NBA Finals Preview: Will Lebron James or Stephen Curry Bring His City a Precious Title?
Despite having played nearly 100 games already during this grueling NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors still need four more wins to claim the title. The 2015 NBA Finals start Thursday, June 4, in Oakland. Here's a preview of what to expect:
How They Got Here / Prior Finals History
Cleveland: After a sluggish start to the regular season, second-seeded Cleveland (53-29) developed into one of the NBA’s best teams under first-year head coach David Blatt. The Cavaliers swept seventh-seeded Boston in the first round of the playoffs, rallied past third-seeded Chicago in six games in the second round, and drubbed top-seeded Atlanta in four games in the Eastern Conference finals.
Since entering the NBA in the 1970-71 season, the Cavs have never won the NBA title. Never. They did reach the 2007 NBA Finals during Lebron James’ first tenure in Cleveland, but they were swept by San Antonio. Technically, if the Cavaliers win one game in this series, they’ve had the best season in franchise history. They want more.
Golden State: Guided by first-year head coach Steve Kerr, top-seeded Golden State (67-15) was the NBA’s best team for most of the year. They swept eighth-seeded New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs, rallied to oust fifth-seeded Memphis in six games in the second round, and knocked out second-seeded Houston in five games in the Western Conference finals.
The Warriors are making their first appearance in the NBA Finals since sweeping the Washington Bullets for the title in 1975. That’s 40 years ago! The franchise, which started in 1946 in Philadelphia as part of the old Basketball Association of America (BAA), has reached six overall championship finals.
The teams split their two meetings during the regular season: the Warriors trounced the Cavs, 112-94, in Oakland on Jan. 9; the Cavaliers beat Golden State, 110-99, in Cleveland on Feb. 26.
Cleveland: Power forward Kevin Love was lost for the season after injuring his shoulder in a collision with Boston’s Kelly Olynyk in the first round of the playoffs. Back in December, center Anderson Varejao was ruled out for the season after tearing the Achilles' tendon in his left leg. The Cavs might have been the favorite in this series if Love and Varejao were healthy. Additionally, point guard Kyrie Irving has suffered from tendinitis in his left knee, which won’t help him guard league MVP Stephen Curry.
Golden State: Shooting guard Klay Thompson is questionable due to a concussion he suffered in Game 5 against the Rockets. Physical forward Marreese Speights, who has been sidelined with a right calf strain, could be a factor in this series if he returns.
Cleveland Will Win Their First NBA Title if They ...
Control the Tempo: The Warriors want to play at their usual aggressive pace, attacking the defense with quick shots out of their offensive sets. While Cleveland can score, they should learn from Houston’s failure and avoid trying to run with Golden State. The more the Cavs can grind out baskets and get to the foul line, the better their chances are to deliver Cleveland its first world title in any sport in more than 50 years (1964, Browns) — the longest active drought for any American city.
Defend the Perimeter & the Basket: Led by Curry and Thompson, the Warriors were the best three-point-shooting team in the NBA this season. While Golden State will still get plenty of points, Cleveland must get the shooters away from their sweet spots and make them earn every basket. Defensive help from Iman Shumpert on the perimeter and Timofey Mozgov in the paint is key.
Help Lebron Be Lebron: Playing in his fifth consecutive NBA Finals, Lebron James is one of the greatest basketball players of the modern era. Part of his greatness this season has been getting Irving and J.R. Smith to thrive in the offense, while also getting contributions from role players like Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova. If his supporting cast comes to play, King James can close out games.
Golden State Will Win Their First NBA Title in 40 Years if They …
Find a Third Scorer: Curry and Thompson form a downright scary combination, but they won’t score 100 points by themselves. To bring a title to the Bay Area, they’ll need someone else to step up and help keep the defense from focusing on their perimeter shooting. David Lee? Andre Iguodala? Draymond Green?
Frustrate Lebron James: The Warriors will likely assign Harrison Barnes to contain Lebron James. As great a job as Barnes may do, Golden State should rotate other players — possibly Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston — to further harass and defend James so that he doesn’t take over games.
Follow Steph Curry’s Lead: If the Warriors are to complete this magical run, Curry must get them there. His passing game is as important and impressive as his shooting prowess. If the Cavs find a way to limit his scoring, they likely won’t render him ineffective.
2015 NBA Finals Schedule
Game 1 at Golden State: Thursday, June 4, 9 p.m. ET; ABC
Game 2 at Golden State: Sunday, June 7, 8 p.m. ET; ABC
Game 3 at Cleveland: Tuesday, June 9, 9 p.m. ET; ABC
Game 4 at Cleveland: Thursday, June 11, 9 p.m. ET; ABC
*Game 5 at Golden State: Sunday, June 14; 8 p.m. ET; ABC
*Game 6 at Cleveland: Tuesday, June 16; 9 p.m. ET; ABC
*Game 7 at Golden State: Friday, June 19; 9 p.m. ET; ABC
* — if necessary