Jeffrey H. Baer’s
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Season series: Golden State, 2-0
Who would’ve guessed this rematch of last year’s big series would carry more baggage than all the airports in the country? But it’s been turbulent seasons for both teams, and there’s probably no more dramatic an ending than for the Warriors and Cavaliers to meet on the big stage again.
Needless to say, the Cavs have been through so much up-and-down in the last eight months, they need Dramamine. The combination of LeBron James’ return and David Blatt prowling the sidelines last season was probably more than anyone in C-Town–fans, media and the franchise itself–expected. Throw in James’ struggles to work with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and an 18-12 record after the first thirty games, and the stage was set for the wildest speculation in league history. And with those aforementioned players missing significant time, expectations didn’t just go through the roof before this year–they traveled to Alpha Centauri. Fast forward to Martin Luther King Day, when the Cavs suffered their worst loss of the season to you-know-who and cost Blatt his job…well, you can fill in the rest. Oh–and did I mention James will be a free agent after this season?
Further down Interstate 80, the Warriors ripped off a record 24 straight wins to start their season. Naturally, the pressure was on to beat the 1995-96 Bulls, They hit a rough patch after the All-Star Break, which included brutal losses to Portland and the L.A. Lakers. But the coveted wins record was theirs on the final day of the regular season and all the trimmings followed. Injuries to Steph Curry in the first two rounds and nearly coughing it all up against Oklahoma City likely sparked talk about how the chase for 73 wins exhausted last year’s champs.
No doubt about it–these two teams have so much to prove in the next two weeks, you can cut their pride with a chainsaw. Golden State, with all their records and accomplishments, have the more tangible motivation, while Cleveland is once again fueled by their hometown’s title drought. The talent level between both teams is unlike any other in the Finals (except maybe Lakers-vs-Celtics), and both rosters contain players who stepped out of the shadows of their respective All-Stars. If there’s any advantage, it goes to coaching. Steve Kerr was here last year, and we all know how that turned out. But this matchup will test Tyronn Lue, who took over as head coach halfway through the season and will have to blend Irving and Love in somehow to get the most from his entire team.
In the end the Larry O’Brien Trophy will go to the squad that wants it more. That would be Golden State, who need the title to validate their hard work–but they won’t win it all by much. Warriors in 7