By Michael LeCompte
The NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers begin on Thursday, offering a rather refreshing championship matchup between two teams unaccustomed to playing basketball in June. It will not be Miami or San Antonia taking home the title this year, but rather one of two title-starved organizations.
In Cleveland the suffering has been long for a dedicated sports fan base. The Indians have not won the World Series since 1948, the Browns have never won the Super Bowl and the Cavaliers have never won the NBA Finals, but the fans have never wavered (sure they may have turned their collective backs on certain players who left town, going so far as to burn jerseys, but their belief in and support of their teams has been unflinching). When LeBron decided to come home last summer hope was renewed in Cleveland and now Ohio’s current favorite son has the Cavaliers four victories away from that elusive championship.
Likewise the Golden State Warriors enter the Finals in the midst of a decades long championship drought. The Warriors last went to (and won) the Finals in 1975. Since then, however, the team has often been mediocre at best, often ignored by fans and the rest of the league, just like its home city of Oakland.
Warriors fans have persevered, though, and now led by current MVP Steph Curry and a coach, Steve Kerr, with a Championship pedigree (basketball fans will remember him coming off the bench and making some clutch baskets for the Bulls in the ’90’s) they find themselves in the unfamiliar territory of being Finals favorites.
The Oakland A’s have not won a World Series since 1989, the Raider’s haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1983, but as in Cleveland, fans in the Bay Area have long-hoped, and now in an ancient basketball arena in downtown Oakland they are being rewarded.
Of course the cities of Oakland and Cleveland are not playing each other, the Cavs and Warriors are and no matter how many stories we hear about depressed cities or Championship droughts, the games still must be contested on the court and these Finals promise some intriguing matchups.
The most hyped matchup is of course LeBron vs. Curry. Two superstars, arguably the two best players in the game right now competing against each other has the potential to be epic. There will undoubtedly be moments in these Finals where LeBron and Curry trade baskets, situations also might arise where one or the other takes over the game, finding themselves in the zone, seemingly scoring at will. We’ve been seeing LeBron do this for years now, and Curry has done it all season.
However, as exciting as LeBron vs. Curry will be, basketball is a team sport and these Finals could depend on secondary players, as well as which team has the better bench (think Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs last year). Both LeBron and Curry will draw crowds defensively so their ability to find the open man is essential.
Curry has routinely been double and even triple-teamed this year and his teammates have benefited from the opportunities this presents them. The Warriors seem to be a more evenly balanced team than the Cavaliers, with three players averaging career highs in points this year.
Golden State would also seem to hold the advantage in terms of its bench, which is crucial in a seven game series as stars will undoubtedly deal with foul trouble or fatigue at some point. As a team Golden State is about as deep as the San Francisco Bay, with several players who can contribute valuable minutes and scoring off the bench, while in Cleveland it seems to mostly be LeBron and everyone else.
Two Championship-starved cities, two long-suffering fan bases, and the two best basketball players in the game mean the NBA Finals could be a classic matchup.
The pick: Golden State in 6 games.