This is likely the matchup the league dreamed about ever since All-Star Weekend – the league’s best team with its MVP, Steph Curry, against a title-hungry team for a title-hungry city, backed up by the best player on Planet Earth.
That’s the obvious. So, in honor of the 2015 NBA Finals, Here are fifteen more reasons you should pay attention to the goings-on at Oracle Arena and Quicken Loans Arena, starting June 4th:
1) This isn’t simply “LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry” … but it’s a good place to start. Let’s begin with the two most visible players in this series, and what many can say are two of the best players on the planet. And both, for different reasons, lay claim to those titles.
Stephen Curry continues to show he may be one of the best shooters in NBA history. It’s as if the guy can throw a shot from anywhere on the court and it’s got a good chance of going in. And when I say “anywhere,” I mean anywhere:
Additionally, Curry has some of the best ball-handling skills in the league, and has a knack for getting open that most three-point specialists simply don’t have. After the performance he has put up thus far this season, it almost seems silly we even had a debate about who the MVP was in 2015.
But let’s not forget about The Chosen One. After all, this is a guy who literally turns any team he plays for into an instant championship contender. His fluidity and strength on the court makes him a matchup nightmare for virtually any single defender in the NBA.
And, since coming back home to Cleveland this past season, he has helped turned a rag-tag bunch of cellar-dwellers into an Eastern Conference title-winning squad.
Say he’s not a leader? Hard to keep that criticize him for that anymore, considering most people consider LeBron the “real” head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So, you have to wonder what they have to say, now. Oh, what’s that? He’s under .500 in NBA Finals appearances (2-3) and is in danger of going 2-4?
Well, yeah, I guess there’s that. In the scheme of things, a Hall of Fame career is about winning championships, and when you’re compared to some of the best of all time, a glaring stat like “2-4 in Finals appearances” could certainly sting.
Then again, his teams lost twice to a modern dynasty in the San Antonio Spurs, and once to a title-hungry Dallas team who got hot at just the right time. And, considering the opponent this time around, it’s difficult to fault him or the Cavaliers for not reaching the Promised Land.
3) What else is there to add to Stephen Curry’s near-legendary 2015 season? In what has been one of the franchise’s most successful seasons thus far, Stephen Curry has done the following:
Reach the 1,000 career three-pointer mark – the fastest to do so (369 games) in NBA History;
Dethrone LeBron James as top vote-getter for the NBA All-Star Game;
Win the NBA All-Star Three-Point Contest against the likes of Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Korver;
Broke his own regular-season record for most three-pointers made (272) by hitting 286 on the season;
Became the fastest to reach the 100 three-pointer mark in the postseason (28 games); and
Win the 2014-2015 NBA MVP Award, becoming only the second Warriors player to do so (Wilt Chamberlain, 1959-1960).
Though, even with all those accolades, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind a nice O’Brien Trophy to end the season with.
4) Keep an eye on Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving. Two vital players on two teams, and two lingering question marks that may very well decide the Finals before it even begins. This is what Warriors SG Klay Thompson and Cavaliers PG Kyrie Irving represent in this championship series.
Thompson has been Stephen Curry’s fellow “Splash Brother” for five years, and has been the Warriors’ other lethal long-distance shooter this year. He had been continuing his impressive production this postseason(19.7 points per game, 45.9% from the floor, 42.5% from beyond the arc), until a knee to the head by Dwight Howard in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals left him with a concussion. He has recently been cleared to play, but who knows what version of Thompson we will see come Thursday night.
As for Irving, the 23-year-old has been dealing with left knee tendonitis for a majority of the season, and has not been able to slow down long enough for it to heal substantially. The production he brings on offense (18.7 points per game, 43.6% from the floor, 48.1% from three-point land) could be sorely missed if he is forced to miss substantial time.
5) A Tale of Two (championship-starved) Cities. It’s been well-documented that the cities of Oakland, California and Cleveland, Ohio have been deprived of an NBA Championship for a long time, now.
