Golden State Warriors

Coin Flip II: 2016 NBA Finals by Maxwell Young

Are y'all awake yet? We got action!

If you thought Mamba Day and the Warriors' achievement of eclipsing the 1997 Chicago Bull's regular season record were going to be the last exciting moments of the NBA season until the hallowed Finals, you missed some epic basketball.

Before Stephen Curry proclaimed "I'm here. I'm back," as if to really say, 'This is my Jordan moment,' in front of a stunned Trailblazers crowd in the Western Conference Semi-final; and before the Cavaliers went on a ten-game tear, going undefeated until they crossed international borders to play in the '6', we all assumed the playoffs would go as scripted.  Eight teams from each conference get to extend their season into the spring, but did we really entertain the thought that anyone other than King James and the Cavaliers would emerge from the Eastern Conference as champions? And how could two-time reigning MVP and the Golden State Warriors at 73 wins and 9 losses be stopped?  Since last summer, all signs have been pointing to a necessary rematch: King James' shot at redemption and Stephen Curry's validation, but we almost spoke too soon.

After a month and a half of playoff basketball, storylines have shaped shifted and shifted some more.  Making it all the way to the Conference finals last year, the Houston Rockets were relegated to vacation status after the first round.  The Clippers, yet again, were snubbed by the injury bug, unable to see what kind of fruit their floor general and high-flying slammers could bear.  We also saw flashes of Dwayne Wade's youth, as he willed-in every contorted lay-up and clutch three-ball he took throughout the Hornets and Raptors series.  If only leading shot blocker Hassan Whiteside stayed healthy, we could have not only seen Lebron's return to a post-season Miami environment, but also two best friends compete for a trip to the NBA Finals.

More glaringly, it might be the end to the efficient, well-oiled, crisp passing machine of the San Antonio Spurs after the six game destruction by the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli, despite the emergence of Kawhi Leonard, and Lamarcus Aldridge, appeared to run out of the proverbial gasoline.  Remember when a dejected 40-year old Duncan walked to the bench, head down, after Serge Ibaka of the Thunder swatted what would have been a routine slam? if only he had young legs.  For all the championships and milestones Duncan has achieved, that split second was a microcosm of what fans had been watching all year; a depleted GOAT having to more carefully pick his moments of attack, realizing his body could no longer follow what his mind enacted.

As fast as that block had happened was how quickly Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant coasted in transition to take momentum in the West as a legitimate championship contender. KD and Russ had been proving their greatness as a duo for the entire season.  Westbrook dominated, angrily, tallying 18 triple-doubles this tour, and Kevin has matured so beautifully--an assassin with endless ammunition.

You can't help but feel like the Warriors and the Cavaliers were destined for a rematch.  The Dubs, and more specifically Klay Thompson and Andre Igoudala, ripped Game 6 away from the Thunder.  Thompson, who hit 11 three-pointers to break an NBA playoff record, scored 17 tough points in the fourth quarter to will his team back in the game.  Igoudala's stifling defense on back-to-back possessions, swiping the ball away from both Durant and Westbrook sealed the deal on a stunning road win.  Game 7 happened, but it was over before it started.  OKC had the lead at Oracle, but Steph's high floater off the glass to end the half was a signifier that the Dubs were just heating up.  

Lebron and the Cavs controlled their destiny throughout the East.  Even when they lost Games 3 & 4 in Toronto it seemed like they rather conceded the victories when you consider some were "oot and aboot" late on the town. Say what you will about the lack of parity in the Eastern Conference, but James has figured out the winning formula for the last six straight years.  No other players have been able to achieve such a feat since the Boston Celtics were the mainstay in the Finals, every year, from 1956-1969.  Although Lebron has had a strong supporting cast to help, there's no denying the value on the court and psychologically that King James adds to a roster.

The biggest difference from last year's appearance in the Finals is health.  Kevin Love suffered a playoff ending shoulder injury in the first-round and Kyrie Irving was sidelined for the rest of the Championship after his knee gave out in Game 1.  At 100% and having played the most offensively efficient basketball in the league, the Cavaliers don't have to rely on James' heroics, like they did last year, for their first taste of glory.  Their losing effort wasn't all for nothing, though.  The Warriors exposed holes in the Cavaliers' lineup that GM David Griffin has been filling in anticipation of this rematch.  As seldom as it was to see Lebron off the floor in 2015's Finals, the Cavaliers offense became stagnant against Golden State's active defense when he was on the bench, struggling to keep pace with their motion offense and flurry of Splash Brother three's.  Adding Richard Jefferson, who is making his return to the Finals after a thirteen-year hiatus, and Channing Frye, who is shooting over 50% from three-point range has helped the Cavs' secondary lineup in Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert continue their scoring edge.  At 35 and 33 years of age respectively, you wonder if these veterans can consistently make an impact against a fast-paced, younger Warriors squad.

