Final Frontier: What happens when a Warrior and a Cavalier collide?
The stories of warriors and cavaliers are hundreds of years old. In English history, the term ‘cavalier’ became associated with supporters of King Charles I during the English Civil War. The etymology eventually evolved to two different types of meanings. A ‘Cavalier’ (proper noun) evoked images of swash-buckling gallantry knights or masters of equestrian, a horsemen or a mounted soldier. A ‘cavalier’ (common noun) began to define an individual with a careless or carefree attitude in life, someone who throws caution to the wind before even the biggest challenges.
A ‘warrior’, meanwhile, is a far more general term, associated in its most extreme cases with anyone that goes to war, and in daily jargon with anyone that fights in the battles of regular life. As long as we’ve had civilizations, we’ve had warriors. Warriors from the imaginary realm have become a part of our everyday life, from the Pandavas and the Kauravas of Kurukshetra to the Starks and the Lannisters for the Iron Throne.
We are less than a week away from another mighty war of hooping proportions, and this time, the soldiers and knights will be shooting hoops instead of swinging swords. The 2015 NBA Finals will pit the best playoffs’ best-performing teams from each conference against each other for the ultimate goal: the Larry O’Brien trophy. The swash-buckling cavaliers of Cleveland will face against the mighty Warriors of the Bay Area. And in four to seven battles over the next few weeks, the finest hoops army in the realm.
Two teams, peaking at the right time
The Golden State Warriors have been exceptional all season, finishing with 66 regular season wins and ending with one of the highest point differentials in NBA history. From November up to May, from the regular to the post season, they remained an elite team on both ends of the floor, constructed one of the most impenetrable home court advantages ever, and feature a plethora of riches in their depth beyond their All Stars: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry, of course, was this season’s MVP, breaking three-point records left, right, and centre and leading the team from the front in the form of a super- mutant new form of point guard.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were back in the harsh spotlight of expectation (as any LeBron James team always is), and after a slowish start, moved into full gear from January onwards. In the playoffs, the Cavaliers have survived a season-ending injury to one former All-Star (Kevin Love) and the injury-hobbled performances by a current one (Kyrie Irving) to dispose of their Eastern Conference rivals easily and make it to the Finals. LeBron – a four-time former MVP and two-time champ – has been back to his usual post-season brilliance, leading a bunch of unheralded role-players to four games away from an NBA title in his own sixth Finals appearance.
The Cavaliers have lost just two playoff games and the Warriors have lost only three. Both sides are peaking at the right time, ranking among the top in the post-season in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, rebound percentage and true shooting percentage. What will now happen when these two teams – stacked with great superstars and the perfect role-players around them – clash in the Finals?
This is the first time that the NBA Finals will feature two rookie coaches – Steve Kerr and David Blatt – since the first season of the NBA/BAA (1946-47), when every coach was a rookie! Kerr has been an NBA lifer, a successful player, executive, and analyst, and his knowledge of the game has translated publically into his rookie coaching career. He has taken the structure in Oakland build by Mark Jackson and carried them to even greater heights.
David Blatt has been a basketball lifer too, just not in the NBA. A coaching legend in Europe, Blatt was courted by the Cavaliers this season before he found out that he would dealing with the biggest juggernaut in the sport – LeBron James – to be the team’s fulcrum. After facing early criticisms, he has worked with LeBron to help this team to the Finals and could become the first coach to win both the Euroleague and NBA titles.
The role players
Draymond Green was a hair away from winning Defensive Player of the Year and will be paid like a star next year. A healthy Andrew Bogut has helped complete the Warriors’ defensive toughness in the post. Harrison Barnes has taken a major step forward in performance and efficiency. The Warriors bench features the team’s two highest-paid players (Andre Iguodala and David Lee) and the likes of Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights who have all stepped up when their number has been called.
Cleveland’s role players have been a revelation, all performing their duties to perfection. Tristan Thompson has evolved into an offensive rebounding wizard. JR Smith is shooting accurately when called upon. Iman Shumpert is a tenacious perimeter defender and occasional offensive contributor. Timofey Mozgov brings to the side and strength in the post. And let’s not forget everyone favourite playoffs villain Matthew Dellavedola, who is coming up big at the right time for Cleveland.
The supporting stars
Injuries have slowed down Kyrie Irving in his first post-season. He may be hobbled, but the Cavaliers will need him to attack viciously to keep Stephen Curry bothered on the defensive end.
Klay Thompson has been relatively inconsistent in the playoffs after a breakout regular season, and he may have to bear some of the brunt of defensive LeBron in the Finals. His shooting stroke must be at its best to complete the dangerous twosome of the Splash Brothers.
LeBron has four, Curry has one. Two players, born in the same hospital in Akron, Ohio, are now among the last men standing for the NBA title. LeBron has been there many times before, winning twice and losing three previous times. This is Curry’s first trip to the Finals and his first chance to cap off a magical MVP season with the bigger prize of the NBA title.
In a season where LeBron got more rest than any full season ever before, he has responded with characteristic brilliance in the playoffs, dominating every matchup thrown at him in the previous three series and making the Eastern Conference bow to his mercy. Curry, meanwhile, has become the NBA’s breakout star with the ability to change momentum in a couple of possessions and destroy the will of his opponents no matter what type of defensive scheme they throw at him.
So, who wins the war?
All of the numbers on both ends of the floor point overwhelmingly in Golden State’s direction. They are a better team on both sides of the floor, have more depth, and have a stronger home court advantage. Golden State is a near-perfect team and their 12-3 record in the Western Conference is arguable more impressive than Cleveland 12-2 evisceration of the East.
But Cleveland have LeBron, who is the best individual player in the series and the only major player on each side with championship experience. This will go a long way over the young and inexperienced Warriors, and it is respect for his abilities and Championship mettle that I feel that Cavaliers will have a chance in this series.
Eventually, I don’t think even LeBron will be enough to stop the upcoming wave. You can try and build dams to stop it, but water finds a way to flow and splash anyhow. The Warriors and the Splash Brothers are that kind of an unstoppable force this season, and they will eventually bomb their way to bring the franchise its first NBA title since 1975.