The NBA Finals begin Thursday night with a fresh matchup as Cleveland plays at Golden State in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series. Golden State hasn’t been to the Finals since it swept the Washington Bullets for the title in 1975. Cleveland’s only appearance in the Finals was in 2007, LeBron James’ fourth season, when the Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs. Here are five storylines to watch:
With a remarkable display of dribbling, passing and marksmanship from the field, Golden State guard Stephen Curry was this year’s winner of the Most Valuable Player award. He dazzled fans across the league with his ability to carry his team in spectacular fashion. On the flip side, Cleveland’s LeBron James was the league’s MVP in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013, and is regarded as the world’s best player. James and teammate James Jones will be the first players to appear in five consecutive NBA Finals since several accomplished the feat with the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and 60s.
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Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Cavaliers coach David Blatt mark the first time that two rookie head coaches have faced each other in the finals since the NBA’s inception in 1946. While Kerr had no coaching experience before taking the Warriors’ gig, he did win three championships as a player with the Chicago Bulls and two as a player with the San Antonio Spurs. Blatt has been chided by some because he had no NBA coaching experience prior to this season, but he did coach overseas for 20 years and won the Euroleague title last season with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The Warriors assured everyone that Thompson would be ready to play in the series opener after he suffered a concussion in the finale of the Western Conference Finals against Houston, when he was inadvertently kicked in the head by Rockets forward Trevor Ariza. Now he is. Thompson has averaged 19.7 points in the team’s 15 playoff games, shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from 3-point range. Thompson can score in bunches and in a hurry. He set an NBA record for points in a quarter with 37 in the third period of a 52-point outburst Jan. 23 against Sacramento.
Impact of role players
Both teams are loaded with role players that are capable of leading their team to victory if the stars are having an off-night. Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa all have that extra gear to shine for the Warriors, while J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova have all enjoyed impressive outings for the Cavaliers during these playoffs. Those performances were definitely needed in the wake of playoff injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
Cleveland has six players who have won NBA championships, including LeBron James, James Jones, Shawn Marion, Kendrick Perkins, Brendan Haywood and Mike Miller. Between those six players, they already have nine championship rings and have combined for 21 Finals appearances, including this series. By contrast, no player on the Golden State roster has any prior Finals experience. It must be noted, however, that of those six Cavaliers with Finals experience, James is the only one who has averaged more than 15 minutes a game in this year’s playoffs. James has played in 172 career playoff games, while the Warriors’ starting five has combined to play 168 playoff games in their careers.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760