Cavs v Warriors for fourth straight Finals
On the road, facing a higher seeded team and heading into the game as underdogs.
The odds were stacked against both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors in their respective Game 7 matchups. But as both sides have done in the past four seasons, they each found a way to get over the line to reach a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
It’s the first time in US pro sports history that two teams will play off for a championship in four straight seasons.
James’ pièce de résistance
Facing Boston in Boston who were undefeated at home in the playoffs with a Finals appearance on the line, the Cavaliers’ backs were against the wall. Throw in Kevin Love’s absence due to a concussion and you would have been hard pressed to see a way out for the reigning Eastern Conference champions.
But the Cavs had LeBron James. That proved the difference in the end as the Celtics could not stop the four-time NBA MVP on his way to 35 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists, and an eighth straight Finals.
The Celtics’ home court advantage looked key early as the Boston crowd was raucous, going bananas at every made shot and when the home side went up by 10. But in what was a poor shooting night from both teams, the Cavaliers worked their way back into the matchup to be down by just four at the half.
The second half showed the difference between the young Celtics and the veteran Cavs. Cleveland answered every challenge that was thrown at them, holding Boston to just 13 points in the third and outscoring them by 13 in the second half.
Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, two of Boston’s stars in their impressive postseason run, combined to shoot seven-of-32 from the field, including a paltry three-of-22 from behind the arc. Their poor offensive showing was a massive factor in the Celtics’ loss, but James’ superhuman effort that has added to an already legendary postseason was the real difference.
The 87-79 victory was the Cavs’ second Game 7 win this postseason and demonstrates the resilience of a squad that has battled injury, roster turnover and up and down performances all season.
No matter what the Cavaliers did in the conference finals against the Celtics, the Golden State Warriors are a completely different beast, and if they are to somehow overcome the reigning champs it would perhaps be the best Finals performance ever.
Warriors do what Warriors do
Early on, it looked like the dynasty was over.
Klay Thompson had three fouls inside the first four minutes and the Warriors as a team looked confused and out of sorts. Yet somehow, they were only down by five after the first quarter.
The second quarter wasn’t much better for Golden State as Houston got on a roll, going up by 15 at one point before heading into the half up by 11.
For the first time in years, the Warriors looked vulnerable and in danger of losing a playoff series.
And then the third quarter happened.
As they have done all year, Golden State turned whatever game they were playing on its head with an offensive blitz in the third. This time, an 11-point half time deficit flipped to a seven-point lead at three quarter time.
Much like the Cavs, the Warriors did enough in the fourth to keep the Rockets at bay as they ran out 101-92 winners.
Houston will rue the missed opportunity. Despite missing Chris Paul, the Rockets had their chances but stumbled when it mattered most. They missed a playoff record 27 straight three-point attempts and shot a paltry seven-of-44 from beyond the arc. As good as the Warriors were, they wouldn’t have reached the Finals if Houston hadn’t had its worse shooting night of the season.
Pushed to the brink, Golden State responded in tremendous fashion. They played like champions should and enter the NBA Finals as heavy $1.08 favourites.
Some fans will complain that a fourth consecutive Cavs v Warriors will go as last year did (Golden State won the series 4-1), but the record breaking matchup pits the NBA’s best player against the best team. Anything can happen over the course of a seven-game series and it will be fascinating viewing to see how LeBron James leads his Cavaliers against the vaunted Golden State Warriors.