NBA Finals Preview: Key Storylines

We’ve chosen some selective storylines around the NBA Finals that every fan should be aware of. The series between the Warriors and Cavaliers will start tomorrow (2 June) and marks the 14th time in NBA history that the same teams are meeting in The Finals in consecutive seasons.

GENERAL THEMES

  • The series between the Warriors and Cavaliers marks the 14th time in NBA history that the same teams are meeting in The Finals in consecutive seasons. Defending champions are 6-7 in these instances, with the 1960s Celtics accounting for four of those six series victories. Runner-ups have won six of the last seven rematches; the only exception was Chicago’s victory over Utah in 1998.
  • With both teams at full strength, this year’s matchup has a much different feel. Last year, Cleveland was shorthanded as Kevin Love missed the entire Finals, Kyrie Irving appeared in only one game and Iman Shumpert played through a shoulder injury.
  • The Cavaliers have never won an NBA title. This is their third trip to The Finals, all in the last nine years. The city of Cleveland hasn’t won a major pro championship since a title by the NFL’s Browns in 1964.
  • The Warriors are making their eighth Finals appearance, tied with the Knicks for the fourth most in NBA history. A series victory would give the Warriors their fifth title, which would tie San Antonio for the fourth most all time.
  • Three-pointers will be flying. This season, the Warriors (1,077) and Stephen Curry (402) set team and individual single-season NBA records, respectively, for most three-pointers. The Cavaliers made a franchise-record 880 three-pointers during the regular season, the fifth most all time. Cleveland is averaging the most threes in the playoffs and Golden State is second. The Warriors’ Klay Thompson is the postseason leader in three-pointers, followed by Cleveland’s J.R. Smith and Golden State’s Stephen Curry. In certain Finals lineups, all 10 players on the court will be three-point threats.
  • Only 11 players in NBA history have won the MVP award in consecutive seasons. Two of them will match up in The Finals: Cleveland’s LeBron James (who has repeated as MVP twice) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (the two-time reigning MVP).
  • Kevin Love missed last year’s Finals due to injury. Being healthy for this matchup will revive talk about how Golden State was said to be weighing the idea of trading Klay Thompson for Love in the summer of 2014. Love, of course, ended up being dealt from Minnesota to Cleveland, while Thompson stayed put and continued his rise to stardom.
  • Coaches Steve Kerr of Golden State and Tyronn Lue of Cleveland were both solid role-playing, championship-winning guards who went head-to-head as NBA players. Lue is trying to accomplish what Kerr did last year: win a title in his first year as an NBA head coach. Kerr was the seventh coach to do so, following Pat Riley (1982), Paul Westhead (1980), Bill Sharman (1972), George Senesky (1956), John Kundla (1949) and Ed Gottlieb (1947). Riley and Westhead took over their teams during the season like Lue did with the Cavs.
  • Steve Kerr is looking to become the second coach in NBA history to win titles in each of his first two seasons. The only coach to do it is John Kundla, who won the 1948 and 1949 titles with the Minneapolis Lakers. Incidentally, Kundla turns 100 on July 3.
  • Tyronn Lue has led the Cavs to The Finals after David Blatt did so in 2015. The Cavs are the first team to make The Finals in consecutive seasons with two different coaches since the Lakers in 1968-69 (Butch Van Breda Kolff) and 1969-70 (Joe Mullaney).
  • Tyronn Lue can become only the sixth active coach with an NBA title. The current list: Golden State’s Steve Kerr, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, the Clippers’ Doc Rivers (who won with Boston) and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra.
  • The Warriors’ success is a testament to quality drafting and player development. 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. Curry, the seventh pick in 2009, is the two-time reigning MVP; Thompson, the 11th pick in 2011, is a two-time All-Star who excels at both ends of the court; Barnes, the seventh pick in 2012, is a career 13-point scorer; and Green, the 35th pick in 2012, was a first-time All-Star and All-NBA Second Team selection this season.

