Let’s simplify the 2015 NBA Finals: The Golden State Warriors are the better team and should beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, probably in six or even five games.
The Warriors had the best record in the league during the regular season, 67-15, to the Cavs’ 53-29. Through the postseason, Golden State was 79-18 to Cleveland’s 65-31. USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin, who regularly produces the most reliable power ratings in all sports, puts GS at No. 1 in the NBA with a ranking of 100.29. Cleveland is second at 96.39, one of the largest gaps between the top two teams since computer analysts started measuring teams at the end of the 1970s.
Moreover, Golden State, says Sagarin, played the 12th-toughest schedule in the NBA while Cleveland’s was only the 17th-toughest.
The comparison only gets worse for the Cavaliers going into finals tip-off tonight. The Warriors, by virtue of their superior regular season, will get the extra home game advantage–and no team this year has approached Golden State for sheer deadly efficiency at home. They were 39-2 at Oracle Arena before the playoffs and when you add the postseason, they’ve won a jaw-dropping 46 of 49 games at home.
The Cavaliers were good at home, 37-11, but perilously close to mediocre, 28-20, in all other NBA arenas. Stated another way, Golden State was very competitive on the road at 33-15 and are far more likely to win a game (or two) in Cleveland than the Cavs are to win in San Jose.
And did I mention that the Cavs’ fine power forward, Kevin Love, won’t be back in the lineup until next season?
Are there any factors which might mitigate the Warriors’ superiority? Well, yes. His name is LeBron James, and he knows his way around in big games, this being his fifth consecutive trip to the finals.
If you aren’t a fan of either team or even if you’re just the kind of casual basketball fan who waits for the postseason before getting interested, this should be your series. You probably watch the NBA finals because you like stars, and this series has the two best players in the game. LeBron, at age 30 is the greatest player of this century and perhaps in two. Opposing him is Stephen Curry, 27, the NBA’s rising star and this season’s MVP.
The two are a vivid contrast in stature and styles. LeBron, at 6'8" and 250 pounds, is an irresistible force on the inside. Steph is a svelte 6'3", 190 pounds, and is the most dangerous player in the league away from the basket. Curry is second in the league in scoring at 29.2 points per game, while LeBron ranks third at 27.6. However, nearly half of Curry’s points are from three-pointers: He’s the best smart bomber in the NBA, averaging 4.9 per game. LeBron can hit the occasional three-pointer, too, but most of his scores come on the inside.
Teams go out of their way not to foul Curry, the deadliest free throw shooter in the league with a success rate of 91.4%. LeBron isn’t nearly as sharp, 71.0%, but he actually gets more free throws (375 to 308) because, drawing so many fouls on the inside, he gets more chances than Steph does.
Handling the ball more, LeBron would be expected to have more assists per game than Steph, and he does, 8.3, No. 3 in the league, but Curry does surprisingly well at passing, 6.4 per game for ninth place. Spending more time under the net, you’d expect LBJ to pull down more balls, and he does, a total of 416 last season. Curry, though, is quite effective at rebounding for a non-big man and collected 341. And Steph has no equal at stealing the ball, pacing the league with 163.
Whichever man you root for, be assured that he commands a hungry and hugely appreciative following. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors have two of the most wretched histories in the NBA. The Cavs have had a lot of great players—Nate Thurmand, Lenny Wilkins, and Shaquille O’Neal—but always, it seems, near the end of their careers. The team’s most publicized record is a 26-game losing streak during the 2010-2011 season, the longest in any major American sport. (Because misery loves company, the Philadelphia 76ers tied the Cavs for the honor of the longest losing streak this past season.)
One superlative the Cavaliers have all to their own is the Worst Owner Ever. In just three years (1980-1983) Ted Stepien left a legacy that seared the hearts and minds of the fans. Among his memorable innovations were a dance team known as The Teddy Bears and a fight song with a polka rhythm. However, his most lasting contribution became known as the “Ted Stepien Rule,” which forbid a team from trading away its first-round draft picks in consecutive years. (You can guess why the NBA came up with this one.)
Wrap up their history in this one sentence: No Cavs have ever worn a championship ring.
The Golden State Warriors have won three championships, but it’s possible that no one except the person who put together their media guide remembers the first two. In 1946, when the team was in Philadelphia, the Warriors had a starburst of a beginning, winning the first championship of the Basketball Association of America, soon to become the NBA. They won again in 1955, beating the Fort Wayne Pistons in a moment of triumph played in almost total obscurity as it wasn’t broadcast on TV or radio.
They became the San Francisco Warriors in 1962, though the City by the Bay wasn’t really too crazy about having them, and consequently the Warriors played most of their home games in the Cow Palace at Daly City, an arena in which, astonishing as it now seems, NBA basketball took a back seat to roller derby. Four years later the team scheduled most of their home games in the City across the Bay, in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena. But for reasons never quite understood, for the next five years they continued to call themselves the San Francisco Warriors.
It took 20 years, but in 1975, amazingly, they succeeded in winning their third NBA championship, beating the Washington Bullets. For most teams that would have meant a change in fortunes, but so sparse was the Warriors fan support that they were forced to play the finals back at the Cow Palace because their home arena had been booked for the Ice Follies.
Between polka fight songs, roller derby, and ice follies, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors haven’t given their fans much to root for. But this season each team is led by a great player backed by a solid team and will be watched by a larger audience around the world than either team in its earlier incarnations could have imagined. And this year, for one or the other, will be their greatest season ever.