With a 104-90 victory earlier today at the Oracle Arena, the Golden State Warriors finally snuff out whatever spark remained in the James Harden-led Houston Rockets. With the win, the Warriors are headed to the 2015 NBA Finals—its first appearance in 40 years—where LeBron James and his Cavaliers await after sweeping the Atlanta Hawks yesterday.
Yes, folks, we've got a superfight on our hands featuring MVPs on both sides, and supporting casts that don't lack for starpower. But which team will shine brighter? Here's our super early preview featuring five pressing questions for the year's most-awaited sporting spectacle not-named "Mayweather Vs. Pacquiao!"
1) Who's the real MVP?
LeBron James is a four-time MVP who averaged 25.3 points, 6 boards, and 7.4 assists this year—his lowest scoring average since his rookie year. Stephen Curry is in the midst of a career year highlighted by a league-leading 3.6 three-pointers made per game, his first MVP trophy and now, his first Finals appearance.
James is sure to be all fired up as he goes up against a legitimate challenger to the throne—one who has already plucked away a trophy that solely used to be his. James, who's in his fifth straight Finals appearance in as many years, is also coming from a Finals loss against the Spurs last year—and he's certainly in no mood to extend that streak to two.
Curry, on the other hand, has stated that this year will be a failure if they don't win it all, and his confidence has only swelled further with every clutch shot he's hit in these Playoffs—scary skull-shaking falls notwithstanding. We doubt this little guy is in any way intimidated with the 6'8" monster in the Cavs jersey—although there's a chance that his current lack of Finals pedigree might pop its head at inopportune times.
2) Can Kyrie check Curry?
While we've harped about the MVP matchup, Curry's point guard counterpart is no slouch himself: Kyrie Irving, an All-NBA Third Team member this year.
Irving, whose skillset it similar to Curry's, has a golden opportunity to upstage the NBA's current golden boy. Of course, Curry isn't the MVP for nothing, and his advantage in on-court maturity, game control, and big-game poise over Irving just might negate their nearly even stature in ballhandling, shooting and athletic ability. Which small man can be bigger?
In two regular season games, Curry put up 23 points and 10 assists while Irving put up 23 points and 5 assists in a Warrior home win. On the other hand, when they played at the Cavs' homecourt, the Warriors lost as Irving managed 24 points with a perfect 10-out-of-10 slate on freethrows while Curry scored 18 points and dished out 45 dimes.
3) Can Draymond Green, a Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, make LeBron, who's still a force of nature, work hard enough for his points?
Last year's Finals are similar to this year's in at least one way: the other team had a LeBron stopper. The Spurs' Kawhi Leonard played the part effectively in 2014. This year, it will be up to the 25-year-old Draymond Green, who finished second with 317 points in Defensive Player of the Year voting to eventual winner Kawhi's 333 points. The point is this guy can play some D.
Green will have to do better than his sole regular season outing against LeBron though last February 26 where he let LeBron put up a season-high 42 points and 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. The Cavs won, 110-99.
4) Whose shooting guards will set the nets on fire?
The Cavs have J.R. Smith who set the Cavaliers Playoffs record for three-pointers made with eight in the first game of the Atlanta series. The Warriors have Klay Thompson who would've led the league in three-pointers made per game with 3.1...if it hadn't been for his teammate Stephen Curry whose sterling averages have been mentioned above.
Both players have hit at least one three-pointer in all of their Playoff games. As the two enter their first Finals, it will be interesting to see who's going to keep making it rain from downtown and who's going to get gun-shy.
5) Who can be the better rookie coach in the Finals?
The Warriors' Steve Kerr and the Cavs' David Blatt are in the Finals for the first time as head coaches. Steve Kerr knows the atmosphere well enough having been in there five times with Jordan's Bulls and Duncan's Spurs. But while this is Blatt's first time in the Playoffs and the Finals, he has had championship experience in the Italian and Israeli leagues, and the Euroleague.
But how far will these experiences take them? Down the wire in the NBA Finals, it's going to come down to which coach can keep a clear head when the pressure mounts.
So, whose side are you on, NBA addict? The Finals are here, so you'd better be ready with your excuses why you've been coming late to work!