After Both Teams Slugged It Out in Seven Games to Get Here, We’re Ready for Round 4
by Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG)
5/30/18 | Cavs.com
The teams are the same. Only their journeys are different.
One year ago, the same two squads met in the NBA Finals for the third straight year, combining for a 24-1 postseason record along the way, with Cleveland dropping just a single contest to Boston in the Conference Finals and the Warriors coming through three rounds unblemished.
That was not the case this year.
The Cavaliers endured two seven-game slugfests – against Indiana in the opening round and in the ECF against Boston – with a sweep of the Raptors in-between. Golden State had to work to get past a stubborn Spurs team, went five games with Anthony Davis and the Pelicans and just wrapped up a seven-gamer of their own against the top-seeded Rockets.
The Dubs have gone with essentially the same cast of characters to reach their fourth straight Finals. The Cavaliers barely resemble the squad that locked horns with Golden State in December, let alone last June – having made two separate roster-altering trades since last year’s matchup.
The Wine & Gold have ridden LeBron James’ epic reign of terror to reach the Promised Land this year – with the four-time MVP putting together one of the most prolific Playoff runs in NBA history – averaging 34.0 points, 9.2 boards and 8.8 assists. He’s already posted seven 40-point games this postseason – including three of the seven meetings with Boston.
Of course, James has been at his best when his team has needed him most. In Game 7 against Indiana, the King went off for 45 points, eight rebounds, seven helpers and four steals. With Cleveland trailing the Celtics, 3-2, in the Eastern Conference Finals, all James did was average 40.5 points, 13.0 boards and 9.0 assists – playing 94 of the 96 possible minutes, including 48 straight in enemy territory this past Sunday.
The Warriors also rallied from two games down in their Conference Finals – taking advantage of a Rockets team that lost Chris Paul to a hamstring injury late in Game 5. In Monday night’s deciding Game 7, Houston missed 27 straight three pointers as the Dubs – like Cleveland – erased a double-digit first-half deficit to reach the Finals.
Golden State has two of the game’s greatest long-distance marksmen, a former MVP (and the reigning Finals MVP) as well as arguably the NBA’s most versatile defender. Cleveland has the greatest player in the world – and arguably of all-time – playing at the top of his game at age 33 and three remaining starters that helped dethrone the Dubs in 2016.
On Wednesday, both squads will do the media thing and get in their last practice before Round 4 tips off at 9 p.m. on Thursday night at Oracle Arena. While we wait for that heavyweight battle, take a moment to check out the postseason’s final primer – a Finals Primer …
1. There are some who say that because the Warriors have won two of the three Finals matchup that the Golden State-Cleveland matchup is not a rivalry. But a title matchup between two teams in four straight seasons is something that’s never happened before in pro sports.
In fact, the last time two pro teams faced each other in three straight title contests was the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadians, who faced off for the Stanley Cup from 1954-56. Before that, it was the Cleveland Browns against the Detroit Lions (1952-54) and before that, the New York Yankees vs. the New York Giants (1921-23).
By June 17, we’ll know if we’re looking at a dynasty or a draw.
2. The Cavaliers and Warriors went through a brutal travel schedule in the 2015 Finals, playing six games in 12 days with four cross-country trips. The following year, the NBA lightened up the schedule and both squads should have plenty of breathing room again this June. At only one point in the series – between Game 3 and 4 in Cleveland – is there only a one-day break.
The Cavaliers traveled out to the Left Coast on Tuesday to get their body-clocks adjusted, with the perennial media blitz (including, almost certainly, The Jimmy Kimmel Show’s Guillermo) on Wednesday followed by Game 1 on Thursday night at Oracle Arena at 9 p.m. ET.
Game 2 goes down on Sunday night (6/3) at 8 p.m. before the 2018 Finals return to Cleveland for two – with Game 3 taking place on Wednesday (6/6) at The Q and Game 4 two nights later on Friday night (6/8) – both 9 p.m. starts.