The Warriors quest for back-to-back championships began at the very first tip-off of the 2015-2016 season.  They made twenty-four straight victories to begin their campaign look easy, especially with Assistant Coach Luke Walton at the helm, while Head Coach Steve Kerr, rested an ailing back.  Opposing teams certainly made it interesting, whether Golden State would reach the elusive 72-wins mark, but all that team chemistry and improvement by Curry and Thompson paid dividends throughout the season.  Honestly, we didn’t start to see the kind of championship resolve this team had until they were faced with elimination by the Thunder.  Many were clamoring that the Warriors had been “figured out” once Durant, Westbrook, and New Zealander Steven Adams began running the same high-octane, fast-transition offense better than the Dubs.  If there’s one thing we learned this season, though, is that the Warriors are never ever out of a basketball game.  Draymond’s strip steals and outlet passes to a flashing Curry or Thompson for a quick three is enough to ignite a lethal group of weapons that once warmed up, are hard to stop.

This bout deserves to go seven rounds, and I would not be surprised if it did.  Home-court has been well protected by higher seeds in this year’s playoffs.  The Cavaliers have yet to lose in Quicken Loans Arena and Steph reiterated that his team would be better prepared to defend Oracle Arena, unlike when OKC stole Game 1.  The 2016 Warriors and Cavaliers are not the same teams that met last June.  Golden State, most importantly, has experience; they know what that atmosphere of the NBA Finals feels like and they know how to complete the task.  The Cavaliers have re-tooled, creating a different complexion of who they were a year ago.

I think about what this series means in the broader conversation about basketball, and I get excited.  We’ve watched memorable Finals matchups a-la the Celtics and Lakers in the 2008 and 2010 Finals, but when was the last time we witnessed the two best players in the world at the peak of their powers compete to be crowned champion? The game has been starving for a heavyweight title fight; we never got to see Kobe vs. Lebron in a winner-take-all.  We’d have to go all the way back to Michael Jordan’s first NBA Finals appearance and Magic Johnson’s last when the Bulls and Lakers met in 1991, something I wasn’t alive to see.  Stephen Curry has earned every bit of his successive Most Valuable Player awards, and all the way on the opposite coast, a King still reigns. 

Father Time lurks behind the scene, who knows when he pays a visit to Lebron James, but until then, what’s keeping him from reaching another one or two more NBA Finals?  And are mere Finals appearances enough to proclaim oneself the best basketball player on the planet? Three rings in seven total appearances to the Finals, each corresponding with a Bill Russell trophy, is very hard to argue against.  Lebron would have no contemporary equal.  Make it 2-5 with a loss again to the Dubs; however, and that’s just as many Finals accolades as the spritely Curry.  After the next two weeks unfold, there might not have to be a conversation over which star is brightest.  You can’t argue with two championships and two MVPs back-to-back.  Jersey sales indicate that Stephen has already become the face of the Association, but dominion comes with consistent victory.

The winner of this series will be the team that can defend home-court and steal one on the road.  You could feel the emotion ooze out of Lebron and the Cavs when they escaped Oracle with a Game 2 win last year, but they also had the stench of champagne baths from Game 6 permeate through the away locker room of the “Q” for the entire summer.  Match-up wise, I’m wary that Golden State exposes the lack of defensive prowess of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.  But it’s also possible that the combination of James, Irving, Love, Smith and Frye is too much weaponry for a smaller Warriors lineup.  I don’t know who wins and my gut hasn’t identified a clear favorite yet either, so this time around I’ll actually leave it to a coin flip.  The Cavaliers are heads and the Warriors are tails.

Heads it is.  Cleveland Cavaliers in seven.

Series Schedule

Game 1: Tonight @ 9pm

Game 2: June 5th @ 8pm

Game 3: June 8th @ 9pm

Game 4: June 10th @ 9pm

Game 5: June 13th | If Needed

Game 6: June 16th | If Needed

Game 7: June 19th | If Needed

* All games to air on ABC


Basketball Inequity by Maxwell Young

It'd be like Superman chasing after common criminals with no Lex Luther to battle.  No one wants that shit. 

