They’re back. Again.
The two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals for a fifth straight season following their four-game sweep of Portland in the Western Conference Finals.
The sweep over the Trail Blazers will be remembered for the greatness of the Warriors with their ability to play their best basketball down the stretch, but also for exposing some vulnerabilities recent editions of the Warriors did not display.
Following a workmanlike 116-94 win in the series opener that was not as one-sided a blowout as that final score might suggest (Golden State outscored Portland by 16 points in the fourth quarter) the Warriors overcame major challenges in each of the next three games en route to their wins.
In taking a 2-0 lead in the series, Golden State overcame a 15-point halftime deficit and even trailed by eight points with 4 1/2 minutes to go, finally winning 114-111. In their first game in Portland, the Warriors fell behind by 18 points in the second quarter before cutting the lead to 13 at halftime. Using a patented third quarter run, the Warriors outscored the Blazers 29-13 in that pivotal quarter before winning 110-99.
Finally, on Monday night, Golden State again overcame some early- game adversity, rallying from a 17-point, third-quarter deficit before clinching the series with 119-117 overtime win that propelled the Western Conference champs to the NBA Finals to face the winner of the Eastern Conference series between Milwaukee and Toronto.
As we went to press on Tuesday, the Bucks were 2.5 point road favorites to defeat the Raptors and return home needing just one more win to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. And by the time you are reading this the Bucks will either be up 3-1 or the series will be tied 2-2 when the teams meet in Game 5 on Thursday.
Milwaukee lost back-to-back games just once this season. Those losses occurred in early March at Utah and Phoenix in the final two games of a five-game road trip. Prior to Sunday night’s double overtime Game 3 loss in Toronto the Bucks had won, and covered, their six prior road games dating back to the beginning of April.
I will be looking to back Milwaukee in Game 5 if the Raptors evened the series in Game 4 or if they are laying -6 or less in an attempt to wrap up the series following a Game 4 win. I shall further look to back the Bucks if there is a Game 6 in Toronto, especially if Milwaukee is in the unlikely spot of facing elimination following a pair of Toronto wins.
Should there be a Game 7 on Monday in Milwaukee my play will depend on the line, looking to lay 6 or less with the Bucks or taking 9 or more with the Raptors. However, I don’t think the series will get that far.
The Warriors will hope the Eastern series goes the full seven games and if needed that seventh game, as just noted, would be played next Monday on Memorial Day (May 27). But regardless of the length of the Bucks/Raptors series the NBA Finals has a set start date of Thursday, May 30.
That means Golden State will have 10 days of rest to prepare for the Finals with either the Bucks or Raptors having three, five or seven days of rest depending on whether their series goes five, six or the full seven games.
Note that with only 57 regular season wins the Warriors will not enjoy the home court advantage in the Finals as Milwaukee had 60 regular season wins and the Raptors 58.
The added rest will be especially beneficial for the Warriors who, in making it to a fifth straight NBA Finals have played an a total of 99 playoff games from the end of the 2014-15 regular season (their first trip to the Finals) through this past Monday night. That’s well over an extra full regular season of play with all of those games being against quality teams – not against the league’s weakest.
The Warriors may also benefit from the potential return of Kevin Durant, who was injured in the fifth game of the Houston series and missed the final game of that series and all four games against Portland.
DeMarcus Cousins may also play during the Finals and coach Steve Kerr admitted over the weekend that he is actually ahead of Durant in terms of being closer to returning to the court.
Last week: 2-1