From there, the Finals go 1-1-1 – with Game 5 on June 11 in Oakland, Game 6 on Thursday night (June 14) back at The Q and, if necessary, Game 7 the following Sunday night, June 17 – Father’s Day – at 8 p.m. ET.
3. In terms of big game experience, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith and Kevin Love will all be making their fourth straight Finals appearance. The foursome has a combined 494 games of Playoff time between them – although neither Thompson nor Love had reached the postseason before LeBron’s return in 2015.
Jeff Green’s longest Playoff run was 2014-15, when his feisty Memphis Grizzlies took the Warriors to six games in the Conference Semis. Kyle Korver has played 137 postseason contests, but didn’t reach the Finals until last year with the Wine & Gold. The veteran sharpshooter will get a shot at redemption after struggling on 31 percent shooting against Golden State last June.
George Hill has played in 98 career Playoff games, with most of them coming during a frustrating three-year run in which his Pacers fell to LeBron James’ Heat teams in successive seasons. Jose Calderon had played in 24 postseason contests before this year, never exiting the First Round. Rodney Hood didn’t reach the Playoffs until last year with Utah.
Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. are making their first forays into the Playoffs, having never won more than 26 games with the Lakers. Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic are in completely uncharted waters, but even experiencing the Association’s tournament essentially from the sidelines could pay off later in their careers (or even, for some unknown reason, in this upcoming series).
The Wine & Gold are allowing just 99.9 points per to opponents this postseason, the second-lowest mark of all 16 Playoff teams. The Dubs held the high-octane Rockets under 100 points in five straight contests, something that hadn’t been done in the regular or postseason since November 2014.
Cavaliers All-Time Postseason Records
4. In the four years of this rivalry, never have the regular season matchups meant less. Jae Crowder was the starting small forward and Dwyane Wade led Cleveland’s bench in scoring in both contests, Isaiah Thomas was the starting guard in the MLK Day matchup at The Q.
Regardless, here’s how the two head-to-head meetings went this past season …
December 25 The Cavaliers came into their annual Christmas Day meeting with the Warriors on a tear – having won 19 of their previous 21 games before rolling into Oakland.
But not only did the Warriors cool Cleveland off that day, they seemed to send the Cavs into a funk that basically lasted from the Christmas Day loss up until the Trade Deadline.
On this day, the Warriors shut down a Cavaliers squad that had topped the century mark in 26 straight games, holding Cleveland to 32 percent shooting and hanging on for the 99-92 win at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors finished the season as the league’s top shot-blocking team and Kevin Durant was one of the West’s top shot-blockers – and the reigning Finals MVP got the biggest of his five swats in the closing moments – touching up LeBron James’ short jumper with 26.5 to play with Cleveland trailing by three, 95-92.
All of the positives that propelled the Cavaliers to the East’s best mark over the previous six weeks were missing in the loss. Cleveland’s bench, which had been averaging over 40 points per contest, combined for only 21 points. As a team, their 32 percent shooting was a season-low and they handed out just 12 assists compared to 14 turnovers.
On the positive side, Kevin Love had one of his best all-around games of the season – leading both squads with 31 points on 9-for-25 shooting, including 6-for-11 from long-range and 7-of-7 from the stripe, adding a season-high 18 rebounds and a pair of steals in the loss.
LeBron never found his holiday mojo in this one – finishing with 20 points on 7-for-18 shooting, adding six boards and a team-high six helpers. Emblematic of Cleveland’s struggles, James had one more turnover than rebounds or assists.
Durant led the Warriors with 25 points, going 8-for-19 from the floor, adding seven boards, three assists, two steals and a game-high five blocks. Klay Thompson followed up with 24 points, going 4-of-7 from deep, and Draymond Green joined LeBron James as one of just seven players to notch a triple-double on Christmas Day – netting 12 points, 12 boards and 11 assists in the win.
January 15 The Wine & Gold were one quarter away from snapping their mid-season funk with a signature win against the team that put them there. But one quarter against the World Champs proved to be a humbling experience.