In approximately 4 months, at the end of the 2015-2016 NBA season, Kevin Durant will be a free agent able to sign with whichever team he deems fit.  Seeing that there is much more of the current NBA season to be played, I bet the 2014 MVP has yet to definitively nail-down what team he's headed for should he choose to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder.  However, some insiders are pegging the Golden State Warriors as a potential destination for the 6'9" 240 lbs., eight-year veteran.  The Warriors have structured the contracts of their stars--Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green--in such a way that they would have enough salary cap leeway to make a run at signing highly-touted Durant.  

Yes, you read that correctly.  The 2015 NBA champions who are currently challenging the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' record for best record in an NBA regular season (72-10), would add yet another extraordinary talent to an already dangerous, self-less team. 

Here's a hypothetical scenario:

The Warriors go 73-9 and win back-to-back titles.

Stephen Curry is awarded his second MVP trophy.

And the cherry on-top, Kevin Durant heads for the Bay area. 

How is a starting lineup featuring Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes (you could even replace Barnes with center Andrew Bogut for a bigger lineup), and Kevin Durant promoting equitable basketball?  You might as well handover the Larry O'brien trophy right now because it would not be fair.  If the NBA vetoed the trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, boosting Kobe Bryant's chances at a sixth title in an instant, I have no idea what kind of antics commissioner Adam Silver would try to utilize to keep this super-team from forming.  Could he even stop it if he wanted to? given the freedom of free agency, probably not. 

If you think watching the Warriors plow through their opponents now is boring, imagine how uncompetitive games would be with KD.  That team would have the best scorers on the planet. 

My biggest grievance with this would-be-tectonic-shift of power in the NBA goes beyond the deterioration of parity in the league, but rather the perceived selfishness of some of the NBA's stars.  Everybody wants to form a super-team, a trend that was re-popularized when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett headed to the Boston Celtics to play with Paul Pierce in 2007, or when Lebron James and Chris Bosh packed their bags for warmer weather and headed to Wade County to wrack up two championships with the Miami Heat. 

Are players that caught up with their place in NBA history that they are willing to leave their roles as building blocks--cornerstones--to join teams with the best shot at winning titles?  Regardless of a superstar's prerogative, what happened to the days where players took pride in the organization that drafted them and wanting to become the team that overthrows the victors?  It's not like Kevin Durant is playing with D-League call-ups.  He has got the most violent point guard in basketball in Russell Westbrook feeding him the ball and a Thunder team that is a legitimate contender to win the Western Conference.  

Championships are not easily attainable, we know that.  Some of the greats have never experienced the elation that comes with winning a title, a-la Charles Barkley and Karl Malone. But isn't that why we play and passionately watch?  Titles are not bought, they are earned, and the beauty of basketball, of sports for that matter, is the ability for organizations to come together for better or for worse and chase greatness. 


Coin Flip: 2015 NBA Finals by Maxwell Young

Sports fans have been fortunate to watch some big events this year.  From Super Bowl XLIX pitting the greatest dynasty of the 2000s in the New England Patriots against a team looking to repeat in the Seattle Seahawks to the biggest boxing match of this modern era featuring Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, we have been able to witness legendary athletes, coaches, and teams compete to be the best.  In the NBA, the "best" has usually been a moniker reserved for a select few organizations.  Since 1999, the only other teams to win an NBA championship besides the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs or Miami Heat were the 2004 Detroit Pistons, '08 Boston Celtics, and '11 Dallas Mavericks.  This year's NBA Finals feels revitalized as the chokehold NBA blue bloods have had on the series is no more.  2015 features the Golden State Warriors who haven't won the championship since 1975 and the Cleveland Cavaliers who, well, have never captured the elusive NBA title.

For Lebron James, the two-time NBA champion, four-time NBA MVP, and eleven-time All-Star, the objective has never been more clear.  When he returned to the Cavaliers after a four-year stint maturing with the Miami Heat, he called for patience saying in his homecoming letter, "it will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010 [when James and the Heat lost to the Mavericks]."  After a rocky 20-20 start and a season ending injury to one of the Cav's "big three," Kevin Love, Lebron James' letter seemed more prescient than ever.  However, Lebron is the king for a reason.  After losing just twice in the first three rounds of the playoffs and sweeping the best team in the Eastern Conference without Love or an injured Kyrie Irving, King James has once again carried his hometown team to the pinnacle--that's five straight Finals appearances for the kid out of Akron.

