By: Salvatore Gagliardi
Game 7, the two greatest words in sports. We basketball fans were lucky to be blessed with two such games this past weekend. The Cleveland Cavaliers, on May 27, beat the Boston Celtics on the road, becoming only the 27th team to do so out of 131 others. On May 28th, the Golden State Warriors attempted to become, coincidentally, now the 28th team to also complete such a feat. It would ultimately be a sign of things to come.
The game began beautifully for the Houston Rockets, staking themselves to an 11-point halftime advantage. They were knocking down 3-point shots, playing stout defense, and giving their home fans a reason to scream. Then it all quickly went to hell. Houston could not buy a 3-point basket, literally. Missing an astounding 27-straight threes dating back to the second period. The Warriors, meanwhile, turned things around. They were know as a third quarter team and they showed it again, outscoring the Rockets by 16 in the quarter. After that it was basically over. The sense of fatalism shown on the Rocket players faces and in their arena. The Warriors continued to knock down dagger 3 pointers, both from Staph Curry and Kevin Durant, anytime the Rockets got remotely within striking distance during the 4th quater. It finished 101-92, advantage and NBA finals berth, Warriors.
Critiquing the Rockets 3-and-D system is an easy out when the final stat line reads 7-44 from three, ouch… However this game proved two, much more important points. First, the Rockets missed Chris Paul. His late-game execution, critical in Game 5 was evident in a pressure packed Game 7. And Secondly, James Harden, still, struggles in big-time moments. Sure, he scored 32 points but needed 29 shots to get there. If James Harden is going to win MVP over LeBron James this year (and he is) then I say it fair to compare them. Harden is lacking the clutch-gene that LeBron is not. The stats and last nights game only tell half the story, but your eyes tell you the rest. And that is why LeBron and his Cleveland Cavaliers will face the Warriors in a record-setting 4th straight NBA Finals match-up.
Jumping right in, the Cavs are the largest underdogs in the NBA Finals in 16 years. They have the best player on either team, but even with Kevin Love, the next 4 best players belong to the Warriors. That is what this match-up this year and years prior has always boiled down to. There are only a handful of ways the Cavs can make this at least a semi-competitive match-up. First, either Kevin Love must play his best basketball of his life or he should not play at all. Love and the Cavs are a different team when he scores, especially knocking down threes, but when Love does not score, the offense grinds to a halt and the defense is average at best. With Love off the floor, at the very least, the Cavs are roughly 3 points per possession better defensively, and able to switch positions 1-5, something the Rockets did to great success. Secondly, LeBron will have to have his most transcendent NBA Finals ever. Remember, he averaged a triple double last Finals, and they still lost in 5 games, with Kyrie Irving! I’d hypothesis LeBron needs to average 35+, 12+ rebounds, and over 10 assist (meaning his teammates are hitting 3-point shots) for the Cavs to win multiple games, not even the series. Lastly, and unfortunately true, the Warriors would probably have to suffer another injury to their Hampton 5 lineup for LeBron and the Cavs to have a serious chance. Losing Andre Iguodala has exposed the Warriors lack of depth. After playing a rugged 7 games series, losing anyone else to injury would both hamper the Warriors cohesiveness and wear down the remaining players, possibly enough for LeBron to take advantage of.
This 4th iteration is bitter-sweet. Sweet, because never before have two teams — from any of the four major sports — met four consecutive times in a Final. For a home-town Cleveland sports fan like myself, it is hard not to appreciate the history being made and successful run of Championships after so many futile sports years in Cleveland. While also appreciating this historically-great Warriors team in their own right. Bitter, because for both Cavs fans and NBA fans, this series is preordained. As I argued above, the Cavs only chance of — just maybe — beating the Warriors would be due to injury, and no one should wish for injuries. The Warriors, on their most lackadaisical nights can still compete with any team in the league and on their best nights are simply unstoppable. LeBron will not get swept, and I think the Cavs have a real chance to catch the Warriors napping in Game 1, but no way on God’s green earth do they pull of the upset of the century. Warriors are champions — once again — in 6 games, and a new dynasty is born.
Follow @NbaNosebleed for more!