 rebounds (79), 8.9 assists (62), 2.57 steals (18) and 2.29 (16) blocks.
More importantly King James, a native of nearby Akron, Ohio and his Cavaliers teammates won Cleveland their first NBA title and the first major sports championship in the city in 52 years.
Golden State, while very disappointed and shocked by the loss didn’t sit idly last off season and blame injuries to star players as the reason for their shocking defeat.
Instead they signed the biggest free-agent prize and the player that proved to be as much of a thorn in the Warriors side as James, Kevin Durant.
The Warriors went onto have another great season, winning 67 of 82 games, six more than any other team in the league this season.
ABOVE VIDEO: Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry addresses the media the day before Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
They surpassed the Chicago Bulls’ record (1995-96 – 1997-98) mark of 203 wins over a three-season span posting a 207-39 (.841) record over that time.
Cleveland stumbled at times throughout the season. They lost three in a row on five separate occasions and finished as the second best team in the Eastern Conference behind the Boston Celtics.
Regardless, anyone that knows anything about the NBA knows no other teams besides these two were going to be tipping off tonight.
The teams enter Game 1 with a combined post season record of 24-1 with the Cavs losing once to Boston in the ECF.
In fact, The NBA hasn’t had a championship series in which both teams reached The Finals with one loss or fewer in the playoffs since the 1950s, when teams played far fewer postseason games before The Finals.
And since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams for the 1983-84 season, this is the Finals matchup with the best combined playoff winning percentage for the two teams.
ABOVE VIDEO: Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors – 2015 Game 6 – Final Seconds of the 4th Quarter as the Golden State Warriors win the 2015 NBA Championship.
The Warriors are the first team in NBA history to win their first 12 games in a postseason and are the first team to enter The Finals without a playoff loss since the Lakers in 2001 (11-0).
Golden State enters The Finals as an overwhelming favorite for the third straight time vs. Cleveland. If the Cavilers are going to win this series, they will need more than James to play well to do so.
That could be a possibility when you consider the Cavs are playing their best basketball of the season.
Cleveland has scored at least 100 points in all 13 playoff games, becoming the first team in NBA history to score 100+ points in each of their first 13 postseason games. Their longest such streak during the season was nine games.
In their 135-102 win in Game 5 of the ECF against Boston, the Cavs set a franchise playoff record for points in a game (135), half (75 in 1st half) and quarter (43 in 1st Q).
ABOVE VIDEO: Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman debate whether or not the 2017 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors will be LeBron James’ toughest challenge.
Cleveland’s “BIG Three”, LeBron James (29.6), Kyrie Irving (25.8) and Kevin Love (22.6) became the first Cavs trio to ever average at least 22.0 points in a single playoff series, after doing so against Boston in the Conference Finals.
When you think of three-point shooting, you think of the Warriors but the Cavs are averaging 14 three-pointers made per game this postseason, an NBA record. Cleveland leads the league converting 43.5 percent of their shots beyond the arc while the Warriors rank fourth at 38.9 percent.
the Cavaliers are white hot from the floor. Their postseason effective field goal percentage of 59.8 percent is the highest in NBA postseason history.
With all of that said, the Warriors are on a mission.
The Warriors come in having won 27 of their last 28 games, including the regular season. Golden State has also won six straight road playoff games, a new franchise record.
Golden State ranked first in offensive rating (113.2) and second in defensive rating (101.1), trailing only the Spurs (100.9) according to NBA stats. Remarkably, the Warriors have trailed in only four of their last nine games, for just 63 (14 percent) of those 432 minutes.
Golden State is never out of a contest, the Warriors won 15 games after trailing by double digits this season and in six of those wins the Warriors came back to win after trailing by 15 points or more, including a 22-point deficit vs the Spurs.
ABOVE VIDEO: Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant addresses the media the day before Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
The Warriors have four All-Star starters in their line-up and possess arguably the greatest single season line-up in league history.
Kevin Durant has been terrific in his first postseason with the Warriors, averaging 25.2 points on 55.6 percent shooting. Last year’s league MVP Stephen Curry is averaging 28.6 points in the playoffs and looking like a different player now than heading into last year’s NBA Finals after a knee injury earlier in the postseason.
For the Warriors’ defense, everything starts and ends with Draymond Green. His success with controlling traffic and slowing LeBron James are crucial for the Warriors.
On top of his versatility and defense that is so important to Golden State, Green is shooting 47 percent from three-point range in the postseason, tops on a team that has some of the best perimeter shooters in the world.
The teams met twice this season, with each winning in a different fashion. In the Christmas Day matchup, Cleveland trailed 95-82 with eight minutes to play but Kyrie Irving hit a fade away jumper with 3.4 seconds on the clock to cap a 109-108 comeback win.
In the second meeting, Golden State routed Cleveland by 35-points.
ABOVE VIDEO: With the 71st NBA Finals about to tip off, here’s a look back at the first 70 years of the Finals, set to the sounds of Metallica.
KEY STATS TO KNOW:
Kevin Durant (28.4 points per game) and LeBron James (28.3 ppg) rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in NBA playoff history in playoff scoring average.
The Warriors (118.3) and Cavaliers (116.8) rank first and second in the playoffs in points scored per game. No other team is averaging more than 109 points.
LeBron James-led teams are 18-5 against Kevin Durant-led squads since KD entered the league in 2007. That includes the 2012 Finals when the two squared off and LeBron got the best of Durant in five games.
The Finals features seven 2017 NBA All-Stars and 11 players who have been All-Stars in their career. The NBA hasn’t had a Finals with that many current All-Stars or all-time All-Stars since the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers played for the championship in 1983.
PREDICTION: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS IN 5