Now that we know that the Golden State Warriors will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in what will be the most anticipated NBA Finals rematch in recent memory, there is no better time to take a quick look at everything that is at stake.
The most glaring legacy on the line is the Warriors historical 73-win regular season record, which to most media pundits and observers means nothing if the Warriors don’t finish it off with an NBA championship. No matter how great of an accomplishment it is, the record will feel empty and will always be remembered as a letdown if there is no second parade at Lake Merritt this summer.
The second most significant legacy on the line is LeBron James and his place in the NBA’s all-time pantheon of greats. If LeBron loses his 5th out of 7 straight Finals appearance, his title as the “King” of the NBA will almost certainly be relinquished to Steph Curry. If Curry wins his second straight NBA title, he will have the same amount of championships (2) as James while being 3 years younger and the clearcut posterboy for the current generation of NBA players and fans alike.
Cleveland, as a city and fan base, hasn’t won a championship in any sport since 1964 (if you haven’t seen the 30 for 30 Believeland documentary yet, you should). If James leads the Cavaliers to the promised land and brings a championship, all of his past sins will be forgiven once and for all. James will be revered as a deity in Ohio and will cement his legacy as the second best player of all-time next to Michael Jordan himself (Sorry, Mamba).
From an offensive perspective, the three-point shot will be the great equalizer in this series. Both teams have successfully used the three to bury their opponents in the regular and postseason respectively, and it will figure to be a deciding factor in the Finals. The biggest difference in my humble opinion between the Warriors winning their second straight championship and the Cavaliers winning their first will be the obstacles it took to get to the top.
For all the hype and pressure the Warriors brought upon themselves following the greatest regular season ever, their postseason run has been full of challenges and unforeseen circumstances that have put their confidence to the test. Curry’s abrupt knee injury which occurred in the Houston Rockets series and sidelined him for two weeks was an unexpected twist that they were able to overcome with their depth.
Their biggest challenge lied in their improbable comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder, down 3-1, with their backs against the wall. Almost no one except the players on the team expected them to win three straight and advance to the Finals (including myself) after being blown out in games 3 and 4 by an average of 25 points. At the time, the Warriors looked shell-shocked, and any chance of a repeat run was highly unlikely.
Fast forward to Game 7 of the series, and the Warriors are back on top of the world. They crushed the soul of a Thunder team that had the length, defense and scoring ability to beat them, but they refused to lose. Much of their success can be attributed to the Warriors team chemistry, which is second to none in the NBA. Every player on the roster is unselfish and they are one of the few teams who truly play for one another.
The Cavs on the other hand, have not had a similar path of obstacles to get to the Finals. They steam-rolled every Eastern conference team they faced in the playoffs, with their first loss coming against the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors are a far cry from the battle-tested Warriors, and this is something that the Cavs and LeBron will have to adjust to quickly if they are going to stand a chance in the rematch.
2016 NBA Finals Prediction
The only way I can see the Cavs taking this series is if they steal Game 1 at Oracle like the Thunder did, protect home court in games 3 and 4 in Cleveland, then finish it off in Game 5 or 6. If Cleveland fails to steal Game 1 or 2, they will be in big trouble.
The Warriors already have the confidence that they can beat LeBron and have faced a much harder defensive challenge against the Thunder. The Warriors have had the aura all season of being a team of destiny, and that is exactly what will happen in this Finals as they will put an exclamation mark on their improbable season by bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy back to The Bay.
My 2016 NBA Finals prediction is that the Warriors defeat the Cavaliers in 6 games (4-2).