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Monday, September 20, 2021

The Rubber Match

KEITH ALLISON [(CC BY-SA 2.0)] / FLICKR
Golden State Warriors seek retribution against Cleveland Cavaliers following 2016 upset

This series was predetermined. June 1, 2017 kicks off the 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the third NBA Finals between the two franchises in as many years. In the 2015 bout, the Warriors handled the injury-ravaged Cavaliers in six games, but a year later the Cavaliers returned with a vengeance, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to shock the Dubs, who had broken the NBA record for regular season wins that very same year.

The Golden State Warriors just swept every team they faced in the Western Conference. Portland, Utah and San Antonio provided no challenge to this superteam. Cleveland similarly made easy work of the Eastern Conference, only losing one game — the third game of the Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. These playoffs have been pretty hard to watch. The excitement provided by any series that did not include the conference champions was mitigated by the futility of the series itself. Sure, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semis was pretty fun to watch, but does any of it matter when the victor of the series is going to be walking the plank in the very next round?

As someone frustrated by the lack of competitive balance in the NBA in recent years, this matchup is not exactly ideal; however, the idea of a rubber match does make the series rather compelling. The Warriors have been the better team the past three seasons despite last year’s collapse, and this time they are surely better with the addition of Kevin Durant to the nucleus. This year, it will be the Warriors who victoriously hold the Larry O’Brien Trophy with newcomer Kevin Durant as the Finals MVP. It is very difficult to do a thorough analysis of this matchup based on performance in previous series, because when these two teams face off against one another, it is simply a different game. The Cavaliers have an atrocious defensive rating as a team, yet when the lights shine brightest, they can lock anyone down. This is a team that responds very well to the big stage, and its execution in the playoffs following some glaringly bad play towards the end of the regular season proves just that. They have more heart than the Warriors, they are tougher than the Warriors and they are easier to root for than the Warriors. The difference is that the Warriors are just better. A 73-9 team that should’ve won last years finals added a future Hall-of-Famer to its roster and are playing a very similarly constructed roster. The Warriors can kill you in hundreds of different ways. An underwhelming playoffs from Klay Thompson, in which he has shot 38.3 percent from the field and averaged only 14.4 points, has demonstrated that they do not need to be firing on all cylinders in order to win. Pick your poison.

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, everything needs to be working for them if they want to make this a series. Kyrie Irving needs to play as well as he has over the past three contests in which he has shot 42-63 (!!!) from the field, LeBron needs to be LeBron in all games, staying 100 percent zeroed in and avoiding the unexplained disappearing acts (see Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals) and Kevin Love needs to be the exact opposite of what he was in last year’s finals. It’s a tall order, and although not impossible, I would not bet on it.

 

Written by: Michael Wexler — sports@theaggie.org

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