The Warriors’ road to the Finals was much more difficult this year than last: even though the first two rounds were relatively easy, the Houston Rockets pushed them to the brink. But at the end of the day, the four Warriors All-Stars were just too much for the Rockets to handle, especially given Chris Paul’s late injury.
In the Eastern Conference, never had there been more doubt about LeBron’s return to the Finals. Despite the Cavaliers’ sweep of the Raptors, the series against the Pacers and Celtics were extremely close. In both, Cleveland needed seven games to advance.
LeBron has been as amazing as ever: at thirty-three years of age, he’s probably at his peak offensively: he’s a killer in isolation and one of the best passers in the NBA. Defensively he hasn’t contributed as much, but he’s the biggest star in the league for a reason. But the team he is on is, in one word, bad.
The supporting cast on the Cavaliers is much different than in years past. Gone is Kyrie Irving, the only other consistent shot-creator. Kevin Love has been struggling with injuries all postseason, and the rest of the roster looks old. J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson are inconsistent as always, and thirty-seven-year-old Kyle Korver has been their second most consistent scorer. New additions George Hill, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, and Jeff Green round out their ragtag cast. In the short time they’ve spent together since the trade deadline, they haven’t meshed very well, and LeBron has had to figure everything out himself.
The Cavaliers barely scraped past the Pacers, looking like a defeated team that was barely above water. But they embarrassed the Raptors in a sweep, their offense coming alive. That offense, with LeBron eviscerating mismatches and their role players hitting threes, can be really scary. But it comes and goes, depending simply on whether they hit those threes.
Against the Celtics in the conference finals, neither team could score, and both squads were exhausted by the end. Thanks to a handful of ridiculous LeBron performances, the Cavs pulled it out in the end. But this team really hasn’t inspired any confidence.
This series could very well be a Warriors blowout. But betting against LeBron is always more precarious than conventional wisdom dictates, and LeBron always has a few tricks up his sleeve.