Happy Tuesday, WFNY!
For those of you who had the entire Memorial Weekend off from work, welcome back! I hope everyone had a pleasant weekend no matter what you were doing, whether it was working, partying with friends, hanging with family, on vacation, or just chilling out and relaxing at home. I’m sure no matter how you spent your Memorial weekend, it was better than Tiger Woods’ weekend.
Memorial Day is always something of a milestone holiday. With the exception of those who work in an industry that observes government holidays, Memorial Day is the first holiday and extra day off work since New Year’s. It’s also the unofficial kickoff of summer1 as well. Many times in Ohio, summer weather is already well upon us by this time, but this year Mother Nature has shown us kindness and blessed us with an extended period of spring weather. But despite the weather, the beginning of June on Thursday means only one thing: the start of the NBA Finals.
This is the end of the trilogy, almost always the worst movie of the sequence2. Act One of this trilogy was a perfect starting point. The heavy underdogs and undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers tried their best to pull off a miracle ending but came up just short. Act Two was the redemption scene, with the Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit to stun the basketball world. Now we have to see what the plot structure of Act Three will be. Will it be a vengeance plotline for the Golden State Warriors, or will it be a legacy-altering story of ultimate triumph for LeBron James?
This is going to be tough for the Cavaliers. They shouldn’t beat the Warriors. I know we don’t want to hear this around here, but the Warriors won 73 games last year and they followed that up by replacing one of their only weak spots (Harrison Barnes) with Kevin Durant, one of the three best players in the NBA and a former MVP. The Warriors have the last three MVPs (not counting this current season, which hasn’t been announced yet) on their team. While they didn’t match last season’s 73 wins due to injuries and a period of adjustment, the Warriors in the playoffs have been unreal. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry have seemed to finally gel on the floor together and Golden State just became the first team in NBA history to go 12-0 in their first three rounds of the playoffs.
It was extremely hard for the Cavaliers to win last season. It’s going to be even harder for them to win this year. On paper, anyway. If there’s one thing that should give Cleveland fans room for optimism, it’s that the Cavaliers players are extremely confident. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices as they discuss this series. They’re not scared, they think they are going to beat the Warriors again. And why shouldn’t they? Two years ago LeBron almost beat them without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Last year, the Cavaliers won despite Kevin Love getting a concussion in Game 2, missing Game 3, and not really ever getting back fully to himself in the series. This year, the Cavaliers come in at full strength again and are looking to cement their legacy as the defining team of this era.
This series will be a referendum on a whole bunch of players, teams, philosophies, and legacies. Golden State was furious at losing the series last year. It will always haunt them that they couldn’t complete that 73-win season and cement their place as the greatest team in NBA history. This is their opportunity for redemption, a chance to rectify that and make it forever known that they belong in any discussion of the greatest teams in the history of the sport. For Cleveland, this is their chance to show that last season wasn’t a fluke. They didn’t get lucky. They didn’t just win because Draymond Green got himself suspended for Game 5. This is their opportunity to show that they are the team that belongs in NBA lore as the giant slayers, the only team that could topple this mighty Warriors juggernaut that has terrorized most of the NBA for the last three seasons. And for LeBron James, a win would give him Championship number four and give his supporters another round in the chamber in their argument for LeBron as the best player ever. A win over a 73-win team followed up with another win over that same team after that team stacked the deck even further in their favor would be something hard to compare to any other player in NBA history.
Those are the stakes, this is what is on the line. To some degree, the Cavaliers are playing with house money. They won last year, delivering Cleveland its Championship that it has so long desired. They’re supposed to lose this series. Literally, every statistical model has this series being overwhelmingly in Golden State’s favor. So really, despite the legacies and narratives that are on the line, Cleveland should feel no pressure.
Yes, it’s going to be hard for the Cavaliers to win. They have no margin for error. They must come out and establish some things that work for them very quickly in this series and they must be ready to adapt when Golden State adjusts to it. If a gun is put to my head, I would pick the Warriors in five games. But as a Cleveland fan, and as someone who has watched the struggles of this team in the regular season and then seen how they adapted and came together in the playoffs, and seeing the confidence in their eyes, I want to believe. There’s a very real part of me that thinks the Cavaliers are going to come out and frustrate the Warriors and come out on top once again. Whether that is real hope or just blind faith in the team I root for, well, I guess we’ll begin to find out on Thursday. Until then, have a great week and enjoy the rest of your week on WFNY.
- Yes, I’m aware summer doesn’t officially start until late June, but for the colloquial definition of ‘summer’ as an idea, Memorial Day marks the start of that. [↩]
- I don’t know how true this is, but Episode VI is my least favorite of the OG Star Wars trilogy, The Godfather Part III is overwhelmingly the worst of that trilogy, Back to the Future III was always my least favorite, Die Hard With a Vengeance (while funnier than the others) is my least favorite of the original Die Hard trilogy. [↩]