“Don’t Stop Believing”
The weather around the NBA has dramatically changed over the past couple of weeks. The dream of a clash between the twin titans of San Antonio and Golden State got shot down by an awe-inspiring Oklahoma City team. The Warriors, who lost their two-time MVP earlier in the postseason, were facing what seemed like a tall order in Portland after a quick handling of the Houston Rockets. However, Golden State once again proved they don’t need their one man wrecking crew in order to play at an elite level.
Oh, and the “improved” Eastern Conference hasn’t actually challenged Cleveland at all.
Right before the playoffs started, conversations were entertained about who could potentially push the Cavs furthest in a series: these conversations quickly turned into jokes. Cleveland walked into the Eastern Conference Finals with absolutely zero resistance. This gave LeBron and company plenty of time for rest and/or dance parties.
Of course, Cleveland isn’t expected to sweep their way into the NBA Finals. However, a quick series against Toronto is a distinct possibility. Fresh off a seven game slug fest, the Toronto Raptors are in for what will easily be their toughest matchup of their off-season.
The Cavs are firing on all cylinders at the perfect time: Kevin Love re-established himself as a viable third scoring option, Kyrie Irving played in the system seamlessly thus far, and LeBron was still LeBron.
This is only the tip of the Cleveland iceberg. Like all great basketball teams, their supporting cast has been playing off their Big 3’s impressive performances.
Their move to Channing Frye has been the catalyst for impressive play in multiple games. Lights-out shooting by J.R. Smith, Cleveland’s own pipe-laying extraordinaire, has been icing on the proverbial cake. Everyone is playing well – Everything is falling into place. Once again, a title run is imminent for LeBron and the Cavs; though, this year might finally bring a happy ending for the cursed city of Cleveland.
In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma City shocked the NBA once again. With San Antonio out of the playoffs, and Curry back into the rotation, it looked like the Warriors were on the same path as Cleveland. The Thunder’s series against the Spurs was impressive, but no one expected them to maintain that level of play.
Finally, the Thunder roster is playing as good as it looks on paper. Even with poor shooting nights from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, they’ve shown a knack for controlling the pace of the game. They can play downhill and do serious damage when given just the slightest of breathing rooms. Though they are only up one game an are hardly the favorites in the series, they are forcing the Warriors’ hand.
All roads lead to Cleveland:
The Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, are not the Oklahoma City Thunder. They are more than capable of holding their own against the Cavaliers, but it is hard to imagine a world where they steal even two games, let alone win the series. In the opposite conference, Oklahoma is poised to take the Warriors to their limit. This has been a recurring theme in the playoff run and may be just what the Cavaliers need.
No team wins the title without a little luck. Whether it be injuries for the opposing team, a couple of rebounds, or well-timed shots down the stretch, sometimes the cards are just fall in your favor. This certainly seems to be what is happening for LeBron.
If the Warriors take longer than expected to put away the Thunder while the Cavs make light work of the Raptors, the amount of rest the Cavaliers will have at that point may make the series insurmountable for the Warriors. As popular is the “rust” theory is among NBA fans, the “rest” concept is simpler and more observable. The Cavaliers will be fresher than their opponent, and with Steph coming off of a recent injury, this isn’t a non-story. If Steph struggles to fully return to playing shape after a tough defensive matchup with Russell Westbrook in the previous series, playing against Kyrie Irving may be too much for Steph to handle.
Of course, this assumes the Thunder don’t win the series. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Thunder have finally put all the pieces together for another shot at the title. In such a scenario, they might find themselves in the same boat as Golden State would have been. Putting together a string of winning performances against that Warriors team is no small task; Going up against Cleveland after accomplishing said task is almost asking for the impossible.
Cleveland is hours away from their destiny, for better or for worse. As they take to the court against the Raptors in their first matchup of the playoffs, the Cavs once again have an opportunity to impose their will. If they get complacent, they could throw away all they have worked for. If they continue to steamroll, the city of Cleveland may finally get that champagne rain after a long, and unforgiving drought.