Trailing by just a deuce after three, the Cavs went cold in the fourth – netting just 17 points on 6-for-23 shooting – as the Warriors pulled away for the 118-108 win in a highly-anticipated MLK Day matchup at The Q.
After struggling through a recent road stretch, the Cavs looked sharp to open the affair – notching 37 points in the first period and taking a seven-point edge into intermission. But Golden State started heating up in the second stanza, piling up 36 points in the third quarter and outscoring Cleveland by eight in the fourth.
LeBron James notched 16 of his team-high 32 points in the first quarter – going 12-of-18 from the floor and 8-of-13 from the stripe on the night, adding eight boards, a team-high six assists, three steals and four blocked shots.
Isaiah Thomas followed up with 19 points – logging a season-high 32 minutes, going 8-of-21 from the floor, including 1-of-7 from deep in the loss.
Kevin Love rounded out the starters in double-figures, finishing with 17 points and seven boards – going 3-of-5 from long-range, 5-of-9 from the floor overall, adding seven boards, three assists, a pair of steals and a blocked shot.
Kevin Durant did most of the damage for Golden State – leading the Dubs with 32 points of his own, going 9-for-16 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from long-distance and a perfect 10-of-10 from the stripe.
On the night, the Cavaliers shot 46 percent from the floor compared to 48 percent for Golden State. The Wine & Gold were efficient down low – topping the Warriors, 62-46, in the paint. But the Cavs’ outside shot wasn’t falling – going just 7-for-28 from beyond the arc.
5. Some random facts heading into the 2018 Finals …
* The Cavaliers and Warriors are just the fourth and fifth franchises to reach the NBA Finals in four straight occasions, joining the Celtics in 1957-1966 and 1984-1987, the Lakers from 1982 to 1985 and LeBron’s Heat, who did so from 2011 to 2014, winning two titles.
* This is the first Finals since 1979 in which both teams had to endure a seven-game Conference Finals to get there. In that year, the Washington Bullets outlasted San Antonio to represent the East while the eventual-Champs, the Seattle SuperSonics dropped the Phoenix Suns to advance out of the West.
* In two regular season meetings against the Warriors this year, Kevin Love averaged 24.0 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals in 31.0 minutes of work.
* In three Finals matchups, the Warriors have an overall record of 11-7 against the Cavs.
* For the amount of offensive star power both teams possess, it was their work on the defensive end that got them to this point. As mentioned, the Wine & Gold are allowing just 99.9 points per to opponents this postseason, the second-lowest mark of all 16 Playoff teams. The Dubs held the high-octane Rockets under 100 points in five straight contests, something that hadn’t been done in the regular or postseason since November 2014.
* Here’s a number that the Cavaliers coaching staff is undoubtedly paying great attention to (and reminding their players): In the 2018 Playoffs, the Warriors are outscoring their opponents, 519-389, in the third quarter – a 130-point difference. Against Houston in the WCF, Golden State outscored Houston, 221-153, in the third period.
* LeBron James – who needs just one more 30-point game to tie Michael Jordan for most in Playoff history with 109 – averaged a triple-double in last year’s Finals (32.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 9.2 assist). In 18 Finals matchups with Steve Kerr’s squad, the King is averaging 32.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 1.83 steals and 1.33 blocks per.
* As a franchise, this is the Wine & Gold’s 22nd Playoff run – going 125-100 all-time in the postseason (12-6 this year). Cleveland is 77-34 all-time at home, including an 8-1 mark at The Q during the current tournament.
The Cavaliers all-time record in a series is as follows: Game 1 (20-25), Game 2 (25-20), Game 3 (25-19), Game 4 (28-13), Game 5 (13-12), Game 6 (9-9) and Game 7 (5-2).
* The Wine & Gold have won two Game 7s already in this postseason and have played a pretty memorable one right here at Oracle Arena in the past. In a season where nothing has come easy for Cleveland, they might just wind up back here for another one when Father’s Day rolls around in a couple weeks.