Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
And then, there were two. After a rather uncompetitive Eastern Conference Finals, and a Western Conference Finals series that was only marginally more exciting and hard-fought, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will take on Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals. The stage has been set for a fun and exciting championship series between an all-time great who has returned home, and a rising star who has led his team to their best season in decades.
As it stands, we have a little under a week to speculate, make our predictions, and consider all of the questions surrounding the 2015 NBA Finals. Who will win? Will the Warriors run out of steam? How banged up are the Cavaliers? Can LeBron do it by himself? What are some of the other interesting subplots this year? Like every other NBA fan, I have a few thoughts on the matter, which I’m sharing with you in this week’s edition of The Friday Five. Without any further ado, here are five thoughts ahead of the 2015 NBA Finals.
1. Two Rookie Coaches in the NBA Finals…Crazy!
This is something that Arcane and I forgot to mention as we looked ahead to the 2015 NBA Finals in Episode #118 of the NLSC Podcast, but it’s definitely worth noting. For the first time in league history, a rookie head coach has helmed their team to the championship round. In fact, this year’s Finals also marks the first time that both teams are led by first year head coaches. In turn, that also ensures that we’ll see a rookie head coach guide their team to an NBA championship for the first time. A lot has been said about the changing of the guard around the NBA in recent years, so in that respect, it’s cool to see so many firsts coming to fruition.
While LeBron James’ return has obviously given the Cleveland Cavaliers a huge shot in the arm, the Golden State Warriors have a very deep roster, and both teams have hired quality assistants to support their head coaches, Steve Kerr and David Blatt both deserve a lot of credit for the job they’ve done this season. Kerr’s success in particular is a continuation of a recent trend of rookie head coaches with little or no experience in the assistant ranks, or coaching at other levels (or internationally, as Blatt has). He’s far from the first former player to get a head coaching gig without prior experience and subsequently excel in the opportunity, but we’re seeing it happen more often. Teams are taking a chance on new faces, and it’s paying off.
2. Five Straight Finals Appearances for LeBron…Impressive!
Say what you will be about LeBron James – and you can indeed make criticisms of any player, even when they rank among the best of the best – but there’s something special about being the first player since the 1960s, and the first non-Celtic, to appear in five consecutive NBA Finals. Again, we’re seeing a lot of firsts, these days. Granted, the competition in the East has been historically weak, and there’s always the argument that four of those appearances came as the result of three cornerstone players joining forces, but it’s a legitimate achievement nevertheless. You can only play the competition that presents itself, and you still have to get the job done. Now, as far as its bearing on LeBron’s rank among the all-time greats…well, it’s kind of an arbitrary factor to throw out there.
The Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debate isn’t going anywhere – incidentally, I’ve touched on it in detail before – and as LeBron has continued to distinguish himself, it’s gained merit. I still vehemently disagree that he’s “far surpassed” Jordan, or indeed surpassed him at all, but I would rank him top ten all-time. As for the five straight NBA Finals appearances? Definitely impressive, but is getting there five times in a row and losing twice (perhaps soon to be three times) better than three consecutive appearances on two different occasions, while winning every time? Are Jerry West’s nine NBA Finals appearances with one win better than Shaquille O’Neal’s six appearances and four rings? Like I said, it’s an arbitrary factor in these discussions.
3. Aussies in the NBA Finals…Awesome!
As an Australian basketball fan, I was a bit spoiled in the late 90s. Not only was my favourite team winning game after game, title after title, but there was an Australian player – Luc Longley, the first Aussie to play in the NBA – starting at centre for three consecutive NBA Finals, and three consecutive championships with the Chicago Bulls. And although he wasn’t on their Playoff roster, Andrew Gaze won a ring with the San Antonio Spurs the following year in the lockout shortened season of 1999, making it four straight years an Aussie was on an NBA championship squad.
Last year, I enjoyed seeing Patty Mills have a fine series as the Spurs downed the Miami Heat in five games. Alright, I was pretty happy to see the Spurs beat the Heat, period, but seeing Mills thrill and pay the bills made it even more enjoyable. I have to admit, I’ve gone back a couple of times and watched his Game 6 performance. With an Aussie on the Warriors and Cavaliers – two on the Cavs if you count Kyrie Irving, and since we’ve already claimed Crowded House, Russell Crowe, and so many others, we might as well – it’ll be three straight years of Aussies in the NBA Finals, two where they’re on the championship team. It’s not the same as the Bulls winning, but I’ll take it.
4. This Year’s Stats, Stories, & Subplots…Interesting!
The action on the court is what makes basketball, in my opinion, the most exciting of all sports. Spectacular shots, breathtaking dunks, expertly run plays, heroic performances…they all make basketball something really special. Beyond that though, I love the stories, the history, the facts and figures that add weight to what we’re seeing out there on the hardwood. There’s something special about the Chicago Bulls winning their first championship in the team’s 25th year in the league (a year that also marked a century since the sport’s invention by Dr. James Naismith), and their fifth title in the league’s 50th season. More recently, I enjoyed compiling a list of similarities between the 2005 Los Angeles Lakers and 2015 Miami Heat.
As I mentioned in my opening paragraph this week, we have a rising star leading his team to a historic season, and an all-time great returning home while pursuing another championship. The Warriors, one of the three original teams and winners of the inaugural championship when the league was the Basketball Association of America, are back in the NBA Finals forty years after their last championship. Once again, we have two rookie head coaches in the NBA Finals, LeBron’s fifth straight Finals appearance, and a whole lot of firsts. I don’t know about this year’s NBA Finals going down as an all-time classic series, but on top of the talent that will be out on the court come June 4th, there are a lot of interesting stories that capture my attention.
5. My prediction…Warriors in five!
I don’t want to sell LeBron James short, nor the Cleveland Cavaliers for that matter. They improved by 20 wins, and they’ve shown great heart and talent as they’ve stormed through the Eastern Conference, despite losing Kevin Love to injury in the first round. J.R. Smith is playing at the level that allowed him to capture Sixth Man of the Year honours a couple of years ago, and Iman Shumpert is also doing his part in making that trade with the Knicks look really bad for New York. Tristan Thompson is emerging as a quality player, Kyrie Irving is hobbled but still doing his thing, and LeBron is LeBron. I’m not suggesting that they’re going to be blown out every game, or that there’s absolutely no chance they can win the series. With a player like LeBron, you can’t completely rule out the unlikely.
Having said that…a Cavaliers championship is unlikely. As I said when I revisited my Playoffs predictions in last week’s Friday Five, I believe that the Cavaliers will come very close to winning it all, but not quite get there. As I also said last week, and repeated in Episode #118 of the NLSC Podcast…man, these Warriors. These Golden State Warriors are something else, and with the way they’ve been playing, their depth, and having home court advantage, I just can’t see them falling short now. I think this is going to be a really fun series to watch, and the Cavaliers will hardly disgrace themselves, but I have to go with the Warriors in five games.
That’s all for this week. How do you think the 2015 NBA Finals is going to go down? What are the interesting stats, facts, and stories that jump out at you? Have your say in the comments below, and be sure to join in the discussion of the 2015 NBA Finals in the NBA & Basketball Talk section of the NLSC Forum! Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.