There’s no getting around it. With blowout after blowout and sweep after sweep, the 2017 NBA playoffs have been awful to watch.
If we’ve had anything to hold onto, it’s been looking forward to a thrilling Cleveland/Golden State clash of the titans in the Finals. Since the Warriors have already advanced to the championship series and the Cavaliers have a 3-1 series lead on Boston in the Eastern Conference final, we’re all but assured of Cavs/Dubs for the third year in a row.
It all sounds great. But (sorry to burst your bubble) there’s a very strong chance that Cavs/Dubs won’t live up to the hype, either. In fact, it could be over very quickly.
Golden State currently pays +600 at BetOnline to finish the playoffs without a loss, which is basically the same as betting on the Warriors to sweep Cleveland in the NBA Finals. And here’s 5 reasons the Warriors will do just that.
Think of this bet as entertainment insurance. If we’re not going to get our full value with a long and competitive series in the Finals, we might as well try to cash in with a 6:1 payday instead.
The Warriors Want Revenge
Whenever you have an NBA Finals rematch, one of the teams is always looking for revenge for last year’s loss.
But the score the Warriors are looking to settle for last spring’s seven-game loss to the Cavaliers has to rank as an all-time high on the revenge-o-meter.
The Cavaliers didn’t just ruin Golden State’s brilliant season, one in which the Warriors set the NBA record for regular-season wins. They turned the Dubs into a punch line.
After Golden State became the first team in history to lose the NBA Finals after taking a 3-1 series lead, the Warriors became a laughing stock.
How many times have you seen the memes or jokes on social media about “The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals?” Tweets and signs popped up everywhere referencing the choke, even when the conversation had nothing to do with basketball. Four months after the Warriors’ loss, a sign could be seen behind a Fox News correspondent during TV coverage of the 2016 United States presidential election debate.
The Warriors don’t simply want to beat the Cavaliers. They want to “completely destroy them”, the only way to truly gain revenge for the way Cleveland humiliated Golden State with that historic comeback last spring.
Their Coach Wants Revenge, Too
Most of the attention about Golden State’s coaching these days is about the absence of Steve Kerr, whose back pain forced him to leave the team after two games of the playoffs.
You can debate Kerr’s value to the team all you want, considering how the Warriors are 10-0 without him in these playoffs and also went 39-4 under interim coach Luke Walton when Kerr was sidelined for the start of the 2015-16 season.
But don’t underestimate the value of Kerr’s replacement on the Golden State bench, Mike Brown. Especially when it comes to the motivation that Brown will bring to this series.
Brown has every reason to feel dissed by the Cavaliers. Despite leading Cleveland to the 2007 NBA Finals and then being named NBA coach of the year in 2009 when the Cavs won a league-high 66 games, he was fired in 2010 as the scapegoat for a playoff loss to the Boston Celtics.
Then, after being hired once again by the Cavaliers for the 2013-14 season, he was canned again when LeBron announced he was bringing his talents back to Cleveland. Apparently Brown was good enough to coach the Cavs when they were rebuilding, but not good enough to lead the team when it was a legitimate championship contender.
Beating the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals would feel awfully good for Mike Brown. Sweeping them would make him feel even better.
The Warriors Can Make History
Even though the Warriors set a record last year with the most regular-season wins ever, history won’t remember them as the best team of all time. To claim that title, you need to win the championship.
Ironically, even though Golden State lost six more games this season than last, this could be the year they’re known as the best NBA team ever. That’s because they have a chance to be the first team to go through the playoffs undefeated. And we know history is important to this group, having seen how hard they chased the regular-season record last year.
Golden State’s average margin of victory in these playoffs is more than 16 points per game. All but two of the Warriors’ wins in the postseason have come by double digits.
A sweep of the Cavaliers would not just complete the first unbeaten playoff run in NBA history. It may just cement the Warriors as the best team ever.
The Warriors are Better Than Last Year
As incredible as the Warriors were last year, they’re even better this season.
Let’s start with point differential. The Warriors outscored opponents by an average of 11.6 points per game this season, up nearly a point from the 10.8 average margin of victory they posted last year.
On offense, the Dubs are better as well. They increased their offensive efficiency from 112.5 points per 100 possessions last year to 113.2 points per 100 possessions this season, and averaged one more point per game.
Defensively, Golden State gave up slightly more points per game this year than last (104.3, up from 104.1), but their defensive efficiency ranked second in the league in 2016-17, an improvement from fourth the previous season.
Last year, the Warriors may have paid a price for going all out in pursuit of the regular season wins record. This year, they weren’t as concerned about wins and losses, choosing instead to sit out some of their regulars more than usual. They also had to play a good chunk of the season without Kevin Durant, who missed 20 games due to injury.
Their inferior record this year suggests they’re not as good as last. Don’t be fooled. If Golden State could win three of its first four games of the NBA Finals against Cleveland last year, it’s not a stretch to think that a better Warriors squad could take the first four games of this year’s series.
The Warriors are Well Rested and Healthy
This may not amount to a huge advantage, since Cleveland also breezed its way through the first two rounds of the playoffs with eight straight victories, then won the first two games of the Eastern Conference finasl versus the Celtics.
But the fact that the Warriors are already through to the NBA Finals while the Cavaliers still need two wins to get there could end up mattering.
Cleveland could have clinched a trip to the Finals Tuesday, a day later than Golden State, but the Cavs blew a 21-point lead at home in Game 3 versus Boston and will need to go at least five games to beat the Celtics.
That’s at least one more plane ride back to Boston, and two less days of rest. It’s also at least one more game with the potential for injury to one of the Cavaliers’ stars. And it’s not as if those stars don’t have a history of getting hurt. Kevin Love missed the last three rounds of the 2015 playoffs after dislocating his shoulder, and Kyrie Irving hurt his knee in Game 1 of the 2015 Finals.
If one of those two players goes down or even gets banged up, the task gets even taller for LeBron. Speaking of The King, his Game 3 performance against Boston – in which he scored just three second-half points with one rebound and one assist – led to some whispers that he might be getting worn down himself.
Other than the day-to-day status of Zaza Pachulia, who’s more valuable to the Warriors as a goon injuring other teams’ stars than as a scorer or rebounder at the center position, Golden State looks completely healthy going into the Finals.
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