After all, it’s been 40 years since the Warriors have last experienced the hoisting of the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Most of us hadn’t even been born at the time. Saturday Night Live was more than four months away from its premiere episode. It’s been a long time, coming.
But don’t tell that to the city of Cleveland – their blue-collar sports fan base has been waiting a whopping 67 years for a professional sports championship of any kind – the last being the Cleveland Indians’ World Series title back in 1948.
Which drought ends by mid-June of this year? That’s reason enough to tune in and find out.
6) Remember where the Cavs were this time last year? It’s almost ridiculous, when you really think about it.
For LeBron James, this experience isn’t all that different from last year – he was resting up after winning the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers … only it was with the Miami Heat.
Meanwhile, for the hapless Cavaliers – who went 33-49 on the season (their fifth straight season with a record below .500), and whose only good news was winning their third NBA Draft Lottery in four years – was sitting at home, probably wondering how long the playoff drought could possibly last.
Fast-forward a bit, and you’re bound to see a second letdown for the Heat in the Finals, Miami’s Big 3 opting out of their contracts, and another “Decision” of monumental proportions. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now this is a team, mostly made up of the same parts that continually missed the postseason, at the cusp of an NBA title. I, for one, didn’t believe a turnaround like this was even possible – even in the tepid Eastern Conference. Looks like one man’s influence really can be that strong.
7) What a difference a coaching change makes, amirite? On that same vein, I turn to the Golden State Warriors – a talented team stopped by a superior opponent in the first round at around this time, last year. While the exit was disappointing, Mark Jackson’s Warriors squad was on the up-swing.
At the time, it was a perplexing move – almost “Harbaugh-ian”, if you really think about it: in the sense that the coach and front office didn’t get along, despite the franchise’s relative success. If CEO Joe Lacob and GM Bob Myers were going to survive the fallout from firing a successful head coach, they needed to strike it rich on their next hire.
Enter Steve Kerr – an unproven coaching prospect who was being heavily courted by the New York Knicks. The Warriors took the plunge and signed Kerr to a five-year deal for $25 million. The rest, they say, is history. Now he has the chance to become the first rookie head coach to win an NBA title since Pat Riley did it with the Los Angeles Lakers all the way back in 1982.
Ultimately, it was a boom-or-bust move for a franchise looking to snap out of their middling ways, and for the sake of a loyal fan base. Luckily for them, they struck it rich.
8) Hey, speaking of rookie head coaches … Lost in all the NBA Finals hoopla is Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt – a man who had spent the last 21 years coaching overseas. In case you didn’t know, he had spent the last five years coaching Maccabi Tel Aviv, winning last year’s Coach of the Year award en route to a Euroleague title.
Now, he joins Steve Kerr as a rookie head coach to reach the NBA Finals. In fact, the pair represent the first rookie head coaching duo since the NBA’s inaugural season (1946-1947) to face off in the NBA Finals.
Despite this, Blatt doesn’t nearly get enough credit for guiding a team that spent the last five years in mediocrity to the NBA Finals. Because – if you listen to certain parts of the internet – that wasn’t Blatt’s doing; it was obviously LeBron’s.
But LeBron doesn’t coach this team. And it’s difficult to believe that any old scrub could coach this Cavaliers team to a berth in the Finals. I mean, sure, Blatt has had his missteps this season – but so do all head coaches in this league, in any given season. But when you coach, arguably, the best player on the planet, you’re bound to get looked over.
9) You can’t help but feel sort of bad for Kevin Love. I say “sort of” in a relative sense. Because, at the end of the day, how do you feel bad for a guy who will likely see a huge payday when he hits the free agent market, with the team he plays for not too far away from an NBA Championship?
Well, how about this: how would you feel if you were courted by a team, believing you were the missing piece to winning a championship, and then watch from the sidelines as that same team wins a title without you?
Maybe not so “necessary” as you thought you’d be, right?
Also keep this in mind: this postseason was supposed to be a time for Kevin Love to show what mettle he had to help win a championship – to show to Cleveland how vital he would be moving forward, and to show other potential suitors how valuable he could be to their team, in a potential bidding war for his services. With the injured shoulder he suffered in the opening round of the postseason against Boston, all that was thrown out the window.
