Former NBA coach Neal Meyer, who spent 16 years in the league with six different teams, takes a look at the highly anticipated NBA Finals, where LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers face Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
Both teams are overdue for a Championship. The Cavaliers have never won an NBA title; their only trip to The Finals was in 2007, when LeBron James and Co were swept by San Antonio (The city of Cleveland has a 51-year professional championship drought).
The Warriors, meanwhile, haven’t won a championship since 1975, their last appearance in The Finals, when, as a 48-win team, they pulled off one of the greatest upsets of all time by sweeping the 60-win Washington Bullets. The Warriors’ 40-year drought is the most years between Finals appearances in NBA history, according to Elias. That ’75 team was coached by current Golden State community ambassador Al Attles, who has been with the organisation for 55 consecutive years, which the Warriors say is the longest active streak of representation in the league. Attles presented the team with the Western Conference trophy after Wednesday’s game.
The Warriors (67-15) were seven games clear of the competition during the regular season and 14 games better than Cleveland (53-29), but the Cavaliers actually had a better record than Golden State over the last three months of the season. From 15 January on, Cleveland went a league-best 34-9 (.791) -- a huge turnaround from its 19-20 start -- and the Warriors were second at 36-10 (.783). So The Finals include the best team throughout the regular season and the best team in essentially the second half of the season.
The Warriors are the 10th team to win at least 67 games in the regular season. Seven of the previous nine won championships. Golden State, however, has no players with NBA Finals experience. According to Elias, the 1990-91 Bulls were the last team to win a title with a roster devoid of Finals experience. Golden State is the first such team to make The Finals since the 1996-97 Jazz.
This series will be another showcase for the three-pointer – a theme throughout the 2015 playoffs, which have been loaded with teams that emphasise the shot. The three finalists from the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest at All-Star 2015 are in The Finals: champion (and this season's MVP) Stephen Curry, Golden State team-mate Klay Thompson and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving. The Warriors finished the regular season with 883 three-pointers, third most in NBA history; Curry converted 286 threes, breaking his own NBA record of 272 set in 2012-13; and Thompson ranked second to Curry with 239 threes. As for the Cavaliers, they drilled 826 threes during the season, easily a franchise record and the eighth most all time. Irving and J.R. Smith were two of 15 NBA players with at least 150 threes.
It’s been more of the same in the play-offs, with the Warriors and Cavaliers ranking first and second, respectively, in both three-pointers made and attempted. Curry is making five threes per game in the play-offs, and he’s already shattered the record for most triples in a single post-season. Smith nailed a franchise-record eight threes for the Cavaliers in Game 1 against Atlanta.
The Finals are loaded with explosive scorers. There were eight 50-point games in the NBA this season. Four of those performances came from players who are in The Finals: Kyrie Irving (two), Stephen Curry (one) and Klay Thompson (one).
The last 13 NBA champions have ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) during the regular season. The Warriors led the NBA in that category this season. The Cavaliers finished … 20th. But Cleveland has been much better in the play-offs, ranking third among the 16 post-season teams in defensive efficiency. The Cavaliers are allowing 5.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the play-offs than they did in the regular season.
The Warriors’ success is a testament to quality drafting. Four starters – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green – were all drafted by Golden State since 2009, and none were picked higher than seventh. Consider the value the Warriors have received: Curry, the seventh pick in 2009, is the league MVP; Thompson, the 11th pick in 2011, is an All-Star shooting guard who excels at both ends of the court; Barnes, the seventh pick in 2012, had the NBA’s highest increase in field goal percentage from last season to this season amongst players with at least 600 attempts in each; and Green, the 35 pick in 2012, finished second in the balloting this season for both the Defensive Player of the Year Award and the Most Improved Player Award. (Golden State’s 2012 draft haul not only included Barnes and Green but also valuable back-up center Festus Ezeli, the 30th pick, and a top player on its NBA D-League affiliate’s title-winning team this season, Ognjen Kuzmic, the 52nd pick).
Winning on the road won’t be easy for either team. The Warriors’ 39-2 home record during the regular season was one game shy of the all-time record; they’re now 46-3 at Oracle Arena when factoring in the play-offs. The Cavaliers have won 26 of their last 28 games at home.
NEAL MEYER'S NBA CV
October 94 - August 95 - San Antonio Spurs - Assistant Video Coordinator & Camp Director, Basketball Operations
September 95 - July 97 - Denver Nuggets - Video Coordinator & Camp Director, Basketball Operations
August 97 - August 00 - Portland Trail Blazers - Video Coordinator & Camp Director, Basketball Operations
September 00 - July 02 - Portland Trail Blazers - Assistant Coach & Scout, Basketball Operations
October 02 - April 03 - Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors - Regional Advance Scout
August 03 - June 09 - Los Angeles Clippers - Assistant Coach & Director of Player Development, Basketball Operations
September 09 - October 10 - Cleveland Cavaliers - Video Coordinator/Coach, Basketball Operations
October 10 - present - Senior Director for the NBA's Basketball Operations across Europe, Middle East and Africa
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