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Pressure for the Rubber Match

The chasing of Michael Jordan’s legacy or proving that betraying your former team of nine seasons was worth the switch? After blowing a 3-1 series lead in the Finals last year does that make the pressure to win this series lie with Golden State? With a 3-5 record in the NBA Finals, is it LeBron James that has all the pressure to increase his wins to four?

The NBA’s first ever trilogy in the NBA Finals comes with an intriguing question of who beholds the most pressure to win?

The Warriors lured away Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City last summer as the clear winners of Free Agency. Adding Durant to an already 73-win team seems as the sure guarantee that in about two weeks the Golden State Warriors will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and perhaps Durant as the Finals MVP?

We’re talking about pressure after blowing a 3-1 Finals lead and Draymond Green’s comments that he’d like to “annihilate” the Cavaliers. Even though the Cavaliers are the defending champions the Warriors are still favored to win the Series according to Vegas.

There is no discrimination against Durant going to the Warriors here but it does add to the story line a reason of added pressure for the Warriors to win. For once, James can walk into an NBA Finals as the All-Time Leading Scorer in NBA Playoffs history. There are daily conversations in the media, Facebook, and other areas of social media that debate Lebron versus Jordan. It seems this is the most scrutiny that faces the kid from Akron as he enters his seventh straight NBA Finals.

Durant enters his second NBA Finals with a 12-0 record combined from the previous rounds in the playoffs. Beyond the success of the Warriors, they could potentially enter the next season with four max contracts. This summer the Warriors will have to make a decision to pay Durant and Stephen Curry their max contract which will tally four max contracts alongside Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Could the Warriors losing this Series potentially create the idea of Golden State management rethinking if four All-Stars is too much?

There is still a seven game series to be played to determine if the pressure on Golden Sate can be handled. Kevin Durant seemed to allude that he would be unaffected if he remains winless in the Finals in a recent interview with The Vertical.

“It wouldn’t mean my life was complete. I’ve got a lot of life I want to lead and I’ve got a lot of [expletive] I want to achieve. So if I win a ring, it would be fun to experience that moment when the buzzer sounds and embracing my teammates in the locker room and all that stuff that comes with it, but after that, what’s next? That’s how I look at it. What’s next for me? But it’s that high. It’s that two-, three-week high, I can tell. You can tell when teams win a championship. I saw last year, the Cavs, they all went to Vegas, they all hung out in Vegas for a night. But that two-week high, I want to experience that, but it’s not going to complete me at all, as far as being a person or what life is all about. At the end of the day, it’s going to be another basketball milestone that I reach, if it happens. We’ll see. But if I don’t do it, I’m not going to ball up in my room and not come out. I’m going to work on my game and enjoy myself.”

A day before the Finals and Lebron James has only one worry. His home in Los Angeles was vandalized with a racial slur on the front gate. During  Wednesday’s media availability, all Lebron could do was express his relief that his family is safe and shed light on his thoughts about the incident. The media availability would turn into Lebron’s few minutes to share his thoughts on social issues. “No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are…being Black in America is tough”.

2017 NBA Finals: A First Time Trilogy

“Best 2 out of 3.”

It’s a concept we’re all familiar with. As kids, we all played rock, paper, scissors, and if you lost the initial round, you would always yell out “best 2 out of 3!” in hopes of getting a rematch.

In Major League Baseball, the regular season is made up of short series between teams rather than one game match ups. Most series are 3 games long, so the team that manages to win 2 out of those 3 games is the clear victor. Even professional wrestling has a history of the “2 out of 3″ concept. A ” Best 2 out of 3 Falls” match isn’t as common anymore, but in the old territory days, it was used as a blow off to end long feuds and determine one ultimate winner.

With the exception of the NFL, all the major American sports have a best of 7 series to crown a champion, and that’s the way it should be. A 7 Game series minimizes the chances of a fluke upset, ensures that the better team comes out victorious, and leaves us with an undisputed top team for that particular year. How do we determine the top team of an era though? This last three-year span of NBA history has been an interesting one, to say the least. We saw LeBron James return to Cleveland, the rise of Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant’s unexpected departure from Oklahoma City.

So how will it ultimately be remembered? Will these last three years be seen as just an extension of the “LeBron Era?” Will Golden State finish one of the most dominating three-year runs of all time with another NBA Championship, making it the “era of the Dubs?”

Regardless, we’re going to get the most perfectly unique way to answer that question. For the first time in NBA history, the same two teams will square off in three consecutive Finals. Each team has already claimed victory and hung up a banner at the other’s expense, so the revenge factor is there on both sides. Add in that these two teams aren’t particularly fond of each other, sprinkle some of Draymond Green’s unpredictability on top, and you’ve got the recipe for yet another classic and entertaining Finals match-up.

Reaching the NBA Finals is not an easy task to accomplish. Going back the next year requires a grueling and exhausting effort. Making it three straight times is extremely uncommon. As a matter of fact, only six NBA franchises have ever reached the Finals three or more consecutive times. The Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls both did it twice. The New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, and Miami Heat each accomplished the feat once. While the Minnesota/Los Angeles Lakers have reached three or more consecutive Finals a whopping five times.

