NBA Finals Primer
A Guide to the Wine and Gold’s Title Trilogy Against the Warriors
Now that the Cavaliers are at the 2016-17 season’s end-game – making their third straight trip to the NBA Finals – can we make a deal with ourselves to remember the conclusion of the Eastern Conference Finals next season – and remind each other not to fret about locking up the No. 1 seed?
The Cavaliers cruised through their Conference bracket – wrapping up the East with their third straight blowout of the Celtics in Boston – shredding the homecourt argument by beating Brad Stevens’ squad by an average of 30 points per on their home floor.
In the C’s three home games, they never led at any point.
The Warriors were even more dominant in their trip to a third straight Finals appearance – beating opponents by an average of 16.3 points per. Of course, getting past San Antonio wasn’t quite as tall a task sans one of the league’s top two-way stars – Kawhi Leonard – who went down with the Spurs leading by 26 points in Game 1. (Not to mention the absence of Tony Parker.)
Injuries are a part of the Playoffs – and have been a factor in the Finals over the past two seasons. Cleveland limped into the 2015 Finals – with Kevin Love missing the entire series and Kyrie Irving, lost in overtime of Game 1. Last year, the Warriors lost Andrew Bogut to a left knee injury early in Game 5.
But in this year’s title trilogy, both squads are rested, ready and red-hot – with the Wine & Gold suffering just a single hiccup along the way and the Warriors going unblemished through a dozen Western Conference matchups.
In the East bracket, LeBron James continued to demolish franchises along the way – leaving the Pacers and Raptors re-examining their blueprints. Only the Celtics – who own this year’s top overall pick and could very well repeat that feat next June – have come through LeBron’s reign of terror with a solid plan for its conclusion.
Before he left Cleveland after the 2009-10 season, his dominance of the Conference put an end to the Pistons and Wizards hopes. Since his return, he and the Cavs have left the Hawks wondering.
The Cavaliers can worry about the East again in late October. They’ve got bigger fish to fry right now – and they embark on their title defense this Thursday night in Oakland.
While the Wine & Gold gear up for what promises to be another epic showdown with the Dubs, here’s the postseason’s final primer – a Finals Primer …
In the 2016-17 regular season, Cleveland and Golden State split two games with each team winning on their home floor.
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
1. The 2017 Finals will truly be an historic matchup. No two teams have ever come into the Championship series having gone a combined 24-1 along the way (or has ever started the postseason with 12 straight wins). And no two NBA teams have ever met in the Finals in three consecutive seasons.
The last time two pro teams faced each other in three straight title contests was the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadians, who faced off for the Stanley Cup from 1954-56. Before that, it was the Cleveland Browns against the Detroit Lions (1952-54) and before that, the New York Yankees vs. the New York Giants (1921-23).
There is one thing that separates those matchups from Cavs-Warriors, however. They’re the only foes that have split the first two meetings.
2. In the 2015 Finals, the already-shorthanded Cavaliers were dealt a tough hand in terms of travel – getting just a single day between games in Oakland, heading back home in Cleveland – after Game 2 and Game 5. On the flight home after Game 5, exhausted players were literally lying in the aisles.
Last year, the NBA lightened up the travel schedule, giving teams plenty of rest between games – and thankfully that’s the case again this year.
The Cavaliers will travel out to Oakland on Tuesday to get situated, with a big media blitz on Wednesday and Game 1 set for Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Game 2 goes down on Sunday evening before the series returns to Cleveland for the next two – with Game 3 slated for Wednesday, June 7 and Game 4 taking place on Friday, June 9.
From there, the Finals go 1-1-1 – with Game 5 on June 12 in Oakland, Game 6 on Thursday night (June 15) back at The Q and Game 7 the following Sunday night, June 18 – Father’s Day once again.
All games – except for the Sunday matchups – will tip off at 9 p.m. EST. Sunday games begin at 8 p.m.
The Cavaliers 2017 Finals appearance will be a first for a trio of veterans. Two are good friends who’ve been to the postseason with the same team before. One has never been to the Playoffs before.
Kyle Korver had played in 91 Playoff games before he got to Cleveland – with the Sixers, Jazz, Bulls and Hawks. Deron Williams played in 72 games with the Jazz, Nets and Mavericks. For Derrick Williams, this is his first foray into the postseason.
After winning the East title last Thursday in Boston, LeBron talked about how great it was to see the looks on their faces after finally reaching the Finals. But James was more in all-business mode on Sunday afternoon.
”It motivated me to get them to that point, but now they’ve gotta take over – now I gotta do my job,” said the four-time MVP. “So it’s motivating to help the guys who’ve never gotten a Finals appearance or a guy like (Derrick Williams) who’s never been to the postseason at age 26. But now the onus is on them to figure out how they can be best for the team.”
4. In two head-to-head matchups between these two teams …
December 25 The Cavaliers met the Warriors on Christmas Day for the second straight season – but the results this year at The Q were very different.
A little more than six months after completing the greatest comeback in Finals history, Cleveland wiped out the Warriors’ two-touchdown fourth quarter lead, capping the rally with Kyrie Irving’s turnaround over Klay Thompson with 3.4 to play and giving Cleveland the heart-stopping 109-108 win at The Q.
Golden State extended its lead to 14 points on Kevin Durant’s pull-up jumper early in the fourth. But the Wine & Gold began whittling away the lead – tying the score on Kyrie’s layup with 2:18 to play and taking the 105-103 lead on LeBron James’ monster smash one possession later.
After a Warriors turnover, and without an available timeout, the Cavaliers put the ball in Irving’s hands – and the three-time All-Star put Klay Thompson into the spin cycle before knocking down a 13-foot fadeaway to seal the deal.
