Game 7 of the recently completed Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder set an all-time record for the most-viewed NBA game on cable TV.
There’s an excellent chance that the record for an NBA game on network TV will also fall when the Warriors meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, beginning Thursday at 8 p.m. in Oakland, Calif.
This best-of-seven series has plenty of appeal, starting with it being a rematch of last year’s championship series captured in six games by the Warriors. There’s also the on-going debate on whether Stephen Curry or LeBron James is the best player in the world.
All of the intrigue and theatrics are in place for this to be one of the more memorable Finals in NBA history.
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The trash-talking Draymond Green wears his emotions on his sleeve and doesn’t mind kicking or kneeing an opponent to get the job done. Harrison Barnes is a no-frills player who is solid at both ends of the floor. The Warriors don’t run many plays for Barnes, but he still averaged 11.7 points per game this season. Andre Iguodala makes the defense tick for Golden State. In last year’s Finals, Iguodala turned LeBron James into a mere mortal and was named the Most Valuable Player of the series.
Andrew Bogut will not command a lot of attention on offense. He doesn’t have a dominant sky hook or a lethal go-to move. But he is a decent defender and rebounder, and the 7-footer sets solid screens for perimeter shooters. Backup centers Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights are serviceable — with the right matchup. But it’s good that the Warriors are best when going small as Bogut and Ezeli shot 48 and 53 percent from the free-throw line this season. That could pose a problem if Cleveland resorts to intentionally fouling.
As far as shooters go, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the best backcourt duo in the history of the NBA. From Curry breaking his own single-season record with 402 made 3-pointers to Thompson scoring 37 points in one quarter last season, the pair is spectacular. Neither needs much room to get his shot off. No more talk about Curry being hurt. It’s not mentioned when he has a great game, so the talk should cease when he has a bad game. No player has ever been “on” every time he laces up his sneakers. Curry and Thompson will be fine.
Steve Kerr received heavy criticism after winning coach of the year honors this season despite missing the season’s first 43 games due to complications from off-season back surgery. But the insightful Kerr was at his best during the last half of the Western Conference Finals. When the Warriors were down 3-1 to Oklahoma City, loud voices let it be known that Kerr was getting out-coached by Thunder rookie Billy Donovan. Now that Donovan and the Thunder are home for the summer, no word yet on how the critics feel about Kerr’s coaching acumen.
The Warriors showed a lot of grit in climbing out of a 3-1 hole to defeat Oklahoma City in seven games. The Warriors also showed an ability to go deep into their bench and collect meaningful results. Winning Game 5 at home and winning Game 6 on the road is one thing. But winning Game 7 after being down by 13 points showed that the Warriors will be an extremely tough out in the NBA Finals, especially when they have players such as Curry and Thompson who each can easily score 20 or more points in a quarter.
LeBron James is arguably the most knowledgeable player in the NBA. James knows he has to get his teammates — mainly Kevin Love — involved early so they can be a factor throughout. A dominant all-around player, James averaged 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists this season. James has a 2-4 record in the NBA Finals. Love, meanwhile, is making his first Finals appearance after sitting out last year’s series following surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder suffered in the first round against Boston. Long-time veterans Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson come off the bench.
Timofey Mozgov started 48 games this season after being the starting center in last year’s Finals. But Tristan Thompson started the other 34 games and has been the center of choice lately. The Texas-ex averaged 7.8 points and 9.0 rebounds and is more mobile than the lumbering Mozgov, who averaged 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds. Mozgov has played in just eight of the Cavs’ 14 postseason games and has been limited to just 6.3 minutes per contest. To keep up with the fast-moving Warriors, Thompson is the center the Cavs will likely lean on.
Kyrie Irving, a fifth-year veteran out of Duke, averaged 19.6 points, 4.7 assists and shot 32.1 percent from 3-point range in the regular season. He has increased those numbers to 24.3 points, 5.1 assists and 45.6 percent shooting from 3-point range in the playoffs. Shooting guard J.R. Smith shot 40 percent from 3-point territory in the regular season and 46.2 percent during the first three rounds of the playoffs. Reserve guard Matthew Dellavedova is a defensive pest. Iman Shumpert and the Jones boys — Dahntay and James — contribute mainly as defensive specialists.
Tyronn Lue was promoted to head coach for the first time when the Cavs fired David Blatt after he guided Cleveland to a 30-11 record at the midway point of the season. Lue promptly guided the Cavs to a 27-14 record and back to the NBA Finals. He is known for listening to his players and incorporating some of their input into his game plan. Lue was a journeyman player, spending 11 seasons in the league with seven franchises. That includes 17 games for the Dallas Mavericks during the 2007-08 season
The Cavs have waited a year for this moment. They believe if they had been completely healthy, they would have emerged from last year’s Finals as champions. But Love didn’t play due to a dislocated left shoulder, and Irving was lost for the remainder of the season after fracturing his left kneecap in Game 1 of the Finals. Despite that, the short-handed Cavs led the Warriors 2-1 before losing three straight in the best-of-seven series.
Warriors in six