This was the NBA Finals everyone wanted

This was the NBA Finals everyone wanted

May 30, 2017 3:01 AM
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What was expected to happen has indeed happened, and thus NBA history is being made. For the first time the same two teams are meeting in the NBA Finals for a third straight season.

After Golden State defeated Cleveland two seasons ago and the Cavaliers got revenge in last season’s seven-game series (overcoming a 3-1 deficit) the rubber match begins this Thursday when the Warriors host the Cavs in Game 1. Either Golden State earns a second Title in three seasons or Cleveland wins a second straight Championship for the first time since the Miami Heat accomplished the feat in 2012 and 2013.

Not coincidentally, LeBron James was on both of those Heat title teams, leading Miami in his second and third seasons after losing in the Finals, his debut season on South Beach, in six to the Dallas Mavericks.

In fact, James is making an appearance in his seventh straight NBA Finals, a record that is both remarkable and testament that he deserves to be mentioned among the all-time greats to play the game. It’s his eighth trip to the NBA Finals overall, having virtually single handedly lead Cleveland to the 2007 Finals in his first tenure in his hometown, being swept in four by San Antonio.

Between 1957 and 1969 the Boston Celtics of Bill Russell, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones and others won 11 NBA Titles in 13 seasons, including eight straight from 1959 through 1966.

Not to diminish in any respect the accomplishments of those great Celtics teams or the several players who were on all (or most) of those Championship teams, it was a different NBA back then. For most of those seasons the NBA consisted of just eight teams with four in each conference and the Champion had to win just two or three Playoffs series.

The Cavaliers have gone 12-1 in defeating Indiana, Toronto and Boston en route to the Finals, sweeping those first two opponents. The Warriors were a perfect 12-0 in achieving three four-game sweeps of Portland, Utah and San Antonio.

Starting the week the Warriors remain the same 7-point home favorites they were when the line opened last Thursday, minutes after Cleveland ended its series with Boston. The total has been bet up slightly by a half-point to a point after opening at 225.5 at the Westgate SuperBook.

The Westgate, by the way, has already released its opening odds to win the NBA Title next season and, to nobody’s surprise, the Warriors and Cavaliers opened as prohibitive favorites. Golden State is 5-to-8 (meaning you would lay 160 to win 100). Cleveland is a bit more modestly priced at 5-2 odds. Only two other teams are at odds of less than 30-1. San Antonio opened at 10-1 odds and Boston at 15-1.

As to how this series may unfold the oddsmakers have made Golden State a fairly substantial favorite, opening the Warriors -260 with the takeback for Cleveland at +220.

The Warriors and Cavs were clearly the best teams in the league this season from day one. The Warriors are overall a stronger team than they were last season with the addition of Kevin Durant, a star in his own right in the first part of his career with Oklahoma City.

Three seasons ago Golden State spotted Cleveland a 2-1 lead in the Finals and then won three straight to win in six. Last season it was even more of the reverse with the Warriors building a 3-1 lead before Cleveland took the final three games, two of which were at Golden State, to win its first major professional sports title for the city since 1964, over a half century ago.

Cleveland’s baseball team, the Indians, nearly ended a 70-year drought of its own, falling to the Chicago Cubs in a seven-game World Series that ended a 108 year drought for the Cubs and extended the Tribe’s to 68 years.

Overall Cleveland has enjoyed a level of sustained success not seen in that city for quite some time and now the Cavs have a chance to provide their citizenry with back-to-back titles.

With arguably the best overall player in the game, LeBron James, Cleveland certainly has a realistic chance. With a solid supporting cast, led by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, James has the support he relied upon last season and needs again this season.

But Golden State also has an elite player, Steph Curry, and an equally if not stronger supporting cast, led by the aforementioned Durant.

After so many blowouts in the first three rounds of the Playoffs the fans deserve, and the NBA would like to see, a competitive series, especially one that goes the full seven.

Of the 74 Playoff games played prior to the Finals, more than half (45, or 61 percent) were decided by double digits with 19 of the games (26 percent) decided by at least 20 points.

The teams met twice in the regular season and the home team won each game, although they were markedly different contests.

Cleveland won the first meeting against Golden State that was played on Christmas Day. As 3.5-point home underdogs the Cavs won a tight contest, 109-108. The teams had to wait only three weeks for the rematch. On January 16 Golden State, as 9-point home favorites, routed the Cavs 126-91.

Both teams have played excellent basketball throughout the Playoffs, winning 24 of their 25 Playoff games.

Golden State had no questions to answer entering the Playoffs and, prior to their 12-0 run, had won 14 in a row before losing their second-to-last regular season game and then won the finale. That makes it 27 wins in the last 28 games for the Warriors.

I’ve long looked to back an attractive and capable underdog to win at least one of the first two games of a best of seven series, and usually this will be the road team – in this case, Cleveland.

While I am not suggesting a play on the Cavs on the money-line in Game 1 (and possibly Game 2 if they lost the opener), I do find the +7 an attractive take. Should the Cavs lose Game 1 outright I would take +6 or more in Game 2, even if the Cavs covered the number in an opening game loss. Should Cleveland pull off an upset in Game 1 the play in Game 2 would be on Golden State, even if the line is bumped up a point or so.

The mentality and style of the teams suggest a high scoring series and that is indicated by the Opening Total of 225.5. But note that both regular season games – one a 1-point game and the other a 35-point blowout – both fell on 217, which is about a bucket per quarter below the line of 225.5.

In their past two Finals matchups the 13 games the UNDER has a 7-4 edge with two pushes. The teams have not met since January.

With my strategy for the first two games focusing on side plays, I shall take a wait and see attitude on how to approach the total, but not likely before Game 3. Their two prior Finals matchups were each clinched on the road. Two seasons ago the Warriors won Game 6 in Cleveland and last season the Cavs won Game 7 at Golden State.

Cleveland remains a worth adversary but the Warriors have been strengthened with the addition of Durant. Although a win in five would not be a surprise the call at the outset is for the Warriors in 6..

With Game 1 on Thursday and Game 2 on Sunday by the time next week’s column is written the Finals will be set to shift to Cleveland for Game 3 next Wednesday. That column will assess the Finals as they stand after two games and hopefully they will have been a pair of exciting and competitive games decided late.