2017 nba finals preview

warriors, cavs: it’s finally here

While the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors were still playing Game 7 of the NBA Finals, the 2016-17 iteration began to take shape. It all started with a block. Then a shot. A crushing defeat followed by the signing of a lifetime. Before this current Warriors team even played a game, the script was written. The best regular season team in NBA history had their title hopes dashed, and the team to follow suit has been on a quest for redemption ever since that fateful day in June.

There’s one big difference since the last time these two teams met in the postseason. That, of course, would be the Warriors addition of Kevin Durant over summer.

He announced his move on the 4th of July, which I must admit made for a pretty sweet holiday. Well, for me at least. I’m not exactly sure how things went over in the NBA’s Fifth Avenue offices in New York, although I have an idea. The 2011 NBA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) put measures in place that were meant to prevent the formation of so-called “super teams,” like the LeBron James-led Miami Heat did in the summer of 2010. Six years later, the CBA has accomplished for the league what they wanted, just maybe not how they wanted. There’s parity among 28 of the 30 teams in the NBA. To me, that’s the CBA doing what it’s supposed to do.

The math says 93 percent of the league is on level footing. Yet the Warriors and Cavaliers are playing each other for the third straight year in the NBA Finals because Golden State and Cleveland managed to hack the system like a pair of savvy coders in Silicon Valley (I mean the location, but hey, the show works for my point just as well). Even though the NBA tried to prevent this kind of dominance, we’re getting a Finals rubber match that’ll be sure to draw excellent ratings. The NBA has to be pleased with that.

For the Warriors, general manager Bob Myers lucked out with three stellar draft picks in Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green. All of them are All-Stars – one is a 2x league MVP – playing for much lower rates than if they were to hit the open market today. Therefore, if the Warriors could clear enough cap space through releasing several starting and role players from the previous season, they would be in prime position to land Durant as a free-agent.

And that’s exactly what happened. Goodbye Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli and Brandon Rush. Hello Kevin Durant. Meet the Warriors, who now have four All-Stars in their starting lineup and three of the last four league MVP awards.

See how the Warriors cracked the code? Show me another team with three All-Stars drafted by the same team. The Cavs finagled three All-Stars to Cleveland themselves thanks to some nifty salary-cap management, but only one has stayed in Cleveland uninterrupted since being drafted.

And now here we are. One day away from the first trilogy in NBA Finals history. And the set up couldn’t be any better – both teams are healthy and well-rested. In round one, the Cavs were without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love due to injuries. Score one for the Warriors.

In round two, Curry was hobbled, Bogut was injured, and Green received a suspension in the middle of the series. Score one for the Cavs, series tied. This go around, everyone is healthy. Everyone has had at least one week off. This is it; it’s here and it’s exactly what we wanted. The matchups will be solid at every position, but it’s going to come down to one position in the end: who wins the battle at small forward?

The time is now for Durant to shine. As the second-best basketball player in the world for some time now, he hasn’t received anywhere close to the amount of scrutiny and criticism for his postseason shortcomings as has LeBron. Durant’s only Finals appearance came in 2012 when he faced LeBron and the Miami Heat. If you don’t remember how that series went, Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder won game one before losing four in a row. I don’t recall Durant receiving much heat after that series. The only heat to come his way was Wade, Bosh, and LeBron.

Turn ahead the clock to the fallout of last season’s Western Conference Finals. I mean, was there even fallout in the form of criticism directed at Durant? I don’t remember there being much, and what criticism Durant did receive would certainly have paled in comparison to the level of denunciation that would’ve enveloped LeBron if he were the one to blow a 3-1 series lead. Actually, I’m pretty sure LeBron caught more flak after the Cavs lost that lone game to the Celtics this postseason than Durant did after blowing the 3-1 lead. With LeBron possibly playing as well as he ever has, the Warriors will need Durant to come through more than any other player.

The taste of Game 7 is still fresh for me, as I’m sure it is for many among the Warriors faithful, such that I’m cautiously optimistic about Golden State’s chances this time around. The Warriors have the team to get it done, not to mention they’re the first team to enter the Finals with an undefeated 12-0 record in the postseason (the 2001 Lakers entered the Finals 11-0, before the NBA extended the first-round series to a best-of-7 format). But even a 73-9 regular season record wasn’t enough for them to win last year.

All that matters now is the trilogy is finally upon us.