That list will add two new entries on June 1st. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors have accomplished the rare feat It will be the 7th straight NBA Finals appearance for LeBron James (and James Jones), putting him behind only Bill Russel, and a handful of his Celtics teammates, for most all time.

That in it of itself is an amazing accomplishment. Just like Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume most of us (hey millennials) actually witnessed Bill Russell reach 10 straight NBA Finals. So just like Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game, LeBron’s seven consecutive Finals will be the defacto record going forward. Another feather in the King’s cap.

On paper, these are the two teams that should be playing for the NBA crown. They were the two best teams all season long, and most experts have been predicting this matchup since Kevin Durant decided to make the switch to Golden State. However, from a historical standpoint, neither franchise has any business taking part in the NBA Final’s first Trilogy. Would you think all the Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird talk would have produced three straight Lakers-Celtics Finals right?

With all due respect, The Cleveland Cavaliers were nothing before June 26th, 2003, when they drafted LeBron James. As for the Warriors, before winning the whole thing in 2015, the Bay Area didn’t know about being NBA Champions since the 1974-75 season. Not exactly models of consistent success.

Logic would indicate that if any two teams were going to face off in three straight Finals, it should’ve been the Lakers and Celtics. They’re the NBA’s winningest and most recognizable franchises, and the Magic/Bird rivalry of the 80’s would have been the perfect backdrop for such a historic occurrence. However, logic doesn’t always apply in basketball, and now, two teams that were once entrenched in the lower echelon of the NBA’s hierarchy will play in what’s likely to be the most anticipated NBA Finals of all time.

Both teams combine for a total of seven All-Stars and seven MVP awards. The star power is off the charts for this match up, and the plot reads almost like a Hollywood script. Last year, Golden State became the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead in the Finals, pouring their record-breaking 73-win season right down the drain. Kevin Durant was signed away from Golden State’s biggest competitor over the summer in attempts to right that wrong. His former partner in crime, Russell Westbrook, was fueled to an MVP-worthy season by what he saw as the betrayal on the part of Durant. If he and the Warriors are hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season though, then all the scrutiny and criticism was worth it.

While over in Cleveland, you have a King and his court, chomping at the bit to defend their crown against a Warriors team that many say they “can’t beat.” An aging LeBron has shown us all that he’s still got plenty left in the tank. The NBA’s young stars might be ready to take the league into their hands and run with it, but that doesn’t mean that LeBron is ready to hand it over just yet. That’s what makes this particular Finals so important, especially for LeBron. If he wins, that’s 2 out of the last 3, and 4 out of the last 7. That’s huge for a man that constantly has to defend his standing in the sport. However, if he loses, then you can already hear the rumblings. “Is LeBron’s time over?” “Can the Cavs still win with LeBron?”

With so much riding on this series for each team, we might be in store for the hardest fought NBA Finals ever. We should truly appreciate what we’re about to see. In hindsight, so many stars had to align perfectly for us to even get here, but we’re literally on the doorstep of it. We’ve had 67 NBA Finals, 19 different NBA Champions, 13 NBA Finals rematches, but as of this year, only one trilogy.

The 2017 NBA Finals tip-off Thursday, June 1st on ABC.

Wesly Avendano
Baseline Times NBA Contributor

 

Warriors slap spurs with 136-100 victory in game two

It was a night where the Golden State Warriors saw it all too easy in the Western Conference Finals. Without Kawhi Leonard in the line-up for San Antonio the Warriors ran away in game two with a 36-point victory. The lead would be as high as 41 points while the Spurs never led the entire game.

The prolific shooting of the Warriors made a showing as they shot 18-of-37 (48.6-percent) from three. Stephen Curry finished with a game high 6-of-9 from the three-point line while pouring in 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assist. Curry led the way for the second straight game this series. Seven Warrior players scored in double digits as the bench chipped in with 63 points. Fill-in Head Coach Mike Brown took advantage of the big lead by playing a rotation of 13-players. Rookie Patrick McCaw led all scorers off the bench with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting. The Warriors finished the game shooting 56-percent from the field overall.

The Spurs had no answer defensively and on offense. They appeared as a whole new team with Leonard in the line-up. San Antonio shot 37-percent from the field (34-percent from three). The defense allowed the Warriors to scored at least 30 points or more in each of the four quarters played in game two. Jonathon Simmons led the wayy for the Spurs with 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting. The only other Spur scoring in double figures was David Bertans who scored 13 points off the bench in the blow-out.

LaMarcus Alridge the other appointed star player for San Antonio would only manage eight points on 4-of-11 shooting and four rebounds. The starting five for the Spurs would shoot 18-of-46 (39-percent) and looked deflated playing without their All-Star Forward. Greg Popovich stated his team needed to get “slapped” after the way they lost game two.

The Warriors remain undefeated in the playoffs as they move to 10-0 at this point. Leonard’s status for game three remains in limbo as the Spurs will consider the long-term health of their star.

Game three is in San Antonio on Saturday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 PM EST on ESPN.