Dave Del Grande
Posted with permission from The Sports Xchange
When the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers meet in a third consecutive NBA Finals beginning Thursday, it will mark the first time the same clubs staged a three-peat performance on the game's biggest stage.
There are plenty of intriguing storylines ahead of the best-of-seven showdown between the 2015 champion Warriors and the 2016 champion Cavaliers. Here are 10 things to watch:
--LeBron James. Andre Iguodala earned MVP honors of the 2015 Finals mostly for his defense on James, who was harassed into 39.8 percent shooting in the series. Last season, James lit it up for 49.4 percent to wrestle away the hardware and the championship. As the 2017 road to the Finals has demonstrated, James appears to be getting better with age.
--Kevin Durant. At some point, the TV debating duo of Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson are bound to take sides on whether the first-year Warrior should opt out of his contract and return to Oklahoma City next season or unpack his bags and settle in. The question will become: Is he more likely to leave if the Warriors win or if they lose?
--Extracurriculars. It has been a relatively quiet 2017 postseason in terms of flagrant fouls, technicals and ejections. Chalk that up to all the blowouts. But now it's high-tension time, so it is worth noting: Durant, Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston were all ejected from playoff games last season; Draymond Green drew a league-high five technical fouls and 10 other participants in this year's Finals got nailed with at least one in the 2016 postseason; and Green's momentum-turning flagrant foul wasn't the only one detected among current Warriors and Cavaliers last spring -- Durant, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith crossed that line as well.
--3-point defense. Forget Kyrie Irving vs. Curry. Irving had 34- and 26-point games in losses in last year's Finals. Curry had 11- and 18-point games in wins. They have, and quite possibly will, offset each other. More significant in this matchup will be which team defends the perimeter the best. The final stats show the Warriors outshot the Cavaliers 37.3 percent to 32.9 percent on 3-pointers last year, but don't be misled. It was 37.6 percent to 34.0 percent for the Cavaliers in their wins, 42.7 percent to 26.1 percent for the Warriors in the Golden State wins.
--Shoe wars. James vs. Curry is Nike vs. Under Armour. And then there's Big Baller. Or haven't you noticed that LaVar Ball is everywhere, and the NBA Draft is just four days after a possible Game 7 is scheduled?
--Tyronn Lue vs. Mike Brown. Lue seemed to have the Steve Kerr offense figured out by their seventh meeting last June, a 93-89 Cleveland win that ended with Golden State missing its final nine shots and going scoreless over the final 4:39. Lue has more weapons at his disposal this time around, and the Warriors will have one fewer with Kerr relegated to watching on television from the locker room due to a back ailment.
--Kyle Korver. One of the great chess matches in the series will be how Lue uses arguably his best long-range shooting weapon, and how Brown attacks arguably the series' worst defensive player. When Cleveland is on defense, the 6-foot-7 Korver would seem to match up best with the Warriors' 6-7 Shaun Livingston, a stand-still shooter who likes to use a height advantage to shoot over smaller guards.
--Akron, Ohio. Will we be able to see the lights of Akron, 39 miles to the south, when ABC gives us an aerial view of the Quicken Loans Arena? You better believe we're going to find out given the link between Ohio's fifth-biggest city and the Finals. Both Curry and James were born there. Are there vacancies at the Timber Top Apartments complex on the north side of town, where Curry first lived? Is James' first house, in the Akron inner city and condemned when he was 5 years old, still standing? Stay tuned.
--Celebrities. There is more than Drake (Curry) and Dr. Dre (James) to this series. It's Jim Brown and Joe Montana. Nine Inch Nails and the Grateful Dead. The Cleveland Clinic and Kaiser. And then there's Tom Hanks, born in Oakland but having adopted the Indians in last year's World Series. Too bad there's no Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. After all, this is the most highly anticipated best-of-three rubber match since the Thrilla in Manila.
--Tacos. The most likely person to get fired after the Finals? The promotions director at Taco Bell. In a matchup of teams undefeated (13-0) on the road in the playoffs, Taco Bell is offering "Steal a Game, Steal a Taco" -- one free taco to everyone interested should either team win a road game in the Finals.