Just to show how far the NBA has come in under 20 years, the 2017 Cavaliers averaged 116.8 points in the postseason. Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers averaged 80.7 points per game – and they still gave Indiana all it could handle in the 1998 Playoffs.
Irving notched 14 of his 25 points in the final period, going 6-of-11 from the floor in the fourth, 11-for-27 overall.
Playing in his 11th Christmas Day game, LeBron led the Wine & Gold with 31 points and 13 boards – going 12-for-22 from the floor, including 4-of-8 from three-point range.
January 16 It’s almost unheard of for Cleveland’s entire Big Three to have a really rough night simultaneously. But in the Cavaliers’ recent MLK Day visit to Oakland, that’s exactly what happened.
As a team, the Cavaliers looked like a team wrapping up its longest trip of the season – shooting 35 percent from the floor and 27 from beyond the arc while committing four more turnovers (15) than they had assists (11).
When it was all said and done, this year’s MLK Day matchup by the Bay went the same way last year’s did in Cleveland – with the Warriors jumping on the Wine & Gold early and cruising to the 126-91 win at Oracle Arena.
The Cavaliers allowed 78 points and trailed by 29 points at intermission.
The Big Three combined to go 13-for-43 from the floor – with Kevin Love sitting out the second half with a sore lower back and LeBron James and Kyrie Irving seeing limited fourth quarter minutes.
5. File this one under Things You Didn’t Think You’d Hear at Practice Media Avail ….
When asked about his relationship with Warriors interim head coach (and former Cavs top man) Mike Brown, Tyronn Lue responded: “I owe him $100 from when I was a rookie. He wouldn’t take the money so that way he can say I always owe him. He was (an assistant) with the Spurs and I was with the Lakers and we had a little shooting contest and I lost and he wouldn’t take the money. So now, for 19 years in a row, he always says: ‘You owe me $100.’”
Brown, who compiled a 42-29 Playoff record (305-187 overall) in his first five-year stint with the Wine & Gold hasn’t lost since taking over on the sidelines for Steve Kerr.
”I’ve always been close with Mike,” smiled Lue. “I like Mike a lot, I respect him a lot. I had a chance to work out his son at Impact Sports in Vegas over the Summer. Mike’s a good guy.”
6. When it comes to head-to-head rankings, it’s virtually impossible to match up with the regular season Warriors – who finished first in the league in points scored and field goal percentage as well as assists per game. Defensively, they top the list when it comes to opponents’ field goal percentage, three-point percentage along with steals, blocks and turnovers per game.
In the Playoffs, it’s been a different story.
Yes, the Warriors are still outstanding. But the Cavaliers’ highest regular season ranking in any of the above categories was three-point percentage (2nd). And in the 2017 postseason, the Cleveland ranks 1st in field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and defensive rebounds per game.
The Cavaliers and Warriors are one-two in terms of scoring. Each team topped the century mark during their Conference run – a first in NBA history.
(Just to show how far the NBA has come in under 20 years, the 2017 Cavaliers averaged 116.8 points in the postseason. Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers averaged 80.7 points per game – and they still gave Indiana all it could handle in the 1998 Playoffs.)
7. A couple quick San Francisco/Oakland/Oracle Arena things …
* There are so many interesting peripheral experiences that go along with reaching the NBA Finals, and this one might seem trivial, but there’s not many things cooler than getting a police escort to and from Oracle Arena across the Bay Bridge from downtown San Francisco – about six to eight CHiPs motorcycle cops – (no, not Ponch and John) – guiding two busses through the city.
Some fans just stare curiously. Others cheer. Others send us off with a single-finger salute.
* On the wall in the hallway across from the Oracle Arena visitor’s locker room – (easily the largest in the league) – about 20 feet up, there’s a violent indentation in the wall, with an illegible autograph and the number “41” next to it.
It’s from the famous 2006-07 Mavericks-Warriors First Round series – when Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and the 8th-seeded Warriors dropped the top-seeded Mavs.
After Golden State crushed Dallas by 25, Dirk Nowitzki came out of the locker room hurled a chair at the wall. They just left it.
*It’s probably a safe bet that Guillermo from Jimmy Kimmel Live! will be making an appearance for the big media roll-out on Wednesday.
*With NBA Finals games beginning at 9 p.m. (or 8 p.m.) Eastern Time, that means games begin at either 5 or 6 p.m. in California. There’s something strange about leaving a Playoff game and the sun still being out.
At almost any other part of the season, the Cavaliers would hold shootaround in the morning before a game – especially of this magnitude. But with the early start (and long commute across the bay), the team just does morning breakfast and walkthrough at the hotel.
I don’t know what everyone else with the Cavaliers traveling caravan did on the morning of Game 7 last year, but I remember mine vividly and probably always will.
It was a perfect sunny day in San Francisco and I housed a huge breakfast at Mel’s Famous Drive-in Diner on Mission Street. On the way back to the hotel, I heard music from mass at St. Patrick’s Church right across the street. It was mostly a Filipino congregation, and I remember the priest was somewhat hilarious after services wrapped up.
I was taught never to pray for a sporting event. That there’s more important things to ask for. But I prayed for the NBA Championship at St. Patrick’s that morning.
I figured that the NBA title was more, way more, than a sporting event – at least for us in Cleveland.
So I prayed for the Cavaliers that day, and everyone else at St. Patrick’s prayed for the Warriors. And I imagine we all walked out of there feeling pretty good about our chances.
I think I’m gonna do that again this Sunday.