Now, Love gets to witness one of two things:
A) His team winning a championship without him; or
B) A big fat “What if”, had he been healthy for the Finals, should the Cavs lose.
Not the best position to be in.
10) … But not as bad as you feel for those New York Knicks. It’s kind of ironic – this matchup represents a kind of symbolic middle finger to the fans of the New York Knickerbockers. Because forget the fact that their season was so bad this year, even a 21-win Lakers squad got the last laugh over them. Let’s take a look at these NBA Finals.
On the one hand, you have the Golden State Warriors – a team that propelled to new heights thanks to their new coaching staff, led by Steve Kerr. The same Steve Kerr that personally spurned the Knicks in order to take the Warriors job this past offseason.
On the other hand, you have the Cleveland Cavaliers – a team that they traded with during the regular season to off-load the disappointing production of two players that they thought were no longer worth the time: J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
And what did the Knicks get back in that three-team trade that sent Cavaliers G Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City? Three players with non-guaranteed contracts (Alex Kirk, Lou Amundson, Lance Thomas) that were waived immediately after they were traded.
How’s that for insult to injury, am I right?
11) The Land Down Under (sort of) takes the main stage. That is, you kind of have to know where to look.
For example, did you know that Kyrie Irving is originally from Australia? He was born in Melbourne, and lived there for two years before relocating to New Jersey. It would explain the lack of an accent, and all that.
There’s also Golden State’s unsung hero in the paint, Andrew Bogut – the first overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks had an up-and-down career before he was traded to the Warriors during the 2011-2012 season. Also a native of Melbourne, Bogut has been playing for the Australian National Team since 2003.
Then there’s the rising star (for better or worse, depending on who you ask) of Matthew Dellavedova. The scrappy backup point guard has been vital for the Cavaliers’ playoff run, in place of an ailing Irving. He has also been a lightning rod for being labeled “dirty” in the eyes of Chicago Bulls fans and Atlanta Hawks fans. There’s been no denying his overall play, though, nor his contribution to the team.
Expect the nation of Australia to make some noise in these Finals.
12) Is Golden State the next San Antonio? (Just sayin’.) No, seriously, think about it for a second:
The Warriors are a team that has essentially built from the ground up. Its best talent – including Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green – were drafted by the Warriors. All of them contribute significantly to the team’s success.
Now, sure, the Warriors seem a whole lot flashier than the dynastic Spurs were back in the day, what with their behind-the-back passes and commitment to “the long ball”. But, bar none, their bread and butter has been a dedication to defense and ball movement – two things the Spurs could hang their hats on in the mid-to-late 2000s.
All that, and the core of the roster is under the age of 28. This could be something that lasts for awhile in the Bay Area for years to come.
13) No matter who wins, this series may just change the face of the NBA, as we know it. This isn’t a certainty, mind you – this is a bit of conjecture. Nonetheless – teams could change their outlook on how successful teams are built based on the results of the NBA Finals.
After all, we’re dealing with two relatively young teams that took different paths to get to this NBA Finals. One relied heavily on a talented bunch of sharp-shooters and the kind of relentless defense that might have tired out normal teams by All-Star Weekend. The other relied on a complementary force that supported one superstar in a way no other team had before.
There’s only one LeBron. There’s only one Curry. But the two of them used differing, yet unique, systems to achieve the success they had. Who’s to tell whether the winner will be looked at as a template for future title-contending teams.
14) Admit it: You love the Warriors in the Finals because of Riley Curry. She’s stolen the (post-game) show at this year’s NBA Postseason. First, she was shushing father Stephen …
…. then she was quoting a Big Sean song …
Whatever she’s done this postseason, Riley’s adorable innocence has charmed the media and the audience, alike.
15) Seriously, though, here’s all the reason you need to watch the NBA Finals:
Now, if that doesn’t get you hyped up for this series, I don’t know what will.