Cavs to have health for this year’s Finals
leveland Cavaliers reached the NBA Finals last year, Kevin Love's left arm was in a sling and Kyrie Irving was wearing a knee brace. The roster was so shredded by injuries that LeBron James now concedes he didn't even appreciate what was his fift...
leveland Cavaliers reached the NBA Finals last year, Kevin Love’s left arm was in a sling and Kyrie Irving was wearing a knee brace. The roster was so shredded by injuries that LeBron James now concedes he didn’t even appreciate what was his fifth consecutive shot at a championship.
One year later, all of that has changed.
Now the Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are back where they were expected to be all along. And this time, both teams are relatively healthy.
The Warriors will host the Cavs in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night at Oracle Arena in a rematch of a series the Warriors won last year in six games. Both teams took far different paths to get back here.
Golden State was fighting health issues this time when reigning MVP Stephen Curry went down with knee and ankle injuries in this postseason. Suddenly the Warriors looked vulnerable despite winning an NBA-record 73 games during the regular season. They fought back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals and earn the right to defend their championship.
“This whole playoff run has kind of been a roller-coaster ride for me specifically, but for our team,” Curry said after closing out the Thunder. “We never lost confidence, and every game just played with fearlessness and that confidence that we could get back to the Finals however we had to get it done. Now we’re four wins away from our goal, and that’s a pretty special accomplishment.”
Cleveland’s major tests occurred during the regular season. The Cavs fought chemistry issues and fired coach David Blatt, replacing him with his top assistant, Tyronn Lue, despite the best record in the East under Blatt. The Warriors swept the season series from the Cavs, including a 34-point win at Cleveland in January.
Blatt was fired less than a week later.
These Cavs have rarely been tested in the playoffs, enjoying lengthy rest periods between each series.
They swept their way through the first two rounds, setting records for their 3-point shooting in smashing the Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinals. The Toronto Raptors pushed them to six games in the conference finals, but the Cavaliers - not the Warriors - have been the most dominant team of this postseason. Now they’re four wins from Cleveland’s first major pro sports championship in 52 years.
Having Love and Irving back healthy is crucial to their chances. While James still leads the Cavs in scoring, he has taken a more secondary role at times in this postseason while the Cavs played through their other stars.
Irving watched most of the Finals last season from a hospital bed and later the bench after a fractured left knee in overtime of Game 1 required surgery. Love’s shoulder was dislocated in the first round last year, rendering him a spectator for the bulk of the Cavs’ march to the Finals.
“There’s definitely a different feeling. I didn’t appreciate last year,” James said. “So much was going on in my mind, knowing that Kev was out for the rest of the season and knowing that Ky was dealing with injuries. Having these guys right here at full strength, having our team at full strength, and the way I feel personally, I appreciate this moment, to be able to be a part of it and to be there once again.”
These Finals could serve as a shootout. The Warriors and Cavs have made the most 3-pointers of any team this postseason and the numbers aren’t really close. The Warriors have made 212 3s in 17 playoff games, while the Cavs made 202 in 14. No one else made more than 150 this postseason.
James is playing in his sixth consecutive Finals, a feat that hasn’t been done since Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics teams 50 years ago. But James’ 2-4 Finals record is less impressive than most other superstars of this era.
James in November called the Warriors “the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history,” but now that may not be the case after Curry’s knee problems led to losses in all three rounds of the playoffs. The Warriors are trying to become the third team to repeat in the NBA in the last eight years and the first since James’ Miami Heat did it in 2012 and 2013.
“At this time of the year regardless how much rest they’ve had, everybody’s got some nicks and knacks, that’s just what comes with the NBA season,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “We may have a few more than them being the road that we’ve had to take throughout this playoffs, but it happens. It’s the NBA Finals. You find a new wind for that. You just dig deep. You don’t come in saying, ‘Oh, they’ve had more rest than us, we’re doomed.’ No, we’ll be just fine.”