2017 NBA Finals: An Epic Rivalry resumes

It is too early to dismiss the Cavaliers. If there is one thing we learned from last year’s Finals is that they cannot be counted out. After the first four games of the 2016 Finals, most people had the Warriors waltzing their way to their second consecutive NBA championship, only for LeBron and Irving to waylay those plans.

Really, these NBA Finals are as good as it gets!    -  AP

Right. So this is it. The 2016-17 NBA season draws to a climax. After Russell Westbrook’s triple-double average headlined the regular season and James Harden made the most emphatic claim for the MVP award courtesy his strong scoring and double-digit assists averages, the NBA Finals are upon us. And what better contest could fans have hoped for than to see the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers clash for a record third straight time in the 2017 NBA Finals.

‘Everything is at stake’ and ‘much to play for’ may sound like done-to-death cliches, but there is no other way to describe this matchup. The Golden State Warriors won the 2015 NBA Finals even as Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving remained unavailable to the Cavaliers in that series. And then the Cavaliers, following Draymond Green’s suspension in Game 5 and Andrew Bogut’s absence in Games 6 and 7 owing to injury, made a comeback against the Warriors after being 1-3 down to win the 2016 NBA Finals 4-3. This then is that opportunity for both teams to win the Finals and claim bragging rights over the other. Once and for all.

Both teams appear stronger than their two previous clashes. The Warriors added Kevin Durant in the 2016 offseason precisely because they wanted to remedy their shortcomings from the 2016 Finals. Their 2016-17 67-15 regular season record may not reflect their historic 73-9 record from 2015-16, but no mistake the Warriors, now with four All-Stars in their ranks, are much more lethal today than from a year ago. On the other hand, the Cavaliers added lethal perimeter shooting to their arsenal mid-season with the acquisition of Kyle Korver and Deron Williams to supplement their offensive juggernaut spearheaded by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Heading into the Finals, James admitted as much, "We’re a better Cavaliers team and they’re a better Warriors team. We’re both better. We’re both playing at a high level."

It is the Warriors who landed the initial blow with Durant’s sizzling 38-point, 8-rebound, 8-assist performance in a 22-point win in Game 1. Steph Curry, too, sparkled with 28 points and 10 assists as the Cavs were simply run out of the game by the rampaging Warriors. It was precisely this one-two punch of Durant and Curry that the Warriors management had dreamt of when they went after Durant in the 2016 offseason. And if Durant continues to play like he does in Game 1, the Warriors won’t mind Klay Thompson’s struggles on the offensive end, but would instead hope that Thompson can keep his defensive game going against the Cavaliers.

Yet, it is too early to dismiss these Cavaliers. If there is one thing we learned from last year’s Finals is that they cannot be counted out. After the first four games of the 2016 Finals, most people had the Warriors waltzing their way to their second consecutive NBA championship, only for LeBron and Irving to waylay those plans. Golden State may have taken Game 1 and may well also win Game 2, which takes place on their home floor, but this series only gets done when one team wins four games.

And then there is LeBron. Making his 12th consecutive NBA playoff appearance, the King is anything but past his prime. He is already the leading scorer in NBA Playoff history, having displaced a certain Michael Jordan from that mantle. Playing in the 2017 Finals, makes James only the seventh NBA player to take part in seven successive NBA Finals. At 32, James is showing no signs of slowing down and if he can bring his A-game to these Finals and get his teammates to feed off his energy, his playmaking, the Cavs are in with more than a fighting chance.

Ultimately, this series makes for a fitting finale to the 2016-17 regular season. Barring Westbrook, Harden and Kawhi Leonard, this series has the biggest names in the game today. And consider the lip-smacking matchups (or the mismatches if you wish) – Durant vs James, Durant vs Irving, James vs Curry, Curry vs Love, Love vs Green and so on. Then there are the likes of Kyle Korver, David West, Andre Iguodala and Deron Williams, former All-Stars, looking to shine in the autumn of their careers.

Really, these NBA Finals are as good as it gets!

 

 

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