The Golden State Warriors' initial push to become one of the league's elite began in 2011 with the hiring of former NBA point guard, Mark Jackson, as their head coach.  Under his short three-year tenure, the Warriors were able to acquire and develop players such as Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, and reigning MVP Stephen Curry.  Prior to the start of the 2015 season, Mark Jackson was controversially fired.  Perhaps it was for the best considering he was unable to lead his budding team past the Eastern Conference semifinals during his three years.  His replacement?  Five-time NBA champion and Michael Jordan disciple, Steve Kerr.  Now, their play is unorthodox yet surgically lethal; once they cross half court any shot is within range.  From the tip-off of the first game to the final buzzer of the their Western Conference Finals victory over the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors have been the best and probably most exciting team in professional basketball.   While King James fights to bring hope and a long-awaited championship back to where he grew up, the Warriors look to reward a fan base that has unconditionally supported their team for forty fruitless years. 

I'm not sure which team comes away crowned NBA champion, as I'm sure many have debated and will continue to debate until this Thursday's tip-off of Game 1, yet my mind tells me the Cavaliers pull away victorious and here's why:

This post-season run has seemed to be less tumultuous than previous for Lebron James.  In recent seasons, James had to battle it out with tough, hard-nosed Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls teams, making the King fatigued in the final round.  This time around; however, James and company have played a total of 14 playoff games, suggesting a well rested bunch come Thursday.  What's more is that Lebron has continued to improve as the Cavs became more injured and dependent upon their king.  In the 4-0 series sweep against the Atlanta Hawks, LBJ averaged 30.3 points per game, 11 rebounds per game, 9.3 assists per game, and 1.5 steals per game.  Averaging almost a triple-double is deadly and to marginalize James' greatness to say that the best defensive team in the NBA can handle him is ludicrous.  Watch out Golden State.

Outside of the obvious impact James will have on this series, the Cavaliers have a supporting cast that has grown more comfortable and more effective at the roles they play with each game.  Although Kyrie Irving will still be hobbled by a knee injury come Game 1, his tremendous ball handling skills, ability to get to the cup, and long range shooting prowess will be much needed support to James' arsenal.  People forget, but Kyrie holds the Cavalier's record for most points scored in a game with 57.  Moreover, the line-up is infused with superior athletic wing play.  J.R. Smith, a guy who prefers to shoot the ball contested over open looks, and Iman Shumpert, a flat out baller shooting 36.8% from three, and who, by the way, are both over 6'5" tall give the Cavaliers an advantage against a smaller Warriors backcourt.  The loss to Kevin Love could have created a vulnerable weakness in the Cavaliers' rotation, but the mid-season addition to Timofey Mozgov and emergence of center Tristan Thompson, who is averaging 9.9 RPG, will allow for James and Irving to effortlessly execute transition offense that inevitably results in one of those raging tomahawk slams by the King.

Ultimately I believe the Cavaliers win this series because of Lebron's sheer will-power.  The fact that at the end of this series James could either be 2-4 or 3-3 in the NBA Finals is a huge motivating factor for not only him, but also his team.  I think the Cavaliers have rallied around Lebron James throughout these playoffs as he's put them on his back.  Plus, when you add the fact that this man wants nothing more than to bring a championship to Cleveland, it makes it difficult for a young Warriors team to dethrone the King.  

With that being said though, the Warriors continue to pull on my heart strings.  From watching Stephen Curry annihilate every record he sought out to break and shoot the lights out of the gym with fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson, to watching a cohesive unit rank atop the NBA in offensive and defensive statistics led by a rookie coach who just last season was a sideline commentator--you can't help but think that this team is capable of something special.  The Warriors' also have depth.  Boasting a nine, sometimes ten-man rotation highlighted by Andre Igoudala coming off the bench (which might have been the smartest coaching decision Kerr has made to date), this team will be fresher down the stretch to fend off James and company. Moreover, playing at Oracle Arena will be a tall task for the Cavs.  That place is going to be loud and it is going to be a raucous starting on Thursday.  If the Cavaliers can steal one game in San Francisco, I'd say they have a good chance at winning the title, but if the Warriors control home-court advantage they might be favored to win it all.  If anything, this series is an opportunity for Chef Curry and the Warriors to complete their maturation process and join the group of the elite. 

I know I'm contradicting myself, but how could you not go back-and-forth trying to figure out who wins this matchup.  The Warriors time-and-time again have proven that they are the best team in the league, especially after convincingly emerging out of a conference that is eons ahead of the East.  But, there is something about the Finals that elevates King James' game and his team's game, and that's because he is a leader and he knows how to push the right buttons, so his team will be at their best.  Either way, the potential is there for this year's NBA Finals to be one of the most exciting in recent memory.  Join the conversation! Leave a comment below telling us who you think will be crowned NBA champion, and tune in to ABC tomorrow at 9pm EST.