Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry, bottom, drives to the basket against Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James in the second half in Game 6 of the NBA basketball Finals, Thursday, June 16, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 115-101. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
In a twist of fate, it’s come down to a decisive Game 7 for the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Trailing 3-1, Cleveland has rallied back to even the series despite facing gloomy history. No team has ever won an NBA Finals trailing 3-1 in a best-of-seven series. But don’t talk to the Cavaliers about NBA history, considering that the basketball franchise has never won a title and the city itself hasn’t enjoyed a championship since 1964. The past definitely isn’t on the Cavaliers’ side but, with LeBron James in the lead, the team appears to be on the verge of making history. Regardless of who wins Game 7, history will be made—whether it’s Golden State capping the best season ever recorded or Cleveland mounting a historic comeback and pulling in the city’s first NBA championship. With so much at stake, who wins? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this important question.
Riley: I’ve been impressed with the team chemistry and will to win that the Warriors have been showing for the past two seasons, but this new version of LeBron James has been frightening. He’s leading the Finals in every possible statistic from points to blocks to rebounds and he’s simply destroying any Warrior defender in front of him. This is the James that critics have been clamoring to see ever since he waltzed into the Association back in 2003. With his team down 3-1, James’ back-to-back 41-point games have fueled the Cavs and driven them right back into the series. Golden State has been the best team in the NBA for the last two seasons, but this version of James is clearly the best player in the NBA. And, unless he suddenly turns it off, I don’t see James losing a Game 7, not with the way he’s been playing.
Green: I will admit that I’ve never seen this James before. He played the best game I ever seen from him in Game 6. He made every play when his team needed him, offensively and defensively. He got them started in the first quarter and closed them out in the fourth. He scored on the inside and from the outside. It was very Jordan-esque. But I won’t get too excited over this newly-inspired James. Conspiracy theories aside, things haven’t been in the Warriors’ favor these last two games. Playing Game 5 without a suspended Draymond Green definitely hurt and playing their first playoff game on the road in hostile Cleveland without rim-protector Andrew Bogut was a disaster in Game 6. But Golden State has made a living off strategic adjustments and one of their stars stepping up when it’s been needed the most. With them back at home for the season and series finale, you have to place your chips on the Warriors. They’ve been so good at home for the past few seasons. And, in addition to the heroics of Green, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, this Warriors team becomes unbeatable when their role players play well at home. If some of their key reserves step up then Golden State will be celebrating back-to-back titles on Sunday night.
Riley: The disappearance of guys like Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa has been a curious case. They were so lights-out in the early half of the series and now they’re not producing. The Warriors don’t have an unstoppable scorer at the moment in the mold of James and that’s been the deciding factor for the past few games. When James gets hot, he requires the Warriors to double team. And when James opts to dish it to Kyrie Irving, the Warriors simply don’t have a defensive answer for either scorer. Thompson nor Curry has been able to contain Irving one-on-one, and nobody on the Warriors’ roster has been able to slow James. This scoring duo for Cleveland has been ideal for the Finals. The Cavs have all the momentum right now. and although the Warriors have made it a point to flip the switch on and off when they need to, with Bogut out, Curry still hobbled from a knee injury and preferred James-defender Andre Iguodala struggling with a back injury, I don’t think Golden State has enough juice left to stop James and Irving.
Green: Hero-ball always takes the backseat to team-ball, and I’m expecting the Warriors to show up in dramatic fashion on Sunday. It’s been the type of drama to end a record-setting season in which the Warriors have thrived. It took them to the last home game of the regular season to reach 73 wins against Memphis. Curry’s injuries during the first two rounds were dramatic enough before the Warriors launched an improbable comeback down 3-1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. Every type of media-fueled, dramatic challenge the Warriors have answered, finding somehow and some way to accomplish their goal at the moment. Every tight situation that they’ve been through over the last two months of the season and playoffs, they’ve found a way to overcome. It’s hard to bet against a team like that, and I won’t after seeing what they do with adversity. Warriors win in seven games.