LEBRON JAMES
– LeBron James is set to become the first non-Celtic to play in six straight Finals and the first player to do so in 50 years. Seven former Celtics did it: Bill Russell (10 straight), Tom Heinsohn (nine), Sam Jones (nine), K.C. Jones (eight), Frank Ramsey (eight), Bob Cousy (seven) and Satch Sanders (six).
– LeBron James is set to play in his seventh Finals overall. Over the last 50 years, the only players to appear in more are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (10), Magic Johnson (nine), Derek Fisher (eight) and Michael Cooper (eight).
– LeBron James (55) needs two three-pointers to pass Robert Horry (56) and become the all-time leader in The Finals. James (227) also needs two assists to pass Dennis Johnson (228) for the fifth most in Finals history.
– LeBron James enters the Finals 2016 with 127 playoff victories, the 10th most in NBA history. James needs one win to tie Magic Johnson for ninth place, two wins to tie Shaquille O’Neal for eighth place and four wins to tie Tony Parker for seventh place.

FRANCHISE CONNECTIONS
– LeBron James and Stephen Curry are from Akron, Ohio. Curry was born there while his father, Dell, played for the Cavs in 1987-88, Dell’s only season with the team in a 16-year career that included an NBA Sixth Man Award and prolific three-point shooting.
– Before he won three titles with Chicago and two with San Antonio as a player, Steve Kerr spent three-plus seasons with Cleveland. Kerr holds the team record for career (47.2) and single-season (50.7 in 1989-90) three-point percentage. Last year, Kerr became the sixth coach to coach in The Finals against a team for which he played.
– Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton finished his playing career with Cleveland in 2012-13. His teammates included current Cavs Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson and current Warriors big man Marreese Speights.
– Luke Walton and Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson were college teammates at Arizona. Jefferson also played for the Warriors from 2011-13
– Golden State center and former longtime Cav Anderson Varejao is the first player ever to play for both NBA Finalists in the same season.
– Warriors guard Shaun Livingston’s solid stint with the Cavaliers in 2012-13 led to a contract with the Nets for 2013-14 and then a multiyear deal with the Warriors two summers ago. Livingston is a former preps-to-pros phenom who revived his career after a devastating knee injury.
– The brothers of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have spent time with the Cavaliers — Seth Curry in 2013-14 and Mychel Thompson in 2011-12.

INTERNATIONAL NOTES
– Nine international players are on Finals rosters. The Cavaliers have Matthew Dellavedova (Australia), Kyrie Irving (Australia), Sasha Kaun (Russia), Timofey Mozgov (Russia) and Tristan Thompson (Canada). The Warriors have Leandro Barbosa (Brazil), Andrew Bogut (Australia), Festus Ezeli (Nigeria) and Anderson Varejao (Brazil).
– An Australian will win a championship for the third season in a row. Two years ago, Aussies Patty Mills and Aron Baynes won titles with San Antonio. Last year, in the first Finals featuring a head-to-head matchup between Australians, Golden State’s Andrew Bogut got the best of Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova and Kyrie Irving (who was born in Australia and represents the United States in international competition).
– Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov and Sasha Kaun can become the first Russians to win an NBA title.

MORE NOTES
– Only two of the last 31 No. 1 overall picks have won an NBA championship with the team that drafted them: David Robinson (Spurs, 1987) and Tim Duncan (Spurs, 1997). LeBron James (Cavaliers, 2003) and Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers, 2011) can join the list, though obviously James hasn’t been with Cleveland exclusively since being drafted.
– Klay Thompson and his MLB-playing brother, Trayce, will both be featured prominently in the Bay Area in the coming days. Trayce and the Los Angeles Dodgers visit the San Francisco Giants from June 10-12 (Klay has a game in Cleveland on June 10 before returning to the Bay Area on June 11). Trayce is having a breakout year, though he’s missed time recently with a back injury.
– Game 7 is scheduled for Father’s Day – Sunday, June 19. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the sons of former NBA stalwarts: Dell Curry was a fantastic shooter and Mychal Thompson was a high-scoring big man who won back-to-back championships with the Lakers in 1987 and ’88. With the Warriors’ championship last season, the Thompsons became the fourth father/son duo to win titles, joining Brent and Rick Barry, Luke and Bill Walton, and Matt Goukas Sr. and Matt Guokas Jr.
– The NHL’s San Jose Sharks are competing in the Stanley Cup Final. No market has ever won NBA and NHL titles in the same season.

You can watch the 2016 NBA Finals live on BT Sport or via NBA League Pass.

Source: Pitch London
Image: Getty/NBA